Amsterdam – Canal Barge & Rijks

Aug. 22nd, 2017 10:36 pm
nanila: wrong side of the mirror (me: wrong side of the mirror)
[personal profile] nanila
On the previously mentioned trip to Amsterdam, the bloke and I stayed on a canal barge in the Westerdok.

This was the much bigger cousin of the holiday barges that pootle up and down our Worcestershire canal. The main bulk of the hull served as the home of the bloke who ran the B&B. We were in the wheelhouse, overlooking the canal. The docks seem to serve as pretty much permanent moorings for the barges in this area. Each one had a small garden, and there was even a floating children’s play area.

It was surprisingly quiet given that the location is a mere 15 minute walk from Centraal Station. We could hear a distant roar of traffic, but mostly we heard the hangry cheeping of two adolescent coots and the occasional quack of a duck. We also found a great crested grebe nesting a few boats down. It was definitely brooding, as we never saw the nest unoccupied.

Urban great crested grebe nest
The nest itself was a rather wonderful construction, being a mix of urban rubbish and plant detritus, with a few hollyhocks artfully arranged around the edges. The grebe had two female mallard bodyguards, who immediately came to circle the nest at a careful distance, giving me the side-eye when I hopped down on to the dock from the pavement to take photos.

The barge proprietor tiptoed in every morning to leave us breakfast on the table next to the wheelhouse. It included a bottle of freshly squeezed orange juice, muesli, yoghurt, and hardboiled eggs nested in knitted cosies. Much as I wanted to sleep in, the prospect of getting that into my belly when I heard his footsteps got me out of bed pretty early both mornings. We received so much food at breakfast that we were able to make sandwiches from the bread and cheese to squirrel away for later. We ate these in the Vondelpark on the first day, and for supper on the second after the lunch at Rijks.

Apart from the sheer pleasure of walking around Amsterdam, we also indulged in a trip to a Michelin-starred restaurant for a very belated birthday treat for me. We spent three and a half hours eating lunch at Rijks, which is next to the Rijksmuseum. The bloke had mentioned that it was my birthday when he made the booking. As a result, in addition to our pudding, I got a white chocolate candle with sorbet and a little message inside. We sampled both white and red wines, all by Dutch winemakers “from everywhere in the world” (e.g. New Zealand and South Africa).

Photos from Rijks behind the cut.

+++ )

Interesting Links for 22-08-2017

Aug. 22nd, 2017 12:00 pm

Interesting Links for 21-08-2017

Aug. 21st, 2017 12:00 pm
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Destroyer: Chapter 13

Aug. 20th, 2017 12:30 pm
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Posted by Andrew Hickey

Ian Fleming had been planning for a while to introduce Turing and Wheatley. While the two men were, in his opinion, unlikely to get along, they also both had inquisitive, fast-moving minds, of the kind that in Fleming’s view was needed to get the most out of the work the intelligence services were doing. If they didn’t end up murdering each other, they’d spark enough ideas between them to shorten the war by a year, if only a decent pretext could be found for bringing them together.

The opportunity had finally presented itself. Now Turing realised that the documents involved the occult, Wheatley’s area of expertise, he’d been positively eager to meet the man, and had travelled down to London with Fleming, to meet at Wheatley’s club as his guest.

Turing looked completely out of place in the confines of a luxurious gentlemen’s club, and seemed almost to be twitching. Fleming knew that Turing had met with far more important people than Wheatley, even the Prime Minister himself, but it didn’t seem to be the people as much as the objects that were setting him on edge. Turing just didn’t fit in in an opulent background, and it showed on his face.

Wheatley was sitting at his usual table, and gave a faint nod to the two men as they approached.

“Dennis Wheatley, this is Alan Turing. Alan, this is Dennis.”

Ever since the idea of the two men working together had first been mooted, Fleming had been very interested to see how they would react to each other. Sadly for him, they barely acknowledged each other, Turing merely reciprocating Wheatley’s nod. Wheatley gestured to the chairs nearby, and Fleming and Turing sat down.

“So Alan, I believe you have some questions to ask Dennis.”

“I do. I don’t know how helpful he will be, but…Mr. Wheatley, do you actually have much knowledge of the world of the occult, or is the research for your books less accurate than it appears?”

Wheatley thought for a second. “That’s a difficult question to answer. I have little first-hand, practical, experience, but I have spent enough time with those who have that I have a much better understanding than most laymen.”

“I would like, if I may, to ask you to have a look over some documents for me. Now, understand that these are top secret – Mr. Wheatley does have the appropriate classification, doesn’t he, Ian?”

Fleming nodded.

“That’s a relief. Now, may I take it that you will treat these documents with the utmost secrecy.”

Wheatley nodded, the ghost of a smirk appearing although he tried to hide it. “You may.”

Turing passed the papers across, and Wheatley spent a few minutes examining them in what Turing thought was an excessive amount of detail.

Finally, Wheatley put the papers down, and looked thoughtfully at Turing.

“Young man, you asked me if I would treat these documents with the utmost secrecy. Now I must ask you something similar. In order to explain them to you, I shall have to reveal to you secrets which, should they enter into the wrong hands, could do the most frightful damage.”

“You can trust me not to reveal anything you say to anyone, Mr. Wheatley.”

Wheatley nodded. “I believe I can. But it’s not simply a matter of trust. I have sworn oaths, as part of initiation ceremonies, and consider those oaths to be sacred bonds with very real consequences. I have also, however, sworn an even more sacred oath, of loyalty to His Majesty the King, his heirs and successors. That higher oath does, I believe, allow me to give you the information, but only if I am certain that you are bound by equally strong oaths.”

“Mr. Wheatley, I promise you, I am an honest man. I give you my word, and I consider that word to be at least as strong as any oath it is possible you have sworn. I cannot swear on anything but the truth, but I swear on that, and hope that is enough.”

Wheatley nodded. “I see. Yes, yes I think that will do.”

He put down the papers, and leaned back in his chair, as if to tell a long story.

“This ritual,” he began, “is intended to revive England, and bring her back to a supposed past glory.”

Turing interrupted. “But this is from the Nazis! Why would they want to revive Britain?”

Wheatley smiled. “Note that I said England, not Britain. That’s one of the important points here. This ritual would, if carried out, bring about the revival of a very real spirit, that of the Saxon people who inhabited England before the Norman conquest. As a Germanic people, the Nazis believe that the Saxons would ally with them. They want to conjure up the spirit of the English people – not the Norman aristocracy, and not the Scots or the other Celts, but the old, pure-blooded, Anglo Saxons. They think that something in the English people will resist rule by the Norman French. A demon encouraging a treasonous uprising against the ruling classes, in the name of freedom.”

“But isn’t it the ruling classes themselves who are doing this? And aren’t they rather against freedom?”

“Oh, Hitlerism is just a route to a greater anarchy at the end. And Crowley and his ilk believe that they will naturally rise to the top, once freed from the shackles of law and society. Filth.”

“So this ritual is merely intended to conjure up a ghost?” Fleming asked.

“Oh, it’s more than that. This ritual would, if carried out, destroy the British Empire.”

“Destroy the Empire? Nonsense! The British Empire is the greatest the world has ever seen! She’s at the height of her powers. How could a simple magic trick destroy that?”

“Empires do fall, Ian,” replied Turing. “I’m not saying that this makes any sense, but empires do all fall, eventually.”

Fleming turned purple.

“The Empires of the past fell because they became decadent, because they became weak, and allowed subversives to undermine them from within. That is not the case for the British Empire, and never will be!”

Turing nodded. “You may well be right. Of course I hope so.”

Noting the tension between them, Wheatley took a calmer tone. “Of course the Empire is as strong as she ever was. We all know that. The question is whether Herr Hitler does. We have already seen that he has quite an outsize opinion of Germany’s importance on the world stage. It is not difficult to imagine that he has an equally inaccurate opinion of Britain’s unimportance.”

Fleming nodded. “All right. I can see that.”

“Let me have a think about how to proceed with this, Ian. Meet me back here in a week, and by then I should have the beginnings of a plan.”

This is an excerpt from my novel, Destroyer. If you like this chapter, please buy the book. It can be bought in hardback from Lulu. The Kindle and paperback editions are available from Amazon (UK) and (US). For non-Kindle ebook versions This Books2Read Universal Link will give you links for your preferred ebook retailer.

The Blood is the Life for 20-08-2017

Aug. 20th, 2017 11:00 am
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[personal profile] miss_s_b

Linkblogging for 19/08/17

Aug. 19th, 2017 10:38 pm
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Posted by Andrew Hickey

Not done one of these in a while, and practically delirious with exhaustion, so here’s some links.

Jennie talks about autism-friendly clothing.

The history of Alice and Bob (and Eve, Mallory, et al)

I think I may have linked some of these before, but Nicky Case’s site has some wonderful interactive tutorials and simulations — half game half explainer blog post — on stuff like the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Hacking a gene sequencer by encoding malware in DNA

Chris Dillow talks about his socialism. His socialism and my liberalism are very compatible.

And Millennium on Brexit and optimism bias

Destroyer chapter tomorrow, and then with luck the next Prometheans post on Monday and the first of a series of looks at Harry Nilsson’s albums on Tuesday. That’s if I’m not so tired it takes me three goes to spell “luck” and two goes to spell “three”…

miss_s_b: (Mood: Facepalm)
[personal profile] miss_s_b
Marks and Spencer and the National Autistic Society have launched a school uniform range aimed at the parents of autistic children. Note that I say aimed at the parents of autistic children, rather than aimed at autistic children. All the blurb is to do with how easy it is to put on, and how hardwearing it is. The subtext is that it's designed for kids who can't dress themselves. This is clearly aimed at parents.

The other way you can tell that actually autistic people were not involved in this is that if you ask any autistic person what is most important for them in clothing they will tell you it's the fabric it's made of. Many autistic people have comorbid eczema, and a lot of those that don't have sensory issues, which mean that fabric and texture are hugely important in clothing. Something that is in contact with your skin all day needs to be made of something non-irritating; that almost always means 100% natural fibres. Cotton, or bamboo, or silk, or modal. Sometimes wool, but sometimes not. NEVER SODDING POLYESTER. And some of the clothes in that M&S range are 65% polyester. And of course it's very wearying that the only clothing specifically designed to be worn by autistic people is school uniform, because nobody of above school age is autistic, and no autistic child ever wears non-uniform clothing. AND they've "removed pockets for comfort". I have never known an autistic person who didn't want MORE pockets, as long as they are made from 100% natural fibre too.

So what would clothing for autistic people actually look like? Well, from the conversation on twitter today:
  1. Clear, obvious fabric labelling on the rack/shelf. While most of us just want everything 100% cotton, some of us prefer other natural fabrics like linen, and some actively prefer viscose or modal. Some of us can cope with silk or wool, some can't. Every single one of us, though, would like to see fabrics clearly, obviously labelled on the rack, without having to go hunting through the clothes for a tiny illegible care label.

  2. No polyester. Not even a little bit. Not ever. No, not even in linings.

  3. Linings are important! Linings are the bit that is actually in contact with your skin, so they need to be all natural fibres too. Note, though, that this does not mean you can take a garment made out of something horrible and line it with cotton and it will be OK - outer fabrics need to be touchable too.

  4. Care labels to be made of the same fabric as the clothing, not scratchy plastic.

  5. Elastic to be covered with the fabric the clothes are made of, not left to be in contact with your skin.

  6. Flat seams! Or even NO seams!

  7. For Cthulhu's sake, SOMEBODY make some bras we can wear! It is really, really, incredibly difficult to get hold of cotton bras, to the extent that I have considered making my own. And even if/when you DO find them, they are covered in non-cotton frills and lace and fripperies. And have stupid care labels made of plastic right in the middle of your back.

  8. Comfort and fit are much much more important than being on trend. I saw an article the other day that low slung waist trousers are coming back into fashion and actually cried.

  9. Moar pockets, on everything, especially women's clothes - but again, made of the same fabric as the actual clothing

  10. Stop saying things are "cotton touch" or "cotton feel" or "cotton rich". All this does is bugger up searching for cotton things. And actually, make your website searchable by fabric. That would be amazing.
And a clothing store for autistic people?
  1. Would be lit sensibly, not with migraine-inducing lighting.

  2. Would have the afore-mentioned obvious, clear clothing labels on the shelf/rack.

  3. Would sort by size and colour as well as style.

  4. Would have assistants that wait to be approached rather than badgering you the second you enter the shop.

  5. Would not have music at all (many many autistic people love music, but find music that they don't like intensely irritating; whatever music you play some of us will like and some won't) and would ideally have sound baffling so that other people's conversations are not intrusive.

  6. Would open from (say) 12 till 8, rather than 9 to 5. Autistic people are more likely than others to have odd sleep patterns and/or working hours.
Now, if some kind banker or venture capitalist would like to give me a wad of cash to make this a reality... And to M&S and the NAS... I do appreciate that you're trying, and I don't wish to appear ungrateful, but if you consulted any actually autistic people in fomulating that clothing range it's not immediately obvious. Please, please, bear in mind the priorities of actually autistic people, not the parents of autistic children, when making clothing that the autistic people are actually meant to wear. Remember the phrase: nothing about us without us. Thank you.

What Liberalism Means to Me

Aug. 19th, 2017 12:06 am
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Posted by Andrew Hickey

One thing half my twitter timeline seems absolutely certain of at the moment is that the real problem in the world today isn’t the fascists, so much as the liberals. These liberals are perpetuating white supremacy and anyone who doesn’t support Jeremy Corbyn is exactly as bad as Donald Trump and objectively part of the problem.

(For those who don’t follow Politics Twitter, there’s a *lot* of line-blurring going on at the moment as to where US political issues end and UK ones start, so a discussion about the cancellation of the electrification of the railway between Manchester and Leeds is liable to veer off into one about bringing down Confederate statues, largely because the latter is sexier.)

Now, blaming everything on liberals is their right, though personally if I was supporting someone who said we have to stop freedom of movement to stop foreigners coming over here taking our jobs, and who appointed as shadow equalities minister someone who wrote a column in the Sun saying that Pakistani men rape white women, I’d at least be considering my own side’s culpability in appeasing racists. But the odd thing is that most of the people they’re talking about are not liberals. They’re generally Labour moderates or soft-leftists, or even Tories.

See this, for example, from Laurie Penny (not singling Laurie out, it’s just one I saw today):

So stand up if you have ever dismissed the words and deeds of organized racists and violent misogynist movements as simply examples of freedom of speech and therefore by some arcane metric acceptable; stay standing if you have ever argued that the center-left needs to court anti-immigrant and anti-Black sentiment to win power.

That’s from a piece called “A Letter to my Liberal Friends“. And yet the people I know who have fought hardest against that kind of attitude are liberals. To quote a friend’s locked Twitter account “I follow a lot of big L Liberals and despite continued assertions otherwise, we pretty much all like the idea of punching Nazis. So if you could find another epithet for the guardianistas you’re on about (most of whom vote Labour, not Liberal), that’d be great.”

The problem with all this is that many on the left use “liberal” interchangeably with “centrist”, when the two are in fact very different. It is possible to be a moderate liberal *and* a centrist, just as it’s possible to be a moderate Tory or social democrat and be a centrist, but in the same way one wouldn’t define socialism by Ed Miliband standing in front of the Ed Stone, it makes no sense to define liberalism by its most moderate adherents.

So when I defend liberalism, I am *not* defending centrism. Which isn’t to say one can’t put together a perfectly good defence of centrism, but that I am a *radical* Liberal. Centrists can fight their own battles, or send drones to fight them for them (I’m kidding). I think many of the more vicious attacks on centrists at the moment are incorrect, but that’s not what this is about.

But be aware that I am NOT speaking for all liberals here, and I *am* more radical than many.

I know the political compass test is hugely flawed, but it’s useful in that it’s widely known. Here’s my own current score after taking the test a few minutes ago:

That is not an uncommon position *at all* for Liberals in the UK. Most of the Lib Dem activists I know get scores in that rough area. Not especially centrist or moderate. And certainly not very “let’s not make a fuss about oppression”.

So what *is* it that liberals believe, if it’s not “fascists have a point”? Well, I wouldn’t like to speak for anyone other than myself, but I’ve recently been rereading a few great Liberal writers — Mill, Popper, and so forth — and especially rereading Conrad Russell’s utterly masterful An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Liberalism, which traces the intellectual threads that have animated British Liberalism since the 17th century.

And while it’s not at all possible to summarise four hundred years of thought and the consequences of that in a few paragraphs, I think I can give the gist.

Liberalism is, in essence, about power, consent, and boundaries. It is about making sure that everyone has the chance to be the version of themselves that they want to be, and to live the life they want to live, without anyone else being able to stop them. It’s about removing all unjust power relations, whether they be imposed by society, government, or employers, and ensuring that any power one individual has over another is by consent, revokable, and the minimum necessary.

It’s about dismantling all oppressive systems of power, getting rid of all privilege, whether the inherited privilege of rich people owning houses and poor people having to pay rent to them (“why should we work hard and let the landlords take the best?” asks the party song), or the privilege of white over black, male over female, Christian over Muslim, British over foreign, abled over disabled, cis over trans, monogamous over poly, shareholder over employee, boomer over millenial, straight over LGB+.

It’s about decisions being made by the people they affect.

It’s about the harm principle: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others” (Mill’s wording, I wouldn’t use “his”, but he was writing in the 19th century). Note that this does *not* mean the kind of fundamentalist free-speech frothing you get from some quarters — Nazi speech causes harm to others, and indeed that’s its entire intent, so it’s *entirely* acceptable to exercise power to prevent Nazi speech.

It’s about celebrating people’s identities, whatever those identities are, but also about ensuring people don’t have those identities imposed on them by others, whether legally or through social pressure. Whether someone wants to transition and have a different gender recognised by society, or they want to cross a national border and live somewhere else, or convert to a different religion, there should be no barriers in place to stop them doing so, and their decision should be celebrated as allowing them to live the life they are best suited to.

And it’s about taking those principles and constantly reexamining one’s ideas in light of new information, and applying the same principles to new situations. (Hence the joke “a liberal can become a conservative in twenty years, without changing a single idea!” — and most Lib Dems could name quite a few people they know who that one applies to…)

I’d urge anyone who wants to know what liberals actually think to read Russell’s book. The Amazon link above should work, but it’s out of print so copies may become unavailable. However Nick Barlow did an excellent series of blog posts reviewing the book’s major arguments, linked here. But also look at what liberals themselves are saying, people like Nick, or Jennie or Richard or Alix or Sarah or Richard or any of dozens of others.

You’ll find they disagree with me, and with each other, a lot of the time. But what you won’t find is any of them defending fascism as freedom of speech, or arguing for a stronger anti-immigrant stance to appease racists.

There are many words for those stances, but “liberal” is not one of them.

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Aug. 18th, 2017 02:27 pm
hollymath: (Default)
[personal profile] hollymath
I've deleted the post I wrote this morning when I was certain I wouldn't get on the linguistics course, because it would look stupid now that I have been offered a place!

It still has to be sorted out but I'm making Andrew do all that stuff because I don't actually understand how clearing works. But I had a phone call with a nice person from the department who seemed surprised when I was surprised she said she would like to offer me a place on the course, heh. I don't think I composed myself very well during that conversation, but she didn't change her mind anyway!

Holy shit, you guys, they're letting me do linguistics at Manchester University.

Starting in a month!

I've already enlisted the help of [personal profile] barakta who knows a lot about financing and disability stuff, which is awesome, but really I have no idea how to go to university in this country.

I was pretty sure this wasn't going to work. Not for impostor-syndrome kinds of reasons, real ones. They didn't hide how hesitant they were about me: because I didn't take AP classes (my poor rural school didn't offer any, though I spent all my high school life being told I should have been taking them and I think that'd have worked far better for me anyway), I didn't take the SAT because I'm from the Midwest and was looking at colleges in the Midwest, I didn't have the grades in college because I was so fucking mental but still years away from realizing it.

I was sure this wasn't going to work. Because that's what happens to me: I can do things but can't prove I can do the things. Same with job interviews all the time.

Everyone on Twitter is happy, bless them all, but it still hasn't sunk in for me.
nanila: little and wicked (mizuno: lil naughty)
[personal profile] nanila
Poll #18711 Eye candy
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 49


View Answers

Vin Diesel
9 (18.4%)

Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock
18 (36.7%)

Yes, yes please
9 (18.4%)

Fast AND furious, hurr hurr
7 (14.3%)

No thanks, fit bald men aren't my thing
15 (30.6%)

I have a really short attention span. What was the question?
8 (16.3%)

Cake, anyone?
23 (46.9%)

18 (36.7%)

More fodder for the book!

Aug. 18th, 2017 10:52 am
hollymath: (Default)
[personal profile] hollymath
Yesterday morning I saw I'd been tagged in a tweet where Andrew linked to this, saying "Jesus Christ. By this standard, @hollyamory and I are in a 'marriage of convenience.'"

The article is about a High Court ruling saying that a "genuine couple can enter in a marriage of convenience." Even people who are in a real relationship, not seeking a "sham marriage," can apparently be told that they can't get married because by doing so one of them would attain an "immigration advantage."

Which, yeah. Is exactly what Andrew and I did. With no other avenue of study or work open to us in the mental/physical/financial state we were in at the time (or indeed at any time since), the only way for us to stay in the same country was to get married.

As I pointed out in a series of angry follow-up tweets, the only reason we needed an "immigration advantage" is because being poor and disabled have been declared immigration disadvantages. Marriage is the only route available to current non-EU citizens who don't make £35,000 a year. (Maybe one day that (or its successor at a no-doubt higher salary threshold) will apply to non-EU citizens too.) This is not the fault of any people getting married.

This is not the fault of people getting married.

You may start to see now why I hate the Home Office, why I am the unusual rat who jumped on to the sinking ship of Brexit Britain. Andrew and I both really don't want to but also can't move to the U.S., and there's no other country that will have us both. So if we're going to stay in the same country, it has to be the UK. So I want to feel as secure in that as possible.

When I started talking about this on Twitter, a lot of my friends pointed out that marriage is a legal status so of course people are going to enter into it for legal reasons: tax, inheritance, child guardianship, lots of things. In the UK, increasingly few people get married solely for religious reasons, so legal elements are going to be part of the decision for a lot of people. Yet it's a bad thing if any of those reasons are immigration-related?

Increasingly I'm realizing how much higher a standard immigrants are held to than the native citizens of not just the UK but certainly the U.S. too (where, y'know, immigrants and visitors actually have to say they're not Nazis!) and no doubt other countries as well. It's so frustrating to see this everywhere.

The Blood is the Life for 18-08-2017

Aug. 18th, 2017 11:00 am
miss_s_b: (Default)
[personal profile] miss_s_b

Getting stuff done

Aug. 17th, 2017 09:17 pm
hollymath: (Default)
[personal profile] hollymath
I've had a better week this week anyway, but it's also been a busier one.

Monday and Tuesday I got a lot of stuff done around the house: caught up with everything that I let slide over the weekend while I was away and the week or so before when my mental health had been too bad. We're at only normal levels of disorganized and cluttered now, and while it's kind of sad that feels like an achievement, at least it's an achievement.

Tuesday I got a key and directions for feeding a friend's cats while she was away for a couple of days. She kindly paid me very generously for this, which was completely unexpected but so nice. I was worried I'd forget but I didn't! Even managed to feed them at about their usual times, except it was a bit later this morning because I slept badly last night.

Yesterday I had a meeting of the VI steering group I'm no longer running. The team manager who gets paid for it is sorting out the meeting dates and telling everyone about them, which honestly I think works better anyway. I feel bad I'm not doing it, especially since I'm interested in other volunteering things -- at this meeting I met someone from the Disabled People's Access Group who says I'd be good to join in some other stuff she does that did sound interesting to me.

On my bus ride there, I got to hear the finished product of a great fanfic audio story that I did one of the voices for. I wasn't too cringeworthy and the story turned out great. I really hope there are more stories in the series, partly because it'd be fun to play my one again, partly just because I want to see what happens.

Yesterday Andrew also got further in applying me for this university course; he actually talked to the clearing people. They asked for a scan of my high school diploma, which since it's at my parents' I was worried would be quite a challenge, but my dad's e-mailed it over this evening and said it was easy. Well done, clever parents!

This morning I had another meeting about a totally different volunteer thing. It's at Manchester Museum, involves some really cool technology and senior people who are very keen to get the expertise of visually impaired people. I am super excited. That probably won't start for a month at least, so at exactly the same time as Lib Dem Conf and this uni course if I get on it and so I am sure that will be fine. No really, I will make it all work.

And this afternoon my friend Mary was in town, which I hadn't known about until a couple of days ago. She's usually near Norwich so this is quite remarkable. I hadn't seen her in more than a year, since the weekend of falling in the river in Oxford (sadly you can't see the pictures right now; I still need to figure out how to get them off Photobucket and to somewhere useful). A train derailment (not hers!) meant she got in a bit later than planned but we still had time to rush around finding somewhere still open where she could buy euros for her trip to Ireland tomorrow and have dinner in a pub. Battered halloumi and chips for both of us (but I swapped my chips for sweet potato fries because sweet potatoes are great and regular potatoes are not). She'd never had halloumi like that before! We bitched about politics and she taught me some Irish words (I will probably forget them again, like I did last time, except not the one for "penis" because it has a joke as a mneomic device).

Saturday is the "Bi Takeover for Pride" event at the LGBT Foundation, which honestly I am treating like another bit of BiCon, down to going along to see people I know who are going as much as I'm there for any of the workshops. So that should be nice.

So yeah. Good week. Glad to know they're still possible.
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[personal profile] andrewducker
Monday is my birthday, and to celebrate Jane is going to show me around Paris for a long weekend. We're off tomorrow morning, and arriving back on my actual Birthday (Monday), which is _also_ the anniversary of the first time she hugged me (after she came to the airport to meet me off the plane back from my trip around the Southlands).

I arrived home to discover that she had made this wonder in the living room:

And I am looking forward to being allowed to open any of the things underneath it!

(Jim is being left with strict instructions that he is not allowed to eat any of the boxes. Or the tree. Or be sick on any of them. Or peek inside.)
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Posted by Andrew Hickey

I need to read more fiction that isn’t by white males, but it’s very difficult to find stuff I’d love, and I wonder if anyone here can help with that?

You see, I have fairly specific tastes for fiction, and the stuff that really appeals to me is… well, it’s pretty much exclusively written by white men. But it’s not *only* written by white men, and I think I have an absolute responsibility to read more of the stuff that isn’t.

Of course, I read anything I get recommended, and I read all the Hugo nominees most years (I didn’t get to all the novels this year as the surprise election got in the way), and I find plenty of good stuff by women and BAME people that way — but “good” isn’t the same as what I love. Something like The Long Way To A Small, Angry, Planet by Becky Chambers is definitely a very good, enjoyable, book, but it’s not one that satisfies the particular itch I have. I’d put it in the same category as, say, Ben Aaronovitch’s books, or Agatha Christie’s, or Stephen King’s — all authors who I can happily read and enjoy (I’ve read all of Aaronovitch’s stuff, and the bulk of the other two), but whose works don’t stay with me and cause me to think about them for weeks, months, or years afterward.

(Actually, a couple of Christie’s books do — The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and And Then There Were None).

What I’m after, ideally, are idea-based novels, with a multiplicity of narratorial voices. Metafiction is always good, as is time travel. I like self-aware narrators, stories in which multiple layers of reality collide, and books which posit wildly different ways of organising society. I like plots based around solving a puzzle — whether a murder mystery, a puzzle about the nature of the world, or a problem in politics. I like books to be thematically dense, and to have plots and structures that reflect the thematic concerns.

I tend not to read for character — I can appreciate a well-drawn character as well as anyone, but it’s not why I read — and I strongly dislike long descriptions of the physical environment (because I’m aphantasic) but I also don’t like the kind of “clear prose” that reads like it was written to be adapted into a film without any changes.

Now, I’ve asked for recommendations like this before, and what I’ve done then is describe the kind of book I want, usually by reference to white male authors, because so little of what I’ve read in the style I like is by anyone else — up until last year I could name a handful of short stories in City of the Saved and Faction Paradox anthologies and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and that was more or less it. But since the start of last year I’ve read three novels by women (or co-written by a woman in one case) which are absolutely the sort of thing I’m after, and so I thought I’d talk about them, and ask for recommendations *of books like them*.

The first of those is one I already wrote about, The Lathe of Heaven. I won’t rehash everything I said there, but will just say that it’s *exactly* the kind of thing I’m after reading more of.

Second, there’s The Just City by Jo Walton. This is the first book of a trilogy, and I intend to read the second and third volumes (I bought the second a year or so ago, but bounced off it because I tried reading it in a period when my mental health was wrecking my concentration. I’ll be trying it again). I was sure I’d reviewed it here before, but apparently not — and when I’ve finished the trilogy, assuming the other two books in the series are anything like as good, I *will* be posting a long review, because this is frankly one of the best SFF novels I’ve ever read. It’s a book I’d recommend to literally anyone — with the important caveat that one of its major themes is bodily autonomy and consent, and so there are several rape scenes, fairly graphically depicted, in which the rapist is someone previously portrayed as a sympathetic character or friend of his victim. These scenes are *not* gratuitous, and are *absolutely* necessary for the themes the book is working through, and at no point does the narrative treat them as excusable, but they may be all the more distressing for that, so people with triggers around that may want to avoid the book or only read it when they’re in an appropriate state of preparedness. Those scenes distressed *me*, and I’m (thankfully) someone who has never experienced anything like that.

The novel has Athena and Apollo set up a colony, in the past, to which they bring everyone throughout history who has ever read Plato’s Republic and prayed to Athena to live in that state (including a number of prominent historical figures, as well as people from our own future). Aided by robots (whose sentience or otherwise is a major theme of the book) they build the Republic, precisely as described by Plato, and the novel describes the problems they face. It takes Plato’s ideas utterly seriously, and as such is an incredibly strong critique of them. It’s told from multiple first-person perspectives — a child slave brought to the Republic, a nineteenth-century woman who wanted to live in the Republic because it treated women as equals, and the god Apollo, incarnated as a human to try to understand humans. It’s an utterly fascinating work, and *precisely* my kind of thing.

And finally there’s The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland. I read this because of Stephenson, who’s a favourite writer of mine, but my guess is that here the plot and ideas came from Stephenson, but most (not all) of the actual prose came from Galland, just judging from the prose styles. This is another story that sits on the border of science fiction and fantasy — there’s a science-fictional handwave explanation for magic having existed in the past but no longer existing in the present day, and for time travel which allows a government agency to try to rectify that, and so various characters go back in time to liaise with witches in pre-revolutionary America, Elizabethan and Victorian London, and earlier time periods. But they find that changes to the past have some unpredictable effects on the present, and that not everyone is working towards the same goals…

It’s an epistolary novel, and has some wonderful pastiches of different writing styles and genre collisions — there’s a lovely bit, “The Lay of Wal-Mart”, which is a Viking saga about a gang of marauding Vikings who get a witch to send them to 21st century America and invade a supermarket:

The West-march of the Walmart
Held all the food in the world,
Bottled beer by the boatload,
Frost-kept food, milk and meat.
Setting up for a siege behind barricades
The Norsemen fetched food, collected clothing,
Turkish trousers with flies in the front
Kept closed with clever contraptions,
Tiny teeth, meshing like millipedes’ legs,
Gnashing, knitting, concealing the naked.
Zipper the Fatlanders called it.
Cock-catcher it was to Hunfast, the hapless.

The best analogy I’ve come up with to describe the book is that it’s clearly the same kind of thing as Stephenson’s earlier Anathem, but is to that book as the Doctor Who story City of Death is to Logopolis — a time-travel comedy romp, even involving a subplot very like the multiple Mona Lisas from City of Death, and getting by on wit and a general sense of joy and playfulness, but almost exactly as clever as it thinks it is.

All three of those books get as high a recommendation as I can give (with the caveat that D.O.D.O ends on a cliffhanger and leaves a ton of plot threads hanging), and I want more of this. So, where can I find it?

(Incidentally, no need to recommend Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library, which I’m told ticks all these boxes — I have it downloaded and it’s on the digital TBR pile already).

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Aug. 17th, 2017 12:00 pm
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