Bygone Big Book

*Dune* used to be big.  So big they made a movie of it (and a mini-series, but I never saw that), launching Kyle MacLachlan's career, more or less.  I didn't watch it last night, but I did enjoy Conan the Destroyer last night, also produced by Dino and a much better date movie (Grace Jones! Olivia D'Abo! Wilt Chamberlain! Sarah Douglas!  Swords, sandals, scheming, and sorcery).  Watching it may be what reminded of a bit from Dune where young Paul has a vision of a woman in a black skinsuit asking him a question.  I couldn't remember the wording for sure and I thought I'd see if anyone else does.
Poll #2006026 Acid trip, er, spicy question

Did she ask him ...

What is best in life?
0(0.0%)
Tell me of your childhood, Usul.
0(0.0%)
Tell me of your dreams, Usul.
1(14.3%)
Tell me of your homeworld, Usul.
6(85.7%)
Tell me of your fandom, Usul.
0(0.0%)
What do you do with a man?
0(0.0%)

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A Sociable Afternoon

I had an enjoyable late lunch with LJ's Rattleback, at Bistrot du Coin just north of Dupont Circle.  The food was really good: I had a dish of spicy sausage, spiced veg, and couscous (Morrocan/Algerian influence?).  We caught up on each others' news, and chatted about a book he'd loaned me, Schizmatrix Plus by Bruce Sterling -- interesting science fiction which covers a long span of time, economics, revenge, theatrics, changing/clashing cultures (kind of cyberpunks versus bio-tinkerers in parts).  Bonus points:

  1. It hadn't snowed at 1 as predicted by Accuweather, making the trip down easier.

  2. I lucked into a parking space on Florida Ave just around the corner from the restaurant (I drove because I forgot my Metro card and .

  3. Despite the ... threat? on the restaurant's "About" page about the traditional Bistro(t?) yellow-brown color coming from nicotine stains, the dining room was smoke-free (at least at that time).

I had a long phone chat with LJ's Squishydish on the drive back (I missed a few turns as I was happily driving along and chatting with her via my headset, hands on the wheel), launching from my having watched several episodes of a reality show she'd watched years ago, Texas Ranch House, where modern-day people live for the summer as a ranch family and ranch hands in 1867.  They were very immersed in it (although still with some modern attitudes/expectations), egos invested, far more than LARPs I've been in, for example.  It interests me as a case study in management -- nobody's totally evil on the show, but there sure are some poor decisions.  We had a good time chatting about the show, comparing parts of episodes to work situations we'd had, and our ideas about good and less than good teamwork, leadership, and decision-making.  I don't want to be a manager (I like the hands-on tech work too much), but I've been interested in how collaboration is influenced by infrastructure and rules of engagement for a long time.

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Recent reads from the library:

  • The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu, from almost 10 years ago but probably will be nominated for 2014 Hugos b/c of translation by Ken Liu.  A friend (welcome to step forward) says the science is bad, but it didn't jar me any more than FTL hand-waving usually does.  Ranges from China during the Cultural Revolution (with a close-up of the bad effect on scientists) to near-future with a nano-engineer and a cop with good people-instincts (if not people-skills) looking into scientists who've killed themselves recently, and possible relations to a VR game.  Loving descriptions of the game sequences, but the history parts were more engaging (but sometimes horrifying) to me.  Sad when a student tells a professor he's going into engineering because it's too easy to make (fatal) political mistakes in scientific theory.  Also, aliens?

  • Deep State by Walter Jon Williams, also from a few years ago:  A mixed-media (LARP and online interwoven; embedded-reality?) game company exec lets her company get drawn into a CIA? mission in Turkey shortly after they wrap up a James Bond media event there.  She's a bit annoyingly oblivious to some of the local intricacies (ethnicities, religion, etc.), and angsty in other parts, but there are some cool hackery parts to the story (if also a bit hand-wavey).  Some back story that was probably explained in a previous book or will be explained in a later one.

  • The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod, also from a few years ago: I liked this one the best, overall.  Spies, counter-spies, games within games, family history, and old history in "Krassnia" (I was thinking more or less Ukraine, but reviews suggest Georgia).  The heroine is someone who talked her way into being an admin for a games company (I was thinking sysadmin, from her foray into a translation for one of the games, but it was actually a secretarial position), and now begins to wonder just how much of her life has been maneuvered by her mother, her grandmother, or several suspected fathers (her mother's been reticent on her father's identity).  Political arguments at parties, heroics, ... aliens?

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Ketchup

My goodness, it's been a while.  I've had several posts in my head I haven't gotten around to.  None of them are this.

Books:

  • I think I've talked here about Jo Graham's Order of the Air series, but I don't see it in my book-tagged entries.  Pilots, WWI vets, magic, saving the world, loss, love, life, starts in the 20's with an archeological dig that uncovers something bad.  The fourth book, Windraker, is set in 1935 Hawaii, and I burbled here to the author about why I liked it so much.  Reviews on Amazon will be a little more coherent, though.

  • I meant to write something about Nicola Upson's The Death of Lucy Kyte awhile back.  It's one of those what-if-this-author-were-a-detective books that seem to be the thing lately, this one about Josephine Tey.  Fortunately Tey is just her pen name, so I was able to ignore the Tey part (which isn't too obtrusive), and read this thing about a writer who inherits a cottage from her godmother, a famous stage actress, with her personal papers (what to publish?) and a couple of mysteries attached to them and the cottage, and also who the other heir (Lucy Kyte) could be.  Not an upper, but I found it absorbing.

Dance: Enjoyed the Midwinter Ball in Baltimore as a sort of warm-up, then had a great time at the Flurry Festival in Saratoga Springs, NY in February.  Contra, blues, swing, even a little Cajun.  Trying to Cajun waltz with someone who can't suspend their disbelief that yes, really, it's just back-me-up-in-waltz-time, no turns/spins, is challenging.  Still fun.  :)

Health:  stabby pain in my TY band? (right front thigh from hip to inner knee) keeps waking me up.  Shoveling snow for 2 hours actually helped, but it's back again.  2-mile walk on terrain (not treadmill) also helps (for a night).  PT (tail bone manipulation) / massage (back, lower back, back of thigh, calves, front of thigh) --> only temporary relief.  Lack of sleep interfering sometimes with other stuff.  An occasional full night's uninterrupted sleep is a real blessing.
Media:

  • We enjoyed Zhong Kui, Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal last weekend in a movie theater (it may be gone by now).  Journeys between the worlds of gods, mortals, and demons, with intrigue, spine-swords, and star-crossed love.  Mostly coherent, silly in parts, and gorgeous imagery.  3D not too gimmicky.

  • I came across a series of LJ entries with interesting thoughts about Captain America.

Work:  small layoff that didn't affect me directly, but affected a friend at work.  Not exactly related, my boss has moved to another part of the company.  His deputy is now my boss; given his now 25 direct reports, it looks like I'll get some more responsibility.  He seems decent; we'll see if / how much he changes on his own (I think he's more direct, fwiw).


Followups on a couple of older entries:

  1. Book Cluster: Reluctant Communist Cops:  a) I've read a couple more of the Siri Paibourn mysteries, still enjoying them.  b) There's an environmental documentary in China that's gotten a huge amount of discussion, which reminded me of the changing times there in the Inspector Chen books.

  2. Macbeth:  a) Leiacat's write-up of Sleep No More b) Another teacher's exercise, this one in Miss Moorthy Investigates by Ovidia Yu, results in one student putting the plot down to Lady Macbeth having been bored out of her mind.  Set in 1970's Singapore.  Interesting and fun (her arty parents despair at the phase she's going through, of being a teacher) in parts even though I fingered the killer very early on, but I prefer her later books (Aunty Lee's Delights, Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials: social awareness and food geeking mixed into mystery).

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Book cluster: Reluctant Communist Cops

Picking up from bad dreams over Christmas, yesterday I had an anxiety dream about missing a flight to Japan where I needed to go for my company (unlikely, but that's dreams). I don't think I AM that anxious about work, but now maybe my subconscious maps anxiety to my employer any time anxiety comes up in dreams now -- I'm behind on chores that people are waiting on me for.

Here are a couple of mystery series I've been meaning to write about, with protagonists who have their own work issues:

  • Dr. Siri Paiboun mysteries, by Colin Cotterill. Siri's the national coroner of Laos and is sent on investigations here and there by his government. But he doesn't want to be the coroner. He was a field surgeon who thought he was retiring at 72, but the party kind of insisted (you want to keep your little government-furnished house, right?) on his becoming their coroner. Dry humor, not pathos. First book The Coroner's Lunch is set in 1976 (most professionals had fled Laos at that time). I didn't quite like something about the ending, but picked up another in the series when I came across it at B&N. This was *The Woman Who Wouldn't Die*, in which Siri and his wife (who has quite a history of her own) travel to a small distant village to supervise an excavation. Siri hasn't told the party he's hesitantly started to interact with spirits, which occasionally factor into the investigations. I like him, and other characters, and the location and local history are interesting to me. I plan to read the next story when it comes out in May, and have put on hold one of the in-between books I missed from the library.

  • Inspector Chen mysteries, by Xiaolong Qiu.  Chen is a police inspector in Shanghai in the 90's.  He was assigned to the police after studying poetry in college, not anything he was aiming for, but has risen in the force almost despite himself.  The first one I read was When Red Is Black, where Chen is off-duty translating a development proposal into English and trying to avoid being corrupted by all the money and favors floating around.  His subordinate works a case (a murdered professor/writer), and Chen gets sucked into the case a bit as the story progresses.  I don't actually care that much for Chen (his habit of quoting lots of poetry gets on other characters' nerves sometimes, too), but the surrounding characters, particularly  the aforementioned subordinate and his restaurant-bookkeeper wife, are interesting, and the descriptions of food, life, politics, and economics in and around Shanghai are also interesting.  I've also read Don't Cry, Tai Lake which has an environmental theme (I was interested to hear a story on NPR recently about new substantive crackdowns against pollution in China,  a change from the huge emphasis on economic development at any cost), and Enigma of China which looks at Internet use and dissension in China.  I wondered if the series was going to stop after Enigma, since Chen's position seemed to be getting perilous, but it looks like there's another one coming out next summer.

I have a vague recollection of reading a Russian police procedural sometime ago, and Gorky Park, but can't remember if the detectives there were just gloomy Russians on general principle, or never wanted to be cops in the first place.

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Achoo, Achoo, Achoo

Poll #1994566 Facial Tissues

Did they cut back on the lotion in Puffs Plus? I got some when I ran out of Kleenex Cool Touch (it's been a bad cold), but they seem much less lotion-y than before, and hurt my tender nose.

Guessing: Yes, they cut back and their tissues are harsher now.
1(6.7%)
Guessing: No, your nose is just that tender.
5(33.3%)
Why are you up late posting to LJ?
1(6.7%)
Yay, you're posting to LJ!
8(53.3%)
I actually know something about facial tissue and will share it in comments.
0(0.0%)

Vacation and Dreams

Last week was the first full week I'd had off since July 2013.  It was not entirely relaxing, as it involved the unexpected selection, purchase, and installation of a new clothes washer, and lots of driving, but how nice to have a whole week to see loved ones, spend some time in the woods, take long walks, play games, and help others cook and hand out presents, and so on.

However, I did also have some disturbing dreams:  a reorganization at work on Christmas morning, and two this morning, a nightmare about  monsters/undead in a flooded basement?  followed by frantically preparing for another government shutdown.  Now, the outright nightmare may have been influenced by the broken old washer (although flooding wasn't the issue) and a gorey Jurassic Park fanvid I watched recently, and my reading *Ancillary Sword* this weekend (connection probably obvious to those who've read it), but I also think these dreams show I'm not quite ready to go back to work today.  But I will.  :-)

A Trio of Macbeth Variants

Macbeth liked the idea of murder and had been thinking of it a lot, but he needed a push to get him started.  Once he'd got started he enjoyed murdering people and had no more qualms or fears.  Lady Macbeth was just greedy and ambitious.  She thought she didn't mind what she did to get what she wanted.  But once she'd done it she found she did mind after all. -- Julia Upjohn, in Cat Among The Pigeons by Agatha Christie

Well, that's one interpretation, although I'm not sure how Banquo's ghost fits in.  Every once in a while my reading kind of clumps together, and for whatever reason, I've read three different books in the past few months with different takes on the story.

  • Enter Three Witches by Caroline B. Cooney, 2007:  the story from the viewpoint of Lady Mary, a teen ward of the Macbeths whose position slips way down to scullery maid as the turmoil progresses.  Moves along pretty well, although from Lady Mary's POV it's a grim slide from serving a lady and then queen she thinks is wonderful, to watching the Macbeths' love die and their power decay, and her own position getting more and more precarious.  Not ALL grim.  Witches mostly distant and scary.  Includes quotes from the play in dialogue and chapter headers.  Lots of side characters with their own stories, some just seen as glimpses.

  • Lady Macbeth's Daughter by Lisa Klein, 2009: Albia is raised by the three sisters, not knowing her true parentage (Macbeth decided she was demon spawn, and had ordered her killed).  Each of the sisters has an individual personality and agenda; Albia has visions of her own. Her story alternates with that of Lady MacBeth.   Language less formal, less Shakespearean.  I'm not quite convinced of some of the characters, but it was interesting and sympathetic.

  • Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett, 1988: What if the child of a king (not Duncan, not in Scotland) was spirited away to three witches when the king was murdered, and they gave him to an acting troupe passing by, with some blessings as an afterthought?  Multiple POVs, humor, etc.  Still Macbeth-y in parts, with a sort of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, a haunted wood, and other elements from the play, Pratchett-style.

Bonus:  Circle of Stones by Anna Lee Waldo, 1999: Not really Macbeth at all, but it also involves a woman held at the whim of her powerful lord (in Wales, though), to be a servant to his sickly wife after he tires of her as his mistress, also with a child spirited away, also with magic (druids) and intrigue and treachery, leading into the Madoc legend.  Looong with interesting bits sprinkled through.

Various of these had interesting takes on magic/perception, and most had their own ways of showing that feudal life is not always delightful, especially for women, and especially when royalty fail to deal with their spoiled children and/or the succession.

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Circlesinging

Background:  I sang in chorus (with occasional solos) from children's choirs most  of the way through college.  There's something wonder-ful in creating tones and songs with other people.  Most of my group singing since then has been via occasional hymn-singing when I'm visiting my dad, and folk music at dance camps.  The local choirs around don't especially pull at me -- mainly because I think the commitment to weekly rehearsal and performance dates would weigh on me.  Singing choral pop music doesn't pull at me at all (too often too schmaltzy, though I enjoy listening to the occasional rockapella).  Church choirs mean a twice a week commitment, and would probably lead to some degree of pressure to join the church.  I tried shape note singing once (I know that's not a fair trial) but it was a long drive (to go often) and a high entry barrier (different notation, cognitive dissonance).  But I like listening to much choral music.

I was intrigued to come across a very local group -- 5 minutes by car from my house, or a half-hour walk in good weather -- which does something which I hadn't realized was a thing, called Circlesinging.  If you think of some of Bobby McFerrin's group numbers, that might give you the idea -- and some of the leaders of the local group have trained with him. I tried it out on Sunday (they meet second Sunday afternoons), and ended up really liking it.  It's kind of a choral improv group, where we are led to sing syllables in rounds, and the leaders (and volunteers, when they can get them) sing on top of that.  The lead stays with a section (e.g., altos) until they get their bit (a syllable, a measure, a couple of measures at most), and then goes on to the next section (e.g., second sopranos) and builds on that.  There were jazz and blues elements, percussive mouth/body sounds, and sometimes we snapped fingers or stood up and kind of stamped/marched as we sang.  Sometimes actual words were used.  :-)  Occasionally it was more call-and-response.  There was a game where one person in the circle started with a sound/rhythm, and then the next person added something to harmonize/complement what they were doing, and we went all the way around the circle.  Of course that kind of freestyle could be far more intimidating to some people than just a different notation system, but it all felt playful and warm to me.

Some vids:

Fetch Clay, Make Man

I saw the above-titled play Wednesday night with LJ's StevendJ:
Set after Malcom X's assassination and leading up to the second fight between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston (1965).  Ali meets and forms something of a friendship with the actor who played Stepin Fetchit in the movies ... but they both want something from each other.  Their relation is also complicated with separate and group interactions with Ali's sexy wife Sonji and his glowering bodyguard Rashid.  I developed real sympathy for Ali, a man trying to live a clean life, beset by people who wanted to use him, but also maybe fooling himself sometimes.  A lot of history and some speculation, in a powerful story well told/acted.  We both came out of the play wanting to know more about the people in the play and the rest of their stories, always a good sign.  I've read up on both of them in Wikipedia now, at least (and followed links to some others mentioned).  Runs through Sunday.

We had dinner first at http://foodwineandco.com/dinner.html
Steven liked his pumpkin risotto but the edamame appetizer was messy (sauce all over the exterior).  I had an excellent cream of celery root soup (with chicken stock, not veg), and a tasty seared-tuna salade nicoise.

The parking situation was a little strange.  I paid to park in the theater underground parking at 6 (so we could have dinner) but inside the garage, it said visitor parking was only for four hours, so I felt I had to leave when the play was over (9:55pm), instead of staying through the post-play talk.  Grr.  Next time I'll take Metro or park elsewhere.  At least parking was only $5.00, though.

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