Happy New Year Y’all! I like to think of a shiny New Year full of shiny new possibilities but I’m still musing about my last book of 2018.
Despite the title, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers is about mostly really nice people. (Some of whom are aliens. Aliens are people too!) It starts out when a young woman with a secret past joins the crew of a wormhole building space ship as a clerk. And they’re (almost) all so nice and welcoming. Then they get a big job a long way off, some things happen along the way, and everyone mostly at least tries to be polite. They’re all so nice! More and more I find myself appreciating stories about nice people doing their best.
Even the universe here is so nice. Some Bad Things have happened to Earth but the book isn’t really about that; it’s sad but they don’t live there. So much Science Fiction always seems so bleak and dystopian with oppressive governments, killer robots, nuclear winter, civil war, etc. It’s so nice here that the universe has so many planets to visit and cool things to see.
And yet, I find myself wishing there was a bit more here. There aren’t a lot of stakes for most of the book. The structure almost feels like a TV series where each episode they stop on a new planet/encounter space pirates/meet someone unexpected, stuff happens, then everything kind of goes back to the status quo. Much as I appreciate a nice story about nice people in space, what I could really go for is a nice story about nice people overcoming obstacles in space.
Then I feel mean for wishing harm on the characters. Did I mention how nice everyone is?
Lately it seems like approximately 90% of all literature is about the Holocaust, or perhaps a different war, or maybe slavery. Y’know, serious depressing stuff. That’s how you know it’s litterchure! I saw a comment somewhere where someone was saying she liked reading romances because they had happy endings and no gruesome deaths. I don’t read romance but I see her point.
So I was gratified to happen upon The Hidden Keys by Andre Alexis which, despite being the kind of literature too fancy for quotation marks, is about a treasure hunt. And not even one where they have to find things before the Nazis. Tancred meets a junkie who claims to have a fabulously wealthy father who left clues to more secret riches. There are some deaths and drug dealers but also clues! Schemes! Treasure! I do love a good scavenger hunt, and a good crazy scheme. (Especially if I am not actually participating in the crazy scheme.)
Also, it’s set in Toronto, which gives me that constant thrill of “Hey, I’ve been there!” I wonder if people who live in places like New York or London get bored of seeing their city in fiction.
Meanwhile, I’ve been working on some golden bus riding socks:
Maybe I can wear them for treasure hunting.
Ah, November! The perpetual darkness and cloudiness always reminds me why they scheduled Christmas when they did. We all need some Christmas lights and eggnog to take the edge off the winter solstice. (And I don’t even like eggnog.)
Which is to say, I finished my brown cable knit sweater the other day and I’ve been waiting for some sunlight to take photos. Which should happen sometime in the New Year, probably, at the rate things are going. In the meanwhile, since it’s undignified to put up Christmas lights before December, I’ve been working on some brightly coloured socks:
Plain vanilla socks in Hedgehog Fibres Sock in Bubble. They look brighter in real life, especially on the bus before sunrise.
Apparently I never posted about it, but I read Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire a while ago and liked it a lot. It’s about a girl who died on her way to prom in the 50s and has spent her time since as a hitchhiking ghost, sometimes fighting evil and sometimes trying to score cheeseburgers at truck stops. I see on the internet that people have criticized it for being more a series of related short stories than a novel. And it is indeed a batch of short stories, but that’s actually what I liked about it. The non-chronological, slightly rambly story seems more ghostly, like Rose is telling us about her life and death and oh, yeah, this other thing, and something else.
Book 2, The Girl in the Green Silk Gown, is more of a linear story, which I found less appealing. It seems less about the mood and more about the plot. Sparrow Hill Road was about the ghost world juxtaposed against the archetypal American world of highways and diners and proms. It reminded me of all those childhood ghost stories about hitchhikers I halfway remember (…. and when they got there, she had vanished!) The Girl in the Green Silk Gown seems so much tidier. I still like Rose and her buddies, but I’m not really a tidy person, I guess.
Also, the stuff with her boyfriend kind of skeeves me out. Ghosts, man…
I’ve been meaning to post my latest sweater but ’tis the season when it’s dark by the time I get home from work and hard to get good shots. (It would be weird if I took a bunch of selfies by the conference room window, right? I’m so very professional.) Anyway, here’s a quick shot in the waning November light:
The colour looks about right and this is a plain sweater that’s all about the colour. Yarn is Tosh Sport in Sequoia. Isn’t it pretty? I had a scant sweaters worth, which I know sounds like top-down time but I prefer knitting hand dyes in pieces (easier to alternate skeins that way.) So I did a basic back of the envelope set in sleeved sweater, much like this one but redder. I knit the front and back, joined the shoulders and knit the neckband then split the rest in two to use up allll the yarn for the sleeves and finished the second sleeve cap with a couple inches to spare.
I do wish I’d made the neckline a bit narrower. Lesson learned: don’t try to save on yarn there.
In keeping with the tree theme, I’ve been reading The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries From A Secret World by Peter Wohlleben. Interesting, more chatty than science-y and yet somehow I found it hard to get much momentum. Maybe the short chapters? It’s mostly about Central European forests, which is fair enough since that’s where he lives and kind of odd to me since I don’t really think of Europe as the place to go for forests. But of course they have trees there too.
There are some tree illustrations, at least in my edition and I always like a book with pictures.
I’m finding my latest sweater in progress is a bit woodsy looking:
You know what’s good reading on a fall evening? A nice old-timey murder mystery. An isolated country house, suspicious characters, family secrets. Pass my magnifying glass, please.
Also, time travel is pretty cool.
So The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton is right up my alley. Our hero Aiden wakes up with no memory and must, for reasons unclear, solve a murder that’s about to happen. Or, failing that, re-live the day Groundhog Day style until he does. But wait! he says. If he knows the murder is coming why not prevent it instead? The murder part of murder mysteries is kind of a downer, so I’m all for this plan. Keep the mystery, ditch the murder.
And then, uh, some stuff happens. Mysterious stuff! This is one of those books I feel like I can’t say much about without getting all spoilery. It has a lot of moving parts, like some kind of intricate Victorian clockwork with a dizzying array of tiny gears spinning other tiny gears. The solution of the mystery, to me, was less gratifying than just watching how all the pieces fit together.
So, I had this sweater I was going to finish but I used up all the yarn and went fishing around in the pit of leftovers for something suitable to sew it up with. And, somehow I found myself picking out colours for yet another sideways scrap scarf. I always think I’m going to do some cool colourwork or something with my odds and ends, and yet:
Clearly it will never get old.
This one’s kind of different though, on account of the orange stripes, right? I do love a complementary colour scheme.
Speaking of racing stripes, I’ve lately been reading Butcher, Blacksmith, Acrobat, Sweep: The Tale of the First Tour de France by Peter Cossins. (Those are some of the more interesting professions of the original participants.) It gets off to a kind of a slow start, given that interest in old-timey sporting newspapers and their owners is limited at best. But once the race gets going it’s more interesting. Started in 1903 to sell newspapers, it’s almost as much along the lines of those “plucky reporter does wacky adventure” kind of stunts as a sporting event. The dusty roads! The overnight stages! The cheating! The drama! Who doesn’t love a wacky spectacle?
Next time, sweater! Which will hopefully not turn out to be a wacky spectacle.