Read: The Paradox Trilogy by Rachel Bach

Paradox TrilogyI love Orbit Books. I’m actually sort of shocked that I’ve apparently never written about my love for Orbit Books on this blog before, because if it was possible to have a crush on a publishing company, man, I am so there. They publish awesome spec fic, (including some of my absolute recent favorites, such as everything written by Mira Grant ever) but more than that, I just like their business model, particularly in the ebook market. I first “discovered” Orbit Books several years ago, when they first started experimenting with what has now become their Orbital Drop model of ebook sales.

Essentially, the Orbital Drop is a monthly supersale on a particular ebook from their catalog. That’s basically it, the entire premise. One whole month, that ebook is on sale (usually for $1.99), in every single ebook market. I’m signed up for the newsletter, so that I’m notified every month what the new book is, but you don’t need to sign up for anything in order to get the sale.

The reason it’s brilliant is because, for example, this month I purchased the Orbital Drop book, Fortune’s Pawn, by an author I’d never heard of before, Rachel Bach, and within a few days of finishing that first book, I’d dropped another $20 to round out the trilogy (with Honor’s Knight and Heaven’s Queen) because it was just that good.

Which brings me to the Paradox trilogy. It’s a genre I’d never heard of before, space romance, which looked to me like far-future SF/space opera with a significant romantic storyline. The main character, Deviana Morris, is a mercenary with grand ambitions, which leads her to take a job that she probably shouldn’t have on a ship with a reputation for getting its mercs killed much faster than normal.

It’s a fun read. I loved Devi Morris’s character. She’s extremely driven, which leads to making some very bad choices (mainly, staying put every time her gut yells at her to leave anywhere in the first book and a half). But she also has a clearly defined sense of honor that is particular to who she is. For example, she may not balk at killing dozens of people who have come to attack her and her ship, but she is disgusted by the person who sent those attackers–knowing they would never stand a chance against her–to die needlessly.

The books are nicely rounded out by a cast of memorable characters, fun technology (Devi loves her suit of powered armor, the custom-built Lady Gray), and interesting alien species, which ultimately drives the story and conflict. After having read all three books in the trilogy, I think that the first one was probably the weakest of the three, story-wise, mostly because Devi spends the entire book trying to figure out what is going on (and never quite gets all the way there), but it is an enjoyable start to the story as the reader tries to figure out what’s happening alongside Devi.

None of the three books of the trilogy really stand well on their own–it’s one single story, told across three books–but the three together make for a very satisfying read, and I highly recommend them to anyone who likes kickass female characters, stories about the interactions and misunderstandings between aliens species, and/or great action stories set in space.

And, thanks to the Orbital Drop, you still have 9 days to purchase the first book in the series for just $1.99.

Podcast Love: 2006-2008

podcast_06-08

I love podcasts, and have since I first started listening to them in 2005. Since then, they’ve always been a part of my life: company on long car rides, while walking the dogs, or just sitting at home knitting. Some podcasts, I can even remember exactly when and where I was when I listened to a specific episode. This is a multi-part series on podcasts I love, past and present.

2006-2008 (aka, the post-college Florida years)

By the time I graduated college, iTunes had come out with the podcast directory, which is pretty much what I used to manage my podcast for, oh, the next several years. The great technological advancement for me, was the ability to stop in the middle of the podcast, and have iTunes remember where I was. That was pretty much it. I was still always running out of hard drive space, so I still managed all my podcasts manually, and every so often I would purge half my unheard episodes.

Also, in this time period, I went through three i-devices. My first iPod died the summer after I graduated, and I immediately went out and got myself one of the first gen iPod shuffles (you know, the ones that looked like a giant white flash drive). I developed a system of adding my podcasts the beginning of my shuffle playlist, so that I could easily find them when I wanted to listen to podcasts instead of music. However, less than a year after I moved to Florida, my housemate’s cat, who had a tendency to rub her head against the shuffle when it was plugged into my computer, broke it in two in her enthusiasm. So I got a blue iPod nano (named Blue Ibis), which lasted me the rest of my time in Florida, but not all that much longer.

Lime N Violet

If Brenda Dayne of Cast-On is a wise matriarch of the knitting podcast world, Lime and Violet were sort of like the fun aunts who swear and let you get away with things your parents would never allow. The Lime N Violet podcast was funny, raucous, irreverent. They rambled, and got off topic, and over time, the episodes just got longer and longer. It definitely wasn’t for everyone, but if you liked them, there was nothing else quite like it. Sadly, they just completely disappeared off the face of the internet one day, and are no more.

Creative Mom

Despite not being a mom yet, I started listening to the Creative Mom Podcast because Violet (of the aforementioned Lime N Violet) recommended it as a general creativity and inspiration podcast, even for non-moms. It’s actually much more in line with Cast-On’s structure and feel, with an emphasis on art and creativity, and being creative while also being a mom. Amy, the host, has a lovely calm voice and shares thoughtful essays and book reviews, and this podcast is actually the first time I’ve come across the concept of setting a word for a year. I’ve listened to it on and off over the years, but in terms of “where I was” when I listened to this podcast, I always think of driving to the library that was 1/2 a mile from first home in Florida. It’s podfaded now, but the archives are timeless and still available online.

CraftLit

I stumbled across Craftlit just after Heather started A Tale of Two Cities. A Tale of Two Cities, by the way, is one of those great classic novels that was completely ruined for me by a bad high school English teacher (I had two absolutely wonderful English teachers in high school, but 11th grade English is best not remembered.) My mom had always been disappointed by my A Tale of Two Cities experience, in particular, because it was one of her favorites, so I tried very hard to get her to listen to CraftLit along with me. I don’t think I was ever quite successful in getting her to listen, but she did get me my very own “What Would Madame Defarge Knit?” CraftLit shirt, so hey. And I did end up really loving A Tale of Two Cities when I listened to it on CraftLit.

I’ve listened to most of the CraftLit novels (right now, I’m a novel behind–I’m still 3-4 episodes from the end of Age of Innocence), but my two absolute favorite are The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, which I’d never even heard of before CraftLit, and Dracula, which has some absolutely killer voice acting and production–I would recommend the CraftLit version of Dracula to anyone above any other audio version. (Not that I’ve listened to any other audio versions; it’s just that good.) Both of these novels have multiple narrators, and each narrator is represented by different audiobook narrators. If I recall correctly, both are initially from Librivox–where CraftLit gets most of its audio–but then Heather got additional narrators to fill in certain parts, so the narration is all really excellent.

7th Son Trilogy

I’ve talked about JC Hutchins and the 7th Son Trilogy before on this blog, and how I ended up cursing his name at the cliffhanger at the end of Book 2. I found 7th Son either through Cover to Cover or Scott Sigler–probably both–while I was still in college. But the biggest “where was I when” moment for me of the entire series was when I was driving down to Key West one day while I was in Florida. Where I lived at the time, Key West was basically a 4 hour drive each way, and looking back, I’m sad that I only did it a couple of times. My roommate had just gotten engaged, and was selling her condo, so I needed to find a new place to live. I found a fantastic place, but it was probably about 45 minutes north of where I was living at the time, and I knew that making the Key West drive and back in a single day probably wasn’t going to be able to happen anymore. So one of my last weekends at my old place, I drove down to Key West. And I got stuck in traffic at the second-to-last Key.

I was (as always) several episodes behind on the 7th Son books, and I guess I didn’t realize how close to the end of Book 2 we actually were. So there I was, on my way to Key West, but stuck in bad traffic, so it was much later in the day than I had expected, but listening to this enthralling book, and all of a sudden–Bam! Massive cliffhanger!

All I can say is, if you like sci-fi thrillers, and haven’t read 7th Son, you owe it to yourself to do so. And you don’t even have to wait several months between books like we did!

Playing for Keeps

Mur Lafferty is another Big Name Author from the early days of podcasting. I’ve actually listened to several of her podcasts: Geek Fu Action Grip, I Should Be Writing, and Playing for Keeps, which is a podcast novel. This is another one I tried to get my mother to listen to along with me. My mother was a huge reader, but near the end of her life, she had trouble seeing, so she turned to audiobooks. I remember visiting her over the 2007-2008 winter holidays, (one of the last times I got to see her) and we swapped books we were reading–I told her all about Playing for Keeps, and she told me about Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst.

Anyway, Playing for Keeps is a superhero novel, with a twist. The characters have “lesser” superpowers–the title character’s power is that once you give something to her, it can’t be taken away or stolen–but because they live in a world where superheros are revered, they end up bitter and jaded. Until of course, the time comes that their specific powers are needed to save the day. It’s a fun book, and I really liked all the characters.

In two weeks… I move across the country a couple of times, kill off yet another iPod, and pick up a bunch of new podcasts.

Scatalogical humor

He looks so innocentLast night, on our final walk of the night, my dog Murray peed on my toes.

(Yes, this dog. He looks so innocent…)

In every other way, that moment of the walk was unexceptional. I was standing on the grass, waiting for Oreo to finish his business, unrolling a plastic baggie to be ready to pick it up. Murray was wandering around, sniffing the grass, and Behr was just standing at the end of his leash waiting patiently. This is a moment that has happened literally thousands of times before (based on the number of baggies we go through, it’s probably been several hundred times in 2014 alone!)

And then it happened. Murray wandered over towards me, and lifted his leg, just a little bit too close to where I was standing. And before I knew it, my toes were squelching in my crocs.

Okay, I’ll admit it, I shrieked, which confused Murray enough that he stopped. And then I stood there, with wet toes, and three dogs staring at me like they had no idea why I’d lost my mind (“mom’s acting nutso again,” I’m sure they were thinking to themselves), and I did what any rational human being would at that moment. I called my partner for help and sympathy.

“Hello?” she answered the phone. I don’t usually call her while walking the dogs unless there’s been an emergency, so I’m sure visions of runaway dogs or broken bones were flashing through her mind.

“Murray peed on my toes!”

And she laughed.

“It’s not funny!” I responded indignantly.

I’m pretty sure her response was just to laugh more.

And really, what else can you do at that moment, except laugh, pick up after your dog, and finish your walk with squelching toes? (And of course, wash your feet and shoes the second you walk in the door!)

Fun with Instagram prints

How MetaRight now, if I were to be forced to choose only one social media platform, and leave the rest forever, Instagram would be the easy choice for me. I signed up ages ago, but when I first started using it in earnest, (in late 2012?) it was a form of silent protest. I’ve always hated getting up while it’s still dark outside. Waking up so early, walking the dogs while the sun was barely rising, it could have been a chore for me, something I grumbled about daily.

But instead, I chose to fall in love with seeing the world before dawn. I started taking pictures on my walk, and posted them to Instagram tagged with #earlymorningwalk. I took pictures of the sunrise. I took pictures of the trees. As winter turned to spring, I took pictures of the budding flowers and became curious about what all those trees actually were. (And then I used the LeafSnap app to actually find out) I learned a lot about the world around me through the lens of Instagram.

Over time, I started using Instagram for more than just early morning photos. And so, when I was trying to decide what I could do to decorate and personalize my new desk at work, I came up with the idea of rotating through some of my favorite photographs. Around that time, I got a coupon from Walgreens for their 4×4 prints, and it was an easy decision from there. So I used the Walgreens app to sync with my Instagram account, and randomly chose 17 of my recent favorite images for printing.

I’m not super precious about Walgreens prints–they’re perfectly fine, but the real plus side is that they’re cheap and ready in an hour. (I hear great things about Persnickety Prints, and had originally been planning on trying out some of their 3×4 Retro Prints for this project. Someday.) But I still loved getting all those prints in my hand, to sort through and play with.

Originally, I had planned on having just one thick stack of photos to rotate through, perhaps with a couple of my absolute favorites out on display all the time, but the stack was a little too thick for the clips I used to hold securely. So instead, I divided the photos into three piles: one for my dogs, one for my cats, and one “other”–mostly photos from my early morning walks: the sky, trees, and flowers.My Desk for Real I rotate through the photos every day or so. Because there are different numbers of photos in each stack, it means that the combinations are varied, often delightful, and always changing.

(Of course, far more often my desk looks like the second photo than the first–complete with juice and piles of notepads!)

Watched: The Quest

I’m not sure how my life has been complete before I discovered this: ABC’s new fantasy-meets-reality-tv series, The Quest. If you’re anything like me, right now you’re thinking to yourself, “Fantasy…? And reality tv…? In the same sentence?”

And then your mind is blown.

The good news is that it’s really really well done. In fact, it may be the first reality tv series that I actually would want to go on. (If, you know, I could ride a horse, and shoot a bow and arrow, and swing a sword.)

The basic premise is that 12 ordinary people are taken from their every day lives to a magical kingdom in order to fulfill a prophesy and save the kingdom from an evil being (halfway through the season, we haven’t seen him yet, so I’m not sure if he’s meant to be human or monster). The Paladins (as they’re called) are each given a piece of a magical artifact, and (because it’s a reality tv series) have to complete challenges every episode, and go through an elimination process to find the “One True Hero.” In short, it follows an archetypical fantasy plot. And, for that matter, the typical reality tv format.

The idea of a reality tv series set in a fantasy storyline could be laughably bad, but it’s not. It’s pretty great, actually. It has some fantasy movie big names behind it, and while I don’t know how much suspension of disbelief had to be done on the part of the participants, for the viewers, it’s seamless. The creatures, the set, and the fight scenes look real. In addition to background actors who work in the castle and courtyard, there are several actors who engage with the Paladins: Crio, Royal Steward, who plays the part of host, explaining the world and leading them around from scene to scene. The Queen, their supporter, and her Grand Vizier who very much does not approve (I suspect he may be the mole). Then there’s Sir Ansgar, who is the Head of the Royal Army, and largely responsible for training them. In the first couple of episodes, he was a hardass, but as he’s gotten to know them, he’s warmed up to them. And then there are the three Fates, who are exactly as otherworldly and distant as you might expect Fates to be.

I’m super impressed by the actors: they must do a fair amount of improv, and they seem to be very good at staying in character. Little things, such as when one of the Paladins early on called the Queen “milady.” After he walked away, she turned to her courtiers and said, “Did he just call me ‘lady’?”

The Quest does some things that I wish more reality tv series could learn from. For one, the elimination is not actually the last scene of every episode. Because there is a driving plotline outside of “I’m going to be the winner of ‘The Quest'”, the elimination takes place about 3/4 of the way through the episode, and once this week’s eliminated participant has been banished (which is nicely portrayed by having them walk out of the Hall of Fates and turn to smoke), the remaining Paladins return to the castle, where they almost immediately run headfirst into a new plot twist, which serves as that episode’s cliffhange. For example, in one early episode, the Queen joined them at their dinner table and is poisoned. The next episode’s challenge was to discover and then make the antidote for her poison.

And because the overall goal is to save the kingdom, there is a spirit of camaraderie, not competition, amongst the Paladins. Each week, they have to choose from amongst the bottom two to be eliminated, and in the discussions that take place before the choice is made, there is a great deal of thoughtful emphasis on which Paladin brings the most to the table to ensure the success of the one true hero (whoever that may end up being). Though there are clearly friendships being formed, trying to form alliances and “play the game” ends up actually hurting one Paladin (whom I was glad to see go!), and a great moment is when one Paladin stands behind one of the bottom two just so that she wouldn’t be left standing alone.

So, clearly I love this show, and having binge-watched all 6 available episodes, am anxiously awaiting the next one. But even more, I hope that this kind of “reality tv show with a story” spreads–I think it really brings something new to the table in terms of reality tv shows.

Podcast Love: 2005-2006

Podcast Love: 2005-2006

I love podcasts, and have since I first started listening to them in 2005. Since then, they’ve always been a part of my life: company on long car rides, while walking the dogs, or just sitting at home knitting. Some podcasts, I can even remember exactly when and where I was when I listened to a specific episode. This is a multi-part series on podcasts I love, past and present.

Circa 2005-2006
I first discovered podcasts as a college student, when my mom sent me a magazine (Real Simple, maybe?) that happened to have a tiny 1/2 page feature about podcasts. I was intrigued, and started exploring. It took a bit of trial and error to find podcasts I really enjoyed, but back then, there were few enough podcasts that it was (almost) possible to listen to them all.

In 2005, you had to download a separate podcast aggregator, and then manually load them into iTunes (it was huge when iTunes opened up it’s podcast directory!), and from there, onto your iPod (at that time, I had one of the bulky early gen iPods with a click wheel). I was always running out of hard drive space in those days, and had to be careful to delete the files twice: once, after I copied them from the aggregator to iTunes, and then again after I listened to them.

The Dragon Page: Cover to Cover
News and interviews with sci-fi and fantasy authors–in 2005 when I discovered Cover to Cover, it was hosted by Michael R Mennenga and Evo Terra (who went on to create podiobooks.com). The Dragon Page spawned Farpoint Media, which of course is still known for the Parsec Awards. Several huge authors came to my attention because of Cover to Cover–in particular, I remember walking our family dog Rosie one night on a visit home from college and listening to an interview with an author who had just released his first book: Elantris. Of course, Cover to Cover also brought me to several Big Name Authors in the podcast fiction community such as Mur Lafferty, Scott Sigler, and JC Hutchins. In later years, Mike Mennenga was joined by Michael A Stackpole, and focus shifted to publishing trends and news, ebooks, and general writing advice.

I was going to put this one in the “sadly podfaded” category, (though there are over 400 archived episodes available) but actually, I just went to the Dragon Page site to see when the last episode was, and there are several new episodes in 2014. Re-added!

Cast On
One of the Big Momma podcasts of the now-expansive knitting podcast community. Cast On was one of the very first knitting podcasts, and I suspect a large reason why there is such a great community of knitting podcasts today. Hosted by Brenda Dayne, an expat American living in Wales, Cast On has great production values and really high quality content and essays. One great thing about Cast On is that early on, Brenda decided to structure Cast On into “series” (British use of the word) with a handful of episodes–often thematically linked–followed by a brief (or not) hiatus. Although she’s stepped away from podcasting several times, she never truly podfaded, and has picked up the mic again in 2014.

Of course, we all love the “Today’s Sweater” segment, which is a essentially the story of a single handknit sweater: the yarn, the pattern, the changes in plans and modifications that were made during the knitting of it, and the repairs made after. But one of my personal favorite episodes is one of the earliest: Pulling a Geographic. I remember listening to the episode on a cold, rainy Northampton day during my last semester of college, knowing that I was about to have to leave my beloved school and go into the real world. That feeling of pulling up your life and moving elsewhere, into the unknown, was terrifying and exciting all at once, and the timing of the episode was perfect.

Connect Learning
I found Connect Learning early on in my podcast explorations, (possibly even earlier than Cover to Cover or Cast On–I remember listening to it on one bus trip to New York during spring semester 2005) at a time that I was really falling in love with museum education. There weren’t really any museum ed podcasts at the time (though there were some museum-based podcasts, primarily ones that served as either formal or informal audio tours), but I found my way to several interesting education podcasts. Of those, Connect Learning is the one I remember as having the biggest influence on me, and in fact, remains a major influence in how I think about technology and learning in a 21st century world. It is very much podfaded, but several episodes remain archived by the Internet Archive.

Scott Sigler’s podcast novels: Earthcore, Ancestor, and Infected
Scott Sigler was probably the very first author to see potential in podcasting a full length work of fiction, and he did it brilliantly, starting with Earthcore in 2005. As mentioned above, I found out about him via Cover to Cover, and listened to these first three novels as he released them in real time. They’re all great horror novels, and I highly recommend them, but I think in some ways, his real legacy is the entire mini-genre of podcast novels (including several others which will make it onto this list of mine.)

In two weeks: I pull a geographic of my own, move three times, and go through almost as many iPods.

“We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are” (Part 2 of 2)

This is a continuation on my journey forward in 2014. Part 1 can be found here.

When we left off, our intrepid heroine had just found a new full-time job which she loved, thus fulfilling her vision of “Forward,” her One Little Word for 2014. But it was only halfway through the year.

And so here we are. I’m happy in my work. I still actually have two jobs, (there no way I was going to give up my second job–I love it too much), but now I feel fulfilled across the board. Personally, I’m still more of a mess than I would like, but with less stress in my life, I feel like I can take the time to do something about it. It’s funny, because I’m technically more busy than ever, in terms of hours a week working, but whereas before I had a lot of free time, I was stressed out, and exhausted, and felt like much of that time was required for me to simply relax and recharge my batteries enough to face the next week. (I will say, though, that two-day weekends now feel quite short.)

I’m not sure what “forward” is going to look like the rest of the year. I keep thinking about things like NaNoWriMo, which I haven’t participated in since 2008, massive knitting projects, or picking up blogging again (which is why I’m here now). I want to completely make over our home. I was lucky enough to win a free seat in Big Picture Classes Phone Photography Project 2 this summer, and so I’ve started getting serious about doing something with the dozens to hundreds of iPhone photos I take every month. (Many of which you can see on my instagram feed.) I have all these ideas bouncing around in my head, which feels great.

But I think the trick, for me, is to get better on the follow-through. To find a way forward with some of these goals and ideas. To continue to work towards a happier, healthier me.

“We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are”

I love this quote. It is a reminder that the only way forward is to grow, to change, to learn, to experiment. And so here I am. Forward bound.