Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

30 Aug 2013, 9:20 a.m.

Current Reading

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2013 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Just read Jo Walton's Among Others, and then of course the spoiler thread on her LiveJournal. I absolutely see why it won the Hugo and Nebula. It's about how the love of speculative fiction can change your life, and about fandom -- the first moment it really emotionally moved me was when the librarian gently observed that our protagonist doesn't have many opportunities to talk with people about the things that are really important to her -- and it's an absorbing page-turner. This further cements my belief that I will enjoy anything Jo Walton writes. (So far I think the Walton I love best is Lifelode.)

Also I reread Good Omens (the Pratchett-Gaiman collaboration) and Changing Planes by Le Guin when I was visiting Zack and Pam recently, partially to reminisce about the fact that over the past decade Zack has introduced me to like half of my current taste in speculative fiction. He linked me to Making Light, and he gave me stuff I never would have picked up by myself. Good Omens is as messy and funny and British as ever, and Changing Planes has great Le Guinny thought experiments, sometimes pointed, sometimes moody, always plausible.

Pam lent me Design is a Job by Mike Monteiro. Recommended for people (like me) who work with designers. By reading how Monteiro suggests designers work best in their individual contributions and in teams, I saw how I might work better with designers in my community. I also sat with my head spinning for a bit after he pointed out that anxious people seek safety, and that problem-solving and innovation cannot come from safety-seeking behavior. Yes. You have to make people feel secure if you want them to try risky things.

At a geek trivia contest, my spouse and I won a David Mack Star Trek book. Star Trek: The Next Generation: Cold Equations: Silent Weapons. It is not very good. I say this as someone who has read a lot of Star Trek branded novels. Those branded novels were another of my gateways into scifi. The Margaret Troke Library in Stockton had spinner racks of genre paperbacks -- including lots of Next Gen novels -- right next to the shelves of hardcover, which is I think where I got curious and got on a little stool to reach the As and thus started off with Asimov and Adams. Then, as an adult, I've revisited the branded novels and found there's good stuff -- Diane Duane, for instance -- and disappointing -- Keith R.A. DeCandido and Peter David come to mind. In most cases the fanfic is better. And Silent Weapons was good enough to occupy my brain during a few long flights -- the repetitive prose actually made it easier for my sleep-deprived sensibilities. But once I was back at sea level, I yelled at every other page. Geordi doesn't act like that! Why are you using the word "mien" so much? And why are you describing nearly every woman (but nearly no men) in terms of their physical attractiveness? Gross. However, it's cool to see the Gorn and the Breen, so that's nice.

Alaya Dawn Johnson's The Summer Prince has a tone and a story unlike any I've seen before. I loved the worldbuilding, the characters, the approach to sex and love and art, the foreign-to-me culture and influences, the relationships among women within and across generations, the protagonist's fierceness and growth, and the imagery. I think I have some Fridge Logic concerns about the political system Johnson depicts, but I got into the book while I was reading it and you might too.

I'm also keeping up on graphic novels -- The Unwritten continues to pander to my meta tastes, and Saga to my everything tastes. As Mary Anne Mohanraj puts it, "these graphic novels pressed all my buttons -- culture clash, a war on, funny family dynamics, a loving but also sardonic romantic relationship, a breastfeeding fighting woman, strong female protagonists in general, really alien aliens, imaginative world-building, weird royalty, class issues, sex workers, etc. and so on. Just fascinating, and I'm really looking forward to future volumes." I bought Volume 2 of Saga a few weeks ago and devoured it. That was the day that I saw Hank Azaria eating breakfast at the same restaurant as me, and Monty Widenius buying comics at the same shop as me. (Monty asked me for comics recommendations, so I said he should check out DMZ.) Celebrities everywhere!

I just started Jacob N. Shapiro's The Terrorist's Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations which I found out about via BoingBoing and Schneier linking to Shapiro's Foreign Affairs piece on micromanagement within al Qaeda. It would probably be misleading and dangerous, though hilarious, to say I'm reading it as management self-help. But I am, of necessity and by temperament, interested in how voluntary organizations work, especially super-distributed ones full of ideologically passionate people who are apt to schism when dissatisfied. So I look forward to schadenfreude and tips. But for my next plane flight I might replace its dust cover with that of More Poems About Golfing And Cats or whatever uncontroversial suchlike thing I can scrounge up.

Also, Leonard and I are listening to Cabin Pressure (yay light-hearted zany sitcoms!) and just enjoyed the new Simon Pegg/Nick Frost film The World's End (perhaps the best characters and emotional story of the Cornetto trilogy).