Friday, June 28, 2013

Reading...Ready Player One

Ready Player OneReady Player One, by Ernest Cline is a super fun book. Set in a not-too-distant future, life is pretty grim. Most people -- like 18 year old Wade Watts -- spend their time plugged into the virtual world of the Oasis. What started out as a multiplayer online computer game has become a substitute for reality. In the Oasis you can attend school, get a job, fall in love, have adventures, travel, play games, fight dragons...the possibilties are endless. Oasis currency is more real and valuable than any other currency in the world, and its creator James Halliday revered as a god. When Halliday dies, the world is shocked to learn that (with the exception of his arcade collection), Halliday has left his fortune -- and his company -- to the first person who can find the "easter egg" hidden somewhere in the Oasis. Figure out the clues, find the three keys, the three gates, and complete the tasks set up in each one. Success depends on skill, luck, and knowledge of 80s pop culture -- Halliday's obsession.

Ready Player One will probably appeal most to anyone who enjoys video games and/or 80s pop culture, because at times it almost feels like the author wanted a way to get nostalgic and rosy-eyed over his own love of the 80s. But while it occasionally feels a little self-indulgent, it's also a good story on its own, easily enjoyed by anyone who likes a good action/adventure with a sprinkling of sci-fi (Although I will say, if you hate video might want to pass). Cline's pacing is spot on, keeping you glued to each page, not wanting to put it down. I listened to it on audio -- often while running -- and I have to say, I ran a lot of miles while I was reading this book! I also thought Cline did a great job with the primary characters -- Wade in particular has a stong voice -- a sarcastic, synical, snarky, smart-mouthed teenage boy voice. Some of the more outlying characters (like the villain) were a little one-dimensional, but in some ways that's kind of fitting for a video game masquerading as a book. Ready Player One also gives voice to outcasts -- to people who believe they need a little alternate reality in order to be accepted. I like the way this theme plays out -- empowerment ftw!

My words aren't very eloquent today, so I'll stop rambling and finish with this: if you like 80s pop culture, video games, stories about outcasts, adventures, light sci-fi, action, or fun and witty dialogue, then you should pick up this book. (in audio -- Wil Wheaton is a great narrator)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Reading...Quintana of Charyn

Quintana of Charyn (Lumatere Chronicles, #3)Oh, Melina Marchetta....I've said it before and I'll just keep saying it again -- this woman knows how to write words that go straight to your heart. Her stories resonate with such emotional depth and heart and hope and I LOVE THEM.  So, Quintana of Charyn is third book in the Chronicles of Lumatere. I may give away some slight spoilers as I talk about Quintana, so if you haven't read the first two books -- be warned (and go read the books!). There is a long going on in this book: Isaboe and Finnikin are waiting to hear what happened to their would-be assassin, Froi, while continuing to re-establish their kingdom. Gargaran and Arjuro and a bunch of other Charyns are trying to salvage their kingdom's soul and future and prevent war. Quintana is her crazy self, now on the run, in hiding and trying to protect herself and her "little king." Froi is recovering from being shot by eight arrows (Froi, you are such a bad-ass), and desperate to find Quintana. Lucian is still figuring out what it means to be the leader of the Monts, grieving the wife he didn't realize he loved. And there's still a bunch of hated Charyn refugees down in Lucian's valley, desperate and lost. And the spirits of the dead cry and ache for the living to do the things that will bring them rest and resolution.

So, the story is excellent -- a great resolution to the tale that began in Finnikin of the Rock. Marchetta weaves back together all the threads of the story, and brings clarity to some of the more murky aspects of what's been going on. You have great writing, a great story, complex characters, and one of the things Marchetta does so well -- relationships. Blood families, adoptive families, friends, lovers, comrades, enemies -- it's all there. And we get to see how all these different relationships help shape who we are, and how even when relationships grow and change, that's okay. We get to see people fighting and making up, having misunderstandings and then figuring it out. We see people muddle through as best they can, but never giving up.

Froi of the Exiles was a heavy, dark book. In that book, the reader sees heartbreak, madness, ugliness, despair, vengeance, and true evil. In the end, there is little hope...but there is the promise of hope. And in Quintana of Charyn, that hope flourishes, and it is so beautiful.

I'm really not doing this book (and this series) justice, so just go read it!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Iron sharpens iron

I'm going to let out a little secret (okay, not so secret) -- I like to make up stories. And I have a dream to write a novel (or several). And right now, I'm actually working on it actively, albeit slowly.  And when I tell my friends and family "I want to write a novel" they say "awesome! let me read it when it's finished!" They aren't patronizing me. They take me seriously and genuinely believe in my dream. I have some pretty amazing friends. Full stop. And I could just finish this post right here, because the ways in which my friends blow my mind and humble me and make me grateful on a daily basis is worth saying all by itself.

But lately, something more specific has been on my mind: an idea that having friends who share your passion/dream/hobby can be invaluable.

I have quite a few creative, artistic friends, many of who make their living -- or part of their living -- at making art. And they are inspiring. Their creativity and productivity and passion make me want to be creative as well. And that by itself would be enough.


I am a notoriously lazy writer, an un-finisher. I'll start a story, but let life distract me when the writing becomes work. I'll abandon my characters and plot...or I'll rush an ending (build up, build up, build up......and they all live happily-ever-after-the-end. Or....mystery, mystery, Last year, I set a pretty big goal for myself. And I failed to meet it. Or even come close. It was pretty discouraging and I'd basically decided that I was operating under a delusion, and I was going to stop calling myself a writer. Stop listing it as one of my hobbies. Stop pretending that "one day"....

I hadn't really told anyone. Then on New Year's Even, I'm chatting with my super-creative-talented-hardworking-artist friend Doc. Doc and Julie (photographer, seamstress, artist) are inspiring: working and creating to slowly but surely make their dreams come true. So, Doc and I are chatting. And he says "by the way, how's your writing coming?" I admit that I'm pretty much ready to abandon any pretense and just throw in the towell. Doc's expression became a mixture of shock and sadness that surprised me in its intensity.

"Please don't give up," he said. "Just...don't give up."

His strong reaction blew me away. There was no way I could refuse his plea.

Because Doc's reaction was not just that of a friend -- but from a fellow artist. Because what I read between the lines was: "if you give up on this dream, you aren't just giving up on yourself, you're giving up on art. You are betraying artists everywhere of every vareity who have sacrificed and sweat and bled and poured themselves into creating. If this truly is your dream, if you truly want to tell stories, DO NOT GIVE UP. "

That's a lot of between the line reading, and sure...maybe that's not quite what he meant, but that's the message I got, and the one I needed to hear. Because deep down...I didn't want to give up. But up until that moment, the only person I was letting down was me. Now -- whenever it gets hard, whenever my laptop is screaming at me and I just. don' -- I feel like I'm not just letting myself down, I'm letting down a lot of people. People who believe in me, and people who believe in the beauty and gift of art.

Which sounds like a lot of pressure. But you know's a good kind of pressure.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Reading....The Rithmatist

The Rithmatist (Rithmatist #1)The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson, is what I like to think of as classic "fun" Sanderson. By that I mean that it's a fast-paced, mystery-adventure set in a fantasy world with one of Sanderson's trademark amazing and complex magic systems (Rithmatics -- chalk drawings are imbued with two-dimensional power in the hands of a Rithmatist. It's geometry come to life).

Joel is the son of a chalkmaker, an ordinary, non-Rithmatist. Joel is a smart kid who regularly fails classes just because he doesn't find them interesting. He's obsessed with Rithmatics, and can draw Rithamtic defenses and offenses as well as or better than many of the Rithmatic students he attends school with. He knows a lot of people, but doesn't really have any friends.

Melody is the fourth Rithmatist child of Rithamtist parents. She's bold and outspoken, a bit of a dramatic free spirit. She's not that good at Rithmatic lines and circles, and feels the pressure pretty intensely (although she's very gifted at drawing the chalk creatures called chalklings). She's not very popular, and sometimes coves up that loneliness with loudness. Oh, and her favorite chalklings are unicorns.

Melody and Joel end up spending their summer elective being tutored by the same professor -- a brilliant, kindly, but recently professionally humiliated Professor Fitch. The summer brings with it a rash of mysterious disappearances of Rithmatic students, and a lot of resulting rumors and unrest in the American Isles. Melody, Joel, and Fitch end up personally involved in the mystery and the dramatic conclusion that brings up a lot of questions and reveals a very mysterious and dark potential villian. In the meantime, the two loners begin to grow the kind of frienship in which each person is pushed to be better (there's a scene at the end of the book that KICKS BUTT. These two are going to be a powerful duo).

Bottom line: if you like mysteries, adventures, cool magic systems, fantasy, friendships or all of the above -- read this book.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Reading and watching and a little Star Trek love

Well, the trend continues of reading multiple books at once...which means they all take longer to finish (and talk about). Although I did finish An Irish Country Village (sequel to Irish Country Doctor) by Patrick Taylor, and enjoyed it just as much as the first book. You can read what I thought about it here. Currently, I'm listening to Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline and I highly recommend consuming this book on audio, as it's expertly read by Wil Wheaton. I'm also reading The Rithmatist,  by Brandon Sanderson, and very slowly working my way through Walking Israel, by Martin Fletcher. And, because that's just the way things work, I've gotten three books in the past week that I'd previously put on hold at the library. Ahhh!!! It's a good problem to have, but still....choices! time!

Anyway, speaking of Wil Wheaton (like that segway there?), I've recently begun a re-watch of Star Trek: The Next Generation. A variety of factors have made me nostalgic for the t.v. series. Obviously, Ready Player One is one of those factors. Plus, recently watching the new Star Trek movie (I know, I know...not the same characters. But the same world...I'm flexible), and just general blog reading in the sci-fi and fantasy fandom. I like good storytelling in a lot of forms, not just books, and me and Star Trek go way back. My dad (hi Dad!) is an original Trekkie, and I pretty regularly watched The Next Generation with him back when it was airing for the first time. I'd occasionally watch reruns of the original show, and Dad and I also watched Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I've seen some episodes of Voyager, but by then I was in college and in my unintentional four year "story drought" (i.e., I watched a lot of movies, but only really read non-school related books and watched t.v. on semester breaks).

I read a lot more fantasy fiction than I used fact, up until 13 years ago, I probably couldn't name one fantasy or science fiction novel that I'd read (oops, just kidding...I read The Princess Bride and went through a major fairy tale phase). I wasn't really into video games like my brother, or comic books or fantasy-type tabletop games (although I'd like to think that last was simple lack of exposure...none of my friends played Dungeons & Dragons or anything similar). But I did watch Star Trek, and I loved a good game of Risk, or almost any board game, really. Quite a few years later, I married my husband, an avid fantasy reader, comic book lover, and gamer. He convinced me to read Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan and the rest is history. Games, books, t.v. shows, superhero's a fun world out here in geekdom (for lack of a better term). I'll admit -- I'm geek light. I don't know all the references, there's a lot I'm new to, and a lot I will never play/read/do/see (I only have so much time after all). But one thing I do know: I'm really thankful for each step into this incredible world of storytelling. Thanks for making me a Trekkie, Dad!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Valuable vs. Free

So, this is one of those kind of long, somewhat philisophical, almost political posts that connects two random thoughts knocking about in my brain. You've been warned!

A few months ago, I read this article on the American Library Association web site by D.J. Hoek and it really struck a chord with me. In it, the author makes the point that when it comes to public library advocacy and education people tend to really emphasize the fact that services and materials at the library are FREE. When in fact....those services and materials and databases and tools are NOT free. They're paid for by taxes or grants or fund raising or tuition and fees. Now, libraries are free in the sense that there is some level of easy/open access, and most goods and services do not cost anything out of pocket. But the most true statement is that libraries offer their community and customers a good VALUE. In our county library system, for example, an out-of-county library card costs $30 per year, because that's what finance has estimated as the amount per year per taxpayer that goes to the library budget. $30. Dollars. Per. Year. What a value! Access to high speed internet (okay, so "high" is maybe a stretch some days), hundreds of thousands of books, expensive academic databases, genealogy databases, educational and entertainment programs, author events, a job seeking lab, and expert research or reader's advisory assistance -- all for $30 per year. And you know that out-of-print book that the library doesn't own? Or the $200 academic door-stopper that you don't want to buy? Even if the library doesn't carry it, we can request it from out-of-system libraries through Interlibrary Loan. That does cost $2 out-of-pocket for shipping costs...but still, $2 is a lot cheaper that what you can buy it for.

The thing is -- and the Hoek makes this point as well -- by telling people over and over that the library is free, we are actually DEVALUING the library. If it's free, it must not be worth anything, right? I've used examples of tangible, physical library services, but the value of a library goes so far beyond just books and movies and internet access. You can read this article for examples of some of the more intangible benefits of a public library (now, I will say that as my political views lean more libertarian these days, I have some unique opinions on how a public library could and should be funded/run, but that's a discussion for a different post! It still doesn't diminish my passion for the vaule of public libraries). And librarians for the most part really GET the value of the library, and work very hard to make sure that each dollar is used to its full potential. We take care of our resources because they are limited (it's why we want those books back!) and because we are, in essence, stewards of a small bit of your hard-earned money.


The other day, I was thinking about other "free" things: free healthcare, free childcare, free schooling, free food. And the thing is, none of these things are actually free. Someone is paying for them. Sure, they may cost nothing to the customer/user. But those doctors/nurses/teachers/farmers/ranchers/shop owners are getting payed. Who is paying them? Obviously, government subsidised services are payed for through taxes. But even when those free services that are offered through non-government organizations, they still cost something. The doctor in Guatamala offering free care to poor families is giving of his own time and money. The non-profit food bank got that free food using monetary donations and funds. The school in Haiti run by an NGO is paying its staff with some kind of donation system. My point is not whether or not any of those things should be offered at no direct cost to the user. Again, that's a whole other debate. My point, is that by calling any no-direct-user-cost goods or service free we are devaluing those goods and services, regardless of who is subsidizing the program (public or private). If it's free, it must not be worth anything, right? It's subtle, and it's subconscious. And honestly, at times it's fake and disingenuous and sometimes condescending. I will admit, that there are times and places when the value of free goods and services is fully realized by everyone involved. And it's great. What would happen, if everyone started to recognize the value of "free" goods and services. Not in a way that divides the giver and receiver (because at some point, we are all a giver or receiver). But in a way that allows gratitude to grow and seep into our subconcious and become who we are. Just simply recognizing that all things come at a cost.

Think about that for a minute: all things come at a cost.

Food, water, shelter, education, medical care, toilet paper, indoor plumbing, art.



Because when something costs SOMEONE SOMETHING, it is infinitely more valuable.