#balisebooks – Let’s talk about books again

So. Books. I like books. I like blogging about books. I haven’t blogged about books this year at all, for reasons. I’ve had a few paragraphs ready for a couple of books, so I may as well publish these, even though they’re not representative of what I liked best this year. But, at least y’all get a bit of content, and I feel like I’ve caught up with my Balisebooks duties before restarting with a fresh start 😉

Midnight Blue-Light Special / Half-Off Ragnarok / Pocket Apocalypse – Seanan McGuire

In the second, third, and fourth book of the InCryptid series, the cryptozoologist Price family continues protecting the cryptids that need it, and getting rid of the dangerous ones.

In Midnight Blue-Light Special, Verity learns about an impeding purge of the cryptids in New York by the Covenant of St. George, Price family’s old archnemeses… who believe the Price family to be extinct. Verity, as a cryptozoologist, would really like to avoid that, and starts warning and making plans with the local cryptid population. Oh, and her boyfriend is part of said Covenant of St. George, which makes things somewhat more challenging.

In Half-Off Ragnarok, we leave verity and New York and join her brother Alex in Ohio. Alex works as a zoo-keeper / basilisk breeder, which goes smoothly until the first death of someone who has seemingly been turned to stone. Alex investigates, with the help of his grandparents, while trying to keep the details of what’s happening from her non-cryptid-aware girlfriend.

In Pocket Apocalypse, we stay with Alex who, this time, has to go to Australia, because Australia has a werewolf problem, and werewolves are not native to Australia – hence, problem. I found this book maybe somewhat less enjoyable than the previous books: the setting and cryptid universe felt less original. I still chuckled a few times, and the Aeslin mice were still there, so we’re good.

This is still a very enjoyable series: I love the characters and the universe, and I’m looking forward to the next adventures in the Price family and their families of hyper-religious talking mice.

Random / Wolf – Alma Alexander

Alma Alexander takes a scientific take on weres and shifters.

I heard about Random in a Big Idea feature on Scalzi’s blog; the idea of a werewolf story where “The science is as good as it gets” enticed me enough to put the trilogy on my to-read list.

Random is the first book, in which we follow Jazz, who’s a random were. Random weres don’t have a fixed form, and instead take the form of the closest animal when they first change. Jazz also lost an older sister when she was very young.

In Wolf, the second book, we follow the story of Jazz’s brother, Mal. Mal becomes a wolf and, as such, gets claimed by the local wolf pack. We follow his story as he continues exploring his family’s mystery and studies the science and genetics of what it means to be were.

All in all, an original were take – which ends up being almost irrelevant to the family history and secrets – I’ll probably read the third book at some point.

Harrow the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

The story from Gideon the Ninth continues in a very confusing but impossible-to-put-down sequel.

Well, this was a mindfuck and a half. This is the second book of The Locked Tomb, taking place shortly after the events of Gideon the Ninth. The story is told from the point of view of Harrow the Ninth, who learns the skills her Emperor needs of her… in less than optimal circumstances. This was honestly one of the most confusing books I ever read, while being absolutely excellent and enjoyable. I’m very confused, but in a good way 🙂

The Locked Tomb feels pretty demanding to read, which I know will make me hesitant to start the next book; at the same time, I know it will be worth the read!

The Last Graduate – Naomi Novik

As El’s last year of Scholomance proceeds and graduation approaches, the school seems more and more intent on… something.

A Deadly Education was one of my favorite books of 2020 and its sequel was one of the books I was most looking forward to this year. The Last Graduate picks up exactly after A Deadly Education, and it’s El’s last year at the Scholomance. And, in that last year, you essentially prepare for the graduation slaughterfest. Which… happens, with a number of twists and turns that keep you on your toes for the whole book, while also enjoying El’s snarkiness and grumpiness. I loved The Last Graduate at least as much as A Deadly Education, and I really can’t wait for the third book.

52Frames – 2021-48 – Inspired By A Photographer – and 100 52Frames!

Aaaaaand 100 in a row. It shows here: all time streak, 100. I almost gave up a few time this year, and I almost accidentally broke my streak (had an upload snafu earlier this year), but it got maintained by the kindness of the Powers That Be at 52Frames 🙂

I must say that, for a 100th week theme, I groaned a bit when I saw the theme. I’m not too fond of that kind of “inspired by”: it makes me feel like crap, because I feel that anyone I’d be “inspired by” may actually feel insulted that my meager attempt may try to emulate them. I did consider getting the inspiration from a fellow Scavenger (I had several people in mind 😉 ) and decided against that for that reason because I *know* these people. (Although, considering the average Scavenger, I’m pretty sure I would have found nothing but support there!).

Anyway, I looked at the problem from the other direction. I considered what I wanted to experiment with, looked for someone working in that direction, and tried to emulate their style as best as I could. And, trying to play with still life and light and that sort of things appeals to me greatly these days. I searched for that kind of thing, and stumbled upon the work of Sharon Core. In particular, I liked the light visibly coming from a diagonal in one of the upper corners; I tried to emulate that. To the best of my ability, I also tried to take more care than usual in my whole setup (subject, tripod, light, background) – it was also the first time I used the background-holding tripod I bought a couple of months ago! – and ended up with the picture above.

I’m actually happy with it, although I still have significant progress to do to light my subject: as it is, I didn’t get what I was going for, although I don’t hate the result. It also feels “right” to have celebrated my 100th week on this project by taking a bit more time to think about what I wanted to do and how to do it, instead of half-baking something at the last minute – as it has happened more often than not in the past few months.

Anyway, now that I have the 100… I can’t leave it like that, now, can I? Here’s to a hundred more!

#balisebooks – Hugo 2021 Short Stories

I haven’t talked about books much (… if at all…) this year. Part of the reason is that I do not commute at all anymore, and my book-reading time got slashed in the process. Part of the reason is that I’m still struggling with committing to write longer pieces and, while my #balisebooks posts don’t go into much detail, they still take a significant amount of time that I’m having a hard time making, now that I’m back to working full-time.

And that’s how I end up on the day before the closing of the Hugo ballots going “argh, I haven’t read the short stories yet!” and doing that in a single evening, despite having had significantly more time than last year between the opening and the closing of the vote (In all fairness, this year I did rank all the Best Novel candidates!). And, since I thoroughly enjoyed all of them, I felt it would be a nice small, contained thing to blog about. So here we go! And you get my ballot order at the same time… and since they’re also available on their respective publisher’s websites, you also get some short reads if you feel so inclined 🙂

6. Metal Like Blood in the Dark, T. Kingfisher

“What if Hansel and Gretel were robots, and in space?” It was quite a lot of adventures for Sister-the-mining-robot and Brother-the-flying-robot, and I particularly enjoyed the existential discussion about lying and its consequences.

5. Open House on Haunted Hill, John Wiswell

“What if the only goal of the haunted house was to find new inhabitants?” This is a story told from the perspective of such a haunted house, and it’s quite heartwarming.

4. Little Free Library, Naomi Kritzer

“What if there was a mysterious but friendly borrower in a Little Free Library?” (you know these book boxes that spawn in various places? 🙂 ). This was quite cute, a bit sad, and it was a story about a library and the people that put and borrows books in it – what’s not to like?

3. Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse, Rae Carson

“What if zombies were attracted to birth giving?” I was prepared to not like this one at all, due to not liking zombie stories in general. It turns out that the take, the relationships between the characters, and the general action and feminist badassery was enough to make me give my first enthusiastic 5* on GoodReads for this Hugo ballot of short stories (with the comment “I don’t even like zombie stories!”). Quite a feat.

2. The Mermaid Astronaut, Yoon Ha Lee

“What if the Little Mermaid wanted to go to space instead of marrying a prince?” That’s it, that’s the story. It has a strong “Becky Chambers” feeling, and I was pretty convinced until the last minute that it would be the top of my ballot.

1. A Guide for Working Breeds, Vina Jie-Min Prasad

“What if indentured robots had a fondness for dogs?”, I guess. I also do have a strong fondness for epistolary or epistolary-like narrative styles, so that helps. The voices of the robots are very distinct and I laughed out loud for the whole time I read this short story. This was absolutely fantastic, and the top of my ballot this year, even if the ballot itself is very, very strong.

All in all, I think the short story ballot has been my favorite this year. I couldn’t help but notice that all the stories were essentially happy or hopeful or both, with possibly less conflict and shock than one would typically expect from the genre. And, to me, this was very enjoyable: I finished the evening of “reading all the things and ranking them” happier than I started it, and that’s worth a lot in my book.

Scavenger Hunt #33 – Sheet

Collage of 10 pictures over a grey background. From left to right and top to bottom: close up of green bird feathers, top of three tin cans, see-through slice of lime, abstract image of small bubbles, bunch of screwdriver tips, star confettis, five resistors on a white background, close up of cow-pattern fabric, close-up of a collection of dice, close up of melted chocolate.

As for Hunt #32, there was, for this Scavenger Hunt, an “extra credit” for the people submitting all 10 pictures: presenting all the pictures on a single image – the exact formulation was “contact sheet”, but the constraints were “don’t overlap, don’t re-crop, don’t add borders; if the background is visible, black, white, or grey.

The first image I took was the one with the tin cans, and it has a fairly awkward size ratio, so I felt like I was in trouble. So, I planned.

Handwritten notes assembling 10 words into a single rectangle, with image ratios. The notes are visibly modified after the first version.

I was super proud of myself: I had created an extra constraint for the pictures because for my rectangle to work, I needed precise ratios, but that was FINE, right? Right. Best plans of mice and men. For one thing, as you can see, there’s been a significant reshuffling of dimensions… and images! as I was getting the pictures 🙂

And then I put together the image, it was pretty bad. It became very apparent that I did need a neutral background to separate the pictures; the initial plan didn’t work at all. This was pretty disheartening, because the whole geometry worked well with these ratios, but adding borders to them wouldn’t work easily 😦 I considered re-cropping the images to make them work within the ratios, and gave up on the idea: it felt like re-editing the pictures to be able to add them to a “contact sheet”-type of image would kind of defeat the purpose. So, instead, I moved things around, I aligned images as I could, and I tried to get something as pleasantly looking as I could.

It means that the 3×2 images have far more grey space around them than I would have liked – but it ended up being the best I could do – otherwise I had more space in height, and that was worse. I was quite disappointed, to be honest – when I realized I had overlooked the space for the borders. But oh well, that’s how you learn. I still believe that trying to get the constraint first and shoot within these constraints was the right move – but I didn’t get the right constraints at the beginning 🙂

The complete Scavenger album is available here – along with its winners!: the Sheet album.

Scavenger Hunt #33 – Backlight

Close-up of a slice of lime with back lighting displaying transluscent details of the lime structure.

While I used the previous Hunt to experiment with composites and story-telling, I wanted to go “back to basics” for this Hunt, and try to get maybe closer from my comfort zone, but also closer to pictures that feel like “me”. But, for the personal challenge, I shot everything with my 100mm macro lens!

The “Backlight” theme was an occasion to experiment with something I wanted to do for quite some time, namely see-through photography that would enable to see greater details and colors – it’s a fairly common exercise in macro and food photography. For all its commonality, thought, finding a (written) tutorial on the matter proved difficult, if not impossible – so it was time for me to put the thinking hat on! We almost always have limes home for, err, mixology reasons, so my subject was pretty much a given (I did consider buying a kiwi – another popular fruit to photograph that way!)

It took me an embarrassing amount of time to realize I didn’t have to prop my slice of lime vertically to photograph it. Instead, I came up with the following contraption, starring my faithful piece of black fabric, a makeshift light tripod holding a Lume cube with a funnel, two chairs holding a transparent dish (with the help of a little masking tape)… and the slice of lime.

Photography setup: a black piece of fabric, a support for a funneled light, two chairs propping a transparent dish containing a slice of lemon. The setup enables for lemon slice to be lit from below.

Once the setup was done, it was mostly a matter of tuning the alignment of the light and the slice of lime, tune the exposure to avoid blowing whites, and taking a bunch of pictures to get one that was sharp.

Unprocessed version of the lime slice picture above. It has a larger black border, a reflection at the bottom, it's far less colorful and it has distracting light showing around it.
CameraPentax K-1 II
Lenssmc PENTAX-D FA MACRO 100mm F2.8 WR
Focal length100 mm
F-NumberF/5.6
Exposure time1/500
ISO500

Editing required a bit of Photoshop to get better masks so that I could get rid of the distracting light leaks; if not for that, it would have been “crop + color correction + removing a few dots and dust”.

The complete Scavenger album is available here: the Backlight album.

Scavenger Hunt #33 – Tool

Close-up of a multitude of small screwdriver tips, slanted at a roughly 15 degrees angle.

While I used the previous Hunt to experiment with composites and story-telling, I wanted to go “back to basics” for this Hunt, and try to get maybe closer from my comfort zone, but also closer to pictures that feel like “me”. But, for the personal challenge, I shot everything with my 100mm macro lens!

Pierre recently got a iFixIt tool kit that contains aaaaall the small tool bits, so I knew that this would be a prime candidate for “macro-like-shot-of-tools”. When I opened the box and saw all the tips well aligned, I knew I wouldn’t have to look much further indeed. I got multiple shots, playing with the light to get some highlights but avoid a completely flat picture, getting reasonable depth of field and sharpness, and this is what I landed on:

A multitude of screwdriver tips.
CameraPentax K-1 II
Lenssmc PENTAX-D FA MACRO 100mm F2.8 WR
Focal length100 mm
F-NumberF/32
Exposure time1.6 s
ISO640

One of the other shots I had had a tilt/slant to it, which I liked, so I rotated that image in post. I also wanted the black support foam to be darker, and the image to have warmer tones, so I did that.

The complete Scavenger album is available here: the Tool album.

Scavenger Hunt #33 – Temptation

Melting chocolate; the squares are still visible but are definitely on the melting side.

While I used the previous Hunt to experiment with composites and story-telling, I wanted to go “back to basics” for this Hunt, and try to get maybe closer from my comfort zone, but also closer to pictures that feel like “me”. But, for the personal challenge, I shot everything with my 100mm macro lens!

When I was first brainstorming this Hunt, I was first considering going in the same direction as the previous Hunt with all the manikins. “Temptation” was one of the few words for which I had an immediate image in mind: that of a manikin posing in a suggestive position 🤣. But I decided against it, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it would have been awesome.

Instead, I took the opportunity of Pierre experimenting with chocolate (as it often happens in this house) and took some pictures of melting chocolate.

Chocolate melting in a pan.
CameraPentax K-1 II
Lenssmc PENTAX-D FA MACRO 100mm F2.8 WR
Focal length100 mm
F-NumberF/4
Exposure time1/15 s
ISO1600

Chocolate is fiendishly hard to have proper colors for – I think I managed pretty well on this one. I’m not super happy with the picture in general, it could have done with more depth of field and more sharpness, which in turn would have meant more light, which in turn made things complicated. And at the time I realized it could have been better, that chocolate was more than melted! Later opportunities presented themselves, but I didn’t seize them – but oh well, it’s still a decent picture. It makes ME hungry, that’s all that matters!

The complete Scavenger album is available here: the Temptation album.

Scavenger Hunt #33 – Crooked

Close-up of 5 2.2KΩ (red-red-red-gold) resistors in a row; the fourth one is crooked, the other four are straight.

While I used the previous Hunt to experiment with composites and story-telling, I wanted to go “back to basics” for this Hunt, and try to get maybe closer from my comfort zone, but also closer to pictures that feel like “me”. But, for the personal challenge, I shot everything with my 100mm macro lens!

My first idea for “Crooked” was to get an old piece of defunct electronics, find an integrated circuit on it, remove it, and re-add it with a pin out of place and crooked. That plan didn’t pan out because I forgot to take into account that electronics got smol and I couldn’t find a proper candidate for my experience (also, things would have been cut short anyway, so I’m not sure how realistic that plan was in the first place.)

But this got me into my electronics boxes, where I found a bunch of brand new resistors cohabitating with the few that had been used already… and whose leads showed it. The setup was pretty minutious, to get a square picture where the resistors would be properly spaced on the whole picture; this is what I ended up with for the final shot.

5 2.2KΩ (red-red-red-gold) resistors in a row; the fourth one is crooked, the other four are straight. The picture is dark, the paper background is visible and there's a lot of white space around the resistors.
CameraPentax K-1 II
Lenssmc PENTAX-D FA MACRO 100mm F2.8 WR
Focal length100 mm
F-NumberF/7.1
Exposure time1/200 s
ISO400

The complete Scavenger album is available here: the Crooked album.

Scavenger Hunt #33 – Cow

Black and white hair texture reminiscent of cow spots.

While I used the previous Hunt to experiment with composites and story-telling, I wanted to go “back to basics” for this Hunt, and try to get maybe closer from my comfort zone, but also closer to pictures that feel like “me”. But, for the personal challenge, I shot everything with my 100mm macro lens!

I almost got stumped with my general “feel” for this round’s pictures for the word “Cow”. It’s a bit ironic, considering that Switzerland is, in all fairness, cow-land: I wouldn’t have to go far to go get cow pictures! But I wanted to evoke the cow without having an image that would be wildly out of place compared to the others. Hence, I rapidly zeroed on the idea of getting some cow-spot pattern fabric for this image. I was lucky enough to find a craft shop that had two different cow print fabrics, and was selling it by length of 30cm only; I ordered both and they arrived a couple of days later. (Be aware that I now own a tiny bit of two different cow print fabrics – they may come back 😀 ). I think I preferred the print on the other fabric, but the texture of this one was significantly better for my purpose, so that’s the one I ended up getting in my picture.

Black and white hair texture reminiscent of cow spots.
CameraPentax K-1 II
Lenssmc PENTAX-D FA MACRO 100mm F2.8 WR
Focal length100 mm
F-NumberF/8
Exposure time1/20 s
ISO1250

You’ll notice that the “pre-edit” and “post-edit” pictures are eerily similar: this may be the least edits I’ve done on a Hunt picture of recent memory 🙂 (Well, except for the SOOC round, but that doesn’t really count!).

The complete Scavenger album is available here: the Cow album.

Scavenger Hunt #33 – Two shades of green

Macro photography of green bird feathers, one shade dark/blue, the other light/yellow.

While I used the previous Hunt to experiment with composites and story-telling, I wanted to go “back to basics” for this Hunt, and try to get maybe closer from my comfort zone, but also closer to pictures that feel like “me”. But, for the personal challenge, I shot everything with my 100mm macro lens!

For my “Two shades of green”, I first wanted to shoot some malachite, because malachite is pretty, AND usually two shades of green. But I don’t have any malachite around. So I looked on the Internet, and ordered a bunch of small gemstones that did contain one malachite stone. They were very pretty, but the (presumed) malachite one was not bicolor 😦 I still got a 52Frames “Curves” shot out of the set, and I managed to get a shot for two shades of green too:

Four small oval gemstones, aligned on the four corners of a square, on a grey cardboard background. The upper right and lower left stones are white, the two others are dark green and light green.

Despite significant effort (aligning these things has been a challenge), this picture was my least favorite of the set at the time I took it. In particular, I wasn’t happy with the grey background and was considering re-shooting it on black.

Buuuuuut we happen to be doing some bird-sitting for friends (who have a bird and went on holidays), and that bird is…. mostly green, and two different shades of green at that. So I took some shots at a time where it was standing on Pierre’s arm (which is, like, its favorite place in the whole word, or so it seems), and managed to get this one.

Body of a green bird with different layers of feathers.
CameraPentax K-1 II
Lenssmc PENTAX-D FA MACRO 100mm F2.8 WR
Focal length100 mm
F-NumberF/3.5
Exposure time1/60 s
ISO1000

I exctracted the close-up and played a bit with the colors to match the theme a bit more closely, and that was it!

The complete Scavenger album is available here: the Green album.