Autumnal #balisebooks

GoodReads tells me I did achieve my 60 books goal for 2020 – and we still have a quarter in this year, so I may need to get a larger goal for next year ๐Ÿ˜‰ Granted, there’s been quite a few shorter books so far in the year: there’s been more graphic novels/comics, as well as more novellas/novelettes/short stories than in the previous years (because I read most of the selection for the Hugos). Still, it’s been a while since I did a #balisebooks post, so let’s fix that.

The Wicked + The Divine – volumes 1 to 9 – Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matt Wilson

The Wicked + The Divine is a graphic novel for which the premise is that every 90 years, 12 gods incarnate as humans. These humans are essentially celebrities – with everything that goes with that – and they’re dying within two years.

I absolutely loved the first volume, but I was somewhat let down by the following volumes: I don’t know exactly what I was expecting for a story, but I felt disappointed, somehow. (I also got very confused towards the end). At least the story is complete and the ends are tied and the ending is actually satisfying.

It was still very good, and I fell absolutely in love with the art, which is GORGEOUS from start to end.

Before Mars – Emma Newman

This is the third book of the Planetfall series, which is a loosely connected series of books that happen in the same universe where a group of colonists left for a distant planet a few decades before. In Before Mars, we follow Anna, who’s the new artist in residence on the Mars colony. Anna quickly starts to observe things that make her question what’s really happening… and her own sanity.

This was fantastic, buuuut. I absolutely loved the idea of “psychological thriller on Mars”, and it’s very well executed. Generally speaking I loved the book, but up until the end I was scared it would go to a disappointing ending. It didn’t (actually, far from it), but I was scared of that. Now I’m not sure whether the issue is with my lack of trust or with the fact that what I was seeing as a possibility was not clearly eliminated as a possibility, but that made my reading slightly more uncomfortable because I was “I like this thing A LOT, but I’m afraid it’s going to go to a conclusion I don’t like and that it will make the whole thing significantly worse”.

It didn’t, and I’m happy with that; it’s also not a feeling I’m much used to, which kind of bothers me. All in all, a very solid addition to the series.

LaGuardia – Nnedi Okorafor and Tana Ford

LaGuardia is a graphic novel in which there exists sentient alien plants that are trying to integrate as they can on Earth. The main protagonist, Future, is very pregnant, and just left Nigeria while smuggling such an alien (called Letme Live) and arrives at the eponymous airport (and spaceport) to go live with her grandmother.

I loved everything about LaGuardia – it’s smart, it’s sometimes funny, it’s just the right amount of “in-your-face-political”, the art is great and the colors are superb. It won the Hugo 2020 for Best Graphic Novel, and I actually had voted for it in the first place, so that makes me happy ๐Ÿ™‚

Atlas Alone – Emma Newman

In Atlas Alone (fourth book of the Planetfall series, see above) we get to follow previous characters of After Atlas. The book centers on Dee, the friend of Carl’s, the detective from After Atlas.

They are currently flying in a spaceship, where the major source of entertainment is mersives – and a significant part of Atlas Alone happens in such environments. This is the story of Dee learning more and more about her environment and how she reacts to it, within the context of her previous trauma.

I must admit that, for me, this was the weakest book of the series. All in all, this felt very, very dark, and I kept hoping for some glimmer of hope that I didn’t feel I got. Also as a nitpick: the turn of sentence “my face was a mask in front of a mask” made me cringe the first time; and it also made me cringe the second and third time I encountered it in the book ๐Ÿ˜›

However, I did like the environment and what Newman did with the mersives and in particular the whole idea of “leet” gaming. I also enjoyed seeing Carl again, and the role he had in this book. The plot was also very tight and kept me interested all along (and may or may not have led to a few “okay, one more chapter” at too-late-hours of the night).

Mooncakes – Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

Another graphic novel, you say? You bet. Nova is a teenager working part-time in her grandmothers’ bookshop. Said bookshop has a large “occult” section, and, oh, Nova’s grandmothers are witches. And, unexpectedly, Nova’s childhood friend Tam reappears, and they are a werewolf.

This was sweet and cute and, again, I loved the art. That’s actually one thing that reading a larger-than-usual amount of graphic novels in a short time taught me: I DO have opinions about their art, and it’s very important in my enjoyment of the form.

Middlegame – Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire’s In an Absent Dream was my favorite for the Hugo award for Best Novella, so that put Middlegame firmly in the top of the pile of the things I wanted to try to read before the Hugo voting deadline, since it was nominated for Best Novel.

In Middlegame, we get to meet Roger and Dodger. Roger has words for everything; Dodger has numbers for everything. They are twins, but they never met. And one day, they make contact – in their minds. Nothing is a coincidence: Roger and Dodger are part of a large alchemical experiment. As they grow up, they learn more about themselves, about their powers, and how the world may end up depending on them.

I did really like Middlegame, and I think it had a lot of things I like – intriguing setting, memorable characters, good writing. I did find it a bit long, but I have no idea if it’s because I’m in a bit of a hurry (I really wanted to read another Hugo nominee before I voted) or whether it would have been my opinion as well in other circumstances.

Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth was the book I had heard the most about before the Hugos (for which it was also nominated for Best Novel). The Emperor has called upon the heirs of all the necromancer houses for a trial of valor. The winner of the trial will ascend to a higher, immortal state of being; the losers may not survive. Harrowhark is the heir for the Ninth House; Gideon is her reluctant protector.

This was super good – loved the setting and the use of necromancy; loved the characters. But it took me a looong while to stop being confused about who’s who – the cast is quite large, and a given character will be called at least three different ways, which doesn’t help. There was also possibly more twists and turns in the last 20% than in the first 80%, and that was a bit exhausting. Also, I’m starting to realize I actually do not like long, epic scenes endings… and this definitely went into that category. So, let’s say that I loved 80% of it ๐Ÿ˜‰

Deal with the Devil – Kit Rocha

I got excited about Deal with the Devil the minute I heard the title of the series (it’s a new series by the authors of the Beyond series): MERCENARY LIBRARIANS, HOW AMAZING IS THAT IDEA.

The global context is the same as in Beyond – post-apocalyptic US, where everything is more or less derelict, and people are scraping by the best they can. Nina and her team collect data from remaining data vaults, mostly redistribute it to whoever needs them, sometimes manage to score an interesting cache of sensitive data that they try to sell to interesting parties.

Knox and his team are ex-super-soldiers in dire need of a way to fix their brain implants before they go completely awry. The hacker that could handle that has been kidnapped; the price for Knox to get them back is to manage to deliver Nina to the kidnappers.

Both teams start working seemingly together; this is a Kit Rocha book, so there’s significant romance elements (I honestly don’t know if it’s a post-apo book with strong elements of romance or a romance book with strong elements of post-apo ๐Ÿ˜€ ) – not much surprise there.

It had less “librarian” content than I hoped but it was so so good! The fighting scenes read as choreographed (and I actually enjoyed them, although it’s not my usual cup of tea), I loved the characters and the setting, and I cannot wait for #2 ๐Ÿ™‚

A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martine

A Memory Called Empire is the first book of a new series, Teixcalaan. Mahit, who comes from Lsel, a small mining station, is named ambassador to the Teixcalaan Empire, which is basically… most of the known universe. She gets summoned to her post, and quickly questions the demise of her predecessor, whose death is somewhat suspicious.

Lsel has an interesting technology, called imagos, where the memories of a person get transferred as a chip to another person. Mahit gets the imago of her predecessor, but since they’re bad with backups, or something, she gets an outdated version… which starts malfunctioning quite quickly. Thankfully, her liaison, Three Seagrass, is here to help her navigate court intrigue, poetry as a mean of communication, and what it means to be Teixcalaan (and to possibly be called Six Helicopter or One Lightning.)

A Memory Called Empire won the Hugo award for Best Novel; I hadn’t read it before voting, but this was very well-deserved. The world building is fantastic, the characters are endearing, the plot and intrigue were delightful, and I loved everything about this book. Another one for which I cannot wait for #2!

Other reads

  • Die, Volume 1 – Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans – A graphic novel where a group of role players gets catapulted in the world they’re playing into. I think it was good, but it was completely not my thing ๐Ÿ™‚
  • Attachments – Rainbow Rowell – I had my reservations for a long while about the premise of the book (a “security” person monitors employee emails, shenanigans ensue) and, while this was better than I feared, it wasn’t very memorable.
  • Kiss my Cupcake – Helena Hunting – a cute romance about a cupcake-and-cocktail shop owner and her craft-beer-ax-throwing bar owner neighbor.
  • The Bride Test – Helen Hoang – Khai is autistic, and his mother tries to find him the perfect bride. She finds Esme, and offers her a deal: a summer in the US, no strings attached, under the condition that she tries to make things work with her son. This was pretty good, but I had a hard time connecting with Esme – Khai is often flabbergasted by her… but I must admit, so was I at times!
  • The Phlebotomist – Chris Panatier – in a world where people are supposed to give blood every couple of months and where the society’s class system depends on the people blood’s group, Willa learns disturbing truths that put her life and the one of her grandson at risk. A decent post-apocalyptic novel and a nice take on a common trope.

52Frames – 2020-38 – A Chair

The theme for 52Frames this week was A Chair. I’ll admit this is mostly a “placeholder shot” – took it today after 6PM “urgh, haven’t done 52Frames yet, I need to fix that”. We got a couple of balcony chairs since last year (and congratulating ourselves for them every day ๐Ÿ˜‰ ); since they have a meshy texture, I thought it could be fun to take a picture of one through the second one. And, there.

52Frames – 2020-37 – Single Focal Point

The theme for 52Frames this week was Single Focal Point, with an extra credit of f/1.4. Pierre made some pie this afternoon – so I took the liberty of bothering him with my camera while he was doing that.

Since I wanted the extra credit, I took my only lens that’s able to open to f/1.4, which is a non-macro 50mm, which made focusing somewhat difficult: I have been shooting with a macro lens a lot lately, and this one has a much longer focusing distance! But eventually, I got there.

I ended up taking 300 pictures – and the one I chose was the last one ๐Ÿ˜‰ So I guess I’m titling this one “Finishing touch” – that’s the last piece of pear that goes on that pie! Oh, and if you want the recipe for the pie, my husband wrote it down 15 years ago in French here: Tarte poire / frangipane / chocolat ๐Ÿ˜‰

Cool Stuff

One Photographer Captures Hollandโ€™s Beautiful Tulip Gardens Without Any People Around [photos] – because I can definitely do with more pictures of pretty flowers.

Sculpt the World [photos] – the website of Jon Foreman, who creates art with stones or leaves or broken glass or sand or… It’s very geometric, very pretty, and it tickles my brain just right. I especially like his Stone gallery.

Arrows of Time [mostly text]- a series of chronologically sorted factoids about the human understanding of time.

IKEA kataloger [images] – IKEA released their catalogs from 1950 to 2020, and it’s pretty neat to look at. I did find PAX cabinets/placards in 1955 ๐Ÿ˜‰

A Time Leap Challenge for SAT-Solving [text, PDF] – Fichte, Hecher and Szeider decided to have a little competition: “what runs better, 20-year-old SAT solvers on modern hardware, or modern SAT solvers on 20-year-old hardware?”. Lessons learnt: archeology is hard, and both hardware and software progressed enormously for SAT solving. Also there’s an XKCD in the bibliography, so.

NSFโ€™s newest solar telescope produces first images [images, text]- there’s been some pretty Sun images from the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope.

The Awesome Piano – Peter Bence [short video] – that is a very cool music video. And if you don’t know Peter Bence, I can only encourage you to have a look at his YouTube – here, have a cover of Under Pressure, for instance.

Box [short video] – “so, I have a bunch of projectors and robot arms, what could I do with them…?”. Worth watching in full-screen ๐Ÿ™‚

Fresh Guacamole by PES [short video] – hmmm. Cooking in stop motion. Made me watch a very large set of videos on that channel, didn’t regret any of them, this is brilliant. The Deep by PES is also super neat.

Okay, the Dune trailer [short video] looks pretty good. Understatement.

Diorama: A Tutorial [text, images] – a series of 4 articles (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) from my fellow Scavenger Dave DeBaermaeker, where he explains step by step how to make a small diorama to create a wall at scale for toy photography. That actually looks… surprisingly feasible ๐Ÿ˜‰

52Frames – 2020-36 – Combine three challenges

The 52Frames challenge this week was to “Combine three challenges” – with the list of the previous challenges for this year thankfully provided. I’ve been trying to keep the list in my mind for most of the week because I knew that I needed to think about what I wanted to do. I went through several ideas, but in the end I guess that a couple of things clicked.

I’ve done enough portrait/self-portraits to be very annoyed at stray hair; so for once I really wanted to embrace these. And by that, I mean that I did brush my hair a lot so that they’d get more electric and have more texture.

I’m also currently watching Glee, and in one of the episodes that I watched this week, there was someone who was backlit on a dark background, and it did make me go “huh. I should try that.” The places where you find new things to try ๐Ÿ˜‰

Anyway – I started playing with a spot, a tripod and a black curtain, with the objective of shooting 1/ Self-Portrait 2/ Low-Key 3/ A Different Angle. And I guess that we have bonus Details and Negative Space in there too ๐Ÿ™‚

52Frames – 2020-35 – A Common Object

The theme for this week’s 52Frames was “A common object”, with an extra credit for “One light source”. So I locked myself in my room, closed the door and blinds, got a Lume cube and a pair of earphones (which I thought would yield both some texture and some shape), and got to work.

It took me a little while to find the “right” angle – suspending the earphones on top of the light ended up being the right move for me.

52Frames – 2020-34 – Rule of Odds

The theme for 52Frames this week was Rule of Odds. I was not very inspired by the topic, but I still have a new macro lens, so I thought I’d go for something small, and I ended up with buttons.

That’s from a grey shirt, which probably is no stranger to the fact that I processed it in B&W – I hesitated because the buttons are metal/brass-y colored, but the B&W gives more leeway to go crazy with texture enhancements, so there we go!

52Frames – 2020-33 – Night Photography

The theme for 52Frames this week was Night Photography, and I kind of intended to submit some astro (which was actually the extra credit theme) – but since we had a bit of thunderstorm this evening, I took that opportunity instead.

This is a composite of two pictures: I was NOT lucky enough to get both the lightning and such nice car trails at the same time ๐Ÿ˜‰ (Also, the car trails exposure is longer than the lightning one). I must admit that Photoshop made it super easy to combine these two – I just set both my pictures as layers, put a “gimme the lightest” setting on my layers merging, and boom, done ๐Ÿ˜‰ Much easier than I was expecting (I was expecting to have to do that manually).

52Frames – 2020-32 – A New Experience

The theme for 52Frames this week was “A New Experience”. It turns out that, for reasons unrelated to 52Frames, I finally got the Pentax 100mm/2.8 macro lens I had been coveting for a while – as far as “new experiences” go, “playing with a new lens” definitely fit the bill in my book.

We went for a small walk today in a woody area – I’m glad I stopped for a little bit to catch this one!

52Frames – 2020-31 – Water

The theme for 52Frames this week was “Water”, with an extra credit for “Using an ND filter”. Turns out that I DO have an ND filter that I had never really used, and that I had wanted to go take pictures of this place on the Sihl (which has been less than 1km from my apartment for the last 12 years…) for a while.

So I got my photo bag, my tripod and my ND filter, and I went to take a few pictures. Turns out, even with said ND filter (which is only a 4-stop filter), I wasn’t able to increase the exposure length as much as I wanted to at this time (it was roughly 6PM). So there’s two things I know: 1/ I’ll probably get a stronger ND filter at some point 2/ I’ll need to go back there on a less bright day/at a later (or earlier?) time.

But anyway, I got the shot, including the extra credit, and that’s yet another one on the streak ๐Ÿ™‚