Married to the Sea

Book Review: Sea Change by S. M. Wheeler

Sea Change book cover
Sea Change book cover

Sea Change is a delightfully written coming-of-age fairy tale, but the old school kind of fairy tale in which there is not really a happy ending and although everyone learns something about his or herself, no one is really better off than they were at the beginning of the story. What I’m trying to say is, this is my kind of fairy tale.

I finally got around to borrowing Sea Change from the library a few weeks ago. I greatly appreciate Wheeler’s writing style and I enjoyed the flow of story. Lilly, the protagonist, is raised by her merchant father and her formerly-giant-serpent-loving mother. Lilly’s best friend is a kraken. There is also a troll, witches, and bandits. If you’re not interested yet, your sense of fantasy may be defective. Schedule an appointment with your local librarian to set up a treatment regimen.

As I mentioned, this story is a fairy tale in the classic sense. Lilly, an only child, has had a lonely sort of childhood that seems to be unique to a certain class of protagonists and to people who never quite feel connected with the rest of humanity. Of course, in Lilly’s case, she is raised in a wealthy household and there are rumors that she is a witch. Lilly is not a witch, but she does spend much of her time by the sea, chilling with her kraken friend, Octavius (“Octavius? That’s a damned stupid name for a kraken,” grouses Lilly’s father. I find it an amusing name for a kraken, however.). Lilly is also witness to many parental fights in which her father accuses her mother of making him a cuckold. When Lilly’s mother is finally driven off by her father, a step-mother joins the family (bringing the hope of a son), and Lilly’s kraken goes missing, Lilly leaves the family home, beginning her quest to locate Octavius. Lilly’s life is mirrored by her mother’s teachings. It is mentioned that Lilly’s mother gave her “practical, frightening knowledge,” but did not tell her fairy stories until she was older, “in the reversal of the usual parental pattern.” Lilly sees a harsh childhood, only to follow it up with a heroic adolescence.

I am reluctant to give away too much of the story, but I do want to open a window into the magics used to propel the narrative. Lilly, seeking Octavius, trades her womanhood to a troll who offers her information. Octavius, we learn, had been captured and was being held by a circus-owner and a witch. The cost of freeing Octavius is to bring the circus-owner a magical cloak. At this point, anyone who has read a few books or played a few video games can guess that one fetch-quest leads to another. Lilly bargains and works her way through the story until finally she can reclaim Octavius. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that the reunion is bittersweet because people with magic are jerks.

Release the kraken.

The theme that stood out to me in this novel is that everyone must change, or to borrow the name of a certain webcomic, a lesson is learned, but the damage is irreversible. Lilly, of course, goes through the most drastic sea change in really every way possible. Her body is changed. She must learn to work—something she did not need to do growing up. Eventually, her mind is irrevocably altered as well. But it is not just Lilly who changes, her parents both make major changes: her mother by finally leaving and her father in a way that I will leave for the reader to find out. Lilly’s step-mother, Mary, we learn late in the story, also had to adapt to survive. Even Octavius and Lilly’s eventual sidekick Horace (a bit of an indulgence, but I will call Horace a sidekick) change. The root of storytelling is conflict, but I like that Sea Change also recognizes that major changes must be made for people to develop. The story also takes, in my view, a neutral tone towards change. Some books seem to argue that change has a positive or negative value, but it seems that in Sea Change, change simply is. Life continues heedless of the goals and wishes of humanity.

Sea Change is full of quality wordsmithery and is written in a style that does not resemble anything else I have read in a while. Wheeler is miserly with her words, but when she does lay down descriptions, they are wonderful and sometimes humorous. One of my favorite lines came from the story of Lilly’s mother and the giant serpent she loved. A woman in town is telling Lilly the story and she says, “’Against his cheek your mother leaned, saying whatever on says to the serpent that has stolen your heart.’” There is a lot of enjoyable language here. Another snippet I liked was the metaphor of “campfires too far off to reach on a cold night;” I will leave the context of this one a mystery for the reader, but I thought it was a beautiful way to render the concept.

Since Wheeler can be stingy with the words, I sometimes got the impression that I had skipped a paragraph and would need to re-read the preceding segment. This is not an indictment of Wheeler’s writing, but I will say that her style is different. I think that since the language used is so tight—Wheeler uses one word where other writers might use four—the reader has to pay attention and really value what words are used. I saw a review on LibraryThing in which the reviewer stated that s/he could not figure out what she didn’t like about the book, but there was something of the writing style that irked her. I would guess it was this. It took me nearly the whole book to put my finger on it. Personally, I find it a refreshing change, but I can see how others may not feel the same. For an example, of what I’m describing, consider the following passage:

“Lilly put the man out of her mind; words were on her tongue, but they were insufficient. She had become proficient at opening trousers since that first awkward fumbling on the slope of Three crones Mountains. She bared herself, asked ‘Are you still interested?’”

There is so much that is communicated in this short paragraph, but little is actually written.

Finally, and unrelated to the quality of the writing, I love the cover art for this book. The cover is actually what caught my eye in the first place. Now that I’ve read the book, I like how the cover manages to represent the work without falling on any of the contemporary clichés of book covers.

In any case, I do recommend this book, especially for people who enjoy fantasy or for people who are looking for a fresh writing style.

What to read next:

What to read next is a hard question here. This book seems unrelated to everything (I mean that in the best way), but I’ll attempt some suggestions.

  • Because probably everyone needs more kraken in their life, I suggest Kraken by China Miéville. Kraken, like Miévelles work usually does, has a certain other-worldliness. It’s a bit of an urban fantasy, there’s a strange cult, magics, and all that stuff you want from your fantasy books.
  • The Dresden Files is a series by Jim Butcher about a wizard in Chicago who does freelance and consulting detective work. I’ve read a few of these stories and I classify them as “popcorn” books (tasty and quickly consumed). Some of the same magical concepts in play in Sea Change show up in The Dresden Files. There are quite a few parallels between the one I just read, Grave Peril, and Sea Change.

A Special Request and a Long Rant: Coda

After the response I received to last week’s post, I feel I am obligated to pen some form of update.

First, I want to say that my network of friends/acquaintances/people who read my internet ramblings is pretty chill. When you post a piece that is emotionally honest like that, a lot of people respond to it. I know there are a lot of us who are in this job-seekers’ purgatory. I feel for all of you. I hope that we can collectively get out of this one day.

Second, I want to tell the rest of the story. As I had stated, it seemed that my workplace was jerking me around in regards to the matter of a full-time job. Their apparent lack of communicative acumen was too much for me. I almost didn’t even interview for the position, just out of disdain for the system. After I was done feeling miserable, I decided to go to war over it. I was mad that I was being treated this way. I studied up on some of the aspects of the new position. I decided I would give a damn good interview. I wanted to make it difficult for whomever they had decided to hire.

I interviewed on Friday morning. I thought I did a good job. I’ve probably been on more interviews in the last three years than most people have in their entire lives, so I do have a significant amount of practice and at this point. I typically give good interview. I closed my interview by asking if they had any concerns about my ability to fill the position. The response was a “no” delivered with zero hesitation. I found that odd, since I don’t really have any experience with the work of the position. I thought there would be some concern (there is always something). I left the interview unsure of how to interpret things. I knew I had done well, but I thought the final comment could either indicate that they had no reservations and intended to hire me, or they had no reservations and it didn’t matter because they were hiring someone else.

Two irons on stage
Searched for dramatic irony. The internet did not disappoint.

Well, with an almost predictable sense of dramatic irony, they offered me the full-time position that afternoon. Although, not until after telling me that it was a stressful position and that I would have a big learning curve. I’m not daunted by that. I accepted.

This is good because I’ll be making a little more money (I can pay off my student loans faster. Yay?) and I’ll be getting benefits (finally).

But as with basically any development that would be construed as positive by a normal human, I have some mixed feelings. I am glad I got the job because that means I can be a bit less stressed about my life. I question whether I really want to become entrenched in the State bureaucracy (spoiler alert: I don’t). A lot of people at work have been congratulating me on the new position, but that feels awkward to me. I don’t feel like I actually accomplished anything. I am still in the same classification. I convinced people they should let me work full-time, but a few of the administrators there had already been pulling for that anyway. In any case, it is more money and it is an opportunity to evaluate how I intend to move forward with the job search.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs plus WiFi
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and WiFi

So, in the ongoing quest to find a job that I actually like and that fulfills me in some way, here’s the current plan. I’m still applying to library jobs (obviously) and pursuing professional development opportunities when I find them. I’ve stopped applying to writing jobs, since they don’t seem to be taking me anywhere. However, this week I started classes for a technical writing certificate, which I am taking through the University of California, Riverside extension. I had been planning to do this since the beginning of the year. As my Plan C, I am still working at the State, and I’m planning to move up as rapidly as possible, assuming I stay there. After another six months, I can ascend to the next classification and make more money. I guess working for the State wouldn’t be the worst thing, assuming that I can get into something that is research- and writing-focused.

I know there are people who see moving up in my job as unequivocally a Good Thing. I get where they are coming from and I wish I could just let my brain calm down and see things that way too. I have this deep and abiding need to be true to my own sense of self. Anything less makes me feel like a sell-out. I really just want to be in a job where I can research and hook people up with information. I think that would be awesome.

So, there it is. I hope the fact that I got a full-time job does not diminish the righteous anger of the last post. My feelings were genuine and my exhaustion was real. In fact, I would say that I still feel that way about the job search in general, but those feelings have been somewhat mitigated for now.

In Which Time Travel Is the Hip, New Thing

Book Review: The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma (translated by Nick Caistor)

Cover for The Map of Time
Cover for The Map of Time

The Map of Time weaves together the stories of three 19th century London characters: a wealthy young man who loves a common prostitute, a woman who is certain she cannot enjoy life in the present, and a science fiction writer who becomes embroiled in a number of schemes. You see this? I’m practicing my gripping introductions.

I have this problem with novels in which I can never muster up the enthusiasm to write about the novels I think I’m going to write about. Then there are other novels which I have no intention of discussing that I am compelled to write about. The latter scenario is what happened with The Map of Time (and the former with The Golem and the Jinni, which I finished a week or two ago and have been contemplating since). I read The Map of Time without making a point of thinking deep thoughts about it; rather I allowed the florid Victorian prose to bear me along in its current.

For the first two sections of the novel, I was not enthralled. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy Palma’s work, but neither was I especially focused on reading it—I had to renew my loan for it twice (the library is your friend, people) although that is partly because it is a pretty long book. But once I made it to the book’s third and final part, the story came together and things became significantly more interesting. The promised map of time was revealed. Time travel conventions were explored. Threads of the story were connected. Indeed, it was art.

One of the things that impressed me about The Map of Time is that Palma clearly has a strong knowledge of early science fiction and the late 19th century—the novel’s setting. One of the novel’s protagonists is, in fact, H.G. Wells himself (I don’t know if any of you watch Warehouse 13, but I always want to picture Wells as a woman now, thanks to the show’s influence. Helena!). It takes skill, and a certain amount of chutzpah, to write a real person into the story. I am no Wells aficionada, but it seemed accurate (if we are to believe Wikipedia) and I felt it was well done.

H.G. Wells writing
H. G. Wells, keeping it real

This is one of those stories that is really about writers being writerly. Wells is brought into time travel schemes—hoaxes really, but for the best of causes. In both, Wells’ supplicants are seeking closure for issues in their lives. And since time travel is in the cultural zeitgeist, they believe traveling through time can really solve their problems. Why would normal people believe in time travel? In the parallel universe of the story, a man name Gilliam Murphy has opened a time travel experience in which a form of performance art is staged to make people believe they have traveled through time. Coupled with the recent popularity of Well’s The Time Machine, people begin to think that, well, anything is possible. In any case, Wells resolves his problems through, of course, writing and story telling. One involves creating a believable story for a heartsick young man. Another involves an epistolary tale told between lovers. Finally, Wells gets his due as a main character in the last section. Letters are again involved. Wells also gets the opportunity to be the subject matter expert on time travel. I think writers love nothing more than the fantasy of writing saving lives and solving problems.

I also enjoyed the way the rules of time travel were applied in the story. In the first two sections of the story, it seems like time travel is probably just a scam. No one actually time travels, but scenarios are crafted such that a number of people believe that time travel is happening. The reader gets to be in on the secret. However, in the final episode, there really is time travel, but after a novel full of fakeries, the reader hardly wants to believe it. In the end, there is some good discussion of parallel universes and such like. I quite liked where the story ended up.

The last thing I want to comment on is the quality of the translation. The Map of Time was originally written in Spanish and was later translated to English. I obviously cannot comment on the accuracy of the translation, since I have not read the Spanish edition, but the spirit of the work is amazing. I am impressed at how well the translation captures the feel of the story’s period. I can only imagine what reading this in Spanish would feel like (that’s not true, I could go find the book and then I wouldn’t have to imagine. Dear reader, you know what I mean).

Okay, I am going to keep this review a little shorter than usual, but I do recommend this book if you like things like steampunk, alternate history, the rules and conventions of time travel, or just well-researched fiction.

What to read next:

  • The Map of the Sky by Felix J. Palma is the sequel to The Map of Time. It is apparently centered on Well’s The War of the Worlds in the way that The Map of Time is based around The Time Machine.
  • H.G. Wells: Another Kind of Life by Michael Sherborne is a biography of Wells. Reading The Map of Time, I realized I did not know that much about Wells’ life.
  • Steampunk edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer is an anthology of steampunk-themed stories. If you like the setting of The Map of Time and have realized that you want more steampunk in your life, this short story collection should get you going.

A Special Request and a Long Rant

On behalf of job-seekers everywhere, I would like to make a request. If someone you know is looking for work and describing to you the ongoing struggle involved in doing so, if you immediately have an idea, if you just know it would really help this person’s life …

DON’T SAY IT.

Yes, don’t say it. Close your mouth. Listen. Think. I hear you thinking, “but my idea is so good! I just want to help.” We know. I know you just want to help, but here is the situation. There are a lot of people in my demographic who are in the trenches, so to speak, as I am. This is what I am going through, what I have gone through, and what I suppose, I will continue to go through (I know I am presumptuously making this request for job-seekers everywhere, but I will illustrate with my own life).

I quit teaching last February. I threw myself into the unwelcoming embrace of the economy. I started looking for work immediately. I applied for jobs in librarianship, in writing, in California’s state bureaucracy, in anything that looked remotely promising. I put out at least 500 applications, I estimate, in a six-month period. During this time, I finished my masters degree (I graduated last May) and I worked as a freelance writer, which ended up being a lot of effort for not a lot of money. I did some phone interviews here and there for writing jobs in Seattle. I went on probably a dozen interviews for state jobs. Inevitably, no one called back.

In July, I was offered an “intermittent” position in one of the many offices that comprise the State of California. Intermittent jobs are essentially part-time. You can work 1,500 over the course of the fiscal year (July to June). For comparison, the state defines a full-time “year” of work at 1,920 hours. I didn’t want to take the job. I took it anyway because trying to hustle up writing clients was more exhausting that I had expected, no fairy godmother of librarianship had appeared to me to turn me into a real librarian, and the due date for my student loans was looming.

Hermes Conrad, bureaucrat in
It’s bureaucracy time.

I started working for the State. I didn’t (and still don’t) have health insurance because when you’re intermittent, you don’t qualify for insurance until you work a certain number of hours (I could qualify now but I have been informed that it is “hella expensive.”). I eased up somewhat on the job applications. This was partly due to exhaustion and partly due to a prospect. I had been invited to interview at the University of Virginia Library for an excellent librarian position. I spent time preparing myself for the interview and presentation. I was somewhat optimistic.

Predictably, I did not get the UVa job. I spent a month being reluctant to apply for things and make a real effort, but soon after I traveled to Seattle to interview for the librarian pool at the Seattle Public Library. I was accepted. I have since received approximately two notifications of open jobs. I have not been asked to interview for either. Sometime amid all this I also interviewed at the California State Library. Within a week, I received a letter saying I didn’t get the job. As is common in state service, I suspect they already knew who they intended to hire.

Since I am creating a litany of job-market lamentations, I suppose it is only fair to include the one about New Mexico. I did a phone interview for a position at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. They called my references and decided they wanted to interview me in person. Only when my librarian mentor, Kathleen, told me that it was a paraprofessional position did I realize why I was seen as such a good candidate—and also why the pay was so low. I declined a second interview.

At this point, I re-evaluated my application carpet bombing strategy. I realized that I could not afford to take a job that paid less than $40,000 (or more than that, depending on the location). I also realized that I did not want to move somewhere that I would want to leave immediately because one day I would like to stop living like a gypsy, make friends where I live, and buy a house (in any order). I narrowed my parameters for job searching. While I limited my scope geographically, I expanded it in terms of work type.

By December, I realized that I had about a year of freelance writing experience. This, I reasoned, could help me get a full-time writing job. Despite numerous applications, I don’t have a writing job beyond the ongoing part-time gigs I already had. I nearly got a junior technical writer position in Seattle, which is exactly what I want if I can’t get a library job, but it fell through when I told the recruiter I would need a week or two to move. He said that they needed someone sooner. I revised my stance and told him I could move immediately, but a week later, I found out that they had hired someone else. How dare I not be available to start a contract position with three-day’s notice! It is really my own fault I don’t have a proper career.

Since then? I continue to apply. Every weekend I send out at least five applications, but some weeks it can be as many as 20, depending on what’s available. I have about eight active job alerts from ineed.com and myriad alerts from other services that occasionally surface in my inbox. I check LinkedIn weekly. I browse INALJ (I Need a Library Job) and the ALA JobList, plus several library job-related Twitter feeds. I now have my resume listed on Mensa’s job board, for what that’s worth. I check certain organizations to find out, specifically, if they are hiring. I browse through a list of every librarian job in the country that has been posted in the last week. And I do this EVERY WEEK. It is exhausting. It is like running a marathon except instead of being done after 26 miles, you will be done when you reach some as yet undetermined distance. You don’t know what it is. You get tired and want to quit, but then you remember that the end could be just another mile away and you wouldn’t want to have stopped when you were so close. So you keep running.

But the final indignity, the last straw, the gust of wind that tipped me over the edge this week was back here at my stupid state job. I treat state work as a tertiary career plan. If all else false, my father reassures me, I can move up in state service (because it is full of complete idiots, he tells me). In February, I interviewed for a position that was in the next classification up from my current one (the state takes is classifications very seriously) and in the office where I work. It turned out that I was not yet qualified for this particular bureaucrat level, which was irritating, but something I could live with. Finding this out also brought forward the information that my experience doesn’t actually count as much as I think it does. One way to move up is to accrue a year of experience in my current class. Well, a year for me at my limit of 1,500 is only about 78% of a real year as the State counts it. Again, could have lived with this information, even though I was seething that no one felt the need to me. The hiring manager for this position told me I could have a different full time job, within my current class. They wouldn’t even need to interview me. This seemed like an appropriate consolation prize. It didn’t come out until this week that they were actually scheduling interviews for this position and that they “unintentionally mislead” me regarding my path to full-time, health insured bliss. I am scheduled to interview, but apparently there are some very competitive candidates, which I understand to mean “We like these other people more.” Even that would have been fine, had my administration had the emotional maturity to let me know this could be a problem in the first place. I can’t tell if they are being malicious or incompetent, but I am at a point where tolerating either is just too much to bear.

the California State Library building
California State Library, a magical place that provides jobs to all the worthy, newly-minted librarians

So, when I say that I am frustrated with the job market and that I just want to be a librarian or maybe a writer. When I say that I am a bit cynical, having a rough go, exhausted, or somewhat depressed and people respond with comments like:

“Have you tried the state library?”

“Have you looked at any of the UCs?”

“Is the Sacramento Public Library hiring?”

“What about volunteering?”

“Why don’t you talk to some people in the field?”

“Did you look online?”

I have a strong urge to kick the shit out of them, no matter how nice they are trying to be. What you don’t understand if you haven’t tried to get a job lately is that it is god-damned near impossible. I have done everything “right.” I have experience in more than one field (teaching, writing, and now … bureaucracy?), I have two bachelors degrees, a teaching credential, a masters degree, I have published academic work, I go to professional development, I participate in library organizations, I prepare thoroughly before interviews if I am lucky enough to get one, I have an active social media presence that promotes me as a person of note in my field, I apply for SO MANY JOBS.

So, when people try to “help” by offering the first idiotic thought that occurs to them, it is, to be blunt, fucking insulting. For the last year, getting a job has been my job. I have applied for things that I never would have imagined I would apply for. I have interviewed. I have networked. I am exhausted with my life. I would never have thought it would be so difficult. If I had a time machine, I would tell my 18-year-old self to get an associates degree, get a full-time job and get my education while I work because I would probably be better off right now.

Next time one of your friends or loved ones is telling you about their job search-related suffering, stop yourself. Choose your words carefully. Please don’t offer advice. Listen to what we have to say. Commiserate with us. Tell us that you support us and ask if there is any way you can help. Offer to take us out for frozen yogurt. But for the love of whatever god you subscribe to, don’t fucking make suggestions.

 

On Fluency: Spanish, BYU, and All the Words

My first Spanish class in college was during the fall. It was my second year at Brigham Young University (a year which was unexpectedly abbreviated due to having my “ecclesiastical endorsement” revoked for lack appropriate levels of Mormonality). I had taken some placement test that seemed remarkably easy, but it turned out that without taking a much more intense test, the best I could place was in the high-intermediate class. I had taken three years of Spanish in high school, but decided to roll with it.

At this time in my stint at BYU I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be Mormon anymore, but I was telling people I was “taking time off” to evaluate my positions. Participation in Mormonism is not measured on a spectrum, but uses a binary. You are Mormon or not. Something is of God or of Satan. So, things were not going that well in terms of interpersonal relations. The problem with being halfway out of Mormonism at BYU is that there are so many ultra-Mormon things happening that everything begins to grate.

And so it was that I was in this Spanish class. It was, naturally, taught by a returned missionary and one of the requirements for the class was to get a hymn book in Spanish. I seem to recall buying a tiny one. It probably matched my scripture set. In BYU language classes, it’s customary to pray at the top of the class in the target language (as we did in my intermediate Arabic class, much to my annoyance—Arabic is not the language of Mormon god, in my view) and sometimes there are hymns. What better way to immerse yourself than with church? It really engages the students, I’m sure.

This class had one of those people in it, as all classes do. So self-important and self-assured, she would act the expert and make claims about things like always using the subjunctive mood at the appropriate times in English. Predictably, I found myself contradicting this girl with frequency. What can I say, it was a rough time and there was little to lash out at. My anti-prescriptive grammarian nature obligated me to that I tell her that it was highly unlikely that, were she to even use the subjunctive in English, she would always apply it where prescribed. She didn’t like that.

cover of the
The offending textbook

The worst of her pronouncements, and the one that I remembered today which spurred this post, was the time we had a chapter’s worth of vocabulary about banking. I won’t defend banking vocabulary as interesting. It’s hard to make much out of terms like ‘checking account’ or ‘mortgage’, but I will defend the importance of such terminology. If you want to be fluent in a language, well, you better know how to get money to and from the bank.

So when she indolently raised her hand and asked “Why do we need to know words about banks? I mean, seriously?” I obviously could not ignore it. “Are you serious?” I called from my back-of-the-classroom perch at the very moment the thought entered my mind. With my now much-improved swearing skills I might have said “Are you fucking serious?” because that’s the level of ridiculous it was. I probably also would have rolled my eyes and mentally appended “This bitch,” but I still had a lot of catching up to do with the vulgarisms of English.

This Bitch (I wish I remembered her name, but for narrative purposes, we’ll go with the aforementioned) was stunned. She turned around to look at she who would dare issue a challenge to someone righteous enough to sit in the front row. I, probably really assholishly, said, “Do you think you won’t ever need to go to a bank?” We engaged in mutual scoffing and class continued. I think our instructor ended with a scripture about Joseph Smith’s first vision. Typical BYU.

What I like about this story (other than everyone, myself included, being a bitch) is that even though I had only just started studying linguistics, I feel like I had a pretty good attitude about fluency. In fact, my basic attitude still hasn’t changed. For me, the goal is to know as many words as possible. Duh, that’s being fluent. However, I will say that I have added some depth and contour to my opinions in the intervening eight years. Banking terminology is pretty essential if you want to be a functioning adult in a society. If you ever moved to Ecuador, you would probably have to deal with money and the bank at least once in a while. I mean, if you wanted to be able to eat and stuff.

But here’s the thing about fluency that a lot of people miss: you don’t know every word in your native language. If someone asked you to explain how the brain works, you might not have the terminology to do it, unless you’re a neuroscientist, psychologist, etc. That’s okay because you can live your life without ever having to understand your brain (if you like to live ironically). The same is true when you learn another language. You probably won’t have to discuss the intricacies generative grammar or economics. So you can be fluent and still not have all that terminology. The goal is to have a general lexicon on which you can build. As such, if you want to learn how to talk economic theory, you have the words in your brain that let you understand the definitions. You don’t have to know everything.

But banking? Every bitch is going to need to bank.

New Work, Old Work, What’s the Difference Once Your Head’s Blown Off

Book review: Makers by Cory Doctorow

Makers book coverEver since I read Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson last year, I’ve been captivated by the maker movement. I was going to link to my awesome review about Anderson’s Makers, but then I remembered I didn’t write it (I always want to review everything, but few reviews make it out of my head). I picked up Makers from the library on a whim and thanks to name recognition of Doctrow whose Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom I’d read some years ago on an Amtrak train from Portland to Seattle.

Anyway.

Makers is a near-future/cyberpunk/science-fiction published in 2009 that strikes me as fairly prescient. I mean, I don’t know what the future holds (I hope it’s monstrous alien creatures), but given the state of things, Doctrow’s vision feels on point. The story takes place approximately 20 years from now (by my reckoning), the characters at the intersection of several groups of people coming together in the brave new economy.

The character who most resonated with me (for perhaps obvious reasons) is Suzanne Church, a journalist. She starts the story as a writer with the San Jose Mercury, an actual newspaper. Her coverage of Silicon Valley events leads her to Florida, where she meets tinkerers extraordinaires Perry and Lester. Perry and Lester live in an abandoned mall in Florida, making interesting junk out of the world’s inexhaustible supply of useless crap, utilizing our surplus of Boogie Woogie Elmos. Suzanne begins documenting Perry and Lester’s inspired madness as it gives way to the New Work movement, a sort of maker revolution that, unfortunately, doesn’t quite last for the long term.

I don’t want to summarize this book because that is boring and pointless. Go read the book. I do really like some of the concepts that percolated in my brain while I read this, so I’ll talk about those instead.

First, I liked Suzanne a lot. She quits her stable, grown-up journalism job to follow what she perceives to be the real news of the day. She reports on stuff that is simply too cool to not write about and her readers clearly respond to it, since she manages to stay in business with her site’s ad revenue. That is something I really admire, especially since, regardless of intent, writing seems to be developing into something of a career for me. I don’t think I have the ovaries to up and move to follow a story (maybe I will eventually), but the idea of just taking off after awesome things to chronicle them is fucking cool to me.

In her own way, Suzanne embodies the story’s New Work movement with what she does. Although she isn’t tinkering and creating things or using 3D printers to improve people’s lives, she is creating based on what’s around her. She still makes an important contribution to the movement, especially since it isn’t logistically feasible for everyone to be an engineer. I think the way of the new economy, as Doctorw foretells it, is that everyone is essentially their own business. And honestly, life already feels that way to me a lot right now. Many jobs I consider treat employees as independent contractors. You are a contractor and you are your own brand. So, seeing Suzanne in the novel is like reading about someone who is doing a great job managing her brand and just making her own way, fuck the rest.

Another aspect of this book that I appreciated was the nature of community and how it can be configured using the Web. In the second act of the novel, Perry and Lester’s tinkering results in “the ride.” The ride is a series of scenes composed of bricolage, staged in an abandoned WalMart. Riders upvote or downvote scenes based on whether they like them or think they belong in their personal vision of the ride. Eventually, The Story emerges. Online communities begin discussing and dissecting the story. A segment of the Florida goth community becomes particularly involved after Death Waits (né Darren) gets laid off by Disney World (of course there is Disney, this is a Cory Doctrow novel) and then has the shit kicked out of him. After word of the ride spreads to the Web, rides spring up in other cities, each with its own style and engendering its own community.

Finally, as a novel of things-to-come, I like it. The United States, it is indicated, is essentially a third world country (not hard to predict at this point, to be honest), but people make do. Consider all the empty real estate there will be—it’s put to good use by people creating their own sort of slum towns or filled with things like the ride. 3D printers play a significant role in the economic liberation of these ad hoc communities. By the end of the book, people are even making bicycles with them thanks to tireless tinkering and open-source sharing.

It always feels difficult to review novels because I want to distill my feelings and the new thoughts that I had when my brain interacted with the story. I hope this makes some kind of sense. Doctrow is definitely a prophet of the coming tech age.

What to read next:

  • If you want the non-fiction version, check out Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson. It talks about the cool stuff 3D printers are doing now. If you’re a would-be librarian like me, you can read it and think about the cool things you would do with it in a library. There are a few books about the maker movement, maker spaces, etc., but this is one that I have read and enjoyed. At this point, I have to reference my favorite Twitter feed, Fake Library Stats:
  • If you want more Cory Doctorow, I recommend Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Not only because this is the only other Doctrow book I’ve read, but because I like the cyberpunk, techie aspects of the story.
  • My third recommendation is Oryx and Crake byMargaret Atwood because I feel like this is the opposite kind of universe from Makers and because you should read Atwood. Everyone should read Atwood.

Sweet Dreams are Made of Monstrous Alien Creatures

I think that I normally have shitty dreams. I don’t know this for certain. I cycle through phases of dream-remembering and dream-forgetting. Perhaps it is connected to the waxing and waning moon, for arcane reasons beyond my understanding. I think I have shitty dreams for two reasons. One: I wake up with no memory of my dream self’s actions, but a distinct feeling of emotional shittiness. Two: Kirk tells me that I cry out in the middle of the night. He reported that several nights ago he heard me—while he was in a different room and wearing headphones—shout “I don’t want it!” I can’t imagine that was the function of a dream in which I was suddenly granted my most sincere wishes (unless the genie added ironic consequences, which genies like to do).

This morning I woke up with an unusual sensation: I recalled having a good dream. It was interesting. I was enjoying the dream and I knew that it was a dream at the same time. My brain was telling my sleepy self a story as it ventured out into the dreaming. I felt like I was making friends maybe, but also like I wanted to know the rest of the story.

I am going to describe this dream, but know that I partially don’t want to. You know how dreams are. The image renders beautifully in the mind, but comes out of the mouth like pictures shoved through a speaker.

The other thing you have to know about this dream is that I dreamed I was in the world of a book I recently finished reading. Last week, I read A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge. It’s the second work in the Zones of Thought trilogy. I was engrossed with it last week, probably more so than the first one. It’s a space opera that focuses on two groups of people. There are the Qeng Ho—traders who go spacefaring for the sake of commerce and maintaining relationships with customer civilizations. There are also the aliens of Arachna. Vinge is an amazing sci-fi author because he humanizes his aliens so effectively. He manages to give a slow burn introduction on them, gradually throwing in details that would not make sense were humans being discussed (like referring to a character’s ‘eating hands’). When the true nature of what otherwise might be a monstrosity is revealed, you already love the characters and you don’t care that they are giant spider people. Yes, a race of giant spiders (duh, their planet is Arachna).

Okay, right now you are probably thinking something like get a grip, Lindsey, how did you have a good dream about giant spider people? That’s a valid question. The goodness or badness of dreams seems to be bound to the emotional feel much more than to what actually happens. This had pleasant emotional feel, and I don’t think I can explain it more than that.

Now that you’ve had sufficient preamble, I will relate the tale of my not-shitty dream.

I was hanging out with a spider/person. I knew it was one of the spider aliens and I was in the world of this novel (these spidery aliens are described as being about waist-high and having 10 legs in A Deepness in the Sky). I wasn’t freaked out, as one might expect to be in a world of spidery folk. We were chilling outside and there was a cool view of a mountain. I think my friend (I guess my friend?) was telling me about how to not be an idiot in a realm of spider folk. I imagine I would need a lot of schooling on this issue. This spider friend was wearing a dashing cloak with a fancy cloak pin. Do giant spiders wear cloaks? This one did. Even though I knew I was among spider folk, I was seeing everyone as human people. Why? Who knows. It is a thing of dreams. So, I was going somewhere with my spider buddy and he introduced me to someone he knew. I tried to shake hands, but it was awkward (duh, spiders don’t have hands). Then I realized I was seeing the spider folk as people, not as spiders, so I asked why that was. It turned out my spider buddy was using a device (of science or magic, it is not clear) to make me see human-y people and him see me as a spidery person. He turned it off and we both recoiled. I decided that I was going to need to ease into seeing spider folk as spiders.

Thus did I dream.

Why was this a good dream? I guess everything is relative. I was interested in the story I was apparently living. How did I end up there? Was I a a refugee or a prisoner of war? Was I stranded? Did I go insane? What was going to happen? How will I learn to live with the spider folk?

Maybe the promise of living some crazy, impossible story made this a good dream.

When I woke up, I spent the next few hours in a dreamy haze, pondering the dream that was. Hey, giant spider folk are more interesting than work.

2014: The Year Ahead

I genuinely love New Year’s Day. I find that it is a good time to think about the upcoming year and decide what I want to do with it. I’m not talking about resolutions, as you might suppose. I think the concept of New Year’s resolutions is silly because everyone understands that resolutions are just a thing that you do until you get tired of it in the beginning of February. I like to set goals and make plans at the beginning of the year because it gives me something to focus on. Last year some of my goals changed—I had a goal of riding my bike 1,000 miles, for example, but got into running once spring came around. So, my plan changed. That kind of thing may happen this year, too, but it’s good to at least have a plan. Without further ado, here are my 2014 goals.

  • Books: Read at least 52 books. I only got to 46 last year, but since I’m done with grad school, I should be able to get in a book every week.
  • Writing: Write one book review every month and start working on researching/writing a book.
  • Career: Get a library job (I’m actually feeling somewhat optimistic about this at the moment), go to the ALA conference, and build more relevant skills. I’m already signed up for a MOOC (massive open online course) called “Introduction to Databases,” offered by Stanford; it starts next week.
  • Activities: Do things. Go outside and do all manner of things. This includes general stuff like exercising, but is broad enough to include basically anything outside of my apartment. I plan to work out (gym, run, etc.) twice a week at minimum, but I also want to get into more hiking and camping and I am thinking about doing swing dance (I was considering roller derby, but since I don’t have health insurance … ) and I found Midtown Stomp, which does a Friday swing lesson followed by dancing. I think that sounds dandy.
  • Food: It seems like everyone has a food-based New Year’s plan, so it seems cliché to say anything about it, but consuming food is a major component of being alive, so I might as well deal with it. I want to cook and eat a lot more vegetables and proteins. I’m planning to start going to the Midtown Farmers Market on Saturdays because I think that will be fun and be a good way to get local, tasty food.

There you have it. What are you planning to do this year?

2013: The Year in Books

It’s new year’s eve and it is time for my annual list of the books I read for the year. I read the entire Wheel of Time series this year, which was really quite time consuming. I read 46 books overall–not quite the 50+ I was shooting for, but I think it is still respectable, all things considered. Nineteen of the books were non-fiction.

  1. The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan 1/20
  2. The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan 2/14
  3. CompTIA A+ Certification All-in-One Exam Guide, 8th Edition by Michael Meyers 2/18
  4. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain 2/25
  5. Over the Cliff: How Obama’s Election Drove the American Right Insane by John Amato and David Neiwert 3/1
  6. The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan 3/7
  7. The Ordinary Acrobat by Duncan Wall 3/10
  8. The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers & Fathers Are Going Broke by Elizabeth Warren & Amelia Warren Tyagi 3/19
  9. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr 4/2
  10. Every Day by David Levithan 4/3
  11. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright 4/9
  12. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander 4/27
  13. Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou 4/29
  14. Adventures of the Artificial Woman: A Novel by Thomas Berger 5/1
  15. The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan 6/10
  16. Dreams and Shadows: A Novel by C. Robert Cargill 6/16
  17. Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson 6/28
  18. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo 7/2
  19. I Fired God: My Life Inside—and Escape from—the Secret World of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Cult by Jocelyn Zichterman 7/4
  20. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan 7/10
  21. The Unlikely Disciplie: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose 7/24
  22. Oz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and Beyond edited by John Joseph Adams & Douglas Cohen 7/30
  23. The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes 8/11
  24. Girls of the Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kernan 8/28
  25. Red Shirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi 9/3
  26. The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan 9/4
  27. Why Have Kids? A New Mom Explores the Truth about Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti 9/10
  28. Asperger’s on the Job: Must-Have Advice for People with Asperger’s or High Functioning Autism, and their Employers, Educators, and Advocates by Rudy Simone 9/11
  29. Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan 9/17
  30. Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan 10/2
  31. The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler 10/11
  32. The Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan 10/18
  33. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan 10/23
  34. The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan 10/24
  35. The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan 10/25
  36. The House of Hades by Rick Riordan 10/29
  37. Winter’s Heart by Robert Jordan 11/7
  38. Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan 11/24
  39. The New Rules of Lifting for Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess by Lou Schuler, Cassandra Forsthe, Alwyn Cosgrove 11/27
  40. Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths by Nancy Marie Brown 12/2
  41. Just a Geek: Unflinchingly Honest Tales of the Search for Life, Love, and Fulfillment Beyond the Starship Enterprise by Wil Wheaton 12/4
  42. Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan 12/6
  43. Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh 12/8
  44. The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson 12/13
  45. Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson 12/22
  46. A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson 12/31