watervole: (Default)
This book was recommended to me, and justly so. 

A franchise novel based almost entirely around a character who appears only in one episode has to be really good to meet this mark. 'The Never Ending Sacrifice' meets that mark.

It follows the life of Rugal, a Cardassian boy brought up by a loving Bajoran couple who adopt him during the Occupation. When they visit Deep Space 9, the commanding officer decides that Rugal's interests would be best served by returning him to Cardassia with his biological father who had been tricked in believing Rugal was dead (Cardassian feuds and politics can get really nasty).

That decision is to change Rugal's life, landing him on a strange world among a people he regards as enemies.

The title of the book refers to a classic Cardassian novel which looks at the demands Cardassia makes of its citizens, again and again. Service to the state is part of the culture, spontaneous help to your fellow citizens is not.

The culture on Cardassia is well developed, with lots of subtle detail to make it totally believable.  As Cardassia becomes involved in war after war, betrayal after betrayal, its citizens as well as Rugal continue to make sacrifice after sacrifice.

This is not an easy book, or a happy one, yet a few good things do do emerge. Rugal's background leads him to question and mistrust everything is he is told and to develop his own philosophy of life. His ability to relate to people from other cultures and backgrounds gives him a flexibility that most Cardassians lack and will lead him to some genuine friendships.

The characters are well-drawn, particularly Rugal's grandmother who despises him, but whom he comes to love and loathe in equal measure.
watervole: (Default)
 I've just got around to reading 'The Dark is Rising', a classic Young Adult fantasy series by Susan Cooper.  I know a couple of my friends like it a lot, so I decided to give it a try.

My overall verdict is that the quality of the writing is excellent.  Cooper has a way of writing magic so that it simply happens.  There are some lovely descriptive sequences that really catch the imagination.  

However, the series has one really big drawback: the plot is like a bad D+D scenario.  All magic items were created in the ancient past, but there's no sense of how they were made or why, or why they can't be made again today.  Each magic item or prophecy is basically a plot token. You have to collect plot token A, then you need token B to decipher it. Plot token C is required to enable you to get token D. Token D, when used in the correct time and place will allow you to collect prophecy E, etc.

The quality of the writing kept me going through all five volumes, but the lack of  a cohesive sense of plot means that I won't read it again.

If anyone wants the five volume set, then it's yours for the cost of postage.
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Could the ancient Egyptians have reached South America? There are enough clues in archeological remains and in the legends of bearded white men to suggest the possibility.

There is really only one way to determine if that is possible, and that is to recreate a papyrus boat using the paintings in ancient tombs as a guide.

I first read this book many years ago and came back to it recently when copy turned up in the charity shop where I volunteer It holds up very well. Although it is slow to get going, it really gets interesting when they start work on building the boat and is riveting when they are at sea.

There is a point when they are half-way across the Atlantic in the middle of a storm, when you think: "These men are crazy to even attempt sailing a reed boat across the ocean."



The most fascinating aspect of the book is what the journey helps reveal of the sailing and construction details of the ancient Egyptian boats. Details that make no sense on a wall painting suddenly make vital sense after a month at sea. Everything from rope thickness to the way the mast is supported become relevant in the context of sailing a boat that does not have a rigid hull.

Definitely worth reading - if you enjoy this, you'll probably also enjoy 'The Benden Voyage' by Tim Severin, and Heyerdahl's 'Kon Tiki'.
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 I've been loaned 'The Beiderbecke Affair', 'The Beiderbecke Tapes' and 'The Beiderbecke Connection' by a friend and greatly enjoyed them.

It's quite an old series, filmed back in 1985, but benefits greatly from slow pacing and a very dry sense of humour.

It took me a couple of episodes to get into it, but I was a total convert by the end.

It's essentially a slow-burning romance between a moderately unlikely couple.  Everyday, Mr Chaplin the woodwork teacher gives Mrs Swinburne , a divorcee, a lift into school.  There's a detective plot as a background framework to everything.

He's a mild-mannered jazz fan, fairly set in his ways, who takes a relaxed attitude to life.  He's also middle-aged, definitely not George Cloony and has hair that's thinking about receding.

She's an English teacher, deeply into feminism, saving the planet and any left-wing cause that comes along.  She's also good-looking.

The relationship between them grows and develops over the series.  They have some great dialogue - especially if you like Yorkshire, and there is a supporting cast of various eccentric characters.

What I like most though is the relationship between the leads.  I don't think they ever so much as kiss onscreen (in spite of having conversations in bed), but there is an affectionate chemistry and the kind of dialogue that shows how well they know one another. 

It's nice to see the way their relationship grows and develops over time (and to understand what makes it work so well).  Trevor, Mr Chaplin, has a definite inner child - in the best of ways.  He's a happy, non-bossy person, and can make friends in about ten seconds with any fellow jazz fan.

 I really like Trevor.  He's not the kind of man you gush over on screen, but he's the kind of man you find in happy marriages (reminds me a little of my husband).

You can see the 


 (and probably more) on You Tube.

Or you can find the whole 'Beiderbecke Trilogy' (search for that title) for about £15 on ebay.
watervole: (Default)
 I've just finished reading a truly excellent fan novel on AO3.

Sharpe's Dragon is a crossover between the worlds of Sharpe and Temeraire, but I think people who are only familiar with Sharpe will still enjoy it.  

Take the Naoleonic Wars and add an aerial corps of dragons.

Take Moncey, a bit of a riff-raff among dragons, a small, ex-feral, independent minded and occasionally lonely dragon who happens to run into the South Essex while warning them of an attack.  Give him a slowly developing friendship with a man who is a bit of a riff-raff among officers, slightly feral and independent minded....

It's slow paced, with excellent historical detail and true to all the characters.

HIghly recommended.
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 An Avengers movie fic written with all the characters as chefs in restaurants.

Gen, great fun to read -highly recommended.
watervole: (Default)
 One of the reasons we read science fiction is for that sense of wonder, an introduction to a world totally different to our own, one that is strange and different.

Sometimes we can encounter that same sense of wonder when reading history, when the past is described so vividly that it becomes real and wonderful.

I've just encountered that sense while reading Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi.  It begins with a historical humorous outlook on the way various explorers cheerfully claimed vast tracts of already occupied land for their own countries, but the book came to life for me when he starts to talk about the skills of the riverboat pilots.

Here, Twain writes from first-hand experience of learning those skills, and it makes for fascinating reading.  The description of a pilot navigating a dangerous river section at night is hair-raising and makes the navigation skills of a London taxi driver suddenly seem trivial by comparison.

You can get the book free from Project Gutenberg and I definitely recommend it as a window on a totally different world.

I've no idea what the rest of the book will cover, but I'm looking forward to it.
watervole: (books)
  This was the first library book I borrowed on my Sony ebook reader. (and I'm waiting to see if Amazon censor that line from my book review...)

Set in a future where the British Empire rules a good chunk of the stars, the book gives us an Empire with 1970's entertainment, pseudo-Victorian morality for the Empire and technology that feels like a second-hand car.

Captain Smith and his motley crew face the evil Ghasts and overcome them by plenty of derring do and stiff upper lips. There's not much in the way of character development.

You'll need to have seen things like Bladerunner and War of the Worlds to get all the jokes.

There were some annoying point of view shifts in mid-paragraph - I suspect that's partly due to this being the writer's first book.

I found the book entertaining enough to read to the end, but not interesting enough to want to read the next one in the series.
watervole: (books)
My ebook reader is already changing my reading habits.

I've downloaded a load of classics, which is hardly surprising as they're free, but the big difference is that I'm actually reading them.

It's weight and convenience.  My collected volume of Kipling is big, heavy, and hard to keep open on my book rest.  That all makes it physically difficult for me to read. With my Sony ebook reader, I can take it anywhere, read anywhere and not strain my neck/shoulder by  holding the pages open.  I can even read it balanced on my knee, which I find impossible with hard copy.

Over the last few days, I've reread 'The Jungle Book':

I enjoyed this as an adult far more than I did as a child.  When young, I expected the whole book to be about Mowgli.  As an adult, I remembered that it was a collection of many things and thus wasn't disappointed.  In fact, some of my favourites were not Mowgli stories.  I particularly liked the story of the white seal.
 
Kipling has a real gift with words (reminds me a little of Ursula le Guin) and some of his tales read like myth.
 
I also appreciate the poems a lot more now.  Kipling has a wonderful sense of rhythm, which I totally failed to appreciate when younger, but now really love.
 
A small bonus for me was realising that the poem with 'Her Majesty's Servants' was set to the rhythm of several songs that I knew.  When he talks of the cavalry cantering to 'Bonnie Dundee', the metre is that of 'Bonnie Dundee'.  He also works 'British Grenadiers' and 'Lincolnshire Poacher' into the same poem.


Just read the poem here - and see the way he uses rhythm.  Each of the animals used by the army (elephants and bullocks hauling guns, mules carrying packs on hilly routes (a screw-gun was carried in parts and screwed together when used), camels carrying loads, and also cavalry horses) has its own rhythm.  Ideally, read it aloud.  Of all the poets I know, Kipling seems to benefit most from being read aloud.
watervole: (Default)
'No Present Like Time' is the  second book in Steph Swainston's 'Castle' series.  It's a lot better than the first one.
Most of the things that annoyed me in the first volume are absent now.  It's much better plotted, characters are introduced in a more organised manner, the lapses into present are almost (but not entirely) eliminated.

Without these annoyances and distractions, the writer's talent for language can show forth to much better effect.  Swainston has a real gift for descriptive language and a delight in playing with words.  In the 'Shift', the alternative world that Jant reaches under the influence of drugs, many of the strange beings there have names that are puns or clever plays on word meanings.

Sadly, there were still a few minor things that threw me out of the text.  It's usually the bits that the writer adds as almost throwaway afterthoughts that tend to spoil the book for me. A description of a hurricane has windmills rotating so fast that 300 catch fire and burn.  Clearly the writer doesn't know that any miller worth his salt will take the canvas off his sails and lock the sails in position at the first sign of really bad weather.

And Tris, which ironically has no need of a long-distance communication system, turns out to have the semaphore towers which were lacking in the Fourlands - which did need them.

Still, overall, a well-written book and one that encourages me to continue with the series.
watervole: (Default)
 I always try to read books by Eastercon guests, however this was not one of the best.

I hit several problems with this book.  

Firstly, it takes forever to sort out who is who and what is going on.

This isn't helped by the fact that many characters have multiple names and titles that are used on difference occasions.  eg Lightening, Saker, Micawater and Archer are all the same person.

Second problem is that the writer occasionally drops into present tense for no apparent reason. I found this jarring and can only attribute it to poor editing.

Third - occasional point of view slips.  The narrative is first person throughout, but there are a few places where the non-psychic narrator suddenly knows exactly what another person is thinking.  Poor editing, again.

Fourth - I didn't initially find any characters that I actually cared about.

Fifth - why do Awians have wings if they can't fly?

Sixth - I know the narrator is a drug addict, but there were sill an awful lot of descriptions of injecting drugs.

Seven - it took me ages to sort out the level of technology - I initially thought it was all medieval as the battles are all like that;  a passing reference to trams confused me totally.  This world turns out to be a Victorian level of technology, but with no firearms and odd modern styles of t-shirts, etc.  The trams turn out to be water-powered (which I didn't find convincing).  The bit I found most unrealistic is the communication system.  There isn't any.  No telegraph, no semaphore towers, no postal service, nothing. Battlefield communications are equally bad.  This is a massive plot device simply to ensure that the narrator (who is the only person who can fly) ends up carrying all communications of any importance.

I nearly gave up a quarter of the way through, but persevered  and found that the book did get better.  A plot finally started to develop and the characters got more interesting.  I enjoyed it enough in the end to pick up the sequels in the Red Cross shop, but I wouldn't have paid full price for them.
watervole: (Default)
 A well-told tale that starts gently with a fairy story that starts reaching into the past and gradually becomes a mystery story as Becca searches for the tale of her grandmother's early life.

Although we realise fairly early on that the story will link back to the Holocaust, it's still shocking to be reminded of the bare facts of the era. Yolen handles this well, making us feel the horror, but without giving you nightmares.

There's a careful understanding of human nature, both of the way the partisans dealt (or didn't deal) with their inability to make an impact, and also the inescapable fact that there were people who accepted and even approved of what was happening.

I like the way Yolen gives and ending that allows us to understand that a person can be happy even without the traditional 'happy ending'.

I'd definitely recommend this book, though I'm not sure that I'd want to read it twice - the story will linger in my mind for a long time.
watervole: (books)
Star Trek Novel - Killing Time by Della van Heis

This is very frustrating book, mainly because I want to shoot the person who failed to edit it properly.

There are places where the writer uses words incorrectly, substituting a wrong word for the one she actually means.

The point of view, especially early on, hops around like a rabbit on steroids. At one point, it even managed to change mid-sentence.

The author has a real aversion to the word 'said', using an entire Thesaurus of increasingly improbable words to describe the simple act of speaking.

Science doesn't get much of a look in either. Sonar in outer space?

There's some glitches in the time travel plot as well.

All of which is doubly annoying , because I actually like the story. There's some good original characters (and some good female characters) and the Kirk/Spock relationship is as close to slash as you're likely to get in a mainstream novel. Although McCoy is probably the character who has the most spot-on dialogue.

I would have rated this book higher if it had been properly edited - I could have done a much better job.

However, even with all its flaws, I'll probably keep it.
watervole: (books)
Cranford - Elizabeth Gaskell

A gentle book in which nothing much happens, but which happens in such minute detail that you end up fascinated by the social mores of who will condescend to speak to whom in a tiny English village.

These are the upper class women who didn't find a rich husband, and are trapped by poverty and social convention into a genteel poverty that seeks desperately to convince itself that any sign of wealth would be ostentatious in any case.

Yet, even in this stilted social setting, the people are still capable of quiet acts of kindness (and have the understanding to conceal their help so as not to burden their friend with the need for gratitude).

This is a book that I'm sure I'll read again.


Sheepfarmer's Daughter - Elizabeth Moon

I really enjoyed Moon's Serrano Legacy SF novels, so I was looking forward to her fantasy series, The Deed of Paksenarrion.  However, although the background of the mercenary troop conveys a knowledge of the military (Moon was in the US Marine Corps), there's no darn plot!  I got nearly half way through the book before giving up in disgust.  There was what appeared to be a plot thread at the start, but it petered out into nothing and the 'story' just becomes endless bits of marches and combat practice.

The background is detailed, but I need more than just  background to hold my interest.  I can survive without plot (Cranford has almost no plot), but for that to happen, I need characters I can relate to - and Paksenarrion fails the test.  Looking at Wikipedia, I see that this was Moon's first novel.  Perhaps that explains why I like her later work better.
watervole: (books)
Thanks to Coth for giving me my copy.

"Round the Bend" is a curious book in many ways.  To me, it actually has a flavour of science fiction.  It's writing about a world very different to mine - the world of my parents.

Technology is very different.  Aviation is still taking off.  It takes a couple of weeks to travel half-way round the world in a small plane.  The world is still a large place and people have very little knowledge of what life is like in other countries.

Racial prejudice is a basic fact of life.  The idea of marrying someone of another race is inconceivable - not in the sense that it is terrible, but because you literally would never conceive of doing so.  People of non-white races get lower wages as a matter of course, or may be banned totally from working in some places.

Set against this background, what we actually have is a novel about people of different races and faiths working together in harmony.  It's the world of aviation pilots and engineers, where the shared fascination with planes leads to respect and friendship.

It's also a world (which reminded me a little of 'Stranger in a Strange Land') where one man can start a new form of religion.

What I like about Shute is that he tells the story.  He never rants on (and nor do his characters) about things being good or bad - they live their lives and deal with things as they are.  He doesn't try to manipulate the reader.

His characters are seen through the eye of the engineer.

Shute isn't big on description - his characters travel over a large part of Asia, but if you're looking for, say, a detailed description of a Hindu temple, then you won't find it.  His character visits a temple and is entertained by it, but that's all you learn.  He saves his love for airstrips and engines.  The odd thing is that the descriptions of long flights and the navigation checks, etc. don't become boring, rather, they help to set the pace of the novel.

The story is told in the amount of time that is right for it.  It doesn't rush through its plot in the way some more modern books do.  Shute is not the man for gangland shoot-outs and madcap stunts. His tales are of more ordinary people.

Sometimes, ordinary people achieve the extra-ordinary - while still remaining themselves.  This is Shute's strength as a writer.
watervole: (books)
I was given this as a promotional book at an SF convention (LX) and wasn't expecting to like it, as urban fantasy isn't a genre I normally read.  I don't normally read erotic romance either - nothing against the genre, more a feeling of 'been there, written that'.

However, I got a lot of pleasure from reading the book and found myself keeping coming back to read the next chapter when I really had other things I should have been doing...

The characters are well written and I fell in love with Seth, the shy, geeky writer.

The plot is engaging and the dilemma of the succubus (anyone she has sex with will end up giving her their life energy, and the more good/genuine the person is, the more they will lose to her) means that she can't have sex with any man whom she really likes and respects.

There's also some good minor characters who are more than just background cutouts.

The promotional book seems to have worked.  I've just bought the next one in the series...
watervole: (books)
This book was written before I was born, and I'm the wrong side of fifty...

One reads Clarke for the science and, unfortunately, the planetary science in this book has not fared well in the light of more modern discoveries.

I gave up after a chapter that was full of (now) wrong science compounded by old-fashioned non-digital photography and computer tape printout on a lunar base.

I'm fine with Clarke's limited character development when there are other elements to keep me reading, but this is not a book I will keep.
watervole: (books)
I'd almost forgotten what 'hard' SF was really like until I read Rendezvous with Rama. It was wonderful to have a story where physics is integral to everything, where speed of light limitations are woven into the story, where the alien artefact has a design that takes physics into account (I'm still pleased that I managed to predict one minor plot element by recalling one of the physical properties of water.)

And how can I fail to love a story that actually takes Coriolis force into account?

The strong grounding in reality makes the whole story feel so much more real. You believe in the characters and in the dangers they encounter, because you know that no 'magic' will be used to rescue them if they get into a tight corner.

Another good point about the focus on hard science is that the book hasn't dated. There were only two small moments when I realise how long ago the book was written. One was when the shape of Rama was compared to a domestic boiler, and the other was a reference to the steady state theory. Apart from those two minor points, the book could have been written yesterday. The laws of physics don't change with fashion.

Clarke can't write in depth characters, but they work reasonably well in this book, and the setting of Rama itself makes the story live.

This was a 9/10 book for me and I'd happily recommend it to anyone.
watervole: (Morris dancers- watch out)
I just had to enter a book manually into Library Thing, because nobody else had a copy! But you can all read it, becasue a kind soul in the past has scanned the entire book (which is out of copyright) for other morris historians to read.  It's the Esperance Morris Book part 1. The morris revival came about partly due to the existence of a London dress-making co-operative for poor girls.  Mary  Neal was the person who followed up on Cecil Sharp's recording of old dances.  It was the girls of the Esperance club who invited the last of the old dancers to come and teach them dances and then went out all over the country and taught the dancers to the modern revival sides that we know today. Sharp and Neal were to fall out in later years and Neal's contribution would be largely overlooked (even to the extent of Sharp ignoring cases of historical female dancers so that he could claim morris had never been intended for women) The book is a fascinating read, partly for insights into the attitudes of the period - there was a real longing for 'Merrie England' and partly becasue it's clear how much the dances meant to the girls who first learnt and then taught the dances.  There's also good descriptions of several Cotswold morris dances - and there are surprisingly few books available that give the steps of dances. The Singing Games are of some interest, not least because it's clear that children were as much in love with the gruesome back then, as they  are now. The book reminds me a little of fanzines - there's lots of letter of comment in the back.
watervole: (Xmas)
If you'd like a selection of traditional carols (including the Ilkley Moor version of 'While Shepherds Watched'), then you could do a lot worse than order Christmas is Come In (if you know [livejournal.com profile] birdsedge then you'll already know the excellent quality of Artisan's singing). It's got a lovely collection of folk carols as well as better known ones like Silent Night and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (the latter was a folk tune originally, of course!) Artisan sing acapella and I've loved their music ever since I started going to folk festivals.
watervole: (books)
I recently borrowed 'Principles of Angels' and 'Consorts of Heaven' from [personal profile] cdave .  I enjoyed them both.  I'm too bleary (throat infection) to go into details, but if you like novels that are primarily character-driven than these will probably appeal.

They're 'SF-lite' in that it's more about the characters than the setting, but I enjoyed the world backgrounds as well.

'Consort of Heaven' has a well-drawn female protagonist (who is neither young, ravishingly beautiful, nor a military genius), which probably accounts for this being my favourite of the two.

The two books are set in the same universe, but could be read in either order as the settings are independent.

I'll happily buy the next novel by Janie Fenn when it comes out.

watervole: (books)
This book really annoyed me. Like the writer, I believe that many nursery rhymes have older origins, but Iles goes way too far into conjecture. His 'research' never goes back to original sources; his reconstructions are mostly conjecture and his only real aim appears to make a book that will sell well.

Knowing the habits of modern day filkers, and having rewritten many songs myself, I know that songs can be altered dramatically with no intent to suppress the original version. I also know that songs that start clean can acquire extra verses that are decidedly unclean.

As Iles's entire approach is based on the premise that the songs were all originally sexual/pagan in content and that this was edited out and changed by clergy or song collectors, I have to disagree with most of his book.

I could easily believe that many traditional songs started clean, acquired extra smutty verses that were sung in the apropriate places and that these verses (sadly) were often not passed onto collectors. This does not, however, invalidate the collected song.

(Iles's approach is a bit like assuming that "While shepherds washed their socks by night" must be the original version because the church would clearly want to suppress it.)

The whole book is even more frustrating because now and then he makes a case that does stand up to inspection. It's just that you have to wade through too much supposition and conjecture to get to the useful bits.

Rarely do I shout out loud in protest while reading a book - this one had my family getting inundated by irate comments.

I had to go away and read some Ronald Hutton to remind myself what research into folk traditions really means.

If anyone wants this book, just ask (but you'll have to remove Hutton from my cold, dead hands)...
watervole: (Liberator)
"Flag and Flame" is the second drama on the Cally prequel CD. The first drama is 5/5 on my rating, but the second one only gets 3/5.

Skate and Merrin Cally are closer than most clones having been reared as a twin pair. They can share thoughts, even the taste of a hot chocolate, they're that close. Twins are particularly useful to Auron for long-distance reconnaissance, as they can maintain telepathic contact over a much greater distance, thus enabling radio silence to be maintained.

Skate is sent on a mission which it becomes clear is more dangerous than she was originally told.  When things go wrong, the difficult question then becomes that of whether a rescue mission should be sent.  (In this aspect, the two dramas on the CD share a thematic link)  The dilemma is clear - is it more important to attempt to rescue a pilot at all costs, or to accept that a rescue mission would almost certainly result in the loss of more lives now that the enemy has been alerted?  (I felt the writer's treatment of this issue came across rather one-sided - it was clear where the listener's sympathies were intended to be.)

However, the issue is more complex than just the risk to other pilots - was there a reason why Skate was selected for this mission?

This is one point where the story felt weak.  Skate and Merrin live almost continually in each others minds, yet Skate has a secret that Merrin doesn't know.  It seems implausible.

I would also have liked to know more about how long it takes to raise a clone to maturity.  Skate and Merrin mention their time at school, so this suggests a normal rate of growth.  However, Skate claims that twins are a disposable commodity - lose a pair, crack open the vats and have a new pair.  This is a valid suspicion if clones can be grown rapidly, but not if it takes a couple of decades.

In conclusion, I'd say that the Cally prequel CD is worth buying for the first story alone. Regard the second story as a bonus - It's worth listening to even if it isn't as good as the first  (and I suspect from the way the story develops that Merrin Cally might be the one to eventually join Liberator, even though I'd personally prefer Ariane Cally).
watervole: (Default)
Having just escaped from a long argument in another LJ with the kind of person who valued opinion over fact (and refused even to state her opinion half the time - for reasons that were dead easy to spot - she was the kind of person who called the UK out for not treating babies born so premature that the had no real chance of survival, but was naturally opposed to spending state money to save poor American babies), it has been a real relief to start reading a book by Jeff Gillman, an excellent American writer

"The Truth about Organic Gardening" is a book that deals in facts. Gillman isn't partisan - if an organic practice is good, he'll say so. If a non-organic practice is good, he'll say so. He's a solid background in teaching and researching horticulture and if he says something, it means he's checked it out and isn't just saying it because he wants it to be true. For instance, when looking at herbicides and pesticides, he considers them on their individual merits. He points out that some synthetic pesticides are very dangerous and some are very safe; likewise organic pesticides vary in their safety (he considers rotenone to be very dangerous).

'Natural' does not mean 'safe to humans'.

Gillman also discusses other methods of pest control - his favourite approach of standing back and doing nothing has a lot going for it. He points out that if plants are well watered and fertilised, then they can afford to lose about a third of their leaf area without suffering great harm and that their natural resistance is higher when they're well looked after.

He's got a good sense of humour. When he talks about controlling Japanese beetles (an American pest, so not directly relevant to the UK, but still interesting to read about), he talks about pheromone traps. He rates them as ineffective - because there are so many of the beetles, even though the trap kills a lot of them it also attracts more into the neighbourhood. He suggests giving a trap to someone you dislike and watch as their garden fills up with beetles!

The book looks at many areas of organic practice (and Gillman is fair to point out that some of these techniques are used by non-organic gardeners as well) from green manures to bird control.

For each practice/technique, Gillman spends a page or so discussing it, then neatly sums up the pros and cons in bullet points at the end. It's a very good format for dipping and browsing and easy to read/extract information on.

He also understands statistics. (You wouldn't believe how rare this is) When discussing the results of a study, he'll point out how much confidence can be placed in the result. (eg. if 4 out of 500 people get cancer during a study of a weedkiller, what is the likelihood this could have happened by chance? Low numbers are subject to wide fluctuations. ie. 4/500 is a lot less reliable data than 16/2000)(and indeed, a later study with 54,000 people did not show any increase in cancer at all for that particular weedkiller). He's also concerned that studies are often not carried out on organic pesticides/weedkillers because they are assumed to be safer. But rotenone (which is natural) kills just as many fish and frogs as glyphosphate (which is synthetic).

I'd recommend this as an interesting book for anyone who wants to know the pros and cons of different gardening techniques and likes to have some data to support the opinions of the writer. This is NOT a 'how to do organic gardening' book, but it is a good unbiased study of what works and what is safe.



Where do I stand on the organic front?

I garden organically to a large extent. I do this to minimise the harm to wildlife and also to maximise my crops. I won't use slug pellets of any kind becasue they kill thrushes. I don't use pesticides because I'm wary of spraying anything that I might breathe. I quite enjoy weeding (It's relaxing) but I use glyphosphate on bindweed because there's no other way to kill it and glyphosphate is inactivated when it hits the soil. I add compost and manure in large quantities to my soil (You should see this year's leeks! They got the compost heap added to the patch not long before we planted them.)

In short, I'm an organic gardener, but not to the point of fanaticism.  There are some 'organic' products containing copper that I'm not very keen on, but there are some organic practices - like watering with dilute urine - that I've had really good results with (excellent onions this year) and I'm positively evangelical about.
watervole: (Liberator)
'Blood and Earth' is the first story on the new Blake's 7 Cally prequel CD.  It's one of my favourites in the prequel series to date.

In the original series, the history Auron was confused to say the least; in this new series, an attempt is being made from the outset to work out a consistent background that I'm hopeful will be continued throughout the series.

Ariane Cally is one of many sisters in the Cally clone group.  The first Auronar clones were brought up in very close groups and this led to a very intense relationship.  Ariane is a single -- she is still very close to clone siblings of her own age, but was brought up with other children as well.  Hence, she alone among her clone group has a fear of flying.  When her plane crashes with how was the sole survivor, Ariane Cally, the management consultant, has to survive in the forest on her own.  Owing to a head injury, she loses contact with all her clones apart from one whom she has never met before.  On Auron, sisters from older clone groups are referred to as aunts.  Thus, the only sister who is able to contact her is called 'Aunty' by her.

Jan Chappell plays the character of 'Aunty', and the relationship between the two Callys is well portrayed.  I enjoyed the development of Ariane from management consultant to survivor -- her glee when she works out how to contact the people searching for her is an absolute joy.

My only real niggle with this drama is that the pilot of the aircraft appears to be played by the same actor as one of the other characters, and this is briefly confusing.  Otherwise, I recommend this drama highly and I'm hoping that Ariane Cally will be the one who eventually meets up with Blake and his crew.
watervole: (books)
I picked up a book while on the canals that no one else on Library Thing owns!

Mind you, it's not nearly as interesting as I'd hoped.  It needed a good editor, but canal biographies are probably a small market.



John Scalzi

Jul. 6th, 2009 09:19 am
watervole: (books)
As part of my quest to reduce my pile of unread books (entering them on Library Thing as been showing me just how many there were...), I've just read two of my John Scalzi novels.

'Ghost Brigade' and 'The Last Colony'.  They're both sequels to the excellent 'Old Man's War'. Ghost Brigade is good (4/5) but 'The Last Colony' is excellent.  Although all three books would probably work as stand-alones, I really do recommend reading Old Man's War first.

Scalzi's series reminds me of Heinlein in some ways.  There's that important ability to tell a good story. We've got the future military and space travel and aliens and lots of good stuff, but none of that counts unless the writer can spin a good yarn that holds the reader's attention and makes them care about the characters and what happens next.  Scalzi does that, and I'll happily read more by him, whether it's in the same universe or not.

I think the vertigo is raising my standard required of books - they have to be good enough to hold my interest when I feel wobbly or queasy (but also means that I'm not yet ready to tackle those on my backlog that require serious brain cells).  I started 'Janissaries' by Jerry Pournelle, but gave up after the first chapter.  The idea (a group of stranded American mercenaries being rescued by aliens to fight in other times and places) is great, but the writing is dull and pedestrian and I had no interest in what happened to the characters. There was a time when I might have read it through, but I know that I have better books waiting in my pile.

watervole: (books)
Still wobbly. Reading and cross-stitch seem to be among the few things that don't make me feel worse, so I'm doing a lot of both.  (computer use is generally bad, so I'm getting very little done on that front and email is just having to wait most of the time)

Just finished an early Heinlein: 'Starman Jones'

Still a surprisingly good read in spite of being written in 1953.  The computers only take binary input and decimal to binary conversion is done on spaceships by looking up the conversion in reference books - and I still enjoyed reading it.  The story survives the dated stuff by still feeling good with the stuff that hasn't dated - and it's a cracking good 'boy's own' adventure story.  In essence, farm boy with a desire to go into space takes his uncles astrogation books and saves the day.
watervole: (books)
I finished reading this book recently, and that fact that I finished it is testament in itself. It was interesting enough to hold me through all the loss of focus from the vertigo.

It helped no end that the chapters are broken down into shorter scenes, and each scene was just short enough for me to be able to concentrate until the end of it, but long enough to advance the story in an interesting manner.

It's a fantasy novel set in the city of Merafi (think of a culture around the 'Three Musketeers' level of history and then add in a limited amount of magic).

Gracielis sees dead people. It can be extremely annoying at times (it would be nice to have a bit of privacy...), but it is also a part of what he is. In Merafi, he earns his living as a gigolo, but back in his own country he trained (and failed) at a totally different profession.
As the story develops, it becomes clear that there is a major threat to the city of Merafi.  A magical threat that is closely intertwined with the history of the city and its founders.  Somehow it is all linked to Thiercelin's dead brother-in-law, Valdarrien.  Thiercelin sees Valdarrien, yet Thiercelin is Merafian - he shouldn't be able to see a ghost.

The only person who may be able to help him is the gigolo...

The thing I like most about this book is the depth of the characters. Both Gracielis and Thiercelin come across as very real people (though the breach between Thiercelin and his wife feels a little contrived for the purpose of driving the plot).  It's not just the main characters, the minor characters are well-drawn too.  It's the people that drive this novel - they all have their own motivations and their own reasons for what they do.  They don't all view life in the same way, but you feel their joys and their sorrows.

Some will live and some will die, and you will mourn the ones who die.

I rate this book 8/10, well worth reading.
watervole: (Kirk - I don't believe in no-win scenari)
Went to see the new Trek movie for the third time yesterday. This is a record for me.  I don't think I've ever seen a movie twice before, yet alone three times.

I'm hoping lots of my friends have seen and enjoyed it, because I think this is going to become a new fandom for me, and I'd hate to be there without the rest of you.

I'm trying to work out why the movie works so well for me.  I'll ponder non-spoilery stuff and then do spoilery stuff behind a cut tag.

Captain Pike - Bruce Greenwood does an excellent job.  In the original series, Pike was the captain of the Enterprise before Kirk and features in the episode 'Menagerie'.  He's a much more interesting and well-developed character in the movie and I like attractive older men.

Having said that about older men, I have to add that Chekov is cute beyond belief and Kirk (Chris Pine) is virtually jail bait.

Uhura is strong-willed and intelligent and speaks all three dialects of Romulan.

McCoy is wonderful.  Karl Urban is McCoy to the life.  He feels like DeForrest Kelly.  He has the mannerisms, the dialogue and I love him.  His relationship with both Kirk and Spock is spot on.  And the script-writers have given him some lovely classic lines: "pointy-eared, green-blooded hobgoblin"

Zacchary Quinto does an excellent Spock - very close to Nimmoy's performance (there are moments when you could almost swear he was Nimmoy), and yet, perhaps because he isn't Nimmoy, he isn't my favourite character from the film.

Sulu was the only one who didn't really grab me.  Nothing I can fault, but I definitely preferred George Takei's version.

Scotty took a while to grow on me. He feels least like the original character. However, by the third watching I'd become a convert. I like his sense of humour.  At one point, viewing a scene of complete chaos on the bridge, he just stands there watching and says: "I *like* this ship."

Pine's version of Kirk really shouldn't work, except that it does...  If you had told me that Kirk would be my favourite character, I'd have laughed in your face:--Read more... )

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