The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Must read! Loved this. You can't help rooting for Maia, the slate-grey goblin who woke up one day emperor of a white elf empire.

A young half-goblin, half-elf, suddenly becomes emperor, his father and brothers killed in an airship crash. Until that moment, he's been isolated on the edge of the kingdom with an abusive guardian, never dreaming he would need skills relevant to ruling, or indeed, ever meet a female.   His arrival at court is a rude awakening, but it also turns out to be the court's rude awakening, as Maia is a kind soul who respects everyone, devastating the pecking order.   After many false starts and assassination attempts, Maia grows into his leadership, investigates the mystery of  the airship crash,  reorders his court, lobbies new technology, and-- oh my!-- has successful interactions with the opposite sex. The world building, with stunning imagery, is sensa -wunda- tastic.  I read this around Christmas time, and I still remember two beautiful images, one about a derelict graveyard in which the grass has grown so tall, the gravestones "appeared like small, barren islands in a tempestuous and brittle sea"; the other is just a detail Maia notes after he loses a power struggle and forgets to use the correct tense with an inferior, this:  "and Maia himself clasped his hands in his lap and contemplated their darkness and ugly, lumpish knuckles."  It's excellent writing that interlaces byzantine politics and alien world-building with simple, recognizable, physical detail.

Delegation, which any leader must do, does get spelled out in triplicate mimeographed minutiae, but the story and writing are such that the endless administrative duties become beautiful in their own way, like Japanese tea ceremonies.

My only regret is that the novel seems oddly short, given the Goblin Emperor's anarchistic sympathies, but, still, lovely.

Tower Lord, Raven's Shadow, Book 2, by Anthony Ryan

Tor Books reviews unfairly calls this book _Tower Bored_, claiming the rhythm is off.   Well, yeah, it goes without saying that with multiple points of view, there won't be a single, driving story arc, but does that mean it's boring? Are GRRM's Game of Thrones books, which use the same device, boring? (Rhetorical. All together now, "Hell no." ) He goes on to say that this book brings in a host of story arcs unconnected to the first book "that no one cares about." Whoa, dude. Buy a clue. This book is about the survivors of war, the insurgents it breeds, the evolution of intolerant religion, and the fact that war-ravaged people and economies are ripe for picking by neighboring countries. All of these directly spring from the last book. The characters are interesting, if not as interesting as Vaelin himself was in the first book, the world-building is markedly improved, and this whole set-up is necessary for the showdown in book three between Vaelin and the Queen of Fire, which comes out July 7th.

I hope! Anthony Ryan, don't let me down!

By the by, Ryan deals with slavery in a very gritty, nausea-inducing way, particularly in presenting indoctrination. One character, known only by a number, is freed. Circumstances force him to continue to ply his particular skill set-- torturing, taking drugs to mask self-recrimination.  It was telling that even though he's free, he can't choose a name. He's free to try them on, but not free enough to choose. And on the owner side, the extent to which the Volarians feel entitled to have slaves and the culture they've created around it, is just astonishing. There's a full-on Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf couple who fight more passionately with each other than while killing slaves both individually, in arm's reach, and en masse, at a distance, in unwinnable sieges. Quite an interesting take on slavery. By comparison, Joe Abercrombie's _Half A King_ did not go over well as a follow-up, slavery part of a broad heroic saga that didn't work for me.

Blood Song, Raven's Shadow, Book 1, by Anthony Ryan

This book begins with an Arabic-type historian chronicling the capture and upcoming execution of his empire's worst enemy, the Hope Killer. The Hope Killer has invaded the Empire at the head of a huge army at the behest of a seemingly mad king-- the war was unwinnable from the outset, the death toll the only predictable outcome. The historian would chronicle the reason for the invasion, but in order to find that, needs to understand what drove the invader. The reader is encouraged to hate the enemy as he details his story to the chronicler, but we find it as impossible a task as does the chronicler.  Once upon a time, the Hope Killer was a young boy being abandoned to the care of a bunch of fighting monks, some of whom are expected to fight on a wall against northern peoples who use magic. Then he wins a fighting dog. So far, does it strike you a bit like GRRM's Game of Thrones? Yeah, I thought so, too. But it grabs you all the same, like with grappling hooks in tender places. I stayed up all night finishing this 597 page book. Though the world-building and prose are thinner, with some humdingers of grammatical errors*, this book has almost 24000 five-star votes on goodreads for a reason: It's that good. And at least there's a chance that the series will conclude in the next three years.

One of the nicest aspects of the book is the misdirection. There are layers of truths and the author is in pitch-perfect control as he strategically unveils them to advance the plot.

The author is a Scot, but the book made me think of America. The Realm's absolute intolerance for other religions screamed America. The invasion of a desert land with no possible hope of winning screamed America.  Even the conspiracy theories involving hidden branches of government screamed America. So, a smidgen less escapism in the escapist fantasy.  Interesting background for showcasing an honorable man left to account for the sins of his government.

* E.g., an army of hyphens has gone astray, leaving some poor woman with a "white skinned" instead of a "white-skinned" face.

Review: Outlander, the tv series

Adapting books into screenplays isn't easy, and adapting behemoth tomes is hell, but this shouldn't have been hell to watch.

Diana Gabaldon's books surprise anyone who's seen a kilt because of the value the Highlanders placed on-- wait for it-- education.  Sadly, the tv series rewrites the highlanders into a bunch of rowdy thugs. Ron Moore, the writer for Battlestar Galactica, rewrites the head of the clan, a chess-playing Macchiavelli, into a thug with a knife, and a university-educated hunk into a dolt who has no Latin and thinks that a coarse joke is really "witty."  This is a unusual love story, dammit, written by a lady with lots of degrees. The protagonist and I are supposed to want to rub ourselves on this learned hunk and his noble culture. The production is pretty enough, the Jamie actor is pretty enough,  but nobility, smarts and pacing are off.

In the tv series, as in the books, the protagonist is a WWII field nurse who touches a standing stone in Scotland and finds herself transported 200 years into the past.  She ultimately finds herself useful amongst rowdy Scots who've been injured staving off British depradations. She barely has time to win their approval before she finds herself at the clan castle. Here the tv series and books diverge. Whereas in the book, the castle is a surprising place of culture, of honor, of tragedy, even, in the tv series, the rowdiness just continues.  The book's head of the clan is a wildly interesting character with Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome. He doesn't walk a lot. He has a Battle Chief to be his legs on the field and Mountain of a man to carry him around and crush anybody out of line. He is still, composed, and in charge of everything with a flick of an eyebrow. In the tv series, they make Colum walk around alone. When he gets insulted by a tailor, he wobbles and threatens him with a knife-- unbelievable. The tailor could have taken him out with his eyebrow pencil. The protagonist warps, as well. Whereas in the books, Claire is driven to heal (sorry, spoiler-- and so becomes a surgeon back in her time), in the series, she can be found aimlessly playing with kids or waulking wool. Who are these people and why should we care?

Adaptations of giant books often conflate characters for brevity's sake, but it's odd when new characters are created, or sides of a character are added. Usually editing is the order of the day.

I didn't understand why the writers chose to take a giant Mountain of a man, reduce this Angus to a tiny drunk, and focus on him, ep after ep.  Instead of watching Colum play chess or have a scene with his less intelligent, rowdier brother Dougal, underscoring the difference between the men and the complexity of the culture, we just watch men roughhouse and get drunk. When wee Angus threatens the protagonist with a knife and yells at her, the tv series lost all my respect.  Apparently the writers didn't believe in Colum's power or Claire's healing, either. His personal man at arms is allowed to transgress His rule that healers be treated with respect? And he was in the party of men that Claire healed, and so should respect her on that merit. But no, she's treated abusively. The series could end right there. She goes back to the stones and 200 years into the present and shivers every time she thinks of that weird experience. But no, it gets worse first. Now we see the Big Bad.

The tv series makes up 8 new British soldier characters so the Big Bad, Black Jack Randall, can flaunt his disregard of authority. But this characteristic doesn't exist in the book, so why the new characters? And why do we want to hear about the most disgusting thing he's ever done as a monologue? Is this supposed to gather in Dexter fans?

Jamie and the clans are so lackluster, if I were the protagonist, I'd head straight back through the standing stones and slap Ron Moore.


Jayne is not a greyhound. A rabbit swerved in front of us on the path and Jayne took off like an arrow, but no. A slow arrow. Now, if they'd both been pulling sleds....

Though neither is he a total quitter. He found the gap in the chainlink fence, and suddenly rabbit was back on the menu. Too bad his human was afraid he'd forget where the gap was and get stuck in the wildlife-only reservoir, so he was forced to leave da sassy wabbits alone.
          *         *        *
Longevity and Commensal Bacteria: I had a Eureka moment in the shower. The hot water was pelting down and, BAM! It hit me.  You know why Okinawans live so long, so healthfully? OFURO! Those really hot daily baths up to the neck? There have to be commensal bacteria that benefit from immersion in super-high temperatures. Maybe the Japanese Bacteroides plebeius?  The gut bacteria that allow Japanese to digest their seaweed more efficiently by producing an enzyme that degrades algal cell walls?  All life is said to have developed around deep- sea vents, so it wouldn't surprise me if there are lots of beneficial thermophilic bacteria. And if giving them their daily hot tub is what enables Okinawans to have
"extremely low risk for hormone-dependent cancers including cancers
         of the breast, prostate, ovaries, and colon. Compared to North Americans,
          they have 80% less breast cancer and prostate cancer,
          and less than half the ovarian and colon cancers."
Someone should study this, though getting the rats to sit in the tub is gonna be hard. :)
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The Crazyladies of Pearl Street by Trevanian is autobiography at its finest. If you read it,
1) you will learn new words, in fact, words that you are certain are made up or are typos, only to be found deliciously wrong;
2) you will see what it was like to be Trevanian at 6-13;  exactly him and no other kid raised by a single mom during the Depression and WWII, and why he would grow up to write what and how he did;
3) you will be beautifully reminded that fact is stranger than fiction. You just can't make this shit up;
4) and searching for a quote will just want you to reread the whole thing again.
It's that good. Do yourself a favor and read a free sample. You will not regret it.

Romance books

Why I can't stomach romance books, an open letter.

Dear Writers of Romance, and Readers of Romance,

Men who kiss within seconds of meeting, only to discover--mere moments into the kiss-- that the kissee is The One, are also known by another term: psychopaths. Run away and or set the pen/keyboard down. And try some character exposition.

More Proof Gut Bacteria Are Our Shiny Overlords

What do gut bacteria NOT affect?

Mighty Male Microbes

Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to an individual's susceptibility to autoimmune disease, but the specific environmental influences are not well characterized. Markle et al. (p. 1084, published online 17 January; see the Perspective by Flak et al.) explored how microbial factors, in particular the gut microbiota, influence susceptibility to type 1 diabetes in mice. In the non-obese diabetic (NOD) mouse model of type 1 diabetes, female mice are significantly more susceptible to disease than males; however, this difference was not apparent under germ-free conditions. Transfer of cecal contents from male NOD mice to female NOD mice prior to disease onset protected against pancreatic islet inflammation, autoantibody production, and the development of diabetes and was associated with increased testosterone in female mice. Blocking androgen receptor activity abrogated protection. Thus, the microbiota may be able to regulate sex hormones and influence an individual's susceptibility to autoimmunity.


The Bonobo Superheroine

So, you know how I sometimes post about tv shows that only I appear to enjoy? Here I go again! 

Canada's production of "Lost Girl" is fiendishly fun to watch.  As far as I can tell, it's the closest thing to Buffy out there--it's a bildungsroman with a story arc-- but with more cleavage and polymorphous perverse sex. There's a succubus, see, who grew up sheltered from the entire fey world and her own nature, so she doesn't know who her real parents are, and has no idea how to handle her powers, and accidentally kills human men with her polterwang.  (Don't worry, Bo learns self-restraint.) Luckily she teams up with a streetwise joke-cracking Russian thief girl (human) who repeatedly saves her and the series. And this waif/ sidekick can act. And she's gorgeous. Exhibit A:

Ksenia Solo plays Kenzi the thief in Lost Girl

The Fey world is a bit like America with a strict two-party system: one can either be Light or Dark Fey, for life, and there are no actual party platforms, and you have no actual chance at any real power, but you are expected to declare your side to do anything or go anywhere. Our succubus, Bo, refuses to pick a side or die, so the Powers that Be keep trying to turn her or wipe her out, afraid she "will give the other lemmings ideas."  I'm starting the second season (there are three), and Bo is beginning to think she will have to take down the two-party system.

There's a Giles-type character who runs a bar with a library under it. There are two love-interests for bisexual Bo, a wolf-man with a surprisingly watchable wooden acting method and a human female medical doctor.

I suppose comic books have hinted at this kind of superheroine, but this is the first time I've seen sex as a superpower used for the common good. Bo has gotta be short for bonobo.  If you try it-- and you should-- I read about this on i09 and they said it picked up around #8 and that is so.

Aubergine, Squirrelbread, Spinach and Feta Tart

First, I was gonna make these aubergine/ kalamata/ feta patties (K hates kalamatas and it's a lot of work for hate), then it was going to be aubergine/ feta/ pesto/ pine nut quiche, then it was going to be Lebanese-inspired okra feta tart (okra can from Exotic World bought recently turned out to be good only until last year and frothed when opened). So the improvisation went like this:

    a crust made of:
3 sheets filo dough, olive oil brushed between

1 eggplant, sliced thin, sauted with olive oil and sea salt
100 g spinach (cubes in boursin, Igloo brand?), warmed in microwave, add to eggplant with
4 cloves garlic, diced
big handful of squirrelbread mushrooms, soaked in microwave for 5 minutes on high

cool that and then mix in
200 g feta, diced (to cool it all the way down)

spread that in your crust and pour over that a beaten mixture of

3 eggs
1 tablespoon pesto
1/4 cup cream
salt and pepper

bake for 30ish minutes at 170

Verdict: Yum. P said it must be documented.
K woke up screaming with a headache at 11:15, though that's probably unrelated.