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All of a sudden, not only can I use the old (less obvious that I'm not really working) LJ view, I also can't filter my feed. Until this is fixed, I'm not going to be able to read LJ, unless, I guess, I remove a whole bunch of friends that I don't read. Any ideas?
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I just read an amazing book, and I want to talk about it. It isn't a science fiction book this time; it's not even fiction at all. It's called Three Cups of Tea, and it's about a guy who builds schools, mostly for girls, in the mountains of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Greg Mortenson is a mountaineer who made a failed attempt at K2. He was rescued and ended up a village called Korphe in northern Pakistan. This area is inhabited by a tribe called the Baltis. They are similar to the Sherpas in that they are acclimated to the high altitude and serve as porters for mere mortals trying to climb 28,000-foot peaks. Greg is impressed in the extreme by the Baltis of Korphe, positively by their generosity and care for him, and negatively by the conditions of their "school." The school had only a part-time teacher, and no building. In snowy mountains! Greg promises his hosts that he would come back and build them a school.

The book is an tale of incredible adventure in territory that is extremely inhospitable, both in terms of weather and in terms of politics. Greg first must raise money, and does this by living in a car in Berkeley. Then he must overcome brutal weather, missing bridges, roads strewn with rock falls, graft, a kidnapping and fatwas to complete his mission. But Greg manages to build the friendship and command the respect of the Balti people, and builds many schools in northern Pakistan. After the fall of the Taliban, he moves into Afghanistan as well.

The book is full of one adventure after another. After struggling to get up the roads to the mountains, Greg hires a driver. The driver immediately buys a case of dynamite, to blow up places where the rock has fallen and blocked the road, and puts it under the driver's seat. The driver protects Greg through many dangerous areas, including mine fields and gunfights between drug traffickers. Greg endures incredible ordeals in order to fulfill his mission; I could not count the number of times he nearly dies.

But more than that, the book is full of heartwarming tales. It's wonderful to hear about the responsiveness of the people, especially the girls, to Greg's work. The children are enthusiastic and eager to be educated, and their parents are eager for them to be educated as well. At one point, Greg has to remove a septic placenta from sick new mother. Obviously this is a very sensitive thing in that sort of culture. But the husband has come to trust Greg, and Greg is able to save the woman's life. He also builds vocational centers where women can gather. For someone who has always pitied the women of these regions, it is very moving to read about their empowerment.

The book is also a tale of romance, but I'm not going to spoil you for that.

Anyway, go out and buy this book! I thoroughly enjoyed it! I haven't been so moved by a book in a while. A portion of the proceeds go to help Greg's Central Asia Institute, so you can feel good about spending the money. Enjoy!
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I've completed my Hugo ballot. My choices are behind the tag. Feel free to copy (as I know [profile] zyxwvut will -- he copies my ballots in real elections as well).

My Hugo Ballot )
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Wow. I was so annoyed at the quality of the Best Novella nominees that I almost stopped reading. But the Best Novelette nominees have been much better, and I am encouraged. It's much more difficult to rank nominees when you don't despise any of them! Perhaps there is a future for science fiction after all.

Hugo Best Novelette Nominees )

And that concludes my series of Hugo nominee reviews! I've now read the whole package. I enjoyed more of it than I hated, but I did despise several pieces. So I understand what [profile] trinsf is saying about getting involved at the nomination level, so as to avoid having to read the tripe that other people nominate. Assuming I can afford hardcover books, I can try to do that at the novel level. It will be difficult for me to find the time, however, to read all of those short stories, novelettes and novellas, as work is (fortunately) picking up. Also, there is a part of me that thinks, well, if I'm trying to avoid reading drivel, I should be more selective, not less. If I'm reading Hugo nominees, the works will have been vetted beyond the level of magazine editors. In the end, we will just have to see what time permits.
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It's time for the latest installment in my series on the Hugos. I started out going from big to small, novels to short stories, but I skipped the novelettes because I feared not being able to finish them all in time. It seemed a good bet that I could at least get through the Best Short Story nominees, and I now have. In general, I enjoyed these more than the Best Novella nominees.

Hugo )
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This year, I have flung myself into the Hugo awards as never before, partially because of things being slow enough at work that I really needed things to read online, and partially because of the encouragement of [ profile] trinsf and the other Fanzine Loungers. So far, I've read not only all of the Best Novel nominees (my comments on some of them here), but also the nominees for Best Novella. I keep going back and forth on whether or not I should continue this project of trying to read the Hugos, because I just seem to have different taste than a lot of other fen. I do want to be a charmingly robust drinking companion, but I only liked two of the five novellas. And I wasn't even screamingly into the two that I did like. My thoughts, for what they're worth...

My Thoughts on This Year's Novellas )

Things are picking up at work (fortunately!), so I'm beginning to doubt I'll have time to read the Novelettes before the voting deadline. I probably have a reasonable chance of getting through the Short Stories, however, so I am going to focus on those next.
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I am truly ahead of myself on the Hugos this year. I have prepared myself not only for the voting deadline, but for the nomination deadline. I've read six books that I think are likely to be nominated, so that I could do my part to make sure the right one gets nominated. I had the good fortune (or the planning fortitude) to see four of the authors read and/or discuss their books this year, which helped me get ahead. Once I was so close to being ready for the nominations, I picked up the books whose authors I hadn't seen. The six books were: The Devil's Eye by Jack McDevitt, Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi, Saturn's Children by Charlie Stross, Rolling Thunder by John Varley, Anathem by Neal Stephenson, and Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.

My Thoughts on 2008's Books )
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Every year, I try to read at least some of the nominees for the Hugo award for Best Novel. When I'm attending the convention and thus am allowed to vote, as I am this year, I try to read them in time to vote. That was a struggle this year, because I forgot that, with the convention being early, the voting would be early as well. But I've finished them, five days before the deadline, and am now ready to vote.

Below are my reviews of the five books nominated this year. The cut is for length, not for spoilers. Do not worry; I will not spoil you. I will preface my remarks by saying that I am voting solely on how much I enjoyed the experience of reading each book, not on literary merit or any other quality. Furthermore, my taste tends toward hard science fiction; if a fantasy novel is nominated, I do not bother to read it, because I just don't usually like fantasy novels much or get much out of reading them. Fortunately, there were no fantasy novels nominated this year, but there was an alternate reality story.

I was almost considering giving up on the annual Hugos-reading project this year, because I really did not like one of the novels (the alternate reality story, naturally). Also, I had a couple of conversations with friends where we discussed authors we very much liked (Cory Doctorow and Greg Egan), and each friend told me that those authors never get nominated for the Hugo. Apparently Hugo nominees tend to be on the light side compared to those authors. Or something. But, while I've read a lot of Hugo nominees I didn't like, the annual project has also introduced me to some great authors, such as Robert Charles Wilson, John Scalzi and Jack McDevitt. And one of my friends was wrong -- Egan has two nominees for Best Novelette this year. So, I think I'll keep reading.

Before my reviews, I'd like to give a big shout out to John Scalzi, who made four of the five books available electronically to convention members. This enabled me to read the books at work without looking like I was reading novels at work. This was absolutely essential to my ability to finish reading the books in time to vote. Thank you, Scalzi! And I hope I'm doing exactly what you wanted here by getting the word out about the books.

My Hugo Reviews )
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Well, some of you have pointed out things that I've missed, and I've remembered some more stuff on my own, so I'm rethinking some of the points I made earlier.

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The last time I tried to make predictions about the plot of Battlestar Galactica was to [ profile] solomita, right before watching the final couple of episodes of Season 2. [ profile] solomita ridiculed the predictions I made at that time. Although I hung my head in shame for a whole season, suddenly, having just watched the last episode of Season 3, I feel vindicated. As a matter of fact, I feel so vindicated that I'm going to go out on a limb and post my Season 4 predictions to LJ, publicly, even, so you can all come back later and see how brilliantly insightful (or hopelessly misguided) I turn out to be. I hope I'm at least interesting if not accurate.


So, there you have it. I'll be sure to review this next year, and see whether I end up looking like a genius or an idiot with egg on my face. Happy viewing!
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[ profile] zyxwvut and I received a letter in the mail today from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, where Dr. Shriro went to vet school. The letter said that he had made a contribution to the Feline Health Center there in Zackie's memory. Wow! I am so touched, I really don't know what to say, except to recommend him wholeheartedly. 510-848-5041.
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Most of you know that I do hip-hip dance, but most of you never get a chance to see me do it. Well, now's your chance!

On Friday, June 2 at 7:00 pm, I will be performing in a Hip-Hop Open House at the Downtown Berkeley YMCA. There will be several groups performing, and the performances will be followed by a dance party. The event is a fundraiser for the Y's Youth Support Program, so we're charging $10 a head to get in. The Youth Support Program provides not only the familiar summer camp and swimming lessons for kids, but also job training and tutoring for teenagers. It's a great cause and a great event, and it will be a really fun time, definitely worth the price of admission.

This year, in addition to dancing and fundraising as I have in the past, I'm also serving on the committee running the event. So, I'm putting a lot of time and effort into this thing. I would love to see some friendly faces in the audience. Not one but two of my co-workers are planning on coming, so it seems I ought to be able to get a bunch of my friends out, right? If finances are really a hardship for anyone, I have raised enough money to get a few people in free.

If you can't come to the event but would still like to make a contribution, please drop me a line and I'll give you PayPal information. Contributions are tax deductible.

The Y is incredibly conveniently located at 2000 Allston Way, 1 block west of the downtown Berkeley BART station. If you are coming from the city or the peninsula, I highly recommend taking BART, because I believe CalTrans, in its infinite wisdom, is actually closing the Bay Bridge in one direction that weekend.

Thanks for any support!
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I don't know how broadly this article has been distributed. It's a San Francisco Chronicle piece, not something from the New York Times or the Washington Post. So I'm going out on a limb and making a public post because I think everyone should see it. The article details a particular example of the type of overreaching of presidential authority carried out by Republican administrations since Nixon, sharpened under Reagan, and honed to a fine art under the present administration. It shows how this president has used a supposedly explanatory legal procedure to reinterpret the laws of Congress in his own way, as he sees fit, as he would have passed them if he could but write them himself.

Instead of upholding the Constitution of the United States of America, as is his sworn duty, this president has stomped, spit on, and shredded our governing document, and then thrown the smudged, spit-soaked pieces into a pit of fire. Thomas Jefferson must have turned over in his grave so many times that he's worn through the elbows of his jacket. His tears must have created a swamp all the way to the Chesapeake Bay. I wish that a zombie Jefferson could burst out of his grave, go running to the White House, and beat Bush and his cronies over the head with an engraved stone copy of the Bill of Rights. "Washington, Revere and I risked our lives to protect the American people from the king! How dare you install a monarchy of your own!" I imagine him stomping alternately on Bush's feet while shouting out long-held but currently-ignored principles of American government: "Separation of powers!" "Independence of the judiciary!" and of course, "Separation of church and state, you smirking, over-privileged, royalist miscreant!" The periwig powder would fly.

I'm talking to a lot of people, and I'm finding that even ordinary, politically unsavvy Americans are upset and annoyed to discover that the NSA has been poking through their old phone bills. I've been telling them that the only reason why this president has not been impeached for his blatant lies and patently illegal actions is this his party controls both houses of Congress. The only way to see him tried for his crimes and justice done, I tell them, is to vote for Democrats for Congress.

Consequently, I was entirely dismayed when I saw this other article in today's paper. "Pelosi told her party a Democrat-controlled House wouldn't impeach the president."

Well, Ms. Pelosi, why not? Just what is wrong with you and your party? Why are you so cowardly, so frightened to take a stand for truth, justice and, above all, the American way? This president, for all his faults, is no coward. He does not hesitate for a moment to pursue his avaricious goals, and push his own imperialist agenda, by any means necessary. He is unafraid to stand up for the self-interested ideology in which he believes. Democrats tread so lightly, so afraid of causing the least offense, that they are entirely ineffective. Even Howard Dean, former daring of the left wing of the Democratic Party and now party chair, is kowtowing to the religious right. This administration has not spent one moment of its entire existence worrying about offending anyone. It has alienated the entire rest of the world, with the possible exception of Tony Blair. Why are Democrats so fearful of challenging it?

Ms. Pelosi, I can only hope that your statement is merely a vacuous campaign promise designed to win the election, and that it will swiftly be ignored once you actually hold the keys to power. If voting for your party will not remove this blatantly overreaching, monarchist president from office, what hope is there for the future of freedom in the United States of America? The American experiment in rule of the people, by the people, for the people has ended, and we are once again merely serfs bowing down before a sovereign lord.
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How can you plug an author without making it sound like an advertisement? I wish I knew better. But I'm really excited about a particular, relatively unknown author, and I wanted to get the word out about her stuff. Her name is Syne Mitchell, and she has written four books: Murphy's Gambit, Technogenesis, The Changeling Plague, and End in Fire. What she writes is the hard SF stuff that I'm such a great fan of, but she writes it with a lot more soul than most hard SF authors. SF writers have often been accused of writing plot at the expense of character. But, while Syne writes incredibly suspenseful plots full of non-stop action, she also writes amazing characters. These are not the simplistic, unidimensional characters so common to SF. She writes morally ambiguous characters with deep internal struggles.

Read more... )
So, after my recent excitement about her two most recent books, I just wanted to get the word out about this fine author. I don't really recommend Technogenesis, but the other three are well worth a read.
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I will be performing in a Hip-Hop Open House at the Downtown Berkeley YMCA on Tuesday, March 15 at 7:00 pm. The event is a fundraiser for the Y's Youth Support Program, which provides not only summer camp and swimming lessons, but also job training and tutoring for teenagers. The Y is located at 2000 Allston Way, 1 block from the downtown Berkeley BART station.

I've been working hard on my routine for a couple of months now, and would love to see some friendly faces in the audience if you can make it. Thanks for any support.
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