Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Accents on blogspot

Weirdly, blogspot.fr crashes every time I try to publish a post which includes accented characters.

How is this possible? The language has accents.

I wanted you to know that it's not me, it's the software.

This post's theme word is micawber, "an eternal optimist." The micawber believes that this issue will be resolved.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Cultural acclimatization

Apartment searching in Paris is demoralizing. I thought I had reached a low when I discovered an "apartment" of 10 square meters for 750 Euros/month, but then I compared it with an "apartment" of 2 square meters (two!), seventh floor (no elevator), slanted roof ceiling, plus a shared toilet on the landing, for 550 Euros/month. This former servant's quarters started looking good, though, after long enough perusing rental listings, agency websites, sabbatical vacancies, and craigslist.

I am coming to understand why all Parisian residents recoil slightly and emit pitying moans when I ask them for advice finding an apartment. I have been encouraged, with an appropriate cringe of social awkwardness, to ask everyone I know: are you moving soon? do you know anyone who has moved? or died?


I have spent several days now, in sequence, where every face-to-face interaction was entirely in French. I visited an apartment showing, I walked across maybe 80% of Paris without a map (tl&dr, geography version), I read legal and immigration paperwork, I was asked for directions to somewhere I didn't recognize, I interacted with shopkeepers, I verified my temporary housing situation, I was asked for directions which I was able to give competently.  This last one feels like a milestone in cultural acclimatization. It indicates many things. I am in a demographic sweet spot to ask for directions: woman, white, healthy, not obviously homeless. I am walking purposefully. Until I open my mouth, I can pass as local. Perhaps I have improved my passive scowl. Huzzah!

I am suffering a bad case of l'esprit d'escalier, basically continuously, because my ability to cohere my thoughts into sentences in French suffers a lag.  I know enough words to say the thing I want to say, but my thoughts in English are verbal and sophisticated, while my expressibility in French is simplified and riddled with pauses. If this post seems verbose but oddly curt, blame my attempts to improve my French. Also blame my isolation from English-language conversation. I need to find an expat chatting club.

There is a fascinating mental adjustment necessary. (Il faut que je change... see? sentence structures bleed across my brain barriers between languages. I'm lucky I didn't give directions in Japanese, I aced that chapter and practiced speed directions.)  Every time a child or homeless person speaks French in earshot, my brain does this: wow! that kid/beggar is so erudite! s/he speaks French! ---oh, wait, everyone speaks French here, it's not the marker of some cultural or educational achievment. I obviously understand that there are native French speakers at an intellectual level. But somewhere deep in my brain sits the belief that humans fundamentally speak English, and all other languages are awkward additions, the result of work and study.  So a handful of times a day, I mentally kick myself for my English-centric worldview.

Of course, kids and homeless people probably do speak English, too, and likely German and Italian and a handful of other languages. Because this is Europe and such things are useful, and no one here buys into the kind of cultural/linguistic/national isolationism to which I have become accustomed.

One final thought on cultural acclimatization: I have not yet seen a single Irish pub. Amazing. I thought they were a worldwide phenomenon, a sort of screen saver adopted by any underutilized commercial food site. Apparently here they default to cafes with little black wire tables and smoking waiters.

This post's theme word is ambage (AM-bij, not ahm-bahZH), "ambiguity, circumlocution." I am not fluent enough to commit ambage.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Ink Readers of Doi Saket

"The Ink Readers of Doi Saket" by Thomas Olde Heuvelt is a delightful gem of a story. You can read it here or listen to it here. It is about wishing, and community, and coincidence; it begins and ends with a murder, but nevertheless maintains a playful air that makes the story uplifting and fun. The writing is clean and clear, straightforward and easy to read, with the tone of a fairytale and occasional winks of cleverness to the audience.

Read it, it's quick and fun, and pleasantly outside the Western fairytale setting.

This post's theme word is terrene, "relating to the earth; earthly, mundane." The granting of terrene wishes leads to enlightenment and elevation to a higher plane of existence.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ramen results

Early results are in for the 2014 Experiments in European Poverty Living (while I wait for my salary to begin).

This morning the experimental subject awoke with abdominal pain, likely from spasms of the stomach and other digestive tract muscles. Subject could not decide if the nerves were reporting hunger or imminent vomit. Nausea and digestive confusion continued for a period of time. After some [details redacted] incidents and a cup of plain yogurt, subject reported abatement of symptoms of sickness and restoration of normal operating condition.

These results strongly suggest that the brand of ramen noodles available in France should not be eaten. Perhaps it is suitable as fertilizer, an unscientific hypothesis shamelessly offered alongside an equally unscientific refusal to repeat the experiment.

Subject reports delight at writing in the third person.

This post's theme word is merdurinous, meaning "composed of dung and urine." A sample sentence is mercifully omitted.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hugo awards 2014

The 2014 Hugo ballot has been announced. I am going to try to read and consider each of the nominees in the main categories. I'll link to my posts below. I've never read any of The Wheel of Time, so it may be awhile before I can review the entire series.

Best novel:
Best novella:
  • The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells
  • "The Chaplain's Legacy" by Brad Torgersen
  • "Equoid" by Charles Stross
  • Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente
  • "Waklla Springs" by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages
Best novelette:
  • "The Exchange Officers" by Brad Torgersen
  • "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • "Opera Vita Aeterna" by Vox Day
  • "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling" by Ted Chiang
  • "The Waiting Stars" by Aliette de Bodard
Best short story:
I have no systematic way to review the other categories ("best related work", "best graphic story", "best dramatic presentation" (long and short forms), "best editor" (long and short forms), "best professional artist", "best semiprozine", "best fanzine", "best fancast", "best fan writer", "best fan artist"). Some of them are formats or content I don't find interesting; others, I sampled and wasn't grabbed enough to consume further. I'll stick to the Drabblecast and Escape Pod for my zine/podcast story needs, and simplify my life by not worrying about all the rest.

This post's theme word is eschaton, "judgement day." (I thought DFW made up this word; now that I know it's real, Eschaton is even funnier.) The Hugo eschaton approaches!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ancillary Justice

Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice is a magnificent dollop of science fiction. It is ɛ-close to the Platonic ideal of a space opera --- I have zero complaints, but I reserve the final ɛ of my opinion for the piece of entertainment (perhaps Infinite Jest V?) so engaging that it induces willing dehydration and starvation.

You should read it.

The novel achieves magnificent things on many axes, simultaneously (and impressively).

On the surface, it is an easy read, quick and engaging, emotional and intellectual in good proportion. The structure of the universe also lets the reader tweak the experience; the story is so rich with details that it is possible to be entirely absorbed in wondering about the emotional states of sentient spaceships (HT to Iain M. Banks, whose sentient spaceships are similarly clever, funny, inhuman but interested in and interesting to humanity, and surely influenced this book). The more technical daydreamers can wonder about the AI technology, the biological interfaces with ancillaries, the Stargate-style gates in space, the scientific abilities of the just-offstage aliens waiting in the wings.

The meat of the story has a fascinating POV character. Other narrators who I find similarly engaging are all unreliable; this one is reliable, and even fallible, but the narrative line between being one character and an amalgam of several bodies, with knowledge of other characters' biological states but not direct access to their thoughts, is fascinatingly navigated. Ann Leckie performs masterfully, and like all masters, the performance seems effortless. The imbricated timelines of different branches of the story are handled superbly, with coordinated unfurling of recounted history and current action building in synchrony up to the book's climax. All with a light, intelligent touch.

As a literary work, too, the novel has merit. It raises questions of identity, personal intention and actions, and fate. Religion is an available theme, if you're interested. So is the question of empire-building, and utilitarianism: is some barbarism permitted, in the interests of uniting everyone under a single overarching government of fairness and justice? (Reminiscent of the philosophical point made by the beautiful action movie Hero, or the histories of China and Rome.)

One of the nice takeaways (for me) from the novel was a similar tone and subtle message: do good work. This is a lot like Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish and Earthsea novels: no matter the character's personal scope of power or influence, it is possible to better the universe by exerting that small influence in a responsible manner. For the greater good. Just do what you can, with the power you have, whether you are an omnipotent, all-skills-endowed superprotagonist (my pet peeve), or an unempowered, unevenly-systematically oppressed, unimportant body on the slush-pile of history. A secret and heartwarming message that, with enough decent people performing good (not necessarily coordinated) works for justice and kindness (and dignity and propriety), these small pieces can aggregate to form an overall society with a generous spirit and positive outcome.

Anyway, read this book. It is a gratifying experience on every level.

This post's theme word is helot, "a serf or slave." There are citizens, non-citizens, aliens, and ancillaries; no one is a helot, although ancillaries' movements and thoughts are subordinated to a centralized AI brain.