Sienese posters

Sep. 22nd, 2017 02:34 pm
cmcmck: (Default)
[personal profile] cmcmck
 I have a liking for posters wherever I go in the world and on our first day in Siena as we walked into town, I knew of a place where there would be some nice ones.

I wasn't disappointed!

One for a transport show:




And one for a donkey palio (yes, really :o) Such a beautifully captured image of one of my favourite creatures:



And general posterage:



That's all I have time for as we're now in the process of getting the new attic room as we want it, but there'll be more later, I promise! I took two hundred odd shots!










hawkwing_lb: (Default)
[personal profile] hawkwing_lb
Weigh-in: 107kg approx

Benchpress: 6x5 at 60kg
Squats: 5x5 at 100kg, 1x8 at 60kg.
Leg lifts: 3x10
Overhead press: 4x6 at 20kg
Lat raise: 3x10 at 8kg/arm
Bicep curl: 3x10 at 8kg/arm

Rowing: 2km in 10:45
Exercise bike: 1km in 2:58




So after a 16km bike ride yesterday and a 7-8km walk on Sunday I think I'm getting enough exercise this week, maybe.
jemck: rune logo from The Thief's Gamble (Default)
[personal profile] jemck


As someone who’s been reading SF for over forty years now, I’m fascinated by the different ways life on Mars has been portrayed over the decades. My earliest encounters were through books like Robert Heinlein’s Red Planet, H.G Wells’s The War of the Worlds, and in my early teens, C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet. Alongside such fiction, I remember reading about Mariner 4 in my grandfather’s National Geographic magazines. So I already knew that real scientific discoveries meant these enthralling stories were impossible. That didn’t matter. Mars fascinated me.

That’s still true today, as books on my shelves by Alastair Reynolds, Andy Weir and James Corey attest. The film of The Martian and the TV adaptation of The Expanse series are merely the latest depictions of Mars that I’ve enjoyed on screen, from Flash Gordon through Doctor Who to Babylon 5. I’m still reading National Geographic, and any articles I see elsewhere discussing the real practicalities of sustaining human life on our near neighbour. Then there’s the ongoing exploration of Mars by the Opportunity rover. Go robots!

So now I want to write my own story set on Mars. It’s the ideal setting for me to explore a notion that’s been coming together in my imagination thanks to several recent popular-science articles that I’ve read. The last piece I needed was the invitation to write a new story featuring the Ur Bar, the eternal, time-travelling tavern from the ZNB anthology ‘After Hours’.

So now all I need is this year’s ZNB anthologies Kickstarter to fund. At the time of writing, we’ve got a week to go, and we’re just over two-thirds funded, so there’s $6333 still needed. Do take a look, if you haven’t done so already, and flag the project up to friends who might be interested. There are three anthologies to choose from, and to consider submitting something to, if you’re a writer yourself. You can get involved for as little as $7.

If you’re really keen, there’s a tuckerisation up for grabs. Do you fancy giving your own, or someone else’s, name to my story’s protagonist?

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[personal profile] major_clanger
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (John Le Carré, 1963)
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (dir Martin Ritt, 1965)
A Legacy of Spies (John Le Carré, 2017)

‘Peter Guillam, staunch colleague and disciple of George Smiley of the British Secret Service, otherwise known as the Circus, has retired to his family farmstead on the south coast of Brittany when a letter from his old Service summons him to London. The reason? His Cold War past has come back to claim him. Intelligence operations that were once the toast of secret London are to be scrutinised by a generation with no memory of the Cold War. Somebody must be made to pay for innocent blood once spilt in the name of the greater good.’

From that advance plot summary, I expected A Legacy of Spies to be a follow up to the events of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or its immediate sequels. In fact, it turns out to be a quasi-sequel to The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Le Carré’s third novel but the one in which he broke out into mainstream success. I say ‘quasi-sequel’, because A Legacy of Spies revisits, and even to an extent retcons, the events of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and indeed can to a substantial extent be seen as a prequel, setting up some of the important plot points and filling in some key events between that book at Le Carré’s first novel (and introduction of George Smiley), Call for the Dead.

I’d never actually read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, although I’d long ago seen a plot summary that revealed the key twist. (So, by the way, does this review, hence the cut below.) I read A Legacy of Spies when it came out, saw that it referred back heavily to the events of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold so then read that, and then out of curiosity watched the 1965 film, which currently features on Netflix’s list.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (book)

I won’t spend too much time on the original novel; if you’ve read it, you’ll know how good it is. If you haven’t – well, rather than have it spoiled, I suggest that you go and read it yourself. It’s short by modern standards, very readable, and although the underlying plot is complex (as much as I can say without spoilers) everything is clearly explained.

(Spoilers from here)

Discussion of crucial bits of plot )

A Legacy of Spies is highly recommended, although if you’ve not read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold I’d strongly suggest reading it beforehand. And once you’ve done so, look out the 1965 film, which stands up very well indeed.




Where the Wide Aisles Are

Sep. 17th, 2017 08:16 am
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[personal profile] steepholm
My daughter has been working at Sainsbury's for a week now, but yesterday was the first day I'd actually seen her in her Sainsbury's jacket and name badge, when she popped home for some things before heading out again into the night.

It did make me wonder, though, whether she would ever be able to go into a supermarket while so attired. If she went into different store, say the Co-op, I imagine she would be driven out by staff enraged by her livery, much as crows will mob a sparrow-hawk. But if she went into a different Sainsbury's the following exchange would have a certain comic inevitability:

C [to the cashier]: Just this chewing gum, please.
Cashier: That'll be 45p.
Manager [interrupting]: You! Get to Till 13 right away! Don't you know we're understaffed today?
C: Me? But I'm only buying some chew--
Manager [hands already bunching into fists]: Don't answer back! Till 13 - hop to it!
C: But I don't even work here.... [Is bustled away to Till 13 and spends the next 7 hours weighing carrots.]


I don't know why I imagine all managers as ex-RSMs, but I do.
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[personal profile] jemck
I’ve just included a bit of equipment which I saw in a museum in Malta, into the River Kingdom novel that I’m currently writing. It’s a library lamp from the 17/18th century. As you can see, it has four wicks to maximise the available light plus an adjustable reflector for positioning to direct as much light as possible into the page. Those chains attach a snuffer plus a pair of tweezers and a pair of scissors for trimming the wicks. This particular example could do with a bit of a polish, we saw others in museums where photography wasn’t allowed in highly polished silver and brass which would have reflected even more light. So no, there was no need to be squinting over a book by the light of a single candle, not for the wealthy and educated at least.





We need to remember this, when we’re creating non-industrial worlds. It’s all too easy to get suckered into a positively Victorian mindset that sees the modern age as the pinnacle of human achievement, in some pseudo-evolutionary fashion, which therefore demands that anything that came before us is by definition inferior. No, pre-modern and pre-industrial solutions to the same problems that we face may well be different but that doesn’t mean lesser.

Human ingenuity has been around for untold millennia and it’s worth doing the research to find examples of solutions to problems, because the history that ‘everyone knows’ is frequently at best only half the story, and at worst it’s downright misleading. ‘Everyone knows’ that Henry Ford invented the production line, right? Actually, he invented a particular mechanised version of an approach to manufacturing that’s been around since the Bronze Age. There’s an archaeological site in (if I recall correctly) Turkey that I read about some while ago, flourishing in the 8/9th century BCE where carved hollows and troughs in the rock have recently been rescued from that all-purpose archaeologist’s explanation of ‘ritual purposes’. Someone realised that these shapes looked familiar and went away to check. Yes, these troughs and hollows are the outlines of the component parts of a chariot; specifically those long pieces of wood and elements of wheels that experimental archaeologists have established could only have been shaped by steaming the wood, somehow clamping it and allowing the wood to cool into a new form. These chariot builders weren’t using clamps but the rock itself to make the components that were then assembled by specialists in mass-production.

I have a particular advantage here in that I’m married to a mechanical engineer. He spends his working life designing car assembly lines with dozens of robots now doing the work done by hundreds of men when he first started his apprenticeship, forty-plus years ago. So he’s very good at working out how things work, and at identifying how approaches to the same problem change over the years and centuries. He also has a solid appreciation of the issues around for instance, moving massive slabs of stone to build monuments from Stonehenge, to the pyramids, to the temples of Hagar Qim on Malta, dating back to 3600-3200 BCE. This would be an engineering challenge today. For people using stone rollers, wooden levers and some sort of rope? No one who could manage that deserves to be called primitive, as far as he’s concerned.

So from the small scale items for day to day use, to major building projects in our imagined worlds, we need to remember that non-industrial societies could get along perfectly well without all our modern conveniences. And we don’t only find such things in museums and archaeological sites. Fantasy world builders should take a look at the ingenuity and practical skills of our fellow humans currently living in what can all too often be patronisingly called ‘developing’ countries across Asia, Africa and the Americas.

I remember seeing a TV programme where a group of Andean women build a suspension bridge to cross a river gorge, only using grass and their bare hands. Yes, really. First they made string by twisting the long strands together, then they combined those strings into cords and then made those cords into ropes, and the ropes into cables, all twisted and counter-twisted at every stage to create strength through tension. The village women on the far side of the gorge were doing the same. When they had enough cables ready, someone fired an arrow to carry a string across the gorge. That string was tied to a cord which pulled a rope which pulled a cable to be secured across the gorge. Three cables gave them one to walk on and two hand rails on either side which were joined together with more grass-rope struts which formed a framework for weaving solid sides. By the end of the day, they had a new bridge.

So please don’t make the mistake of thinking that life in your pre-industrial fantasy land has to be nasty, brutish or short. Anymore than you underestimate people who don’t happen to be white and westernised in our own world today.
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[personal profile] steepholm
When I was finishing my PhD I tried to get a job with the marketing department of Rowntree's chocolate factory in York, where I was then living. It's lucky I failed, because had I known it they were about to be bought up by the evil Nestlé corporation, and I'd have had to resign almost immediately.

In those days I was a great admirer of Rowntree's advertising (the Kit Kat panda ad is perhaps the most famous). But the Rowntree crown was soon to be stolen by Marmite, who took the old "love it or hate it" adage about their product and ran with it in a way that makes Pheidippides look like a sprinter. Here's an early effort on that theme, from some time in the early 2000s:



Simple, yes, but ground-breaking in that the entire advert is based around someone hating the product.

After that, they became far more sophisticated, and developed a brilliant line in spoofs on TV genres. Here they are riffing on the animal rescue programmes:



For a long time, I thought they wouldn't top that. But now, along comes the DNA test reveal advert. This, in my opinion, is simply genius. Here is modern Britain in a nutshell (not that Marmite contains nuts):

hawkwing_lb: (Default)
[personal profile] hawkwing_lb
So. August was A Month. There are any number of things I need to do this month, like sort out my Patreon from August and for September, a couple of medical appointments, and buy my membership for Octocon.

I have more review work than I used to, which is good. On the other hand, keeping up with everything is... tricksy.


Books 2017: 130-156


130. Melinda Snodgrass, In Evil Times. Titan Books, 2017.

Read for review for Locus. Annoying grim, focusing on Bad Shit happening to Not So Nice People.


131. Kate Elliott, Buried Heart. Little, Brown, 2017.

Read for Sleeps With Monsters column. Excellent conclusion to Elliott's really great trilogy.


132. P.C. Hodgell, The Gates of Tagmeth. Baen, 2017.

Read for Sleeps With Monsters column. Latest Kencyrath novel. Fun, but the series has lacked a sense of forward progress for the last couple of installments.


133. Barbara Hambly, Murder in July. Severn House, 2017.

The latest in Hambly's long-running Ben Janvier mystery series, set in New Orleans in the 1830s.


134. Barbara Ann Wright, House of Fate. Bold Strokes Books, 2017.

Read for Sleeps With Monsters column. Fun, albeit weak and slight. Reminded me of a less gleefully batshit Jupiter Ascending.


135. Max Gladstone, Ruin of Angels. Tor.com Publishing, 2017.

Read for review for Tor.com. Really fucking brilliant.


136. Malka Older, Null States. Tor.com Publishing, 2017.

Read for review for Tor.com. Solidly entertaining sequel.


137. Adam Roberts, The Real-Town Murders. Gollancz, 2017.

Read for review for Patreon. Good near-future thriller.


138. J.Y. Yang, The Black Tides of Heaven. Tor.com Publishing, 2017.

Read for Sleeps With Monsters column. And for review for Locus. REALLY REALLY GOOD novella.


139. J.Y. Yang, The Red Threads of Fortune. Tor.com Publishing, 2017.

Read for Sleeps With Monsters column. And for review for Locus. Really good novella. Would've liked it better as a novel, I think.


140. Fran Wilde, Horizon. Tor, 2017.

Read for review for Tor.com. And for review for Locus. Interestingly thinky, rewards approaches from multiple directions.


141. Tim Pratt, The Wrong Stars. Angry Robot, 2017. Forthcoming.

Read for review for Locus. Really really really really fun space opera. It's got the emotional sense of humour of KILLJOYS but with more Weird Alien Shit. Immensely satisfying.

And between Yang, Roberts, Pratt, and Gladstone, I read five books in row in which there were queer main characters in relationships and NO GAYS WERE BURIED.


142. Alyssa Cole, An Extraordinary Union. Ebook, 2017.

Interracial het romance set during the American Civil War. I wanted more spies, less sex, but I am not the target audience?


143. Thea de Salle, The Queen of Dauphine Street. Ebook, 2017.

Het romance. Explicit. Good story. Pet tiger. Fun.


144. Jenny Frame, Royal Rebel. Ebook, Bold Strokes Books, 2017.

FF romance, set in a near-future alternate Europe with Ruritanian kingdoms. Romance between spoiled royal princess coming off a bad relationship and ex-CEO former addict now running a charity. Kind of awfully written, but the characters come alive.


145. K.J. Charles, Wanted, A Gentleman. Ebook, 2017.

MM historical romance, late 1700s, of the genre I find myself mentally referring to as Sad Boys In Love. Charles writes this genre very well, with appropriate levels of angst, snark, and explicit sex.


146. K.J. Charles, Sceptred Isle. Ebook, 2017.

MM historical romance, 1920s, with magic. Will probably write it up in a column. It is fun.


147-149. Cat Sebastian, The Soldier's Scoundrel, The Lawrence Browne Affair, and The Ruin of a Rake. Ebooks, 2016-2017.

MM historical romance, regency era. Sad Boys In Love! Fun.


150. Carsen Taite, Sidebar. Bold Strokes Books, 2017.

FF romance. Lawyer and Supreme Court Judge. Kind of terrible, really. But readable, just.


151-155. Jean Stewart, Return to Isis, Isis Rising, Warriors of Isis, Winged Isis, and Wizard of Isis. Bella Books, various dates. First volume originally published 1991.

FF romance/science fiction. Sort of. Set in a dystopian/utopian future world deeply influenced by the feminist SF novels of the period immediately preceding the publication of the first volume, Stewart posits a technologically advanced female-run (and largely lesbian) society, separated from a disease-ridden and repressive misogynistic society by a mostly impenetrable technological barrier on the North America continent. The writing is uneven, the worldbuilding is occasionally downright weird, and the plotting has giant holes. But as a series, these books still manage to be pretty fun.


nonfiction

Christopher A. Faraone & Laura K. McClure, eds, Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World. The University of Wisconsin Press. Madison WI: 2006.

A varied and interesting collection of essays on the topic of the sale of sex, or sex work, in the ancient world, ranging from ancient Mesopotamia to the Roman empire. Hopefully I will write more about it soon, but it is worth perusal.
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