Tag Archives: books

Diversity in Science Fiction: Some Diverse Reads

Science fiction often touts itself as the genre of the future. But science fiction is a reflection of today as much as it is a dream about the future. Science fiction has been too white and too male, both in authors and in protagonists. This is a reflection of the biases in our society.

My own top 20 sci-fi novels list features 18 books by white men, and two books by Ursula Le Guin. The Guardian’s list of top 500 scifi novels featured the names of 18 women. Any scifi reader starting out will hear about Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke. Too many people get defensive when someone points this out. (See: the Great SFWA Shitstorm.)

The answer is to read widely, and to continue to read widely. So in that spirit, I list below some diverse science fiction*, some of which I have read, and some of which I ought to. For further reading, here is a great article listing a lot of great authors from the LA Times.

  • Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler: we destroy ourselves with war and aliens come in and save the survivors, mostly people from South American cultures who avoided the bombs. Oh, and the aliens want weird weird sex. A fun and weird read.
  • Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi: A western man goes to future Bangkok. The native Thais and the genetically-engineered windup girl are the stars of the show, though.
  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu: One for me to read! A best seller in China, recently translated into English.
  • Downbelow Station and Cyteen by C. J. Cherryh: Distant future novels where women kick ass in militaristic and scientific settings, if you can get past the info-dumping at the front.
  • Who Fears Death by Nnedi Orakafor: Another for me to read! Far future, post-apocalyptic Africa.
  • The Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold: I have looked for these for years in used bookstores. I guess they fall into that awkward old-enough-to-be-out-of-print-, not-so-old-as-to-be-reprinted phase. They won a buttload of Hugos. And they feature a disabled protagonist.

*Note: I think it’s currently easier to find diverse fantasy. Maybe this is because it’s straightforward to use alternate mythology to Western mythology. I personally vastly prefer sci-fi. I think diversity in far future sci-fi is a challenge, because our whole concept of diversity is rooted in today’s culture. Just giving everything Chinese-ish names isn’t very satisfying. In LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness, Genly is black, but this isn’t relevant to the story at all. But I would like to see more female protagonists!

 

Three beautiful books that inspire

I’m always looking for design inspirations. Whenever I find myself in an art museum or an interesting shop, I always look to see what kinds of design books they have. Today I included three very different commercially available favorites in my little collection.

Waterlife by Rambharos Jha

A stunningly beautiful book by Indian folk painter Rambharos Jha. The critters come alive with the wiggling and colorful lines. Each page is silk-screened by hand onto hand-made paper. You can see the difference from ordinary printing methods immediately. Striking. This is also one of the best smelling books. Every time I open the book, the smell of ink and paper hits me, I’m looking at this book. My only criticism is that the binding method prevents the book from opening as flat as I would like. I love to look at this book when I’m trying to feel energy in my work.

 

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Carl Larsson’s A Farm: Paintings from a Bygone Era

A collection of 19th century Swedish painter Carl Larsson‘s farm paintings. His calendars are a staple with the Scandinavian branch of my family. His work makes me think a bit of Norman Rockwell– beautiful and flowing, but with crisp lines that give a feel of illustration. I love to look at his work for inspirations in depictions of the ordinary, the pastoral, the family.

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Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss

I previously reviewed this book here. I’m not in love with the writing in this book (see the review), but I am in love with the art. I love the way it connects to the science and is elevated by it. The typography for this book is also divine. Redniss even created a special typeface called Eusapia LR for this book, and it works beautifully. This book is an inspiration in marrying art and science.

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Some More Fun with Pop-Ups

I’ve written a few times about my interest in pop-ups on this blog. I’ve played around with making them and I’ve found some toys with which to make them better. But pop-ups can be hard, and after a lot of play, I found myself a little discouraged. I would try and try, but I wouldn’t seem to approach a working solution. I put my pop-ups aside for a bit.

Then, last weekend, I took a pop-up book class through a local club. The class was instructed by Carol Barton, who has written several pop-up instructional books, as well as produced several artistic pop-up books. We made dozens of pop-ups in the class, ranging from very simple to more complex. We talked about different kinds of folds and cuts. Some of my pop-ups worked, some didn’t. My classmates experimented too. Carol was an excellent teacher, helping us to think intuitively about the pop-up rather than strictly mathematically. I came out of the weekend feeling much more confident. I might still make mistakes, but I work toward a better product eventually.

Below are some of my pop-ups. The two most complex pop-ups are ones I’ve worked on this last week. The last three ones I made in a few minutes in the class with scissors cutting by hand.

If you are interested in learning to make pop-ups, I recommend Carol’s books in the “Pocket Paper Engineer” series. They have excellent illustrations and explanations. Even better, they have pages for you to cut out and work on pre-designed pop-ups. These pages show you all the techniques of pop-up books, starting at the most simple and becoming more complex.

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My big project this week: the Old Courthouse and the Arch in St. Louis. I programmed this in Illustrator and used my Silhouette Cameo to do the cuts.

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Preliminary work on a pop-up of UVA’s Rotunda.

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A simple saddle pop-up, cut by hand in class.

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A pop-up made of a series of box pop-ups. It looks fancier than it is– it took no planning and only a few moments of snipping and folding to make.

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A series of box folds to make a very simple yet in my opinion really interesting pop-up.

My Reading List for the Holidays

Between preparing my dissertation and doing NaNoWriMo, I haven’t read much lately. My eventual goal is to write excellent science fiction. I feel that reading in the field is essential to writing better in the field. So I try to make sure that I keep up on science fiction reading. Below is the reading list, in no particular order. We’ll see how I do!

Marooned in Realtime by Vernor Vinge– Vinge is one of my favorite authors, and this book is the sequel to The Peace War, which I enjoyed.

Camouflage by Joe Haldeman– Haldeman is another favorite of mine. This novel won the nebula award.

Gateway by Frederick Pohl– I read this over a decade ago. I enjoyed it, but I remember nothing of it, so a re-read is in order. The novel often appears on “best-of” scifi lists.

Starship by Brian W. Aldiss– I enjoy Aldiss, and novelist Ed Lerner recommended it to me at a science fiction seminar. So I definitely should read it.

Cyteen by C. J. Cherryh– Set in the same universe as Downbelow Station, which I loved (see my review here). It’s the size of a bible, but I have high hopes.

The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek– A classic humorous novel of Czech literature, set during World War I. I keep hearing good things about it and it’s been on the shelf for 5 years. I’ve even been to one of the bars described in the book. Time to read it.

The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain–  Twain writing about travel. Yes.

Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler– I haven’t read anything by Butler yet. People rave about her, so I would be remiss not to try her out.

Science and Cooking

I love to cook. As one might gather from this blog, I like to keep my hands busy, and cooking saves money and provides deliciousness. (Many other hobbies have more of a knack for consuming money.) I also happen to be very lactose-intolerant, so cooking for myself also greatly benefits my digestive health.

When I was younger, I was absolutely apathetic to cooking, as I suspect many kids are, feeling that it’s house-wifely and unimportant. Then I got out on my own, and, astonishingly, good food was expensive and I had little currency.  I wanted to improve my cooking, but I really didn’t know the rules. But I knew the next best thing: science. Many recently published books explore the relationship between science and cooking. For those of us that can’t remember the baking soda without knowing its chemical purpose, this is a great thing.

Some recommended books:

  • What Einstein Told his Cook by Robert Wolke. The content is good, especially for those less versed in chemistry. The author wrote a newspaper column about cooking, and this book is mostly the compilation of answers to various questions such as “What is the difference between cane sugar and beet sugar?” It contains several recipes illustrating various points of the book. A major emphasis of the book is clarifying common misunderstandings of food science. As someone who knows a lot of science, I sometimes find the answers too basic, but I definitely learned things reading this book.
  • Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor by Herve This. Of the three books I discuss, this is the one I have had the least time to scrutinize. However, I really like what I have read. Wolke’s book covers more conceptual topics, like the differences between various kinds of salts. This’s book covers more specific topics, like why we marinade roasts in red wine rather than white, or how different kinds of truffles are related. This one is probably most strictly for those interested in cooking, with fewer “gee whiz” moments and more “that would be useful” moments.
  • Cooking for Geeks: Real science, great hacks, and good food by Jeff Potter. This one is definitely the most fun of the three! This book is from the publisher O’Reilly, which does a lot of technical textbooks. This book shares its layout with those kinds of book, but its soul is lighter. Its layout is more varied, as textbooks are. Plus, this book has a fun section about hardware like evaporators and sous vide water baths. Sous vide is involves cooking foods in circulating water baths. It is similar to slow-cooking, but the food is kept in a plastic bag and thus not diluted. Foods can safely and extra-deliciously be cooked at much lower temperatures by this method. Low temperatures denature specific proteins, prevent drying, and, when held for a bit, kill bacteria. This book does a great job explaining why and how sous vide works. I just got a sous vide system myself, and this book has given me some confidence about something I knew very little about. Plus it’s very fun to read, and covers tons of other topics in geek-friendly ways.

A little bookbinding

I really enjoy bookbinding from time to time, especially now that technical writing occupies the bulk of my time. It’s refreshing to complete something and see its completeness. It can be hard to feel holistic satisfaction from writing; there’s always one more thing to fix. Below are some photos of my recent projects.

The first two are books I donated to my local writing club, WriterHouse, for a charity raffle. The purple and grey book is a perfect-bound notebook with a bone clasp; it contains linen textured paper. The dusky red book has exposed linen tape to allow for a more flexible spine. It contains a slightly warmer-colored linen textured paper. I made a similar book for myself a few months ago–having something beautiful to take notes in is a great incentive for me.

The third book is a copy of my novel draft to send to a friend who until now has been reading from a pdf. I used a red poppy patterned paper for the endpapers–I love the pattern but it’s a slick paper that can be hard to keep flat. I was pleased with how it turned out. The book’s cover is black imitation leather.

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Writing children’s books

This summer I am taking a class about writing children’s books. I became interested in writing children’s books because I really love writing with illustrations. Before this summer, I hadn’t had the opportunity to just sit down and discuss for hours at a time what the children’s market demands. I probably had wrongly assumed it was pretty easy to write a children’s book, because they are pretty simple books and I think a lot of the books on the market are simplistic and unattractive.

Indeed, it is easy to write a book for children, but it’s a lot harder to sell one. Children’s books have structure I wasn’t aware of (most of them are exactly 32 pages, example), and there is a ton of competition. In 200 words, it’s harder to stand out than in 10,000. An interesting guide-book we have looked at in class is “Writing Picture Books” by Ann Whitford Paul. Her book goes over all the steps necessary to prepare a manuscript for a children’s picture book. We have done some exercises in our class like writing a young child’s concept book or rewriting a fairy tale, both of which have been fun exercises. I still have a little trouble writing as simply as is required for such ages, but we always have something to improve.

I think writing for children can also be of interest to people only interested in writing for adults. Children’s demands aren’t that different from those of adults– snappy language, quick action, relatable characters. In kids books, the author must try to have scenes with visualizable illustrations, and adults like to have mental images of what they read as well. Kids books are often under 1000 words, so they are a very doable exercise length. If you’re interested, I recommend giving it a try. At worse, you’ll just have some fun and feel a bit childish!  =)

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