asakiyume: (feathers on the line)
Something you notice very quickly when you start reading Ninefox Gambit is the importance of the calendar. It’s the foundation stone of empire: things that subvert empire cause “calendrical rot,” and, conversely, things that cause calendrical rot are subversion, or, as the story terms it, heresy—like rebellion but even more rebellious.

This focus on calendars is a stroke of genius. Calendars **are** powerful mechanisms of cultural control. Think about how the international standard calendar for business and commerce is the Gregorian calendar, which ties its start date to Christianity. (People do use other calendars in various places and for various purposes, but the Gregorian calendar dominates for international exchange.) Less so now than in the past, but Sunday is designated a no-work day in accordance with that tradition. And think how the rest day figures for other calendars, too—the Jewish calendar or the Islamic calendar. If you don’t know the proper rest day, you can be in trouble—and this is even if you’re an outsider: things stop. And if you don’t stop—depending on the degree of observance—you might be punished. And if the community gradually moves away from this, it can be perceived by the more-faithful as cultural weakening. Calendrical rot is threatening!

The traditional Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar that has complicated, intersecting base 10 and base 12 recurring features and indicates certain days as auspicious or inauspicious for various activities. When you combine it with geomantic principles (powers or traits related to compass directions—feng shui), which happens naturally, as feng shui is tied to the solstices and equinoxes, which are calendrical as well as astronomical occurrences, boom, that’s a whole lot of Chinese folk culture you’ve got—and, like the Chinese writing system, it spread to Korea, Vietnam, and Japan.

In Japan (and probably in other East Asian countries, but Japan’s the one I know about), magical powers were attributed to people who could advise on and manipulate the calendar—something that required some good math skills, what with those mixed number bases and various repeating units. If you’ve ever seen the film Onmyōji, you’ve seen the story of one famous example of such a person, Abe no Seimei. In Ninefox Gambit, this magic translates to the “exotic effects” that can be generated in war, relying on the calendar. These same effects don’t work if the calendar is subverted—beware calendrical rot!

There’s one notable instance in Ninefox Gambit in which the protagonist manipulates the heretics’ calendar to gain a tactical advantage—Buuuuuut I can’t spoil it.

This isn’t a review of the book—I have one of those at Goodreads, covering some of the same territory, but in less detail—it’s more of an appreciation of this one aspect of the book. It’s me saying “I SEE WHAT YOU DID HERE, YOON HA LEE! VERY CLEVER!”
asakiyume: (black crow on a red ground)
I want to do a post about the power of calendars, in honor of [personal profile] yhlee's Ninefox Gambit, which I just finished, but first I want to share with you this great beer label from a small New York State brewery:



Red-lipped woman with a smoking gun! And this text:

From behind the iron curtain comes our Czech'rd Past. We're not ashamed, and have nothing to hide. No regrets with this classic Bohemian Pilsner. Served cold, like revenge, it cuts to the chase. It's the choice to make when you can't afford any more mistakes in life.


Here's a can with the label still on:



We have one can left, which we can maybe drink as we take pictures of the crescent shadows during the partial version of the eclipse that we'll get here--or maybe not. It is, after all, still a work day. The CALENDAR tells me that. More on Ninefox Gambit and calendars anon.
asakiyume: (Iowa Girl)
Today in church one of the altar servers was wearing red ballet-slipper-style shoes with sparkles.

red shoes

They were beautiful, and I was thinking, wow, church has come a long way since Hans Christian Andersen's time (different denomination, too, but let's sail by that issue), when the poor protagonist of "The Red Shoes" eventually HAS TO HAVE HER FEET CHOPPED OFF for the sin of indulging in vanity by wearing her red shoes to church. And then, even after she's repented and had her feet cut off, her bloody feet, dancing in the shoes, keep her from entering the church!

I have vivid memories of the illustrations accompanying this story from the version of HCA's fairy tales that we had when I was a kid--particularly the one of Karen, the protagonist, her hair a wild golden tangle, pleading with the executioner to cut off her feet. With much searching (a zillion people have illustrated HCA, including famous people like Edmund Dulac and Arthur Rackham), I found that the edition we had was called Stories from Hans Christian Andersen, illustrated by twin sisters, Anne and Janet Grahame Johnstone. They had an overly pretty, slim, stylized way of drawing people that I was fascinated by. I couldn't find the one illustration online, but I did find the one of her going into church all in white... but with the offending red shoes on. Unfortunately the person who took the photo cut off the feet (LOL), so you can't see the shoes, but you can see the glow from them:


(source)

If you click on the source link, you can get more of a sense of the illustrators' style. They had a great illustration for "The Wild Swans" of the prince who ends up still with one arm a wing, but I thought you might like this fairly hot (in an overly pretty way) picture from Tales of Greeks and Trojans:


(source)


asakiyume: (black crow on a red ground)
Have people read this? I had heard about it and was mildly curious because of the child protagonist, but not curious enough to overcome my dislike of zombie stories. Then I read Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone's comments on the movie (here), which really interested me--so I read it.

I reviewed it on Goodreads. I did indeed like Melanie, the young protagonist. As expected, I didn't much care for a lot of the mainstay things that you apparently need to have in a zombie/horror story, but I could just page on by.

The thing that got me was the ending--so this discussion should only be for people who've either read the book/seen the movie or don't mind spoilers.

Discussion about the ending )
asakiyume: (Em reading)






I have a good collection of things on the go/just finished.

Just Finished
The Boston Girl, by Anita Diamant. It's a novel in the form of reminiscences of an 85-year-old Jewish grandmother, Addy, talking to her granddaughter, Ada, in 1985. It was delightful. The voice reminded me so much of my own grandmother's voice, even though my grandmother was Italian, not Jewish. The picture of immigrant life in Boston in the 1910s and 1920s felt absolutely genuine to me because my grandmother has said similar things. I liked Addy tremendously. Here's a quote--she's reminiscing about a camp that she was lucky to be able to attend in her teens:

It was so quiet that I could hear the bees buzzing around the roses and a bird singing from far away. Someone upstairs called, "Has anyone seen my hairbrush?" In the kitchen there was chopping. Every sound was separate--like framed pictures on a wall. I thought, Aha! This is what you call peace and quiet.



Currently Reading

Breath of Stone, by Blair MacGregor
This is the second in the Desert Rising series, a fantasy of political intrigue in a harsh desert setting, where the rulers have dangerous charisma and some are trying to recapture godlike powers that had devastating effects in the past. It's *very* gripping. I'm at about the 40 percent mark.


Ruby on the Outside, by Nora Raleigh Baskin

This is a short, middle-grade book about Ruby, a eleven-year-old whose mother is in prison. She's been a loner, but this summer she's becoming friends with a new girl, Margalit, whose family--though Ruby hasn't figured this out yet at the point I'm at--is somehow connected with her mother's case. (Seems her mother was coerced by her husband--not sure yet whether this is Ruby's father [ETA: read a little further--he's not Ruby's father]--into something drug related.)


So far the details about prison visits ring VERY true to my tangential experience, and Ruby's tentative negotiation of this new friendship feel right too. I'm only about 20 percent in; when I finish, I'm going to leave it in the free books/libros gratis rack at the jail. There's always a varied assortment there; kids really do take them. I don't know who ordinarily stocks it, or if it's all by people like me: I try to leave new things for various ages now and then.

Iris Grace, by Arabella Carter-Johnson

I won this gorgeous hardback book in a Goodreads giveaway. It's the story of Iris Grace, a child in England on the autism spectrum, and her parents' attempts to help her adjust to and flourish in the world. Art turns out to be one way: Iris loves to paint, and the book is full of full-color reproductions of her paintings. I could look at them all day, and also the loving photos of Iris herself, taken by her mother, who is a professional photographer.


As for the text, I have complicated, but mainly positive feelings. Arabella does a great job at conveying both her love for her daughter and her feelings of being at her wits' end, of arriving at something that seems to be working only to push too hard and have a setback, and then be filled with remorse. All that makes me feel warmly toward her. I guess it's just that I have a wee bit of vicarious resentment on the part of all the parents of neuroatypical children who don't have the resources that Arabella and her husband have.

Didn't Finish

The Silver Curlew, by Eleanor Farjeon

I really loved what [livejournal.com profile] sovay posted about this book here, and [livejournal.com profile] shewhomust has a great post on the book, too. But, for me, the book had a large helping of whimsy of a sort that I never liked as a kid and can't manage to plow through even now, even though I know there's luminous beauty in the story too.



asakiyume: (Em)
I just learned from Little Springtime about the existence of bibioburros--like bookmobiles, only with burros instead of vans to carry books to isolated households on Colombia's Caribbean shore.

The program's founder, Luis Soriano, is a primary school teacher. His portable library started with just 70 books, but grew to several thousand volumes, thanks to donations. Soriano has two burros, Alfa and Beto, who carry the books. This Wikipedia article on bibiloburros tells of much excitement (for example, bandits tied up Soriano and stole the novel Brida, by Paulo Coelho, when they discovered Soriano had no money on him) and many ups and downs (Soriano had to have a leg amputated after an accident), but the program continues.


Luis Soriano and his biblioburros (Photo: Scott Dalton; Source: New York Times, article here)


(Also from the New York Times)


asakiyume: (Timor-Leste nia bandiera)
A Woman of Independence
Kirsty Sword Gusmão, with Rowena Lennox
Sydney: Pan Macmillan Australia, 2003

One curse of a life of intense action is that you may not have much time for reflection, not much time to take stock. You’re too busy doing. This certainly seems to be the case for Kirsty Sword Gusmão, who plunged into activism on behalf of occupied East Timor in the 1990s and didn’t emerge for air until—well, ever. There has always been, and continues to be, just too much to do.

A Woman of Independence captures this perfectly—the rush from one thing to the next, the clamor of small matters demanding attention while momentous matters loom in the background:

My whole day had been taken up with the petty problems of the rapazes [boys]. It was a tiny job really, this passing on of information between various parties, but it felt big and time-consuming enough to prevent me from articulating and recording my own thoughts and responses to the events unfolding around me.

Those events being, in this case, her impending visit (in 1995), on behalf of the imprisoned independence leader Xanana, to guerrilla commanders out in the field. And very soon she’s on her way to attempt that meeting, stopping to give a letter from Xanana to the wife of one of the guerrilla commanders:

[Olinda] wore the years of physical hardship and the pain of separation from her husband on her face. Nevertheless, as I handed her the envelope from Xanana, I noticed that her eyes gleamed with satisfaction, a tear threatening to escape down her bony cheeks. She had spent many years in the bush herself, having given birth to her son, Benvindo, in a guerrilla encampment in 1986. The food shortages and absence of medical attention led her and [her husband] Aluc to decide to place the infant in the care of Aluc’s father in Los Palos town. But the child was kidnapped en route by an Indonesian lieutenant-colonel who no doubt wished to use Aluc’s boy as a bargaining chip in the effort to force the Falintil to surrender. Olinda had not seen the boy since.

devotion to the cause )

Kirsty on education )

Overall, though, what’s best about A Woman of Independence are the hundreds of dramatic encounters and interactions that Kirsty describes—a revolution seen from the inside, recounted in vivid detail.

It's been more than ten years since the book was published, and Kirsty has continued her work. She’s been active advocating education in mother tongues (coincidentally, today is International Mother Language Day), as well as maternal and child health and welfare through a foundation she established for that purpose, the Alola Foundation. She’s spoken out against Australia for the bad faith it has shown—as evidenced by spying—in negotiations with Timor-Leste over oil reserves in the waters between the two countries, and when a vice-minister of education made a flippant remark regarding allegations that the principal of a Dili high school was preying on his female students, she turned the discussion back toward "the impact of sexual harassment and coercion on girls and their education."

Oh and one other thing? When she does find a free moment, she apparently isn’t averse to reading science fiction:

The following day I read a novel … hoping that the concepts in the book would help give some form to the thoughts and emotions clamouring for attention and expression in my tired brain. The novel was an eclectic blend of sci-fi and cyber-punk—pure, way-out escapism. The phone didn’t ring all day and I’d finished the book by early afternoon.

Any guesses what it might have been? (She doesn’t say.) The year was 1995.


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