Tag Archives: Catherynne M. Valente

Housekeeping: Q2 Roundup and Books Reviewed

The Book Is Launched!!!

Based on several years of blogging, the long-awaited book “What is Coworking?” was (finally) released this quarter!  Info here.

Get it!  Read it!

There was an official “book launch” on June 1.

There will be more events in coming months.

Antarctica, Dinosaurs, and Bees; Oh my!

Besides Coworking and The New Way of Work, various topics recur including Dinosaurs, the Anthropocene, and Pollinators.

And, of course, most weeks, Robot Wednesday and Cryptocurrency Thursday.

Books Reviewed This Quarter

 

Fiction

Adjustment Day  by Chuck Palahniuk
Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor
Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly
Armistice by Lara Elena Donnelly
Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller
Circe by Madeline Miller
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Koko Uncaged by Kieran Shea
Noir by Christopher Moore
Robots Vs Fairies  edited by Dominick Parisien Navah Wolfe
Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
The Judge Hunter by Christopher Buckley
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss
The Temptation of Forgiveness by Donna Leon
Versailles by Yannick Hill

Non-Fiction

Crash Test Girl by Kari Byron
Darwin Comes To Town by Menno Schilthuizen
Failure is an Option by H. Jon Benjamin
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte

Great Names For Bands

The Fungi Under The Woods
“Force Jacket” (or maybe FORCE JACKET)
Frog Fungus Catastrophe

Book Review: “Space Opera” by Catherynne M. Valente

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

In the preamble, Valente discussed the Fermi Paradox (which he didn’t say, and isn’t a paradox, but nevermind).   She soundly rejects variations of the “Rare Earth” hypothesis:

“Life isn’t difficult, it isn’t pickly, it isn’t unique, and fate doesn’t enter into the thing.”  “Life wants to happen. It can’t stand not happening” p. 2

The problem isn’t really, “is there life?”, the problem is “who is sentient?”.  With bazillions of diverse species everywhere, the question is, “Who are people and who is meat?”

This question usually leads to war, genocide, and devastation.

There has to be a better way.

Give Peace Music A Chance.


When the Earth is discovered by the galactic civilization (not least by decades of blaring top forty broadcasts), it must be subject to the standard test of sentience and admission to the galactic community:

Before wiping out H. sap.(taking care to preserve as much of the innocent bystanding ecosphere as possible), the newly found species must participate in the Grand Prix – a Eurovision style contest of song. High production, glittery, sappy, song and dance.

Each new species must compete, and must finish better than last. Last would be bad—total annihilation of the species.

And thereby hangs the tale.

“Rock wants to happen. It can’t stand not happening.” P. 12

One act is selected to represent the planet.

The galactic committee call for Yoko Ono (dead), and several other acts not currently available (Tangerine Dream?).  Who knows how they picked this list—galactic taste is, well, alien, no?  Mega-super-alien-alien.

At the bottom of the list, and the only one available, is Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes, a washed up, one-hit glam group who haven’t done much recently.  (Apparently their Raggity Dandy was a hit even off-planet.)

Humanity is doomed, unless these old rockers can pull it together and party one more time.

All they have to do is not finish last.


That’s the basic story here.  It doesn’t make any sense, but who cares?

It’s great. It’s fun. It’s insane.

“In Space, Everyone Can Hear You Sing”

Valente fills this book with a wonderfully imaginative galactic civilization, gloriously crazy story telling, weird characters, weirder dialog, and even weirder situations.  I loved it.


File this book under the category: “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, Rock and Roll saves the planet”.


  1. Catherynne M. Valente, Space Opera, New York, Saba Press, 2018.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

2017 Roundup and list of Books Reviewed

This year I continued daily posts, which I have done for just under four years now.  Overall, traffic to the blog was up about 18% over 2016.

As always, the coverage is mainly review and commentary on topics of interest to me, including “the new way of work”, robots, dinosaurs, cryptocurrency/blockchain, quantum cryptography, internet of too Many things, computer software in general, and so on.

This year I continued weekly posts noting and commenting on books I have read.  Most of the books were recently published, with a few older ones.   (Listed below.)

Throughout the year, I offered a number of “great names for a band”, in tribute to Dave Barry who pioneered the genre.  Most of these are “sciency”, inspired by technical articles I read and commented on.

Countershading
Banded tail
Dinosaur bandit mask
Paleocoloration
Beryllium hydride
Biomimetic Robotic Zebrafish
Chicxulub    [Note:  pronounced ( /ˈtʃiːkʃʊluːb/; Mayan: [tʃʼikʃuluɓ])]
The Chicxulub Event
We Are Children of Chicxulub
Thanks to Chicxulub
Brought to You By Chicxulub
Service Office Industry
Comfortable edgy fit outs
As Greenland Darkens
Recent Mass Loss
Larsen C
My Raptor Posse
A Rip of Raptors
Personal Raptor
The Robot Raptor Revue
Final Five Orbits
Kuiper Belt & Braces
A Belt of Kuiper
The Grand Finale Toolkit
Fog World Congress
Penguin Guano

Adelie Census
Fog Orchestra
Shape Changing Fog Screen
The Fog and the Eye
First Ringplane Crossing
Grand Finale Dive #2
The Grand Finale Toolkit
Last View of Earth
Final – and Fateful – Titan Flyby
Robots On Europa
Gay Robots on Europa


Books Reviewed in 2017

Overall I posted 79 book reviews, 58 fiction and 21 non-fiction.

In fiction, these include old favorites (Donna Leon, Charles Stross, Thomas Perry, Tim Dorsey, Ian McDonald, Gregory Maguire, Tom Holt).

Some new favorites include Richard Kadrey,  Viet Thanh Nguyen, Emma Straub.

I really liked Robin Sloan’s Sourdough, and Touch by Courtney Maum, but my best reads for the year have to be

Joe Ide,  IQ and Righteious.  <<links>> Righteous by Joe Ide

In non-fiction, I liked Weird Dinosaurs by John Pickrell and Eugenia Chengs Beyond InfinityHow America Lost Its Secrets by Edward Jay Epstein is both good and important.

<<links>>

But at the top, I’d probably pick

The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness by Paula Poundstone

List of Books Reviewed

Q4

Fiction

First Person Singularities by Robert Silverberg
The Adventurist by J. Bradford Hipps
Artemis by Andy Weir
Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire
Willful Behavior by Donna Leon
A Selfie As Big As The Ritz by Lara Williams
Righteous by Joe Ide
Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson
The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
Border Child by Michel Stone
Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
The Muse by Jessie Burton
Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Non-fiction

Napoleon in Egypt by Paul Strathern
After Piketty edited by Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum

Books Reviewed In Q3 2017

Fiction

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
The Answers by Catherine Lacey
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
The Management Style of Supreme Beings by Tom Holt
The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross
Shiver Hitch by Linda Greenlaw
Dichronauts by Greg Egan
Killing is My Business by Adam Christopher
The Painted Queen by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess
Standard Hollywood Depravity by Adam Christopher
Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher
Will Save Galaxy For Food by Yahtzee Croshaw
Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore
Arlington Park by Rachael Cusk
Transition by Rachael Cusk
Death at La Fenece by Donna Leon
A Sea of Troubles by Donna Leon

Non Fiction

Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
Weird Dinosaurs by John Pickrell
Made With Creative Commons by Paul Stacey and Sarah Hinchli Pearson
How Not To Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg
Beyond Infinity by Eugenia Cheng

Books Reviewed Second Quarter

Fiction

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
Touch by Courtney Maum
Mother Land by Paul Theroux
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
Startup by Doree Shafrir
Off Rock by Kieran Shea
The Wrong Dead Guy by Richard Kadrey
Earthly Remains by Donna Leon
The Underwriting by Michelle Miller
Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald
Huck Out West by Robert Coover

Non-Fiction

Half-Earth by Edward O. Wilson
The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams
Solve For Happy by Mo Gawdat
The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness by Paula Poundstone
Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale
The Spider Network by David Enright
Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton

Books Reviewed Q1 2017

Fiction

Revenger by Alistair Reynolds
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Girls by Emma Cline
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
The People’s Police by Norman Spinrad
IQ by Joe Ide
Clownfish Blues by Tim Dorsey
The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Empire Games by Charles Stross
The Cold Eye by Laura Anne Gilman
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
The Golden Gate by Robert Buettner
The Old Man by Thomas Perry
Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson

Non Fiction

The Caliphate by Hugh Kennedy
The New Better Off or Reinventing the American Dream by Courtney E. Martin
How America Lost Its Secrets by Edward Jay Epstein
Valley of the Gods by Alexandra Wolfe
Wonderland by Steven Johnson
Measure for Measure by Thomas Levenson


That’s all for 2017!  Happy New Year!

 

Housekeeping: Second Quarter Roundup, Books Reviewed

A bit of housekeeping at the end of Q2.

The usual

This quarter has seen daily posts, a steady stream of comments on research papers* and general articles on favorite topics including blockchains, the new economy, solar power, environmental sensing, computer security, and “brilliantly executed BS”.

I’ve begun to pay attention to Quantum Computing, which is surely a coming thing.

And Robots! And Dinosaurs!

*Note: discussion of scientific and technical research always refers to the primary sources.


Books Reviewed This Quarter

A summary of the books reviewed in the second quarter.

Fiction

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
Touch by Courtney Maum
Mother Land by Paul Theroux
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
Startup by Doree Shafrir
Off Rock by Kieran Shea
The Wrong Dead Guy by Richard Kadrey
Earthly Remains by Donna Leon
The Underwriting by Michelle Miller
Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald
Huck Out West by Robert Coover

Non-Fiction

Half-Earth by Edward O. Wilson
The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams
Solve For Happy by Mo Gawdat
The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness by Paula Poundstone
Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale
The Spider Network by David Enright
Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton


Some ideas for band names

 Following the lead of Sensei Dave Barry, I occasionally suggest names for bands.

This quarter’s harvest include:

Penguin Guano
Adelie Census
Fog Orchestra
Shape Changing Fog Screen
The Fog and the Eye
First Ringplane Crossing
Grand Finale Dive #2
The Grand Finale Toolkit
Last View of Earth
Final – and Fateful – Titan Flyby
Robots On Europa
Gay Robots on Europa

 

 

 

Book Review: “The Refrigerator Monologues” by Catherynne M. Valente

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente

Yet another interesting work from CMV, who is becoming a rather versatile and imaginative  storyteller.

The collection of stories comes from a conceptual mash up of Gail Simone’s Women in Refrigerators, and Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues.  Get it?  I had to read the Acknowledgments to know what this is all about.

The stories are set in a sort of comic book Hell, which is wonderfully imagined and told. Being dead is bad, but it’s not the end of the world. Unfortunately, it’s actually forever, which is the opposite of the end of the world.

Valente kind of flips the old saying that ‘hell is other people’. The best part of this afterlife is that everybody is there. You can’t enjoy life (‘cause you’re dead, dummy), but you can still meet at talk and go to the clubs. Unfortunately, you have to wear whatever they buried you in, which is less than optimal, fashionwise.

The Hell Hath Club meets regularly to tell and hear these biographical monologues (a la TVM). The stories tell about the travails of women who have been written out of the plots of their boyfriend’s superhero story. I.e., they are Simone’s Refrigerator Women, depowered, tortured, and ultimately killed off as plot devices in superhero stories.  Male superhero stories.

It is clear that Valente cares about comics (more than I do), and also about feminism (more personally than I do), which adds a bit of spice both to her writing and to reading her stories. But honestly, I liked them fine as they are, before I looked stuff up. You don’t need to be a feminist superhero fan to like the book, though it might push you to be interested in both, just because its fun to read.

Valente is an excellent writer, and loves superhero comics. The stories are imaginative and funny and wonderful and larger than life. As she says, “creating an entire superhero universe to make a point was ridiculous.

Waiter! More ridiculousness, please! A round of ridiculousness for the house!


  1. Catherynne M. Valente, The Refrigerator Monologues, New York, Saga Press, 2017.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

Books Reviewed 2015

Here is  housekeeping post, collecting all the books reviewed here in 2015.

Looking back at this list, I see that this year saw Terry Pratchette’s last book (a wrenching experience), and new novels by old favorites Stross, Perry, Macguire, Holt, Gaiman, among others. I also read older but still good histories by Goodwin and Graeber. I read several books about banking, Papal and otherwise, and overlapping works about Italy, fictional and (supposedly) real.

Over the year, I reviewed a sampling of important books about contemporary digital life, including cryptocurrency, the “sharing economy”, social media, and “mind change”.   These works covered a spectrum from enthusiasm to dark worry, giving us much to think about. There are many more I did not have time or energy for. (I will say more on this topic in another post)

Throughout 2015 I continued my ongoing investigation of the question, “what is coworking?”, including reviews of two recent (self published) books about coworking by practitioners. (More on coworking in another post.)

Shall I name some “Best Books” out of my list? Why not?

Fiction:

There were so many to pick from. I mean, with Neil Gaiman in the list, how can I choose? But let me mention two that are especially memorable

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Very imaginative and well written, and, for once, not so horribly dark. This book lodged in my memory more than others that are probably equally good.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
Published a few years ago, but I didn’t read it until this year. A wonderful, intricate story. The flight of the parrot is still in my memory.

Nonfiction:

There were many important works about digital life, and I shall try to comment on them in another post. But three books that really hit me are:

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
From several years ago, but I didn’t read it until this year. Highly influential on the ‘occupy’ and other left-ish thinking. This is an astonishingly good book, and long form anthropology, to boot. Wow!

Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
An exlectic little self-published book about “home coworking”, which I didn’t know was a thing. Kane walked the walk, and made me think in new ways about community and coworking.

Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
Unexpected amounts of fun reading this short book. It does an old, graying nerd no end of good to see that at least some of the kids are OK. Really, really, OK.

List of books reviewed in 2015

Fiction

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias
After Alice by Gregory Maguire
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson
Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen
Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick
Candy Apple Red by Nancy Bush
Chicks and Balances edited by Esther Friesner and John Helfers
Corsair by James L. Cambias
Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright
Diaspora by Greg Egan
Distress by Greg Egan
Electric Blue by Nancy Bush
Forty Thieves by Thomas Perry
Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong
Get In Trouble by Kelly Link
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Koko the Mighty by Kieran Shea
Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
Mort(e) by Robert Repino
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco
Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey
String of Beads by Thomas Perry
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross
The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Nine ed. by Jonathan Strahan
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick
The Future Falls by Tanya Huff
The Good, the Bad, and The Smug by Tom Holt
The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray
The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff
Time Salvager by Wesley Chu
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
Ultraviolet by Nancy Bush
We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler
Witches Be Crazy by Logan J. Hunder
Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

Non Fiction

Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner
Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols
Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper
Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
God’s Bankers by Gerald Posner
LaFayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
Let’s Be Less Stupid by Patricia Marx
Live Right and Find Happiness by Dave Barry
Merchants in the Temple by Gianluigi Nuzzi
Mind Change by Susan Greenfield
Mindsharing by Lior Zoref
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
No More Sink Full of Mugs by Tony Bacigalupo
Not Impossible by Mick Ebeling
Pax Technica by Phillip N. Howard
Peers, Inc by Robin Chase
Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
Speculative Everything by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Age of Cryptocurrency by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey
The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney
The Next Species by Michael Tennesen
The Reputation Economy by Michael Fertik and David C. Thompson
The Social Labs Revolution by Zaid Hassan
The Ugly Renaissance by Alexander Lee
Twentyfirst Century Robot by Brian David Johnson
Women of Will:  Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s Plays by Tina Packer

 

Book Reviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early September Fiction

Sort of “ladies day” here, some fiction by and/or about women.

The Spider Woman’s Daughter by Anne Hillerman

Disclaimer: I haven’t read the earlier stories by Tony Hillerman,, though I gather they are pretty popular.

Daughter Anne Hillerman picks up her father’s franchise, with a mystery featuring his characters and the next generation, set in Navaho country and surroundings. The details of the area are nice, though clearly we are supposed to have visited and have clear pictures in our heads.

The characters are interesting, many Navaho including a couple generations of women. Hillerman portrays several families and their extended clan relations in some detail. I assume these portraits are realistic, but have no way to know.

The story itself is pretty illogical. The bad guys are unrealistically crazy-yet-really-smart. The motives make little sense, and the case is much more complicated than seems plausible to me. And, naturally, the police plod around with little clue. Sigh.

Not my cup of tea, but fine for a summer read.

Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente

A very strange tale of an alternative world, a magical city only accessible through an arcane virus-like transmission.

I think.

It’s all awfully complex, dark, and I’m sure I didn’t follow everything.

The people are sad and mixed up, and human relationships ephemeral and fragile.

But the writing is beautiful, and the imagery is intense (over the top in many cases) and sensual.

The combination of sad people, broken relationships, and steamy intimacy was quite unnerving. But difficult to put down.

I hadn’t read much if any of Valente, so this was a revelation to me. It’s wonderful stuff, though not a light read.

Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea

This shoot-em-up, video gamish story is not my usual cup of tea. Overblown military fetishism, combat porn, graphic violence. Who needs it?

Nevertheless, this turned out to be pretty well written, with enough character development, space operatic future cultural descriptions, and generally good story telling. Nothing particularly deep here, but enough to keep me reading.

The protagonist ‘Koko’ is a (she thought) retired mercenary on the 26th century Earth, who is thrown into a life and death fight due to, well, its not completely clear why the big guys are trying to kill her.

Along the way, we learn a bit about how this miserable, worn out, world works. For the most part, it ain’t pretty.

What’s a girl to do? Whatever is necessary, obviously.  You go, girl.

Not a bad read, and certainly plausible for a bit of light summer reading.


  1. Hillerman, A., The Spider Woman’s Daughter. 2013, New York: Harper Collins.
  2. Valente, C.M., Palimpsest. 2009, New York: Bantam.
  3. Shea, K., Koko Takes A Holiday. 2014, London: Titan Books.