The Nature of the Feast — Louise Penny — Minotaur Books

20 Recipes from the World of Three Pines

Source: The Nature of the Feast — Louise Penny — Minotaur Books

Those of us who like the Inspector Gamache novels of Louise Penny enjoy the descriptions of food and meals as much or more than the grisly murders. Here’s a free download of recipes for some of the food.

Two pieces of science fiction criticism

I mentioned a few months
how difficult I found it to write well about Science
Fiction, although I enjoy reading it.

I realized this morning that this week I’ve read two really
good pieces of criticism that were science fiction related, so I
thought I’d pass them on to you.

  • Here’s the
    wrote about Mary Renault. You should read it for
    its description of why trying to sell her work as genre Romance
    is a doomed strategy:

    Romance makes assumptions about the value and nature of love that are very different from the assumptions Renault is using. Romances are set in a universe that works with the belief that love is a good thing that conquers all, that deserves to conquer all. Renault is starting from an axiomatic position that love is a struggle, an agon or contest—a contest between the two people as to who is going to lose by loving the other more, which certainly isn’t going to lead to inevitable happiness.

  • Here’s an interview
    with Peter
    where he explains why there’s so much torture in
    contemporary science fiction:

    Need to deliver a three-page neurophilosophical infodump at the climax of your first-contact novel? You could always have Spock and McCoy trading debating points in the med lab. Or you can have your protagonist assaulted so violently that his very consciousness shatters into profound autism, that he perceives all external input as a deafening disembodied voice from the heavens. (That was Blindsight.) Pretty much any infodump becomes more – immediate – when you sheath it in pain and jeopardy.

2014 Hugo Award votes


This category was difficult this year — they nominated the 14
volume sequence “The Wheel of Time” in it’s entirety. It’s about
6 times the length of War and Peace. I only had time to read 2
times the length of War and Peace between when they sent out the
voter packet and when I had to vote.

It’s possible that when (if, but I’m sort of enjoying it) I
finish it, I will be bowled over and wish I had voted for it over
the three I ranked ahead of it, but really, if anyone had ever
said anything about it that made me want to read it, I would have
read some of it by now. The first volume was imitation Tolkein
by someone with a tin ear for language. I’m sort of glad I pushed
on — it improves pretty fast after that. But I’m not finding
reading the online summaries is anything like reading the books,
so I’m going to just continue reading them in order.

So my choices are:

  1. Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross
  2. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  3. Parasite by Mira Grant
  4. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon
  5. Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles

The first three of those are what I consider “normal” science
fiction — examinations of the impact of some kind of technology
on the lives of the characters. The Stross got first place
because I thought both the technology idea (how do you do banking
over interstellar distances?) and the characters were a bit more
interesting than the Leckie and the Grant.

I voted for “The Wheel of Time” over “Warbound” because if it
does turn out to be a good fantasy series, it will be much more
the kind of thing I want to read than the “Grimnoir Chronicles”.
(I should mention that in addition to the 14 volume series
nominated as a whole, the publishers of Warbound also gave us all
three volumes of this series, and I’m not sure I’d have wanted to
read Volume III on its own.) It seems to be SF for the video
games generation, and in spite of some good writing in between the
action scenes, I found it difficult to slog through.

I considered voting for “No Award” ahead of “Warbound”, but I
decided that it was well enough written to justify an award if
that’s the kind of SF the voters really want.


  1. “Equoid” by Charles Stross
  2. Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente
  3. “Wakulla Springs” by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages
  4. “The Chaplain’s Legacy” by Brad Torgersen
  5. The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells

The top three of these are all excellent stories. The other
two lack characterization. I voted for the Stross over the
Valente and the Duncan because I thought the Science Fiction (a
proposed life cycle for the Unicorn) was better. “Wakulla
Springs” is a well-written story, but really not SF at
all. “Six-Gun Snow White” is brilliant in spots, but doesn’t
really hang together at the end.


  1. “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” by Ted Chiang
  2. “The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard
  3. “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal
  4. “The Exchange Officers” by Brad Torgersen
  5. “Opera Vita Aeterna” by Vox Day

Again, any of the top three would be a good award winner. I
didn’t remember until I’d filled out my ballot that the Vox Day
was controversial, but I figure it doesn’t matter because I didn’t
like it without any political motivations.

Short Story

  1. “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu
  2. “Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar
  3. “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky
  4. “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Here, I do feel strongly that my number one vote is better than
the others, although I certainly won’t be surprised if something
else wins. I don’t feel strongly about the ranking of two and


is billed as book three of a trilogy, but I understand
book four is already out in the UK.

LIke the first two books, it takes place in a near-future
dystopia where most of the human race has been wiped out by a
genetically engineered plague. I found it a little easier reading
than the others, partly because we’ve already met most
of the main characters. Also because the point of view stays
pretty focused on Toby, who is one of the easier characters to
identify with.

The descriptions of post-apocalyptic survival strategies are
quite interesting. For instance, figuring out what to do with
kudzu is one of their problems. There’s also a long discussion of
what you can and can’t still find in drugstores.

I wouldn’t say to start with this one, but if you’ve tried the
others and found them heavy going, you may like this one better.

How I use the library

Since I’m posting quite a lot here about what I’m reading, I
thought I should mention how I go about acquiring it. By far the
largest set of books I read these days come from the ebook lending
of the Middlesex Library Network. The next largest set
come from Project Gutenberg and other online free books source.
And I do buy some books, both ebooks and dead tree books, of which
maybe more later.

The ebook site is pretty complicated, so I thought I’d mention
the way I’ve eventually settled on how to use it.

  1. Whenever I get an email notice that
    a book I have on hold is available, I log in and take that book
  2. I then look at all the books on my wish list, and take out
    any of those that are currently available I want to have.
  3. Then I look at the new
    menu item, which lists all the ebooks they have in
    reverse order of acquisition. I put anything I might want to
    read on my wish list, and anything I’m sure I want to read as soon
    as possible on my hold list.

If I’m feeling insecure about where the next book I read is
coming from, I do steps 2 and 3 even if I can’t do step 1.

Perdido Street Station

I had read a couple of books by China Miéville and remember not
particularly liking The City and the City and
enjoying Embassytown pretty well. I read Perdido
Street Station
because John Scalzi said it was the best SF book of the current century.

I finished it yesterday, and I think he may be right.

In terms of plot, it’s the normal fantasy plot with a giant
monster (in this case a moth of enormous strength whose wings have
changing patterns that mesmerize potential victims so that their
brains can be sucked dry) who goes around killing everyone until
it’s the end of the book and something works so that it gets
killed instead.

But the world-building and characters are both superb. The
world is inhabited by a number of intelligent species, which over
most of the world coexist by having their own territories, but in
New Crebuzon, the city where the action takes place, most of the
races are represented. Most of the main characters are humans as
we know them, but one is a hybrid beetle/human, who communicates
by sign language
with her own species, and with humans, such as her lover, who have
learned the signs. But she can communicate, although slowly, by
writing on a pad. And she’s a sculptor. In the climactic scene, she reenacts the
Orpheus/Euridice myth, with Eurydice’s motivations much
better explained than I’ve seen them in any other work of art
based on the story.

Another is a bird/human hybrid, who has been
punished for a crime by having his wings sawed off. There is also
a large population of the “remade”, who have been altered as
punishment, either just to punish them, or to make them useful for
some industrial process.

The main character, Isaac, is a scientist who makes a number of
morally dubious choices in the course of saving the city from the
moths, but is forced at the end to realize that all the choices he
could possibly make for using his invention to save his friend the
wing-deprived bird hybrid are wrong.

So if you want to know what the state of the art in Science
Fiction/Fantasy is, read this book. There are two others set in
the same world, and I have the next one on hold at the library.

Trouble by Fay Weldon

If you remember, the last book I
was heavy going, so I said I’d read something more fun next.

I picked up this
because I used to enjoy reading Fay Weldon, who
in the 80’s was writing light fluffy comedies. She also has the
writing credit for Upstairs, Downstairs, which PBS
is still trying to recreate the success of, but without
understanding what was good about it.

I should have read the Wikipedia article linked above, which says:

During her marriage to Ron Weldon, the couple visited
therapists regularly. They divorced in 1994, after he left her for
his astrological therapist who had told him that the couple’s
astrological signs were incompatible.

This book was written in 1993.

It’s about a couple whose marriage is in trouble after the
husband starts visiting an astrological therapist. Most of the
book is the arguments of the troubled couple. It’s not completely
unfunny, but it certainly isn’t the light reading I promised
myself after Transition.

So I’m rereading Pride and Prejudice next.