Sep 26, 2016

Science Fiction Classics: Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

Image from
Stand on Zanzibar has the worst opening I've ever seen, a bunch of out-of-context text extracts that read like gibberish. If the novel hadn't been on my Science Fiction Classics reading list, I'd never have gotten past the first chapter, and after I did I kind of wished I hadn't. This book annoyed the hell out of me.

Brunner's "innovative structure" of chapters is split into "continuity" (the so-called plot),  "tracking with closeups" (windows into the lives of minor characters/random people), "the happening world" short collections of descriptive passages, and "context" (scraps and bits of worldbuilding stuff like apartment ads, song fragments, newspaper headlines etc. etc.). It made the novel very hard to follow, especially as nothing much happened even in the plot chapters before about halfway through. I get that the structure is probably why Brunner won the Hugo award for the book, but I really, really hated it, especially the "context" and "the happening world" chapters. It just felt like Brunner had dumped his entire worldbuilding bible into the book. Thoughts like "why should I care" and "this is stupid" kept intruding on my reading experience. Apparently the structure is meant to mimic information overload, and I guess it succeeded.

It didn't help that the characters are unlikeable and the women are mainly there for sex, with the exception of the businesswoman Guinevere Steel, maybe. And nothing very interesting happened in the plot. And that annoying '60s slang: whatinole for what in hell (and different variations using "hole" for "hell"),  calling women "shiggies," and poppa-momma for p.m.. So, so annoying.

Okay, so anything I liked then? Well, the worldbuilding itself is interesting at times, with Brunner's exploration of how people would react to overpopulation. Brunner's future takes place in 2010, and on some counts his predictions feel eerily accurate. The muckers, people who go nuts and start killing everybody or plant bombs for fun, hit a little too close to home in this time of school shootings and terrorists, and people using drugs and alcohol to escape their unbearable lives feels believable. I also liked the concept of Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere, a fictional couple on TV who travel the globe and attend all the most exclusive parties. The idea is that for a fee the TV fixes you and your partner's faces on the Everywheres, so you can watch yourself do all the things you can never actually afford to do.

The name of the novel refers to overpopulation. In the twentieth century there was a claim that the world's population, standing, could fit on the Isle of Wight. Brunner's prediction of the world's population in 2010, seven billion people, would need a larger island to stand on, like Zanzibar.

All in all, I can't recommend this book to anyone but the most hardcore science fiction fans. As luck would have it, there's another one of Brunner's books on my reading list. And it utilises the same "revolutionary structure."  And it's six hundred pages. Oh, joy.

Science Fiction Classics read 44/193.

Sep 24, 2016

New MOOC from the University of Iowa: How Writers Write Fiction 2016: Storied Women

New MOOC, coming up! Here's the info:

"October 11-November 21, 2016: The International Writing Program at the University of Iowa will open a new Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on fiction writing, centered on female authorial voices and female literary characters. This online course will be offered completely free to all participants and will welcome writers of all genders."

 Every University of Iowa MOOC I've taken has been awesome, so I'm definitely going. Maybe I'll see you there? You can read more and sign up here.

Sep 23, 2016

The Circus Bracelet

This is the bracelet I wore for the CircOpera. It's from an Easy shop called Mama's Little Babies. They don't have this particular one anymore, but there are lots of other equally cool things. Browse at your peril, it's pretty much a want-one-of-each situation.

Sep 21, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: I Want Candy

Up this week: all things sugary and sweet!

The name cotton candy is fairly self-explanatory, from cotton+candy, but it has many fun names like fairy floss, candy floss, spider webs, and candy cobwebs. Although spun sugar has been around from the 1500s, machine-spun cotton candy was invented in 1897 by the dentist William Morrison. (A dentist. Irony much?) My favourite name for cotton candy is the French one, though: la barbe à papa, "papa's beard." In Finnish it's hattara, like a fluffy cloud.

A sourball meant "a constantly grumbling person" in the 1900s before it became the name of a candy 1914.

Tootsie roll is from tootsie, the baby-talk substitution for "foot".

Did you know that Pez dispensers have been around since 1956? The name comes from German pfefferminz meaning peppermint. The company that made them was Austrian, so that's probably the reason. The first Pez were peppermint-flavoured, then, I guess?

Gob-stopper comes from the English word gob, meaning mouth. On a related note, jaw-breaker meant a hard-to-pronounce word before it became a candy.

Lollipop is a mixture of loll "to dangle (the tongue)" and pop "strike, slap." Another theory has the loll part coming from the northern dialectal lolly, a word for tongue.

 Are you teeth aching yet? Okay, I think that's enough for today.


Sep 19, 2016

CircOpera and Grotesk

The Finnish National Opera has done some interesting things recently, the latest of which is CircOpera, a combination of circus arts and opera. Of course I had to check it out.

The opera entrance had a circus sign on it and bright lights hung from the balconies. 

The performance was amazing. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who's going to see the show, but the singers totally embraced the circus side of things with stunts of their own and members of the orchestra got a chance to shine on stage. Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" and the runaway piano were most memorable. Best of all, everyone seemed to be having a blast, especially the singers. 

The circus performances were awesome, Cirque du Soleil quality, but more fun. The Wheel of Death act had me holding my breath the whole time, and the acrobats and ballet performances were eerily beautiful.  Even the Phantom of the Opera made an appearance! This was hands down the most fun I've had at the opera. 

They're only doing eight performances, so you'll have to hurry if you want tickets.  Click  here to go to the National Opera website to check availability.

We also had dinner at restaurant Grotesk. It's carnivore's paradise, but there was something for the vegetarians, too. Best mushroom pasta and sweet potato fries I've ever eaten. (Yup, I stole half of Hubby's fries. Not sorry.)

The decor was nice, but the bar looked even cooler. Just look at the cocktail menu!

And yes, there was time to do a bit of book shopping. Here's the catch of the day, minus a birthday present for my nephew, because spoilers. I've never read Murakami before, so I picked Norwegian Wood because a friend recommended it to me. To my surprise I also noticed I've missed a Night Watch book, The New Watch. They didn't have that one, except in Finnish, and I've read all the others in English and don't want to swap languages at this point, so I'll have to order it from Amazon or just download it on my Kindle before reading The Sixth Watch. Oh, and if you haven't heard about the Goth Girl Nemi comics, you need to, they're fantastic. You can read some of them in English on the Metro site. 

Sep 16, 2016

Coffee and Cake : Gaggui

There are many great cafés in Turku, but I rarely visit them, although I'd like to. To change that, my friends and I decided to check out a café per month (or thereabouts), just for fun. Coffee, cake, and gossip, where's the bad?

First up: Gaggui. The name is a Turku dialect version of the Finnish word for cakes, and that's no accident; cakes are their specialty. The menu is in the Turku dialect, which probably won't mean much to any English readers, but in Finland, the dialect is considered funny. It's hard to explain, but some think it makes us sound like hicks or simpletons, maybe? There's also a bit of funny intonation involved, and the tendency to use the negative when asking questions. (Those aren't sticky buns, are they? vs. Are those sticky buns?) There's a humor publication called News from Turku that's news written entirely in the dialect. It's a big seller. Yeah, go figure.

Here's an excerpt from the site for the Finnish readers out there:

   "Tervetuloo gagul ja kaffel. Meijä päivän gagguvalikoima koostuu gaguist, suklaagaguist, juustogaguist ja muist jälkkäriherkuist, sekä tuareist, kaffelas alus asti leivotuist kroisanteist ja herkullisist leivist. Gagguvalikoima vaihtelee melkee päivittäi, mut tiättyi suasikkei me leivotaa teil herkuttelijoil joka päiväks."

The cakes have names like Ai minttuu vai? (Oh, mint, you say?), Kamala magic (Awful Sweet), Varför Paris?(Why Paris (when we have Turku)),  Heaven On Örth (self-explanatory, right?), and Eioota (Got Nothin') (the vegan and gluten free option).

I had the lemon-raspberry cake called "When Life Gives You Lemons." It was perfect. 

Here's the address for anybody who wants to check it out. It's quite close to the railway station, but only a few blocks from the center of town (let's face it, we don't have that much town):

Humalistonkatu 15a
20100 Turku

Mon Closed
Tue-Fri 10-19
Sat 10-18