Books I’ve read in 2018

I liked keeping track of my reading last year, so I’ve done the same this year. I’m trying to stick with my ‘no re-reads’ rule – especially since I got some new books at the end of the year for this one!

How to be Human

This was mentioned on the No Such Thing As A Fish podcast, and it sounded like such a great idea (plus whenever people see me reading it I can say “well it’s about time I learnt…”) I put it on my Christmas list. Even better, it wasn’t too far into the book that it referenced Steven Pinker’s Better Angels of our Nature, which I read last year.

On Tyranny

A surprisingly short book. As I started it, I noticed my confirmation bias as it seemed to be talking about Brexit and Trump. As it went on, it was aimed more and more at ‘the president’ without naming him directly and will either end up being the book everyone should have listened to or a paranoid thrashing, imagining Nazi resurgences everywhere. It’s a 50/50 really.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

A very moving story. I’ve read a few non-fiction books so I needed something made-up to cleanse my palette. I liked how the reveals happened slowly, and drew me in. It all seemed so understandable and relatable, right up to a moment just near the end. But I still recommend the book, it’s very good.

Five Go Parenting

I’ve never read a Famous Five book. I don’t think I’ve even read an Enid Blyton book. This is one of the modern ‘sequels’ to the Famous Five series. It might have been more enjoyable if I had any previous investment in the characters, they all seemed rather thin, like caricatures. Still, it was short and light fun to go after something surprisingly heavy like Harold  Fry.

Moby Dick

It’s a classic, and you’ve got to try the classics. I found some chapters pretty funny, certainly funnier than the whole thing appears. For example, the only time after getting on the boat that Ishmael (the narrator) talks about his own actions is when he falls asleep on watch. Other than that, he describes whales and whaling in excruciating detail, and references his ‘by this time considerable experience’ of whaling. About one year into his first voyage. But I’m yet to be convinced that the story is really about Ahab’s obsession with the White Whale, since that barely surfaces throughout the book until the final confrontation. More, I think it might be about Ishmael’s obsession with whaling. Every opportunity the narrator is talking about whaling in practice, philosophy, history, and how sailors are better than anyone and whalers are the best sailors of all. It was surprisingly easy to read for 19th Century literature.

Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game

This was fun, a nice little analysis on a Star Trek culture that hadn’t really been explored in the series. I picked it up as I love DS9, but I was a bit disappointed that the bulk of the story involved one DS9 character on an adventure somewhere else. The station and the characters weren’t there, and it was more part of a bigger story (the Typhon Pact) that brushes against familiar characters. I think I’d still like to try more Typhon Pact stories, I liked the wider ideas in it, but I will also be looking out for more DS9 stories that actually take place there.

The Long Earth

This scratched my itch for Terry Pratchett stories, and got around the ‘no old books’ requirement I’ve had. It’s an impressive idea, and reminded me very slightly of Sliders from way back when. I wasn’t so sure of the reincarnated-android-airship thing, in some ways it felt like it was throwing all of the sci-fi ideas into a small pot and trying to cram so much in when really a few single ideas could be explored in so much more detail, but that was just coming from my assumption that it would be a classic “here’s an idea, let’s explore it” rather than “here’s an idea, now let’s tell an amazing story in that place”. I did like the exploration of the impact of the Long Earth idea too, there’s definitely a lot to unpack there. And like all my favourite sci-fi, it’s not so much about the story in the book as all the stories it makes possible in your head after reading it. What happens in the frontier towns? What happens with easy spaceflight in the Gap? Is it possible to build a spacecraft in Gap-minus-1, step it into the Gap, fly it into ‘orbit’ and then start stepping back to Datum for free launch? What about the Elves, and Trolls? Are there more hominids? The focus is on the USA and purely going West – what’s happening East? What’s happening in other countries? So many questions! I was very happy to find out that the series it is in is 5 books, rather than just the 3 I saw in the library. Slightly less happy to find out the next one is The Long War, but I’m sure it’ll impress me.

The Long War

Alright, so this one felt incomplete to me. I’m starting to see (from the future!) that these books are more in the style of the old Asimov-era sci-fi, much more about the worlds and ideas than the characters and with long chapters of exposition. Although the characters themselves are wonderful, and real, too.

Part of why it felt incomplete is that there were a few plotlines that didn’t meet. It sets up Roberta Golding well for later in the series, but that doesn’t really intersect with the ‘War’ plot. Another reason is that the War plot didn’t seem to go anywhere until the very end, where it didn’t happen at all. While reading, I was dreading how little was left of the book and how badly the War might be written but I loved the actual ‘execution’. War would be difficult in the Long Earth, if one side chose not to turn up.

Well, I’m signed up for the long haul now.

The Long Mars

Now that I’m used to the style, I’m really enjoying this series. Again, this book had two plots and it feels like the sensationalist plot (Mars!) was actually less important to the series as a whole than the B-plot (The Next). Although The Next could also be a C-plot, that only started when the B-plot (Maggie Kaufmann’s journey) ended. I would have happily read a book entirely about Kauffman’s journey, and the mini-adventures that they had, and checking in on each of the interesting worlds that they’ve found. I love world-building, and world-building an infinite number of worlds that are easy to reach? That’s great.

I could also have gone for a book entirely about stepping on Mars. It seemed more fantastic, but that’s partly because Wallis Linsay is a git who won’t stop and explain or investigate outside of his one fixed goal. Fire-breathing sand-whales on dry Martian oceans? Amazing! But he won’t stop to check. Sapient, intelligent life on Mars? Also amazing! At least he made first contact, even if he was short-sighted and single-minded about it all.

The Long Utopia

This felt like the Long War – a completely disconnected invasion storyline that only really sets up a couple of points for the next book. Some of those points could probably have been done instead with a couple of chapters of more Comber legends. Like the War, the Utopia was the B plot (also like War not being a War, Utopia is not Utopia as we usually imagine it) – and would have been much more interesting if delved into, although it’s a bit harder to make meaningful, characterful story about. It’s more of a world-building thing, over long periods of time, and since the whole series takes place in a single lifetime it would be difficult to fully explore the societal shift of the Utopia properly. It happens in the background, in secondary effects. I think it worked for that.

The Long Cosmos

The finale! At last! This felt more complete and directed than some of the other books, and every couple of chapters was a call-back to something that happened in an earlier book, and now feeds slightly into the final story.

It ends like some of the most interesting parts of the previous books, the explorations and samplings of strange new worlds, but none of these worlds had the interest of the alternate Earths or Mars. Maybe because it’s been done so much already, and so many strange Earths have been discovered, or maybe because the implication that the planet was ‘called’ to join a new Long Galaxy of worlds was only just brushed upon without exploring who called, or how other Earth species (Kobolds, Trolls, Elves) might be exploring the call themselves. Like a lot of times in the series, it invites a lot of potential futures and scenarios for the reader to imagine. In a sense, that’s what the Long Earth is for: to imagine other places, other things, and other strangeness.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

This was weird. I don’t think I’ve read a lot of horror like this book. It’s quite introspective and invites introspection. What do you remember of childhood? Would you re-examine it now? What have you forgotten about your childhood? A lot of times I’ve found myself realising something that was everyday has only just come to light again – like eating little apple pies almost every day for over ten years, then noticing that I’d not even thought about them for a very, very long time. People change.

In a completely unrelated, and cold, analytical sense the same can be said about history – things that are too normal aren’t written down and aren’t remembered when they slip out of normalcy. We have no idea what was normal three hundred years ago and chances are the most commonplace things in a society could be completely lost to us – practices and customs don’t leave traces behind, after all.

Every Day is an Atheist Holiday

I’m a big Penn Jillette fan, and I bought this to get it signed when we saw the Penn & Teller show in London last year.

This book is basically a collection of essays, many of which I’ve heard the stories before on the Penn’s Sunday School podcast. Some had a bit more detail, or a bit less, some were completely new. The linking factor is ‘there is joy and wonder in every day, you don’t need religious holidays’. I like the sentiment but I would have preferred a little more discussion around how the Jillette family deals with cultural behemoths like Christmas. That’s not really the point of the book though, just me whining. It’s not to say “here’s how to survive religious festivals as an atheist” but instead “here’s why we don’t need them”.

In Support of Brexit

Brexit is a fantastic opportunity for the European Union, they just don’t realise it yet.

Of all the countries in the EU, the UK has been holding it back. It didn’t join the Euro currency, and it didn’t join the Schengen area. It’s only still a member because it got in on the ground floor. It has vetoed progress and talked down the EU for 40 years. It has a high proportion of MEPs compared to other countries, based on population.

The UK has sent nationalistic euro-sceptics and principled obstructionists to represent the British people who voted for them to the European Parliament. Think about that – British people are represented in the European Parliament by MEPs that they vote for, and they choose people who will not consider the issues but will, on virtue of it being talked about in the EU, reject everything. If they even bother to turn up to vote. No wonder many British people feel like the EU isn’t working for them. They chose it not to work for them.

Individual European countries will benefit too. Pan-European companies that want to keep the WTO rules of origin will have to choose between moving all of their manufacturing to the UK or from the UK into Europe. Given the EU has a bigger market and trade deals (the UK will have none) it’s not hard to imagine which they would choose.

Seeing how the UK handles Brexit, and the lack of sensible handling, will be a blow to any other European anti-EU movements. At the very least they’ll have to do more careful research to convince people that they won’t end up in the same boat as the UK. The pro-EU feelings will get stronger as the UK gets weaker.

So the EU will be able to make decisions easier, European Parliament will get a bit smarter, and individual countries in the EU will get manufacturing and services companies looking to set up new bases as they flee the inwards-looking islands. The EU will have more support from it’s citizens. On the downside, they will lose one of the trade partners. Under a no-deal Brexit, their citizens will lose freedom of movement in the UK. Their businesses will lose a market of 60 million people.

So Brexit is a fantastic opportunity for the EU and European countries, and the future looks bright however badly the UK decides to do things.

Hobby Progress February 2018

Necromunda: I’ve assembled and undercoated all of the gangers now, and I’ve kept some of the bulkier Goliath guns off to help me paint them later. I’ve even pre-shaded some of the gangers to see if that is useful for painting them; I’m working on a sample Goliath and Escher to test. Then I went and screwed up the pre-shading by not thinning the paint enough, and ended up with splatters. Boo.

I also basecoated most of the doors with Thunderhawk Blue, ready to have the detail added.

Dreadball: I’ve finished cleaning and undercoating all of the new models, and started painting the Yndij and Matsudan. I’ve also jumped back to the Hobgoblins to finish them off, just a few more details to go.

I’ve almost finished the Eye in the Sky, adding more little bits to the lenses and working out whether to paint some big screen displays on the outside of the hover-thing, and then finishing off the screens and details on the inside of the console.

Rebels Team Overview – Minsharan Militia

The planet Minshara’s first communication with the GCPS was an immediate surrender with no terms. They had heard of the Council of Seven’s reputation and decided that they could not even hope to resist a takeover, so positioned themselves to step peacefully into subjugation reasoning that there would be no need for heavy-handed restrictions or harsh justice to reinforce the new government’s authority.

The Council of Seven had seen this trick before though, so the first diplomatic contact with Minshara was a large platoon of enforcers to exercise the will of the council. Over time, they realised that the surrender was genuine and Minshara became a productive, respected member of the GCPS and a shining example for other newly discovered worlds.

The tale of Minshara’s surrender hadn’t sat well with a group of malcontents two sectors away, who themselves had been cautiously trading with the GCPS. They invited alien merchants to discuss the GCPS and pretty soon ended up talking with the Rebellion. Before long, their early and encouraging peaceful ties were broken with the GCPS and full scale war was declared. The war was over three months later when help from the Rebels never materialised, but a few barges full of Enforcers did.

After the war, these malcontents attempted to explain that they were defending a whole swathe of inhabited worlds in the area – including Minshara. The planetary governor of Minshara responded by sponsoring a DreadBall team and stating publicly ‘This is all the defence Minshara needs.’ The Minshara Militia have gone on to be a popular team in the local area, gaining support even with the worlds forcibly incorporated into the GCPS.

Having tested a camouflage pattern on a human fan model, I thought it would be a good idea to use it on the Rebel team as a whole. I was pleased to see on closer inspection that all the models are actually wearing a lot of clothing (large jumpsuits) even on the centaur-like Raellian.

I painted it in the same way as the fan’s camo – Knarloc Green base, Bleached Bone splotches and tiny bits of Dryad Bark, all washed with Agrax Earthshade to give it a tone. The armoured patches were painted with Gorthor Brown, highlighted with Gorthor Brown mixed with Zandri Dust.

The armour I was least happy with was the Sorak Jack. The other three are essentially wearing jumpsuits or blankets, large fabric areas to put camo on, but the Sorak only has a tiny bit visible under the knees (elbows?). The rest is the more solid armour that I’ve painted in brown. I went and made it camouflage pattern anyway to fit in with the team better. On each of the suits I painted the bulky circles (some sort of connector port?) in Dawnstone, highlighted with a Dawnstone/Pallid Wych Flesh mix.

As for skin tones… well, as for skin tones… I decided to follow the book fairly closely. The Ralarat had Scorpion Green (in many, many layers since it is so dilute) with Evil Sunz Scarlet claws, the Rin had Zandri Dust with an old Flesh Wash, cleaned up again with Zandri Dust. The Sorak had Naggaroth Night base highlighted with Liche Purple and the Gaellian was a mix of Rhinox Hide with Wazdakka Red, highlighted with two layers adding in more Wazdakka Red each time.

Since I was so pleased with them so far, I went on to finer details – the bandages/bindings on the Rin had an edge highlight of Dawnstone so that they weren’t totally blank. I added a bit of Chainmail to it’s goggle lenses too. The Ralarat eyes were done with Bestigor Flesh, followed by Sunburst Yellow, a tiny bit of Pallid Wych Flesh in a vertical line and finally a thin, vertical black pupil.

I ended up taking these guys to HATECon in London, and failing miserably at the game but picking up a prize for Best Painted!

Hobby Progress January 2018

At the beginning of 2018, I got both Necromunda: Underhive and Dreadball 2.0 – with loads of miniatures each to paint. I also got a fancy airbrush after trying one out at a Siege Studios painting course. I really need to make good progress on some of the piles of unpainted toys I have in the house, and fill up the display cabinets I bought at the end of last year!

First off, I have cleaned almost all of the new DB2 models – only a few Yndij to go.

I’ve cleaned and primed all of the Necromunda doors and control boxes, as well as the priority marker. My plan is to pre-shade them (when I get some new white, as I’ve discovered both of my pots have dried up) and use Thunderhawk Blue (and heavy weathering) to make it look a bit like the old-fashioned cardboard terrain.WP_20180114_16_32_02_Pro

I’ve also primed the DB2 Matsudan and Cyborg teams, the refbot and ‘Eye in the Sky’ – as well as a few Captains for the earlier seasons, and cleaned up a couple more. I want to be able to get all of my painted teams at least updated to include their Captain.

Real painting, I finished off Reek Rolat to be a Captain for the Sordus Silage Scroungers and started painting the burly human fan and Xtreme Cheerleaders for DB.