Current Distractions, August 2015 Edition

August has been a month with a lot of emotional highs and lows, I can say that much for sure. I finished the course I was taking, found out that although my current work project is/was coming to an end, the next one would once again be out of town, moved out of the workhome that I’ve been living in since late November 2013, and tried to enjoy some of the dregs of summer. I’m not exactly looking forward to the fall, but yeah, actually I am. This next year will be a transitional one for reasons I’m not quite ready to divulge, and I’m going to try to make the most of it.


This movie was a lot of fun! I hope we get more like it!

The MacDebate
For anyone unfamiliar, Maclean’s Magazine hosted this Canadian federal leaders’ debate with all the (English) party leaders. It was literally the only thing that cheered me up after I found out that I’d have to continue working out of town for many, many more months. Overall, though, the takeaway from that debate: this election campaign is way too long.

Dance Pants
I went to a play at the Saskatoon Fringe for the first time ever, and it was this one by a guy named Randy Rutherford (listed on his website as This May Feel a Little Funny).

I’m not sure that anything really even happened in this show, but I loved it, and I’m very glad that there’ll be more of it. It just looks great, for one thing, and they’re playing with some intriguing concepts, and I want to watch all of these characters do things.

Not Doing

I really want to start going to WorldCons, but I didn’t make it to Sasquan this year, and I didn’t actually end up voting for any of the Hugos, because it was very bewildering for a first-time voter this year, what with all the drama. I’m saving up for some things at the moment, and no one was nerdy enough to go with me.

The Year of Reading Women

On top of The List, and my IRL book club, and my 2015 reading goal, I’m taking on another challenge, starting today.

Charlie Stross’s blog has recently featured several guest posts by women sf writers (Judith Tarr, Nicola Griffith, and Linda Nagata, to be more specific) about the invisibility of women writing science fiction, among other things, including readers’ propensity to choose books by men above those by anybody else. A lot of other people are talking about this sort of thing right now, too. Perhaps you’ll recall that even I did, last July, and if there was ever a blogger with her finger on the pulse of things, it's me. The issue honestly has been on my mind ever since, although unconscious bias means that my reading this year has still been heavily weighted toward male writers. I plan to explore that further at the end of the year when I tally everything up.

A woman whose work I actually have read.
One of the commenters on Linda Nagata’s blog post proposed a challenge to read twelve new women writers over the course of the next year, beginning today: Mary Shelley’s birthday. Said commenter also registered a domain, although I’m not sure if there’s anything there yet. This struck me as an excellent challenge: doable, not necessarily a distraction from The List, and concrete enough that it’s possible to track. I'll post about each new writer as I read their books, but it won’t necessarily be a monthly thing.

I will add that while Nagata’s post is about women writing hard sf, I’m not going to restrict myself to any particular genre. God knows that I need more sf in my life, considering how voracious I am whenever a bit of it crosses my path, but time is an issue as usual. I’ll be reading sf, fantasy, historical, probably even some romance, and definitely some non-fiction.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of some new-to-me women writers whose books I’d like to get to very soon:
  • Octavia Butler
  • Lyndall Gordon
  • Chantal Hébert
  • Naomi Klein
  • Laila Lalami
  • Ann Leckie
  • Flannery O’Connor
  • Sharon Kay Penman
  • Marilynne Robinson
  • Victoria Schwab
  • James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon)
  • Sarah Waters
  • Sheila Watt-Clouthier
  • Banana Yoshimoto
  • a whole bunch more
Also just a reminder that if you want to see what I’m reading in much closer to real-time than what ends up on this blog, my Goodreads profile is here. I rate books there when I finish them but I don’t post reviews.

R14. The Earth's Children (series): The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel

Year Published: 2011
Pages: 757

First Sentence: The band of travelers walked along the path between the clear sparkling water of Grass River and the black-streaked white limestone cliff, following the trail that paralleled the right bank.

Good God. So I know that my reading taste has evolved in the last half dozen years or a decade or the midpoint between the two or whenever it was that I read Shelters of Stone. And based on the first sentence that I quoted in my review of the rest of this series, Jean M. Auel has never been what I’d consider a great writer (I’m sorry, but four adjectives in one sentence is too many). But The Land of Painted Caves was shockingly bad.

Further: I try to stay away from Goodreads reviews and ratings as much as I can, because I don’t want other people’s opinions to colour my own, and also because the ratings there are ridiculously inflated in weird ways. I did happen to glance at what was going on for this book, and everyone hated it. I assumed that they’d just forgotten how trashy (and I’m using “trash” in the most affectionate sense of the word) the other books were. This was ... wrongheaded of me.

The Earth’s Children series is the story of Ayla, the world’s first Mary Sue (not literature’s first, of course). In The Clan of the Cave Bear, her family is killed by an earthquake, and she’s raised by a group of Neanderthals. Because the science on Neanderthals wasn’t as advanced in 1980 as it is now, Auel gets some things wrong, but the book is creative and ultimately ends up being the best in the series as far as I’m concerned. Ayla is sent away from the Clan (the Neanderthals’ name for themselves) in The Valley of Horses, and spends most of that book living alone and domesticating various animals. She ends up meeting Jondalar, the first human man she’s ever seen, and of course the love of her life, at the end of that book. They leave the valley in The Mammoth Hunters and are taken in by said mammoth hunters. They live with this group of people for some time, and have this weird love triangle with another man because Ayla and Jondalar suck at communicating with each other despite the fact that Ayla has an amazing gift for languages, including body language. The Plains of Passage covers their journey back to Jondalar’s people, across pretty much the entire European continent. And then The Shelters of Stone is the book where Ayla and Jondalar settle back in his homeland and get married and so on. Besides Ayla and Jondalar’s constant boning, I have no memory of disliking any of those books, so I’m pretty baffled as to what went so wrong with The Land of Painted Caves.

I would tell you what happens in the book, except that it sums up as “pretty much nothing.” Ayla trains to become a zelandoni (a religious leader/shaman type of figure, basically, as well as a healer, although she already was one) and travels around looking at cave paintings. Auel has clearly seen all these caves, but given that she describes Ayla becoming bored while touring them, I can’t imagine how she would think the reader would find the endless cave descriptions interesting, and I actually do think that cave paintings are amazing. Then Ayla becomes a zelandoni and Jondalar has been sneaking around with another woman so she tries to kill herself but Jondalar loves her so much that she doesn’t die. It is, yes, absurd.

Our heroine is joined, as always, by Jondalar, and now also her daughter Jonayla (still hate that name) and then a cast of thousands who are almost all just names on the page when it comes to character development. A better writer may have been able to corral all of these characters and make them come alive, because God knows there was enough room to do so, but as it is they’re often picked up and then dropped and never mentioned again, so it’s pretty frustrating and unnecessary. The book could’ve been half as long without losing any content, is what I’m saying.

Anyway I’ve said more than I need to about this. If you enjoyed the rest of the series, stay away. I really don’t think there needed to be another book after The Shelters of Stone anyway, especially since Auel doesn’t build to some sort of Neanderthal vs. Cro-Magnon war the way she foreshadowed in previous books. If you are curious about the rest of the series, stop before you get to this one. If you haven’t read the rest of the series, why would you start with the last book?  Bah!

Five Years Ago This Month: August 2010

Five years ago this month...

Fun fact I learned five years ago: cacti can grow in Saskatchewan!

...I reviewed The Black Cat. Or rather, I posted an old review I'd written of that book, while I decided what to do about my romnov crisis.

...I reviewed Loving. I wasn't a huge fan, and the book has made very little last impression, but I would still like to try reading the other two Henry Green novels that I got in a bind up with it.

...I reviewed The Man in the the High Castle. Another reposted review. For a "what if Hitler won WWII?" book, this one was startlingly boring. I often wonder whether I'd appreciate it more after a reread.

...I reviewed The Call of the Wild. It knocked my socks off and led to an ongoing love affair with Jack London.

...I reviewed The Red Tent. Another reposted review. Another book I'd consider revisiting, this time just for the sake of enjoying it again.