Good at hats, bad at selfies

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This is my Hurricane Hat knitted in Araucania Nature Wools. I love how this yarn is kettle dyed resulting in such a pleasant semi-solid color. The pattern cleverly takes advantage of knitting in a spiral to showcase a traveling purl stitch. I plan on making some mittens out of the same yarn, with which I am currently in love. As is, the hat is a little snug on my head and might make a good gift depending on how it turns out post block. Having had this project on my needles for months, I wish I’d finished in sooner!

Lock In by John Scalzi

I was pretty excited to see that John Scalzi would be visiting Joseph Beth in Lexington to promote his new science fiction novel Lock In. Scalzi had acted as the guest emcee and introduced Neil Gaiman at a local signing for The Ocean at the End of the Lane and I was intrigued enough to follow Scalzi on Twitter. As I became more familiar with this author’s social media presence, I decided to pick up Old Man’s War as my first foray into straight up science fiction in a long time. I loved the realistic dialogue, the trademarked technology, and the mysterious Colonial Defense Forces. For one reason or another I had not had the chance to read any more books in the series but I thought it would be cool to go get my worn, second-hand copy of Old Man’s War signed by this neat author who seemed like a real human being on social media. And since he was there to promote a new book, I’d probably pick that up as well to support a great local bookstore.

It turned out to be a really great move on my part to attend this signing. I knew Scalzi was relatively local to this part of the country, as it was mentioned at the Gaiman signing, but the booksellers were on good enough terms to bring him an unsolicited ukelele to tune, which I thought spoke very well of all parties involved. Scalzi then proceeded to open his talk with his ukelele cover of “I melt with you.” I was pretty much charmed from that point on. After some great Q&A and authorly advice, I left with my shiny new copy of Lock In and a Modern English song on loop in my head.

Rookie FBI Agent Chris Shane is one of the most famous locked in survivors of Hayden’s Syndrome, a three stage infectious disease that emerged when Shane was a child that left behind not only personal physical complications for victims of the disease but also initiated broad social, political, and technological movements in response to the ubiquity of the disease. The first stage of illness is characterized by serious flu-like symptoms with a high risk of mortality. A percentage of first-stage survivors progressed to a second stage of disease with symptoms similar to viral meningitis. A portion of second stage patients develop lock-in, a permanent loss of physical mobility in spite completely normal brain function. A much smaller number of second stage patients, known as Integrators, recovered from Hayden’s but with significant alterations in brain structures allowing them, with the aid of technological augmentation, to carry another person’s conscience within their own body. Shane, and other Hayden’s operate day to day operations via robot-style personal transports or Integrators.

Shane’s first case is a murder in which the main suspect arrested at the scene is an integrator. This sort of setup would usually suggest a pretty typical police procedural or buddy cop story. However, Scalzi frames the crime in the context of a complex political and social setting in which Hayden’s and non-Hayden’s alike are responding to recent legislation ending government subsidies for Hayden related projects. While need is only growing, resources are drastically reduced by this law, resulting in protests, hate crimes, and market recoil. While the unique and original technology is often stereotyped to be the most impressive part of science fiction, I was most intrigued with the Hayden related legislation, culture, and political movements ranging from one extreme to the other. Scalzi has fully developed this world and I found myself entirely immersed in it.

I loved the interactions between Shane and his senior partner Vann. She seemed like an intense coworker to have and they shared some incredibly entertaining dialogue. Her backstory was pretty interesting too. I’d like to know more about her previous partner and why she has such an antagonistic relationship with the local Metro police detective Trinh.

I highly recommend checking out this book. If you would like to know more about the context of the world, you should check out the novella available online at Tor’s website. It’s like reading a well-directed documentary on the subject. I am hoping there will be additional books in this world but even if there are not, I will be reading more Scalzi in the future.

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MapleCroft or What Cherie Priest Wrote for Sara’s Birthday

It’s possible anyone I’ve spent any time talking to in the last year about books or entertainment in general knows how eager I have been to get my hands on MapleCroft by Cherie Priest. I ordered it for myself months ago as I knew it would drop on my birthday. As it happened, I was home in bed with a fever the day it arrived so I got to devote my undivided attention to it. And finished it within 48 hours, wholly unwilling to put it down for more than a few hours of sleep.

Ahead of release day, the premise of MapleCroft appealed to me from every angle. In this universe, Lizzie Borden is undeniably guilty of murdering her parents who had succumbed to an inexplicable Lovecraftian blight. Priest’s solid storytelling proves the appealing premise worthy of all the buzz ahead of release date. As always, Priest’s characters are revealed to be driven by their own unique mixture of motivation and flaws. When Borden is acquitted of murder, she retires with her invalid older sister in reclusive notoriety to a mansion Lizzie custom outfits with a state of the occult laboratory purposed to better understand the unfathomable threat to her family and seaside community. While Lizzie experiments with blighted specimens and delves deeply into related lore, her sister Emma continues to solidify her reputation as an eminent expert in marine biology by publishing high impact papers and corresponding with other scientists under a male pseudonym. Her scientific endeavors unearth a mysterious sea creature with strange radial symmetry and a bizarre aura of influence over susceptible populations. Once unleashed into the academic community, the influence of the creature permeates the surrounding populace with a miasma of madness and malady forcing Lizzie’s experimental theories to phase three clinical trials.

Not only did I love the premise, but the horror elements also captivated and unsettled me. One of the most persistent images for me was the behavioral characterization of a young beachcomber whose initial sign of affliction was an uncanny tilt of the head toward the sea at all times. So simple but so unsettling.

Many others have already noted it, but I also appreciated the epistolary style of storytelling Priest utilizes to give a comprehensive account of the events from multiple primary sources. In case you are like me and wasn’t aware there was a word for it, epistolary refers to the book’s composition of a series of documents and letters detailing the plot from different points of view. Stoker most notably framed Dracula this way and Priest is able to build horror over time, instill a growing sense of urgency, and illustrate firsthand the mental deterioration of main characters under the influence of the Lovecraftian horror.

It took me some time to settle on how I felt about the final solution Lizzie and her companions employ to defeat the palpably solidifying sense of malignancy. At first, I really wasn’t sure about it. I felt like I should love it but resisted. Later, it really grew on me quite a bit. Finally, I liken it to a solution that wouldn’t be out of place on an episode of Supernatural, a show I’m deep into the seventh season of and highly recommend. So, I guess the bottom line there is that I would love to discuss it with anyone who has read the book and hear their gut reaction to it. I just hope if any of my friends decide to read it that they clear a couple of days for for an engrossing read that demands resolution. Also, for the record I’m definitely considering dressing as this version of Lizzie Borden for Halloween this year.

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Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale

Staci, Dez, and possibly everyone else I know may be tired of hearing about my new fandom by now but since I have been remiss in doing an official post on the Easel, it is possible their friends, families, and frenemies have not been introduced to the engaging world that is Night Vale.

Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast by Common Place Books. The protagonist, Cecil Palmer, is the host of the Night Vale Community Radio News Show, and each podcast is a broadcast of that show. Night Vale is a small desert community riddled with strange supernatural or clandestine happenings involving or orchestrated by the sheriff’s secret police, the mysterious hooded figures at the dog park, and the sentient Glow Cloud seeking mayoral office so the news is quite a bit more interesting than that of the average small desert town. I love the darker humor, Lovecraftian vibe, and clever writing. Also the community cast: Carlos, the scientist with the perfect hair, Josie, the old woman who speaks to angels, and John Peters, you know, the farmer.

This twice monthly podcast is available for free download on iTunes and streaming at Podbay . Each show is about a half an hour and completely endearing. If you decide to check it out, let me know what you think!

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Winter Break 2013 or Neil Gaiman in Three Formats

Happy New Years, friends! Trying to sum up the last year has been kind of daunting today, so I’m biting off a more manageable portion, also known as the week between Christmas and New Years.

After visiting four family units in an 18 hour period, I was ready for a bit of a rest. So I broke out the reading material for a bit. The first major recommendation I have is to check out Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman. It is an illustrated story perfect for reading aloud at bedtime. In fact, I read it aloud to Brad in two sessions. The story is about a father explaining to his children why it took longer than expected to obtain milk for their cereal. The father encountered several obstacles between obtaining the milk and returning to his breakfast-less children including but not limited to pirates, volcanoes, prophecies, clever ponies, and vampires that most certainly do not sparkle. The plot kind of reminds me of something that might happen on Doctor Who, the humor is endearing, and the characters rather whimsical. This was a highlight of my vacation.

The other reading choice I made was to pick up the first couple of volumes of Neil Gaiman’s classic run on Sandman. I finished the first volume and really enjoyed it, especially after having read Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing this past fall and familiarizing myself with shared secondary characters including John Constantine and Etrigan the Demon. I’m sure the beloved Sandman has been analyzed by many far cleverer than I, but I can tell you what I thought about it. Preludes and Nocturnes was a collection of stories told in a variety of horror genre styles that details how Sandman, one of the Endless, was imprisoned in a summoning circle meant for his elder sister Death for 70 years and how he escaped and regained his objects of power. The first thing I noticed opening the book was how much Sandman’s basic features resemble Gaiman’s own wild black hair and taller, thinner form. To me that was a neat commentary on the power of an author to inspire innumerable dreams and to offer a much needed respite from the shackles of reality.

Second, my early impression is that Sandman has mellowed out since his early years. Like a lot. After Sandman is released from the summoning circle, he tracks one of his objects of power to an Arkham inmate. Doctor Destiny does some truly horrific things and inspires terrible acts using Sandman’s Ruby in active pursuit of bringing about the end of the world. In response, Sandman mercifully returns him to Arkham Asylum with no extra punishment. At sometime prior to being imprisoned, Sandman fell in love with a mortal queen named Nada. Nada also falls in love with Sandman, but once she realizes he is one of the Endless and that a union between a mortal and an Endless could only end in suffering, she rejects him. His response at that time is to eternally damn her to hell for spurning his love. So, madman get’s sent back to a mortal prison and cautious lady get’s to suffer in hell for eternity. Someone has definitely had some anger issues in the past but I am definitely looking forward to the rest of the series and should be able to sit down and finish The Doll’s House soon.

Finally, I was treated to a final dose of Gaiman inspired media today when I listened to BBC Radio 4’s radio drama adaptation of Neverwhere. As one who had not previously read Neverwhere, I enjoyed the plot immensely as well as the voice actors. James McAvoy as Richard Mayhew and Benedict Cumberbatch as the Angel Islington were my personal favorites. This version has definitely motivated me to track down and read the book as soon as possible. It also inspired me to question why anyone who has mistakenly found themselves in a fantasy setting and inadvertently become the subject of a hero’s journey would ever consider returning to the real world. Since watching Rockadoodle as a child or reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, this choice has bugged me. That may say more about me than I realize, though. In any case, you can listen to this radio drama in six episodes online at the BBC Radio 4 website.

In summary, my winter vacation has been greatly enriched by the storytelling of Neil Gaiman in a variety of formats, literary, visual, and audio. I enthusiastically recommend each of these to my friends. You really can’t go wrong with Gaiman and no matter your preference in format, he probably has told a story in it at some point. With that, I’ll sign off of here and try to catch some sleep before returning to the Fish Room in the morning. Maybe I’ll see Sandman but hopefully not the Beast of London in my dreams tonight. Sweet Dreams!

Daisy Stitch Hat in Louisa Harding Hulda Yarn

Daisy Stitch Hat in Louisa Harding Hulda Yarn

Fall is in the air and thus knitting needles are in my hand. Here is my latest project, a Daisy Stitch Hat using Louisa Harding Hulda Yarn. This pattern is very easy to follow and the project is knit flat and seamed with mattress stitch. The decreases at the top happened to form a nice radial pattern for me, an added bonus to the swirling body. Knit as written, this hat ended up slightly too big for my head but will make a nice gift item for a friend. You can access the pattern (I think written by Hannah Fettig, but I’m not entirely certain) by clicking on the picture.

I always like to learn more about the yarn I use, especially ones given to me by awesome people like my Aunt Jane. Hulda is 50% Wool, 30% Acrylic, and 20% Linen and looks like a hot cotton candy mess in a ball. However, it knits up into an awesomely warm and thick fabric perfect for winter. I can’t believe I let this yarn sit in my stash for so long before using it. Lucky for me I have most of another skein in this color and two in a maroon tweed. Expect to see more projects using this yarn in the near future.

I googled this yarn and was extremely interested to find it connected with the Macmillan Cancer Support fundraiser called HImalayan Hiking Hats. In gratitude to the Macmillan Cancer Support group for their help and care throughout her husband’s battle with lymphoma, Harding published seven beautiful hat patterns, proceeds from which benefit the MCS group in Britain. To find out more about the fundraiser and MCS go to http://www.louisaharding.co.uk/macmillan/

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Fighting off the Blahs All Day

Then my little brother calls.

 

 

Thumbs up.

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