camping & Hamlet

Hamlet's BlackBerry

This weekend I went camping for the first time in about eight years. I’ve always liked the idea of camping much more than the reality of camping, as in my mind, weather conditions and insect populations don’t exist. It went better than I expected, and I even had fun. Not sure I’m up for more than one night, though. By the next morning I was ready for the indoors.

One of the things I brought along with me is the book Hamlet’s BlackBerry by William Powers. I’ve been reading it off-and-on since February, and I hoped that during the down times I could finish it up. There were a few of those moments, but not many. I ended up finishing it at home.

The book is one of the most fair arguments for dialing back online activity, or at least creating a space away from the distractions of the internet and focusing on being physically and mentally present, either alone or with other people. I haven’t gotten to the point where I feel pressure to be connected all the time, but I do miss it when I’m not. On the other hand, a part of me was looking forward to disconnecting this weekend, at least for the 24 hrs away from civilization, but I wasn’t quite sure if I was disappointed or relieved to discover I had cell service at the campground.

The Hamlet connection comes from a reference to “tables” in Shakespeare’s play. These were hot tech at the time, and reminded me of something like portable dry-erase boards. Hamlet makes some notes about the things that are bothering him, and feels relieved to get them out of his head and into a device that can store them for him until he his ready to do something with them. I feel the same way about my smart phone and the Remember the Milk app — no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I can usually take that thought that would quickly disappear and make a note about the thing I need to do.

I liked the idea of stepping away from the screens for a period of time. I thought that a 12 book challenge would be easy to complete in a year, but I’m not reading as much anymore, in part because I spend so much time on the computer when I’m at home. I need to start setting aside dedicated time at home that is not on the computer, and not just when I’m cooking, cleaning, or doing laundry.

12 book challenge, 2011

I’ve been trying to hit the 50 book challenge for the past few years, which basically requires me to read at least one book a week. Not happening. My average is around 25 in a year, and that’s often the result of reading a bunch while on break or vacation, and not paced throughout the year.

This year, I’m going to try something different. In addition to reading as many books as I can, I’m making a list of the twelve books that I want to try to read this year that are currently sitting on my shelves or wishlist. In no particular order, here they are:

friggatriskaidekaphobiarelatusphobia

n. a strong aversion to endless news reporting about friggatriskaidekaphobia on Friday the 13th.

First, some definitions:

triskaidekaphobia n. fear or a phobia concerning the number 13. [source]

friggatriskaidekaphobia n. morbid, irrational fear of Friday the 13th. [source]

friggatriskaidekaphobiarelatusphobia n. a strong aversion to endless news reporting about friggatriskaidekaphobia on Friday the 13th. [source]

Yes, I made up that one.

From CBS to the Huffington Post to National Geographic, it seems that everyone in the news reporting world must drag out the same old tired stories about people that have an irrational fear of the number 13 and how Friday the 13th is an even more fearful day than Friday the 7th or Tuesday the 13th. Personally, I wish they’d just shut up about it already.

Friday the 13th is going to occur anywhere from once to three times a year. It’s frequent enough that it’s no longer news, so stop pretending that it is. Tell me something important that’s happening in the world today, rather than wasting my time and yours.

Article first published as Friggatriskaidekaphobiarelatusphobia, Or “Not Another Friday the 13th Story!” on Blogcritics.

#1-6

I read a book a bout karaoke and then a series on the Vulcan/Romulan/Reman history through the present.

Kicking off 2009 with a bunch of books read. I’m sure this spurt will be the only one of the year, but at least it’s a good place to start.

1. Don’t Stop Believin’: How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life by Brian Raftery

I reviewed this one for Blogcritics, so I’ll write more about it later in the January roundup. I will say now that it is an engaging read and inspired me to be a bit more regular in my karaoke outings.

2. Vulcan’s Forge by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz

This is a Star Trek book, as one might surmise from the title, and it’s the first of five connected books by these two authors, spread out over a number of years. The events take place in the present day, which is set shortly after Kirk was taken by the Nexus as seen in Star Trek: Generations, as well as in the past, which is set around the time when Spock officially enters adulthood. As one might expect, the events are connected, both by the individuals involved and the similarities of the locations.

Spock is a favorite character of many fans, and I am not an exception. Sherman and Shwartz clearly spent a great deal of time getting inside his head, and the readers benefit from this. Throughout the book, we see his inner struggle between his Vulcan and Human heritages. It’s one of the things I like most about him – that struggle between multiple identities and ways of life, which are all valid and true to himself.

The story itself, though, was only passable, and the best thing I can say for it is that it set up the events told in the next book.

3. Vulcan’s Heart by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz

This book, in contrast to the first one, stays almost entirely in the present, which is set around the time of Picard’s captaincy of the Stargazer. The story begins, however, a few years earlier with the betrothal between Spock, who is now an Ambassador for the United Federation of Planets and no longer a Starfleet officer, and Commander Saavik, who is well on her way to becoming a Captain.

These two end up separately traveling under cover to the Romulan homeworld to help dissidents (and the Federation) stop the corrupt government’s plans to start an interstellar war. Unfortunately for both, they don’t realize until it’s too late that they have begun to enter pon farr, which adds an unexpected layer of difficulty and danger to their respective missions.

Sherman and Shwartz deftly weave in events familiar to those of us who have already seen their aftermath, such as the fate of the Enterprise C and her crew, and draw connections between events and people that are pleasantly unexpected. I was so wrapped up in this book that even though it was very late and I was very tired, I couldn’t fall asleep until I finished it.

4. Vulcan’s Soul Trilogy Book One: Exodus by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz

This was the book that inspired me to read the others first. When I bought it and read it a few years ago, I didn’t realize that it was the start of a trilogy and the middle part of an over-arching story line, so I struggled to fill in the gaps of information referenced by the authors. It was not a pleasant experience, but it inspired me to collect all of the related books and read them, as I have done now.

This book tells a version of the events of the Vulcan philosopher Surak’s life that led to the embrace of logic over emotionalism and the eventual end of the devastating wars on Vulcan. However, rather than the usual history that those who left Vulcan at that time to become Romulans were those who rejected Surak’s logic, this story tells of scientists and others who embraced logic and decided to take their knowledge out of the war machine equation in order to preserve the Vulcan race, as it seemed that the eventual destruction of the planet was inevitable.

The Vulcan/Romulan history is only part of the story, though. The book alternates between the history (“memory”) and the present, which is set shortly after the end of the Dominion War. An unknown and powerful species calling themselves the Watraii have destroyed a Romulan colony and have declared that they want nothing less than the total destruction of the Romulans, who they claimed stole their homeworld. Admiral Spock and Captain Saavik, along with Admiral Chekov and the Romulan exile Ruanek, are sent on a clandestine mission to somehow stop the Watraii and attempt a peaceful negotiation with them, if possible.

Now that I have read the two books that introduced some of the characters involved, such as Ruanek, and the events referenced, this book makes a little more sense than it did the first time I read it. However, the jumping around of times and places makes it very difficult to follow what happened when, even thought the authors have helpfully noted the years when appropriate.

5. Vulcan’s Soul Trilogy Book Two: Exiles by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz

Unfortunately, not everyone who left with the ships were followers of Surak, and not everyone who left made it to what became Romulus and Remus. This book tells the story of their 100+ year journey across uncharted space, and their search for a livable planet that did not already have sentient life on it.

It seems that the politics and fighting that drove them into space have followed them there. Ultimately, this leads to death and betrayal, and we learn more about the history of the Remans — the Vulcans who made Remus, Romulus’ non-rotating twin planet, relatively habitable — and the reason for their second-class status in Romulan society.

Meanwhile, in the present, tensions between the Watraii and the Romulans remain high, as well as those between the Romulans and the Federation. The Romulans believe that the Federation’s unwillingness to side with them against the Watraii is a betrayal, particularly since the Romulans had fought along with the Federation against the Dominion. However, the Federation is unwilling to trust their long-time enemy and sometime ally, particularly since it is not unreasonable to believe that the Romulans would have taken a planet that was not theirs, as the Watraii claim.

Once again, Captain Saavik and Ambassador Spock lead a clandestine mission to retrieve a valuable historical object that the Watraii stole from the Romulans, as well as to rescue Chekov who had been captured by the Watraii and who the had believed to be dead. This time, they are joined by Captain Scott and Commander Data, as well as Ruanek, of course.

By the end of this book, it is fairly clear where the story is going, and I had a pretty good idea of who the Watraii are and the source of their beef against the Romulans, but Sherman and Shwartz had a few more surprises left for the next book.

6. Vulcan’s Soul Trilogy Book Three: Epiphany by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz

While it is true that the Romulans are essentially the same race as the Vulcans, with a few adaptations that came from the radiation exposure in their long voyage and the biology of the planet they found, it is not true that the Remans are the same. We learn why in this book, and it is not at all what I expected. We also, finally, learn the origins of the people calling themselves the Watraii.

Things are not going very well in the present, either, and once again the usual cast of characters are called in to rescue a captive and stop a war, with a little help from Captain Picard’s Enterprise. As you might expect, they succeed.

The book ends on an odd note. You might recall the female Romulan Commander from the original series episode “The Enterprise Incident.” She wasn’t given a name in the episode, as far as I can tell, but Sherman and Shwartz have dubbed her Charvanek. She has played an important role in the events of the previous four books, and surprisingly, the authors chose to make her reflection upon the events between the cessation of hostilities with the Watraii, through Shinzon’s praetorship, and finally to whatever may come after the events depicted in Star Trek Nemesis. It’s an interesting element of character development, but it also leans a bit too far towards being an info dump.

milk

I went out with some friends tonight to see the new movie Milk at a nifty old (yet well preserved) theater near work. The film depicts the elements of Harvey Milk‘s personal and public life that lead him to become a political leader in San Francisco and activist in the gay rights movement of the 1970s. I had heard of Milk and knew that he was important, but I am sadly lacking in my queer history knowledge, so prior to watching the film, I did not know very much about anything that happened in it.

I was surprised at both how much things have improved for non-heterosexual Americans over the past three decades, and also by how many more barriers to true equality have been erected by those who fear it. The movement to defeat California’s Proposition 6 in 1978 was dealing with much more overt hatred and fear than those fighting Proposition 8 this year, and yet they managed to win against all odds. Those of us who do not remember or were not a part of the anti-Prop 6 movement need to sit down and figure out how they did what they did and where the anti-Prop 8 movement went wrong if we are going to find a way to gain back the hard-fought equal rights that were taken away from families in California this fall.

When I first began coming out to friends and colleagues, I was more afraid of their disapproval or being shunned than of any fear of my life. However, after having the violence that was perpetrated against gays and lesbians in the 1970s so vividly depicted before my eyes, I realized that I am lucky that I don’t have to live in fear of my life because of who I am. And yet, the fear and hatred and violence that is still perpetuated against my queer brothers and sisters in this country makes me hesitate. Am I really as safe as I think I am? What are the odds that I will cross paths with someone who will hate me and wish to harm me because of who I love?

I don’t have the strength to devote my life to fighting for equal rights like Milk did, but I can stand up and speak my mind. I am a citizen of this country. I have every right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness as you do. You are free to do as you wish, believe what you will, as long as it does not hinder my rights, and I the same. Love it or leave it — that is what it means to be a Citizen of the United States of America.