Thoughts: The Dark Forest, by Cixin Liu, translated by Joel Martinsen

This is the second book in Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. I enjoyed The Three-Body Problem, that weird grim sci fi tangled up with China’s Cultural Revolution, but I loved The Dark Forest.

More spoilers! Be warned!

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Poem – A Break-Up Letter

I don’t do this very often, so let’s get it over with. Am I happy with it yet? Not really, but when was the last time I was happy with something I wrote? Exactly.


A Break-Up Letter

So firstly, England, yes, I miss you,
and I think there’s part of me that
always will. I told myself I
wouldn’t be so sentimental
but it’s true. I’m still not
coming back.

It wasn’t you-or-me, we simply
grew apart. We never would have
worked. And, oh, I told myself
I wouldn’t, but you ought to know –
you never were supportive, and
remember when you laughed at me
and told me my opinions were –
enough of that.

Of course we’ll still be friends. I’ll visit
every year, and see you in
old haunts and new, keep up with all
your news. And thank you, too. You let
me go so easily, without
a fuss or radge or song and dance,
just set me free.

I wish I could have left you in
some loving arms, but you’ll find
someone else. Just let them in.
If I could name my own successor…
but who’s good enough for you?
I’m choosing everyone who is
what I could never be. The poets,
doctors, politicians, those who
drive the buses, wild-eyed thinkers,
tailors, those who carry vanished
worlds within them. All the people
reaching out to you, who see things
in you even you cannot. Be kind
to them. Be worthy of their love.

Thoughts: The Inheritors, by William Golding

I feel like I should have a lot to say about this one, but I don’t think I do, and I’m disappointed with myself. I should have clever things to say – it was a clever book, but what can I say more than I enjoyed it?

When you hear the name of William Golding, you think of savage schoolboys, but he had a few other tricks up his sleeve, apparently. The Inheritors is about the end of the neanderthals* and the beginning of the age of humanity. Basically, the ultimate historical fiction.

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Thoughts: Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer

I go through phases of being a Goodreads stalker, seeing what my friends are reading, what their new friends are reading even, seeing what they thought of the books they’ve read (I don’t give my own ratings but naturally am perfectly happy to peruse other people’s) and how many books we have in common in our reading pasts and futures. So I’d seen Annihilation around before it was suggested for Casual Brunching Book Club (name not final) and I was glad to have an excuse to read it. It was generally well received and though I’d read the blurb I didn’t really have any idea what would happen, which is as it should be for a book like this. Which is also my way of saying this review will be full of spoilers so look away now.

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Hyperlocal Everyday Nature – Business Birding in Niederrad

I work in a big office building in Niederrad, the business district of Frankfurt. It’s not residential at all, and to many people it’s probably one of the most lifeless places in the city. Nothing opens on weekends. Before the morning commute, after the evening commute and between commutes you’ll hardly see a soul out walking. You notice every time you pass a dog walker or a mother with a pushchair because it’s so odd, and you’ve forgotten just how odd it is.

If thou gaze long into birds, birds will also gaze into thee.

But Niederrad has its upsides. The things that make it so devoid of people make it peaceful for the local wildlife. Big office buildings in Niederrad are surrounded with trees and gardens, spaces for its workers to look out on or wander through at set times of day to make the office job seem not that bad. For the vast majority of time, they’re empty of people.

Walking through Niederrad on the way to and from work are some of my favourite times of day, and not just because I’m not at work. Working in the same place and keeping roughly the same hours gives you a sort of temporal focus point from which you can watch the interplay between the seasons and the space.

Birds are by far the most common non-insect wildlife in Niederrad (anyone who’s ever foolishly tried to eat outdoors in glorious summer will know the necessity of the qualifier) and it’s through them that you can track most of the changes. The same species return at the same times every year. Some of them stay year-round, and you can start to recognise their songs. Even if they’re playing hard to get, it’s nice to know that the blue tits are awake or the chiffchaffs are close by.

So, what can a prospective nature watcher expect to see on a ten minute walk from Niederrad Station to the office?

Plenty.

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Thoughts: Foxcatcher: Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother’s Murder, John du Pont’s Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold, by Mark Schultz and David Thomas

Now that is a title.

I’m about six books behind in this because I’ve been been trying to get through some editing, so expect a regular drip of reviews for a while. I’m always a bit embarrassed to admit I’ve been prioritising my own writing over paying attention to other people’s books, because of course I’m just an unpublished hack on the internet, and all these books I’ve read, however dire I proclaim them to be, are Real Books, published by Real Publishers and sometimes hunted out of obscurity by Real Tastemakers. The drafts I ashamedly talk about working on are, to you, imaginary, abstract things which will never see the light of day, let alone be worthy of actual financial investment by a stranger. I’m keenly aware of this, and that’s why I’m often ashamed of talking about my writing here.

Except not this time.

Are you thinking of reading Foxcatcher? Don’t. Watch the film instead. If you’ve already seen the film, then congratulations! You have had the full Foxcatcher experience! Have a nice drink to celebrate.

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How one cancelled train can ruin the whole system

After my blog post about how maths means trains seem more frequent than they are, here’s another even more irritating rail-based maths problem.

From Germany, I’ve been feeling quietly smug watching the chaos on the UK Northern and Thameslink lines over the past few days. Well, joke’s on me, because I got my own transport chaos this morning. One tram didn’t show up this morning, which was mildly annoying. But they’re frequent – every five minutes or less at peak times – so I wasn’t too worry. Five minutes later, along came the next tram, but it was so full up that no-one could board. Another five minutes, and another totally packed tram arrived. By the time I managed to squeeze my way onto a tram, I’d missed my train to work.

How could this happen? How could a well-trafficked route, which doesn’t normally run anywhere near capacity, completely collapse with a single cancelled tram?

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Thoughts: The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu

Spoilers spoilers spoilers! If you want to read this book, don’t read this post.

I’m skipping a book here (Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation) because I’m going to meet up with friends and discuss it at a later date, so forgive me.

I picked up The Three-Body Problem because Spuggy had already done so, and he recommended it, and my TBR will never be too long to accept a recommendation from people I love.

It’s… weird. A lot of it was probably lost on me, both scientifically and culturally. But I could not stop reading it. Spoilers spoilers spoilers.

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Recipe: Korean-style bitter orange and lime tea

No photos for this recipe, because I couldn’t find a way to make boiled citrus fruits photogenics.

This is based on the Korean yuja-cha (also known by its Japanese name yuzucha), and it’s effectively a marmalade you put in a jar and keep in the fridge. To make it up into tea, you just put a spoonful in a cup and fill it with boiling water. This recipe was mainly just something I did to use up the fruit from a bitter orange tree that I impulsively purchased, but it is really good.

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Thoughts: The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

You know how sometimes the outside world seems to conspire to create these sort of teachable moments aimed solely at you? Where outside events are suddenly relevant to something private you’re doing or learning? Well, while I was reading The Underground Railroad, Kanye West said something almost comically ignorant about slavery.

Now, he’s absolutely not the first person to hold this sort of view – he would possibly be surprised at just how unoriginal this view is (and at the people who traditionally hold it) – but he’s in a unique position to have his words misused, and unfortunately will have to deal with that.

I wanted to wrap up this book and send it to him when I was finished, because if you really want to know how not-optional slavery was, you could do much worse than starting with The Underground Railroad.

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