A case of synchronicity

In a book I am currently reading (Mother's Milk, fourth in the Patrick Melrose series by Edward St. Aubyn,) a character illustrated a point with the following story:

“Did you know,’ said Patrick, addressing Seamus again, ‘that among the caribou herdsmen of Lapland, the top shaman gets to drink the urine of the reindeer that has eaten the magic mushrooms, and his assistant drinks the urine of the top shaman, and so on, all the way down to the lowest of the low who scramble in the snow, pleading for a splash of twelfth-generation caribou piss?’
‘I didn’t know that,’ said Seamus flatly.
‘I thought it was your special field,’ said Patrick, surprised. ‘Anyhow, the irony is that the premier cru, the first hit, is much the most toxic. Poor old top shaman is reeling and sweating, trying to get all the poison out, whereas a few damaged livers later, the urine is harmless without having lost its hallucinogenic power. Such is the human attachment to status that people will sacrifice their peace of mind and their precious time in order to pickaxe their way towards what turns out to be a thoroughly poisonous experience.”

Today I happened upon an old episode of Stephen Fry's QI show I haven't seen before, it had David Tennant as one of the guests and Tennant told essentially the same story, except his shamans were from Siberia.

QI SGE05 - Groovy by quiteinteresting

Books of 2016

Turned out to be a rather enjoyable year, reading wise.  Though I was either underwhelmed (Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch) or downright disappointed (Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold and Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka, which doesn't even appear in the complete list, because I couldn't finish it) by the latest installments of the few series I've been following, some of the new discoveries amply compensated for that.  Here are last year's highlights:

In the land of sci-fi I definitely recommend Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch series.  It's a well-written and quite unusually different take on the far future of the space-faring humanity (and some aliens.)  The protagonist, the conflict and the universe are very unique and fascinating and worth acquainting with.  Second recommendation is Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown.  There aren't any truly unique ideas in this one, but it's very well put together and is certainly very dynamic and fun in a "oh, look, another one bites the dust" sort of way.  There was so much hype over Arrival that I read Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang, which contains the original short story (Story of Your Life) the movie was based on.  Skipped the movie.  The collection of the stories was pretty good, but my favourite in it was Liking What You See: A Documentary.

On to the murder mysteries. Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom is definitely worth a look if you are at all inclined to like historical murder mysteries.  Not on the same level but also quite enjoyable are Burren Mysteries by Cora Harrison.  Set in the 16th century Ireland and dealing with a life and adventures of the only female judge in one of the Irish kingdoms of the time.  I've never heard of the Brehon laws before reading the series, even if their description is probably somewhat idealized, it's very educational and makes one sad, knowing that the British are coming to destroy everything.  I would clasify these as relaxing light reading, with caveat that murder investigations don't stress you out just on general principle.  I unintentionally ended up starting and ending the year with Iain Pears.  I recommend all three of the books I read, which really can only loosely be classified as murder mysteries.  My personal favourite was The Dream of Scipio.  I don't think it's as popular as An Instance of the Fingerpost, and it's a bit convoluted in the way it's written, but I found the three stories and the times they were set in very interesting.

Not fitting in my usual categories but still deserving a mention are: Shōgun by James Clavell; Gerald Durrell, whom I decided to read after watching The Durrells. Naturally, I've read some of his stuff in translation many years ago, but, for instance, I never realized it was a Corfu Trilogy and not just one book.  He is definitely just as delightful now; Ben Elton, on the other hand, has been steadily losing his sense of sarcasm and has moved away from satire. Time and Time Again is well written but leaves one with no hope whatsoever.  I am not necessarily asking for a happy end, but some glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel would have been nice; Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver is YA but should be read by the parents of those young adults as well.  I never went to an American high school (for better or for worse) and can't judge how close to the truth the depiction is, but even if it's somewhat of a literary exaggeration, it still sounds like my idea of hell.  Main point is, don't expect your kids to survive their school years unscathed just on their own, they might not.

Wish you all the best in the new year and happy reading.
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Book recommendation

Finished Red Rising (Red Rising, Golden Son, Morning Star) series by Pierce Brown and would like to recommend it to anybody who likes grand space opera scale sci-fi. It's really well written, with solid and gripping storyline through all three books, great characters, and a satisfying ending. It's like a mad mix of Hunger Games, Game of Thrones (with a lot more bodies), Communist Manifesto and New Testament set in the future where humanity learned to control gravity, expanded throughout the Solar System yet still didn't learn to do without slavery and tyranny.

"Demokracy <…> the Noble Lie - the idea that men are brothers and are created equal."


N: Can you throw me that white cable on the table?
I obligingly do as requested.
N: Who taught you how to throw!?
Me: My gym teacher, with a grenade. How did I do?


Мама: Помнишь, мне <подруга> крем привозила?
Я: Это который в форме жопы? Конечно, помню.
Мама: Она просила, если сможешь, купи несколько штук.
Я: А они обязательно должны быть в форме жопы или какая–нибудь другая часть тела тоже подойдет?


Today on a conference call, while waiting for everybody to join:

(1) Did you hear, Verizon is buying Yahoo?
(2) [Pause] Why!?
(1) Who knows. Maybe they wanted a portal?
(3) You can build a portal from scratch for cheaper.
(1) True. But there are dedicated Yahoo users, maybe Verizon wanted something with built-in community?
(3) I don't think those three people are worth 4.8 billion dollars.

Book recommendation

Just finished the sixth, and sadly last so far, book in C. J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series. It’s a very well written historical mystery series set in Tudor times, starting with Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and continuing through the years. Supposed to go all the way to Elizabeth’s reign but it’s not there yet.

Shardlake is a lawyer at London’s Inns of Court with a penchant for detective work and a tendency to get mixed up, though reluctantly, in all sorts of high political intrigue. The books are complex and intricate, with a good mix of real persons and events of the time interspersed with fictional ones, and a hefty doze of contemporary atmosphere (yes, everything is smelly and dirty.)

I couldn’t put the books down and wish there were more already. Each book is complete, there are no cliffhangers, but you do need to start with the first to be able to properly follow the story.

Book recommendation

Finally read James Clavell's Shōgun, years after rkatsyv recommended it. Don't know what I was waiting for all this time, the book turned out to be great. If you like historical fiction and Japan and haven't read this yet, give it a try.