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Jan. 11th, 2019 @ 02:57 pm Another Kind of Life, Shamus Young
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I finally read the new novel by Shamus Young (who did the DM of the Rings screencap webcomic).

The previous one was the Witch Watch, a 19th century adventure when the protagonist an introspective unfilfilled soldier is killed in a scuffle and is resurrected by mistake by minions of a necromancer.

This one is a cyberpunk mystery reminiscent of Caves of Steel.

The Good

The setting is great. A fictional tropical city, exploited by colonial-ish powers not by direct conquest per se, but by economic leverage, now a densely populated but not the most technologically advanced world city. Increasing penetration of robots into the workforce, not completely realistically, but from a very 2020 perspective not a 1950 one.

An introspective, meticulous but idiosyncratic crook, specialising in rewarding low-violence crimes sucked into a robot who-dunnit mystery, while being pursued by various mobsters and corrupt police. A very sympathetic robot character with a lot to say about how it feels to be built around a drive to serve humans and to protect humans.

A lot of delving into the philosophy of being a robot, how robots learn, how they have drives, the practicalities of what robots are manufactured, which brains are duplicated, etc, etc.

A lot of goon-banter, a minor genre of scene where the protagonist and the goons chat while waiting for the boss.

The Niggles

Two things niggled at me, both hard to describe. The first is going to be a bit difficult to try to talk about. Shamus Young is probably neurodivergent of some sort: he's talked about not being officially diagnosed, but seeming different to most people. It doesn't come up much, but in his memoir blog posts (https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=12687) he talks a lot about how other people just seem weird to him.

It's especially weird for me because a lot of the things he says really resonate with me, but I don't think I'm coming from the same place. My theory is that the "understanding people" bit of my brain is ok, but the "if you failed once you probably learned something and it's worth trying again, not hiding from it forever" bit of my brain was really wonky for some reason, but that's obviously just a metaphor I use somehow, I can't really see what's going on in my head.

The protagonist of Another Kind of Life isn't definitively neurodiverse, but enough things about his experience make me read him as someone who finds people weird but has learned how to interact well with them (possibly as Shamus is, I don't know). But what I'm about to talk about seems to apply to almost all the characters in both books.

But anyway, a few things in both books really jump out into my notice when I don't know if other people would notice them in the same way. Something like, characters having a running narrative in their head of why someone else is reacting a certain way, when I would really, really have expected that to be sufficiently common for soldiers or crooks (or just most people) that the character would be used to it, either just subconsciously interpreting the behaviour, or annoyed that people KEEP doing that even though it makes no sense, but not "oh, he's obviously doing this because he thinks that" when it's something I'd expect to happen all the time. But I don't know if my expectation is more right than his is, maybe people do have mental narratives like that and it just sticks out to me more.

The other thing is also hard to describe, the book had the sort of arc of solving the murder and other professional and personal problems of protagonist that I'd expect, but somehow it didn't feel satisfying and tense the way I felt it should. I can't say what's wrong, but it felt like he just worked through everything and worked it all out, even though he definitely did run into a lot of sticky situations along the way. So I was left with a feeling of "that was nice, but it felt like it was lacking something, but I can't really point to what" which is annoying to try to describe (sorry), despite really liking most of the book.

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Jan. 9th, 2019 @ 12:52 pm Christmas break
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We had a lovely Christmas. We cooked Christmas dinner, roast potatoes which turned out exceptionally well, and made at Rachel's inspiration a creamy mushroom pie, which just felt perfectly "right" as a vegetarian centrepiece for a roast dinner.

I got several lovely presents, but the most notable was Scythe, the Polish-designed central-european economy-building territory-control game. The aesthetic is best described as "farmers working in fields while giant mechs stride past in the morning mists", and the mechanics back up the idea that mechs are useful for helping workers, and always threaten to turn to combat, but you don't have to be. Each faction (Russviet, Nordic, Crimean, Saxony and Polish) also has a single character "hero" with an appropriate companion animal, who can fight like mechs and also have adventure "encounters" on certain hexes on the board.

We managed to squeeze a lot of games in here and there! It's the sort of game that's two hours long, but actually two hours with minimal set-up and scoring, and faster in games that end quickly, rather than constantly threatening to run longer.

Then we went to Nice in France for a week for Rachel's birthday which was really good. Photos and write-ups on facebook and twitter. We visited several obvious tourist destinations, including a couple of trips to Monaco seeing the exotic gardens and the vast, vast aquarium. The Nietzsche footpath at Eze, climbing steeply from the water to the higher village, where apparently Nietzsche used to walk and think. The Chagall museum, constructed during his life -- so many goats, so many bold, impressionistic, paintings inspired by streets, by life, and by biblical stories. And we all managed to coexist in a small apartment for a week.

And afterwards, despite possibly difficult things coming up, I do feel more in control of my life and able to spend some effort on the things I want, rather than constantly fighting the most-overdue problems.

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Jan. 8th, 2019 @ 01:46 pm Microscope: Narnia done right
I hosted a game of Microscope (collaborative history-building roleplaying-ish game) at Heffer's board games. I'm hoping to run some more traditional one-shots as well, but I thought this was a good introduction. I ended up with three others who all had great ideas but a spread of experience.

Everyone else was excited by acted scenes, which produced some of the most memorable ideas, but I still prefer microscope when you just don't do that and everything is events and periods.

It took some time to get going, I'd thought we were all on the same page with what the Narnia prompt, but when it came to choose the bookends (which in this case were inevitably the beginning and end of the world), we already got widely divergent ideas which told me we needed more discussion of tone and theme (i.e. what if anything goes into the palette) than I'd expected. Like, someone wanted "world created by gods", someone else suggested "accident in a multiverse laboratory", someone wanted religious allegory but different, someone else wanted no religious allegory, it was hard to reach consensus, even though once we started playing we quickly converged on a fairly consistent vision.

We did negotiate some of the restrictions well: a discussion of what we didn't want eventually ended up as "no post-18th century technology" and "no planned expeditions to other world" because we had an intuition for what was out of place (we didn't want the Narnia equivalent of "we go and change history by importing earth technology" even though I like that story in other settings) but it took some time to agree what counted and what didn't. And that discussion delayed actually getting into positive ideas.

I think we were just unlucky we ended up with a premise that took different people in different directions, I'd hoped that would be a lot simpler to agree the ground rules, because that means all the actual gameplay is put on hold. But I don't think we could have done better, I think if we'd tried to curtail it we'd just have ended up with the same debate later on. I might try to be more specific in future prompts, I deliberately left it somewhat open ended to pique people's interest, but if I'd chosen something more unambiguous, we'd probably have taken our cue from them.

It's hard to describe the history so it sounds interesting to people who aren't playing, a lot of the magic is in the little characterisations about people or characters felt about particular events, but I did write up a summary:

World formed on back of sleeping titan Mythios, and birth of first heraldic beasts.

Mara, from earth, sacrifices herself to create the orb of dreaming in the dreaming depths, in the hopes of keeeping Mythios asleep as long as possible and possibly preserving the people from Mythia after their physical existence ends.

War between the Rider Artolian and the Eagle Simnos. The unicorn temple is nearly destroyed.

Lenora, a girl from earth, is tutored by Karthas, the inheritor of the eagle archetype, and founds an empire, despite accusations of tyranny and opposition from artolians.

Irena, a woman on her deathbed, arrives in Mythia, and is imprisoned by Lenora, but with the aid of the "Plucky Companions" steals the Sceptre of Grandeur and escapes, fulfilling the three prophecies and destroying the myth of Lenora's uniqueness as a destined one.

Irena eventually inherits Lenora's mantle and unifies the empire with the rest of the world in an age of peace.

Artolian's old lieutenant, Lannios the unicorn, chafes under the new peace and launches an expedition to seek the orb in the dreaming depths. Opposed by the two-headed lion Alura who long considered those her own domain, Lamnios' treacherous companion Etios the great frog evades them both to claim it.

Irene stores her soul in a dream orb to allow her to fulfil her prophecied destiny in the closing days of the world.

Additional humans appear, but this causes Mythios to begin stirring, presaging his awakening and the end of the world.

Two destined humans together wake three heraldic beasts into new gods with a shared desire of preventing Mythios' wakening, but otherwise unfortunately divergent goals and intentions. Further gods follow, including Lannios the unicorn.

One of first gods is Etios, the new frog god of dreaming. Lannios cultists, in culmination of long but obscure plans, destroy Etios, returning the orb of dreaming to the physical world.

Lannios struggles with the first three gods, and the struggle awakens Mythios who washes the world away. Anyone's survival is unclear.

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Jan. 6th, 2019 @ 10:04 pm Designing board game mechanics
My next board game project is still probably writing up the demon-summoning game into a playable form, but I still keep getting enticed by other ideas. Here's one I had last week, which didn't go anywhere, but I thought was an interesting illustration.

I was trying to think of games that are a natural competition, but a playful, not very cut-throat competition, and suddenly visualised little baby goats playing king of the castle on some bales of hay.

Ideas quite often come to me that way, I think of a concept, often imagining how the box would look, how the game would *feel*. It doesn't normally come to completion like that, but it's an inspiration I work from, or sometimes, after playing with a game for a while, it "clicks" again and I think of an idea I like more based on what I'd already been doing, like when the "cast-away game" became a "planet of monsters" game with greatly evolved mechanics.

It doesn't always work like that, I also often have ideas for mechanics, that I try various flavours on, although I can rarely graft a theme on completely, it's so much nicer when the mechanics reflect the theme, even if the basic gameplay is fixed, then in having cards that represent concepts, not just an arbitrary match-up between "thing you might do with this flavour" and "action you might do with this mechanics" and keep constantly asking "wait, who gives you coins and dice, is it the butler or the vintner?"

I also had an idea for a mechanic, something like, you have a two-sided step pyramid of bales with a goat on each level, and you can do jumping stunts to show off and/or try to reach a higher level. I even had an idea for a mechanic, basically, you have two power bars, one for physical energy, one for prestige, doing any stunt uses up energy, but you only lose prestige if you try and fail, so if you do a jump-off with a goat on a higher level by each playing a stunt card from your hand of a certain difficulty, the idea is to try to arrange it so you usually win on prestige and don't have to actually do the stunt, except occasionally, when you do it awesomely and fill up on prestige. And there's a salt lick on the lowest level to recharge energy.

That's far from a complete mechanic, even in one paragraph there's several contradictory ideas, but it had the general sort of feel I wanted, and I trust my intuition that those were the bits that were notable about it, and in order to make it work like a game, I could probably just fill in fairly standard mechanics that work in other games in the gaps.

But what interested me was that what I wanted was for the game to actually feel like baby goats. That means that players should usually be encouraged and rewarded for playing fairly impulsively, sating themselves on good cards/resources and then spending them freely for impressive results -- you might say, the play should feel "fun", which sounds silly since all games are supposed to be fun, but the point is, it should feel fun and carefree all the way through, as opposed to rewarding strategic depth, or well-judged gambles, as many games do.

That resonates with advice from Mark Rosewater about Magic: The Gathering. Landfall, a mechanic which gives bonuses when you play a land, naturally feels fun to play whether or not it's a good mechanic. That doesn't last, if you play enough, you'll eventually learn when a mechanic works well and when it sets you back and emotionally respond to those situations instead of the out-of-the-box experience. But for quite a while, it just feels fun to play with, because you usually wanted to play a land each turn *anyway*, and landfall gives you an extra bonus for doing so, so it feels like you're going with the flow and everything is easy. You might say the same thing about tribal: there's lots else, but the basic concept of playing "as many goblins as you can" is just nice.

So how to capture that in board game mechanics? One thing is, reduce the pressure, have the moments of greatest emotional resonance reflect dramatic changes that are necessary to proceed, but not necessary significant advances towards winning. That means that everyone gets excited when you do a double back flip and gain a level, and players are more drawn to that, and less drawn to playing conservatively and hoarding resources for a longer-term strategy. Although doing the cool things should usually be the sensible strategy: players get unhappy when what's fun is different to what's effective because they have to choose and resent people who choose differently.

Also, walk a middle path of some strategy but not too much, some randomness but not too much, guide people into planning for the next turn or two, planning something that will usually be successful (so they feel good) but that they're not encouraged to obsess over whether a particular thing is the best for the long game or not (because if they can do that, it will draw attention away from the part of the game I want to be most interesting).

Of course, it's hard to make that happen in practice. Lots of board games have a different feel the first game from the fifth game, and lots you never play that many times at all. But that's the sort of thing I'm thinking of.

I do usually aim for SOME strategic complexity. I always wanted Toy Factory to be more strategic, even though most players enjoyed the "basically think one turn ahead" gameplay.

And in the end, I stopped there with the baby goat game -- I didn't have any more ideas that seemed more interesting than what I'd already thought of elsewhere. I did note it down in the file I return to for inspiration, because who knows when those ideas will come in useful later.

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Jan. 6th, 2019 @ 07:51 pm Nice Stitches
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We all had a holiday in Nice for Rachel's birthday, doing various tourist things. It was very pleasant. There's a mention of most of the activities on my twitter (https://twitter.com/CartesianDaemon) or facebook, along with some comments on our new board game Scythe which we've barely managed to stop playing.

However, I did have one minor injury.

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Dec. 22nd, 2018 @ 07:57 pm Friday Five: Christmas Q2-5
https://thefridayfive.dreamwidth.org/84948.html

2. Do you own an ugly Christmas sweater?

No. I vaguely remember there being a stereotype of ugly christmas sweaters, but I don't remember it being a thing that everyone deliberately did! Now it seems that it is. I sort of like the tradition, as it happens, but I never got into the habit of it.

But it comes up at work and similar often enough I think I would like to have something I can wear. Maybe a Christmas jumper with C++ on it, appropriately syntax highlighted red and green. Or a christmas-jumper-style waistcoat. It's on my list to seek out.

It also happens, I hate wearing "more clothes". I never really liked wearing jumpers, even when I had to for temperature reasons, I'd always want to strip them off as soon as I could. Only now am I wondering if that's a mild version of the sort of sensory issue people talk about (even though I'm fine with my "normal" clothes of jeans+t-shirt or trousers+shirt).

3. Do you celebrate the Winter Solstice?

Several friends do, and I like just about everything about the idea, the focus on returning light, the fire in the darkness, the astronomical connection. But I haven't started doing it regularly because it's just not what I've traditionally done.

4. Now that you are ‘in the know,’ what would you leave out for St. Nick on the 24th?

I'm not sure what you mean about being in the know? I think I would leave the same things whether or not I was in the know. Although I don't as I think of it as a custom we only do with children in the house. I think we used to leave a mince pie, a glass of wine (preferably either sherry or Dad's fearsome homemade wine), and sometimes a carrot. I would probably leave out something as close to that as I could.

Although now I think about it, that seems a bit mean. The reindeer do a LOT of the work, surely we can stretch to one carrot *each*? And I bet he's bored of mince pies, maybe some chocolate and fruit, or a big plate of something to load up on, would be a nice change?

5. Tired of the snow and icky weather yet? For those fortunate folks in the other hemisphere, are you tired of the humidity and hot weather?

When winter started I was very ready for it to be over. I really resent the earlier evenings. But by the solstice I'm usually used to it, and just about getting to enjoy being cosy inside while the night is all outside. And having christmas-in-winter-y thoughts. So now we're actually here I don't feel as strongly any more.

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Dec. 22nd, 2018 @ 07:37 pm Friday Five: Christmas Q1
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https://thefridayfive.dreamwidth.org/84948.html

OK, this one will ALSO be long :)

1. Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas – which one do you use?

Oh gosh. My impression is that in (some parts/some contexts in) America an originally fairly minor distinction has become massively polarised by people who object to the thinking behind whatever they consider the "wrong" answer. And certainly, I like it when people make an effort to be inclusive, and dislike it when people pointedly object to any attempt to be inclusive. So if I'm in that situation, I'd rather choose the more inclusive greeting!

But that hasn't actually been my habit. If I was in a situation where I needed to give a festive greeting to everyone I met, I probably would choose "Happy Holidays" as a compromise to avoid guessing which people would like a "Merry Christmas" and which wouldn't, but I'm usually not.

And obviously, if I'm talking to someone I know or suspect doesn't celebrate Christmas, I'll use my best judgement if they'd rather be included anyway, or they feel Christmas is too overbearing already.

I'm not sure if "Happy Christmas" is less pointed in the UK, or if I'm just less aware how much people of non-Christmas cultures don't like it. I should have asked before now :(

But I also have a nagging feeling that "Happy Holidays", while well meaning and generally positive, has connotations I don't completely buy into. Like, it's easy to fall into a trap of assuming the way to be inclusive is to give everyone the appropriate equivalent for their culture, as if there's "Jewish Christmas", "Islamic Christmas", etc, etc all in December. And there's some truth to that -- lots of cultures do have a big "it's dark, lets do something with fire" celebration. But it's not a very good analogy. Hannukah is an awesome festival, but traditionally isn't one of the most important ones. Some Jews do enjoy making Hannukah "Jewish Christmas", but lots of Jews don't. And Islamic festivals are typically tied to the lunar year and don't happen at a specific month in the Gregorian calendar at all. Etc.

Like, yay multiculturalism! But maybe better to ask people in different cultures what's most useful (recognising when in the year their most important events are would be a good start in many cases, for instance), rather than adapting Christmas celebrations.

I think it's also that it might be that in America Thanksgiving makes it feel like there's a big spread of winter holidays maybe including Halloween, but from Thanksgiving through New Year? Whereas I'm not used to feeling that's a thing, I used to associate December with *looking forward* to Christmas, and feel like "the holidays" were Christmas day through New Year.

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Dec. 22nd, 2018 @ 07:20 pm Patriarchy: Stalking Edition
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Welcome to your unscheduled rant. I've been watching a bit of Aaron Sorkin's sportsnight. Mostly it's pretty good, Sorkin's strengths of emotional heart, endearing and slightly klutzy characters, witty banter and optimistic dedication are prominently on display. West Wing was about a more serious topic, but on the other hand, West Wing was sharply constrained by not departing too far from reality. And I hear newsroom was well written but tried to be more serious and was even more pompous.

But there's one vile plotline in the first series, which sadly came on almost exactly the one or two episodes I happened to watch when Liv was in the room to see. Sorry about that.

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Dec. 21st, 2018 @ 02:12 pm Yuletide fanfic retrospective
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We haven't had the reveal yet, but how did writing yuletide go? This was my fourth year, and third year of doing nanowrimo as well, after which yuletide always feels a lot more possible :)

This year I managed another fairly short story, by which I mean I crammed as much stuff I loved about the characters as possible, but didn't try to write much of a plot.

In retrospect, my first story (Ivan, By and Illyan), which out of all my stories felt like it had the most "stuff" in it, was only 6,000 words, whereas last year's (Cordelia, Gregor and Ivan), which I'd expected was going to turn out about the same, was actually much longer, about 16,000 words.

Escape from the Orc Lair of Unnecessarily Revealing Armour in the second year was the shortest, only 2,000 words, partly due to the "script for comic" format instead of prose. I thought I could have added more scenes but I felt like they wouldn't have added that much.

Somehow how "dense" a story feels is different to how long it actually is. I don't know if that's just a story being "better", or if it's more quantifiable than that. It's something like the opposite of writing a story which is so formulaic you forget it as soon as you've read it, but not completely.

The first story focused on lots of emotional themes I really liked: Ivan's relationship with Illyan as a sort-of father, Ivan coming into his own as an adult, Ivan's awkward friendship with Byerly, By being By, what a BDSM and/or LGBT club gentlemen's club on Barrayar might look like. And touched on stuff revealed in Red Queen, which I hadn't actually read at the time. And dwelt on ImpSec, how all those senior military intelligence operatives actually interacted with each other, how day-to-day capital spying actually worked, how it felt to be By, when he was enjoying his persona and when he wasn't.

I think that's why it worked so well. And it so happened I manage to cram them into a fairly short slice of reminiscence and action, when I could have included perfectly good but not necessary stuff that padded it out into a proper plot. The third story was a bit more like that: I had a core of stuff I really liked, about Gregor being Gregor, and Cordelia being Cordelia, but I overshot on the plot a bit.

Whereas in the first story, I was quite nervous how it would come out because I hadn't written any fanfiction except a couple of unfinished pieces a decade before, so I hesitated a lot, but also sank a lot of effort into "can I make this better?" that I think translated into finding extra ideas that could be crammed into the same space. I should try to do more of that :)

Like how HHGTTG or Foundation are really short by modern standards but don't feel short.

I've slowly evolved some habits in responding to prompts. Something like, look at the prompt, fish around for potential ideas (both above stories were basically generated from "all the characters in this prompt are great, I just want to write about all of them") which often involves mulling on it for a few days. Then think of specifics, instigating incidents, etc, and other things I might like to cram in. At this point I usually have too many things I *want* to do (often "I know, a crossover as well!") and I have to be ruthless and pick the best idea I think I'm fairly confident of actually being able to do. I can always bring in ideas later if they feel like they fit, but my perfectionism always wants me to use ALL the ideas and I have to be firm in rejecting that.

Then there's some writing. Then I usually find that everything is a bit "off", that I had an idea of what I wanted the characters to do, but what I wrote is a bit out of character, and I need to rejig it -- someone complaining wearily instead of complaining angrily, character A asking "Do you feel X?" instead of character B spontaneously coming out with it, removing or adding some slapstick style humour where it was forced or would fit without being cringy. This needs a couple of days off to let everything "settle down". I've got better at doing it quickly as a lot is the same skill of letting go of ideas I wanted but don't work, but time is still the best way for me.

And then we have a story and I move onto the next thing!

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Dec. 17th, 2018 @ 10:52 am Friday Five: Books!
https://thefridayfive.dreamwidth.org/84604.html

OK, everyone who thought I had a lot of opinions about cheese is going to have a standard of comparison now... :)

1. Do you enjoy receiving books as holiday or birthday gifts?

Yes! Books are great. I love books. I'm excited to have books.

OK, this is a little less true for a few reasons now than it used to be. One is, I'm sufficiently well off that any book I really want I can usually buy, so I'm more starved for time than for actual books. Another is that I've read a lot more widely in genres I read regularly, so it's a lot harder to find something I'm *probably* excited by but didn't already know about. And finally, I read a lot on ereader now, I do still really like physical books, but they also come with the responsibility of having space to store them in, so it's more of a trade off.

What works best as a present? In some ways, I prefer getting second hand books as a "oh, I'm not sure, but I saw this and thought you might like" as a smaller present, than as a "real" present, because I like to try new things, but I feel better if I don't feel a pressure that I have to love it, and don't feel guilty if I think it's interesting but don't really get into it and give it away.

I'd usually rather get a book you think there's one thing awesome about than something that feels "safe", good choices are something in a genre I like (e.g. f/sf) that's really new or older, or something that's personal to you in some way (your favourite, or related to your expertise or similar) because there's a good reason I'll be interested but maybe not already know it.

If you're one of my friends who's just a lot more widely read than me, then ignore all this, I just trust you to find really cool things I've never heard of :) And I mean, I don't imagine it'll come up much, but if you *want* to give me a book you wrote as a present, I will definitely appreciate it :)

If you're not sure if I've read it, I'm happy for you to ask, I promise it won't ruin the surprise("What have you read by #Author?" might be a good compromise, and I assure you, if you don't SAY you're thinking about giving me a present, I can be pretty oblivious about the possibility :)), but if you think you know, I'm happy for you to take the risk.

2. What book are you reading (or, what is the last book you read)?

I just started a collection of superhero/supervillain short stories, including a short story by Drew Hayes, who wrote the long web serial Super Powereds, because I wanted something interesting but not too addictive as my brain was a bit full.

Before that the books I read over the last approximately two months were:

Aru Shah and the end of time (lovely young young adult borrowed from Ms 10, from Rick Riordan's brand publicising books about other mythologies by other authors)
Johannes Cabal: Fall of the House of Cabal (Last of the Johannes Cabal necromancer series, very funny, very touching, although a little unsatisfying overall-themes-wise)
Traitor Baru Cormorant (Been meaning to read this forever, Baru's home village is conquered by the empire, she rises through the civil service, and tries to reconcile what she's learned from them with hating them and freeing the cultures they've conquered)
Seven and a half deaths of Eveyln Hardcastle (For Jamie's book group, fascinating time travel groundhog day murder mystery premise, but a bit grim in other ways)
Left/Right game (A long reddit weird magic realism esque horror ish story about taking alternate left/right turns and finding yourself in a different landscape)
Girls of Paper and Fire (Animal demons, half castes, and humans, protagonist forced to serve as concubine to the Bull Emperor, rebellion, very beautiful but very heavy themes)
Rivers of London #7 (Pretty good)
Jade city (Awesome wuxia alt-asian mafia adventure)
Zeroboxer (Lovely YA about zero-gravity boxing, climate change, mars colonisation, genetic engineering, etc by the same author)

3. Are you enjoying (or, did you enjoy) that book? Why or why not?

OK, so it turns out that if you want to ask what I'm reading WITHOUT me automatically telling you what I think about it you have to be really specific when you ask :)

Although in this case, I've barely started so I don't have much opinion yet. I didn't get into the first story despite a good first page so I skipped ahead, but haven't started the second yet.

Nowadays I'm usually reading things I'm fairly sure I'll enjoy, although I also find fewer things I absolutely adore. I made a deliberate decision to seek out books that I actively wanted to read, not only in being interesting, but in being comparatively accessible (e.g. not too heavy, not too unfamiliar, etc). And I am still eager to read books that are harder for me to read, and they're often the most interesting because they have more new stuff (from a culture I'm unfamiliar with, or a genre I'm unfamiliar with, or an older book with a noticeably different style, or about topics which are quite heavy), but I make a distinction that sometimes I have a lot of energy to expend in absorbing something and sometimes I don't, and find books that suit both.

4. About how many books do you read in an average year?

It varies a lot. I used to comfort read in ways that now I would probably browse social media, often rereading books dozens of times over many years, and I could easily read a book a day like that when I already knew it well, but it would go through periods when I did that and periods when I didn't. When I'm busy I've often gone a month or two barely reading anything. I think this last year I've probably read forty-something (I do record new books I read, but it depends if you count rereads, how you count loooooong web fic, etc.)

5. What are some of the books on your to-read pile (or list)?

Oh gosh. I have literally hundreds on my "probably want to read this" pile, which is fortunately now a bookmark folder not a physical pile of books I've bought but not read. And dozens in my "pretty much definitely want to read this" pile. So whenever I want something I can usually fish around in there for something I'm in the mood for.

And maybe ten to twenty physical books that I haven't quite read, usually ones that I found hard going but I couldn't bring myself to give away either, either because they were presents or because I was really interested even though I found them difficult. I'm pleased I've been much more realistic about recognising the difference between "I'd hoped to enjoy this but I'm just not" and "I'm enjoying this but it's hard going, I need to read it when I can actually concentrate hard and work at understanding it" and "this is a bit niche, I'm saving it for when I really need a boost/when I'm in the mood to binge some comfort books/when I just want something just like this and don't mind that it's not that well written/etc".

My electronic lists, the to read books are mostly recent books by authors or series I've enjoyed, or books where from the premise I just HAD to read them, or classics I'm really interested in, all waiting until they get to the top of the list.

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