Thursday, May 26, 2022
Book Review: Quantum of Nightmares
Today I took some time off packing for my upcoming move to finish a book. (Should not have, but did.) The book in question was "Quantum of Nightmares," by Charles Stross. It's the most recent installment in his "Tales of the New Management" series; briefly, back in 2000 Mr. Stross began writing a book called "The Atrocity Archive," set in the UK in a universe where magic exists. Not Harry Potter type magic, but mathematical magic. This book was well received and led to a series known as "The Laundry Files."
The setting is modern-day UK and, at least at the start of the series, the public at large is unaware of magic; the Laundry is a government organization tasked with protecting the world against Cthulhu-type monsters from beyond the stars. As a government organization, it is also subject to workplace mandates and paperwork that would drive anyone mad. Stross loves to satirize management and the series as a whole is quite fun. It's a mix of horror and satire.
Early in the series, the reader was introduced to the looming problem of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN (it's always capitalized in the books), when the Stars Come Right, everyone will be able to practice magic in some form and the world will come apart at the seams. As time went on it became more and more obvious that NIGHTMARE GREEN was a metaphor for global warming, the author's bully pulpit became more obvious, and the series as a whole became less fun. I stuck with it until "Tales of the New Management," an extension of the original series, became the, ah, new normal. This series is set after the Laundry is dissolved, and Nyarlahotep has become the Prime Minister of the UK (trust me, things could be worse than having him in charge).
Suffice to say that after purchasing Q of N on Kindle, I sent it back within 24 hours and wrote a blistering review on Amazon. Finally, I tracked it down at the library and checked it out in the interest of giving it one more try.
And my review is: nope. Reluctantly.
Mr. Stross has a real talent for juggling multiple plotlines, and this is my weakness. Be it Charles Dickens or Tom Clancy, give me multiple plotlines and I am a happy camper. Q of N has lots o' plot, but... it's hard to explain... the transition from plot thread to plot thread is just too obvious. Sort of along the lines of "OK, here's Character A's viewpoint." Then "Character B, C... etc." with no lead-in. Each section of the book is just plunked down with no attempt at connection.
But far more important is the fact that not one of the characters in this book is likeable. None of them are nice people. To a certain extent you can empathize with them, but not nearly as much as one would think. This, also, is a habit of Stross. Even in the early days of the Laundry series, he took pleasure in pointing out that the (somewhat more likeable) characters were, in his words, "serial killers" and "unreliable narrators." The characters do kill bad guys in the course of the series, but their reasons are well explained. You can't have it both ways, Stross. Stick a sock in it.
The book has a great slam-bang finish in which all of the plot threads are brought together successfully, but the overlying anti-capitalist approach, about as subtle as a sledgehammer, takes all the fun out of it. Suffice to say that the meat department of a supermarket chain is the center of the action and the plot recalls Upton Sinclair and Jonathan Swift. They both wrote it better.
I do recommend the Laundry Files, at least the first five or six books. But as I said in my review, I think Mr. Stross needs a nice benzodiazepine cocktail before going back to his word processor. And the "Tales of the New Management" has had all the fun sucked out of it.
Friday, May 20, 2022
The Big Slog
My mother's memorial service went really well. Of course, the day after everyone scattered back to their homes. My brother had to fly to Texas for work and I drove him to the airport; my SIL and the kids left separately. My sister and her family left back to their home in Colorado. Then I had to make arrangements for the party tables, chairs and linens to be picked up and for the tree trimmers to come this week (my parents' home got cited by the city due to tree overgrowth to the point that the street signs were obscured).
That much is done. Since then I have been packing, in a halfhearted fashion. This coming week a friend of mine is hiring a van, for the second time in a month, and we will ship more of my stuff out there. I have so many pictures - too many! - and in the coming year I need to look into selling or donating a lot of my things.
Yesterday as I was cleaning out desk drawers I found one of the last birthday cards from my parents. My mother's handwriting was so shaky that it was almost unreadable. Poor mom, I used to admire the elegance of her handwriting. Mine is rather esoteric by contrast. I recall once on vacation writing up a list of requests for a takeout burger place and watching my niece and nephews squint at it.
Old playbills I kept for years, now gone. So many things I just don't need to keep. I have a large rubber stamp collection that I'm contemplating throwing out, but have not been able to bring myself to do it. Maybe I'll hold a garage sale next year. With the threatened shortages for nearly everything I think I could do rather well.
Back to work...
Friday, May 13, 2022
The Family Gathers
My brother and sister arrive today with their families for my mother's service, which takes place tomorrow. They all have to leave on Sunday; unfortunately we all are too busy for this to be an extended stay. The place looks nice, with flowers in bloom (courtesy of the local nursery; they probably won't last a week after the service) and windows freshly washed.
This is a large house, and I'm going to be the only one living here. I'm getting used to the little pops and clicks you hear in any house; when the icemaker goes off I no longer assume that there's a serial killer standing behind me, making ice. And I now have a coyote that visits in the early morning. He just ghosted across the patio and up the brick stairs toward the street. I'm going to be living here full-time starting in June, assuming I survive the next two weeks before the move.
Going back to my mother, her death was both expected and unexpected. She had Covid at Christmas in 2020 and was never really the same afterward, although she did not have to be hospitalized. She developed a terrible, racking cough which improved for a while and then worsened again in the last few months of her life. When she was in the hospital, the respiratory technician looking at her blood gases kept asking, "Are you sure she didn't smoke?" Finally I explained about the Covid and he immediately said, "Oh, that explains it." This despite her chest X-ray not showing any significant abnormalities.
Then my aunt (her sister) died, followed by my father six weeks later. I have written extensively about my aunt's illness, but not my father's. He had vascular dementia related to strokes and hypertension. The week after my aunt died, with the distraction of her illness gone, I was able to really look at him for the first time in weeks and realized how much weight he had lost due to his dwindling appetite. After a quick family discussion, I put him on hospice and he passed away in his sleep a month later. Mom never really recovered from those twin losses. She was very depressed, but when we held my father's celebration of life in August and she was able to see many of her friends, she did surprisingly well. It was the last real social event she attended.
Many of her friends offered to take her out for lunch and the caregivers did take her out once or twice, but more and more she slipped into isolation. In December she was hospitalized, twice in January, and then she became more confused and died at the beginning of February when her oxygen level suddenly dropped and she began coughing up blood. It was shocking and sudden; none of the imaging or tests she had indicated that something like this was going to happen. When asked what had happened, my stock answer was "I could give you half a dozen possible explanations, but I don't know exactly what it was." I am sure there was some sort of pulmonary cause, but none of us in the family saw any reason to do an autopsy.
When she died, I had left her just a few hours before to drive back to my house and run errands. I do so wish I had been there when she passed away, but I did get to spend the previous evening with her, and I take some comfort in that.
I hope to write more about her later, but I can't face it just yet, and there is much to be done before my siblings arrive. Must go.
Wednesday, May 11, 2022
Journal Post #1
I’m going to try something different here, cross posting pieces from my journal on this blog. At least doing this will ensure that I will be producing more posts to entertain any wandering reader who happens by. Briefly, several months ago I decided to start keeping a personal journal to document my decisions for the coming year. I had retired, or semi-retired, in January of 2020 to take care of my ill aunt and parents. As it turned out this was just in time for Covid to come along. My aunt passed away one year ago, followed by my father six weeks later, followed by my mother three months ago. Now I am in the process of selling my home and moving back to my parents’ to try and get the house on the market. Come along with me, won’t you? It’ll be fun. Hopefully at least engaging, in the way of a train wreck.
Yesterday I was able to get the mirror on my car fixed, and I feel much safer driving now. Did some more packing and moving. My mother’s celebration of life service is in three days, and the other fam members will arrive in two days. So I’m just trying to get the place pulled together, bedrooms ready, food in the fridge. I do wish they could stay longer, but everyone has to get back to school/jobs.
Last night, to distract myself, I wound up looking at housing prices and other facts about Provo, Utah as part of my research for my long-term plan to move out of California (why Provo? Only because I’m thinking of attending a conference there next year). But Utah, like California and much of the western US, is suffering from drought. This has reinforced my vague plan to move to the East Coast. I don’t like floods or hurricanes either, but it would be nice not to have to worry about water.
I also spent some time with my tenant, reading lines with her. She is an actress and currently is auditioning for a Netflix show called “Obliterated.” As far as I can tell it’s about a bunch of Navy SEALS who spend their time cursing, having sex and taking drugs when they aren’t saving the world. Good Lord, I’m glad I’m not an actor; I cannot fathom having to take roles like that.
It's Time, It's Time, It's Time
I am in the process of moving. About a month after my mother passed away, the property behind me began construction on a new building which will likely be a condominium. All the trees that shielded my house from the Eastern sun are gone. There is construction noise every day. Despite that, the house is in a desirable area and it sold quickly. So now I am packing and moving. The traffic and crime in Los Angeles continue to worsen, and I just don't want to live here any more; it's time.
I am still working with my medical group off and on, but I see no reason to continue staying on the hospital staff; it's expensive and membership needs to be renewed every two years. I just got word that I have been transferred to a new committee (every staff member needs to belong to at least one, and I liked my old one a lot). Certainly this isn't the end of the world, but it's one more change that has influenced my decision: When my membership comes due in January I will let it expire. It's time.
I am moving into my parents' house in the hope of getting it ready for market. This will take over a year (it is stuffed full of everything from my father's office equipment to model trains) but it is will be a relief for all of us in the family to divest ourselves of all this stuff! Then I plan to move out of state, though I am not sure where yet. It is definitely the right time to move out of California.
Tuesday, May 03, 2022
I am settled in here in my mother's hospital room for her third admission in a month.
At least, that's what I wrote back on the 22nd of January. My mother passed away on February 4; my father on June 19 of last year. My aunt died May 8 of last year.
It's been a difficult time. I have been writing, just not on the blog. I started keeping a journal last December with the intention of using it to clarify what I want to do both for myself and for my mother. But my mother never really recovered from the twin blows of losing her only sister and her husband six weeks apart. My siblings and I are planning a celebration of life for her which will take place in about ten days; I am in the process of selling my house and moving to my parents' home so that I can get it into shape to sell.
I'm not going back to work, at least not full time; I am considering working virtual sessions to keep myself busy when I'm not throwing out junk or battling spiders. (I sometimes think my parent's house is one solid cobweb.) But right now I am packing and sorting, and I hope to put together an estate sale at some point. And I hope to document the process here (at least the interesting part).