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2009 in pictures

mangatar
There are various reasons why I haven't been around much on LJ for the last half-year, but the most important reason is that I have been terribly busy at work. A three-year project had its deadline in December, and I had some tough months trying to meet that deadline, and I am very relieved now that I did.

Finishing this project so late in the previous year lets me clean the slate a bit and start over somewhat in 2010. I don't have any specific resolutions as such, but I aim to spend time doing things I like - including blogging - instead of thinking about what I ought to be doing, and to be less nervous and have more faith in my own abilities and knowledge.

As an aid to moving forward - here is a post looking backwards on some of the things I have enjoyed in 2009, specifically travelling and photography.

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Happy new year to everyone - may it be a good one!

Towards the light

dystert
Roads of lightLooking at the last time I posted here, I have been absent for longer than I thought. LJ is not the only place I have been absent from however. As the most important deadline so far in my professional life is coming up, just before Christmas, I find myself becoming more and more of a recluse as the time I have outside of work is taken up with eating, sleeping and not much else.

I have worked towards this deadline for almost three years now. Those years have included both light and dark moments, from the euphoria of seeing that I can write well about a topic that interests me to the despair that I will never finish on time and that it will never be good enough. And of course I am struggling to finish on time, which leads to very long days at work and continuous stress and nervousness for what will happen if I do not finish.

I strongly believe that I will be done on time, however, and then all this hardship will be worth it, since I will have shown myself that I was able to complete the task I set myself in spite of those dark days. And then normal life can resume and I will be a little bit stronger for having lived through the current stress.

Clockwork Phoenix 2, part three

musikk
I think I want a HolgaAs I progress through the stories in Clockwork Phoenix 2, I am particularly enjoying how the stories are very different from one another; often when I read short story anthologies I find that the stories run together in my mind, which is certainly not the case here. I review the first and second story here and the third story here; at the moment I have just read the fourth and fifth story, and what follows are some of the impressions I am left with.

Angel Dust
by Ian McHugh is a beautifully melancholic tale that propels the reader right into a richly woven world, and specifically into a city that seems to be in the grip of an endless cycle of invasion and defeat. There are no introductions here; the reader is made to deal with angels and angel dust, song ships (such a wonderful idea!), minotaurs and soldiers and gargoyles and ruling peoples. I was left with the impression of a huge, fully formed world that is only hinted at. There is not much plot going on; the story describes the unnamed city being threatened by an outside military force and the consequences of this threat for the life of the very vulnerable woman who holds the perspective of the story. In total, I enjoyed this story very much for its melancholia and its beauty and sadness, and for the interesting world that hosts these emotions.

In The Endangered Camp by Ann Leckie, the Earth appears to be populated by a bird-like race. The story takes place on a space ship - or sky-boat - in which the bird-people are attempting to reach Mars. Just as they have left the Earth's atmosphere, disaster strikes back on Earth, and the question becomes, what do they do now? Are they the only ones left alive? Do they then have an obligation to go back, or to continue on in the hopes that their mission succeeds? The issue is resolved by bringing out the history of their people so that they can attempt to learn from past events. I will not spoil here what they decide to do or why, but only say that the best thing about this story is the nagging, almost painful feeling at the very open ending that they decided wrong. This is in my opinion perhaps the weakest story so far in the anthology in the sense that it didn't immediately suck me into the world it takes place in in the same way that the others have done.

Clockwork Phoenix 2, part two

Regensburg
Abandon(Review of the first two stories here.)

The third story in the Clockwork Phoenix anthology is Marie Brennan's Once a Goddess.

The fact that Marie Brennan had a story in this anthology was one of the reasons why I wanted to read it; I have read several books by Brennan already and greatly enjoyed them all. She has published a duology of fantasy books, from a fictional world, called Warrior and Witch, with a beautiful song-based magic system, and two books about fairies in historical England, Midnight never Come (briefly reviewed here) and In Ashes Lie. The latter is only recently released and I haven't gotten hold of it yet - looking forward to it, though.

Once a Goddess is set in a desert inspired by ancient Egypt, and is about the girl Nefret, who has lived a luxurious life in the temple as the avatar of the goddess Hathirekhmet for eleven years. Now the goddess's presence has left her, and she is sent back to live with her mother, who she doesn't remember. So what now? Marriage? Or something else entirely?

I particularly like this story for its simplicity. Brennan paints a society and a religion through the simple story of Nefret. I also really like what seems to me to be the philosophy behind it, because I agree with it: a human life is valued and should be treasured in spite of its imperfections. And I realise I'm putting this very naïvely, but it really isn't when you read the story.

Clockwork Phoenix 2, part one

Gargoyle
Roses in the cityMike Allen - time_shark - is the editor of a short-story collection called Clockwork Phoenix 2 (there is a #1 as well), and offered (offers?) people a free pdf copy of the book to anyone who is willing to blog about it in return. I jumped on his offer, both because I was curious about the book - it contains stories by two authors I really like, Marie Brennan - swan_tower  - and Tantih Lee - and because I could use an incentive to blog more.

I've read two stories so far, Three Friends by Claude Lalumière and Six by Leah Bobet. Both of these stories have kids as their main characters, kids that are unhappy or misfits in some sense.

Three Friends is about the Boy Who Speaks with Walls, the Girl Who Eats Fire and the Kid Whose Laughter Makes Adults Run Away, and their adventures in Greytown, a mysterious part of the city they live in. I'm not sure I get this story - is it a coming of age-tale? Or something else entirely? However, I enjoy it for the quirky characters and their almost surreal surroundings.

Six is about Six, a kid who is the sixth son of a seventh son and 'bad news'. He lives with his huge family on their farm. What I particularly like about this story is how I'm never sure of what kind of character Six is: is he bad news, or is he in fact a good boy? This question is never unambiguously answered - thankfully. 

Two stories into the anthology then, and while I'm not completely blown away yet, I'm certainly enjoying myself enough that I'm looking forward to reading on.

'Lighthousekeeping' by Jeanette Winterson

Inis Mór
I'm taking a break from Wheel of Time at the moment and reading Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson instead. Beautiful, beautiful book. I haven't read much by Winterson before; I started reading Oranges are not the only fruit at one point but gave up, as it didn't really seize my attention then. But I love Lighthousekeeping from almost the first page.

The main story in Lighthousekeeping (there are many stories in the book, since storytelling is one of the main themes) is about the girl Silver, who when her mother dies (her father is unknown) is taken in by the eccentric Pew, the keeper of the lighthouse outside the town. Pew tells all sorts of stories about the history of the lighthouse in the nineteenth century, and in particular about one man, Babel Dark, whose history seems to be mixed up with the lighthouse. I'm about half-way through so far, and at this point some dramatic changes are to take place that I shall not reveal here, but they add greatly to the tension of the novel. 

The language in the novel is very simple and what people call 'lyrical'. In a way Winterson's language here reminds me of Patricia McKillip, and just like with McKillip the simplicity of the language is deceptive, since the story is complex and rich. Here is one of my so far favourite quotes: It was a long story, and like most of the stories in the world, never finished. There was an ending - there always is - but the story went on past the ending - it always does. (p. 11)

Elis

musikk
University libraryI'm re-using the University Library diptych for this post, since to me that building will always signify the idea that there is an infinite amount of information, stories and songs out there in the word waiting for me. I take great pleasure in those moments when I disover a new piece of thought that speaks to me strongly and immediately, and recently that has happened with Patrick Rothfuss's book The Name of the Wind as I mentioned, and with a band called Elis (from Liechtenstein of all places). Elis has a rather special history: while they were working on their third studioalbum, Griefshire, the singer Sabine Dünser passed away suddenly from a cerebral hemorrhage. She had just completed the vocal tracks however, and so the band decided to complete the album and release it in her memory. The song below is my so far favourite track from Griefshire, called Die Stadt - 'the city'. (I have no idea what the visuals of this video are about, so I'd say to focus on the music of this one.) 

Upcoming reading

Bokhaug
Darkness threateningIt happened again! I've found another book where the blurb is so interesting that I couldn't possibly escape buying it. This time the book is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and here is the blurb:

'I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to thread during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women and written songs to make the minstrels weep.

My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me.'

I must admit, though, that I bought The Name of the Wind now in part as a means to postpone the inevitable: come autumn, a book called The Gathering Storm will be released. This book is the first part of the last book of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, which is being finished after Jordan's death by Brandon Sanderson. Before the release of The Gathering Storm, I plan to re-read the rest of the series. This is such a huge undertaking, both in terms of pages and emotionally - I've been reading The Wheel of Time for almost half my life, after all - that I hesitate to start. Postponing it with an unread book that had me hooked from the blurb seemed just the thing.

Of course I am also greatly looking forward to the re-read, and I expect there will be more than a few blogposts dealing with Jordan's epic series during the upcoming months as I re-discover the series.

Black and White Monday

Hode
Today I want to highlight a technique I've been working on that involves putting two images together to make a diptych. The idea, as I see it, is to put two photos together in such a way that the resulting picture is greater than the sum of its parts.

The question then becomes, what type of images work well together? The way I see it, there is a scale of possibilities, from almost entirely similar to radically different. However, I don't know yet where on this scale I would find what I would consider a 'good' diptych.

I show below the two attempts at making a diptych that I am the most happy with. They're both of them quite similar in style. Both worked better in black and white than in colour, and both show two fairly similar shots of the same building - the University Library in Oslo and a skyscraper in Chicago, respectively. In some ways I am quite happy with them. They both show different views of the same building in a way that enables comparison. Thus each of them provide a different perspective than what you would get from viewing their component parts separately.

However, they are both of them very static. I would love it if I could manage a diptych where the image becomes more dynamic. Obviously the static feel is partly in the nature of the motifs - buildings being what they are. So my next challenge to myself will be to find different motifs to work with; any suggestions would be most welcome.

University library

Black and white diptych from Chicago

Tea and poetry

reising
During the last year I've developed a strong liking for peppermint herbal infusions and teas. The other day I visited Le Palais des Thés, an originally French chain of stores that opened in Norway a couple of years ago, to see if I could find something to assuage my peppermint craving and hopefully find a new favourite to replace the Tazo peppermint infusion that you sadly cannot get hold of in Norway. I came home with a Moroccan-inspired green tea and peppermint mix. I tried it for the first time Sunday morning, and it really does taste wonderful.

I don't know much about Moroccan tea culture other than the fact of its existence, and so curiosity prompted me to google it and see what I could learn. On Wikipedia I note that preparing the special mint tea is usually a man's affair, that it's served to guests and that it is impolite to refuse it. Traditionally the tea is served three times, as described in this wonderful proverb:

Le premier verre est aussi amer que la vie,
Le deuxième est aussi fort que l'amour,
Le troisième est aussi doux que la mort.
 
And in English:

The first glass is bitter as life,
The second is as strong as love,
The third is gentle as death.

Reading all of this, I am reminded of my dream of travelling to North-Africa - Morocco, Egypt, Turkey... So as a substitute for any definite travel plans to the region, here is Loreena McKennitt's stunning song Marrakech Night Market:
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