welcome to blog.grchiu.com

Archive for July, 2006

reaching the end of LMB

I am deeply grateful and forever indebted to my former housemate, who, two days before the end of my last term at university, suggested that I borrow from her and read Young Miles, an ominbus edition of two of Lois McMaster Bujold‘s earlier books. I was skeptical… a female science fiction writer? I was a fan of Douglas Adams, Orson Scott Card, and Larry Niven, and I wasn’t sure if Lois McMaster Bujold would fit the bill. Could she be as witty as Adams, or as masterminded as Card? Or could she weave a technical reality like Niven?
Nevertheless, I declined, noting that I couldn’t possibly read and return the book in the two days before I moved out. She, of course, disagreed, but then again, she was always up all hours diving deeper and deeper into a stack of books. I kept the title in mind, however, and the next time I was at a bookstore I picked up a copy.

I finished reading it that very night. After staying up all night reading, of course.

I was enthralled from the first page. Her first few books are very swashbuckling, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants stories about a young boy, Miles, of high but troubled birth, trying to make his mark on the world and universe. The rest of her Vorkosigan saga tells a stunningly vivid tale. You learn, in pieces, about the history of the backwater planet and the origins of its caste-like system, and you watch the development and struggles of the main character to grow, learn, and survive. You also get a few insights into Miles’ parentage and the general universe and times in which he lives.

The series is an absolutely entertaining read. Things I love about it:

  • Bujold has an incredible flair for creating characters that are vibrant and leap off the page, but still have complex personalities and multi-dimensioned traits.
  • Her continual re-introduction of old characters, so we get to see what happened to previous secondary characters and watch their (sometimes painfully slow) character development.
  • Bujold always addresses some core theme or value in her novels and novellas — she always has some subtle story or point to make, and she does so masterfully without interfering with the plot at hand.
  • Much like her characters gradually changing from novel to novel in her saga, Bujold changes her themes and sub-genre with great fluidity over the decades. Her books range from straight science fiction, to mystery, to fantasy, or even to romantic comedy.

There’s one last piece of unread Bujold: “Winterfair Gifts”, a novella (everything else she’s published, I’ve read). I’ve been saving it for a rainy day. Some part of me also dreads reading it, as it would sadly mean no more new Bujold novels to read. No more updates on the lives of her intriguing and witty characters, no more social commentary on family values or honor. No more exciting swashbuckling adventures. But hats off to her, for changing my perceptions: before her, I never knew science fiction could be like this!

back and forth

So I’m back from my little jaunt in Atlantic Canada: 9 days, 2700 kilometers, 3 provinces, 3 national parks, countless provincial parks, lighthouses, 20 km of hiking total, 6 lobsters and 28 oysters later. It was fun. If you’re a fan of nature and hikes, beautiful scenes, fresh seafood, well, the maritimes are for you. Memorable events from the trip include hiking Fundy, PEI National, and Kejimkujik National Parks. Walking on the ocean floor at Hopewell Rocks. Seafood. Lots of seafood. Lots of pictures.

It took us a day or two, but we figured out the best way to eat seafood while in the Maritimes. Avoid expensive restaurants. What you really want to find is a “fish market”. Look for them near harbours or wharfs at cities, or ask a local. When driving around in the country side, look for bays or inlets where you see fishing vessels. An authentic fish market is just around the corner. Buy a pair of lobster crackers and forks, an oyster shucking knife, a cooler bag, a few rolls of paper towel and some dry ice. Throw them in your trunk, and when you come across a fish market in the morning you can “brown bag” your lunch (and perhaps your dinner).

Speaking of seafood, we went to the maritimes intending to eat a large number of lobsters, but only ended up eating six. Instead I developed a new craving: Malpeque oysters. Be sure to learn how to shuck oysters. It’s a life skill that everyone should know. A nice guy showed us at Carr’s Fish Market, just off Stanley Bridge in PEI. Home of the best (and cheapest) Malpeque oysters ever! Most fish markets will sell choice Malpeques for about $0.75 per.

Regrets? Few, thankfully. Not spending more time in Fundy National Park, which is gorgeous and has wonderful beaches and trails (we didn’t have time to finish the challenging Coastal Littoral trail). Not being able to kayak: our expedition was cancelled due to winds. Not having time to go to Cape Breton Highlands National Park (next time!). And not eating enough Malpeque oysters. Have you any idea how hard they are to find in Toronto?