Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Goodbye 2009, Welcome 2010!

I am taking time this week to look back over the past year and forward to the next.

For me, 2009 was a good year. I proved to myself (and others) that I have leadership skills, serving as the President of my BNI Chapter for six months. I made the usual progress in developing my professional skills and contacts, taking on a variety of projects and attending several lectures, workshops and conferences. I continued developing my personal skills through reading, listening to podcasts and attending workshops.

It was a year of family events. My sister got married and had her first baby. At the wedding I met some of my relatives from both sides of the family. I got to know my new brother-in-law's family on several occasions. Then we had a holiday in England, and managed to meet many relatives from my mother's side of the family and Ivor's family.

Socially, I have reached a level of comfort in public that would have seemed out of reach a few years ago. Sometimes I still blush when speaking to strangers, but this no longer worries me. I spent time with several of my friends, including some Israeli friends who now live abroad and came to visit. I also renewed and strengthened my contacts with some of my foreign friends, sometimes through social networking sites, sometimes through simple email.

Culturally, I read many books, some of which I wrote about here. I enjoyed some new music, saw fewer films than in previous years, but visited more art exhibitions, also discussed in this blog. I also had my portrait taken.

In general, I have reached a high level of life satisfaction and contentment. I still have things I want to achieve, but from a desire for self-actualization rather than from any deep frustration with my current lifestyle.

Now, my plans for 2010 - not "resolutions", just plans. I will set up a website for my translation business. I hope to manage my time better and work more efficiently. I will get to know my new baby nephew, and spend more time with my parents, perhaps even travelling with them. I hope to have a holiday abroad again. I want to take more photographs. I hope to write more blog posts and increase my readership. Most importantly, I will work on my own writing projects.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Charles Stross - The Jennifer Morgue

Charles Stross, The Jennifer Morgue, Orbit, 2006.

Spoiler warning.

This book is set in the Laundry series, which started with The Atrocity Archive. Bob Howard, computational demonologist, is sent on another mission to save the human race from the horrors of the deep. He faces a stereotypical bad guy, software billionaire Ellis Billington, and the events take place in exotic locations. His partner on this mission, Ramona, turns out to have some surprising abilities, and their relationship develops some interesting complexities. Meanwhile, Mo has been training, and when she finds out what Bob is doing, she rushes to the rescue.

The story cleverly employs tropes from the James Bond world, and while some of them are obvious, I felt that I would have appreciated the work better had I been more familiar with the Bond books and films. Perhaps I am in a minority in not having watched any of the films (well, perhaps one, a long time ago). The story does work even without having any knowledge of the Bond themes, so readers who share my ignorance need not be put off.

The main twist of the plot was a satisfying surprise, though one of the loose ends resolved in the final chapters had occurred to me. The writing, humour and pacing were good, and the story was dark, exciting and entertaining. I have read several short stories in the Laundry series, and expect there will be further Laundry novels and stories to look forward to in years to come.

Friday, December 11, 2009

My portrait

My friend, artist, gallery owner and art conservationist, Michael Karo, has created a mixed-technique portrait of me. It started with a photograph of me in his gallery, which was then digitally processed and finally printed onto canvas and painted in oil paints. I was pleased with the final result, and the painting is now hanging in my living room.

The painting has a sense of space and light, and a relaxed, cheerful atmosphere. On the wall, it seems like a window into another room, with windows into the garden beyond, so it brings depth to the room in which it hangs.

I never expected to sit for a portrait, thinking that nowadays most people only have photographs taken. A few years ago, I started sitting for another friend who draws portraits from life, but for some reason she found it difficult and that attempt was never completed. I think this is a worthwhile experience for anyone who appreciates art, and I am grateful to have had this opportunity. Thanks, Michael!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

John Scalzi - The Last Colony

John Scalzi, The Last Colony, Tor, 2007.

Spoiler warning!

In this book, we join some of the characters familiar from the previous stories in the series, Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigade. John Perry and Jane Sagan have married, adopted Zoe Boutin, and settled on a colony world. Their life is changed when they are asked to become the leaders of a new colony.

The new colony of Roanoke is special, because it is colonized not by people from earth but by citizens of other colonies. When they arrive there, they discover that the colony is being used as a pawn in a complex game. The new colonists are forced to adapt to their new circumstances, while their leaders try to work out what is happening and what can be done about it. The challenges are both practical and ethical, with loyalty to the Colonial Union being questioned.

With each book in the series, the horizons of our knowledge about the universe expand. First we knew only what was known to a CDF soldier, then we learned more about the Special Forces and the power struggles between other races. This book gives a wider picture of the players in the colonization game. It seems likely that there will be many more stories told within this setting.

Having first read the later book, Zoe's Tale, I already knew what to expect in terms of the plot outline, but enjoyed revisiting the story from a different point of view. The dilemmas faced by the main characters were interesting, and the story here went on a little further. A comparison between the books in this series led me to conclude that Scalzi's writing improves over time, which bodes well for his future work.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"Get a life!"

The phrase "get a life!" ultimately means "get a life like mine", and expresses contempt for something that is very important to someone. It is usually said when people tell someone about their interests, which the listener finds unworthy in some way - uncool or boring or too serious or not serious enough.

Most people think the way they are living is the best way to live, and that more people should be like them. But to imply that someone else's way of life is unworthy, and to negate or disrespect their interests, shows a high level of intolerance of difference.

The differences between people, both individual differences and the differences between groups and cultures, are what make life interesting (not always easy, but interesting). Tolerant people acknowledge that there are many ways to live a worthy human life. They can accept and respect different lifestyles, interests and behaviours.

People all have their chosen lives, and while some may seem less worthy, less healthy, less interesting or more trivial than yours, your reaction to them says more about you than about them. Being capable of accepting difference means you are stronger, more gracious and more certain of yourself than accusing others of not having a life.