Tag Archives: books

Book Review: The Daughter Star

cover image for The Daughter StarNobody writes a sullen woman like Susan Jane Bigelow. Don’t get me wrong; they have their reasons for their moodiness. Stuck on something of a forced sabbatical with their repressive family in a repressive country, girlfriend unreachable, this corner of the galaxy about to get into an interplanetary war—there are a lot of stresses on young women like Marta Grayline. Bigelow settles us into the tension almost immediately with two quick flashes of prologue, and then we’re immersed in Marta’s world, a familiar story for some of us, even in this far-future science fiction setup: can I hide my queerness while I’m spending time with my relatives?

Marta has tried in full earnestness mode to find her place, even if her choices began with an intense need to leave her home country, Gideon, on the gravity-heavy planet Nea. It’s almost as if it took so much energy to get distance from her preacher father and smothering family that Marta doesn’t have much left for self-confidence. And yet it’s that very sense of self that Marta needs to make a difference in the war between Nea and Adastre. And maybe conversely, it’s the painfulness of coming from a closed family in a closed country on a less-than planet that fuels Marta’s drive. Bigelow does a great job of layering on the sadness and strife that come with the legacy of paternal choices made for an entire people.

Marta finds herself commanded to join her planet’s forces in the war effort, and her little sister Beth worms her way in as an enlistee. Beth is a great foil for Marta: we’re not sure of her intentions for a good long while, and although she’s certainly from the same building blocks as Marta, she seems to be making different choices than her big sister has. There are a few warning flags as they find their way out of Gideon, but Marta is so excited to be back in her element that she overlooks them. Bigelow gives us just enough in the way of tone and word choice that we should be worried for the sisters, because of course outer space during war is not the same as piloting a trade ship in peacetime. Soon enough Marta’s ship is destroyed and she finds herself a captive on a space station, a clear prisoner of the crew there. And now the alien Abrax who were responsible for the Earth’s demise and who have been unseen for hundreds of years, make their reappearance. Bigelow does a great job of touching these presumably distant points back together—what does one young woman’s legacy, one man’s decision made once upon a time, one family’s grip on a made-up tradition all have in common?

Read the book and find out. Highly recommended. The Daughter Star will stick around in my head for a long while.


Post in the New Year

congresswomen2013 is here and already people are waving their fists at the sky in frustration. Mitch McConnell of the US Senate is angry his congressional colleagues want to take up gun control debates on the floor. Murmurs from DC point to anger over the nominations of Chuck Hagel to head the Department of Defense and of John Kerry to lead State. Shooting victims from Aurora, Colorado, bemoan the possible trial of the Man Who Would be Joker, and the Hell’s Angels rode en masse to Connecticut to obstruct the Westboro Baptist Church from protesting at the Newtown victims’ funerals. If any of us had any hope that the end of the election could bring down the vitriol a notch or two, we had another thing coming. Glenn Beck may be relegated to the superhighway, but Ann Coulter continues to get attention for saying this jackass thing or that, and the Tea Party continues its clamp down on legislative productivity.

Therefore, I propose a few things for the sane among us to get through these trying times: Read More…

Book Deals of the Candidates

Every single Republican who threw their hat into the 2012 Presidential election season has been mocked mercilessly by the press and the general public. Many of them *cough Pawlenty cough* have looked like little more than a deer in headlights or like a raving lunatic (read: Herman Cain), with ideas either too bland to capture anyone’s imagination, or with statements so fringe nobody could take them seriously. The litany of horrible one-liners that came out of the nonstop GOP debate schedule made all of these contenders look completely unqualified or incapable of running the White House office supply order, much less the country. And poll after poll showed President Obama significantly ahead of not just the field of self-named candidates, but ahead of a generic Republican opponent.

GOP primary candidates 2012Many of us have asked, what is going on here? Surely there are informed, reasonable Republicans with solid experience who could be in this campaign–not that anyone comes to mind in the ten seconds I’m willing to think about it. But out of 313 million Americans, isn’t there someone with foreign policy experience, a non-reductive reading of the Constitution, and a willingness to work in a bipartisan way in Washington, DC? Read More…

2012 Pop Culture Prognostication

Breaking Bad castI’ve done a political clairvoyance act for the last few years on this blog, with more than a few teaspoons of satire thrown in for good measure. But 2012 doesn’t feel like adequate fodder to me, because hello, Barack Obama is going to be reelected President, and all of the other commentary around the election is just noise. So I’m setting my sights on popular culture this time around. With that, here are my thoughts for what I see will be terrific stories, so-so pop moments, and overhyped crap: Read More…

The Uselessness of Likert Scales in Rating Books

Likert Scale exampleBack in my usability days, I talked often about measurement error, the idea that something throws a monkey wrench into an otherwise careful attempt at accurate observation. Biases, for example, pop up in all sorts of interesting and confounding ways—I’ve seen users struggle with a site but say they loved their user experience. If not an issue with the Web design itself, users bring expectations with them as they use Web sites; one man I interviewed for the Social Security Administration consistently used an interface wrong because he didn’t personally identify himself as disabled, even though it took him 10 minutes to cross the room with his walker before taking his seat.

Usability scientists who aim to measure the success and efficiency of online systems have created an arsenal of tools for gathering more accurate information that can stem the effect of whatever measurement error is in play. One of those tools is a Likert Scale. We’re all familiar with them, those are the “rate this from 1 to 5, 1 being least and 5 being most,” items that float around opinion surveys and rating systems like Yelp. In truth, a scale can go from 1 to 3, 1 to 4, or 1 to 10, or whatever the designer thinks the range should cover.

But Likert Scales are notorious in the world of usability data collection, because very few people design them correctly, and very few respondents react to them appropriately. Read More…

Fiction Flashback: Stranger with My Face

This originally ran over at IFryMineinButter.com.

I was an avid fan of anything suspenseful when I was a teenager. Stephen King, Peter Straub, and Dean Koontz novels, Hitchcock movies, I soaked them up like lemonade. Once I had read through a book, chances are I would read it again immediately thereafter, in order to actually comprehend its pages sans hyperventilation. I entered into those narratives with high expectations, but not so for Stranger with My Face, by Lois Duncan. It was the first novel of hers that I read, and it spawned my love for all things fantastic. I think it’s fair to say that I read Ursula K. Le Guin because I read Duncan first, and yes, I understand how different these two writers are. Read More…

The Case of the Stolen DVDs

Old timey view of Alder Street in Walla WallaIt won’t come as a shock to anyone who knows me that I am a fan of public libraries, or at least, it shouldn’t. I nurtured a morbid fascination with maritime disasters at the Princeton public library when I went to grade school in the town, and although the East Windsor, NJ library paled in comparison by almost any measure, but most notably with regard to architecture, selection of books, and proximity to PJ’s Pancake House (I’ll always love you, PJ’s!), I still spent a lot of time there after school. I’d bike over and fret once I’d selected a couple of tomes that I’d left my bag at home, so it was a careful pedal back home, balancing the books on the handlebars. Any library beat my primary school’s library, really, which was limited to a tiny room on the top floor of the school, the books crammed in so tightly that one considered doing hand exercises in one’s spare time so as to improve one’s finger strength for wrestling them off the shelves. Read More…

When the Books Come Tumbling Down

Riddle: what do you get when you combine an overtired klutz, an avid reader of 40 years, and a person’s observation that a particular bookshelf looks more than a mite unsteady on its feet?

Answer: I think we all know how this is going to turn out. Read More…

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