Himalaya by Michael Palin

★★★★★ (5/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • What the Sahara is to desert, the Himalaya is to mountains. Both share the same contradictory attractions, appealing and appalling, tempting and terrifying in equal, and ultimately irresistible, measure.
  • The schedule was very tight, and I’m aware that these diaries are stronger on spontaneity than sober reflection.
  • In short, we found a Himalaya not reticent and forbidding, but permeated by every sort of human activity.

Pakistan

  • ‘Such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world’, is how Kipling described the road that crosses the Khyber Pass.
  • Why should I not be surprised that Charlton Heston was in Peshawar? The common ground is, of course, the West. The Wild West and the North-West Frontier have so much in common: proud, patriarchal societies with a marked dislike of outside interference, and strict moral codes of their own.
  • As the tempo of the music accelerates, so does the speed and intensity of the movement, until both merge into a stomping, exultant crescendo, which leaves everyone exhausted, ecstatic and applauding wildly.
  • Road gangs, muffled like mummies against the dust and heat, stop to watch us pass, then resume the Sisyphean task of fighting landslides with spades, shovels and wheelbarrows.
  • The view from this cool pavilion out towards the Badshahi Mosque is a reminder of what makes Mughal architecture so fine. It’s all about balance and symmetry. Towers, domes, minarets, columns and cupolas, some in red stone, some in white marble, are all gracefully harmonized.
  • They are followed by a squad of 12 more Rangers, who emerge with a splendid mixture of panache, aggression and bad acting that has the crowd roaring. Speeding, slowing, high kicking, strutting, stamping, grimacing, leering and hissing with a finely honed ferocity, they create the impression of caged beasts ready at any moment to bite their opponents’ heads off.

India

  • The bracing, or exhausting, anarchy of Indian streets begins as soon as we leave the hotel. Cars veer out of side roads without stopping, lame dogs hop gamely across your bows, bicycles and buses appear from nowhere and blasts of the horn mingle with blasts from exhausts.
  • There is something infectious about his optimism, an optimism which comes from confronting rather than avoiding the unacceptable and acknowledging, understanding and demystifying it.
  • The Vice-Regal Lodge is an extraordinary edifice. Built at the top of a hill and the peak of Victorian self-confidence, it is authority made manifest, superiority set in stone.
  • Modesty and earnestness has replaced display and grandeur. Entertainment has given way to enlightenment. This bastion of British certainty has become a place of enquiry, curiosity and debate. Three very Indian preoccupations.
  • More controversially, they’re to take 2000 cows out of circulation as well. Not, I notice, to improve road safety, but, so they say, to curb the illegal milk trade.
  • Outside the window prayer flags are tied to nests of satellite dishes. One sending out messages, the other receiving them.
  • The Tibetans in exile are skilful operators and I admire the tenacity and persistence with which they court world opinion,
  • Poverty is corrosive, but it’s always worse when it is found side by side with wealth.
  • Flowers have been planted around the place, perhaps to represent on earth the gardens the martyrs are promised in heaven.
  • I’m back among mountain people – patient, taciturn and politely wary of outsiders. Masters of survival.

Nepal

  • Although it is dimly lit and hard to distinguish individual buildings, the complex of streets and squares has an extraordinary atmosphere. I’m reminded of walking at night in St Petersburg or Rome. There is a theatrical unreality to the place. Astonishing buildings, unlike anything I’ve seen before, are silhouetted against the night sky. Towering pagodas with long wide-eaved roofs, stacked one above the other, are topped with Hapsburg-like spires. Deep balconies cantilever out on long poles, the lintels and sills of the windows are thick timber beams. A fairy-tale kind of architecture, the more magical for being first encountered at night.
  • Dopali is like something in a dream, a vision of delicious drowsiness and lethargy sent to subvert the purposeful and debilitate the dedicated.
  • Once the helicopter has delivered us we’re left in deep and almost sensuous silence, hemmed in by the steep and thickly wooded walls of a valley, one side in brilliant sunshine, the other in deep, impenetrable shade.
  • As I watch their rubber sandals nimbly negotiate the rocks ahead of me I’m ashamed to think how long I spent deciding which kind of boots to wear. And some of them are carrying 40 kilograms in their wicker backpacks.
  • We set out at half-past seven, climbing up steep stone staircases through a tangle of semi-tropical woodland, with wispy lengths of Spanish moss trailing from the branches of the trees like a trail of feather boas. When we emerge from the trees the sunshine is still way up in the mountain tops but the air is cool and fresh.
  • I stubbornly resist offers from Nawang and Wongchu to carry my backpack for me. It’s become a matter of pride for me to carry it, a defiant attempt to show that there is still something I can do for myself.
  • This is sublime mountain scenery. Only Concordia in Pakistan, on the threshold of K2, reduced me to the same sense of inarticulate wonder.
  • The sun is still out of reach, setting fire to the crests of the mountains, but still a long way from delivering us from this bitter morning chill. We fall to reminiscing about the good old days in the heart of the Sahara desert.
  • I wonder if we aren’t all in danger of falling into the romantic delusion that by staring at these great massifs of rock and ice we achieve some form of communication with them, as if something so forbiddingly colossal must somehow be friendly.
  • Day Forty Four : Kathmandu We arrived here last night from Delhi on the penultimate night of Dasain, a big Nepali festival, and though badly in need of some rest and recuperation after our Indian adventure, the final day’s celebrations cannot be missed.
  • ‘It’s not that the Maoists are terribly brilliant or strong, just that successive governments have been weak and fractious and corrupt, and they (the Maoists) have tapped into that bedrock of neglect and apathy and frustration in the people. They’ve grown so fast precisely because everything else has been in such disarray.’
  • I know nothing about these people yet, in this brief ceremony, I feel a wave of empathy, not just for them, but for loss, for the end of a life. I come from somewhere where death is kept private, almost as if it’s an embarrassment. We send our loved ones away hidden in a box, into a hidden fire. We don’t even press the button that sends the coffin sliding into that fire. It’s all at arm’s length. Here in Pashupatinath it’s very much hands on. The reality of death, the fact of death, is confronted, not avoided.
  • With the SARS epidemic so recently over, I first have to fill in a Quarantine Form. I then take it to a booth where a man in a white coat checks it, produces a gun, points it right between my eyes and pulls the trigger. He then peers at the gun, notes down my temperature and motions me into China.
  • In every country we’ve been so far private cleanliness and public squalor seem to quite happily co-exist and I’ve never really been able to work out why.

Tibet

  • I can find no satisfactory explanation for the nocturnal activity other than that Xangmu is a frontier town and frontier towns have a life of their own.
  • Though perfectly comfortable in my congenial little room, sleep was light and fleeting and broken by twinges of headache and nausea. The zero temperatures with which Mr Tse Xiu threatened us didn’t materialize and when I should have been sleeping I was engaged in an energy-consuming nocturnal striptease, peeling off the various layers of clothing I’d gone to bed in and dropping them out of my sleeping bag one by one.
  • Many years ago, encountering similarly appalling conditions in a boat on Lake Tanganyika, I took Imodium to prevent me having to go to the toilet ever again. As I squat in this howling tempest three miles up in the sky, I think cyanide might be the better option.
  • Their complexions, skin textures, their whole physiognomy is a reflection of the life they lead. Coloured by the wind and rain, stunted by the bitter cold, their features sculpted in a craggy resemblance to the weird and wonderful landscape around them, they’re elemental figures, created by and in the likeness of the mountains.
  • later in the day we climb up to Sera, one of the great monasteries of Lhasa, to witness an activity that would probably be classed as highly eccentric in any religion other than Buddhism. Around 100 young monks gather beneath the trees of a shady, walled garden to take part in ritual arguing, a sort of verbal martial art. The idea is that one of a group has to stand and defend a proposition, which can be as provocative as possible (Migmar says he heard one monk arguing that there is no such thing as water) and the sitting monks must debate with him.
  • The hundreds, no, probably thousands of pilgrims who have defied the elements to come here and worship a lake, are largely poor, rural people. I don’t know quite what to make of their tenacious dedication. My rational, enlightened, Western self recoils from the tackiness of it all, the parade of plodding, vacant faces. Another, more instinctual side of me is fascinated by and even a little envious of the deep belief that can bring them all this way and turn this remote and unforgiving lakeshore into a sanctuary.
  • Salty tea is poured for me from a big, blackened kettle, and in lieu of sugar, a rarity on the plateau, Sonam adds a small slab of butter, which liquefies into a greasy scum across the top. It tastes, well, not bad, just different. As someone wisely said, if they called it soup rather than tea we’d have no trouble drinking it at all.

Yunnan, China

  • When I stop on a narrow ledge to look around me, I find myself having to plant my feet very securely, for it feels as if the soaring vertical walls across the gorge are exerting some magnetic force, determined to tear me from my flimsy ledge.
  • The interesting thing about Namu is that she bothered to come back to Lugu Lake at all. Though she calls herself, wryly, ‘a five-star gypsy’, the claustrophobic world that drove her away still seems to have a hold on her.
  • There’s a cockerel somewhere close by that wakes me every morning, long before it’s light. Today I time its first call at 3.29. To make matters worse, it crows only on one note, a monotone cry like someone pretending to be a ghost.
  • With its brilliant white scarf of snow, this jagged diadem of ice and snow effortlessly dominates the northwestern horizon as we enter the village of Baisha.
  • Tradition dictates that ancient scriptures are only communicated to males, and then not until the Dongba who communicates them is over 75 years old. So the chicken’s fate is currently in the hands of a girl who can’t know what to do, and a boy who won’t know what to do for another ten years.

Nagaland and Assam

  • The problem is that the Naga tribes remain essentially a trans-border people who don’t fit neatly into any of the boxes that the politicians have created for them.
  • I look forward to my Scotch at sunset but I know that if I pour it myself, jobs might be at stake. So servility is perpetuated.
  • As soon as the bank is within leaping distance, half the roof-class passengers fling themselves off and race up the hill to the bus. The bus driver, clearly enjoying his moment of power, sounds the horn again and again, prompting more and more people to death-defying leaps.
  • It seems a place of rare and genuine happiness, where the hardest disciplines are artistic rather than religious and the goals are more concerned with fulfilment than denial.
  • But it’s only when I give him a really good whack that he appears to enter elephant heaven, rolling his eyes, stretching out his legs and emitting an infinitely appreciative rumble. The sound of a contented elephant is a wonderful thing, and I’m amazed that this battleship-grey hide, and these hard, immemorially ancient flanks can be as sensitive as a cat’s chin.

Bhutan

  • Its history is not to be found on display in tourist-friendly heritage parks, but on the street and in the countryside, as a part of everyday life.
  • He makes no apologies for enjoying the fast life, but now, at the age of 60, he’s having to move into the middle lane as his body registers the toll of many happily misspent years.
  • They stand about three feet tall (1m) and look to me like a cross between a goose and a heron, with slender, pale grey bodies, black tails and, of course, black necks. The only splash of colour is a tiny red cap. They aren’t arrestingly beautiful by any means, and I suppose I’m a little disappointed that rare doesn’t necessarily mean resplendent.
  • ‘The Buddhist version of poverty is a situation where you have nothing to contribute.’
  • ‘I love Bhutan. Bhutan is so relaxed and peaceful.’ ‘Everyone says that.’ She nods and shrugs. ‘But there’s nothing else to say about Bhutan.’
  • I must really have been walked out yesterday, the result being a long, deep, wonderfully restorative night’s sleep. Trekking beats any sleeping pill.

Bangladesh

  • The White House has some grace and charm but it also has a fatal inertia, as if it’s being slowly strangled by the rich profusion of tropical flowers and shrubs that spill over onto it, mounting the walls and climbing over the balustrades.
  • Our driver hurtles along, firing off blasts of the horn at anyone and anything that moves. Basil notices that the driver’s thumb is in such continuous use that it’s worn a hole through the plastic on the steering column.
  • Breakfast is a disappointingly routine affair, enlivened only by discovering that my bottle of ‘Mum’ mineral water is proudly labelled ‘Official Drink For the 10th Asian Conference on Diarrhoeal Diseases’.
  • The enjoyment of the world is immeasurably enhanced not just by meeting people who think, look, talk and dress differently from yourself, but by having to depend on them.

 

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Some of the Best From Tor.com: 2016 Edition

★★★★★ (5/5) 

Traumphysik by Monica Byrne

One of the best Tor short stories I’ve read. Solitude and reality of dreamscapes with the Second World War being fought in the background. The reliability of our narrator comes into question increasingly as the story progresses. She is chronicling her lucid dreams but lines of reality are being blurred owing to her isolation.

★★★★★ (5/5)

  • For example, I must count the fingers on my left hand several times a day. The reasoning being that, when I do the same thing out of habit within my dream and come up with a nonstandard result (three fingers, or nine), I will know that I’m dreaming.
  • And now here I stood, wearing the same nightshirt, noticing how MIT stayed MIT. This is the first deviation from known physics in waking reality
  • If Traumphysik is the same from person to person, that suggests the existence of a real physical world to which we collectively travel each night; on the other hand, if Traumphysik varies from person to person, then one’s own Traumphysik must represent the subconscious world in which one lives. One’s own Platonic cave. One’s own fires and figures and shadows
  • I have to conclude that, again, there are forces of gravity in Traumphysik that differ from those in the waking world. Multiple centers, multiple pulls. It is not the earth. It is not the moon. Gravity is fungible.
  • The stars were bright violet sparks, and the sky was deep chocolate brown. The ocean was markedly different, too—pearly and viscous. In waking life, this landscape might appear choked and polluted; as it was, I felt as if this palette were the natural and normal one

Her Scales Shine Like Music by Rajnar Vajra

★★★★★ (5/5)

Oh wow! I’m breathless, speechless. The splendor, the magnificence, the mystique and otherworldliness of this story has me in a state of perpetual awe. Oh how I yearn to be next to the Poet, admiring the leviathan’s exquisite vastness, her alien existence, and pen a few verses of my own as an ode to her. The solitude, the wonder of it all! I am lulled by the stylistic imagery of the author. I hope a visual narrative is carved out of this story which to me seems more entrenched in reality than reality itself. The ending prevails upon the mind long after the last word has been read. I am to remain confounded by it.

  • Humble ice crystals high in the atmosphere often enrich sunsets on this cold world to glory. Mid-twilight, the sky shatters into opalescent shards, painting spectral pastels onto each ripple and wavelet of the vast lake near my shelter
  • I’d lost count somewhere past six hundred when the wind, which had been rattling my shelter and periodically moaning through the tent’s clever tangle of guy wires, stopped so suddenly, the hush felt as though someone had just died. My interest in push-ups dropped to a new low, and I headed outdoors to certify that I wasn’t that someone
  • Another eerie moment. So my titanic companion was no mindless beast, unless she did portraiture by instinct
  • She rose from the lake in the late afternoon like the birth of some alien oversized Venus, and swiftly fashioned a new sculpture, a near-perfect replica of the chair currently supporting me
  • No mime had ever conveyed longing so plainly
  • All this affected me profoundly. I kept gazing up at that dot as if in a glorious dream, wrapped in a memory of magnificence, my spirit so nourished that, for this blessed time, I didn’t think what her departure would mean for me

The City Born Great by N. K. Jemisin

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • I sing the city. Fucking city. I stand on the rooftop of a building I don’t live in and spread my arms and tighten my middle and yell nonsense ululations at the construction site that blocks my view. I’m really singing to the cityscape beyond. The city’ll figure it out
  • I stop and turn back and frown and listen, ’cause for a moment I hear something both distant and intimate singing back at me, basso-deep. Sort of coy
  • I don’t stink, but these people can smell anybody without a trust fund from a mile away
  • I’m painting a hole. It’s like a throat that doesn’t start with a mouth or end in lungs; a thing that breathes and swallows endlessly, never filling
  • Or perhaps there will be a stillbirth—the shell of the city surviving to possibly grow again in the future but its vital spark snuffed for now, like New Orleans—but that will still kill you, either way. You are the catalyst, whether of strength or destruction
  • He says, “The harbingers of the enemy will hide among the city’s parasites. Beware of them.”
  • But around these two, the shadows pool and curl as if they stand beneath their own private, roiling thundercloud
  • Daddy would’ve said it was okay—tears mean you’re alive—but Daddy’s dead. And I’m alive
  • The Enemy uses this anchor to drag itself up from the dark toward the world, toward the warmth and light, toward the defiance that is me, toward the burgeoning wholeness that is my city
  • The Enemy is as quintessential to nature as any city. We cannot be stopped from becoming, and the Enemy cannot be made to end

That Game We Played During the War by Carrie Vaughn

★★★★★ (5/5)

  • On the other hand, she always felt that if the Enithi and Gaantish all took off their uniforms they would look the same: naked. One of the workmen at the top of a ladder, pliers in hand to wire a new light, choked as she thought this, and glanced at her. A few others were blushing, hiding grins. She smiled. Another blow struck for peace.
  • they would never see eye to eye and would always fight over the same spit of land between their two continents. But their differences were simple, one might say: only in their minds
  • The Gaantish didn’t have to see someone to see their thoughts—a blind Gaant was still telepathic. But looking was polite, as in any conversation. And it was intimidating, in an interrogation
  • Instead she answered, “We were not treated badly.”They were treated appropriately. War necessitated prisoners

Everything That Isn’t Winter by Margaret Killjoy

★★★★★ (5/5)

  • Songs that transport us from the world of the living to that liminal place of both battle and sex, where we make and take life
  • I wasn’t really curious but I preferred to listen to her speak than listen to my heart beat arrhythmically like it always did after I shot somebody. Doc says it’s just jitters, what some of the old books call generalized anxiety. I say it’s me getting off light, karmically speaking
  • I got the children and the infirm into the bomb shelter—a hundred-year-old relic of a paranoid generation that had been right about the apocalypse, just wrong about its timing—then set out organizing an all-hands watch
  • I liked to think I knew the difference between the evil and the desperate, and those two had just been desperate
  • It made sense to capture our holdings. Whomever I was running off to try to shoot, I didn’t understand them. If you know your enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear one hundred battles. If you know yourself and not your enemy, you will lose as often as you win. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will never know victory.
  • Evil isn’t something we do to one another, it’s the way in which we do it, it’s why we do it.
  • All eyes and all guns were on me, which I wanted—within a certain, very limited, understanding of the word “want.”
  • I’d loved him half my life, the half that mattered
  • I went down the concrete steps into the bomb shelter. It was full of people, and they were hurt and scared and they wanted to talk to me but they all had the distinct disadvantage of not being Khalil
  • Smoke drifted up from the ruins of our home, and love was something in my gut and it made me want to live.

The Caretakers by David Nickle

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • But in her consideration, she trembled, and her thumb brushed near enough, and just like that, the decision was made
  • Miss Erish didn’t care for calls, in or out, during a meeting: it disrupted the foci as she put it. It was a dilution.
  • It caught me afire; that is how it was. On fire in the midst of extinguishing waters. Do you think you will suffocate if you keep that up?
  • Miss Erish sat quietly for a moment, then delicately lifted the tablet so the yellow light from its screen climbed her torso like a dismal sunrise and finally illuminated her face, the eyes casting ravenously as if from the barren solitude of a tomb

The Three Lives of Sonata James by Lettie Prell

★★★★★ (5/5)

  • Only the poor are having babies anymore. Everyone else is hanging on to their money for themselves, for their newbodies.
  • Sonata rose from the table where she’d been created. Her movements were effortlessly smooth, without core muscles clenching in the belly or the dull thud of feet striking the floor
  • Miller touched her arm lightly, a sensation of coolness against coolness, slightly metallic yet yielding
  • and wondered how negative emotions like fear sloughed away while this transcendent feeling lingered. Epicurus himself would’ve been jealous of her attainment, she thought, this newfound peacefulness born of an absence of bodily pain. Most people who hadn’t taken philosophy didn’t get what hedonism was really all about, and until tonight, she had had book knowledge only
  • There was no longer a need to eat or drink, but an NB took up space. It was only fair to pay.
  • It was strange to be living in the future, amidst the past.
  • We occupy the same space, but we live in different worlds. No relationships can last across that gulf
  • When any species is confined to an overcrowded space, the stress can cause them to attack one another
  • And in every one of these cycles of human life there will be one hour where, for the first time one man, and then many, will perceive the mighty thought of the eternal recurrence of all things: and for mankind this is always the hour of Noon

The Weight of Memories by Cixin Liu

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • For example, many cognitive patterns we call “instincts”—such as a spider’s knowledge of how to weave a web or a bee’s understanding of how to construct a hive—are really just inherited memories. The newly discovered inheritance of memory in humans is even more complete than in other species. The amount of information involved is too high to be passed down through the genetic code; instead, the memories are coded at the atomic level in the DNA, through quantum states in the atoms
  • Mother: I don’t blame you for being wary, Dr. Ying. But I participated in this experiment willingly. I want to be born a second time
  • A person’s memories are like a book, and different readers will experience different feelings. It’s a terrible thing to allow an unborn child to read such a heavy, bleak book.
  • He was completely unprepared for the long, winding road of life ahead of him, and thus ready for anything.

The Destroyer by Tara Isabella Burton

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • Long before my mother destroyed the world, her experiments were quieter, more contained. They did not obliterate continents. They did not rack up the dead
  • and everything I ever was or would become was threaded in me already, and manifest in her.
  • Like them I had the power to disappoint her.
  • There is a caesura between all that was and all that is, between the city I loved and the city that I know now, between my mother’s city and my own
  • I will walk out into the world she has left for me, and then with two sticks and a match I will build her up again.

Lullaby for a Lost World by Aliette de Bodard

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • They bury you at the bottom of the gardens—what’s left of you, pathetic and small and twisted so out of shape it hardly seems human anymore. The river, dark and oily, licks at the ruin of your flesh—at your broken bones—and sings you to sleep in a soft, gentle language like a mother’s lullabies, whispering of rest and forgiveness, of a place where it is forever light, forever safe.
  • But then he rises, and it’s as if a curtain had been drawn across his face, casting everything in a sharper, merciless light; and once more he is the dapper, effortlessly elegant master of the house, the man who keeps it all together by sheer strength of will
  • your name becomes like you; buried, broken, and forgotten

meat+drink by Daniel Polansky

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • many (most?) of the things that you think are your mind are really your flesh. anger is the heart beating faster. fear is the stomach tightening and untightening. lust is blood swelling between your legs
  • flesh is ever-changing, flesh is self-aware. meat is insentient, meat is stagnant. flesh is a part of you and maybe the greater part, but meat is something you carry along like a knapsack.
  • perhaps it is only that sometimes misery seems to ease when spread about, or that spreading it seems to provide some purpose to the misery

The Weather by Caighlan Smith

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • A woman comes in, her skin the color of caramelized onions and her hair a dark cocoa pulsing with yellow highlights. The flesh of her face is stretched taut, as if she’s pinned all the wrinkles back behind her ears, except for the crow’s feet at her eyes, which are more like sparrow’s feet
  • There are two rusted nails sticking out of her lips like she’s some kind of bucktoothed vampire. Spotting Lolly, she pauses in hammering and tilts her head to the other end of the board she’s nailing over the porch window. Taking the cue, Lolly goes to hold up the board as her mother plucks out a fang
  • They carry two apiece, one under each arm, and Lolly can feel the splinters planting in her flesh. She starts to count them, then starts to count the number of hammer swings it takes to get in a nail, then starts to count the more violent bzzzts of the zapper. Anything but counting the numbers of boards and windows
  • and if you don’t catch the disease fast enough, something in their dead brains will click to life long enough to say ‘this one isn’t getting sick’ and then the storm will overtake you, because if it can’t have you, it won’t leave you breathing

A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djeli Clark

★★★★★ (5/5)

  • Cairene men, despite their professed modernity, were still uncomfortable working alongside a woman. And they expressed their unease in peculiar, awkward ways
  • He drove his beast at a slow trot, as if in defiance of the modernity that surrounded him.
  • Fatma was born into the world al-Jahiz left behind: a world transformed by magic and the supernatural. The djinn, especially, took to the age, their penchant for building yielding more wonders than could be counted
  • It will take the measure of the very transition of time. Not just here, but across space and distance, bringing together all of time in this one place. It shall be the greatest clock in this world, or perhaps any other
  • There’ll be more than enough paperwork to do in the morning. The modern world loves paperwork
  • It’s better stated by saying that he unlocked a door by finding a particular moment in space and time unique to the Kaf. That, in turn, weakened the barriers of other worlds, allowing magic and beings beyond the djinn to find their way into this one. There are worlds upon worlds that exist
  • Bright fluid like the blood of a star poured from the wounds
  • Fatma wondered if what she looked upon now were many beings, or merely the appendage of one dipping into their world

Your Orisons May Be Recorded by Laurie Penny

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • I knew the names of all the stars, and I wouldn’t tell them to him. I couldn’t. It would have driven him mad, and he would have ended up wandering the streets with the beggars and the crazed soothsayers.
  • Gremory is a demon, so he’s allowed to laugh at the unfortunate, including the unfortunately-named.
  • They’re always on their knees begging for things they want rather than asking for things they need
  • That’s not quite true. They remember the calls in snatches, like the dregs of dreams you can’t touch with your tongue, draining away. A sense of something profound, whether it’s redemption or frustration, vanishing on the edge of vision
  • He was tortured by the impulse to understand everything. A fatal condition in humans
  • We’re not allowed to smite wrongdoers with great vengeance, or even moderate vengeance
  • Gremory once laid waste to an entire city-state in Sumer and made its rivers flow with gore. He’s calmed down a bit now, and I think he’s happier for it. I’m envious
  • “I want you to stay,” he says, “but I need you to leave.”

Breaking Water by Indrapramit Das

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • The sun emerged over the rooftops of Kolkata, a peeled orange behind the smoky veil of monoxides, its twin crawling over the river
  • Their hatred for these creatures, these once-humans, was immediate and visceral. After all, every walking corpse on that ghat was a remnant of crimes they’d never solved or missing persons they never found
  • The thing about the reality of the undead is that we can now see the afterlife. We live in it. And we share that afterlife with its dead inhabitants, who walk among us. But we can’t talk to them, and they can’t talk to us. That truly is the most exquisite, atheistic hell

Autobiography of a Traitor and a Half-Savage by Alix E. Harrow

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • But Clayton was not a foolish man. He saw me the way a surgeon might see a body, all my fragile nerves exposed on the operating table, neatly labeled arteries pumping love and hate in equal measures through my limbs. But he didn’t know, didn’t yet see the carved out hole where my heart had been. I was a prisoner with the key held beneath my tongue, waiting for my moment
  • They spent their time tending their spite like a well-made fire, my three aunts, hating every trace of the East that leaked across the river. Including me.
  • I wrote pages and pages here about the intricate trials of a mapmaker’s labor—the lonely half-lives we lead among the Easterners, the way our own languages grow heavy and strange in our mouths, and especially the terrible stillness we bring to the land, like a kind of dying. But I tore those pages out and sent their ragged-edged bodies floating down some nameless creek
  • Each of them relying on the moment when someone like me might close her eyes and hold an image of the land still in her mind, feeling its endless permutations but soothing it like a fractious horse, settling on only one place.
  • “Is there some kind of problem?” His voice had that dangerous drawl to it, the deceptive laze of a predator.
  • Mapmakers don’t make the land; we only hold fast to whichever shape it gives us. I walked forward
  • Ira’s face seemed too fragile to hold a twelve-year-old’s unfettered glee, as if his huge smile might crack him in half
  • Every bone in the trees shuddered in unison. The path disappeared. Tables and tools were swept away by purple vines writhing snakelike across the ground. The gentle loam was replaced by poison-colored flowers and thorny shrubs crouching in the shadows. Instead of dense black branches above us it was open sky, glowing a dull orange as if some distant city were aflame. The earth writhed beneath our feet like the hide of a monstrous horse, resettling itself in a different shape none of us had ever seen
  • the entire process of mapmaking is about civilizing the land, and teaching it to recognize its truest form. But I disagree; I’ve always felt mapmaking is about believing in the solidity of a place, and the paintings help Easterners drive out their doubts
  • It is my suspicion that travel writings from those few brave souls who wander into unsettled territory are the first steps toward conquest. Their words create an image in our minds of a still, singular place
  • Growing up, people hissed that I was born to be a mapmaker, being half of one thing and half the other. In our language, the word for mapmaker is also the word for traitor

Terminal by Lavie Tidhar

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • At first, Mei slept and woke up to a regiment of day and night, but a month out of Earth orbit, the old order began to slowly crumble, and now she sleeps and wakes when she wants, making day and night appear as if by magic, by a wave of her hand
  • These hypothetical people, not yet born, already laying demands to his time, his being. To be human is to exist in potentia, unborn responsibilities rising like butterflies in a great big obscuring cloud
  • Across the swarm’s radio network, the muezzin in A-5011 sends out the call to prayer, the singsong words so beautiful that Mei stops, suspended in mid air, and breathes deeply, her chest rising and falling steadily, space all around her
  • but at long last everything they ever knew and owned is gone and then there is only the jalopy confines, only that and the stars in the window and the voice of the swarm

Clover by Charlie Jane Anders

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

  • Anwar didn’t want to live in fear, so instead, he lived in the sweet spot between paranoia and rage
  • He felt ten years older outdoors than indoors
  • Some time later, Anwar cried into his knees on the couch. He smelled wrong—pungent and kind of rotten, instead of like nice soap and hops. He was all shrunk inward, in the opposite of the ready-to-pounce stance that Berkley had pulled his whole body into when he’d been preparing to jump on Clover
  • “So listen. I suck at giving advice. But the absence of good luck is not bad luck. It’s just … life.”

The Maiden Thief by Melissa Marr

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

  • “There was a fox in the garden the morning Karis disappeared, possibly the day that the accident happened too. I sneezed those days. What ripples we see are not always causes.”
  • The Maiden Thief has never taken two daughters from the same family. That, at least, gives me a horrible comfort.
  • I am grateful that my father chose to deny me comfort. Their callousness made me strong enough to survive this day

The High Lonesome Frontier by Rebecca Campbell

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

  • If one was to write a song about the moon, he thought, one should think of its true nature: its distance from earth, out there among the meteors and comets; one should consider the luminiferous aether through which it sailed
  • Somewhere out there someone—a sort of person we can’t imagine—could raise their hand or whatever into space and use the same sort of tech to catch the thin, ancient hiss of a human voice, stretched to nothing by distance, but persistent in the darkness

The Art of Space Travel by Nina Allan

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

  • There’s something a bit sad about Benny underneath all his bullshit. I don’t mean sad in the sense of pathetic, I mean genuinely sad, sorrowful and bemused at the same time, as if he’d been kidnapped out of one life and set to work in another
  • It’s all still inside, I know it—everything she was, everything she knows, still packed tight inside her head like old newspapers packed into the eaves of an old house. Yellowing and crumpled, yes, but still telling their stories
  • The last thing you want is to be tied to someone who’s always wishing he’d chosen a different path
  • Sometimes I believe it’s the airport itself, and Sipson, both the kind of non-places that keep you addicted to transience, the restless half-life of the perpetual traveller who never goes anywhere
  • In leaving this world, she makes me feel more properly a part of it

La Beauté sans vertu by Genevieve Valentine

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

  • That’s how a girl gets noticed by an agency to start with, by having that sharp, necessary stride where the head stays fixed and the rest of her limbs seem to clatter in that careless way that makes the clothes look four times more expensive than they are.
  • The choreographer—he has a name, but no one dares use it when speaking of him, lest he appear before they’ve corrected their posture—thinks carefully for a long time
  • There should always be more to look at than anyone can catch, that sense of being doomed to miss something wonderful; that’s how a presentation becomes a show.
  • Centifolia signed girls for life; casualties were a cost of doing business

A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

  • She could split the horizon in two if she wanted, opening it at the seams as deftly as a tailor, and make the lightning curl catlike at her wrist and purr for her
  • She drew the picture for me in the air, a map of sparkling futures, constants, and variables; closed circuits of possibilities looped together, arcing from one timeline to another
  • It was sunset, and the flat, highway-veined city was just beginning to glimmer with electric light, civilization pulsing across the ground in arteries, in fractals
  • I would give you only the best things. The kindness you deserved, the body you wanted, a way out that didn’t end with the horizon line ripped open, possibilities pouring out like loose stuffing, my world shrieking to a halt
  • Her tears fall into my eyes, sizzling and evaporating on contact, as the sky yawns above us, hungry, broken.

The Great Detective by Delia Sherman

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

  • Angharad launched into a thoroughly seventeenth-century rodomontade on the subject of the encroaching ways of the lower classes when given the least measure of power
  • To Ethel, the workshop was a wilderness of tiny objects she was not allowed to move. To Tacy, it was a model of Sir Arthur’s mind and hers. She knew precisely where she might lay her hand on any tool or paper she needed
  • Grateful, for once, for the masculine prejudice that dismisses all females as more or less decorative featherbrains, Tacy wandered to the back of the shop, where a promising-looking ledger stood open upon a high desk

Finnegan’s Field by Angela Slatter

★☆☆☆☆ (1/5)

  • No clues, no evidence, as if she’d simply evaporated surely as dew on a flower petal when the sun hits.
  • if Anne squinted, she seemed to see a ghostly outline around her daughter. A shadow-shape that was slightly larger than Madrigal and a split second slower, as if just out of synch so that when she swung about, ran, jumped, and skipped, there was the blur like a butterfly’s wing in her wake, but only for the slenderest of moments
  • And the little girl’s smile seemed simultaneously too quick and too slow, as if it also carried its own spectre, leaving a short-lived smear as it slid into place

The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman

★★★★★ (5/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • Maybe all people have that feeling deep down, that your hometown is something you can never really escape, but can never really go home to, either
  • everyone here gave her crayons all the time. As though she could draw away her illness, color away the needles and the drugs
  • Maybe everyone feels that way about their hometown: the place we’re from never apologizes, never admits that it was wrong about
  • You cried so loudly, and it was the first time it had happened to me: the first time I’d felt pain for someone else. I couldn’t stay with someone who had that kind of power over me
  • But you’ll have everything that everyone else longs for: Wealth. Freedom. I abandoned you, but at least I abandoned you at the top of the hierarchy of needs.
  • So we liked the ferry, both of us, me the way there and you the way back. I loved leaving everything behind, but you loved standing out on deck and watching Helsingborg appear on the horizon
  • “You never get your child’s attention back,” your mother once said. “The time when they don’t just listen to you to be nice, that time passes, it’s the first thing to go.”
  • My heart fell to the floor and you walked through the door into the kitchen. I couldn’t bring myself to let you come back. A second is always a second; that’s the one definitive value we have on earth. Everyone is always negotiating, all of the time. You’re doing the deal of your life, every day. This was mine.

Sarah, Plain and Tall Series by Patricia MacLachlan

★★★★☆ (4/5)

Bidding farewell to the Whitting family. Your acquaintance and companionship has been delightful. Anna, Caleb, Cassie – you held my hand through your adventures and misadventures, penning down your innocent dreams and tribulations. You painted the prairie as if it were my home too. I reveled in your joys, basked under the hot summer sun, chased your dogs along dusty pathway, anticipated arrivals of your loved ones and consoled my sorrows with yours. Your stories are an epitome of simple, singular delights that I shall cherish for a lifetime.

A selection of my favorite passages from the book

Sarah, Plain and Tall

  • Outside, the prairie reached out and touched the places where the sky came down
  • Together we picked flowers, paintbrush and clover and prairie violets. There were buds on the wild roses that climbed up the paddock fence
  • Inside were three colored pencils. “Blue,” said Caleb slowly, “and gray. And green.” Sarah nodded. Suddenly Caleb grinned. “Papa,” he called. “Papa, come quickly! Sarah has brought the sea!”

Skylark

  • We painted the barn and tree by the cow pond, and we painted the sky just after sunset, Sarah’s favorite time. “When you can’t tell where the color comes from,” Sarah said.
  • And that night I dreamed Caleb’s dream: Papa looking for us. He could hear Sarah’s song and our voices, and he searched the fields and the house and the barn. But we weren’t there.
  • “It rained,” Papa said again, his voice so soft that it could have been the wind I heard.
  • But the prairie is home, the sky so big it takes your breath away, the land like a giant quilt tossed out

Caleb’s Story

  • “Everyone’s not a writer, Caleb,” said Anna. “But everyone can write.”
  • “You always love what you know first,” he said. “Always,” he repeated softly
  • “What worries do you have, Caleb?” I shook my head, not wanting to talk about it. I had seen Grandfather’s bag packed. I had seen Papa pass Grandfather in the hallway, neither of them speaking. I had heard Sarah’s words to Papa, the words telling him what she did not love about him
  • The winter came early and will stay longer. There will be winds and storms, but I don’t care. There is happiness here now. What Sarah told Cassie is true. Not one thing in the world is wrong.

More Perfect than the Moon

  • Summer is too hot. I can’t write. I like winter. There is something sharp about winter that makes me think. I like writing all curled up in a corner of the warm house, safe and quiet. Out here in the open there is too much space. My thoughts fly away.

Grandfather’s Dance

  • Silence filled the room. Grandfather walked out the kitchen door, slamming it behind him. Jack got up and walked to the window to look out. Caleb and I looked out, too. Outside, moonlight touched the grass and spilled over the flowers in Mama’s garden. Grandfather walked toward the barn. Then, suddenly, he stopped, lifted his shoulders, and turned around as if he knew Jack was at the window. And there, in the moonlight, Grandfather did a little dance, turning around and around, his hands in the air. Jack smiled. Grandfather smiled back at him
  • “I suppose that’s what writing is for,” said Grandfather. “To change life and make it come out the way you want it to.”

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

How can a book with such an interesting premise be so tedious to read?

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • The uncertainty probably kept her awake. She had once seen a heron flying across the estuary and trying, while it was on the wing, to swallow an eel which it had caught. The eel, in turn, was struggling to escape from the gullet of the heron and appeared a quarter, a half, or occasionally three-quarters of the way out. The indecision expressed by both creatures was pitiable. They had taken on too much.
  • She had a kind heart, though that is not of much use when it comes to the matter of self-preservation.
  • But the Old House was not haunted in a touching manner. It was infested by a poltergeist which, together with the damp and an unsolved question about the drains, partly accounted for the difficulty in selling the property. The house agent was in no way legally bound to mention the poltergeist, though he perhaps alluded to it in the phrase unusual period atmosphere.
  • But courage and endurance are useless if they are never tested.
  • Milo North was tall, and went through life with singularly little effort. To say ‘I know who you are, you must be Mrs Green’ represented an unaccustomed output of energy. What seemed delicacy in him was usually a way of avoiding trouble; what seemed like sympathy was the instinct to prevent trouble before it started. It was hard to see what growing older would mean to such a person. His emotions, from lack of exercise, had disappeared almost altogether. Adaptability and curiosity, he had found, did just as well.
  • The Unseen, as the girls had always called it at Müller’s, could mind its own business no better than the Seen. Neither of them would prevent her from opening a bookshop.
  • A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.
  • From the point of view of the infantry, you know – the chap who just walks forward and gets shot.’
  • She would have liked to have been instrumental in passing some law which would entail that he would never be unhappy again. But perhaps he ought not really to have been in the shop at all. He was there, at the very least, on sufferance.
  • She was looking at 200 Chinese book-markers, handpainted on silk. The stork for longevity, the plum-blossom for happiness. Her weakness for beauty had betrayed her. It was inconceivable that anyone else in Hardborough should want them. But Christine was consoling: the visitors would buy them – come the summer, they didn’t know what to spend their money on.
  • It was too difficult for her to believe that he simply lapsed into whatever he did next only if it seemed to him less trouble than anything else.
  • A good book is the precious life-blood of a masterspirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life, and as such it must surely be a necessary commodity.
  • But the Old House Bookshop, like a patient whose crisis is over, but who cannot regain strength, showed less encouraging returns.
  • To be accepted by this tiresome old man would be an entry into a new dimension of time and space – the past centuries of inhabited Suffolk, and its present silent and watchful existence.