Silly questions

Today I was watching a pigeon. Not the most engaging of activities, I know that much, but it caught my attention because it was huge. Now, I realize that a pigeon doesn’t really warrant a blog post, but the thing is that, having seen it, I found myself wondering what the biggest pigeon species happens to be. Some twenty years ago I would have dismissed the question as one that wasn’t really worth pursuing, today it took me thirty seconds to find an answer, and the truth is that when I did I found nothing remarkable about that fact (apparently that distinction goes to the three species of the Goura genus). The thing is that, as pretty much everyone else, I’ve grown used to having the answers to my questions at my fingertips, and today was one of those days in which the realization of how used to taking that ability for grounded I’ve become really hit me.

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CreateSpace ruins the day!

Up until now my experience with Createspace had been a fairly positive one. Now I have to report an extremely unpleasant experience: I was in Mexico, and I needed some copies of my books in a hurry, so I placed an order and paid for priority shipping, which was ridiculously expensive (as in 150% of the cost of the books themselves!). I was told that the books would be there within a week. That felt a bit too long in light of what I was being charged, but seeing how I had ten days, I figured I could live with it. The order was placed on March 11, the books were ready to ship by the 13… and there they sat, neglected until the 17, when I finally got a notice letting me know that my order had shipped… and would arrive by the 23 (and that 23 has now been changed to a 24). That’s thirteen days for priority shipping, and long after the time those books will do me any good. I wrote back to them to ask what was going on, and I had my shipping fee refunded.

That was something, though there was nothing remotely resembling an explanation, and the truth is that it didn’t really do me one lick of good, as what I needed were the books, not the refund, that was why I had paid that outrageous shipping rate in the first place… and then I began poking around. It was then that I realized that they had sent an international shipment that had been billed as priority, and for which they had charged the same rate they would have charged if they had been sending the books all the way down to Argentina (there’s a flat rate for Latin America), using UPS’s Standard service, which the company itself lists as “economical ground delivery for your less-urgent shipments”.

Ground delivery? On an international shipment? And how do they reconcile the word ‘priority’ (as in priority shipping) with UPS’s   ‘less-urgent’ wording? Quick, someone get these folks a dictionary.

In short, buyer beware, when it comes to international orders CreateSpace’s ‘priority shipping’ is a mess, one that can leave you looking like a fool if you dare rely upon it, and no refund is ever going to fix that.

UPDATE: Okay, so the books won’t be here on time, there’s nothing anyone can do to change that, but I just got a call from a representative from CreateSpace, acknowledging their mistake in shipping via UPS Standard, and doing his best to find a way to make things right. Unfortunately there were some elements of this particular mess that made finding a real solution impossible, but I realize that those are not CreateSpace’s fault. Yes, they screwed up, but they owned up to their mistake, and I definitely appreciate it.

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Goodbye Mr. Spock

Yesterday we lost Leonard Nimoy, I won’t bother repeating here what has been said countless times already. I am a member of my generation, and as such I cut my SF teeth on Star Trek reruns. I make no apologies for that fact, and I admit that I, like countless others, was more drawn to the weird character who was originally meant to be little more than a sidekick than to the valiant hero (sorry, I could never quite warm up to Captain Kirk).

One thing I find fascinating, however, is the shift in Mr. Nimoy’s  relationship with his own character as seen in the titles of his autobiographies (I Am Not Spock in 1977 and I Am Spock in 1995). That he would have a love/hate relationship with the fictional character that had effectively taken over his life is logical enough, and a part of me can’t help but to be relieved by the fact that in the end he chose to embrace him… or maybe it would be more accurate to say that in the end he chose to make it his.

That, I suspect is the key, a key that is hidden in those dates. When I Am Not Spock came out the extent of the Star Trek official corpus was restricted to the three seasons of the original series, which was itself about ten years old by that time. That’s a long time to be held hostage by a figment of someone else’s imagination. The thing is that the Spock we get to see in that series, while memorable, is probably the weakest and most stereotypical incarnation of the character. It was a character that, while featuring some important contributions from the actor, was conceived first and cast later. It was in the motion pictures that Mr. Spock truly came into his own, or at least that is how it seems to me. It was also in those films, especially in the ones he actually got to direct, that he was finally free to take his character in the direction he wanted. That, I suspect, is one of the key elements that enabled him to make his peace with the role Mr. Spock had carved for himself in his life.

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Series interrupted, the Millennium Trilogy

Okay, so I finally tackled the Millennium Trilogy. I admit it’s not exactly my cup of tea, that was why I had been putting it off for years, but seeing how crazy the past couple of weeks have been I decided that now would be a good time to give it a shot. Anyway, over all I have to say that I enjoyed the first book. The second one was interesting enough, though at times I felt that my suspension of disbelief was pushed past its breaking point. The third book I found downright annoying.

But let’s take things one book at a time.

As I said, the first one was a pleasant read, the story was reasonably well told, and over all I found myself being drawn into the plot. Oh, there are a couple of plot holes that can be more than a little annoying when the book is considered in the context of the series (without getting into too many details, and keeping things deliberately cryptic to avoid spoilers, Lisbeth’s financial dependence on Bjurman makes no sense whatsoever once concept of the Republic is introduced), but if the book is read on its own those can be reasonably dismissed.

Book two too has an interesting premise, though there were a few too many coincidences for my liking (Sweden comes across  like a tiny village in which everyone knows everyone else, rather than a country of nearly ten million), there were some loose ends I felt could probably have been trimmed, and it also got a little preachy at times. Still, those defects were not serious enough to detract from the main plot line.

Book three, on the other hand, is a bit of a mess (and I apologize for the mild spoilers in what follows).

To begin with there are a couple of subplots that take up a good chunk of the book, but don’t add one lick to the story, such as the whole story of Berger leaving Millennium (and then coming back), and the relationship between Blomkvist and Figerola. In addition to that the dramatic tension depends, to a large extent, on a really absurd plot hole, namely on the fact that, when confronted with a gross miscarriage of justice, the government cannot interfere because the judiciary is supposed to be independent (let me count the way to get around that one without breaking the law), thus leaving the heroine’s fate in the hands of a desperate legal ploy that was cooked up by the valiant hero. Finally there is the fact that the preaching is also amplified to a ridiculous extent… and the fact that a story that begins with the protagonist standing almost alone against the power of a corrupt government agency, ends up with a ringing endorsement of that government, where the bad guys turn out to be just a few bad apples. That last bit was the one I found the most annoying one.

Now,  I realize that the first one of those complaints -the one having to do with the pointless subplots- may have something to do the fact that this trilogy was never meant to be a trilogy in the first place, but rather that these books were supposed to be part of a much longer series, and that the author could reasonably have been laying down the groundwork for a future story, unfortunately the other issues are harder to excuse.

In short, I would recommend book one, as that one can stand alone, but seeing how much of a mess book three is, and how intertwined books two and three happen to be, I am more reluctant to recommend the rest of the series.

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They were wearing their best clothes

Earlier today I witnessed a rather disturbing incident. As I’ve mentioned more than once, I live close to a river, in it there are a number of islets, and the people who live there usually come and go in canoes. Anyway, it was around dawn, I had taken my dogs out for their morning walk, and there were just two canoes in the water. The first one had in it three teenagers, wearing what were probably their best clothes, the second one had one man, rowing alone… and then the man’s canoe began to take in water until it eventually sank. The first canoe reached the bank, and I pointed out that there was a man in serious trouble less than a hundred yards away, their reaction was something along the lines of ‘not my problem’. I was feeling utterly powerless, watching the scene unfold, but luckily someone with a motorboat realized what was going on and got him out.

Now, I realize that considering the number of people that can usually be seen rowing around here these incidents are probably commonplace, but I had never seen one first-hand before, and I have to admit that those kids’ indifference bugged me. A man was in the water, and they had the means to help him, but they were unwilling to do anything. After all, they were wearing their best clothes…

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Exhausted

Okay, so I am utterly exhausted. I have been trying to give my aunt, the one who recently lost her partner of seventy years, a hand as best I can, but at the same time I feel as if I were doing it with my hands tied behind my back. What happened was that my uncle’s youngest sister, who was supposed to be coming to give me a hand, and to help sort things out, has had her flight cancelled not once but twice in the past couple of weeks due to the weather. I realize this is not her fault, but right now I feel like I don’t even have the resources I need to try to tackle this one, and that’s really becoming an issue.

No, I’m not going anywhere, but there has been a bit of a communications breakdown with my uncle’s friends, who treat me almost like an intruder, and I do feel like I have been abandoned by my own family, who should have been here to back me up (there’s one person in particular who won’t even take my calls because she’s so upset that she just can’t deal with this… well, at least she has a choice). I feel used, like I am being taken for granted, and that, I have to admit, is the part that’s bugging me the most.

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When does caring become abuse?

A few days ago my uncle passed away, he was eighty-nine. That left my aunt, who I freely admit is not at a hundred percent, to try to pick up the pieces of her life as best she can. They had been together for more than seventy years, a number I am still trying to wrap my mind around, and I realize she’s going to need help… lots of it. Anyway, some of their life-long friends seem to have effectively taken over her life, making all the choices on her behalf (up to and including burying my uncle, who considered himself Jewish, in a coffin that was decorated with a huge crucifix). I know these people mean well, I know they are doing their best, and I am grateful for everything they are doing, I would be lost without their help, but at the same time that gratitude seems to have become a trap because there have been some instances in which I feel those friends have crossed the line, making my aunt feel both humiliated and disrespected. I tried to point the problem out to one of them, but I was summarily dismissed, I tried to contact other family members to ask for some backup, but most of them are too caught up in their own grief, so here I am, wondering where the line between caring and abuse happens to be, and feeling utterly powerless. It’s not a pleasant feeling.

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Whatever happened to Maria?

Today, as I was reading about the Greek elections, I came across a picture in the ‘related news’ section. It was a familiar face, that of Maria, the blonde little girl with the angelic face who had allegedly been kidnapped by the Roma, and then was inconveniently revealed to be a Roma girl suffering from albinism whose desperate poor parents had handed over to another family in something that can probably be described as an unofficial adoption (I blogged about that one, and you can find that one here). Of course, as soon as the bigoted narrative of the ‘child abducted by gypsies’ crumbled the story vanished from the headlines, and a little girl, whose only crime was to have suffer a genetic defect that made her resemble a different (and favored) ethnicity, found herself torn from everything that was familiar to her and tossed into an institution. So the question I am asking myself, a question I’ll probably never be able to answer because no one seems to have bothered to do any sort of follow up once her origins were revealed is what happened to Maria? Where is that little girl, and what became of her?

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A blessing in disguise

As you may remember, a couple of weeks ago I was having some pretty serious issues with my cover designer, who up until then had been one of my best friends. I freely admit that the whole ordeal left me feeling utterly miserable (and I still miss her, after all, a friendship of more than a decade is not built overnight, though it can certainly be torpedoed in an instant). The thing is that as I was wondering what to do, and how I could possibly re-imagine one of the covers she was supposed to do, I hit upon an idea. It was completely different from the one I had originally envisioned, but there was something about it that got to me… and before I knew it I had the beginnings of a brand new book. Will that story bloom? I don’t know, it’s too early to tell, but for the time being it seems to have taken root between my ears. Funny how these things tend to work out in the end

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On the recent events

Okay, I admit that I am still trying to wrap my mind about last week’s events. I am also wondering what can I do… the problem is that I can’t think of anything that doesn’t feel trite in light of the magnitude of what happened. So here go my thanks to cartoonists everywhere for making us laugh, and maybe look at the world from a different perspective. Yours shouldn’t have be deemed a high risk job.

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