Monday, November 30, 2009

CBRII books 4 and 5 - Heavenly Pleasures and Forbidden Fruit by Kerry Greenwood

AKA I went back for more, and liked it.

One thing this Cannonball Read is going to make embarrasingly clear is my love for Chick Lit. Well, Detective Chick Lit, but really, that's just the normal variety with some corpses added. I know they're fairly predictable, with the plucky heroine and hunky hero, but sometimes, I just can't resist. Actually, I've just realised that four of the five books I've so far read for the CBRII have involved hunky heroes. Wow.  That's REALLY embarrassing.

Heavenly Pleasures and Forbidden Fruit are, respectively, books 2 and 5 of the Corinna Chapman series. HP was first published in 2005, FF in 2009. Why do I mention that?  Because in that time, Bush and Howard went bye bye, their legacy either the economic destruction of their nation, or the internal destruction of their party (as of today, the Australian Liberal party, who happen to be our conservative party, because we're weird like that, have elected, by one vote, their third leader in two years). It turns out that when Obama was talking about Change, it wasn't limited to American politics. 3 pages into Heavenly Pleasures, you're slapped in the face with some gloating over Iraq, and that's just the start of a steady stream of agenda-filled remarks. It's interesting, but only from a historical perspective (especially when there's references to economic jitters and insurance/bankers having trouble). Aside from the standard, perfectly acceptable grumbling about the state of the world in general, Forbidden Fruit was devoid of politics.

Hence, I whole-heartedly recommend Forbidden Fruit. It's set during Christmas, and there's a wealthy pregnant girl on the run with her poor-but-good boyfriend. There's also Freegans, and Vegans, and Gypsies and a Donkey with a thing for muffins. This is because it's a Detective Chick Lit where The Worship of Shoes is replaced by Wacky Characters (see: Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, which I also enjoy, because unfortunately, it appears that my Taste may actually be in my butt).

That said, aside from the politics, Heavenly Pleasures is probably a slightly better book.  It's a little more tightly woven, a few more surprises, and I found myself much more emotionally invested in the subplots.  This time, there's a mysterious new tennant in the World's Best Apartment Block,  Insula, and he's brought trouble with him.  The kind that carries weapons and explosives.  Meanwhile, the Heavenly Pleasures of the title, a high-end chocolate shop, is also under attack.  Somebody is replacing the chocolate filling with chilli and soy sauce, and destroying the business.  The owner, Juliette Lefebvre, hires Daniel, Corinna's private detectin' boyfriend, to catch the culprit.  Oh, and Heavenly Pleasures' shopgirl has gone missing, just to add to the tension.  
The characters, with the exception of the villans, of course, are all utterly charming, and once again, Greenwood has researched the hell out of her subject matter.  There's a lot of information slotted into these books, on everything from chocolate and chess to old christmas carols and the proper care of pampered bunnies.  And they're based in Melbourne.  Which makes me happy, for reasons I can't fully explain.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Perks of the job.

Know what makes a scientist move? Free food. Seriously, a pack of famished wolves spotting a fat lamb with a broken leg does not move faster than a lab full of scientists when the words 'food in the tea room' are uttered.
Normally, these are arranged by companies that want to sell us stuff. They know the only way to get us close enough to hear their pitch, they have to entice us within hearing range with food. This happens about once a month if we're lucky.
If you really want the free stuff, work for a doctor. Pharmaceutical companies give them shit like you would not believe. In the single year I did clinical research I got breakfast twice a week, lunch once a week, every form of stationary known to man, sim card readers, USB sticks, mugs, bags, and, best of all, an all-expenses-paid weekend on the Gold Coast in a 5 star hotel (but only because I was filling in for the PhD student, a doctor herself).
Part of the reason I got this stuff was because my boss, a cardiologist, was adamant that he would have nothing with a drug name on it, and if the sales rep snuck something into his pidgeon hole, he gave it to me. I admired the hell out of him for that stance, even if it meant I had to buy pads of post-it notes on my way to work every month or so. The stationary cupboard at this job had very little that WASN'T covered in a drug name.

So what free shit do you get with your job? (yep, trying out that blog thing where you finish with a question.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cannonball Read II, book 3: Keeping it Real by Justina Robson

This is the first in the ‘Quantum Gravity’ series. The premise is that in 2015, a large Hedron collider impersonated Chernobyl, and now there’s about 7 different realities all intersecting one another. And they’ve always done this, or something. There’s a lot of confusion about ‘before the quantum bomb’ and ‘after the quantum bomb’. Come to think of it, there’s just a lot of confusion.

Lila Black is 21 and works for Earth (Otopia)’s spy agency. She got torn apart by an elve, and through a bit of magical technological fiddling, they turned her into the 6 million dollar woman. Only with a lot more weapons. The book opens on the day she starts her first assignment since being rebuilt, to protect an elven pop star who’s been getting a lot of hatemail from, oh, about four dimensions. She doesn’t quite succeed, and she has to follow his kidnappers into the elven reality to rescue him. There’s a lot of political manoeuvring in the elve dimension, some philosophising about knowledge and power, the bad guy is actually a good guy, Lila is possessed by an elven necromancer who used to have a thing with the bad-guy-actually-a-good-guy, and there’s some sort of Game between her and the elven popstar.

It’s a very complicated book. Probably too complicated, because I spent so much time trying to work out what the hell was going on that I found it impossible to be dragged into the story. Books have always been my escape hatch, I get grumpy when it doesn’t take me anywhere. There’s a lot of plot holes and dropped threads, but I gather this is going to be a series, so, presumably, the holes will be filled and the threads picked up in latter books. It also suffers from what I call ‘Laurel K. Hamilton syndrome’. See, I have a way of scoring the quality of a movie by the number of unnecessary tit-baring. I have a theory that the makers are just throwing those tits in as a distraction, or to make them appear edgy, because they’re either lazy or not talented enough to make a good film. I see more than one set of unnecessary tits, I know I have to decide to switch off my brain or the movie. ‘Laurel K. Hamilton syndrome’ is the book version. Toss in a sex scene with a hottie, under the most flimsy of pretexts. If you've ever read anything she's written in the last ten years, you'll know what I'm talking about. It tends to show up a lot in science fiction/fantasy books with a female lead, and a female writer, and I always find it distracting. I’ve no objection to a bit of romance with all that technology, but I hate it when the main character fucks one hot guy after another under that flimsy pretext of ‘it’s the hot guy’s culture/power source/whatever’.

I really liked the characters, Lila, all fire and insecurity about her appearance, and Zal, so passionate and brilliant, but so naive; and I think it had a lot of potential. But the author has tried to cram too much in, and complicate everything. Things like the Game, which has a role later in the book, but felt so unnecessary. Science fiction is at its best when the human characters are still bound by recognisable human reactions and motivations, despite the unusual setting. Justina didn’t need a Game with a special capital letter, she could have just given the characters a bit more time and a lot more flirting (which was one of the best parts of the book), and helped us fall in love with them while they fell in love with each other. Presumably, even power-mad rulers would recognise the usefulness of love in manipulating an adversary.

I’d recommend this book to a lover of science fiction, but not a person unfamiliar with the genre.
I think you’d need to be in the ‘zone’ to truly enjoy this book, able to fill in the gaps with your own past experience. In a lot of ways, this book is very much like it’s main character - a clever merging of magical and biological and scientific, sexy and smart, but not entirely comfortable with itself and or put together quite as well as it was aiming to be.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Long overdue Halloween post


I'm engaged to an awesome man, ya know that? He did most of the work, because he wanted me to be able to talk to my friends. Who are as awesome as he is, but I don't love them like I do him. Sorry guys, but that's the way it is.

There were a couple of downsides, like discovering my car had acquired a dint sometime while I was running around getting shit and finding, at the last minute, that the invite I thought I'd mailed to my favorite cousin was, in fact, still in my bag, but the night, the actual party, with my friends and my family and more food and drink then I could ever imagine, was wonderful.

We got spoiled with gifts, which we had told people they didn't need to bring, but they did anyway. Morgan escaped after about an hour and spent the rest of the night utterly charming everybody who hadn't met him, and reaquainting himself with everybody he'd already wrapped around his paw (although he probably wanted back behind a shut door when my friend's 2 year old was chasing him around the house. Seriously furball, next time, remember they're short and head for the high ground, okay?). He spent the rest of the weekend passed out on various soft surfaces, much like his owners. My oldest, bestest of the best friend, Metal, stayed back and we talked for hours, which was the perfect end to the night.

To finish, here's a pic of the ITGeek and I, in our 'the couple that kills zombies together, stays together' costumes.

By the way, those soft toys in the side of the shot? Plushy Microbes. Yes, I'm that fucking geeky, okay?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Can rattling ettiquette

I've done a bit of fundraising this year of the 'waving a tin can at an intersection' variety.  Both times, they've been for well-known organisations/charities, and I'm always stunned by how generous people are.  Still, I thought I'd offer a couple of tips, because I'm arrogant and ungrateful and stuff:

1.  Chances are good that the tin-rattlers have been in your shoes at least fifty times.  So if you don't have change, or you're not interested in giving, just shake your head, okay?  We won't think you're a turd, I promise. Don't, whatever you do, start scrambling with something in your passenger seat.  You might think you look distracted, but from our point of view, you look like you might be reaching for your bag or wallet, in order to donate.  So we walk over, and then it's awkward for all involved.  

2.  Don't throw the money.  If it falls on the road, our insurance doesn't allow us to pick it up, because when we're bending down, a) we reduce our own visibility and b) drivers have a harder time seeing us.  I can kinda see their point, even though it sucks to turn down decent people's donations. 

3.  Don't do what one guy did to me and try to have a conversation, forcing me to stand between cars on a busy road when the lights were about to turn green.  I wasn't being rude when I turned and ran off, mate, I was just trying to not get smeared all over the tarmac.  

Oh, and if you were the person who bought 6 cups of soft drink from McDonalds and gave them to some SES fundraisers in Knox today, you are a wonderful human being.  Thank you.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

CBRII: Earthly delights by Kerry Greenwood

Initially, I planned to review another book, Keeping it Real, but I've been having a very hard time getting into it, and I'm not sure if it's the book, or me.  I'm beginning to wonder if it's some sort of Pratchett backlash, because I hated the book I read immediately after Nation, his previous work.  Then again, that book was Twilight.  Because the main character in Keeping it Real has not incited a desire to stab her in the face, I felt I owed it to her author to just put the book down and come back to it later, after a literary palette cleanser.  I've been a fan of Greenwood's series about Phryne Fisher for a while now, so the first book in another of her series seemed like an excellent choice.

It was.  Hell, I fell in love with this book when she mentioned the patrician of Ankh-Morpork.  Kerry Greenwood has degrees in English and Law, and an interest in history, particularly, 1920's Melbourne, which led to the Phryne Fisher books about a female detective in, of course, 1920's Melbourne.  Earthly Delights is the first in a series on Corinna Chapman, a thoroughly modern Melbourne baker, and she's clearly applied the same diligence to researching every aspect of this character's world as she did to Phryne, from the lifestyle of a baker to the reality of soup kitchens.  She even includes recipes at the end of the book.  It's a commendable effort.  

The plot goes as follows: Corinna Chapman, owner of Earthly Delights, a Melbourne bakery, starts work one day at her usual time of 4am.   Then one of her three cats crawls back in with a needle in its paw.  She goes out to rip strips off somebody, and discovers a girl dying of an overdose (and I kinda love how her immediate reaction to being told to do CPR is 'ew, junkie germs!').  The ambulance arrives, the paramedics revive the girl, who promptly abuses the fuck out of them for killing her high, and refuses to go to the hospital until Daniel, a 'heavy' for the local soup kitchen, shows up and gets her to act like a human being.  Of course, a worker for a soup kitchen is not going to pass up the opportunity to ask a baker for their leftovers, and Corinna is not going to pass up the opportunity to spend time with the gorgeous specimen of man-flesh that is Daniel.  The OD victim is one of several - it appears that somebody is distributing heroin that contains 10 times the regular proportion of heroin and it's killing the users.  At the same time, the women in Corinna's apartment block are being targeted by an utter creep with a can of spray paint and a love of all the most misogynist parts of the bible.  Through the course of the book, Corinna adopts a street kid, helps a broken alcoholic search for his missing daughter, deals with her greedy ex and his shitty plans for the apartment building, helps at a soup kitchen, hangs out at an S&M club, solves the mysteries, bakes a lot, and yeah, spends time with Daniel.

I live in Melbourne, so this book feels very real to me.  I also really, REALLY want to live in Corinna's apartment block/workplace, inspired by ancient Rome, where the ground floor is composed of shop fronts and every apartment in the floors above are named after a Roman God or Goddess.  Corinna is endearing, ruled by the instinct to help people, but Greenwood keeps it fairly matter of fact, so it's not too smaltzy.  Yes, the happy endings are a little too pat for a book about junkies dying of overdoses, but the most sugary of concoctions won't make you sick if the cook's good enough.   

That said, it's not without flaws.  Greenwood does a fair pit of politicing.  While I agree with her (or Corinna's) opinion on the war on Iraq and the policies of our former prime minister, I found the repeated references a little distracting.  Perhaps authors should be warned that politics is as short-lived as pop culture, and equally adept at destroying a book's longevity.

Then there's the whole fat versus thin debate.  Greenwood goes to great effort to paint Corinna as a woman who is fat, and perfectly okay with it.  But she repeatedly mentions that the two very slender characters (both female) are anorexic (yet working in a bakery???), and one particular scene made my skin crawl.  Earlier, Corinna had crowed that a corset gave her breasts 'a plastic surgeon would weep over because they're so perfect'.  But while in bed with Daniel (who is, natch, conventionally perfect in build), she asks him why he's with her instead of a thin woman.  No, wait, Daniel guesses that she wants to ask him.  The answer could have been 'because I don't care about weight, I think you're smart and funny and not a morning person' or even 'I'm a tits man and being the sub to your dom was an incredible turn-on', but instead, he gives her a speech about how he's into long term investments, and when they're older thin women will be 'mottled, haggard and wrinkled'.   Charming. With one ugly bout of thin-shaming (which, regardless of the advantages bestowed on thinner people, is no less reprehensible than fat-shaming), Greenwood undermines the entire message of healthy body image that she's trying to convey.   

Still, I enjoyed the book.  Very much.  It's light and fluffy, and quite delicious.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Regulation of inflammatory responses by gut microbiota and chemoattractant receptor GPR43

(Alternative title: Eating Poo is good for you!)

The information in this article relates only barely to my field of study. But it intrigued me, so I decided to review it. It’s also relatively short, which, given that I spent the first half of this week passed out in a sugar coma, made it very attractive.
It was the ITGeek who passed this article onto me. A media-fied version of the results had been published in a newspaper, he mentioned it, and I asked him to pass on the details. The media version of this was: Fibre will stop asthma, and, of course, referenced an Apple a Day (which must, by journalism law, appear every time the story relates to fruit or health. In fact, journalists have a quota of homilies they must include in their work. Otherwise your press pass is revoked and the other journalists don’t shout you at the bar).

The basics
Your intestines have a normal level of bacteria. They’re usually harmless, or, at worst, what we call opportunistic bacteria, ones that only do harm when a person’s already sick. They’re so normal that we use some of these bacteria to check that the sewerage hasn’t gotten mixed up with the drinking water. For a long time, these bacteria have been credited with keeping the bad bacteria at bay (by competing with them) and assisting with breaking down food.
This study suggests that they could also help regulate the immune system’s response, particularly allergies. The bacteria ferment fibre into Short-Chain Fatty Acids, which bind to G-protein coupled receptor 43, commonly found on eosinophils and neutrophils and decrease their production of inflammatory mediators.
If you’re thinking ‘WTF?’, I’ll break it down. Short-chain fatty acids are a type of compound, very common, that include acetate. They’re an end-product of bacteria breaking down fibre (or, as I prefer to think of it, what they vomit up after getting pissed on the fibre). The entire body runs on a system of proteins and receptors that connect like keys in a lock and set off chain reactions that control everything from making new proteins to cell proliferation. There’s a billion of the fucking things, and they’ve usually got a stupid name (one day, I’ll rant about naming conventions in science and why it hurts cramming undergrads). In this case, the short chain fatty acids connect to a receptor that’s part of the g protein coupled receptor family. Think of this like, oh, saying your car is a Ford sedan. For the sad obsessive types, there’s lots of varieties and types of engines and number of horsepower, but for most of us, it’s a car. Four wheels, four doors and a boot. All you need to know about GPR43 is that when something slots into it, a message is sent to inside the cell, and, like a Ford sedan, they’re just one of a million, and they’re everywhere. Eosinophils and neutrophils are two types of immune cells, and, particularly eosinophils, they’re common in allergic reactions. 'Inflammatory mediators' is just a fancy way of saying ‘proteins that fit into immune cell’s receptors’.

How the hell did they prove that?
I had to find out what colitis is here. Turns out, it’s an inflammatory bowel disorder and something I’m kinda glad I’ve not had much experience with. Scientists induced this in normal, bacteria-filled mice, and the same breed of mice that were entirely germ free (and man, that must have been fun to maintain). Then, by measuring a series of symptoms, including rectal bleeding(!), they showed that the germ-free mice were much, much sicker.
This doesn’t necessarily prove that it was the gut flora. In order to do that, they had to give these germ free mice the very same germs that their healthier counterparts had. Which means they were fed shit from the germy mice. For anybody dry-retching, they delivered the shit by taking a small tube and inserting it into the corner of their mouth. The mice swallow it, and that’s when you deliver the substance, bypassing their breathing tube and, most importantly in this case, their tastebuds. Regardless of the ick-factor, the germ free mice vastly improved.
The scientists already knew that bacteria could make certain short chain fatty acids. So they chose one, acetone, and gave it to a new batch of germ-free, colitis-y mice. And yay, they also improved!
At this point, the scientists felt pretty confident in saying that a) germs produced short chain fatty acids which b) improved the symptoms of colitis. But that’s not quite enough (well, not to get you in Nature, the Boffin’s Bible, anyway). They needed to know HOW.
Again, calling on the work of other scientists, they learnt that acetate was found to work on GPR43. When they looked a little closer at this receptor, they discovered that it liked to hang around with a lot of other innate immunity receptors. Well, the cool ones, at least. So they found themselves some mice that had no GPR43 and got busy.
First, they took a good look at the mouse’s immune system, and found it to be pretty normal. They worked out that GPR43 only really worked on short chain fatty acids. They did the colitis thing again, and, sure enough, the GPR43 deficient mice got much sicker than their normal counterparts. They did some stuff with bone marrow to prove it was all due to the immune cells.
Then they got bored with colitis (or their poor research assistant/student refused to look for any more bum bleeding) and moved onto the hardcore auto immune diseases – arthritis and asthma. And lo! The GPR43 deficient mice were royally screwed here, too.

So, following the logic path here – bacteria turn fibre into short chain fatty acids. Short chain fatty acids activate GPR43. GPR43 is mostly found on cells that cause allergic reactions. Specially bred mice that don’t have GPR43 get more sick from immune-related diseases. Mice that don’t have germs get more sick. Germ-free mice that get short chain fatty acids don’t get as sick. Hence, short chain fatty acids, bacteria and GPR43 work together to keep an out-of-control immune system on a leash.

Why is this important?

Trying to figure out anything involving the immune system is like trying to untangle your Christmas tree lights in the presence of fifteen hype-up kittens. Figuring out why modern western society has such a high rate of allergies and asthma has been a pretty big knot. As the scientists behind this study have suggested, this may be an explanation, especially when you consider our over-reliance on antibiotics and antiseptics, and the decrease in fibre that comes with all those processed foods. Basically, this study has loosened that knot, enough to see where a few of the cords are going. In order to have untied it completely, they’d have had to worked out how to use this information to reverse the existing conditions, which is a possibility now.

Despite my suggested alternative for a title, this doesn’t mean you should eat healthy people’s shit. No need to go that far. A bit of extra cereal will be fine.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I know I promised to talk about the party, but I was looking through the photos of me and my family, and it reminded me of who I'm missing.  Well, multiple whos, actually.

See, my family has issues.  Not the awful, encylopedia-sized issues of abuse and mistreatment, but a couple of decent-sized volumes caused by my dad's first marriage and general shitty behaviour.  And letters.  Sweet fucking godopus, my family are *great* at letters.  

I'm the middle child, but the oldest from my dad's second marriage.  The sibling line goes: older half-sister, older half-brother, gap of about seven years, then, across four years, me, my younger brother and my younger sister.  This means I get all the responsibility of the eldest child, while still being totally ignored like most middle children when the other siblings are going postal.  Which, with the exception of my younger brother, happens with depressing regularity.  Although, to be fair, my older brother jettisoned himself from the entire mess with relatively little fanfare, and has since stayed well out of it.  I'd like to get to know him one day, but I respect why he'd rather stay out it.  Hell, when I read HIS letter, basically saying, 'look, I bear you no ill will, but I want out of this shit', I had to bite back an 'amen, brother!'

My dad's first wife was from the 'leave you for another man, sell all your stuff, turn your kids against you and sue you constantly' school of divorce.  Obviously it was all before I was born, but this lady sounds like a fucking nutjob.  She tried to sue my parents over a fruit bowl.  That was given to them when THEY got married.  Apparently, the judge took one look and told the ex-wife to get out of the hell out of the courtroom, or he'd have her charged with contempt of court for wasting all their time.

So life was pretty shit for my older sibs.  My older sister went off the rails for a while, but by the time I was old enough to pay attention, she'd well and truly pulled herself together.  She started her own beauty salon, and did really well.  She met and married a man from Israel, and they've got two gorgeous kids.  She sold the business and is now a stay-at-home mum, and is building a new online business.

She is still ravaged by insecurity.  I know this, so I accept the occassional bitchy comment, how she compares herself to everyone and everything. She's got more than enough good points to outweigh the bad - she's generous, loving, incredibly creative, and very, very smart.  She's got gorgeous skin and perfect hair.  She's gregarious, outgoing and strong.  She built her own fucking business, for crying out loud!

In other words, she's my complete opposite.  Always has been, and it's never bothered me.  Yes, when I was younger, I wished I was as cool as both my sisters, but I never had that gift, that way of putting people at their ease.  I was too weird and plain to be popular, and I knew that was my problem, not theirs.  Now I'm older, and I've got a group of wonderful friends who are brilliant and weird in all the best kind of ways.  The ITGeek thinks I'm beautiful and sexy, and that's all I need.  

The last five years or so, it's like all my hard work and study has paid off, like I'm somehow being rewarded.  The ITGeek and I got together, and we've managed to build a basic compatibility and a lot of lust into something deeper, and stronger.  I'm lucky to have found someone as dedicated to me as I am to them, but it's been a hell of a learning curve, figuring out when to bite back words that wound, and rearranging my life to fit in another person.  I have something that, if you look at it the right way and squint a little, could be called a career, but I work a hell of a lot.  We just bought a Mary Poppins House - Practically Perfect in every way, except for that mortgage, but what homeowner doesn't have one of those?  I even get along wonderfully with my fiance's family.  

I've built a relationship with my parents that's warmer than it ever was during my upbringing.  Don't get me wrong, they were damn good parents.  But my younger sister was... well, demanding and a spoilt bitch, and then she got into drugs and alcohol and added abusive to that list.  I had great parents, I really did, and I don't want to sound like one of those pathetic whingers, but I had to fight to get a bit of attention, you know?  I'm not going to go into the details, because I'll be ranting enough, but let's just say she's written her own letter and I haven't spoken to her in about 4 years, and I actually kinda prefer it that way.

Anyway, my parents.  My dad, especially, is an emotional amoeba.  Saying 'I love you' just wasn't part of his upbringing, but he feels it, big time.  Put it this way: I had to tell him that I'd still like to hear the words, once in a while, at the end of a visit or phone call.  Now, every single phone call or visit ends with an 'I love you'.  I'm all 'Dad, little more than I expected, but okay.'  My mum, on the other hand, is incredibly loving, but broken.  She can't make a decision or a stand unless she's told to.  Usually, that person is me.  Yay.

So, my shit is somewhat together.  Then, at the start of this year, my older sister kinda picked a fight with my dad, initially over how much he contributed to her wedding.  It escalated into  screaming and running out of the house and all that fun shit.  The next night, she called me to try to get me on side, and well, that didn't go well either.  Because she tried to claim my parents did nothing for her, when they did a hell of a lot.  Emotional support by the truckload, reminding her husband to buy her a birthday gift so she wouldn't get upset, helping with renovations, getting her whatever groceries she'd run out of.  And the one that kinda shit me - they babysat her kids three nights a week (my parents work full time, BTW.  I kinda have the philosophy that if you're a stay at home mum, that's your job.  I'm all for sanity time, but you don't put your kids in care four days a week and get Grandma and Grandpa to look after them as well).

It also didn't go well because she told me Dad was putting off his retirement to pay for my wedding, like I was some fucking Bridezilla who'd send her own father to an early grave for the sake of white dress.   First, fuck you.  Second, heard of this thing called a Global Fucking Financial Crisis?  It's all over the damn news, it's kinda hard to miss, and it's made a big mess of superannuation, you know, so a lot of people who were thinking of retiring this year have kinda had to put it off a bit.  In case you haven't noticed, they live in one of the crappy suburbs for a reason.  All those years of suing put a dint in their finances like a Mack truck slamming into a Mini.

So it was my older sister's turn to write a letter to my parents.  Some of it, I understand.  I do, really.  Her childhood was shit, and even if she's not completely right about the details, that doesn't change how much it hurt.  But for some reason, she fixated on me.  My favourite line?  'You'll have the perfect wedding for your perfect daughter and her perfect husband, then you'll move closer to her perfect house and her perfect kids and her perfect life'.  It wasn't just that line, but it does sum up the theme of the entire SIX pages of the letter.  On the upside, she's got previously unnoticed psychic powers and it turns out my wedding and kids are going to be perfect.  Hear that, people?  No rain on my wedding day, nosir, there's going to be a random shower of rose petals instead!  And my kids are going to be, oh, I don't know, writing concertas and rescuing kittens and solving world hunger by the time they're five.  Oh, and she told my parents they'd never see their grandkids again.  Which, yanno, makes her exactly like the mother she hates for doing the same thing to her.

My younger brother laughed at the 'perfect' bit.  That's because he's awesome.  I freaked right out, because I'm such a dumbarse that I never even realised I'd been in a competition.  Or that everything in my life, including my relationship with my dad, is something I've stolen from her.  I'm not returning the ITGeek.  He doesn't want to go.  You can have the 14 hour days though.

I haven't spoken to her since.  My mum recently had a heart scare, and my awesome younger brother, who had remained neutral (except for giving me shit about the perfect bit), used that as an excuse to get them talking to each other again.  It happened a couple of weeks ago and I know, it's my move now.  And today, looking at the photos, I wish she'd been there.  I wish they'd all been there.

But I'm still pissed, and hurt, and feeling guilty.  Because she's been damn good to me, and she's hurting, and needs my support.  I've talked this over with my RL friends so much that I'm surprised nobody's punched me in the head yet.  But none of them have any more of an idea than I do.  So I'm not even going to read this, I'm just going to post it and ask - does anybody have any ideas on how to approach this?  I'm not apologising for shit that's just in her head, but I want it sorted.  I want my sister, without the jealousy/resentment, but maybe that's too much to ask for.

CBII - Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals

I should announce from the beginning the prescence of a bias: I adore Pratchett.  I deliberately did not buy this book until today, because I wanted to review it for Cannonball and I knew, if I had it in my hot little hands, I would devour it.

I bought it at 2pm.  It's now 9.30 and yes, I've consumed it.  I'm going to come back and add more when it's had time to settle, but for now, here's my initial thoughts.

Unseen Academicals is about Football.  Soccer, as we call it. But, being Pratchett, that's just the set for a performance of much, much more.  I am completely disinterested in sport, so it took me a bit longer to get dragged into this book, but as always, he aimed his fractured mirror on humanity and showed me a side of us I'd only glimpsed, and perfectly articulated what I've never been able to.  I'm still not even sure how to describe it.

For starters, it's not actually about football at all.   It's about that question we ask ourselves, at 3am, when all our embarrassments and fucks ups are playing through our heads like a horror movie.  'Do I have worth?'

The story is wrapped around four people, who, each in their own way, are learning the answer to that question.    It's about the foundation of our way of life, those chains of history and familiarity, and how we change them.  How we fight changing them.  How, regardless, we, as humans, remain unchanged.  Colosseums became stadiums, gladiators became footballers, but we're still the screaming mob.  We might have moved away from the beast, but we're a long way from evolved. 

If you've never read a Discworld novel, this book isn't a bad place to start, although I'd still recommend Going Postal as a better introduction to his style, without the need for the back stories (do not, under any circumstances, start with the first book in the series, The Colour of Magic.  Mr Pratchett was still getting his footing then).  You have to understand that it's set upon a world, which is, in itself, a flat disc that stands on the back of four elephants, who themselves, stand on the back of a giant turtle who swims through space.  As you can imagine, this set up relies on magic, and for one of the elephants to occassionally lift their leg so the sun can pass underneath.  There's humans and dwarves and elves and vampires and werewolves and wizards and witches and a homical box with hundreds of legs.  It's satire at its best, because it makes you laugh and it makes you think.  

If you have read Discworld,  it's an Ankh-Morpork book, with a healthy dose of the wizards.  There's a few cameos, like de Worde and, of course, Sam Vimes stomps in and yells at people.  Vetrinari, who may have originally been no more than a sterotypical creepy dictator, has developed, like Death did, into a layered and quite likable character.  Or maybe I just have a soft spot for Tyrants with a sense of irony and a cynical affection for their subjects.  

Look, as I've said, I'm biased.  If you haven't read Pratchett, please do.  He's funny and wise.  He'll give you a stereotyped romance in the best tradition of sports movies, but the love he'll focus on will be the one that's built, tentiatively, between two wonderfully decent people.

P.S. I'll write about my party next time, I promise.  I'll even include pictures!  But I had a fantastic time and we didn't run out of drink.  (Although that hair dye?  Didn't work.  Serves me right for wimping out and using the barely-permanent stuff)