Aetherial Worlds: Stories by Tatyana Tolstaya

There are times when one wants to sit down and read a book but simply doesn’t have the time, focus, patience or energy to devote to such an undertaking.  That is where collections of short stories fit in.  They allow the reader to go through one or more stories as they have the time.  Allowing one to get that much needed creative break.

I was in one of these quandaries when I found the collection of short stories “Aetherial Worlds” by Tatyana Tolstaya.  These stories are contemplations of time, place and space.  Just out of the ordinary enough to make one wonder, could this really happen?  Or even has it happened already?

The description from the jacket cover is as follows:

“From one of modern Russia’s finest writers, a spellbinding collection of eighteen stories – her first to be translated into English in more than twenty years.

Ordinary realities and yearnings to transcend them lead to miraculous other worlds in this dazzling collection of stories.  A woman’s deceased father appears in her dreams with clues about the afterlife; a Russian Professor in a small American town constructs elaborate fantasies during her cigarette break; a man falls in love with a marble statue as his marriage falls apart; a child glimpses heaven through a stained-glass window.  With the emotional insight of Chekhov, the surreal satire of Gogol, and a unique blend of humor and poetry all her own, Tolstaya transmutes the quotidian into aetherial alternatives.  These tales about politics, identity, love and loss, cut to the core of the Russian psyche, even as they lay bare human universals.  Tolstaya’s characters – seekers all- are daydreaming children, lonely adults, dislocated foreigners in unfamiliar lands.  Whether contemplating the strategic complexities of delivering telegrams in Leningrad or the meditative melancholy of holiday aspic, vibrant inner lives and the grim elements of existence are registered in equally sharp detail, giving way to a starkly bleak but sympathetic vision of life on earth.

Written with wit and candor, compassion and depth, and piercing emotional and political acuity, Aetherial Worlds is a shimmering and unique collection from one of the first women to rank among Russia’s most important writers.”

I greatly enjoyed this collection of stories. Some are quite short, only a couple of pages.  Like “Passing Through” with its explanation of what happens to socks in the laundry, the mystery of missing objects and curious items that randomly appear.  Others were longer.  One of these called “The Invisible Maiden” seemed to be many stories in one focusing on the people who would come to a particular family dacha every summer. A cautionary tale, “The Window” hands out things free of charge but come at an altogether different price.

Ms. Tolstaya’s writing draws you in.  Reading her stories are like picking up a conversation with a dear friend that you haven’t seen in years.  No additional introduction is needed, they pick up right where they are supposed to be.  I enjoyed the descriptions of the dachas, delivering telegrams in Leningrad, driving in snow, illumination on Italian tombs and church ceilings in Ravenna, etc.  Each story captures the readers imagination in part due to the wonderful descriptions.

I highly recommend this collection of stories.  If you have a chance to pick up Tatyana Tolstaya’s collection of stories entitled “Aetherial Worlds” you will not be disappointed.

Enjoying the Possibilities

There is a lot of hype around New Years Eve and the ushering in of a new year.  (Even more so this year.)  I get that for some it is a time to party.  Others see it as a time for reflection and sending well wishes to friends and family.  Many people make new year resolutions.

The word resolution means a firm decision to do or not to do something, or the quality of determination or resolve.  But this is not a post about resolutions.  It is a post about possibilities.  A possibility is a thing that may happen, a state of being likely and/or a thing that may be done out of several possible alternatives.

Where resolutions are determined, a possibility is a maybe.  Resolutions are guidelines to getting things done; possibilities are open ended options.  Resolution is an exclamation point.  Possibilities are question marks.

There is nothing wrong with resolutions.  And to those who accomplish or keep them, I say, “Way to go!”  Making and keeping goals is part of the creative process.

But sometimes one doesn’t need resolution.  Nothing so firm.  A possibility, however, is just right.  Options.  Ideas.  Could be and may be.  Optimistic hoping and wishing.

The idea for this post came about from a conversation with a friend about receiving new art supplies for Christmas.  We are both in the process of organizing the spaces in which we create art and our supplies.  While I was going through a box, I found some paper that I hadn’t looked at in ages.  I went through the box touching each sheet of paper, enjoying the possibilities.

When I purchase paper I don’t always use it right away.  But I don’t want to miss the opportunity to purchase this sheet of paper.  I may not know right now what I am going to use it for, but I will use at some point in my artwork.  I am very aware of the possibility each sheet of paper holds.  A new tube of paint.  The purchase of a printing press.  The blank page or the blank canvas.  A yard of fabric or a skein of yarn.  A new herb or spice.  These all have possibilities!

Good and or bad outcomes may happen.  The paint may become part of a stunning landscape.  The story written on that blank page may fizzle out.  The printing press produces many beautiful prints and some major flops.  The dish made with the new spice is not to your tasting.  The socks you knit from the skein of yarn fit perfectly.  Yes any and all of this could happen.  But right now, in this moment, there is nothing but possibility.

And this brings me back to the beginning and perception of the new year.  One could think of this as a very negative time or could look at it as a opportunity for possibilities.  It would be very easy to get caught up in the negativity of the current state of our world: isolation and masks; lockdowns and travel restrictions; censorship and unrest and much more.  This is enough to cause depression in the most positive people.  If we allow it, these critical and negative thoughts will take control.  That is why enjoying the possibilities is so important.   Yes, the possibilities or outcomes could be a disaster, but they have just as much chance as being something wonderful or amazing.

I would like to leave you with this quote which has been accredited to Eleanor Roosevelt.   “Yesterday is history.  Tomorrow is a mystery.  And today?  Today is a gift.  That’s why we call it the present.”

Take the gift of today.  Be in this moment.  Enjoy the possibilities.

Auxiliary: London 2039

What do a “Farm,” robotic arm, and a murder have in common? They are linked together in the brilliant science fiction novel, “Auxiliary: London 2039” written by Jon Richter and published by TCK Publishing.com.

This is not a cheerful novel where science has improved humanity and the world for the better. This is a dark, gritty, dystopian view of our future where we have given up our individuality and our freedom to computers. It is this vision that makes this novel so interesting and worth reading.

The description of the novel from the jacket cover reads as follows:

“The silicon revolution left Dremmler behind.

But a good detective is never obsolete.

Through the glittering urban wonderland of the future prowls Carl Dremmler, police detective-one of the few jobs better suited to meat than machine in 2039. His latest case: a murder suspect caught literally red-handed. The investigation seems open and shut, but the tech-wary detective can’t help but believe the accused’s bizarre story: that his robotic arm committed the grisly crime, not him. An advanced prosthetic, controlled by a chip in his skull.

A chip controlled by TIM.

TIM: The Imagination Machine. The silicon god of the UK. The omnipresent AI that drives every car, cooks every meal, and plans every second of human life in London. But if the accused murderer’s story is true, then TIM’s compromised … and Dremmler’s in horrible danger.

TIM’s systems were supposed to be impregnable. Un-hackable. Perfect. Only somebody very powerful could bend the AI to their will. Somebody with ambitions. Somebody willing to kill to keep their secrets. If Dremmler’s going to crack this case, he’ll need to question everything he thinks he knows-and face down every terror 2039 has to offer.”

One of the challenges of good science fiction novel, is the author’s ability to describe places and events. Jon Richter has definitely mastered this challenge. His ability to describe colours, scents, light, and sounds enhance the readers ability to suspend their system of disbelief. Transporting them into the places and experiences.

A great example of the amazing descriptions in this book comes from chapter 6, Dremmler goes to a club called Toxicity with Petrovic, his partner on this particular case. Part of the experience uses special glasses called spex. The following is the description of that expereince from page 26:

“As he followed her to join the other revelers, he clicked the spex to the right station , and a cocoon of swirling colours embraced them, washing the rest of the club away. It was just him and her, enveloped in a pulsating fabric of blue and green and silver and magenta and sapphire and emerald and amethyst and finally blue again, a glorious cerulean sky stretching into infinity above them, the sun suspended within it like a droplet of molten gold. Long blades of grass danced around their feet as they gyrated , and the sun sank slowly, its colour bleeding out into the sky in a deep crimson blot like the end of the world, the final gory hemorrhage of the earth, beautiful and brutal and pure violent red, like war, like the womb he had squirmed out of in the dying throes of the twentieth century, like lips, like Cynthia’s lips, and he was dancing and drinking with Cynthia, kissing her on top of a snow-capped mountain, staring into a sky so clear and crisp it might have been an ice cube floating in her glass.”

I don’t want to give anything away about the storyline or plot but nothing is as it seems in this novel. With the addition of the AltWorld, a computer generated alternative reality experience, there are times where it is hard to know what is real and what isn’t.

Another great aspect of this story is that it primarily told through the experiences of Carl Dremmler. On occasion the author shares points of view from others in the novel. It expands the readers overall view of this strange world without giving any plot information away.

One of the creepiest moments in the book has to do with a creature made by a 3-D laser printer. Earlier in the novel, Dremmler had seen the aftermath of this printer made creature killing someone. The creature or device as TIM calls it, had disappeared into the sewer. The following is an exchange between Dremmler and TIM about the device from chapter 33, page 147:

“Another fucking rogue robot we’ve lost track of,” Dremmler muttered.

“Incorrect. The device reappeared earlier today. It emerged from an open manhole and scaled the building.”

“Which building?”

“This building, Carl. Until two hours ago, it was attached to the outside surface of your bedroom window.”

I would definitely recommend this novel to fans of science fiction. While cautioning that this novel isn’t for everyone. If you enjoy darker literature and specifically dark science fiction, this book is definitely for you.

If you would like to find out more about Jon, check out his page on his publishers website https://www.tckpublishing.com/our-authors/author-jon-richter/ and the author’s website page https://www.jon-richter.com/,

If you would like to find more novels like this one or just another good book to read, please check out the TCK publishing website. https://www.tckpublishing.com/

Network Effect

“Now we’re here, ready for the next major disaster. (Spoiler warning.)” – Murderbot, page 37, Network Effect

Murderbot is back!  If you are not familiar with Murderbot and the four previous books that comprise the Murderbot Diaries, you can become acquainted with these delightful books clicking on the following links and checking out my reviews :  All Systems RedArtificial ConditionRogue Protocol; and Exit Strategy.

The Murderbot Diaries were created by author Martha Wells.  Martha is an excellent writer.  I have enjoyed her creative writing skills in developing characters and the plot.  I also enjoy Martha’s descriptions of the places and people that Murderbot interacts with.  In some cases her descriptions are so well done, I feel like I could sketch the person or draw a diagram or schematic of the place.

The overarching theme of these novels, to me, is what really makes us human.  This theme doesn’t just pertain to Murderbot and other AI that it meets but to the people as well.

I enjoy how all of these books tie in together but can also be read on their own.  I am not the only human who enjoys these books immensely.  Titles in the Murderbot Diaries series have won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus and Alex Awards.

Murderbot is paranoid, anxious, doesn’t like to be touched and enjoys the human media program “Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon.” He has moments were he has feelings.  What Murderbot calls having an emotion.  He cares very much for the clients who have become his friends and recognizes why he considers them friends.

“Thiago had said he felt like he should apologize and talk to me more about it.  Ratthi had said, ‘I think you should let it go for a while, at least until we get ourselves out of this situation.  SecUnit is a very private person, it doesn’t like to discuss its feelings.’ This is why Ratthi is my friend.” -page 230-231, Network Effect

Things have a way of going sideways very quickly on strange planets and that’s why the humans need protection.  Providing security for humans is a monumental task.  Murderbot is quick to point the irony of its job with its quick wit and hint of sarcasm.

“I’ve had clients who thought they needed an absurd level of security.  (And I’m talking absurd by my standards, and my code was developed by a bond company known for intense xenophobic paranoia, tempered only by desperate greed.)  I’ve also had clients who thought they didn’t need any security at all, right up until something ate them.  (That’s mostly a metaphor.  My uneaten client stat is high.)”         Murderbot – page 9, Network Effect

Network Effect will keep you guessing until the very end.  And for those who have read the previous four novels, an old friend returns and desperately needs Murderbots help.  The description on the book cover reads as follows:

“I’m usually alone in my head, and that’s where 90-plus percent of my problems are.

The bestselling Murderbot series exploded onto the scene with ‘one of the most humane portraits of a non-human I’ve ever read’ (Annalee Newitz).  Now one of the most relatable AIs in science fiction returns in its first stand alone novel.

It calls itself Murderbot, but only when no one can hear.

It worries about the fragile human crew who’ve grown to trust it, but only where no one can see.

It tells itself that they’re only a professional obligation, but when they’re captured and an old friend from the past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action.

Drastic Action it is, then.”  – Book cover, Network Effect

Network Effect by Martha Wells is a stellar read.  But don’t take my word for it, go find a copy of your own to read.

Fifth Anniversary of Cats Out of the Box

It is hard to believe that five years ago today, I wrote and shared my first blog post.  I would have quit long ago if it hadn’t been for the following people.  A special thank you goes out to……

  • As my friends and family know, I ponder things.  I had been pondering writing a blog for years.  My friend Joe said just write a blog already.  Stop thinking and start doing.  And I did.  Thank you, Joe.
  •  My friend, Eric Hanson, is an amazing poet and I have used his poems in my blogs off and on over the years.  Thank you for letting me share your beautiful creative work with others.  Eric has also let me bounce ideas for blog posts off of him.  Some are definitely a lot better than others.  Thank you for listening, making suggestions and not letting me embarrass myself in the written word.
  • To my family there are not enough words to express my gratitude for your assistance, patience, feedback and support.  I know that having me in your lives can be a challenge.  You help me to be the best artist and creative person I can be.  I am truly grateful for you.
  • To my friends, so often the conversations we have are the creative sparks for a blog post.  You go hiking with me in all kinds of weather.  Thank you for your emotional and creative support.  You help me be a better writer, artist, creativity coach and teacher.  I am grateful for all of you.
  • This year I started teaching art classes at Flathead Valley Community College for the Continuing Education Program.  I would like to thank Debbie and all of the helpful staff who work in that program.  I couldn’t do it without all of you.  Your support and assistance makes me look good!
  • I would also like to send a special thank you to the students who participated in the Art Sampler, Beginning Acrylic Painting, Fine Art of Book Making and Mixed Media Collage Classes.  You have inspired me with your stories, questions, and amazing creative work.  You are all amazing creative people and I am excited to see where your creativity will take you.
  • To my readers and blog friends who follow my blog as part of the WordPress community, I am grateful for your support.  I am continually inspired by all of you and the creative work that you are doing.  No matter where you are located on this planet or what your blog is about….. your creativity, bravery in sharing feelings and ideas, and support make me proud to be a part of the WordPress blogging community.
  • Thank you to those that like my posts.  I appreciate you taking the time to support my creative work.  You motivate me to keep writing.
  • Thank you to those that post comments and provide feedback.  I enjoy hearing your thoughts about my work.  I am so proud when something I have written inspires others.  Your words mean the world to me.

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Angus, the original Cat Out of the Box

I have been asked recently by a friend and previous student, what advice did I have for someone who wants to start writing a blog.  I came up with the following five tips:

  1. Have an idea of what you would like your blog to be about.  Mine is about creative living.  But there are blogs about all kinds of things.  There are blogs that focus on photography, poetry, movie reviews, travel, cooking tips and recipes.  The sky is truly the limit.
  2. Give yourself goals.  I try to write two Haiku poems a week and two or three other posts each month.  I don’t always succeed at getting as much written as I would like, but the goals help me to keep focused.
  3. Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t reach your goal or can’t write for awhile.  Hey, life happens.  In April, after my Grams (Grandmother) died, I could’t write for the rest of that month.  It is okay to take a break from your blog if you need to.
  4. Follow other peoples blogs.  Make comments (but do not be a troll).  Like posts that you enjoy.  The support and friendship you will build within the blogging community will surprise, delight and inspire you.
  5. The most important thing….. have fun!

Thank you so much for another amazing year of blogging!  I am so happy to share this journey of creativity and exploration with you!