Monday, January 1, 2018

My favorite books of 2017

As I do every year, here I round up the books I enjoyed most in 2017. (No guarantees they were published in 2017, though.) In order to make the cut, I had to like them in the moment, and they had to stick with me.

First up, a non-SFF novel - The Windfall by Diksha Basu. It's a humorous novel that takes place (mostly) in India, about a family moving up in the world. I've seen comparisons to Jane Austen, which is maybe a stretch, but if you enjoy Austen, chances are you'll like this.

Next, a pair of novellas - The Red Threads of Fortune and The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang. These were published at the same time and can be read in either order (I read them in the order listed). The protags are siblings in a secondary fantasy world where a rebellion is testing the order of things. Read for the compelling characters and world-building.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson was something I almost didn't read, because I'm a little tired of Lovecraft, even reinvented. (I haven't read Victor LaValle's The Ballad of Black Tom yet, even.) Nevertheless, I enjoyed this feminist take on the Cthulu mythos - told from a very different perspective than most.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells is the first of three novellas starring the lovable Murderbot, a security android that reluctantly has to get involved in the mission of the humans it is there to protect. (By the way, Tor is killing it with their novella imprint: the Yang, Johnson, and Wells novellas are all from it.)

Back in full novel territory is Jeff VanderMeer's Borne. In a post-apocalyptic world, a scavenger finds Borne. Is it a sidekick, a sentient life form, or a weapon? This one is on here for sticking with me and popping up in my thoughts long after I finished it.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee is the first book in a trilogy (and Raven Stratagem, the next, is just as good). If you like Ann Leckie, you'll like this. Both authors depict far-future worlds (or perhaps just the universe next door) where intergalactic empires have a few issues they need to work out. (Like, maybe less genocide.) The tech in this book is extremely inventive and informs the plot in an meaningful way.

Finally, Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells should be filed under "fun read with space bikes and solid female friendship." I've been enjoying Wells' short fiction and was excited to see their debut did not disappoint.

As usual, I probably read too many books this year, and you can see the list here. There were many runners-up that almost made this list, too, and I feel a bit arbitrary in some cases with my choices.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 in photos



Staten Island

Lake Minnewaska

Cherry blossoms

Great Saunter

North-South Lake

Table & Peekamoose


The capitol

Coney Mountain

Jessup's Neck

Bombay Hook

Thursday, December 28, 2017

A tour of Bombay Hook NWR

Bombay Hook

On my last day in Delaware, I visited Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Also, I finally learned that "hook" is from the Dutch word for "point," which clears up one mystery.

Bombay Hook isn't a place to go if you want to feel like a badass hiker - there are two miles of trails total, all dead flat, although there were some folks walking on parts of the 12-mile auto loop. But that's not what it is designed for, recreationally speaking; it's for hard-core bird watching. Even on Christmas Eve there were folks out with scopes and binoculars. In any case, I was sick, and two flat miles were enough for me.

I drove the auto loop and walked each of the five trails, four of which are .25 miles and one of which is a mile. Three of them have wildlife viewing towers.

The highlight of the trip was not while hiking, however. While driving along Shearness Pool - a popular place for bird-watchers to stop - I saw a large flock of birds in the sky. I mean literally the largest flock I have ever seen, thousands of birds with no end in sight. All of them landed in Shearness Pool. They were snow geese (thanks helpful park signs and Google!) heading south for the winter.

This isn't a great quality video - I was on my phone - but it gives you an idea of the immense scale.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Hiking Brandywine Creek State Park

Brandywine Creek SP

When I asked what there was to do in Wilmington, several people mentioned Brandywine Creek State Park. My plan was to do a short loop hike or two as indicated on the park map, such as the Tulip Tree Wood trail. However, at the visitor center, the helpful staffer suggested crossing the creek to Thompsons Bridge and hiking the bike trails on that side. The trails on the north side also go onto a national park and a farm; the farm has been donated to the park, but at present the farmer still resides there and happily permits hikers to use the trails that cross it.

I didn't ask for advice not to take it, so I parked on the north side of the creek and followed a trail along the creek for a while. In fact, I went so far as to take his other advice that I download and use the Avenza map of the bike trails. Bike trails tend to pack a lot of unmarked trails into a small area, and so this turned out to be excellent advice.

I then turned uphill, towards the high point of the park. There I left the woods and skirted fields before starting back downhill.

Brandywine Creek SP

The trail I followed downhill did not go all the way back to the creek in any convenient way on the map. However, given the number of trails not shown on any map, I gambled that there would be one anyway, and my gamble paid off. (Here the app was also quite handy to keep me on track.) I reached the creek and followed it back to the parking lot. All told, it was 3.45 miles and about 500 feet of elevation.

The landscape reminded a great deal of Wissahickon Valley Park, which shouldn't have been a surprise as they are only about 30 miles apart. Further south, Delaware gets flatter - it is the sixth flattest state (but it has the lowest mean elevation). So this is probably the biggest hill you can hike in the entire state.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Strolling the Wilmington Waterfront

Wilmington Riverfront

Having never visited Delaware before, I spent a few days in Wilmington and Dover over the holidays. On my first day there, I walked the Wilmington Waterfront and visited the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge.

The Riverfront is a 1.3-mile greenway along the northwest side of the Christina River. One thing I enjoyed about it was that the old loading cranes were left in place, even though they were no longer being used. I saw quite a few waterfowl out on the river - more than I saw when I got to the refuge.

Wilmington Riverfront

At the moment, due to construction, there is a short detour off the greenway to get to the refuge, which is at the southern end of the Riverfront. The refuge has an education center and a quarter-mile boardwalk through the marsh at the edge of the river.

It's a nice use of waterfront space and a good spot for locals to get a short stroll in.