My Life This December: In Which I Wrap Up a Semester and Reflect on the Year

Hello, all! It’s the last Saturday of the month, hence my summary post. Today, it is also the last Saturday (the last day, in fact) of the year. 2016, where have you gone? So today’s post will be partly about my month and partly about the whole year. Since rather a lot happened, let’s dive right in!

The most notable thing that happened to me this month was that I finished my third semester of college. I survived, fortunately, with only a minor, tiny drop in my GPA. I also started working in a new lab, where I am going to be studying rice starting next semester, so I’m very excited about that. Next semester starts in the last week of January, so I’m currently relaxing and enjoying my break, with a  chance to get some reading, writing, and other creative stuff done.

Speaking of writing, as you may recall, last month was NaNoWriMo. I finished out with roughly 48,000 words in the complete first draft of Circle of Fire. I’ve been taking a short break from that project, and am only just starting to think about editing. During that break, I’ve started outlining another project, currently sans title, which has an incomplete draft lying around from NaNo 2013 that I’d like to restart. I still need to fill a lot of plot holes before I can start drafting, but I like how it’s coming so far. I tried to take a look at Windsong again a few weeks ago, but couldn’t stand the sight of it. I love the story, but at this point, it’s a hopeless mess, and I’m not sure how to save it. My plan is to write five or ten books before coming back to it so I can learn the writing and editing process better.

Christmas also happened at the beginning of this week (Merry Christmas, everyone!). My family had an Italian dinner on Christmas Eve, and our grandparents came up on Christmas day for the traditional turkey lunch. For gifts, I was delighted to get the Writer’s Digest Annotated Edition of Jane Eyre, as well as Starlighter by Bryan Davis. I’m really looking forward to reading both of those!

In the yearly roundup, I’ve read a bit this year. Not a lot (I haven’t even made 20 books, according to my Goodreads list), but considering I’ve gone a total of eight months with scarce reading during school, I’m happy with the number. (I’m hoping to get one more book on that list; I haven’t quite finished The Bourne Identity, but I think I can do that by the end of today. . . .) I made a grand total of four five-star ratings: A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin, Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland, and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Most of the others were four-star ratings, with a couple of three-stars thrown in. Apparently I’m generally a positive reviewer; I don’t think I’ve rated any book lower than three stars yet.

In general, 2016 was a good year for me. I did my second and third semesters of college and my first research fellowship in between. I read a lot of good books, and wrote one that will become better with editing. I did get fed up with my primary project, so I’m taking a long-term break from it and letting it percolate for a while. And I started outlining a reboot of a book from three years ago.

And, of course, I started this blog! This is my fifty-third post since I started in March, not counting a little post a couple weeks ago to notify readers about changes to my schedule for December. I’ve written more book reviews, science posts, and “my life this month” posts than I care to count at the moment, as well as a number of book quote and story beginning analyses. And I’ve jumped on the Beautiful People bandwagon for almost every month since March, including Beautiful Books last month. I even wrote a movie review when I hadn’t read a book to review (oops–but it was fun and you may see more in the future!). All in all, I’ve really enjoyed having this blog, and I want to conclude today by saying thank you to all the readers, “likers,” and commenters; like reading is the other half of writing, you all are the other half of blogging. Thank you, and see you in 2017!

That’s it for me this year! How was your 2016? What did you read and/or write? Did you do any kind of school? Are you looking forward to 2017? Tell me in the comments!

 

What I’m Reading: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

I must confess that I saw the movie version of this story before I read the book. It was on TV one night, but we didn’t see all of it, so we got it out from the library and watched again a few days later. It was quite good, and that got me wanting to read the book. Hence this review.

Image result for ender's gameImage result for ender's game

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And let me tell you, the book was amazing. So let’s get to it!

Information for Readers

Genre: Science fiction/psychological

Age level: I’d say older teens and adults for the intensity.

Content? Because of the subject matter, there’s a lot of violence and death. Ender gets pretty traumatized eventually. There’s also a fair bit of swearing and occasional mentions of private parts. I’d rate the book PG-13.

The Story: Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, a brilliant six-year-old boy, is recruited for Battle School by the International Fleet. They need someone to defeat the “buggers,” insect-like aliens that have invaded Earth twice trying to colonize, and their best hope is in gifted children like Ender. Once at Battle School, Ender finds both friends and enemies, especially when he excels far past the norm for his age. His prowess in fighting, both mock and real, leaves him tortured, struggling not to be like his tyrannical brother Peter.

This was an excellent story. The premise was just fascinating, and Card did as much with it as he possibly could have. I also really liked the ending, how it wrapped everything up from earlier in the book. It was just a really well-done plot.

The Characters: They were excellent, beautifully written. I thought it was great how they all had goals: Colonel Graff, trying to save Earth and take care of Ender at the same time; Peter, trying to take over the world by influencing ideas on the nets; and Ender, trying to survive and, eventually, to make the IF stop manipulating him. These were just a few examples; all the characters were really well developed and interesting. Ender was my favorite, though I also liked the few scenes spent with Valentine, and the dialogue from Graff at the beginning of each chapter. I really appreciated Ender’s struggle to not become his brother and to cope with the things he’d done as he got older.

The Writing: So this book was published in 1977, almost forty years ago, and I’m not sure they had the same ideas about point-of-view and such then as we do now. It seemed like a book written in omniscient to me; usually, each scene was spent looking into one character’s mind (with a few exceptions), usually Ender, but occasionally the narrator would drop in warnings that something was going to happen and Ender didn’t know about it. There was also a lot of telling, which actually worked for the omniscient-ish POV, and it did go alongside showing things through Ender’s experiences.

The worldbuilding was excellent; it felt very futuristic with the artificial gravity of Battle School (according to my physics professor, that’s scientifically accurate, too) and the video games on portable “desks.” One thing I found interesting was that, in Card’s future society, the Warsaw Pact still exists as a powerful faction, although Earth is allied under a global Hegemony. This leads to some friction later on, driven by Ender’s siblings, which is an interesting subplot. It was great how Card never overexplained anything about the worldbuilding; instead, he just let the reader be immersed in the world. I really liked it.

One more thing bears mentioning in this section: the themes. I was on the hunt for themes as I read this book, and I found so many. Childhood, war, guilt, forgiveness, power, ends justifying means, friendship, and love, and there are probably more that I could find if I re-read the book. The complexity, the many layers and levels of this story make it ripe with themes, with thoughts on life and humanity. I really loved the literary depth of it.

Overall: Ender’s Game is a fantastic book. The premise is fascinating, the characters compelling, the writing complex and deep. It’s a really magnificent work of fiction. Highly recommended!

What do you think? Have you ever read Ender’s Game? Would you like to? Have you seen the movie? What did you think of it (either one)? Tell me in the comments!

Changes to the Blogging Schedule

Hello all! Yesterday was the end of finals week for me (yay!), so I wasn’t able to whip up a blog post for today. Instead, I thought I’d make some notes about my blogging schedule for December.

I was originally going to follow my regular schedule, but I haven’t finished reading my review book yet, since the semester just ended (although I did make quite a lot of progress on one last night). And since next Saturday is Christmas Eve, I’ll be taking that day off. Instead, this month’s book review will go up next Wednesday, Dec. 21st.

The “My Life This Month” post will go up on the final Saturday of the month, Dec. 31st, as usual. Since it is the end of the year this month, I may take a look back at my whole year as well as the month. I’m not sure yet.

That’s it for me today! Enjoy your weekend, and I’ll see you on Wednesday!

Bacteria and Bioplastics

Hello, everyone! It’s the second Saturday of the month, which means I am here with a science post. I’ve been taking a class about biotechnology (which actually ended this past week), so I’ve been finding various biotech things to give presentations about and so forth. Today’s topic, bacteria-produced bioplastics, was one of those biotech things.

What is bioplastic? I’m glad you asked! Bioplastics are biodegradable plastics which are being investigated to replace petroleum-based plastics, since they could reduce costs and environmental impacts of plastic use. A major type of bioplastic, which I’m going to focus on today, is the polyhydroxyalkoanates (PHAs for short). These are polyesters (a type of organic molecule) naturally produced in bacteria as reserves of carbon and energy. They can then be broken down when the bacterium needs the carbon or energy, which makes them truly biodegradable. (Fun fact: I read about a PhD student who got a certain bacterium to produce 80% of its weight in PHAs by using ice cream as a nutrient medium.)

Image result for alcaligenes eutrophus
Alcaligenes eutrophus, a PHA-producing bacterium.

PHAs have many and varied potential applications. They have been proposed as a packaging for foods like cheese, as biodegradable containers for things like drugs and fertilizers, as a material for disposable items like razors, cups, and shampoo bottles, and in the medical field, to be used as a material for things like sutures and bone replacements. Their properties are similar to those of currently used plastics like polypropylene, which could make the transition smoother if they were to go into use.

 

The difficulty, up until recently, has not been getting the bacteria to make PHAs, but getting the PHAs out of the bacteria. Last month, however, it was reported that a Spanish research team has developed and patented a method for genetically engineering a predatory bacterium, Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus, to break down the PHA producers, but not the PHAs. A number of companies are already interested in using this method commercially; it could be used for extracting valuable enzymes and other proteins as well as for bioplastic production. This method is much safer and less expensive than previous methods that used things like chemical detergents to extract PHAs. I think it’s a big step forward in making PHAs practical.

Image result for bdellovibrio bacteriovorus
Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus, the predatory bacterium

 

Here are my sources if you want to learn more: http://bioplasticsinfo.com/polyhydroxy-alkonates/applications-of-pha-as-bioplastic/

http://www.clt.astate.edu/dgilmore/Research%20students/phas.htm

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161130124150.htm

What do you think of this technology? Would you use a bioplastic? Have you ever heard of this before? Share in the comments!

Story Starters #4: Dreamlander

Dreams weren’t supposed to be able to kill you. But this one was sure trying its best.

Image result for dreamlander cover

Good morning! It’s the first Saturday of the month (how is it December already?), and that means I’m analyzing the first paragraph of a book, today, Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland. If you’ve followed my blog for some time, you may have noticed that I’ve ranted about this book before (a couple times). I read it a few months back and absolutely loved it, so why not make an excuse to look at it again?

Now, on to the sentence-by-sentence breakdown! It’ll be short today.

  • Dreams weren’t supposed to be able to kill you. As Weiland herself teaches on her award-winning blog, a book needs to hook the reader from the first sentence. As soon as we read this, we’re left subconsciously wondering, “Wow, why would the main character be thinking about this?” And we get our answer in the next sentence.
  • But this one was sure trying its best. This is a great second line to set up a wonderful hook. It leads into a major premise of the book (the idea that we live a second life in a different world, reflected in our dreams). It also gives us a better glimpse into the voice of the main character, Chris, whom we meet by name in the next paragraph.
  • The shortness of this first paragraph deserves special mention. While some books do well with longer, descriptive intros, I find that a short first paragraph has a special kind of punch to it, something that, when done well, can really hook the reader. That’s what we see here.

That’s all for me today! What do you think? Do you have anything to add to my analysis? Do you like short first paragraphs, like this one? Does this want to make you read this book? (You really should read it. It’s awesome.) Or have you read it already? (In which case, I’d love to hear what you thought of it!) Tell me in the comments!