So there we were, rib-deep in warmish water, leaning farther and farther back as the shadow of the awning shrank.
There was a heatwave in western Bulgaria. A whole week of 33, 34, 35 degrees. The sun droned in your ears and the white sky clamped down and bore you to the ground. We went to the swimming pool.
Kyustendil has some great pools, and my favorite is at the hotel Strimon. It has sun-shades, there's no loud music playing, and they serve cocktails. On this particular day, I wasn't knocking back pina coladas because it was like 11am, but I was reading a novel while my kids and their cousins swam around screaming. I told them I was waiting for my sunscreen to dry.
Pavlina got out of the pool and told me that Ellie had made friends with a little girl visiting from America. Let's go meet her dad. I was excited, but also, let's say, on a higher level of alert.
Ellie's in first grade, and she makes friends both more easily and in the same way as me. It's the same because we know it's more fun to play than to sit by ourselves, but we're afraid that the other person won't want what we have to give. The way Ellie has it easier is that she's less practiced at protecting herself and doesn't get in her own way.
I found the little girls grinning at the shallow end with their hair plastered over their heads. I asked the normal questions —what's your name, how old are you? —and made my way to where Pavlina was talking to Ellie's friend's dad.
They made it easy for me. What's your name? Where are you from? Where is your wife's village? What's your job? All I had to do is not hold back.
There's a scene in the scifi cartoon Rick and Morty where Rick invites Bird Person to join him on his adventures through the multiverse. Bird Person doesn't say "no," but he doesn't immediately say "yes" either. He hesitates, and Rick takes it as a betrayal. Asking "will you play with me" makes you vulnerable, and so does answering "yes." You pass the ball back and forth, and you have to keep your heart open with each toss.
Jose and his family lived in around Dallas, where he was an insurance claims adjuster. We determined that my wife's grandfather had a cousin in his wife's mother's village. This cousin had converted his living room into a rakia still, which was a fun topic of conversation. Jose planned to run in the Boston Marathon and I wanted to dig a barbecue pit somewhere. Jose ventured to share his political opinions, which shows he was braver than me, but at least I reciprocated. The sun moved and our patch of shade at the poolside got smaller and smaller. We emerged from the pool and ate pizzas together with our kids.
We got together twice more — all ten of us plus cousins. We would have met a third time in Sofia, but Maggie hit Ellie in the eye with a pear. Ellie was fine. Maggie still isn't allowed to watch videos.
Pavlina has told me I seem standoffish in Bulgaria. I want to practice my Bulgarian, but of course English is easier. I hesitate, either because I'm mad at myself for resorting to English or trying to compose the appropriate response. It's a bad habit I'm trying to break down. Why, just today an old woman in the park saw me with my sketch book and said she had wondered where that sketchbook came from. I said, "It's from Slanchegled. The store," and she looked at me like I hadn't understood her correctly. But at least I didn't hesitate.
It's summer and I'm not doing a lot of writing. Fellow Tetrapod is still available on Royal Road. The World's Other Side is halfway edited and I'm expecting cover art soon.
But I did read some stuff in July:
The Assassins of Thasalon by Lois McMaster Bujold
Another bland Penric and Desdemona adventure. There's an interesting idea at the core, but complications on that theme keep failing to happen. The characters are simply forced by the gods to go through the steps of the plot. When they hit a dead-end, they pray and the plot takes the next step by itself. There are a few surprises for the main characters, but no great agonies of choice.
Neuropath by R. Scott Bakker
You know the smart guy who sneers at happy people? They must not be smart enough to understand how bad the world really is. It isn't a position I respect. There is a lot of edgy two-thousands nihilism here, from predictions of a frozen Europe to preoccupations with sociopaths, terrorists, and MRI studies. Thank goodness for the Replication Crisis. I like R. Scott Bakker's work, but this is his worst book by far. It doesn't seem he had any fun writing it. I only finished it because I was in the bath and wanted to find out if the kids were okay. They weren't, and the author seems to suggest that that doesn't matter.
Somewhither by John C. Wright
What a lot of fun this book was. A teenage boy tries to save his crush from her mad-scientist father's "Möbius Coil," a portal to the Void of Uncreation. He fails, and something comes through from the other side. Damn good stuff! Imagine space-opera inspired by the edge-of-the-map legends of Medieval Europe. And some interesting thoughts on faith and fatalism. I devoured it in three days.
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
This is the sort of thing I like. What's it like to be chronically broke in 1920s Paris and London? Orwell'll tell you! He has strong opinions about it, too, which is understandable. The impression I got was that poverty in 1920s Paris made you nasty, whereas London made you dreary.
The Man with the Silver Saab by Alexander McCall Smith
Another cool, comfortable Varg book. Does he get a girl friend? Does he solve a crime? Is his dog going to be okay? Sort of. Mostly.
Time Trials by M.A. Rothman and D.J. Butler
I bought this book because I like D.J. Butler, but either he wasn't much involved in this book or he got lazy. The beginning is great – a bunch of interesting characters are thrown into the 31st century BC, where they have to save proto-Egypt from animal-headed aliens. I put up with the litRPG elements until I was about 80% of the way through the novel and we started yet another side-quest with an unclear connection to the main goal. I might have stuck it out if I'd had more faith in the authors' research. Aliens aside, I want to learn something real about Egyptian archaeology when I read a book about an Egyptian archaeologist.
Alice and Bob Meet the Wall of Fire by Thomas Lin
This is a collection of science journalism articles from the mid twenty teens. As such, it shouldn't be given a hard time for going stale. Science progresses. I think the most interesting and (relatively) evergreen theme was the debate between the physicists who hold to the "naturalness principle" (physics should be elegant) and those who don't. I would have liked to hear a more diverse range of scientists. We tended to get the same ones over and over. In all, I think I prefer PBS spacetime.
First, I was running in the mornings. Next, I was swimming twice a week and making one chin-up attempt a day. Then, I searched youtube for Calisthenics instructional videos that weren't impossible or weird. Mission accomplished! I cycle through some good exercises and I have to admit, I now enjoy wearing a tight T-shirt :)
Guillermo del Torro's Pinocchio
I was feeling sick and my family was at a party, so I actually watched a movie. It wasn't bad. I respect the artistic vision and craftsmanship of Guillermo del Torro and the team he assembled. I especially recommend the behind the scenes video, with special attention to the value of mistakes and difficulties. The lessons of del Torro's story weren't baked all the way, and I prefer the lessons of the original story anyway, but I can respect this movie even if I don't agree with it.
See you next month
Daniel M. Bensen