Kaari Utrio

I’ve been re-re-rereading her bibliography over the past month or so. I’ve read most of her books several times before, they’re my go-to easy reading along with Agatha Christie. Since I haven’t had time to do much else productive towards this blog, I’ll try and gather my thoughts for this author -piece.

Kaari Utrio is a Finnish author of both fiction and non-fiction, born 1942. She is a historian by trade and has written several pieces on women and children throughout history. Apparently her works have been translated to seven languages, but I could only find one Hungarian translation on Goodreads of her main non-fiction work. The freely-translated title to that one is “Daughters of Eve: History of European Women, Children and Families”.

Most of her work is strongly colored by the feminist tradition of the 70s university world. She is not the most strongly worded or opinionated feminist, but at times the reader can see a strong distaste towards the treatment of women throughout history (quite deserved, but some like their facts without feelings). In total she has written or has been part of writing 22 non-fiction works.

Her fiction bibliography is long, 36 works since the start of her career in 1968. Most of her work is historical fiction, usually with a female lead character. The main characters are generally from Finland or the Nordic countries. Her main works, the trilogy of books called Vaskilintu, Tuulihaukka and Yksisarvinen (Bronze Bird, Kestrel and Unicorn, literally translated) all start in Northern Europe and take the reader to a tour of Mediaeval Europe. Each of the books follows the life of a woman (and generally at least two other important characters) and their personal growth. Each of the women is linked to each other either by blood or marriage, and the series spans from roughly 1020 to 1100.

The main plot is always a love story. This is one of the only failings of mrs. Utrio as a writer, as the plots are generally very similar in style. The only point when I got tired of her works was when I read them all in one summer as a teen and realized the aforementioned fact.

This time around, however, I was’t bothered by the repetitive elements. I found a new appreciation of finding new ways to portray the basically simple plot. It is a type of talent to be able to reinvent the wheel time and time again, so to say.

I find very little negative to say apart from the repetitive plots. The characters all have distinct personalities and while the reader can usually safely guess which characters will end up together the supporting crew may hold surprises. The end result is also usually reached through amusing or unexpected incidents (even if one knows something more will happen, it might not be what is thought beforehand).

Even though the works span as diverse eras as the first millennium or 19th century, I’ve also always appreciated the adherence to historic facts in her work. The times when she modifies true events to suit her story are few and far between, even though the books are rife with historic characters as supporting cast (several Byzantine emperors and empresses, European kings and queens, and popes). Reading her descriptions of cities like Rome or Constantinople are like small tours of the cities themselves. Personally I’m also partial to the accurate description of dress and items. There are usually also references to things that were happening around those times elsewhere, woven in as news or gossip heard by the characters.

I’m actually more than a bit surprised her work has gone untranslated. While the English-speaking world has many great authors of historical fiction, I’m hard-pressed to come up with many examples of mediaeval Nordics being represented (Jan Guillou comes first to mind with Arn). I was going to shamelessly plug Kaari Utrio to you, but I don’t expect you to learn Finnish to do that…

Oh, well. Until next time.

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So, moving…

I had no idea how long it’d take to get everything in order.

My “construction crew” (read, male relatives) kept finding new things to rip out and leave hanging. My mother kept pestering me about unpacking when I only had my bed in place. People kept calling me to sell me shit I really don’t want and couldn’t understand the meaning of ‘no’. I have all sorts of paperwork to take care of, calls to make and honestly some more unpacking.

I was (am) pretty stressed to say the least. There’s still a ton of things to do, and I should really be there rather than here. I just couldn’t put this off any longer, I feel totally stupid to not have written anything whole summer.

I didn’t have a computer for over a month and a half, but still. Or electricity in 75% of my house for that matter.

I’ve done some reading while waiting for the builders to build and rain to stop raining. I’d thought of doing yard work while people who know how to renovate do their thing. No much luck, it’s been the rainiest and suckiest summer I remember. My yard is infested by plants that want to take the world over and they do not want to die (and seem to thrive when it’s constantly 15°C and raining). Also, I learned cutting bushes in the rain or just after is also awful. Good thing I don’t want those particular bushes in my yard at all.

Most of what I read was trash literature, seeing as my husband managed to pick out all the boxes I didn’t want from our storage room at his parents’. I won’t be reviewing those, because to be honest most of it is truly undeserving of more words beyond “cheap entertainment”.

I did read some fantasy in the form of Steven Erikson. I read the opening volume of his new Kharkanas -trilogy and began the second book. At that point I had to actually start doing “important stuff”, because I finally started getting finished rooms. I have been a huge admirer of Erikson ever since I read Gardens of the Moon, and reading more about some of my favorite characters and their origins is just great. Definitely looking forward to finishing the trilogy. (I’ll write more about both books when I get the second one down.)

I also located both my Bible and Malleus Maleficarum already, so I will be returning to that project. Some of my notes are still missing, but I recall not getting that far with my next post before packing away the books anyway.

Well, now that I’ve let you know that I’m indeed still alive and doing something (while not writing or reading still productive) I’ll get back to organizing. I really need more furniture and a slave or something to get this shit done.

 

Busy, busy

So, lately we’ve been preparing our move.

That has meant I’ve turned my focus away from books for the time being, and unfortunately from writing as well. That is, if we’re talking of something a bit more serious that lists of what to keep and where to store it or bucket lists of stuff yet to do.

I’ve got a ton of those, but I bet you don’t care about them. I don’t personally, but I’ll forget if I won’t write it down.

I had also no idea I had this much stuff. I knew I had a lot (because you cannot own around 600 books and not have a lot of stuff) but I honestly thought I’d led a pretty frugal life outside my beloved bookcases. I’ve come to the conclusion that I won’t need a single new piece of clothing until I’ve worn though about half of what I currently own.

And there’s so much to throw out. I have a way of getting attached to stuff, and I really have to shake the habit now that I have to store my things instead of just moving them from under one roof to another. To be honest, I’ve thrown out a lot, but there’s still a lot to go (like my make-up: I don’t use 90% of it, why do I keep it? No reason).

Yesterday Last week we took my balcony planters to the nearby summer cottage. I wanted to keep them intact, because last summer I had the prettiest scented peas and ipomoeas and I’d really want to see the hybridization the plants managed (pretty, pretty pinks and purples and baby blue). That didn’t go quite as planned though, as my husband took and dumped the biggest planter straight out.

There I am, screeching ” What the hell did you do that for!?!” and him looking at me like I’m a crazy woman. Which I pretty certainly am, but usually he doesn’t give me that look. ( 😀 ) Honestly, I had explained to him in length why we were taking the planters there, but obviously he hadn’t either listened or had forgotten. Sigh.

Oh well. As long as the little birdies didn’t eat all the seeds during the winter I’m pretty sure something will sprout.


I managed to read one book over Easter at my folks. (Hooray for someone else doing the cooking and cleaning up!)

It’s called Guns and Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. A very thought-provoking book, so if you’ve managed not to read it since 1997 like I have, do go pick it up. It does a good job explaining the contributing factors that led Europeans to colonize the rest of the globe and not vice versa.

(I won’t spoil the reading experience for those who haven’t already, so I’ll just leave it at that. Even if I’m not completely satisfied with that iteration, it was my seventh attempt and will have to do.)


At this point I’ve started and left this text about four times (hence the conversion of yesterday to last week -.-), and I have to admit I’ve pretty much forgotten what else I meant to say. I know there was something.

Well, it’ll make for another post if I do remember.

 

Library

I found my library card a couple days ago.

I hadn’t really missed it.

In fact, I think I’ve been to the library a grand total of three times since I moved here. (Disclaimer: I’ve been to other libraries, that statement covers only the building closest to my current home.)

This morning I kind of woke up to the thought.

When I was growing up, all the way up to moving out, I was a staple visitor to our local library. I got my library number probably before I went to school and always wanted to borrow more books than my teacher would have allowed when we visited from school.

We had a library bus visit our school when we were on first grade, and years later the driver (who also worked the desk at the branch) told my aunt I must have read half of the books there. That’s not true, but I did read a lot. I read everywhere and I wasn’t too discriminant on what I read.

So why did I stop going when I moved out?

It’s easy to pose that question, but much harder to give a concise answer.

Library system in Finland is free to use for everyone. Some services like copying and such may cost, but to borrow books you just need to get a card. Most cards work at more than one library (the one I found for example covers the whole Helsinki metropolitan area) and have all sorts of internet services attached (renewing loans, ordering distant loans and so on).

The system is great and many people use it actively. Over time, libraries have started to offer all sorts of other things than books and magazines and research.

And that’s a bit of what bothers me with my local library here. There’s no library atmosphere. It’s nice youth likes to hang out in the library, but it kinda ruined the place for me. I may sound like an old fart, but I really do like my libraries silent. I remember what it was like to be young and noisy, and that’s all cool.

But not in the library.

The other big no-no for me was the self-service. The machine was cumbersome and when returning the books I felt I was manhandling them pushing them through the slot when I could hear them falling every which way on the other side. At my old library one checks out at the desk with the clerk and returns the books to the desk to the clerk. Only dropping happens if you return after-hours, and I never did that for the above-mentioned reason. Try returning to the desk here and the lady looks at you like you’ve grown an extra head.

The third issue is the selection. At home, I could be sure to always find something to strike my fancy or an old favorite, or even the research for some school project. Over here, I had trouble finding anything interesting – despite professing to be omnivorous with books I rarely venture to war/espionage fiction of which there were aplenty. There were even none of the books I liked back home (some older books that have the number cards still show my number 5-6 times back home, and yes I’ve checked).

I guess I would need to make a distant loan from some other library or make my way to a different branch to find something more to my tastes. And that removes the joy of finding a book just by wandering between the shelves. That would also add to the hassle, as I’d need to make the reservation, keep an eye on when the books come around and go pick them up. With my old job, that would have been nightmarish.

Back when I had just moved here and was pretty lost, I had hoped to find something familiar. I guess the experience was so far from what I knew and loved I pushed it away. The building itself is very pretty, light and airy. But somehow the staff didn’t seem that helpful to me the few times I went there and it is just rather noisy (and not all is from the teenagers – that place must have lousy acoustics).

Even if my old branch had a magazine room and art exhibitions and always a plethora of school kids it was never so noisy as this one. Not even during the children’s reading hours they used to have (and may still do for all I know).

Somehow I doubt I’ll be going again.

It’s funny though, when I moved here and before that, I thought the area would have so many awesome libraries and so much interesting things to read in them. I would never have then believed how wrong I’d find myself.

Or rather, I’m sure the interesting libraries are somewhere there, but I have no idea where to start looking. And to be honest if the self-checkout/return system is in use everywhere I really don’t even want to go.


It is also rather true that at present I don’t particularly need to go to the library. I have too many books to read at home at present. Or not too many, but… you know, a lot.

But it’s still a shame I so disliked the place. I would have so wanted to love it.

 

TRAPPIST 1

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard by now of the latest big discovery, that being four new exoplanets orbiting TRAPPIST 1, a star in the constellation of Aquarius. Aquarius is visible on the Northern Hemisphere, but TRAPPIST 1 cannot be seen with the naked eye.

TRAPPIST 1 is an ultra-cool dwarf star, at least 500 million years in age. That is a minimum age estimate, and in reality the star could be several billion years old. At about 8% Solar mass and 11% Solar radius, TRAPPIST 1 is likely to live much longer than our Sun.

TRAPPIST 1 is about 39,5 light years away. With our current methods it is of course unreachable, but I’m thinking this would be a strong candidate for my story. Three of the planets are within habitable zone, and assuming the have any sort of atmosphere they may also have water.

I suck at math, but from a few calculations I did last night (and probably botched), a generation ship could cover the distance in less than ten generations with even 50% light-speed. Now, for the sake of fiction that might be plausible.

So, the planets. Three planets were found already back in 2015, but now the team had more data and found four more planets. Even more new data will become available early this coming March (to the public on the 6th). This new data is by the Kepler telescope and spans over 70 days of observation. It might give new insight as to whether there are even more planets on orbit, what the planet masses are for the currently discovered planets and the orbital period of 1h. Also, Kepler takes observations on the overall brightness of TRAPPIST 1.

So, the three most interesting are the ones in the habitable zone, called 1e, f and g. 1e is about 0,7 Earth masses, f the smallest at about 0,6 and g the largest at 1,1. G gets about as much light from TRAPPIST 1 as the zone between Mars and the asteroid belt get from the Sun, f about as much as Mars. 1e is the most Earth-like, as it gets about as much light.

Even more new information can be discovered after the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch 2018. JWST is accurate enough to give readings on the gas composition of the planets’ atmospheres and the presence of water or other gases usually resulting from life (I say usually, because oxygen and ozone can also be created by chemical reactions or the star’s unusually high UV radiation). Among these gases are oxygen, ozone and methane. These readings will be available in about five years.

As TRAPPIST 1 is rather small, the planets are quite close together. This causes the planets to have gravitational impact with each other, which could also cause consequences on planet surface. The strength of the impact is dependent on the strength of the planets’ possible atmospheres. The positive side of this effect is that it allows the planets’ masses to be more carefully measured than otherwise.

The other negative effect are the solar flares. TRAPPIST 1 has flare occurrences weekly and bigger flares bi-annually. Unless the planets have magnetic fields they cannot resist the radiation and will most likely be uninhabitable.

SETI is observing TRAPPIST 1, but so far nothing has been received. It’s also been pointed out that due to the extreme distance the signal would most likely be static anyway.

Apart from these news I also discovered a couple interesting points I need to explore further in my story. I’ve been trying to figure out how I could make a generation ship work – how medical care skills, engineering skills and so on can be passed on as the first Earth-trained generation ages and dies away.

That’s the main issue: spare parts can be stocked up and the amount of fuel must be system-regulated and present at takeoff. The engines and other systems must be kept in operating condition through the journey, though, and the passengers must arrive in acceptable health and numbers to settle.

I have some solutions thought out, but I doubt none of the first-level solutions will be manageable all the way through. We’ll see.

So long for now, the Sun is shining and I’m going to enjoy that while it lasts.

 

 

 

 

Cleaning Frenzy

I’ve had so much stuff I’ve needed to do around the apartment I’ve had very little time to give to writing. It’s not just physical cleaning I’ve being doing though, I’ve been airing my head as well.

On the positive side though, I’m pretty much done with the most urgent of my chores.

There’s just so much more to do (and even the ‘non-urgent’ list is stuff I should have really done years ago. Shame on me.) that sometimes I don’t know where to start.

I hadn’t even realized how much energy I was spending on working until I stopped doing that. No wonder this place was (and in places still is) a mess. Honestly, though, I’ve learned that no more than 50% of the mess can be my fault and therefore I should expect the creator of the other 50% to take some responsibility. He’s getting there, but sometimes I just have to wonder.

On the stuff more related to this blog, I also frenzied through my bookshelf.

Now you must be wondering what my priorities are, if my bookshelf is on my urgent list. I’ll get there.

I took out all the books I’d read (but had remained under the notion “I just might have time to read this again here”, which is unlikely) and those I plan to take with me to North Karelia. They’re packed up and are waiting for me to take them over to the basement. The box to North Karelia will be staying upstairs. I’m not sure about those yet and I might add stuff – but then I’ll need another box (I’m awful and I have zero impulse control on books).

That’s part of why they were on the urgent list, really. If I get them out from underfoot I’ll have more room to pack some more. We’ve a lot of stuff and this is not a big apartment. (And my furniture is not good for this particular flat, but that’s another story entirely.)

I also vow I’ll buy no more books until the bookshelf is done. I really have to keep this one because I have to carry those things out of here. I love them, but really I need a house to keep them in as is.

There are many interesting books still waiting, so shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Just have to stay home and away from any store in Finland (every grocery store has some pocket books – might not be good, but they’re everywhere).

Regarding my Malleus reading journal though, I realized I’d at some point packed away the Bible I was supposed to cross-reference from. D’oh. Hope it’s not in the basement. I’m NOT opening those boxes again until I’m at my next apartment. (If it’s there the Malleus reading journal is officially on hiatus until next autumn.)

Trying to sort through my inflated worldly possessions has taught me to be better at letting go as well. I have some hoarding tendencies and sometimes get a bit too attached to inanimate objects, but there’s just got to be a line somewhere. I’ve thrown away a lot of stuff I’d kept for ‘that one day when I’ll fix this shit’. Should throw away a lot more, but hey, it’s really a process. Should I capitalize that? Maybe.

Having a clear-set deadline has always been a help for me, and knowing that we won’t be having a place of our own for a couple months really puts pressure into throwing away the unnecessary. I just dread the look on our parents’ faces when they realize what they’ve agreed to…

Anyway, just to let you know I didn’t die over the New Year’s. I’ve been so inspired lately, who knows what’ll happen regarding the actually interesting stuff instead of my housework.

Hopefully. My muses are fickle and cruel.

(And yeah, I’m just posting about doing my chores. I’m so sorry.)

2016 in Retrospect

Slightly early, but since I won’t be home for New Year’s, I figured I’ll do it now.

It’s been a weird year, really.

On one hand, there’s been so much I’ve wanted to do and never the time to do it. On the other, I’ve at times felt at peace like never before.

I have grown to resent my job after just learning to love it again, and I’ve been set free from it. It makes me sad, because a part of me was so unwilling to give up and not ready to let go. But another part says that there’s never a day like today to change (cliché as it may be).

It’s also been a year of personal growth for me, of learning to accept myself better. I’ve come to understand my imperfections better, and I hope I’ve learned to be just a bit more forgiving towards myself, as hard as it may be. (And as any possible deity will know, forgiveness I certainly need.)

I cannot say I’ve been happy, per se, depressed as I’ve been, but there have been moments of bliss and sunshine. The time I spent in Karelia this summer is a bright spot (as always), moments with my siblings’ children another (all 5 are wonderful in small doses, the older 2 for being older now and the boys for being smarter than the older two were at their age – especially the youngest is such a sweetheart).

2016 was also a year of sorrow, not only for all the great artists who have left us this year, but also because of personal loss. My uncle passed away very unexpectedly this autumn, and although I hadn’t seen him for a couple of years it still saddens me deeply to see my uncles leave us one by one. Year after year, family photos become more and more filled with death instead of life. Although the memories are happy, for a time those pictures will be bittersweet.

I have come to see my place in the chain of generations, and all the death in the family in the past few years (since 2001, tbh) has been a difficult but eye-opening experience. I’ve come to see and accept that my parents are aging, and that I may not have them for very long, and that I must take my time with them if I am to have it. It cannot be just “someday when”, it has to be today, because tomorrow just might not be there. My father’s brothers have all passed away before 70 (2 under 65), and my dad just turned 70 this year. The fact of the matter is I just might not have him “someday” (and that hurts like hell, as I’m sure you all can imagine).

I feel 2016 crystallized somewhat what I want to do with my life. We (my husband and I) made a lot of plans throughout the year, and I think we both now have a better picture of the road we must walk. In a way similar to mine I also feel my husband grew a lot as a person this year.

All in all, it must have been the most difficult year of my life, even more difficult than my teens, more difficult than that awful year when my grandmother died. I have at times wished for death, and thought it might just be easier to sleep and never wake up than to go on.

As we say in Finland, though, there’s only one way to go from the bottom, and that’s up.

As I was about to hit Publish I realized none of this actually had anything to do with books or writing, so…

P.S. This year I also read less than I would have wanted to but more than I think I did. I liked most books I read, but also managed to turn some reading into a chore. I hate chores, so that was totally a mistake. I’ll take that back next year. That’s my resolution, and you are free to remind me of it if it seems I forget. (But I’ll finish the reading journal on Malleus Maleficarum, because there’s no other way I’ll get through the biblical references…)