Today was very busy and I barely had a break all day. Apart from the hottest hours of the day, in the early afternoon, which were very hot. I spent those just sitting in my camp chair, occasionally dunking my head in water, waiting for the heat to pass.

In between handing out axes and saws and duct tape and sisal twine, I was drying and re-folding tarps, after all the rain we’ve had. Tarps are apparently yet another essential component of scout camp.

When the night curfew arrived and all the scouts were in their tents and no one wanted any more sisal, I went swimming. There’s a decent beach maybe half a kilometre away from the camp, and at ten o’clock at night it was nearly deserted. I could wash, and swim, and just generally relax.

I was not the only one to catch a stomach bug here at camp. And my symptoms were mild; others have it much worse and are being sent home. The medical team (yes, we have a whole team) have been to the nearest hospital and returned with lots of hand sanitizer, and split up the loos and hand-washing stations by scout group to minimize the risk of the infection spreading.

The supply manager was among those, so this evening I was hastily promoted from assistant to supply manager. I now have a whole tent full of stuff to manage. I have no real clue about what’s in here or what I’m really supposed to do with it all.

So I’m making it up as I go along. Answering “yes” when people come and ask for stuff, working under the assumption that most reasonable requests have been foreseen and prepared for – and then digging through the boxes and crates to find it.

PS: I later learned that the doctors were mere hours away from shutting down the camp because the stomach bug was spreading so alarmingly fast. None of the scouts knew, of course – they just grumbled over all the hand-washing and sanitizing they were forced to do before each meal. I also learned that the root cause was a single scout who had arrived at camp with diarrhoea. And by doing that, almost ruined it for two hundred people. Parents, don’t be idiots and send sick kids to camp.

Today was camp building day.

After yesterday, we had only the bare minimum of a camp. All the tents went up of course: sleeping tents as well as tents for all the special functions such as kitchen, medical, supply etc. But that was it. The camp was liveable but bare.

Today – between the rain showers – the scouts built all kinds of amenities and decorations. A flagpole, of course. Stands for the hand-washing basins and washing-up tubs. Clothes lines. Sheltered benches and tables for mealtimes. A portal for the camp as a whole, and for all the “villages” for the different groups.

The number one camp building material is birch poles.

The number two camp building material is sisal twine.

The camp uses enormous amounts of both. Literally hundreds of birch poles, and hundreds of metres of twine.

The number one construction element is the tripod. First-year scouts may not manage the advanced structures that the older ones build – strong enough to climb on – but they quickly learn to make tripods, and you can get far with those. Make a tripod, and you have a washbasin stand. Make two, and add a long horizontal pole on top, and you have a portal, or the skeleton of a shelter.

The reason I’m talking about building materials today, instead of kitchen utensils, is because I was kicked out of the kitchen. I caught some kind of stomach ailment and the medical team banned me from even being in the kitchen for the next 48 hours at least. So instead I am now assisting the supply manager, handing out tools and materials to whoever needs them, and sometimes even getting them back afterwards.

Scout camp near Vallsta in Hälsingland. Changeable weather.

I’m here as part of the kitchen crew again, but not in charge this time. Just chopping and cooking. Today’s dinner was sausage Stroganoff. I was responsible for the special versions – vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free and tomato-free. It was quite a challenge – not just to get four meals done at the same time, but to not mix them up and accidentally pour milk in the vegan version etc.

Cooking at this camp is pretty challenging in general. Because of the long drought, a complete open burning prohibition is in force in most of Sweden right now. That means no campfires, no camp stoves, no barbecues, no fires outdoors, whatsoever, period. For a scout camp, that’s like cutting off our arms.

The campfires that we won’t have this year are just a cosmetic problem. But all food is cooked over camping stoves. All the older scouts normally cook their own meals over Trangia stoves. The meals for the younger scouts are prepared by the kitchen crew over big stoves (large double burners, attached to large tanks of LPG).

With open fires forbidden, all that becomes impossible, so the camp was nearly cancelled when the prohibition was announced. By a massive stroke of luck, the camping ground here turned out to have a garage or shed of some kind where we can put up the stoves, so the camp got the go-ahead after all.

When I was a child, the cake I always had for my birthday was a redcurrant merengue cake. We couldn’t find any redcurrants today, so this is a raspberry and blackberry merengue cake.

Back then, a birthday with just one cake was no birthday. My other cake was often an upside-down pineapple cake (without any artificial-looking canned cherries) or a kringel, which is a filled and braided bread. The internet seems to think it should be filled with cinnamon, but I remember raisins and chopped nuts and a chocolatey glaze.

I now have a pink balloon dog on my desk. A dachshund poodle.

Summary: loved The Fifth Season, disappointed with Obelisk Gate.

When I first read The Fifth Season, I was blown away and immediately started looking forward to the sequel. The sequel didn’t live up to my hopes and expectations at all.

The story takes place on a planet of extreme tectonic and volcanic activity. “The fifth season” of the title is a natural climate-related disaster on a continental or planetary scale. These happen frequently enough (seven within the last 2500 years of recorded history) that there is need for a term like this, and much of civilization revolves around storing and handing down knowledge about how to survive a Season. The book starts at the cusp of a Season:

Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we?

Some people on this planet have magical powers of a special kind (called orogeny) that allow them to shift energy around so as to quell micro-quakes and soothe magma bubbles before they can cause a catastrophe. Untrained, orogenes are immensely dangerous. Trained, they are essential for society’s survival. So the lucky ones are sent to the imperial capital for training; the unlucky ones are lynched and killed.

There are three threads to the story. One continues from where the book took off and describes the beginning of the Season, from the point of view of a “closet” orogene whose neighbours don’t know she is one. The second describes a newly-discovered orogene child’s journey to the capital and her training there. The third shows what life can be like for a fully-trained adult orogene.

I liked this way to tell this story. It’s a great way to explain, for example, why an orogene would behave in a certain way in a certain situation (by telling us about their training) without having to explicitly explain it. And in the end the threads come together naturally and smoothly.

Two things made this book stand out. One was the world, with its tectonic instability and societal focus on surviving it, and its special kind of magic, so suited to this world. The other was the complex emotional tone: poetic, yet bleak and angry, and always torn between hope and hopelessness. Orogenes are immensely powerful, and so needed by the world, yet feared and shunned. The people on this planet have more power over it than we do here, and yet they are more likely to be killed by a disaster caused by the planet.

Obelisk Gate takes up the story right where the first book stopped. I was hoping that the parts I liked best would still be there, that the book would have a similar tone and structure, but it didn’t. And it adds some parts that I frankly quite disliked.

The unique kind of magic turns out to be just a special case or sub-form of more normal, general-purpose magic, which in one turn of the page makes it ordinary instead of unique.

The story-telling in the second book is bog-standard. There are two parallel threads for two main characters. Unlike the first book, the threads’ relationship to each other is both obvious and much weaker: I don’t think they ever actually affect each other, that’s probably left for the third book.

The writing adds detail but loses depth and energy. The first book covered decades; the events in the second book span a year or two – and yet somehow nothing much happens. There is more immediate action, but less substance and tension.

This book also has the abominable habit of letting characters hide essential information for no good reason. Person A knows something, and knows that person B needs this information. Person B likewise knows that the person A knows this thing, and that person B really needs this. And yet A never tells, and B never asks – for no apparent reason at all – until I’m ready to scream at them. Why?! And when they finally decide to talk, we get an info dump – instead of the natural, organic flow that we had the first book.

The first book was among the best I’ve ever read. And while I’m complaining about the second one, it was still better than most – and I am looking forward to reading the third one.

Here’s an interesting review with plenty of spoilers.

On the ferry from Tallinn back to Stockholm, there was entertainment for the kids, including a lady who made balloon animals for the kids.

It’s not like this was the first time they saw one of those balloon dogs… but for some reason, this time Adrian really fell in love with those balloons and wanted to make his own. We bought balloons and a pump, and he went wild. Ingrid also made some, but Adrian was completely obsessed. He stayed up past sundown, twisting more and more balloons into all kinds of creations. Several dogs, but also many, many swords (which was the easiest model to make) and lots of free-form doodles and squiggles.

Let me quote the back cover blurb for you:

Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in a constant, overwhelming, never-ending Noise. There is no privacy. There are no secrets.

Then, just one month away from the birthday that will make Todd Hewitt a man, he unexpectedly stumbles on a spot of complete silence. Which is impossible.

(Not only do people hear each other’s thoughts – they also hear those of animals, and some animals even talk. Turns out dogs don’t have anything interesting to say. Mostly their talk revolves around poo and squirrels.)

Todd immediately realizes that the spot of silence is something special that needs to be kept a secret. But – secrets being nearly impossible in Prentisstown – others become suspicious, so he flees the town.

The story then becomes a thriller/adventure/escape story, where Todd of course discovers that not much in the world is the way he believed it was. And, as it is a coming-of-age story, he himself is not like he believed.

The first two thirds of the book I devoured with hardly a break: it’s fast-paced and action-filled and has some interesting ideas. But after a while the author runs out of story, and the plot becomes repetitive. Bad guys chase Todd, Todd flees, Todd is even more tired and hurt. Rinse and repeat. The bad guys are generally over-the-top evil and don’t even seem to have particularly good reasons for chasing him, they just seem to do so because Todd needs someone to fear and flee from.

Todd also keeps struggling with the question of whether or not he can kill someone who is trying to kill him. Which is a deep and worthy question to struggle with, but it never gets any more depth, it just gets asked the same way over and over again, which gets tiresome.

And when, at the very end of the book, Todd’s situation is essentially unchanged, with still the same bad guys to flee from, I knew I had had enough and was not interested in the next book in the series.

No, I have not given up blogging. My computer was out of commission for nearly two weeks, hence the lack of posts. Now that I can access my photos again, I will work on catching up.