roadrunnertwice: Davesprite from Homestuck, Mr. Orange Creamsicles hisself (Homestuck - Davesprite)

Okay, I realize I just posted some reviews last night, but shut up, listen: for the first time in LITERALLY YEARS, I have no pending reviews that still need to be written. My shit is CAUGHT. UP. I couldn't resist the temptation to empty the entire queue.

Bonus Level: Firewatch

Nov. 20

A story game in the "walking simulator" genre.

This was immaculately produced and very elegant, but I didn't really emotionally connect with it.

Well. Until the very end. It turns out there WAS a story in here that I cared about... it's just that the two main characters had very little to do with it.

Anyway, for all that this left me two-thirds cold, it did some really cool stuff. The way you get to choose Henry's backstory at the beginning is clever, even though it still didn't result in a character I was invested in. The radio controls were VERY clever, pretty much the only time a dialogue system has let me walk and chew gum at the same time. I liked the tactile map and compass system, and the feel of navigating the world was very good. (I love the way Henry grabs the platform as he swings down the stairs.) And... it's a first-person walker where I can see my character's feet??? Unprecedented. :O

Worth a play if you see it on sale, but I didn't quite love it.

Bonus Level: Journey

Nov. 20

I liked this a lot. It's really abstract, and kind of on the border between a bunch of genres — not quite a puzzler, not quite a walking simulator, not quite an action game. But it's a beautiful experience. It reminds me a bit of Monument Valley or Sword & Sworcery EP — I guess I'm into spare, strange journeys of atonement and sacrifice, or something.

Martha Wells — The Cloud Roads (reread)

Oct 17

I was having kind of a rough fall, so I was in the mood to re-read an old favorite.

Martha Wells — The Edge of Worlds

Nov 1

And then I remembered that there was a new novel in the series that I hadn't read yet! Score!!! Too bad it ends on a cliffhanger. 😫

These books rule, but I don't know that I've done a good job at selling people on them in the past. And the pretty-but-more-than-a-little-furry-ish cover art might raise some doubts about whether these are for you.

So here's what's up with these books: they're masterpieces of incredibly tense action plotting, with really satisfying character writing. Wells does romance really well, and here's one of the things about a significant romance in a story that's not primarily a romance novel: you can bring it to a satisfying resolution and then continue to follow those characters and show them working as a team and continuing to grow. IDK, is it just me or is that actually as rare as I think it is? Harriet and Lord Peter are the only pair coming immediately to mind here. Oh, and also the main pairing in this series is a somewhat open relationship and the protagonist is bi? And the gender power dynamics are really odd and interesting, for societal and biological reasons?

Also, the setting is the best kind of bonkers. This world has what seems like hundreds of mostly unrelated sentient species, crowded together and jostling for resources. The place is positively littered with the wreckage of past civilizations, and the current ones are all kind of hanging on by their teeth. A lot of effort is devoted to avoiding predators, and the main villains of the series are a particularly nasty breed of city-killers. There doesn't seem to be a definitive explanation for why things are like this, but the world has a LOT of weird shit in its past, and it's a magic-rich environment, so it's kind of a toss-up as to whether the development of intelligence was juiced somehow for forgotten reasons, or whether it's just an out-of-control natural arms race. A big part of the series's thematic interest is in the boundaries between people, animals, and monsters, and how those boundaries shift and squirm.

All right, I think that's about two thirds of what I dig about these. Hopefully you have a better idea of whether you'll be into this than you got from the cover art.

roadrunnertwice: Rodney the Second Grade T-Ball Jockey displays helpful infographics. (BF.Rodney - Ass increases w/ T-ball^2)

Bob Altemeyer — The Authoritarians

Nov 16

Free PDF.

I heard about this book back in the '00s and always meant to get to it; the recent election made it a little more urgent.

Bob Altemeyer is a professor of psychology who's spent his career studying authoritarian followers, and this is a layperson's overview of what that career has turned up: how authoritarian-following can be measured, how someone becomes a follower, and what specific behaviors and attitudes are highly correlated with high follower scores. (Spoiler: a bunch of Bad Shit.)

Another spoiler: this isn't a very complete explanation for what the fuck just happened to our country. (I'm pretty positive that the recent election included a lot of average people lining up to do exactly the wrong thing — it wasn't just textbook high-RWA behaviors.) But it's pretty important nonetheless. Most notably, it offers some explanations for that bizarre core population of right wingers who just... don't seem to make sense. And it backs those explanations up with easy-to-understand descriptions of the relevant experiments.

I don't quite know what to do with this information, but I'm glad I have it.

E.K. Weaver — The Less Than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal (comics)

Oct 17

Readable online, but I read the all-in-one book version.

An excellent road-trip/romance story. Brilliantly observed art, great dialogue, 👌🏼.

A thing I really liked about this was its embrace of uncertainty: the way it avoids both Happily Ever After and the Camp Sweetheart reset plot. It's taking place in this liminal Camp-like space, on this road trip where both people are separated from their normal support structures, but... the stakes feel very real and more recognizable to me. A modern romance, not an antique one set in the present day.

Meredeth Gran — Octopus Pie, vols. 1-4 (comics, re-read)

Nov. 26

Readable online.

This is my favorite ongoing comic. You should definitely be reading it, and these new editions from Image are the best way to start.

Octopus Pie is one of those comics where, if you just say the premise, it sounds pointlessly generic. "Young people in Brooklyn struggling with life, work, and adulthood." Yeah, I'll clear my calendar immediately. So what I've been telling people lately is that it's a more formally and visually ambitious successor to Dykes to Watch Out For or the classic run of For Better or For Worse — a comfortably slow burn that builds up drama from layer after layer of small events, whose characters grow, backslide, and grow in what feels like real-time. Which is kind of the promise of all ongoing contemporary slice-of-life strips, but god, it's so rare to see it fulfilled in a way that feels at all real or dangerous. I've bailed out of so many strips like this because they wouldn't fucking go anywhere, but OP goes all kinds of places.

Volume 4 ends with "The Witch Lives," which was the arc where OP went from "a favorite" to "my actual favorite." It's one of the best stories I've read about the slow, grinding shittiness of heartbreak and resentment, and the way it uses and abuses the twice-weekly serial comics format is so mercilessly perfect. Best breakup album since Interbabe Concern.

Have I mentioned it's funny? It's also really goddamn funny.

Liz Suburbia — Sacred Heart (comics)

Nov 23

TBH, I can't tell if this story is over or not. The ending was sudden and shocking, and resolved nothing... but that might be thematically on-point?! But the author's website implies this is part one of four... but the website is pretty outdated? Oh wait, no, here we go. Yeah.

ANYWAY. Suburbia's art is DELICIOUS, and the atmosphere is shimmeringly, gruesomely apocalyptic. This book is weird and dark and sad and joyous and cool.

roadrunnertwice: Davesprite from Homestuck, Mr. Orange Creamsicles hisself (Homestuck - Davesprite)

Maggie Stiefvater — The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves

Finished Boys July 7; decided to not finish Dream Thieves on Sep 11.

Ruth and several of her friends read and enjoyed this whole four-book series, and I was really interested! Alas, I hated it and gave up before book three.

Remember how I called Fangirl "a li'l book about being young and sucking?" This is a series about teens being Totally Rad in ways I found false and aggravating. The setting and characters felt thin and incomplete, and the plotting felt random. The lore had potential, and there were some really clever situations (Ronan's family), but everything built up around them was dissatisfying.

Once I'd extracted some useful pointers about what makes a promising story stop working, I was done. Anyway, your mileage may vary; like I said, some people whose taste I respect thought these were fine.

Lydia Millet — The Fires Beneath the Sea

Stopped reading Nov. 13

This was some perfectly good middle-grade modern fantasy family adventure, sharing quite a few genes with A Wrinkle in Time. The prose and dialogue were clunky, but not bad enough to make me stop reading, and the setup, setting, and characters were quite good.

But I just was not really in the mood for a middle-grade Wrinkle-ish thing, so I bailed out. No harm, no foul, would totally recommend this if you ARE in the mood for that. Sounds like book 3 of 3 comes out in January or something?

Andrew Hussie and Various — Homestuck (comics... sort of)

Aug 13

Readable online.

Good gracious, what to even say about Homestuck.

I started reading this comic in 2009 when it started (I was still working at the yarn shop!), and it's been a hell of a ride. It did things I have never seen before in webcomics or in any other medium, and those formal innovations were backed up by an incredible density of in-jokes and internal references, carefully timed plot twists, wild improvisation, touching character writing, and a whole lot of strange shit that sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. Delivered in unpredictable bursts of serialization, it had an addictive quality that kept a grip on me for years.

It went on a year-plus hiatus near the end, at a point where the story felt like it had gone off the rails a bit, and I tuned out and almost didn't notice when the final update came out. So this summer, I went back and re-read the whole thing.

Hussie has said on multiple occasions that he was writing the story with binge reading in mind, rather than the serialized pace at which I originally followed it. I think I don't believe him! Or at least, I think he mis-estimated both the strengths and the weaknesses of his storytelling techniques, as well as the effects of his erratic burst-update schedule on the experience. There are large chunks of the story that suffer at binge pace; while we were fine with reading two walls of chat log filler in-between whatever else we were doing on the internet that day, reading seven walls of filler in a row can get a little wearing, and I found myself skimming some of what I would have perused. The update schedule flattered the video updates, too: the short "FMV" sections are incredibly dense and intricate, and they rewarded multiple re-watches over the course of two days while you waited for the next post. Binge readers generally won't do that, and the resulting experience is less, I think.

Also, the heavily improvisational writing style made the text feel immediate and sly and gregarious as it was coming out, but not all the references aged at the same speed, and some of the original effect is now gone or mutated. AND technology has moved on a lot in seven years (Homestuck predates the iPad), and the heavy use of Flash means you kind of have to plan ahead for a reading session now! (At home, plugins enabled, laptop battery fully charged.) So all that considered: the true Homestuck experience was reading it as it came out, between 09 and 14, obsessively refreshing the page twice a day. Reading the whole thing today is a slightly watered-down experience.

UGH, I hate being a "binge reading is killing the novel" hipster, but I've really thought hard about this, and I think it's a bizarre special case! Anyway.

With that out of the way: should you read/watch/play Homestuck?

Yes. Hell yes. It's uneven as all get-out, but it's exciting and funny. It's also important. I think its effect on the next decade of video games, comics, and other media is being underestimated.

I liked the ending. I'm gonna miss those kids and their flailing, shitty, brave attempts to survive the gonzo creation myth they got dropped into.

roadrunnertwice: Young Marcie Grosvenor from Finder, asleep in a ward drawn from Finder trails. (Finder.Marcie - Wardings)

Sofia Samatar — A Stranger in Olondria

June 21

Jevick of Tyom has always seen the Empire of Olondria as a paradise, rich in everything he spent his childhood starving for. Olondria sees Jevick (and his recently acquired ghost problem) as a political football in its long-simmering religious conflict over who controls history and knowledge.

This book is about a lot of things, but the most troubling of the bunch were the ways your culture can fail you, and the ways you can fail your culture.

It is also a ghost story, and a story about stories. It's deliciously gothic, and the prose was lush in a way that reminded me vaguely of Maggie Helwig's Girls Fall Down.

I enjoyed this immensely. I am SUPER HYPED for The Winged Histories, but I don't know when I'll be in a mental state to withstand it.

Zan Romanoff — A Song to Take the World Apart

Oct 12

A story about a teenage siren who Makes Some Mistakes.

I liked this. It's overheated and bombastic in the way a story about dumbass teenage first love kind of has to be, but it has an admirable... hmm, I might need a word other than "restraint," here. "Economy," maybe — it's un-redundant, and resists the temptation to waste your time.

Here's my review: I wasn't really in the mood for this kind of book when I read it, but it was so well done that I loved it anyway.

Elizabeth Hand — Available Dark and Hard Light

June 17 and June... 24?

I read Generation Loss ages ago and liked it a lot, or at least liked most of it a lot. I had no idea there were sequels until rushthatspeaks wrote this glowing endorsement of them.

The thing I snagged on in Generation Loss was... well, it's a spoiler, but Cass does something legitimately unforgivable. Hardboiled detective fic has a solid tradition of dark (even murderous) acts, but this seemed to break some unstated rule of the genre.

These two sequels lean into that break. On the surface level, they're really entertaining page-turner mystery novels, but on the level under that, they're maybe defying the genre's whole raison d'être?

I think maybe these aren't human detective novels. They're detective novels that presuppose the moral priorities of Something Entirely Else. Cass IS following the rules of her role and receiving its dubious rewards, but it's not the same role that detectives like Philip Marlowe play. She serves an alien moral framework. Like, the ending of Hard Light doesn't even really make sense if you try to treat it like a normal mystery.

I dunno. Read Rush's review. I enjoyed these a lot, but I'm still not entirely sure what to make of them.

Bonus Level — Shadowrun Returns: Hong Kong

Oct 8

The near-universal consensus on these games seems to be as follows:

  • The first Shadowrun Returns (which I haven't played) shows potential but is basically skippable.
  • Dragonfall and Hong Kong are both good; you'll love one of them but merely like the other.

Anyway, turns out I'm a Dragonfall partisan. I think it has a better harmony between setting, character, and gameplay!

Hong Kong has some significant gameplay improvements (especially in the Matrix), and more variety in the missions. (There's an honest-to-god murder mystery/trial! That's neat! And the broader Yama Kings investigation subplot was cool, although the sleep requirement was arbitrary and opaque.) It's worth playing! But I REALLY liked how Dragonfall dropped you into a pre-established group of characters with their own relationships and loyalties. I appreciate what Hong Kong was trying to do with making the relationship with your character's brother central, but I think it wasn't a good fit with the type of game this was; the squad-based structure of the game demands a more balanced ensemble cast. Dragonfall's scenario was a nearly perfect fit, and so I love it more.

roadrunnertwice: Yehuda biking in the rain. (YehudaMoon.Yehuda - Rain)

Dan Harris — 10% Happier

Nov. 4

Mostly fuck this book. I started meditating recently (again, sorta kinda), a little bit on most days, largely inspired by this excellent short video narrated by this book's author. Go ahead and go watch that, and you've already got 80% to 90% of what the book has to offer. That last smidgen of useful info is thinly smeared across what feels like acres of obnoxious memoir.

Like, I see what he's doing, and I guess I don't really fault him for it. He believes mindfulness-based meditation is going to have the most dramatic effect for people who, like himself, sort of default to being assholes, and so he set out to write The Asshole's Case for Mindfulness. It might even be pretty good at that.

But while I won't claim to have not dabbled in being a fucker, I will say that the format is mostly useless for someone who:

  • Already realizes their mind is a network of disparate competing systems.
  • Is already interested in improving their self-directed mind control skills.
  • Just wants some practical help with that, and possibly some interesting updates from whatever the current frontline of research happens to be.

When I find that book, I'll let you know.

Jack Kornfield — Meditation for Beginners

Nov. 10

Well, that was fast. It looks like this is the meditation book to go for! Shout-out to Suzanne at work for the rec.

I have a few tiny quibbles with it, mostly about the anecdotes he sometimes uses to illustrate a point. (They seem slightly random, and also my eyebrow always goes up when someone mentions Carlos Castenada with a straight face.) But those are rare (maybe one or two a chapter) and brief, and aside from them, this is a really remarkable amount of useful, practical information packed into the minimum space.

What's up with my sudden interest in meditation? Well, I've been idly interested for a while, because getting better control over the default thought patterns of my brain has never seemed like a bad idea. But recent events (even before the election) have moved that from "nice to have" to "urgently important." (Yes, I am also looking into therapy. Yes, I probably could have used both of those things at other points in my life, like '13 or '06.)

It's already helping a bit, although it's hard to describe exactly how. Proving to yourself that thoughts are just thoughts really is a pretty big deal.

Sidebar about meditation

The yoga classes I took in college had some meditation, but it didn't take. You wanna know what really made me care about and get mindfulness for the first time, back in '08 or '09? Motorcycles. When you're riding and your face starts to itch, turns out you have to Get Over It, and stop caring about non-useful sensations and emotions. Like, go ahead and feel them! But disidentify and draw a line between things that matter and things that don't matter.

That, combined with the notice/decide/respond/notice loop that necessarily takes up your whole brain at 70 mph, made riding a kind of rolling meditative practice that has at times anchored me and helped me deal with overwhelming shit that was happening in the rest of my life. Death machine serenity, go figure.

There's also that occasional sudden craving for a cigarette I get, which I noticed several years ago will go completely away if I just stand there and look at it for a minute; I feel like that taught me a bit about the transitory nature of consciousness, too.

Anyway, that stuff was really valuable, but a little disorganized. It eventually occurred to me that I could probably adopt a more coherent practice and get some more consistent benefit.

roadrunnertwice: Hagrid on his motorcycle, from Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. (HarryPotter.Hagrid - Two wheels good)

I just today noticed that Kai Ashante Wilson's new thing came out while I wasn't looking, so I finally wrapped up this review of his last one.

Kai Ashante Wilson — Sorcerer of the Wildeeps

Feb 7, 2016

Believe the hype; this novella is both good and important. I mean, I hated the ending (everyone hates the ending [it's bullshit]), but still, this is a must-read if you're watching what's new in fantasy. Scrounge up $3 and a few hours for it.

This is shaped like an old-school sword and sorcery short (with subgenre-appropriate dudeliness values), but the whole thing is built in variations on modern AAVE (plus some flashes of global Black Englishes, per the internationality of the supporting cast of mercenaries).

Plus it's pretty gay. Plus it's taking place on the outskirts of an impressively bonkers techno-deistic mythos that seems like it might be in dialogue with some books I haven't read yet. But I think the language of it is the most bracing and exciting part, the part that seems to be the biggest deal. Not that building SF worlds in Black Englishes is new per se, insert shoutout to Midnight Robber here. But there's something going on here with secondary-world fantasy and the hidden conceit of translation that felt surprising and transformative.

So... there are various philosophical approaches you can take when doing secondary-world fantasy, but the founding text for most modern secondary-world fantasy in English is Lord of the Rings, and LOTR had an explicit conceit of translation. As in, all events took place in some other language, then were translated into modern English by a specific translator with strong opinions about who their readership was, what cultural parallels they could take advantage of, which literary predecessors would be invoked by particular diction choices, etc. (Cf. the appendices, where he talks about changing characters' names because their "real" ones had the wrong gender connotations in English's sound system.)

The translator was just as much a character as the characters, in other words. But the results got more attention than the process, and so Tolkien-derived fantasy has a major translator reuse problem, which carries over into a presumed-readership reuse problem.

Anyway, what happens to classically-inclined secondary-world fantasy when your default readership ISN'T British white people with an early 20th century worldview? When the references that constitute the translation are not their references? How does this new fantasy mutate and evolve? What can it do better than it ever used to be able to do?

I liked this book a lot.

roadrunnertwice: Protagonist of Buttercup Festival sitting at a campfire. (BF - Vast and solemn spaces)
A few weeks back, I finished part three of that loose mixtape series I've been working on:



Also, since Halloween is tomorrow, might as well re-link my old mix Horror Story, which I remain quite fond of.
roadrunnertwice: Wrecked bicyclist. Dialogue: "I am fucking broken." (NeverAsBad - Fucking broken)
I went to my first physical therapy appointment today!

One of my long-term aspirations is getting better at realizing when I need to ask for help, and I feel like this was at least a step in the right direction even though it took me two damn months to get the clue. Long story short, I fucked up my hip area on my right side back in August, when Ruth was teaching me to swim. (Which I meant to post about but can't remember if I ever did.) Pro-tip, don't try to kick full force the first time you use flippers, the resistance/acceleration curve is completely different and you might wreck your dumb ass.

Anyway, ever since then, I've had dull, aching pain in that right hip and thigh when I move them in formerly totally normal ways, and it's been dampening my enthusiasm for walking, running, and biking. I finally accepted on Tuesday that it wasn't going to go away on its own or with amateur trigger point massage, and remembered I had solid testimonials from multiple friends (who have my same insurance) for Pedal PT down on Clinton.

They got me in today, and I already feel a ton better. Turns out half of my pelvis was rotated forward. Guess that was a heck of a flipper kick.
roadrunnertwice: Young Marcie Grosvenor from Finder, asleep in a ward drawn from Finder trails. (Finder.Marcie - Wardings)

It's been a minute. Hey y'all, let's bookpost.

G. Bruce Boyer — True Style: The History & Principles of Classic Menswear

Sep 30

For whatever reason, I thought this was going to be a structured and comprehensive overview, but instead it's a wandering and loosely connected essay collection. But it was entertaining and mildly enlightening, so it's probably a better book than the one I was expecting.

Insert something here about the complications of coming to some kind of arrangement with "menswear" when one does not in any way consider oneself a “““man.””” I've needed to buy a respectable suit for years now, and I'm having a bastard of a time orienting myself. Most of the practical writing on the subject is coming from such a distant place that it's almost impossible for me to make use of it?? IDK, I'm at multiple disadvantages here and it's frustrating. My parents and relatives don't know how to dress, so I couldn't learn any of this from them, and since I'm an inconvenient size/shape (have literally never encountered a correctly fitting long-sleeve woven shirt), I'm gonna have to get something custom, which is a staggering expense and a ridiculously steep learning curve. If I'm going to invest all that money and effort, the result had better be something that I 💖fucking love,💖 and my Grumpiness About Masculinity is going to make that standard rather tougher to meet. BLEAH.

Good thing I live on the west coast and work in tech, huh? My habitat's aggressive informality gives me a bit of extra time to figure this all out. But I can already feel the next wedding or funeral breathing down my neck.

...This isn't really a book review, is it? I guess they never are. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Tamora Pierce — Protector of the Small: First Test, Page, Squire, and Lady Knight

Mar 20 (book 1) through Apr. 22 (book 4)

It turns out that Ruth and I both grew up with Tamora Pierce novels! But since she's a bit younger than me, she had a wider selection at that age when they're the best thing ever. So I read and loved the original Lioness quartet and The Immortals, but by the time this series came out, I was in high school and it was Very Important to not be reading books about 11-year-olds. You know the drill.

Anyway, I liked these a lot as an adult, and if I'd had them as a preteen I'd have been fucking apeshit over them. They're great! Ruth was right about them being much better than the prior two series; those were important and wonderful, but this is just a lot better crafted and more cohesive. An excellent heroic coming-of-age tale.

Raina Telgemeier — Smile (comics)

Oct 14

I've had a copy of this since forever, but never got around to reading it. It's good! It was Telgemeier's first major project, so it lacks some of the confidence and poise of her later work, but her voice and her art are already unmistakable.

Also, I'd almost forgotten this, but I'd read about half of this book before, when it was serialized in black and white on Girlamatic. What a weird time in comics history! And now, this week, Telgemeier is (checks) seven out of ten slots on the NYT paperback graphic books bestsellers. Good job, RT. (And also, as someone who attended a rural public school district, lemme take this chance to remind everyone to never underestimate the Scholastic book fair.)

roadrunnertwice: Parking lot stencil: "ALL TREES WILL BE TOWED," with tree glyph in "no" sign. (All trees will be towed)

Eh, what the heck. Smoke em if you got em, right?

Paul Bowles - The Sheltering Sky

Aug 19

This had some definite moments, most notably the part where the guy died of typhus (I've had fevers that sort of qualitatively resembled that, minus the threat to my life), but wow, the orientalist rape-a-palooza of that final section of the book can go to hell. (It was so unnecessary??? I think this would have been a favorable review if the book had just ended with Kit fleeing the city and nothing resolved.)

I can't remember what Max said when he loaned this to me, but we hung out a few weeks after I finished it and he filled in a bit of context about Bowles. The upshot is that this is a weird book written by a weird dude at a weird time, and it later had weird echoes through literary history (most notably having some kind of formative influence on the Beats).

Another fragment: Once I got my feet under me, I was reading this as a very very dark comedy. But thinking back, now I'm wondering whether that has anything to do with what Bowles' meant to write. Did Port read like a doomed clown in 1949? I... I think maybe he didn't?! But I really don't know. Lemme know if you have any insight.

Megan Whalen Turner - A Conspiracy of Kings

Sep 11

I didn't read this last year because Ruth packed all her books away for six months, but I remembered it right before a big backpacking trip and it was just what I wanted.

I mentioned before that these books are surprising. Have I mentioned yet how amazingly well constructed they are? The most appropriate word I can think of is "precise." Lots of little pieces in exactly the right spots.

They also have a very detailed world that's rendered with admirable restraint, which is an ethos I can always get down with in a tense sorta-fantasy novel. (Reminiscent of the economy and control of world-reveals in Sabriel.)

Brandon Graham - King City (comics)

Sep 15

This comic is completely outrageous. It is bananas. Graham is fusing '70s French SF comic bonkersness with '90s manga bonkersness, and the result is, like... basically any given page has something that can make you ask what the hell you're even looking at.

It has its flaws, most notably that the dudegaze quotient is higher than I usually prefer. And the characters are often a bit flat. But I still really enjoyed it. The art is a wonderfully satisfying combination of tossed-off panache and obsessive fiddly detail. The setting is, as I think I already said, utterly bananas. The dialogue is mostly serviceable but will sometimes surprise with an elegantly lazy kickflip. And the amount of visual imagination on display is just astounding. This is a very comicsy comic, in the best way.

roadrunnertwice: Rodney the Second Grade T-Ball Jockey displays helpful infographics. (BF.Rodney - Ass increases w/ T-ball^2)

Kelly Link - Get in Trouble (short stories)

Sep. 24

There's some excellent stuff in here, but after chewing for a bit, I think I have to say this isn't Link's best collection. (That's still Magic for Beginners.)

But I DO still highly recommend it. For one thing, it's got possibly her best story so far, "Valley of the Girls." (I'm serious, this story is mandatory.) For another, even Link's weaker stories are good.

It's also her most unified collection, in a way that's hard to pinpoint. Something about a commitment to characters always making the wrong decision. A persistent turn towards... not evil, but badness. Heroes you feel driven to root against.

Anyway, I'll re-read most of these on some rainy day. Probably starting with The Demon Lover as Halloween gets closer.

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples - Saga vol. 1 (comics)

Sep 13

Yeah, okay!! This is about as good as everyone says it is. I kind of find myself holding it at arms-length a bit; something about it encourages a bit of emotional distance, signals you to not let the characters get too close. But it's a heck of a ride, it spends twenty-dollar ideas where anyone else would spend a fiver, and the art is really honest-to-god first rate.

Aimee Bender - The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Sep 26

This was great.

I'd forgotten Aimee Bender completely, and then remembered her suddenly when I was trying to figure out what to say about Uptalk. So I checked in at the library, and she'd put out another story collection and this novel while I hadn't been looking.

It's been almost exactly ten years since I read An Invisible Sign of My Own (I found a brief comment in my journal about it: November '06, which was before I started keeping this book log!) and I can only remember so much of it, but the impression I'm digging up is of an intriguing but wildly off-center novel that threatened to fly apart off its axis at any moment. This is more controlled and much improved, but it retains that sweet intensity of dissatisfaction and magic and discomfort and yearning. I'm glad I remembered Aimee Bender.

Carla Speed McNeil — Finder: Third World (comics)

February? January? I forgot to write this down b/c I was at my parents' house or something.

This went some really strange places, and I don't have anything useful to say about it now. Finder's great, you should read Finder!

Bonus level: Severed

Aug 2

This was on sale for its recent iOS release, and I loved Drinkbox's last game (Guacamelee), so I went for it.

The narrative is extremely spare; so spare that I'm kind of reconsidering putting it in the didread list (which I usually only do for story-focused games). But I still find myself thinking about it from time to time, so.

As for gameplay: Housemate saw me playing it for a few minutes and said "So... it's Wizardry meets Fruit Ninja?" Not wrong! It starts really simply, and in the first area I found myself wondering if there was actually a game here. But once the difficulty ramps up and you have to juggle three or four aggressive enemy timers at once, it's kind of a blast.

Not a lot of replay value, but a solid experience the first time through.

Kate Wilhelm - Storyteller

July 24

An occasionally interesting memoir of running the Clarion writers' workshop. I needed an undemanding nonfiction read, and this fit the bill.

There're some fragments of useful stuff in here about the practice of writing and workshopping fiction, but most of the focus is on anecdotes and institutional history.

roadrunnertwice: Sigourney Weaver with a trucker 'stache. (Sigourney Weaver with a trucker 'stache)

I got tired of trial-by-combat in Tumblr's wysiwyg thunderdome, so I'm just gonna post these here from now on. If you missed the earlier episodes: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, instructive diagram.

Okay, so first off, why are you bringing Bundy family fanfic into my home.

bundy

Where did you get that. Why is that even a thing. God dammit.

A shocking blitzkrieg of Kindle ads )

roadrunnertwice: Protagonist of Buttercup Festival sitting at a campfire. (BF - Vast and solemn spaces)

Hi, here's another mix tape!

This is kind of a sequel to Sunset Array Repairs, because I thought it would be cool to do another cycle of related mixes. IDK if there'll be a third, but anyway, here's a different corner of that li'l universe.

roadrunnertwice: Hagrid on his motorcycle, from Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. (HarryPotter.Hagrid - Two wheels good)

Donna Tartt — The Secret History

January 4, 2016

Hahahahaha oh my god. This was great. I don't think I have anything non-dumb to say about it, though. It has a generous sprinkle of the ol’ Gatsby nature, so tune in if you like watching rich people swan-dive into dumpsters? It's tense and incredibly slick? It's out of sync with consensus chronology somehow? I DON'T KNOW. I just loved it.

Well, wait, I have this little fragment: it's God’s own perfect antidote to Pamela Dean's rendition of Tam Lin. (That's too obscure for a real book review [which luckily this isn't], but if you've read Dean's Tam you know exactly what I mean, even if you liked it in a way I couldn't.)

Rainbow Rowell — Fangirl

June 4

A li'l novel about being young and sucking.

A lot of this book is about struggling with anxiety and embarrassment, and kind of generally just being at a lower level of social development than everyone around you, and damn, for me that made it a tough read. But it's really well-constructed, it abjures easy outs, and it follows through on its swing. Good shit. 👌🏼

James Baldwin - The Fire Next Time

??? ??, ????

I distinctly remember reading this at an outdoor table at the La Bonita on Alberta Street during one of the last four summers, but apparently I never wrote it down. What the fuck.

Well, it's been long enough that I only have a vague impression of its content anymore. Also, I read it soon after Ta-Nehesi Coates'd done a periodic series of blog posts about Baldwin and his legacy, so I feel like what I'm most remembering is TNC's Baldwin rather than the undiluted substance.

It was a heady and confronting book, and quite short (two long essays), but that's almost all I remember of it — I retained the sensation, but I lost the précis. I'll have to revisit someday.

Various cartoonists - Wolfen Jump (comics)

Aug 9

This compilation is incredibly silly!! AFAICT the brief was "Whatever you want as long as WOLFMEN, also try and be at least slightly anime."

Most of the stories are like 8 pages tops, which isn't enough time to do... really... anything... story/character-wise, but at least 2/3 of them were good fun with high-quality high-personality art. If you're not sure whether to give a shit, read this and it should clear up everything.

Kimmy Walters - Uptalk (poetry)

Aug 9 (sorta)

Like with short stories, I don't read poetry collections whole or in order, and I always cache away fragments for winter.

Kimmy Walters writes the kind of poetry that characters in a Kelly Link story probably write. She is great. I also kind of want to name-check Aimee Bender here, too, but don't have a full theory of what the shared strand is. Pervasive surrealism combined with a method of playful transgression.

roadrunnertwice: MPLS, MN skyline at sundown.  (Minneapolis - Sunset in the city)

It's been a minute since I posted a playlist on here, so here's the latest:

(Or if the embed doesn't work, here's the Spotify link.)

This time it's on Spotify instead of regular files. I've had Spotify Premium for a few months, and I'm liking it a lot; now that the vile radio ads are gone, it's reminding me a lot of the brief glory days of Napster?! I didn't think I'd have that feeling again, of being able to just check out anything I was curious about without any particular rigamarole. Yeah, I know, I'm late to the party. (Also, Discover Weekly is pretty cool. I keep a bucket of interesting stuff that rolls through the weekly, if you wanna lurk on that.)

Anyway, this playlist: Uh, it's about trying to make ends meet and find time to party a little in a kind of broken-down sci-fi universe. I guess it's Dicebox x The Z Radiant crossover mixtape fanfic. Yeah, that's a thing now, welcome.

roadrunnertwice: Rebecca on treadmill. (Text: "She's a ROCKET SCIENTIST from the SOUTH POLE with FIFTY EXES?") (BitterGirl.Rebecca - Rocket scientist)

Andrea K. Höst — The Touchstone trilogy (re-read)

Feb 20-ish, 2016

These books still rule, and I needed some comfort-food re-reads.

This is where I remind you that the first book is free — kindle, smashwords — and you probably still haven't read these yet. Hint hint!

Bonus Level: Cardboard Computer — Kentucky Route Zero: Acts 1, 2 (replays), and 3, plus "Limits and Demonstrations," "The Entertainment," and "Here and There Along the Echo"

Mar 25, 2016

I think I've talked about Acts 1 and 2 here before. Act 3 is even better.

An interesting thing about KRZ: not only is it episodic, but it has a bunch of free, optional side-episodes that you can download as separate apps. These tend to be experimental and weird, but will drop crumbs of the main story from time to time. I highly recommend playing "The Entertainment" before starting Act 3: it's basically a metafictional overture for the whole act, in the form of a student play put on the ’70s by Carrington (the guy you can meet in act 1 who's seeking a venue for his new project). It's kind of a confrontational anti-game, with a hilariously shocking ending that turns out to be extremely relevant the instant the curtain rises on Act 3.

Anyway: this game isn't quite about what I thought it was about, and I'm excited for the next act.

Nicole Kornher-Stace — Archivist Wasp

April 5, 2016

A strange and intense post-apocalyptic ghost story.

I started out skeptical of this, but it won me over. It's kind of genre salad in a way that, now that I think of it, reminds me slightly of Smoketown. (Running in a very different direction with it.)

The metaphysics didn't quite make sense; it never really followed through on the tease that we'd find out what happened to the world; I remain very curious about why there are ghosts now when there didn't seem to be ghosts before. But ultimately it satisfied in the ways it needed to satisfy, and I kind of savor the lingering mysteries.

Andy Weir — The Martian

June 27

This was a really relaxing read, and it went down in a flash. A+ airplane or beach book; I quite enjoyed it.

"Relaxing????," you say. Well, it's technically a story about repeatedly almost dying in a frozen airless hellscape, sure, but in practice it reads like a series of really fun forum posts about how badly the HVAC system managed to fuck itself up (and our hero's legendarily janky patch job). About 4/5 of the book is the protagonist's log entries, which he only writes once he's tamed enough chaos to sit at a computer for an hour. So they're paradoxically calming!

The log entries are written in what I suspect is Weir's natural forum-post voice. He's not a very versatile writer (the 3rd-person alternate POV sections are all pretty weak), but he's very good at conversational technical explainers, so most of the book is A Real Fun Read If You Like That Sort of Thing (And I Do).

Bitter life-or-death struggle, presented as a series of really knotty engineering problems with clever "solutions" (including multiple off-label abuses of a plutonium-containing device). Good times.

roadrunnertwice: Protagonist of Buttercup Festival sitting at a campfire. (BF - Vast and solemn spaces)

Well, everything else in the world is kind of going nuts right now, so here's some book reviews if you need a brief distraction.

Ann Leckie — Ancillary Mercy

Jan 21, 2016

This is exactly what I was hoping for from the series finale — it re-engaged the conflicts that drove Justice, integrated Sword's complications into those, and generally brought things to a chaotic and satisfying close.

Please read this series, it rules.

Also! I really liked the two new significant characters, but even just saying their names would be too spoilery, ha. They are great, and I would read a sequel just about them horsing around and causing havoc.

Ursula K. LeGuin — The Tombs of Atuan

Feb 1, 2016

I read A Wizard of Earthsea ages ago, but never followed up on the sequels until now.

Wow, this was an entirely other thing, wasn't it? Wizard was a book that moved in effortless wire-fu leaps, treetop to treetop; Tombs drags and taunts.

I don't know if I can say I enjoyed it, per se. But I can see how it was the right and proper follow-up to Wizard. It was satisfying, regardless of whether it was fun.

Chad Orzel — How to Explain Relativity to Your Dog

Feb 6, 2016

I learned a lot from this and I'm glad I read it! The rhythm of the writing wasn't quite to my taste and the repeated dog comedy bits got old, but the physics explanations were top notch, helping make sense of some things I've never been able to grasp before. This is some of the highest quality popular science writing I've seen.

It was also timely, because they announced the first gravity wave detection at LIGO pretty much as soon as I finished it and I was totally equipped to understand the news. 🙌🏼

Anarket Wells - The Maker's Mask

Nov. something., 2015

I spent a lot of this book wondering whether I liked it. It's honestly a bit of a baffler! I think my answer is yes, but it's the first part of a duology, so maybe check back in a few months.

This takes place in a feudal society on a planet whose terraforming process might have been partially aborted. Political power is centered around beached starship hulks that now serve as habitats and fabrication plants. Maybe 1/5 of the story is about that global situation. The bulk is about feudal intrigues, teenagers getting WAY over their heads in ill-advised romantic entanglements, and swashbuckling.

Here's a thing I went WAY back and forth on: There are some genetically engineered intersex/nonbinary characters who are assigned the pronoun "it." NO, FUCKING, I KNOW, RIGHT? But I can't just shut it down for that, because:

  1. The story treats them with about as much human dignity as you generally get in a feudal swashbuckler. They're described in physically positive terms, they have their own agendas, etc. One of them is a very sympathetic character with some interesting history, the other's a psycho assassin, and that's about on-par with everybody else in the book.
  2. There's a bunch of societal prejudice against them, but it varies depending on where you are in the social ladder and which starship arcology you're in. So the dehumanization of "it" seems to come out of the society they're embedded in, not out of The Author Not Thinking For Five Seconds.
  3. The ones we see were all purposely engineered in what seems to be a fucked-up indentured servitude arrangement with one particular arcology that uses its fabber for advanced bio-engineering, so their bosses see them as more tools than people.

So...??????? IDK, it gave me a gross twinge every time but I do think it made sense in-universe.

Richard Stark - The Man With the Getaway Face

Dec. 30, 2015

More Parker! The Wave has been good to me, so I've got a stash of these waiting to be read.

This one happens between The Hunter and The Outfit, which surprised me because those seemed to be butted right up against each other with nothing particularly eventful in between. And yup, this book consisted of Parker attempting to evade the fallout from Hunter and failing back to status quo ante.

Which is fine, because that's not really the point of it: Parker is about process, not outcomes.

Richard Stark — The Mourner

Jan 29, 2016

More Parker! I'll just leave it at that. This was a pretty solid one. Uh... maybe a little more misogyny than usual? (These are crime novels from the '60s, so the level is always going to be pretty high.)

roadrunnertwice: The Protagonist communes with a crow. (BF - Corvid liasons)

Ok, I only have two books from last year left to review, so I went ahead and did a quick count. (I'm excluding shorts and video games here, even though I mix them into my posts.)

  • Male authors: 21
    • Re-reads: 5
    • Comics: 4
  • Female authors: 23
    • Re-reads: 4
    • Comics: 3

I can't remember if women have outnumbered men yet?? But my impression was that I was reading 2 to 1 in favor of women this year and it was actually about dead even, so that weird cognitive bias lives bravely on.

roadrunnertwice: Young Marcie Grosvenor from Finder, asleep in a ward drawn from Finder trails. (Finder.Marcie - Wardings)

Megan Whalen Turner — The Thief

June 13, 2015

Ruth said I'd probably like these, and she was right!

This is the first of a series, set in a fantasy world heavily based on ancient Greece. It's also very different from the rest of its series — it's narrated first-person (the rest are close-in third person), it's a fairly straight-ahead adventure story (the rest are knotty political thrillers), and it's written at a middle-grade level and published with middle-grade typesetting and cover design (the rest are definitely YA, and have a certain amount of shocking content even by modern YA standards).

When I finished this first book I was mildly pissed about the twist ending, but I took that back after thinking about it overnight. See, the story is strewn with weird inconsistencies and glitches in the narration; I had taken them as failures of writing that I was willing to gloss over and forgotten them, and then I got blindsided by the ending. But it turns out the inconsistencies aren't errors, and the ending isn't out of left field. It's just that the narrator is writing for a (fictional) audience who're already clued into the twist, and who either know him personally or at least are familiar with his position. He's having some ironic fun with his real readers, and the end only seemed like a twist because I'm a mutually-fictional outlander eavesdropping on a story I'm not involved in. It seemed offensively glib that first night, but by the second night it was just your buddy Eugenides up to his usual cheeky hijinks.

Megan Whalen Turner — The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia

June 21 and Aug 6, 2015

Let's pause for a manifesto. I don't really have rules for the didread series, but I do have some guidelines. To wit:

  • Write something about all the books I read... eventually.
  • Avoid summarizing. It's a bore.
  • If I know someone else who would like this, try to say something that would make them pause and say "oh, what?"
  • Have fun whenever the opportunity presents itself (b/c no one's paying me to do this shit).
  • Bail out and post a one-liner when I can't think of anything else to say (b/c no one's paying me to do this shit). (I'm actually really bad at holding myself to this one, maybe you've noticed.)
  • Try to avoid spoilers.

That last one is really chapping my hide right now, because it's almost wholly impossible to talk about the rest of this series without spoiling the end of The Thief.

So maybe it's time to bail out and post a one-liner? "I liked The Thief, but I loved these." That's always a bit unsatisfying, though.

How's this: I went into Queen expecting magical thief adventures, and got blindsided by a psychologically gruesome story about how far you can go to protect your country. By the time I started King, I had no idea anymore what I was getting into.

There's another book in this series I haven't read, and some unknown number still on the way. I'll probably read them all. Super solid, and a hell of a ride. A year later, I still feel incredibly gross about some of what went down here.

Daniel José Older — Shadowshaper

August 22, 2015

I was really hyped about this, and there were a lot of things I think it did really well, but on the whole it didn't quite do it for me.

Which is fine!!! Real talk: this is YA written for the younger end of that audience (~14-ish?), and it's not doing anything particularly fresh in plot or structure or prose. What IS fresh and important is that the heroine is a brown girl from a Spanish-speaking family, and the setting is a recognizably diverse New York City, and tbh that is more than enough to earn it the attention it's gotten plus some.

This is a perfectly serviceable middle-of-the-shelves modern fantasy, of the type I grew up identifying with. Everybody deserves to grow up with a pile of those, and this book is a salute to all the brown girls who got left out of the pile I was stuck with. End of review. Buy this book for a kid who needs it.

(So what didn't do it for me? It veered off-premise and went generic. The set-up was that Sierra can use her artwork to empower the spirits of the helpful dead, which is awesome. But she only used that power for like two or three things before she just achieved god mode [because she was born special] and charged in for victory, leaving the themes of art and building stuff completely behind. If the climax and denouement had been based around the [TOTALLY AWESOME] powers the book had set her up with, I think I would have liked it a lot more.)

Natsume Ono - La Quinta Camera (The Fifth Room) (comics)

Mar 22, 2016

Awwwww this was cute!! The non-adventures of four Italian roommates and their rotating foreign subletters.

Jack In

Jun. 9th, 2016 10:13 am
roadrunnertwice: Crow perched on a trail signpost. (Crow on signposts)

One of Kathleen’s housemates has an HTC Vive headset, so I got to try modern VR for the first time this weekend. IT WAS INCREDIBLE.

Well, actually I'm not sure if that counts as the first time, because Stan at work had one of those slot-your-phone-in Samsung headsets one day, and he showed us this little solar-system tour app. But that was a much more limited experience — a little bit laggy, lower resolution, fewer (and more awkward) tools for interacting. It felt like a really advanced educational slideshow. This was an entirely different thing: two controllers, full-body interaction (ducking, walking around within your li'l fence, picking things up and throwing them), and REALLY fast and smooth. It felt floaty, a little, but it also felt real.

This is a thing where we've had a really clear fictional picture of what it would be like for decades, and now it looks like the technology is finally here. This was pretty much exactly like one of the shitty "budget" VR sets from a novel like Snow Crash. That's amazing; I was amazed.

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The Fell Types are digitally reproduced by Igino Marini.

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