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
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)
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.
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.
Andrea K. Höst — The Touchstone trilogy (re-read)
Feb 20-ish, 2016
These books still rule, and I needed some comfort-food re-reads.
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
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
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.
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.
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.
A few years back, some friends and acquaintances ran a podcast about lesbian romance novels called The LadyLike Book Club (delightful tagline: "Hello, lesbians and friends of lesbians"). It's dead for the time being, but I enjoyed it a lot — their enthusiasm is infectious even if you're not already invested in the genre, and they're all just very funny, charming people in general. If you do the podcast thing, their archives are totally worth a listen.
Anyway, I read a handful of the books they covered, so I figured I'd post them in a batch.
Oddly, these were the first category romance novels I'd ever read; I'd always meant to follow up on some of Candy's recommendations, but had never gotten around to it.
Books I Stopped Reading: Colette Moody — Parties in Congress
Dec 21, 2013
I couldn't get past the prose and style — the dialogue was just wrong, and I couldn't deal. (The plot and setting had problems too, but if I'd been having more fun on a paragraph-to-paragraph level I could have gotten over those.)
Books I Stopped Reading: Alison Moon — Lunatic Fringe
This was another one where the prose just ejected me. Which was a bummer, because I was getting interested in the characters and plot! But it just wasn't fun to read.
But where Parties in Congress just clunked, this had a more depressing kind of badness: it was overwritten in that distinctive way where you can see the outline of a really tight novel through the haze. A committed editor could probably have improved this book 400% without breaking anything. Sadface.
K.E. Lane — And Playing the Role of Herself
June 15, 2013
I don't actually remember a whole lot about this one, but I do remember enjoying it. There was a bizarre out-of-nowhere twist near the end that I wasn't into, but when it was just the characters interacting it was a lot of fun.
Rebecca S. Buck — The Locket and the Flintlock
July 5, 2013
This was excellent! Just really well put-together. The conflicts made sense, there was intense chemistry between the leads, the historical texture was superb (I learned some things about the Luddites?!), and the prose was solid. Also, as they say repeatedly in the episode, this is the one that most closely fit the stereotypical model of a capital-R, capital-N ~Romance Novel:~ Regency England, elaborate costuming, dashing robbers, the whole shebang.
D. Jordan Redhawk — Broken Trails
Sept 16, 2013
If you're going to read just one of these, this is the pick (although Locket is a very close runner-up).
There's a thing this book does, which made it really satisfying to read but which I'm having a hard time describing. (And especially describing in a way that doesn't sound awful.) Like, basically: the external conflict is that the protagonist signs up for the Iditarod (a nightmarish, icy ultramarathon with dogs), then spends a year training for it, then does it. But Redhawk does one of the best jobs I've seen at depicting routines in an enjoyable way, and using them to show the protagonist's gradual leveling-up (and occasional setbacks).
Re-read: Rosemary Kirstein — The Lost Steersman (The Steerswoman, book 3)
Ruth was reading the Steerswoman books while we were on vacation, and I was SUPER PUMPED to talk about them with her! And she finished this volume and made a sound I have never heard her make before, hahahahahahaha! Anyway, I had to immediately re-read it.
As much as I love The Language of Power, I have to admit book 3 is objectively the best. It's SUCH a tour-de-force, and ARRRGH, I can't even explain WHY without spoiling half the effect!
Well. If you read it and come find me later, I'll tell you what I really think about it. Until then, go buy the ebook reprints! They're all cheap as hell, and there's nothing else like them in science fiction right now. The state of the art has not caught up with Rosemary Kirstein.
Bonus Level: Shadowrun: Dragonfall
Halfway through playing this, I was overcome with a weird feeling of familiarity, and for a while I couldn't figure out why. I never played any of the original pen+paper or SNES/Genesis Shadowrun games... and yes, it's just Borderland But Also Cyberpunk: The Video Game, but this was an intense fuckin' sensation, not Hey, Rememember Thing.
Some days later, I got it: Dragonfall is actually the game I thought Final Fantasy VII was going to be, during the first eight hours or so before I left Midgard. The color palette and the moody Sector 7 style music are dead-on, which is probably why that familiar feeling was so intense, but also the gray morality, the omnipresent subway trains, the corporate sabotage, and the uneasy found family who don't necessarily have any reason to trust you.
OBVIOUSLY I FUCKING LOVED IT. I like tactical RPGs in general, and while this is deep in unfamiliar Western PC RPG Land (I grew up in Japanese Console RPG Land), the subconscious FF7 resemblance got me past the hump of figuring out how the systems work, and the gameplay was simplified enough that my poor console-weenie brain handled it just fine. (Once I turned off the single-click no-confirmation combat interface, WHY is that the default, whyyyy.)
Anyway, good times. I liked this a lot, and I bought the followup (Hong Kong) in the Thanksgiving Steam sale, so we'll see how that is.
Bonus Level: Undertale
This is the most ambitious deconstruction of the classic JRPG form I've ever seen. It mercilessly disassembles every mechanism the genre has at its disposal, and stitches them back together into an unnerving and revelatory and FUN emotional/intellectual tour-de-force.
And I'm not gonna say much more about it, because the game is constructed as a dialogue with your expectations and reflexes, and if you're a person who would enjoy it, the best thing a reviewer can do is get out of your way.
The music is amazing. The combat is incredibly fun, and consistently surprising and innovative. The plot is satisfying on so many levels it's hard to even know where to start. The writing is superb, funny and poignant and crushing by turns. This is possibly the best (and certainly the most interesting) game of 2015. If you care about the narrative potential of video games, scrounge up $10 and play Undertale.
William Gibson — The Peripheral (re-read) and Zero History (re-read)
Nov. 12, Nov. 16
I'm just going to let prior reviews stand, for these. They're still faves, which is why I re-read them on vacation in a foreign land.
William Gibson - All Tomorrow's Parties
Idoru was kind of a mess, and this sequel was also kind of a mess. They're enjoyable! But the machinery of the story doesn't quite work right.
In the Bridge trilogy, I think Gibson was trying to be more rigorous and near-future with the inputs of his books, but he was also aiming for highly bizarre outputs, and I think maybe the intervening processes weren't up to the task, and in trying to smooth out and unify the whole, those outputs ended up mostly just incomprehensible and uninteresting.
It's funny to read these after reading the Bigend books and The Peripheral, because you can sort of see the learning process that made those later stories so much better.
On the plane to Edinburgh I got to the bottom of a persistent "launchd is eating 90% CPU and IDEK why" problem, which is probably a first in recorded human history and which I feel pretty great about.
The deal was: Launchd freaked because I copied a user account's files from another computer, where that user had a different name. There were some service plists in
~worknick/Library/LaunchAgents (Spotify web helper, and something involving Steam) that were trying to run helper apps stored in
~nick/Library/Application Support, because "nick" was worknick's old name, but he already existed (and was a different person) on this computer, and worknick couldn't access those files!
For some dumb reason, launchd didn't have a cooldown between tries or anything, and was trying to restart these un-startable jobs many times a second. I edited the Spotify plist, killed the Steam one, took out a few old ones that weren't relevant anymore, then rebooted. SOLVED. Amaze. Now I've got something like quintuple the amount of battery life when the worknick user is logged in.
On my end, this has been a very good year. Due in large part to Ruth! Being in her life is a delight and her influence makes me a better me, and also I've probably had more adventures this year than in the previous three combined. Speaking of which, that's what's up with the early New Year's post, here: I'm going to be in Edinburgh and then Belfast with her, and will probably be mostly offline. (Well, night-tweeting in the deep Eurosphere, at most.)
As for next year: It's a big pile of things that are scary but really exciting, and a smaller pile of things that are just plain scary. I'm pretty sure I can handle both piles. Wish me luck, and I'll wish you some.
Anyway! It's kind of insubstantial for a Christmas present, but I figured I'd share this latest mix tape with you. It's short and asymmetrical, it's called "Every Devil As She Pleases," and it's about feeling sorry for yourself but nutting up and setting things right anyway. (I was trying to make a sequel to "Shinier & 1000⨉ Harder," but it insisted on becoming something else.)
- Plane — Gauze
- The Kills — What New York Used To Be
- Sondre Lerche — Face the Blood
- Metric — Gimme Sympathy
- Miike Snow — Paddling Out
- Tegan and Sara — The Ocean
- Green Day — F.O.D.
- Nedelle — Fanfare
- Jesca Hoop — Born To
- Lorde — 400 Lux
Halation blears the freeway signs,
And holy blood turns back to wine.
What each man catches, time releases
—Let every devil go as she pleases.
Joan Opyr — Shaken and Stirred
Okay, I picked this up at the Title Wave on spec because the cover was kind of unbelievable. Somehow, and for some reason, the publisher (a small-timer out of Michigan focused on contemporary lesbian fiction) had gotten the printer to cover it with, uh... I don't know the proper term for it, but, alpine flower guide / field first-aid manual cover stock. The really plasticky, resilient stuff with a grid of little nubbins on it to give it a more matte feel except they're too big for matte so it just feels like plastic with a grid of nubbins? Y... you know??? Okay, I'm gonna just assume you know — who the hell puts that shit on a novel?! I HAD TO FIND OUT.
Well, it turned out to be a pretty good read. I give it three-ish stars, because I feel like the ending didn't really come together, but I enjoyed the middle of the book quite a bit. A witty and wistful story about a gal going home to bury her shitheel grandpa, which closes with a romance ending that really could have used some additional reinforcement.
Jillian Tamaki — SuperMutant Magic Academy
July 19. Comics.
This ruled, go get it.
I was mildly bummed that I hadn't known about Tamaki's webcomic until it was done, but also excited about getting a big airdrop of cool stuff all at once.
The tone is very different from her novelistic work. It's insistently a comedy, but it veers between comedic modes very fluidly. The Everlasting Boy interludes tend toward this violent, gonzo physical/metaphysical absurdity; the stuff with the core cast (Marsha, Wendy, Gemma, Frances, Cheddar) moves in and out of Peanuts-esque wry melancholy, situational gags, Gunshow-esque left turns, and more. The out-of-continuity strips with one-off characters are... I dunno what you'd even call this, but I love it.
My original plan for this review was to close with a gag about The Magicians, but I couldn't quite make it work, so never mind.
Hugo Pratt — Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea
Aug 22 (comics)
So, Corto Maltese is this ancient Eurocomics property, which my memory is a little hazy on the details of; I think he outlived his maker like a louche, chain-smoking Mickey Mouse and you still get new animated features dropping once in a while, but I'm not positive.
I think this book was his first outing, and damn it shows. It's rough as hell, it wanders all over the place, it insistently refuses to cohere. It was only translated recently, and as far as I can tell the English availability of the rest of the comics is spotty at best.
Anyway, this volume included way more than its fair share of high colonialist bullshit, and the story's not solid enough that I could recommend it to anyone. I'd be interested to see a later adventure and find out how much it improves, because god damn is Corto himself enjoyable to look at. What a fuckin beautiful character design.
Paul Pope, JT Petty, and David Rubin — The Rise of Aurora West
August 22. Comics.
This was weird and intriguing. I'm not entirely sure it's for me, but... there's something in there that I can't let go of.
Jeff Vandermeer - Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance (the Southern Reach trilogy)
Aug 24, 25, 26
This was creepy as hell and I enjoyed it a lot. More to the point, it managed to achieve a satisfying resolution without ruining the mysteries and incomprehensibilities that drive the story, which is what I always worry about when getting into this sort of thing. (I get paranoid whenever I catch a whiff of that old Lost scent, you know?)
Top-notch weird horror. If you're into this sort of thing at all, this is the real deal.
Bonus Level: Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions
Aug. something (video game; ipad version)
An old favorite of mine from back in the Playstation 1 days; it was remastered and retranslated for the PSP some years back, and they later ported that port to iOS.
Back in the ’90s, FFT was notorious for its shit translation; it was arguably the pinnacle of a certain form of incomprehensible Engrish in video games. If you never experienced it for yourself, it's worth checking out some of the greatest hits of dialogue from that monster, just to see how far we've come.
But by the end of the PS1 era, at least some parts of Square had corrected course, because Vagrant Story was pretty much the high-water mark of ja->en translations for that whole console generation. They were aiming for this sort of retro-Elizabethan gruffness, vaguely Shakespearean diction but with the sub-frame lopped off and the tailpipes wrapped in insulating tape, and — improbably — it worked great. So when it came time to rehabilitate FFT, the translators turned to Vagrant Story and its late-PS2-era successor Final Fantasy XII for guidance.
And the result is excellent. I actually kind of respect this game for its story, now!
The original script was functional (albeit comical) for its first three chapters, but chapter four was basically unreadable; I don't think I knew anyone who really understood what was going on with the Zodiac Braves, Saint Ajora, or even the late-stage political machinations.
But now that the incidental confusion has been brushed away, the remaining confusion improves the story. I originally thought there was supposed to be a single Church cover-up about Ajora and the braves, but in the new translation, it's clear that there have been multiple revisions of history, every one of them performed in ignorance of some incredibly crucial information lost in the last pass. The result is that history in Ivalice is complete garbage by now, and even people who think they've found the master key to the real truth have no idea what's going on. The (allegedly bombshell) secret scriptures Simon gives to Ramza seem to imply the opposite of what you're actually encountering, and even the Lucavi seem confused about some of what the Auracite can do.
I like that a lot better than my original interpretation of what was happening. It casts the Church in a much more interesting light, and it adds a certain melancholy to the proceedings; even whoever recovers the Durai papers won't be able to figure out what the hell Ramza and company were actually up to, much less whatever the fuck went down back in the airship era.
Kip Manley — The City of Roses episode 23 and 24
Feb 8, Feb 16
The first "season" of City of Roses ruled. It also -- for all the loose ends and lingering mysteries and uncertainties -- ended in a fairly decisive way, so I was really curious about how a second series was going to work.
And it looks like the answer is "by mutating significantly," which, good. Jo is still Jo, but her new responsibilities have changed her quite a bit and are in the process of changing her even further. Ysabel is changed as well, but maybe less so, and that adds a bit of friction, but Jo is generally closer to her level these days too, which offsets that.
Structurally, too, it's the beginning of a very different story; one where our heroines start from a position of power and an intrusive threat is gathering just barely off-stage. And the flavor of that threat is very different -- more lurid and less elliptical, which makes it an interesting foil now that Jo has reached something of an accommodation with the elliptical forces of the court; an insult to The Way Things Are Done Around Here.
Anyway, I enjoyed these first two chapters a lot.
Ginn Hale — The Rifter (The Shattered Gates, The Holy Road, and His Sacred Bones)
May 21, June 2
This dark portal fantasy was a page-turner; well-written, with compelling conflicts and characters and a freaky-ass cosmology. And also some themes that I tend to like a lot: other-lives and wrong-memories type of stuff, sort of adjacent to reincarnation plots but not quite overlapping.
I read it pretty compulsively, and enjoyed it a lot. I have a lot of lingering discomfort with the implications of the final act — I have to wonder whether the eventual villain was actually that much worse than John. Setting the sadism and bitterness aside, I mean, and talking about methods and results across the whole story. Like, when you tally up the body counts and the suffering. Sure, John is trying to rebuild and repair after the big one, but isn't that sort of what (spoiler)'s also trying to do? And would their plan have actually worked? Because if so, that's a much harder call to make.
I guess John has a solid shot at permanently breaking the cycle of Rifters, whereas success in (spoiler)'s plan would have sabotaged one loop but potentially left the cycle open. But maybe not! The Fai'daum were apparently making solid progress in the other timeline, right? If they'd been successful, then... maybe there never would have been another chance to summon a Rifter, and with a lower body count to boot. And couldn't you ignore the ecological damage of opening the gate one last time, because a successful intervention would reset the flow of events to stop John's initial crossing?
I dunno. It was all murky enough that the ending left me feeling a bit queasy. But it was a really good story!
Also, this is the second thing I've read from Blind Eye, and they've both been really solid. (The other was Smoketown.) Have any of you read other books they've put out? Anything I should take a look at?
Ann Leckie — Ancillary Sword
A very different animal from Ancillary Justice; different enough that it seems like the previous story was paused completely, and we're taking a, like, murder mystery vacation with Breq.
Still, even though it breaks up the unity and clarity of direction I was hoping for from this series, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I mean, it's a story about a rogue (but severely limited) inhuman intelligence rolling into town with a crew of very nervous underlings and stirring up shit with every established social hierarchy she can get her fingers into; any way you slice it, that is solid material for a novel's worth of intrigue.
So it's a side-story to the main story I signed on for. A very good side-story, but, yeah: I'm hoping Ancillary Mercy will be a more thorough development of the chaos Breq kicked off in the first book.
Jessica Reisman — Brilliance (short)
A short story set in the same universe as The Z Radiant. It had flashes of what made TZR so intensely enjoyable for me, the sense of place and themes of chosen family and the sense of a whole universe moving at cyclone speeds just beyond the shelter of the eaves on a rainy night, but I really think the effect works better at novel length.
Sometimes people ask me for comics recommendations. I just put together a list of webcomics for a friend from work, so I thought I'd throw it up here as well. Some of these are all-time faves, and some all-time faves are conspicuously absent, but these are all The Good Shit in one way or another.
- Back - Raucous loony-tunes quest story with a dark edge.
- Nedroid (aka that Beartato comic) - Masterfully precise visual gags; been around forever and is hugely underrated. Doesn't update very often, but it never misses. (Cartoonist is the artist for Back.)
- HE IS A GOOD BOY - I don't know how to describe this, because if I say "horror comedy" you'll imagine the wrong thing. Maybe "nightmare comedy." I guess just go to http://hiagb.com/29 and click five or six times. (Cartoonist is the writer for Back.)
- Cucumber Quest - Brightly colored adventure story with excellent gags and a lot of heart.
- Dicebox - Slice-of-life sci-fi family drama with occasional freaky hallucinations. This is one of my favorite comics ever. The first volume is available in print.
- Bingogo - Japanese-style 4-komi about a gal who adopts some critters. Quietly bizarre.
- Thunderpaw: In the Ashes of Fire Mountain - Adventure, cartoony/melancholy. Two dog-boys wander the wilderness after a natural disaster. Traditional comic panel layouts combined with looping animation for atmospheric effect.
- Necropolis - Fairy tale / origin story. Excellent character and clothing design.
- Boulet - A French cartoonist/raconteur posts whatever he happens to be overthinking. Wry sensibility, effortless visual excess.
- The Meek - Gorgeous epic fantasy that hits a solid balance of empathy and pessimism. NSFW (one female lead is usually shirtless, but in non-sexual context). Recently back from multi-year hiatus.
- Mare Internum - Same cartoonist as The Meek. Hair-raising man vs. nature action story with a seriously mentally ill protagonist. On Mars. Features flashbacks of child abuse if you want early warning about that.
- Decrypting Rita - Exuberantly weird sci-fi about a small group of characters duplicated across a number of increasingly cartoonish alternate realities. First and second volumes are available in print.
- Forming - Psychedelic pantheistic foul-mouthed alien creation myth weirdness. I have never seen anything like this. I think first volume is in print?
- Rice Boy - The website says "a brightly colored and surreal fantasy adventure story" so I'll just go with that. It's finished, it's available in print, and it works really well as a unit. Author's current comic (Vattu) looks amazing but I haven't dived into it yet.
- Brainchild - College kid is haunted by her reptilian doppelgänger. I don't know where this is going, but I like it.
- Oh Human Star - A man comes back from the dead as a robot duplicate with all his original memories, and has to build new relationships with his estranged partner and his daughter / failed copy. First volume is available in print.
- Derelict - A loner salvager gets caught up in a civil war. First volume is available in print.
I keep doing that chain-tweet thing instead of posting on DW like a civilized being.
So I looked a little further into that weird-ass “Santé” groupset that Brigadelle’s brake levers are from.
Facts are thin, but it looks like about a 2-yr (1988 and 1989) production run. Shimano positioned it between 600 (later called Ultegra) and Dura-Ace, which is a slot in their line that doesn’t exist anymore. (They use this rolling tier system with a trickle-down strategy for new tech. Dura-Ace is the racing group and test-ground; it's for sponsored humans, not regular humans. Ultegra is the ne plus ultra for people spending too much of their own money.)
Anyway, it seems like Santé was a test, to see if visual style could upsell components. What's interesting to me is that it seemed remarkably un-cynical: the tech WAS actually top shelf; making it LOOK top-shelf was an add-on, not a replacement.
So, long story short, not much of it was made and the remaining functional pieces are eBay-worthy fetish objects. I'm seeing similar brake levers (in only slightly better condition) going for $50, and new old stock downtube shift levers going for $250. I bought this whole bike for $160 in Minneapolis in 2007.
Bike history is kind of fun; no wonder Sheldon Brown was so into it. Every continent is the lost continent.
There’s some contemporary Santé marketing around the internet in scans. Consumer brochure, bike shop brochure. And god damn, whatever you think about polluting technical components with fashion, you have to admit those enameled derailleurs look hot as FUCK. You would ride that. I won't let you get away with saying you wouldn't ride that.
Also of note in those brochures: weird preference for passive voice, subtle ja→en translation artifacts, SO MUCH MAN THIGH. Basically they fell in from an alternate universe where corporate Japan got confused and decided yours truly was the preeminent American sex symbol.
I kinda hear that. I just bought a new bike; it has the 2015 (I think) version of Ultegra and IT RULES (it's difficult to even describe if you haven't experienced it, but the short version is that this is how bikes work in heaven), but the components look like nothing in particular. Visual design this decade seems focused on the frame (and certain static accessories), ignoring components. Maybe the Santé experiment was a bust, and looks turned out to be useless for selling component technology. I dunno.
I didn't get a photo, but there were like four raccoons climbing up into a tree on the other side of that house to the south of ours.
I really hope that:
- A: they don't start fighting any of the cats in the neighborhood
- B: they don't follow Frankie and figure out how to get into my fucking room
>:( the wonder of nature!
Once it's going about 8mph, let out the clutch all at once, like thwack, and hopefully the engine will catch. Be ready to haul the clutch back in a bit to keep it from dying.
I was originally going to jump-start it, but I got on YouTube and looked this up while Ruth was packing some boxes, and I was like "eh, that looks doable."
Chain-tweeting a mid-length anecdote is bogus, but I do it anyway because Twitter is where the people are, so now I'm out of practice at writing up short shit that would have been a fun little LJ post back in the day. Alas.
Well, be the change you etc. etc. etc., so here's a thing I chain-tweeted earlier.
I learned how to push-start a motorcycle today!
I also learned something else, which is that there is a good time to learn how to push-start, and a bad time. It turns out that even a tiny (300lb) bike gets incredibly heavy the fifth time you wheel it back up the hill?! WHO KNEW.
The root cause here is that my battery was seven or eight years old, so now the bike is in the shop waiting for an ordered battery and an opportunistic oil change. Should have it back in a day or three.
Bonus slapstick: My bike has a fussy neutral sensor, which I'd forgotten about because it usually isn't a big deal. But after I first nailed the push-start, I parked to go grab my helmet and jacket, and the safety interlock killed it as soon as I put the kickstand down, so I had to immediately do it AGAIN. D:<