roadrunnertwice: Rebecca on treadmill. (Text: "She's a ROCKET SCIENTIST from the SOUTH POLE with FIFTY EXES?") (BitterGirl.Rebecca - Rocket scientist)
2017-04-22 11:27 am
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I love predictive text and I am visibly criminal

My friend Nagisa posted this meme on Facebook and I just about died. You start typing each sentence of a dating profile on your phone's keyboard, then use its predictions to fill in the rest.




My name is Nick and I just remembered that I was a little kid.

My age is not too small.

I live in Portland but I still love you.

I was born and I forgot about it.

My body is just so hungry.

I am looking for something that is not the only thing.

I enjoy playing with the best.

My ideal partner is the one that has been able to work on the other side.

My turn ons are on point but I'm not even gonna.
roadrunnertwice: Scott fends off Matthew Patel's attack. (ScottPilgrim.Scott - Reversal!)
2017-04-19 09:47 pm
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Bookpost: Two-word titles edition (Cold Fire, Black Wave, Living Alone)

And the eighth and final rule: if this is your first time at Book Club, you HAVE to book.

Kate Elliott — Cold Fire

Feb 17

I kind of have a love/hate relationship with this series. There's SO MUCH cool and good stuff in here, but it has these bizarre pacing and structure issues, where it'll just go off into some weird tangent for what feels like forever and I'll get super bored. And it's not like these tangents are a waste of time, even! It's just that their relation to the plot as I understand it at the time is super fuzzy (they often involve weird coincidences that seem arbitrary but are fully explained 2/3 of a book later), and they halt all the action I was just starting to get invested in. It doesn't make the books unreadable, but it does make them feel incredibly slow. So while I'll probably read the final part of the trilogy, I'll also probably wait a while.

Like I said, there's good stuff: The heroine is real tough and cool, and so is her cousin/best friend. The love interest is convincingly hot, in a het romance novel sort of way. The geopolitical tensions and magical/metaphysical/cosmological systems are kind of the centerpiece, and they're all clever and intriguing. It's just that it kind of becomes a slog at points.

I keep hoping I'll find the Kate Elliot novel that nails all the stuff I love while shoring up the areas that wear me out.

Michelle Tea — Black Wave

March 4

This was odd as heck. I'm sort of glad I read it, but I'm not totally sure I liked it.

The first half of it is (questions of fictionalization aside) solidly in the addiction memoir genre, which is major league Not My Jam. And this particular one seemed especially cruel in its representation of the past self/protagonist. I sort of get why writers do this to their former selves, but it's really unpleasant to read and I don't find it particularly edifying either.

Then, at the break, it gets weird. There's an interlude of future-Michelle (Tea?) writing this book, and a dialogue with a character whose real role in the story had been deliberately mangled and time-shifted. And then the second half takes this left turn into a kind of cartoonishly unexplained apocalypse story. (There's some scattershot foreshadowing of this in the first half via offhanded comments like "well the world's dying anyway," but until the break it just reads as period-appropriate Gen-X histrionics.) And straight-ahead apocalypse story is also not really my jam! (Also, Sofia Samatar's "The Closest Thing to Animals" covered a lot of similar emotional space in a more concise and [to me] more affecting way.)

Here's something this story did that I really liked: in the apocalypse half, people all over the world start having dreams about alternate lives they might have lived, and Tea uses those to let snippets of real (?) memoir leak into the story. I'm not totally sure what she was building here; maybe a metaphor where parallel dimensions represent how distant a post-recovery conception of the self seems when you're in the middle of bad alcoholism shit? Maybe she was just exploring the divide between what part of life makes it onto the page and what gets cut. But I always dig a good alternate-lives story device, plus I thought it was a really intriguing attempt to glitch past the limitations of memoir and the parallel limitations of fiction (and I do love a good glitch run).

It had its moments. I really liked that last dinner party with her brother and his boyfriend. But all told, this was kind of grueling to get through and it wasn't very fulfilling.

Stella Benson — Living Alone

March 10

Free ebook at Project Gutenberg.

What WAS this?

Now witches and wizards, as you perhaps know, are people who are born for the first time. I suppose we have all passed through this fair experience, we must all have had our chance of making magic. But to most of us it came in the boring beginning of time, and we wasted our best spells on plesiosauri, and protoplasms, and angels with flaming swords, all of whom knew magic too, and were not impressed.

???

The name of this house is Living Alone.

It is meant to provide for the needs of those who dislike hotels, clubs, settlements, hostels, boarding-houses, and lodgings only less than their own homes; who detest landladies, waiters, husbands and wives, charwomen, and all forms of lookers after. This house is a monastery and a convent for monks and nuns dedicated to unknown gods. Men and women who are tired of being laboriously kind to their bodies, who like to be a little uncomfortable and quite uncared for, who love to live from week to week without speaking, except to confide their destinations to 'bus-conductors, who are weary of woolly decorations, aspidistras, and the eternal two generations of roses which riot among blue ribbons on hireling wall-papers, who are ignorant of the science of tipping and thanking, who do not know how to cook yet hate to be cooked for, will here find the thing they have desired, and something else as well.

???????????????

First Edition 1919

!!!

Anyway, I liked this a lot. It's weird as hell, and even weirder when you try to figure out where it fits in the timeline of modern fantasy styles. It reminds me a little bit of Travel Light in that way, where you get this sense that it somehow dropped 50 years early. Actually, the ending reminds me a lot of Travel Light, too.

It's been sitting in my pile of random ebooks long enough that I can't remember who even recommended it; could have been any of three or four people.

(Obligatory note: This is From The Past, and its heart is in the right place but a sympathetic character does say something real iffy about Jews at one point. There's also one casual use of a top-tier racial slur, but the narrator immediately pauses to be like "ugh, I wish people wouldn't.")

roadrunnertwice: Rebecca on treadmill. (Text: "She's a ROCKET SCIENTIST from the SOUTH POLE with FIFTY EXES?") (BitterGirl.Rebecca - Rocket scientist)
2017-04-18 08:51 am
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Books: Coates, Nelson, Jeong, Estrada

Well, it's been a minute and I have a few in the queue, so:

Ta-Nehisi Coates — Between the World and Me

Jan 19

I’ve read a lot of Coates's magazine length work, so I thought this was a superb continuation/culmination of several multi-year projects I was already invested in, as well as a good introduction for people new to his intellectual zone.

It’s also an excellent brain corrective in the present atmosphere, or at least it was for me. Some people find Coates pessimistic, but I find him reassuring and grounding: his writing helps me feel like I haven't gone completely fucking crazy, and gives some serious historical perspective to events that can otherwise seem like an ambush. I kind of can't imagine trying to make sense of the past two or three years without TNC’s writing.

I haven't heard much from him lately. I hope he's doing ok and working on something fulfilling. One of the things I liked best about following his work before this book blew up was watching him slowly assemble some complex argument in public, and it sounds like that era might be over.

Maggie Nelson — The Argonauts

Jan 20

A delight. A wandering, looping, discursive memoir/essay about queerness and motherhood and time and basically everything.

This has some kind of family resemblance to Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother, but not a simple one. They share a certain theory-heaviness, a certain obsessive practice of quotation, and a certain conception of both those elements being somehow integral to assembling a resilient queer selfhood that can persist across Weird Time.

I cannot for the life of me explain what the hell was the point of this book. It was incredibly important, but I can't summarize how so. Anyway, you should totally read it!

Sarah Jeong — The Internet of Garbage

Feb 2

Huh, wow. I was kind of bracing for this to be some remedial Twitter Harassment 098 material, but it's definitely not that.

Jeong is reaching toward a grand unified theory of Unwanted Content, of which harassment is only one aspect. I don't think she's there yet. But she's the only person I've seen even start that project, so shout-out for that. Also, there was a lot of interesting history and case law in here that I wasn't aware of.

Ryan Estrada — The Kind (comics)

Apr 11

That male lead really should have got eaten. I feel bad for the werewolf, and that would have probably made her life and mental health a lot worse in a lot of ways, but that relationship is doomed anyhow and the protagonist is a self-mythologizing crap-bro who refuses to listen to her expertise or respect her boundaries. He earned his doom, or at least a real solid and decisive dumping.

roadrunnertwice: Protagonist of Buttercup Festival sitting at a campfire. (BF - Vast and solemn spaces)
2017-04-14 08:09 am
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Vale Frankie Meowface

Our cat Frankie died this week.

There's a whole lot of strays in the neighborhood, and I kind of stalk and post pictures of them constantly, so local friends who follow my Instagram often ask how "your cats" are doing. I always reflexively say "They're not our cats!"

Except for Frankie. Frankie WAS our cat, the one who wholeheartedly loved us back and who forcibly moved in with us. (We're renters and aren't really supposed to have a cat, but she was impossible to keep out. She'd come in through the skylights, for god's sake. She just decided that we were her humans now, and that was the end of the discussion.)

I miss her so fucking much already. Every 20 minutes or so I'll do something that would have gotten a reaction from her, and I'll look up and she doesn't appear. Mornings have gotten particularly hard, because she'd reliably come wake us (well, me) to demand food (even if she wasn't hungry, the rule was that Humans Must Get Up in the Morning), then go back to sleep on Ruth for a while before it was time to get up for real.

We only knew her for a little less than three years. We treasured her, and I think we were able to give her a pretty good life. I think I have no regrets. I think.

I miss her.
roadrunnertwice: Jane from Octopus Pie, mashing a button with a maniacal expression. (OctopusPie.Jane - PRESS)
2017-04-10 12:50 pm
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Dep't of computer nerding

I happened to be near an Apple gear store the other day, and decided to stop in and see what the deal is with those new laptops. I won't upgrade my computer for probably another two years, but I still like to keep my eye on what they're up to, and they went in some odd and controversial directions with last year's new Pros. So I wanted to get some hands-on time and see whether I minded the interface changes.

Well, 15m in a store doesn't hold a candle to a solid workday for shaking out new hardware, but I'm not really worried about the new Macs anymore:

  • I actually love that new keyboard. It's like they made a keyboard specifically for me — I've always preferred laptop keyboards, and this is probably the most laptoppy laptop keyboard ever made. It's got the minimum workable amount of vertical travel, combined with a really pleasing amount of feedback so you don't have to slap down on it. And somehow the keys are a lot wider while still using the same layout distances, and my fingers like that a lot. It's fast and comfortable, and I hope they make an external version of it.
  • I'm really into that trackpad too. Gotta turn the click force up to "firm," but then it's 👌🏼.
  • I don't know about that Touch Bar yet. I'm pretty much on-board with the idea, I've been wanting something like that for ages, but it'll take more time using it before I know whether they stuck the landing, and I expect there'll be some more improvements to it in the next few years. I kind of want it to be a second trackpad, with the clickiness and all.

So yeah, by the time upgrade year rolls around, the successors to these will hopefully be just what I'm looking for.

Also hopefully they'll be cheaper. :|

roadrunnertwice: Weedmaster P: "SON OF A DICK. BALL COCKS. NO. FUCKING." (Overcompensating.WeedmasterP - Shitbox)
2017-04-05 12:17 pm
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Deleted

WOW, how about that new LJ TOS?? I noticed they'd disabled HTTPS last week (BTW, shoutout to that new Firefox feature where they pop up a warning when you're about to send a password over cleartext, that thing is great), and was like "Guess that's the end" and deleted my bookmarks. But this spurred me to actually get in there and delete my account for good. (Although I expect they probably changed their policy around deletion a long time ago and are retaining copies of my data indefinitely.)

  • [personal profile] rydra_wong had a helpful Tumblr link explaining what the new TOS means.
  • Others, including [personal profile] aris_tgd, pointed out that you CAN log in and delete without signing the new TOS, but you have to disable JavaScript.
    • In Firefox, it turns out the developer tools let you do that on a per-tab basis, so I didn't have to muck around in about:config or screw up the rest of my session or anything. Tools -> Web developer -> Toggle tools, then click the gear icon in the tools pane and look for a checkbox somewhere on the right-hand side.

Update: I've heard a rumor that they've closed the no-JS loophole, and there's currently no way to delete without signing the TOS. Haven't checked that for myself.

roadrunnertwice: Weedmaster P: "SON OF A DICK. BALL COCKS. NO. FUCKING." (Overcompensating.WeedmasterP - Shitbox)
2017-03-16 05:58 pm
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How the other half lives

For the last six years or so, I’ve used this thing called MagicPrefs to add a middle click to my laptop trackpad and to the Apple "Magic Mouse."

(Why am I using a magic mouse? Well.

  • I mouse lefty because me and my wrist tendons Made A Deal, and ambi mice are weirdly rare. I guess all the lefties are mousing righty.
  • I hate tall contoured mice that make me arch my hand, WHY is this considered acceptable ergonomics??? The MM is the flattest mouse I've ever seen.
  • Horizontal scrolling rules.
  • Whole-hand left-clicking [as opposed to one-finger] rules.

I should probably just get an external trackpad, tho.)

But anyway, MagicPrefs is weird old abandonware, and I'm a li'l concerned about its future, so I’m turning it off for a few days to see if I can handle living without a middle click.

Results so far are mixed, by which I mean I feel like I'm going out of my mind.

roadrunnertwice: Dialogue: "I have caught many hapless creatures in my own inter-net." (ActivitiesForRainyDays - Inter-Net)
2017-02-13 10:32 am
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Okay, let's try out this new image posting thing

It looks like it's not integrated with the create entries page (could use an images panel!), but the upload and manage pages work now, so...

Screenshot from Shadowrun Hong Kong
roadrunnertwice: Kiki from Kiki's Delivery Service (魔女の宅急便)、 minding the bakery. (Kiki - Welcome to the working week)
2017-01-30 05:56 pm
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Books: Ninefox Gambit, Winged Histories, Giant Days 1

John Allison and Lissa Treiman — Giant Days, Volume 1 (comics)

(colors by Whitney Cogar, lettering by Jim Campbell)

Jan 10

As of volume 1, I think this series is still finding its feet, but it's still pretty good! A cute li'l comic about college kids being friends. Treiman's art is delish, all lanky and fulla sleepy flourishes and twirls. Shout-out also to Cogar's colors, which are Correct.

Each of Allison's Tackleford-universe series seems to have its own slightly different set of rules for what constitutes reality. This one is closest to Bobbins, with nothing particularly supernatural going on.

So far I prefer Bad Machinery, but it's new John Allison, obviously I'll read it.

Sofia Samatar — The Winged Histories

Jan 18

An obstinate, strange book. I loved it.

In a way, it's several books. One of them was almost like a more sympathetic (and thus more horrific) portrait of Vorbis from Terry Pratchett's Small Gods. Another one was a lover's quarrel, or a season's worth of quarrels digested into song. Every one of them holds things back, elides things, refuses.

You should probably read A Stranger in Olondria first, although I don't know that I can properly call this a sequel.

There's a certain family resemblance to Laurie J. Marks' Elemental Logic books, although I think they have different strategies for traversing the same desert.

Hey, what's your take: Did Siski have control over her own segment's narration? I thought she hadn't, and was troubled by it, but now I'm rethinking whether that dissociated voice could have been hers after all.

Yoon Ha Lee — Ninefox Gambit

Jan 25

Holy crow, this book was the best kind of bugfuck bonkers. A military space opera in a setting where state-of-the-art tech and weapons are based on "exotic effects" (read: anti-physics) derived from your society's calendar system? What??? Also, wild-ass premises aside, this is a real solid military siege thriller, with memorable characters and page-turning pacing.

Basically, this book has everything I read Yoon Ha Lee stories for, but with the amplitude cranked way up past the safety limits. I loved it. If you haven't been prepared by Lee's short fiction, hoo boy, you're in for a treat. >:]

roadrunnertwice: Rebecca on treadmill. (Text: "She's a ROCKET SCIENTIST from the SOUTH POLE with FIFTY EXES?") (BitterGirl.Rebecca - Rocket scientist)
2017-01-10 06:33 pm
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2016 book census

OK, so that's 2016's book reviews in the bag. Let's take the count:

  • 25 books by women (not counting ones I didn't finish).
  • 9 books by men.
  • 9 GNs by women.
  • 2 GNs (or large webcomics) by men.
  • 4 GNs by mixed-gender teams.

Huh, whaddaya know.

The next frontier is making that count a bit more multi-racial, because damn, this year's was white. I'm not going to break it down in detail because honestly it's just a lot more difficult to pin every author's identity down that way (and I've messed it up in the past), but really there were only two or three authors of color in there, which isn't enough. So I'll keep an eye on that this year.

roadrunnertwice: Scott fends off Matthew Patel's attack. (ScottPilgrim.Scott - Reversal!)
2017-01-09 11:28 am

Reviews: Hyper Light Drifter, The Spirit Catches You, and some Immonens

Bonus Level: Heart Machine — Hyper Light Drifter

April or May 2016

OK, I'm gonna be honest here: I have no idea how I decide which video games go into the book review log. Like, for example, I also played The Last of Us and Uncharted 1 and 3 last year, but those didn't seem like they should go in. Why?! Well, I guess that's what I originally meant by that "Bonus Level" tag: I'm random about this, not rigorous.

But I AM more inclined to write about games where I spent a lot of time thinking and reconsidering after the end, and I spent quite a while chewing on HLD's spare, oblique story.

One thing I really couldn't let go of: what was the ✨fuckin deal✨ with the ominous dog-angel? Is it some kind of guardian or failsafe from the previous era? A personification of nature?

It didn't occur to me until way later that it means the same thing a spectral black dog always means: your personal doom, beckoning you onward to certain death. Duh.

Anyway, you should definitely play this game. It's one of my favorites of the year, possibly at the top of the list. Incredibly lush and active environments (all done up in Mana Fortress neon, with that "hi-bit" style that's all the rage these days), refined and precise gameplay, a really satisfying difficulty level (plus an easy mode if you prefer), and music and sound design that's just to die for. What a fucking delicious video game.

Anne Fadiman — The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Dec 12

Holy shit, this is a really good book and I'll recommend it to literally everyone.

I don't know how to tell you what this book is about, because the real answer is "basically everything." In that sense, its thesis statement is the "fish soup" anecdote from chapter 2, in which a student's French class assignment on a soup recipe leafs out into a history of fishing practices, the seasonal habits of particular fish, and a branching flowchart of tackle and bait.

More narrowly, though, it's about cultural conflict and confusion. It's... I don't know. The author's afterword to this decade's edition is careful to emphasize that it's "a book written in the '90s about the '80s," but reading it today, it still seemed important and relevant. The situation for Hmong in America has changed a lot, but the most threatening questions, lurking behind every encounter in the book — how can we communicate usefully across radically different cultures? What makes a doctor (or anyone) good or bad at their work? — didn't go away.

Kathryn and Stuart Immonen — Moving Pictures (comics)

Dec 17

I liked this, but I'm still not sure what to think about it. An exercise in sympathy for unsympathetic characters.

Kathryn and Stuart Immonen — Russian Olive to Red King (comics)

Dec 17

A grim story about endings that trail off like no ending at all.

And something in there about... not fragile masculinity, but about masculine fragility. The empty, lonely unresilience hiding behind the brittle crust of American manhood.

I really liked all the broken parallels in here, how everything refused to match up. Like, Red is going into this tailspin of grief and thinking about nothing but Olive, but Olive, for what's left of her life, doesn't seem to think about Red at all; not because she doesn't care, but because there's just no room for anything but trying to survive and stay maybe 1/8 to 1/4 sane. And then that big art installation section at the end, and how that breaks the symmetry of the whole thing.

I dunno, this was a real lingerer of a comic. I'm still gnawing on it.

roadrunnertwice: Scott fends off Matthew Patel's attack. (ScottPilgrim.Scott - Reversal!)
2017-01-06 03:17 pm

Playlist: Young Suns Still Lie

I made a new mix playlist! It's named after a particularly ominous fragment from the Astronomy Picture of the Day feed's automatic blurb truncator.

roadrunnertwice: Vesta Tilley, Victorian drag king (Default)
2017-01-05 05:38 pm

Swimming

I was looking through this year's Garbage Book, and I ran into this! It's a post I meant to post but never got around to, for whatever reason. From before all the Everything, when the year was actually going pretty great.

IDK if I'll do a Good Things from 2016 post, so this might end up standing in for it. (And besides, my real new year happens in March anyway.)

Another thing that's up: Ruth's giving me swim lessons! Okay, yes: I can sort of swim. I managed to flounder my way to Eagle Scout, so I must have passed a few swimming exams in there somewhere. But I am Real Shit at it, and it's been a low-key embarrassment for decades.

For a while there in my 20s, I decided to just accept it. I was a natural sinker, and that's just how it was. But more recently, I've been thinking: maybe fuck that? Because last time I tried learning to swim, I was weak, uncoordinated, and just generally not at home in my own body. And now I'm Quite Strong, much more coordinated (partially ambidextrous, even), and better at learning to boot. (My brain might not be as plastic, but I'm much better at driving it.) Maybe, just maybe, I can actually get good at it this time.

It's going pretty well so far. :)

roadrunnertwice: Protagonist of Buttercup Festival sitting at a campfire. (BF - Vast and solemn spaces)
2017-01-05 03:44 pm
Entry tags:

Happy new year

Well, that was an incredibly rough year for me. Probably the grimmest of my life to date.

Most of the badness was concentrated in the second half of 2016, and woo boy was it concentrated. My mom was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and underwent two major surgeries and some chemo, and my grandmother and my aunt both sickened and died with very little warning. (Grandma had some pneumonia that seemed to be getting better until suddenly it wasn't, and she was gone by the next day. That's my last grandparent gone, btw. Aunt Shellie got a pancreatic cancer diagnosis with a prediction of three to six months, which turned out to be an overestimate; she lasted about one.) We still don't know how Mom's disease is going to go; this is the sort of thing where they talk about 50% average 5-year survival rates. I know that nobody's "average," but the point is anything could happen. We got good-ish news from the pathology report after the liver resection. I don't know.

And then there's all the nazis.

To be honest, I'm not sure what else to say here. It was incredibly hard and the future looks very dark. I'm going to be seeking therapy, because I kind have to assume something in my brain has been strained past its normal operating condition by all this. I feel a little... I don't know, thinned-out, let's say. Stretched and translucent.

Not busted, though. I'm still going. More resilient than I thought I'd probably be.

There was some good this year, too, but I kind of don't even want to talk about it in the same breath as all this other stuff? There's no personal scale of fortune that balances (or partway-balances) out; the good things happened at full volume and the bad things happened at full volume too, and nothing mitigates anything.

Well, I'll guess I'll say this: I've had some hard years before, and they were almost always hard for internal reasons: wrestling with depression and loneliness, unhappy with my job, unhappy with the distance between the person I was and the person I wanted to be. This year was brutal for external reasons, but I felt secure in who I was, I felt like I generally understood the correct thing to do when shit came up, and I mostly felt strong enough to do it. A better Nick in a worse world. So there's that.

roadrunnertwice: Yehuda biking in the rain. (YehudaMoon.Yehuda - Rain)
2016-12-30 10:43 am

Turning out the lights at the other place

This is the last of my posts that'll be cross-posted to LiveJournal. (Damn, remember LJ? Anyway.)

TBH I've been forgetting that my stuff even goes there in the first place. But a post about their recent full server move to Russia reminded me, and I think it's about time to finish up. I think Ryan is the only person who sees my posts over there anymore, and we're Twitter buds anyway.

(I don't think the Russian move has a direct political effect on me, but I support the people who will be directly harmed by it, and there's probably a lot of them.)
roadrunnertwice: Davesprite from Homestuck, Mr. Orange Creamsicles hisself (Homestuck - Davesprite)
2016-12-02 04:18 pm
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Reviews: Journey, Firewatch, and The Edge of Worlds

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)
2016-12-01 10:30 pm
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Books: Some political psychology, and some comics

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)
2016-11-22 05:51 pm
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Reviews: Homestuck, and some books I stopped reading

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)
2016-11-14 06:29 pm
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Books: Stranger in Olondria, the Cass Neary books, A Song to Etc. Etc., and Shadowrun: Hong Kong

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)
2016-11-11 11:35 am
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Reviews: Some books about meditation

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.