roadrunnertwice: Scott fends off Matthew Patel's attack. (ScottPilgrim.Scott - Reversal!)

V.E. Schwab — A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows, and A Conjuring of Light

March 6, March ??, and July 10

I plan to head directly into the weeds on this review, but I'll make a brief pit-stop at concision before I hit the road: I definitely recommend the first book of this series. It's fast, bold, and slick — just weird enough to grab your attention (a stacked-worlds cosmology where the only constant is London? What??), and more than competent enough to hold on to it. I'm more ambivalent about the other two books, but A Darker Shade of Magic actually stands alone pretty well anyhow.

Speaking of which, HEY, let's talk about trilogies! There are several different ways to put three book-sized objects in a row, and this series uses what I think might be the worst. I don't have a proper name for it (duologies behaving badly? party in the front, sweatshop in the back?), but it's that same thing Garth Nix did with Sabriel and Lirael/Abhorsen:

  • Start with one standalone, book-shaped book, with tight plotting and characterization and some deep-but-restrained worldbuilding.
  • Follow it with a much larger and more sprawling sequel, arbitrarily split into two volumes. (Book 2 usually ends on a cliffhanger of some kind.)

Recognize it? Contrast with the "three book-shaped books" trilogy or the "one continuous scroll" trilogy, both of which work better.

Part of the problem is just setting up an expectation of book-shaped books and then flubbing it. But I'm also starting to think that two books out of a trilogy is a uniquely awkward and unbalanced story unit, and should be avoided categorically. In all the examples I can think of, the sprawly second story has major plot and pacing issues that didn't afflict the first book and could only be addressed with major story surgery.

In this case, most of book 2 is dedicated to a shōnen manga tournament plot. This is a time-tested device that works really well in a long-running combat-focused comic, because it provides a lower-stakes pause in the main action (during which you can cut to machinations in the background as needed), it's guaranteed to take up a good long chunk of serialized time, and it's a good way to demonstrate how various characters have progressed or not progressed, especially because it lets you pit allies against each other without having to completely deform the story.

But tournaments usually work so well because they take up like an eighth or a tenth of a tremendously long comic. This one is like a quarter of the damn trilogy, and while yes, it's cool to see how badass Lila is now, it basically shoots the pacing all to hell.

Also affecting the pacing: The villain of the second story seems to spend an inordinate amount of time just twiddling his thumbs out in the distance. And he's just a lot less interesting than the confluence of villainies in the first book! He kind of sucks, tbh. (Note that I had this same beef with Lirael/Abhorsen. Is this a weird secondary effect of the structure?)

I had some other plot beefs. There's a death in book 3 that just kind of comes from someone acting out of character for no good reason, plus a few other things... not gonna go super deep into this, it just felt like things generally got a little sloppy.

Finally, there's a central character unironically named "Alucard," even though the only proper use of that name is to tell the reader with a big fat wink that this is Dracula's depressed son. (This story has nothing to do with Draculas, and IDEK how Schwab managed to not realize what she was doing there. Are there truly people who Don't Castlevania?? [yes])

IDK. I did enjoy the second book quite a bit, but it's not a complete unit, and I got bored partway through book three and just put it down for several months to read other things. There's a lot of good stuff in there, but it's flawed and uneven compared to book 1's mirror-bright polish.

Martha Wells — The Murderbot Diaries: All Systems Red

May 7

Yay, new Martha Wells! Spoiler, I liked it.

This had a more-than-passing resemblance to her short-lived Emilie series — it's more stripped-down than a lot of her other books, with more straightforward plotting and a more parsimonious approach to characterization for the supporting cast (not flat, but with most of the depth gestured rather than rendered, if that makes sense). It's an old-fashioned sort of feel, and one that suits both series' niches (Emilie was a deliberately retro pre-"YA" subgenre of youth lit, and Murderbot is a novella, which is sort of a coelacanth format just now coming out of a long hibernation).

Anyway, this is short and enjoyable and cheap (in its native ebook form, at least; the "tor.com" imprint has been publishing pretty nice tpbs of their novellas, but they're so overpriced that I get the impression we're not actually meant to buy them), and you should check it out.

Re: recent comments about how to structure a series: this is definitely the start of a larger story (note the beautiful last-minute left turn to avoid "happy ending"), but it's nicely contained, setting the stage for a next bit without any cliff-dangling. Which, again, I always greatly appreciate.

Jason Turner — Fir Valley (comics)

July 13

I liked this! It used this really aggressive POV shifting to get kind of a cubist every-angle-at-once view of the town of Fir Valley. And the town felt pretty legit; idk, I was reading this at the same time as Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being, and they both do interesting things with the, like, sensation of being in the Pacific Northwest.

Tonally, this was all over the place in a way I kind of loved. Gruesome murder, young people making music, ghostly conspirators with animal heads, drunken idiocy, all kinds of stuff in here, and all presented with this kind of goofy big-hearted cheer? Turner has cited Twin Peaks as an influence here, and I can definitely see it. He isn't following Lynch's aesthetic, but the method seems familiar.

Anna-Marie McLemore — When the Moon Was Ours

June 11

I liked this, but I don't really feel like talking about it. It was good.

roadrunnertwice: Yoshimori from Kekkaishi, with his beverage of choice. (Kekkaishi.Yoshimori - Coffee milk)

Eleanor Davis — How to be Happy

April 10

This is a collection of Davis' short comics, which are all over the place in style, length, and media. Davis is a really good cartoonist, and her more out-there art styles (the spindle-legged huge-torso look) are legit unique — the sort of thing that shouldn't work nearly as well as it does.

I liked these shorts; they felt like they were holding me at arm's length a lot of the time, but they did unexpected stuff and followed through on their swing. And Davis' cartooning is real engaging even when you're not really feeling a given story.

Books I stopped reading: Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter — The Long Earth

April 2X

I stopped reading this about a third of the way through, because it lacked all of the things I'm looking for when I pick up a Terry Pratchett book.

John Darnielle — Universal Harvester

June 24

To be honest, I'm still trying to figure out what I think of this one. I was very much not satisfied at the end, and I'm trying to decide how much of that was the whole point, and how much of it was JD's reach exceeding his grasp this time. I might end up not deciding.

This had certain rewards anyway, despite the way it trailed off in the back third or so. There's this kind of roaring hollowness behind every paragraph that I feel really fuckin' nails why I find rural and small-town America scary, and not jump-scare scary but existential dread scary. JD was onto something here, and it's pretty compelling for a while. But it seems like an unfinished thought, and I put the book down with the sensation that someone had walked out of the room in the middle of a sentence and was not going to come back.

Again, it's possible that was the point.

Italo Calvino — Invisible Cities

May 9

Whoa, this was great! Not quite a novel, not quite short stories, more just an expanding fabric of disorienting oddness. A glitchville sort of vibe that reminded me of the last section of Kalpa Imperial, or maybe (faintly?) of Vellum? I feel like I can't quite dig up the thing it reminds me most of, which is very on-brand for this, now that I think of it.

Lars Brown — North World, vol. 1 (comics)

July 18

This had its charms, but maybe not enough of them. I don't feel the need to read more of it.

It feels like it belongs to a very very particular era — that bit in the late '00s, where mixing elements of classic video game settings with more prosaic character drama was having a moment? Scott Pilgrim kind of kicked it off and did it best, but there were a lot of others; some were blatantly following the trend, but I feel like a whole bunch of them were legit convergent evolution. Stories their authors wanted to do anyway, and which happened to be ready to go when the commercial moment arrived. Like, old games are responsible for a lot of the foundational metaphors by which my generation understands life, and of course we're going to work through that in our art.

Anyway, what I really liked about this comic were the settings — the city streets and markets and shops and houses and apartments. Brown's approach went something like: assume this big dumbass JRPG world, then focus on what people actually do from hour to hour and try to make everything feel really lived-in. It was great, a cool mix of... how to describe this. How about "conflicting familiarities." Which is kind of the whole raison d'être of this subgenre, right? The dissonance between our too-many methods of making sense of the world, which went from an idle preoccupation to an emergency when we realized the social and economic structures we were supposed to be "growing up" into had been devastated pretty much beyond repair well before we arrived? Yeah.

Oh right, back to the comic. Setting good, plot totally forgettable. Character writing ok, but nothing I was really connecting with. I kind of need at least two out of three to keep investing in something, so I'm out.

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

Well gosh, it's been a while. Here's some book reviews!

Jess Fink — We Can Fix It (comics)

April 11

I kind of had the wrong expectations going into this. I was geared up for some kind of absurdist-but-vulnerable adventure story where Fink had to learn to collaborate with her distracted past selves to solve some kind of urgent problem, but it was more like an episodic memoir with a side of time travel comedy.

Larry Brooks — Story Engineering

Apr. 17

A writing advice book, focused on novels. Recommendation via [personal profile] yhlee Yoon Ha Lee's journal. (Hey locals: Multnomah County Library has this as an ebook.)

Brooks' writing voice is pretty corny, and he dedicates about 40% of this book to throat-clearing, repetition, and justification. It's also kind of disorganized. But all is forgiven, because this has some of the most astute and immediately useful analysis of story structure I've ever seen. I got grumpy waiting for him to get to the point sometimes, but it's solid material and I'm grateful for it.

In particular, Brooks’ framework for pacing and plot development is excellent. It's sparse enough that I'm not worried about painting-by-numbers, but it's explicit enough to actually help answer the question of what has to have happened by a given point in the novel. And it makes sense in the context of how I read novels, in a way that most renditions of 3-act structure have never managed to do.

He also has some useful thoughts about character writing and theme and initial concept; nothing as huge as that pacing framework, but at least a few cool tools I hadn't heard elsewhere.

Andrea K. Höst — Bones of the Fair

Feb 28???

I was having a hard time powering through Black Wave, so I took a break to read something fluffier.

This is a fairly straightforward secondary-world fantasy from the author of the Touchstone trilogy; a comfortable sort of adventure with good character writing and just enough interesting details to feel fresh. I liked it, and Höst is now firmly established as one of my go-to authors for relaxing junk food reading.

Hope Larson and Tintin Pantoja — Who is A.C.? (comics)

May somethingth

I was all ready to like this, and then I just couldn't manage to actually like it. The story just seemed busted somehow. Incomplete motivations, incomplete magical mechanics, unclear stakes, unclear causes and effects. It has the exterior gestures of a magical girl story, but lacks the working core.

Larson's other books are better.

Max Gladstone — Two Serpents Rise

May 7

This was solid. It's a mystery/urban fantasy story in a truly bonkers setting — the main character works for a corporation headed by an undying skeleton who fought and killed the gods, and the plot largely hinges on contract negotiations and urban water infrastructure.

The Mesoamerican megacity where this takes place was rad as hell, and I really liked the way magic works there. (It's a "dirty" magic system where everything has a fairly extreme and direct cost, with some clever approaches to weaving it more firmly into normal life in that world. Everything in the city runs on magic, and the currency system is based on small, fungible fractions of your soul. Like, your utility bill is the water tap claiming some of your life force when you turn it on.)

So yeah, the setting rules, but also the plot, prose, and characterization are all hella competent. This was a pleasure to read. I went ahead and bought the ebook omnibus of the whole series so far based on the strength of this one. (They're mostly written so you can read them in any order, which is a lost art I greatly appreciate.)

Oh, and ignore the random white kid on the jacket, because almost the entire cast are people of color 👍🏼. (Including the skeleton, although both "color" and "people" are a little conceptual in his case.)

roadrunnertwice: Scott fends off Matthew Patel's attack. (ScottPilgrim.Scott - Reversal!)

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)

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: Kiki from Kiki's Delivery Service (魔女の宅急便)、 minding the bakery. (Kiki - Welcome to the working week)

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)

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!)

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

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

Bonus Level: Firewatch

Nov. 20

A story game in the "walking simulator" genre.

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

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

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

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

Bonus Level: Journey

Nov. 20

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

Martha Wells — The Cloud Roads (reread)

Oct 17

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

Martha Wells — The Edge of Worlds

Nov 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Altemeyer — The Authoritarians

Nov 16

Free PDF.

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

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

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

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

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

Oct 17

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

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

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

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

Nov. 26

Readable online.

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

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

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

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

Liz Suburbia — Sacred Heart (comics)

Nov 23

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

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

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

Maggie Stiefvater — The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves

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

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

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

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

Lydia Millet — The Fires Beneath the Sea

Stopped reading Nov. 13

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

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

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

Aug 13

Readable online.

Good gracious, what to even say about Homestuck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sofia Samatar — A Stranger in Olondria

June 21

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

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

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

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

Zan Romanoff — A Song to Take the World Apart

Oct 12

A story about a teenage siren who Makes Some Mistakes.

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

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

Elizabeth Hand — Available Dark and Hard Light

June 17 and June... 24?

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Level — Shadowrun Returns: Hong Kong

Oct 8

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Harris — 10% Happier

Nov. 4

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Kornfield — Meditation for Beginners

Nov. 10

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

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

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

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

Sidebar about meditation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kai Ashante Wilson — Sorcerer of the Wildeeps

Feb 7, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

I liked this book a lot.

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

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

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

Sep 30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raina Telgemeier — Smile (comics)

Oct 14

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

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

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

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

Paul Bowles - The Sheltering Sky

Aug 19

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

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

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

Megan Whalen Turner - A Conspiracy of Kings

Sep 11

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

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

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

Brandon Graham - King City (comics)

Sep 15

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

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

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

Kelly Link - Get in Trouble (short stories)

Sep. 24

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

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

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

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

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

Sep 13

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

Aimee Bender - The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Sep 26

This was great.

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

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

Carla Speed McNeil — Finder: Third World (comics)

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

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

Bonus level: Severed

Aug 2

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

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

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

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

Kate Wilhelm - Storyteller

July 24

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

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

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

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

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

bundy

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

A shocking blitzkrieg of Kindle ads )

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

Donna Tartt — The Secret History

January 4, 2016

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

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

Rainbow Rowell — Fangirl

June 4

A li'l novel about being young and sucking.

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

James Baldwin - The Fire Next Time

??? ??, ????

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

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

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

Various cartoonists - Wolfen Jump (comics)

Aug 9

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

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

Kimmy Walters - Uptalk (poetry)

Aug 9 (sorta)

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

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

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

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

Feb 20-ish, 2016

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

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

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

Mar 25, 2016

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

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

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

Nicole Kornher-Stace — Archivist Wasp

April 5, 2016

A strange and intense post-apocalyptic ghost story.

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

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

Andy Weir — The Martian

June 27

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

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

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

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

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The Fell Types are digitally reproduced by Igino Marini.

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