roadrunnertwice: Scott fends off Matthew Patel's attack. (Reversal! (Scott Pilgrim))
2017-10-16 12:09 pm
Entry tags:

(no subject)

I'm playing Persona 5, and part of the setup here is that your Persona is "the spirit of rebellion within you." New characters join you when their Persona awakens, which first requires a scene or two of them agonizing over their doubts and insecurities (first psychically agonizing, then physically agonizing; I think this was there in the other games too, where waking the Persona requires some act of symbolic self-destruction).

But they kind of missed a chance with Ryuji, because he's already so in touch with his inner rebellion. He took a swing at a teacher in real life! That's pretty much an outer rebellion, dude! I think it would have been funnier and better if he hadn't agonized AT ALL. Just cut straight to battle screen with no transition and him already in the process of casting a lightning spell, with Morgana all like "wait, weren't we in the middle of something? what just happened?"
roadrunnertwice: Rodney the Second Grade T-Ball Jockey displays helpful infographics. (T-ball / Your Ass (Buttercup Festival))
2017-10-12 03:04 pm

Conniephobia

OK, who here has heard of the Consumer Price Index (CPI)? I figure you've at least heard the initials on NPR or something. It's used to track inflation, and a bunch of other important stuff.

You know how they make the CPI? With the Consumer Price Survey, where they choose people (households, really) at random and send census employees to interview them, over three separate calendar quarters, about pretty much everything they spent their money on.

Guess whose household got picked, this time around?

Guess who's had two of their CPS interviews but is still looking down the barrel of the third one?

Guess who also just bought a fucking house?

When we were being normal and incredibly boring in our spending habits, an interview could still take hours. I am living in abject dread of Connie the Census worker's next visit.

Anyway, it’s definitely been an interesting look at how the econ sausage gets made. I think participation is technically voluntary, but we're putting up with the interview slog bc we're good patriots who think the CPI is legitimately important, and also we're probably chumps.
roadrunnertwice: Me, with the spoon and cherry sculpture from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in the bg. (Me - w/ cherry)
2017-10-04 04:17 pm
Entry tags:

100px squared

Terri just joined DW the other day, and then I had a sudden sensation like when you have a visitor for the first time in a month or two and realize your apartment is a mess. :O

Anyway, I cleaned up my icons a bit. Remember icons? Turns out they're a pain in the butt if you have too many of them and an over-complicated naming scheme. Now I still have maybe a few too many, buuut it's working for me.
roadrunnertwice: Yrs truly and a little black cat. (Me - w/ Frankie)
2017-10-02 02:58 pm
Entry tags:

A house

OK, so, Ruth and I bought a house. It is the house across the street from our current rental.

We were not planning to buy a house!

It went something like this: Ruth came home from a kayaking trip, and the next morning she noticed an open house sign across the street at Brad's place. (We'd had no idea he was selling.) So we went to check it out, and were like... "Would it be dumb to NOT try and do this?"

Ruth's parents had just bought a house in Portland earlier this year, so we called them in a panic and were like "give us your people!" So we got on the phone with their (our) realtor and mortgage agent, got pre-approved for a loan, and got an offer in that day. Then our offer got accepted, and then there was a month of furious nailbiting. Anyway, we got the house!!! Holy shit.

We're moving in in November. There's not much work to do in the grand scheme of things (it's a recent building), but we're painting the whole interior and installing wood floors in the upstairs, which is gonna keep us busy for sure. I'll try and post pictures at some point.

It's a very good house, or at least it will be as soon as we banish the carpet and the hell-beige/poopbrown paint job. I have a good feeling about this.




We told our friend Kathleen about all this, and she got on Google Maps to refresh her memory of which house we were talking about. Then she texted us and said she saw a cat in front of it on Street View.

There was totally a cat! And... we're pretty sure it was Frankie, because she was also friends with Brad and liked to hang out at his house whenever she wanted a change of scenery.

Imagine that. A little digital blessing from our departed friend.
roadrunnertwice: Scott fends off Matthew Patel's attack. (Reversal! (Scott Pilgrim))
2017-09-29 09:26 pm
Entry tags:

8 directions frustration palm

I’m replaying FFIX because they just released the remaster for PS4, and I forgot how annoying the directional orientation is in the PS1 FF games! They tried to make these pretty and curved landscapes convenient for 8-way d-pads by skewing the input, sometimes by as much as like 20 or 30°. (Or at least it feels that extreme.) So you just point in whatever direction seems natural, and then your character blasts off for fucking Mars.

What a weird time in video game interfaces, now that I think back on it. Remember that Resident Evil truck-walk bullshit?
roadrunnertwice: Weedmaster P: "SON OF A DICK. BALL COCKS. NO. FUCKING." (Shitbox (Overcompensating))
2017-09-25 08:54 pm

International DFUYGDM Day

Hey everybody! Happy International Don't Fucking Upgrade Your Goddamn Mac Day!

There's a new Mac OS out today, and if you're a writer, illustrator, cartoonist, musician, attorney, baker, real estate agent, or literally any other form of creative professional, uncreative professional, gifted amateur, or student, you have one job until sometime early next year: DON'T FUCKING UPGRADE YOUR GODDAMN MAC.

Yes, I know: you want the new features. You thirst for the new emoji. The updater keeps asking you, and you secretly love feeling wanted. But listen to me: every year I watch someone walk straight into that banana peel, and I really want this year's statistic to not be you.

Because in the mild scenario, the update breaks something you rely on, and the first patch release fixes someone else's problem instead of yours, so you limp along in a half-functional state for multiple months. (This is twice as likely if you use any kind of add-on hardware like a scanner, and practically guaranteed if you're on a deadline.)

In the spicy scenario, you get fucked in ways heretofore totally unimaginable. Because guess what: this year's release has

🚨🚨☄💀🌋 A COMPLETELY NEW FILESYSTEM 🌋💀☄🚨🚨

(I've decorated that to approximate what computer people hear when that phrase is spoken.)

Real talk, don't upgrade til March.

(Yes, yes, fine: if your job is making software for Macs or doing IT support for Macs, go ahead and upgrade some, but not all, of your way-too-many computers. All the rest of you, cool your jets and wait out the first two or three patch releases.)

roadrunnertwice: Kim Pine wearing headphones. (Music / racket (Scott Pilgrim))
2017-09-14 10:53 am
Entry tags:

AirPods review

I bought a pair of Apple's AirPods a while back, and I've been using them for a couple months now. I love them.

I don't think I can recommend them to most of my friends, today. They're a hundred and sixty damn bucks, and the compromises are pretty severe: there's noticeable audio/video lag (bc it's still Bluetooth), they're super droppable/losable, they need charging, the sound is only a shred better than $30 EarPods quality, and adjusting the volume with Siri is bullshit. So in a lot of ways, they're inferior to wired headphones.

But for me, they're great! There's an important slot in my lifestyle for tiny headphones that sound fine, don't make my ears hot in the summer, fit comfortably, and don't block out environmental noise, and I'd been using the wired EarPods with few complaints. But wireless is so much nicer! For walking, running, biking... I didn't even realize how much I hated that cord. And they stay in my ears just fine! The only real drop risk is when I'm taking my helmet off, or I'm taking the AirPods out to put in their case.

Also, the pairing experience is honestly super impressive. Dealing with de-pairing and re-pairing Bluetooth stuff is such an astounding pain in the ass most of the time, and they managed to basically fix it, which is incredible. Effectively, it's like they're paired with all of your Apple devices at once, and you can easily transfer control from any of them. So I can just click "connect" in my Mac's Bluetooth menu, and they'll switch over and my phone's music will auto-pause. I figure other vendors will get stuff working like this eventually, but with all the necessary protocol standardization and stuff, it's gonna take them like five years. Say what you will about Apple's closed ecosystem, but using these is real nice and no one else could have done that this year.

So anyway, they're not a must-buy. They're not honestly even "good headphones" (unquote). What they are is middlin' headphones from the future: they work by magic, they're incredibly nice for running and biking and walking around, and they're exactly what I wanted.
roadrunnertwice: A mermaid singing an unenchanting song. (Doop doop (Kate Beaton))
2017-09-10 10:31 pm
Entry tags:

Cat updates

Eclipse (aka Fluffy Cat) has been coming by on the regular, and we’re trying hard to get on her good side. We’re fairly certain she’s a former pet, so we should be able to re-domesticate her! And she’s chilling out faster than the ferals! But it’s still slow going, and she’s still a very skitty kitty.

We're also making progress with Muffin! She started coming to our door sometimes and meowing! for food! And if you give her wet food she'll eat while you sit a foot away from her.
roadrunnertwice: Parking lot stencil: "ALL TREES WILL BE TOWED," with tree glyph in "no" sign. (All trees will be towed)
2017-09-08 02:15 pm
Entry tags:

On Gwhirls

When I was visiting my sister, she told me they used to point out squirrels on the bird feeder to her son to teach him what they were called, but he thought they were pointing at the feeder itself. So now a bird feeder is called a “gwhirl” at their house.
roadrunnertwice: Young Marcie Grosvenor from Finder, asleep in a ward drawn from Finder trails. (Wardings (Finder))
2017-09-06 12:36 pm
Entry tags:

Books: The Broken Earth & Diana's Electric Tongue

Carolyn Nowak — Diana's Electric Tongue (comics)

Aug 26

This is a really good comic about being heartbroken, right up there at the top of its genre (along with the Octopus Pie arc "The Witch Lives"). It's also basically everything I want from a character-driven "mundane SF" story. I recommend this to anyone.

Aside from the pure and wonderful writing, this has some amazing character and environment art. Good lord, the wedding venue? Sabine? Owen? So good. And I love that Diana's prosthetic tongue is offensively lime green, that little tidbit does so much hidden heavy lifting to establish her character and the world she inhabits.

This is longer than a normal floppy, but smaller than what most people would call a graphic novel; I guess you could call it a "graphic novella" if you didn't mind being a 🔪TERMINOLOGY CRIMINAL🔪 (and lol, I don't). As far as I know the only place to get it is at the author's Etsy, although I wouldn't be shocked if Floating World or BWP had a copy or two hanging around. For all that it seems to be at a zine-ish level of commerciality (blank spine, no ISBN), the physical and print quality is superb. (That critical "I feel fine about spending $10 on this" quality level.)

Here's a shorter online comic by Nowak, which I also loved tremendously. This is a cartoonist to keep a very close eye on.

N.K. Jemisin — The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky

Aug 7, Aug 7, Aug 20

I recommend this whole trilogy with no reservations. It deserved both of the Hugos it's gotten so far, and I wouldn't be shocked to see it collect a third.

This is basically the book/series I was waiting for Jemisin to write. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms were good, but to be honest they weren't quite for me — 100k had the cosmic mythos of an epic fantasy, but at its core it was actually a Gothic (no, seriously), which is a genre I respect but can't really jam on. And Broken Kingdoms was super interesting and weird, but I couldn't quite get wholly into it. And I still plan to read the Dreamblood at some point, but the first few chapters didn't quite grab me. This one grabbed me, and I blew through it at one or two days per book. Like, I could replace this paragraph with that panel from Enigma of Amigara Fault where they're like "this is my hole!!! It was made for me!!!"

So, uh... that's my review, bye!!! I guess I'll just go into some tangents for a while.

Read more... )

roadrunnertwice: Rebecca on treadmill. (Text: "She's a ROCKET SCIENTIST from the SOUTH POLE with FIFTY EXES?") (Rocket scientist (Bitter Girl))
2017-08-20 07:49 pm
Entry tags:

Lady of the Shard, Henchgirl, Hurricane Fever

Gigi D.G. — Lady of the Shard (comics)

Aug 9

Readable online.

The stark and glitchy aliased look on this comic scratches some very particular itch for me. Especially the intense use of red, once that shows up.

Anyway, this is a simple story executed well, and you can read the whole thing in an evening or two.

Kristen Gudsnuk — Henchgirl (comics)

Aug 10

This is notably better than the average cape spoof, but I'm hard pressed to explain exactly how. It's some combination of the delicious art and the out-of-control tonal shifts, neither of which would do the job independently.

It also hits some #relatable Millenial territory, where it's like... fuck you we're not just lazy shitheels, but ALSO, UNRELATEDLY, being a lazy shitheel sounds kind of great sometimes.

Tobias S. Buckell — Hurricane Fever

Aug 11?

I don't think I can really... recommend this silly and formulaic spy thriller — in fact, I think it's less interesting and rewarding than Arctic Rising, which I was already a li'l lukewarm on.

But you know, sometimes I need something silly and formulaic. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

roadrunnertwice: Rodney the Second Grade T-Ball Jockey displays helpful infographics. (T-ball / Your Ass (Buttercup Festival))
2017-08-05 07:37 pm
Entry tags:

Books: coal country with furries, space, the future, etc.

Bonus Level: A Night in the Woods

July 18

In a funny coincidence, I finished this game and Fir Valley just days apart, and they totally re-use the same plot.

OK, so game-wise, this got a little old, because you spend a LOT of time just walking back and forth from place to place. Which... it's fine to pace the game like that, there's good reasons to do it, but I wanted it to go faster and feel cooler? The walking and platforming are kind of slow, floaty, and annoying, so that could have been a lot better. (The lightbulb smashing minigame and the Demontower game-within-a-game both felt pretty great, though. And sticking a landing onto a mailbox had a very nice sound.)

But story-wise, I liked this a lot. Excellent dialogue and character writing, and good use of dialogue choices (which are hard to get right).

I've been wondering what it meant that Mae was one of the ones the creature in the mines was "singing" to, and how that relates to the hole in the center of everything that the sphinx god was on about. And how it relates to her dissociative episode back in middle school, when she hurt that kid.

Like, most of the game is taking place on this level where it's about friendship, and family, and how capitalism chews up people and places and then spits them out, and the different ways people try (and sometimes fail) to have a life despite that. But there's another level where it's maybe about the choice you have to make all on your solo once you've touched the corrosive amorality at the core of the universe. Existentialism: The Video Game.

(Speaking of which, hey B, were you gonna play this one? I'd love to hear your thoughts.)

Jon Bois — 17776 (aka "What Football Will Look Like in the Future")

July 26

Readable online.

I've been wondering what the first clearly identifiable post-Homestuck mixed-medium web epic would be, and I think this might be our first winner! LMK if you've got a good argument for something else.

I liked this. A fun little episodic gonzo SF story about the final immortal generation of humanity and the meaning of play.

Jessica Reisman — Substrate Phantoms

July 7

I didn't enjoy this as much as Reisman's previous novel.

The parts I liked were the parts about just struggling by in a dusty corner of a big, old, galactic civilization — Reisman is really good at that. The conspiracy plotline wasn't bad either. The prose has its ups and downs — The Z Radiant hit a sweet spot for overtly made-up sci-fi jargon, and this book dials it up and maybe overdoes it a bit (different levels of pushback from different editors?), but there were enough other things I liked about the writing to offset that.

But the main focus of this book is its first-contact story, and I wasn't really into it. Reisman is aiming for this sort of ineluctable otherworldliness re: the alien that she doesn't quite nail. There are some cool, creepy sequences, but by around the 2/3 point of the book, after the alien started talking like a person, I realized it wasn't going to wrap up in a way that would satisfy me and follow through on the promises of the early book. If you want a really satisfying alien possession/not-possession story, I feel like the Southern Reach trilogy is still the one to beat.

Also, minus a point for what I felt was an unnecessary rape scene.

Martha Wells — The Harbors of the Sun

July 31

This is it: the final Raksura book. It's good.

I'll mostly let my review of the first half of this duology stand, and only add that this was exactly the closing I hoped it would be. A fitting final send-off for some beloved characters, and a real solid page-turner to boot.

Ruth Ozeki — A Tale for the Time Being

July 24

Oh man, this was excellent.

I picked this book up on a whim. It caught my eye on the Canton library sale shelf when I was visiting my sister, so I gave it the ol first-page/second-chapter test and went for it. I was, like, vaguely aware of its prior existence, but my style of memory is to aggregate tidbits into a fuzzy result and then forget the tidbits... so I knew it had a generally positive reputation, but I'd forgotten that Lauren had read it, that it was like a Booker Prize nominee, and that the same author wrote My Year of Meats.

Back in the low-information '90s, I read a lot of books this way — I'd run out of books I knew anything about, and start just picking stuff up and sniffing it. That's how I ended up reading Infinite Jest without any idea what I was getting into. (Man, can you even remember what it felt like, to have your "to-read" stack run out? LiveJournal basically ended that for me; curious what ended it for y'all.)

Anyway, for being a book about a frustrated novelist reading a book (lol), this was amazingly engrossing! It's one of those stories where it keeps feeling like everyone is just on the verge of realizing something incredibly important. (And it paid off well, which is the crucial-but-oft-forgotten part of that recipe!)

Also, there are elements that keep nudging it in the direction of weird horror or SF. Ruth, the author character, spends a lot of the book looking for confirmation of Naoko's existence or evidence of her fate, and she keeps almost-but-not-quite finding it. And the result is weirdly tense; since most of us expect that we're constantly leaving uncontrollable digital traces, an almost-complete disappearance registers as Wrong/Unnatural/Spooky.

The way that part of the story eventually spins out is kind of hilarious, and ultimately lands on "definitely SF." I thought it was great. And there's also a fantasy element involving questions of, idk, mutual fictionality, which I'm still chewing on.

I want to go back at some point and pick apart some of the ways Ozeki differentiated the two narrators, just for my own curiosity. For example, Ruth's segments are slower and full of lush environmental descriptions, but Nao doesn't seem to notice her physical environment much at all; it's almost nothing but characters and actions. The separation was really effective and effortless-seeming, and I bet I can learn a lot from looking at how she did it.

roadrunnertwice: Scott fends off Matthew Patel's attack. (Reversal! (Scott Pilgrim))
2017-07-22 11:28 pm
Entry tags:

Books: London, North Van, Outer Space, and Somewhere Nonspecific

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. (Coffee milk (Kekkaishi))
2017-07-20 05:25 pm
Entry tags:

Books: Universal, Happy, Long, Invisible, North

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. (T-ball / Your Ass (Buttercup Festival))
2017-07-06 03:57 pm
Entry tags:

Books: Two Serpents, Bones of the Fair, Who is AC, Story Engineering, We Can Fix It

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: Ray pulling his head off. Dialogue: "DO YOU WANT SOME FRITTATA?" (FRITTATA (Achewood))
2017-05-08 09:23 am
Entry tags:

Stinky Salad

Apparently some people think that salad for dinner is Not A Thing, but I'm pretty sure it's just because they're not salading hard enough. As long as your salad has enough protein and fat in it, it's kind of an ideal dinner, especially once the weather crosses that 80° mark.

Anyway, I really only make variations on one salad. It's called "Stinky Salad," named after a comic Natasha Allegri posted on LiveJournal back in the day. It goes a little like this:

BASE:

  • Leaf lettuce — not romaine, not iceberg, the more flavorful stuff. Red and green are both nice.
  • 1 medium carrot per 2 people. Grated, or you can take a slicer to it (kind of annoying to get it thin enough with a knife).
  • A little bit of onion, sliced as thin as you can get it.

OPTIONALS:

Throw in any of these if they're around and you're feeling it.

  • Raddichio or other bitter leafies. Chop real thin.
  • Snap peas! Try to strip the spine out of them by peeling back on the stem, so they'll play nice with the other textures. Chop into 2 or 3 pieces.
  • Tomatoes, but ONLY if you can get the really good local shit. If your tomatoes are only OK, use them for something else.

MANDATORY PILE OF STINKY CRAP:

  • 1 hard boiled egg per person, cut into, idk, eighths.
  • 1 pepperoncini per person, sliced thin.
  • A small handful of olives per person, pitted and halved. (I use a mix of kalamata and big green guys. I think black olives would go wrong with it, but what do I know, it's YOUR salad now!!!)
  • Feta cheese.

DRESSING:

Use a LOT of this. Side salads might still work ok if you skimp on the dressing, but we're playing in the dinner leagues now.

  • Good olive oil. IDK, somewhere around a quarter cup per 2 people? Maybe more? I kind of just eyeball it in one of those pyrex not-a-ramekins. Sorry!
  • Good enough balsamic vinegar.
  • Spicy brown mustard, about 1/8 tsp per 2 people. I know this seems random, but it's very important.
  • Garlic, maybe one large clove per 2 people unless you wanna level this salad UP. Use a garlic press, because completely creamed garlic works better in dressing than lil cubes do.
  • Salt (~1/4 tsp for 2 ppl?).
  • Pepper

First salad-for-dinner night of the year and oh my god I was not expecting the visceral rush of joy from that first bite.

roadrunnertwice: Rebecca on treadmill. (Text: "She's a ROCKET SCIENTIST from the SOUTH POLE with FIFTY EXES?") (Rocket scientist (Bitter Girl))
2017-04-22 11:27 am
Entry tags:

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. (Reversal! (Scott Pilgrim))
2017-04-19 09:47 pm
Entry tags:

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?") (Rocket scientist (Bitter Girl))
2017-04-18 08:51 am
Entry tags:

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. (Vast and solemn spaces (Buttercup Festiv)
2017-04-14 08:09 am
Entry tags:

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.