Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Unfinished Project of Grieving: Thoughts on My Mom's Birthday

Today would have been my mom's 69th birthday.  I don't have much to add beyond what I said last year on this date (which involved thoughts on Dairy Queen and what we owe the deceased).

It did occur to me, now over 17 years after her death, that you're never done grieving.  Grieving is an always unfinished project.  You grieve for your loved ones until, inevitably, someone grieves for you.

Is this depressing?  Maybe.  But I think of it as part of what makes us human.  Grief connects us backwards and forwards to the great chain of humanity.  It is both deeply personal and a basic fact of all human life.

I had my Dairy Queen yesterday because life is getting in the way today.  But I nonetheless continue grieving, whether in frozen dairy form or otherwise.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Daoism for Wizards: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Brilliant.  Amazing.  The kind of book that changes you for having read it.  In other words: typical Ursula K. Le Guin.  I probably need a few more readings to probe the Daoist depths of this work.  This review simply can't do it justice, but then again one of the strengths of this book is that it presents merely hints of an inexhaustible universe.  There is much more than meets the eye, or even could meet any eye.

Upon the death of the author (or a specific author: Ursula K. Le Guin), I took some time to reflect on everything I've learned from Le Guin (see my post "Five Lessons from Le Guin").  I also reminded myself that, while I had read most of her well known science fiction work, I had yet to read what is probably her most popular work: the fantasy novel A Wizard of Earthsea and its many sequels.  Part of this is that I'm generally more of a science fiction than fantasy fan.  But it seemed an inexcusable oversight when it came to someone I always say is one of my favorite authors.  It would be like claiming to be an Isaac Asimov fan without having read the Foundation trilogy or an Octavia Butler fan without having read the Earthseed duology.

So I dug out the old copy I picked up at a library sale many years ago and gave it a shot (see picture above; I believe this copy has made at least two interstate moves with me and has been lurking on my bookshelf for years).

Like most of Le Guin's work, you have to allow her to work her magic.  It takes time.  You may not find yourself turning the pages quickly.  As Le Guin herself might ask, why should "page-turner" be a good thing for a book to be, anyway?  Is it not more meaningful to savor a book, to let it seep into your being?

That's just what A Wizard of Earthsea does.

Instead of imagining what Le Guin might have said, I should let her speak for herself:

"All power is one in source and end, I think.  Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man's hand and the wisdom in a tree's root: they all arise together.  My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars.  There is no other power.  No other name." (A Wizard of Earthsea, p. 164)

The novel isn't of course merely Daoist philosophy (although there is plenty of that!).  We meet a boy named Ged, who as many young boy protagonists in fantasy novels are, is special.  He is, it seems, destined to become a great wizard.  He travels to a wizard school (Hogwarts avant la lettre). Ged is, again like many fantasy protagonists, a bit full of himself.  A spell miscast releases a shadow (of himself?) that becomes his main antagonist.  Sure, we meet the occasional dragon (as does Ged), but are we ultimately all our own worst antagonists?  Along the way Ged becomes less full of himself and more full of all things.

The magic system relies on finding the true names of things, perhaps reminiscent of the first line of Laozi's Dao De Jing. This line is variously translated, but Laozi may be suggesting that true names cannot be spoken.  Is this true in the novel?  Or can true names only be spoken by wizards?  Does the very speaking remove us from the names of all things?  Are there other, more direct ways of realizing our connections with the way and its power?

A Wizard of Earthsea can work as a straightforward fantasy, maybe even a YA fantasy.  But it's not merely entertainment.  It teaches you something about the universe and most deeply about yourself.

One of the lessons of the novel seems to be in line with the Daoist idea of wu wei (literally "non-action," but really more acting as skillfully and minimally as possible).  Thus, it seems appropriate to end my review here, to review more by writing less: my words can merely gesture toward the novel's fathomless depths, which I encourage you to experience for yourself.

Friday, March 2, 2018

A Nerd's Guide to the Oscars (2018)

The Oscars sort of look like robots.
As a nerd, most of the movies I see aren't the sort of things that Hollywood elites deem Oscar worthy.  Typically I haven't even heard of some of the nominees for best picture.

This year, however, two of my favorite movies of the last year (Get Out and The Shape of Water) were nominated for best picture.  And other favorites like Blade Runner 2049, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and War for the Planet of the Apes were nominated for things like cinematography, sound editing, and visual effects.

Have nerds gone mainstream?

Nah.  I still had to google Phantom Thread when I looked up the list of nominees, and there's a lot of pretentious "serious drama" type stuff.  And two WWII movies, of course.  (Will we never tire of WWII movies?)

This year I decided to meet the Oscars half way, and I saw a few more mainstream best picture nominees like The Post and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri as well as I, Tonya, which received a few other nominations (like Margot Robbie for lead actress).  So, while I haven't seen all the Oscar nominations, I feel like I've seen enough to make a rare delve into "mainstream" films.  So I offer the following: A Nerd's Guide to the Oscars!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Con Nooga 2018!

Me at Con Nooga in 2017

This weekend I'll be spending some time at Con Nooga, one of the surprisingly many sci-fi/fantasy/horror/anime/comic/gaming, etc. cons that take place here in the relatively small city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA (you can read about one of the others, Chattacon, here).  I also attended Con Nooga in 2016 and 2017 (see photographic evidence above!), so this will be my third Con Nooga.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Some Interesting Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2017

Some of the books discussed here!

Last year I wrote a post called "Most Interesting SF/F Novels of 2016" instead of a traditional "Best of" or "Favorites" list like I did for 2015.  As I explained with my post on TV of 2017, there's something a bit presumptuous about a "Best of" list considering that there's a lot of great stuff I haven't personally experienced.  Nobody can get to everything, after all.

So this year I thought I'd entirely forego the traditionally bombastic claims and settle for a post on some books published in 2017 that I felt were interesting.  I'm not ranking these, since each is interesting for different reasons, although careful readers will be able to discern my favorites.  This list is also focused on my reading in science fiction and fantasy.  I do read other stuff (especially philosophy books), and you can find see what I've been reading on my Goodreads profile.  While you're there, please feel free to add me as a friend!

You may also notice that I'm not posting this until mid-February of 2018.  I got a bit behind on my reading schedule (one book on this list is responsible for most of it!), and then I got a bit behind on my blogging.  Alas, I also have a job and other non-blog things going on.  But here I am at at last!  So without further ado, some interesting science fiction and fantasy books of 2017!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Some Interesting TV of 2017

I was originally planning to write a "Best of" list for my favorite TV shows of 2017, but I've gotten a little tired of the genre of "Best of" lists.  There's a mind-boggling amount of TV content available these days, so it seems a bit presumptuous to claim that the best of it can only come from the measly percentage that I've seen.  Also, these shows are all different enough that it seems unfair (impossible?) to rank them against each other.  Besides, it's mid-Februrary 2018, so it seems a bit late to march in the "Best of 2017" parade.

Instead I give you: Some Interesting TV of 2017!

(Note also that I'm limiting myself to science fiction and fantasy broadly construed.  I'm also only talking about shows that came out in 2017.  And I'm leaving out a few I did watch, like The Orville and The Mist.  I'll wait for a future post to tackle the latest episodes of The X-Files and Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams, which were released in the US in 2018).

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Reminders: Nazis are Bad and February is Black History Month

Credit: https://blog.utc.edu/news/2018/01/black-history-month-utc-2/

Maybe I was naïve, but until the last couple years I thought most people had figured out the whole "Nazis are bad" thing.  But then came the resurgence of explicit white nationalism and the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, VA.  More recently such hate has found its way to my own backyard: there was white nationalist propaganda featuring a picture of Hitler saying "Hitler was Right" pasted over a Black History Month sign at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Wed. Feb. 7, 2018.  (See the image below).