Thursday, December 31, 2020
2020 in Hindsight
What a fucking year. At the beginning of 2020 I was looking forward to a year of tenure and travel. Here, at the end, I’m looking back on a year of turmoil.
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
Sequels of McDune: Hunters of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
- People are too hard on the Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson Dune books (aka, "McDune").
- The books are nowhere near as good as Frank Herbert's originals.
- I enjoy the McDune books the same way that I sometimes enjoy McDonald's (or really Taco Bell for me) even though I know it's not good.
- It's fun to learn what happened immediately after the last Frank Herbert book even if I know it's neither the same nor as good as what Frank would have written.
The Epistemology of Evil Twins: The Dark Half by Stephen King
Only Stephen King could write a book with the somewhat silly premise of an author's pseudonym coming to life .... and make me believe it so engrossingly. 1989's The Dark Half isn't one of King's "A List" novels (it's not up there with The Stand, IT, or The Shining), but I think it's underrated.
This is also one of King's most epistemological novels (along with The Dead Zone), so let's call it... the epistemology of evil twins! (Epistemology, or theory of knowledge, is the part of philosophy that studies knowledge: what it is, how you get it, whether you have as much of it as you think, etc.).
Thursday, December 24, 2020
Twelve Nights of Christmas Horror Movies, Part Two
In "Twelve Nights of Christmas Horror Movies, Part One" I discussed a bunch of Christmas horror movies. And now I'm going to discuss a bunch more!
I ended up watching more than 12 movies, but I liked the title, so what are you gonna do? Besides, sometimes I watched more than one per night. Maybe you will, too.
Monday, December 21, 2020
Later Explorations of Earthsea: Tehanu and Tales of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
I've been a huge fan of Le Guin's science fiction for about 20 years, but I didn't start reading the Earthsea books until a few years ago. I recently moved these two later books in the series --Tehanu and Tales From Earthsea--to the top of my list to prepare for an online discussion of the Earthsea books (info here).
Sunday, December 20, 2020
Twelve Nights of Christmas Horror Movies, Part One
Last month I wrote about Thanksgiving horror movies to watch instead of spreading the Coronavirus to your family, so it seemed like a Christmas horror movie post was the next thing to do. (Although I should note that there is at least one Hanukkah horror movie out there).
It turns out there are a lot more Christmas horror movies than there are for any other non-Halloween holiday. Something about late December gives audiences an appetite for horror, I guess. There was sizable haul of Christmas horror movies in the 70's and 80's (you can read about some of them below), but the 90’s and 2000’s weren’t big decades for Christmas horror movies. Christmas horror returned from the commercial graveyard in the 2010’s, and given how horrific the 2020's have started off, I don't see this trend slowing down soon.
I'm not going to include the most obvious choice, Gremlins (1984), nor some recent favorites like Rare Exports (2010) and Krampus (2015). Nothing against any of those movies. They're all great! But I thought I'd scour my streaming services to bring you some lesser-known Christmas horror movies to watch while you're spending the holidays at home with people in your household. At least I hope you're not attending gatherings with people outside your household this Christmas! The horror!
Friday, December 18, 2020
Le Guin's Earthsea on Worlds of Speculative Fiction
I'm excited to be a guest for Dr. Greg Sadler's Worlds of Speculative Fiction tomorrow (Sat. Dec. 19, 2020). We'll be discussing Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series.
Here's the Facebook event, video link, and Zoom link. This is free and open to the public, so feel free to attend virtually.
Saturday, December 12, 2020
Realism and Other Fantasies: The Changeling by Victor LaValle
I'm a huge fan of Victor LaValle's The Ballad of Black Tom (I even assign it in my course on horror and philosophy), so I was excited to read more from the same author.
The Changeling is a really different book than The Ballad of Black Tom, but it also shows LaValle's ability to blend realism and fantasy to tell an engaging story.
Sunday, December 6, 2020
Solipsists, Useless Kings, and Lazy Guns: Against a Dark Background by Iain M. Banks
Longtime readers of this blog (or anyone who talks to me about science fiction for five minutes) may remember that I'm a huge fan of Iain M. Banks's Culture series (find out why in "Death and Utopia: Reflections on the Culture").
Against a Dark Background is not a Culture novel. It's neither quite as fun nor as deep as the Culture books, but it has its moments. Even a sub-par Iain M. Banks novel is above average science fiction.
But like Feersum Endjinn and The Algebraist, Against a Dark Background not set in the Culture universe (or at least not within the galactic territory traversed by the Culture). The Algebraist is probably my favorite of Banks's non-Culture SF, but Against a Dark Background has its share of Banksian brilliance.
Monday, November 30, 2020
Pandemic Journal, Part 16: Our Non-Normal November
My Pandemic Journal continues with Part 16: Our Non-Normal November. (I tried to think of something catchier. Maybe you can do better!)
It has been a non-normal month (granted, we have had a lot of non-normal months lately). But this one had the bizarreness of the US election on top of everything else.
One thing that has become normal (at least on this blog): memes! Enjoy!
Thursday, November 26, 2020
On Being Apart from Your Family on Thanksgiving
I’ve spent Thanksgiving apart from my family most of my adult life. Here are some thoughts for people who find themselves apart from their families this Thanksgiving.
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Four Thanksgiving Horror Movies to Watch at Home Instead of Spreading the Coronavirus to Your Family
Last week we showcased my horror and philosophy students' films in Horrific Thoughts: Post-Halloween Philosophical Horror Film Fest! (You can see a recording of the full event here, or just watch most of the films here).
Why was it not a Halloween film fest? In previous pre-COVID years, it was. But I figured that life is horrific enough right now, and I gave my students a few more weeks to complete their films. And they did a great job making some fun films during a pandemic (they will be writing philosophical reflections on their films as explained here).
Toward the end of the event, I noted that Thanksgiving is coming up here in the US and mentioned that there are Thanksgiving horror films. And one of the jurors for the film fest, Chris Dortch (who runs the excellent Chattanooga Film Festival), mentioned Blood Rage. I watched Pilgrim last year. After looking into it, I also found The Oath and Thankskilling.
So, I guess I have enough for a short list of Thanksgiving horror films to watch at home instead of spreading the Coronavirus to your family this year! Seriously, don't give your family COVID-19. Small indoor gatherings with people outside your immediate household are a major spreader of the virus. Stay home. Be safe. And hopefully your family will all still be here to celebrate next Thanksgiving. Stay home and watch these movies instead!
Sunday, November 22, 2020
Random Thoughts, Part 12: Our Random Pandemic--Now with Memes!
|Made at: https://www.jasondavies.com/wordcloud/|
My long running Random Thoughts series continues with Part 12! We recently had a big election here in the US that, much like the pandemic, has gone on longer than it needs to, so I've had a lot of random thoughts on politics and democracy. I also have things to say about academia, space, books, absurdity, lunch, religion, bibliophilia, and my 2020 hangover.
Just like my pandemic journal posts, my Random Thoughts now come with bonus random memes! Enjoy!
Friday, November 20, 2020
Holmes Vs. Cthulhu: Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove
It has been a few weeks since I posted on the blog. I'm fine (or as close as anyone can be right now). I just really got caught up in other things. I have a few posts in my ongoing pandemic journal and random thoughts series coming soon. In the meantime, here's a book review!
I suspected this mash up of Arthur Conan Doyle and H. P. Lovecraft would be a lighthearted fun read, but I enjoyed Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows at a deeper level than expected.
I find Sherlock Holmes stories lightly amusing and clever, but not terribly deep. I'm a much bigger fan of H. P. Lovecraft than Arthur Conan Doyle. But the way that Lovegrove brings their mythoi together shows that Holmes has a deeper side than I previously thought.
Monday, November 2, 2020
Election Eve Thoughts, 2020
|My early voting selfie from Oct. 15, 2020|
It's the day before the 2020 US election. I’m not sure I can explain everything I’m thinking and feeling right now, but here it goes.
Saturday, October 31, 2020
Pandemic Journal, Part 15: Pre-Election Pandemic Halloween Horror
My pandemic journal continues with Part 15. It's Halloween today, and the 2020 US election is in three days. Everything is fine. Well, not really. Anyway, here are some things I've been thinking about the last few weeks. And as has become my custom, there are plenty of memes.
If you are eligible to vote in the USA and you haven't voted yet, for the love of Gene Roddenberry, VOTE ON TUES. NOV. 3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Dark Tower Re-Read, Book 7: The Dark Tower
|The Dark Tower on the porch with a beverage|
I started a Dark Tower re-read in June, and I've come to the end of the series (not counting The Wind Through the Keyhole, which I read in story order this time rather than publication order).
Book 7 is to the Dark Tower series as Jupiter is to our solar system. It's not separate from the larger system, but it has enough of its own gravitational pull to form a system of its own. You couldn't read Book 7 without having read the previous books, but there's enough going on to fill a series of its own. It's not just the longest book in word-count, it leads the others in sheer goings-on, not to mention emotional impact. Seriously, I challenge any fan to get through this one without tearing up at least a little.
It took me a long time to read this one, partly because I had a lot going on, partly because it's just a long-ass book, but mostly because ending another trip to the Tower was a little melancholy for me.
But I, for one, find the ending completely satisfying. More on that later.
We start with Jake and Callahan entering the Dixie Pig, a den of vampires, taheen, can toi, and other assorted baddies. And...
I can't really write most of this review without spoilers, so be forewarned. I will be as merciless with spoilers as King is with character deaths in this book.
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
HBO's Lovecraft Country: A Non-Review
|From HBO's Lovecraft Country|
I reviewed Matt Ruff's novel Lovecraft Country about a month ago, and I told myself I'd review Misha Green's HBO adaptation once the season was complete.My analogy of the relation between the book and the show is like the relationship between Bob Dylan’s and Jimi Hendrix’s versions of “All Along the Watchtower.” All the versions are good and technically the latter things are adaptations of the former, but the adaptations in both cases explode the original ideas into higher, mind-bending dimensions. (Misha Green's adaptation plays with this idea in interesting ways that I won't spoil).
Saturday, October 10, 2020
Pandemic Journal, Part 14: Politics, Pandemic, and For the Love of All That You Hold Dear, Vote!
My pandemic journal continues with Part 14! It has been about six months since this all started, or in pandemic time, roughly 25 years.
As usual, I have spent the last month scouring the internet for the finest memes. You can also read about what I've been doing and thinking. But it's also okay to just browse the memes. Do what you gotta do. It's a pandemic.
And for the love of all that you hold dear, vote if you are eligible, my fellow Americans! Jesus fucking Christ, just vote. I don't even know what to say to convince you, but if this serves as a reminder, so be it. Just vote.
Thursday, October 8, 2020
New Article: "Ursula K. Le Guin's Science Fictional Feminist Daoism"
|Ursula K. Le Guin|
I'm thrilled to announce that my article "Ursula K. Le Guin's Science Fictional Feminist Daoism" is now available in The Journal of Science Fiction and Philosophy. You can download it here.
Saturday, October 3, 2020
Horrific Analysis: Danse Macabre by Stephen King
Danse Macabre is another Stephen King book I've probably meant to read for 30 years. Seeing this book around is how I first learned the word "macabre." I'm glad I found a used copy like the one I remember from back in the day with that weird pink writing and creepy picture of King's face (see above). So was it worth the wait?
Monday, September 28, 2020
Dark Tower Re-Read, Book 6: Song of Susannah
Stephen King's Dark Tower series has become one of my favorites in recent years. My re-read of the series continues with Book 6: Song of Susannah. What did I think the second time around? Is this my favorite Dark Tower book? Find out below!
Friday, September 25, 2020
Birthdays and Deathdays: 2020 Edition
|From the show Metalocalypse|
It has become my tradition on this blog to write a post on my birthday. This tradition began in 2015, when I wrote a post called "Birthdays and Deathdays." I wrote something of a sequel in 2019 with "Birthdays, Deathdays, Climate Change, and Humanity."
I'm still thinking of a lot of those same issues here in 2020. But the pandemic also makes everything weird-but-not-in-a-good-way, not to mention continuing racial injustice and an impending, increasingly terrifying election here in the US.
Saturday, September 19, 2020
Lovecraft Country is US: Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
If you're looking for a response/retelling of a specific H. P. Lovecraft story, I'd recommend The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (which is a direct response to one of Lovecraft's most xenophobic stories, "The Horror at Red Hook").
That's not what you get with Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country, but that's okay.
Wednesday, September 9, 2020
Racism and the Discipline of Philosophy
I’m writing this as part of my participation in the Scholar Strike for Racial Justice, taking place on Sept. 8 and 9, 2020. You can learn more about that here and here.
In writing about racism and the discipline of philosophy, there are two relevant senses of “discipline.”
One sense involves the ways that individuals are disciplined to maintain the borders of philosophy: who is and isn’t allowed to exist within those borders, and who is and isn’t allowed to be comfortable within those borders.
The other sense is the more familiar sense of philosophy as an academic discipline.
The first sense is felt by others far more than it is felt by me, so I will leave this first sense to the side in most of what follows. I recommend starting with resources such as this and this, or this excellent post by Alexus McLeod that connects the two senses.
While there are still some within the discipline of philosophy in the second sense who would deny that our discipline disciplines individuals in the first sense, I suspect most philosophers will at least admit we have some work to do when it comes to attracting more women and people of color to the discipline.
It may be more contentious among my fellow philosophers to suggest that racism has much to do with our discipline in the second sense. After all, how can race have much to do with plumbing the eternal verities? Isn’t philosophy about problems that arise for any thinking person, with solutions meant to be as general and context-free as possible? (Forgive me, continentals, I know not what I do, although I often wonder about the abstraction of things like the human condition or the Animal or the carceral state or whatever … the impulse to philosophical abstraction is maybe almost as strong even if it has a French or German accent).
But what if the very idea of “the discipline of philosophy” is itself constructed from racist assumptions?
Monday, September 7, 2020
Pandemic Journal, Part 13: 13 is Still Luckier than 2020
My longtime pandemic journal continues with Part 13 (well, it feels like a long time, but it hasn't even been six months...). You can see some of my previous entries here and here.
What do I think about the new school year in these strange days, the 2020 US Presidential election, reading Frankenstein, the labor movement, and other things? Read on to find out!
And of course there's the real reason most of you are here: the memes! Enjoy!
Saturday, September 5, 2020
Random Thoughts, Part 11: Pandemic, Politics, Philosophy, and Other Random Things
|Made at: https://www.jasondavies.com/wordcloud/|
My random thoughts continue! In Part 10, I got up to #221, so I'm picking up with 222 here in Part 11. Even though these are random, a lot of them focus on the pandemic, politics, and philosophy, but that's how randomness works... or is it? Anyway, there's also one about mustard, so maybe it really is random. Enjoy!
Monday, August 31, 2020
Dark Tower Re-Read, Book 5: Wolves of the Calla
|Wolves of the Calla meets Champagne of the Beers|
In my Dark Tower re-read I have reached the final, weirdest leg of the journey that begins in Book 5: Wolves of the Calla.
The last three Dark Tower books blend together a little bit for me, which is not surprising since King wrote them almost at the same time in the few years after his 1999 accident. But I had forgotten how much of the really weird stuff from the later books starts happening in Wolves of the Calla. As with the other Dark Tower books so far, I enjoyed this even more the second time through!
Saturday, August 29, 2020
Bill and Ted's Most Triumphant Return: Bill and Ted Face the Music
Bill & Ted Face the Music was released yesterday, and it gave me a chance to do something I haven't done in several months: review a newly-released movie.
Sunday, August 16, 2020
Pandemic Journal, Part 12: Back-to-School Doom-Anxiety Edition
My pandemic journal continues with Part 12, Back-to-School Doom-Anxiety Edition.
Tomorrow is the beginning of the 2020-21 school year for me, so this juncture in my life and the lives of many others seems like a good time to post a journal update. You can see my latest thoughts at the end.
In recent week's I've come to feel what I've been calling doom-anxiety about the impending school year.
And as always, there are plenty of doom-memes to make the doom-anxiety go down a little easier.
Whether you're here for the memes, my random thoughts, or you just realized you clicked on the wrong thing: good luck to us all!
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
Dark Tower Re-Read, Book 4.5: The Wind Through the Keyhole
|The Wind Through the Keyhole on my porch with a beverage|
Thursday, August 6, 2020
Some Thoughts on the 20th Anniversary of my Mom's Death
|My daily recommended dose of Dairy Queen|
My mom died 20 years ago today. It simultaneously feels like it happened yesterday and a lifetime ago.
Monday, August 3, 2020
Dark Tower Re-Read, Book 4: Wizard and Glass
|Living the High Life on my porch with Wizard and Glass|
Sunday, August 2, 2020
Hugo Results 2020, and Award Ceremony Controversy
Saturday, July 25, 2020
Pandemic Journal, Part 11
Monday, July 20, 2020
2020 Hugo Ballot, Part Two: Related Work, Dramatic Presentations, and Fan Writer
Sunday, July 19, 2020
2020 Hugo Ballot, Part One: Novel, Novella, Novelette, and Short Story
Militarism and Metaphysics: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley
Friday, July 17, 2020
Portals and Puppies: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
Alix E. Harrow's The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a beautifully written portal fantasy with some interesting ideas, but it's light on world building for my tastes (don't expect to learn much about the worlds to which those portals lead). I picked this up because it's a Hugo nominee for Best Novel. So far Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire is by a pretty wide margin my #1 pick, but this one might be a distant second.
Thursday, July 16, 2020
Necromancers in Space: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Hugo Reading 2020: Short Stories
Monday, July 13, 2020
Dark Tower Re-Read, Book 3: The Waste Lands
Sunday, July 5, 2020
Hugo Reading 2020: Novelettes
Friday, July 3, 2020
Independence Day for Conflicted Americans
|Janelle Monáe and friends performing "Americans"|
Here's something I shared on social media:
Spending part of July 3 bringing lunches to poor people in the projects and homeless people in tent cities in the wealthiest country on Earth in the middle of a grossly mismanaged response to a pandemic makes me really excited about Independence Day this year.
(Just in case you missed it, yes, that is sarcasm.) Don’t get me wrong, I’m really, really glad to help, and I'm thankful for my friend who got me involved in the team. If people are suffering, one should help them. But it’s hard to get excited about a country that has the wealth to totally eliminate poverty, but has continued to choose not to do so year after year while the problems are in some cases actually getting worse. MLK made this point in the 1960’s. Others made it before him. There is no excuse.
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Pandemic Journal, Part 10
My pandemic journal has reached Part 10 here at the end of June 2020 (see the previous entry here). I have more memes, of course, including a few random ones that aren't immediately related to current events. Enjoy!
Monday, June 29, 2020
"Politics by Means of Literary Analysis": A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
Recently I was talking to a friend who has been reading the Dune series, and I noted that you don't see many books that try to emulate Frank Herbert's Dune. The Dune books are weird and work in a way that wouldn't work for any other author. Most classics spawn lots of imitators or even their own sub-genres. While you see a lot of space operas out there, none of them have come close to being much like Dune in the last 55 years.
It's not that I was looking for a Dune rip-off (nobody should really want that). But I was excited to read Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire because it sounded like it might be jumping somewhere near Dune space with a far future space empire filled with a melange of cultural influences. It even has epigraphs from historical documents before each chapter. And as I suspect is the case with many Dune fans, having a glossary at the end makes me roughly 37% more excited to read any science fiction book.
Then I saw the blurbs on the inside cover comparing it to Ann Leckie or Yoon Ha Lee. These are also apt given the space empires in both authors' works, especially with one particular idea that's very similar to an idea Lee uses in Ninefox Gambit.
While one could make those comparisons, in the end A Memory Called Empire is its own thing. And this is a wonderful thing. Once I realized this was not an imitator or merely a riff on old themes, I could let the book speak for itself and appreciate it for the unique work that it is. This is the first of the Hugo Best Novel nominees I've read this year, and I have a hard time believing any of the other nominees will come close to beating it.
Saturday, June 27, 2020
Random Thoughts, Part 10 (Now Randomer and Thoughtier)
|Made at: https://www.jasondavies.com/wordcloud/|
My series of collections of my random thoughts started in December 2018 and shows no sign of letting up. With my previous entry, Part 9 (Pandemic Edition), I noticed that I had almost reached the milestone of 200 random thoughts presented in posts of 20-ish thoughts per post. I decided to wait for one of my most random thoughts to serve as number 200. I'm not sure I succeeded, but it is about a weird random thing I've been doing for decades that may be randomly philosophical and then goes meta- ... so it seems like a good candidate. Enjoy!
Sunday, June 21, 2020
Hugo Reading 2020: Novellas
|Three of this year's Hugo nominees for Best Novella|
Every year since I started voting for the Hugos in 2016, I've told myself that next year I'm going to start reading earlier. And every year, like clockwork, I fail to do so. I've got until July 15 to finish this year, so I'm procrastinating according to plan.
I've grown fond of novellas lately: long enough to get into a story, but not so long as to grow tiresome. You've got to start someplace, so this seemed like as good a reason as any to start with the novellas this year.