Saturday, December 31, 2022

42nd Post of 2022 New Year's Eve Spectacular!


I was going to make one more post before the new year, and I noticed that my next post would be my 42nd of the year--an auspicious number for a science fiction and philosophy blog!

This is fewer posts than any other full year since I started this blog in December 2014. But that's okay. In fact, this has been one of my lessons of pandemic life: it's okay to do less. Sure, life is short and all of our days are numbered even if we don't know what that number is, but on the other hand sometimes you have to take the advice of that great sage of the 1980's, Ferris Bueller, and take a minute to look around at life once in awhile or you might miss it.

I've learned how to rest. How to take naps and walks more regularly.

Besides, I've been busy enough. I did a bit more travel in 2022 than in 2020 or 2021, but not too much. I wrote a bit more fiction after attending a workshop on fiction writing for philosophers. After that, I started my new part-time gig as a first reader ("slush reader") for Escape Pod, which has been an interesting experience so far and no doubt helped my own writing as well.

I published some non-fiction, including a chapter in Dune and Philosophy: Minds, Monads, and Muad'Dib (available now across the Imperium!). I read some books, meeting, but not exceeding, my Goodreads goal for the year. "Meeting but not exceeding" seems like a good motto for 2023.

I did keep up my pandemic journal that I started in 2020, but I've written in it less and haven't felt the need to post it here lately, which is fine. Maybe I'll do another public journal post when/if the pandemic actually ends. Actually, this post somehow became more of a journal entry than I intended when I started it. But that's okay! Another lesson of recent years: it's okay if things go otherwise than you intended.

And I spent a lot of time with my loved ones, including my cats, who enjoy that I've become a lot more of a homebody the last couple years. And we bought a house (thanks to the pandemic freeze on student loan payments), which makes being at home a lot cozier for everyone.

Looking forward to 2023, I will watch a bit of the Twilight Zone marathon on New Year's Day, and then I have a sabbatical in the spring term. I won't be teaching for the regular semester for the first time since the fall of 2011 when I had a dissertation fellowship. 

I'll probably read and write some stuff about classical Indian Buddhist philosophy (especially Vasubandhu and Ratnakīrti: the project I originally intended to start in 2020, which won't go the way I intended it then, but that's okay). I might start writing something about Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler and their Daoist and Buddhist influences. I'll probably write some more fiction, and who knows, maybe publish something. And take lots of naps and walks.

And I have some travel plans for conferences in Denver and San Francisco, maybe a road trip or two, at least one to a beach somewhere and another to visit my Midwestern folks, and maybe yet another to some US states I have yet to visit. Who knows where the road will take me?

And there will be some conventions, starting with Chattacon in a few weeks. And Hugo reading this summer.

So I think I'll be busy, but hopefully not too busy in 2023. I'll do enough, but not too much. And it will be okay if not everything goes according to my plans, because, after all, most of life, the universe, and everything happens outside of my intentions, and maybe sometimes those are the best parts of this wild, mixed up experience of being a bit of the universe that has temporarily coalesced into a human life.

Wherever you have coalesced, dear reader, I wish you and your beloved life forms a happy new year of doing enough, but not too much!

Friday, December 30, 2022

Surviving Apocalypses: Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

A lot of post-apocalyptic fiction is the province of woefully over-confident libertarian white dudes riffing on their survivalist wet dreams. Waubgeshig Rice's Moon of the Crusted Snow, thankfully, is not that at all. 

In fact, Rice does a lot (much like Octavia Butler) to show how stupid those macho survivalist fantasies really are and how community and care guide our survival. Not that everything is puppy dogs and rainbows filled with rosy, bland communitarians, either; there's plenty of tension and drama to be found both within the community and from without. Those accustomed to more over-the-top apocalyptic fiction may not see the underlying tension, but it's there if you pay attention. 

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Ghost Grandma Goes Interstellar: On the Steel Breeze by Alastair Reynolds


I really enjoyed Blue Remembered Earth, and I really enjoyed this sequel, too. Both at times feel a bit overly long, I didn't always 100% understand what was going on (Reynolds has a tendency to focus on weird details while mentioning major plot points in passing), and sometimes there are so many balls in the air it's hard to say that Reynolds managed to juggle them all into a cohesive narrative. 

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Christmas Horror 2022


As has become something of a tradition in recent years, I tried to watch a few Christmas horror movies recently. Some people love classics like White Christmas. Some love comedies like Scrooged (I'll watch it soon...). Others mount complex legal arguments for and against the proposition that Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Many delve into that vast vanilla land of Hallmark and its imitators. 

But lately it has seemed to me that the perfect genre for the solstice-adjacent holiday season is horror.

It's not that I hate Christmas. Really, I don't. It's fine. It can be fun, although not as fun as Halloween. I like the quiet darkness of solstice time, but I find that we kind of just overdo the whole thing these days, at least here in the US. 

I'm not sure the traditional Christmas story that forms the core of Christianity ever made much sense to me. And the rampant capitalist commercialization of the season, the pressure to have a perfect experience and spend money we don't have on gifts that few of us really need, cheesy versions of the same nine Christmas songs ... all of that really does horrify me, I guess.

So I think Christmas horror movies appeal to me as a way to deal with my conflicted feelings about this holiday season. See also Weird Al's magnificent, "The Night Santa Went Crazy" and "Christmas at Ground Zero."

Or maybe it's just fun and funny to mix a jolly holiday with some blood and guts?

Here's what was on my agenda this year: Violent Night, Christmas Bloody Christmas, Don't Open Till Christmas, Await Further Instructions, and A Nasty Piece of Work.

Violent Night (2022)

What if you could solve the is-Die Hard-a-Christmas-movie? debate by remaking Die Hard, only with David Harbour as a burnt-out Santa instead of John McClane and John Leguizamo at his Leguizamiest instead of Hans Gruber? That's kind of what happened here, only with a dash of Home Alone and plenty of delightful horror kills. I went to see this at the theater with a friend who appreciates over-the-top horror as much as I do. We were both entertained.

Violent Night may not win any Oscars, but I think it will be making a lot of present and future lists of bonkers fun Christmas horror movies.

Christmas Bloody Christmas (2022)

What if The Terminator were a Christmas movie? Okay, that's not exactly what's going on in this movie, but there is a robot Santa made from a repurposed military death bot. Our main character, Tori, is a record store owner who just wants to get drunk and meet up with her Tinder date on Christmas Eve, but her employee convinces her to hang out with him instead, which includes a visit to their friends' toy store, which has one of the Robo-Santas. And wouldn't you know it? Santa-tron 2000 goes on a homicidal rampage around the small town, leaving Tori to take up the mantle of Final Girl.

This is a fun one, too. I maybe got a bit more character background scenes than I wanted in a movie about a murderous Santa-bot, but once The Sant-inator shows up and the kills get more and more ridiculous, I was having a great time. I caught this one on Shudder.

Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)

I saw this one on Shudder's Joe Bob's Ghoultide Get-Together, which is always an educational way to watch a movie like this. Although now I'm not sure what I mean by "like this"? Rambling movies about the seedy side of London with a serial killer murdering anyone in a Santa suit, one victim while patronizing a stripper booth?

It makes a little more sense when Joe Bob Briggs explains how this movie came about, but it's still the kind of thing where you have to just relax and enjoy some amusing horror nonsense.

Await Further Instructions (2018)

Another British entry on Shudder! But a really different kind. Whatever Don't Open Till Christmas may be, Await Further Instructions could easily be classified as science fiction horror, which is my favorite kind of horror! A somewhat miserable middle-class British family is meeting for Christmas. After some tension (including racist family members), the house is encased in a mysterious material with no possible escape. Then messages begin to appear on the TV screen, including, of course, "Await Further Instructions."

How far will the family go to follow the directions? What's going on? Along the way there are deeper themes about issues like xenophobia, toxic masculinity, and cycles of abuse. And an ending that I appreciated.

A Nasty Piece of Work (2019)

A Nasty Piece of Work is an entry in Hulu's Into the Dark film series (which I find hit-or-miss, but mostly fine). What if Office Space were a Christmas movie with a dash of Christmas Vacation? Okay, that's not what this movie is. It's weirdly the closest anything on this list comes to a Hallmark movie. The protagonist (who kinda looks like the guy from Office Space) is ambitious but hates his asshole boss, played by Julian Sands (who looks like Julian Sands).

His boss invites him and his wife to a special dinner on Christmas Eve (or thereabouts, I can't remember). The protagonist's rival at work (played by Ted from Schitt's Creek) and his wife are also there. And if you think that's awkward, wait until the boss's wife shows up after he explains in detail the rifles hanging on the wall...

Is it the best movie I've seen? Or even the best on this post? Maybe not. But it may offer a bit of catharsis for people who've endured a few too many Hallmark Christmas movies.

So that's it for now. I may watch a few more holiday horror movies. Maybe my old favorite Scrooged (which may be a horror movie just as Dickens's A Christmas Carol is maybe some kind of science fiction horror featuring time travel and ghosts).

But above all, dear reader, I wish you and those you love the best possible paths through life and this heartwarming horror we call the holidays. Happy holidays to all and to all a fright night!

Monday, December 12, 2022

The Space of Minds: Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky


I loved Tchaikovsky's Children of Time, which is some of the most interesting science fiction I've read in recent years. I found this sequel, Children of Ruin, a bit harder to follow, but it's mainly because there's just so much going on it was easy for me to forget who's who and what was happening (maybe this one is written too much in octopus mode for my mere human intellect!). Still, I loved this book. I only rate it slightly lower in comparison to the first.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Slow Pondering of Strange and Beautiful Realities: The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin

As with all of Le Guin's work, The Telling is profound, thought-provoking, complex, and raises more questions than answers.

The trouble with reviewing a Le Guin book is that anything I could say about it feels inadequate compared to what Le Guin herself has written. But let me give it a shot, anyway.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Mini-Reviews of Spooky Stuff for Spooky Season, Part Two


Here at Examined Worlds, er, we don't say stuff like, "here at Examined Worlds." But if we did, and if there was a "we" beyond you and me, dear reader, I'd say something like, "Here at Examined Worlds, we consider spooky season to be a state of mind, not a month on the calendar."

And that's why I'm posting Part Two of my "Mini-Reviews of Spooky Stuff for Spooky Season" in the middle of November, a week before US Thanksgiving (although I may revisit some of my Thanksgiving horror favorites soon!). Enjoy!

Monday, November 7, 2022

Vote for Democrats, Please: A Conventional Plea for the 2022 US Midterm Election

Note: A version of this was originally a social media post, but I figured it was worth sharing here, too. Take care, and VOTE if you can!

In 2016, I burnt out on arguing about politics online, so this is not an invitation to argue. But we do have an election tomorrow here in the US, and especially understanding the bubble I live in and that most Americans reading this will do the right thing, I'd like to ask everyone who is eligible to vote to VOTE if you haven't already. Do it as a personal favor to me. 

Monday, October 31, 2022

Undead in Tenochtitlan: Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia


I'm not a huge vampire fan for the most part, but having read some of Moreno-Garcia's other work and seeing that some of the vampires go back to Aztec times, I figured I'd give Certain Dark Things a shot for spooky season this year. It was great! 

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Mini-Reviews of Spooky Stuff for Spooky Season, Part One

Halloween is here! And this spooky season I've been finding so much spooky stuff it's scary! It's so much I couldn't reasonably give full reviews of all of it, so here are some mini-reviews of some of the spooky stuff I've been enjoying in the last month or so. Look for Part Two soon!

Friday, October 28, 2022

Slashers and Human Experience: My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones


"Horror's not a symptom, it's a love affair" 

-My Heart is a Chainsaw, p. 174.

Jade, the main character of Stephen Graham Jones's My Heart is a Chainsaw, is a half-Native teenage girl in rural Idaho. She loves slasher movies so much she cites them constantly and hopes, in a weird sort of way, that some killings in her hometown are a real life slasher. I'm maybe not quite a big enough slasher fan to fully appreciate this book, but I loved Jade's extra credit papers on the history of slashers that were interspersed between the narrative chapters.

Like many horror fans, I appreciated Jade's POV as the weird kid (horror is a genre for weird kids of all ages). While Jade may or may not have some legitimate mental health issues, I also appreciated the exploration of how horror can be healthy part of fans' lives. As she tells one adult, "Horror's not a symptom, it's a love affair" (p. 174).

This gets at a big philosophical issue in horror: Why do horror fans like all this gruesome stuff? Why do we like to be scared by things we know don't exist? This novel takes it a step further: Is it still fun if it does start to happen in real life?

Another issue I've been thinking a lot about with regard to the 5th century Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu: to what extent is our very perception of things dependent on our past and our interests? Vasubandhu goes pretty deep with this (maybe to the very existence of the external world, or at least our concept of it), but the novel can prompt a similar thought: to what extent is there really a slasher here, given Jade's interest in slasher movies that organizes her whole experience of the world? Or is she reading too much into what could be a series of random murders?

All of this kept me going, especially as I was getting to know Jade in the first 200 page or so, but I have to admit that at times in the middle of the book the plot dragged a bit for me, and I wondered if there's really quite enough story for a 400 page novel. Not that it was unpleasant to read, but I at times wanted to get things moving a little faster (maybe a couple fewer red herrings would do it?).

Still, I really enjoyed spending some time with this character, the slasher stuff is fun, and the larger mythology it sets up is worthy of further exploration. But don't worry, like any slasher worth its mask, this one is reportedly getting a sequel!

See my Goodreads review.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Random Thoughts, Part 19: Randomize Then, There are Other Thoughts Than These

My long-running random thoughts series continues with Part 19! And since this is Part 19 and I'm a huge fan of Stephen King's Dark Tower series (where this number figures heavily, at least in the later books), I figured I would riff on my favorite line from the series (even though this quote randomly comes from the first book well before the 19 stuff took off... but that's more fittingly random, I suppose).

I haven't posted one of these since May, and the random thoughts stop for no blog, so I have even more random thoughts than usual. It looks like I got up to the totally random number of 502 with this post! How random!

And as always: plenty of memes for your random memetic enjoyment! Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The Depths of Darkness: Fairy Tale by Stephen King


Today happens to be Stephen King's birthday, so my present for Uncle Stevie is a review of his latest novel!

I was eagerly awaiting King's return to fantasy, and Fairy Tale did not disappoint. It's not a mere retelling of any particular fairy tale, but it's more like the answer to the question, "What if Stephen King wrote a fairy tale?" And there are depths to it that may surprise King newbies, but won't surprise Constant Readers.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Prey (2022) and Predators


Back in the day (the 1980's) I was a huge Arnold Schwarzenegger fan. (To be honest, I still am.) And one of my favorite of Arnold's 80's heyday was Predator (1987). I was a kid at the time, but something about the story intrigued me. Maybe it was that it started as a Rambo-type military story and became a much weirder science fiction story. Maybe it was my nascent love of stories that turn the tables on preconceived notions, a love that has only deepened over time. Maybe I just thought the Predator was cool.

Over the intervening decades I have watched most of the later iterations of the Predator, most of which were okay but none of which quite captured the same feeling as the original for me. Still, I was really excited when I heard that the newest Predator movie would be set in the early 1700's in North America and most of the human cast would be Native American. What a cool idea!

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Hugo Results 2022!


I didn't make it to Chicago in person for Worldcon this year, but I did watch most of the Hugo ceremony online. You can find the results here.

It looks like I did pretty well this year picking winners. You can see my picks here and here. I picked the winner for Best Short Story, Novelette, and Novella. 

I was starting to feel like I had my finger on the pulse of the Hugo voters, but then I didn't pick the winner for Best Novel. I really liked all the novel nominees so I can't complain. While I personally didn't like A Desolation Called Peace quite as much as its predecessor A Memory Called Empire, I'm glad to see Arkady Martine win another Hugo.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Hugo Ballot 2022: Novelettes and Short Stories

Uncanny Magazine: Source of half the nominees in this post!

Now that I've posted about my picks for novels and novellas for this year's Hugo awards, here are my picks for Best Novelette and Best Short Story. I did manage to read all of these (except for one I couldn't get into), but I usually do well with the short fiction in that regard. Hopefully I'll get to some of the other categories soon. I even listened to some of the podcast nominees this year--a personal best! The voting deadline is Aug. 11, so I'd better get to it.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Hugo Ballot 2022: Novels and Novellas

Some of Best Novel nominees for 2022

I've been voting for the Hugos since 2017. And every year since then I've told myself that I'll get started earlier next year. And mostly I fail to do so, although I did manage to read all the novels and all but one of the novellas this year, so that's pretty good. I just finished the short stories and novelettes (look for that post coming soon). I may not get to all the other categories, but I still have ten days, so we'll see.

Without further ado, here's how I'm voting for Best Novel and Best Novella! You can find the full list of nominees here.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Suffering and Greatness: She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan


At times the intrigue of Shelley Parker-Chan's She Who Became the Sun is a bit tough to follow (I needed a Dramatis Personae), but overall this is a beautifully-written exploration of gender, politics, ambition, and desire in 14th century China with some mild fantasy elements. I think there's even an interesting sort of thought experiment about Buddhist conceptions of desire and suffering to be found.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Looking for Hope on the 5th of July

Yesterday was US Independence Day. I have complicated feelings about this holiday, as I have complicated feelings about the country it celebrates. 

I’ve never really been big on conventional displays of patriotism. It all feels so jingoistic and bombastic. And there’s something a bit gauche about pretending a patch of dirt is special because I happen to live on it. 

But this doesn’t mean I don’t love my country in some sense. I love the people here, because I love humanity and part of humanity lives here, the part that most influences me and which I can influence most. 

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Cozy Alien Truckstop: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers


Reading Becky Chambers is like having a nice cup of hot cocoa under a cozy blanket. As I said about one of her other books, it's not space opera, it's space chill-wave. But it also makes you think and feel new and interesting things. While this isn't the only science fiction book I've read with almost entirely non-human characters (Iain M. Banks's Look to Windward comes to mind), Chambers does really interesting things with this idea, like exploring ideas of otherness and forming relationships across lines of difference, and maybe the most amazing thing is that she does all this without giving up her patented coziness.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Xenobiology for Engineers: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

I seem to be one of the few people who liked Andy Weir's Project Hail Mary more than The Martian. It's mildly spoilery to say that the xenobiological aspects are what I enjoyed the most. At other times I felt like I was reading someone showing their work on their physics homework, but if you've read The Martian you know what you're in for. To mildly plagiarize a review I saw elsewhere: if you liked The Martian, you will probably also like Project Hail Mary.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Outside the Boundaries of Reason: The Outsider by Stephen King


Stephen King's The Outsider makes me interested in things I wasn't all that interested in before: crime fiction and King's previous Bill Hodges trilogy. And it has all the Stephen King goodness we all love: developed characters encountering something otherworldly.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Two Short Kings: The Colorado Kid and Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King


In my perhaps ill-advised and loosely-resolved quest to read all of Stephen King's books, I have come to two shorter ones published over 20 years apart (2005 and 1983). I figured I would review them together on the blog. So here are The Colorado Kid and Cycle of the Werewolf!

The Colorado Kid

I don't know how Stephen King does it, but he took a story of two folksy small town newspaper reporters telling a 25-year-old story to a 22-year-old reporter and turned it into a probing thought experiment on two kinds of stories: those that recount events loose threads and all and stories that wrap things up with a nice beginning, middle, and end. If you think about it, the first kind of story is what really happens in life. And if you think about it some more, you'll see that the "complete" stories where everything is wrapped up are entirely artificial: they always leave some things out or take liberties for the sake of narrative unity. 

In The Colorado Kid, our folksy reporters call these news stories versus features stories. I'm also thinking about a distinction used by Noam Chomsky between mysteries and problems. A problem has a solution, or at least a resolution. But a mystery may not. It may go far beyond our cognitive capacity as human beings to understand. It may remain open-ended. Like life itself. 

A lot of the so-called "mystery" genre really consists of stories of problems in this sense, or features stories to use the terminology of this book. And if I'm being honest, this is probably why I usually don't care for the mystery genre (and why I have only recently delved into King's forays into more mystery-tinted fiction, but I should have known that King's mysteries would still be, well, Stephen King). 

While I understand the appeal of wrapping up a mystery or solving a problem with a nice little bow (maybe precisely because we are usually denied such things in real life), my experience in my decades of existence has taught me that reality is rarely like that. It's simply not true to my basic sense of this universe. Our universe is full of mysteries that we may never solve. This could in some cases be horrifying or disappointing (and King explores those Lovecraftian depths elsewhere), but I prefer the answer that King hints at in this novel and seems to confirm in his Afterword: it is precisely these unresolved mysteries, these loose threads of reality, that make our lives more interesting, perhaps even more meaningful.

See also my Goodreads review.

Cycle of the Werewolf

This is a fun little story (maybe a novella, maybe really just a long-ish short story) that was originally based on an idea for a calendar (no, really). It's vintage 80's Stephen King: mysterious murders are taking place in the small Maine down of Tarker's Mills (no relation). And of course the murders take place when there is a full moon each month for a year (so this is a kind of calendar, after all!). 

And you get all of this with cool artwork from Berni Wrightson. Honestly the artwork is probably what sells this for me. The werewolf story is solid enough, but nothing all that great within King's larger oeuvre. The movie Silver Bullet is a bonkers expansion of the story in the tradition of the best schlocky 80's Stephen King adaptations.

Like other monsters, werewolves are, from the outside, a reminder of our mortality. Be they werewolves, vampires, Frankenstein monsters, mummies, creatures from the Black Lagoon, etc., monsters are there waiting for us all. You don't know when. But they will get you eventually. In particular, werewolves are a reminder of the duality within us all and a reminder that the more brutal, base side of our nature can sometimes come out unexpectedly. 

I hesitate to say "animalistic," because I like animals just fine and think they get a bad wrap. As a werewolf in wolf form, you're just trying to eat, which is little comfort to the victims, I suppose, and a horror all its own. 

Still, the real evil in this story is the conscious decision made by the human side of the werewolf character. I won't spoil it, but that, I think, is a common theme for King: the real evil isn't the monsters, it's the people. And what they do with their inner turmoil. That's a far more terrifying idea, ultimately much harder to escape, which is probably the key to King's enduring popularity. (Along with the schlocky adaptations, of course!)

See also my Goodreads review.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Conjuring History: A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark


Great stuff! Interesting, surprisingly deep, and above all: fun!

This novel (Clark's first full novel) is set in the same universe as several short stories and at least one novella (The Haunting of Tram Car 015). In an alternate history of the early 20th century, djinn and other magical creatures have come into our world from elsewhere, centered on Cairo. 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Random Thoughts, Part 18: Random is the New Order


My Random Thoughts series continues with Part 18! Still with random memes for exponential randomness! In fact, my inventory of memes is at an all-time high. These memes have to go! Enjoy!

Monday, May 16, 2022

Review of Reviews: TV and Movies, May 2022


Apparently I haven't done a "review of reviews" since February 2021 and most of my reviews on the blog lately have been for books, so I figured it was time to do a "Review of Reviews" for some of the TV and movies I've been watching lately.

So check out my review of reviews of Firestarter (2022), Everything Everywhere All At Once, Severance, Outer Range, Inside Job, Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Gremlins 2: The New Batch! (Okay, you got me. Gremlins 2 is hardly new, but I did watch it recently, so here you go.)

I've also been watching all the new Star Trek shows as of late: Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Lower Decks, Star Trek: Prodigy, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. It's a fantastic time to be a Star Trek fan! But that's a lot of Star Trek, so I will cover those in a separate post.

Without further ado: my review of reviews!

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Empires and Persons: A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine


I loved the first book in this series: A Memory Called Empire. It grabbed me right away and carried me through until the end. This sequel, not as much. Maybe that "new universe smell" has worn off. Maybe I had forgotten too many details to get invested in the political intrigue, or maybe the interesting stuff doesn't really get going until about halfway through. Still, once A Desolation Called Peace does get interesting, it gets really, really interesting and expands some of the philosophical themes of the first one. So I recommend it to fans of the first one. In fact, you might benefit from reading this soon after reading the first one, rather than two years later like I did.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Looking for What you Find: The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi


I read the first book in John Scalzi's Interdependency Series (The Collapsing Empire) several years ago and probably would have gotten more out of the first 100 pages or so of this second book (The Consuming Fire) if I had reminded myself what happened there before diving in (I had a general idea of the Flow and the Emperox, but I had forgotten the who's who of the various political intrigues, a lot of which I admit I have trouble following or caring much about).

Honestly the book didn't get super interesting to me until about halfway through, but then some really cool stuff started to happen (more on that in spoilery section).

I also have to say I think that while Scalzi's acerbic wit is still there, the patented Scalzi snark is toned down a bit in this volume, and the book is honestly better for it. You still get a few little smirks now and then, but honestly Scalzi's dialogue can sometimes be a bit extra and get in the way of the story (as if everyone is speaking in carefully-crafted tweets at all times). I appreciated the milder version of all that.

Okay, I have to get into some mild spoilers here. So be warned. 

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Gwendy and the Tower: Gwendy's Magic Feather and Gwendy's Final Task

Gwendy's Magic Feather by Richard Chizmar

I enjoyed the first Gwendy book and meant to read this second one for a while. Then when the third book came out recently and I heard it had explicit Dark Tower connections, I figured I should finally read this second book, too.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Women's Future Month 2022: Finishing Series by Butler and Le Guin

Reading the Patternist series with a beer on a nice afternoon

March is Women's History Month, so echoing my "Black Future Month" post, this seemed like a good chance to finish two series by two of my favorite authors: Octavia E. Butler's Patternist series and Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series. Okay, so the Earthsea books aren't about the future, at least not our future. 

But Le Guin's fantasy may be about my future: I hope to do some serious academic work on both Butler and Le Guin in the future (building on the article on Le Guin I've already published), so maybe this will be a seed of some future project. Echoing a phrase from Le Guin, I might even call it something like Realists of a Larger Reality.


Monday, March 28, 2022

Shifting Realities: Four Past Midnight by Stephen King

In my long-term quest to read all of Stephen King's books (a quest that feels about as attainable as Roland's Tower), I finally arrived at this classic. Four Past Midnight isn't up there with The Stand or Different Seasons, but it's solid middle-tier King, which is still good stuff. These are technically novellas, but I think The Langoliers and The Library Policeman might really be short novels for King (what would be average length novels for other writers).

Friday, March 11, 2022

Happy (?) Second Pandemiversary!

KN-95 masks, arranged artistically(?)


Happy Second Pandemiversary! 

No, wait, that's not right. Try this: I wish you a safe and healthy second pandemiversary!

Better, but still a bit weird. Let's just go with the pained irony approach: Happy (?) Second Pandemiversary!

Monday, February 28, 2022

Reading for Black Future Month 2022: Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor and Rosewater by Tade Thompson


Last year I wrote a post on "Black History of the Future" with reviews of novels by Samuel R. Delany, Walter Mosley, and Octavia E. Butler. This year for Black History Month, I decided to take an even more explicit cue from N. K. Jemisin's How Long 'Til Black Future Month in calling this post "Reading for Black Future Month 2022." I read two books set in future Ghana and Nigeria respectively: Nnedi Okorafor's Remote Control and Tade Thompson's Rosewater.  

I also started a book in Octavia E. Butler's Patternist series, Clay's Ark, but it looks like that one is going to spill over in to Women's History Month for me. Look for that review soon.

And of course nobody should limit their reading of Black and/or women authors to February and/or March! But these provide nice ways to give some structure and inspiration to my reading.