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.