Definitely thought I’d have written here earlier, but that’s what ends up happening when you’re working from home during the apocalypse; you get distracted. The kid needs to be educated in ways that do not always include a screen. The dog needs to be attended to, constantly. And any visions I had of getting wasted and playing video games and reading all day… well, that’s just not feasible. I have to ration our supplies accordingly, and I can’t just check out of parenthood and family time and work. I mean, yes I could, but then I’d be an asshole.

So: we carry on. We keep the boy entertained. We respond to work emails. We try to keep on with a routine. We drink with friends over Zoom after the boy goes to bed. We try to avoid reading the news as much as we can; I mean, it’s impossible to ignore completely, but we can impose limits. What is there that can possibly be learned from one of Trump’s press conferences, after all? Better to avoid them completely, rather than watching and inadvertently going into cardiac arrest, thus further burdening our already-crushed healthcare infrastructure.

In terms of pop culture: I have managed to avoid the Tiger King phenomenon. I mean, I know all about it, and my wife’s watched it, but that’s as much as I can possibly engage with it. I’m reading on the sly during work hours – I just finished Jess Kidd’s “Things in Jars”, which is fantastic. Given the choice between Animal Crossing and Doom Eternal, I’ve found Doom to be far more cathartic (although I think I’ve reached a difficulty spike that I may not be able to surmount), though AC has its charms.

Ultimately, I’m just trying to keep on keeping on. Staying inside is easy. Not getting on each other’s nerves is… well, we’ve got a good thing going here, and we’ve managed to avoid driving each other crazy for the most part. We decompress when we need to, and in the meantime the wife and I have an epic game of gin rummy going (first to 10K or highest point total when the quarantine is lifted, whichever comes first). My son turns 7 tomorrow. We had to cancel his birthday party, but that just means we all get to eat a little bit more cake.

I hope you’re well. Feel free to drop me a line.

A funny thing happened to my stupid brain when Trump took office; he ruined science fiction.

Not only did he ruin science fiction for the present moment and for future works, but he’s also ruined science fiction from the past. Because no one – not Asimov, not Clarke, not Kubrick, not Banks, not le Guin, not Roddenberry – no one anticipated that the leader of the free world (i.e., the place of scientific advancement and innovation, the place that makes the ideas of sci-fi tangible and real) would be such a fucking idiot.

(Maybe PKD imagined it, but I haven’t delved into his vast oeuvre as much as I should.)

I mean, I love the Expanse novels, and I appreciate that they strive to be both entertaining and also appealing to science nerds, because they also seem attainable. They are grounded in a sense of realism, even if they’re fantastic – they are written in a way as to attempt to adhere to the known laws of physics. But they also take place in a future where we haven’t all died because of gross incompetence and stupidity.

Anyway, I bring this up because I’ve also read and watched and played through my fair share of post-pandemic apocalyptic fiction – from The Stand to Swan Song to World War Z to Station Eleven to Wanderers – and none of them operated under the pretense that the United States would be unprepared. It’s one thing to be overwhelmed by a virus; it’s another thing to be led by an idiot who thinks he’s smarter than the CDC and every other scientist on the planet.

I don’t anticipate that COVID-19 will lead to a zombie apocalypse, but if it does, you can bet your ass that it’ll be a lot dumber than The Walking Dead. Trump will say that it’s fake news, and then he’ll say that it’s Obama’s fault, and also Hillary’s emails, and then he’ll say that how bad could a bite from a zombie actually be, and then he’ll hide himself in Mar-a-Lago while tweeting on his gold-plated toilet about how his survival bunker is the best, and all you liberal snowflakes deserve what you get.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: we are all gonna die, and it’s gonna be so goddamned stupid when we do.

It has been, what, 6 weeks? Since my last post?

I’ve been meaning to write here the whole time, I promise. Work gets in the way; life gets in the way; extreme anxiety and self-consciousness gets in the way. There was a time – back in the LiveJournal days – when I couldn’t go longer than a few hours between posts. This is not that time. I’ve been stressed out and anxious – more than usual – and my impulse now is to hide, rather than throwing up all over the internet.

In fact, I’ve already written this post. Slightly different context this time – this is less about getting Star Wars 9 spoiled and more about Super Tuesday results and the incredible awfulness of my bank account.

Speaking of which – because today is, of course, Super Tuesday and obviously everyone needs to have a take – here’s my wildly uninformed take about what’s going to happen today. Bernie and Biden are going to have a roughly 50/50 split in delegates – I’d be very surprised if it ends up a landslide in either direction. Bloomberg is only relevant because of his money; he’ll end up endorsing any front-runner who isn’t Bernie. Warren is, ultimately, the big question mark. If she has any success today, then she’s almost certainly a lock to stay in the race for the time being. If she ends up in 3rd place everywhere, though – which, sadly, is far more likely – then she needs to throw in the towel and endorse someone tonight, and all I’ll say about that is that I’ll be very, very disappointed if she picks Biden instead of Bernie.

OK – quick Ativan break, and then we’ll get to regular blog business.


So I introduced my almost-7-year-old son to the Portal games, and now he is obsessed. He can beat Portal 2 all by himself (he’s already done this at least twice), and he’s now started to write down ideas for what he wants to see in Portal 3 – puzzle ideas, hazards, ideas on how to retrieve Wheatley from outer space, even song lyrics for the closing credits. I’ve tried telling him repeatedly that the entire gaming world has been waiting to hear any news about Portal 3 since before he was born, and he doesn’t care. He wants to learn how to code so he can make it himself, if necessary. (I got him Dreams for the PS4 for this specific reason; he got frustrated almost immediately. Game design is not for the easily frustrated.)

As for me, gaming-wise, I’ve been tooling around with my backlog. For a while, I was doing a combo of Borderlands 3 and Rage 2, which are basically the same game. I was really enjoying most of Darksiders Genesis, right up until the final boss, who repeatedly kicks my ass. I was toying around with a full replay of The Witcher 3, except I don’t have 300 hours. I started doing a full playthrough of Diablo 3 on the Switch, because that’s actually a really nice port and being able to run a rift in about 7-8 minutes is a pleasant, mindless experience. I’m kinda sorta playing Yakuza 0, even though it feels like a jankier GTA: San Andreas.


One big thing I’ve been working on is the audiobook recording of my wife’s upcoming memoir, which we just finished recording this past weekend. Super fun project to work on, and now that I’m feeling comfortable again in a recording environment, I’m thinking I should start finishing this goddamned album I’ve been working on for 5 years. So that’s something to look forward to, assuming we don’t all succumb to coronavirus.

I’ve been meaning to write here for the last few weeks, but instead I’ve been distracted because I’ve been listening to old Rush albums ever since the news broke of Neil Peart’s passing. Indeed, even now, I’ve got “Red Barchetta” in my head instead of figuring out what word is supposed to come next. Apologies in advance if this post doesn’t end up making any sense.

Can I take a second to talk a little bit about Rush, my 2nd favorite prog band? Especially since I’m 44 years old and no longer care about being “cool”? Because Neil Peart’s death is hitting me a lot harder than I was prepared for. I’m arguably taking it harder than I did the death of Chris Squire, the heart of my other 2nd favorite prog band.

My first exposure to Rush was almost certainly the summer camp I attended between 1986 (the summer my parents split up) and whenever it collapsed, which was probably the early 90s. Hell, that camp was my first exposure to pretty much everything necessary for the development of a young, arts-inclined teen-aged boy – prog rock, D&D, French kissing, high-speed dubbing, the breaking and mending of broken hearts.

Anyway, the point is: when you’re 12 and your home life is falling apart and you’ve discovered that you’re really into theater, which is probably going to spell certain doom once school starts, going to a performing arts camp and meeting dozens of other people just like you is basically the greatest thing that could ever happen to you. And so when these older, wiser people start introducing you to things, you pay attention. And so I was introduced to prog rock, and very specifically three bands – Yes, Genesis, and Rush.

I can’t possibly explain the appeal if you’re not already indoctrinated. Prog is inherently ridiculous and defiantly uncool; the only people who have the time for 20-minute epics about space wizards are 14-year-old boys who can’t pay attention to anything else EXCEPT learning how to air-guitar and air-drum every note of each of those 20-minute epics. Why learn how to talk to girls when you and the rest of your bunkmates learn how to air-shred the hell out of “YYZ”?

When the news of Neil’s passing hit last week, I couldn’t help myself; I immediately went back and listened to everything, though I eventually settled on my old favorites – Moving Pictures, Signals, Power Windows. And I have to tell you, those records hold up much better than I thought they would. I remember being dazzled by the production back in high school – I recall seeing the “DDD” on the back of the CD and thinking, wow, digital really is the way to go – and yeah, maybe in 2020 it’s a little over-produced, but you can hear every single goddamned drum that Peart pounds on. You can hear how ridiculously full Geddy Lee’s bass lines are. And while Alex Lifeson’s solos are perfectly fine as far as shredding, the real key to his genius is how good his rhythm playing is and how all-encompassing his guitar tones are. When I think about my guitar heroes growing up, I think about Jimi Hendrix and Trey Anastasio and The Edge, but the guitars in Rush are still fucking fantastic and when I think about my own guitar parts in songs I’ve played on, I can certainly trace quite a bit of it back to how Rush arranged their songs.

What I’m ultimately saying is that however uncool Rush might’ve been to the rest of the world, they were absolutely huge to me and a lot of the other musicians I’ve met along the way. And listening to them now – while the world is on the brink of chaos – brings me back to a much more innocent time, when all I needed to focus on was the next drum fill to play along to.

R.I.P., Neil Peart. You were a hero, even to us non-drummers.

It was never my intention to finish 100 books this year – I think my original goal was 40. And it’s highly likely that I’ll never finish 100 books in one calendar year ever again. 2019 was a year in which I wasn’t particularly busy, I lost access to most of my time-wasting internet at work, and the news was so generally horrible that I was in desperate need of distraction.

There was no real rhyme or reason to my reading habits this year, though I think I read more short-form fiction than I ever had before, and I also read a great deal of cosmic/weird horror, which I suppose isn’t necessarily that out of the ordinary – though given the state of the world, I suppose I needed some sort of reminder that things could always get worse, and weird horror is a great source of comfort in that regard.

I read some old stuff that I’d been meaning to get to – the first three Earthsea books, for one – and I managed to tackle a not-insignificant amount from my Kindle Library of Shame backlog. I discovered some new favorite authors (Sara Gran, Nathan Ballingrud, Sam Sykes), re-discovered some old favorites (Julian Barnes, Claire North, Anthony Marra), and since everyone needs one long multi-part epic to have hanging around, I finally started reading James S.A. Corey’s Expanse novels. (I should note here that I have zero interest in the show.)

And I’ll also say this – while it’s true that not everything I read this year clicked with me, there’s almost nothing that I read that was truly awful. There’s a few books that I couldn’t get into (most notably Marlon James’ “Black Leopard, Red Wolf”), and there’s one short little novella that I need burned from my memory because of how absolutely disgusting it was. My larger point is simply this – almost everything I read this year was awesome, which means that distilling 100 books into a top 10 is going to be very difficult indeed, which is why I’m doing a top 15 instead.

But before I get into the top 15, here are the ones that just missed the cutoff:

And so here are my top 15 books that I read in 2019. In no particular order, except for the first one below, which is one of the best books I’ve ever read:

There aren’t enough superlatives I can lay on this one that won’t make it weird. Every single word is carefully chosen and yet effortless to read. I’ve never wanted to hug a tree as badly as I did immediately upon finishing this one. Absolutely beautiful.

Yet another stunner from Whitehead, arguably even more powerful and gut-wrenching than “Underground Railroad.”

I’d heard about this one but hadn’t gotten around to it; then I saw it was free for Kindle Unlimited readers, of which I’m one; and then I completely devoured it. Fabulous modern retelling of ancient Greek myth; I have her “Song of Achilles” at the top of my to-read pile for 2020.

A heartbreaking, stunning collection of interconnected stories that moved me to tears. Between this and “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena”, Marra has become one of my favorite authors – I’ll read anything he puts his name on.

As noted above, I read a lot of short horror fiction this year, and this is arguably the best collection I read. I haven’t seen the movie that was made out of the title story, nor do I intend to – the story itself was more than enough to send shivers down my spine. These stories aren’t just scary – they’re meticulously crafted and written with great skill. His other collection, “North American Lake Monsters”, is also quite excellent.

This might be the scariest novel I read all year, though I’m not sure that was its intention; it’s certainly a hard-boiled masterpiece of police corruption. If even half of this book is based on reality, it’s amazing that we’re all still alive.

I read this pretty much in one sitting; it floored me. Consider the patriarchy thoroughly smashed.

The problem with reading 100 books in a year is that they tend to blend together, and if my Google spreadsheet is to be believed, I read this one and the one below pretty much one after the other. This one hit me particularly hard if only because it took me right back to my theater summer camp days; I might as well have been one of the characters in the book.

One of the better studies of young love and friendship and the crossed lines of class and power that I’ve come across.

Towles’ “A Gentleman in Moscow” will appear in my Best Books of the Decade; this one might just miss the cutoff but not for lack of effort. I might not be as into the Roaring 20s as I should, perhaps, but this opened the door for me.

If this isn’t as magnificent as “Stories of Your Life”, it’s still one of the best collections of philosophical science fiction ever written. Chiang is a genius, and his gift for prose is remarkable.

The only way I would’ve liked this book more is if I had any emotional investment in Fleetwood Mac, which, alas, I don’t. Even so, this is a very good book and very true-to-life; while most people will focus on the love story between the two leads, I couldn’t stop laughing at the one rhythm guitarist who was completely oblivious to everything that was happening; I know that guy particularly well.

This one is hard to describe, as it’s essentially 100 pieces of micro-fiction that are both self-contained and interlaced. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I didn’t want to put it down.

Next to Nathan Ballingrud’s “Wounds” mentioned above, this is one of the best collections of cosmic horror I’ve ever read. Extremely effective and marvelously creepy.

I just finished this one yesterday, and it broke my heart into a thousand pieces. Breathtaking and beautiful.

I’ve been having a low-grade anxiety attack / depressive episode for the last several days, which has prompted the usual retreat from social media, the desperate wish for an Ativan-type drug that specifically deals with mood swings, and the complete and total avoidance of any responsibility that isn’t directly work or family related. This is why there’s been no Top 10 Book / Music / Game posts. This is why there’s been, well, nothing.

I don’t know why this is happening. Or why it keeps happening. I mean, I know that I’m incredibly stressed out about the news. I’m also pissed off because normally I read Twitter for news updates, and I got the ending of Star Wars 9 spoiled for me yesterday morning, which means I’m now completely avoiding the internet until next Saturday (which is when I’m finally seeing it). I’m also anxious because my job is about to change at years’ end – I’ll be switching locations and teams and basically starting from scratch, which is a lot to deal with all at once.

I am feeling nostalgic for the internet of 20 years ago – as well as the me of 20 years ago, who had no problems venting on LiveJournal during episodes like this. I’m feeling incredibly self-conscious about it right now, actually, and I’m doing this more out of obligation to you – whoever you are – than out of any personal benefit.

Anyway. Hugs and kisses and love and such. If I don’t write, have a wonderful holiday season. I’m hoping to return in 2020 with the aforementioned media posts and some sort of regular posting schedule.

I’m on the verge of turning 44, folks, and as per usual I’m feeling weird about it. Even just mentioning it here, the casual act of drawing attention to it, feels weird. I feel incredibly self-conscious celebrating it, or even pointing it out, and so I do this little meta-dance of “aww, shucks, you guys”, and it makes me feel awful. And yet, the one and only good thing that Facebook has ever done is help people remember birthdays, and the endorphin rush of birthday greetings (mostly from internet friends that I’ll probably never meet) is one of the only things keeping me from deleting the app.

Anyway. I’m feeling weird. And that’s without reading the news.

There’s a bunch of stuff I’m working on behind the scenes:
– Books of 2019
– Books of the 10s
– Games of 2019
– Games of the 10s
– Probably something music related? Even if it’s just my Spotify stats?

But I also feel like I’m losing steam with getting this stuff together. I’ve been having trouble staying engaged in anything that isn’t a book. (One thing that I will certainly mention in the book posts is that I’ve finished 91 books this year – and the year isn’t yet over, which is why I’m tempted to put everything off until January.) Now that I’ve finished Jedi Fallen Order (which I realize I haven’t talked about), there’s really nothing pulling me in. I have a gigantic backlog that I’m not particularly interested in, both on the Xbox and on the Switch. I’ve been tempted to revisit some old favorites (e.g., Control, which is probably my GOTY), but then I remember the difficulty spikes. Or there’s also the issue of just having to relearn the controls, which means starting over from scratch. (Speaking of which, I was tempted to replay both Control and Outer Wilds, but for some reason both games only allow you to have one save, which is bullshit.)

So… yeah. I’m probably gonna keep working and revising and then post all of that stuff in January, although it’s quite possible that my day job’s responsibilities will change somewhat radically as well, so who knows what kind of time I’m going to have.

What a stupid post! Sorry, you guys. I needed to type, so I’m typing.

OH, before I forget – I’m currently reading Jia Tolentino’s essay collection Trick Mirror, and while I’m only halfway through the 2nd essay I feel confident in saying that the first essay (“The I in the Internet”) is one of the best things I’ve read all year. Those of you who’ve been online since the late 90s will recognize a lot of yourself in that piece. Highly recommended.

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