Month: December 2017

The Final Post of 2017

1. Since finishing up my Books of 2017 post, I ended up finishing 3 more:

  • Denise Mina, “The Long Drop”, which I’ll give a B; it’s a fictional retelling of a true event (i.e., the events leading to the hanging death of Peter Manuel, a brutal serial killer in Glasgow in the 1950s).  Quite absorbing and dark, and also GODDAMN those people can drink.
  • Mohsin Hamid, “Exit West”, which earns an A; a beautiful and melodic love story as seen through the eyes of refugees, and also there are magic doors.
  • Patty Yumi Cottrell, “Sorry To Disrupt the Peace”, which gets a B; I don’t know how to describe this book at all, except it’s a remarkable look at mental illness from the mind of someone who probably doesn’t realize that they are incredibly mentally ill.

And now I’m reading Daryl Gregory’s “Spoonbenders”, which is long enough that it’ll almost certainly end up being my first finished book of 2018, and which can probably best be described as a book version of The Royal Tenenbaums, but about a family of psychics.

2.  Due to a sudden and unexpected influx of Amazon gift cards, I, um, bought a 55″ 4K HDR TV.  It is not the best 4K HDR TV one can buy, and indeed the transaction happened so fast I didn’t even have time to properly make sure I was getting what I actually wanted (I probably should’ve waited to do some actual research), but it was (a) available and (b) cheap and (c) it showed up on Tuesday.  So that happened.  Now I just need a decent sound bar and my gaming room will be complete.

3.  I still don’t know if I’m gonna do a Games of 2017 post.  I’m looking over what I played this year and despite other people saying that this was the best year in games since 2007, there’s only a handful of games that I can say are worth a damn.  Or maybe it’s just me.  I played a lot this year but I don’t know that I enjoyed very much.  I still can’t get into Breath of the Wild, which is probably heretical to admit, but there it is.  If I had to round up a top 5, it’d probably look something like this:

  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Assassin’s Creed Origins
  • What Remains of Edith Finch
  • Gorogoa
  • Super Mario Odyssey

There’s a ton of stuff I didn’t finish, and there’s even more stuff that I never even got to.

4.  Similarly, I don’t think I’m going to do a Music of 2017 post, but for wildly different reasons; I got turned on to a ton of amazing music this year, but I can’t necessarily say I listened to all that many new albums.  My Favorites from the Spotify Discovery playlist is at least 150 songs deep, though.

5.  And I didn’t watch nearly enough TV or film to even bother pretending to make lists for those things.  I think I can safely say that Baby Driver was the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater in years, and the best shows I watched were DarkStranger Things 2Legion and… hmm… I’m forgetting something, I know it.  (I only made it 3 episodes into Twin Peaks.)

This is almost certainly my last post of 2017, and given that I’m restless, I may end up doing a redesign over the next few weeks or so.  In any event, here’s hoping you had a lovely holiday, and I hope you have a much better 2018.  Indeed, I hope we all do.

2017: The Year in Reading

As of today, 12/22/17, I’ve finished 50 books this year.  I’m gonna be honest; a lot of what I read was a bit trashier than usual.  I read a lot of escapist fiction, a lot of genre fiction, the sort of books that you’d buy at an airport before a long flight.  I needed junk food, and I allowed myself to indulge, thoroughly.

And yet, you know what?  When I look at the grades I handed out, I enjoyed pretty much everything.  There were a few exceptions – one book I described as “one of the dumbest books I’ve read in a long, long time” – and there were a few books that I picked up and simply couldn’t get into, though I haven’t yet decided if I’m giving up on them for good or not.

In any event, because most of what I read was short, fast, and dirty, I’m not sure I have enough highlighted Kindle passages to do my “Favorite Sentences of 2017” post.  It is what it is.

I suppose I should arrange this list in tiers.  All lists are presented in the order in which I read them.  You’ll notice some trilogies are staggered; for the most part, and this is weird, the second book usually dragged a bit but was necessary to get up the otherwise excellent finale.  All italicized blurbs are directly from my GoogleDoc; I should probably admit up front that my memory is shit and next year I should write my blurbs in a bit more detail, because I barely recall reading some of these – especially some of the ones I loved.

A+ 

  • Dan Chaon, “Ill Will”
  • Amor Towles, “A Gentleman in Moscow”
  • Colson Whitehead, “The Underground Railroad”
  • John Hodgman, “Vacationland”

These are the four best books I read all year.  “Ill Will” took me by complete surprise and had me riveted from cover to cover; “Gentleman in Moscow” was a complete delight; “Underground Railroad” should be required reading for literally everyone in the USA; and “Vacationland” is the best thing Hodgman’s ever written, which is saying quite a lot.


A

  • Ian McGuire, “The North Water”  – riveting, bleak as fuck, very satisfying conclusion.
  • Ben Winters, “Underground Airlines” – remarkable.
  • George Saunders, “Lincoln in the Bardo” – stunning; only wish I hadn’t raced through the end.
  • Liz Moore, “The Unseen World” – didn’t quite go where i thought it was, but it’s marvelous.
  • Caitlin R. Kiernan, “Agents of Dreamland” – i loved this, and only wish it wasn’t so short. would love to see this fleshed out. MORE SIGNALMAN
  • John Crowley, “Little, Big” – ethereal and dreamlike, massive and dense, gorgeous and weightless.

 


A-

  • Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland, “The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.” – very good. could be a good franchise starter, or not.
  • David Grann, “Killers of the Flower Moon” – heartbreaking. a story that needs to be told, even if the writing is a bit dry.

 


B+

  • Christopher Boucher, “Golden Delicious” – (started at end of Dec ’16) a wonderfully whimsical hybrid of Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America and The Phantom Tollbooth.  Full disclosure – CB is a friend of my wife’s from high school.  But I’d give this book high marks anyway.
  • Jeff VanderMeer, “Borne” – very interesting, didn’t quite live up to expectations but still engrossing
  • Ben Winters, “The Last Policeman #1” – a standard-issue detective story but with a magnificent premise, and very well written.
  • Ben Winters, “World of Trouble (Last Policeman #3)” – a very good finale to a very engrossing series.
  • Leigh Bardugo, “Crooked Kingdom” – very satisfying conclusion to 6 of Crows.
  • N.K. Jemisin, “The Stone Sky” – excellent ending to a brilliant trilogy.
  • Ann Leckie, “Ancillary Justice (book 1)”
  • Ann Leckie, “Ancillary Mercy (book 3)” – I didn’t write blurbs for each of the three books; this is an excellent trilogy and should be read in one go.
  • Paul La Farge, “The Night Ocean” – beautiful, haunted love story.
  • Michel Faber, “The Crimson Petal and the White” – very long, but very good; ending is very abrupt.
  • Ottessa Moshfegh, “Homesick for Another World” – what a dark, fucked up group of stories.

 


B

  • Federico Axat, “Kill the Next One” – pretty good, twisty pyschological thriller. every time i thought i knew where it was going, it swerved. the possum remains an enigma.  (EDIT: I have no idea what I mean by that.)
  • Anthony Horowitz, “Moriarity” – that’s a pretty good twist at the end, i’ll give it that.
  • John Darnielle, “Universal Harvester” – really interesting premise, marvelous writing; the thread gets lost towards the end, but that’s ok.
  • Andy Partridge, “Complicated Game: Inside the songs of XTC” – very wonky, probably only meant for hard-core XTC nerds.
  • Sarah Pinborough, “Behind Her Eyes” – kind of a trashy novel at first, but it gets better and features a real-deal mindfuck of a twist ending.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Lathe of Heaven” – yeah, it’s a classic.
  • Dan Choan, “Await Your Reply” – covers a lot of the same ground as Ill Will, but still very interesting.
  • Dexter Palmer, “Version Control” – meandered for a bit, but the ending was quite good.
  • Sylvain Neuvel, “Waking Gods (Themis #2)” – very quick read, much like the last one. lots of surprising deaths. fun, if slight.
  • Leigh Bardugo, “Six of Crows” – reminds me quite a bit of the Locke Lamorra books.
  • Stephen King, “Mr. Mercedes” – if SK wants to start writing murder mysteries, this isn’t a bad way to start
  • Stephen King, “End of Watch” – an above-average trilogy, with this final installment returning to SK’s supernatural roots… too bad the characters aren’t particularly interesting.
  • Ann Leckie, “Ancillary Sword (book 2)”
  • Matthew FitzSimmons, “The Short Drop (Gibson Vaughn #1)” – fun, somewhat Jason Bourne-ish.  you can see this as a movie pretty easily.
  • Matthew FitzSimmons, “Cold Harbor (Gibson Vaughn #3)” – a satisfying conclusion from the meandering of book 2
  • Denise Mina, “The Long Drop”- very absorbing, quasi-true-crime account of a Glasglow serial killer from the 50s.

 


B-

  • Ben Winters, “Countdown City (The Last Policeman #2)” – a step back from #1, but still engaging.
  • Patti Smith, “M Train” – The first few chapters were great… and then they basically repeated themselves for the rest of it.
  • Christopher Fowler, “Bryant and May and the Burning Man” – standard-issue murder mystery.
  • Stephen King, “Finders Keepers” – very loose connection with previous novel; not his best. interesting villain, though.
  • Jac Jemc, “The Grip of It” – a spooky haunted house story that never quite resolves.
  • Matthew FitzSimmons, “Poisonfeather (Gibson Vaughn #2)” – a step back from #1, but necessary to start the events of book 3.

 


C-

  • Jonathan Lethem, “A Gambler’s Anatomy” – he’s still a great writer, but this was boooooorrrrrrring

 


F

  • Derek Taylor Kent, “Kubrick’s Game” – one of the dumbest books i’ve read in a long, long time.  Dan Brown would throw this out.

 

 

Plans Sorted

1.  I have been trying to avoid the internet over this last week, primarily because I haven’t yet seen The Last Jedi.  But since today’s a half-day at work, and since there’s a movie theater literally across the street from the office, I have my afternoon plans all sorted.  And then I can get back to having regular internet access again.

2.  I’ve said this a lot here lately (to the extent that I’m here at all), that I’m feeling weird about doing top-10 lists for 2017.  This year sucked, and I’m in no mood to celebrate it.  That being said, since I haven’t yet finalized anything, that still gives me the option of making changes to these hypothetical, non-existent lists.  And to that end, let me say that Gorogoa, for iOS, PC and Switch, is one of the most inventive and unique puzzle games I’ve ever experienced.  This Kotaku piece is a great read of the work that went into developing it.

3.  There are several reasons why I bought an Xbox One X, even though I don’t yet have a 4K HDR TV.  For starters, I’ve grown to prefer the Xbox One user experience; for another, the XoX makes all my existing X1 games look better.  My recent, very enjoyable experience with Assassins Creed Origins has reminded me a lot of The Witcher 3, and now that the Witcher 3’s graphical upgrade patch has been released, I’ve been going back and putting it through its paces.  Without having a 4K TV, obviously I’m not getting the most out of this update, but I can say that there is a noticeable difference.  I can also say that between the two new graphical modes, “4K” is more enjoyable than “Performance”, because 60 fps feels kinda weird with certain games.  Maybe it’s different on a real 4K TV; someday I’ll see for myself.  I will say this, though, which is a weird thing to say – The Witcher 3 might be one of my favorite games of all time, but after playing Assassin’s Creed Origins, The Witcher 3 feels a little weird in my hands.  To put it another way, The Witcher 3 is still a better game, but ACO feels better to actually play.  Does that make sense?

I will see about lists next week.  I know that nobody really cares except me, but it’s my blog, so, hey.

Stuffed and Bloated

My brain is full.  I don’t mean that in an “I’m so smart” sort of way, but rather that I feel unable to consume any more media.

As an example:  I finished reading Little, Big the other day, which I very much enjoyed even if it was somewhat exhausting – and which puts me at 46 books read in 2017 – and ever since I put it down, I’ve been unable to get into a new book for more than 15 minutes.  I started reading the first volume of Crowley’s Aegypt series, but couldn’t get into it.  I thought maybe I could start reading Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer, except I realized I couldn’t remember what had happened in the first two books, and in the prologue he mentions a side-story that he published that takes place between volume 2 and 3, and I figured I might as well start over from the beginning.  One of my “to buy” books was suddenly on sale, but after only two chapters of The Essex Serpent my mind started to wander.   I figured why not go back to the classics and finally read Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and while it’s fun to narrate that book in my head with a whiskeyed noir voice, I found myself getting confused by the plot almost immediately.  I think it’s my brain, not the book.  (I don’t necessarily need recommendations, either – I mean, my to-read list on my Kindle is almost 12 pages deep.)


I’m still undecided about doing my year-end recaps.  Several reasons for this:

  • I’m feeling very lazy;
  • I’m just busy enough at work to make the proper amount of concentration a bit dicey;
  • My music list, which should be the thing I pay the most attention to, is a complete mess;
  • All of my spreadsheets – with the exception of my books – are incomplete and I don’t know where to begin in terms of fixing them; and
  • Let’s be honest, the biggest reason why I’m avoiding this is because recapping 2017 just kinda sucks.  This year sucked.  My mom was in the hospital for at least half of it; the Trump administration gave me a low-to-mid-level anxiety attack pretty much every day of the year; and my general anxiety and depression levels have been starting to get a little out of whack, to the point where I’ve had to up my medication dosages.  I’ve basically taken a vacation from creativity; instead of making music and finishing this album, I’ve imbibed a little bit too much and eaten too much junk food.  I’ve spent way too much money, and I’m angry at myself for spending money, and I end up spending more money to make myself feel better.

So maybe I’ll just do quick Top 5 lists of the relevant stuff and then leave it at that.  That’s doable.


I finished Assassin’s Creed: Origins, and I enjoyed it very much – I’d put AC:O right up there alongside Brotherhood and Black Flag as a high point in the franchise – and now I don’t know what to do with myself.  I’m sorta playing Wolfenstein 2, and I have to tell you – there’s a lot of discourse out there about whether it’s actually deserving of all the praise it initially received, and there’s some people who are skeptical about how the game was marketed – given that punching Nazis is cool again – but I haven’t really seen anybody talk about how batshit ridiculous the game can be.  I don’t know how far into the game I am yet but the stuff I’ve done – and the stuff that’s happened to me – and the places I’ve visited – are completely fucking insane, and keep in mind that in the first game you shot Nazis on the fucking Moon.  The stuff that’s happened to me already makes that sound tame by comparison.

My son and I finished Super Mario Odyssey, and we also finished Lego City Undercover, and that was maybe the most fun I’ve had playing games all year.  He loves it.  Every time we do something cool he gives me a big high-five and jumps up and down.  Now I just need to find something else for us to play; I have a few things lined up but to be honest he’s kinda content to keep going back into Lego City and mess around, which is fine with me.


My wife and I watched Dark on Netflix last week.  I’m the wrong guy to make a “Best TV of 2017” list, since I don’t watch all that much, but I loved it.  It’s gotten a lot of comparisons to Stranger Things, but I think that’s a bit off the mark – it’s more like a time-travelling art-house hybrid of LostTwin Peaks, and Hannibal.  If you decide to watch it – and I think you should – keep the audio in the original German and use English subtitles; the English overdubs are distracting.

 

The Lost Weekend in a Lost Year

My wife and son were out of town this weekend, and so my plans were very simple:

  • sleep in;
  • stay away from the news;
  • relax;
  • play some games; and
  • clean out my closet.

Instead:

  • I had insomnia all weekend, and so while I slept in, it’s only because I only finally fell asleep at, like 7am;
  • Of course I had to look at Twitter, because of course our President* is a fucking idiot and there’s really nothing quite like watching him admit to obstructing justice in real time;
  • Neither of the above helped me relax;
  • I did clean out my closet, which was necessary; and
  • I played a ton of Assassin’s Creed Origins (henceforth AssOrgy) and realized I still have a ton more to go.

On that last point – I think I’ve started to reach the point where I simply can’t sink 100+ hours into a game anymore and still be a functioning adult / parent / husband / employee.  As much as I’m enjoying AssOrgy – and I’ll get to the specifics in a moment – it is so overwhelmingly huge and I just can’t deal.  I thought I was approaching the end – there was a point where I was told that by accepting the next mission there was no turning back – but instead now I see I have at least 12 more hours to go, especially if I want to be suitably leveled up.  There are still at least 5 or 6 huge areas of the map that are fogged over, and I’ve already sunk over 40 hours into this game, and the idea that there’s still so much left to do is sorta soul-crushing, a little bit.

That said, AO is rather incredible.  I certainly appreciate the amount of work that went into it; it is gigantic and yet rich with detail, and it’s the first open world that Ubisoft’s made where the world itself is interesting to explore on its own terms, rather than simply trying to cross off all the various Xs and Os on the map.  It’s hard to look at AO and not see the heavy influence of Red Dead Redemption and The Witcher 3, both similarly huge games that make great use of their environments in addition to the stories they’re telling.  Indeed, aside from Black Flag, this is the least Assassin’s Creed-ish AC game in the franchise, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing; the series desperately needed to evolve, and this one feels much stronger for it.  It feels like I’m playing an enormous novel, rather than a game, and I very much appreciate that kind of feeling.  It’s just that, well, I simply don’t have the kind of time anymore to allow myself to be immersed as thoroughly as I’d like.  I was alone in my house for almost 48 hours this weekend – that will probably never happen again, and I really need to stop taking mental health days with the sort of frequency that I’m used to.  (I ran out of sick/vacation time in early November.)

Meanwhile, I’ve got Wolfenstein 2 still on my to-do list; I keep ducking in here and there just to check it out, though ACO keeps pulling me back.  I’ve also got tons of stuff on the Switch I keep meaning to get to.  And I also re-rented Battlefront 2, if only to play a bit of the campaign and let my Xbox One X do its thing.  (It’s very pretty, even if the campaign is kinda weak.  And shooting rebel soldiers is always gonna feel weird.)


We started watching the new Netflix series Dark last night; I’d heard some really good things about it, in that it’s a Lost-esque quasi-supernatural mystery show.  It is that, but it’s also creepy as all hell, and it’s also gorgeously photographed.  Probably the best-looking show this side of Hannibal, I think.  We’re only 1 episode into the 10-episode season, so who knows if it falls off the rails.  If you decide to watch, I’d recommend keeping the original German audio and putting on English subtitles; the English overdub is distracting.


I’m moving very slowly through John Crowley’s Little, Big.  It’s the sort of book where you sorta have to read and re-read every sentence, because the way each sentence is constructed is somewhat deliberately ambiguous at times.  This can be frustrating, in the same way that playing a 60-hour game is frustrating – I’m very much taken in by the world and what’s happening, but I also don’t have that much time to read these days, and so it can be very hard to dip in and out of it on the train or during lunch.  It’s the sort of book that would appear to be best read in a week-long sitting, where you don’t get out of bed.  As much as I want to devour the rest of his catalog, I need to remember to bear this quirk in mind.


Am I gonna get around to my year-end lists?  I don’t know, you guys.  I consumed a lot of media this year, mostly in order to drown out the noise of the outside world, and while I enjoyed a great deal of it, it does feel a little silly to rank things in a year in which I’ve had a mild but unceasing anxiety attack since January.  I’m exhausted.  I kinda just want to enjoy things without feeling the need to give them ribbons.  If anything, I want to give myself a ribbon for making it through the year.