on Arrival

My wife and I are home, sick, again, as we’ve been all week.  It’s been a shitty week.

We just finished watching Arrival.  A few quick thoughts:

1. One of the problems of being parents who are afraid of hiring babysitters is that we don’t get to go to the movies as often as we’d like.  Which is why, of the 9 nominees for Best Picture, we’ve only seen Hell or High Water, and now Arrival.  I can’t properly assess how it will fare at the Oscars, but I can say this:  it’s one of the best science fiction movies I’ve ever seen.  Even having read the source material beforehand, I was moved and astonished and amazed.  I will watch anything that Denis Villenueve directs from here on out, but I should also mention the cinematography, the sound design, the performances – I have nothing but praise for every aspect of the work that went into making this film.

2. It is impossible to overstate how being a parent can profoundly affect the way one absorbs popular culture.  And if you’ve seen Arrival, you can probably guess where I’m coming from; I’ll leave it at that.

3. It is also similarly impossible to see this movie being made in the same way, now that Donald Trump is the President of the United States.  Indeed, it is impossible to see a lot of alien encounter movies being made in the same way with Trump running the show.  One can only hope that we, as a planet, remain untouched for the duration of his term.

here / not here

1. [cross-posting from my secret blog, but bear with me]

So every once in a while I get overwhelmed by whatever it is that overwhelms me about people, and so I publicly announce that I’m taking a Facebook hiatus, and each time I do the hiatus never lasts, and I feel like a hypocrite.  I’ll hit the “post” button announcing my farewell, and then I’ll be lurking on FB within 20 minutes of my initial post.  I acknowledge that this is ridiculous.

However: as I may or may not have mentioned, my day job has instituted these new draconian internet firewalls, and so not only can I not use my work PC to access my personal email, but I’m also completely shut out of Facebook.

And this means that, if I do want to use Facebook during normal business hours, I have to use my iPhone.  And the iPhone FB experience is a fucking dumpster fire.  It doesn’t matter how many times I ask it to stay in chronological order; it straight-up refuses to work in the way that I want it to.  Which means I invariably always miss something.  And since a lot of the reason why I used to spend so much time on FB is that weird “fear of missing out”, I kinda have no choice but to confront that particular fear head-on.

And so the oft-threatened hiatus is actually starting to stick.  I don’t really check it all that frequently any more, because I know the experience will suck when I do, and there’s nothing I can do to fix something that refuses to stay fixed.

Instead, I’m now on Twitter like a motherfucker.  (@couchshouts, if you didn’t already know.  If you knew me as @jervonyc, that account is long dormant.)  My twitter account is mostly political retweets and announcements of blog posts, so, you know, keep your expectations in check.

At least WordPress still works – for the time being, at least.  I don’t expect this to last forever, either, but there’s nothing I can do about that now.

2. We are all agreed that Portal 2 is one of the best games ever made, yes?  Yes, of course.  It was recently made backward-compatible on the ol’ Xbox One, which is great news, because I very much like that game and would like to continue to play it.  Especially the online co-op mode, because that mode is SUPER AWESOME and it’s been a long time since the last time I played it and I’ve forgotten all the solutions.  HOWEVAH, the online co-op doesn’t seem to work anymore?  Possibly?  I’d like some external confirmation about this, actually, because me and my buddy tried to do a bit of the co-op campaign over the weekend and we couldn’t keep a session together for more than 10 minutes.  ALSO, Portal 2’s online interface, as designed and intended for the 360, does not work at all with respect to the XB1, which is a bit of a problem.

tl,dr version: remaster Portal 1 and 2 for next-gen consoles and, hey, why not include Portal 3 while you’re at it.

3. I was feeling pretty good about No Man’s sky again, especially in light of yesterday’s post.  So last night I fired up the game, struggled to find the one element I was looking for in order to complete my super-mega warp drive for about 90 minutes, and then the game crashed. Again.  So, yeah.  Maybe I’ll keep that one on the shelf until the next patch.

 

Prep To Move

If all goes according to plan, we close on our house this coming Friday, and we move the following Saturday, August 1.

I left for work this morning and as I walked down the street I started becoming hyper-aware of my surroundings – the view of the Hudson from the top of my hill, the sketchy hourly-rate hotels that are inexplicably littered along my street, the greasy-bacon-and-eggs smell from the diner on the corner, the stifling heat of my subway stop – and couldn’t help but observe to myself that I’m only making this specific walk 3 more times after today.

I’ve been doing this same thing for the last few days – I can count on one hand the number of my remaining trips to the laundromat, the grocery store, the coffee shop.  We can only eat at our favorite Mexican restaurant a few more times before the trip becomes impractical (it’s a great place, but we’re not driving 45 minutes through Staten Island traffic for it).

I’ve also been feeling a lot less melancholic than I’d anticipated, regarding this move.  An old work colleague had posted something – “17 Quotes Every New Yorker Should Live By” – and after reading it I found myself inexplicably feeling somewhat hostile.  Quite a few of them required a response:

4. “The city is uncomfortable and inconvenient; but New Yorkers temperamentally do not crave comfort and convenience—if they did they would live elsewhere.” —E. B. White

That’s true, and that’s partially why I’m moving.  I’m ready for a different tempo.

8. “Every true New Yorker believes with all his heart that when a New Yorker is tired of New York, he is tired of life.” —Robert Moses

Oh fuck you.  I’m still working here; I’m just sleeping in a town where motorcycle gangs and 16-wheelers aren’t drag-racing outside my 2-year-old’s window every night.

9. “If you want to become a real New Yorker, there’s only one rule: You have to believe New York is, has been, and always will be the greatest city on earth. The center of the universe.” —Ellen R. Shapiro

I still do believe this with all my heart.  I just don’t have to live here to know it.

16. “When you leave New York, you ain’t going anywhere.” —Jimmy Breslin

Again – fuck you.  I’m gonna be a 30-minute train ride to Penn Station.

All that aside, I can’t help but wonder – am I losing part of my identity if I’m no longer a full-time New Yorker?  I was born here, I went to college here and I’ve been a full-time resident since 1996; does all that go away once I become… *gulp*… a resident of… *gasp*… NEW JERSEY?

I am suddenly aware that my long-standing email address – not to mention my gamertag across each and every gaming service – JervoNYC – will no longer be 100% accurate.  There’s a part of me that wonders if I should change it.

*     *     *

Posting’s going to be light for the next few weeks.  For starters, I’m not really playing that much right now besides replaying Tomb Raider on Xbox One, for some reason*; I’d also rented the new EA Golf Game but it hasn’t yet shown up, and given its poor reviews, I’m not really all that committed to playing it even if I happen to receive it.

After the closing, I won’t be back at work until August 10.  I’ll have internet access pretty much the whole way through (minus one brief hiccup immediately following the move), and I’m sure I’ll need to decompress at some point after the unpacking, but I’m probably not going to be doing any posting here beyond a simple “I am here and my internet works”.


* That reason is simply that the definitive edition is currently on sale for < $10.  I’ve already beaten it twice, on both PC and PS4, and I’m not really sure what prompted me to buy it again beyond that it’s a fun game and it was cheap and I hadn’t used my Xbox in a while, and maybe I’m more addicted to Achievements than I care to admit.

Further Adventures in Real Estate

1.  In last week’s entry, I wrote that I was incredibly distracted and overwhelmed by the very real possibility that the house we’d fallen love with was going to be ours within a matter of weeks, and that the speed with which this whole thing happened was dizzying and disorienting.  In my excitement and confidence and naivete, I’d told a work colleague that the only two things that could happen to derail this process was that (1) the bank would do their own appraisal and give us far less of a loan than what we’d bid, or (2) the inspector would say “this house is actually just a hologram and doesn’t exist in any sort of physical reality.”

As it turned out, (2) was closer to the truth than (1); the inspection went so terribly that we agreed to abandon it about halfway through, because there was nothing we could see that could possibly make up for what we’d already seen.  Words like “deathtrap” and “shitshow” were thrown around.  The inspector – who was hired by our realtor, and thus was professionally biased on her behalf – said to us, “Look – no problem is unsolvable.  But if you were my own flesh and blood, I’d urge you to walk away.”  I asked our realtor, who’s been doing this for a long time, how this flip ranked in terms of what she’d seen, and she said that it was, in fact, the worst she’d ever seen, and by the time we’d signed the inspection checks, she was already looking at other properties for us to visit.

So there’s that.

At this point, we’ve learned quite a lot in a very short amount of time, the most important of which are:

  • There will never be a situation in which an inspector looks at a house and says, “I can’t find anything wrong, this is a perfect house.”  But there’s a difference between a solvable problem and a waking nightmare.
  • The Venn diagram comprising available houses in this neighborhood in our price range that also meet our specific needs and that aren’t going to collapse in a stiff breeze is going to be very small, and we have to be realistic about what we can expect to find.
  • A good support team is everything.

We’re not giving up; indeed, we went back out there this past weekend and saw something that’s actually quite lovely, and we also learned that the very first house that we ended up being the runner-up bid for might be coming back on the market, and the chance to get a second crack at that one is certainly very intriguing.  But until we finally get out of the nightmare contract and get our money back, we’re still on the outside looking in.

2.  I need to get back to the album at some point, but as you can imagine, it’s just impossible to feel creative and focused when so much big stuff is happening.  Looking at houses is exhausting, especially with a two year old who loves climbing stairs and saying “No.  Stop.”  and hitting you when it’s time to stop climbing steps and leave the house.  I’d hate to think that I’m not going to get back to it until we’re moved in to a new place, because who knows how long this process is going to take; in the meantime, though, it’s rough going.  I’m trying to not beat myself up about it; these are extenuating circumstances, to be sure, and I’m sure that soon enough I’ll be able to carve out some time and mental energy to get back to it in earnest.

3.  I am kinda playing games again, though, if only because that’s easier for me to deal with when I’m collapsed on the couch.  There wasn’t a lot of time this weekend, but there was enough time for me to be able to see a few things.

  • Invisible, Inc. is a really interesting turn-based stealth game – it’s by the team that made the fantastic Mark of the Ninja, and it looks an awful lot like XCOM – and I can’t wait to really settle down and play it for real.  The simple truth is that for me right now, even on the easiest difficulty setting, it’s very stressful, and I’m already too stressed out as it is.  Supposedly it’s coming to PS4 later this year; if it also came to the Vita, I’d gladly buy it twice, as I think it’d be perfect as a handheld title.
  • Project CARS is really beautiful and really obtuse; I played it for about 5 minutes and then put it back in the Gamefly envelope.
  • For some reason, I felt bad that I’d not turned my Xbox One on in a while, and so I decided to rent Dead Rising 3, even though I’ve never really cared for the first 2.  And after 10-15 minutes, I remembered that I’d still not finished Sunset Overdrive, which is one of the games I bought the XBO for in the first place, and that if I had to choose between two zombie apocalypse games, I’d much rather play Sunset Overdrive.
  • Did I end up playing Sunset Overdrive, though?  No, I did not.  Instead, I tried to cram through as much of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood as I could.  I’m about 3/4 of the way through, and even though it’s not nearly as engrossing as last year’s New Order, it’s certainly fun enough in its mindless action, and shooting Nazi zombies is always a gas.  (Even though they also shoot back, which, I mean, come on.)  I’d like to finish it tonight, so that my plate is clear before The Witcher 3 unlocks.

Yeah, The Witcher 3.  I’m trying to keep my expectations in check.  I played bits and pieces of the first two and couldn’t really get into either of them.  The hyperbole surrounding this newest one is ridiculous, which is impossible to ignore; but given that I’m also feeling rather sour about games at the moment, it must be said that I’m kinda putting a lot of pressure on it to really be as good as everyone else seems to say it is.  If The Witcher 3 can’t get me excited about gaming as a medium, then maybe I should start thinking about switching off for good.

Skip Tracer

I’ve been waiting 20 years to post this, even if I didn’t have internet access 20 years ago.

The guitar guy played real good feedback
And super sounding riffs
With his mild mannered look on, yeah he was truly hip

We watched her fall over and lay down
Shouting the poetic truths of high school journal keepers

Now we’re told so: merge ideas of song forms and freedom

Poised, yet totally screwed up

None of us know where we’re tryin’ to get to
What sort of life were we tryin’ to build

Where are you now?
When your broken eyes are closed
Head in a cloudy dream, green & sailboats
Borrowed and never returned
Emotions, books, outlooks on life

Hello 2015!
Hello 2015!


I’m not sure many people would call Sonic Youth’s 1995 album Washing Machine their best, but it might be my personal favorite of theirs for two very distinct reasons:  (1) this is the album that finally got me to like them and understand them, and (2) this album, more than any other, is the one I associate with one of the most formative and pivotal times of my life.

In 1995 I was 19 years old, disillusioned with my college major, and in a band/circle of friends whose de facto leader was a super-hard-core Sonic Youth fan.  At the time, I was a hard-core Phish fan, and so Sonic Youth just sounded like mindless noise to me; I thought 20-minute noodle-jams had far more intrinsic value than 20-minute feedback squalls.

In any event, this was the album that happened to be released while my band was at somewhat of a creative crossroads, and so it was in near constant rotation at my friend’s apartment for months.   And unlike their earlier albums, this one struck a very deep chord with me right from the first listen – possibly because it’s a lot more melodic than what had preceded it (I’m not sure there’s a more beautiful song in their entire catalog than “Unwind”), or maybe because when you’re blitzed out of your mind at 2:00 am, “Diamond Sea” is a sort of life-changing event.

That apartment was our band’s HQ; but more than that, it was my home-away-from-home (or, to be more specific, my dorm-away-from-dorm).  I can’t even begin to count how many hours I spent there.*   In retrospect, I can’t even comprehend the physics involved that got so many of us to hang out in that tiny, tiny apartment.  At any given moment there’d be upwards of 10 of us squeezed into that space, the room filled with cigarette smoke and moleskine notepads and port wine and a 4-track machine always at the ready, someone’s hand always hovering over the record button just in case.

Anyway, as I said, Washing Machine was in constant rotation during the fall of 1995, and it’s a perfect fall album; cool and breezy and I might even say “wistful”, which is an odd adjective for a Sonic Youth album, but there it is.  We used to sit in that apartment in the wee hours, listening to this album on repeat, and this song would always perk us up; it’s a Lee Ranaldo spoken-word poem over one of the album’s more up-tempo tracks, and I suppose we all imagined ourselves as the “guitar guy [playing] real good feedback and super-sounding riffs / with his mild-mannered look on / yeah, he was truly hip”.

And at the song’s close, after a quiet interlude, the band starts pounding away on a very straightforward G chord, and when Lee shouts “Hello, 2015!”, I’m sure we all sat back in our respective chairs and tried to imagine what sort of robot hovercar future 2015 would look like.  We imagined – hell, we knew – that our band was going to conquer the world, and I guess we wondered if we’d be opening for Sonic Youth at a 2015 NYE show, or if they’d be opening for us.

(That band didn’t survive past 1996.)


* I even named one of my later bands after my time spent in that apartment, and if I ever resurrect my NaNo memoir project, I suspect I’ll be using “Midnight Thompson” as its title, too.

SFTC Mach II: Jazz Odyssey

1.  Since I decided to shut up the other day, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.  And one of the things I’ve been considering is to widen the scope of this blog to cover books, films and music.  (Well, film not as much, as I don’t get that much of an opportunity to see new films in theaters, what with the kid and all – but perhaps looking at older movies that have been on my to-do list for some time.)   I’m interesting in doing this if only because sometimes (like right now, actually) I get down on games, and when I’m down I tend not to write, and I’d much rather be writing than not.  Like:  I’d much rather talk about how much I enjoyed reading Whiskey Tango Foxtrot instead of how much I’m not enjoying playing Shadow of Mordor.

I’ll also be posting recommended reading links more often, rather than hoarding them in a GoogleDoc for the end of the year.  I ran across 2 necessary links yesterday, for example, that I highly recommend:

2.  Regarding the aforementioned Whiskey Tango Foxtrot:  I can’t recall how it was recommended to me, but in any event I’m really glad I picked it up.  It’s ostensibly a paranoid sci-fi thriller about espionage, secret knowledge and post-government corporate cabals gathering all of our private data, but it’s also quite charmingly written and features 3 broken protagonists that I related to a lot more strongly than I’d anticipated.  It’s not necessarily poetically written, but I did get a lot of mileage out of my Kindle’s “highlight” feature – there’s a bunch of really wonderful, insightful, deeply resonating passages that struck me deeply.  From descriptions of ceiling fans:

“There was a ceiling fan in her two-room flat; it was on now. But it whorled and kerchonked around at such an unstable and idiotic rate that what it gave in breeze it took back in worry.”

to descriptions of regret:

There is a club for these people, the people who have waited outside the burning houses knowing that they will not go back in and knowing that the not-going-back-in will ruin them.

to achingly heartbreaking professions of love:

How long do you think a weak-minded addict will stay on the shelf? Because that day you walked in? That day I saw you? I swear, my heart slowed and my breath came easier. All that rabbiting I do—it just stopped. Not stopped by like magic, but stopped with reason. You are as strange and amazing as anything my stupid little brain has ever come up with, and you are from outside of it. You have no idea what great news that is. And I’m going to lift some copy here, but there is a time for everything, that day and night here you were the still point of the turning world, and I knew for sure that I had a place in it. That place is next to you…

I really am quite sure that there is something we’re supposed to do together, that there is more that is supposed to go on between us. Aren’t you? Isn’t there a held breath in your life right now? I’ve missed a few boats already, and I really don’t want to miss this one too. I realize that in that metaphor or analogy or whatever, you are a boat. That doesn’t really quite get what I mean, because I am also a boat. We are both boats and we are both passengers. We should not miss each other.

3.  As for music:  I highly, highly recommend the new Flying Lotus album “You’re Dead”.  I don’t yet know how to fully articulate my feelings about it; it has a density and depth that defies my attempts to describe it, which really just means I need another few dozen listens before I can wrap my head around it.  But if you’re already predisposed to what Flying Lotus does, then you’ve probably already picked it up.

4.  As we approach the end of 2014, I’m no longer as intimidated by the game release schedule as I thought I’d be.  By my count, there’s really only 4 AAA must-plays left on my list, a few indie/downloadable things I’m most likely buying close to day one, and a bunch of curiosities that I may or may not get to in an expedient fashion.

The Must-Plays:

  • Civilization: Beyond Earth
  • Assassin’s Creed Unity (heretofore named AssUnit)
  • Far Cry 4
  • Dragon Age Inquisition

The Indies/Downloadables:

  • Geometry Wars 3
  • Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris

The Curiosities:

  • Evil Within
  • Vib Ribbon (almost bought this the other day for the Vita, actually)
  • Costume Quest 2
  • The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (which I’m almost certainly buying if it’s in a Steam Sale)
  • Driveclub (whenever the PS+ version is finally out, at any rate)
  • Little Big Planet 3 (if my kid likes watching it, I might keep it)
  • The Crew

It also should be noted that if Sunset Overdrive reviews well, and if the Halo boxset isn’t terrible, then I’m probably getting an Xbox One.  I’m still kinda tempted to maybe wait a little longer and see if Microsoft comes out with a redesign – considering that they’ve already cut out the Kinect, it’s not totally unreasonable to think that they might come out with a newer box featuring better optimized specs – but I probably won’t be able to wait that long.  I’m still itching to play Forza Horizon 2 and I’d like to be able to try it while there’s still a strong player base.

Random Ramblings: October edition

1.  What I’m about to write may very well turn you off from reading this site for the rest of your internet-using life, but it’s the honest-to-goodness truth:  I have never been a fan of Halloween.  I love fall foliage, I love the baseball playoffs, I love wearing warm sweaters, I love that it’s finally decorative gourd season, I really love candy, and I am hopeful that I will finally find a halfway decent gluten-free pumpkin pie this year.  But Halloween has never been my bag.

There are two reasons for this.  The first is that the older kids in my suburban neighborhood really got into the pre-Halloween vandalism routine, and even as a little kid it kinda pissed me off to find eggs and toilet paper all over the trees, driveways and mailboxes of my street.  Halloween is “scary”, sure, but this felt legitimately dangerous and personal.  This eventually put me off trick-or-treating altogether, and the honest truth is that I was happier handing candy out than I was going out and begging for it.

The second is that I was terrible at costumes.  Had no brain for it, no passion for it, and while my mom tried her darnedest, I never quite got the hang of it.

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All this being said, I am determined to prevent my curmudgeonly attitude from rubbing off on my kid.  If he wants to enjoy Halloween, I will put my big-boy pants on and make sure he has as much fun as he can.

2.  I got impatient and decided to buy the digital download version of Shadow of Mordor yesterday afternoon, but it had only downloaded about 68% of itself when I finally got a chance to turn on my PS4.  This ultimately meant that I could only play the first 10 minutes – the early tutorial, right up to the delayed title screen – before the game kicked me back to the main menu.  Obviously I can’t offer much in the way of impressions, though I will echo Carolyn Petit’s annoyed and astute observation that, yet again, a woman has to die so that the (male) hero has something to do.  Someone else on twitter also pointed out (and I’m sorry I can’t remember who) that it’s only the wife whose death is shown on screen – the camera moves away from the necks of the son and the father.

3.  So I ended up going back to Destiny, where I puttered around for an hour or two; ran some patrols, cashed in quite a few bounties, and finally started 2 exotic weapon quests.  (One quest requires me to visit the weekend merchant; as I’m away this weekend, that’ll have to be postponed for another week.)  As it’d been a while since my last visit, I wasn’t consumed with any particular feeling towards it (beyond impatience at SoM’s slow download progress – and I’m sure that being online in Destiny held up the works considerably, too), and so I was able to turn off my brain for a bit and just shoot things to death.  Destiny is a much better experience when you have no expectations and don’t care that nothing makes any narrative, logical sense.  Indeed, this is why it can be pleasurable to zone out to Diablo 3, too; you relax and elect to simply concentrate on your mechanics and technique and before you know it a few hours have gone by.  The bummer of it all is that even after the few hours I sunk in, I still didn’t pick up any gear with keeping, which is why it can be hard to not feel like I’m literally killing time.

4.  Speaking of mindless grinding and killing time, it’s been 3 days and I am fully addicted to Clicker Heroes, this year’s edition of Cookie Clicker.  I urge you to be careful of clicking that link.   If you have already clicked that link and are in the throes of paralysis as I am, well:  I’ve gotten to level 100 and ascended, and now I’m already up to level 50 on my second run, and the whole goddamned thing is absurd and I don’t understand why it’s so compelling and I need to switch my tab over to make sure I’m properly leveled up please god help

on nostalgia, prog rock, and games

Nostalgia is the enemy of all great art, rock and roll most of all, since at its best it is a celebration of the now.
– Jim DeRogatis, “Ode to the Giant Hogweeds”

I’m sure I don’t need to explain why today is a tough day to write about games, even if today is a day where I’d prefer to be distracted by writing about things that keep me distracted.

But it’s also tough to write about games because, well, this is the week before GTAV, the game I’ve probably been looking forward to more than any other game of this generation.*  And as such, I’m having trouble staying focused on the games that are already in front of me.  I played around 30 minutes of Rayman Legends on Monday, and around 20 minutes of Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs last night, and while they’re both really impressive (even if for wildly different reasons), I found my mind wandering.  (And yet I continue to play the shit out of Giant Boulder of Death on my iPhone, even as it eats up my battery like crazy.)

Anyway, I feel like I need to write something, so indulge me as I ramble for a bit.  (It will turn back around to games, I promise.)

*      *      *

Yesterday I started reading “Yes Is The Answer: (And Other Prog-Rock Tales)“,** a collection of essays about the big prog bands of the 70s.  It actually ends up reading mostly like long sort-of-but-not-really-apologies about liking the big prog bands of the 70s, because admitting that you like prog rock is, I guess, a mark of shame.  I had the good fortune of discovering prog rock during the late 80s/early 90s at summer camp, long after punk had kicked prog to the curb (but just before grunge came back to finish the job), and so I don’t necessarily feel guilty about my unabashed love for Genesis, Yes, Rush and the like.

Anyway, I was reading this book and I happened to have Spotify open on my computer while I was reading – this way, I could listen to the bands that were being talked about that I didn’t know all that well.  (i.e., Caravan, the Strawbs, Van der Graaf Generator, Soft Machine, The Nice, Incredible String Band, etc.)  It was an illuminating afternoon, even if, as it turns out, there are certain bands that I will never, ever, ever be able to get into.

For example, Emerson Lake & Palmer – I just can’t do it.  And I should be able to appreciate them, as I’ve been a keyboard player since I was 3 years old and Keith Emerson ought to have been my keyboard hero, because my keyboard heroes when I was younger were Bruce Hornsby and Billy Joel – but I’m 37 now, and I like what I like, and when I go back and listen to that stuff it’s impenetrable.  It’s the same thing with King Crimson (even though I adore Red).  And while I do love Yes, it’s really only certain albums that I can still enjoy listening to – the ones I know the best.  Of all those prog bands, Genesis was the only one where I forced myself in recent years to become familiar with the albums that I hadn’t been familiar with when I was younger – and I suppose that’s only because they were my favorite prog band and I was predisposed to get past the stuff that turned off other people.  (And also because the remastered box sets from a few years ago sound fucking incredible.)

Likewise, not prog, but still:  David Bowie – can’t do it.  And I respect the shit out of him, and I appreciate that he’s well-loved by pretty much everyone.  I forced myself to get into Ziggy Stardust, and by and large I do like that album a great deal, but I just can’t get into anything else.  I’ve tried repeatedly to get into The Berlin Trilogy, but there’s something about the production aesthetic that bugs the hell out of me – it totally obscures the songwriting and the vocals, and I’ve never been able to get past it.

Anyway, I thought about this a lot yesterday, and I started to wonder if this knee-jerk reaction to certain genres of music applies to other media.   It’s hard to say, I suppose, because rock music – much more so than film or books – is very much defined by its era and its immediate context, and so an older band can be a bit more difficult to get into if you already don’t have an innate sense of where it was coming from.***

For example, I don’t find capital-F Film to be that difficult to get into, of any era; maybe there are certain filmmakers that i can’t see eye-to-eye with, but by and large I’m willing to give most any film a chance (even if I don’t often find myself longing for old-timey, black-and-white films).  TV is a bit trickier, as old shows can feel incredibly dated now,**** but to be fair I’ve never been a big TV guy to begin with.

Games are a different story altogether.  (See?  I told you it would come back around to games!)  Because it’s more than just cultural context at play – it’s just straight-up technology that gets in the way.  Even games that are only 5 years old can be technically horrific to look at, compared to what we’re used to today.  Gameplay systems and conventions have evolved radically, exponentially; GTA3 is damn-near impossible for me to enjoy these days, especially now that Rockstar Games has so clearly reinvented the combat wheel with Max Payne 3 and Red Dead Redemption – indeed, even GTA4 feels downright archaic.  How can I go back to Oblivion (where I’ve spent over 100 hours) now that I’ve clomped around Skyrim? Could I even enjoy KOTOR now?  I think I have it on my iPad and I kinda don’t care, and we’re talking about one of my favorite games of all time.  I tried playing System Shock 2 when it came out on Steam a few months ago – one of the “greatest games of all time” – and couldn’t get much farther than the tutorial; it felt alien and strange and unintuitive and not fun.  If I’d played it when it originally came out, I suppose I might have been more forgiving towards it – but as a new player, it was impossible to get into.

And, of course, there are plenty of older games that are literally impossible to play now, because there are no logistical ways to play them.  Skies of Arcadia is one of my favorite JRPGs*****, but unless they make an HD remake I’ll never play it again – I’m not even sure my Dreamcast can hook up to my HDTV without needing some arcane adapters.  And my love for all things Tim Schafer can only begin with Grim Fandango, as I never played Full Throttle or Day of the Tentacle and I don’t have the technological savvy to make that happen without accidentally setting my PC on fire.

*      *      *

If you made it this far, thank you.  I’m sorry I don’t have a central point to all this rambling; ultimately this was about me trying not to have panic attacks about what happened 12 years ago.  It feels like a lifetime ago, even if a lot of it is still simmering in my brain and my blood, as fresh as if it happened this morning.  It changed me; it scarred me.  It bothers me a little when people say “Never Forget”, because if you were there, you can’t forget it.  I was only a few months removed from temping down there, actually; indeed, if I hadn’t had the world’s worst boss at the time, I might’ve still been there.

Hug your loved ones; keep them close.

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* I wrote this without really thinking about it; but now that I’m thinking about it, I’m pretty sure it’s true.  The only other game that might come close in terms of me going bananas with anticipation is Portal 2.  (What’s notable about Portal 2, though, is that it turned out to be even better than I’d hoped, which is something that almost never happens.)  I’m trying to think of other games that I was absurdly excited about; I know I waited in a midnight line at Gamestop for GTA4, and I might’ve waited on a midnight line for Skyrim, but those were unique situations in that I knew I wouldn’t have to be at work the following day and that there was a Gamestop within walking distance from my apartment.  I did get pretty nerded-out for Beatles: Rock Band, of all things.

** The book is good though uneven – and of course you will only bother to pick it up if you’re already a fan of the music – but the absolute knockout of the bunch is Tom Junod’s piece about Genesis and Peter Gabriel, which can and should be read by anyone.  I’m cutting and pasting from the L.A. Times’ review, since it says all that needs to be said:

“The indisputable star in this band of essayists is Tom Junod, whose “Out, Angels Out” might be worth the book’s $24 price by itself. Junod revisits a perilous passage in his late teens when he was falling into alienation and despondency. Genesis singer Peter Gabriel became the lifeline that pulled him through — although Junod’s closest sidekick in prog didn’t make it. It’s one of the best things I’ve read about rock music or, for that matter, about how adolescence can suddenly turn into a rope bridge over a chasm in a howling wind.”

*** My parents were both classical musicians and didn’t listen to rock music in the house at all, and even listening to the Top 40 countdown on the weekends was a minor act of rebellion on my part (even if I did it on my tiny boom box at very low volumes).   So it makes sense to me why certain, classically-influenced prog music would resonate so deeply with me as a teenager away at summer camp, surrounded by all the older brothers I never actually had.  (It was a performing arts camp, too, so my fellow campers were already predisposed to liking geeky things; it was a save haven for all of us to rejoice in our nerdiness without getting punched by jocks.)

**** Case in point – the wife and I ended up watching a lot of TJ Hooker during Labor Day weekend, and it’s just ridiculous that anyone could’ve been a genuine fan of such unintentional silliness.

***** Skies of Arcadia is also the first JRPG I ever played, so that might have something to do with it.  I have absolutely no idea if it holds up today; I’m not even sure I want an HD remake, because I don’t want my memories to be squashed.  (If someone out there who is in charge of such things is reading this, I want you to know I’d still buy it – just turn down the number of random encounters a smidge and we’d be all set.)

The Books I Read in 2012

I just finished a great book last night – “The Way of Kings”, by Brandon Sanderson.*  And it occurs to me that I’ve read a lot of good stuff of late, and this is as good a time as any to cover what I read last year.

First: the stuff I didn’t finish.

  • Elizabeth Kostova, “The Historian.”  I tried my best; it just seemed to take forever to get where it was going, and I think I just grew impatient.
  • Tom Bissell, “Magic Hours.”  Tom’s one of my favorite writers – I’ve linked to him extensively here in the past – and I picked this up specifically because a short piece he wrote about David Foster Wallace.  The book itself is a collection of non-fiction pieces, and I’ve read about half of them so far – the one about “The Room” is terrific.
  • Sergio de la Pava, “A Naked Singularity.”  I’m normally a huge fan of dense, difficult avant-garde-ish fiction, but this one was a particularly tough nut to crack.  I’d like to get back into it; at the time, though, I was too easily frustrated and was content to pick up something easier instead.
  • Umberto Eco, “The Prague Cemetery”.  Second year in a row I’ve tried and failed to get into this one.  I’m hit or miss with Eco; I adore Foucault’s Pendulum and The Name of the Rose, but couldn’t get into Baudolino and a few others that I’m forgetting the titles of.  Will probably abandon.
  • Ariel Winter, “The Twenty Year Death.”  I picked this up on some relatively decent word-of-mouth, and also because I was thinking about writing some sort of pulp mystery thing and thought this might make for a worthwhile read for research purposes.  I made it through the first third but couldn’t keep myself interested.
  • Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl.”  Sometimes I’ll be reading a book, and at some point I’ll have to put it down because of something else.  I usually only have a one or two-week window in which to get back into the book before I lose the thread completely.  My biggest regret of the year was putting this down (I don’t even know why, at this point) and being away from it long enough to be totally disengaged from it, and so it’s on my must-read list for 2013.
  •  David Foster Wallace, “Both Flesh And Not.”  I’d already read some of the pieces in here, for one thing; for another, D.T. Max’s biography (which I’ll get to in a bit) re-broke my heart a little bit, and so I found re-reading DFW a bit more uncomfortable than I’d like.  Will definitely get to in 2013; this is a no-brainer.
  • George Saunders, “Pastoralia.”  There was a point this summer where I bought, like, 5 or 6 books all at once, and I couldn’t decide which one to start.  I’m actually about to start his new book, “Tenth of December”, which just came out today, and assuming that goes well I’ll be diving back into this one again.

And as for the stuff I did read, here it is, listed in the order in which I read them.

Alan Lightman, “Einstein’s Dreams”.  Don’t quite remember why I picked this up; I’d heard about it for a long time, and I guess I was finally in the mood to give it a go.  Each chapter is, essentially, a re-imagining of linear time.  As someone who was obsessed with the concept of linear/nonlinear/relative time back in college, this is very interesting subject matter, and it’s written well enough to get the points across.  But it also feels a bit slight and ethereal, and not in a good way.  Still, an interesting read if you’re into that sort of thinking.  7/10

Stephen King, “11/22/1963”.  He’s still got it, man.  And while he still has certain mannerisms and tics that are incredibly distracting, which is odd considering that they’re in every single goddamned book he’s ever written, and I’ve read most of them and so I should be used to them by now – like how every town in every city has vaguely racist, misspelled signage along its main street – he’s still knows how to tell a great story.  This was a ton of fun to read.  8/10

Hugh Howey, “Wool (Omnibus Edition)”.  My wife got hooked on these books and finally convinced me to jump on board, and I’m glad I did; they’re remarkably well written and relentless in their tension and pacing.  He is the golden boy of DIY publishing, and with good reason; he’s a naturally gifted storyteller.   We had the pleasure of meeting him at an author meet-up earlier this year, and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy.   9/10

John Sullivan, “Pulphead”.   I’m having a bit of trouble remembering this one at the moment.  But here’s my quick reminder to myself after I finished it:  “pretty well done, although some essays are better than others.  8/10”  That’s a high grade for what seems like a lukewarm review, but I meant it at the time, so it stays.

Rich Walls, “Standby Chicago”.  One of the cool things about that Hugh Howey author meet-up I mentioned is that, in addition to Hugh being a super-nice guy, every one of the fans who showed up was also super cool.  I’m friends with a few of them on Xbox Live and Steam now, and while Rich isn’t a gamer, he is a rather accomplished author in his own right.  This is a very sweet, delicate, sincere novella, and I found it engaging.  (Also found it hard to relate to, if only because I’ve never had so many strangers talk to me ever in my life.)   7/10

Hugh Howey, “Wool 6”.  A prequel to the Omnibus Edition; this actually raises a few more questions than it answers.  Required reading if you’re at all invested in the Wool series; it won’t mean as much to you if you come to it fresh.  8/10

Chad Harbach, “The Art of Fielding”.   Beautiful, heartbreaking.  Takes a startling turn at a certain point; I thought it was going to be the origin story of a mythic baseball prodigy, and it turned out to be something else entirely.  Well worth the journey.  8/10

China Meveille, “The City & The City”.   I tried to read another one of his books a few years ago – “Perdido Street Station” – and found it impenetrable and, for lack of a better word, un-fun.  This was a lot more my speed – a multi-dimensional murder mystery. I still find his writing style a bit annoying, but he’s unquestionably one of the most imaginative authors out there.   8/10

Patrick Somerville, “The Universe in Miniature in Miniature”.  A marvelous collection of short stories that are all sort-of interwoven.  Inspiring and brilliantly written.  Very much looking forward to reading more of this guy.  9/10

Erik Larson, “The Devil in the White City”.  My GoogleDoc comments:  “thrilling, gripping, depressing.”  It’s an interesting read, even if the two stories that he attempts to tie together aren’t quite as evenly balanced as I’d anticipated.  8/10

Tana French, “Broken Harbor”.  The fourth in the Dublin Murder Squad series; this one was not quite as good as the previous three.  Still bleak and depressing as all hell, of course.  GoogleDoc comment:  “might be the first time that the lack of a proper ending was a good thing.”  7/10

D.T. Max, “Every Love Story is a Ghost Story”.  After DFW’s death, D.T. Max wrote a beautiful celebration of his life and work in the New Yorker, and it seemed logical for him to follow that piece up with a full biography.  I’m not sure how this book would read to someone who isn’t a hard-core Infinite Jest fan; but I am a hard-core Infinite Jest fan, and so this book revealed a lot of interesting information about the creation and inspiration behind that particular work.  The ending is a bit sudden, but then, it was in real life, too.  8/10

Iain M. Banks, “The Hydrogen Sonata”.   I’m a big big fan of the Culture novels – I’ve been wanting a videogame adaptation of that universe for a long time.  As far as those books go, though, this is a minor entry at best, and made for a disappointing read. 6/10

Robin Sloan, “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore”.  I flew through this one in about 3 or 4 hours, which is why I’m not rating it higher; it feels too slim and it winds up too quickly.  But I loved everything else about it; it was fun and smart and did a lot of the things that I’d hoped “Ready Player One” would do, but didn’t.  7/10

Justin Cronin, “The Passage”.   I re-read this to prepare for The Twelve, and it was even better the second time around.  An absolute gem.  9/10

Justin Cronin, “The Twelve”.  I’m glad that I read these two back-to-back; I felt very much on top of things when the second book got started.  It must be said, however, that Cronin is not nearly as good at action scenes as he is with everything else, and there’s a lot of action in this book that just kinda falls flat.  This is the middle book in a trilogy, and I must say that I have absolutely no idea where the third book can possibly go; the ending of this one ties up about 90% of the loose ends.  7/10

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* No, I haven’t read any of the Wheel of Time stuff, and I’m not planning to, either – this particular book came recommended specifically on its own merits, and since it’s the first volume of a projected 10-volume project, I’ll be more than happy to stick with this for the foreseeable future.

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