Category: ramblings

bloggin’

So this New Yorker article popped up in my Twitter feed and got me thinking about “the end of blogs”, although my perspective is much different than the essay’s author.  Her piece is about the failure of the blog (specifically The Hairpin and The Awl) to generate self-sustaining revenue, and as such, it is becoming more and more difficult for the most interesting writing on the internet to find a place to live.

Whereas I’ve never blogged for money, or exposure, or really for any other reason than I enjoyed keeping a diary, and was amused by the idea of making it public.  And LiveJournal was just getting underway right when I started feeling this way, and so since 2001 I’ve been blogging in one form or another.   I left LJ in 2009, moved to blogger for a little bit, and I’ve had 2 or 3 blogs here at WordPress, each with a different focus.  This one has become my default, though, and so it’s here where I’ve decided to post this.

I’ve never been under any illusions that my writing was worth anything.  I’ve said this before in other places but it bears repeating here:  I have something of a Salieri complex – I imagine myself a better writer than I know myself to be.  This used to bother me a great deal, but now I just accept it as fact, and in the meantime I try to get better when I can.  The beauty of blogging, though, was that it was never about how good you were as a writer; I was naturally drawn to good writers but I was more inclined to read about people with similar interests, similar senses of humor, similar points of reference, and who could write honestly about what they thought about.  I made friends through LJ, real friends, and it wasn’t bullshit; I still love those people, and even if our LJ community is gone, we’re still in each other’s social media bubbles, such as they are.

I guess the point is that the word “blog” means something much different to me than it does to other professional writers, and our purposes were never aligned, and yet the feel of a blog is still something necessary and vital.  For me, I find that the writing on the internet that I most enjoy has a personal feel to it, where it might be rough around the edges but it feels authentic because it’s not bullshit.  Its driving force is honesty, not cleverness.  I’ve always been envious of people who can be clever while also being honest, and lord knows I’ve tried to do that, too, though I’ve never been particularly successful at it.

In any event, this is going to be a more traditional blog entry for me, rather than what I usually post here.  Feel free to skip; or, alternately, feel free to keep reading.


I also felt compelled to write about blogging because the tweet directly following the New Yorker link was one of these personal list-type things – in fact, these were the sorts of things that I used to call “memes”, rather than whatever they are today.  I ‘m gonna do this one, here, because why not.  It’s been a while since I took any personal inventory out here in public, and the afternoon is a bit slow.

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1.  I have two Twitter handles, as it happens, but the primary one is @couchshouts, which I’d started in an attempt to boost this blog’s visibility (and also to keep my personal twitter feed and my videogame feed separate).  I’m sure the name explains itself.

2. Who inspires me?  Hmm.  This is a tricky one.  I guess the context matters; I have musical inspirations, writing inspirations, general “being a better person” inspirations.  I don’t honestly know if I can answer this one at this particular moment in time.  I could’ve answered it in college in about 10 seconds, but my life and my perspective have changed so radically since then that I can barely recognize my college-age self.  If I’m honest with myself, though, and ask myself who inspires me to be a better person?  Well, that’s my wife and my son.

3.  Do I care what others think about me?  Not nearly as much as I used to, because I’m not trying to impress anybody.

4.  What am I most looking forward to?  This one’s actually pretty easy – I can’t wait to see who my son turns into as he gets older.  He’s a super-sweet almost-5-year-old boy, but who he’s going to be at 8, 11, 14, 18… I can’t wait.  Even though I never want him to grow up.

5.  One life rule that I follow:  I alluded to this in the intro, and it’s something I’ve said a lot here and elsewhere, and it’s something that my high school English teacher said somewhat off-handedly, perhaps not realizing that he was about to drop a seismic charge on me:  it is better to be honest than clever.

6.  My dream job:  I would’ve loved to have been able to pay my bills through music.  And if I were me, now, but 25 years younger, I would’ve wanted to at least try to break into game journalism (especially since I could live on a shit salary back then).  I don’t have a dream job now; I just need something stable and secure and something I don’t need to take home with me when I leave.

7.  Which fictional character do I wish I could meet?  Hmm.  When I was younger I had developed a fierce crush on Becky Thatcher from the Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer books, but it’s not like I would’ve known what to say or do with her.  Nowadays I suppose I’d be very interested in having an elegant luncheon with the titular character of “A Gentleman in Moscow.”

8. As a child, I wanted to be an actor.  I got lucky in that regard; I knew I wanted to act, and I was good enough at the time to get good enough parts to make me think that I could actually do it as a real job, and I got into college to study it, and then, of course, I gave up on it.

9.  If I were a cartoon character… I never watched enough cartoons to have a good answer.

10.  What skill would I like to master?  I wish I could draw.  Like, at all.  The best late-night stoned doodling I ever did was still just stick figures.

11.  In what situation would I feel most out of place?  Well, you’re talking to someone who still struggles mightily with social anxiety – who still takes half an Ativan just to leave the house in the morning – so you might say that I feel out of place every time I leave my house.

12.  An artist that I really like but rarely admit to liking?  Well, if you look at my answer to #3, I don’t really care what other people think.  My first answer would be Genesis, but I think I’ve talked about them a lot.  Can I say that there are a few songs on Pete Yorn’s first album that I still, to this day, adore tremendously?

13.  What gets me fired up?  There are several ways to interpret the context of this question.  Politically, my #1 hot-button issue is gun control.  But if I need to get super-excited about something in a hurry – like if I’m about to perform on stage – I’ll take a shot of ice-cold Jagermeister (don’t judge me).

14.  I am not a part of any fandoms that I’m aware of.  I am a 42 year old man.  I like what I like and I don’t need to commune with other people over that stuff the way that I used to.  If I really need to talk about something, chances are pretty good I’ll talk about it here.

15.  What do I do to get rid of stress?  Well… I play video games and listen to music and read books and also I smoke pot, often.

16.  The idea of this question is what caused me to have a very, very bad mushroom experience in college, and it’s why I have a hard time watching “Groundhog Day”.  But if I were to get stuck in a loop and relive one day over and over again, and I was able to not be freaked out, I’d pick a day early in my relationship with my wife, back when we were carefree and could sleep in and would spend whole days at a movie theater sneaking into other screenings and then having a lovely dinner.  Or, alternately, I’d pick a day from one of my childhood summers at a music camp in Maine, which were some of the best days I ever had.

17.  How quickly do I jump to conclusions about people?  Almost immediately.

18.  If I were a doll, what accessories would I be sold with?  A Kindle, a game controller, and a guitar.

19.  What have I done in my life that’s given me the most satisfaction?  The easy answer would be that I’ve married my best friend and we’ve had a wonderful kid together, but the more truthful answer is that I’ve done a ton of work to make myself a better person to better appreciate my relationships with my wife and kid, because for the longest time I was trapped by anxiety and bad stomachs and insecurity and everything else, and I’m not like that (that much) anymore.

20.  The worst thing to put in a pinata would have to be soiled diapers.

21.  The biggest waste of money I’ve ever seen is literally everything that Donald Trump has ever been a part of.

22.  A common misconception that I hate hearing repeated as fact is that Donald Trump cares about anything beyond himself.

23.  The best place to go to meet awesome people?  You’re asking the wrong person, dude.

24.  What food do I crave the most?  Well, let me tell you – I had to go on a gluten-free diet a few years ago and so even though the GF industry has taken great strides in recent years, I am sad that I will never get to experience a real NYC bagel ever again.

25.  I don’t care enough about TV to re-watch anything with any interest, although my wife and I do occasionally call up certain episodes of “Arrested Development” just because they’re so goddamned funny.

26.  Among my friends, what am I best known for?  I have literally no idea what my friends think of me, if they think of me at all.  I don’t mean that in a self-pitying way; I just mean that I have absolutely no idea what they think of me.

27.  Who of my friends is most like me?  Hmm.  Well, my wife is nothing like me but I’m positive that we can communicate telepathically; we finish each other’s sentences all the goddamned time – hell, we start each other’s sentences because we think the same way.

28.  The most traumatizing moment of my life?  Toss-up between my parents getting divorced, my aforementioned bad trip experience, and the breakup I had in early 2000 before I started dating my wife.

29.  The best lesson I’ve learned from a work of fiction?  Don’t eat mold.

30.  Something I’ll never do again?  Any drug harder than pot, that’s for sure.


I don’t watch Twitch streams and I don’t really listen to podcasts, but I had an idea for a Twitch stream wherein I’d play some sort of game that didn’t require sound, and then I’d put on my favorite songs from that week’s Spotify Discovery playlist and talk about why each song feels necessary.  But apparently this is an awful idea, already done to death by a billion obnoxious bros, and so I’m not gonna.


At some point I’ve gotta talk about the Aziz Ansari stuff, because of all the horror stories that have emerged since Harvey Weinstein, the Aziz story is the one that I recognize.  I don’t know that I was ever that forward with girls that I used to be with, but I know I was more forward than I should’ve been, most certainly ignoring signals that couldn’t have been more obvious, and I still feel disgusted with myself all these years later for not acknowledging them and backing off.  I owe a lot of people apologies for that.  (I have apologized to some of them over the years, and some of them have forgiven me, and some of them have used my apology as the basis for a stand-up routine literally a year after I originally emailed it, and it is what it is.)  My son and I will talk about this stuff as he gets older, and I will do my absolute best to make sure he doesn’t act the same way.  I’d like to think that he sees my relationship with his mom as a good place to start from; that’s all I can hope for, at any rate.

Further Adventures in Adulting

1. Hey, so, we bought a new car over the weekend.  I feel like I’m finally an Adult.  Yes, we have a child; yes, we bought a house.  But now we bought a new car, from a dealership, by ourselves.  I’m so terrified it’s going to break!  It’s not going to break.  BUT WHAT IF IT DOES?

Anyway, yeah, that happened.  And I know this is a cliche, but still – that new car smell is no joke.  There’s something kinda awesome about that smell.  It… smells like victory.

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2.  Because we bought a new car, I had to take a personal day yesterday and get our parking stickers sorted out, and also deal with some pet/vet stuff.  And in between all that, I finally got a chance to watch Blade Runner 2049.  My short version:  it is a beautifully shot film, and even with its slow pace it’s still more engaging than the original film (which, I’m sad to say, is a film that I respect more than I enjoy).  But it’s also a bit problematic with how it shows women (they are either robot love slaves, ball-busting bitches, or trapped in literal cages), and quite frankly I never need to see Jared Leto in anything ever again.

3.  Speaking of problematic media, we also finally watched the first episode of the new season of Black Mirror last night – the USS Callister episode.  I have a weird uncomfortable relationship with that series, specifically because of Season 1’s “The Entire History of You”, which affected me in an unexpectedly deep and emotionally unsettling way, especially as I was in the process of re-reading my college diaries at the time for an unrelated creative project.  (If you’re familiar with the episode, you might understand why a sudden influx of forgotten memories might be emotionally traumatic.)  In any event, this new episode was quite good – the twist was genuinely unexpected and the ending was, unusually for this series, quite satisfying.  I’m not 100% sure I’m going to watch the remaining episodes, because there’s only so much technological dread I can handle at any given point, but still – it was nice to be pleasantly diverted for a little while.

4. So I finished Nick Harkaway’s “Gnomon”, and even if it didn’t quite stick the landing, it’s an excellent read; he’s a marvelous writer and this is a very smart book.  Now up – a 2nd attempt at reading Zachary Mason’s “Void Star”, which from the book’s description is right up my alley, but in practice is a bit difficult to follow.  I’m kinda just padding for time – what I really want to read is the new Brandon Sanderson volume in the Stormlight Archive, but I feel like I need to re-read the first 2 books and then the mini-story that connects them to this new one, and as much as I like reading big books, knowing that I’ve got at least 2500 pages in front of me before I start reading anything new is a bit daunting.

5.  Game-wise, I’m still in this weird limbo of having this fancy new TV but nothing new to play on it.  I’d been putting Forza 7 through its paces, and that’s a fun game in limited doses – and since the last game I’d played in earnest was probably Forza 3 or 4, it’s kind of a neat deja-vu effect to revisit the same courses in radically improved fidelity.  Likewise, I saw that Forza Horizon 3 got its own Xbox One X Enhanced patch yesterday, and that game is definitely more up my alley.  The graphical enhancements are nothing to sneeze at, either; it looks utterly amazing.  Beyond that, I’m kinda half-heartedly going through my backlog, not feeling particularly attached to anything.  (Indeed, I keep forgetting that I have a ton of shit to play on the Switch.)  The next big AAA release that I have my eyes on is Far Cry 5, which is still a ways off.

That’s what I’ve got, folks.  Hope you’re well.

Fire and Fury, blah blah blah

I’m not so sure I’m gonna bother finishing “Fire and Fury”.  It’s not telling me anything that I didn’t already know; it’s just further confirming that the White House is stacked with dangerously incompetent fools, none of whom actually expected to be there in the first place.  It’s also a pretty trashy read, and Wolff’s writing is pretty terrible.  This is an actual sentence/paragraph from Chapter 5, entitled “Jarvanka”:

“On Friday, February 3, at breakfast at the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown, an epicenter of the swamp, Ivanka Trump, flustered, came down the stairs and entered the dining room, talking loudly on her cell phone…”

There has to be a less ridiculous way of writing that sentence, right?  And he does this ALL OVER THE GODDAMNED PLACE.  There are also a bunch of little typos and errors that may or may not be due to the conversion from page to e-book – who knows how these things work – and that may very well be because the publisher decided to rush this thing out the door.

In any event; it’s not breaking news that our President is a fucking lunatic.  It’s just disconcerting that we now have 400 pages full of receipts.  That being said, I’d like to think that this is what makes him finally collapse.  The Russia story is far more important, but among Trump supporters nobody cares, and until Mueller comes out with what he’s got, it’s all breathless speculation (regardless of how many hundred-threaded tweets Seth Abramson churns out).  On the other hand, Trump being a lying sack of shit who loathes everything about this job and who will backtrack on all of his promises to his supporters?  That might actually carry some weight.


My wife and I have made a concerted effort to be more creative this year; or, rather, to allow ourselves some creative time during the daylight hours on Sunday.  She works from 10-12 in her office; I work from 2-4 in the recording studio.  I took my opportunity to blow the dust off of my MacBook and make sure that my stuff still works… and, um, it doesn’t.  To be fair, my MacBook is nearly 8 years old at this point; it’s amazing the thing still turns on.  But it’s not recognizing my input device, which means I can’t use MIDI, which is a big deal.

Last night we had dinner with my old bass player and his family, and I told him about my issues, and he told me that my MBox 3 is probably no longer supported – which means I can get a new input device for less than $300 and maybe that’ll solve the problem.  But I’m sure that I’m gonna need to drop a couple thousand on a new computer sooner rather than later, which is disconcerting.  I have no problem spending money, as you know, even when I don’t have any money to spend, but… this is a big deal.


To follow up on last week’s post, and as we are in the winter release lull, I’ve been going back through my Xbox One X library and replaying some older titles on my new fancy TV.  I am sad to say that not every title gets the “enhanced” goods, or even benefits from all the new horsepower.

Now, as noted in previous posts, I feel obligated to reiterate that there are a few of these “enhanced for Xbox One X” games that really do look astounding.  Wolfenstein 2Assassin’s Creed Origins and Rise of the Tomb Raider are among the best-looking games I’ve ever played on a Microsoft console, and given that I played them on both new and old hardware the differences are stark and profound.

But there’s other stuff in my library that I haven’t fully put through its paces.  I gave a quick look to both Titanfall 2 and Destiny 2 last night, and they both look quite good as well.  Perhaps not good enough that I’m going to play them again for any significant amount of time, but still.

I’ve also been running a race or two every night in Forza 7, and that game definitely looks great (though, curiously, not as good as Forza Horizon 3 did – the trees and foliage are quite obviously 2D sprites and it can be jarring if you look too closely at them).  That being said, I haven’t spent serious time with the mainline Forza games since maybe 3 or 4, so if nothing else it’s very interesting and revealing to revisit some of the tracks in 7 that I’d already run hundreds of times in those earlier games, but now in glorious 4K HDR; I get deja vu quite a lot.

But anyway, the point of this whole section here is that while some games do look quite stunning on the new hardware, not every game on the Xbox One X looks and performs better than it did on the vanilla X1.

Case in point:  my son has been really into Lego Batman 3 of late, and this in turn reminds me that I very much love the Arkham games.  So I’m sad to report that Batman Arkham Knight, otherwise known as the one with the endless Batmobile sections, looks like shit.  Now, to be fair, Arkham Knight is not an “enhanced for Xbox One X” title, but I was still hoping to see some sort of performance improvement.  Alas, it looks pretty goddamned terrible.  It’s got a stable frame rate, I suppose, but it’s jaggy as all hell – and maybe it’s my TV, but it arguably looks even worse than it did on the original Xbox One.

Another case in point: Recore, which actually is an “enhanced for Xbox One X” game.  I’d given it a cursory 10 minutes when I’d originally downloaded it last summer, and then promptly forgot about it.  I took it for a more sincere spin this weekend, and… well… it’s not necessarily a bad game, but it does feel very archaic in its design – it feels a lot like “Baby’s Very First Open-World Action RPG” in terms of, well, everything – and the graphical improvements aren’t all that noticeable.  I certainly wouldn’t point to it as a technological show-stopper.  But, of course, it’s not necessarily meant to be; it is what it is.  I could see myself spending some more time with it over the new few weeks; it’s pleasant and diverting enough, for the time being.

But also:  Resident Evil 7, another enhanced game, looks like absolute shit.  I’d rented it on PS4 last year and played the first few hours, and even on a vanilla PS4 on a regular TV it looked far better than this enhanced for Xbox One X version on a 4K HDR TV.

Basically:  if the patch to upgrade your “enhanced” game is under 1GB, it’s not gonna be all that noticeable.


I already have a gigantic book backlog, but given that it’s a new year, it’s time for The Millions Most Anticipated Books of 2018, and GODDAMN there’s a lot of stuff there that I need to read, like, immediately.  Off the top of my head, I need:

  • “Lost Empress”, by Sergio de la Pava;
  • “Grist Mill Road”, by Christopher J. Yates;
  • “The Afterlives”, by Thomas Pierce;
  • “The Immortalists”, by Chloe Benjamin;
  • “The Infinite Future”, by Tim Wirkus; and
  • “The Sky is Yours”, by Chandler Klang Smith.

And I should also point out that Nick Harkaway’s “Gnomon” is coming out this week, I think, which is a book I pre-ordered as soon as it was announced.  So what I’m saying is:  I’ve got stuff to do.

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.