June 2015

June was better than May, I guess, even if I’m still not 100% convinced by this 2015 thing.

I read two books, which seems to be what I’m averaging lately each month. The first was Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey, the latest book in the Expanse series, which did not disappoint. And the second was Sourcery by Terry Pratchett, continuing my slowly ongoing read of the entire Discworld series.

Pratchett has his weaknesses — he’s maybe not phenomenal at describing big action set-pieces, of which there are occasionally a few — but the warmth and humor in the books just keeps getting stronger with each volume. (And here it was just nice to see Rincewind and the Luggage again.) I’m led to understand the some of the very late books, like Raising Steam, might not be as good, but right now I’m really enjoying the series and discovering it all for the first time.

Right now, though, I’m taking a short break before moving on to Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters and reading Wool by Hugh Howey.

I saw only five movies in June:

  • The Curse of Frankenstein
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • Jupiter Ascending
  • The Falcon and the Snowman
  • Dumbo

None were what I’d call remarkable, though they all had some great moments.

Well, maybe not Jupiter Ascending, but that sure isn’t for lack of trying. I don’t think there’s anything that movie doesn’t try. I give the Wachowskis a whole lot of credit this kind of ballsy, heart-on-their-sleeve kind of film-making, even when it when really doesn’t pay off.

The biggest problem with Jupiter Ascending — beyond whatever it is that Eddie Redmayne’s doing with his voice, which is also the best thing about the movie — is that instead of being one big space opera epic it tries to be about twenty. It’s better once you figure out the basic plot underlying all the other exposition and window-dressing, but oh man is there a lot of that to get through.

I was a much bigger fan of the Wachowskis’ recent Netflix series Sense8, which also really shouldn’t work on paper. (It’s not the place to go, for instance, if you’re looking for propulsive narrative. Or maybe narrative at all.) But it’s so risky and courageous, and strange and diverse, and made with such warmth and love, that I completely and totally fell for it.

Frankenstein was good solid Hammer horror, the first pairing of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. (Lee’s recent passing was why I sought the movie out.) The Falcon and the Snowman has good performances, particularly from Sean Penn. Kingsman has an uber-British Colin Firth and a couple of genuinely incredible set-pieces, though it’s considerably weaker in other respects. And Dumbo is…well, it’s short, only about an hour in total, and some of it’s quite lovely. But maybe it’s the short length, maybe it’s that Dumbo as a character never speaks, or maybe it’s just a product of when it was made — the movie’s not overtly racist, but those crows aren’t the best characters. I’d just say it’s not essential Disney, I guess.

In June, I read 34 short stories. My favorites were:

I didn’t write as much, and it’s been many weeks since my online writing group last met, but I’m hoping to change that. The former part — the writing — that I need to change.

I also listened to some music in June, though not as much new stuff:

There are months like that. Some months, it’s like I can’t stop stumbling over new songs I want to keep listening to, and then some months…there are only seven.

Anyway, that was June for me. Beyond that, it was mostly work and getting the tires on my car replaced. Exciting times, I know. I did put together a new issue of Kaleidotrope that I’m really happy with. So there’s that.

How have you been?

May 2015

I think it’s safe to say that May, whatever its pluses or minuses, got off to an unbelievably terrible start.

I don’t really want to talk about that, though. The wound’s not as raw, but we still miss Tucker an awful lot. My parents went away for two weeks in the middle of May, on a previously planned trip to Budapest. And while I’m glad for a lot of reasons that Tucker didn’t pass while they were gone, being on my lonesome without even the dog for company wasn’t always what I’d call terrific.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d still kill for an apartment of my own again — which, the more I search in New York, the more I think I’ll have to — but not a house. Not multiple stories with multiple noises and an overactive imagination. I made it a point to avoid horror movies while they were gone.

Anyway, in May, I read two books. Both of these were Terry Pratchett Discworld books, the third and fourth in the series: Equal Rites and Mort. You can definitely see him, and the series, evolving as they go. The first two books are indeed a little scattershot, funny but not always great novels. Equal Rites probably sacrifices some of the humor in favor of story and character development — it’s less jokey than the first two books, and not always successful at jokes when it tries — but Mort does a very good job of integrating them both.

Some passages I highlighted — first from Equal Rites:

A person ignorant of the possibility of failure can be a halfbrick in the path of the bicycle of history.

And the rest from Mort:

Tragic heroes always moan when the gods take an interest in them, but it’s the people the gods ignore who get the really tough deals.

History always has a few tricks up its frayed sleeve. It’s been around a long time.

When you step off a cliff, your life takes a very definite direction.

I’ll be moving on to Book 5 in the series, Sourcery, though I’m taking a short break to read the newest book in James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series, Nemesis Games. The timing of its release is something like a sign from the universe.

In May, I saw 13 movies. That seems like a lot in retrospect. They were, in the order I saw them:

  • The Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • The Orphanage
  • Village of the Damned
  • X: The Unknown
  • Babe: Pig in the City
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Magnificent Seven
  • The Puppet Masters
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • John Wick
  • Whiplash
  • Legendary Weapons of China
  • The Last Waltz

In the order I liked them? Well, I’m not sure I’d even rank Village or X, which are passable enough late ’50s sci-fi horror movies of a particular type. (TCM was airing a whole bunch of movies of that type that day.) And Puppet Masters isn’t great, and certainly wasn’t done any favors by my having seen the ’70s Body Snatchers just the month before. It’s not terrible, especially in its early going, but it’s a very forgettable ’90s movie. And The Orphanage is occasionally very scary — I watched it while the parents were still here — but also strangely sad and touching by the end.

I think the only movie on the list I didn’t like was…you’re expecting me to say TMNT, aren’t you? But that was surprisingly entertaining. Not good, per se, but ninety-nine cents surprisingly well spent. No, the movie I didn’t like was Whiplash…which kind of gave me whiplash. It’s a lot of watching J.K. Simmons be an asshole for two hours. And while there are few people better at that than Simmons, it’s not really a pleasant experience. It’s intense, certainly, but in service of what’s kind of a bullshit (if compelling) ideology.

It doesn’t help that I watched it right after watching John Wick, which was surprisingly awesome. In fact, most of the other movies on that list fall somewhere along the awesomeness spectrum. The second Avengers movie is not without its problems, certainly, but it’s a whole lot more fun than it has any right being, considering how much Marvel is just using it to set up the next movie, and the next movie, and the next…

I don’t know, it was a lot of movies. I’ve talked about some of them more than others over on Twitter.

In May, I read thirty-three short stories, which is down from my high but about average for the year. I haven’t skipped a day since January. And I’m barely scratching the surface of what’s out there. Favorites from the month include:

  • “Time Bomb Time” by C.C. Finlay (Lightspeed) [though maybe less for the story itself than the skill with which Finlay pulls it off]
  • “Remembery Day” by Sarah Pinsker (Apex)
  • “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” by Neil Gaiman (Trigger Warning)
  • “The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family” by Usman T. Malik (Qualia Nous)
  • “Elephants and Corpses” by Kameron Hurley (Tor.com)
  • “Sun’s East, Moon’s West” by Merrie Haskell (Lightspeed)
  • “Planet Lion” by Catherynne M. Valente (Uncanny)
  • “Ossuary” by Ian Muneshwar (Clarkesworld
  • “A Song for You” by Jennifer Marie Brissett (Terraform
  • “Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land” by Ruthanna Emrys (Tor.com)
  • “Two to Leave” by Yoon Ha Lee (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
  • “Hunting Monsters” by S.L. Huang (The Book Smugglers)

So yeah, a lot of really good stories in May.

Plus, a lot more music:

I’ve also started putting together weekly “Now Playing” playlists, which are the songs I quote from on Twitter, boring and annoying people with my frequent #nowplaying hashtag. I don’t know why I do it, but it’s produced two mixes so far.

Anyway, that in a roundabout way, was May 2015. Beyond that, I wrote some, had stories rejected — one in a record two hours! — and watched more than a healthy dose of Arrow. Hard to believe it’s already June!

April 2015

In April, I again read just two books.

With Terry Pratchett’s passing in March, I decided to finally read all of the Discworld novels, as sort of my project for the year. Sadly, that’s completely do-able, now that it’s a finite number of books, the 41st and last out due out this fall. At the rate I’m reading, though, it’ll likely carry me over into 2016. Thus far, I’ve re-read The Colour of Magic and read for the first time The Light Fantastic. I liked both books, despite all the people say those are his weaker ones, and that you shouldn’t start there. That just means I have the really good ones still to look forward to. I started Equal Rites this morning, but that’s May, and will have to wait for next time.

I watched four movies.

First, the generically titled Animal, which I link to not to encourage you to watch it — don’t — but because it’s so generic a title I need to explain which movie it actually was. This was a terrible 2014 horror movie, only made enjoyable but watching (and mocking) it over Twitter with friends, chosen because it was looked so terrible.

Better movies for the month included the rather appropriately titled Blue Ruin, which starts with a strong, simple premise: what if you took one of those “man uses specialized skills to exact revenge” movies and took away the skills? It also included Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, which was odd — the only Martin Scorcese movie that was ever spun-off into a sitcom — and Furious Seven, which, honestly, was one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve ever seen. Pure ridiculousness on every level, but so much fun because of that.

I read thirty-four short stories, not including those I’m reading for Kaleidotrope or for my on-going writing workshop. Favorites include:

  • “All That We Carry, All That We Hold” by Damien Angelica Walters (Fantastic Stories of the Imagination)
  • “I am Graalnak of the Vroon Empire, Destroyer of Galaxies, Supreme Overlord of the Planet Earth. Ask Me Anything” by Laura Pearlman (Flash Fiction Online)
  • “Stay” by Daniel José Older (Fireside Fiction)
  • “When the Circus Lights Down” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny)
  • “Ishq” by Usman Malik (Nightmare)
  • Among the Thorns” by Veronica Schanoes (Tor.com)
  • “Come My Love and I’ll Tell You a Tale” by Sunny Moraine (Shimmer)
  • “Among the Sighs of the Violoncellos” by Daniel Ausema (Strange Horizons)
  • “The Sorcerer’s Unattainable Gardens” by A. Merc Rustad (Daily Science Fiction)
  • “Dr. Polingyouma’s Machine” by Emily Devenport (Uncanny)

And as always I listened to some music:

April was a pretty ordinary month, otherwise. In retrospect, from the tinged-with-sadness place I am right now at the very start of May, it was actually pretty damn good.

New fiction: “The Raven”

In happier news, my short story, “The Raven” was published this week in Lakeside Circus:

In a warehouse in Manhattan, there is a raven that can talk, and if you ask it a question, any question at all, it will tell you the answer, no matter how strange or impossible that might seem to be.

This is actually my first piece of published fiction since 2010 — that kind of is for lack of trying — and I’m really happy to be in the issue.

I hope you’ll check it out!

RIP, Tucker

tucker

[cross-posted to my Facebook wall]

My family’s dog, Tucker, passed away in the middle of the night. So yeah, I’ve had better days.

He’d just turned 12 at the end of March and had been struggling some for maybe the last year or so. His legs hurt him, he’d gone at least partially blind, and very recently struggled to breathe, coughing and hacking a lot thanks to a mass on his lungs. He was very much himself, though, a loving and friendly (if sometimes anxious and needy) dog, almost right up to the very end. I’d just seen him wagging his tail happily a few hours earlier.

But he’d been having a bad couple of nights and was clearly uncomfortable. My parents woke me up in the middle of the night to let me know he was really struggling. We went downstairs to be with him, but it was clear he was having trouble breathing and that there was nothing we could do but try and make him as comfortable as possible. He passed away a little before 5 am.

So yeah, this hasn’t been the Saturday I was expecting, or that I ever would have wanted. But he didn’t suffer much, and he had a long good life. We’ll miss Tucker — Mr. Dog, Old Mr. Brown, Taco — more than I can say, but we had more than 12 great years to know him.