Categories
Review

“The Design of Everyday Things”

Don Norman

Unlike my usual book reviews, this wasn’t my first time reading the book. Last time, though, it was an assigned reading—I have this in print because it was provided as a textbook! And, as a textbook, it is both an excellent choice and a seminal text.

On both a first read and a reread, it holds up remarkably well. That tends to be an issue with the things that were formative to their field—eventually, they start to feel very obvious, because what was innovative has become a well-known trope. Not here, though; the only part of the book that felt noticeably dated was the couple pages that went into “the video phone” as a technology that hasn’t yet gotten big. That portion will need to be rewritten for the next edition.

Despite having been one of my textbooks, this doesn’t feel overly academic. I wouldn’t recommend trying to get through the whole thing in one sitting, but you won’t fall asleep trying to navigate through a sea of citations. If you’re at all interested in design as a discipline, check it out.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
Categories
Review

“Free Guy”

I’m honestly not sure what I was expecting from this movie. Something akin to Ready Player One, I suppose, if a bit less hitting-you-over-the-head with the pop culture references. And, sure, in places it has some of that—the big fight towards the end definitely does that, but it also leans in with the reactions. (An excellent use of Chris Evans!)

In general, while watching the movie, I enjoyed it. There’s some fun playing with tropes, and I really do like the concept—Mogworld gone mainstream!1 And I can set aside the bits of “that’s not actually how technology works” as being something of a Plumber Problem.2 Really? This Silicon Valley tech company has all their servers in a ground-floor room of their main office? Yes, definitely, for sure, that’s an efficient way to use horrifyingly-expensive San Francisco real estate. And all the players in Europe definitely love the super-laggy gameplay experience that creates.

But, again, that’s stuff that I, as a big ol’ tech nerd, notice, and the average viewer probably doesn’t know about. It moved the plot forward, and it wasn’t egregious, so why not; I’ve already suspended my disbelief about the core plot elements, so why not this too?

Where it fell down for me, though, was the end. Spoilers ahead!

Because, all told, the end seems to wrap up very nicely. The twist on the whole “the guy gets the girl” trope was nice, and answered a question I’d had floating around for a while, which I enjoyed. But if you think about it at all, there’s just… no exploration of the consequences of anything. Somebody invented general AI and… nobody cares? We’re just leaving them in a video game, and the positive change in their lives is that instead of a torture chamber it’s a People Zoo?

Oh, and let’s look at ‘torture chamber,’ too—because that’s what the video game they were living in was. A nightmare world where everyone is constantly in danger, generally dying every day and being reset the next morning, and for who knows how long, they were all being gaslit into thinking that was Fine and Normal. It may have been an accident, but the creators of this game up and created a slave race for their entertainment. That’s the kind of thing that the UN generally likes to do a bit of investigation of.

And, speaking of investigations, there’s no investigation of Antwan? The world seems to have, at least somewhat, accepted the concept that Guy, if none of the other NPCs, is a fully-sentient AI. Antwan just… gets away with trying to kill him? Sure, his stock price tanks, and he looks like an idiot on the news, but generally attempting murder in front of dozens of witnesses has slightly more of an impact on your lifestyle. Never mind the fact that he didn’t just attempt murder, he followed it up by attempting genocide against the aforementioned slave race.

Beyond all that, there’s the fact that this entire new population of artificial intelligences were born in that kind of a crucible. Trying to create an AI that doesn’t accidentally wipe us out is difficult enough; in this world, we created an army of them and they spent their childhoods as our torture-slaves. Given the rate at which they’re learning… well, Guy’s little “leveling up faster than anyone thought possible” montage sure looks more terrifying when you remember that they have no reason to like us and they know we’re a threat to their survival. If they make a sequel to this movie, it’s going to be about getting Guy a virtual girlfriend, because Hollywood is predictable like that. Joke’s on them, though, because we already have the sequel: Terminator.

  1. This is an Amazon affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I prefer Bookshop affiliate links to Amazon when possible, but in this case, the book wasn’t available there, so it’ll have to do.
  2. A phrase coined, I believe, by John Siracusa. A plumber watching a movie will notice “that’s now how plumbing works!” a lot more readily than anyone else.
Categories
Playlist

Playlist of the Month: April 2022

I had COVID this month, and let me tell you, as a young, healthy, vaccinated-and-boosted person: it sucked. Get vaccinated—it may not keep you from getting it, but “a couple days of fever and a couple weeks of coughing” is a lot better than I would’ve done without the vaccine.

How It Was – Yoste on A Few Brief Moments – EP

twentyfive – Yoste on twentyfive – Single

Oh Dear, Oh Beaux – beaux on A Love Letter To the Moments Spent Outside

All Eyes On Me – Bo Burnham on Inside (The Songs)

The Wire – Vancouver Sleep Clinic on The Wire – Single

Picture of You (feat. Hayden Calnin) – Axel Flóvent on Picture of You (feat. Hayden Calnin) – Single

Fall Creek Boys Choir – James Blake & Bon Iver on Enough Thunder – EP

Holy Ghost and Hallelujah – flora cash on Our Generation

Fix You – Thorin Loeks on Fix You – Single

Lost Angel Nights – James Blake on Friends That Break Your Heart (Bonus)

Their Superhero – Jack in Water & Alaskan Tapes on Their Superhero – Single

Lost in Space – Emmit Fenn on Lost in Space – Single

How It Is – Majik on Under the Influence – EP

If I Die – Ed Prosek on If I Die – Single

Soul Mate – flora cash on Our Generation

Liberation – BUZZ on Liberation – Single

Your Love – The Outfield on Big Innings: The Best of the Outfield

Let Me Swim – Yoste on Let Me Swim – Single

How To Save a Life (feat. Max Schneider) [Acoustic] – Tyler Ward on How To Save a Life (feat. Max Schneider) [Acoustic] – Single

The Chase – Emmit Fenn on The Chase – Single

You Found Me – The Fray on The Fray

Real – Majik on NOON // 215

You – Emmit Fenn on You – Single

Deletia (feat. Mysie) – Fyfe & Iskra Strings on Deletia (feat. Mysie) – Single

You (feat. Tusks) – Axel Flóvent on You (feat. Tusks) – Single

Run – Vallis Alps on Fable – EP

Walk Me Home – Said The Sky, ILLENIUM & Chelsea Cutler on Sentiment

Fall with Me – King Henry & Delilah Montagu on Fall with Me – Single

Show Me Where I Belong – Extreme Music on Dream Folk

Howling – RY X on Dawn

Fall Into Me (Acoustic) – Forest Blakk on Fall Into Me (Acoustic) – Single

La Culpa (feat. Canelita) – C. Tangana, Omar Montes & Daviles de Novelda on La Culpa (feat. Canelita) – Single

Save Me – Majik on It’s Alright / Save Me – Single

So Unimportant – Ethan Gruska & Bon Iver on So Unimportant – Single

Night Sky – Fyfe & Iskra Strings on Night Sky – Single

Good Like This – KAWALA on Better With You

Bel Air (feat. Mahmood & Poupie) – TODIEFOR on Bel Air (feat. Mahmood & Poupie) – Single

Hurt – Johnny Cash on Unearthed (Box Set)

Bittersweet Melody – Said The Sky & FRND on Sentiment

Chinese Satellite (Live From Sound City) – Phoebe Bridgers on Chinese Satellite (Live From Sound City) – Single

Echoes (Apple Music Home Session) – KAWALA on Apple Music Home Session: KAWALA – Single

One Word – Armen Paul on Mē – EP

Honey – Charles Fauna on Renewal

Credit Card – Quinn Lewis on Credit Card – Single

Your Love – RY X on Blood Moon

I’m Gone – Charles Fauna on Renewal

Innerbloom (Lane 8 Remix) – RÜFÜS DU SOL on Innerbloom (The Remixes)

Where’s the Catch? (feat. André 3000) – James Blake on Assume Form

Minimum – Charlie Cunningham on Lines1

Catwalk – Emmit Fenn on Catwalk – Single

Love You Like I Do – Vancouver Sleep Clinic on Fallen Paradise

Friends – Yoste on Friends – Single2

If I’m Insecure – James Blake on Friends That Break Your Heart (Bonus)

Todo De Ti – Rauw Alejandro on Todo De Ti – Single

feel away – slowthai, James Blake & Mount Kimbie on TYRON

Iris – The Goo Goo Dolls on Dizzy Up the Girl

Fall In (feat. Lizzy Land) – Kidswaste on Fall In (feat. Lizzy Land) – Single

Dumb – Emmit Fenn on The Last Dance, Pt. 2

Running Around – Goth Babe on Santa Catalina – Single

Small Things – Declan J Donovan on Small Things – Single

Giorno del giudizio – Paky, Luchè & Mahmood on Salvatore

2012 – Joey Purp on QUARTERTHING

The Fall – APRE on A001

Show Me Yours (Acoustic) – Jordan Hart on Many Thoughts… (Acoustic) – EP

Magic (Acoustic) – By The Coast on Magic (Acoustic) – Single

Last Time (Acoustic Version) – Lost//Youth on Last Time (Acoustic Version) – Single

Maybe It’s You – Charles Fauna on Renewal

tiger balm (magenta) – slenderbodies on i can’t make up my mind / tiger balm (magenta) – Single

neverletyougo – ROLE MODEL on Rx

High – The Chainsmokers on High – Single

iPad – The Chainsmokers on iPad – Single

Time – Emmit Fenn on The Last Dance, Pt. 2

Famous Last Words – James Blake on Friends That Break Your Heart (Bonus)

In Your Body – ¿Téo? on In Your Body – Single

PARIGI RMX – Alfa & Slings on PARIGI RMX – Single

All That You Want – sød ven on Beyond My Reach – EP

Liquorice – Tomas Ferdinand on Liquorice – Single

Black & Blues – Armen Paul on Mē – EP

lOnDn – EMBRZ on Don’t Look Back

Last Call – Khalid on Last Call – Single

Diamond Sky – DJ Taz Rashid & KR3TURE on Diamond Sky – Single

Tainted Love – Isaac Dunbar on Tainted Love – Single

Why Does It Hurt – Will Young on Why Does It Hurt – Single

Making Memories of Us – TORRES on Making Memories of Us / All Apologies – Single

Deep Dive – Forester on Watercolor

June – King Henry on June – Single

Lungs – Yoste on Lungs – Single

Heartbeat – Childish Gambino on Camp3

Cambria – Forester on Watercolor

Let You Go – RY X on Let You Go – Single

Someone Worth Dying For – Armen Paul on Mē – EP

Nothing Left Behind – Isak Danielson on King of a Tragedy

Saint – Forester on Watercolor

A New Kind of Love (Demo) – Guy Sigsworth, Imogen Heap & Frou Frou on A New Kind of Love (Demo) – Single

get away (feat. Rewind) – Addict., Aliss & Hue on get away (feat. Rewind) – Single

would you call me up? – Jon Bryant on would you call me up?

Crazy Like Me – Emmit Fenn on Crazy Like Me – Single

House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls (Original) – The Weeknd on House of Balloons (Original)

Spider – Said The Sky & Boy In Space on Sentiment

Storie tristi – Paky & Night Skinny on Salvatore

In My Imagination – sød ven on Beyond My Reach – EP

Empty Promise – Mansionair & Vandelux on Happiness, Guaranteed

dntstartwme. – Knxwledge. on HX​.​PRT14​.​84

BAG BOY (feat. DexLVL) – Joey Purp & KAMI on BAG BOY (feat. DexLVL) – Single

Purpose (feat. Ghostpoet) – Fyfe & Iskra Strings on Purpose (feat. Ghostpoet) – Single

Lover, i’m down for it. – Tomas Ferdinand on Lover, i’m down for it. – Single

bankakkount. – Knxwledge. on HX​.​PRT14​.​8

A Little Bit Yours (feat. Eric Chou) [Mandarin Version] – JP Saxe on A Little Bit Yours (feat. Eric Chou) [Mandarin Version] – Single

Change Your Heart or Die – The Midnight on Change Your Heart or Die – Single

Petrichor – Mark Diamond on Petrichor – Single

Antidote – Chloe Ament on Broken Bodies, Broken Hearts – EP

  1. This is one of those songs that I find via Apple Music suggesting it, and then a few days later start seeing it in Instagram stories. There’s probably some kind of connection there, but it’s a “this song is about to be popular” kind of thing, and not an “omg my phone is spying on me!!1!” thing.
  2. Really digging the new Yoste this month.
  3. Possibly my favorite addition this month? Don’t mind me, just very late to this album.
  4. Getting this album into Apple Music took some doing. If you start getting an error talking about Genius (a feature that no longer exists), the actual fix is “sign out of iTunes, quit, relaunch, sign back in.”
Categories
Review

“Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Work for a Supervillain”

Richard Roberts

I consistently forget how much I like Richard Roberts’ books. They’re a really excellent take on the superhero genre, embracing the ridiculousness of the whole thing while at the same time doing an excellent job of exploring some of the implications of living in a world that regularly has said ridiculous things happening. And, even better, doing things that would only work in the written form—there’s a truly delightful bit with a character named Retcon that I can’t imagine working in any format except first-person-written. A bit of their introduction, roughly paraphrased:

“You’re wasting your time, Retcon never comes to Chinatown.”

“Normally I don’t, but once I’d read that letter, I’d been here all day.”

And, beyond that little bit of messing with tenses to establish their power, you get the only-in-writing aspect: every time they speak, we get the “this is the first time I’ve seen this person, let me describe” them happening over again, and they’re described completely differently each time. (You may not the ‘they/them’ pronouns—the book doesn’t use those, but does switch between ‘he/him’ and ‘she/her’ a couple times.)

And that? That’s delightful. A character whose power is that they’re constantly being retconned? Just, chef’s kiss, beautiful, I love it.

As I said, I really like Roberts’ writing. It’s fun, and light, without being vapid. This book is nominally eighth in the series, but it’s eighth in the same way that, say, a new Marvel movie is the hundredth Marvel movie: sure, if you’ve seen the others, you get a bit more background on people, but it’s not required to understand what’s going on. So, if you haven’t read any of the others, this is a pretty solid jumping-in point. Give it a go.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
Categories
Review

“On Basilisk Station”

David Weber

I really, really enjoyed this one. One of the things I tend to struggle with, or at least gloss over, in military fiction is that I truly have no idea how the ranks work. I know a general is above a private, an admiral outranks an ensign, but any of the finer details, and I’m totally lost. This book did a fairly good job of addressing that—while there was certainly some of the usual “meh, I figure I’ve got this close enough” going on in my head, there were a few distinct moments where the narrative paused to explain the context.

That sort of pause occurred a few other times, notable examples being a several-page explainer of the structure of the government of one of the major powers in the book, and another several-page history lesson on the various faster-than-light drive technologies in use. And in both cases I found myself thinking that, while it’s a violation of the show-don’t-tell principle, it was also a much clearer way to explain than any “show” could’ve been. Plus, the addition of the actual history of when they were invented and what the interim periods were like added a nice bit of color to everything.

This was quite a good read, and I finished it much more quickly than I was expecting to; at some point, I may have to come back and read more of this series. And, of course, if you like military science fiction at all, I think you’ll enjoy this. Give it a read.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
Categories
Review

“The 99% Invisible City”

Roman Mars and Kurt Kohldstedt

Given how much I love the 99% Invisible podcast, it’s utterly unsurprising that I also enjoyed this book. There’s a lot of overlap between the two—to the point that, in a few places, I was reading going “yes, yes, I know, can we get to something new?”

Most of the time, though, the things being discussed in here were new information, and the exact sort of tidbit that keeps me listening to the podcast. It’s a very digestible book, with chapters divided into subchapters divided into subheadings, each of which can be independently read. Bite-size portions like that make it very easy to pick up and read a little bit while you’re waiting for something, and put back down once you’re back in action.

Overall, I totally recommend this book. If you’ve ever looked at a bit of architecture, or a weirdly-shaped park, or even just a street light, and thought “I wonder how that wound up being there, like that?” this is the book for you. Check it out.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
Categories
Review

“The End is Always Near”

Dan Carlin

If you aren’t familiar with the name, Dan Carlin is the creator of Hardcore History, which is nominally a podcast series. Personally, I’d argue that it’s a more of a series of audiobooks that’s published via a podcast feed; the average episode is somewhere in the area of five hours long. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you’re at all interested in history, it’s well worth a listen.

Having listened to the podcast prior to reading this book, I found it very easy to read in his voice. He’s got a slightly different tone he uses for asides, parentheticals; every time I followed an asterisk to get down to the footnote, I found my mind going to that same tone, and it fits perfectly. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that someone who speaks for a living managed to encode their manner of speaking into a book, but it works very well.

The general premise of the book is pretty well-aligned with the name: human history is a long series of events that stood a very solid chance of wiping out, if not our species, then at least our civilization. And, several times, the latter did happen—Assyria fell. Babylon fell. Rome fell.

For the most part, being a history book, it feels pretty timeless, but here in 2022, the chapter on previous pandemics has definitely aged. The points made are largely still valid, but one point that he hammers on—we have no frame of reference whatsoever for a civilization-scale pandemic—no longer holds true. Sure, we haven’t experienced something like the Black Death, wiping out half the population, but having gone through global quarantines, we can at least begin to imagine it.

That one caveat aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommend it to anyone who likes history. And existential dread. Give it a read.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
Categories
Review

“Meet Me in the Future”

Kameron Hurley

What’s with me and depressing short story collections lately? This is not my vibe.

There’s some interesting things in here, and occasionally a bit of “there’s hope if we work together,” but the general feeling of all the stories is “the world is terrible and any good things that happen only happen because we fight to our last breath for them.” Which, I must reiterate, is not my vibe! The real world has enough bad stuff going on that I don’t want my fiction reading to reiterate that. I’m here for escapism, thank you.

And, to double down on that for the current age, a word cloud of this book would prominently feature the word “plague.” Sure, biotech can build some cool things, but wow can it ever build some horrifying weapons!

Categories
Playlist

Playlist of the Month: March 2022

How It Was – Yoste on A Few Brief Moments – EP

twentyfive – Yoste on twentyfive – Single

Oh Dear, Oh Beaux – beaux on A Love Letter To the Moments Spent Outside

All Eyes On Me – Bo Burnham on Inside (The Songs)

The Wire – Vancouver Sleep Clinic on The Wire – Single

Picture of You (feat. Hayden Calnin) – Axel Flóvent on Picture of You (feat. Hayden Calnin) – Single

Fall Creek Boys Choir – James Blake & Bon Iver on Enough Thunder – EP

Wisdom, Justice, And Love – Linkin Park on A Thousand Suns

Lonely City – Mokita on Lonely City – Single

Holy Ghost and Hallelujah – flora cash on Our Generation

Sky High – Octavian on Sky High – Single

The Middle – Cal Trask & StayLoose on The Middle – Single

Fix You – Thorin Loeks on Fix You – Single

Lost Angel Nights – James Blake on Friends That Break Your Heart (Bonus)

Their Superhero – Jack in Water & Alaskan Tapes on Their Superhero – Single

Lost in Space – Emmit Fenn on Lost in Space – Single

How It Is – Majik on Under the Influence – EP

If I Die – Ed Prosek on If I Die – Single

Soul Mate – flora cash on Our Generation

Liberation – BUZZ on Liberation – Single

Down (Acoustic Version) – Landon Austin on Down (Acoustic Version) [Acoustic Version] – Single

Your Love – The Outfield on Big Innings: The Best of the Outfield

Self Control – Frank Ocean on Blonde

Let Me Swim – Yoste on Let Me Swim – Single

Diner – Charles Fauna on Diner – Single

The Best Part of Life – SAINt JHN on The Best Part of Life – Single

Love Me Or Leave Me – Munn on Love Me Or Leave Me – Single

F33l Lik3 Dyin – Playboi Carti on Whole Lotta Red

How To Save a Life (feat. Max Schneider) [Acoustic] – Tyler Ward on How To Save a Life (feat. Max Schneider) [Acoustic] – Single

Try To Forget – Tyler Ward on Try To Forget – Single

Brividi – Mahmood & BLANCO on Brividi – Single

The Chase – Emmit Fenn on The Chase – Single

You Found Me – The Fray on The Fray

Real – Majik on NOON // 215

You – Emmit Fenn on You – Single

You You You – GERD on In It To Lose – EP1

Say What You Will – James Blake on Friends That Break Your Heart (Bonus)

Funeral – James Blake & slowthai on Friends That Break Your Heart (Bonus)

Deletia (feat. Mysie) – Fyfe & Iskra Strings on Deletia (feat. Mysie) – Single

You (feat. Tusks) – Axel Flóvent on You (feat. Tusks) – Single

Made of Stars – DJ Taz Rashid on Be the Change

4r Da Squaw – Isaiah Rashad on The Sun’s Tirade

The Freshmen – The Verve Pipe on Villains

For The Squadron – SAINt JHN on For The Squadron – Single

Run – Vallis Alps on Fable – EP

Life Is Not The Same – James Blake on Friends That Break Your Heart (Bonus)

Walk Me Home – Said The Sky, ILLENIUM & Chelsea Cutler on Sentiment

Half Alive – Amber Run on Half Alive – Single

Fall with Me – King Henry & Delilah Montagu on Fall with Me – Single

Show Me (feat. Monica Martin) – James Blake on Friends That Break Your Heart (Bonus)

Show Me Where I Belong – Extreme Music on Dream Folk

Howling – RY X on Dawn2

I’m So Blessed You’re Mine – James Blake on Friends That Break Your Heart (Bonus)

Fall Into Me (Acoustic) – Forest Blakk on Fall Into Me (Acoustic) – Single

Ciao – Charles Fauna on Ciao – Single

Room for Another – Mokita on Room for Another – Single

This Is What It Feels Like (feat. Trevor Guthrie) – Armin van Buuren on Intense (Bonus Track Version)

Heart – Forester & Madeline on Heart – Single

like you’re god – mehro on Dark Corners – Single

STUPIDO STUPIDO – Fedez on DISUMANO

La Culpa (feat. Canelita) – C. Tangana, Omar Montes & Daviles de Novelda on La Culpa (feat. Canelita) – Single

Paris – The Chainsmokers on Memories…Do Not Open

Save Me – Majik on It’s Alright / Save Me – Single3

So Unimportant – Ethan Gruska & Bon Iver on So Unimportant – Single

Hourglass – Forester & Kotiēr on Watercolor

Night Sky – Fyfe & Iskra Strings on Night Sky – Single

Honey Bee – GERD on In It To Lose – EP

Good Like This – KAWALA on Better With You

Smooth Criminal – Michael Jackson on The Essential Michael Jackson4

Bel Air (feat. Mahmood & Poupie) – TODIEFOR on Bel Air (feat. Mahmood & Poupie) – Single

  1. Regina Spektor vibes
  2. “Hey, my music isn’t all sad British hipsters with laptops! … some of them are Australian.”
  3. One day I’m gonna have to search my own playlist archives and see how often I say “I miss Majik,” because it’s a lot.
  4. Brought back in because I’m updating my CPR certification, and we always called the CPR dummies “Annie” for whatever reason. Arrive at the scene, do the initial check: “Annie are you okay?”
Categories
Review

“Refuse to Choose!”

Barbara Sher

My friend Madi has been telling me to read “Refuse to Choose” for a while. (Well, not just me—recommending this book is something of a leitmotif for her.) And, at long last, I finally got to it.

Very early in the book, I had two very clear thoughts:

  1. I am not the target demographic of this book.
  2. Madi really, really is.

Which is a very interesting combination. I actually quite like how early on I was able to come to the first conclusion—we’re talking, “reading the first few pages while browsing in a bookstore” level. And there’s an honesty to that—Sher knows who she’s writing this for, and wants to make sure they know that the book is for them, pretty quickly. Which isn’t to say that I, as someone who, again, isn’t the target demographic, don’t find anything useful in this; at very least, it’s a solid insight into the way my friend’s mind works, and for that alone I’m glad I read it.

But further, for the people this book was meant for, wow is it ever meant for them. I could see, very clearly, just what made Madi love the book.

In short, this book is for and about what Sher calls Scanners. I’m not one—I’ve known since elementary school, if not earlier, that I wanted to Do Computers when I grew up, and I’ve never deviated from that. Scanners are the people whose minds don’t work like that—if they have that deep level of interest, it can change focus over time, or perhaps they have a handful of interests that all equally captivate them, or maybe (as Sher describes herself) you’re interested in everything. If any of that is ringing true to you, I highly recommend this book—it goes through some of the difficulties that you can find yourself facing, and provides some helpful tips for how to deal with them. (And, I want to stress, those difficulties aren’t “your brain is bad and you should feel bad, the solution is to Just Be Better”—it’s much more in the area of “society expects you to want to focus on one thing forever, and your brain just doesn’t work like that, so let’s go through ways you can make the world work for you.”)

And if you, like me, aren’t a Scanner… well, it’s still worth a read, to help you understand the Scanners in your life. Check it out.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
Categories
Review

“Iron Truth”

S.A. Tholin

Ebooks are fun, because unlike a paper book, you don’t have that physical sense of how far through the book you are. With a paperback, the first page feels very different from the second-to-last—the weight is distributed differently, it’s thicker or thinner in the hand. Not so for an ebook. I tend to leave the “percent complete” display on to try to get that back, but it fades into the background pretty quickly.

I became very aware of that… less than halfway through the book. Because, by the way the story was going, I thought I was nearly at the end. But no, that wasn’t the peak, just a local maximum, and then it was off again, with more to uncover.

Pretty early on, I was having a bit of a struggle, trying to decide if I was going to keep reading. (I did, and I’m glad of it!) As part of that, I skimmed a few reviews, and from that I remember a mention that “the book has a lot of sci-fi tropes.” That stuck in my mind a bit, because after all, nothing is original, it’s all just remixes. If you’re wondering, this book is a touch of Passengers, a great deal more Pandorum, a little bit of Halo, a splash of Doom, and a surprising little bit of Killjoys. And that’s not a bad thing; it’s fun to pick apart the pieces that made something, and try to figure out which piece you’re going to find next.

That’s what made this book so interesting, and why, despite the fact that it’s not at all a short book, I powered through it in just a couple days. I didn’t want to put it down—I had theory after theory of what was going on, why the planet it’s taking place on is like that, and wanted to know which was correct. Is this going the way of The Satan Pit, or is it a political intrigue whose cover-up is falling apart? Are the high-tech, vaguely church-y guys the good guys, or are the eco-terrorist-inspired people actually in the right? Or is it the—well, okay, no, it’s pretty easy to discount the cannibals as “the good guys,” but then, maybe nobody is the good guy. (That aspect of the story really shines as the book switches between two narrators—one, a true believer in one of those causes, the other, an outsider to everything, just as confused as the reader.)

For as creepy as the book was, I didn’t wind up jumping at shadows nearly as much as I was expecting. Because, sure, it’s a science-fiction horror thing, but it’s also a military piece and, more than all of that, a big ol’ mystery. And if I’m trying to solve a mystery, well, no time to be scared of the monsters in the dark—in mystery solving mode, I default to being Velma, and a jump scare just gets a “you stop that!”

All in all, this was a great read, and I highly recommend it if you love a good mystery, and a cool setting, like I do. Check it out.1

  1. This is an Amazon affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I prefer Bookshop affiliate links to Amazon when possible, but in this case, the book wasn’t available there, so it’ll have to do.
Categories
Review

“Nucleation”

Kimberly Unger

For the most part, I like the tech that provides the setting for this book, but it’s got a couple things that are very clearly “it needs to work this way for the story to have the right amount of tension” and instead broke the illusion. “There isn’t enough bandwidth for us to talk to you while you’re remote controlling the robot”? You’re in the same room; bandwidth constraints don’t apply, because why would you be round-tripping that data through the remote thing?

That aside, though, this was quite a fun read. And hey, most of the tech makes a lot of sense—if you can make a little wormhole, you send through some little tech, and use that to build bigger stuff. The insistence on calling nanobots “eenies” instead of, y’know, nanobots, felt a bit odd, but kinda worked as a way to displace it from ‘near future’ to… ‘slightly more distant future.’ It is an inhabited colony that this is happening on, and not Earth, so some amount of linguistic drift makes sense.

And while I griped a bit about the tension overtaking the illusion, the book did a great job of maintaining that narrative tension throughout. There were a couple times in there where I really couldn’t put it down, because I had to know what was going to happen next. Or, one notable time, where I already knew what was going to happen next, and was desperately hoping I was wrong.

In short, this is a good read, not too long, and while there’s room for a sequel, it feels like it was written to be a stand-alone story.1 Give it a go.2

  1. The ending feels less “alright, see you next book!” and more “a movie ending a note that would let them create a spin-off show if they wanted.”
  2. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
Categories
Review

“The Outside”

Ada Hoffmann

Two books in a row that get a lot of use out of the word ‘heresy,’ that’s a bit of an odd coincidence.

I also quite enjoyed this. Midway through I texted a friend of mine that I could very clearly see one of the influences of this book—Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence. I stand by that. It took a bit of hand-waving about the way AI works, but Hoffmann found a reasonable explanation for why AI would bother keeping humanity around. Frankly, it’s one of the good outcomes; sure, we’re basically cattle, but hey, at least we’re wagyu.

And that, right there, was what made the setting so fascinating. Humanity as the tame feedstock for the AIs, which went ahead and declared themselves Gods. (And, yes, they are referred to with the capital ‘G’ throughout.) They are the Gods, and they grant us useful technology like interstellar travel and clean energy, but we’re also kicked back to 1950s computer technology, because anything more modern gets too close to their turf. And that’s where the use of ‘heresy’ comes back into play.

It gets more interesting than that, but that’s also getting into spoiler territory, so I’ll stop there.

One other thing to note that I quite liked about the book was how well it fit in a diverse cast. The protagonist is neuroatypical, and her love interest is a woman—a fact which is, in fact, never remarked upon by anyone. To borrow a meme, this is the future liberals want.1

All in all, I found this to be quite a good read, and do recommend it. Check it out.2

  1. Another thing I’ll stand by. Seriously, go read Superintelligence – being feedstock, after our death, for the AIs is pretty close to the best-case scenario for humanity.
  2. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.
Categories
Playlist

Playlist of the Month: February 2022

In theory we’re approaching spring, but given that it snowed a few days ago, it doesn’t particularly feel like it.

How It Was – Yoste on A Few Brief Moments – EP

twentyfive – Yoste on twentyfive – Single

Oh Dear, Oh Beaux – beaux on A Love Letter To the Moments Spent Outside

All Eyes On Me – Bo Burnham on Inside (The Songs)

Body Heat – ItsLee & Vide on Body Heat – Single

Daniel – Will Young on Crying on the Bathroom Floor

The Wire – Vancouver Sleep Clinic on The Wire – Single

Only Human – Philip Ayers on Only Human – Single

Picture of You (feat. Hayden Calnin) – Axel Flóvent on Picture of You (feat. Hayden Calnin) – Single

Fall Creek Boys Choir – James Blake & Bon Iver on Enough Thunder – EP

Wisdom, Justice, And Love – Linkin Park on A Thousand Suns

Lonely City – Mokita on Lonely City – Single

u hurt me hurts u – Anson Seabra on Feeling For My Life

Perfect Teeth – Petey on Lean Into Life

Holy Ghost and Hallelujah – flora cash on Our Generation

Funeral – James Blake on Friends That Break Your Heart (Bonus)

What I Loved About You – Fyfe on Games

Sights Like These – Edwin Raphael on Sights Like These – Single

Sky High – Octavian on Sky High – Single

The Middle – Cal Trask & StayLoose on The Middle – Single

Fix You – Thorin Loeks on Fix You – Single

Lost Angel Nights – James Blake on Friends That Break Your Heart (Bonus)

The Bright Lights – flora cash on Our Generation

Their Superhero – Jack in Water & Alaskan Tapes on Their Superhero – Single

Pyralone – Jónsi on Obsidian

Lost in Space – Emmit Fenn on Lost in Space – Single

Graves – Aisha Badru on The Way Back Home – EP

How It Is – Majik on Under the Influence – EP

If I Die – Ed Prosek on If I Die – Single

Soul Mate – flora cash on Our Generation

Interiority – Fyfe & Iskra Strings on Interiority – Single

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait – Isak Danielson on Good Things Come To Those Who Wait – Single

I Miss You – Amber Run on I Miss You – Single

Untold – RY X on Unfurl

Liberation – BUZZ on Liberation – Single

Down (Acoustic Version) – Landon Austin on Down (Acoustic Version) [Acoustic Version] – Single

Your Love – The Outfield on Big Innings: The Best of the Outfield

nomore – Addict. & Rewind on nomore – Single

Operator – Fyfe on Games

Self Control – Frank Ocean on Blonde

Wrangelstrasse – The Irrepressibles on Superheroes (Deluxe Edition)

Burn – Juice WRLD on Fighting Demons (Lyric Video Version)

It’s Not U – King Henry on It’s Not U – Single

Roses – Teflon Sega on Roses – Single

Let Me Swim – Yoste on Let Me Swim – Single

Diner – Charles Fauna on Diner – Single

Chamomile – slenderbodies on Plastic Parts / Chamomile – Single

laisse moi entrer – La Femme Pendu on VAMPYR1

The Best Part of Life – SAINt JHN on The Best Part of Life – Single

Love Me Or Leave Me – Munn on Love Me Or Leave Me – Single

In Limbo – Munn on In Limbo – Single

F33l Lik3 Dyin – Playboi Carti on Whole Lotta Red

Her Revolution – Burial, Four Tet & Thom Yorke on Her Revolution / His Rope – Single

How To Save a Life (feat. Max Schneider) [Acoustic] – Tyler Ward on How To Save a Life (feat. Max Schneider) [Acoustic] – Single2

Sweet Home – SYML on Sweet Home – Single

Ride or Die – Hippo Campus on LP3

Blindsided – Landon Austin on Blindsided – Single

Go Hard 2.0 – Juice WRLD on Fighting Demons (Complete Edition)

Try To Forget – Tyler Ward on Try To Forget – Single

Brividi – Mahmood & BLANCO on Brividi – Single

I’ll Look After You (feat. Haux) – Luno on I’ll Look After You (feat. Haux) – Single

Moviestar – Addict., Rewind & Diego R. on Moviestar – Single

The Chase – Emmit Fenn on The Chase – Single

Dreamer – Hayden Calnin on Dreamer – Single

Cigarettes – Juice WRLD on Cigarettes – Single

A Giant’s Chair – Jack in Water on You Once Were Home – EP

Something Just Like This – The Chainsmokers & Coldplay on Something Just Like This

You Found Me – The Fray on The Fray

Real – Majik on NOON // 2153

You – Emmit Fenn on You – Single

You You You – GERD on In It To Lose – EP

Say What You Will – James Blake on Friends That Break Your Heart (Bonus)

Don’t Look Back – EMBRZ on Don’t Look Back

Funeral – James Blake & slowthai on Friends That Break Your Heart (Bonus)4

Deletia (feat. Mysie) – Fyfe & Iskra Strings on Deletia (feat. Mysie) – Single

You (feat. Tusks) – Axel Flóvent on You (feat. Tusks) – Single

Saab 900 – Big Kill on Big Kill Future

Made of Stars – DJ Taz Rashid on Be the Change

4r Da Squaw – Isaiah Rashad on The Sun’s Tirade

The Freshmen – The Verve Pipe on Villains

  1. I just really love Allison Scagliotti, okay?
  2. Apple Music recommended this, and then I wound up listening to The Fray’s entire first album and realizing that there’s only like two tracks on there that I don’t know by heart.
  3. I miss Majik…
  4. Kinda fun having both versions of Funeral on this playlist, it’s a bit like a ‘drop the needle’ quiz.
Categories
Review

“Ninefox Gambit”

Yoon Ha Lee

I post many book reviews here, but one thing that I tend not to mention, is that I don’t actually review every book I read. If I give up on the book—in disgust, in boredom, for whatever reason—I won’t review it. If I make it through the whole book, sit down to write my thoughts, and can’t come up with a single positive note, I won’t review it. (There’s already enough negativity in the world, I’m not going to add to it.)

As a natural result of that, there’s a solid amount of very generic science fiction that I don’t post reviews of. Stuff that’s… fine. Uninspiring, cliche, trite, but not offensively bad.

“Ninefox Gambit” stands out because it is none of those things. It is unabashedly strange, gloriously new. Disconcerting and disquieting. It actually took me quite a while to be certain that all the characters are human—and, later, to determine that they’re not just pan-human, but human human, and the different classifications are a matter of culture.

In short, I absolutely loved this book. For all that I want to rave about the fascinating setting, the technological backdrop underpinning everything, I won’t, because a good part of the fun was in figuring out what, exactly, all of that was. Please, get a copy of the book, set aside some time to read, and lose yourself in this masterpiece.1

  1. This is an Amazon affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I prefer Bookshop affiliate links to Amazon when possible, but in this case, the book wasn’t available there, so it’ll have to do.