Halo: New Blood

The flood of Halo books continues!
This one was a lot of flashing back. Like, two chapters of “this is what’s going on now,” and the whole rest of it was flashback. Buck,1 as it turns out, has a propensity for storytelling.
That story meanders quite a bit, because while he has a propensity for storytelling he’s got even more of one for going off on tangents. As it turns out, he’s now become a SPARTAN-IV, one of the new group that were created in the lead-up to Halo 4.2 And that’s sort of what this whole book is – an interwar period, a look at what the UNSC was doing in the immediate aftermath of the Covenant War and before the Didact showed up and started ruining things again. Which was a pretty cool bit of territory to play with, one that I don’t think we’ve really seen before in the Halo series. One of the core ideas of the games was that you’ve got the Covenant, these scary xenos,3 to provide a Big Bad Enemy that we don’t have to feel guilty for killing. But without the Covenant, humanity’s own mess of fighting amongst themselves came back out to play. It never really ended during the Covenant War, it just got put on hold – even ideologically antithetical enemies can put their differences aside when they’re faced with mutual obliteration at the hands of a third party.4 And so, in that interwar period, the rebellion against the UNSC and the UEG springs back to life, and all the troops that’ve gotten so use to that no-gray-areas war with the xenos are suddenly thrown back into the moral gloop that is a colony-vs-empire war.
And that’s something that, like I said, hasn’t really been explored in the Halo canon very much. Sure, the origin of the SPARTAN-II program was as a force for fighting against those rebels, and we’ve been through one or two missions there, but never with even a moment spared for their ideology – they were portrayed just as ‘terrorists.’ Which is fitting, considering how brainwashed all of the SPARTAN-IIs were; it’s even acknowledged in New Blood that one of the key reasons they were abducted and put into the program at the age of 6 was so that they’d have that sort of undying loyalty to the UNSC. The SPARTAN-IVs are all adults, converted into superhumans after they’ve been serving in the UNSC. And they’ve already formed their own opinions – they poke at their orders a bit, don’t obey quite as blindly, and in a couple notable cases, they actually side with the rebels. They’re not the point-and-shoot weapons that the SPARTAN-IIs were, but there’s more of them and it’s less likely to feed the rebellion when people find out about them and how they’re made.5
The fact that this one was such a gray area like that, though? It made it a much more interesting read. Depressing in places,6 but definitely interesting. Give it a read, especially if you want to find out more about the SPARTAN-IVs.

  1. The sergeant from Halo 3: ODST and a SPARTAN-IV in Halo 5, if you’re wondering why I’m acting like that’s a name that should be familiar. 
  2. Fun fact: I just now realized that Halo 5 has been out for a few months. I’m way more invested in the multimedia project that is Halo than I am in the video game series. 
  3. The term “alien” gets too much use in politics nowadays, so I’m going with “xenos” as shorthand for extra-terrestrial non-humans. 
  4. Imagine how the Cold War would’ve gone if Martians had shown up during the Cuban Missile Crisis and started laying waste to the entire planet. 
  5. Because, seriously, imagine the PR disaster that ensued when the Office of Naval Intelligence finally had to reveal that the SPARTAN-IIs were created by kidnapping children and brainwashing them and then testing a bunch of geneva-convention-violating surgeries on them. 
  6. There’s nothing more aggravating than having a playable character die at a point in the game when you can’t control them – you can’t help but feel like if you were in charge you could’ve done something different, you could’ve saved them. Cutscene deaths are stupid, and so are book-sequel-deaths. Which could be more of a spoiler if I gave you any idea of who died, but I won’t. 

“Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage”

“When veterans get together, it doesn’t matter who won or lost,” [Makarov] said through his translator. “It’s enough that both survived.”

Oh boy, do I love me some Cold War history. It’s easily my favorite time period to read about, and the one that I keep coming back to whenever my education requires I learn something about the past, lest I repeat it.1 The craziness of the whole period fascinates me – the Space Race happened in such a short time, people were cramming nuclear reactors into anything they could think of, Freeman Dyson was wandering around spitting out ideas that will probably remain the basis of science fiction giga-structures for the rest of human history, and the military was determinedly ensuring that they could wipe out the entire human race before the Commies could, dammit! It was insane! And a bit of a miracle that we all survived, really.
This book dove2 into an aspect of the Cold War that I hadn’t actually thought about very much. Yes, I spend a lot of time thinking about submarines, but never really as elements for espionage, always in either their key role as an element of the US nuclear triad3 or in the sort of crazy things I’d do with them if I had the sort of ridiculous budget that both Navies had during the War.
But they actually make a lot of sense in that context – nearly impossible to spot from orbit, invisible from the surface; their only real weakness to detection is sonar, and from the standpoint of a submarine or other stealth craft, active sonar is a big no-no when you’re trying to stay hidden. They’re basically the perfect stealth vehicle. So why not use them to do a bit of listening in?
And boy oh boy did they do some cool stuff with that. The one that takes the cake is actually how I found this book: Operation Ivy Bells. A specially-modified nuclear submarine wandered in past Soviet naval defenses and settled down on top of a key underwater communications line. Divers went out, divers affixed a wiretap, divers went back in. Wait a day or two, pick the wiretap back up, and then sneak back home to deliver the tapes to the spooks at the NSA.4 Between them and the people listening in on the sub itself, they found that the line was a treasure trove: the Soviets assumed it was safe, as it ran entirely within Soviet territorial waters, and part of the time they didn’t even bother to encrypt their communications. It was an intelligence coup, one that would be repeated on multiple other undersea cables, bringing in massive amounts of information. (At first, the wiretap could only run for a week at most before being replaced; the NSA and the Navy called in engineers from telecoms companies, and wound up building one with some rudimentary computational capabilities and an onboard nuclear power plant;56 the new device could be left in place for a year or more, require far less frequent invasions-of-territory by US subs.)
I’m going to stop there, having given away one of the biggest success stories told in the book, but that’s hardly all of it – the book, a beautiful work of non-fiction, weaves several interesting tales, ranging from political intrigue to scientific success stories to on-the-edge-of-your-seat adventure novel in places. I’d absolutely recommend it to anyone who’s at all interested in Cold War history.7

  1. What, exactly, I’m personally in danger of repeating from the Cold War, I don’t really know. 
  2. Pun absolutely intended. 
  3. Land-based missiles, SAC bombers constantly in the air, and submarines packed to the rafters with SLBMs. 
  4. This was back in the good old days, when our nation’s spies were looking outside the country. Mostly. Unless you were a Communist. Or Communist-adjacent. Or, y’know, vaguely suspicious.
    That said, the NSA didn’t do the “watching our own,” that was mostly handled (very illegally) by the CIA. 
  5. It wasn’t stated in the book, but I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that it was a radio-thermal generator, better known as an RTG; both sides in the Cold War used them to power space-based devices, and the Soviets also used them to power a grid of remote lighthouses along their long, long coastline. 
  6. The “nuclear-powered lighthouses” thing would turn out to be a horrible idea, though only after the Soviet Union had already collapsed; the lighthouses these days have been stripped for materials, leading, presumably, to a spate of heavily-irradiated thieves around the country. 
  7. Or just people who’re interested in submarines, a stance which I totally respect – submarines are cool! 

Halo: Broken Circle

I told y’all there’d be a lot of Halo books coming up, didn’t I? Well, if I haven’t, that’s a thing.1
Broken Circle was an interesting one, because, unlike the rest of the Halo series, it didn’t follow a human around.2 Most of it was also set quite a ways into the past – sure, the Forerunner trilogy3 was set millions of years in the past, but that’s so far into history as to be almost unassailable.4 This one took place roughly 500 BCE, and bounced off the formation of the Covenant to show us the turmoil immediately following. And oh, there’s some fun xenopolitics going on there. Most of the political intrigue was the internal affairs of the Covenant, posturing by a new Hierarch, trying to control an ex-Council member trying to have a quiet retirement of theological study. Instead, he’s sent on a couple of missions – first, to the San’Shyuum homeworld, both to recover a Forerunner artifact of great importance and to steal some females to bolster the ailing gene pool aboard the Dreadnaught.5 When that mission ends, he’s sent to confront Ussa ‘Xellus, the leader of a splinter faction of Sangheili who refused the Writ of Union and the Covenant, seeing it as a surrender that was culturally impossible for the Sangheili people.
And then, following a beautiful little confrontation,6 the book skips forward three thousand years, to the aftermath of Halo 2, and the beginning of the implosion of the Covenant. The ancestors of those two main characters take over as the main characters, an interesting plot device, and the book comes to a pretty good ending. There was a touch of deus ex machina going on, although, seeing as the deus in question are Forerunners and the events were an ancilla, I’d say it’s more of a “machina ex deus,” sort of situation.7
The only problem I had with the whole thing was that both of these species have intensely patriarchal systems. The Sangheili are a very warlike culture, and they’ve got a history of repressing scientific research via killing; that same ‘fix problems with death’ mindset was apparently applied to any female who wanted to contribute to the war efforts of the entire society. The San’Shyuum, meanwhile, were a splinter faction of their own people that decided to use Forerunner relics, rather than just worshipping them in place; they quite literally broke off from the home planet, stealing the Dreadnought8 and leaving to eventually build the Covenant. Their society is less ‘patriarchal’ than it is ‘reminiscent of a stereotypical fraternity.’ When faced with a lack of genetic diversity, their response was not “use our advanced genetic science to fix this,” it was “go steal some new babes from the homeworld.”
Actually, no, I’m going to revise that – it’s not ‘stereotypical fraternity,’ it’s ‘stereotypical group of nerds living in their collective parents basements.’ This is a group that prides themselves on intellect, worships machinery made by people older and much smarter than them, and can’t move without aid from their chairs. Yeah, they’re a not-very-subtle mockery of the ‘gamer’ stereotype. Which is weird, considering that this whole series is still clearly aimed at gamers.
Why do I say this? Well, first off, look at any of the female characters. All four of them, consisting of “generic female spartan,” Cortana,9 Dr. Halsey,10 and The Librarian.11 And secondly, as I’m apparently going all ‘militantly queer’ of late, I’ve noticed that this series, set in the 26th century when the LGBTQ+ rights battle has presumably been over for hundreds of years, has yet to acknowledge the existence of non-heterosexual people.12
Ah, well. I’ll keep reading the books and hope they’ll eventually get better at inclusiveness. It has to happen sometime, right?

  1. Got a bunch for Christmas, it’s taken until now for me to get to them. 
  2. Even the Forerunner trilogy of books spent at least one of the books being told by a human, and as that was the last one the way it was set means that, arguably, the rest of the books were narrated by a human, as well. 
  3. I keep coming back to these as a exceptions to the general rules of how Halo books have been; really, I think they were a bit of a turning point in the book series, along with the games, in that they opened up the lore to more than just the human/Covenant/Flood war. 
  4. Plus, since Forerunners have an average lifespan measured in the tens of thousands of years, and constructs that easily last millions, time seems a bit meaningless for them. 
  5. Somehow, none of the Hierarchs thought “hmm, we’ve got a Dreadnaught the size of a city, capable of wiping out entire planets, and a new fleet of battleships staffed with millions of Sangheili warriors, maybe we should just go back and conquer our homeworld?” Considering that the homeworld, from which they broke off, has technology consisting of ICBMs at the upper end of the hard-science scale and then a lot of biotech, it wouldn’t be much of a challenge to take over. 
  6. It really was a beautiful thing – the entire battle happened as a private conversation between the two main characters, and it ended with both sides winning, and both knowing that the others had won. It’s best described as something like a really satisfying game of chess. 
  7. God I’m proud of that awful joke. 
  8. The Keyship, as it came to be known in the videogame series. 
  9. Also known as “she’s not technically naked, since there aren’t any visible nipples.” 
  10. In remarkably good shape for an 80-year-old child-kidnapping sociopath. 
  11. She only makes an appearance as a hologram, and in that she’s a ten-million-year-old alien. 
  12. Things my roommates heard me grumbling as I read: “there aren’t even any humans in this book and it’s still heteronormative as shit.” 

Halo: Saint’s Testimony

Another one in the “books I’ve gotten for free” category, though in this case it was because I had a $1 credit on my Amazon account and the book was $0.99.1
I definitely would’ve bought the book anyways, though, because I’m far more of a fan of the Halo lore than I should be willing to admit, and this one was about an AI, so how could I resist?
Because, you see, I’m a total sucker for AI in any mythos. I love it, I love people exploring the interactions between humanity and the intelligences that they create. It’s a spectacular moral gray area, one that we really desperately need to explore now, before we’re living in one of those stories.
And so here come my issues with this book.2
First, the historical aspect: it’s set in the aftermath of the Human-Covenant War, which places it solidly in the late 26th century. The UNSC’s brand of sentient AI, Smart AIs, were first built in the late 21st century. Which means that, somehow, human society made it half a millenia without a single AI going to court and suing for personhood. It took, what, 200 years between the creation of American Sign Language, it being taught to apes, and then apes being granted personhood in a variety of jurisdictions? And in five hundred years, not a single one of the super intelligent beings manufactured, in essence, by uploading a dead human brain into the cloud tried to prove they were a person?
That aside, there’s some continuity issues that’ve been starting to crop up in the past few books, and this one really brought those to the forefront, in my mind.3 The way AIs function in the Halo universe doesn’t seem to be all too clearly set in the minds of the writers. Back when the series first started, Cortana was the best example of an AI, and she was basically a human mind, running super fast. Sure, it was a very analytical, probably sociopathic human mind, but a human mind nonetheless. She was wrapped up in different programs, which allowed her to control her appearance and interface with different systems, but still a human mind. Copying herself wasn’t an innate ability, but one she picked up while digging around in a Covenant system.45 Now, it appears that all the Smart AIs the UNSC is using are capable of the same feat, and quite a few other manners of thinking that simply aren’t possible for human minds.
I mean, yes, there’s an argument to be made that there’s been a lot of development going on in the field of Artificial Intelligence, but I’m going to go ahead and cite that ‘500 years’ figure again. A technological leap of that size over the space of a couple years simply isn’t realistic when they’ve had 500 years with access to the same technology and not made one notable improvement.

Alright I’m going to stop now, because I’m being a bit too much of an obsessive fan here and it’s starting to creep me out. Expect a couple more Halo books being reviewed soon – I got a pile of ‘em for Christmas and I’m just now starting into those.

  1. I wonder if they’re going to leave the $0.01 credit on my account? It wasn’t a gift card, it was a “thanks for choosing the cheap shipping option, Prime Customer!” thing. 
  2. Well, ‘novella’ might be a more accurate term, considering that it was written purely for e-reader and it’s also a novella length. 
  3. There were different ones that were bugging me in the other books – namely, the fact that all of humanity suddenly had access to instantaneous galaxy-spanning communications equipment at the end of the Human-Covenant War. Sure, Forerunner tech and all that, but the time between “finding the relevant Forerunner tech” and “our own version has been implemented everywhere” was… really short. 
  4. Which still has a few unanswered questions, to my mind – the weird AI running around in those systems, was that some ancient Forerunner ancilla, or a human AI that’d been captured a while ago and gone very uniquely rampant? 
  5. And yes, I am enough of a nerd that I just used the canon-accurate term “ancilla” for a Forerunner AI. 

Playlist of the Month: February 2016

How did February go past so quickly, when did that even happen? Weird.
Big Jet Plane – Angus & Julia Stone
All I Want – Kodaline
Fast Car – Navarra
I Found – Amber Run
5AM – Amber Run
Shiver – Amber Run
I Need My Girl – The National
Homegrown – Mahama Remix – Haux
Forgiven – Millesim Remix – Wolf Colony
Trusty and True – Damien Rice1
Your Hand In Mine – Explosions In The Sky
Hymn for the Weekend – Coldplay2
Spark – Amber Run
Just My Soul Responding – Amber Run
The Hanging Tree – James Newton Howard
Elysium – Mendum
Ghosts – BANNERS
Start a Riot – BANNERS
Shine a Light – BANNERS
Back When We Had Nothing -BANNERS
On Your Knees – Matthew Mayfield
Team (Lorde Cover) – Matthew Mayfield3
Midnight – Lane 8
Summer Heart – Pretty Haze
Fire – Jack Garratt
You Can’t Save Me – Johnny Stimson
Ghost ft. Patrick Baker (Lane 8 Rework) – Lane 84
But Now A Warm Feel Is Running – Fhin5
Haven, Mass (B-Side) – Bon Iver
Canyon Moon – Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness6
House for You – LOYAL

That’s it for this month – I’ve been so busy with the choir tour and the start of classes7 that I haven’t had a whole lot of time for messing around with my playlists. Hopefully next month’s will be a bit longer.

  1. I did a bit of digging into my old playlists at one point, this one came up. 
  2. I didn’t watch the Halftime Show while it was going on – I was actually on a bus, driving away from San Francisco at the time – but I did watch it about a week later. Impressive. 
  3. One of the best compliments I got this month was as I was singing along to this- someone told me “I’d never listen to Lorde, but if you did a cover of Lorde I’d listen to that.” Flattering, in a weird way. 
  4. Lane 8 was probably my top find for this month, even though it’s only these two songs by them that I actually enjoy. I’m subscribed on Soundcloud, hopefully they’ll release more stuff in this vein. 
  5. This is listed as “Deep House” but on name alone I think it deserves honorary standing as “Post-Rock” 
  6. Anecdote time: I wound up with this song because I was editing a video for a class and it needed to have some sort of upbeat song playing in the background. But this is me, I don’t have happy music, the closest I get is, like, energetically depressed. I asked Chase if he had any, and this was the only upbeat song he had. We have similar taste in music. 
  7. And the various extracurricular nonsense that I choose to get myself embroiled in. 

Games Wizards Play

Oh man oh man oh man, I love Diane Duane. She’s one of those writers that I’ve been reading forever, I grew up with her work.1 And I think all of it is wonderful. Duane does a good job of keeping her website up to date, and I follow her blog and her Twitter account pretty closely, so I’ve known this book was coming out soon. Unfortunately, I was on a bus driving around California when it actually came out, and didn’t have any time to spare for reading2 so it had to wait until now.
But man was it worth it. I loved this book, oh so very much. It’s full of beautiful little hat-tips – S’ree’s appearance, early on, was a nice little moment, and it allowed the slow-burn story of what she’s doing with her life to expand a little more. Sker’ret also poked his head in once or twice, and he’s doing quite well for himself, apparently. Carmela, who over the course of the series went from “deeply annoying” to “quite possibly my favorite character” has become a wonderfully-Involved3 person, a bit of a power player on the galactic playing field. Which I love, because she’s not a wizard – she’s just got a talent for languages and a skill for making connections.
The core plot of the book was an interesting one- once every eleven years, all the young wizards of Earth get together, throwing their best and brightest into an Invitational where they show off their spellcrafting skills. Our main characters are a bit too long in the tooth for that, though, and instead get tapped to mentor the younger folks. Dairine got paired with a young Iranian girl whose introduction had my laughing at how uncomfortable Dairine got, while Kit and Nita, always a team, got handed someone who I, personally, referred to as “an annoying startup of a human being.”
And with that as the backdrop, they were off to play. Nita and Kit spend a lot of time worrying about the change in their relationship, trying to figure all that out.4 Nita, of course, has to deal with the mess of visions that the future is throwing at her – which are, intentionally, baffling to both her and the reader. Dairine, meanwhile, has showed some of the most amazing growth as a character that I’ve ever seen – when she first was introduced, she was a powerhouse burning like a star: fierce, bright, untamable. Since then, her power levels have dropped rapidly, to a far more normal level, and while she spent a while being very upset about that, the loss of first her mother and then Roshaun forced her to grow up fast. And she did: as a mentor, she’s amazing, becoming both a friend and a protector for her mentee. I adored it.
One moment that I wasn’t quite sure I liked: the introduction of two queer characters. The first was something that’s been a long time coming, I’d say – a bit character from two books ago reappeared as a wizarding friend of the main characters, and mentions in passing that he’s gay. Nita has a little epiphany at that,5 and while still staggering from that finds out that another of those bit-characters is asexual. Plot wise, that one-two punch made sense – it was the confusion from the first coming out that led to the conversation about the second, but taken from the standpoint of a reader like me it seems a little bit forced. This is, what, the tenth6 book in the series, and you introduce your only two queer characters within a couple pages of another? It whiffs a little of tokenism.
That little bit aside, I’m going to have to stop myself now, because otherwise I’ll get into too spoilerific of territory. There are a couple new characters introduced that had my cackling with laughter or almost literally pushing my nose into the book to read with more scrutiny,7 and in a similar vein we got to see a lot more of Irina and find out more about her life.8 And the end of the book, oh lord, that ending. It’s a good thing neither of my roommates were around while I was reading it, because the delighted noise I made would probably have frightened them. It’s a perfect ending, in Diana Wynne Jones territory, and it made me so happy. This has been one of my favorite books I’ve read in the past year, and I seriously recommend it to everyone.9

  1. The other one is Tamora Pierce; the last time she came out with a new book, I stopped everything I was doing and reread the entire series up to that point, then the new book itself. 
  2. “You’ve got spare time? Nonsense, go practice your music!” 
  3. A term I’m borrowing from Iain Banks’ Culture series; to be Involved is to be a player on the galactic scale. 
  4. Ah, high school. 
  5. Which I found a little bit entertaining, because I can remember the same sort of epiphany waaaaay back when I first found out that not everyone is straight. What a weird time that was. 
  6. I’d originally written “thirteenth” here, but Diane Duane corrected me, and I’ve updated this page to be correct. 
  7. You’ll know who they are when they show up, they’re rather unforgettable. 
  8. Which was something else I absolutely loved about this book – the way that Nita, and Dairine, are both surrounded so constantly by figures of massive importance, and neither of them let it slow them down. Dairine goes through some tough negotiations with Irina, the bloody Planetary, and Nita gives a nickname to a being that exists on a scale quite a few orders of magnitude larger and more powerful than her.
    Which actually made for some very interesting foreshadowing for the reveal at the end of the book. 
  9. Bonus points if you pick it up from the author herself – she sells books and ebooks directly, on her website 

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

“… I hate myself, Dr. Luther.”
“But not so much that you didn’t come asking for help.”

I hope it’s pretty obvious to everyone, by now, that I’m a big fan of the superhero tropes. And it’s just that, actually- tropes. I recognize where things are generic story elements being slotted in, and I love it- it’s something familiar, and quite often people can do interesting things with them. It’s like the people who build functional computers in Minecraft- sure, there’s only a couple different elements you can use, but good lord is there some impressive work being done, overall.
This book… wasn’t like that. There was a little bit of it present, in the weird little chapter headings1 – a mechanic that took me a little while to catch on to, actually. It’s a very fun idea: the story plays itself out during the chapters themselves, but each heading describes the generic-YA-adventure-novel tales of Satchel and the other “indie kids.”
The goal of the book was, clearly, poking fun at those- the title is a hat-tip to that, with everyone trying to live in a world that’s plagued by the occasional outbreaks of whatever was popular in our world’s adventure novels at the time. They had zombies. Most recently was a spate of “beautiful vampires.” Sound familiar? And then, my favorite bit, the John Green nod, with references to “all the indie kids dying beautifully of cancer.”
Except the book didn’t quite get away from all that. In writing style, I’d call it almost a John Green novel itself. Or, rather, the child of John Green and Terry Pratchett. If Pratchett had written a summary or idea for a book, sketched out a couple of the characters,2 and then handed it off to Green to finish up.
I liked it, I suppose, though not as much as I could have. It was just a little bit too depressingly real for my tastes, I suppose.3
Nonetheless, a good book, one that I felt compelled to read through rather than do my homework today. Give it a go, I suppose.

  1. Think those Victorian novels. “Chapter the Third: The Queen is kidnapped. A gaslight chase. Sir Harold is injured.” And so on. 
  2. Though not, I should note, the Love Interest. 
  3. So I like escapist fantasy. Sue me. 

Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’ve Got Henchmen

I started reading this book yesterday about dinnertime, and I’d finished it before I went to bed. Which isn’t to say that it’s a short book, because it isn’t. It’s a dangerous book, because I couldn’t put it down. I adore this whole series, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting this one since I found out the author was working on it.1 And, to be honest, it was everything I was hoping for.
The second book in the series had a lot of Plot going on, to the point where it got to be too much: it got a little bit hard to follow, and I’m still a bit unclear on who some of the various factions were and what, exactly, they wanted. This went the opposite direction: there was no huge story arc throughout the piece, just a sort of “this is the life of a super-powered middle-schooler” story. Which was wonderful. I didn’t want a big story arc going on, I just wanted to experience more of this crazy chaotic world that the characters live in.2
We got a lot more of Bull in this one, and some explanation of what, exactly, is going on with Claudia, which I thought made for a beautiful little plotline, there. It was sad and sweet, and really helped to humanize Claudia, explain what’s going on with her life.
Penny, the delightfully manipulative main character, got some more of the spotlight for inheriting her mother’s (apparently non-super-powered) manipulation-streak, and for winning the “superpower genetic lottery” or some such. It was really cool, actually, to see her start getting the sort of public respect that she deserves, though not really for what she’s actually been doing.
And, of course, there were some really touching scenes with her and her family. Which is, basically, exactly what I want from a book: superhero families.3
I could not have loved this book more. I wish there was more of it. Go. Read. Now. It’s spectacular.

  1. The author’s blog is a great source of that sort of information. 
  2. One of my favorite things in the series is the description of the various video games the characters play – I really want Roberts to write a game at some point, preferably with a lot of control over the gameplay mechanics, because they all sound so fun
  3. I’ve got strange reading preferences but I STICK TO THEM, dangit. 

Invincible: Compendium One

I’d started to read Invincible at some point in the past and never finished it, apparently. Realized I still had the entire compendium sitting around1 and decided to throw it onto my phone2 for some reading material while on the bus over the first week of February.3
And I quite enjoyed it! I am, admittedly, a bit of a sucker for the whole “superhero’s kid” trope, but it got a bit beyond that. In the beginning it kinda struck me as a bit of a DC satire, in the same way that “The Boys” was a Marvel satire, but it grew beyond that.4 Their government agency is distinctly accurate to the real world in that it’s secretive and embedded in as much dark stuff as the CIA was in the 70s.
And oh, did I ever love the idea of a Superman character actually being an invader. It makes sense, though- Man of Steel had Superman accidentally killing like a million people and devastating a city over the course of a few minutes, imagine how much damage a single unfettered Kryptonian could do if given a lifespan of a few thousand years?
And then there’s Eve and Robot, two of my favorite characters present. Robot is a ‘misunderstood genius’ type, and goes a bit supervillainish at times, but I appreciate someone who’s willing to do some concerning things to get stuff done. And Eve? Oh, Eve. Someone finally did that power right- she quit being a superhero and moved to Africa to actually change things. Which is totally the right thing to do- if you can turn any molecule into any other molecule, you are absolutely wasting your time punching bank robbers.5
So yeah, that’s about it for my review. Quite a good comic, and a pretty well-developed universe. It’s got a hint of space opera, in the regard that there’s a lot going on in the background, but the main character is still distinctly a main character, both on Earth and on the galactic scale.

  1. As a single massive PDF 
  2. “I’ll use AirDrop for this, that won’t keep my phone from being able to do anything else for the next ten minutes or so, right?” 
  3. Choir tour. Eight hours of bus a day. My everything hurts. 
  4. Which is not saying that it wasn’t a DC satire in the beginning because it absolutely was, they’ve got a Batman knock-off named “Darkwing” who lives in a city that’s been magically cursed to have the same color palette as Gotham. 
  5. Though I’ll admit, the fact nobody’s had her build a space elevator yet is a bit annoying. 

The Shepherd’s Crown

“Look up here, I’m in heaven” – David Bowie, Lazarus

The Shepherd’s Crown was Terry Pratchett’s last book, published after his death. And man, I thought that Raising Steam was hard to read but, oh, The Shepherd’s Crown was so much worse. Because Raising Steam was a lively romp across the entire Disc, a chance for every single one of the characters we love to show us their lives one more time. Little glances that showed us they were doing well, living on even though we wouldn’t be able to see any more of them.
The Shepherd’s Crown wasn’t that. Part of this is because it’s for a different market – the Tiffany Aching series is the Young Adult branch of the Discworld, and so the assumption that we know all these characters isn’t there. The short introductions given to concepts that I know well, having read every Discworld book, seemed strange and out of place to me.1
And oh, those first couple of chapters were rough. (I try to avoid spoilers, but that’s not going to work this time, so consider this your spoiler warning. If you haven’t read the book yet and you want to preserve it for yourself… why are you reading reviews, anyways? It’s Terry Pratchett, it’s guaranteed to be good.)

Alright, I’ll assume that everyone who hasn’t read the book has stopped reading now.

Granny Weatherwax wasn’t just an integral part of the Aching series, she was an anchor for a number of other books as well. Seeing her go… she was okay with it, but I must say that I wasn’t. And nor was anyone else. Reading Ridcully’s hearing about her death, and his response to it, was hard.
And yes, a lot of that is because of the echoes of Terry Pratchett himself in her character. It’d been common knowledge for a while that he didn’t have much time left – he was very public about the advanced form of Alzheimers that he had2 and his own desire to not allow the disease to make his end debilitating. In short, he knew that he was dying. And, in much the same way that his death was a momentous event for the people of the Disc, so, too, was that of Granny Weatherwax.
Basically, while Raising Steam was a chance for the people of the Discworld to say goodbye to us readers, The Shepherd’s Crown was Terry Pratchett’s goodbye. And lord, but I hate goodbyes.
The book gives us a while to dwell on that sadness, mourn the loss, but then it’s time to get going again. Time halts for no man nor woman, and Tiffany has big shoes to fill. From there, it’s almost a coming-of-age story: Tiffany takes the place that everyone but her knew was coming for her, as the first-among-equals leader of the witches of the Disc. And, slowly, she comes into her own: as a young woman, she’s got that same lack of self-confidence that’s almost a key component of any young adult, but she’s also a powerful witch in her own right. The book is her coming to terms with that, the good and the bad. And in that regard, it’s wonderful.
I think I’m going to stop here, because anything else I could say would be spoiling more of the book than I already have, and I couldn’t live with myself were that the case. I quite enjoyed it, sadness and all.
A hat tip to Sir Terry: you were one of the greatest writers of our time, and you are sorely missed.

  1. This sort of thing is, I think, the reason I never much got into the Tiffany Aching books. I have them all, as I’ve got every Discworld book – except the Science of Discworld series, but I’m working on that – but I don’t go back and reread them like I do the others. 
  2. Don’t cite me on this part, I’m writing it from memory while in a moving vehicle so I can’t easily Google to verify my memory of the facts. 

Playlist of the Month: January 2016

How is this month already over? I’m still writing ‘2014’ on my papers sometimes, good lord.1
Slow It Down – The Lumineers
Big Jet Plane – Angus & Julia Stone
All I Want – Kodaline
Fast Car – Navarra
I Found – Amber Run
5AM – Amber Run
Shiver – Amber Run2
I Need My Girl – The National
Safe & Sound (feat. The Civil Wars) – Taylor Swift
Thru – Vallis Alps
Arcadia – Great States
West Egg – Great States
Homegrown – Mahama Remix – Haux
Forgiven – Millesim Remix – Wolf Colony
Trusty and True – Damien Rice
Yellow Flicker Beat – Lorde
All My Love (feat. Ariana Grande) – Major Lazer
Atlas – Coldplay
Your Hand In Mine – Explosions In The Sky3
Just for Now – Pentatonix
The Birds Are Chirping – Beware of Safety
Hymn for the Weekend – Coldplay4
Amazing Day – Coldplay
Spectre – Radiohead
Spark – Amber Run
Just My Soul Responding – Amber Run
Heaven – Amber Run
Kites – Amber Run
Breathe In – Frou Frou
The Hanging Tree – James Newton Howard5
Elysium – Mendum
Valentine’s Day – Linkin Park
Ghosts – BANNERS6
Start a Riot – BANNERS
Shine a Light – BANNERS
Back When We Had Nothing – BANNERS
On Your Knees – Matthew Mayfield7
Team (Lorde Cover) – Matthew Mayfield8
Gold Dust – BANNERS
Midnight – Lane 8

And that’s 2016 begun. A shorter list than the rest, but I’ve been keeping a strange schedule and not gotten a whole lot of new music this month, so oh well.

  1. It takes me a long time to adjust, okay? 
  2. I’ve gotta say, Amber Run was probably one of my best finds for all of 2015. 
  3. This is the variant off the Friday Night Lights soundtrack. I still haven’t watched that show, actually – the quality of the soundtrack wavers back and forth between being enough to cancel out the fact that football bores me. 
  4. I just saw the music video for this one the other day. I liked it! 
  5. I believe he’s actually the composer, and that it’s Jennifer Lawrence singing, but that’s how the soundtrack shows up in iTunes, so whatever. 
  6. Actually a different version of it than what I had, since he finally released his EP so that I could replace the Soundcloud rip. 
  7. I really wasn’t sure that I was going to like this one, and then practically overnight it became the song that I’d skip past a bunch of others to get to. 
  8. I’ve never heard the Lorde version. I should probably look that up at some point, if only for comparison. 

Future Visions

I picked this little science fiction anthology up when Microsoft emailed me to let me know that it was available for free. I mean, c’mon, who skips out on free stuff?
I know for some things of this sort I’ve done per-short-story review type things, but I’m a bit too lazy to do that.1
The concept for this anthology, so far as I understand it, was basically this: Microsoft invited2 a bunch of big-name science fiction writers to tour one of their research centers. From there, they were free to write whatever short story they wanted to, and so they did. The result was quite interesting – some of them were recognizably influenced by certain forms of research (the Skype team’s work on instant translation was very obvious in a couple of places) while others have very little connection – the final story includes a few small references to the same sort of translation technology, but paints it in a less-than-flattering light.
All told, it was an interesting read, good for reading in bits and pieces when you’ve only got a few minutes to spare, and who can beat that lovely low price of free?

  1. And, to be honest, I do those any time that I haven’t read the entirety of an anthology. This one I read cover-to-cover, with the possible exception of part of the comic that was included, as it crashed my Kindle when I was trying to read it. 
  2. Or, presumably, ‘paid.’ 

Humble Indie Comics Bundle

The Humble Bundle is a wonderful thing – it started off as games only, but they’ve since expanded into books and various other media. The short explanation is that it’s a charity, of sorts – you get a bundle of products, you choose your own price, and you choose the split between the creators of the products, a charity or charities, and a ‘Humble tip’ to help them keep their servers up and running.
I picked up the Humble Comics Bundle – Image, featuring Creators Own Worlds. Or whatever the correct capitalization of all that is supposed to be. Long story short, it’s a bunch of stuff published through Image that’s set in worlds created by the same people who did each comic – not part of, for example, the shared Marvel universe.
Now, I haven’t yet read everything in there, and I probably won’t read all of them for quite a while yet.1 But I’ve read a few, and I thought I’d share my thoughts here:


A violent little romp through Jamaica; it didn’t take too long to read, but told a nice short story. I’d put emphasis on the word ‘violent’ in that description.

Injection (vol. 1)

This one was really interesting, and I can’t decide if it felt like a TV pilot, one of the double-length ones that only ever airs as a ‘bonus content’ type of thing after the show got picked up, or if it’s more like the entire first season of a show. It’s a complete story, but it left a lot of room for sequels to follow up, and some prequels to fill in a bit. It’s dark and grimy and a lot mysterious, and I think it worked quite well. The art style fits the content very well, and I was left wanting more.

Nowhere Men (vol. 1)

Injection left me wanting more by dint of being a lovely self-contained story with plenty of room for expansion. Nowhere Men left me wanting more by being a tease with information. It’s set in a world where, rather than the Beatles taking over the world with their rock music, a group of four scientists rocketed to the global spotlight with their intellects. It’s a little bit unclear on when, exactly, everything is happening – a sort of smeary, always-now kind of setting is implied, so I think it’ll hold up pretty well – and shows off a lot of science-fiction going on in interesting ways. It’s also very mixed-media – the comic is interspersed with magazine interviews, book excerpts, and newspaper clippings that all help to fill in the world very well. Or, at least, from the public’s point of view – the actual story being told is a heck of a lot of dark-research and behind-the-scenes fighting going on. Very interesting, although the most aggravating plot twist in there is finding out that volume 2 isn’t out yet.

Jupiter’s Circle (vol. 1)

Oh my god it’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a superhero comic. There’s a reason The Boys was one of my favorites, in spite of the brutal nature of that comic. This is a little bit less ultraviolence-and-everything-is-awful than The Boys; it’s all wrapped in a lovely post-WWII-early-Cold-War aesthetic, but it’s the same sort of “yeah, there are superheroes, and yes, everyone sees them as upstanding citizens, but… they aren’t.” It was, actually, this one that convinced me to buy the entire Bundle – the ‘preview’ showed us a bit of those heroes, and then the first of their ‘issues’ cropping up – one of them is a closeted gay man. Being the 1950s or so, this is a bit of a problem. And it all got more interesting from there.

Trees (vol. 1)

There’s a sweet little love story, a bit of political intrigue, some scientific what-now, and a hint of geopolitics. This one’s clearly lining up for the rest of the series, and I’m quite annoyed at it because the single biggest “I want to know what’s going on” plot line of the whole thing ended on a massive cliffhanger. But oh, it’s an interesting world – intelligent life showed up from somewhere beyond the Earth… and didn’t notice that humanity was there. Thus, the Trees: alien megastructures that landed wherever they felt – including one that crushed wide swathes of New York City during its landing, and flooded the rest. They’re apparently indestructible, at least to anything humanity is capable of throwing at them, and they’re harder to get any information out of than they are to actually damage. I’ll have to keep an eye out for the rest of this series.

Bitch Planet

The background details of this one are fascinating – it’s set in some kind of alternate future, although apparently the difference here is that feminism never happened- or went horribly wrong, somehow. The patriarchy rules, quite literally, and does so with an iron fist. Most of the story takes place in an off-world prison, and you see things in the list of ‘crimes’ for which people (all women) were sent there that include “seduction and disappointment” and “bad mother.” It’s a scary thought.


I wasn’t sure what I was going to think of this one, but it turns out that I quite enjoyed it! The best case scenario.
Irish-Japanese girl moves from Ireland to Japan, from her father’s home to her mother’s. There, she starts seeing things, understanding patterns at a way that shouldn’t be possible. Plus there’s all the weird monsters attacking her. It’s just a fun little comic,2 with an enjoyable story, a pretty good ending to it, and a few lovely little hat-tips to manga.3
My favorite scene was a moment in the background – one of the characters is the Cat-Child, or something like that, which basically means ‘she can turn into a bunch of cats.’ The first time you see that is just a little burst of light and a bunch of cats flying all over the place. Basically I was sitting here giggling about the fact that she just exploded into cats.


The introduction to this one is the writer, talking about how he was trying to write an optimistic character for once. And he succeeded, at that, creating someone that, despite living in a doomed city on a doomed planet, continues to be hopeful that everything will come out alright. And I like her for that.
So I don’t like the writer, because he then proceeds to take everything from her – she watches her husband be murdered and her daughters kidnapped. Her son dies in front of her. Her daughter is found and lost again.
An engaging universe for things to be set in, but one that’s already coming to an end. Too depressing for my tastes.

  1. I do actually have to do classwork every once in a while, it’s a Rule or something. 
  2. Well, “little” being “it’s a 330-page PDF,” but still. 
  3. I don’t know a whole lot about manga, but my roommate last year was a big fan and I picked up a few things. 

Playlist of the Month: December 2015

This one is a bit weird, because for a good chunk of the month I wasn’t actually listening to this list – I was going back through the rest of my playlists for the year, in chronological order. Still, it was pretty fun! Anyhow, here’s the December list:
Pacific – Sleeping At Last
Slow It Down – The Lumineers
Big Jet Plane – Angus & Julia Stone
All I Want – Kodaline
Fast Car – Navarra
Ghosts – BANNERS
I Found – Amber Run1
5AM – Amber Run
Shiver – Amber Run
Not Alone – Linking Park
I Need My Girl – The National
Yellow (acoustic version from Jo Whiley’s Lunchtime Social) – Coldplay
King Nine – Blueneck
See You Soon – Coldplay2
Controlled Burn – Tall Heights
Fireproof – The National
Safe & Sound (feat. The Civil Wars) – Taylor Swift
Thru – Vallis Alps
The Running of the Bulls – Tall Heights
Careful Where You Stand – Coldplay3
Woods – Bon Iver
White Winter Hymnal – Pentatonix4
Sleigh Ride – Pentatonix
That’s Christmas To Me – Pentatonix5
Mary, Did You Know? – Pentatonix6
Silent Night – Pentatonix
Earth Division – MOGWAI
Arcadia – Great States
West Egg – Great States
Homegrown – Mahama Remix – Haux
Forgiven – Millesim Remix – Wolf Colony
Petals – Biblio
Heart Beats Slow – Angus & Julia Stone
Stay With Me – Angus & Julia Stone7
Driving Home for Christmas – Blueneck
Strong Hand – CHVRCHES
Trusty And True – Damien Rice
Yellow Flicker Beat – Lorde
All My Love (feat. Ariana Grande) – Major Lazer
Scream My Name – Tove Lo
Set The Fire To The Third Bar – Snow Patrol
Atlas – Coldplay
Your Hand In Mine – Explosions In The Sky8
Mary, Did You Know? (feat. The String Mob) – Pentatonix9
Just for Now – Pentatonix
The Birds Are Chirping – Beware of Safety
Rug – Sleeping Lion
Hymn for the Weekend – Coldplay10
Army of One – Coldplay11
A Head Full of Dreams – Coldplay
Start A Riot – BANNERS
Joy to the World – Pentatonix
Amazing Day – Coldplay
Birds – Coldplay
Mi (Soul Channel Rework) – Nils Frahm
808s & birthdaycakes – Tim Legend
La (Sebastian Freij Rework) – Nils Frahm
Re (Helios Rework) – Nils Frahm12
Spectre – Radiohead

That’s all for the year, folks! I’ve now got an entire year of consistently making a playlist for each month!
Well, okay, I had that as of August, but now I’ve got a calendar year.

  1. I’m supposed to be learning this song for voice lessons, but I keep singing one of the low harmonies instead of the melody. I can’t help it, they’re nice harmonies! hashtag-choir-kid-problems 
  2. Acoustic version. 
  3. Acoustic version. 
  4. It wouldn’t be Christmas without a bunch of acapella christmas music. 
  5. This song is a lot harder to sing than you’d think. 
  6. This one is… pretty much exactly as hard to sing as you’d think. I have a mental block against learning my part. 
  7. This song and the one before it are off the Spotify Sessions 
  8. This is the 4:11 version off the Friday Night Lights soundtrack. 
  9. I keep forgetting I’ve got both versions of this song – with strings and without – in this playlist, and I get confused whenever this version comes on because it’s got more sounds than what I’m expecting. 
  10. Me, singing along: “I’m feeling drunk and high, so high, so high…”
    My mom, sitting beside me in the car: “Nice song.” 
  11. I really feel like this is two different songs that just happen to share the same lyrics – the bridge in the middle should’ve been a track break. 
  12. The fact that ‘Helios’ is in the name keeps making me think of the album cover from the same-titled album by The Fray. 

Playlist of the Month: November 2015

I’m writing this one up on the 29th, but I’m not going to have any free time until the 5th, so doing it a bit early won’t hurt much.1 Here goes:
Pacific – Sleeping At Last
Slow It Down – The Lumineers2
Big Jet Plane – Angus & Julia Stone
All I Want – Kodaline
Thousand Eyes – Of Monsters And Men
Talk – Kodaline
I Of The Storm – Of Monsters And Men
Indian Summer – Blood Cultures
Fast Car – Navarra
Ghosts – BANNERS3
Man of Lies (live acoustic) – Blueneck
I Found – Amber Run
5AM – Amber Run
Skinny Love (VANIC Remix) – VANIC
I Love You (Quintet Version) – Woodkid
Silver Linings – Leo Kalyan
Shiver – Amber Run
Little Ghost – Amber Run
Not Alone – Linkin Park4
I Need My Girl – The National
Pools – Harrison Brome
Yellow (acoustic version from Jo Whiley’s Lunchtime Social) – Coldplay
Father, Sister – Blueneck
King Nine – Blueneck
Sparks – Coldplay (acoustic version)
See You Soon – Coldplay (acoustic version)5
Controlled Burn – Tall Heights
Fireproof – The National
Safe & Sound (feat. The Civil Wars) – Taylor Swift6
Thru – Vallis Alps
The Running of the Bulls – Tall Heights7
Everything – Zuke Duhon8
Do Not Resuscitate – Tall Heights
Careful Where You Stand – Coldplay (acoustic version)9
Bleed – Tender
Creepy – Oyster Kids10
Never Let You Down (feat. Lykke Li) – Woodkid
Woods – Bon Iver11
White Winter Hymnal – Pentatonix12
Sleigh Ride – Pentatonix
That’s Christmas To Me – Pentatonix
Mary, Did You Know? – Pentatonix13
Silent Night – Pentatonix
My Father My King – MOGWAI
The Sun Smells Too Loud – MOGWAI
Earth Division – MOGWAI
We’re No Here – MOGWAI
Adventure of a Lifetime – Coldplay14
Arcadia – Great States
West Egg – Great States
Christmas Steps – MOGWAI
Mexican Grand Prix – MOGWAI15
Arrows (feat. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis) – Fences
Harder Without You – Deutsch Duke
Travel Is Dangerous – MOGWAI
Remurdered – MOGWAI
Friend of the Night – MOGWAI
Homegrown – Mahama Remix – Haux
Auto Rock – MOGWAI
Take Me Somewhere Nice – MOGWAI16
Hasenheide – MOGWAI
Rano Pano – MOGWAI
Hungry Face – MOGWAI
Shadowplay (Album Verison) – The Saint Johns
Burn Girl Prom Queen – MOGWAI
I Know You Are But What Am I? – MOGWAI
Carraway – Great States
Forgiven – Millesimal Remix – Wolf Colony
Petals – Biblio
The Lord is Out of Control – MOGWAI
Heart Beats Slow – Angus & Julia Stone17
Stay With Me – Angus & Julia Stone
Little Whiskey – Angus & Julia Stone
All This Love – Angus & Julia Stone18
Everglow – Coldplay
Driving Home for Christmas – Blueneck19
Strong Hand – CHVRCHES
Trusty And True – Damien Rice20
Yellow Flicker Beat – Lorde
All My Love (feat. Ariana Grande) Major Lazer
Scream My Name – Tove Lo
Set The Fire To The Third Bar – Snow Patrol
Atlas – Coldplay21
Your Hand In Mine – Explosions In The Sky22

That’s the playlist for this month. Now I’m going to go investigate some of the concerningly strange emails I got while I was writing this whole thing, that’ll be fun. Happy holidays, everyone!

  1. Watch the new Coldplay album drop on the 30th and me be proven horribly wrong. Oh well. 
  2. This is one of those songs that I couldn’t figure out where it came from until I remembered that a friend had made me a “rainy day” playlist, and all the songs in there got swept into my ‘unrated songs’ playlist. 
  3. BANNERS had a new song featured on an episode of The Royals but it isn’t out anywhere yet and I’m really upset about it. 
  4. No, computer, I don’t mean ‘Linking Park,’ but thank you for helping. 
  5. Note to self: apparently I only have to type the word ‘acoustic’ twice before it stops sounding like a word. 
  6. During Thanksgiving Break my sister and I binge-watched the entire Hunger Games movie series. Good lord that’s some good soundtrack there. And the scene with “the hanging tree”? Goddamn, that’s a tear-jerker. 
  7. This song is so much fun to sing along to. 
  8. Do you ever see a picture of an artist for the first time and you’re like “that is not at all what I expected them to look like”? Yeah, that’s what I did with Zeke Duhon. Somehow I’d avoided seeing the album cover for, like, months
  9. Acoustic. A-cou-stic. Acous-tic. Ugh, this is worse than “vacuum.” 
  10. Having these two songs in a row always entertains me, for some reason. 
  11. I mostly know Bon Iver from “Holocene” and let me tell you this is an entirely different sound. Still so good, though. 
  12. Yes, the Christmas music has begun. I’m a choir kid, Christmas music starts in October. 
  13. This is the Best Christmas Song, folks. This one right here. 
  14. I don’t actually keep up to date on when people are releasing new albums or anything, so it’s always the most incredible surprise when it happens. 
  15. I swear, all post-rock bands are in a secret competition to come up with the weirdest name for a song. 
  16. I hadn’t realized how much Mogwai was in this playlist. No wonder I keep getting chunks of three or four Mogwai songs in a row, even on shuffle. 
  17. This was originally “Angus And Julia Stone” but I changed it to an ampersand because I want everything to line up right in my iTunes Library, c’mon. 
  18. My only problem with these four songs is that they’re live recordings and people feel the need to leave the crowd’s applause on those things. Eventually I’m gonna get annoyed enough at these and use iTunes settings to get rid of that. 
  19. Because, y’know, I feel like Christmas music should sound like the desolate wastes of Siberia. 
  20. I managed to typo this one as “Trust7 And True” which would’ve been a completely different song. 
  21. Why yes, I am on a Hunger Games kick. That series is the most beautifully depressing thing ever. 
  22. It’s back! And, for reference, this is the Friday Night Lights version, not the album version. I switch those out at random.