Saturday, February 6, 2016

Great Things I've Been Reading (December/January Combo Edition)

December ended busily with Books of the Year and Games of the Year posts, so I couldn't fit my normal short story/non-fiction round-up. January is now in our rear-view mirrors, so I figured I'd lump the two months together now.

As always, the rule is that whatever I link is free-to-read with no paywall. The selection will be bigger for this post, but it still feels too short, mostly for the December stories that melted from my memory with the pressure of deadlines and the holidays.

Monday, January 25, 2016

You and I Will Ruin X-Files


If one thing ruins this X-Files revival, it will be us. It won't be Chris Carter's zany and plodding scripts - you liked that twenty years ago. It's not the actors aging - Gillian Anderson has only gained more gravitas with time. No, we've changed. We've changed in a way that can screw this up for us.

I had a great time watching the premiere last night. It captured the unabashed hokeyness of the original series, a willingness to believe things that no one in my social groups does. It is once again a show about Belief and Plot getting along much better than they do in reality. It is once again an escape from the way things are, an itch only Welcome to Night Vale scratches for me these days.

But people got furious over the New World Order conspiracies that flooded the episode. They were angry that the show wasn't doing "better" than Alex Jones and Glenn Beck. Jones and Beck are contemptible in real life, but X-Files is not The Wire. It performs a different function. From the first episode when Mulder spray-painted an X on the street and gauged how much time a flash of light made him lose, it's been about indulging in tinfoil hat thinking.

Last night's premiere was remarkably faithful. The X-Files didn't change. We did.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Most Anticipated Books (and other things) for 2016

Hello, January! What a nice year you've brought behind you. Today I want to share the books I'm most looking forward to this year. Like every year there will be huge surprises, but there's already outrageous promise for what we can read. I've added a couple of games and movies to the end, because anticipation isn't reserved just for writing. But damned if I won't be unreachable the week Children of Earth and Sky releases.


The Drowning Eyes by Emily Foster
(Right Now, Tor.com)

The first book on my list is actually releasing this week! One of Tor.com's hot novellas, The Drowning Eyes is a tale of the high seas, and the people that control the wind behind your sails. Wind mages are a great idea for pirate stories. Their power stopped raiders for years, but that magic has been stolen, forcing an intrepid captain to risk her ship and crew to get it back.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Realistic Spider-Man?




So yesterday the Russo Brothers did an interview about how "grounded" and "realistic" their approach to Spider-Man would be. I couldn't help offering some tips on how a realistic Spidey story would go.

  • A realistic Spider-Man? So, a kid is bitten by a spider, gets no powers, and struggles with poverty?
  • His widow aunt can't afford their bills, so Peter gets a second job. They're evicted anyway.
  • Peter photographs himself as an elusive vigilante. Daily Bugle won't call him back and he winds up with three reblogs.
  • Mary Jane swipes left.
  • Rich evil Norman Osborn dons a goblin mask and terrorizes the city. Pundits wonder when he'll run for president.


  • While Peter is at a wrestling show, his uncle is shot. Naturally he blames poor standard of living and NRA lobbyists.
  • Boy genius Peter develops liquid steel webbing technology. A troll swoops his patent and sues him.
  • Doctor Octopus is a Podcatcher knock-off app that fills Peter's phone with malware.
  • A sexy cat burglar is tearing up the city. Peter, who has crushing debt and no powers, never meets her. The end.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Top Ten Videogames of the Year, 2015

Nothing expresses how Three-Stooges-goofy I find ranking art than my own attempts to do so. After Twitter friends said they wanted to read about my Top Ten Games of the Year, I tried and failed to order them. In recent years I've tried keeping lists like this just to remind myself how great videogames are as a hobby, and every year I come up with impossible ties. 2015 was the year of the most goofy ties yet.

Below you'll find:
-A tie between Tenth, Ninth, Eighth, Seventh, and Sixth Place.
-A tie between Fifth and Fourth Place.
-A tie between Third and Second Place.
-And a game that's unlike any of the other nine, and yet I think is my favorite thing I've played this decade.

There is no objective superiority between any of the tied games. Hell, there isn't even a respectable objectivity in the games ranked above and below each other, because it turns out comparing art objectively is ridiculous. Ask me what I think of Awards Culture sometime for a fun rant.

Aside from revealing how goofy ranked lists are, this is my attempt to celebrate 2015 as a year where so many companies created such different pieces of great interactive entertainment. These were necessary escapes from some terrible health problems, and some enriching narratives that gave me great times with friends. The leaps videogames have made in narrative, in the ability to present art design, and in refining mechanics makes it one of my favorite respites. It's so great that I end the list with a bunch of Honorable Mentions. The Honorable Mentions are not ranked because Shut The Hell Up.

Monday, December 28, 2015

BestReads2015: My Favorite Books I Read in 2015


My favorite thing about BestReads is remembering how many special books I encountered in a year. It's easy to take great literature and fun stories for granted, but when I put them side-by-side like this, I feel privileged.

My picks are not ranked. Ranking is generally ridiculous for the arts, but obscene when you're compiling what art moved you the most. As always, the rules are you can list whatever you read for the time this year. You're not limited to what came out this year, as my first pick shows.

If you do your own BestReads2015 post, hit me up in the comments and I'll link you at the bottom of this post.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve Puzzle: Guess the Book!



I have a tradition with my brother. He likes to figure out what's in his Christmas presents, so I give him a book. Unable to figure out which book just by shaking and groping it, I give him clues to the plot, subject and title. It's also tradition that I post all the clues on this website.

This year's title is eleven letters long, so you get eleven clues, one per letter. If you're stuck in an airport, bored waiting for your date, or need something to play with your family for the holiday, feel free to guess along. Post any answers or guesses to the eleven clues below. Some years commenters have cracked this together long ahead of Dave.

1. This record company released more of his albums than any other. They deliberately mis-spelled their name, and this is the only letter than appears twice in it. Hint: see 11.

2. One of the first movies he appeared in never made it to theaters because he allegedly destroyed the negative himself. It was sensitively titled "_____ Tom's Fairy Tales: The Movie for Homosexuals " This is the first letter in the missing word.

3. The last letter in the last proper album he recorded with his label, and his second-to-last stand-up album ever. Compilations and anthology releases came later, but this was it, a one-word title referencing a superhero movie he appeared in that same year. He was a villain.

4. He was born in this Midwestern state. It's the most populous. The first letter of that state goes here.

5. This letter occurs three times in the title. This is the first time the letter occurs, though.

6. This vowel occurs twice in the title.

7. He wrote for this sitcom, titled after its two main characters whose names both started with the same letter. That letter goes here.

8. This is the first letter in a drug he was famous for doing. It's not much of a hint given how many American entertainers have done it, but few set themselves on fire while under its influence. He was a trailblazer.

9. Comedy Central once spent three hours by counting down the hundred greatest comedians of all time. This is the first letter in the number of where he ranked. Hint: he was in the top seven.

10. If a cop asks if you've committed crimes before, they might ask if you have any "prior ____." This is the first letter in the missing word.

11. This record company released more of his albums than any other. The first letter in their four-letter name goes here. The letter also occurs twice in the name of his home state.

Happy guessing!

Monday, December 14, 2015

My Mom's Six Reactions to Seeing Star Wars for the First Time

My mom doesn't really like Fantasy and Science Fiction. She barely reads what I write, preferring more grounded dramas like No Country for Old Men and The Ghost Writer. It's hard for her in a way nerd kids struggle to understand, because like many of our parents, she grew up without much access to cartoons or Fantasy books, and so didn't develop the taste that we have. She knows I love the genres, but can't get into Hunger Games and Pirates of the Caribbean. Or, she couldn't get into them until this year.

Earlier this year she watched LOST and started feeling like Genre Fiction could mean something to her. It had a blend of human stories along with its fantastic elements that made them approachable to her, something I'll probably write up later. In October, fresh out of European movies to watch, she binged all of Fringe, which was the true gateway drug for her. It's gotten me to start watching it, just to find out why it was the silver bullet.

That set her up, though. When the Force Awakens trailer hit, Mom called me up and asked something I'll cherish for years: "Can we watch Star Treks?"

Yes, Mom. We can always watch Star Treks.

She wanted to know about the cultural phenomenon she'd missed, about this weird collaboration between John Williams, the Jim Henson Company, and Harrison Ford. In preparation for the new movie, we watched Lucas's original trilogy. Watching her was more interesting to me than revisiting the films, and I had to share some of it.


Friday, December 11, 2015

#BestReads2015 Is Coming



It's December, which means it's Best Reads time. This is an annual event for bloggers asking what your favorite books were of the last year. BestReads2015 launches Monday, December 28th. That gets it out of the way of Christmas, and gives you a couple more weeks to finish your reading. I know I have five books I really want to polish off before I give up on 2015.

As opposed to Best of the Year lists, this can include any books you read for the first time this year. It includes anything from 2014 you only caught onto now (I presume The Martian will hit a few lists), as well as classics. As someone who's always catching up on older works, my list will probably be half things published over a decade ago. The Color Purple is fricking good.

The tradition is to list your favorite books of the year and write a little about them. You can list as many and write as much about each as you like - there is no mandated standard. A Dirty Dozen or a Top Three? Both work. If you post, let me know and I'll add your link to my post on the 28th. The easiest way is in the comments of one of these posts.

So think on it. What are your favorite books that you read this year? Not what was written or published in 2015, but that you personally read and loved for the first time. Fiction, non-fiction, prose, poetry and sequential art are all welcome. You can handle the number and format as you like.

On Twitter, our hashtag will be #BestReads2015. Feel free to launch questions below. We'll field them together.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

KILL ME Props: Twitter, Jessica Jones, and a Thursday with Chronic Pain and Depression



It could be worse.

This is what it's like when it's bad.

Thursday is one of those nights. I intended to push four miles on the elliptical, but by dusk it feels like my spine is being pummeled whenever I sit up, and lying down makes it worse. The medication is definitely failing, so I can't even walk downstairs. My mind is thick with the fog of pain regulation, by all these alarms telling me to escape my own skin. I can't write or edit. I can barely make it through a couple paragraphs of anyone else's work. My friend's story beta will have to wait.

Twitter is something I shouldn't check when the pain is like this. Most often when people are happy, they enjoy the moment and neglect social media. You have more time for wifi when you're bored or angry. It shows.

Tonight people are outraged about anti-Muslim sentiments in America and Europe. Islamophobia will kill more innocents by the end of the year than all the terrorists attacks of the last month, but I can't get my brain to form cogent comments on it. Tweets cluster around the House's bigoted bill to prevent more Syrians from taking refuge here, but most tweets are just pissed in general. I want to support them because this could landslide, but am tag-teamed by the mental exhaustion of the pain, and the sense of worthlessness that depression always uses to dissolve good intentions.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Great Things I Read in November

My November reading got cut short by some health problems, but I still crossed several amazing short pieces. Since October, I've started a tradition of linking to the best free short fiction and non-fiction pieces I read in a given month. Most of these were published in November (naturally), but selections can come from anytime, so long as there is no paywall between the reader and the story.

I'm always looking for more great stories. If you have anything you've been loving, please link me up in the comments.

Also, this feature needs a better title. Please rattle off ideas if you have them.

Fiction
"The Game of Smash and Recovery" by Kelly Link at Strange Horizons 
-That Link magic kicks in after half a paragraph, when you realize Anat isn't just an adoring little sister, but a flamethrower-wielding vampire hunter. Possibly part of the last duo on earth. In such short scenes it alternates between dark and funny (the vampires might be stranded aliens?), bittersweet (she longs to meet her absent parents, and dreads her brother disappearing), and legitimately sweet (those birthdays, though). I adore how all the bits come together. Link remains one of the greatest short story writers I've ever read, doubly admirable for continually trying the hard things and making them look easy.

"Dispatches From a Hole in the World" by Sunny Moraine at Nightmare Magazine
-Trigger Warning for Suicide. This is a story about a viral epidemic of suicides that science has so far failed to figure out or combat. The grant student goes through case after gruesome case, gradually being worn down by the awful things she studies, and we fear she'll be infected by whatever this thing is. Could despair itself be a villain of Horror?

"The Customer Is Always Right" by Anna Salonen at Mothership Zeta 
-One of those successful all-dialogue stories that pulls off the sense of things actually happening while all you get is chatter. Also, death rays! It's the story of a customer service call for a malfunctioning death ray and just gets funnier as it goes along.

"Horror Story" by Carmen Maria Machado at Granta
-After all the Horror I've read, why did I relish a short that's mostly about figuring out what creepy crawly was stalking their apartment? Because Machado's story uses those tropes to deliver something else entirely at the end. She unfurls her idea slowly and assuredly, through gradual hints of a drain malfunctioning, of escalating blame, in a tight package that hands off to an abrupt and highly unusual ending.


Non-Fiction
"Everything is Miscellaneous: Why Publishing Needs Tagging" by Michael R. Underwood at Boing Boing
-There are more books in print today than you could ever read, so we need better methods of discoverability. Underwood recommends adopting fanfic-like tagging systems, with idea clouds identifying this novel has Dinosaurs, Coca Cola Product Placement, and Steamy Sex Scenes. It works for Trigger Warnings (hold your outrage; they're useful to people with actual psychological triggers), but are also greatly useful in finding books to meet your specific mood. Amazon has pushed its sub-categories, but the book-space still needs more robust discoverability options. It's an excellent proposal.

"How to be a Genderqueer Feminist" by Laurie Penny at Buzzfeed
-Feminism is supposed to be about equity for all, but historically has had trouble supporting anyone but cis white women. It's getting better, and discussions like this one are why. Here is a beautiful article about someone who identifies as neither male nor female, who believes passionately in some of Feminism, but whose identity is met with hostility by many adherents. It's food for compassion and expanding dogmas.

"Indonesia plans prison guarded by crocodiles for drug convicts" by Kesavan Unnikrishnah at Digital Journal
-"It’s not a human rights violation when a crocodile does the killing," says Slamet Pribadi, proposing a prison guarded by crocodiles. If you want to read it and gape in horror or laugh at the absurdity, it works for both. This, the Inodesian government believes, will be safer because unlike human guards, crocodiles can't be bribed.

"Campus Activists Weaponize 'Safe Space'" by Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic
-Breaking down the recorded instance of Tim Tai, an Asian American photographer who was bullied by a crowd of fellow students into not photographing events in a public space. They demanded he not touch them while marching towards him, said he had no right to photograph them (and ignored when he explained the First Amendment), and claimed the space was only for students despite the photographer being a student at the university. Tai was contracted for the work by ESPN, an outlet the protesters dislike, and so bent every rule available to themselves to intimidate him. Safe Space policies are necessary and indispensable, but it's important to consider how they can be abused as we move forward.

-The Binding of Isaac is a videogame that's gained a cult following for being weird, but its latest expansion took that further. Fans suspected there were hidden levels, enemies, and characters locked away with no sign of how to reach them. Players dug up files from inside the game itself and followed the developer's cryptic tweets until they were combing real-life wilderness and amusement parks for clues over what was in the game. You dream of engaging with your audience that profoundly.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Giving Thanks for Blood Banks and Balloon Malfunctions

I went on a little Twitter rant Thursday morning. It was a positive rant, which is unusual because rants are not usually positive - nor are tweets. It felt weird seeing my string of gratitude filter between people griping or giving half-hearted thanks for tiny things in their lives. Often I'm like that, because you get caught up in your own norms and anxieties. 

But if you have the privilege of internet access, something that would have passed for magic in any time before that of our grandparents, you can be thankful for more than toast. Sometimes it's useful to remember that. So here comes an obnoxious barrage of things I'm glad are real.

For instance, I'm thankful for the crossovers cosplay affords.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Making Her" in the inaugural Charleston Anvil

I'm proud to announce my short story, "Making Her," is live in the inaugural issue of The Charleston Anvil!

"Making Her" is one of the Bathroom Monologues I'm most proud. It's an unusual dialogue-only story in that it doesn't tell the normal conversational plot. Instead, it's about the people trying to define a girl's life for her as she's just trying to grow up and stay sane. If you miss my experimental fiction, this one's for you.

My story is running alongside work by Andrea Tsurumi, John Butterworth, and Randall Nichols. Randall has contributed his short, "The North Star," a neat tale I had the privilege of beta reading a while back. It's even sharper now.

The digital version of The Charleston Anvil is on sale forPay What You Want. That means you can download it for free right now. They'll be able to afford more authors and issues if you feel like contributing a little, but they'll leave how much it's worth to you. It's a model I respect.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Your Daredevil Fanfic Minute



Foggy: No no no no no.
Matt: What's the matter, Foggy?
Foggy: I just realized this guy is going to kill one of us and you're the main character.
Matt: You're the plucky comic relief.
Foggy: In a Marvel thing.
Matt: They wouldn't.
Foggy: MATT HE LOOKS LIKE JOSS WHEDON
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