The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

The Books I Read: September – October 2020

bookshelf books
The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

A true sequel to the first–it’s a race against time to keep humanity alive after a meteor has crashed on Earth, giving it a much closer expiration date. The only solution is to travel to space. All of this was all in the first book.

Now that the space program’s been established, it’s time to put a colony on Mars. And our hero protagonist is part of the team making the year-long journey to the future with 1960’s technology.

It’s not a complicated plot, but it’s still very good. Better than the first. Since the majority of the book takes place on the ship, there’s less of the global cultural zeitgeist the first had. Like there’s no hemming and hawing over stage fright or anti-anxiety medication. Which is good — we dealt with that in the first book, and the character overcame those obstacles. No need to run that race again.

What we are dealing with is the products of those cultures bringing that baggage with them into space and the strife it causes. It’s civil rights on the smaller scale. The “women in the kitchen”, “screw your regulations, they’re dying out there”, “either have children or have a career” type stuff. The last book’s antagonist is now our protagonist’s captain, which makes for good drama.

And it’s all dealt with smartly, knowing you can’t win all the battles (especially in the 1960s). I realized it’s a little like The Hunger Games mixed with The Right Stuff. The conflict between the public image you have to present to gain the public’s favor so they support you and keep you progressing versus the gritty realism of the science, the hard work, and the fact that not all of us survive.

The prose is a little less technical, but that’s good. If you can understand Apollo 13, you can understand this. And I’m definitely going to pick up the next book in the series.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
(unfinished)

This is a collection of essays by Roxanne Gay, a teacher, Black woman, and political activist. Essay topics focus on race, LGBTQ, and women’s rights. They range from personal stories to opinions to “struggle” pieces.

I’m just not in a place for it. And I don’t know if I’d ever be in a place for it. I don’t need to feel ashamed for how I’m not “woke enough” these days. I get enough of that on Twitter. I get that being Black is hard, being a woman is hard, getting a Ph.D. while being impoverished is hard, teaching is hard, everything’s hard. I just didn’t get why I should care or why I should listen. Not because I don’t like the same things she likes (I don’t) but that I didn’t have a bond with the author. Does a non-fiction book need a “save the cat” moment?

This is the book that made me realize everyone has a different motivation for why they read. John Green said “I read because I am trapped in my one brain in my one body in this one place and I want to escape that prison.” Now you could interpret that to mean “I read to experience diversity” or “I read to live other people’s lives” or “to see worlds other than this one”. But for me, it means I read to feel less alone. I read to know there are other people out there like me who feel things like I do, in strange ways like I do, who see what’s wrong and right with the world in the same way I do. My favorite books are “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl” and “Looking for Alaska” and “Eleanor and Park”. I like the books where I wish I was friends with the characters, so we could be less lonely together.

This is not that kind of book.

It’s obviously for the educated and meant to educate others. And I have no doubt I would be educated by reading it. But it’s missing the charm that makes me want to spend time with this person. W. Kamau Bell and Lindsey Stirling and Hannah Hart had that. The reasons I stopped reading are similar to why I stopped reading We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby. I have no need for critiques of “Gone Girl” and “Fifty Shades of Grey“. I’ve seen those to ad nauseum on YouTube. And when your beliefs are full of conflicts and you proudly proclaim that, that invalidates your thesis in my opinion. You can’t have it both ways–there has to be equivalent exchange.

Dead Star Park by Mark Hill

This is a horror-comedy a little in the vein of David Wong (John Dies at the End), but in Adventureland. Basically the same plot too–disaffected teenagers work an amusement park, socializing, relationships, coming of age. But at this park, something sinister’s going on after close. Something unworldly.

Casey (the main character) is an excellent character to read about. The wit is there, the characters are *chef’s kiss* well-rounded. But the horror is blah. It never goes anywhere. There’s no sense of a goal or of goalposts being pushed back. Her “big problem” is seeing confusing visions and cryptic words to create “mystery” and “intrigue”. While the narrative hangs a lampshade on this trope, it doesn’t change that the plot never feels like it’s moving forward. The story goal didn’t even get established until 40% through.

Despite that, it’s still funny, small, and sharp (like all the best horror fiction is, unless your name is Stephen King). And it deals with teen issues you don’t normally read about. Not like peer pressure and smoking, but headier things like nihilism. And not the fun “Big Lebowski” or “Rick & Morty” nihilism, but the “what’s the point of anything” and “what am I even doing here” kind.

You laugh, but to a smart teenager with a shaping mind and probably some mental illnesses, that’s the kind of thing that can really drive a nail through your hands. So the author gets that right. And especially in the dialogue to “thinking” ratio. This book is for anyone who likes horror-comedy or Zombieland or the deeper teen angst movies like The Chumscrubber.

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
(unfinished)

Monkeys!

The plot is fascinating and hard to summarize, but I’ll try. Basically, we tried to seed an Earth-like planet with a virus that would super-quick-evolve some apes so they would build a civilization for us to be waiting when our generational ship arrived. Two problems. One, the virus didn’t evolve the apes, it evolved the spiders. Two, the AI placed there to guard and watch the planet has gone rogue and isn’t letting our generational ship in.

There are twoish stories going on. One is the evolving spiders. Each scene break, the world develops a little more and you follow the descendant of “spider prime” through the centuries. There’s some incredible world-building as a collection of sentient spiders make a society. The second is the characters on the generational ship figuring out what to do, whether to force their way onto the planet they were promised or find somewhere else.

But I stopped reading because I realized I didn’t care about the characters. Interesting as the spiders are, it all reads like a documentary. The people on the spaceship are douchebags, hung up on their destroyed planet and generally being the worst human beings to each other. Not showing they’re worth saving.

It’s a little like “Leviathan Wakes” and “Wool” in terms of style, if you like that sort of thing. Me, I don’t. Long novels, multiple POVs, heavy on the hard science ideas, light on creating characters you want to spend time with. I had no one to root for. I guess some writers focus more on the concept than investment in a person.

Touch the Night by Max Booth III

A brutal thriller about two ghetto kids kidnapped by two “off” police officers. The elevator pitch alone strikes as Stephen King-like (From a Buick 8, Desperation) and that’s a compliment. But does the full novel follow through?

Yes, yes, it does. But only to a point. I was going to rate it four stars but the ending was unsatisfying. I don’t mind twist endings or hanging endings or even ambiguous endings. But there must be an ending. Endings mean resolution and there was no resolution about this. Being left with more questions than answers doesn’t equal a scary ending. Saw had a scary ending and it still answered everything. It Follows had a scary ending and it didn’t tie everything up, but it resolved the story. This is like “Well, I made my word count. Publish it.”

If not for that, it’s pretty good, and I looked forward to reading it each night. The characters are well-fleshed out and the relationships, both pre-existing and growing, are believable. It’s thematic of the boys’ friendship and motherhood-in-arms and being stymied by a system designed not to listen. That alone would be enough of an obstacle, but it’s combined with the vines of evil power controlling puppets from below.

The tagline calls it Stranger Things meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Maybe. I’d take out Stranger Things and substitute in Fresh (1992). Or the two kids from “The PJs” but without the funny. (Sorry, I don’t have a lot of selection.)

But given what I said about the ending, should you buy this book? I wish I could say. A bad ending can ruin a really good story (see Game of Thrones). I guess you’ll have to take a look for yourself and decide. Just preparing you for what you’ll get.

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor

What if you could put your brain in a computer… and it was AWESOME?

I feel like this is the closest I’ve ever been to someone who can capture the same blend of snarky comedy and well-researched science fiction that John Scalzi can.

The biggest challenge in a novel like this is that there is only one character. Which is because the plot demands it — it’s one person traveling alone for a long time. And when more characters are added, they’re the same character, because he can make copies of himself . So not a lot of diversity or dynamics in relationships. But at least it’s not due to authorial incompetence.

The best thing is that the main character is a regular guy. He’s a trope-savvy software engineer who doesn’t shirk away from the pop culture reference. He’s aware he’s in a 1950’s Isaac Asimov novel. In fact, he’s the only one of his “graduating class” that doesn’t go insane because he’s a brain-in-a-box because he likes it. He gets to live inside his mind, solve technical problems, explore space, and he can make his own friends. Sounds ideal to me.

It’s fast-paced, it’s witty, it’s got a layman’s POV of hard space travel science. I highly recommend.

Conceal, Don’t Feel (A Twisted Tale) by Jen Calonita

What if Anna and Elsa never knew each other?

Answer: The same thing that happens in Frozen.

Why do I keep reading these Frozen books that are the same damn thing as the movie? Is it because it’s a perfect story as it is?

This feels like an unnecessary script doctoring somebody found in the Disney archives. Like some executive had a deadline so he gave it to his sister’s kid who just graduated film school and said “here, give me something I can bring to the board meeting on Thursday.”

Like other “Twisted Tales“, the plot hinges on a cruel spin. This time, the spell to remove Anna’s memories goes awry. Now, if Anna and Elsa are too close together, Anna will turn into ice, like in the ending. So Anna is sent to a different village.

Not a great difference, is it? Anna’s the same person–bubbly and social. Elsa’s still introverted and proper. And they both lived somewhat separated in the original movie.

Elsa still creates Olaf. She still meets the deceptive Hans. She still reveals her powers in a fit of emotion. She still builds an ice castle (there’s even a chapter that’s essentially “Let It Go” in prose form. Now that’s exciting stuff.) She’s still captured and taken to the dungeon. Anna still meets Kristoff who takes her to find Elsa (who she thinks is in trouble based on no evidence). She still goes to Oaken’s. She still has a chase with the wolves. She still rushes to save Elsa from Hans at the end and turns into a frozen statue that’s healed by love.

If you change one thing, you’ve got to change the entire story. It’s a butterfly effect. Anna may not have a different personality, but her goals should change. The plot should change. She shouldn’t be concerned about government machinations. It’d be like if I was Kamala Harris’s long lost brother, but didn’t know it, and I had to find her before Mitch McConnell took over. I have no investment in that scenario–I’m distant in both the physical sense and familiar sense. I’ve got my baked goods to worry about.

And if you’re going to make a twisted tale, then the point of the twisting should be to show us a completely different story, not the same. Straight on Till Morning and Part of Your World did that and it worked beautifully. The conclusion of the movie never took place, so the story is totally different and the characters evolve differently. Ariel is consumed with regret and Wendy becomes an action girl. If Anna and Elsa don’t know each other, why not have them meet at the beginning of the story? Then we can watch their relationship form while they have an adventure that has nothing to do with Prince Hans or Olaf or the Duke of Weselton.

But redoing the movie is lazy lazy lazy. It doesn’t give the reader what they want, which is an “alternate universe” Frozen. This is, beat for beat, the same story. Everything’s just in a different order. It’s a waste of your time. Don’t read this book.

Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick by David Wong

It’s nice to read something that’s just a cleanly written, fun story that’s not trying to be a five hundred page epic or engineered toward a movie option.

I think this one’s better than the first (“Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits”) because I found it hard to wrap my head around the world-building and who they characters were (they all play the same role). Maybe now I know what this world is and what platform we’re standing on. The first one had a high-ish learning curve. This one doesn’t.

The basics? We’ve still got Zoey Ashe, a no-name millennial who inherited a city (essentially) after her mob boss father died and left everything to her. That includes all his businesses (legit and illegit), employees, mansion, and personal entourage of elite black ops bodyguards.

And the enemy? This time it’s something a little harder to fight–a throng of anti-woman incel supremacists. That makes the threat sound trivial, but not in a world where they sell cybernetic implants and homing beacons at Walmart. It’s a timely theme–how long and how much are you going to let these cyberbullies control your life. How much power do they really have? How do you fight an enemy that’s essentially a swarm of wasps?

Wong calls this bizarro fiction, but I don’t think so. It’s wacky, with some surreal science-fiction elements. But nothing bizarre. Bizarro is a convention full of William Shatners attacking a cult of Bruce Campbell worshipers. Bizarro is a Santa made entirely of sausages and elves having sex through extra-dimensional panties. Bizarro is your zombie girlfriend taking off her breasts so you can use them as suction cups to scale a wall.

Women may not find this as amusing since seeing Zoey harassed and trolled and threatened when that’s their every day life. But for men, it’s an important step toward understanding what it’s like to be on the receiving end of online misogyny day after day. I highlighted one passage in particular.

“I want, for the first time in my life, to enter an elevator with a man and not stand there with the knowledge that he can overpower me anytime he feels like it. I want to be able to go jogging alone, at night. And when I enter a room, I want the people there to take me seriously, because they know they have to.”

The Books I Read: July – August 2017

bookshelf books

norse mythology neil gaiman
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I expected this to be like Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. And I got what I wanted. It’s a tightly paced retelling of the old Norse creation myths. Problem is, there aren’t many of them. I suspect that’s more to do with lack of surviving source material, given what Neil Gaiman says in the foreword. Maybe a long time ago there were scrolls and scrolls of Loki and Thor stories. Now all we’ve got are comic books. And if you’re any fan of Marvel’s interpretations, this is required reading.

The nice thing is that the re-tellings are up to date. I expected something Shakespearean or textbook-dry, like Hamilton. But the narration feels like an old storyteller sitting down by the fire, telling yarns to the grandchildren. The details behind Ragnarok and Fenrir and Loki are fascinating. It’s funny and suspenseful and creative. There are one-liners and drama and character flaws & flawed actions. It’s flavorful.

If you haven’t picked up Neil Gaiman before, this might be a good one to try. The content doesn’t consist of his usual dreamlike, abstract faire (that I’m not too fond of either). And you can tell it’s material he’s passionate about.

tough shit kevin smith
Tough Sh*t: Life Advice From a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good by Kevin Smith

One night, before going out, Kevin Smith asks his wife “Can I stare at your asshole while I jack off?”

So depending on your reaction to that line, you can judge your potential interest in this tome.

Kevin Smith is, uh, an interesting fellow. Well, what I can I say? He was one of the voices of a generation. You look at the nineties and people think Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, and Kevin Smith. The guy is, at heart, a storyteller. I could listen to him talk about Superman and the Giant Spider all day.

And that’s what this book is. You get to hear how he met his wife, the making/publication of Red State, the Southwest “too fat to fly” fiasco, the up and down relationship with The Weinstein Company. The nice thing about Smith is he’s able to admit his wrongs and justify his rights. He never assumes he’s the smartest guy in the room and always gets feedback on if he’s showing his own ass (because that’s easy to do when your content consists of stinkpalming stoners and Carlin-esque religion satire).

The book is equal combinations of crudeness and heart, black humor and childlike wonder. It’s a good book for insight on the Hollywood scene, especially for potential indie film-makers. And it gives more inspiration that “you can make it” than “this is how to make it” (which is really all luck more than anything).

the killer angels michael shaara
The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War by Michael Sharra
(unfinished)

I might have finished if I hadn’t realized there were SparkNotes for it. Also a movie. Also, I didn’t care enough about the characters to know if they lived or died. And these are real characters that I know if they lived or died (spoiler: they all died… eventually).

I put it on my to-read list because I heard that this is the book that inspired Joss Whedon to make Firefly. Well, I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. But when I got to 40%, I realized I had gotten everything the book had to offer. The prose is dry and the characters read robotically. Maybe that’s to do with their military upbringing, but it’s hard to sympathize with the team that’s not fighting for the right side, even if they may or may not “believe” in that side’s cause (which is stupid, but I’m digressing).

If this was meant to teach me about war novels, I learned that they are boring. The plot is mechanical. Arguing about strategy–“take that hill.” We took that hill. Our guys got shot. We shot their guys. Argue, argue. Decide on more strategy. It’s how I imagine Warhammer novels are.

And then there’s the constant self-doubt of anyone in power. I imagine that’s true, but it gets annoying to constantly read about. The historical factor isn’t enough to pull me in either. Plus I know how it ends. So what did I come here for?

terry pratchett going postal
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

The city government grants a con artist a second lease on life if he can get the post office up and running. The mail system’s fallen into disrepair since the clacks (a telegraph/semaphore system) went up. But the evil business that owns them has been embezzling and employee safety has paid the price. So it’s David vs. Goliath as the thief has to figure out not only how to eschew his criminal background, but also how to deliver floors full of letters as he avoids the shadowy businessmen.

This is an adventure story. It’s not dissimilar to any other Pratchett – if you’ve read one of them, you’ve know what to expect. And this won’t convince you otherwise. I picked it up because it’s the highest rated/ranked Discworld novel in the series, and thought I should read this if not any others.

I consider Pratchett to the be the fantasy equivalent of Douglas Adams. That means events take a backseat to world-building and situation-explaining. Plot pacing is sacrificed for humor. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Written humor is hard because you lose all elements of timing. So if you can get a chuckle out of anyone, you’ve accomplished a great deal. And this got several chuckles from me.

The key negative is the unlikable characters. The con man doesn’t really want to be there. The government is forcing him in this job on threat of death. His chief ally at the post office is an old man who’d rather see tradition served than do any work. Plus a young man who might be autistic (he collects pins and goes into fits when routine is broken). No one is particularly charming, but Iron Man seems to get away with it. The other problem is too many subplots, due to the too many characters, which is par for the course in Discworld.

It’s a book of contradictions, but a solid four stars.

13 treasures
13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison
(unfinished)

It’s full of cliches. The story makes a promise in the first chapter that doesn’t get fulfilled or hinted at for the next four or five. Which means it’s a cheat.

This girl is apparently the one who can see fairies and thus under their constant threat (because she could reveal their existence). This means a bunch of hijinks that can’t be explained has already happened and the mother has no choice but to send her troubled child to live with her grandmother in the country. There’s a neighbor boy who’s kind of annoying, weird neighbors, parents who don’t understand, falling in love with a library, and a witch who gives her a trinket for no reason. Didn’t I see this already in Coraline?

There’s more narration than dialogue. No one has any personality. The character makes no connections or relationships in this new setting. Events happen without being rooted in some cause. The protagonist has no “save the cat” moment. She’s a whiny inactive protagonist. And lots of telling. There’s even a gypsy woman (and I thought that term was racist).

This is just some thirteen-year-old’s badly conceived fantasy.

the rest of us just live here patrick ness
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

All the characters here are broken. And thus, interesting. But this is not a fantasy novel. This is a standard YA novel with real-life problems. Non-real elements are minor and don’t affect the plot.

Something’s going on in the background of said plot. Something “Harry Potter” or “Buffy” involving a Big Bad and Apocalypses. But that’s not what the story is about. This is about the extras that end up in the B-roll, when the cameras pan over the ambulances. Who are those people?

One is gay. One is going to a war-torn third world country after graduation. One is a recovering anorexic. And one (the main character) has a compulsion disorder. There is magic in the world, but no one is using it. No one wants to. They’ve seen what happens to the kids who do. They’re stressing about college, graduation, dating, whether he-likes-her-but-does-she-like-me. It’s nice to see a deconstruction of the hero’s journey, but hard to do well. This one does. The style reminds me of John Green writing a Harry Potter background character or A.S. King (“Please Ignore Vera Dietz”).

stephen king just after sunset
Just After Sunset by Stephen King
(unfinished)

I read the first six stories. Only one provoked any reaction from me, thus I put it down. They’re all typical Stephen King — overwritten and full of generic description. I think he’s said everything he’s needed to say, and now he’s repeating himself.

Plus the thing about short stories is that they never seem to matter to the world within. They’re never important or epic. There’s no point to invest in one because it’s gone as soon as you do. They’re just slices of life.

They’re also not scary. He’s gone from tangible horror to the existential slipstream hypnosis or something like that. There’s a Family Guy joke where King’s publisher is asking for his next idea. King looks around the office and grabs a lamp. “For my next book, um… this couple is… um… attacked by, um… a lamp monster! Oooh…” There is LITERALLY a story like that, but it’s a stationary bike. “Ooh, look at the scary stationary bike. Ooh, you don’t know where it’s taking you. Ooh, is it making you hallucinate or is it real?” Please.

i hated hated hated this movie roger ebert
I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie by Roger Ebert

I enjoyed “Your Movie Sucks“, and thought this one would be even better, because it might include more movies I’m familiar with. But that’s not the case. It cuts off in 1999 and includes a ton of stinkers that I don’t remember at all. (There’s even a review of a MST3K movie, I thought that was a neat anachronism.)

This one seems to lack the vitriol that the sequel had. Probably because Ebert hadn’t reached peak cynicism yet. I thought I’d enjoy hearing his witty evisceration of my nostalgic classics, but those were few and far between. It’s too bad you can’t buy just the reviews of the movies you want to read about.

the long way to a small angry planet becky chambers
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

I cannot remember why I put this on my to-read list. It’s like a combo of John Scalzi and Leviathan Wakes. The characters are colorful, like a readable Firefly, but painted with a comic book brush. So they’re actually happy–not sullen or brooding or grimdark. That’s weird to me, but welcome. But after I finished, I was of two minds about it.

One one hand, it’s amateur hour. The entire middle could be removed without affecting the plot. Each chapter is episodic and self-contained. Some characters get a lot of screen time. Others you forget are there.

There’s an illusion of consequences to character actions… but nothing really happens. For example, the main character has a “the liar revealed” moment, and it affects nothing because everybody is so nice. No one dies. No one loses an hand or a mentor. Nothing changes anyone or anything. Nobody gets to say “Man, I regret doing that thing” or “I was wrong to do that”.

Finally, the “episodes” get transparently political. There is one that’s an immigration allegory. One that’s a LGBTQ rights allegory. One about religious freedom.

On the other hand, these are fun characters. They’re enjoyable to be around. They’re funny and smart, they don’t make stupid decisions. They’re practical and don’t fall into space opera tropes. It’s a little like Star Wars if it was created by the person who wrote My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It’s not morose empire drama. But I don’t think I’ll read the second one.

The Sliding Scale of Infidelity

sex doll couch video games

I was talking about this with my wife the other day. Apparently there is some new sex robot that can replicate emotions and give responses. I’m sure it’s not much better than a furby. But it reminded me that we are facing a paradigm shift in technology + sex and it’s going to go common soon.

I can’t remember where I read it, but there’s a quote that says “As soon as a new technology is invented, people will figure out a way to use it for sex”. It happened with paintings, the telephone, the video tape, and so on. I don’t know if the same debates occurred back then, but I know that today’s technology allows to get into some very gray area regarding infidelity.

Case in point, there’s a scene in Bad Moms (2016 starring Mila Kunis) where the husband is on the computer masturbating. The wife thinks it’s just porn, but he’s webcamming with another girl. I don’t know if this is a camgirl or a normal citizen. It’s someone he’s established rapport with, that much is known.

The wife (and mine) considered this cheating. But no fluids were exchanged. They were never in the same room together. In fact, they had never met IRL and lived in different states.

To be clear, I’m not saying this ISN’T cheating. I’m saying it’s an interesting debate. I understand both sides of the issue. On one hand, feelings were hurt. On the other hand, how different is this than pornography or strippers? To what degree of intimacy was exchanged?

And that’s just today. I don’t know what it was like in the past days–I guess women didn’t feel like they had voice enough to protest their husbands sexual escapades. But now that we’ve got stronger women PLUS accelerating technology, a hand must be raised.

And it’s interesting that this “accelerated technology” is pretty much devoted to giving humans artificial experiences. I grew up in a time when the greatest advance in VR was A) that thing at the State Fair where you shoot dragons or your friend in Blockoland or B) Virtual Boy.

Right now, sex dolls are still tossed in the uncanny valley, but eventually, they will make a human-passable gynoid. Is a nearly human gynoid worse or better than watching a camgirl?

When I try and evaluate “am I masturbating or am I having an affair?” I think of it on a scale from 0 (monogamous, no fear of betrayal) to 10 (you’ve been unfaithful to me, I want a divorce). Here are some things that are going to have to be placed on that scale:

  • A full-size sex doll with no electronics or moving parts
  • A sex doll that can have a face projected onto it (any face you want)
  • A sex doll with moving parts and electronics (meant to be as close to a human as possible)
  • A non-humanoid robot that can give a handjob
  • Virtual reality porn
  • Virtual reality porn with a peripheral
  • Virtual reality porn with a haptic suit
  • A sex game on a Kinect (or perhaps virtual sex on the Kinect)
  • Attaching a fleshlight to an iPad.
  • Anything you can make with a 3-D printer
  • Interacting one-on-one with a camgirl (compare to getting a lap dance with a stripper)
  • Interacting one-on-one with someone on ChatRoulette

  • Using a remotely-operated sex toy (they’ve got everything from kissing simulators to virtual vajayjays).
  • Putting on Google Glasses and face-swapping your partner with someone else.

To me, none of these sound terribly appealing. Maybe the most likely one I’d get is something VR for the cell phone. Nothing too expensive. I’ve got kids, I’ve got to hide it, you know. I can’t put on a haptic suit every time. But the thing about VR is it does feel a leetle beet too much like having sex with someone who’s not my wife. Also, someone could walk in and I’d never know it.

For me personally, I think a big part comes from “is there a human on the other end or not”? Although this is not an end-all/be-all. Men can fall in love with a non-feeling object. We’re living in a world where people marry their pillows, for God’s sake.

Ultimately, it comes down to what’s okay between you and your spouse. And these days that may not be so cut and dried. So that means some uncomfortable communications are going to have to occur, and it’s better they occur sooner than later.

Guilt Over Unfinished Books

unfinished book question mark

I stopped reading two books in the past few weeks.  Both were well-liked, critical successes, science fiction award winners.  But they just didn’t appeal to me.  One was Saturn’s Children.  It’s supposed to be about a gynoid sexbot.  It’s got a sexy android on the cover.  But she never has sex — all the humans are dead.  So she’s trying to get by in a roboconomy spread across the solar system.  It’s full of true science with high speed/time dilation and light side/dark side maglev mega-cities.  Very descriptive on the environment, but not so much on the people (especially with no humans).

So I end up feeling no attachment to the character.  It’s like a book with Asperger’s Syndrome — no emotion.  Excitement, yes.  But I realized that I just don’t care if anyone lives or dies, so I stopped reading (at about 20%).  It just wasn’t fun anymore.

The Night Sessions was much the same way.  So much back story, and about topics I’m just not interested in — religious fundamentalism, UK politics, crime investigation.

Both these books were recommended for the ways in which they used robots (future novel material).  But I never really wrapped my head around it.  They always seemed like humans with robot features. Like humans with cybernetic implants, like self-growing hair.

I hate when I decide not to finish a book.  Especially one with lots of awards and critical acclaim.  I feel like a dummy.  I’m not able to appreciate the fine literature here.  They’re not bad books, they’re just not for me.  I’m just not interested in what happens next.  It’s like all those Katharine Porter and William Faulkner novels they make you read in Post-Modern American Literature class in college.  They aren’t classic “everyone-must-read” books like Stranger in a Strange Land, so I don’t feel too bad.  But I feel like I couldn’t give the author even one book’s worth of attention.

Am I getting anything out of them?  Yeah, sort of.  But I also feel like, at twenty percent, I’ve gotten everything out of it that I could.  The rest is just filler.  Meanwhile, I get more pleasure of YA books like Fly on the Wall or Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.  Those books entertain me, but I feel like they’re “not-as-smart”?  Like they’re the pizza of the book world.  And you can make fine pizza, like Lock-In.  But unless you partake of fine dining establishments like The Night Sessions, people call your palate into question.  And your ability to make food yourself.

So if I only read books that entertain me, does that mean I’m destined to be a bad writer?  Someone once said to me that “being a writer means you are doing homework all the time”.  That scared me, but one person’s advice is not the sum total of all writing.  I also don’t give it much credence because I just don’t want to believe it.  I’ve done some research for some books, like mermaid biology, but I’d hardly call that homework.  And no one’s keeping score.  No one’s giving me an F for not doing my homework.

I guess the real proof will be in the pudding.  My stories will demonstrate the effort that’s put in.  If I make good enough stories, maybe I won’t need to do so much homework.  I just feel like I have other books I’d rather read than ones that would “make me a better person”.  Life is too short to read books you don’t really want to.

The 2014 Hugos and Where You Can Find Them

hugo award logo

BEST NOVEL
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Excerpt) WINNER!
Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross (Excerpt)
Parasite by Mira Grant (Excerpt)
Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia (Amazon Excerpt)
The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Excerpt)

BEST NOVELLA
The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells (PDF Excerpt)
“The Chaplain’s Legacy” by Brad Torgersen
“Equoid” by Charles Stross (Full) WINNER!
“Six-Gun Snow White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Excerpt)
“Wakulla Springs” by Andy Duncan & Ellen Klages (Full)

BEST NOVELETTE
“The Exchange Officers” by Brad Torgersen
“The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Full) WINNER!
“Opera Vita Aeterna” by Vox Day (EPUB Full)
“The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” by Ted Chiang (Full)
“The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard (Full)

BEST SHORT STORY
“If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (Full)
“The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Full)
“Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar (Full)
“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Full) WINNER!

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The 2013 Hugos and Where You Can Find Them

hugo movie poster

BEST NOVEL (40,000+ words)
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Amazon Excerpt) Skip it
Blackout by Mira Grant (Excerpt) Thumbs Up!
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (Excerpt) Either way
Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi (Excerpt) Thumbs Up! WINNER!
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (Excerpt) Either way

BEST NOVELLA (17,500 – 40,000 words)
“After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall” by Nancy Kress (Amazon Excerpt) Either way
“The Emperor’s Soul” by Brandon Sanderson (Excerpt) Either way WINNER!
“On a Red Station, Drifting” by Aliette de Bodard (Excerpt) Skip it
“San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats” by Mira Grant (Amazon Excerpt) Thumbs Up!
“The Stars Do Not Lie” by Jay Lake (Full) Skip it

BEST NOVELLETTE (7,500 – 17,500 words)
“The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Full) Thumbs Up!
“Fade to White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Full) (Audio Version) Thumbs Up!
“The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan WINNER!
“In Sea-Salt Tears” by Seanan McGuire Thumbs Up!
“Rat-Catcher” by Seanan McGuire

BEST SHORT STORY (less than 7,500 words)
“Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard (Full) (Audio Version) Either way
“Mantis Wives” by Kij Johnson Either way
“Mono no Aware” by Ken Liu (Amazon Full) Thumbs Up! WINNER!

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My Nebula Ratings

5 star ratings

Each year, I read through the nominations for the Hugos and Nebulas that I can (the ones available in some form, excerpt or full). I give them my “Thumbs Up“, “Skip It” or “Either way” vote. Now these are completely arbitrary ratings, based on my opinion. The opinion of a citizen, a man with a college degree, but not a masters. A man with no real literary background or experience. A lowercase-A author.

My main concern is the ones I rate “Skip it”. They’re usually stories that are too complicated or sequels to something. Like this year I gave a “Skip it” to Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Glamour and Glass”. Miss Kowal’s a wonderful person — ally of Scalzi and co-anchor of Writing Excuses. But A) her novel’s a sequel B) it’s based on regency novels (Jane Austen stuff).

But it was never my taste to begin with. I tend to give “Skip It”s to novels with too much internationalization, high science, and experimental works. Last year nothing I voted “Skip It” won anything.

Also, is “Skip it” even the right term to use? I’m a lowly consumer, prone to idiotic things, not sophisticated prose. Is it right to tell you to not bother with something? Does anyone even care about my opinion? Does anyone follow these recommendations? I’m just an uncultured bastard. I can’t vote in these things. I’ve never had a book published. I’m not part of the SFWA. Who am I to say you should skip a story? Does it help you at all?

The 2012 Nebulas And Where To Find Them

galaxy nebula

BEST NOVEL (40,000+ words)
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (Excerpt) Either way
Ironskin by Tina Connolly (Excerpt) [Book Trailer] Thumbs Up!
The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin (Excerpt) Skip it
The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan (Amazon Excerpt) [Book Trailer] Thumbs Up!
Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal (Excerpt) Skip it
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Amazon Excerpt) Skip it WINNER!

BEST NOVELLA (17,500 – 40,000 words)
“On a Red Station, Drifting” by Aliette de Bodard (Excerpt) Skip it
“After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall” by Nancy Kress (Amazon Excerpt) Either way WINNER!
“The Stars Do Not Lie” by Jay Lake (Full) Skip it
“All the Flavors” by Ken Liu (Full) Thumbs Up!
“Katabasis” by Robert Reed
“Barry’s Tale” by Lawence M. Schoen (Full) Thumbs Up!

BEST NOVELLETTE (7,500 – 17,500 words)
“The Pyre of New Day” by Catherine Asaro (Full) Thumbs Up!
“Close Encounters” by Andy Duncan WINNER!
“The Waves” by Ken Liu (Full) Thumbs Up!
“The Finite Canvas” by Brit Mandelo (Full) Thumbs Up!
“Swift, Brutal Retaliation” by Meghan McCarron (Full) Either way
“Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia” by Rachel Swirsky Thumbs Up!
“Fade to White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Full) (Audio Version) Thumbs Up!

BEST SHORT STORY (less than 7,500 words)
“Robot” by Helena Bell (Full) (Audio Version) Thumbs Up!
“Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard (Full) (Audio Version) Either way WINNER!
“Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes” by Tom Crosshill (Full) (Audio Version) Thumbs Up!
“Nanny’s Day” by Leah Cypess Thumbs Up!
“Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream” by Maria Dahvana Headley (Full) (Audio Version) Skip it
“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” by Ken Liu (Full) (Audio Version) Thumbs Up!
“Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain” by Cat Rambo (Full) (Audio Version) Either way

Nothing much to not about this year’s nominees. I see quite a few females up here. There are more non-unique female nominations than male, and not by a small margin. That’s nice to see.

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