Superfluous Matter
Books - Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, by Neil Gaiman

Through the JCCSF's Arts & Ideas series I had the amazing opportunity to hear Neil Gaiman talk earlier this year. The talk was originally scheduled to be in promotion of this book, but the day previous Gaiman's close friend and fellow writer Terry Pratchett passed away and so the talk (moderated by Michael Chabon) focussed more on the late Mr. Prachett. Eventually though the conversation did turn to this little book of excellent short stories.

The idea of listening to an author do a reading from their work has always struck me as a little bit odd. But I must say it was enchanting to hear Neil Gaiman read one of his short stories and even more so to hear him read a section of "Good Omens." Perhaps it was the accent.

Anyway, this book is full of fun and disturbing little stories, many of which are presented in creative and unusual ways. For example the story entitled "Orange" is simply the responses of a person to questioning concerning an unusual incident. The questions are not given, only the answers. It works very well, somehow still building suspense and coming to a climax despite the limitations of the format.

This collection also includes a short Doctor Who story set in the time of the eleventh doctor with companion Amy Pond. I loved the first person perspective from the Doctor's point of view here.

Neil Gaiman is awesome.

Weekend Trips in the First Half of 2015

My blogging is falling behind, again. But part of the reason is an incredibly busy social calendar. In addition to seeing friends and attending lots of fun movie screenings at work I've been taking a lot of weekend trips this year to see more of the United States. I've written a trip journal for all such trips in the first half of this year. A second trip journal will appear eventually to detail the weekend trips for the second half of the year. Busy busy busy!

Books - Joss Whedon: The Biography, by Amy Pascale

I don't normally read biographies. When I try I always get bored and stop. This one went better for me though because in addition to being the story of Joss Whedon it is also the story of some of my favourite TV shows and movies of all time: Roseanne, Toy Story, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Cabin in the Woods, Much Ado About Nothing and The Avengers (1 and 2). To say Joss Whedon has made his mark on popular culture is a vast understatement.

The author had fairly open access to not only Whedon and his wife, but almost everyone in his vast army of friends/colleagues (often the same people). As a result the book is full of great details about the genesis and making of many of Whedon's projects. I also enjoyed the details about how Whedon and the people he worked with were pioneers in engaging with audiences via the Internet.

Plus, the foreword is written by Nathan Fillion, which is just awesome.

Books - Who Do You Think You Are?, by Alice Munro

This was another great set of stories from Canada's master, Alice Munro. Unlike her other collections I've read so far, each story in this book focuses on the same small set of characters. The stories can stand alone, but together they paint a picture of the life of a woman attempting to leave behind small town Ontario for bigger and better things on the west coast and in Toronto. The theme is in the title, as the main character Rose continues to think about herself in relation to her home town, wondering how people there might judge her for her actions and lifestyle. Fantastic stuff.

Books - Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh

Even if you haven't read any posts from the blog Hyperbole and a Half there's still a good chance you've seen a bit of Allie Brosh's work. The "all the things" meme inspired by this image:

(image credit: Allie Brosh)
(image credit: Allie Brosh)

came from her post This is Why I'll Never be an Adult. That post is as good an introduction to her work as any.

Much like the What If? book, Brosh has collected many old posts and combined them with new content to make a spiffy little book full of awesome. Again, like with What If?, if you've read the blog then there isn't necessarily enough extra in the book to warrant the purchase beyond perhaps a desire to bestow monetary recompense on a source of previously free joy. And that's a totally valid thing to do. Me, I picked up the book used for $5 as part of a charity sale so I guess I'm at least helping sales in the less quantifiable but still important secondary market. And also, charity! I'm not a monster.

Either via the book or the blog I do recommend reading her work. It's frequently silly and hilarious which makes the random moments of poignancy all the more powerful. Her two posts on depression (#1, #2) are maybe not the best places to start reading the blog, but combined form a pretty amazing look into a chronically misunderstood condition. Also the blog/book has lots of dog stories if you're into that sort of thing.

Books - The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss

I've been on a pretty good reading streak lately (comes from reading shorter, easier books). This one from Mr. Rothfuss is a novella that brings some depth and backstory to the character Auri from his "Kingkiller Chronicle" series.

The author bookends the tale with an apologetic foreword and afterword. He feels it isn't a "real" story and that he commits all sorts of grievous sins against the craft of writing. He gathered lots of feedback before publishing and in the afterword he paraphrased the most common statement from his beta testers: "I don't know what other people will think. They probably won't like it. But I really enjoyed it."

I feel the same way. It's definitely an unusual story. Also in the afterword Rothfuss recounts a meeting he had with Vi Hart about the novella and she says, "I felt more of an emotional connection to the inanimate objects in this story than I usually feel toward entire characters in other's a good story." This is so incredibly apt. I loved every minute of reading this book and I wish it lasted longer.

If you've read "The Name of the Wind" and "The Wise Man's Fear" then you'll know Auri and know that she deserves the special treatment she gets in "The Slow Regard of Silent Things." If you haven't read those books, go read them now, and then please kindly refrain from directing anger in my direction about the fact that the series is currently incomplete (I think half a dozen people harbour some degree of irritation at me for introducing them to the series in its unfinished state).

Books - Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

"Ready Player One" is an intensely nerdy, dystopian, cyberpunk-ish novel full of references to popular culture, particularly from the 80s. So it's a ton of fun if you fit the demographic. I am definitely near the centre of that demographic and so, unsurprisingly, I stayed up rather late one night this week to read the whole book in one sitting.

I'm not sure if the book is "good" in the literary sense but I loved it, and the premise is to some degree plausible. The world in the book is almost completely broken, but there is a fully immersive MMORPG called the OASIS which much of the world plays (free-to-play, monetized with in-game purchases). The game is accessed with a virtual reality headset and haptic gloves. Such technology already exists and many companies (including my own) are rushing to be the first to create a successful product around these next generation interfaces. People in the book use the game for education, business and communication, not just entertainment. This already happens on a smaller scale in traditional MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. It is easy to imagine something like the OASIS coming into existence in my lifetime.

The book reads like a movie, so it's no surprise that Warner Brothers snapped up the film rights immediately. In March 2015 it was announced that Stephen Spielberg has been tapped to direct. It should be a good show!

Books - Wool, by Hugh Howey

While visiting Chaucer's bookstore in Santa Barbara last month it was recommended to me that I read Hugh Howey's "Silo" series. I picked up the "Wool" omnibus (containing the first five of nine books) right there. Chaucer's is a lovely bookstore, by the way.

Hugh Howey self-published the first few parts of the Silo series and the success he achieved with that strategy eventually led to print deals with a major publisher and the sale of film rights. He has maintained e-book rights for himself, accepting less money in his various deals to do so.

The book itself is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the surface of the earth is toxic and the remaining humans live in a "silo" that extends more than 140 stories under ground. Howey slowly introduces you to a surprisingly well-developed and complicated culture/social structure. The book isn't high literature or anything, but it's a lot deeper than it seems at first glance. It's also a lot of fun. I'm excited to read the rest of the series.

Books - Runaway, by Alice Munro

I continue to fail to prioritize regular reading in my life, but because I'm reading short story collections I am not penalized when I ignore my current book for weeks at a time.

Runaway is one of Munro's more recent collections (2004) and it won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. I think this may be my favourite collection so far. As always it's hard for me to separate the quality of her work from the warm fuzzies I get due to the familiarity of the settings, but I'm pretty sure this collection is another unequivocal win.

Central America Trip

After a number of social-life related delays I managed to push through this morning and finish up my trip blog for my recent adventure in Central America. I had a great time visiting Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras and Rob and Janet's amazing wedding in Roatán was a perfect way to complete the trip.