Superfluous Matter
Weekend Trips in the Second Half of 2015

Ha! I made it! I completed the trip journal for weekend adventures in the second half of 2015 before 2015 was over. Hopefully my blogging in 2016 will be more regular. I doubt it though.

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.

Books - What If? by Randall Munroe

Anyone who reads the web comic xkcd is probably aware that author Randall Munroe also has a site called what if? There he uses his background in physics and math (he worked at NASA in robotics for a while) to try to provide "serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions." He is pretty successful while also being hilarious (so many questions result in the complete destruction of earth). Last year he published a book compiling many of the articles from the site along with new exclusive content.

If you like the site then you'll like the book. I liked both quite a bit. I'm not sure if it's worth buying or not, but it is a good way to support the mountain of amazing free content Randall Munroe delivers weekly across his two sites.

More Awesome Times

I've been doing all the things lately and thought I'd like to write a few of them down for posterity while I wait until it's time to leave for the airport to do my next awesome thing.

I've been on three weekend snowboarding trips: Tahoe (Northstar+Kirkwood with Trevis), Seattle (Stevens Pass+Crystal Mountain with Trevis), and Salt Lake City (Snowbird with Alex). Despite sub-optimal conditions due to horrific drought on the west coast I had a blast on all three trips. Salt Lake City was the winner though for it's amazing snow and wonderfully run resorts. There was public transit to the mountains and I could pay with my iPhone using Apple Pay! I will definitely go back to Utah.

I went to several events with Keizo for SF Beer Week including the opening gala at Fort Mason. My favourite beer was from Speakeasy: a crazy blend of barrel-aged wonderfulness called "Joe's Ale of Strength."

I went with Mike to see "Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play" at the A.C.T.'s Geary Theatre. It was ostensibly about apocalypse survivors attempting to entertain each other by trying to recreate old episodes of The Simpsons. In actuality it ended up being a really cool commentary and exploration of how legend and myth can be born. Really surprisingly deep stuff and excellently staged.

Also with Mike I went to a fairly exclusive whisky pairing dinner hosted by the Dr. Bill Lumsden, master distiller for the Glenmorangie and Ardbeg distilleries. There were about 30 people total in attendance and Dr. Bill spent some time addressing the group and some time chatting with people individually. Along with Bruichladdich, Glenmorangie and Ardbeg are my favourite distilleries so this event was just amazing. The food was prepared by the Farallon Restaurant's chef Mark Franz and expertly paired with six different whiskies from the two distilleries. Mind-blowing.

Tonight, with Mike and two of our co-workers, I attended an interview of Neil Gaiman by Michael Chabon. Neil Gaiman is easily one of my favourite authors (hello, Sandman) and Michael Chabon is great too. He read from his new book "Trigger Warning" and I was able to pick up a signed copy before the talk. Sadly, fellow amazing author and Neil Gaiman's close friend Terry Pratchett passed away this morning. Neil spent a bunch of time reminiscing and telling awesome stories about that clever man's life. It was sad, but also very interesting and cool. He also read a bit of Good Omens, a book they co-authored.

In a few minutes I'm headed to the airport to catch a flight to Guatemala to begin a 1.5 week adventure in Central America finishing with three days in Roatán to attend and celebrate Rob and Janet's wedding! Woo!

All the things!

Books - Scott Pilgrim (Vols. 1-6), by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Scott Pilgrim (books and/or movie) is a giant love-letter to Toronto and anyone who grew up in middle-class North America in the 80s/90s. It's completely ridiculous that the movie even was made, much less widely distributed. I love them both and if video games or music or Toronto or being awesome sound good then you'll like them too.

Books - Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood's latest work is a collection of nine short stories and as such is a nice counterpoint to my Alice Munro binging. They both are adept at conveying emotion, but Munro does so through more realistic and commonplace scenarios while Atwood likes to work with more fantastical situations. If I were the essay-writing sort, or just someone with more time, I think it would be a lot of fun to develop a comparative analysis of these two truly wonderful Canadian authors.

Several stories in this collection are set in Toronto which is super great. Atwood has a fierce loyalty to my favourite city and you can feel her love of it in her descriptions of setting.

I totally recommend this book and all of her other works. I've yet to read one I didn't enjoy.

Books - Saga (Vol. 1 & 2), by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

I haven't read many graphic novels, but each one I have read has been great. So when Adrienne suggested I borrow and read the first two issues of Saga from her I readily agreed.

I wasn't disappointed. The art is stunning and the story is great. Many suggest it is like Star Wars crossed with Game of Thrones, with dashes of Lord of the Rings, Romeo and Juliet and The New Testament. Cool stuff. My only problem is that I devoured the first two issues in no time at all. I've ordered a hard-cover edition from Amazon that collects the first eighteen issues so I'm pretty excited for that.

I recommend it highly!

Books - Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, by Alice Munro

A year ago I declared that Alice Munro is awesome, that it is shameful I haven't read more of her and that I would definitely read more of her soon. But then I began the process of tearing down my life in Toronto and rebuilding it in San Francisco. It's not a great excuse, but it took me until now to read another of Munro's collections.

I enjoyed "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage" every bit as much as "The Love of a Good Woman." Each story was a delight to read (even those of darker tone) and it is becoming clear to me that Munro has a knack for the unexpected and the subtle. In this collection I particularly enjoyed "Floating Bridge" and "Nettles" for reasons so personal I don't know how I'd begin to describe them even if I was so inclined.

I have three more collections of Alice Munro on deck, but I intend to interleave other books into my reading and not binge on the works of this amazing woman. I feel there is value in having other works in my mind for comparison. Reading this collection after Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot" made stark the notion of context I discussed in my post for that book. While I have almost no context for 19th century Russian literature I have a ton for Alice Munro's work. Many of her stories are set in Southwestern Ontario where I have spent most of my life. The descriptions of people and places are so familiar to me that I am instantly drawn in to the stories. It's fantastic.


Something unexpected happened: I got a movie credit! Movie credits happen when working at ILM, but not very often for people in R&D like myself. ILM does not own most of the property it works on and so we do not have a lot of control over how many credits are available for our staff. However we just released Strange Magic which is a Lucasfilm property. They were generous with credits and the whole R&D department seems to have been included!

I now have my own IMDb page which is super super cool. My new job continues to be awesome.

I haven't seen Strange Magic yet, but the reviews are not very positive. Apparently the look is quite good though.

Books - The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I haven't been reading much lately but when I have made the time I've been very slowly working my way through Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot," considered to be one of his best. My final project in OAC English focused on his novel "Crime and Punishment" and I've been meaning to read more from him ever since.

Neither book is an easy read, although after some research this morning I learned that I had read rather old translations of each. More modern translations are considered to be not just more accessible but also better at conveying the intent of the original text. So if you decide to pick one up I recommend choosing your translation carefully.

I enjoyed The Idiot, much as I enjoyed Crime and Punishment, however I only achieved a superficial understanding. Although Dostoyevsky's novels are very much a study of people they are all set in 19th-century, pre-revolution Russia and my knowledge of that period is extremely limited. There is just so much context I don't have.

"The Idiot" centres around a man, Myshkin, who is so kind-hearted and selfless that his peers are often baffled by his behaviour. They call him an "idiot" as a shorthand for their confusion and also as a reference to his mild case of epilepsy. The book explores his interactions in a world that doesn't understand him and uses those interactions to provide criticism of the Russian ruling class of the day. Again, I'm sure there's a lot going on for Russian history scholars, or even the average Russian, but for me I mostly paid attention to the human element. I really enjoyed the stream-of-consciousness type of narration as Myshkin tries to work through the troubles he encounters. His character feels like a very real person.

Anyway, good stuff, but very heavy. I will be going lighter for my next few books which will maybe help me reestablish a more regular reading habit.

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