Superfluous Matter
Honeymoon/First Anniversary Travel Journal

Sarah and I thoroughly enjoyed our wedding in May 2018 and exactly a year later we finally got around to going on our official honeymoon. We spent ten food-filled days in Japan and then six more days relaxing on the Big Island in Hawaii.

And now, almost a year later, I've finally finished compiling the travel journal for our trip! Hope you enjoy it!

Books - 2019 blogging in 2019. But lots of reading! Here is my list for the year since my last post.

  • How Long 'til Black Future Month, by N.K. Jemisin
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Farthest Shore, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Tehanu, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Tales from Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Other Wind, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Daughter of Odren, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Unreal and the Real, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • The Fated Sky, by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
  • Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse
  • The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins
  • The Big Sheep, by Robert Kroese
  • Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Green Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Blue Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Savage News, by Jessica Yellin
  • Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration, by Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith
  • The Consuming Fire, by John Scalzi
  • Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
  • Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie
  • Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie
  • Provenance, by Ann Leckie
  • The Peripheral, by William Gibson
  • Fall, by Neal Stephenson
  • The Broom of the System, by David Foster Wallace
  • The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
  • The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood
  • Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
  • The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, by Stephen King
  • Elevation, by Stephen King
  • Gwendy's Button Box, by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
  • Mostly Dead Things, by Kristen Arnett
  • All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
  • Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi
  • Lone Wolf and Cub, Vol. 1: The Assasin's Road, by Kazuo Koike
  • Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang
  • Exhalation, by Ted Chiang

Last year my "discovery" (i.e. an author who's been around forever and I'm regrettably finding very late) was Octavia E. Butler. My failure to discover this science fiction author is almost certainly a result of the her gender and race and the fact that the science fiction space is dominated by old white men. So this year I made an attempt to consciously seek out more books in the fantasy and sci-fi space by women and people of colour and this effort was tremendously rewarding. I wish I had read Ursula K. Le Guin's "Earthsea" series as a kid instead of Terry Goodkind's "Sword of Truth" series which devolved into a ridiculous Ayn Rand love-fest. Similarly, Tomi Adeyemi's young-adult "Legacy of Orisha" series is looking incredibly promising. Ann Leckie's "Imperial Radch" books were fantastic too, and provided super interesting perspectives on the perception of gender.

My other favourite new author of the year was Ted Chiang, a short story science fiction writer. His "Story of Your Life" was the basis of the spectacular film "Arrival" and every story of his I read leaves me thinking about it for days afterwards. He is exceptionally talented.

Other noteworth novels from the list above were: "The Mars Trilogy," "The Sparrow," "The Library at Mount Char," and the always enticing Neal Stephenson's "Fall."

I always feel like I should read more non-fiction, but I never really get to it. However I'm very glad I made time for "Open Borders" this year as it was fantastic. I won't argue its points here, but it is a very thoroughly researched graphic novel (illustrated by one of my favourite web comic artists) which basically destroys almost every anti-immigration argument out there. It advocates for fully open borders without limit all over the world and backs up every claim. Read it, it's fascinating.

Books - Catch-up!!

I failed almost completely at blogging for most of last year, but that doesn't mean I didn't read anything. In the hopes of returning to more regular posting this will be a quick catch up post listing all of the books I've read since my last book post in April.

  • The Gunslinger (revised edition), by Stephen King
  • The Drawing of the Three, by Stephen King
  • The Waste Lands, by Stephen King
  • Wizard and Glass, by Stephen King
  • The Little Sisters of Eluria, by Stephen King
  • The Wind Through the Keyhole, by Stephen King
  • Wolves of the Calla, by Stephen King
  • Song of Susannah, by Stephen King
  • The Dark Tower, by Stephen King
  • The Dark Tower Omnibus Edition (comic), by Robin Furth
  • Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer
  • Authority, by Jeff VanderMeer
  • Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer
  • Star Wars: Ahsoka, by E. K. Johnston
  • The Murderbot Diaries: All Systems Red, by Martha Wells
  • The Murderbot Diaries: Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells
  • The Murderbot Diaries: Rogue Protocol, by Martha Wells
  • The Murderbot Diaries: Exit Strategy, by Martha Wells
  • The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
  • The Oracle Year, by Charles Soule
  • The Seamstress, by Frances de Pontes Peebles
  • Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje
  • The Power, by Naomi Alderman
  • Disobedience, by Naomi Alderman
  • Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler
  • Bloodchild, by Octavia E. Butler
  • Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler
  • Parable of the Talents, by Octavia E. Butler
  • Wild Seed, by Octavia E. Butler
  • Mind of my Mind, by Octavia E. Butler
  • Clay's Ark, by Octavia E. Butler
  • Patternmaster, by Octavia E. Butler
  • Watching Porn, by Lynsey G
  • The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi
  • Machine Learning, by Hugh Howey
  • Paper Girls, issues 1-20 (comic), by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
  • Sex Criminals, issues 1-20 (comic), by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
  • Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Infinity Gauntlet (comic), by Jim Starlin
  • We Stand On Guard issues 1-6 (comic), by Brian K. Vaughan
  • The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang
  • Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King
  • Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz
  • The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg, by Deborah Eisenberg

The main take-away from this list for me is that eBooks from the library dramatically increase the amount of reading I do. So that's pretty great. More specifically I'd like to call out a few items from the list for special mention.

I re-read the Gunslinger books for the n-th time and still really enjoyed them. I hadn't re-read anything in quite a while and was pleased to find I still like to do that.

I can't believe I'm just finding Octavia E. Butler. She's fantastic. Superb writing all around. I'm going to read the rest of her books soon. Her short stories in Bloodchild were especially enjoyable, and I really liked her "Parable" books too. Her Patternist series was epic!

My favourite standalone books of the year were Warlight (Ondaatje continues to be fantastic), The Seamstress (surprisingly gripping), and The Power (really interesting ideas). And if you string them all together the Murderbot Diaries novellas make an excellent full-length novel that was super fun.

I'm currently in progress on the enormous collection of short stories from Deborah Eisenberg. They're excellent but it's a long and dense collection so I'm moving slowly. I'd compare them favourably to Alice Munro -- excellent stories about real people and their feelings.

More reading to come!

Tinymoons Travel Journal

Sarah and I had a wonderful wedding back in May, but with family visiting from out of town and immigration details to sort out we chose to postpone our "real" honeymoon until 2019. Instead we went on two "tinymoons" within the United States, one to Utah and the other to Asheville, North Carolina.

I've just posted a combined travel journal for the two trips, check it out!

Books - Sapiens and Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari

My mom recommended these two books to me, and apparently they've also been featured on reading lists from all sorts of famous people.

In "Sapiens" the author examines the history of our species, from emergence in Africa to the present day, focusing on the major revolutions (cognitive, agricultural, industrial, scientific, etc) and how they shaped us into the dominant life form on the planet. His primary thesis is that we are separated from other animals by our ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers. This ability arises from our capacity to believe in things that exist purely in our imaginations (e.g. god(s), nations, money, human rights, etc). Such concepts provide a unifying force that binds together groups of people, even when the people in a group don't directly know all of the others in the same group. It's a pretty interesting theory, and one that is hard to dismiss after his extensive presentation of the history of our species.

In "Homo Deus" he projects his theories into the future, discussing how we might change and what new "religions" might evolve as the unifying force to replace the liberal humanism we have now. Much of the book is devoted to the idea that technology will become better than humans at almost everything, so we will have to find meaning in other places.

The books are on the long side, and can be repetitive and hyperbolic, but all of the predictions are hedged and alternate possibilities are regularly presented. All the predictions seemed reasonable, which means they're probably wrong and will feel dated a few years from now. But the historical analysis seemed pretty good.

I enjoyed the whirlwind trip through 70,000 years of homo sapiens and in particular I liked how equally he treated all of the stories we've told ourselves over the millennia. The various religions, ideologies, beliefs, and systems of our history are all arbitrary and fictional but yet so powerful. They are the things that propelled us to where we are, and new fictions will be required to keep us moving forward in the future as we deal with advanced computational systems, genetic and biological engineering, climate change, and whatever else happens next. Fun stuff.

Books - The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi

I snagged this book from the library after seeing it recommended in a few places. It's a dystopian near-future look at what the American Southwest might be like when water truly becomes scarce (as is likely to happen in light of climate change). Living in California, the world of the book definitely resonated with me and I found myself thinking about it long after I was done.

It was an exciting read, but for the first time ever I found bits of the book to be too violent. I'm not sure if it was especially bad, or if my tolerance has changed. I just remember being unsettled at a couple points by the descriptions. Still worth a read, just be warned.

Books - The Broken Earth Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin

I've decided that if I'm reading series of books then I only need to do one review post for the whole series. Maybe that's lazy, but I've been doing a ton of web development and content generation over on our wedding website so I'm not super inspired to blog as well.

This trilogy though is, wow, one of the best I've ever read. It blends sci-fi and fantasy in a far future, post-apocalyptic earth that is rapidly approaching another apocalypse. The world has become a place where the earth regularly (every few decades) produces global scale seismic or volcanic catastrophes leading to prolonged periods of extreme hardship (nuclear winter style) that are called "fifth seasons." The culture of the people in the world is centred around being prepared to survive such events. Additionally, there are certain individuals who can manipulate seismic events, drawing on power from the earth or any nearby heat source. Those people (called orogenes) can help manage the unstable world, but are regularly feared, enslaved, and/or killed by the regular people.

The first two books, "The Fifth Season" and "The Obelisk Gate" both won the Hugo Award for best novel in 2016 and 2017 respectively. The final book, "The Stone Sky" is a popular favourite for the Hugo award this year. The achievement of winning two years in a row (or maybe three) is stunning, especially since just writing three amazing books in three years is a tremendous accomplishment on its own.

Definitely read these books!

Books - Old Man's War Series, by John Scalzi

We've been busy with wedding planning (and wedding website design/creation) so while I've been reading, I couldn't get up the energy to blog about it. Fortunately I was reading a six book series so I pretended it would be ok to just blog about them all when I finished.

"Old Man's War" is a really fun sci-fi series where humans have made the transition to interstellar travel and exploration, only to find that the galaxy is full of other intelligent life all vying for colonization space on the relatively few habitable worlds. The humans responsible for space travel, defense, and colonization live apart from those on Earth and tightly control Earth's access to technology and travel. Earth citizens can choose to join the "Colonial Defense Forces" for a term of ten years once they reach the age of 70, but may never return to Earth. So a person can die of old age or join the space army and never come home. Of course most join the army because of the promise of extended healthy life and the ability to see the galaxy.

The book follows several characters through this transition and beyond, touching on many themes like mortality and what it means to be human. The characters were well developed and the adventures are great. The people and organizations in the books are not solely good or evil and exhibit a decent amount of complexity and realism. Scalzi is a pretty solid author.

Books - Star Wars: The Aftermath Trilogy, by Chuck Wendig

This trilogy of canon novels serves as a bridge between the Star Wars films "Return of the Jedi" and "The Force Awakens." The writing is not very good, but if you're a huge nerd it's fun to get a bit of connective tissue for the movies. The novels focus mostly on new characters, but Han, Leia, Chewie, Lando, Mon Mothma, and a few others make appearances. Thrawn even gets a brief mention.

Books - Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban

This book is awesome, but it's extremely hard to communicate why. Ostensibly it's a dystopian science fiction novel, although that is a fairly inadequate descriptor.

The book was written in 1980 and follows a set of characters living in the English countryside about 2000 years after an apocalyptic nuclear war. The technological level of humanity has only just returned to iron age status and many people are still hunter-gatherers. The story focuses on a young man, Riddley, as he comes of age and embarks on an adventure to rediscover a bit of lost knowledge from the past.

The culture of the society in which Riddley lives is an eclectic set of hybridized and bastardized myths sourced from generally misunderstood material from Christianity, antiquity, science, and half destroyed bits of leftover technology. This culture is distributed and maintained through puppet shows in the style of Punch and Judy (a British tradition I'd never heard of before, but which is a whole interesting topic in itself).

The text of the novel is written in a hypothetical version of English that has devolved from what we understand the language to be today. It's often described as almost Chaucerian, but that's a bit backwards. It's more accurate to say that the people in the novel find the pre-apocalypse version of English as difficult to read and understand as the average person today finds the works of Chaucer. Further complicating the language is the fact that the version in this book devolved from a version of heavily accented rural English that also made use of Cockney-style rhyming slang.

I've made it sound like this is a hard book to read, and it is, but it's also strangely absorbing. The characters survive despite terrible conditions, but they all seem to carry an unspoken sense of loss for knowledge that led humanity to such heights (and eventual destruction). For me the struggle to understand the text had a very neat parallel with the struggles of the characters as they attempt to reclaim that knowledge.

Here's a sample of the text (it sometimes helps to say the words out loud):

I dont think it makes no diffrents where you start the telling of a thing. You never know where it begun realy. No moren you know where you begun your oan self. You myt know the place and day and time of day when you ben beartht. You myt even know the place and day and time when you ben got. That dont mean nothing tho. You stil dont know where you begun.

This is definitely a book that warrants multiple readings. It was only at the end that I felt I had a pretty good handle on "Riddley-speak" and when I re-read it I think I'll catch a lot more. Despite the challenge I thoroughly enjoyed the story and I'm grateful for having discovered it in an article listing the favourite books of famous authors. "Riddley Walker" was the choice of Margaret Atwood, obviously.

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