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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Something for Thursday

This week for the ongoing Song Challenge we have A song that makes me happy. Here's one of my all-time go-to songs for getting out of a bad mood, "Dreams" by Van Halen!

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Something for Thursday

If my records are correct, this week our Song Challenge is for A song about drugs or alcohol. Well, this one isn't directly about those things, but it does reference them in describing the various denizens of a particular bar.

Yes, here is "Piano Man" by Billy Joel.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Tone Poem Tuesday

Want to listen to one of the great orchestral showpieces of all time? Sure you do! Here's Rimsky-Korsakov's Cariccio Espagnol. And you can't go wrong with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

A toast to Edgar A

Happy birthday to Edgar Allan Poe. #poetry #books #bookstagram #reading #edgarallanpoe

Today is Edgar Allan Poe's birthday.

It's pure coincidence, of course, but a happy one nonetheless, that today I also managed to get the ebook of The Chilling Killing Wind finally available. Poe's poem Annabel Lee is central to this book's story, after all. Poe has been one of my favorite poets ever since high school. There's just no getting over him.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Something for Thursday

So this week in our ongoing Music Challenge brings us to Entry Seven: A song to drive to. There's a lot of great driving music out there, but I always find that the James Bond movies provide a virtual encyclopedia of music that you can play while driving. Even moreso if you're someplace where you're able to drive fast.

Here's one of the series's two purely instrumental themes, and one of my absolute favorite movie themes of all time. And, I might add, incredibly fun to blast while driving. It's the theme from On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Tone Poem Tuesday

Here's something interesting, not for how good it is but rather how good it isn't. This concert overture, creatively titled by its composer "Concert Overture #1," is a student work that makes for a nice and pleasant listen, but that's about it. There's no hint at all here of greatness to come from the composer, none of deeper musical thought at work. If this piece represented the height of its composer's powers, that composer would be a forgotten name today.

However, this particular composer turned out to be a bit of a late-bloomer, and by the time his true abilities actually did manifest themselves, this composer ended up not only being one of the immortal greats of music, but the dominant force of Western artistic life in the second half of the 19th century. Not bad for a late-blooming Richard Wagner, eh?

Here's Wagner's Concert Overture No. 1. It's a pleasant-enough work with some Beethovenian influence, and not a hint of Rheingold or Tristan und Isolde to be found.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Meanwhile...

...here's what happens when your doggo is convinced that you have something yummy that he would enjoy.

The Watch

So on Christmas Eve we were all gathered in my parents' living room, opening gifts. I went to open one particular box and I heard my sister say to my mother, "Oh look, he's opening it." So I knew that there was something of note therein.

What it was, was a pocket watch.

There are times when Christmas hits you between the eyes. My parents gave me this beautiful pocket watch...which belonged to my grandfather, whom I never met. He died in 1949, twenty-two years before I was born. I never knew it even existed, so far as I c

I took it out and admired it. It's clearly an antique, and I was already fascinated by it. I own one other antique pocket watch, and two that aren't antiques that I got from a "steampunk" dealer at a local con. This one is bigger than the antique watch I already own, and it's a hefty one too. I could tell that at some point it was lovingly restored. I figured that my sister, who has an eye for such things and does a lot of antiquing, had spotted it in some emporium or curio shoppe someplace...or that maybe my mother spotted it somewhere.

Little did I know that it belonged to my grandfather.

My father's father was a bricklayer by trade, and he fought in World War I. Apparently he joined the war effort as a way of getting out of his tiny town in the hills of Southwestern Pennsylvania, where his only option for the future would have been to work in the coal mines. I know very little about him save those things, and that he dealt with a broken window in their house by not replacing the window but by building a fireplace. I never knew him. He died in 1949, when my father was only ten, twenty-two years before I was to come along. (I never knew my maternal grandfather, either, and both of my grandmothers died the winter of 1986-87, so I am to this day bewildered by people who live into their adulthood and beyond with multiple grandparents alive.)

I have no idea how Grandpa Sedinger (what would I have called him?) met Grammy (that's what we called my father's mother; my mother's mother was Gramma) or how they courted or when they married. I have no idea how they came to live in a brick house in Pittsburgh, or much of anything else. Nor did I know, until the moment I took it out of the box, that he had owned a pocket watch by the Hamilton Watch Company. But as soon as I learned of the watch's heritage, I couldn't help staring at it just a few moments longer. An old thing, that watch, and it spent however many years in the pocket of a man I never knew but whose influence I must have felt daily.

I don't carry that watch with me--it's too much of a treasure, really. (A bit of an irony, that, given that a common feature of many of the pairs of overalls I own is a pocket just for pocket watches and a slot for the chain and fob.) It hangs on my desk, ticking away the hours, a comforting presence as I write. My mother picked up a neat stand for it on one of her trips to Europe (Florence, Italy, this time), and there it rests. Funny thing, time--a device used to measure it marks it in more ways than just its comforting ticking.

Nice to meet you, Grandpa.

I also received this wonderful stand from which to hang my grandfather's watch. I look forward to many years of this watch marking the time as I write stories! #christmas #pocketwatch

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Something for Thursday

Another week, another song in the challenge! This week it's A Song That Makes You Want To Dance, and while I almost went with Donna Summer and "Last Dance", I'll go instead with the always-wonderful Sam Cooke. We're "Twistin' the Night Away"!


Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Tone Poem Tuesday

Last night we finally watched this year's New Years From Vienna concert, a new year tradition of mine that dates back to high school when I discovered this wonderful annual program on PBS. We used to watch it on New Years Night, but now we wait a day or two until it becomes available for streaming on the PBS website and then watch it in the comfort of our own bed, usually with an open bottle of something sparkling. (This year it was hard cider, but sparkling is a must.)

Vienna's New Years concert always features the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performing works by the Strauss family, with occasional pieces by other contemporary composers of light music. The telecast always features brief looks at Viennese history and art and architecture, and each year at least two or three of the performed works accompany a performance by dancers from the Vienna Ballet. If you've never seen it, I can't recommend it highly enough: it's always a bit of music effervescence to bring in the New Year.

This piece, the overture to Johann Strauss's operetta The Gypsy Baron, opened this year's program. Now, this performance is actually from the 1992 concert, hence the more dated appearance. Today's VPO is noticeably younger and also less male than the VPO of yore, but this music still runs through the blood of Vienna. Here, from 1992, is The Gypsy Baron overture. (Note, also, conductor Carlos Kleiber's somewhat wild range of movement!)

Monday, January 07, 2019

On books, and joy, and hoarding, and having too many books, and what to do with the too many books you have, and....

I recently decided to re-read a book that I first read back in 1995 when it first came out, a wonderful volume by journalist Nicholas Basbanes called A Gentle Madness. Subtitled Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books, Basbanes traces the long and often delightfully anecdotal history of book collecting and book collectors themselves, from early collectors to those of today (well, those of twenty-some years ago). Such collectors are often odd people driven by specific desires, some are shady characters indeed (witness the case of one Haven O'More), and some are outright criminals (witness the case of Stephen Blumberg, one of history's greatest book thieves, and whose 1990 arrest in Ottumwa, Iowa, had a bit of local interest to me given that I was in college in that same state at the time).

My Goodreads review of Basbanes's book is here, but a bit of coincidental happenstance led to my finishing my re-read of A Gentle Madness during a weekend during which there was quite a bit of online controversy regarding the advice of a "decluttering" guru named Marie Kondo, who apparently counseled people to get rid of books that didn't "bring them joy". (I'm not sure if this came out via a Netflix series Kondo is hosting, or an article, or what. I didn't pay that much attention to the particulars.) Here's an article that argues the counterpoint to Kondo's advice:

The metric of objects only “sparking joy” is deeply problematic when applied to books. The definition of joy (for the many people yelling at me on Twitter, who appear to have Konmari’d their dictionaries) is: “A feeling of great pleasure and happiness, a thing that causes joy, success or satisfaction.” This is a ludicrous suggestion for books. Literature does not exist only to provoke feelings of happiness or to placate us with its pleasure; art should also challenge and perturb us.

We live in a frantic, goal-obsessed, myopic time. Everything undertaken has to have a purpose, outcome or a destination, or it’s invalid. But art doesn’t care a noodle about your Apple watch, your fitness goals, active lifestyle, right swipes, career and surrender on black pudding. Art will be around far longer than Kondo’s books remain in print. Art exists on its own terms and untidy timeline.

Now, I don't particularly have a dog in this fight one way or the other. If you love books and want to own a bunch of them? Go for it! If you want to be a collector, focusing on some particular subset of literary production? Go for it! And the whole thing about books "bringing you joy" is...well, it's pretty amorphous advice, so far as I can tell. There are a lot of things that bring me joy, and there are a lot of ways that books bring it to me. Some by their content alone; some by the style of the content.

I have copies of Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in at least three compilations that I know of, so why did I buy the copy that comes in a single slim hardcover? Because it's pretty. It's a nicely-produced volume with copies of engravings by Gustav Dore accompanying the poem's text. I have four copies of The Lord of the Rings for similar reasons, and five or six complete Shakespeare's. (I could swap all those for a First Folio, of course--any takers?)

My own approach to the gathering of books (I wouldn't say "collecting") is that I want my books to comprise a working library. There's not a book in my Scriptorium (yes, I'm trying that word on for size, deal with it) that I don't want to read someday, even if I may or may not have a reasonable shot at actually getting there. Some I have because they're prettier than other books, but I can see myself sitting down to read each and every one of them. Do I weed it out? Yes, occasionally. Maybe not as often as I ought to. But the books all bring me joy in one way or another. There are different kinds of joy, after all, and different ways things can make us happy.

One rule I have--and this I share with one of my favorite bibliophiles, Sheila O'Malley--is that aside from what I'm currently reading and have set aside on the bedstand when my eyes can no longer remain open, there are no books in my bedroom. None. (Well, none of mine--The Wife has a bookcase in there, and that's on her.) As Sheila wrote, “I don’t want any books in my bedroom. My bedroom is for sleep and moisturizing and loving. I’m sick of sleeping surrounded by 5,000 books.” Hear, hear.

I'm reminded of Roger Ebert's words about his own personal library:

Chaz [Ebert's wife] and I have lived for twenty years in a commodious Chicago town house. This house is not empty. Chaz and I have added, I dunno, maybe three or four thousand books, untold numbers of movies and albums, lots of art, rows of photographs, rooms full of comfortable furniture, a Buddha from Thailand, exercise equipment, carved elephants from India, African chairs and statues, and who knows what else. Of course I cannot do without a single one of these possessions, including more or less every book I have owned since I was seven, starting with Huckleberry Finn. I still have all the Penrod books, and every time I look at them, I'm reminded of Tarkington's inventory of Penrod's pants pockets. After reading it a third time, as a boy, I jammed my pockets with a pocketknife, a Yo-Yo, marbles, a compass, a stapler, an oddly-shaped rock, a hardball, a ball of rubber bands, and three jawbreakers. These, in an ostensible search for a nickel, I emptied out on the counter of Henry Rusk's grocery, so that Harry Rusk could see that I was a Real Boy.

My books are a subject of much discussion. They pour from shelves onto tables, chairs, and the floor, and Chaz observes that I haven't read many of them and I never will. You just never know. One day I may need to read Finnegans Wake, the Icelandic sagas, Churchill's history of the Second World War, the complete Tintin in French, forty-seven novels by Simenon, and By Love Possessed. That 1957 bestseller by James Gould Cozzens was eviscerated in a famous essay by Dwight Macdonald, who read through that year's list of fiction bestsellers and surface with a scowl. I remember reading the novel late into the night when I was fourteen, stirring restlessly with the desire to be possessed by love.

I cannot throw out these books. Some are enchanted because I have personally turned all their pages and read every word. They're shrines to my past hours. Perhaps half were new when they came to my life, but most were used, and I remember where I found every one. The set of Kipling at the Book Nook on Green Street in Champaign. The scandalous The English Governess in a shady bookstore on the Left Bank in 1965 (two dollars, today ninety-one). The Shaw plays from Cranford's on Long Street in Cape Twon, where Irving Freeman claimed he had half a million books. Like an alcoholic trying to walk past a bar, you should see me trying to walk past a used bookstore. Other books I can't throw away because, well, they're books, and you can't throw away a book. Not even a cookbook from which we have prepared only a single recipe, for it is a meal preserved, in printed form. The very sight of Quick and Easy Chinese Cooking by Kenneth H.C. Lo quickens my pulse. Its pages are stained by broth, sherry, soy sauce, and chicken fat, and so thoroughly did I master it that I once sought out Ken Lo's Memories of China on Ebury Street in London and laid eyes on the great man himself, dining alone in a little room near the entrance. A book like that, you're not gonna throw away.
Returning to Basbanes's book, I was struck reading it this time by the fact that many of the people he interviewed twenty-five years ago are now dead, and their collections are either long-dispersed or long-bequeathed. The question comes up over and over again: What happens to your books when you die? And the answers change all the time. Some collectors make arrangements for donating specific parts, or the wholes, of their collections. Some are trying, with varying degrees of success. One mentioned was Forrest J. Ackerman, he of the greatest science fiction, fantasy, and horror collection ever assembled; Ackerman wanted his entire collection to be kept whole, but as no major institutions could accommodate the books and the memorabilia, his collection was eventually auctioned off.

That might seem a bit of a tragedy, but many of Basbanes's interviewees specifically intend to auction their collections, either because families have no interest or, as a few note, only by auctioning their collections can they guarantee in some small way that the next generation of collectors will have their chances at anything worthy at all. Collectors paying it forward to collectors: the wheel turns on.

Perhaps the greatest single instance of a collection being bequeathed in its entirety is that of Samuel Pepys, who made detailed arrangements and instructions for the handling of his personal library after his death. Pepys gave the entire collection to Magdalene College in London, with instructions that no books could be sold from or added to the library--and he even included the bookcases that he had had made for his own home. To this day, more than three hundred years after Pepys's death, that library remains intact on the very shelves that once graced Pepys's own home.

So, what should you do with your books? Do as you will. It's really the only way to go.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Bad Joke Friday

Although given the fact that everyone I've already shown this to has laughed, it might actually be a good joke.


Thursday, January 03, 2019

Something for Thursday

It is Thursday, isn't it? Once the Holidays start, I always find it takes until the first full week in January that doesn't have a holiday in it before I start to know what day it is again with any real sense of confidence. So I'm taking it on faith that it is Thursday today, and that I can get back to the song challenge I started a while back as a series of prompts for this feature. This week we're up to Day Five (we took a breather in December for the Daily Dose), where we're tasked with finding a song that needs to be played LOUD.

Here's one of my favorites. I love blasting this, especially when I'm in the car. Ever since this album came out in 1994, I thought that there was quite frankly something special about its live setting, and I know that I'm not alone. There's a particular energy to the performances from this concert as recorded, and the album has been a favorite of mine for every bit of its twenty-five years in release. So here is Yanni and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, from the album Live at the Acropolis, with "Santorini".

And if you have good speakers or headphones, you turn that shit up, man!

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

2018: Things I Wrote

The year 2018 was kind off odd for me in terms of my online essay and blog-post production. It was the sparsest year yet in terms of posts on this site (don't worry, I've no intention of shutting down, but I do need to be more selective in what I write here and more proactive in getting it done), but I also wrote stuff for the Official Site and I joined The Geekiverse and wrote there, so now I'm just getting more spread-out. I don't see this trend going any farther than it already has in 2019. I'm happy with my existing slate of outlets, and while I have considered a newsletter or a Patreon, I have at this point ruled both of those out.

(I know, I know: digital marketing types will cringe in horror when I saw that I'm not doing a newsletter, because for some reason apparently newsletters are really, really effective. Things is...I just don't want to. Sorry!)

Anyhow, here are some links to things I wrote in various places online, starting with this very space!

BYZANTIUM'S SHORES:

From the Books: Ursula K. Le Guin on JRR Tolkien
A Weekend in the Finger Lakes
Pi Day: A collection of annual shenanigans (including, surprisingly, a pie in my face)
Memories of Dr. Janice Wade

Thoughts on The Last Jedi:
"Amazing. Every word of what you just said was wrong."
"It's time for the Jedi to end."
"We fought to the end."
A flyboy, a mechanic, and a janitor walk into a bar....
A Rose is what Moses supposes his toeses!
People will come, Rey!
Snokin' in the Boys Room
"Are you the fellow who designed St. Paul's?" "No, that's CHRISTOPHER WREN. I'm...."
Attack of the Screw-ups
"Happy beeps, buddy. Happy beeps."

ForgottenStars.net:

THE WEST WING and storytelling in miniature
Of jokes and their proper placement
Why writers should read poetry

THE GEEKIVERSE:

My main work at The Geekiverse is a column series called "Curios from the Outer Rim," wherein each installment focuses on some media property of geeky interest--book, movie, comic, album, whatever--that isn't brand new. In fact, I have imposed a rule of not writing about anything less than fifteen years old for the column. Here's the ones so far (other "current commentary" articles of mine over there can be found on my list of all articles):

Introduction and Five Summer Movies
Saluting Sir Sean Connery
Time After Time
The House with a Clock in its Walls
The Serpent and the Rainbow
Die Hard
Die Hard 2 and Die Hard: With a Vengeance
Superman: The Movie at 40 (part one)
Superman: The Movie at 40 (part two)
2001: A Space Odyssey at 50

So there's my productivity in 2018. More to come in 2019, I hope! Excelsior!

2018: My Year In Books

While I've been on Goodreads for a number of years, it's only in the last two that I've started using it more aggressively as a device to track my reading. Here's the complete list of what I read in 2018, broken down into fiction and nonfiction. Also, if you want to see the individual books with the links to my reviews on Goodreads, you'll find that here.

(A word about how I use Goodreads: for me it's basically a low-key reading diary, so I can keep track of what I've read and when. I don't use it much as a bookish social media thing, although if you engage me there I won't shun you, either! Also, I only record and rate what I finish reading over there, and if I'm finding that I'm not liking a given book, I simply set it aside and move on to something else. This is why very few of my reviews or ratings over there are negative.)

This list is in alphabetical order by author (first-billed, if applicable). A few notes on specific books (not all) are interspersed throughout.

NONFICTION

Baxter, Sarah: A History of the World in 500 Walks

Bleyer, Kevin: Me the People: One Man's Selfless Quest to Rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America


A terrific book that somewhat humorously (but still seriously) examines the genesis of the Constitution and looks at whether or not specific ideas enshrined in its pages deserve to be kept alive today. This is an important thought process, it seems to me. Constitutional idolatry seems quite dangerous to me, especially considering the ever-increasing gulf between the time of the Founding Fathers and our own. And besides, many of the Fathers didn't even like the Constitution.

Brown, Nancy Marie: The Abacus and the Cross: The Story of the Pope Who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages

Bryson, Bill: Shakespeare: The World as Stage


Excellent brief look at the life and times of the Bard, as well as discussions on how maddeningly unknowable he really is and what a miracle it is we have as much of his work as we do.

Cazentre, Donald: Spirits and Cocktails of Upstate New York: A History

Cook, Kevin: Electric October: Seven World Series Games, Six Lives, Five Minutes of Fame That Lasted Forever

I loved this book! Great sports writing is an absolute joy. I thought it was going to be about seven individual games from different World Series, but it's about a single Series: the 1947 Series (Yankess over Dodgers in seven). A terrific look at how often the big sports moments are actually not shaped by the immortal Hall-of-Fame types, but the daily-grind guys who are barely remembered today. If you love baseball, this is a great book.

Dennis, Jerry: The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas


Brilliant. Utterly brilliant. If I had to choose one 2018 book to randomly thrust into strangers' hands, this would be the one. It's both a captivating history of the Great Lakes, a travelogue recounting the author's journey across most of the Lakes as a crewman on a yacht, and a warning about the environmental state of affairs in our Inland Seas. I can NOT recommend this book highly enough.

Ehrman, Bart: The Triumph of Christianity: How a Small Band of Outcasts Conquered an Empire


Bart Ehrman is always brilliant. Here he concentrates on the history of early Christianity, looking deeply at how it overcame its surrounding pagan climate.

Ettinger, Amy: Sweet Spot: An Ice Cream Binge Across America

Ferriss, Timothy: Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best of the World

Fitzharris, Lindsey: The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine


If you like your history with a little blood, stay away from this book. If you like your history with a whole shit-ton of blood, go get this one NOW.

Garfield, Simon: On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks


Were you the kid in school who would drive your History teacher crazy because when they called on you, you were too busy gazing at the maps on the wall? Do your re-reads of Lord of the Rings take longer than most other books because you study the maps and note all the places Tolkien never takes you? Then check THIS book out!

Hughley, D.L.: How Not to Get Shot: And Other Advice From White People


Very funny, and deeply depressing that this book could or should be written.

Igort: Japanese Notebooks


Excellent graphical cultural history here.

Kaku, Michio: Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of Humanity
The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth


I don't pretend to understand long stretches of these, but if you want some Cosmic Sensawunda with your science reading, Kaku's your huckleberry.

Kells, Stuart: The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders

King, David: Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris


I don't read a lot about creepy serial killers. This one was good.

Kohan, Rafi: The Arena: Inside the Tailgating, Ticket-scalping, Mascot-racing, Dubiously Funded, and Possibly Haunted Monuments of American Sport


Outstanding. Sports venues themselves are inherently interesting, and it takes a LOT of work to keep those places going. 

Lerner, Alan Jay: The Street Where I Live: A Memoir


Indispensable. I check this out of the library once every couple of years to keep it from getting weeded. This time I even re-read it! If you've any love of 20th Century Broadway at all, you need to read this.

Manguel, Alberto: Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions

Morrison, Toni: The Origin of Others


Required.

Noroc, Mihaela: The Atlas of Beauty: Women of the World in 500 Portraits


Photography book, but what photography it is.

Nye, Bill: Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation
Everything All at Once: How to Unleash Your Inner Nerd, Tap Into Radical Curiosity and Solve Any Problem


Quite good, especially if you're looking for signs that rationality and science aren't dead yet.

Puchner, Martin: The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization


A fantastic exploration of the evolution of writing and storytelling from around the world, and how they influenced one another. Excellent for storytellers!

Roach, Mary: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void


Mary Roach is a treasure. And so is this book, her look at the various problems that face space travelers past and future.

Szostak, Phil and Johnson, Rian: The Art of STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI


I shy away from fandom litmus tests, but I do have trouble counting anyone as a STAR WARS fan who doesn't own at least a few ART OF books. They've made one for every movie in the franchise, after all. (Note to self: Get off your butt and get the one for PHANTOM MENACE.)

Tapalansky, Nick and Espinosa, Anissa: Cast No Shadow

Walton, Jo: What Makes This Book So Great


Collection of posts by Jo Walton to TOR.com. Great stuff on books often counted as Fantasy or SF classics, and a model for my own recent work on the Geekiverse website.

Weigel, Dave: The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock

Weinersmith, Kelly: Soonish: Ten Technologies That'll Improve And/Or Ruin Everything

Wendig, Chuck: Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative


I don't read many books about writing these days, but this one's good. (It's more about storytelling than actual writing, but still.)

FICTION

Abrams, JJ and Dorst, Doug: S.


This astonishing book shouldn't be as good as it is. It's as much a gimmick as a book: its story is told not just through the straight narrative, but also through the margin notes left by two readers and the ephemera they stuff into its pages, many of which come together in puzzling ways. Aspects of Abrams's storytelling that I usually hold up as weaknesses are actually strengths in this style of tale. This one is a bit of a rabbit hole to disappear down, and its payoff isn't apparent in any usual kind of way, but it is very rewarding. I loved the experience of reading this and I look forward to revisiting it in a couple years.

Ahdied, Renee: The Wrath and the Dawn

Ahmed, Samira: Love, Hate, and Other Filters


Superb examination of a Muslim-American family in the heartland when terrorism strikes.

Alsberg, Sasha and Cummings, Lindsay: Zenith


YA space opera that I enjoyed enormously.

Allen, Rachael: A Taxonomy of Love

Another good YA story, this one about a kid with Tourette's Syndrome and his various struggles through adolescence.

Bantock, Nick: Griffin and Sabine
Sabine's Notebook
The Golden Mean
The Gryphon
Alexandria
The Morning Star


I tore through these again this year, for the first time in several years, and I still adore them. It's a set of epistolary novels that goes even farther: the letters that tell the story are physical objects in the book, meaning you actually have to remove them from their envelopes to read them. Magic and mysticism and literary arts and love and time and space, all wrapped together. Amazing stuff. (Apparently there's a seventh volume that I haven't tracked down yet.)

Belleza, Rhoda: Empress of a Thousand Skies


Another good YA space opera. YA is the scene of a LOT of amazing work these days.

Canales, Juan Diaz and Guarnido, Juanjo: Blacksad: Amarillo
Blacksad: A Silent Hell

Carey, Jacqueline: Kushiel's Dart


One of the finest fantasy novels of the last thirty years. Why it's not as well-known as GAME OF THRONES is quite beyond me.

Chambers, Becky: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet


Miss FIREFLY? This is right up your alley. An episodic novel (called "a cozy space opera" by the hosts of SWORD AND LASER, a podcast I like) about the various life concerns of the crew of a space freighter. Wonderful.

Clarke, Arthur C.: 2001: A Space Odyssey


Classic. I re-read this for an article on the 50th anniversary of 2001, book and film, for The Geekiverse.

Clarke, Susanna: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Oh my. I took forever to read this. For almost two-thirds of its 1000-page length I dolled it out at the rate of no more than a chapter a day, sometimes less. It reads wonderfully that way, this odd Dickensian historical fantasy set in an England-that-wasn't. For the last third I abandoned the serialized reading and plowed straight through. A book to lose oneself in. Take special care to enjoy the language as you go; this is not a blast-through-it page-turner. This is a page-lingerer.

Doctorow, Cory and Wang, Jen: In Real Life

Fan, Mary: Starswept


Fellow indie writer does good! I loved this classical music inspired space opera, and I look forward to its sequel.

Ford, John M.: How Much for Just the Planet?

I almost never read media tie-in novels these days, but this is almost a classic of the form from the 1980s. The gonzo tale in which the crew of the Enterprise are pitted against Klingons by a civilization inspired by classic movies is reminiscent of Original Series episodes like "The Trouble with Tribbles" and "A Piece of the Action". I had no idea until I read it that it includes a pie fight between Kirk and crew and all the rest.

Gailey, Sarah: The Fisher of Bones


Gailey is relatively new to the scene and quite a talent. I believe she has a novel coming out in 2019. This novella is haunting.

Lovelace, Amanda: The Princess Saves Herself In This One

Poetry in the new style. Free verse about various personal life traumas. I found it quite moving.

Okorafor, Nnedi: Binti


Okorafor is really good, and I look forward to the rest of this series.

Pond, Mimi: The Customer Is Always Wrong

Powell, Gareth R.: Embers of War


Fascinating first volume of a space opera series that asks the question, "What about AFTER the big interstellar war?"

Rundell, Katherine: The Wolf Rider


Historical YA set in pre-revolutionary Russia. Excellent book that I received as part of a holiday book exchange on a Facebook group last year.

Scalzi, John: The Collapsing Empire

Scalzi's stock-in-trade is the fast-moving tale of adventure, and this is certainly that. Book Two, THE CONSUMING FIRE, is already out. I can't wait to read it!

Starlin, Jim: Dreadstar, Vol. 1: The Metamorphosis Odyssey


Old-school cosmic space opera from the early 80s in comics. Remember vans with giant murals of fantasy art painted on the sides? This is the stuff those van owners were reading. Maybe not your cup of tea, but if it is, there's a lot of appeal here.

Stokoe, James: Wonton Soup (Big Bowl Edition)

Valente, Catherynne M.: Space Opera

This is one of two books I strongly expect to win the next Best Novel Hugo award. (Mary Robinette Kowal's THE CALCULATING STARS, which I've yet to read, is the other.) Imagine a galactic version of Eurovision, with the added incentive that if you lose, your species is annihilated and life on your planet turned back to pre-intelligence.

Vaughn, Brian K. and Staples, Fiona: Saga, vol. 8
Saga, vol. 9

Sigh. I hate to end on a down note, but alphabetically that's where we are. SAGA was one of my favorite things in its early going, but its last several volumes have descended into directionless stories that rely more and more heavily on shocking deaths for their emotional heft (one especially irritating case is when Vaughn introduces a couple of characters for literally NO other reason than to kill a major character, and once that's done, he kills off his newly-introduced murderers). I find that when stories go in the direction of pure grimdark, what is clearly intended to be emotional manipulation ends up being emotional eviction as I simply stop caring about what happens to the characters at all.

So that's my reading in 2018. Plans for 2019 include more about Shakespeare and by Shakespeare. I also have a whole bunch of fantasy novels that I plan to read--2018 was heavy on science fiction, so I want to spend some time in the lands of epic fantasy for a while. As ever, reading continues to be the center of my creative and artistic life, so onward and upward!

2018: It's dead, Jim

Time for the yearly look back at a year that was...well...let's just look back.

Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

"Read a lot, write a lot" aren't terribly hard goals for me to meet, but meet them I did. The Savior Worlds (The Song of Forgotten Stars, book 4) was much harder to draft than I had planned, and I only finished it two weeks before NaNoWriMo started--and that book had been my NaNo project the year before.

But I got a lot read, and I started writing articles for The Geekiverse, and I have a plan for writing in 2019. Yay!

Did anyone close to you give birth?

I...don't think so? Several people I know casually did, so that's cool.

Did anyone close to you die?

With each passing year I dread this question more and more.

What countries did you visit?

Real ones? I never left the US. False ones? Plenty!

What would you like to have in 2019 that you lacked in 2018?

Half a Democratic Congress...and I'm gonna get one! Yay!

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Publishing The Chilling Killing Wind, finishing The Savior Worlds, and having a book signing were all happy accomplishments.

What was your biggest failure?

Aside from my highly inconsistent blogging (the correcting of which is another 2019 goal) in this space, I didn't really fail at much in 2018. That's good, albeit a bit cognitively dissonant in a time when much of the world had a horrible year.

What was the best thing you bought?

For myself? I got a new phone, after four years on my old (and, at the time, still serviceable) Sumsung Galaxy S4. Now I'm on the Galaxy S8 plus, and I like it a great deal. Hopefully I get four years out of this one, too!

Whose behavior merited celebration?

The American voters who started pushing back against the tide of racist, homophobic, transphobic, antirational, and antiscience thought in this country.

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Republicans. See above.

Where did most of your money go?

Books, booze, going to movies, food, gifts, and vintage overalls.

What did you get really excited about?

My book release, my book signing, seeing Die Hard on the big screen, and other things!

Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

About the same right now, but hopefully we're laying foundations for even better things to come. The Wife is in the midst of changing careers, which is full of its own fears and challenges, but if it all works out as we hope, life should be better.

Thinner or fatter?

I'm probably a bit heavier. I need to reverse that in 2019.

Richer or poorer?

Jury's out on that.

What do you wish you'd done more of?

As always, reading, writing, and walking.

What do you wish you'd done less of?

Reading crap online. (As opposed to reading good stuff online.)

How did you spend Christmas?

As last year: With family, unpacking wonderful gifts, and eating and drinking way too much. In short, it was exactly what Christmas should be.

Did you fall in love in 2018?

I fall in love on a daily basis.

How many one-night stands?

Ha! I'm not telling you that!

What was your favorite TV program?

Probably Brooklyn Nine Nine, whose return on NBC we are now awaiting. We also discovered Blindspot, which is somewhat filling the hole left in our hearts by the conclusion a couple years back of Person of Interest.

Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

Nah, I think that the Republican Party has pretty much maxed out my ability to indulge this ugliest of emotions.

What was the best book you read?

See my 2018 Year In Books post, to come shortly after this one.

What was your greatest musical discovery?

No real "discovery", but I listened quite a few times to Mahler's Symphony No. 1, a piece which I already knew decently but which really captivated me this year for some reason. I may have to revisit this more in 2019.

What did you want and get?

Books! More Toby jugs! I put a couple of knick-knack shelves up on the wall in my Book Room! More vintage overalls, as well as a lovely pair of hand-made overalls by a guy I know in Ohio who does artisanal denim work!

What did you want and not get?

Tickets to Hamilton when it came to Buffalo. For various reasons I just couldn't make it happen this time around, I'm sad to say.

What were your favorite films of this year?

I enjoyed Solo a lot, perhaps even more than I expected to (I could have done without its apparent need to fill in all the blanks in Han Solo's early life, but that's OK). Black Panther was amazing, and The Avengers: Infinity War was really good until its ending (I have no problem with cliffhangers, but this one was executed in very bleak fashion and then the film pretty much cut instantly to credits). And as I write this I am still basking in the afterglow of Spider Man: Into the Spiderverse, which is astonishing and everybody should see it.

What did you do on your birthday?

I likely worked, and then a few days later went on vacation for our yearly trip to Ithaca.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?

As always: workwear chic, although I may be straying toward low-level "hipster" fashion on occasion. Mainly though my approach is usually "Can I pair THIS shirt with THOSE overalls?"

What kept you sane?

The increasing number of Americans who are slowly rising up to say, "We don't want this."

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

If for no other reason than her ability to get under the skin of dimwitted Republicans, I've taken quite a liking to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

What political issue stirred you the most?

Probably climate change, although this country's ongoing inability to grow up when it comes to its fetish for firearms continues to annoy. And don't get me started on The Wall, which may well be the single dumbest public policy proposal of my lifetime.

Who did you miss?

Barack Obama.

Who was the best new person you met?

The various people at The Geekiverse! I've had a great time over there.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2018:

Read a lot, write a lot. Listen to music. Go for walks and look at sunsets. Take all the pictures you want. Learn new things and try new stuff. If you have a dog, take him for walks. Buy books for your daughter, even when she complains that she likes to pick her own books (let her do that, too). Nothing fits your hand so well as your lover’s hand. Eating out is fine, but learn to cook things, too. Have a place to go where they know you and what you order. Don’t be afraid to revisit your childhood passions now and again; you weren’t always wrong back then. Overalls are awesome, it’s OK to wear double denim, and a pie in the face is a wonderful thing!

If you take selfies, post your six favorite ones:








Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

Well, why not quote the lyrics from a teevee show theme song? Even though the show actually started on Netflix two years ago (I think), we discovered the newly updated version of One Day At A Time this year, and we've found it wonderful: funny, heart-felt, emotional, involving, and loaded with wonderful quirky characters. The new show takes the original set-up (single mom in the wake of break-up raising her two teenagers alone with her her own mother kinda-sorta helping, along with the attentions of the building's repairman Schneider) and transfers it from Indianapolis to Los Angeles, and focuses on a Cuban-American family. And it's great.

So, here's my 2018 song!

This is it. This is it!
This is life, the one you get so go and have a ball.
This is it. This is it!
Straight ahead and rest assured you can't be sure at all.

So while you're here enjoy the view.
Keep on doing what you do
So hold on tight we'll muddle through
One day at a time, One day at a time!

So up on your feet. Up on your feet!
Somewhere there's music playing.
Don't you worry none we'll just take it like it comes.
One day at a time, One day at a time!

So, what's next in 2019? Who knows. We'll meet it head on, though.