Tag: media

  • I played Unpacking (March 8, 2024)

    Played and enjoyed Unpacking, an interestingly minimalist narrative game released by Witch Beam in 2021. It tracks twenty years in the life of a young woman as she works through various trials and tribulations to land finally at career success and family fulfillment. The genius of it lay in how you experience her story: every level of the game represents one of many successive moves into new homes—starting with her first by-herself bedroom, as a young teenager. You learn about the progression of her life at every stage by unpacking all of her possessions from cardboard boxes, one at a time, and deciding where each one goes. And that’s it! You don’t see anyone, much less talk to anyone—you never even directly see the main character. All you get is her stuff, with every book, toothbrush, and chipped coffee mug rendered in wonderfully chunky pixel art.

  • I read The Saint of Bright Doors (December 2, 2023)

    The prologue of Vajra Chandrasekera’s The Saint of Bright Doors reminded me of Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice. Here is poor Fetter, a small child with supernatural gifts and uncertain lineage, raised to be a cruel killer. But after a time-jump to meet young-adult Fetter in the big city, it becomes something more like The Tick. Fetter takes breaks from his gray-market job as a community fixer for the immigrant-swollen slums to attend a support group for “unchosen ones”. These are unfortunates born to be world-altering messiahs, but who either ditched the path or got bumped out of it through dumb luck.

  • I watched “Amadeus” (September 23, 2023)

    I felt sure this 1984 film would prominently feature the synth-pop hit “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco someplace in it. It didn’t—not even over the closing credits! Wikipedia tells us that the film merely inspired the song, but for most of my life I thought the song was part of this movie.

  • I read Unnatural Ends (August 5, 2023)

    While planning this post, I remembered that I had, in fact, written about a Christopher Huang work before. Back in 2013, I was invited to review all the nominees for the previous year’s XYZZY award in the “best implementation category. The list included Huang’s delightful parser adventure Sunday Afternoon, about a bored little boy stuck in his family’s stuffy Victorian mansion, unaware of the grown-up drama unfolding around him.

  • Black Narcissus (July 4, 2023)

    A strange and beautiful film that, for all its uneven aging, carries a scent that still lingers.

  • The Book of Apshai—a personal exegesis (May 31, 2023)

    A tour through the chapters of a most unusual and personally formative computer game manual from 1985.

  • I read The Grasshopper King (May 4, 2023)

    I read Jordan Ellenberg’s 2003 novel The Grasshopper King and enjoyed it, even though it literally wasn’t the book I thought it was when I first set out with it. In fact, I didn’t even know the author was familiar Ellenberg, who wrote the masterful popular-statistics work How Not to Be Wrong, until I was nearly done. Ebooks can be weird like this.

  • I read The Green Millennium (April 4, 2023)

    I picked up The Green Millennium, a 1953 science fiction novel by Fritz Leiber, on the strength of a paperback cover image that someone on Mastodon shared. It depicted a fantastic sword-maiden dressed in striped furs as she rode astride an enormous green tabby-cat, leaping before a full moon. I immediately shared it with friends, declaring it my personal poster-image for International Women’s Day 2023.

  • I’ve been reading some Stoics (December 18, 2022)

    Chewing through a half-dozen works on the virtue of leaving alone what you can't change.

  • Notes on Pale Fire (May 1, 2022)

    I regret racing straight to Pale Fire ’s Wikipedia page the minute I finished it, too impatient to even attempt taking in its index. Nabokov, I quickly learned, did not scruple to speak openly about all the tricks and traps he laid throughout this proto-hypertext, in interviews contemporary with the book’s 1962 publication. At least I can feel relieved that, with dozens of critical studies about it flowering over the subsequent decades, the literary world wisely chose to read the author’s own explicit answer-key as just another interpretation.

  • My Hadean Lands links and endnotes (March 27, 2022)

    Links to my completed Hadean Lands play-stream, as well as to some key supplementary material, and some reflection on my experiences with it all.

  • OBS is pretty great (December 26, 2021)

    I've been having a lot of fun streaming weird text games via OBS.

  • Notes on The Sandman: Act II (Eps. 12-21) (November 20, 2021)

    "A Game of You" and four short stories, and that's all for now.

  • Notes on The Sandman: Act II (Eps. 1-11) (November 11, 2021)

    Overall observations, "Season of Mists", and three "Distant Mirrors" stories.

  • Notes on Audible’s The Sandman (Eps. 17-20) (October 30, 2021)

    Covering the "Dream Country" stories.

  • Notes on Audible’s The Sandman (Eps. 10-16) (October 19, 2021)

    Covering "The Doll's House".

  • Notes on Audible’s The Sandman (Eps. 1-9) (October 17, 2021)

    General observations, "More than Rubies", and the first three one-issue stories.

  • Oh wow, a radio-play adaptation of The Sandman (October 6, 2021)

    Nobody told me about this! But, then, who would have?

  • I read Providence (September 26, 2021)

    Enjoyed this 12-issue Lovecraft-remix comic, set throughout my dearly loved and much-missed New England.

  • I watched Scarface (1983) (September 4, 2021)

    I understand the Trump-era callouts to this film now, though they kinda seem like the wrong ones.

  • I watched Only Lovers Left Alive (August 21, 2021)

    Time, distance, entanglement, and blood.

  • If a game lets you pause, it should let you rewind (August 15, 2021)

    My experience finishing a 27-year-old video game for the first time convinces me that all single-player games should let you undo mistakes freely.

  • Emulate crap TVs for sweet old games (July 23, 2021)

    When it comes to the right way to play older video games, I've seen the light. And it's made of scan lines.

  • Three tips for Paradise Killer investigators (July 11, 2021)

    Three spoiler-free tips for playing "Paradise Killer", an outlandish detective game I enjoyed quite a bit.

  • I read Lolita (July 9, 2021)

    An astoundingly lush and gorgeous novel, for the monstrous story it tells. An amazing feat of indirect characterization against a villainous protagonist.

  • I read Babel-17 (April 28, 2021)

    Babel-17 was my first Delany novel, and long overdue. I liked it a lot!

  • Bah-d’dah-dah, don’t you miss it (April 11, 2021)

    One odd interaction with two seconds from the soundtrack of the rather good video game "Dicey Dungeons".

  • I read High-Rise (March 13, 2021)

    A violent fantasy about the misfortunes befalling people stuck in their home apartments for months on end.

  • I loved Disco Elysium (January 22, 2021)

    The most intense and rewarding adventure game I've played in years.

  • Pleasant thoughts about Spider-Man (January 15, 2021)

    I bought some groceries, and I thought about Spider-Man.

  • I read some of The Outside (January 2, 2021)

    I’ve read about half of Ada Hoffmann’s The Outside, a weird-SF novel that my friend Marc backhandedly recommended after I complained of feeling mortally terrified by some Donald Judd sculptures. While I may have had my fill of this story for now, I have enjoyed my time with it so far.

  • I understand Everything better now (December 15, 2020)

    Exploring books by Alan Watts lets me better appreciate the message of "Everything", David O'Reilly's oblique video-game masterpiece from 2017.

  • I read You Never Forget Your First (November 30, 2020)

    I enjoyed Alexis Coe's short and punchy Washington biography, despite its uncertain thesis.

  • Historical games should not flinch from history (November 21, 2020)

    Games asking players to step into historically icky roles have a responsibility to be up-front about it.

  • Regarding “Rooms as UX Metaphor” (November 15, 2020)

    A few thoughts on the November 13, 2020 episode of Jay Springett’s excellent weekly podcast Permanently Moved, titled “Rooms as UX Metaphor” :

  • I read The Dragon Waiting (and Draco Concordans) (November 14, 2020)

    Enjoyed John M. Ford's freshly reprinted masterpiece, with its delightful confusions mitigated by Andrew Plotkin's exegesis.

  • I read Deep Down Dark (October 29, 2020)

    Héctor Tobar's gripping and surprising account of the underground ordeal faced by the thirty-three trapped miners in 2010.

  • Farewell to Shadow, and all the others (September 23, 2020)

    Thoughts on Samantha Mooney's memoirs of working as a veterinary technician in 1970s New York.

  • Further procgen thoughts (August 8, 2020)

    More thoughts on how "Subcutanean" uses procedural generation to feel interactive, even though it isn't. (Or is it?) Also thoughts on "No Man's Sky", for some reason.

  • Subcutanean, a procgen horror novel (August 7, 2020)

    Owning a copy of this novel means possessing one vertex of a vast textual sculpture of that encompasses its entire print run, past and future.

  • I played Sayonara Wild Hearts (August 4, 2020)

    Kind of like "Dragon's Lair", except good.

  • I re-read Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (July 12, 2020)

    Revisited this collection of Richard Feynman's eclectic adventures, and found them more inspiring than ever -- though parts demand a charitable eye

  • Annihilation, an excellent but overlong music video (June 28, 2020)

    I enjoyed this music-video adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer's horror trilogy, though it makes the mistake of stretching itself across a feature film's running length.

  • Revisiting Proof after 20-odd years (May 31, 2020)

    The unique experience of seeing a completely different movie than the one your long-ago past self watched, and enjoying both.

  • Make my protagonists amazing and incompetent (May 26, 2020)

    Thoughts on how a tragically awful adventurer can provide the soul of a truly gripping adventure novel.

  • I really like Streets of Rage 4 (May 23, 2020)

    A satisfying sequel that knows to keep things simple.

  • I played Root, an asymmetrical wargame (March 9, 2020)

    I finally got to play this amazing wargame of clashing woodland factions with extremely divergent agendas. I love it.

  • I read Mojolicious Web Clients (March 3, 2020)

    Thoughts on the new book by brian d foy about the Mojolicious web toolkit, and about Mojo's role in the Perl ecosystem.

  • Our Mathematical Universe and the eternal now (January 19, 2020)

    An excellent recent work of popular cosmology accidentally gives fresh insight on concepts certain Eastern religions have taught for centuries.

  • I played a lot of Subnautica (December 22, 2019)

    Subnautica is the best video game I played in 2019. I attempt to explain why.

  • I subscribed to The New York Times’s weekend print edition (December 7, 2019)

    A chance encounter with my new home city's sunday paper has me reconsider the way that I approach the news in general, and this newspaper specifically.

  • Three more comics I’ve read (November 2019) (November 27, 2019)

    I continue to read lots of comics during pieces of downtime during a very demanding month. Here are my thoughts on three more titles I've enjoyed lately.

  • I’ve been reading Nexus (November 23, 2019)

    Thoughts on the reading the earliest issues of Baron and Rude's "Nexus" as e-comics while grinding through a relocation to New York City.

  • I read Going into Town (November 4, 2019)

    I took both delight and great comfort from Roz Chast's newcomer-oriented guide to New York City.

  • I saw The Witch (August 17, 2019)

    Giving this film a second watch in a different world make me appreciate it more.

  • I read Under the Knife (July 19, 2019)

    Enjoyed these true stories of historically significant operations, told charmingly if unflinchingly by the surgeon Arnold van de Laar.

  • I read Plokhy’s Chernobyl (July 1, 2019)

    Notes on Serhii Plokhy's dry but enlightening account of the nuclear disaster, and its role in ending the USSR.

  • On unconsciously ripping off Lars von Trier (June 23, 2019)

    Imagine my surprise when I saw a scene from a game I wrote in 2010 appear in a movie I'd never watched before from 2009.

  • I played Curse of the Garden Isle (May 31, 2019)

    Thoughts on Ryan Veeder's aloha-fueled and highly accessible text adventure from 2018.

  • I read Ruined by Design (May 23, 2019)

    Thoughts on Mike Monteiro's 2019 polemical book, which insists in fiery terms that the design field start asserting its own, independent responsibility for the power it wields today.

  • I read Ways of Seeing (May 8, 2019)

    Read and enjoyed this 1972 print adaptation of John Berger's landmark TV series that advocated the consideration of cultural context when studying artwork.

  • I played Heaven’s Vault (May 3, 2019)

    This strange, dreamy, enormous adventure through a fantastic landscape of language and history struggles to contain all its own wonders.

  • I read Little Teeth (April 14, 2019)

    I enjoyed this low-key but hilarious comic book about queer-poly funny animals in the Pacific Northwest experiencing drama.

  • Spoilerific thoughts on Obra Dinn (February 9, 2019)

    A followup collection of thoughts about _Return of the Obra Dinn_, containing spoilers aplenty.

  • I played Return of the Obra Dinn (February 9, 2019)

    Quite enjoyed this short detective game requiring surprisingly intense observation and deduction, yet providing a nicely balanced difficulty level.

  • Lords of Chaos and Varg Vikernes (January 16, 2019)

    Sometimes we find spooky parallels between ourselves and people we have absolutely no reason to admire.

  • Wuthering Heights: Heathcliff’s horror (January 13, 2019)

    Thoughts on Heathcliff's stunning transformation from a laughably impotent gothic villain into a shockingly cruel monster.

  • Wuthering Heights: Lockwood’s reality (January 5, 2019)

    Lockwood, the unflappable tourist, travels with alarming freedom across the boundaries of his own novel's narrative layers.

  • Wuthering Heights: Cathy’s freedom (December 29, 2018)

    Some hopeful thoughts about the ultimate fate of Wuthering Heights' youngest surviving residents.

  • I am reading Wuthering Heights (and works adjacent) (December 18, 2018)

    Not even halfway into Emily Brontë's classic novel of horrible people skulking about the moors, and I feel overwhelmed by all the related treasures I've discovered.

  • I read The Death of Expertise (December 8, 2018)

    Lots of strained apocalyptic complaint about Kids Today, with a dash of worryingly apt perspective relevant to modern crises, and a soupçon of actionable advice.

  • I watched Rebecca (1940) (December 5, 2018)

    I am absolutely bananas for this 1940 Hitchcock film that I only now saw for the first time, and I want to tell you about it.

  • I’ve been playing Diablo III (October 28, 2018)

    Years after its initial release, this colorful game of co-op monster-bashing mayhem feels weighted with a despairingly ignorant political message.

  • I read Paradox (October 4, 2018)

    My thoughts on Margaret Cuonzo's short and interesting survey of logical paradoxes, and how to dispel them.

  • I played Layers of Fear (September 3, 2018)

    I quite enjoyed this haunted-house exploration for its masterful use of a single perception-altering trick specific to first-person video games.

  • Rejecting the “Post-web era” while embracing The Future (August 31, 2018)

    My response to Nick Montfort's recent article asserting that the era of the open web as the main platform for digital writing has forever passed.

  • I watched Existenz (after dreaming about it) (August 30, 2018)

    This gristly morsel of body horror from 1999 casually anticipated decades of video games' cultural and design trends, including Gamergate.

  • I played Virtue’s Last Reward (August 4, 2018)

    This lengthy sequel to _Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors_ feels like it took the wrong lessons about what made its predecessor amazingly unique and compelling.

  • How open source plays interactive fiction (July 24, 2018)

    A study of how open-source software has fostered the growth and development of interactive fiction. (Originally published at Opensource.com.)

  • I read The Book of the New Sun (and re-read From Hell) (July 21, 2018)

    I found Gene Wolfe's epic SF novel from the early 1980s a rewarding read, despite (and, okay, partially because of) its somewhat dated presentation of female characters.

  • I played Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (July 8, 2018)

    I loved this wackadoo fantasy-horror room-escapey visual novel with superb localization, voice acting, and a refreshingly original puzzle-hinting style.

  • I am playing This is the Police (April 29, 2018)

    Reflections from the halfway mark of a strange and flawed narrative video game probably destined for my best-of-the-year list.

  • I read The Overneath (March 27, 2018)

    Peter S. Beagle's latest collection of short fantasies. I liked it.

  • I played The Last Guardian (February 18, 2018)

    More than merely simulating an animal, this game emulates the bond with an animal companion, with all its joys, sorrows, and challenges.

  • I played _Nier: Automata_
    (February 8, 2018)

    My uncertain appreciation for this broken-beautiful video game mirrors its own thematic obscurity under abstract layers of flowing black lace.

  • I read The River of Consciousness (February 2, 2018)

    I read and enjoyed this final collection of popular-science essays by Oliver Sacks, the great neurologist and author.

  • I read Emily Wilson’s The Odyssey (January 24, 2018)

    My thoughts on this new translation of Homer's epic, the first of any Odyssey rendering I've read in its entirety.

  • I read Consciousness Explained (November 25, 2017)

    My thoughts on this seminal Daniel Dennett treatise on how a mind might emerge from a pandemonium of individually mindless neurological processes.

  • I read American Flagg!: Hard Times (October 15, 2017)

    Howard Chaykin's Reagan-era comix chronicle imagining a near-future United States in dire trouble.

  • I played Universal Paperclips (October 11, 2017)

    This eight-hour clicker-game tells a solid science-fiction parable, and stands among the best short games I've played in years.

  • I read The Weirdness, despite everything (October 7, 2017)

    I read this 2014 novel by Jeremy P. Bushnell as a tiny act of defiance against myself, and can report that I showed myself up.

  • Constrained and meaningful role-play in Prey (October 6, 2017)

    Improving upon prior landmark work, “Prey” gives its players surprising opportunity for role-play using only shoot-and-loot mechanics.

  • This feeling is not sadness, this feeling is not joy (September 22, 2017)

    Further thoughts on some media that process suicidal ideation.

  • I played Rock of Ages 2 (September 16, 2017)

    My review of the video game 'Rock of Ages 2' by ACE Team. Originally written for Tleaves.com.

  • I read Drop-Out (September 6, 2017)

    I enjoyed this disturbing but hopeful and quirkily beautiful webcomic by gray Folie, which recently concluded its two-year-long story.

  • I played John’s Fire Witch (September 1, 2017)

    My thoughts on a short and charming text adventure game from 1995, and one of the catalysts for the first IFComp.

  • I read Haunted Futures (August 23, 2017)

    This new short-story collection serves as the first fiction I’ve read, speculative or otherwise, published after 2016. Its editor, Salomé Jones, describes in its preface how she challenged writers to interpret the title “Haunted Futures” into short SF stories, then collected the cream here. And while many of the results are ghost stories, it is the specter of our current era that haunts every tale most thoroughly.

  • I played _The Walking Dead: Michonne_
    (August 9, 2017)

    At the beginning of this three-episode mini-season of Telltale’s Walking Dead game-serial, Michonne — a main character from the comics and TV show, as I understand it — collapses to her knees after battling a small horde of the titular brain-eaters. Completely exhausted both physically and spiritually, and racked with grief over the recent loss of her children, she considers her pistol. As she does so, the game offers us its first choice: have her put it away, or let her end it all?

  • I saw Moana (August 7, 2017)

    Not a great film, but pretty good. Felt in many ways like a quarter-century-on echo of Aladdin, most obviously through the presence of a celebrity-voiced barrel-chested trickster-god who rather effectively swipes the spotlight from the title character. Not a complaint; I saw the movie specifically because a friend linked to the film’s signature musical number, and I said: I want to see this movie. I don’t regret seeing it, though I do wish that its script had taken risks as bravely as its own heroine does.

  • I read The Teeth of the Comb (August 2, 2017)

    One line in my notes for this book reads “Syrian Robot Chicken ”. Please believe me when I say I feel the appropriate level of remorse over this. But, I also can’t deny how I rather consistently hallucinated bursts of channel-change static between Osama Alomar’s dozens of surreal micro-fictions, particularly when a cluster of tweet-length morality fables stumbled directly into a three-page love story or war allegory without any hint of segue. Well, I liked it!

  • The Witcher 3’s meaty little adventure games float in a bland broth (July 22, 2017)

    My household has lately been enjoying The Witcher 3 a great deal — it has picked up the long-disused banner last carried by Fallout: New Vegas as a compelling and well-written “triple-A” game that we enjoy playing together, treating like a TV series. (And a bingeable one, for good or ill.) That said, I find myself needing a break from it, even though after six weeks of almost daily play we’ve arrived at the main storyline’s final act. While my partner plays solo for a while, gladly hoovering up all the earlier sidequests we’d left behind, I ponder why my attention ebbed over the game’s vast middle — especially compared to its extremely interesting prologue.

  • I saw _Spider-Man: Homecoming_
    (July 8, 2017)

    On a recent episode of the Do by Friday podcast, co-host Max Temkin voiced dismissive disdain for all contemporary superhero films, decrying their preordained outcomes — the hero will surely triumph in the final act, the canonical romantic interest must survive for the sequel, and so on. I can’t disagree in principle, even though I have enjoyed so many recent super-movies. I therefore found my joy at Spider-Man: Homecoming boosted by keeping this criticism in mind, feeling delight in the ways that the story flourished within these very present constraints.

  • I read The Library at Mount Char (June 4, 2017)

    I began to think of this novel as Neil Gaiman’s Shitty Endless shortly after beginning to read it. It bore the tag proudly right through to the end. I rather liked it.

  • I read David Ferry’s Gilgamesh (May 28, 2017)

    Found this one on a remaindered-books table beneath The Strand during my most recent Manhattan trip. I’d never read the Epic of Gilgamesh in any format other than Wikipedia summaries before, so it seemed an apt purchase for the train ride home. Ferry’s work reads as smoothly as its cover-copy promises. Through it I found the epic to resemble, more than anything else, a thoroughly relatable black comedy focusing on ol’ Gil’s larger-than-life cluelessness: Derek Zoolander as demigod, too thrillingly stupid to know the futility of seeking immortality.

  • I watched Watership Down (May 27, 2017)

    I recently watched Watership Down, the 1978 British animated feature following a warren of rabbits as they seek a new home, having fled disaster. I had seen it before, sometime in the early 1980s, in a format that I imagine modern children have no touchstone for: it just appeared on television one night, with no warning or fanfare.

  • I played What Remains of Edith Finch (May 20, 2017)

    Maybe seeing Synecdoche, New York so recently made me more receptive to feeling disappointed by media presenting mortality-metaphors involving impossible houses — and then, having presented them, don’t know quite what direction to take them. Well, it happened again.

  • I saw Synecdoche, New York (April 25, 2017)

    I recall very much wishing to see this Charlie Kaufman film during its initial run in the late aughts. I count the Kaufman-penned Being John Malcovich as a favorite film from my own young adulthood. Perhaps I would have liked Synecdoche more had I seen it closer to then. My contexts have since changed. The meal satisfied my appetite when I watched it last night, but a day later I find myself left with an overpowering aftertaste of Oh no, a wealthy and accomplished middle-aged white New York man feels sad! Let’s all drop everything and pay attention to him for two hours!

  • I read Ancillary Justice (April 13, 2017)

    A sideways sort of Pinocchio story. One Esk, narrator and protagonist, is a “real boy” from the very first page onward, but considers herself a sub-human puppet until the friends she grudgingly collects break the good/bad news to her in the end. She has every objective reason to hold this fallacy, given her uniquely science-fictional predicament. Just the same, her plight feels like a very human struggle with personal-identity confusion, plugged into a spacefaring superhero adventure for flavor.

  • More about last Night (March 7, 2017)

    The morning after, I feel I wrote too harshly about poor Mae, the protagonist of Night in the Woods. While I stand by my calling her naive, I also implied that she showed cowardice, what with the whole story kicking off by her bailing out of college, trying to recapture her sweet teenage doldrums from her parents’ attic bedroom. I want to walk that back.

  • I played Night in the Woods (March 6, 2017)

    I adored almost everything about this game. I wish that, upon completion, it offered a magic button that would replay the game from the beginning by itself, taking all the major choice-paths that I didn’t, so I could see everything I missed. I’d been looking forward to playing Night in the Woods since hearing its lead designers speak at Word Play in Toronto two years ago, and for some reason their description of a particular scene of the main character and her friend eating donuts at a late-night coffee shop in their decaying rust-belt town really stuck with me. While I felt richly rewarded by every choice I made in my playthrough, I did manage to miss the donuts entirely.

  • I read The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe (February 20, 2017)

    I didn’t recognize this delightful novella by Kij Johnson as Lovecraft homage until nearly the end, when I looked up the name of a strange creature mentioned within, and discovered its original appearance in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. From there, surprised, I learned of all the connections between the two century-separated stories. Johnson does not mean to deceive; she names the original work in her book’s acknowledgements, and makes clear her motivation for setting the story in the older book’s world. She writes of a desire to “make adult sense” of a personally formative work she loved as a child, in spite of its transparent racism and its utter lack of female characters.

  • I read The Underground Railroad (February 16, 2017)

    Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad presents its prologue and opening act as straight historical fiction, introducing us to young Cora, born on an antebellum Georgia cotton plantation, the daughter of its only successful escapee. After years of enduring the plantation’s dehumanizing tortures and privations, she embraces her inherited inevitability, stealing off with two other slaves to a rumored safe-house. And here, the novel plays with divergence: the Underground Railroad of Cora’s world exists as a literal subway line, coal-fired locomotives groaning through vast, dark tunnels. The abolitionists risking their lives to act as this railroad’s station agents feel modeled on history, while the stations beneath their homes, and the engineers manning the trains, exist in a surreal half-reality that reminded me of the “Red Room” dream sequences from Twin Peaks.

  • I skimmed Micrographia (February 5, 2017)

    The first chapter of Ed Yong’s I Contain Multitudes, which I read late last year, reviews the start of humanity’s study of microorganisms, made possible with inventions like Leeuwenhoek’s microscope. These new technologies inspired the naturalists of the day, such as Robert Hooke, who dove hungrily into this new science of looking very closely at tiny things. Yong relates how Hooke gave a series of celebrated lectures on the topic for the Royal Society, which he later collected into a book titled Micrographia; the author noted in particular its beautiful and groundbreaking illustrations, drawn by Hooke himself.

  • I read I Contain Multitudes (December 27, 2016)

    Charlie Stross has a reputation among science fiction authors as one of that community’s most outspoken critics of interplanetary travel. Any dreams about humans permanently colonizing any world but Earth, he maintains, foolishly ignores how every part and process of our bodies has evolved for complete interdependence with every aspect our home planet, well beyond obvious stuff like gravity and oxygen. You can’t just pop a plexiglas bubble on your head and fly to the stars like a cartoon spaceman; bereft of the only environment nature designed it for, your body will fail in short order. Literal extensions of the planet they evolved on, fragile humans simply cannot live anywhere but here.

  • I saw Arrival (December 18, 2016)

    We saw this movie a couple of weeks ago, after I had a bad day and needed an escape. That’s what I got, even if the various early scenes of global turmoil in the face of species-wide fear and uncertainty felt especially raw right now, given everything. We both loved it, and we talked about it for days afterwards. We talked about it more with friends at a party we attended yesterday. This movie affected us.

  • I read the Fragments of Heraclitus (November 30, 2016)

    I read it twice, in fact: first as an elegant little volume translated by the American poet Brooks Haxton, and then again on Wikisource, based on a 1912 translation and maintained by the website’s omninonymous hivemind.

  • I read _Time Travel: A History_
    (November 27, 2016)

    Last year I read, and wrote about, William Gibson’s The Peripheral. It remains my favorite recent science-fiction novel, not least because of its surprising and elegant implementation of time travel. It happens to agree with a treatise on good fictional time travel that I posted to my LiveJournal four years ago, but I am quite willing to accept that Gibson independently came to the same conclusions as I for this novel.

  • I read The Noble Hustle (November 17, 2016)

    A couple of months ago I found myself fallen back in love with Poker, and especially zero-sum tournament-style play as one can find in console-based implementations such as Prominence Poker on the PlayStation. I wrote at the time how it inspired me to try my hand with writing some poker-playing computer programs. I had to put that exercise on ice in the face of more pressing projects, but my interest stayed strong enough to have me wander one day into my local public library’s stacks, seeking its single shelf of books on card games. While I found a copy of the seminal Positively Fifth Street there, I instead borrowed Colson Whitehead’s The Noble Hustle because it was short, and recent (from 2014), and I liked the funny cover design.

  • I read Roadside Picnic and I saw Stalker (October 15, 2016)

    “The inspiration for the film Stalker and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. video games”, read the front-cover copy of the recent edition of Roadside Picnic I read — a fresher translation from the Strugatsky brothers’ original Russian, apparently, than the one last published in the U.S. some decades ago. The idea to read it came to mind quite obliquely a couple of months ago, following a path including but not limited to my learning of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films via the video game The Witness earlier this this year.

  • I read 1491 (October 11, 2016)

    I think I heard about this book on a podcast some time ago? I knew its précis: recent anthropological studies suggest that Native Americans lived all over this continent in vast numbers in the centuries before Columbus, scarcely resembling the image of here-and-there villages of tribesmen that both the author and I grew up with. (In the book’s introduction, Charles Mann describes his motivation for writing in the disgusted disappointment he felt when discovering his sons’ history textbooks filled with the same outdated falsehoods about pre-Columbian civilization that he’d been taught.)

  • I read: Ruins
    (September 12, 2016)

    Graphic novel by Peter Kuper, discovered by my partner at Newport Public Library. A swift and pleasant read, with a thin story but a lush depiction of finding oneself falling in love with an initially foreign culture, ever deeper, by layers.

  • I read: Ecclesiastes
    (August 31, 2016)

    Last week, sitting on my bed, I noticed a spectrum on the wall as the sun shone through a flaw in the opposite window. Involuntarily I recalled what layman’s knowledge I have of such phenomena — the different wavelengths of visible light, paired with tone-memories of high school science classes. An eyeblink later, I gasped to fight back tears as these thoughts gave way to a leaden sense of all human endeavor’s ultimate futility, crashing over me and pressing me flat.

  • I read: The Imitation Game
    (August 14, 2016)

    At the time of this writing I do not know how this comic book by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis relates to the film of the same title, and the same subject matter — a (somewhat fictionalized) biography of Alan Turing. The comic has a copyright date of 2016, which seems to preclude the possibility that latter adapts the former. I see that the words “comic” and “graphic” do not appear on the film’s Wikipedia page, and the book made no acknowledgment in the other direction. I avoid contaminating my thoughts about media I blog about here until the blogging’s done, so I’ll leave it as a curious coincidence for now.

  • I read: two Warren Ellis novels
    (August 8, 2016)

    I enjoyed Warren Ellis’s Normal, read as a series of four two-dollar ebooks. Something like modern Lovecraft without the literal monsters: the protagonist and most of the other characters reside in a sanitarium for professional futurists who have contracted a condition known as “abyss gaze”, presented as an inevitable consequence of deeply understanding the fragility of human civilization.

  • I saw Café Society (July 30, 2016)

    I enjoyed this film’s premise and setting far more than its totality. After a mutual nose-holding ceremony to acknowledge our cognizance of the movie’s baggage-laden creator, my partner and I entered the Jane Pickens hoping for something like the relaxingly whimsical fantasia of Midnight in Paris, the last Woody Allen picture we saw together. Café Society, alas, fell short, despite a similar indulgence in fondness for things past. I couldn’t see past a fundamental mismatch between tone and content.

  • I saw Lost Highway (June 2, 2016)

    What's YOUR name?

  • How not to Normalize Trump (May 16, 2016)

    In the segment “How not to Normalize Trump” from last Friday’s On the Media, Bob Garfield examines the title thesis much better and more succinctly than my earlier attempt to express my frustration about the candidate’s representation in mass media.

  • Now reading: How Not to Die
    (April 17, 2016)

    Partway through reading How Not to Die by Michael Greger and Gene Stone, which feels like a natural followup to my reading and enjoying Spring Chicken last year. Where that book provided an excellent high-level survey of our current best knowledge about human health and longevity, this book examines the same topic specifically through the lens of food.

  • I messed up tonight (March 26, 2016)

    Aside: The official music video for “Try Everything” infuriates my inner eight-year-old, who lurches in frustration each time it cuts away from the wonderful cartoon scenes to show boring old live-action people.

  • Thoughts on Radiolab’s “Debatable” (March 13, 2016)

    The latest episode of Radiolab, titled “Debatable”, fascinated and troubled me. It focused on the surprising results of the 2013 National Debate Tournament, the United States’ annual competition among top-tier college debate teams, and the eight-year path that one member of the winning team took to get there. It highlighted his adoption of a controversial strategy that allowed his team to win the game from a very unusual direction, one that I find at once challenging to accept and beautiful to behold.

  • My podcast list — 2016 edition (February 7, 2016)

    Nearly five years have passed since I last listed the podcasts I listen to regularly, and the reasons I listen to them, back on my long-abandoned tumblr. My tastes and my subscriptions have surely changed a lot since then. Let’s revisit them!

  • I read: The Brain Electric
    (February 1, 2016)

    From “The Brain Electric” by @malcolmgay, a defense of why I get weird about other people using my phone or laptop. pic.twitter.com/n30BWQZRId — Jason McIntosh (@JmacDotOrg) January 8, 2016

  • I read: Trigger Warning
    (January 25, 2016)

    This collection of recent short fiction by Neil Gaiman contains at least one fairy-tale story that I loved, loved while reading it. It holds another story that I found perfectly charming at the time but now remember as warmly bittersweet due to the coincidental passing of its subject, casting him as a glorious and terrible space-tyrant at the end of his reign. It felt good to read Gaiman again, and to let at least some of this collection brace me with fresh and vigorous awe. It had been a long time.

  • I read: Learning to Die in the Anthropocene
    (December 23, 2015)

    In the epilogue of Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections at the End of a Civilization, author Roy Scranton reveals himself as a philosophical determinist, one for whom the acceptance of a wholly material universe necessarily pairs with a total rejection of free will, whether spiritual or physical. The future, as he describes it, is as just as real, fixed, and linear as the past; what its events lack in visibility they make up for with total inevitability, everything playing out exactly as fated since the Big Bang.

  • I read: The Peripheral
    (December 6, 2015)

    This post spoils plot elements of this novel — which, I shall note here, I enjoyed very much.

  • I read: Cockpit Confidential
    (November 29, 2015)

    Since my last post I have traveled a great deal, including four plane flights. As with all plane flights, an untrusting reptile brain prevents me from sleep, work, or even reading while aloft. I can only shrug helplessly at the well-meaning seat-back preflight loops’ exhortations to sit back and relax and get my any-major-credit-card ready for the snack cart, and feel envy at everyone for whom the very concept of a travel pillow isn’t a weird joke.

  • I read: Invisible Cities
    (October 24, 2015)

    Here we have the first Calvino I have actually finished. A friend, on learning of my interest in interactive narratives, recommended If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler to me many years ago, but I don’t recall traveling very far into it myself. Sometime after that I added a copy of Mr. Palomar to my personal library, where it has since sat very patiently. Invisible Cities I first heard of in 2008 as a key inspiration for Jonathan Blow’s Braid, and then last month, while reading Siddhartha Mukherjee’s mammoth The Emperor of All Maladies, I saw it explicitly invoked and cited. At least a decade had passed since my last attempt to penetrate any Calvino, so I thought: very well, let’s try this one.

  • Thinking back on “The Hacker’s Diet” (October 21, 2015)

    It’s been around ten days since I started counting calories via food-diary software. My aim, as stated before, less involves “losing weight” than it does pulling my LDL “bad cholesterol” down to a safer level. I have never before this month attempted to quantify my day-to-day caloric intake, much less journal and analyze it. A week and change doesn’t give me enough data to talk about its effects on my body, but I can start to write about other things that this practice brings to mind.

  • My imagined endings for The Martian (October 5, 2015)

    This post contains spoilers for the movie “The Martian”.

  • I read: The Emperor of All Maladies
    (September 24, 2015)

    Knowing nothing of this 2010 book when I picked it up (other than bells rung by its evocative title, likely from my hearing earlier this year about its recent adaptation into a documentary film ), I didn’t expect author Siddhartha Mukherjee to frame his “Biography of Cancer” with a first-person recollection of his residency among the oncologists at Harvard Medical School in the first years of the twenty-first century — exactly when I too worked there, a bioinformatics programmer helping cell biologists work towards broadly similar cancer-eradication goals.

  • Some followup regarding “aha! Insight” (July 23, 2015)

    After I shared my thoughts about Martin Gardner’s aha! Insight earlier this month, Tikitu de Jager wrote me with some interesting clarifications and corrections about this unusual book.

  • I read: Pullman’s Grimms’ Fairy Tales
    (July 20, 2015)

    I have brought up _Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version_ several times in recent conversation, each time following up with a blurted _but it’s not what you think!_ In my own mind, the notion of “modern retellings of the Grimms’ fairy tales by fantasy author Philip Pullman” immediately brings to mind: OK, so like, Hansel and Gretel, _only steampunk_, right? Snow White, except she’s a vampire hunter against the backdrop of World War I, surely?

  • I read: aha! Insight
    (July 9, 2015)

    For a book that, to the best of my knowledge, has never seen a reprint after its initial 1978 publication, Martin Gardner’s aha! Insight does seem unusual for how it popped up in my life repeatedly but obliquely before I finally read it cover to cover a couple of months ago. I first heard of it from a childhood friend, likely one of the first book recommendations I’d ever received. Once per decade or so since then I’d happen to find myself in the presence of a copy, able to flip through it curiously, but never with the opportunity to actually read it, much less obtain it for myself.

  • I watched Mad Max: Fury Road
    (July 6, 2015)

    This post lightly spoils that movie.

  • My Letterman memories (May 30, 2015)

    David Letterman retired this month. I didn’t watch his last show, or his last several, or indeed his last few years’ worth of shows. I did feel compelled to at least pay respects, on the final evening, so I did watch his very last entrance onto the studio floor as the Late Show host via the show’s website, simultaneous with its final television broadcast. That felt like enough; I didn’t stay up to watch the rest.

  • I read: Spring Chicken
    (May 23, 2015)

    Several years ago, during the height of resveratrol ’s time in the limelight as a possible cure-all for aging and all its ill effects, I wrote about my own experimentation with it (on one of this blog’s previous incarnations). I reread that old article today expecting facepalm-worthy naiveté, but I instead found my past self’s attitude worthy of a bit more credit than that:

  • I saw Oldboy (2003) and then Oldboy (2013) (May 16, 2015)

    Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy had sat in our Netflix list for a few years, placed there thoughtfully by my partner even though she herself had no desire to ever come near to watching it. I can’t remember the motivation now, but several weeks ago, sometime after bedtime, I felt a little angry about the day’s events and in a mood to watch something cathartically nasty. Thus did I return to the living room to queue it up.

  • I read: Freedom Evolves
    (May 8, 2015)

    Bought this in a bookstore in New York in January 2011, I believe, preparing for a bus trip back to Boston after an overnight jaunt marred by misplacing my phone’s charger. With a dying battery, I couldn’t read any of my beloved ebooks, so I huffed and scowled and bought one of these neanderthal bound-pulp bricks to entertain myself on the road. I put it away as soon as I returned home, and there it sat until my recent efforts to read more books, contemporary with my starting this blog last December. While I worked through my self-assigned reading list, I also turned my attention back to my own small library, particularly the titles I hadn’t read yet.

  • Further thoughts on seeing “The Shining” for the first time (May 4, 2015)

    My previous post outlined my interpretation of The Shining ’s plot after watching it for the very first time last weekend. I shall now expound on some other things that struck me about the film, based on notes I took while watching it.

  • My surface interpretation of Kubrick’s “The Shining” (May 4, 2015)

    On Saturday evening, home alone, I finally watched The Shining. I have no explanation for why I hadn’t seen it yet; despite everything, the film and I just hadn’t crossed paths before now, strange as that seems. The long-delayed experience may have affected me quite profoundly. I’ve hardly been able to sleep in the two nights since — not from anything like fear, but very much from simply thinking about this movie. I got up to start writing this blog post at around 4 AM on Monday.

  • “Daredevil” owns its violence, but not its torture (April 16, 2015)

    I give Netflix’s Daredevil full credit for depicting interpersonal violence as a far more brutal and filthy activity than most any contemporary mainstream entertainment does. The protagonist Matt Murdock doesn’t KO thugs with one punch in the telegenic and antiseptic fashion one typically sees in action-oriented popular media. He slams guys into walls, knocks them down, then puts a knee in their chests and pounds away at their faces, left-right-left-right, until their noses shatter, their orbitals fracture, and their teeth rattle loose under shredded lips. The show pairs every strike with wet, crunchy Foley-work wincingly suggestive of human flesh and bones becoming pulverized through acute trauma. The camera lingers over the way the blood mingles between the bad guys’ mangled bodies and Murdock’s gore-soaked, ever-skinned knuckles.

  • I read: Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon
    (April 11, 2015)

    Requested this collection of the first five issues of Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye comic book (plus a story from Young Avengers for salt) via public interlibrary loan — a comic-book first for me. Motivation came from my partner’s newly kindled love for all things Marvel via the MCU, and my recollection of praise for this volume when it first appeared in 2013, as well as my loving the stylish cover art.

  • I read: _Poorcraft_
    (March 25, 2015)

    I purchased Poorcraft: The Funnybook Fundamentals of Living Well on Less as a DRM-free, five-dollar PDF after a friend posted one of its panels on Twitter. I fell instantly in love with Diana Nock’s artwork, with rubbery, noodly characters influenced as much by pre-war American animation as by the cartoons of our post- Spongebob present.

  • I read: Practices of an Agile Developer
    (March 15, 2015)

    By “I read” I mean “I finished the final chapter of, 14 months after starting,” and I should really go back to the start of Subramaniam and Hunt’s Practices of an Agile Developer and read it all over again. Sounds like a grim Sisyphean chore when I put it that way, but in fact I quite look forward to it: I purchased the book as a PDF, and as I slowly worked my way through it (via GoodReader on my iPad) I studded it cover to cover with my own notes and highlights. Between these personal defacements and the fact that I’ve had more than a year to gradually apply the book’s guidance to my own work, I want to see where in my own processes I know that I’ve improved, and where both the authors and my past self would probably agree I still have a long ways to go.

  • I read: Schild’s Ladder
    (March 14, 2015)

    Picked this up from the library on impulse after an article at Boing Boing made me curious about Greg Egan’s work. Not on my reading list, but I succumbed to convincing myself that I deserved an indulgent hard sci-fi treat after successfully reading a much broader range of books than my past habits have dictated.

  • I played Ingress and then wrote about it (March 13, 2015)

    I published a 2,500-word essay over on The Gameshelf (the long-running blog-space I share with Andrew Plotkin) about my week playing Ingress, Google’s augmented-reality (and slightly alternate-reality) game.

  • I read: The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet
    (March 5, 2015)

    I read Eleanor Cameron’s The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet at age eight or nine: the first novel I can remember reading under my own power. I believe that I had borrowed it from the the Cohasset Public Library, but I can’t recall how I happened to choose it. I like to think that a cool grown-up suggested it to me, either directly or through a recommended-reading shelf. I do remember how completely it entranced me, though, and so I reread the book this past week for the very first time since then with this memory, plus that of a few distinct plot details.

  • I read: Open City
    (March 1, 2015)

    Thoughts on the novel Open City by Teju Cole. (I liked it, but maybe for the wrong reasons.)

  • We embrace to stop the bleeding (February 28, 2015)

    Like others beyond number, I learned midday yesterday that Leonard Nimoy had died. I had a little more work to do that day but I did it slowly and poorly; I felt wrecked emotionally. Though cognizant of the unhealthy relationship with celebrity where fans can’t help but assume familiarity with famous people due to their spending so much time with their broadcast images, I unavoidably felt as if I had lost a distant but still beloved uncle.

  • An accidentally diverse reading list (February 22, 2015)

    As I read Prisoner’s Dilemma last month, while also two-thirds of the way through the Southern Reach trilogy, I thought of how I couldn’t remember the last time I read a book by either a woman or a person of color. Specifically, I recall seeing the small stacks of books on the two nightstands in the bedroom, with mine bearing all men’s names and that of my partner (enjoying an extended jaunt through urban fantasy) showing only women’s, and how this observation frustrated me.

  • Regarding “Quiet, Wadhwa.” (February 21, 2015)

    This past week’s episode of TLDR, one of my favorite podcasts, followed up on its previous episode, which its parent show (and another favorite of mine), On the Media, withdrew from publication. The deleted episode concerned critiques about a man named Vivek Wadhwa, a self-styled ally of women in the American technology sector about whom many actual women in the American technology sector had a number of choice words.

  • I read: The Southern Reach trilogy
    (February 12, 2015)

    This recent series by Jeff VanderMeer came to my attention via a friend who I don’t normally associate with prose recommendations, SF or otherwise. Visiting his apartment in the days before this year’s MIT Mystery Hunt, I spotted these three small, strikingly illustrated softcover volumes on his coffee table, and he corrected my dismissive misconception that the series sets up Yet Another Post-Apocalypse story. Intrigued, I requested the first book from the library, where it arrived just in time for the holiday weekend.

  • I read: Prisoner’s Dilemma
    (February 8, 2015)

    Requested Prisoner’s Dilemma by William Poundstone (1992) from the library after someone on the BoingBoing forums mentioned it, in context of the very early Cold War. I enjoyed it and learned a lot, even though I did not find its two major topics to gel as well as the author had intended.