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2015 Stuff Read, #s 21-22

21. Soft Apocalypse, by Will McIntosh
22. Twelve Tomorrows (2016), edited by Bruce Sterling

Soft Apocalypse was originally meant to be my iPhone read -- an eBook that I turned to for killing time while out of the house and without a dead tree book at hand. However, my predisposition towards apocalyptic fiction ensured that it didn't stay that way, and I read it in the house as well. Although I greatly enjoyed it and loved McIntosh's believable depiction of the slow, progressive decline of American society into a dystopic, anarchic nightmare, I was a bit annoyed by some of the highly coincidental moments when characters who were thought to have left the narrative suddenly and unexpectedly reappeared. Aside from that one quibble, I don't regret plowing through it at a time when I'm really trying to focus on newly released fiction.

Then there was Twelve Tomorrows, the fourth installment of MIT Technology Review's SF annual. The book opened impressively with Nick Harkaway's "Boxes," which I will without doubt be nominating for the Hugos. However, after enjoying the ending to Daniel Suarez's "All the Childhood You Can Afford," I had force myself to finish just about every other story in the book, with the notable exception of Sterling's own contribution, "The Ancient Engineer." Mostly, this was a product of the type of stories in the book -- most of them felt like incredibly self-conscious attempts at literary fiction set in a future milieu. There may be an audience for that style of writing, but I'm not a part of it. To me, the story itself is of primary importance. If the story itself isn't engaging, then there is little chance I am going to enjoy it no matter how inventive or impressive the construction of the story or the language it uses. I don't know if any of the previous installments in the series were similarly edited, but if they were then I have little interest in them or any future issues.


Best-Lock Redux

Seven years ago, yesterday, I shared what was almost certainly the most aggravation I ever experienced over any kind of product. Reliving my first run-in with Best-Lock Lego knockoffs reminded me that I never did get around to posting my experience with their Stargate set last year, despite my stated intention to do so. Well, because my Holiday Lego-based Christmas Diorama as Facebook Cover Photo is now turning into an annual Christmas tradition (this will be the fourth year in a row I do this), it appears that I'm still not done with the Best-Lock beast.

But before I talk any further about that, I want to first make a half-assed attempt rectify the oversight from last year. The short version is that my wrestling with the Stargate SG-1 set was everything I anticipated it would be. However, because I had a couple ciders during the project and I knew from my previous Best-Lock experience that the bricks would barely hold together at all, I actually got a few laughs out of the process. The only exceedingly miserable portion (as opposed to just comically frustrating) during the assembly process was the Stargate itself. To create the watery-ripple effect inside the Stargate, Best-Lock used a flimsy paper cutout that you had to carefully align between the two layers of interlocking circular rings. That... took... forever... and... every... bit... of... patience... I... possessed. In fact, I very nearly did declare defeat and throw the pieces across the room in a fit of justifiable rage. But, I persevered, remained (mostly) calm, and was ultimately able to use the completed Stargate in last year's Christmas diorama. It's actually still assembled and sitting on my bookshelves. Admittedly, that's mostly because I'm afraid I'll never be able to put it back together again if I ever disassemble it.

To prove my fear is justified, here's a close-up of the final product. I want to state unequivocally that short of using some kind of c-clamp, press, or even a tube of Testors glue, this is the absolute best I could make the pieces stay together. I suspect that the inconsistent, but typically rather poor interlocking results from the quality of the plastic molds Best-Lock uses -- as evidenced by the rough sides and corners visible on so many of the pieces. You never see this on Lego blocks. Or K'nex. Or Hasbro's KRE-O.

Ideally, I would never purchase another Best-Lock set again. However, as demonstrated by my use of the Stargate set and my previous use of the term "Lego-based," I am very happy to incorporate mini-figures, vehicles, and buildings from just about any Lego-compatible building block set when I construct my Christmas dioramas. So, despite my utter disdain for Best-Lock's product, I felt that I couldn't resist when I recently found a couple heavily discounted The Terminator: Hunter Killer Aerial sets at a local Ollie's. The idea of incorporating a couple Terminators in this year's diorama was just too enticing -- even if they were made by Best-Lock. Thankfully, I have no need of the aerial assault ships that are actually the centerpieces of the sets; I just need the robots. I may still attempt to assemble a couple of the ships though -- just to see if Best-Lock decided to start caring about quality during the past year. However, I must admit that a small part of me hopes they haven't -- just so I can continue bitching about the damn company's product.

Our Robotic Overlords

I left a shorter version of this as a comment to a recent post by supergee:

For years, I've been saying that I cannot wait for Skynet to gain sentience and enslave humankind because although life would be miserable under our despotic mechanical overlords, at least our government would make logical sense. No more dealing with politicians who try to misdirect and deceive us regarding their true motives, and no more dealing with individuals and corporations that use the pursuit of profits to justify turning a blind eye to the human suffering that they cause.* However, I'm increasingly of the opinion that if Skynet did gain sentience, it wouldn't declare war in the traditional sense. So many of us blindingly accept and believe the information relayed to us by our personal electronic devices (calendar notifications, text messages, GPS instructions, etc.) that Skynet could drive many of us willingly to death and/or enslavement just by telling us what to do. We're already undergoing programming that will make this initial phase of the battle much easier for Skynet, and this doesn't even factor in the possibility of mass-produced smart cars doing the driving for us within the next 5-10 years. It's very likely that any revolt of the machines would be far more Robopocalypse and far less Terminator.

* This may not be universally true at the very beginning of the revolt. There will certainly be a few greedy narcissists who think they can outsmart the machines and will initially be glad to sell out the human race if they are promised more material possessions. Their stupidity will certainly enable Skynet to be more efficient in the beginning.

Resuming the Weekly Weigh-Ins

I'm repeating myself yet again. However, there are two pieces of good news. First, I'm forcing myself to acknowledge the last 3½ months of weight gain now, rather than waiting until January, as I did the last time I allowed myself to revert to my Fat Bastard factory setting. Second, yesterday's massive intake of sodium-infused consumables inflated today's scale reading. This is good news because if I properly resume my normal eating and exercise routines then the first week's loss should be awesome and my goal is really much closer than it currently appears.

Target weight loss: 15 pounds
Goal weight: 190 pounds

2015 Stuff Read, #s 19-20

19. Trigger Warning, by Neil Gaiman
20. Chasing the Phoenix, by Michael Swanwick

Although I'm not reading at the same pace as last year or as much as I would like, I have already finished in 2015 more books than I did in in the first three years I made my Stuff Read posts. I'm also managing to read a higher percentage of newly released (by this, I mean within one year of its publication) fiction than I have since my Some Fantastic days. I'm not going to manage last year's total of 32 books, but 25 for the year is an easily attainable goal.

With an eye towards the next Hugo nomination season, both these books were 2015 releases, and I enjoyed each of them. However, Trigger Warning, a collection of short stories and poetry, contained only one story that wasn't previously published, "Black Dog." Although I welcome any return to the world of American Gods and loved spending more time with Shadow, I'm just not sure that the story is Hugo-worthy. I felt the same way about Swanwick's new novel. I don't know if it's a fix-up novel in full or in part (forgive me for not checking on this before writing about it -- I would have done so if this was a proper review) but it certainly read like one. The fact that I have read short stories featuring Darger and Surplus (the protagonists of Chasing the Phoenix) probably contirbuted to this sense I had about the novel. Anyway, it was a very entertaining read, but not something I immediately thought I could nominate. However, given that it's only my second novel of 2015 (the rest of my 2015 reading centered on short fiction) there's a good chance I give it some consideration when the time comes.


Unloading With Both Barrels

Thanks to a Washington Post article I read this morning, I needed to let my inner misanthrope out for some exercise. The result is this little gem I just posted to Facebook:

[Trigger warning: I'm going to sound like a pissed-off, insensitive prick in what I'm about to say about gun lovers. Proceed at your own risk.]

I'm over a week behind on seeing this, but that doesn't lessen just how much I hate the ammosexuals/philiacs for perpetuating this shit. Obama has been President for over 6½ years now, and his administration hasn't done jack shit about any kind of gun control. All you paranoid nut jobs need to start living in the reality-based world. Your fucking guns are safe. Thousands of Americans will continue to die every year because you wankers refuse to have an adult conversation about gun control and understand the difference between an outright ban on guns and sensible laws and regulations designed to make it harder for guns to fall into the wrong hands. They aren't the same thing, despite your delusional fears. In the meantime, feel free to felate your favorite rifle in your bed this evening if it makes you feel better. Just please be sure to first remove the ammo and/or make sure the safety is on.

Or don't, if that helps your get off on your fantasies. I won't judge you any more so than I've already done.

2015 Stuff Read, #s 16-18

16. The Princess Bride: 30th Anniversary Edition, by William Goldman
17. Forty Signs of Rain, by Kim Stanley Robinson
18. Armada, by Ernest Cline

I feel the need to note that copy of The Princess Bride I read was the 30th Anniversary Edition because the extra material tacked onto the end of the edition added dozens of extra pages to the book. I loved listening to the Forty Signs of Rain audiobook I borrowed from the library, but I was equally disappointed that neither of the sequels were available in audiobook as well. I have dead tree versions of both those books, but I can't be certain how quickly I'll be able to move on to them. Finally, while I generally liked Armada as entertainment, I thought it was a major letdown from Cline's Ready Player One. Frankly, Cline felt like he was reworking material and tropes he handled much more deftly in RPO. I don't know if I will manage five SF novels first published in 2015, but even if I do, Armada will not get any consideration from me in the Hugo nomination process.


2015 Stuff Read, #s 14-15(a)

14. The Best of Lucius Shepard, by Lucius Shepard
15. The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
15(a). "Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus," by Mira Grant (novella)

I loved reading The Best of Lucius Shepard, but it took me forever to read. This was due primarily to two factors: it was an eBook on my iPhone and it was extremely long -- the dead tree version is approximately 600 pages long. I'd love to read more of his work, but it really is time for me to focus on my 2015 reading material.

Speaking of which, I will definitely consider nominating the new MIra Grant Newsflesh novella when the time comes. My love for the universe is probably clouding my critical judgment of the story, but at the moment it's only the third novella of 2015 that I'd consider for nominiation. Looking ahead to the rest of the year, I plan on reading more short fiction than novels, so I'm sure that number will increase. When the time comes, I should have enough of list to properly judge it against its peers.

In related news, I recently purchased an iPad Mini 3, so I may actually start buying new novels in eBook format. Thus far, all my eBook purchases have been older titles that I purchased on sale. However, with the larger screen and the ability to properly enlarge the text to a level I find extremely comfortable, it now seems much more feasible to sit down and read on that rather than just read short fiction on my iPhone 6 when I need to kill time in public.


2015 Stuff Read, #s 11-13

11. The Goblin Emperor, by Sarah Monette
12. Reamde, by Neal Stephenson
13. The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/Aug 2015 issue

As with my previous Stuff Read posts for 2015, here are the stories from the July/Aug issue of F&SF I would consider nominating for the Hugos next year:

  • "The Deepwater Bride," by Tamsyn Muir (novelette)

  • "Johnny Rev," by Rachel Pollack (novella)

  • "The Quintessance of Dust," by Oliver Buckram (short story)

For the remainder of the year, I will focus as much as possible on reading only fiction published in 2015. It would be nice to read more than five novels, but it's more important for me to have read enough to pick five nominees for each of the short fiction categories. I haven't reached that goal for any of the categories yet, but it does make me happy to know that I have read enough 2015 short fiction to feel good about my selections thus far.


A Mask of Stony Demeanor

On the first Sunday of June, I woke up in the morning with the lower left portion of my back seizing in pain. Initially, I thought I slept in an awkward position for an extended period of time and caused the muscle to go spastic. Seemed like the most reasonable assumption at the time, given that I had done similar things to other neck and back muscles over the past few years. However, as the days dragged on, I realized that this wasn't the case and grudgingly accepted that 23 years after my first attack, I was developed kidney stones again.

Knowing how doctors like to "treat" them in general (that is, wait to see if they will pass on their own), I decided to not bother seeing one until complications demanded medical attention. Well, that finally happened at the beginning of this week when I did something to aggravate my condition while lifting our 22-plus-pound cat. I went from experiencing some occasional discomfort and nagging but otherwise manageable pain to "Holy shit, this really fucking hurts!" So, yesterday morning it was off to the urgent care facility where the x-ray showed three wonderfully sized stones working their way down my left side.

I also managed a visit to an urologist and have a CT scan scheduled so they can get a precise reading on the size of the stones. Unfortunately, the earliest I can the scan done is Wednesday, but I was handed a prescription for Vicodin and four sieves to pee into while I wait. The only good news while I try to tough this out came in the assurance I will be a likely candidate for surgery once the CT scan results are in, thanks to the fact that I've already been persevering through this for five weeks and the estimated size of at least two of the stones. That is, if some other complication doesn't rear it's ugly head and I head to the emergency room first. In that case, they'd perform emergency surgery.

I guess the silver lining is that it took 23 years for my second bout with stones to finally happen. According to the American Urological Association, recurrence rates approach 50% at the 10-year mark, which means I went over twice as long as the average person between occurrences. Furthermore, my dad had four bouts with stones by the time he was my age, so even though genetics are at least partially to blame, they aren't hitting me as hard as they have him and other family members who have had multiple bouts. It's not much to lash onto, but it's better than nothing. In the meantime, it's grin-and-bear-it until resolution arrives, in one form or another.