5 of 5 stars to Hail Mary by Andy Weir

I’m not usually a fan of constant flashbacks intermixed with the present, but this story was just too well done. I particularly enjoyed Grace’s character progression, though in a way, his first choice (you’ll know what I mean if and hopefully when you read it) didn’t seem to fit his character history, so the surprise twist didn’t land quite the way the author probably intended for me.

The scientific explanations the author included were technical enough that I felt like I was learning something without the mini lessons wrapped in the story becoming overbearing. It made me interested in learning more about science, which is cool. It made me interested in learning whether or not some of what he uses in the story is true or possible. It made me interested in space and what it will mean for the humans when we start thinking of ourselves as a species in competition with other species in the universe, or universes.

It’s sort of a backhanded compliment to humanity, but I think we could really come together when we have a common “other” to all turn against instead of each other.

3 of 5 stars to Nights of the Living Dead: An Anthology by Jonathan Maberry

An image of the book cover of “Nights of the Living Dead”, edited by Jonathan Maberry and George A. Romero

This was my first book finished in 2023, though not my first book started and finished in 2023.

It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either. As an anthology, it was kind of a mixed bag and it felt like a lot of the stories focused too heavily on the experience of being bitten and changing. It also has plenty of stories containing the classic horror trope of running towards danger when a real person in the situation would clearly go another way. Maybe asking for that to not be there is like asking for a red shirt to not die in Star Trek, but I prefer situations to play out in a believable way, for the sake of immersion in the story.

There were also quite a few mentions of the smell associated with zombies that I hadn’t really noticed in other stories about zombies, though it makes sense after hearing it, but it was odd that so many authors focused on it. To me, anyway, but maybe that’s just because it seems like an obvious thing. I wonder if it was ever mentioned in “The Walking Dead”? I don’t think so, but those huge zombie herds would certainly have dragged an odor with them.

This collection is pretty long and a lot of the stories are pretty short and forgettable, so I don’t remember them all. It felt almost like some of these stories were concepts or exercises instead of fully fleshed out ideas. By that, I mean there were logical gaps in the stories, even within the conceptual framework of a zombie outbreak, like being safe within a ring of fire but not having food available. Maybe that was intended? To emphasize the grimness and desperation of the situation? I don’t know, but I wanted more from these stories. Some of them felt like they could have been more, could have been better, but were cut short.

The one story that stands out to me is the one that takes place in the zoo. The actions of the protagonist are actions that I feel like I would have taken as well.

I’m going to try listening to some zombie podcasts on #audible to see how they are. I’m not quite over last decade’s zombie fascination. I think I’ll let that genre go for a few months though. I want to lean more heavily into fantasy and science fiction this year. It feels like I’ve been reading outside of my comfort zones a lot for the last few years and I want to settle into something more familiar. Something more positive for this year, maybe.

2023 needs to be a good year.

Dune sequel books contain really complex themes and ideas

I’m surprised by how well the story has held up, considering that it was written in the 70s.

I need to reread the part about the transformation in the desert, because I’m not sure how or if that really fit into the story’s world. It felt more like magic than science or evolution.

The author describes patterns of human activity that repeat over eons. He approaches the idea that people need to stay connected to the immediacy of life and human nature. Somehow, the story strikes me as being anti-technology and a call for people to be spiritual but not religious. There are also constant criticisms of the role of religion in creating excuses for, and a need for, violence.

The end of the story gave me some ideas about Shai-Hulud. Unless I really misread things, the goal of the Dune story is to describe replacing the big worm or driving force below the desert, which makes me wonder if this is a repeating cycle that has happened before.

Herbert draws heavily on various religions in the creation of his universe, so a circular conception of time and the embodiment of “divinity” in an actual character whose existence becomes the literal and spiritual foundation for galactic civilization would be right up his alley. It would also make for a really epic story.

The scale and complexity of the ideas the author is tackling grows in each new Dune book. Some people may not like it or understand a lot of it. I know I didn’t when I tried to read these books at 13, but they are thought-provoking and fascinating to me now, 27 years later and being much more well-read. There are obvious, like really obvious, references to Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, but also hints of Hinduism and Buddhism as well.

For someone like me that has been interested in religions for their entire life, this series is exceptional.

I love you more than tuna

Thumper taking a nap

Today is the two-year anniversary of the passing of our favorite cat, Thumper. I picked up a copy of this book a few months ago and hid it on top of the bookshelf. This evening, I pulled it down and my wife and I read it together. Even after two years, it’s hard to comprehend that she’s gone, and the world still managed to spin around the sun two times without her being here with us.

The book is excellent. Not all cats are the same, but somehow, the stuff in this book was about 95% on point, and it brought back a lot of good and sad memories.

Thank you, to the author and illustrator.

I’m grateful for the time we had together, but I wish she was still around.

A book about a guy catching a fish

“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

I never thought I’d be this interested in a book that is all about a guy on his boat catching a fish. Of course, there are themes about the importance of community, tradition, dedication, and the reality that hard work sometimes ends in failure, but it’s really just a book about some guy getting into his boat and trying to reel in a fish for almost 100 pages.

And it was amazing.

I’ve read almost 800 books, not counting comics and manga and portions of books that I read for college, and after a while it seems like almost all books are basically the same story, just in different settings and with differently named characters, so it’s nice to read something a bit different for a change. I’m finding that I want to read classic literature more now when I want a novel because the books that have lasted tend to be books that focus on human nature and the human condition and I appreciate that the books are offering something deeper and more meaningful to me than just entertainment.

“You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?”

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

Dune (2021) Anime Posters

“Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”

Frank Herbert, Dune

I’m looking forward to the new movie version. I read the book when I was a teenager and again this year. It was and still is excellent, even knowing the real world cultural inspiration and background for the idea of the Fremen.

I was a little conflicted when I heard that they were going to remove the term “jihad” from the movie, but after reading the book again and thinking about it, I think it was the right move. The word has too many connotations and baggage now that didn’t exist when the story was written. Using it would give the movie meaning that wasn’t intended in the original story.

Should be required reading: “Cynical Theories”

“It is bad psychology to tell people who do not believe that they are racist—who may even actively despise racism—that there is nothing they can do to stop themselves from being racist—and then ask them to help you. It is even less helpful to tell them that even their own good intentions are proof of their latent racism. Worst of all is to set up double-binds, like telling them that if they notice race it is because they are racist, but if they don’t notice race it’s because their privilege affords them the luxury of not noticing race, which is racist.”

Helen Pluckrose, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody

This is the best book I’ve read that tackles the issues related to postmodernism and social justice activist politics, and it clearly expresses a lot of ideas that I’ve had myself but didn’t take the time to really research or fully articulate.

This should be required reading to graduate college. When I was in college, a lot of the courses I took relied heavily on postmodernism, identity politics, and social justice ideology, but I didn’t realize it because I didn’t have a name for it. Also, it was taught as fact and reality rather than just as a theory, or as the authors would say, as Theory, and it was part of everything from classes on sociology to government to history. At some point, I realized that things weren’t quite right, but you have to go along with what the professor is advocating if you want to be assured of getting a passing grade.

Updates 6.27

There’s a whole lot going on in the US right now but I’m at the point where I’ve started to tune it out. I’ll probably drop some rambling posts about the social unrest and venture into fringe conspiracy theories later, but not right now. It just gets so tiring, you know? Like, why should I try to carry the weight of the world’s problems on my shoulders (or in my head) 24/7? It’s a constant burden and it can weigh a person down.

So, I’m trying to get back to focusing on things that I actually enjoy, like manga, movies, studying Japanese, and cats. And I’ve been working more now that things are starting to get back to normal in New York City, which is nice.

This past Monday, businesses started opening back up. There’s still no dining in, which is a good thing honestly, but it was super nice to be able to get the car washed, drive downtown, and get takeout from Thai Terminal and Veniero’s. I really missed their food, especially Veniero’s cheesecake. It was so good that I didn’t even bother to take a photo of it before gobbling it down.

Hopefully, COVID-19 doesn’t spike. I’m not really interested in another shutdown, but with all of the protests and rioting, it could happen. I wasn’t really prepared last time, so if there’s going to be another shutdown I’m not going to get caught with my pants down again. I picked up my Mom and we went to New Jersey to shop at Walmart. My cart was overflowing. LOL. I didn’t hoard TP or paper towels, but I picked up quite a few canned and frozen items along with olive oil, honey, canned soups, and other staples.

We stopped by Mitsuwa Marketplace in Edgewater and the grocery was open (which was great because we needed Yakult) but the food court was still closed. Daiso was open and we wound up picking up some nice dishes with cat designs:

So, I’ve moved on to memorizing Japanese kanji. It’s actually more fun than I expected. I’m starting to remember the component parts of the kanji and it’s making it easier to start guessing at the meanings of other kanji. I’m hoping that by the end of the year I can read simple kid’s books in Japanese.

Speaking of Japanese, if you haven’t read Dungeon Meshi / Delicious in Dungeon, I highly recommend it. The last chapter was especially good. It’s probably the best chapter in the manga.

And speaking of reading, I’ve plowed through about 50 books so far this year, including the entire Witcher series. That one is really hit or miss and The Last Wish, which the Netflix series is based on, is definitely the best of the bunch. It was worth the time, though, as someone who really enjoys fantasy novels. I’m reading a book about Israeli history right now and it reminded me of why I was so fascinated with Middle Eastern history while I was studying it in college. I’ll probably go on a run of books about modern Middle Eastern history next. I also want to get around to reading The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. I’ve been putting it off, even though I’m really interested in it.

Last thing I want to mention before putting things away so we can eat dinner is that there are new kittens in the apartment. Here’s one of them:

Finding things to do while stuck at home during the coronapocalypse

De Blasio was throwing around the idea that there might be a “shelter in place order”, basically restricting all movement except essential services I guess, but Cuomo said De Blasio was basically full of crap and there was no such plan. Apparently, shutting down New York City is off the table, probably more for logistical and enforcement reasons than anything. How do you shut down a city this size? Would the police even attempt to or be able to check everyone still out to see if what they’re doing is authorized?

Maybe? I imagine it’s easier to have the NYPD crack down on businesses that aren’t following the shutdown order than it would be to try to police millions of people out on the street.

That being said, I’m stuck at home anyway, because my work requires me to be in venues of 50 or more people and gatherings that size are currently banned. I could go out and screw around and hey, maybe I will, but today I was at home using the time to try to catch up on some things.

Basically, I was just cleaning and doing chores. Laundry, sweeping, mopping, sanitizing surfaces, dishes, cooking for my wife who is working remote. Digging out old Christmas hand sanitizers and Wet Wipes from the closet.

Small containers of holiday scented hand sanitizer from 2018. LOL. And some Wet Wipes. We ordered 4 of those when the pandemic was first getting started.

I spent time with my cats. I even stayed in bed for an hour this morning after waking up because my cat Dapper was resting on my arm. Why not? Not like I had anything that pressing to do and she always gets upset when I leave.

Dapper snuggled in next to me on the bed this morning

I updated my resume, Indeed, and LinkdIn. I transferred downloaded photos from my phone to my laptop.

I finished The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath and started reading East of Eden, by John Steinbeck.

I put a bunch of extra time into studying Japanese and Spanish on Memrise.

I want to do some more reading tonight. Maybe I’ll play a video game. I’ve been meaning to get back to The Witcher III on my Switch. But really I’ll probably wind up shitposting on Twitter, Pleroma, and Facebook.

Now what? I need to get out of the apartment for a while tomorrow to work out. While that’s still allowed. The gyms are closed. I guess I could do something here in the apartment and go for a bike ride.

I’m not sure how I’ll feel if this goes on for a few weeks, but right now, I’m set. If the chores run out (and with the tax deadline looming and plenty of other cleaning to catch up on, that’s not likely to happen) there’s always Netflix, video games, board games, and books.

Book Review: Soul of the Fire, by Terry Goodkind

Soul of the Fire, by Terry Goodkind
Soul of the Fire, by Terry Goodkind

I enjoyed the exercise in world building that this book seems to represent. The author laid out the history of Anderith and then used that foundation to give us a story about political intrigue and domination.

I also enjoyed how things played out at the end, though I’m not sure it made much sense. The common people would be the ones to suffer the most, while the elites who manipulated them in the first place would likely escape retribution, like Dalton. So, could that really satisfy Richard’s desire for vengeance? It does make his actions seem more juvenile. What he’s doing at the end of the story is pretty juvenile too. “They don’t like me so I’m going home!” Isn’t this guy supposed to be Lord Rahl? Wouldn’t his past experiences have hardened him up and made a man out of him by this point? Are his actions believable?

I feel like Goodkind spends a lot of time building new characters up and developing them in really creative ways, only to have them meet their ends in extremely anti-climactic situations that felt rushed and left me wondering what the point of learning about them was in the first place.

That rushed feeling permeates the last 60 pages or so of the book. One moment everything is fine, and then suddenly the enemy is there and everything quickly wraps up in catastrophe. It doesn’t feel measured. It doesn’t feel like good storytelling. It feels like the author put too much time into the build-up and then realized he only had 50 pages to find some sort of conclusion. The ending was choppy and unsatisfying. Goodkind also puts too much weight on weak storylines. The prime example is using Franka’s situation at the end of the book to explain Dalton’s change of heart, but for that to be believable Dalton’s relationship with Franka should have been more deeply examined.

The story could have been better if Goodkind had spent less time detailing characters and a culture that were disposable and had spent more time developing the main characters instead. Throughout the story, all of the main characters fail to work together. The actions they take aren’t believable given their situations. Kahlan doubting Richard and the mud people elder about the chicken is the most glaring example. Why would they lie about it, and if it had turned out to be untrue, so what? They’d have checked and maybe killed a few chickens and then they could have settled things. Instead, she gets portrayed as a doubting, whining bitch that slows down story progression, which isn’t fair to her considering who she is supposed to be. Richard has his turn to be an idiot when he doesn’t trust Kahlan’s opinion later on in the story.

The story just feels like a wasted opportunity, or like filler material.