Mad Times

“To be sane in a mad time is bad for the brain, worse for the heart.” – Wendell Berry

January 20th, 2016 at 4:45 pm

Media 2015

To maintain this blog’s solid “not quite dead” status, here are links for my media consumption from 2015.

Movies are still on Letterboxd where they have a nice Year in Review page. 86 movies is pretty good for us. Shooting for 100 this year.

And books are over on Goodreads where they too have a fancy Year in Review page. Total of 87 books.

December 31st, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Media consumption 2014

Got through 57 book-like objects this year. Details on Goodreads.

Watched something like 40 films. Details on Letterboxd.

Netflix tells me I watched significant numbers of episodes of lots of tv shows including Adventure Time, The Bletchley Circle, Bob’s Burgers, Criminal Minds (season 8 is so terrible), Gilmore Girls, The Killing, Leverage, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Orphan Black, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Probably some others from the library or Prime that I’m not remembering.

I shudder to think how many hours of podcasts I have consumed (mostly while cooking, bus riding, cycling or doing yard work, so not much mono-tasking time). I did a big post listing my subscriptions back at the beginning of the year and it’s changed a lot since then with my current list at 66 (up from 38 back then.)

Likewise with RSS reading. I have nearly 400 RSS feeds that I buzz through regularly.

What else? Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Livejournal, Google+, all get a slice of my attention.

I read some regularly-updated web comics: Questionable Content, Alice Grove, Three Panel Soul, xkcd, Unshelved, and Sinfest.

Yeah. Might try to skew the balance a little towards the production end of the dial in ’15.

August 7th, 2009 at 11:14 pm

the Cyclist’s Manifesto by Robert Hurst

Hurst writes about bikes as they fit into mostly US history, and mostly as they pertain to transportation. I don’t really have a head for history, but Hurst brings out those little ironic or amazing details that make history fun and memorable.

The “Manifesto” part of the title comes in when he debunks practically every article of faith on both sides of the car vs. bike debates. And I love him for it. He disses bike lanes and vehicular cyclists. Points out that cycling is a little more life-threatening than driving (per passenger mile) and ridicules the US helmet cult. The myths fall right and left. “The more cyclists there are the safer it gets,” a recent clarion cry of us advocates, looks a lot less plausible after Hurst gets done with it.

You might get mad at someone so aggressively goring your sacred cows (if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor), but he also writes with such humility and humor that I, at least, found him more charming than annoying. I had to chuckle out loud every few pages, and I don’t find that very often with books about transportation policy.

Finally, his recipe for fixing what’s wrong with transportation is almost absurdly simple: “Drive less.” But rather than just prescribe the diet, he makes a strong case for why you probably want to drive less anyway.

I read this from my local library, but I’ll be buying a copy to refer back to and to share with my friends.

July 13th, 2009 at 2:48 am

Visible Light by C.J. Cherryh

I started digging through the boxes of paperbacks that have been sadly relegated to the back of our closet for a couple of years since there’s no space in the bookshelves. I’ve been sorting them into “keep”, “to read”, and “pass on” piles and this is the first one I’ve read all the way through from the “to read” pile.

Visible Light is a collection of fantasy and science fiction short stories by Ms. Cherryh. They are surrounded by bits of a framing tale that has the author accompanying a reader on a routine commercial space flight whose long periods of boredom allow the two to discuss the stories in a sort of Platonic dialogue.

In “Cassandra”, afflicted by visions of destruction who thinks herself crazy finds to her dismay that she is not.

“The Threads of Time” explores what happens when time travel causes history to unravel.

“Companions” shows a mission to a planet rich in vegetation, but lacking any sort of motile or intelligent life. An unknown and mysterious plague takes the lives of all but one of the crew and he carries on with only the ship’s AI for company. Unless they were wrong about the lack of intelligent life.

“A Thief in Corianth” is a fairly standard swashbuckling fantasy only the thief is a woman, but one who operates mostly within the limitations of women in the standard pseudo-middle ages fantasy setting.

“The Last Tower” is a short short about the end of a war.

“The Brothers” is a Campbellian hero’s journey with some satisfying twists and appropriately tricksy fae.

The stories shared in my mind a distant and melancholy tone, but all of them have rich metaphorical grounds that echo off real life in interesting ways.

January 5th, 2009 at 10:46 pm

A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham

When preeminent SF/Fantasy publisher Tor Books was rolling out their dangerously addicting new community at, they offered a truly ridiculous number of free ebooks as enticements to come check it out. I dutifully ferreted them all away and loaded a stack of them onto my Palm LifeDrive. This is the first one I’ve read.

It’s the first book of the “Long Price Quartet” (nobody ever said the folks at Tor weren’t savvy). The first section is set in an orphanage/school for the unwanted younger sons of noble families. But the school’s workings are just odd enough to distinguish them from those of every other such setting in the history of fantasy literature. The school section turns out to be mostly a prologue as the second section leaps ahead by many years and initially follows an unexpected character from the opening.

While the setting of the later sections of the book is reminiscent of many other such fantasy worlds in its broad strokes (I kept being reminded of Delany’s Nevèrÿon in particular), again, the details distinguish it. And I am loath to be more specific because much of the pleasure of the book is in having your expectations repeatedly tweaked. I’ll just say that the overall story is one of court intrigue and coming of age all set in a world of ubiquitous and varied human (and inhuman) (and inhumane) bondage (and not the fun sexy kind).

While I enjoyed the book, I was a little frustrated with the plot and pacing. It felt like not quite enough events stretched across a little too much book. Still, the rotating point of view characters were all interesting enough to keep me paging along. I’ll probably give the second book a try next time there’s a gap in the queue.

November 23rd, 2008 at 5:43 pm

Catching up on books read

All right, I give up. I put so many requirements in the way of myself sometimes that it makes it hard to get anything done. Current case in point is my desire to post reviews of every book I read in the order I read them. I’ve been doing this since 1994. But right now I’m so far behind that it would take me quite a while to catch up and rather than keep delaying until I figure out how to squeeze 30 hours into each day or how to squeeze 24 hours of effort out of myself each day, neither of which seems very likely, I’m just going to list the titles and authors with a few words for each right here in this one epic post so I can reset the clock.

These are listed in the order I read them (after a brief mental debate about whether to list them in reverse order to match the blog’s top-posting bias toward reverse chronological. Yes, I need help.)

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
Memoir of Martin’s early days as a comedian. Interesting in places, but surprisingly dull otherwise.
Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs
Third book in Briggs’s series about Mercedes Thompson, a mechanic in Washington’s tri-cities who gets mixed up with Vampires, Werewolves, and other Fey (oh my). I haven’t read the Twilight series, but from what I’ve heard, these books are the polar opposite of those while still being in essentially the same sub-genre. Mercedes is a tough, smart, grown-up woman who kicks ass.
Cosmonaut Keep by Ken Macleod
Macleod does a wonderful job of writing books which are deeply informed by his interest in politics, yet read as humane adventure yarns. I liked the mix of mystery, alien viewpoints, and human ingenuity in this and its sequels.
Dark Light by Ken Macleod
Middle book of the Cosmonaut Keep trilogy.
Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
Very fun teen-oriented vampire book that frames the mythos as a parasitic infection, supporting that interpretation with copious examples of other real cases of parasites causing exceedingly odd behavior in their hosts.
A Wizard Abroad by Diane Duane
Diane Duane’s “Young Wizards” series is frequently offered up to kids who’ve worn out their copies of the Harry Potter books. It’s probably a good direction to go because these are sooo much better than Rowling’s. I read this one first when I found it in a library book sale while on vacation. As you’ll see farther down, I quickly burned through the surrounding books (Abroad is the fourth). I think my favorite thing about this series is that while the kids doing magic have a fair degree of autonomy, they are consistently rewarded when they ask for help. An important lesson that those other wizards never seemed to learn.
Touching Dark by Scott Westerfeld
Second in his “Midnighters” series where a select few people (those born right at the stroke of midnight) get an extra hour at the end of their day. Unfortunately they have to share it with some creepy scary critters. Fortunately the people who get the extra hour also have extra powers that help them survive. Fun if somewhat shallow world building and plausible teen character interactions.
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Cory’s YA poke at the surveillance state we seem to be moving toward in the US and abroad. It’s fun to read if you’re already a computer geek. I’m not sure how much sense it will make to those less clued in. Even I had trouble sometimes distinguishing between currently-available tech and Cory’s wishful thinking tech. It’s a good cautionary tale, I just wish the plot had a few less glaring inconsistencies and implausibilities.
Blue Noon by Scott Westerfeld
Last of the Midnighters trilogy. Gets a bit strained towards the end, but still entertaining.
Shadow Unit, Season 1 by Bear, Bull, Downum,
Monette, and Shetterly
I should give this one its very own post, but since I’m here… Bull and Shetterly are two of my very favorite authors. Bear is heading that way. I hadn’t read Downum or Monette before. This has taken over a lot of my free time. It’s an online donation-supported fiction project whose conceit is that it presents episodes of a tv show about a fictional branch of the FBI, the Anomalous Crimes Task Force. The ACTF (casually known as the WTF) is called in when the creepy factor on a case goes to eleven. Of course the tv show doesn’t exist, but if it did it would be something like Criminal Minds or The X Files. What’s really fun about it (besides the uniformly excellent writing, and the cost (free)) is how the authors are playing with the fourth wall. Several of the characters have livejournals where the characters interact with readers (though the characters don’t know that they’re on a show or that we know what they do for a living) This is more than just a gimick, and has been used to good effect in the first season where the season finale episode was released over several days time and the livejournals added bits to the narrative. I should say that the episodes stand alone and you don’t have to dig up all the extra stuff (there are also hidden “easter egg” extra content pages in many episodes). The authors have also done a good job of building in support for the fan community by adding discussion boards and a wiki where the more obsessed (like me) can discuss and speculate and catalog to our geeky little hearts’ content. Several of the authors are active on the boards too so there are more interaction possibilities. If it sounds at all interesting, go catch up now because the second season should be starting sometime in early ’09 and it really is a lot of fun to read it as it comes out so you can share in the speculation and clue hunting.
Engine City by Ken Macleod
Conclusion of the Cosmonaut Keep trilogy.
So You Want To Be A Wizard by Diane Duane
First of the Young Wizards books.
Deep Wizardry by Diane Duane
Second Young Wizards book.
Mothers & Other Monsters by Maureen McHugh
Dark creepy stories about family and friendship. McHugh is not for the easily depressed.
Deliverer by C.J. Cherryh
Unspectacular middle book of a series.
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Young adult dystopic science fiction set in a post-apocalyptic world where conflict is minimized by surgically modifying everyone’s appearance to fit a global norm of attractiveness. We listened to the audio book on a road trip, and the reader for this is excellent.
The Sharing Knife, Vol. 3: Passage by Lois
McMaster Bujold
Better than the second book, but these are feeling like not enough backstory spread across too many books.
Axis by Robert Charles Wilson
Sequel to his Hugo Award winning Spin. Doesn’t really make sense of the mysteries of that book, but that won’t be any surprise to anyone who’s read a couple of Wilson’s books. Interesting characters dealing with inexplicable events.
Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
Sequel to Uglies. Not as good, but still entertaining.
Jhegaala by Steven Brust
Latest Vlad Taltos book. Kind of a return to the more compact, self-contained style of the early books of the series though it fills in a few holes in the Taltos mythos.
Specials by Scott Westerfeld
Conclusion of the trilogy started with Uglies. Fun but needed a bit more plot or a few less pages.
High Wizardry by Diane Duane
Young Wizards book 3.
Extras by Scott Westerfeld
Promoted as a new sequel to Uglies, but it’s mostly standalone taking place a number of years after the events of the first three books. It also covers much different thematic territory. The trilogy is all about body image and self awareness. This one goes into questions of popularity.
The Wizard’s Dilemma by Diane Duane
Young Wizards book 5.
Melusine by Sarah Monette
Grabbed this off the shelf at the library after reading Monette’s work on Shadow Unit. In outline, this looks like any number of other fantasies, but Monette’s characters are so realistic that I forgave her the fairly generic fantasy trappings. First book of a series. I’ll probably try the next one to see if she can keep me interested for another book.
Buried Deep by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
A Retrieval Artist novel. This one was okay, but it needed to be shorter. I can only take so much of aliens inexplicably hollering “outcast! unclean!”
A Wizard Alone by Diane Duane
Young Wizards book 6
New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear
Loved this collection of gothic steampunk stories about a forensic sorcerer in an alternate early 20th century. Yes, gothic steampunk procedural. What’s not to love?
Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by
Neil Gaiman
Short works by Gaiman with intros and whatnot. They’re very Gaiman even though they’re also pretty widely varied. I like him best at this length, I think.
The Wolves In The Walls by Neil Gaiman
Children’s book about wolves coming out of the walls of a house and chasing the owners away. Sounds scary. Looks gory. Isn’t really either. Is fun.
The Wheels of Chance: A Bicycling Idyll by H. G.
Funny little story about a draper in 1890s London who goes on a bicycling holiday and finds adventure and love. Read the Project Gutenberg version on my Palm after Kent Peterson drew my attention to it.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
Funny and touching coming of age tale about an Indian kid who defies tradition to go to a white public high school. Seems implausibly rosy even with the level of conflict it admits to, but who am I to judge this writer on such issues? Fun quick read.
Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs
First book in a new series set in the same world (and with some shared characters) as the Mercy Thompson books. This one centers in the Werewolf community (as you might guess from the title.) Briggs is really good at this. I haven’t read a book by her yet that I didn’t enjoy thoroughly.
The Spirit Ring by Lois McMaster Bujold
Fantasy novel in which you can see the ancestry of some of the ideas in Bujold’s current “Sharing Knife” series. Good and standalone.
Mother of Storms (reread) by John Barnes
I still really like this book. I’m blessed with the ability to almost completely forget the contents of books a while after I read them, so rereading is a fun process of rediscovery. In this book I remembered the climate-changing release of ancient methane trapped in the polar ice caps (something that is happening for real now if a recent article is to be believed) which led to enormous long-lived killer hurricanes but I’d largely forgotten all the various subplots about brain upload and transcendence, news reporting, coming of age, and politics. It’s a great book that’s slightly marred for some people by the presence of a small subplot featuring some disturbing sexual violence.
Spaceman Blues: a Love Song by Brian Francis
I loved this book. And I already wrote a quick review over on GoodReads but I can’t figure out how to link directly to it so I’ll just reproduce it here: The community gives away a free ebook to members every once in a while, and this one made it onto my Palm. I was hooked after the first couple of pages. Slattery has written a mad paean to love, humanity, and New York City. It’s part epic love story, part War of the Worlds, and part Howl. When his love, Manuel disappears, Wendell starts a search that takes him through the fringes of New York. The plot barrels along at a breakneck pace while the scenery streams by in crystal-clear flashes of startling detail. It’s a mind altering ride with an ending that with its abruptness sent ripples of understanding and transformation back through my memory of the journey. Wonderful
Eater by Gregory Benford
Benford’s science fiction is always fun to read because he’s that rare beast, a working scientist who writes. This is a first contact story that gives a somewhat plausible rationale for a dangerous alien visitor.

Whew. Sorry this was so long. I’ll try to get back to posting as I go.

August 31st, 2008 at 4:46 pm

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor

I heard about this book after seeing Bolte Taylor’s talk for TED. At that time the book was self-published, but it has since been released by Viking Penguin Group.

Bolte Taylor is a brain researcher who volunteers as an advocate for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. One day before work she had a stroke. The book is a step-by-step account of that experience from her point of view both as the victim of the stroke and as a brain scientist explaining what was happening at each step. She also talks about the process of her recovery following surgery.

The insight beyond the mechanics of the stroke experience is from the effect the damage had on her. The particular effect she got was like the enlightenment from advanced meditation, a kind of peace and freedom from worry and concern with an overarching joy in life and the world. The message she’s sharing following her recovery is that that state is there in our brains available for us to tap into. It’s a little woo-woo, but it’s clear that she had a life-changing experience and it’s fascinating to read about it from such a unique perspective. Definitely worth reading for anyone who has had or knows someone who has had a stroke.

August 31st, 2008 at 4:14 pm

Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie

Moore and Gebbie reimagine the stories of Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and Peter Pan as the sexual awakenings of their respective female characters, Alice, Dorothy, and Wendy. The retellings are tantalizingly plausible as real world sexual experiences that could have been hallucinated, rationalized, or repressed into the fantastic stories we know. The book feels like Victorian erotica with its heavy paper, three large volumes and slip cover. The sex is steamy and widely varied providing something to arouse or offend nearly everyone.

August 6th, 2008 at 2:53 pm

Book reviews

While I waffle over whether or not to post reviews of sexually explicit graphic novels on a blog that my mother reads (Just one of many neurotic reasons why I’m months behind in posting book reviews. This blog isn’t called “Mad Times” for nothing. ;-), you can get your book review fix over at Goodreads where Becky has been reviewing up a storm.

Here’s a sample, her review of Isabel Allende’s Zorro: A Novel:

I’m a Zorro fan, but not to the extent of obsessiveness. I remember watching Tyrone Power late at night on my grandma’s black and white TV, and I’ve seen George Hamilton, Antonio Banderas, and probably some other actors in that role, but I haven’t sought out everything-Zorro. When I saw Allende had written a novel about Zorro, I was thrilled. I even waited for a good time to read it. It tells the story of how Zorro became Zorro–a sweeping tale that is both chilling and fun, just as it should be.

Lots more behind the link up there. There’s even an rss feed for updates.

June 1st, 2008 at 3:29 pm

The Book of Joby by Mark J. Ferrari

God and the Devil make a wager over whether the Devil can corrupt God’s chosen champion with the fate of the world as the stakes. The good news is that God cheats. Or at least interprets the rules creatively. Joby is a little boy obsessed with King Arthur. Joby is God’s chosen champion. The book follows Joby through three periods of his life, grade school, college, and early adulthood. In each he faces new challenges. The book is way too long, especially in the late section where Joby finds his way to a little corner of Eden that God has hidden away on the north coast of California. Ferrari is obviously a little too enamored of his characters and setting and the resultant stretching of the story feels overindulgent.

output here