Saturday, May 29, 2021

What I'm Reading Now


I've been reading all along, but I see that I have stopped writing posts about it. Here's what I can remember reading over the past few months:

Alison Bechdel, The Secret to Superhuman Strength

I love Bechdel (source of the infamous Bechdel Test). Her first two graphic novels, Fun Home and Are You My Mother? are both brilliant. This one is also good -- we follow Bechdel, decade by decade, as she uses different sorts of exercise in an attempt to achieve enlightenment, and also has a life. As with the previous two books, her readings in the field inform her quest, so we hear a lot about other people who have tried to achieve enlightenment, and especially those who did so through physical exertion.

The art is wonderful -- the influence of Dr. Seuss is even more profound in this one -- the writing is wonderful, and the book is excellent. Are You My Mother? is still my favorite Bechdel, but this one is very much worth reading.

Martha Wells, Fugitive Telemetry

A Murderbot book. I will read anything about Murderbot that Wells publishes. This one involves a murder on Preservation Station, which Murderbot helps to solve. Lots of bots in this one. It's a novella, not a novel, but if your library is like mine, they've probably bought it.

Naomi Kritzer, Chaos on Catnet

This is the sequel to Catfishing on Catnet, which is excellent, and you should definitely read it now if you haven't already. Chaos on Catnet is a worthy sequel to that novel, set, as Kritzer notes, in the future Minneapolis she wants to live in. Me, too!

In this one, Steph and her Clowder, including CheshireCat, deal with the second AI who appeared at the end of the first book. Lots of other stuff happens too. Highly recommend, and not just because I like books about AIs.

Sarah Pinsker, We Are Satellites 

A high-concept SF novel, by which I mean it works because of the tech it speculates about -- in the near future, brain implants make it possible for everyone to multitask effectively and to hyperfocus on any given task, while also accomplishing two or three other tasks. Anyone without a brain implant thus becomes a less attractive employee, a less accomplished student, a second-class citizen.

Certain people can't get implants -- those from certain religions, or those who have some sort of brain dysfunction (like epilepsy). And of those who get the implants, a certain number have ADHD like problems. The company that created these implants covers up the problems, with long-term consequences for those suffering them. (The implants rebuild the brain with long-term use: brain plasticity for the, uh, win.)

This novel focuses around a family of four, two of whom get the implants, one who can't, and one who doesn't. The family is the best part of the novel, especially the kid with epilepsy: the two moms are well done, and the family dynamics were also good. This is a family in which you can screw up, but still stay part of the family. I don't think that gets shown enough in fiction.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Weather in Arkansas

 We're having an abnormally cool spring here. Yesterday, we hit the low 90s, but tomorrow it's back to low to mid 70s for the high.

Lots of rain means lots of humidity, but even so, much cooler than I'm used to for almost-June in Arkansas.

I've heard (from people on Twitter) that this is due to the volcano that erupted down in the Gulf, but I haven't seen any actual evidence that this is true.

This chart here is interesting.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

What I'm Watching

 Recently Dr. Skull and I have taken to streaming shows together in the evenings. We used to do this back when we had a TV, and the kid was young; but somehow we fell out of the habit.

What have we been watching?

Hell on Wheels

This is a complete series, five seasons, about building the transcontinental railroad just after the Civil War. There are some historical inaccuracies, and also the mistreatment of the black and Chinese workers is....not ignored, but somewhat downplayed. 

It starts also with the old lie about a Confederate slave-holder having freed his slaves before the war; but as the show develops, we learn this Confederate is lying about having done so. Which is something, I guess. In any case, a nicely diverse cast, even if the focus of most of the stories is still around three white guys. Very watchable.

Mare of Easttown

This one is a bit depressing -- the search by a detective for the killers of young girls in her city. I like the community, and Kate Winslet, who plays Mare, is great. In Easttown, by the way, there is no racial prejudice or sexism, though there is a lot of brutality. I'm dubious, but it's interesting to watch such a society.

The use of dialogue and the pervasive sense of a long-established culture make this one worth watching. Also, even though the police are shown as community workers instead of an occupying force, there's very little copaganda here.


This is a Norwegian series, a science fictional tale about life in Oslo two decades in the future, and also two decades after people from the past begin coming through "time holes" in the ocean. People from the Mesolithic era, people from the Viking era, and people from the 19th century come through these time holes daily. Because the time hole are in the ocean, lots of people drown before they can be rescued -- this is a factor in the plot; but there are still thousands of survivors, who have to be integrated into 21st century society.

Apparently these "beforeigners" are appearing all over the world, but the show focuses on Oslo, and on two detectives, one from the 21st century, and one Beforeigner: Lars and Alhildr. 

This is worth watching not so much for the murder mystery which Lar and Alhildr work to solve (once again, dead girls) but for what the series shows us of Norwegian society, and the plight of the refugees. It's very funny and very enlightening.

It's also worth watching for the very much not-American policing. This is what police as community service officers is actually like.

Warning: full-frontal nudity of both men and women, mostly men; and an entirely Other attitude toward religious matters. "You won't see that on American television," Dr. Skull and I said more than once.

ETA: These are all available on Amazon Prime; you can get Mare of Easttown and Beforeigners on HBO via other platforms as well.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Happy Anniversary to Us

 Dr. Skull and I have been married 28 years as of 2:00 pm today. So far so good!

We're not doing anything for the anniversary today, though next weekend we are traveling up to Fayetteville to eat in a restaurant with the kid. Just like before the pandemic!

"What should I buy you for a present?" Dr. Skull asked. But we are too broke to buy a Roomba, which is all I really want. So we'll go to B&N and buy each other books instead.

The weather has cleared up, at least for now -- it is sunny and humid, though not as hot as a usual May in Arkansas. I am running the AC, though, because everything is so damp.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Review of Situation Normal

 You can read my review of Leonard Richardson's Situation Normal, a ripping space opera -- and deeply moving story -- over here at Strange Horizons.

Rainy Spring

 It's been raining every day here for weeks. And nothing but rain in the forecast for the next ten days.

This reminds me of that May a few years ago, when the whole city (and much of the area that was along or below the Arkansas river) flooded so bad we couldn't get out of the city.

The state had made some improvements since then, including building overflow basins for rainwater. Also our house is elevated a foot or so off the ground. But yeah, I'm starting to get nervous.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Happy Being Married to Me!

 Dr. Skull bought me flowers (bonus cat in background):

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

WingNut Fantasies

Is this the silliest thing posted on the internet this week?  I myself have not seen anything sillier. (And I occasionally read Rod Dreher!)

"they also want to be smart because their college professors told them every “very smart” person believes in Marxism."

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Jaws: A Review

 I (re)watched Jaws last night. I hadn't seen it since I saw it in the theater as a kid -- or, well, it would have been the drive-in, I guess. 

My mother used to take a whole pack of kids with us to the drive-in on Thursday nights in the summer. Thursday night was dollar-a-car night. She'd make a big grocery sack full of popcorn, fill some canteens with water, and take us all. I remember sitting on the hood of the car munching popcorn, the stink of spray-on mosquito repelled stinging my nose, gazing up at the immense screen. It was usually a double feature with cartoons sandwiched in between, and kids usually fell asleep somewhere in the middle of the second movie. Though not me: insomnia meant I was always awake when the second movie ended around midnight or one a.m. and my mother drove us home through the empty streets.

ANYWAY. That would have been where I saw Jaws the first time. I remember the middle best -- the shark eating the dog. Watching it last night, I felt a pang of memory at that scene.

The movie holds up pretty well. Richard Dreyfuss is really good, and the pacing works. The roboshark is clearly fake in some scenes, but that doesn't really hurt the movie much. The dialogue is good, although the 1970s movie-habit of having everyone talk at once was kind of annoying.

Also, of course, there are no real women characters. Chief Brody's wife exists to smile supportively, and the first victim exists to take her shirt off and get killed. Only men exist as actual characters, and only men's experiences matter.

I've been listening to the book via YouTube (you can get all sorts of free audiobooks on YouTube now) and wow, is it badly written. I'm an hour and a half into the book and so far most of the time has been spent describing what sandwiches people are eating, and what minor characters look like, and the deep background of characters who never show up again in the story. Blah blah blah.

Like the movie, it's a sausage-fest, but the dialogue in the book sucks. Peter Benchley helped write the screenplay: someone else must have done all the actual writing.

Anyway, watch the movie if you have a couple hours to spare and want a view of life in the 1970s. Stay away from the book.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Now who are you again?

 I watched The Father, that Anthony Hopkins movie that won all the awards. It was gutting, honestly, the more so I assume because of what's going on with my father.

He's in Assisted Living now, and doing as well as can be expected, I guess. I call him every few days, and he's always glad to hear from me. But he can't remember anything -- he never knows where he is (I have to tell him), and tonight while I was talking to him he forgot who I was.

And even though he's cheerful, talking to him is heartbreaking. "I miss Shelby," he tells me, at least once every phone call. "I'm lonely. I'm just so lonely."

"Now where are you?" he asks me. "Are you in Arkansas? Is that right?"

God, I hate this.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Hippy Happy Murther's Day

I dreamed last night that my mother, my brother Michael, an aunt, and my father came to pick me up and take me home for a visit.

Everyone except my father is someone who has died. And in the dream, he was far gone (as he is now) with Alzheimer's. 

My brother and I had been estranged for several years when he died; in the dream we still were -- we had one of the typical arguments we were always having, in which he repeated some silly lie he had heard on Fox News or from Rush Limbaugh, and I pointed out how the venue had misrepresented the truth, and he got pissed and called me a liberal terrorist -- but toward the dream's end we had a semi-reconciliation.

It was an odd and disturbing dream. Last week was my mother's birthday, and today of course is mother's day. Maybe that's what's up.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

End of Semester

 The kid is staying with us for a week or so. Here is his leg, and the little dog. The little dog is very happy to see him.

You Can See the Light from Here

 I am almost done grading -- half of both Comp II classes remains to do. Also I have to go to commencement on Sunday. Once those are done, I am done. ALMOST THERE.

It's beautiful weather here today, especially given that it's May 6: cool and sunny, with a racket of birds.

May 6th is also the kid's birthday. Right now 23 years ago, I was in a hospital in Pocatello, ID, and the kid was not...quite...born. There was a thunderstorm booming outside the window, and my mother had just arrived from New Orleans to be with me during the birth. (Dr. Skull was there too, but I wanted my mother.)

It's funny how clearly I can remember that day. The kid was born at 6:20 p.m. and they left him with me for a couple of hours. Around ten p.m. they took him to put him in the nursery, except I could hear him crying -- already I knew his cry from all the other babies -- so I walked down there and made them give him back.

He was ten days early, and so little, but so alert. His cry was like a little mouse squeak. In fact, we called him "Mouse" for the first month.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

May in Arkansas

 Big storm last night -- a tornado hit Roland, OK, which is over near where I used to live. Here, we just got wind and rain and very impressive thunder. A big branch came down from one of the trees, and lots of little branches and leaves.

Plus the power was out from about ten p.m. to two a.m. We have two emergency lanterns, both battery powered. One of these worked, but not the other. Worse, the battery on Dr. Skull's CPAP failed. He tried sleeping sitting up in the big white chair for awhile, but that was impossible, and finally he went back to bed and slept (or tried to sleep) without the CPAP.

I was on the couch, trying to sleep without the AC. This was after the storm had passed through. While it was still going on, there was too much thunder and sturm to sleep.

Power is back now. A front is going through as we speak, and this evening is supposed to be in the 50s. That's May in Arkansas!

Monday, May 03, 2021

May in Arkansas

 It's nearly 90 here today and very humid. 

Plus the local water company has been doing SOMETHING all week on our street -- I don't know what. Not laying new pipe, I know what that looks like. Maybe cleaning out the old pipes?

Whatever it is, it's very noisy and requires immense trucks to block the street from about six a.m. to five p.m. The little dog wakes me up barking wildly every morning, because GUYS are in his YARD.

I've been grading all day today. My least favorite part of the job.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Academic Papers

 XKCD did a thing, and now Twitter is running with it.

Economics Papers:

Sociology Papers:

Archeology Papers:

More here: Types Paper

Even more here!