How Many Makes a Pattern?
The nice thing about a loose format that isn’t dependent on long-form thinking is I have a lot of small things running through my head—some for years—that I can just plop in here, write a few words, and not worry too much about whether it’s coherent. I can always come back later and elaborate, or just let it sit and fade away. Maybe some of the things I touch on here could grow (fester?) into a regular blog post, but I’m not putting any pressure on myself to do that. This is all about consistency for me.
I don’t know about you, but the pandemic has been a catalyst for a lot of things in my life. Since everything was “locked down”1in the spring of 2020, my brain has been rewired to some extent. Few things have illustrated that better than what my sleeping brain decided to show me. No doubt I had weird dreams before the pandemic, but at least for a stretch in the early days, they got particularly odd and stuck with me longer after I woke up. I started making notes about them in April 2020, and the last batch was published in November 2021. I have notes on more, but haven’t gotten around to writing about them. Some have been the seed for actual stories I want to write. Maybe look forward to more dream-shares in the future. I’m not going to say there’s any meaning there, but there’s certainly some entertainment.
I tend to find authors I like, then follow a path through their entire catalog. I’ve been trying to diversify my pool of authors, because just “following who I like” ends with me looking up one day and seeing a bunch of middle-aged cis-het white dudes. I think I can do better about diversifying my choices. I’m working on it (see my entry on The Violence in last week’s dispatch).
I read Wanderers before COVID-19, but it’s one of those books that ends up eerily prescient given its central macguffin of a pandemic sweeping the U.S. coupled with the rise of extremist right-wing militia groups. Genre-wise it’s near-future/present science fiction, but nothing feels too far beyond what we have right now, society or science-related. It has a feel in scope to Stephen King’s The Stand, but maybe that’s just the plague talking. There’s also another element that I don’t want to give away, but it’s maybe an old sci-fi trope that gets put to good use. There’s also a sequel to Wanderers—Wayward—coming in November.
The other two books here by Wendig are similar… No, really they’re not. I guess both could be “horror”, but Dust & Grim is middle-grade fiction and The Book of Accidents is more mature. I enjoyed both of them quite a bit. D&G is the story of a young girl into cosplay who inherits half of a funeral home for a special sort of clientele; the kind that inhabit the dark shadows and unseen spaces of the world between the grocery stores, gas stations, and suburban communities that we know. Turns out vampires and werewolves have their own special kind of funerary rites that most funeral homes wouldn’t know how to accommodate. If you have a kid, or are just a kid at heart yourself, this might be the one for you.
The Book of Accidents is, not unlike The Violence, partially built on the theme of inter generational trauma. The family at the center of this story has a lot of emotional…baggage? That doesn’t seem like the right word. I feel like that trivializes things. They have a deep connection to traumatic events in their history (and present) centered to some extent on an old coal mine in Pennsylvania. The gist of the story is set in modern-day (no pandemic this time), but without giving too much away, that’s not quite the whole of it. There are…complexities…involved. I thought this one was, like most of Wendig’s work, enthralling and well-rendered. Some moments and characters remind me of King’s best work, but not in a way that feels derivative. Just in the way he captures the truth of things. I think I’ll have more to say about this one in the future. I have a longer collection of thoughts brewing around the concept of inter generational trauma and how it seems to be permeating the current zeitgeist. If that sounds interesting to you, I guess let me know and I can prioritize pulling that together.
Leviathan Falls is the final novel in The Expanse series, which began with—appropriately—Leviathan Wakes. These nine books (and a smattering of short stories/novellas scattered in between: get them collected here) tell a decades-spanning tale of human habitation of our solar system. I guess you might call it “hard sci-fi”, but I just think it’s a good extrapolation of where our current trajectory might take us. If you make the allowance for one piece of technology, that is, what they call an Epstein Drive: a nuclear rocket engine. That’s the conceit that lets them populate our system all the way out to the moons of Jupiter in a practical way. That’s where it starts, anyway, and then a wild card shows up that shakes things up and we see how humanity in this world has advanced, and also how it hasn’t. I don’t want to over hype this series, but… I love it, without qualification. Reading these books I felt a connection with the characters I haven’t felt in any long running series save for the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. These people in the books were, for a time, very dear to me. I cared for them, and wept both when they met misfortune and when they experienced joy. I had to wait a year or more between volumes. You? You have the blessing of reading them all at once if you want. You’re so lucky that you get to do it for the first time. 2I’ll stop here for now, because I could go on forever.
Every once in awhile, scanning the shelves of the library in my youth, I’d come across a run of paperback book spines that appeared as a monolith. Uniform in width and trade dress, these were the long-running pulp series with lavish paintings on the front and breathless descriptions on the back which promised adventure and other lurid tales that appealed to adolescent sensibilities. Like Hardy Boys for “adults”. I never actually read these books—not the interior, anyway—but I knew of them. Now acclaimed comic book creators Brubaker and Phillips have turned their gift for crime stories to this format, starting a series of graphic novels—published quarterly—which tell the story of Ethan Reckless. Three have been released so far, with the fourth coming soon. If you’re at all interested in crime fiction from authors like Richard Stark, or noir films, this might be right up your alley.
Trans Like Me by C.N. Lester
Black lives matter. Women should be in control of their own bodies. Trans rights are human rights. I don’t know what it means to be black, to be a woman, or a transgender person, but I can learn about their lives and struggles by reading about their experiences and listening to them. Reading Lester’s account of their own experience, perspective, and research has helped me broaden my understanding of both the historical and contemporary context of gender. If you’re at all curious, I recommend you check it out.
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
This was my favorite book of 2020, I think. It’s hard for me to use the word favorite because I tend to like most things I consume. Anything else seems counter-productive; if it didn’t have value why did I spend time on it? But I digress… In this book Jemisin weaves a modern tale of epic fantasy that starts the reader off in a state of confusion that matches the protagonist’s: Who am I? Why am I here? Where did these tentacles come from? I suppose the surface mechanics would make this a modern or urban fantasy novel, but in between those elements is a story about the birth of a city, and what that city means to the people who live within it. What is the meaning of community, and how do we overcome our differences to support and empower each other in the face of common adversity?
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
I am very, very late to both Jemisin and her three-time Hugo Award-winning Broken Earth Trilogy. Thankfully, books love to lie quietly and wait for us to find them. After reading The City We Became, I immediately rolled into The Fifth Season and oh, what a delight. A completely fresh take on…what…I guess I would call it “post-apocalyptic fantasy”? I love discovering new worlds, and it’s invigorating to find one that’s this new to me. I haven’t picked up the second book in the trilogy yet, because I want to save it for when I want something really good to fall into. Like waiting to pop the cork on that old bottle of scotch that will only get better with age.
Two trips to the Alamo this week!
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
My wife and I love this movie. We saw it in 2008 when it first came out, and we had the chance to see it again on the big screen this week at the Alamo Drafthouse as one of their Hopped Up Cinema features, where they bring in a local brewery to sample their beers. The movie was, as expected, wonderful. It’s been so long since the last time we watched it that I had forgotten just how good it is. A stellar cast, full of gifted performers that nailed their parts, no matter how small. I remember only knowing Kristen Bell from Veronica Mars (which I still haven’t seen all of; add it to the list), and this was Mila Kunis’ first movie role after That 70s Show (I think). They manage to tell a heartwarming story about a frustrated artist trying to deal with depression against a backdrop of a failed Hollywood relationship. It’s extremely funny, but it’s also honest and truthful. You go into it thinking it’s a regular kind of rom-com, but it’s only at the end you really get to Peter (Jason Segal) coming to terms with what’s really going on in his head. I look forward to revisiting it again in another decade or so.
Yes, this is the “watching” section, but I have to talk a little about the beer, too. The special guest brewer in this instance was Martin House Brewers, based in Fort Worth and known for their…unconventional experiments in brewing that some would say stretch the definition of what could be called “beer”. They’re a favorite of mine, from their relatively normal stouts to one-offs like Puppy Chow or the love-it-or-hate-it3Best Maid Pickle sour. The evening’s selection with the movie were mostly excellent, all tropical-fruit-themed except the boring and over-hopped Martin House Pils. I was surprised by how much I liked Peepyopee (based on Peter’s “Hawaiian name” in the movie), since I don’t usually care much for IPAs. I wish it hadn’t been a middle-of-the-week screening so I could finish the full flight. Except the pils, it was nasty.
Evil Dead II
Really the only disappointment I had with this screening was that the Alamo Drafthouse just used the same pre-roll snippets as they did for the first one. Otherwise, this movie is superior to the first Evil Dead in every way. The photography is better, the acting is better (in the context of a late-80s horror movie), and they really lean into all the things that make Raimi movies Raimi movies. You can tell he’s really pushing the envelope of his budget, not able to achieve what he really wants to do. Watching this really reminded me of sitting there in my college apartment watching all three Evil Dead films on VHS. As icing on the cake, the Alamo still had Peepyopee on tap!
I liked it. Is it long? Yes. Is it dark (literally)? Yes. The “slow” parts are what I liked most. It was a good Detective Batman story, which emphasized the character’s cerebral and brooding side. There was also some action and stuff, I guess, but that’s not what I was there for. There’s voice-over narration! We get to hear what Batman thinks! It would be cool to see more from this phase of Batman, but I’d also be OK if they just went another direction entirely next time around.
The history of women’s sports
I mentioned above that I was coming to a broader understanding of the history of gender. Another eye-opener is this thread I came across on Twitter. The author makes some good points and observations (all a matter of historical record) that I had honestly never considered, mostly because I never thought to dig into it. She also compiled the thread as a blog post if you’d rather not subject yourself to Twitter.
1/20 🧵— Dr Sheree Bekker (@shereebekker) March 18, 2022
I have been hearing more frequently the narrative that women's sport apparently exists as a 'protected category' so that women can win (because on this account without it no woman will ever win again)
This is: a) *not* the reason why women's sport exists as a category,
Protect Trans Kids
Keeping kids safe and healthy shouldn’t be a debate or a matter of preference. Here’s a few places that are trying to help. If you have others to suggest, let me know, and I’ll include them in a future dispatch.
Rated 97/100 by Charity Navigator, this organization is doing the work to help LGBTQ kids and their families live the life they’re entitled to live, with “full equality in the hearts and minds of our fellow Texans and in all areas of the law.”
If you’d like to show your support with a clever t-shirt (or hoodie or sticker) that demonstrates your pride in our great state and our kids, this is the link for you. Purchases here are going to Equality Texas.
An organization focusing on “furthering gender diverse equality in Texas. We work to accomplish this through education and networking in both public and private forums”.
A grassroots nonprofit dedicated to providing direct emotional and financial assistance and resources to people in crisis.
Until (and if) I get around to making this an actual newsletter, sent to your inbox, I have absolutely no way of knowing who or how many people are reading these words I’m flinging into the void. Do you have any questions? Suggestions? Criticisms? Ultimately I’d like to make this somewhat conversational. Ask me anything, and in a future dispatch maybe I’ll answer one or more reader questions. Also send me recommendations, format suggestions, really anything you think might be worth my time. In addition to me telling y’all what I find interesting, I’d love to know what you find interesting.
Let’s be honest, though: here in the United States we were never really locked down. ↩
There’s also a well-regarded TV show based on this series, initially from SyFy but ultimately on Amazon Prime. It’s very good, and covers essentially the same story up to about the sixth book. But it’s not the whole story, and they change a lot. You might like to watch that, too, but if it was either/or I’d stick with the books. ↩
Love it! ↩