(no subject)

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

I finally finished this. After reading the first hundred or so pages when it first came out, I got distracted or something and it sat on my TBR pile for a while. And it's so dense that when I wanted to pick it up again, I had to start at the beginning, there was too much I didn't remember. It turns out that loooong Shabbos days when you can't have any human contact are good for reading long dense books like this one.

It's an incredible piece of writing. There's so much breadth to the worldbuilding and the puzzle of figuring out the ways in which the world has changed and why is fun to work through.

Too Like the Lightning imagines a world several hundred years into the future where the nation-state has dissolved and been replaced with a more fluid sense of communal organization that reminded me of Malka Older's Infomocracy. The difference is that whereas the governments in Older's book are extrapolations from modern community institutions, Palmer imagines that the world has largely chosen to look backward, to stateless variants on the models of government postulated in the 18th century Enlightenment.

For Palmer, whose day job is as a history professor, the game of revealing this mixture of old and new, familiar and unfamiliar, is the lifeforce of the book. And I am geeky enough about Enlightenment philosophy to find this fun, to enjoy thinking through the mashups of Rousseau and Sade, to admire how Palmer plays with the concept of Panopticon, etc...

But it was also unsatisfying in a whole bunch of ways. Its plot is structured too much like philosophical novels like More's Utopia or Gulliver's Travels, where the narrative moves from place to place, each representing ideas, and in the process the plot loses its way. There is a mystery novel plot animating Too Like the Lightning, but the book keeps losing the thread of it. The last four chapters or so are full of shocking revelations that feel both too surprising and not surprising enough. Our first introduction to The Anonymous, three chapters from the end, after a bunch of casual references to them throughout the book that imply their importance but don't really communicate it, is the revelation that they're having an adulterous affair with a political rival. I really didn't know what to make of it. Okay, I thought, I have no frame of reference for whether I should be surprised by this. I'm four hundred pages into this book, I really feel like Palmer should have established some sense of who I should thought The Anonymous was for this revelation to shake. And that's just about the least of the dozen or so 'surprises' from the final chapters.

To too great a degree, the book leans on the gimmick of Mycroft's unreliable narration. Palmer's worldbuilding is too dense to support it, as full of allusions that don't pay off later as allusions that do. If I spot worldbuilding defects or unanswered questions, are they things that Mycroft, and by extension Palmer, are holding back, or are they errant details that I should be ignoring as part of the general suspension of disbelief any SF reader has to employ when reading about a new world? This is very much not helped by this only being half the story. I have ordered Seven Surrenders now to continue my reading, but until I get to it, there's a lot of things about the book I just read that just don't add up, and for all I know, Seven Surrenders may not make them add up any better.

The focus on the upper echelon of society is also a problem. It feels deliberate, Palmer knows too much about history to pay this little attention to representing how ordinary members of society experience the world of Too Like The Lightning, but just because it's deliberate doesn't make it more satisfying. Nameless gangs of servicers, nameless mobs, that's all we see. Stacked against the immense time lavished on the details of life in Ganymede's palace, for example, we feel very keenly how distorted a view of the world we are receiving, but there isn't enough in the subtext to undistort. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.

Vid Reveal!

My equinox vid was this:

Balloons (8 words) by seekingferret
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Community (TV)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: Graphic Depictions Of Violence, Major Character Death, No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Abed Nadir, Pierce Hawthorne, Jeff Winger, Annie Edison, Britta Perry, Shirley Bennett, Troy Barnes, The Black Rider
Additional Tags: Fanvids

Floating in the summer sky

It's three silly ideas on top of each other:

1) The right way to vid the Paintball episodes of Community is to treat them seriously as a representation of an apocalyptic war

2) The right song for that theme is absolutely "99 Luftballons"

3) Since the song is about balloons, I should also use the hot air balloon episode of Community.

I think the execution is really good, I think this vid GOES PLACES more than any vid I've made since "The Upload". I laugh so much every time I rewatch it. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.

(no subject)

The NYRSF reading series, which I haven't gone to since that time their venue hosted and defended hosting Holocaust denying conspiracy theorists, is having a virtual reading tonight. I am not boycotting cyberspace, so I am excited to get to attend a NYRSF reading again.

It's going to double as a book launch for Martha Wells's Murderbot novel, and I know I have fans on my rlist, so I wanted to make sure to mention it. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.

(no subject)

They re-opened the parks in New Jersey this weekend, so I decided to take advantage before people ruin it. There were lots of people out there; mostly they were keeping away from each other, but not always. I stayed away from people and biked about thirteen miles, down to the canal trail and almost to 287, and then back. It was beautiful weather for it, but the bugs thought so too, and they stuck to my sunscreen in stunning numbers that I was constantly brushing off. :P I'll take it, it was a good time. Hopefully it will stay open, I could use the refuge.

As I rode, I listened to the audiobook of Bujold's Memory, which is an amazing book that is so excellent to revisit. I think one of my great delights in it this time around was noticing how it skirts the conventions of a mystery novel. In fact, for the first third of the book it artfully disguises the fact that it is a mystery novel at all. Bujold drops a ton of clues in the initial chapters, introducing suspects, establishing timelines, setting up critical McGuffins, well before the reader is aware that a crime is being committed and that rather than the straight action-adventure stories that have previously populated the series, this is a murder mystery novel. It's absurdly clever, and not out of nowhere. The whole point of Memory is to force Miles to reorient himself, to learn his limits, to figure out how to accept the parts of him that are Miles Vorkosigan as well as the parts of him that are Miles Naismith, so setting it within a story that initially appears to be a Miles Naismith adventure and that rapidly shifts under both Miles and the reader, not just in plot but actually in genre, is an incredibly powerful mechanism for representing that shift. But in spite of the way it flouts convention, it's an exceptionally well crafted mystery, too! So many tiny little things are set up. I love that the final air filter reveal is set up by Miles's earlier explorations of the ducts of ImpSec, which at the time is presented as, and very easily accepted as, Miles just being antsy. The disguise of the plot is so masterful.

But the best part of Memory is Miles's internal monologue in the attic, and it was really enjoyable to listen to it aloud, to hear its rhythms, the way Bujold moves from the figurative to the literal, the way we see Miles literally having breakthroughs both emotional and as a detective, see the thought processes he moves through. Even though I have read Memory and this passage in particular enough times to remember how large sections of it go, it was still great to hear them aloud. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.


The [community profile] equinox_exchange vids have been posted! They are great! Check them all out.

All the vids here!

I got two amazing gifts

-A Strip Search vid (Strip Search is that time the Penny Arcade guys tried to make a cutthroat competition reality show and accidentally ended up making a bunch of artist friends)

Best Day of My Life (14 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Strip Search (Webseries)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Additional Tags: Embedded Video

I definitely came here to make friends

-And a Rollerball (1975) vid (Rollerball is that horrific dystopian '70s sports movie where sports get progressively more and more violent until people dying mid-match becomes routine)

Sad Sad City (0 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Rollerball (1975)
Rating: Not Rated
Warnings: Graphic Depictions Of Violence

"The blood we crave shall drive us all insane"
A Rollerball (1975) vid for seekingferret
Song: "Sad Sad City" by Ghostland Observatory
Direct link:

I made one vid of my own, and I am extremely proud of it, more on that after reveals. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.

(no subject)

TW: Covid

An observation borne of spending too much time watching my facebook feed, and also of that time two years ago where I got really obsessed and read a ton of books about the 1918 pandemic:

People have been sharing various graphs of the spread of the 1918 flu on social media, generally to try to impart some sort of useful lesson about how to approach COVID this time. One I've seen several times contrasts Philadelphia's response to St. Louis. St. Louis was more aggressive in shutting down schools quickly, says the note under the graph, and therefore had less deaths. One thing Crosby makes very clear in America's Forgotten Pandemic is that this is a very tricky game to play.

First of all, you know how frustrating it is to try to look at COVID graphs and figure out how much is because of undertesting and how much is real signal? THERE WAS NO TEST FOR THE 1918 FLU UNTIL THE 1930S. All people could do is track deaths from pneumonia and hope the data was real. And moreso even than that, death and disease record keeping as we know it today largely was developed as a response to the realization after the fact that the bureaucracy had not been able to keep up with the 1918 pandemic. So the numbers you will see in these graphs are extremely inaccurate. There may be significant numbers of deaths missed entirely, for both innocent and malicious reasons.

In one of the most fascinating bits of the book, Crosby points out that the 1918 pandemic seems to have missed San Francisco's Chinatown entirely while raging through the rest of the city. Well, either that or it hit Chinatown the same as it hit the rest of the city, but racist bureaucrats in City Hall were not able to track the deaths in Chinatown. One of those two seems more likely.

Second, not only because of bad recordkeeping but also because cities are complicated eco-systems where many factors drive the spread of disease, it is extremely hard to tell when a particular intervention worked or not.

Crosby highlights the contrast between two smallish California cities, Stockton and Fresno, I want to say, but I don't recall for sure. One imposed a mandatory mask in public ordinance, the other didn't. Their graphs are not noticeably different. Here again, we could conclude that the recordkeeping simply didn't hold up, but Crosby points out that once you go past the graph you get into the qualitative details of how an ordinance is implemented. It's not clear that useage of masks differed greatly between the two cities. Some people in the city that required masks didn't wear them, some in the city that didn't require did wear them. And there wasn't as strong a stay in place requirement, so people would go outside, don a mask, visit a friend, take off their mask, then go back outside with the mask again. Protection against spread from contact with random strangers, but not protection from interacting with an asymptomatic carrier you know.

In other places, the data seems to show significant differences between cities that did and didn't have mask ordinances, but even there, Crosby cautions against drawing too much from that. After all, they didn't have N95 standards back then. The virus was small enough to pass clean through any masks of the time. And all of these cities were performing various other epidemiological interventions that may or may not have influenced the health of their citizens. And how a disease chooses to spread can seem random even without intervention. So maybe the masks helped, or maybe it was something else entirely.

It's extremely hard to assess what parts of a complex intervention made a difference and which parts didn't. This is why the emphasis we've been hearing so much from real medical experts about the value of double blind control experiments. Even those can have flaws in the methodology, but you learn a lot more firmly about what you can trust from real experiments than from trying to parse out the lessons from complicated 'natural experiments'.

But I don't make this post to caution about trying to learn lessons from the past. I write to caution about trying to learn lessons from the future. In spite of our significantly advanced science and significantly advanced bureaucracy, America and America's cities in particular remain incredibly complicated eco-systems that react unpredictably to complicated medical interventions. As we get more data about what is happening right now in the pandemic, it will be extremely tempting to read simple lessons into the data... Mayor So-and-So waited to do X and caused more deaths, Governor So-and-So did Y quickly and saved lives. Be careful of those narratives, it's extremely likely that there will be flaws in the data, and flaws in the analysis. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.

(no subject)

I've spent good portions of the past three days in bed because my back decided it wasn't happy with me... I think maybe my bike needs some readjustment, or I at least need to pay more attention to posture while riding. Probably also my work-from-home chair needs an upgrade. Also I am OLD now. Thankfully after taking off work yesterday to lie in bed, my back feels a lot better right now.

Oh, here is a thing I want to mention. I co-solved Puzzled Pint with my usual teammates and a crossword with [personal profile] metamorphage last week over Discord and it was really fun. And I have lots of open nights now and a crossword or puzzle of that ilk rarely takes more than fifteen or twenty minutes, and I know where to find lots of puzzles I haven't solved so... if you ever want to kill fifteen minutes, poke me about co-solving a puzzle, crossword or otherwise. If you have more time than that, maybe we could try a cryptic, I want to get better at cryptics. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.


Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben Winters

It's a funny concept and often well executed, that so much of the plot of Sense and Sensibility is driven subtextually by the omnipresence and seriousness of disease in a way that could, until recently, escape a modern audience. In Winters' version, any time disease or death is threatened, Sea Monsters take the place. There's also some extra sea monster stuff to fill things out, giving the whole thing a sort of gothic steampunk feel.

The problem is there is so much unnecessary added racism, a whole subplot with Lady Middleton being a kidnapped island woman forced to marry her captor. I don't know how many times we need to say this, just because they were overtly racist back then doesn't mean we need to imitate their racism now. By the middle third of the book, I was skipping anything that featured Middletons. Which, fair enough, I sometimes do when I read the original book too. :P

Xenotech Rising by Dave Schroeder

A funny, insubstantial SFF romp about a guy who provides tech support for alien wormhole technology. If that basic premise sounds fun to you, you'll enjoy this, but it does not in any way transcend the material.

The Good Fight Season 4

The first two episodes have come out and they are funny and savage and devastating and leave you wanting so much more. Jonathan Coulton's end of Episode 2 Quarantine sing-a-long was beautiful (esp. Audra McDonald stealing the show! <3)

Episode 1 is set in an AU that deviates from the iconic opening shot of Season 1 Episode 1, with Diane processing Donald Trump's victory in the election. In Episode 4 Season 1, we see Diane jubilant as instead Hillary Clinton wins the election. Everything looks great until Diane realizes that with a Democratic woman in the White House, the #metoo movement never got off the blocks, and she is forced to represent Harvey Weinstein as a client. It is everything you expect from The Good Place, dark humor and moral grey and a soak in the crushing absurdity of the modern news cycle.

Episode 2 returns to more typical Good Fight storytelling, with Julius discovering that being a Trump judge comes with invisible strings and Adrian and Liz coping with the mysteries of Corporate America.

Brooklyn 9-9

The early Halloween Heist episodes have a wonderfully manic energy that I love, but the last few have just been TOO FUCKING MUCH. Too many nested levels of injoke, too many obligatory references even if they're no longer funny.

Grey's Anatomy

The finale was fine, I guess, though it didn't really save the mess that was the Richard/Catherine storyline. How many times to do I need to say this, lampshading a plot problem doesn't make the plot problem go away! There's a throwaway line in the finale about how Catherine's board is unhappy that she bought a hospital to spite her husband, but like, of course they're unhappy, it's one of the most foolish things I've ever heard of. It doesn't make it any less foolish to acknowledge that in universe people also think it was foolish.

What makes it worse for me is rewatching the S9 plotline where they buy the hospital, and seeing the contrast between how seriously they took that storyline back then, and how unseriously they took it htis season. Grey's Anatomy repeats, first as tragedy and then as farce?

Also, I made another vidlet for [community profile] vexercises based on a storyline from early S9.

The Scientists Dr. Yang/ Dr. Thomas

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.

Life Update

I transitioned from my silly schedule of working a couple days a week in the office and the rest of the week at home, to working fully at home, three weeks ago. Except this Monday I did go into the office for half an hour, masked, to visually inspect the work still being done by the two people who are still working in the office. It is hard to be a manufacturing company remotely.

[Ironically, we are still technically an 'essential company', which I suppose makes me an 'essential worker'. This is absurd. We are a defense contractor, but only in the sense that we are doing research toward technologies that will get implemented by the armed forces within the next ten years. But we have a bright shiny letter from the Navy informing us that because of the work we're doing, we are an essential company!]

Work from home varies from day to day. On days when I need to coordinate with my co-workers a lot, it is tremendously frustrating and I spend a lot of my day bouncing from phone call to phone call. On days when I don't need to coordinate with co-workers, I can focus on design work in a way I rarely get to do under ordinary circumstances because I've been so behind. Then, it is very satisfying, although I do run into limits in my ability to focus. If I work in CAD for two or three hours straight, I find myself reaching out for distractions. There are many distractions at home!

Tuesday and Wednesday morning I had a dress shirt on by 8AM and was working by 8:30 but didn't get around to putting on pants until 10, but today I went back to putting on pants when I woke up. :P The clothes very much matter. I always make a point when I go into work on Sundays to do so in a t-shirt and jeans, it reminds my boss and it reminds me that this is not a regular workday. Contrariwise, working at home it's very helpful to dress up as if I were going to work, to remind myself that as much as possible it should be a regular work day.

I understand the reasoning why, but it is frustrating that all the parks in the state are closed and it's particularly frustrating because my preferred exercise is biking all by myself and would be quite low risk. (I've been wearing a mask while biking, just in case, anyway.) By this point last year I was going for long rides on the canal trail, but I can't go on the canal trail, it's a state park. I have to stick on roads, and living in super-dense New Jersey, it's hard to go anywhere moderately far away safely without using some trails. There's just too many highways and high traffic roads. Although the roads are less busy than usual.

I went for a six and a half mile bike ride through a deserted Rutgers campus Sunday, but the whole reason I got into biking was that unlike exercising in a gym where I get bored, biking can involve an interesting destination. When I was pushing to get over 30 miles in a ride, it was highly motivating that there was a kosher chinese restaurant 13 miles from home. Biking to the shore, biking to a scenic view, biking to a friend's house, biking to someplace in particular. With all those things off the table, it's harder to motivate myself to ride.

Still, this is petty shit. Reading tales from my friends in cities, I feel grateful I'm in a suburb with density such that I can just go out for walks or bike rides whenever I want without worrying about getting anywhere near other people.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.


Most of the sources for The Sequel were acquired from libraries or Netflix DVD or online sources, but about ten percent I had to buy the DVDs for. Most of them I don't really want to keep. So I'm happy to give them away if you PM me an address to send them to.

I'll star the ones that are actually good, but note that my taste is notoriously terrible

The list

Suzie Gold
Difficult People S1
*Through the Wall (The Wedding Plan)
*Friday Night Dinner S1
Lanigan's Rabbi
Falling Star
Thirtysomething S1
*The Crazy Ones S1
The Naked Brothers Band S2
*Happy Endings S3
An Awkward Sexual Adventure
*Sixty Six
Rosalie Blum (in French, with no English subtitles. But it's probably actually good if you speak French)
*UnReal S1
*Paper Towns

Feel free to request specific ones, or I can pick one for you.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID. There are comment count unavailable comments.