Things I Saw This Week April 14

mst3k

In the late 90s, before the days of torrents, Netflix, and YouTube, if you wanted to watch something that wasn’t available in your country, you had to rely on an underground network of people willing to tape it onto VHS and pass it around. That’s how I discovered Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Now it’s back and perfectly accessible on Netflix with a new cast but the same concept: a man in a jumpsuit is forced by mad scientists to watch bad movies with his robot friends and hilarity ensues. Now that I’m not a university student who runs on irony, we’ll see if the appeal is the same.

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This week, the Trudeau government unveiled plans to legalize pot by July 1st of 2018. It seems ambitious to meet that date, especially as it will be up to the provinces to figure out how to enforce the laws. But most Canadians are on board and few politicians on the opposition side seem willing to go against the proposed law. I worry that once it’s in place, those who do indulge will go so over the top with it that Canada will just smell like one big summer music festival for a year or two until everyone calms down.

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Because bombing always, always works President Trump dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb on ISIS targets in Afghanistan this week. The weapon used is called the “Mother of All Bombs,” or the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast. And now terrorism is over forever. The end.

Russia has a bigger one which they call the “Father of All Bombs” because #masculinitysofragile.

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coe

I’m currently reading the latest Cormoran Strike novel, Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling). I’m a late arrival to the detective genre. Perhaps because I find the subject matter too gruesome, I’ve just avoided it. Rowling doesn’t avoid the gore here but it’s handled well and she doesn’t revel in it. The books are character-driven and well-plotted enough to keep me coming back.

8th

Last summer I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I’m not one for self-help books or management books and I heard the author was a devout Mormon. I had this idea that the book was some kind of lesson in financial success while being a good Christian. It’s nothing of the kind, of course. He does, from time to time, touch on his faith but really, it’s about being an honest, principled person. The 8th Habit is a follow up for the contemporary age.

 

aftermath

Because I want something light to read on the train to my new job downtown.

Yes! I’m burying the lede but I’ll be starting a new job on April 24. It’s for a law firm. It’s a manager role in an emerging field. I haven’t updated my LinkedIn or said anything on Facebook yet. I’m waiting until I’m actually in the office and they haven’t decided they’ve made some terrible mistake.

But I’m working again! Hooray!

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Currently Reading

Image result for the fifth season nk jemisin

I’m reading the 2o15 Hugo Award winner for Best Novel, The Fifth Season. It’s the start of an epic fantasy series by N.K. Jemisin called The Broken Earth.

Here’s what the Atlantic had to say about it:

The Fifth Season is a stunning piece of speculative-fiction work, and it accomplishes the one thing that is so difficult in a field dominated by tropes: innovation, in spades. A rich tale of earth-moving superhumans set in a dystopian world of regular disasters, The Fifth Season manages to incorporate the deep internal cosmologies, mythologies, and complex magic systems that genre readers have come to expect, in a framework that also asks thoroughly modern questions about oppression, race, gender, class, and sexuality. Its characters are a slate of people of different colors and motivations who don’t often appear in a field still dominated by white men and their protagonist avatars. The Fifth Season’s sequel, 2016’s The Obelisk Gate, continues its dive into magic, science, and the depths of humanity.

I don’t read a lot of fantasy and I wanted to read authors outside my own white male demographic so this highly recommend book fulfills that need to break out of my bubble.

I’ll be certainly picking up the next book in the series.

The Circle by Dave Eggers

The CircleThe Circle by Dave Eggers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a frustrating book to read in retrospect. I’ve enjoyed Dave Eggers’s writing since he launched Might magazine back in the 90s. And, despite its 500-ish page length and my slow reading habits, I managed to zip through this one quite quickly.

Mae Holland is a newly hired employee at The Circle, a massive social media company that is a combination of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Wikileaks, and Amazon. As she rises through the ranks to become its ambassador, she increasingly loses her privacy as the company pushes through its agenda of total transparency in all realms: commerce, crime, politics, healthcare, etc. All of it with the goal of making life easier and safer for all without any concern for the more sinister effects this will bring, even when they start rolling out their 1984-style slogans: Sharing is Caring, Everything that Happens Must Be Known, and Privacy is Theft.

Eggers is a skilled writer even if this particular book is not without its problems: Mae comes off as two-dimensional and far too gullible (although perhaps that is the point), the innovations the Circle bring out seem a bit too easily developed and adopted (I’m sure an actual software developer would be rolling her eyes at some of what they come up with), and the concerns are perhaps a bit too paranoid.

It may even be a bit sexist if the only two people in the novel who are against the Circle are men. One is her ex-boyfriend who creates deer antler chandeliers (he works with his hands!) and a mysterious lover whose true identity is a bit too clearly telegraphed. There is a tone of condescension in the novel directed toward younger people as one character berates Mae and her generation for wanting to be famous all the time. And the ending gives us a fairly heavy-handed metaphor, which I liked regardless.

That said, I did enjoy the novel and it succeeded in making me wonder if I really need all these social media accounts. But I don’t think I’m ready to run off to a cabin in the woods, just yet.

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On Sue Townsend

Yesterday, novelist and playwright Sue Townsend died at the age of 68. Way, way back in the mid-80s, Some friends introduced me to her books and her most celebrated character, Midlands diarist Adrian Mole. I related to him because he was about my age and we both thought of ourselves as intellectuals who were not very clever.

I’m saddened that we’ll likely never hear from Adrian Mole again. In the most recent novel, he was recovering from prostate cancer and while there was news that she was working on a new book, I don’t know how much of it she completed due to her failing health.

Despite the numerous British references I didn’t get like the launch of Channel 4, Malcolm Muggeridge, giros, anybody in Margaret Thatcher’s government who wasn’t Margaret Thatcher, Noddy, I loved the books and re-read them several times and with each re-read I’d find things I didn’t appreciate the first time. It was her writing that made me want to pick up a pen because it showed me that there’s really nothing to be afraid of. You can write whatever you like and nobody needs to tell you otherwise. She didn’t come from a particularly rich or literary family and dropped out of school at 15. And yet, here she was, with a huge body of work that would make a lot of people from far more privileged backgrounds envious.

I feel like picking up a pen again.

 

Three Notable Books Read in 2013

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Roddy Doyle, The Guts.

Dublin novelist Roddy Doyle returned to his Barrytown stories with this follow-up to The Commitments. Twenty-some odd years after founding The Commitments, Jimmy Rabbitte is 47 years old and living in the suburbs and has just found out he has bowel cancer.  He spends his days running a website devoted to reuniting old Irish punk bands from the the 1980s and he has no time for that “fiddley-eye shite.” He also says “grand” a lot.

While times have changed – “D’yeh do the Facebook?” his father asks him – men, apparently, don’t as he embarks on an affair, chemotherapy, and a prank on the whole of Ireland. I generally enjoyed it, even if the women characters were a bit cardboard.

zealot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

I have to admit I picked this up after his hilarious interview with Foxnews.com in which the interviewer seemed incredulous that a Muslim could write about Jesus. The interview went viral and it did wonders for his book sales.

The biography attempts to put Jesus’ life in its proper historical and cultural context and does a good job separating the Jesus Christ from the Jesus of Nazareth.

redplanet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert J. Sawyer, Red Planet Blues

I’ve read just about every Robert J. Sawyer book he’s written and I’ve always enjoyed the way he blend big ideas and personal dynamics and often through an optimistic point of view. These new novel, which revolves around a fossil hunt on Mars and consciousness uploaded into new robot bodies, is written in the hard boiled detective style. Perhaps this is a genre I don’t read very often but boy, it really didn’t work for me. I think between this and Triggers, he’s been coasting a bit. I’m sad to say this is the first Sawyer I’ve absolutely hated.

I didn’t read as much this year, mainly because I’ve been reading George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and because I’m normally a slow reader, it takes me ages to finish them. Fortunately, as there is little chance he’ll finish The Winds of Winter anytime soon, I’ll should have more reading time in 2014.

(I don’t think that’s really his account)

20 Second Book Review: The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis

The Best Laid PlansThe Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There was a time, in my aspiring CBC reporter early twenties, when I would have loved this book.

“At last!” I would have exclaimed out loud in the McAlister Place Coles. “A comic novel about Parliament! Why hasn’t someone written this before?!”

A Liberal Party political aide and grammar pedant, agrees to manage the no-hope political campaign of a reluctant engineer who is also a grammar pedant. They spend much of the book correcting each other’s speech as events take an unexpected turn.

While it’s a pleasant enough read, there are few false notes in the book that are hard to overlook. For one, I don’t believe CBC radio one would interrupt its regular programming to report on a breaking sex scandal. I also don’t believe the scandal would be enough to bring down a government minister because, as it was presented in the book, it in no way appeared to impede this person from doing his job.

Today, being less of a political nerd than I used to be, I merely liked the book.

Still, I hear it’s being developed by the CBC as a miniseries and I actually that, if it’s done well, would be a better format for the story and I’d probably watch it.

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20 Second Book Review: Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate FrontierSpace Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil deGrasse Tyson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A collection of essays, speeches, and interviews on the topic of space exploration, Tyson discusses the challenges inherent in returning humans to outer spaces.

Because it wasn’t written as a single book, many of the points he makes get repeated throughout. But they’re still worth considering. For example, the Saturn rocket, which made it possible for humans to reach the moon, has yet to be surpassed. He also argues that NASA’s budget needs to be doubled. Spin-off technologies from space exploration like CAT scans and memory foam mattresses would increase if NASA did more space exploration. This generation is becoming more and more scientifically illiterate and for that reason, the United States is being surpasses by places like China which, he has no doubt, will soon put its own Taikonaut on the moon. All good points, but they tend to get repetitive.

Dr. Tyson is, in a way, the next Carl Sagan, a scientist who makes difficult concepts accessible to a mass audience with little scientific background (ie: me). I remember watching Cosmos in Grade Four and actually understanding his description of what would happen if you travelled at the speed of light, according to Albert Einstein (every gets old, you stay the same age).

For his part Tyson introduce me to the Lagrangian Points which made me feel pretty smart until they were mentioned in last week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory.

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