The Sunday Index - 5.5.19
Reading Reading Reading
It’s been a ton of reading over here lately.
I finished Sourdough by Robin Sloan last weekend. Forgot to write about it and sadly that's kind of indicative of its impact. It's not bad, but it certainly fizzles in the third act. In fact it sort of read like Sloan just got bored with it all. There were a lot of possibilities for the main character and her discovery/world, but rather than explore those Sloan had her reject the magical sourdough and pursue a completely irrational relationship, one barely (if at all) even hinted at previously. People are definitely capable of wildly careening off the paths they were previously on in pursuit of some new love interest, it just comes across as poorly planned from a writing perspective here.
We do get to see a tiny glimpse of the technological and social impact of the mystery sourdough starter, and yes that includes a little bit of coding/computer engineering, but it’s brief. There’s a small section - maybe five pages? - where it all goes wrong, but I’m not joking, it barely goes wrong. The consequences seem so benign it’s hard to feel anything, for anyone.
Almost all of the press I saw for this book hailed it as brilliant and revelatory, and it fell far short of that for me. Which is fine, I’m not mad I read it, and in fact I had fun for about 90% of the story. I was going to call out certain blurbs or reviews here, but that’s bullshit. It didn’t work for me in the end, no big deal. You might dig it.
In the realm of books I was a massive fan of, I also finished State Tectonics by Malka Older, this one yesterday. It’s the third in her Centenal series, what seems to be the final one, though I hope, oh how I hope we get more. I’m in love with the world she created, one pretty similar to ours just with some technological and social extrapolations rendering it much more cyberpunk, if that’s possible.
This one is the further tale of Information, the quasi-government which does not consider itself a government at all, thank you very much, and all the moving parts which make it function. One of the reasons I love these books so much is those moving parts are people, always. Technology is involved for sure, but the people are the reason it works or malfunctions. I can’t remember where I read this, it may have been in one of Older’s books, or in Casey Newton’s newsletter, but anyone blaming an algorithm for the awful shit a tech company ends up apologizing for (or not) is either willfully or unknowingly ignorant of their own role.
Two quotes stood out in State Tectonics.
"There's a degree of paranoia you can't maintain if you want to live in society." From page 306, said by an employee of Information who is on trial for allegedly editing and publishing data and stories informed by her opinion, rather than the facts.
"As you well know, government only works because people believe in it." From page 420, said by a woman who had a major hand in developing the infrastructure and uses of Information.
I started reading On Bowie by Rob Sheffield, which will be my third by him. So far I like it despite all of the times he crams lyrics from Bowie songs into his writing. We get it dude, it’s in the title. Although I guess alternatively I could say to myself: “What’re you whining about? It’s right there in the title?”
Fairly sure I’ll be starting The Overstory by Richard Powers. I want to give it a lot of attention.
I briefly logged on to Elite: Dangerous after the newest update. I got to see some of the quality of life updates, and even popped into my ship for a bit, ready to start the trek to Sagittarius A* again. I opened up the galactic map and started re-plotting my course there, using cone boost—and then the game crashed. Haven’t been back on since, but soon.
Related: I hated to see the news about Space X losing their Crew Dragon capsule on the test pad, and I especially hated to see how they handled it. Hopefully it all runs smoothly from here.
Played Sekiro a little and finally put down the Blazing Bull. A friend of mine told me the game really opens up now. It’s continued to be beautiful with incredibly smooth gameplay.
Played a little of Hell Is Other Demons on Switch, a kind of Rogue-like bullet hell, which yep, I have now realized is one of my favorite genres. I’m drawn to ones with interesting graphical styles, obviously, and the music is always a big aspect too, but honestly I think the thing I enjoy the most is I can hop on, play for a bit, and hop back off without any major mental or emotional fallout.
Still progressing in my goal to finish a couple games with the intention of interviewing the creator/writer. Stay tuned.
I watched Mandy; Prince of Darkness; more Cowboy Bebop, and have been listening to the new Josh Ritter album since it landed in my mailbox. More about almost all of these later, I’d imagine.
I’ve been enjoying every episode of Start With This, a new podcast from the creators of Welcome To Nightvale. It’s about writing, but the theme song demonstrates how a lot of the principles and theories they talk about could apply elsewhere. It goes: “Art is hard, starting is hard, if you wanna’ start somewhere you can start with this, you can start with this.” That’s the entire song. I love it. Check the podcast out if you want some insight into your creative life.
I’ve got some short stories on the work desk, a chapter or two of the thing I’m working on with Luca (illustrator of these stories), and a comic idea which will need to be put into a pitch package by the end of the year.
If you can, you should go for a walk or get outside today! I’m about to do that right now.
Let’s chat next week.