A quiet New Year's Eve for us at home, unusual only in that we were alone rather than with a couple friends. Split some dishes (all gnoshy stuff) with Ian and Kathy and ate, talked, and played Yahtzee over video chat.
Finished Le Guin's Lavinia last night. I enjoyed it well enough, but find I don't really have anything to say about it.
Just went through my 2020 year of entries to try to extract some kind of "favorites" list for the year. I didn't write about everything I read/watched over the year, but I did write about a lot of it. Still, some of these feel incomplete. None of these are in any particular order except some are chronological (because I was skimming my entries from the year).
- Greta Gershon's Little Women
- Celine Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire
- Olivier Assayas' The Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper
- Mati Diop's Atlantics
- Eliza Hittman's Never Rarely Sometimes Always
- Kelly Reichardt's First Cow
These are all first time watched (not necessarily new movies though), I didn
't include any rewatches else it'd have some other entries on it. Watched a lot of movies by women directors this year, and many of them were excellent.
- The Witcher (my enjoyment of this is probably enhanced by my liking for both the books and the games)
- The Expanse (Season 4 from early in the year and now Season 5 (ongoing) have both been steps up in the quality of this series)
- I Am Not Okay With This (sadly not coming back for season 2)
- The Last Kingdom (this series is a little hoaky at times, but I really enjoy watching it)
- Mad Man rewatch
- David Milch's John From Cincinnati and Deadwood (ongoing) rewatch
Included some rewatched shows on this, because of how good they are and how well they held up on rewatch. This list feels oddly off to me, I'm not sure I really wrote about all the series I saw. Maybe some Star Trek could get on this list... Maybe some comedies I didn't mention? Also watched a bunch of shows that were ok, but not great.
- Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire
- Gene Wolfe's Latro series (reread)
- Samuel Delany's Return to Neveryon series (reread)
- Wolfe's Book of the New Sun (reread) (still need to reread the Urth of the New Sun)
- Wolfe's The Wizard Knight
- Ursula Le Guin's Annals of the Western Shore
Lots of rereads and fantasy here. I read a lot of fantasy this year (purposefully), but the ones I liked best were mostly rereads (and mostly Gene Wolfe it seems). I gave up on a lot of books this year (mostly library borrows), read some non-fiction, read some art books, read my regular magazines and blogs and sites.
- The Complete Crepax vol. 5 (every year until this series is over)
- Kozue Amano's Aria: The Masterpiece (reread, but in a new edition)
- Borja Gonzalez's A Gift for a Ghost
- Alexis Flower's I Roved Out in Search of Truth and Love, Vol. 2 (and in progress Vol. 3)
- Tsuge's The Man Without Talent (which I've read previously in the French edition)
- Peony Gent's minicomics (review forthcoming)
This list feels incomplete, I think I don't always write about comics in my journal until I've read them twice. Or maybe I just really didn't read a lot of comics I liked this year (possible). The unexpected (and lately discovered by me) new edition of Aria from Tokyopop (I had no idea they even still existed) was a really pleasant surprising, and that series utopian sci-fi was a perfect mood for this year.
- Breath of the Wild (Switch)
- The Last of Us Part 2 (PS4)
- Assassin's Creed: Valhalla (PS4)
- Witcher 3 (PS4) (replay)
Did not play a ton of video games during the year. These I all enjoyed for differing reasons, though I don't rank Breath of the Wild as high as many people do, for me the story was too thin.
- Control Top, Covert Contracts and "One Good Day"
- Patience, Dizzy Spells
- The Lawrence Arms, Skeleton Coast
- Bambu, Sharpest Tool in the Shed
- Dry Cleaning, singles and eps
- John K. Sampson, "Fantasy Baseball at the End of the World"
- Run the Jewels, RTJ4
A pretty odd mix here that pretty accurately shows my music taste. Most of these can be found and bought easily from Bandcamp. Control Top and Lawrence Arms are more upbeat more political punk, and Control Top's "One Good Day" single was probably my most listened to song of the year. Bambu and Run the Jewels are political hip hop (Bambu being a little more old school and more of my favorite). Patience is kind of 80s electronica. Dry Cleaning are angular British post-punk using collaged found lyrics (weird but really good). And John K Sampson's one folky, not quite a protest, song was perfect for this year.
- Fox kits in the yard and lots of other nature sightings around the block (hawks, heron, ducks, chipmunks, rabbits, deer, lots of smaller birds).
- New Liberty Distillery's Snug Harbor gin, delivered to my door, often 6 at a time, made into gimlets.
- Biweekly D&D sessions online (when our group used to meet monthly at best).
- Writing some short stories.
Spent most of yesterday playing Cyberpunk 2077 and realized I never wrote about Assassin's Creed: Valhalla which I finished up a few weeks back now. Well finished in that I did the main storyline and major side quests but did not get "100%" on all the minor stuff on the map (there's tons of it). I enjoyed the game a lot, as usual, in a large part because of the historical setting of 9th century Anglo Saxon Britain. The integration of the sci-fi elements was narratively more satisfying this time around I think, as the historical character's story and the mythological story felt less parallel. The modern day aspect was thankfully extremely limited (mostly a bit at the end to no doubt provide some connection to some kind of subsequent game in the series). I think I even understood what was actually going on with the sci-fi/modern parts, which is not always the case in this series.
The game had a settlement building aspect of it, that made for a nice side goal of getting resources so you can build up various buildings/homes/services, but it is also felt really anticlimactic when I got to the end of it and nothing really happened. But really it's mostly about running around the really well rendered landscape and interacting with various stories, raiding monasteries, storming forts, and the like.
Since then I've been playing too much Cyberpunk 2077 which is by no means a perfect game but is not as bad as the origianl hype backlash has it. It does tend to crash a lot (less so since some bug fixes have gone out), and I get the feeling the main issue is it's just too big to run well on the PS4 for long periods of time. There are also a ton of annoying little glitches like UI elements that will just stick around endlessly when they should have been temporary for an event or scene or something. I've also seen numerous cases lately where parts of the world seem to load before other parts, so objects or people come crashing down to ground level from above (I think because the structure they were supposed to be on didn't load first). It's a strange case of the physics of the world working even as the generation of the content isn't.
That said, I am engaged by the story and having fun exploring the ginormous city they build for the game. I am not a fan of the first person viewpoint though. Also the people who did some of the production design, particularly the advertising and shops that cover the city seemed to be a team of frat boys considering the juvenile humor and excessive sexuality and vulgarity of said designs. I can't imagine it won't be a big turnoff for a lot of people, and it doesn't fit well with the care that seems to have gone into a lot of the character/story design.
Overall the game is a lot reminiscent of Fallout 4 more than Witcher 3. There are a number of side quest paths involving different NPCs that only briefly (if at all, so far at least) interact with the main questline. Though, on the other hand, the main questline is a lot more of a narrative than Fallout's was (I've played that game more than once and only barely remember what the main point of it was about).
I think it is also very subtle in how any choices effect outcomes, I'm often a bit at a loss to understand what is important and what isn't when choosing from dialogue options, which often, in their abbreviated form, can be hard to know exactly what the resulting full form will be. I've steered a few conversations the wrong way because what I thought the summary meant and what it actually meant were not the same.
The holidays are over, and I while I was working last week, I did have a number of days off and the days on were slower than usual, so this morning comes with some reluctance and trepidation.
At a loss for something short to watch in the morning over breakfast (can't read while I eat), I was looking for something serialized that I can stop halfway through an episode. I came up short yesterday, but today stumbled on Snowpiercer now on HBO Max. A sci-fi show based on a bande dessinée (that was also adapted into a movie, that I did not see, a few years back). It stars Jennifer Connelly which is in its favor. I watched episode one and the concept is about as ludicrous as can be. Because of various environmental catastrophes and failed attempts to fix them, the earth has entered a new ice age. Some really rich corporation (or person or people) construct a 1000 car train that will perpetually circle the earth housing the remains of human society... the illogic of this is staggering. Who built all the tracks? How does it get across the ocean? Who maintains the tracks? Surely in such a cold environment the tracks would quickly freeze and get covered with snow, and the train would derail. Why a train at all, why not just build a really secure stationary habitat?
So you have to step over this suspension of disbelief (moreso than much sci-fi) to enter a story that is attempting to be about class: as you see the story of poor (relative to the very rich who bought their way onto the train) people who fought their way onto some cars at the back of the train. Then it's 6 years later and as these people talk about fighting their way into more cars we get some info dumps. Then you have to suspend disbelief again because it is not all clear why the stowaways weren't just killed or thrown off the train right away rather than being allowed to just hang around in the back of the train (there is some talk about how sometimes some of them get moved to other parts for labor, but it seems rare, so it seems idiocy that these people weren't just gotten rid of right away). Anyway...
And it turns out the protagonist (well one of them in the poor section) is, of course, formerly a police detective, and now the rich people need him to solve a murder (or two), because I guess almost no story can be told unless there are murder mysteries to solve (The Expanse, for one, got a lot better after the first season when I moved away from the police mystery elements). And then we learn that Jennifer Connely's character up til then shown as the head of customer relations or something is actually, gasp, "Mr. Wilcox" the person who made the train, or, maybe he's dead and she's just fronting for his non-existence?
So, yeah, I don't know, but kudos to the production design team on this as the set is really well done. It's all cramped, lots of narrow passages and long horizontals. We see a bunch of different "cars" and their environments (gotta do a tour on the first episode) and the claustrophobic, shut-in feeling is consistent until it isn't (purposefully and to effect).
Some days I just gotta ramble I guess...
I have a review of some comics by Peony Gent up at The Comics Journal today. I'm a fan. You can see more of her work here.
Reread (for the who know how many times) Queneau's Sunday of Life over the past few days. There are authors I really love and then there are the subgroup of authors I can pretty much always just pick up, read, and enjoy. Queneau being at the top of that list. This time around (it's probably been a few years since my last read of it) I noticed how much the protagonist, Valentin Bru, seems to be replicating a kind of zazen at points in the story. He sits in his shop (picture frames) when it is quiet and watches the clock, trying to see the minute hand move. He can only ever get through a few minutes before he starts thinking too much, seeing images, essentially daydreaming, but he keeps trying to sit there and just see time pass. That seems essentially the concept of zazen and "thinking the non-thinking." I need to check some of my Queneau books to see if he had any interest in Zen or Buddhism (not finding anything relevant online so far).
One of the mainstays of the past year has been Thursday happy hours with my friends/D&D group. We get on video chat and talk and some of us drink and many of us are making dinner. Last night we ended up on old/bad/weird jobs people had, and I was once again reminded how lucky I've been in that regard. I have basically had 3 employers over the course of 28 years. I had 4 different jobs for the second employer over the course of ~14 years, but they were all a progression of differing library jobs.
I say "basically" because I also picked up some extra money a handful of times bussing tables at a restaurant my brother
█████ used to work at (he was one of the chefs). But that was only for some busy evenings when they needed extra help, and I mostly did it as a way to spend some time with my brother. After the shift, he'd let me hang around a bit with him and his friends at the bar, which was really the only time we have socialized outside of the house or family gatherings.
I shuffled through a lot of books last night, feeling satisfied with none of them. I'll have to dig through the shelves later to find something for tonight, some novel I can reread... or maybe some comics to reread.
Just watched the season finale of Star Trek: Discovery which once again felt a little too action-y, giving shorter shrift thus to the interpersonal relations. I feel like sometimes the writers go too far into Star Wars land by having all these fight scenes, which is so not what Star Trek is all about.