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.
Picked up Borges' Collected Fictions to read a bit as I wait for the next thing to read. I've read a few of them and am feeling a bit blah about them, not as excited as when first encountering them (and subsequent rereads) back in college. They are clever and intelligent, but no longer surprising.
Been reading one lecture a night from Barthes' The Preparation of the Novel, a book of his (quite detailed) notes from two lecture series he did back in 1978-1980 right before he died. So far they are focusing on haiku, which is an unexpected starting point for a discussion of the novel. I am not sure what if anything I am retaining from these, beyond a desire to read more haiku.
Silhouettes bare branches
Over frosty shingles
Punctuated by crunch
Of cat breakfast
Watched the Ghost in the Shell anime this week as it was the movie of the day on Mubi on Sunday. It holds up really well, I think, both visually and narratively. You definitely have to spend time really following the dialog to get what's going on: while the action of scenes is always very clear and stylish, the underpinning logic of the plot is heavily reliant on a few conversations. One really fascinating part, I didn't remember, is a long interlude about one third of the way into the film, that runs through a variety of city scenes, barely featuring the protagonist at all (we see her once looking out from a boat (iirc) and seeing herself through a window), mostly just buildings and people going about their business, with a background of music that is... sounds like some kind of Japanese religious music, small drums, chanting/singing. It's really great and also really extraneous. In a live action film, doing some shots of the city (with none of the actors) would be fairly simple, but in animation they had to draw all the backgrounds and animate the people in the scenes, and it would be a lot of work for what is essentially a long pause.
I look up
Before the work day finished.
Pine needles on the sidewalk
Where no tree stands
-- Red winterberries!
A long painful week at work where some unexpected performance issues came the same week as releasing code and then a bug that took a lot of our servers offline for about an hour yesterday afternoon. Worked more than 12 hours on Thursday, and then the server issues arrived just in time to ruin my plans to take Friday afternoon off.
A few books arrived in the mail, so I started reading Jordan Stump's translations of essays by Queneau Letters, Numbers, Forms: Essays 1928-1970, which mostly collects two of his books of essays. Interesting coming upon quotes that I've only ever seen out of the original context, like the famous one about poets never being inspired:
Faced with such pretensions, we must state, we must affirm, that the poet is never "inspired," if by inspiration we mean something that comes about as a function of the poet's mood, the temperature, the political situation, subjective accidents, or the subconscious.
The poet is never inspired because he is the master of what others assume to be inspiration. He doesn't wait for inspiration to drop from the heavens like roasted ortolans. He knows how to hunt, and puts into action the errefutable proverb "Heaven helps those who help themselves." He's never inspired because he's always inspired, because the powers of poetry are always at his disposal, obedient to his will, receptive to his guidance. He doesn't have to seek the source of genius in soporifics. He is no way dependent on surprises, happy accidents, or flights of fancy.
I'm not too far into the book yet. Looking forward to the essay on Bouvard and Pecuchet, which I am not totally sure I've read before (maybe?).
Wrote a bunch of haiku this week inspired by Barthes discussion of them (see previous entries), and posted them as just screenshots of text to Instagram. I kind of like posting things that are only barely "images" or "photos." It's the only social media I make any use of anymore, mostly following people I actually know, the noise is low, though it feels like the advertisements increase steadily over time.
Today I watched Rohmer's The Sign of Leo which popped up on Mubi this week. I subscribed to it to watch a bunch of Hong Sang-Soo films they were showing and now as my month is almost up they have a bunch of Rohmer films (ones I haven't seen) coming up. It's like they planned to trap me into keeping the subscription going longer. This particular film was Rohmer's first. I can't say I loved it. It follows a poor musician who thinks he has gotten an inheritance from his aunt who died, but then doesn't. He goes into debt and then ends up homeless and penniless. A lot of scenes of him walking around Paris. Despite following the character for most of the movie, you never really get a sense of him as a person. It's more about the situation, than anything particular about him. I wasn't expecting to love it and watched it mostly as a curiosity.
Seemed to have finished Cyberpunk 2077 until there is some dlc content to play. Hard to tell but I'm pretty sure I did all the main/side missions, leaving only a bunch of little "events" around the city. Enjoyable game, but also not one I'm itching to replay or that I feel I will want to replay later.
Skipping between a few books right now: the Queneau essay book, which so far is a little too much arguing about poetry; the Barthes book, which is starting to get into Proust, so we'll see how that goes; and Jon Peterson's The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity. His first book Playing at the World was a great history of role-playing games and D&D in particular, looking at the origins of various concepts in the game, tying it into previous games (wargames especially) and writing. This new book (out in December) looks (so far) at how early players interpreted and argued about different concepts about role-playing in general and D&D in particular. Peterson heavily sources old fanzines to summarize debates about things like: referee neutrality versus oppositional stance; play as game vs playing as story (which he relates to the two main background of players: wargame enthusiasts and sci-fi fandom); how much players should be aware of the rules; character generation; alignment; callers; character vs player agency. I'm finding it pretty interesting. A lot of it is arguments one could still see people having in contemporary times (all his sources seem to be focused on the 70s so far), though I think a few are kind of settled matters (does anyone use callers anymore?).
Watched this movie Ham-on-Rye on Mubi yesterday. I recall reading a positive review of it somewhere in the recent past, but found it rather disappointing. It's very clearly a first film. Visually there were a lot of extra flourishes to it that served no point, in particularly a few cross fades and one case of double exposure (or... I'm not sure what you call that when there's no "exposure" to speak of). My ability to suspend disbelief was taxed past its limit with the plot's use of this vague coming of age rite that the characters participate in. It starts out as this kind of group narrative of all these high school age kids going to what seems like a weird prom and then goes a little fantasy/mystic and then becomes this slow process of watching a few of the characters be sad and lonely. The metaphor it is going for about some of the kids getting left behind in their home town doesn't work past the shallowest of depths and ones empathy for the few identifiable characters left behind at the end is hindered by our complete lack of understanding of them as characters at all.
Not sure where I heard about Mia Hansen-Løve, but I watched her film Things to Come on Criterion the other day. She is said to have been inpsired by Rohmer, and her films are compared to his, which must be what caught my interest. The comparison, based on this film at least, feels apt. It is a low drama realistic narrative about a woman dealing with a transitional period in her life. It is quiet and plain, nothing flashy, nothing shocking, no plot twists, but it also felt very human, considered, thoughtful. Like Rohmer there are references to philosophy and religion. Unlike Rohmer (much of his films at least) this is not about romance, rather we see the protagonist as her husband leaves her, her mother dies, etc. I'll be looking up more of her films (there are three playing on Criterion).
Hong Sang-Soo's Woman on the Beach (2006) was not one of my favorite movies of his, but as I've seen more and more of them it cements my feeling that he's much more interesting in the more recent films. All the ones I really like cover the range 2015-2017 (I've not yet seen any of the even more recent ones) and give a more prominent (and empathetic) role to the women. This one goes further that way than the previous earlier ones I've seen (and didn't really like). This one actually is super reminiscent of Rohmer's Moral Tales, as it has a guy (a film director, a maintstain of Hong's work) who is at the beach and there are two women, the one he likes, and then the one he sleeps with when the first one goes away (but then she comes back). But unlike Rohmer, the first woman ends up rejecting him because he is not truthful with her. And the film ends with the woman not the man, as she drives off from the beach. It was refreshing to see that, because as I was watching it the director protagonist got more obnoxious and I was concerned it would end up with the woman not breaking off with him.
One strange moment late in the film (which I should also note felt a little long at over 2 hours), the woman has been out (with the second woman). She parks her car on a road, locks it up, and then just walks into a field. Cut to her coming over a little hill. She walks into this field, it's not clear what she is doing out there in the dark, not in the sense of what we see her doing (walking), but in the sense of why she walked out there. The scene cuts back to the director for a bit, and then when it returns to the woman she goes back up the little hill and drives back to the hotel. It's a mysterious little moment.
Finished the Queuenea essay book such as I could. Ended up skimming much of it. A lot of the essays feel... irrelevant now, to me. He's talking a lot about literature contemporary to him (mostly the mid/late 40s) that I have not heard of. The essay on Bouvard and Pecuchet was interesting. I'm still not clear if I've read it before somewhere. But I enjoyed it and it made want to reread that novel. Also there is an interview towards the end that provides more context to some of his comments I've seen quoted about the structure of his novels.
We finished our rewatch of Deadwood the other night with the movie from 2019 that takes place 10 years after the ending of the season 3 finale. Season 3 ends without much resolution (as one would expect since it wasn't a planned end to the series), and the movie acts more as an epilogue than anything else. You could never watch it on its own, despite the few flashbacks to the series it offers as a mostly pointless attempt to fill in back plot. Other than the change in most of the characters' appearance, the 10 years of time passing has only minimal markers on the situation at the camp. Some characters seem to have stood still, which from a narrative standpoint makes sense, so there's multiple storylines to be had. It's a satisfactory enough ending, exuding "reunion" and offering a number of callbacks such that it teeters on fan service, though who else was there to please?
As a followup we watched the first episode of David Simon's (the other HBO David) The Plot Against America. So far I am a little bored with it and a lot unclear of what the actual plot is, it is so far all setting. I'm not super motivated to watch more.
Hill of Freedom is one of Hong Sang-Soo's more lighthearted comedic films. It also has a quirky narrative structure. I quite enjoyed it. The premise is that Mori, a Japanese man, arrives in Korea looking for a woman he used to work with at a language institute in the town. But unbeknownst to him she is away on some kind of recuperative retreat. The movie starts with her getting home and recieving a pack of letters from him, but on her way out of the building she drops them and they scatter. The rest of the movie (except the ending) consists of the letters visualized, and because they are now out of order, the scenes happen out of order. This provides a bit of disjunction but not any overarching mysteries. We see characters before they are introduced, but some of the plot lines still seem to happen in order. Again, kind of a like a Rohmer Moral Tale, the protagonist is away from home, and there is the woman who is the potential girlfriend and then there is the woman he meets while unable to find/see the first woman, but Hong never really plays on the dilemma here. Hong also remains resolutely against any action here. At one point Mori somehow gets locked in the bathroom at the one woman's apartment, but the scene starts after he is locked in (we don't see it) and ends before anyone shows up to let him out. Similarly, late in the film, we see him with a black eye, and one of the other characters mentions a fight, but we never see the fight (though it is easy enough to infer who it was with). This one goes against my idea that Hong is better when the films focus on the woman, as the that is not the case here. It might help that the protagonist this time seems much nicer than the male protagonists often are in his films.
Volumes 6 and 7 of Aria: The Masterpiece, the last volumes, finally arrived, so I've been working my way through them. The retro utopic future of the setting and the good natured appreciation of the smaller things in life are all nice and calming at this point, though these later volumes often take on a more melancholic/nostalgic mood.
Working too much, playing a lot of Divinity: Original Sin 2 on PS4 (and yes, that is quite the name for a game). It's a kind of classic style isomorphic tactical RPG. What makes it stand out is how much choice it offers in actions, alternate pathways to accomplish goals, and branching story options. I'm quite enjoying it, though sometimes the options are overwhelming. The storyline and fantasy world are not at all novel, it feels very Dragon Age inspired to me, with a powerful church and people with magic powers that are considered a danger and the church trying to control them, but it doesn't have as great a sense of place, I think. Still enjoyable and certainly catching me up in the desire to know what happens next.