Post-Holiday Reading: City of Stairs

You can't tell, but these are stairs to a church. Get it?
From Flickr user rablem22

Following Planetfall, I decided to jump from science fiction to fantasy in the form of Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs. I don’t think I need to wax rhapsodic about the quality of the book too much, as that territory is well-covered, and I agree with the shared high points others have noted: the diverse cast of characters, the intriguing setting, the constant entertainment value, and the jealousy-inducing quality of the writing. This book is smart and fun and cool and left me excited for the next book and interested in checking out Bennett’s back catalog. You should probably read it soon, unless you hate fantasy and/or awesome things.

With the book’s goodness thusly vouched for, I’d like to focus the rest of this post on one of the book’s central concepts. It’s one with some interesting connections to a similarly central idea in Planetfall. That’s right, we’re going to talk about religion!

(Be warned, vague spoilers lurk in the depths beyond!)

Continue reading “Post-Holiday Reading: City of Stairs”

Curation and Slowhacking

As previously discussed, starting a new day job has prompted some reflection and revision of the way I approach my life and my various routines. While I am skeptical about New Year’s resolutions, I have identified a couple of themes that I think will run through my 2016 as well as a host of habits I’m working to establish by year’s end.

So many things staring at you...
From Flickr user K.rol2007


During my year-plus of freelancing, I found myself contemplating the idea of a curated life. My plan is to make this year a test case in doing more to intentionally curate my life and routines.

(Before I go any further, I should note that I have no professional or amateur experience in actual curation, e.g. of art or at a museum. I’m using my understanding of curation as a metaphor for thinking about the idea of intentionally crafting various parts of my life using ideas I’ve acquired elsewhere.)

I’m planning to explore the curated life in quite a bit more detail over the course of the year, but the general thrust is that we all – consciously or not – pick from the huge universe of “Things I Could Be Spending My Time/Thoughts/Energy On” to populate various “galleries” of our lives (e.g. our personal collection, our public exhibit, and a series of intermediate/semi-private galleries with various levels of access). I’m trying to be better about consciously choosing what’s displayed in my various galleries.



I know, I know. The last thing the world needs is another variant on “-hacking”. However, I read and listen to enough things that use the “-hacking” formula that the concept is useful for me.

Continue reading “Curation and Slowhacking”

Post-Holiday Reading: Planetfall

OK, it's actually an upside down sunset. Still pretty cool!
Image from Flickr user Carl Milner

This was a very book-themed holiday season for me. Between immediate and extended family and my in-laws, I picked up nine new books. They should merge well with my goal of replacing some screen time with page time.

(Also, they and the new day job mean that the S.H.A.K.E.S.P.E.A.R.E. project has been put on indefinite hold. Since we weren’t very far in, I don’t think anyone will be too disappointed.)

A couple books are more related to my day-job work, but most of them should play well with this space. The first one I jumped into was Emma Newman’s Planetfall.

I’ll preface what follows by saying that I’m a big fan of most stories about space colonies. There’s something about that combination of high-tech exploration, frontier adventure, and city-in-a-bottle social dynamics that really captures my imagination. Planetfall captures a bunch of that, but also adds some additional factors that mean I’ll be coming back to it at least a few more times in an attempt to grok everything it’s doing. [No intentional spoilers follow, but those who want to read the book “cleanly” might want to skip the rest of this post.]

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Irregular Programming Will Resume Shortly

Do not adjust your blog-o-vision set...
Image from Flickr user Matthew Dinkins:

Hello again, world!

Apologies for my protracted absence. After Halloween, life got very busy with multiple interviews for new a day job, followed by my gratefully accepting a great new position in my professional field of expertise. I’m a couple months into that now, and just starting to build a set of writing and blogging habits that fit well with the new gig.

Leaving the world of freelancing for my first real office job has been quite the transition. Admittedly, my specific case probably isn’t as big a jump as some, given that my new job remains fairly lightly supervised and allows me significant discretion in how I structure my time. Still, I now live with far more objectives and deadlines set by other people. Somewhat unexpectedly, adapting to the new workplace hasn’t been the most disruptive part of the adjustment.

Continue reading “Irregular Programming Will Resume Shortly”

Trick and Treat: The Other Dog

OK, so my last post notwithstanding, I took some of the thoughts that had been percolating about The Thing meets Scooby-Doo and came up with this. I’m not posting it over at Wendig’s because it is neither 3,000-5,000 words long, nor is it a short story. Instead, I offer you this much shorter poem-y thing.

The Other Dog

Our leader is already dead, and yet

her skin still walks among us.


I don’t know where the pretty one is, but my friend

thinks she saw him go into the cave.

(If it was him at all.)


The scholar drops the flashlight, and I leap for my friend’s arms.

She does the same and we tumble to the dirt, a confused mass of limbs.




The scholar stoops to pick up the light, not seeing

the other dog.


The other dog, the one who started all of this. Big and clumsy,

or that’s what we thought.


The old house was empty,

or that’s what Old Man Carruthers said.


The world is full of liars.


The other dog howls,





The scholar falls, and his jaws seize her sweater,

and he is pulling,


pulling her into the gloom.


My friend and I whimper and look at each other, and then

I am running. Running into the darkness.

My friend follows, as she always does.


Few can be trusted, but

a few is not none.


The old house was haunted,

or that’s what Ms. Winthrop, the actor, said.


People had died there, and a dog, too,

she’d said with the brush in her hair.


That’s why she’d called us,

she’d said, looking through her hair at the pretty one.


The sound of ripping comes to us,

deeper in the cave.

We run faster.


The scholar shakes, a patch from her sweater gone, and

one hand cradled in the other.


My friend and I whimper again, knowing

the bite is how it starts.


Carruthers, Jr. was the first to go,

minutes after he let us into the house.


We saw the other dog for a moment,

as it pulled Junior away,

and then the screams,

and then nothing.


At first, our leader suggested we split up. Then

she and the pretty one found Junior.


Or that’s what they thought.


None of us are what we appear.


My friend helps the scholar up, and

we walk deeper into the cave.


There are no answers behind us, even if

all that lies ahead is danger.


We seek the truth, even when

it is dangerous.

That is our code.


It looked like Junior, but

it did not smell like him,

it did not speak like him,

it did not move like him.


It chased us, and we ran, because

there is no shame in running.


Running is what keeps us alive, except

when it doesn’t.


None of us can run forever.


There is a lake in the cave, and

we find our leader’s tattered coat beside it,

and the pretty one’s shredded shirt,

and Junior’s ragged cap.


Many tunnels lead away from the cave, and

the night’s chill speaks of rain and thunder.


We do not see

the other dog.


We searched the old house for our leader, but

she did not appear.


We moved to the garden,

the path,

the woods.


And there she was,

only bitten, not killed,

or that’s what we thought.


Nothing frightens like a friend.


It looked like our leader, but

it did not smell like her,

it did not speak like her,

it did not move like her.


It chased us, and we ran, because

there is no shame in running.


Running is what keeps us alive, except

when it doesn’t.


None of us can run forever.


Something comes from a tunnel, and

we cower in the shadows.


The scholar has gone pale, and

my friend and I share a worried look.


Maybe we should not trust her, and yet

how could she betray us?


The other dog is huge, bigger than I remember, and yet

it does not smell like a dog,

it does not speak like a dog,

it does not move like a dog.


It smells and speaks and moves like…


“Hey, you!”


It is our leader!

And the pretty one!

In the tunnels!


The other dog is running!


We chase it, and it runs, but

there is shame in its running.


Running is how we know it’s guilty, especially when

we catch it.


None of us are what we appear.


There is a woman inside

the other dog.


“Ms. Winthrop?”


We are all confused until

she tells us of her plan.


A one-woman show, about

the unfortunate souls who died,

killed by the monsters in themselves.


She needed the story to be true first, and so

she needed us to die.


Makeup, costumes, and stage magic

took care of the rest.


“And you would have gotten away with it, too…”


Our leader’s arms are on her hips, and

she smiles that familiar smile.


But Ms. Winthrop smiles, too, and

I do not like her teeth.


“Silly child, I have gotten away with it.

“Because this is not your story.”


There is something in the lake, and

it is coming.


The water tears back to reveal

The other other dog.


But it is not a dog.


It is bigger.

It is worse.

It is angry.


Running is what keeps us alive, except

when it doesn’t.


None of us can run forever.

Happy All Hallows’ Eve Eve Eve!

Yes, this is an obligatory Jack O'Lantern picture.
From Flickr user Randy Robertson
Click picture for link to original.

This, that, and the other thing have kept me from completing Wendig’s Halloween challenge. (“This” being potentially exciting progress for possible long-term professional opportunities, “that” being the start of a new part-time gig until the long-term situation stabilizes, and “the other thing” being a lack of effort on my part.) I’d pulled The Thing meets Scooby-Doo, and while some ideas continue to percolate, that story will not be written between now and tomorrow at noon.

Tomorrow, of course, being Halloween Eve, or All Hallow’s Eve Eve if you’re feeling puckish. If you’re feeling as puckish as I am right now, that makes today All Hallow’s Eve Eve Eve, a term which I am shocked is not in more common usage.

For my spouse and me, this means dropping our adorable dog off with some neighbors for the weekend (he’ll be thrilled; it’s where his best friend lives) and hitting the road at 9am tomorrow for the drive to Chicago. I’ve got a small group of friends from my college years that are scattered to the winds, and we try to get together once a year. This works a little more than half the time if weddings are included, and less than half the time if they aren’t. The idea for Halloween came together fairly quickly, and I’m very much looking forward to it. (Even moreso since the group costume situation resolved earlier in the week.)

It also means that Macbeth, Act II likely won’t go up until Monday. Here’s hoping everyone can make it until then without their Brush Up fix.

The trip also also means that most of the first day of NaNo will be spent on the road and tired. Wouldn’t want to make it too easy, right?

With that, and assuming I don’t check in before the great day itself, Happy Halloween!


"I nearly jumped out of my skin! Oh, sorry! Was that insensitive?"
From Flickr user Tom1231

Brush Up Your S.H.A.K.E.S.P.E.A.R.E.: Macbeth, Act I

[See series intro here.]

From Flickr user Ralph Daily:
From Flickr user Ralph Daily:

Happy Prologues

The last time I read the Scottish play, I was a first-year undergraduate taking an introduction to Shakespeare course. (I’m still using my second edition Riverside text from that class, for those of you who note such things.) Our professor was detail-oriented enough to time the end of the unit with a performance at the student union, giving us a chance to see the play performed. This is always a boon when studying plays, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity. That said, I’m also enjoying the dictatorial freedom of playing director in my own mind, coupled with an unlimited effects budget.

However, I’ve rediscovered a good reason to read Shakespeare on the page, one that I often forget when I go too long between readings of Shakespeare: The man knew how to coin, turn, and just plain play with words and phrases. A good performance of his work will help the modern audience understand the meaning, but many of the nuances slip by. Grappling with the piece line by line on the page, with unlimited rewinding to go over a line or speech again, adds greatly to the experience for the seeker of poetry. Transparent this prose is not, and I find the complexity part of the joy in tackling the text. (This is especially true for someone like me who has spent a couple years of professional life writing and refining analytical nonfiction for a general audience, poetics frequently being ill-suited to such a task.)

Enough throat-clearing…on to the play!

From Flickr user bill lapp:
From Flickr user bill lapp:

Upon This Blasted Heath

This act is very efficient, yet rarely feels rushed. In seven brisk scenes, Shakespeare establishes most of the significant characters, sets up the major conflict, kicks off the inevitable tragic slide, and establishes a compelling atmosphere.

So. Much. Atmosphere. From the use of mists-and-moors Scotland as the setting, to the Weird Sisters’ ominous foreshadowing and darkly evocative dialogue, to character introductions coming in the aftermath of a major battle, to the talk of blood and murder running through the dialogue between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, everything about this act swathes the plot in grimness, death, and intrigue. In other words, terrific October reading.

Spoilers follow beyond this point! (Perhaps not particularly necessary for this particular text, but I’m trying to build good habits here…)

Continue reading “Brush Up Your S.H.A.K.E.S.P.E.A.R.E.: Macbeth, Act I”