Wednesday, January 01, 2020

2019 In Review

Another year, another complete failure to blog.

That's not entirely true. I occasionally write over on Medium, and have good intentions to copy the posts over here to my main blog sometime, but then forget. My micro-press Forest City Pulp also gets occasional updates. Oh and I've started writing at the group blog Across the Board, where a bunch of other writers write.

But this is my personal blog, so let's get personal. This year was fine for me. The political and environmental turmoil in the world only highlights how incredibly lucky I am to have had a year to hold stead and stay comfortable.

Not that I accomplished nothing. Early in the year, I released Three Incidents at Foster Manor, which has been my most successful novel yet. I'm hoping to put something out in early 2020, but, you know, having a day job takes up a lot of time. That's been going well too though, and the company I've been doing brain science for is almost growing beyond the "startup" label. Cool. Cool cool.

My personal highlight of the year was our trip to Calgary and the Pacific Northwest, visiting real friends and also Bigfoot.







Oh, and I got a nice bike! I've become one of those bike guys, semi-obsessed with getting around on two wheels and giving cars the stink-eye. It does feel so much better to go places on a bike though, both because it makes me healthier and because it's just fun. More bike lanes in London please thanks bye.



Anyway, this is the time of year when I review all the stuff I liked in 2019. Here's what I spent my time and money on; maybe you'll find some stuff you missed, but probably not (I'm pretty much a normie).

Music


As usual, this is just an uncurated list of the top 20 albums I listened to most, courtesy of Last.FM.

20. Deerhunter - Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?
19. Silversun Pickups - Widow's Weeds
18. Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell
17. Bring Me the Horizon - amo
16. Orville Peck - Pony

15. Hozier - Wasteland, Baby!
14. Cage the Elephant - Social Cues
13. Backstreet Boys - DNA
12. Taylor Swift - Lover
11. half•alive - Now, Not Yet

10. Tool - Fear Inoculum - I first listened to this on headphones riding the Amtrak between Seattle and Portland, and it was a transcendent experience.
9. The Black Keys - "Let's Rock" - I cannot resist a David Lynch reference.
8. Mitski - Be the Cowboy - Ok I'll be the cowboy sounds good.
7. Billie Eilish - WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? - William Eyelash.
6. Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride - Did you know there was a character with a named pronounced like Phronk in the movie Father of the Bride? That's not where I got it though.

5. Alice Merton - MINT - As you may have noticed, albums by solo women were sort of my thing this year.
4. Ed Sheeran - No. 6 Collaborations Project - I listened to and tracked a lot of pop playlists on Spotify this year, and I suspect this album is only high on this list because each individual song was played endlessly on pop stations.
3. Flying Lotus - Flamagra - I don't actually remember much of this, but I guess I liked it? I think there is a track with David Lynch on this so maybe that's why it's here.
2. Puppy - The Goat - Sort of a metal Weezer, which I dig.
1. (Tie) Jade Bird - Jade Bird - omg I love her.
1. (Tie) Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated - If she comes out with an album, it's a safe bet it'll be high on this list.


Television


I liked these shows:
  • The Boys
  • Broad City
  • Chernobyl
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm
  • The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
  • Doom Patrol
  • Explained
  • Game of Thrones
  • I Think You Should Leave
  • The Mandalorian
  • Our Planet
  • Perfume
  • Russian Doll
  • Schitt's Creek
  • Silicon Valley
  • Servant
  • Stranger Things
  • Succession
  • The Umbrella Academy
  • Unnatural Selection
  • The Walking Dead
  • Watchmen

Movies

These are the best movies I saw in 2019. They may not have come out in 2019, big whoop. I'm just listing the movies I rated 4+ stars on Letterboxd, so go there for full reviews.
  • Avengers: Endgame
  • El Camino
  • Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
  • Free Solo
  • Holidays
  • Horror Noire
  • The Irishman
  • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
  • Lords of Chaos
  • Love, Death and Robots
  • Marriage Story
  • Midsommar
  • Mom and Dad
  • Paddleton
  • The Perfection
  • Sorry to Bother You
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home
  • Starfish
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
  • Under the Silver Lake
  • Us
  • Venom
  • Wilding

Games

These are the games I played and liked. Add me on Xbox Live or Nintendo to play with me. I couldn't get too into many new games this year. I think Xbox Game Pass has kinda ruined me—I usually try out a game for an hour or two, then, because I didn't pay extra for it, I don't feel the need to stick with it if I don't enjoy it enough to want to play it more than yet another game of Overwatch.

  • Baba Is You
  • Dead Cells
  • Fallout 76
  • The Outer Worlds
  • Overwatch
  • Ring Fit Adventure
  • Void Bastards

That's it! That's the year! 


Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 in Review

Looks like time has chewed away another year from my life.

I had the typical "there were plenty of highs and lows" type of year. I find that at this age (late thirties), both the highs and lows are more profound. For example, people in my age cohort not only have children, but have children that are growing up into actual people. On the flip side, people around me are worn down by time or outright erased from existence with increasing vigour. I suppose those lows can make me appreciate the highs even more, in a way that could only be abstractly understood in earlier years.

More specific to 2018, I've continued to be lucky and privileged enough that the world's political turmoil has continued to avoid devastating my life directly. I do what I can to fight the creeping spread of anti-human powers, but aside from a plummeting retirement fund, I'm fine. For now.

Anyway. For anyone still paying attention, here's my yearly wrap-up of the stuff I enjoyed this year.

Music

As usual, this is just an uncurated list of the albums I listened to most, courtesy of Last.FM.

20. Slaves - Beautiful Death
19. Dear Rouge - Phases
18. Franz Ferdinand - Always Ascending
17. Sofi Tukker - Treehouse
16. Lucero - Among the Ghosts
15. Bebe Rexha - Expectations
14. The Glitch Mob - See Without Eyes
13. The Wombats - Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life
12. Teenage Wrist - Chrome Neon Jesus
11. Moby - Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt
10. Let's Eat Grandma - I'm All Ears
9. Rhye - Blood
8. CHVRCHES - Love is Dead
7. Bahamas - Earthtones
6. A Perfect Circle - Eat the Elephant
5. K.Flay - Every Where is Some Where (this came out in 2017, but I only discovered it in 2018, when it seemed to really take off)
4. Thirty Seconds to Mars - America
3. Years & Years - Palo Santo
2. Ghost - Prequelle
1. Janelle MonĂ¡e - Dirty Computer

TV

These are the shows I liked the most.

  • Black Mirror
  • Channel Zero
  • Daredevil
  • Dark
  • Disenchantment
  • The End of the Fucking World
  • Explained
  • Evil Genius
  • The Good Place
  • The Haunting of Hill House
  • Iron Fist
  • Kim's Convenience
  • The Last Man on Earth
  • Maniac
  • Ozark
  • Riverdale
  • Trailer Park Boys

Movies

I spent most of my limited entertainment time on TV this year, so I missed a lot of the big movies. But here are the ones I did see and like. Connect with me on Letterboxd for more.
  • Annihilation
  • Apostle
  • Bird Box
  • Black Panther
  • Cam
  • Deadpool 2
  • The Endless
  • Hereditary
  • Hold the Dark
  • Infinity War
  • The Killing of a Sacred Deer
  • Mandy
  • A Quiet Place
  • Rampage
  • The Ritual
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story
  • Super Dark Times
  • Terrifier

Games

A new category! I don't get to play video games as much as I'd like, but here's what I played this year. Connect with me on Xbox Live for more.

  • Forza Horizon 4
  • Mad Max (an older game, but I just got to it this year, and it's totally underrated)
  • No Man's Sky
  • Overwatch
  • Red Dead Redemption 2 (I'm totally blown away by the amount of stuff in this game. I've played for a few dozen hours and still haven't even finished the main story)
  • Sea of Thieves
  • State of Decay 2
  • Subnautica
  • Super Mario Odyssey 
  • Biggest disappointment award: Fallout 76. What an awful launch and an awful game. Hopefully it gets better with updates, but I'd rather be holding my breath to protect against actual radioactive clouds.
  • WTF award: Fortnite. I get why people play it—it's a fun little tech demo of a game. But I don't get why people keep playing it. It's aggressively shallow, and if kids are growing up thinking this is what a game should be, I'm worried they'll miss out on all the deep, satisfying, artistic games that we've been working toward for the past few decades.

Books

I read really slow, so it's rare for me to read a book in the same year it came out. Here are my favourites that I read in 2018, but didn't necessarily come out in 2018. Connect with me on Goodreads for more.

  • Algorithms to Live By - Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths
  • The Atrocities - Jeremy Shipp
  • Bird Box - Josh Malerman
  • Dead Dog on Morningside - cal chayce
  • The Drive-In - Joe Lansdale
  • Every Time We Meet at the Dairy Queen, Your Whole Fucking Face Explodes - Carlton Mellick III
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson


It's over! See you next year, hopefully.



Friday, December 29, 2017

2017 in Review

2017 is generally regarded as a bad year, but for me, it was fine. Time moved on from last year's celebrity death apocalypse to threats of actual apocalypse, but personally, I managed to avoid any direct effects. I can't pretend that Canada is immune from the growing evil in the United States, yet it hasn't manifested in ruining my life in any significant ways. My first full year as a science writer has been good fun, and I somehow managed to get a novel out too. None of my close family or friends died. I'm healthy.

It's easy to focus on the negative things, especially when you're searching the whole world for them, but the fundamental things that make my life unique have all been good in 2017.

Here's a recap of stuff I liked this year. I'm not sure anyone cares, but I have an obsession with keeping track of things, because it's nice to think that everything I do matters. Something's gotta matter, right? Anyway, this list enables that craziness. Thanks for being an enabler. Thanks a lot. Maybe you'll find something new here that you end up liking.


Music I Liked in 2017

I get these stats from Last.fm, which keeps track of everything I listen to. One negative thing in 2017 is that I started using Apple Music, but it's difficult to integrate it with Last.fm, especially on mobile devices. Spotify integrates, but I ran into a ridiculous 10,000 song limit (even with a paid account), so it's unusable. Anyway, I managed to find workarounds, so this captures most of what I listened to.

20. Halsey - hopeless fountain kingdom

19. Queens of the Stone Age - Villains

18. Whitehorse - Panther in the Dollhouse

17. Gorillaz - Humanz

16. Beck - Colors

15. Ed Sheeran - ÷. His appearance on Game of Thrones could qualify for worst thing of the year, but this album is actually pretty good.

14. Ke$ha - Rainbow

13. Serena Ryder - Utopia

12. Spoon - Hot Thoughts

11. deadmau5 - stuff I used to do

10. Lana Del Rey - Lust for Life

9. Lights - Skin & Earth

8. Portugal. The Man - Woodstock

7. The Killers - Wonderful Wonderful. I used to love The Killers, then I got bored with them for a few albums, but this one caught my attention again.

6. Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes - Modern Ruin

5. Nothing More - The Stories We Tell Ourselves.

4. Thundercat - Drunk. Nothing else sounds like this.

3. Nothing But Thieves - Broken Machines. They were #1 last year, and while this album took longer to grow on me, grow it did.

2. Lorde - Melodrama. Pop music was mostly a disappointment in 2017, but not this. Not Lorde. Lorde Lorde Lorde, I am Lorde.

1. In This Moment - Ritual. I still can't get enough of these guys, for whatever reason.


Pretty good list this year! If I'd consciously chosen a top 20, I'm not sure I would have done better.


Shows I Liked in 2017

Off the top of my head, in no order, here are the shows I've enjoyed recently:
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Handmaid's Tale
  • Halt & Catch Fire
  • Stranger Things
  • The Punisher
  • Master of None
  • Game of Thrones
  • Black Mirror
  • Trailer Park Boys
  • Ozark
  • The Walking Dead
  • The Expanse

Movies I Liked in 2017

TV is so good that I don't watch many movies any more. But, again with zero thought, here are the movies I did see that come to mind:
  • Get Out
  • Blade Runner 2049
  • Logan
  • It
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 2
  • The Devil's Candy
  • Better Watch Out
  • I Don't Feel at Home in This World Any More
  • The Void

Books I Liked in 2017

These didn't necessarily come out in 2017, but I read them this year, so just ... just shut up and enjoy them. God.
  • Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell - The Disaster Artist. Nothing is more inspiring to me than books about unusual people finding success in their own unusual ways.
  • Cory Doctorow - Walkaway. I was lucky enough to be invited to an early look at this book, and wrote this blog post on Tor.com about it: Cory Doctorow's Walkaway and the Power of Small Ideas.
  • Elizabeth Hand - Wylding Hall
  • Stephen Graham Jones - Mongrels
  •  - The Hematophages
  • Jeff VanderMeer - Acceptance

Video Games I Liked in 2017

That's it. I haven't blogged much lately, since pretty much everything else I do in life involves writing that people pay for, but I'll at least see you at the end of 2018—as long as Nazis don't make blogging illegal, and/or blow up the world. 


Sunday, December 03, 2017

A Deep Exploration of the Terrifying Stained Glass Windows at a Run-Down Children’s Museum

The London Regional Children’s Museum has seen better days, but I have fond memories of going there as a kid. A highlight is when a traveling Jim Henson exhibit was set up there, and I got to see the actual muppets from my favourite movie at the time (okay, still), Labyrinth.

There’s a story about how one of the animatronic muppets from Labyrinth, Hoggle, was later neglected, misplaced, and eventually found in an airline’s unclaimed baggage department looking like this:


I feel like the entire Children’s Museum has followed a similar path as Hoggle. The building has been sold, but remains open while the owners figure out what to do with it, and when I visited recently, many of the exhibits were missing pieces or otherwise marred by age. In the room educating kids about outer space, a mysterious purple drawer has a sign reading “What’s in here?” It evokes my sense of childhood wonder—if they bothered putting a sign up, it must be something exciting and/or educational! What will I learn today?! I hastily yank the drawer open, only to find … nothing. It’s completely empty.

Perhaps a lesson about how vast and barren the vacuum of space is? Who knows.

Nearby, a dead astronaut hangs from the ceiling.


A tribute to David Bowie? Unlikely.

But the oddest area is the music room. It’s a large room, but like the empty drawer, it’s mostly dead space. There is no furniture—just instruments scattered across the floor. Most of them are fully or partially destroyed. Drums have tears across their leathery membranes, so that banging the splintered drumsticks against them sounds no different than banging them against anything else. A wooden contraption makes clicking sounds when I shake it, but it’s not any instrument I’ve encountered in this reality. There are children here, unsupervised, eyes vacant as they try to wrestle music out of the wreckage. 

Where are their parents? Do they even have parents? Or have they always been here? Perhaps.

To distract myself from the racket, I look up, and this is what I see:



I recoil in fear from the kid in the middle, staring directly at me like I’ve interrupted … whatever he’s doing. But then I can’t tear my gaze from the stained glass window on the right. Can it be anything other than the wailing ghost of a dead child?

No. No. I’m a scientist, a man of reason—there must be some rational explanation for this. I turn to research for the cold comfort of knowledge, but unfortunately, there is nothing to put my mind at ease. It only gets stranger from here.

You Know, For Kids

The windows were created by Roy Edward Suhr, a local glazier, and installed in 1907 at Riverview Public School, which was later transformed into the Children’s Museum. (Source)

There were other windows, as well. Jack and Jill and The Big Bad Wolf lived at the school, but were removed for renovations, misplaced, then later found elsewhere. Sort of like Hoggle. Another one, The Pie Man, was used as the cover for a poetry book called Rat Jelly:



As has hopefully become clear, each window is based on an old nursery rhyme. The three still in the museum are Little Miss Muffet, Ride a Cockhorse to Banberry Cross, and Little Tommy Tucker.
Wait, cockhorse?

And who’s Tommy Tucker? Apparently he’s the dead kid on the right. The nursery rhyme goes like this:
Little Tom Tucker
Sings for his supper.
What shall we give him?
White bread and butter.
How shall he cut it
Without a knife?
How will he be married
Without a wife?
So I guess he’s singing for his supper, not educating kids about the wailing of the damned. And he’s given bread without a knife … and prematurely considering marriage. For some reason.

I wasn’t aware of Tommy Tucker, but he is big in pop culture, according to his Wikipedia page.



Wait, squirrel?

Tommy Tucker (Squirrel)

This is the squirrel named after the dead child at the Children’s Museum:



He, too, has his own Wikipedia page, because he falls into the (presumably small) category of famous cross-dressing squirrels.

Tommy Tucker (squirrel) toured the United States in the 1940s, wearing women’s fashions, doing tricks, and selling war bonds. He’s described as unusually docile, but did occasionally bite people, which makes me concerned about how often squirrels usually bite people.

After World War II, Tommy settled down and married another squirrel named Buzzy. But unfortunately, Tommy died in 1949. Whoever wrote the Wikipedia article seems to suspect foul play, saying he ostensibly died of a heart attack due to old age, then pointing out that squirrels usually live for more than ten years in captivity. Was it murder? Did Buzzy do it? Or did the spirit of Tommy Tucker appear to him in the dead of night, this time not wailing for his bread, but for the soul of the squirrel who stole his name?

The squirrel’s body was stuffed and mounted. He was passed along, and ended up in the possession of an old woman, who died in 2005. She thought Tommy should be in a museum, and bequeathed him to the Smithsonian. (Source)

The Smithsonian didn’t want him.

Now he’s encased in plexiglass inside a cardboard box in the office of that old woman’s lawyer. The glass case is there because moths were starting to eat away at him.

It appears that Tommy, like the other windows in the museum, like the museum itself, followed the path of Hoggle. He lived his life, then when the world couldn’t use him any more, he was forgotten, passed from person to person, eaten by wriggling things and the passage of time.

There’s always hope, though. After the startling discovery of Hoggle’s mangled muppet corpse, he was purchased by the Unclaimed Baggage Center, a museum/store in a small city in Alabama, and restored to, well, something vaguely resembling his former glory:



Everything dies, nothing lasts, but if you’re lucky, you’ll end up stuffed, preserved behind glass, scaring children in a museum. I find an odd sort of comfort in that.







This was originally posted on Medium: A Deep Exploration of the Terrifying Stained Glass Windows at a Run-Down Children's Museum. I've started posting a few things there before I put them here, because I like what Medium is doing—basically paying content creators directly when subscribers like what they do. It's a big improvement over the advertising-infected world of much of the rest of the web. Anyway, go follow me on Medium if you like that sort of thing.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Halloween and the Meaning of Life

I love when autumn begins, then soon it's Halloween. The trees are half-green, half-yellow, and half-orange, soon throwing off the shrivelled leaves that give the crisp air that musty fall smell and the sidewalk that delightful crunchiness. The temperature is just right; like a cool summer night, but all day long.

Then comes Halloween—a bittersweet celebration of light and dark. On the one hand it's about the things that delight us: kids, eating candy, dressing up and having a good time. On the other hand it's about the things that scare us: horror movies, monsters, haunted houses, and ultimately, death itself. Halloween is about that grey area between happiness and sorrow that's strangely comforting to all of us.

I'm worried that no kids will come to my door this Halloween. That I've become an adult living in an adult world. I wonder, though, if we've really matured into these responsible got-it-all together versions of our child selves, or if we've really just gotten bigger and now need alcohol as an excuse to express our natural childishness. Maybe adulthood is the costume we wear throughout the year.

We call it "growing up," but really most of life is growing down, shrivelling and falling ever-closer to the permanent holiday we spend a few feet under the ground.

So maybe life is Halloween. It's wearing adult masks to ward off the ghost of adulthood's inevitable end. And though this appears to be a morbid thought, maybe the strange joy we gain from Halloween is the same strange joy we should revel in all year long.




This was originally posted in 2008, but I had to republish it without images because of a takedown notice, presumably by the photographer who people said such nice things about in the comments.