Unread Shelf: August 31, 2022

Who else could not possibly be any happier to see the end of August?

I’m not dead

I swear, I’m not dead.

Tired, yes. Deeply, powerfully bone-tired. Third week of school tired.

But not dead. I even still like all my kids.

I just gotta get my stamina and number of hours of sleep a night to “school has started” levels, stat.

Pretty colors and bullshit

I am almost certain I have written this post before, but fuck it; when you’ve been blogging as long as I have you get issued an actual certificate that allows you to repeat yourself as much as you want to. So I will say it again: Super Smash Bros Ultimate, and all of its ilk, are not games. They are pretty color simulators. If this was a game, I would be able to play it, and the fact is that I am still completely unable to achieve even basic competency in this nonsense despite multiple attempts over multiple iterations of the game and I’m pretty sure more than one console. I remain resolutely unable to even vaguely comprehend what the fuck is going on whenever my son decides we need a “family Smash night.”

Which he did tonight.

I don’t know how to describe my level of confusion here, guys. I eat difficult games for lunch. Hearing that a game is amazingly difficult, especially games with one difficulty level, where you git gud or you just quit, is like catnip to me. SSBU isn’t difficult so much as incomprehensible, where even the minor skill of keeping track where the fuck my character is on the screen is borderline impossible half the time. The control inputs make no fucking sense at all and no attempt to learn them has ever stuck. About half the time I’m shooting in the wrong direction if I’ve figured out how to shoot at all, and I think midway through most matches the game scrambles what buttons do what just to fuck with you. I am at the point where I’m entertaining the idea that the entire franchise, which, to be clear, involves actual “professional” competitions, is an elaborate hoax directed at me personally. I’m not sure I was even playing. You could tell me that the game was just playing a video and my controller wasn’t even connected and honestly I would probably take it as a relief.

I have watched so-called high level players playing this game, in front of large crowds. Every so often the crowd reacts as if something amazing has happened. Never not once while watching these videos did I have even the slightest idea what the hell had just happened that was more worthy of applause than any other pixelsplosion at any other moment in the game.

(Autocorrect just rejected “pixelsplosion,” which, okay, that’s fair, but it replaced it with “pixels-lotion,” which is even less of a word than “pixelsplosion” is.)

Also, despite having been a Gaming Person for most of my life, I don’t have the slightest idea who about 2/3 of the characters in the game are, and I don’t even know what giant swath of culture they live in that I’m missing out on.

Anyway, I’m so far behind at school that it’s made me functionally immortal, so I’m going to go try and get some work done. The final episode of Horizon: Forbidden West finally, finally, finally airs on the YouTube channel tonight, so we’re gonna take a couple of days off and be back with something else on Friday.

REPOST #REVIEW: Babel, or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution, by R.F. Kuang

8/28/22 addendum: This book finally came out last week, and despite pre-0rdering it months ago it took until Thursday for my copy to show up, because Amazon is buttheads. I may actually end up with three copies of it eventually because the UK cover is absolutely amazing. At any rate, I still love this book, and you still need to read it, so reread my original review in case you missed it.

I admit it: I thought about just putting Babel in as the name of the book for the headline there, but really, when a book has this grandiose of a title and more especially when it earns this grandiose of a title, you really need to lean into it. So you get the whole thing.

First things first: this book does not come out until August 23rd. I have had absolutely incredible luck lately with getting advanced reader copies of books I was frothing at the mouth to read– first getting a copy of Jade Legacy several months early, and now lucking out and getting my hands on Babel by winning a Twitter drawing. I have reviewed all three books of her series The Poppy War, and two of the three ended up on my Best Of list at the end of the year. To be brief– because this book has nothing to do with those books except for some overlapping themes– they are an astounding achievement in fantasy, particularly when you take into account that even now, four books into her career, R.F. Kuang is somehow only 26 years old, meaning that I was in college when she was born.

Christopher Paolini, eat your fuckin’ heart out.


Babel is set between 1826 and, oh, the mid-1830s or so, primarily at Oxford, and is at least mostly a historical fiction novel. Why “mostly”? Because in the real world there wasn’t a gigantic tower in the middle of campus that housed the Royal Institute of Translation, which kept the British Empire afloat via a translation-and-silver-based magic program. That’s … new. And it’s weird to say that Kuang mostly adheres to real history other than this thing that literally touches every aspect of the British Empire, but she does. And this is where I’m kind of perfectly situated for this to be my favorite of her books: you might recall that at one point I was working on a Ph.D in Biblical studies– the Hebrew Bible, specifically– which means that while intellectually I can’t hold a candle to any of the four students who form the main cohort of this book, it does mean that I’ve had a lot of the same conversations that they have at various points in the book, and that I’ve spent lots of time thinking hard about a lot of the same issues that are inherent to the concept of “translating” something from one language to another, even before you get to the part where one of the things being translated is literally considered holy Scripture.

Also, one of my buddies from that graduate program is now an actual professor at Oxford, so while I’ve never set foot on the campus I know people who work there, which … doesn’t mean anything at all, actually, but I’m happy to bask in Bill’s reflected glory– and if you’re reading this, my dude, you must find a copy of this book when it comes out. And then send me one, too, because the UK cover is way better than the US one and books with sprayed edges make my jibbly bits feel funny.

The main character of the book is called Robin Swift, a Chinese orphan who is taken as a ward by a professor at the Institute of Translation and brought back to London, eventually to become a student at Babel himself. Why “called” Robin Swift? Because Dr. Lowell tells him that his actual name– never revealed in the text– is no fit name for an Englishman, and makes him choose another one. When Robin arrives at Oxford, he meets the rest of his cohort, composed of two women, one of which is Black, and a young Muslim from India. You may perhaps be raising an eyebrow at this, and you’d be right to, as Oxford didn’t admit women or anything other than white people in the 1830s, but Babel has different standards and different rules than the rest of the university. The book follows Robin and his friends through their first four years at the university, as they learn more about Babel’s workings and about how the silversmithing that underlies so much of Britain’s power works, all while living in Britain and attending a university while, for three of them at least, being visibly Not British.

So in addition to being another really good R.F. Kuang book about a young scholar in over their head (no uterus-removals in this one, though) this book is also about racism and colonialism. In fact, I’d say it’s mostly about racism and colonialism, and specifically the way both manifest themselves in the university, and about what it’s like to be complicit in the oppression of your own people, and what “your own people” even really means if you were raised away from them. And all of that sounds really deep, and it is, but it’s also a hell of a good story, with fascinating characters and lots of worldbuildy magic stuff that may as well be serotonin injected directly into my brain.

I loved the Poppy War books. I loved this more than any of them, and if R.F. Kuang wasn’t one of my favorite writers before, she absolutely is now. Pre-order this, immediately. You can have it in August.

In which I’m glad you’re safe

…you don’t know this, but you almost died just now. If you recall– this will not require a high level of recollective prowess, don’t worry– I had Covid, or at least I thought I did, earlier this week and last weekend. I never once tested positive. I actually spent some time at work this week and generally enjoyed myself; I still really like my kids, which isn’t rare, necessarily, but it’s rare that I’m even just this far into the school year and haven’t yet identified the kids who are going to be a huge pain in my ass all year. I’m sure there will be some, but I genuinely don’t know who they are yet.

Earlier today we were taking the pool down for the day and my wife made a comment about how terrible the ground under the pool smelled. I commented that I couldn’t smell it. Two minutes later, I had my nose in a jar of minced garlic and, while I could tell there was garlic in the jar, I had used the jar the previous day to make some grits and I knew good and Goddamn well that I couldn’t smell it nearly as clearly as I’d been able the day before.

One Covid test later, I was somehow negative again, which is why you’re still alive, because I would surely have ended all life on Earth had I received a positive test five days after being symptom-free and returning to work. Why I’m getting new symptoms today when I’ve been fine since, like, Sunday night or Monday afternoon is an open question.

I have spent most of my leisure time in the last couple of days building Lego sets. I have never reviewed a Lego set on this site, but it might be time to do so, because the Horizon Forbidden West Tallneck set is amazing, and the set I’m working on now, the moon lander, is pretty fucking sweet in its own right.