Some odds and ends and also swear words

crappy-dayIt’s been a depressing couple of weeks, honestly.  A bunch of things that haven’t managed to make their way into entire posts yet:

  • I didn’t get the job at my old district, which blows my goddamned mind.  Blows. My. Goddamned. Mind.  I’m trying to avoid, y’know, despair at this point.  I’ve applied for another job at Notre Dame; Notre Dame has already done a really good job of ignoring my applications in the past so I have no particular hope for this one.
  • There’s another local university, by the way, that I’ve sent several applications in to for various jobs, all of which I was very qualified for, that has literally never replied to a single application.  Not a no-thanks, not a fuck-you, not an interview offer, nothing.  I wanna know who the hell they’re hiring.
  • I read Hillary Clinton’s book.  I wasn’t going to at first until I realized how many assholes were enraged by the fact that the book existed and I enjoy being able to make even a tiny contribution to making that kind of person feel bad.  I can’t really say I enjoyed reading it, though, because the whole damn thing was so profoundly depressing.
  • Every time I come even close to writing a post about politics I start literally seeing red around the edges of my vision.  I thought I hated George W. Bush; I had no idea what it was like to hate a politician until this current piece of shit.  None.  I would name George W. Bush dictator-for-life in a second if it meant I never had to hear the current fucker’s name again for as long as I lived.
  • Fuck the NFL, while I’m at it, and fuck America for everything leading up to me having to say the words “Fuck the NFL” on my blog.  This current controversy is everything wrong with America in a nutshell.  And America as a country is as completely and enthusiastically fucked right now as it has been in my lifetime.
  • I’m stealing the phrasing of this from Twitter, I admit, but if we can’t get an overwhelming military presence to Puerto Rico immediately to put together some sort of hurricane response than we have no fucking reason to have a military at all. Trillions of fucking dollars a year and we may as well flush the shit down the toilet. The shitgibbon doesn’t care; Puerto Ricans aren’t white.  I doubt he knows they’re American citizens; I’m certain he doesn’t think they’re people.
  • Speaking of Hillary’s book: you may be aware that I previously had a point of pride that I had at least one book for or by every President of the United States.  I have now had to amend that to every legitimately elected President of the United States, and this is a picture of my Presidency bookshelf.  The book is located where it properly belongs:

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  • Sales on Tales haven’t been remotely what I’ve wanted them to be so far, but I got a big stack of paperbacks this week for Kokomo-Con 2017 in a couple of weeks and that was pretty exciting.  I haven’t done a con in quite a while and this one is just a simple one-day thing a couple of hours south of my house.  I’m looking forward to it.
  • I need to decide what my next book is going to be.  I’m leaning toward knocking out the Skylights sequel finally but it may be something new.  We’ll see.
  • Speaking of big stacks of paperbacks: the Buy Autographed Books link in the masthead of the site has been completely updated.  I price the books cheaper than Amazon does but it probably evens out after shipping– but you get an autograph and a personalized copy, so bleah.
  • Speaking of the Amazon: consider this the part where I’m begging for reviews.  Please?  Pretty please?

#REVIEW: MJ-12: SHADOWS, by Michael J. Martinez

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Let us begin with the obligatory disclaimer: I’ve read all of Mike Martinez’ books, and reviewed all but the first one in this space.  Mike apparently noticed my review of THE ENCELADUS CRISISand he actually thanked me by name in the Afterword of THE VENUSIAN GAMBIT.  I’ve gotten both of his last two books early as ARCs, with the request that I review them honestly.  And Mike was also kind enough to do a cover blurb for TALES FROM THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES, which is going to be out super soon.  (Stand by for an announcement in the next couple of days, actually…)

So anyway.  I read MJ-12: SHADOWS on my trip last week.  And it’s interesting; I didn’t actually review the first Michael Martinez book I read, THE DAEDALUS INCIDENT, because I like my narratives straightforward and TDA is anything but and it kind of bounced off of me a bit.  But I loved the sequel, which is still my favorite of his books.  Now that I’ve read his second MJ-12 book, though, I’m starting to wonder if Martinez is just really good at hitting the ball out of the park when he writes a sequel.  The premise to the series is thus: the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II led to certain individuals around the globe randomly acquiring superpowers.  Of course, this being the beginning of the Cold War, both Russia and the United States have a distinct interest in acquiring those individuals and using them to advance their own national security.  The series, effectively, is a historical fiction Cold War spy thriller with superheroes, only there’s no crazy costumes and no saving cats from trees.  SHADOWS, cut loose from having to set up all that background, gets to focus solely on superpowered individuals (“Variants”) being badass spies, and it’s both a more densely plotted and more historically interesting book than INCEPTION was as a result.  This book must have been hell to write; it snakes in and around a bunch of actual historical events and pulls them into its orbit and its narrative (and the characters are spies, right, so the Actual Historical Narrative we know about is just the cover story!) and I think it’s one of those cases where the more you know about the actual history of the early Cold War, the more you’re going to like the book.  I mean, I know a little bit about James Forrestal, right?  And I hit a Certain Moment with him in the book and then spent an hour in a Wikipedia spiral.

Again: this book had to be a bastard to write, but at the end of it we’ve got a great spy novel involving dueling world powers with superpowers against the specific setting of the CIA interfering with early independence movements in Syria and Lebanon, with a little stop in Kazakhstan in October of 1949 along the way, and I’m not going to tell you what happened there because it counts as a spoiler if you don’t know the history.  I find it kind of fascinating, too, that the two most interesting characters are a deeply Christian African-American former day laborer whose powers cause him to age or grow younger when he uses them– hurting people makes him younger and healing them makes him older– and Harry Truman.  Toss in a former Nazi scientist and a couple of coups and, oh, something that may very well be a parallel dimension inhabited by the dead, because this is a Michael J. Martinez book and it just wouldn’t do to not have something completely bananapants insane in it and you have a book that I very much enjoyed reading, a book that neatly avoids feeling like the second book in a trilogy precisely because it’s tied in so closely to actual historical events and history doesn’t work in a three-act structure and you have what probably isn’t my favorite of his books (that’s still ENCELADUS) but may well rank as his best work nonetheless.  Yes, he gave it to me for free.  Yes, I’m buying it anyway, once it comes out on September 5, because I can’t not have this in print.  And you should too.

(“Completely bananapants insane” is your pull quote, Mike.  Just FYI.)

Nooooope.

ecyxiynwm5n7tbuddqbo.gifI’m in this weird, needlessly crabby mood this evening, and I can’t shake it.  I spent, I dunno, a week and a half or so trying to cut my brainmeds in half again, with the idea of extinguishing them altogether if that worked out, and… well, the election put the kibosh on that idea, because if there was ever a time in my life where taking anti-anxiety meds made really good sense, it’s the last few weeks.  Making things worse, I started reading a book called An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States a day or two ago.  As it turns out out that has  not been a way to improve my mood– which, granted, isn’t history’s job, and I kind of owe it to myself to be as clear-eyed as I can about history.  And then I run into paragraphs like this:

But scalp hunting became routine only in the mid-1670s, following an incident on the northern frontier of the Massachusetts colony.  The practice began in earnest in 1697 when settler Hannah Dustin, having murdered 10 of her Abenaki captors in a nighttime escape, presented their ten scalps to the Massachusetts General Assembly and was rewarded with bounties for two men, two women, and six children.  

I have bolded the words I find problematic; perhaps you can figure out why on your own.  That and the author’s odious practice of using the phrase “U.S. Americans” when she ought to say “Americans,” a word that is entirely unambiguous in its meaning, mean that the book is a tougher slog than I’m really in the mood for at the moment.  At least she’s not saying “USian,” a word that will immediately cause me to disregard everything someone has to say about any subject at all.

I probably ought to read the book sometime, mind you.  I just don’t think it needs to be this week.

Gonna go see Moana tomorrow, I think.  We’ll see if that helps at all.


Possibly not the best place to put this, but if any of you love me at all, and you have a couple of extra bucks lying around, it’s been a distressingly long time since I’ve sold a book.  This is primarily because I’ve put little to no effort into such things lately, but if you care to help me out, it’d be great.  Print books make great gifts!

In which I’m mobile again

6a00e008dbc8a1883401538e90fd82970b-300wi.jpgCurled up with a Percocet last night, and I’m able to stand and walk around normally now. No idea what the deal was.

I’m also a chapter away from finishing Ron Chernow’s 800+-page biography of Alexander Hamilton, which has me hugely excited; I’ve loved the book, but it’s taken me forever to read and I’ve been seriously jonesing for fiction again lately.  I’ve not stopped buying books in the meantime and I have at least one novella to read so that I can interview the author about it.  I mean, it would be kinda rude to write the interview questions without reading the book, y’know?  I probably shouldn’t do that.

Also happening right now: there is baseball on my television.  I’ve never been a Cubs fan– if I was forced at gunpoint to pick a favorite baseball team, it would be the White Sox or maybe the Pirates for irrelevant and ridiculous reasons, and while I’ve been to both Sox and Cubs games I have never been to Wrigley Field.  But hey: Chicago’s still my city and always will be, so I probably ought to watch at least a few innings somewhere in there.

I kinda love the helmet that at least a couple of the Cubs are using, that curls around and covers the jaw and the mouth.  I imagine you only have to have one 90 MPH pitch come near your face before wearing such a thing becomes a good idea.  At any rate, the Cubs are up 4-0, so I’m choosing to believe that I’m lucky.

But yeah, back to the Hamilton biography: you should read it, if you’re partial to such things and the idea of reading a book you could easily beat a small rodent to death with appeals to you.  Chernow is an engaging and talented writer, and that’s not with the curve adjusted for “historian.”  Hamilton, of course, is an endlessly fascinating historical figure– while I agree that the musical is awesome, it would have had trouble being as cool as it is without someone of his caliber at the center of it.

On the TV, right now, the commentators are focusing a lot of attention on the length of someone’s pant legs, which strikes me as another reason why baseball may actually not be a sport.  I don’t know why that guy needs a tailor as bad as he does or why it’s something I need to know about, but it’s happening right now.  Also, it’s impressive but not particularly surprising how many Cubs fans are in attendance at this game.  They’ve scored while I was writing this, and it sounds like a home game out there.

So take your pick, I guess: go Cubbies, or go read a book.  You choose.

A 9/11 story that isn’t mine

16813-blue-sky.jpgTrigger warning, for the obvious.

I walked out of the house this morning to a blue sky so perfect that it was awe-inducing.  There was the tiniest hint of chill in the air, and I spent all day yesterday with football on the TV near me.  It was a nearly flawless moment; it felt like fall for the first time, and fall is the one season of the year where I want to be outside.  It’s my favorite time of year, by such a wide margin that the rest of the year barely even counts.

I basked in it for a moment, and then felt really bad for one of my co-workers, for whom a perfect clear brisk blue sky on September 11 after weeks of garbage and humidity and rain and the air being fifty percent mosquito probably felt like a slap in the face.

I have a 9/11 story.  Everyone who was alive and conscious that day does.  My story’s not important anymore; it was fifteen years ago, and nothing happened to me.  There are pictures in my high school yearbook of me with someone who died on that day.  That gives me more of a claim to the day than most people have, and it gives me no claim to it at all.  I knew her, and she’s gone.  I don’t get to crow about it.  Lots of other people seem to feel differently.

That said.

I work with a New Yorker.  I’m going to call him Frank, which is a name that I associate with New York for some reason.  Frank was a Wall Street trader in a former life.  On the morning of September 11, 2001, he was having brunch with some co-workers in a restaurant on the hundredandsomethingth floor of the north tower.  The towers each had 110 floors, so he was near the very top.  A co-worker wanted a cigarette, and convinced Frank to make the long elevator ride with him to the ground floor so that he could have a smoke before they headed to work.

As his co-worker was having that cigarette, the first plane hit.  The rest of the people they were eating with never made it out.  When Frank tells this story (and he’s a storyteller, so I’ve heard it a few times) he makes a joke out of it; he says that he’s the only person on Earth who can honestly say that smoking saved his life, and he isn’t even a smoker.

Frank wasn’t at work today.  He doesn’t work on September 11th any longer.  He was at work yesterday, but he cut out early, and it was immediately obvious when I saw him in the morning that he’d taken some sort of tranquilizer or an antidepressant to make it easier to get through the day.  A few minutes after he left, I got this text message from him:

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I dunno.  I’m not completely certain what the point is of me telling this story.  Like I said, it’s not mine.  I’ve led a life remarkably free from tragedy, when it comes right down to it; I have nothing that would remotely compare to what Frank went through on that day or the days after.  Life’s not a contest, of course, but it does those of us who have been fortunate quite well to be reminded once in a while of just how fortunate we have been.  And today, right now, I feel like I am among the fortunate ones.

And I hope Frank made it through the day okay, and that he’s hugging his grandson right now.