#Review: BECOMING, by Michelle Obama

Barack Obama was my president.

It’s possible that you intuitively grasp exactly what I’m talking about, but I’m going to explain anyway.  I voted for Barack Obama literally every single time he stood for public office.  I was living in Hyde Park, in an apartment across the street from the Baskin-Robbins where he and Michelle had their first kiss, when he was rising to prominence before running for the Senate.  I attended the University of Chicago, where he worked.  I have met Jeremiah Wright, who was his pastor.  He and Bill Ayers were never as close as the media liked to pretend (they served on a board or two together, and Bill had a picture of the two of them together on his refrigerator) but Bill was one of my professors at the University of Illinois.  I haven’t talked to Bill in a several years, but, well, I know there used to be a picture of him and Barack together on the fridge in his house and his number is still in my phone.  

I was telling people Barack Obama was going to be the first black president before anybody outside of Chicago knew who the hell Barack Obama was.  I can remember someone passing me on the highway and honking and waving, and waving rather confusedly back until they got ahead of me and I realized they also had an Obama for Senate bumper sticker on their car.  

Was he a perfect president?  Absolutely not.  Ask me about his education policies sometime, which were more or less continued without modification from his predecessor, and I loathed his first choice for Secretary of Education– Arne Duncan, who had been CEO of Chicago Public Schools, where I had worked.   But he was my president in a way no one ever had before and in a way that it seems highly unlikely anyone ever will be again. My attachment to this man is deep and abiding and I suspect it will not be waning anytime soon.  

And the truth is, as much as I like Barack, I like Michelle even more.  Because Michelle has everything going for her that her husband does, only she’s never disappointed me.   

I have a particular bookshelf that contains at least one book by or about every legitimately elected American president.  Hillary Clinton’s book WHAT HAPPENED is occupying the space that might belong to the Current Occupant, who forced me to institute the “legitimately elected” rule.  I’m adding BECOMING to this shelf.  Michelle makes it clear that she never intends to run for political office, and a good chunk of the book is dedicated to the various debates and conversations that she had with her husband about his own choices to run for office.  She’s never going to be president.  But I’m putting it there anyway, because it’s my house and my bookshelf and I can.  

Yeah, this is gonna be one of those book reviews where I spend 80% of the review talking about me and then the last 20% talking about the book.  But hey: my blog; y’all know how I work by now.  And here’s the thing: Michelle Robinson would still have turned out to be a fascinating human being even if she’d never become Michelle Obama.  The part of the book dedicated to her childhood and her pre-marriage-and-kids life is every bit as interesting as the stuff I actually remember, and her perspective on her husband’s fame and her own, and her charting her own path as she learns the “soft power” of the First Lady’s office, makes for a great read.  This isn’t a book about Barack Obama, even if he is (obviously) a major player for a large part of it.  But it’s absolutely a great read and it’s going to show up on my top 10 list when I write it in a couple of weeks.

Also, because I’m this guy and I can’t not mention this: this book is for some reason one of the most physically satisfying tomes I’ve ever held.  As an object it’s great; the paper is creamy and feels wonderful (they’re clearly using a higher grade of paper than most of the books I read) and the weight of the book is … well, I just said “satisfying,” and I don’t like constantly re-using words, but fuck it: the book is just tremendous to hold as you’re reading it.  I’m sure the paperback will be fine, and as an indie author I can’t come down too hard on ebooks, but still: get it in hardcover.  It’s worth it.  

#REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

So.

Standard disclaimer, as always.  Y’all have seen movie reviews from me before.  You know what I’m like when I like something.  And Miles Morales has, since almost immediately after he was introduced, been one of my all-time favorite comic book characters.  He’s up there with the Hulk, Iron Man, and Superman.  I have been waiting for a Miles Morales Spider-Man movie for a long time. 

(Now I’m just waiting for a movie with goddamn Ganke in it, but that’s another story.)

So you already knew I liked this movie.  There would have been a shift in the fabric of the universe if I hadn’t liked it and absolutely everyone would have noticed it.  Did you notice a shift in the fabric of the universe last night, around 10:30, as I was walking out of the theater?  No, you did not.  Of course I liked the fucking movie.  It’s Goddamned brilliant.  It’s so good it made me forgive them for what I initially thought was the kind of dodgy decision to make Miles’ movie animated instead of live-action.

(It’s not dodgy.  This movie would have been impossible as live-action.  They made a better movie by making it animated.  It needed to be animated.)

So put that all aside.  I want to talk to the two or three of you who don’t care about superheroes or superhero movies and for some reason come to this blog anyway.  

You need to see this movie because it’s one of the most amazing animated films ever made.  

You need to see it as a cultural artifact, guys, of what cutting-edge technology can do in 2018.  The movie could have been about anything and I’d be recommending it because of how absolutely incredible it looks.  I was talking to one of my oldest friends about it last night– he was lucky enough to see it last week, and told me at the time that words couldn’t do it justice.  Last night, he made the point that the movie is expectations-proof, because there’s nothing that can prepare you for what it’s actually like to see this on the big screen.

And you need to see it on the best, biggest movie screen you can reasonably get to.  This movie needs to win about four thousand awards even before we get to the part where the story is incredible too.  This movie gets Miles, y’all.  It understands this character thoroughly.  It understands Spider-Man thoroughly, in a way that most of the live-action movies maybe haven’t always.  The voice acting and the casting are outstanding.  The character design– this movie’s versions of the Kingpin, the Scorpion, the Green Goblin, and especially Dr. Octopus are fantastic.  The music is superb.  This movie succeeds on every level but one, which is that it’s gonna scare the crap out of my son so I can’t take him to see it.  

Oh, and the stinger at the end and the tribute to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, both of whom passed away this year?  

I am lucky enough to be married to a woman who is not only willing to go to this neverending series of geek movies with me, but who genuinely enjoys them.  She called Into the Spider-Verse her favorite superhero movie last night.  And this was one of those movies, I think, where she was mildly interested but might have skipped the movie were it not for me pushing to see it.  I can’t be trusted; I know that.  She can.  This one’s something really special, y’all.  And it ain’t like you’ve got anything else to do until next week when Aquaman comes out.  Go see it.  

Come see me at Laffycon Before Christmas!

So, first things first:  I’ve got an event tomorrow that I haven’t had time to publicize yet!  Lafayette, I’m giving you another chance to come buy all sorts of stuff from me!  I will be at The Laffycon Before Christmas at Carnahan Hall in Lafayette, IN tomorrow from 11 to 5, with the usual assortment of books and bookmarks and I dunno maybe some candy and stuff.  These same folks also have a two-day event in April that I’ll be attending, but this is a chance to get your friends and family some Luther Siler books for Christmas!  Great idea, right?  

In other news: my desktop computer, which has served me loyally since 2011 (!) is trying to die on me, and an adequate replacement for it is going to cost more money than I have, so … yeah.  Come buy books.

Also, I saw SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE last night, and a highly positive review is heading your way soon, along with a review of Michelle Obama’s book BECOMING.  So.  Busy weekend.  

#Weekendcoffeeshare: Sweatpants Edition

If we were having coffee, you’d either be in my house or witness to just about the first time I’ve left my house since getting home from my dentist appointment on Wednesday.  This, if you’re me, constitutes a certain type of pure bliss, and it has been a lovely, wonderful long weekend, one where I have mostly not been wearing pants and yesterday I did not bother to shower until just before bed.  

Let’s talk geek shit, then, because at the moment it’s what I’ve got.  Again, I haven’t left the house in a few days.

ITEM THE FIRST!  I abandoned a book this morning, R.E. Stearns’ Barbary Station, when it became clear that despite starting off with an absolutely scandalous amount of potential the writing was never going to click for me. This book is about a duo of lesbian engineers who steal a colony ship and present it to a gang of space pirates, hoping that the gift will get them into the gang, because the galactic economy has gone to shit and “find a job with a pirate crew” is, under the circumstances, a sound plan.  They then discover that the pirates living on the station are sort of trapped there, because the AI running the place has gone rogue and has decided Kill All Humans is the right way to deal with things.  

I mean, come on.  I can’t resist a single thing about that premise.  This was bought the second I knew it existed.

One of them is a hacker, and hacking is presented as this drug-induced, hallucinatory metaphor-space, and the idea is fascinating.  In fact, damn near all of the ideas in the book are fascinating.  Everything about it is fascinating.  What it isn’t is good, unfortunately.   The writing is clumsy at best and the book is at least one solid editing pass and a new draft away from being a good read.  I don’t normally like to slag on books I didn’t like here, especially if they didn’t piss me off in an entertaining way, but part of me kind of hopes that someone will read the premise and decide I suck at deciding if things are good and buy the book anyway.  I need R. E. Stearns to sit down with a really good editor for her next book, and then to reissue this one.  Major disappointment.

(I’m not alone in this assessment.  The book currently has the worst overall star average of the nearly 600 books I’ve reviewed on Goodreads– only 3.19/5.  It’s tied with a Chuck Wendig book that was the victim of a prolonged and stupid review bombing.  That’s bad.)

Also, the font the book is written in is borderline unreadable.  I thought I’d get used to it but it was still pushing me out of getting lost in the book before I bailed.  With a better-written story, it might not have mattered, but with a poorly-written one, it was just One More Thing.  

That was unpleasant, so let’s talk about ITEM THE SECOND! which is Red Dead Redemption 2.  I actually took that picture by pointing my camera at my TV, because I got to the top of that mountain and looked off over the edge and thought Jesus, when I started playing video games, I was playing Asteroids, and now this.  Because you can go anywhere you can see in that picture.  

I will have a lot more to say about this game later, believe me, but for right now I just want to bask in how outstandingly beautiful the game is, and how it got me to spend a couple of hours this afternoon not bothering to advance the story at all but just exploring and hunting, which is kind of a ridiculous way to spend your Sunday before going back to work.  There are things I don’t like– the control scheme it starts you with is terrible, and once you fix the terrible control scheme you’re still left with something that will lead to you occasionally firing a gun in a crowded tavern by accident or punching your horse.  Both of those activities are kinda frowned upon.  

I’ve done more geekery this weekend, but the one other thing I wanna talk about is going to get its own post, I think.  So … wanna go hunt moose with me?  Because I kinda want to bag a moose today.  


My Patreon promotion is still running through bedtime tomorrow, or maybe even longer than that if I decide I feel like it.  Subscribe at the $2/month level or above and I’ll send you an autographed, print copy of my newest novel, Click.

SPIDER-MAN PS4: Final verdict

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I am, in general, very skeptical of “give it a chance, it gets good later on” types of arguments for anything I had to spend $60 to get.  For $60 you need to be fun in five minutes and you need to stay fun for however long your game ends up being, and I’d rather have a lean, entertaining 30-hour game than a 100-hour game filled with … well, filler.

I’m nonetheless very, very glad I stuck this one out– I just beat it half an hour or so ago, although I’ve left a number of the mop-up tasks for later.  I may or may not get back to them.

But: forget the game for a moment.  Spider-Man PS4 is one of the best Spider-Man stories I have ever encountered, in any medium.  Comics, movies, whatever.  And even that, as I said in the piece from earlier today, takes a good long time to get rolling.  But once it does … wow.  I was in tears during the final act.  I’m not gonna bullshit around.  I’m a grown-ass man and a video game just made me cry because the story was that good and they get this character that thoroughly.  Fucking tears.

And then, the three movie-style stingers after the credits?

*kisses fingers*

Can’t wait for the sequel.  And if they put the same people in charge of writing it, I’m not gonna have shit to say about the gameplay.   Because with a story this good, I’ll chase fucking pigeons all day if I have to.