A brief bit of blogwankery

Sometime this weekend– possibly today, although it would require someone or a few someones to go a’wandering through the archives for a while, or looking at cosplay pictures— the site will surpass last year’s traffic. Which would be nice! That big spike in 2015 and a good chunk of 2016’s bar is all from a single post that went nuts, but in general I’ve considered 60K a nice round number to shoot for each year, and while I didn’t get there last year I should get a decent way past that this year unless the site collapses for some reason. I’m already up on visitors from last year, but I still need about 400 more hits to catch it in traffic, and there’s a bit of a way to go for Likes and Comments.

This site doesn’t make me any money, mind you, other than second-hand by occasionally driving readers to my books; I tried to go through WordPress’ monetization application and was denied because it turns out I say too many swears, and I’m not going to stop swearing for a few extra bucks a month. But it’s definitely nice to see traffic up. That’s probably an artifact of me posting more– last year was, uh, a bit of a bust in that regard, what with every aspect of my life imploding at once, and as of right now I haven’t missed a day since April 5th.

I was about to go into more metrics, but we’re close enough to the end of the year that I’ll put that off until my end-of-2020 blogwanking post. For now, I thought I’d acknowledge the milestone and leave it at that. Now go troll through my archives and get me over the hump today. 🙂

#REVIEW: Each of Us a Desert, by Mark Oshiro

Mark Oshiro’s name has been coming up a lot around here recently– they read The Benevolence Archives, Vol. 1 on YouTube, which was immensely fun for me to watch, and I reviewed their debut novel Anger is a Gift back in September. Reading Anger is a Gift got me to order their second novel, Each of Us a Desert, which I finished last night.

I loved Anger. Loved it. And I’m kind of fascinated by my reaction to Desert, because while I didn’t enjoy reading it to the degree that I did Anger, I think it’s objectively a better book, and it’s definitely more interesting to me as an author than Anger was, because, especially for someone who hasn’t written any fantasy novels before, Oshiro does a magnificent job of slapping the genre around, and from a craft standpoint this book is a marvel.

Each of Us a Desert is second-world fantasy set in what is basically an analogue of Mexico, and let’s get this part out of the way early: there is a lot of Spanish in this book. It’s mostly single nouns and verbs, so if you don’t speak any Spanish you can pick up a lot from context, and there aren’t a whole lot of entire sentences and phrases, but it’s going to be a much harder read for someone with no Spanish than it was for me. (I can get by, if necessary. I had a student who barely spoke any English in my class last year and most of the time I spoke to her in Spanish, with Google Translate next to me as an aid when needed.)

There is a whole conversation to be had about how using multiple real languages in fantasy literature works, by the way. I’m not going to have it in this post, but I spent a lot of time while I was reading thinking about the technical side of things; when you decide as an author to render a word in Spanish rather than in English, and how much of the editing process was dedicated to, more or less, calibrating the amount of Spanish in the book, or what it means to the characters to use Spanish instead of English. Note that, again, this is second-world fantasy, and the words “Spanish,” “English,” and “Mexico” appear nowhere in the book. There is no indication that any of the characters know they’re flipping from one language to another, which is part of what makes it interesting.

But anyway.

The main character of the book is Xochitl, a young woman who lives in a tiny village in the middle of the desert. Xochitl is a cuentista, which is basically a priestess of the sun god Solís. As a cuentista, her job is to take in the stories of the people around her and then release them back to Solís. If you’re familiar with the concept of the sin eater, this isn’t far off; there is definitely an element of absolution to Xochitl taking a story, of the emotional aspects of the tale at least, and when she releases them back to her god she no longer remembers them afterwards. Until she takes a story from a friend and realizes that her home is in danger, and that she has to choose between doing something about what she knows or doing what she is supposed to do with the story, which is the conflict that sets the book’s story going.

The entire book– the entire book– is structured as one long prayer to Solís. Which is fascinating, and the true importance of which doesn’t really become clear until the last few pages. The book’s ending is perfect, and moved the book into five-star territory for me. (Also, I normally don’t mention the acknowledgements section of books unless they mention me, which has happened once or twice, but please consider the acknowledgements required reading. Trust me.)

Also worth pointing out: the book is absolutely a fantasy, as I’ve already pointed out, and features magic and monsters and such, as you might expect, but it owes less to Tolkien than it does to Lewis Carroll. There’s a lot of wandering through the desert in this book, and the hallucinatory aspects of some of the encounters that the characters have throughout the book are fascinating– you’re often not quite sure if something is really happening or is brought on by dehydration and heat exhaustion, and I’m pretty sure the answer is “both” at least a couple of times.

This is a book you should read, but it’s especially a book you should read if you’re an author, and it’s really especially a book you should read if you work in speculative fiction. My final reaction to it is more of respect than love, I admit; I want to read Anger again because of how great a story it tells, but I want to study this book and pick apart its techniques. Either way, thumbs way up.

Mark Oshiro reads THE SIGIL

…and, with this video, completes The Benevolence Archives, Vol. 1. Holy cow, this has been fun. I’ve got to send this guy a copy of The Sanctum of the Sphere.

In which I vent

I– well, all of us, really– got a letter from my superintendent this morning outlining the district’s plan to reopen this fall, and I am not exaggerating when I tell you that their plan is basically “we reopen, and nothing changes, so try not to die.” Apparently he mentioned some vague sort of “we’ll try and create a virtual school, and you’ll have options for e-learning if you want them” thing at an event this morning, but there are no details, there is as of yet no staff for such a thing, and the letter makes no mention of it.

Everyone will be required to “have” a mask.

Have.

Not “wear.”

I was expecting a lot of different things, but “we’re going to do nothing” was not one of them, and I am frustrated and, frankly, frightened beyond my ability to describe it right now. Like, “take one of your emergency brain pills” frustrated.

So the best thing to do, obviously, is lash out at some bullshit that doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m mad about, and luckily I just decided I was done with this deeply stupid book here. Here’s my entire review: don’t read this fucking book, and don’t trust anyone who tells you this is a good book, and I am seriously looking askance at the two Actual Authors who recommended this to the skies and back, because you’re both out of your damn minds.

Need some background for that review? Okay. First, look at the title. The title of this book is Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel, Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere. That title is wordy as fuck and deeply obnoxious, and if you can’t literally get the front cover to your book done without being wordy as fuck and deeply obnoxious then your opinions on writing are probably not to be taken terribly seriously. Second, this author 1) has no relevant experience or expertise in psychology and 2) has never written or published a fucking novel.

Which … really, at that point we’re done. Your book is garbage. I don’t have to read your book to know it’s garbage. Unfortunately, I did, which was clearly my mistake, as I’ll never get that time back, and I should have been using it to look for a job.

Also, there’s no “brain science” in the book. None what-so-fucking-ever. There’s the occasional sentence where she says things like “brain science tells us …” but there are never any citations or, like, quotes from actual people who work in the field, or anything like that, and she also appears to think that “brain science” is a thing, which it’s not. There’s no one in the world where if you ask them their job they will tell you “I am a brain scientist.” The word is psychologist. I would also accept psychiatrist or neurologist or probably a couple of others. Hell, even an anthropologist would probably be useful for some of the claims that she makes, but there’s none of that either. It’s all fuckin’ hooey, and worse, it’s hooey that really only applies to literary fiction and doesn’t work well with genre at all. Don’t believe me? Let me introduce you to George R.R. Martin, who could probably tell you a few things about how his books violate every single one of the rules in this book– if you can coax him off of his gigantic money bed in his gold house to come talk to you in the first place.

The whole book is bullshit; know-nothing, arrogant, prescriptive bullshit, and it’s an easy candidate for the worst book I’ve had to read so far this year.

In which this is happening

Before I get into this: it is definitely darker in here. Turns out the reason is obvious; the corner of the room is gonna be darker than the middle. So I need a touch more light in here, one way or another.

I made an appointment yesterday; I’m having LASIK surgery on July 13th.

Am I fucking terrified? Why, yes, why would you ask? That said, intellectually I’m pretty certain it’s going to be fine; everyone who has told me they had the procedure has had either no regrets at all or, at the worst, some complaints about floaters and night driving. I expect that in ten to fifteen years I’ll probably be back in reading glasses and that’s okay so long as I can do things like see in the shower in the meantime; I dropped the soap today (shut up) and it took me a ridiculous amount of time to find it again because I was blind as a fucking bat. That sort of thing happens all the time but now that I’m scheduled to have something done about it I resent the hell out of it.

I did find one site dedicated to The Evils Of LASIK that was absolutely screaming This Was Written by Conspiracy Theorists; I don’t know if that’s a web theme or what but even the layout of the page was loudly hollering that I should disregard everything they had to say.

It’ll be fine. I expect an epic blog post out of it, but it’ll be fine.

In other news, I’ve been writing all morning, but not on a story– I’ve been putting together a D&D session for my wife and son this weekend. It’s a basic dungeon crawl that I’m basically tossing in as an add-on to a session from their Essentials kit; I’m thinking about posting it to Patreon when I’m done if that’s something you might be interested in. We’ll see how the session goes.


2:49 PM, Friday June 26: 2,444,483 confirmed cases and about to set the third “most cases in a single day” record in three days, and 124,732 Americans dead.