January 2017 in Retrospect

This past month has been difficult for me. I briefly had a job but now no longer do, after the ridiculous amounts of unprofessional behaviour I witnessed there (when you see your future supervisor making fun of and insulting those with mental disabilities, you know that’s a solid sign that you’re not working in a good place). One of my cats was diagnosed with diabetes. Still no sign on the horizon for getting the mental health care that I need. It’s been one of those months that’s both flown by and dragged on for an age.

I’m happy to see the end of it.

But it wasn’t entirely bad. Even if it was just stuff I accomplished for this blog, that still means I accomplished something.

Reviews

Certain Dark Things, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Language of Dying, by Sarah Pinborough

SPFBO Review: Paternus, by Dyrk Ashton
SPFBO Review: Larcout, by K A Krantz

Other stuff

I wrote about how poorly Wicca and neopaganism is portrayed in SFF. I got to design my own Loot Crate idea, which was a lot of fun!

For Tea Tuesday, I review King Cole’s chocolate peppermint tea, Stash’s cinnamon vanilla herbal tea, and David’s Tea’s cinnamon rooibos chai. Seems to have been a bit of a cinnamon month!

No movie reviews, though. I’ve been rather slack on those. Probably because I haven’t really watched many movies lately.

Next month

I’m still doing well with sticking to my goal of one book read and reviewed each week, and focusing on books from my backlist rather than upcoming novels. It’s relieving some of my guilt at not having read them already, so that’s good. I should be doing at least one more SPFBO review, too. I’ve got plenty of tea to drink and review, so expect to find out what’s in my cup a few more times along the way!

That about sums it up. How was your January?

The Loot Crate Dream Crate

When I found out that Loot Crate, known for their different subscription crates, was looking for fans to get involved with a project they were setting up around the idea of designing your own “Dream Crate,” I was definitely all for it. The chance to put together a hypothetical box of stuff that’s not only awesome and full of pop culture and geek stuff, but also that really speaks to me? Yes please!

I tossed around a few ideas at first, looking at games or movies or aspects of mythology that I both liked and that were popular enough to have merchandise. Vampires? Origin Stories/Creation Myths? Deities? I love all of these things, and there was enough in pop culture that I could probably group together some cool merchandise for a Crate, but these ideas seemed like things that other people would be able to come up with without much trouble on their own.

Then one day as I walked away from a shift at work, I thought to myself, “Ah, freedom.” And there it was. My Dream Crate idea.

Freedom.

stardewvalleyshirt

Freedom like the beginning of Stardew Valley, when your avatar becomes too tired of the corporate grind killing their soul and decides to take up their grandfather’s offer of a farm near a peaceful town. Freedom like having so many options for things to do in that game, be it farming, fishing, exploring the mines, hunting monsters, all sorts.

hatemorndasFreedom like the Elder Scrolls series, which — at least in the last 3 main games — always starts off with you being a prisoner, then attaining freedom, then attaining greatness. The freedom to explore a vast world, to meet people, to choose how to spend your time, whether you enjoy mixing potions or picking pockets or just Constantly Jumping Up Mountains.

nofaceFreedom like what Sen/Chihiro seeks in the amazing Studio Ghibli film, Spirited Away, also known as Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi. She seeks freedom for herself and her parents, who are all trapped in a spirit realm. The movie also has a major theme involving the dangers of greed, and ultimately, overcoming the trappings of greed and finding freedom from unrelenting lust play a big role in the family gaining their freedom.

fox_mulder_glam_1024x1024

Freedom like Fox Mulder being able to investigate the weird cases that meant something to him, freedom to explore the boundaries of science and pseudoscience to uncover the truth that was out there. Dude got a lot of leniency over the years. And he knew he had more freedom than others to advance his personal mission, too; the show never made a secret of how much other people covered for him, and the character never acted ignorant of how much others made sure he could keep that degree of autonomy.

Even if they made it seem like a punishment sometimes.

Freedom like the ability to lock and unlock entire worlds in Kingdom Hearts. The freedom to travel between those worlds. The main weapon from the series is shaped like a giant key, and if unlocking things isn’t related to freedom, I’ll eat this extremely warm-looking hat.

I’m certain I missed some great examples that could go into something like this. Freedom like the ability to explore a vast world in Minecraft, but I’d already used 3 video game examples that I felt worked better. Freedom like the broken chains on Windrider’s hooves, but since Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar novels aren’t really big in pop culture unless your pop culture consists solely of my house, I didn’t think it was entirely appropriate. Freedom like… something in Game of Thrones, I’m sure, but I think at this point in the sentence it’s obvious why I didn’t include something from that franchise.

Freedom means different things to different people. Sometimes freedom means having the money to do absolutely anything you want in life. Sometimes it means knowing you have what you need and don’t need to seek the money to do anything else. Sometimes it’s having strength to carve your own path, and sometimes it’s the ability to dance along the path others have carved before you.

I’d love to hear what elements from pop culture make you think of freedom. Leave a comment and let me know!

2016 Year-End Post

2016 has been… a year. A hard year. It hasn’t been the worst ever, but it’s been far from easy, in a lot of ways.

But there’s something positive-seeming about closing out the year by looking at accomplishments rather than failures, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Top 10 Posts of 2016

SPFBO Review: The Grey Bastards, by Jonathan French
SPFBO: First Eliminations (Batch 1)
SPFBO: First Eliminations (Batch 2) and Strong Contenders
Top 11 Books I Read in 2016
Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire
Top 10 Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2017
The Obelisk Gate, by N K Jemisin
The Geek Feminist Revolution, by Kameron Hurley
SPFBO Review: Touch of Iron, by Timandra Whitecastle
SPFBO Review: Song of the Summer King, by Jess E Owens

The First Impressions posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) were also extremely popular, though if I listed them all in the Top 10 list, they’d take up a full half of it, so I decided to list those separately.

So it seems that in general, people come here for SPFBO stuff. Maybe I should change the blog name to SPFBOtropic?

So what’s in store for 2017? Well, I mentioned previously that I’m making next year my Year of the Backlog, so that I have a great excuse to read all the books I previously neglected because I felt the obligation to read more recent things. I do want to continue writing movie reviews and tea reviews, because they’re fun and I like sharing the things I’m watching and drinking. I aim to write a few more posts about my struggle against Ultros, which is what I’ve named my current battle with depression, because even though that’s not related to stories and books, it’s very much a thing I experience and I think writing about it might not only help me but also might help others understand what it’s like.

Beyond that? I want to finish this year’s SPFBO. Aaaaand that’s about it. That’s all I have planned. Anything else, I’ll take as I come.

So with all that in mind, as 2016 draws to a close, I hope that next year is worlds better than this year was, in all ways. Happy reading, everyone!

 

Taking a week off.

I was going to post today with a movie review. And post tomorrow with a tea review. And post Wednesday with a book review. Possibly the same thing on Thursday, too.

But stuff happened and I’m nowhere close to the right headspace to deal with expectations right now, even my own, and honestly I’d rather spend a few days slacking off and feeling no responsibilities so that I can recentre myself and not feel like absolute crud again. And with that in mind, this blog is going to be a little quiet for the week. I’ll have a year-end post at the end of the week, but other than that, I’m stepping back for a brief period so that I can get stuff in order and try to start 2017 fresh, without as much weighing on my mind.

Thanks for the understanding.

Introducing 2017: The Year of the Backlog

It’s no secret that I have a lot of books. Not as many as some, but enough. More than enough. Probably enough that if I read 100 books a year for the next 5 years, and didn’t get any more books during that time, I still would have some left unread.

This has been the general state of things for years, though; it’s nothing new.

However, my backlog of review copies has left me feeling decidedly guilty. Every month books come to me that I don’t get the chance to read. Sometimes I just can’t read that quickly. Sometimes health stuff gets in the way. There are a variety of reasons. And oftentimes, I end up putting those books on the back burner because other books are coming out soon and I really ought to focus on them instead.

Or so my mind tells me.

So these books that have passed their publication date often end up staying on that back burner. Sometimes I pick a couple off and remember, yes, I need to read that, no matter what, but for the most part, I still end up so focused on future books that the past books get left behind. And I feel guilty, because publishers and authors sent me those in good faith, hoping at least some review would come from it, and I let them down. I feel like I didn’t follow through, even though I made no guarantee that I’d get to read and review any of them.

That’s why I’m declaring 2017 to the the Year of the Backlog. I’m going to make some dents in that mountain!

I’m still going to have a little focus on upcoming books. Probably one a month. But everything else will be reviews of books that were published in 2016 or earlier. (Plus the remainder of the SPFBO books, of course). Taking everything into account, even if I only read and review 1 book a week, that will mean by the end of 2017, I’ll have cleared 44 books of my backlog, and while that isn’t many in terms of the whole giant mountain of books I have, it’s something. It’ll help get some weighty guilt off my chest. It’ll give me a fantastic and worthy excuse to stop focusing so much on what’s going to happen and let me focus a bit on all the good stuff that has already happened, all the books that came out in previous years that I missed or didn’t have time for or what have you.

Anyone with me in this challenge? Or will I be chipping away at Mount TBR alone?

Anime Review: Final Fantasy XV Brotherhood

I’ve been doing movie reviews on Mondays lately, but this week I haven’t watched any. I did, however, watch the Final Fantasy XV companion anime, so I figured I’d give that a review instead.

brotherhoodI’d heard beforehand that this anime was a prequel of sorts, and both it and the game could be enjoyed independently of each other. That’s only partly true, really. One won’t really give you spoilers for the other, so long you’ve played at least about half an hour to an hour of the game and really gotten the plot started. Without that, the anime is going to spoil something for you, if you’re the sort to like things extremely spoiler-free.

Also, given that the episodes are all shorts, and focus on the backgrounds of the main characters in the game, you can absolutely enjoy the anime without knowing much about the game itself, though I would question why anyone would. The episodes focus on events that happened before the game, usually during Noctis’s childhood or adolescence, and when you already know the characters from the game, this stuff is interesting. But if you haven’t played the game yet, I can’t see much interest in finding out events in the history of characters you know nothing about, other than that they’re a bunch of guys who are traveling together. So I wouldn’t recommend watching this unless you’ve played or seen enough of the game to really care about the characters in question. It’s not that you can’t, it’s just that it’s so much better when you do.

The first and last episodes focus on Noctis, specifically on a daemon that attacked him when he was young, resulting in injury and recovery that hints of were seen in the game itself. Gladiolus’s episode focused on his martial training of Prince Noctis, and his discovery that the prince isn’t just some unworthy royal brat but is, in fact, capable of self-sacrifice and compassion. Ignis’s chapter deals with his attempts to make Noctis accept his royal duties, while Noctis rebels against it because accepting royal duties means accepting his father will die. The episodes may be short, but there’s some good stuff in here, conveyed very well visually, and it comes through even more powerfully when you see how the characters were compared to how they are now.

ffxvep1-800x411But it was Prompto’s episode that really stuck with me, as it deals with the first time he ever met Noctis. Unlike the others, he wasn’t employed by royalty in the beginning. He was just a regular kid, a bit of a nobody, with no friends, a weight problem, and an empty home. And while I usually get tense when it comes to characters who are overweight, because 9 times out of 10 the story is that they just can’t stop eating, it’s clear from the outset that Prompto’s weight came about because all we see him eat at first is take-out burgers and fries. He comes home to an empty house every day, no food waiting for him, so what else is a kid supposed to do for food? And after a random encounter with Noctis, Prompto is determined to be somebody the prince won’t overlook. Somebody worthy of attention, no longer the nobody.

So he goes about reinventing himself. And we see his struggle as he learns to eat better and as he gets better at jogging, and he still keeps himself to himself because he’s a shy quiet kid whose hobbies are photography and cute animals, but by the time both he and Noctis both enter high school, Prompto’s ready for the “first meeting” he wished he had years ago. So he pretends that they’ve never met before, and walks right up to Noctis and decides yup, I’m going to be friendly and outgoing so you’ll like me.

And that resonated so hard with me.Because those are issues I have struggled with too, only I didn’t have some random encounter when I was young that made me want to better myself, so I kept struggling and feeling lousy into adulthood (hasn’t changed yet, really). But seeing a character that I could relate to in that way have that epiphany, to watch him change himself into who he wants to be… It hit home.

And made me really understand why so much of the game’s fandom likes to ‘ship Noct and Prompto together.

It brought about mixed feelings, because I’ve also heard countless times that it’s bad for someone to change themselves for another person, but at the same time I can really empathize with the idea of wanting to be who you want to be. To develop your outsides so that they match your insides, and so that you can feel comfortable with yourself. That someone else inspired you to improve isn’t in itself a bad thing, and I think there’s a definite line between than and changing for someone else’s convenience. Prompto wanted to feel worthy of Noctis’s attention in his own eyes, not Noctis’s.

As a companion to the game, this anime doesn’t really answer any questions I had, but it does provide some interesting background to make the characters feel just a touch more fleshed out, to make them feel like real people with histories and experiences and who make mistakes and learn from them. Being shorts, they don’t require much time to get through (there are only 5 episodes), and if you’ve enjoyed the video game or are still enjoying it, it’s worth taking the time to watch. The voice actors are the same as the ones in the game, so there’s none of that weird jarring sensation when you hear a character speak with a different voice than you’re used to, the animation is crisp and clear, and in general I’d say it’s a good addition to the game’s lore and background.

Books on my Radar (December 2016)

Every month has a glut of books that look awesome and that I know — I know — I will never get around to reading, whether or not I have a copy. But that doesn’t mean they’re not worth highlighting. So here’s a look at the books coming out in December 2016 that have caught my attention.

(Note – This is not a comprehensive list of all SFF books being released in this month. This is just a list of the ones that I have my eye on, for whatever reason.)

December 2016 SFF books

Tempest, edited by Mercedes Lackey
Amazon.com / B&N
December 06

The Nature of a Pirate, by A M Dellamonica
Amazon.com / B&N
December 06

…Huh. Well, that was a shorter list than I expected. Now, that’s not to say there are no other books coming out in December that I’d want to read. It’s just that, evidently, only 2 of them have really caught my eye.

Well, I guess that gives me more time to read SPFBO stuff without feeling guilty, then!

November 2016 in Retrospect

Holy crap, November’s over, it’s almost the end of the year! What the hell? Where did 2016 go?

Oh, right. It went out of the nightmares of people and then crashed and burned. I think it’s somewhere in a smoldering pile under our feet.

…Welp, on that cheery note!

November wasn’t that great a month for me. Between battling bouts of apathy and trying to balance other areas of my life, I didn’t get much reading or reviewing done, and I felt guilty and lazy for it. I’m going to try and make December a bit better, but until then, let’s at least look back on what I did do this past month, rather than focus on what I didn’t.

Reviews

The Hidden People, by Alison Littlewood
An Import of Intrigue, by Marshall Ryan Maresca
Invisible Planets, translated by Ken Liu

SPFBO review: The Music Box Girl. by K A Stewart

Movie review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Movie review: The Silenced

Other Stuff

As always I started the month by looking at the upcoming books I was excited about.

I wrote a post called Facing the Monster, which is about living with mental illness and how the “mental illness narrative” that appears in fiction doesn’t often match up with what happens in reality.

I only did one tea review this month, but it was still a delicious one: Bubbie’s Baklava, from David’s Tea.

Next Month

Huh… When I tally it up, it looks like I did more here this past month than I thought. Well, no complaints from me!

In December, I want to write another book review each week, which is what I’ve been aiming for this year in general. I also want to continue the project ideas I started in November, which is to review a different kind of tea each Tuesday, and a fantasy/sci-fi/horror movie each Monday. More and more lately I find I enjoy reviewing in general, and I really like tea and movies alongside loving books, so I thought it may at least amuse some people to hear me talk about them every once in a while too. Plus, at least where movies are concerned, wanting to review a movie each week gives me a great excuse for a little downtime, since watching movies — even when I’m watching them with a critical eye and a mind to review them — is far less intensive for me than reading a book with an eye to reviewing it. It feels like a break while also being productive, and I like it.

I’ll also take a look at some of my favourite books that I’ve read this past year, as I usually do when the calendar comes to its final page.

Happy upcoming December, everyone. I hope it’s better than your November!

On Being an Ex-Pat

I’ve returned from my trip to the UK. I’m sure you all felt my absence deeply. :p

img_0412-2

I got back from the UK late last week, and for the most part, I’ve been trying to recover from jet lag and readjusting to a schedule that was different from what I got used to while I was there, which was different from what I lived before I left for the trip in the first place. Not an easy thing, let me tell you!

img_0354-2But this trip, while I did enjoy it, brought out some very strange feelings in me, and left me feeling more than a little adrift, unsettled. I’ve lived in Canada for most of my life, of course, but in my heart, I still considered myself British. I had — and for the most part, still have– little to no interest in getting Canadian citizenship; I’m relatively happy to remain a Permanent Resident. My heritage is something that is important to me, part of my identity, and even though England is not my home in the sense of being the place in which I reside, it’s something of a spiritual home for me, to the point that I still call it Home quite often.

I hadn’t been back in around 12 years. I went back this time to visit family, to relax and enjoy myself, which was a welcome break from the 2 previous trips back, which were both for funerals. It was high time I enjoyed myself in the place I called home, after all.

And I did enjoy myself.

But more than that, I felt comfortable.

It’s that kind of comfortable that I think many people take for granted. The kind of comfortable that comes alongside going to an unfamiliar place, walking down streets that only slowly become familiar, and thinking to yourself, “Yes, I could live here. I could do this every day.” Most of the time when people go elsewhere, they go as tourists, doing all the tourist-y stuff, sightseeing, all that. And I did some of that. But I also spent time just wandering streets, picking up groceries, getting on the bus to go visit my grandmother. In some ways, I did the mundane things that most people do when they live in a place, not when they’re visiting. And it felt very comfortable to me. Those little mundane tasks, those little slices of life that are so normal that we often overlook just what they mean about our level of comfort.

Plenty of people joked about me moving back to the UK for good. Some of those jokes, I know, were not jokes but actual invitations. Because people wanted me there. They missed me, and I missed them, and I knew full well that I could live a life similar to what I’m living now.

img_0480-2But here’s the thing: the life I’m living now is, in some ways, the life of an outsider.

And it would be just as much on the fringe there as here.

I moved to Canada when I was 5, after my father got offered a job here. I remembered some of what living in the UK was like, in that skewed way children experience things. My memories of England were of family, of eating a chocolate donut at McDonald’s, of misbehaving at school and being sent into the hall. My earliest memories of Canada were being made fun of my other children for having an accent. Constantly. Mockeries of the way I talked were common.

I quickly learned how to sound Canadian.

I can switch my accent back and forth, depending on who I’m talking to. People are surprised when I do it, when they haven’t heard it before. It was a survival mechanism. I started life here on the outside, with people knowing I was different. I grew up, and discussed my life with others, and as soon as they heard I was born in the UK, I became “the British one.” Suddenly the expert on everything different. “What do they call this thing in England?” “Do they have that in England?” Curious questions from people reinforcing, over and over again, that I don’t really belong here. That I’ll always be somewhat on the outside.

img_0400-2This trip back to the UK, seen through adult eyes, highlighted just how many little differences there were between what I know in Canada and what other people know in England. It’s a cashpoint, not always an ATM. “Nae bother” replaces “no problem,” at least around Newcastle. Taxis, not cabs. Shopping centres, not malls. Switch the wall socket on and off manually. Different climate, different units for measuring certain things. TV that wasn’t dominated by American shows. I was forever asking my mother, “So, how does this work here?” Little mundane things like postal service, paying rent, all the little things you do regularly that I was forever being confronted with that worked, in small ways, differently than I was used to.

(Please excuse me while I Barugh a little.)

It made me feel like even if I moved back there, started living in the place I have for years called my home, that I wouldn’t fit in any better there than I do here.

That’s the thing about being an ex-pat, I suppose. It’s so easy to feel like you have two homes and yet none. That you’re torn between heritage and upbringing, that anything you remember about before just holds you back from adapting to now, even when you’ve been out of that “before” place for decades. Assimilate or flounder, and oh, by the way, you’ll never really assimilate. At best, you’ll pass. If nobody looks too closely. And nobody questions why you’re using the wrong country’s term for something.

If I moved to England tomorrow (and I won’t be, for many reasons), in a lot of ways, life wouldn’t change for me. I’d still read SFF novels. I’d still be a textile artist. I’d still play videos games. I’d still write. I’d still have the same health, the same weight, the same appearance.

img_0425-2And I’d be struggling as much as I ever did as a child, desperate to hide the fact that even though I can talk with the right accent, I’m still using the wrong words, still unfamiliar with all the things everyone else has absorbed unconsciously through their lives because they haven’t lived elsewhere to have something to compare it to, to have that brainstorm that means conscious realization of cultural and linguistic habits.

And it hurts to come to this conclusion that neither places I have ever called home are really home to me. Both are equally comfortably and uncomfortable, both have a place for me and yet nowhere for me to turn.

I was a third culture kid. I am an immigrant. I am an expatriate. Literally, that means that I am out of my home country. A foot in two different places, different enough from each other to be confusing, divided, and to make me feel startlingly lonely and out of place in both.

September 2016 in Retrospect

September has been a busy busy month for me. You wouldn’t know it to look at the posts here, but most of the busy stuff came from non-bloggish things. Like preparing for my trip to see my family in the UK.

This meant that not only did I have to make sure I had all my documentation, get packed, make sure I had clothes that had only an appropriate number of holes in them, and all that other normal stuff people do when prepping for a trip, but since I’m also part of Oddulting on YouTube, I had to have enough videos to cover my absense. This meant that in addition to recording extra episodes, I also had to edit and process them, which resulted in busy nights filled with editing, editing, editing, and in between the editing, trying to keep up with housework.

Oh, and also books. Still got to keep up with books.

I’m kind of glad to see the month end, to be perfectly honest.

Reviews

The Flux, by Ferrett Steinmetz
Fix, by Ferrett Steinmetz
The Graveyard Apartment, by Koike Mariko

SPFBO Review: Song of the Summer King, by Jess E Owen
SPFBO Review: Thread Slivers, by Leeland Artra

Other Stuff

Books on my radar for September.
Cover reveal for Ben Galley’s upcoming Heart of Stone.
I vented a little about, of all things, video game distributors misunderstanding how reviews work.
I also wrote about the way people misunderstand what science is, and how that contributes to people thinking that sci-fi is inherently more realistic and thus better than fantasy.

Next Month

Next month, the first 2 weeks will be pretty barren, since that’s when I’ll be across the ocean visiting family and wandering the streets of Newcastle taking pictures of stuff and hunting down virtual monsters in Pokemon Go.

But this trip features 2 flights that are almost 8 hours long each, and that’s ample reading time, so I plan to have a few books read by the end of that trip. And if nothing else, I’ll be reading the final 2 SPFBO books in my batch and announcing who I’ll be sending on to the final round (even if one of the reviews might come a teensy bit late… maybe…)

Take care, everybody, and I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with lots of pictures and definitely-not-a-tan!