JSON and Medea

JSON was this mighty hero who found this pretty sweet-looking golden fleece. This chick, Medea, totally helped him out a bunch and JSON was totally gonna marry her because they had some kids and stuff. Unfortunately, he liked this other chick better, Creosote or something, which was an appropriate name, considering what happened later. So anyway, JSON was gonna marry Creosote and Medea was like, I’m not mad, see, I got Creosote this sweet wedding dress! Creosote was all, yay! But then she put on the dress, which burst into flame, and fried her (not-literal) bacon. It was a curst dress you see. Anyway, JSON was pretty bummed. Medea was all, I’m out! and flew away in a (literal) sun-chariot. JSON got super old and then his boat fell on him and killed him.

Moral: Invalid JSON has some bad consequences.

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The Forgetful Walrus

Once there was a forgetful walrus. He forgot his shoes once. He also forgot to eat breakfast a couple of times. One time, he even forgot he was a walrus.

Moral: You too can forget you are a walrus. And maybe you have?

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The Most Ethical and Virtuous Peacock

Once there was a peacock who was most ethical and virtuous. He made no bones about letting everyone know exactly how ethical and virtuous he was. Indeed, all the animals in the forest knew who the most ethical animal was and where to find him. Including the Insatiable Hungry Python. Last Tuesday, the Insatiable Hungry Python ate the Most Ethical and Virtuous Peacock for lunch.

Moral: It’s easy to be ethical and virtuous when you’re dead.

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The Everything Book

Once upon a time there was a book that had all the answers to everything in it. Unfortunately, it was so badly written that no one wanted to actually read it. Some rats eventually made it into a nest.

Moral: If your content is a rat’s nest, it might as well be one.

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The Robot and the Snake

One time there was this robot that looked like a snake. There was also a snake that looked like a snake. (A python, but not the Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake.)

The robot arched sinuously. “I can do that too,” said the snake, and did.

The robot charged up an electric car. “Welp, I can’t do THAT,” the snake said and wept a bitter tear.

A little door in the robot opened up and a tiny snake poked its head out (a garden-variety garden snake, if you must know), and said, “Hey, you sure can. Just get yourself one of these babies!”

The python got its own robot suit and spent the rest of its days “happily” charging up electric cars.

Moral: Just because you look like a robot, doesn’t mean you are one.

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The Proubarrassed Aardvark and the Terrible Human

One day, the aardvark reminisced about all the fun he’d had as a child playing with rag dolls. There was Marianne, Lucinda, and Claire. Oh, and Sally and Clarissa. (Don’t forget Mortimer!) Oh, he didn’t. The aardvark was just walking along, minding his own business, thinking fondly of his childhood, when along came a terrible human.

Now, the human wasn’t terrible for any unusual reasons, it was only terrible for all of the usual reasons. You know, like failing to floss regularly and getting fixated on minor irrelevancies when much larger problems were occurring with dire and increasing frequency. Like, hey, there’s a fire over here, HUMAN, why don’t you stop rearranging those sticks from smallest to thickest?

Anyway, this terrible human had found a rag doll (Mortimer) and was sort of idly playing with it. “Why don’t you play with some sticks, FLOYD? I’ve arranged them from smallest to thickest!” Along comes the Aardvark and he’s like, oooh! What do I do? That’s Mortimer the Hungarian Lion Tamer with (optional) deluxe tea service and this terrible human obviously doesn’t know that, but if I admit that I know that then that terrible human will know that I know that and possibly wonder how I could possibly know that! The most likely reason being that I played with rag dolls when I was a child which, as it turns out, is the ACTUAL reason. And everyone, EVERYONE, knows aardvarks don’t play with rag dolls.

The aardvark ate some ants and ruminated on this dilemma. Meanwhile, the terrible human continued to play with Mortimer the Hungarian Lion Tamer rag doll sans deluxe tea service. The house finished burning down.

Moral: Never let a little proubarrassment get in the way of enjoying yourself.

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The Grasshopper and the Lion Tamer

One day this grasshopper was hopping around and landed on the brow of a sturdy lion tamer.

“Can’t you see I’m busy?” the lion tamer cried, sweat curling his luscious locks.

“Come plaaaay!” the grasshopper said. “The sun is warm and all the swans are gamboling and frolicking in the fens and meadows. Not to mention, we’re having this fantastic brunch later.”

“Argh!” the lion tamer groaned, as his XML continued not to parse correctly. Unbeknownst to the lion tamer, he’d left himself open to an XML exploit.

The grasshopper had a great time.

Winter came. The lion tamer shivered in the cold, exploited by the elements and some guy in Russia. The grasshopper and his friends sat inside, having a marvelous brunch.

Moral: Don’t write your own parser!

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The Wizard and the Merchant

Once upon a time there was a wizard. He made some pretty cool stuff–like a flying carpet and a self-propelled cart. One time this merchant, call him Floyd, showed up and was all, “Hey, make me this cool magical thing. It should do some cool magical things!” As Floyd walked out the door, he turned to say, “Yo!”

The wizard (his name was Zombardo) shuddered, but, hey, money, right? He worked feverishly deep into the night for at least a fortnight (that’s 30 wizard-years) and finally finished this sweet-looking crystal ball. “I’m gonna call this CrystalBall.” He put CrystalBall into a box and gave it to one of his flying monkeys to deliver. In the box, he’d put a note: “To activate CrystalBall, polish.”

A week later (he was pretty worried about his flying monkey, Zognarb), his flying monkey returned with a note from the merchant. “CrystalBall not working.” The wizard wrote back: “Have you tried polishing it?”

Merchant: “Yes.”

Wizard: “What happened when you polished it?”

Merchant: “It got shiny.”

The wizard sighed: “What color is it glowing?”

(Zognarb was getting tired of flying back and forth.)

Merchant: “It’s not glowing at all.”

The wizard put his wizard hat on frumiously and stormed out the door. He whirled in through the merchant’s door in a very wizardy way and squinted at the merchant, who was furiously polishing the note the wizard had included with the CrystalBall. It was very shiny. The wizard took his CrystalBall and went home.

Moral: Don’t sell your wizardy stuff to merchants.

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Miasma: a Neologism Worth Spreading

In his newest book, Fall, or Dodge in Hell, Neal Stephenson describes the internet (specifically the social media end of it) as “the Miasma”.

I’m pretty sure we should all start using this term. That is all.

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Summer Reading

I read a lot of books this summer, I guess. (It’s a long one. I’d recommend skimming until you see a title that looks interesting.)

Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen
A time travel story about a guy who stays so long in the past that he forgets he was a time traveler. Too bad there are future bureaucratic time auditors who don’t look too kindly on that kind of thing. I remember enjoying this and I liked that it was set in a part of the world I grew up in. A quick read.

Batman: The Rules of Engagement
Batman: Bride or Burglar
Batman: The Wedding
Batman: Preludes to the Wedding
Batman: The Tyrant Wing

Almost all by Tom King. I liked these pretty well. The Bruce Wayne/Selina Kyle romance was solid. I especially liked when they and Clark Kent/Lois Lane went on a double date. Pretty fun. The wedding didn’t go the way I would have liked, but I can see why they’re gun-shy about pinning down such a perennial bachelor. Now I’m thinking of it, I remember very little of Tyrant Wing…

Shadow & Claw by Gene Wolfe
Sword & Citadel by Gene Wolfe
These books make up the Books of the New Sun. Boy, they are something else! I’m not even going to try to do them justice. It’s almost a shame that this is science fiction, because it should be much more read than it is, as a great work of literature. Really excellent and worthwhile. And it has one of the best swords of all time. The protagonist Severian is an executioner. I can’t remember another novel with such a character as him. A true original.

Defender: Kingpins of New York by Brian Michael Bendis
I remember almost nothing about this. I think I read it while I was falling asleep.

Wildmen, Wobblies & Whistle Punks: Stewart Holbrook’s Lowbrow Northwest edited by Brian Booth
A collection of newspaper and magazine articles from a legendary Oregonian journalist. The writing is extremely readable and the stories are pretty wild, from the late 19th century nudist cult to the governor’s secretary who stood down a whole town full of scoundrels and hooligans. If you like local history, I’d recommend it.

Finder by Suzanne Palmer
(I had to remind myself what this was about, so… not super memorable I guess?) This is definitely a great summer read. Fast-paced, exciting, with a protagonist who’s likable (with a very silly name, Fergus Ferguson) but not too much of a goody two shoes. The story is set in a space colony made up of a bunch of interconnected space stations and then this crime boss makes a play to take the whole thing over. Meanwhile, this “finder” shows up to retrieve a stolen spaceship at pretty much the worst time. This could’ve easily been an old west yarn about a stranger who comes to town. I didn’t realize there were planned sequels, but I’d read another one of these when it comes out.

The Man Without Qualities, v1: A Sort of Introduction and Pseudo Reality Prevails by Robert Musil
What an extremely weird and funny book! Long and apparently the second volume is even longer. It’s Austria in the decade before WWII. In so many ways, it captures so many things that are wrong with white American culture today. Good intentions seem so easily hijacked by the very worst.

New Super-Man and the Justice League China by Gene Luen Yang
A fun twist on the Justice League. My kid enjoyed it too.

You Are Deadpool by Al Ewing
A Deadpool comic as a choose your own adventure story. Pretty fun gimmick!

The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi
The sequel to The Collapsing Empire. Enjoyable. The characters are quite charming, even the rascally ones. The villains aren’t as clever as they think they are. I found the character who becomes the “Emperox” in the first book pretty fascinating, but she’s sort of sidelined in this book inside her official position, which I understood, but sort of drained the personality away into officialdom. There’s an interesting bit with a strand of humanity that’s isolated for hundreds (thousands?) of years in deep space.

The Miracle Club: How Thoughts Become Reality by Mitch Horowitz
Makes a pretty compelling case that the mind (or brain, if you like) are more powerful than people generally suppose and that dedicated and applied (thinking) focus on a goal can be extremely effective. It helps to have a goal, I suppose.

Kindred by Octavia Butler
Butler rightly deserves her place in the SF pantheon of writers. A time travel story, which I always like, but also sort of a horror story, because it’s a modern black woman traveling back to slavery-era South. I read it for my book club.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Drawing room murder mystery with a Quantum Leap-style gimmick. The protagonist has a week to solve a murder and relives each day as a different character in the story. Intricately and ambitiously plotted. I didn’t see the twist coming, anyhow.

13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers
Some books are so weird that they’re tough to read at long stretches. I found that I could read about 20 pages of this before having to set it down for something more prosaic. The illustrations are delightful. I’ll probably read other Moers stuff at some point.

Mister Miracle by Tom King
Sometimes you’re a superhero and sometimes you’re a New God and sometimes you’re a new parent trying to make it work. This book is a weird and funny mash-up of the stress and bewilderment of being a new parent with strange, intergalactic super heroic warfare.

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland
I read it for work. There’s some good insights about people here.

The Hole by José Revueltas
A short book about two guys in prison. I definitely never want to be in prison, is my takeaway. It’s sort of like a fever dream. I remember very little of it apart from a creeping sense of dread.

Still Life by Louise Penny
A mystery set in a small Quebecois Canadian town. A slightly eccentric but well-liked woman is murdered. In spite of its leisurely pace, excellently plotted, and, weirdly, a real page-turner. I’ll definitely read more by her.

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion
I can’t remember if I’ve read any other Didion, but she’s a writer who I’ve been reading about forever. This is great. An autopsy of a failed marriage and a troubled life. Her prose is so clean and cutting.

The Girl Who Married a Skull and Other African Stories by Mary Cagle
A comic of short stories. The title comic was extremely funny. The most memorable of the bunch. My kids liked this a lot. (They’re the ones who got me to read it.)

Fear Agent: Re-Ignition by Rick Remender
Space! A “hero” gets paid to clean up messes. Ends up making bigger messes! It’s pretty fun.

Rejoice, a Knife to the Heart by Steven Erikson
A first contact story. The aliens kidnap a science fiction writer to help them figure out how to communicate to humanity. She spends most of the book having debates with the alien AI imprisoning her. A lot of fascinating ideas here. Chiefly, what would people do if the ability to commit acts of violence were completely taken away?

A Collapse of Horses by Brian Evenson
Horror short stories. The first and last stories feed into each other in an interesting and creepy way. He’s definitely got a feel for uncanny dread.

Grayson: Nemesis by Tom King
Dick Grayson (AKA Batman’s Robin) is a spy! Hard to follow at times, so I stopped trying, and just enjoyed the ride.

Cemetery Beach by Warren Ellis
Hijinks on an alien planet. Lot of explosions!

Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan
(Weirdly, couldn’t remember what this was about, had to look it up. Think I read it too fast.) In this near future SF, the internet gets taken down. Describes the possible fallout from that. A lot of interesting speculation here on our relationship to technology and our deep reliance on it.

Mouthful of Birds: Stories by Samanta Schweblin
These are great stories, really great. The titles story is subtly alarming. I especially liked the story about the man who can’t get on the train.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
Really excellent. Past fish-out-of-water/murder mystery/dynastic succession/meditation on cultural values. I loved the subtlety of the interactions between the protagonist and her closest companions. A masterpiece of science fictional world building. It stands perfectly well on its own, but if Martine writes more of these, I’ll definitely read em.

Animosity by Marguerite Bennett
All the animals in the world gain human-level sentience and verbal skills instantly. It’s a fabulous idea that doesn’t quite get a fair shake in this first collection of the comics. There was a kind of stutter/stop feel to the story, with some beats seemingly missing, which made for occasionally confusing character choices. I hope Bennett gets a chance and space to explore this idea more fully.

Six Memos for the New Millennium by Italo Calvino
Essentially a how to guide for living in the 21st century. Remarkably prescient for a book that was written in the 1980s. A series of lectures that Calvino, sadly, was never able to deliver. Each memo focuses on one of five values: lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, and multiplicity. The sixth on consistency was never completed. Made me want to reread some Calvino.

Crowded by Christopher Sebela
An extremely entertaining comic about a near future world where everything is crowdfunded, including assassinations. Takes current trends in freelance work and pushes them out to some pretty extreme places.

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
If it weren’t for the second half that threw a monkey wrench into the first, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed this very much. Glad I stuck it out though! A book full of mostly unpleasant, but pretty amusing, people. All I can say is that I’m glad my college experience wasn’t anywhere near this.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
An excellent book. A meditation on grief and loss and hawking and TH White, one of my favorite childhood authors. Extremely well-written. Read for my book club.

The Crown Tower
The Rose and the Thorn
by Michael J Sullivan
Sometimes you want some popcorn books. These fantasy books are definitely like popcorn. Nothing wrong with that though. Things really start popping once the two protagonists decide to start working with instead of against each other.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Science fiction story told via found documents. Plus space zombies and a crazed AI. It’s solid and the textual shenanigans on the page are tops. I’m certainly going to read the sequels.

Bad Magic by Stephan Zielinski
A group of good guy magicians battle supernatural evil in San Francisco and San Diego. Each one comes from a different magical tradition. The prose has a sort of gritty noir feel to it and its funny like Kadrey’s Sandman Slim books. I think it’s the only book Zielinski wrote, but it’s solid. I have no recollection as to where I heard about this, but I’m glad I read it.

Slow Horses by Mick Herron
Spies! In London! A book written ten years ago that’s feeling pretty timely now, given all the white supremacist and nativist nonsense floating around these days.

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang
Increasingly, I feel a lot of respect for people who can tell an entire story in about 150 pages. Still, I think this one could have used about a hundred more to flesh things out. There’s some fascinating stuff going on with gender here.

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
Feral hippos in a Louisiana swamp! It’s a fun, quick read. (I finished it in one day of commuting.)

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