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15th May 2017
Read: The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood (2017-23)
Ah, where to begin? :
In a decade full of (often whiny) dystopian novels for teens, it's good to read a real, serious, and well thought out dystopian novel, that isn't part of a series or Just Made To Be Filmed (though there is that).
Offred is the Handmaid assigned to Fred, thus the cognomen. Fred is a Commander in the Republic of Gilead, a harsh theocracy in what used to be the United States of America. (It's never quite clear which "Christian" sect has taken over, but they execute both Baptists and Catholics, so those two candidates are out...)
Infodump: "Handmaid" means "walking womb." In an age when fertility has dropped radically, women with working ovaries are highly valued resources, but not well treated. They are trained in the Red School by Aunts, who make sure they have no hopes for themselves but pregnancy. Then they are given to Commanders, and are fucked (there is no other word for it) in the laps of those Commanders' Wives, so the baby will be the Wife's, not theirs; and if they don't get pregnant soon enough they are cycled to another Commander. Three failures and they are sent to the Colonies to clean up toxic waste, where they will die in about three years. This kind of intense infodump does *not* occur in the book; as in any good modern SF novel, we are meant to learn it from context and dropped hints.
Offred had a name of her own, once. She was married to a man named Luke, and had a daughter. They tried to escape and were caught. Offred does not know what happened to Luke, or her daughter.
She lives in a spartan, or puritanical, room in the upstairs of the Commander's house. She is not permitted to read or write, to have any entertainment, or to go outside except for prescribed marketing trips, taken paired with another Handmaid who may be an "Eye" of the secret service. On these trips she sees, on the Wall, the bodies of those recently executed for various blasphemies.
There *is* a plot, but it's hard to tell any of it without giving a great deal away. A review like this had best avoid that. Besides, the plot isn't exactly the point; the point is Offred's attempts to stay sane in an insane situation, to have something, anything, that is *hers*, even in her head. This is a document of courage and hope and despair, heavy on the despair, and an exploration of what is left that is you when everything is taken away from you.
It is also very depressing, as it should be.
Atwood borrows some techniques from Orwell's _Nineteen Eighty-Four_, from the way details are given to us, to a historical note at the back of the book that tells us that Gilead did not last very long. In this note, an attempt is made (the note is in the form of a scholarly lecture on a found text) to determine who "Offred" really was. But it cannot be done; her original identity has been completely erased.
And yet...she persisted.
10th May 2017
Read: Rhetorics of Fantasy, by Farah Mendlesohn (2017-22)
I must begin by admitting a not-very-deep acquaintance, and somewhat deeper admiration for, Farah Mendlesohn, by way of the Intartoobz. :
The thesis of this - I guess you'd call it a monograph? - is that fantasy can be usefully (if not monosemically) characterized by the way the fantastic enters the text; or, alternatively, the way the fantastic is introduced to the (hypothetical/ideal) reader. Using this rubric, Mendlesohn identifies four major groups of fantasies:
1) The portal-quest fantasy. This is the story where a protagonist is taken from her familiar surroundings and put into the fantasy world. A good type case for this is C.S. Lewis's _Chronicles of Narnia_, where children from our world are constantly traversing to Narnia to take part in adventures. But the case is made that Tolkien's _Hobbit_ and _The Lord of the Rings_ also qualify, in that the hobbits are taken from their comfortable/familiar lives in the Shire and placed in the Big World Outside.
2) The immersive fantasy. A type case here might be Tolkien's _Silmarillion_; a story set in a fantasy world with no meaningful connection to ours. (Arguments that _The Silmarillion_ is set in "our past" will be cheerfully ignored.) Other good examples are Alexander's _Chronicles of Prydain_ and most of Pratchett's Discworld novels.
3) The intrusive fantasy. A story in which something from "outside" enters the "normal" world. A type case here is Hodgson's _The House on the Borderlands_. Charles Williams's novels are largely of this nature, as is most fantastic horror. Some Discworld novels, such as _Lords and Ladies_ and _Moving Pictures_, fit here also, as the received world of the Disc is invaded by forces from "outside."
4) The liminal fantasy. This is the hardest to define; it is, strictly speaking, a story on the borderlines of the fantastic. It's hard to set a type case for such a category, but Lindholm's _Wizard of the Pigeons_ fits. Williams's _All Hallows' Eve_ seems to fit pretty well here, as does Christopher Priest's _The Separation_; but also Peake's _Gormenghast_ books.
There is a fifth grouping, of fantastic stories that don't fit comfortably into any of these categories. If there is a type case for this, it might be Roderick Townley's _The Great Good Thing_ (which I shall have to find and read). Some of them combine strategies of multiple types; others don't even fit that comfortably.
The thing is, that "thesis" isn't really what the book is _about_. What it's really about is the rhetorical (textual) strategies fantasists use in creating these stories, ranging from point of view to various forms of irony and equipose, and everything in between. Mendlesohn illustrates her points with (occasionally lengthy) excerpts from a variety of texts.
I began with an admission; I will end with another. Following Mendlesohn's arguments takes effort, and occasionally reached the edges of my qualification to read such things. But I got a great deal of pleasure from following them, and will return to some of these texts - and approach new ones - with a new set of tools for understanding what the writer is doing.
21st April 2017
Read: Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie (2017-21)
I've been struggling all along with what to call these books, because they lack the, well, the _feeling_ I associate with space opera. :
What they remind me of, most of all, is the Culture stories of Iain M. Banks. Not in a derivative way, but in that they provide a similar sense of alienation, of a kind of posthumanity not involving any real "singularity" and of interstellar civilizations where the AI is clearly superior to the human mind but lets us play our games. In fact, the end of this trilogy might almost be the ancestral point of something like the Culture.
Breq, the former _Sword of Toren_, began the trilogy searching for revenge on the many-bodied ruler of the Radch, Anaander Mianaai. Along the way, she has picked up a number of strays, including someone who was supposed to be an Anaander but from whom she removed the tyrant's identity-technology. In the trilogy's second book, she came to the Athoek system, befriended the AI that ran the system's Station, and generally wreaked benevolent havok among the populace.
Now an Anaander Mianaai has come to Athoek. So has a diplomat/"Translator" of the extremely alien and dangerous Presger, whose previous emissary was accidentally killed in Book 2. (These Translators are among the books best features, by the way: something really *not* human in human-seeming bodies.) And there is a ship nearby (relatively speaking) who predates the Tyrant and regards her as the "Usurper" and who wants nothing more than the end of the Mianaai tyranny.
Much politicking goes on; and there is, at last, a space battle ... of sorts: fought with one pistol (sort of) ... to justify the space opera label.
The thing that sets the Imperial Radch trilogy apart is its delightful characters. It's characters and its unique cultural background. Oh, and its technologies. Amongst the things that set it apart are its delightful characters, its unique cultural background, the technologies on which everything depends, and the simultaneous cozy-vast sense of scale.
I'll try that again, shall I? Nobody expects the Imperial Radch trilogy.
16th April 2017
Read: Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie (2017-20)
Breq, whom we met in _Ancillary Justice_, is an ex-ship. She (gender unknown: "she" is used for everyone in this future) tried to kill the Emperor of the Radch, Anaander Mianaai, and wound up working for her. Or for some of her. Except that she doesn't. :
You see, Anaander Mianaai has, at any moment, thousands of bodies, and they've got somewhat out of synch. As a result, there is war in the Radchaai empire, and taking sides - any side! - is probably treasonous.
Breq herself used to be the troop carrier _Justice of Toren_, but some Anaander Mianaais sabotaged her, leaving her with only one "ancillary" human body of the hundreds that had been part of her.
Well, Breq, now Fleet Captain Breq Mianaai, has come to Athoek Station, and uncovered a mare's-nest of spying, smuggling, and "company town" style slavery. And she's doing something about it.
And in the meanwhile, an emissary of the powerful alien Presger manages to get herself murdered.
This *is* the middle book of a trilogy, and many things begun in it are setup for book three, and go at least partially unresolved. But, unlike many "middle books," there are at least two major plots begun and resolved in the course of the novel - though they will no doubt resonate into _Ancillary Mercy_ - and it's quite a satisfying read on its own.
Breq is a fascinating character in a world of fascinating characters. Indeed, though the Imperial Radch trilogy is promoted as "space opera," it is so only by courtesy; there are, in the first two books at least, no great big space battles à la the Edwards, Hamilton and Smith. But there is a great deal of politicking, intrigue, and even some derring-do.
5th April 2017
Read: Managing for Dummies, by Bob Nelson and Peter Economy (2017-19)
So this is why I've been reading a lot of lighter stuff. Not that it's particularly heavy, but it's pretty dull reading. It purports to give an overview of the skills needed for a new manager, and I suppose it does that, but most of what it says is pretty obvious to anyone with three functioning neurons and any experience of the business world. :
There are some amusing anecdotes along the way, a bit of good legal advice, and a lot of fluff.
I can't honestly recommend it.
Read: Apprentice In Death, by J.D. Robb (2017-18)
43rd book in the continuing series, so it's an odd number and I'll not explain the background. :
NYPSD Lieutenant Eve Dallas and her partner Delia Peabody catch a multiple murder case. Someone has, from a great distance, shot three people at the ice rink at Central Park. Three shots, three dead. Is it a joy killer? A simple murder using extra bodies to cover motive? The start of a serial killer's spree? Or something else?
(Because Robb often gives us PoV of her villains, we know that there are a "teacher" and an "apprentice" at work, and that the apprentice did the actual shooting. Thus, the title.)
As the killers strike again, Dallas and the NYPSD, plus Dallas's husband Roarke, move into full gear, doing the police work and trying to stop them before they kill again.
Very much a police procedural, _Apprentice_ is one of the more satisfying of these books. It hits all the notes, including the "Oz party" at the end that brings together most of the series's continuing characters.
3rd April 2017
Seen: Grimm (2011-2017)
What to say about six years (well, five and a half) of a TV series? : Grimm
had its moments. I thoroughly enjoyed it from its premiere to its final episode this weekend, and don't regret a single hour spent watching it. Indeed, it had surprisingly few total dud episodes. (What it *did* have -- especially in the first two years -- were "wesen
of the week" episodes that didn't advance the larger plots, or at least not very much.)
The basic concept is simple: In the pilot episode, Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli), a successful detective on the Portland (OR) police force, begins seeing disturbing things - mainly, people transforming in weird ways. He learns from his aunt Marie (Kate Burton) that there are, among us, wesen
- a German word that translates as "beings" - people who transform, mostly at will, into what are, effectively, were-forms.
There are also Grimms, people whose job it is to keep the wesen
in control - traditionally, by chopping their heads off - and that he himself is a Grimm, a genetic factor inherited from his mother, which allows him to see wesen
and fight them effectively. He has to keep this secret from his girlfriend Juliette Silverton (Bitsie Tulloch), those at the precinct, and generally everybody.
In that first episode, Nick befriends Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), a wieder blutbad
(roughly, "bloodbath again" or "bloodthirsty": effectively, a wolfman) who helps him track down a blutbad
who has been killing children. Monroe becomes a recurring character helping Nick and his partner Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby) in most of their cases. We also meet Police Captain Sean Renard (Sasha Roiz), who seems to know a great deal about the Grimm/wesen
world (though it's a while before Nick finds this out), and Adalind Schade (Claire Coffee), a hexenbiest
(a sort of witch thing).
The other major characters are Sergeant Drew Wu (Reggie Lee), and Rosalee Calvert (Bree Turner), a fuchsbau
(roughly, fox's den; a fox-person): actually, to me, the series's two most appealing characters.
Naturally, before the series is over, all the major characters are aware of and involved in the Grimm/wesen
The series slowly -- rather in the manner of Babylon 5
-- builds up a complex set of plots and subplots, not all of which are completely resolved at the series's end (due, in part, to the sixth season being foreshortened to 13 episodes by NBC). The first two seasons tend to have a lot of stand-alone episodes that don't advance the major plot a lot, but I don't recall a single episode that doesn't advance it at all. I don't want to talk a lot about that major plot, because there are many surprises that would be spoiled by it, but a few themes are worth mentioning.
- Racial prejudice. The wesen
have traditionally been a hidden underclass amongst normal humans, and many of them resent this status. The Wesen
Council exists to protect the secret, and has strict rules, strictly enforced, concerning exposure to normals. And there are factions amongst the wesen
who seek to emerge from secrecy, and in some cases take over the world from humans.
- Power politics. There are, as I said, factions. Some of them have power and use it brutally. Some of them seek power. Some seek to keep the peace.
- Predation and natural tendencies. All the wesen
types have personalities informed by their animal natures. Many are predators of one sort or another, beginning with Monroe, who in his younger days used to hunt in the woods at night. (He is, by the time the series starts, a vegetarian.) Others are prey animals, who are often fearful and timid - the best example of this being recurring character Bud Wurstner (Danny Bruno), an eisbieber
(ice beaver) who repairs appliances for a living; when Bud first meets Nick, he nearly drops dead from fear, though they eventually become friends.
- Transformation. Nearly everybody is radically changed in one way or another by their experiences in the series.
- Justice. Nick, as a Grimm, doesn't kill wesen
unless he has to. He also has to balance his duties as a policeman with his necessities as a Grimm, occasionally putting him in major ethical quandaries.
- Evil. There are some people, and some wesen
, who are just plain evil. Naturally, most of them wind up dead, but not without wreaking major havoc of one sort or another.
One of the series's greatest weaknesses is also one of its greatest strengths - its setting. Portland, OR, is a medium sized city, with roughly half a million people in it; to judge from the number of wesen
and other weirdnesses encountered there in a six-year series, one might be led to believe that at least half of that population are involved in that world somehow - yet it is somehow kept secret. And the biggest improbability of the series is that nearly every case Nick and Hank catch turns out to be in some way wesen
-related, while none of the other detectives seem to catch one.
The series is both plot- and character-driven. The acting is good, at least for television, and the special effects generally more-than-adequate.
Summary: I shall probably acquire this on DVD or Blu-Ray, making it only the third such series I have felt the need to own, after The Prisoner
and Babylon 5
29th March 2017
Read: From a Drood to a Kill, by Simon R. Green (2017-17)
Ninth book in the continuing adventures of Eddie Drood, a/k/a Shaman Bond. The "Secret Histories" series started as an urban fantasy take on James Bond and similar '60s spy novels, but as time has gone by has developed its own reality with much less secret agenting. :
(Recap: The Drood family, with its iconic golden armour, is one of many Secret Groups that deal with things that would make most civilians freak. Eddie is in and out of his family's good graces, in spite of and because he reformed them early in the series and was briefly their Patriarch. Eddie is passsionately in love with Molly Metcalf, the Wild Witch of the Woods. And Eddie's parents have disappeared ... again.
That's enough to get on with.)
The title is ironic, as Eddie has, as the action begins, taken a vow never to kill again. Naturally, that determination will be repeatedly tested in this (and future) novels as he is faced with situations where killing seems necessary and even good.
So this book is in several distinct "chunks," which do, however, form a full novel. It begins with a "we will disavow you" assignment from the Drood family, which Eddie carries out in his usual style; continues with the death and funeral of Eddie's Uncle Jack, the Family Armourer and a favorite continuing character. At Jack's wake (quite different from the funeral, which is just for the family) things are learned about both Jack and the "Big Game," in which the "Powers That Be" pit members of the supernatural community against one another in a death match, kill or be killed. The survivor (if there is one) will have all her debts, notably any in which she may have put liens on valuable things like her soul, cancelled courtesy of the same Powers.
At the end of the wake, Molly suddenly disappears. Eddie goes hunting for her and, because this is a constructed novel, quickly determines that she has been snatched up into the Big Game. Whither she goeth, Eddie will go ... but it's a hard game to play when you won't kill.
27th March 2017
Heard: The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain (2017-16)
Downloaded from Librivox (if you don't know about Librivox, you really should oughta) and listened to in car. The reader pronounced some words in an ... interesting ... manner, but never such that I couldn't make it out. :
In 1867, Twain joined a "pleasure excursion" aboard the USS _Quaker City_, departing from New York and traveling to the Holy Land with many stops along the way. Twain sarcastically takes the position of someone convinced that American ways are the only right ways, and from that position criticizes the countries he visits, in a way that sheds light upon what a later generation would call the Ugly American. Sometimes he is quite straightforward in his criticism, as of the "pilgrims" who strove to take "samples" from nearly every landmark and monument they visited. Some of his special barbs seem directed at himself as well as other passengers, as for example their insistence on calling all guides "Ferguson."
Several times Twain leaves the ship on (scheduled) side trips to Paris, Milan, and other places; indeed, his journey through the Holy Land is the longest of such side trips. In the Holy Land, he observes how small the ancient kingdoms were - often smaller than a large American county - and that the ancient kings ruled over tiny populations, smaller than that of a medium-sized American town. And yet so much happened here.
In visiting various sites associated with Jesus, Twain takes a completely respectful tone, referring to him as the Savior and such: if I did not know that Twain was an atheist, I should certainly never have learned it from this book. Indeed, his attitude towards religion seems at this point in his life to be quite ambiguous; on the one hand seeming to praise God for His wonderful works, and on the other mocking the simple faithful and the priestly classes, whom he seems to regard as no better than criminals ... _except_ for Catholic monks, for whom he frequently says a good word.
Perhaps the highlight of the European part of the excursion is an audience obtained for the whole boatload of tourists with the Czar Alexander II. Twain's attitude throughout the episode is somewhat remniscent of Merry and Pippin's initial reaction to Theoden at Isengard - "seems to be a pretty decent fellow."
I enjoyed this greatly and will doubtless soon listen to its prequel/sequel, _Roughing It_.
20th March 2017
Read: Born A Crime, by Trevor Noah (2017-15)
Trevor Noah is best known (at least in the US) as the host of the _Daily Show_, who replaced Jon Stewart when he left the program. This is his memoir. :
Noah was born in South Africa under apartheid, to a Xhosa mother and a Swiss father. Their having had intercourse was a crime, thus the title. His mother (and, to a lesser extent, his father) had to take extreme measures to prevent anyone from realizing his background; indeed, she lied about his paternity on his birth certificate. As a result, he grew up culturally "black," but was, to the eye, "colored" (meaning mixed-race in South African terminology: there were blacks, coloreds, Indians, and whites in rising order, but mainly the whites played the other groups against each other. Interestingly, Chinese were considered "black," but Japanese "white").
By the time he was ten, he had burned down a white family's house (by accident) and thrown from a moving vehicle by his mother (on purpose, but for an excellent reason). Both are fascinating stories which I won't spoil.
A lot of the book is about growing up under apartheid and in the chaos that followed its fall. A lot more is about his mother's determination to raise her sons to be whole people, not second-class citizens with no history and no future. She is an amazing woman, who simply does not accept limitations.
The book is by turns (sometimes very close together) moving, funny, and horrifying - the horrifying part being mostly what it was like to be black (or, even worse, "colored") in South Africa in those days.
Noah has a simple, breezy writing style that matches his material well. You never forget that you are being told a story, but Noah-today doesn't excessively intrude on the story.
17th March 2017
Read: The Infinity Gauntlet, by Jim Starlin, George Perez, and Ron Lim (2017-14)
Grabbed this more-or-less on a whim because (a) it appears to be the rough basis for the upcoming Avengers two-parter, and (b) as a teenager I _lurved_ Starlin's "cosmic" stories about Captain Marvel (the Kree one, not Billy Batson...), Adam Warlock, and the mad god Thanos. :
See, Thanos is in love with the personification of Death, and wants to give her gifts. In this graphic noveloid, he acquires the power to do so. He has gained control of the six Infinity Gems, which between them make one nigh-impotent, and affixed them to ... well ... a gauntlet. Advised by Mephisto (the Marvel Universe Devil), he seeks to impress Death with his devotion, and begins by wiping out of existence, at semi-random, half the living things in the Universe.
After that, $#!T gets real.
To oppose him, the recently-resurrected (...yawn...) Adam Warlock assembles a list of the mightiest heroes in the Universe -- well, those that weren't zapped out of existence. In addition, a variety of Kozmik Beings, featuring Galactus and Eternity (the incarnation of Reality) unite to do *their* own thing against Thanos.
Who is having problems. Nothing he can do seems to impress lady Death. So he tries harder and harder to do so, growing more and more frustrated ... not a condition one wants in a nigh-omnipotent being ...
Naturally, this being a Marvel comic, there is a happy ending. Even for Thanos, for once.
13th March 2017
Read: Locke & Key: Alpha & Omega, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (2017-13)
In the first five chapters of this series, we met the Locke children: Tyler, Kinsey, and little Bode, who, after the violent death of their father, move to the Keyhouse in Lovecraft, MA. Here they - well, mostly Bode - discover one by one the Keys that give Keyhouse its name: the Anywhere Key that takes you, well, anywhere you want to go; the Head Key, which lets you put things into your memory or take them out; the Ghost Key, which lets you "be dead" for a while; and many more. :
In the first book, an ancient -- well, thirty years old -- evil calling itself Bode escapes from the Keyhouse's wellhouse. And Mom Locke begins drinking. Heavily.
Through the books that follow, Dodge grows in power, always posing as a friend to the Lockes - until finally he is killed, but possesses Bode.
Now Dodge, still in Bode's body, has the Omega Key.
Things just got worse.
Dodge's plan all along has been to raise a demon army. In the cave beneath the Keyhouse is the Black Door; anyone passing through it will be possessed by the same kind of demon that possesses Luke/Dodge/Bode/whoever.
And that cave is the site of tonight's after-prom Cave Rave. Hundreds of kids will be there.
Tyler, his mother, and the developmentally disabled Rufus are all that stand in Dodge's way - and Dodge is moving like a Mack truck.
That Hill and Rodriguez manage to bring a satisfactory ending out of this, without cheating, is just short of a miracle. But they do, and if it doesn't redeem all the terrible things that happen along the way, it certainly redeems the Locke family.
12th March 2017
Read: Lock & Key: Clockworks, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (2017-11)
Things are pretty bad for the Locke children. Their deadly enemy, Luke "Dodge" Caravaggio, appears to be dead -- but has actually taken over the body of the youngest Locke, Bode. His older siblings, Tyler and Kinsey, don't yet suspect. But they _have_ found a key that lets them, with the help of a clock in the Keyhouse, astrally travel back in time and see what has happened in the region in the past. :
Short answer: A lot.
In the flooded caves below the Keyhouse is the Black Door. This was discovered by Lockes and other American revolutionaries during, well, the Revolution. It leads to another place, where demonic beings dwell; beings that want desperately to come here. And, in the 1970s, Luke Caravaggio was possessed by one of them, and he seeks the Omega Key to let more come through. We learn where the keys come from, and why adults can't see the magic.
Things get much worse in this penultimate volume. This is a disturbing read where children are murdered and worse, where magic keys do strange and unfathomable things, and where evil always seems a step ahead.
11th March 2017
Read: Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King (2017-12)
Danny Torrance is all grown up now, and has demons of his own - he has followed in his father's alcoholic feetstep. Cut him a bit of a break; he's been through some pretty bad shit, as detailed in _The Shining_ and the first few pages of this book. :
His battle with the bottle is a major part of _Doctor Sleep_'s first quarter, or so, in which he does some pretty bad things -- and then is brought into the AA Program in Frazier, NH. He cleans up well and gets a job in Frazier's hospice, where he eases patients' passing into whatever lies beyond.
In nearby Anniston, a little girl named Abra Stone is growing up with a shining far more powerful than Danny's was when he was little. Early on she reaches out to Dan Torrance and they strike up a weird friendship, without meeting each other.
And, wandering around the country, a group of RV people calling themselves the True Knot prey on children with the shining. They torture them to death so that they will exhale "the steam," their power as a kind of vapor, and the True Knot use the steam to give themselves power and near-eternal youth. Their leader, Rose the Hat, is a real piece of work, but none of them are what you'd call nice people.
And - _of course_ - Rose becomes aware of Abra. Fortunately, there's a vice versa as Abra also becomes aware of Rose, and enlists Dan's help, and eventually others'. There ensues a chess game with human pawns, but the confrontation with Rose the Hat is the inevitable climax of the story.
Forty years on, King has lost none of his touch. _Doctor Sleep_ is not as gut-level terrifying as _The Shining_, but then it isn't exactly a horror novel so much as a tale of supernatural suspense. I mean, yes, some pretty horrifying things happen, but we are, by and large, spared grossouts and spring-loaded cats.
_Doctor Sleep_ is strongly character-driven, and the characters are worth spending 640 pages with. The best scenes are not all action scenes; one which will last a long time for me is the sequence where Abra has to tell her father what's going on. Tense, emotional, and very satisfying.
Seen: Hidden Figures (2016)
OK, maybe viewed at the wrong oblique angle a (true, or true-ish) movie about three black women making waves at NASA in the early '60s might -- *might*, I say -- be considered excessively PC. I can see that. But it's still a damned good movie. :
We begin by seeing a little African-American girl, Katherine Coleman (Lidya Jewett), getting into an exclusive school and demonstrating an exceedingly rare talent for mathematics.
Flash ahead to 1957 or so, and the widowed Katherine Gulet (sp?) (Taraji P. Henson) is on her way to work at NASA with her two friends, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) when their car breaks down. Three black women alone on a Southern road in 1957 (or so) is not a very happy situation, and when a (white) policeman comes up behind them we have the movie's first moment of real drama as they (a) get the car running, (b) keep from being run in, and (c) talk the cop into giving them an escort to NASA.
One of the things that is clear from early on is that the white people our heroines contend with are not, exactly, bad people. Most of them honestly think that they are not bigots - as Dorothy tells Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst), "I know you think that."
And that's the tragedy: it isn't so much the people that are racist as the system in which they live; their only crime is not to challenge that system, which can be very hard to do. The primary white characters we see doing so are the manage Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), who -- when he realizes what racism is doing -- works to right things, and John Glenn (Glen Powell), who just seems to treat people decently as a matter of habit.
We see the three women fighting for the right to do what they are skilled in, alongside others similarly skilled. Katherine is the most extreme example, as she is allowed to calculate orbits and such but never given the credit for doing so.
The historical events and situations are well and clearly portrayed. The cutting-short of the _Friendship 7_ mission and the danger to Glenn's life in that mission produce a startling amount of tension, considering that we all know that Glenn just died last year.
And that's the movie's greatest failing. The strongest tension is built up over the fate of a white man, who is a fairly minor character in the story we're actually watching. And if it's PC of me to notice it - well, so be it. It *is* a failing.
Entire dimensions of the movie remain to be discussed. Katherine has a rich home life, with three daughters and an aged mother, plus the attentions of a Colonel Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali), whom she eventually marries. The daughters are, well, precious children, and the Colonel's attempts to woo Katherine are beautifully nuanced. And the friendship between the three women is some of the best portrayal of a friendship between women I've ever seen on the screen. (And, yes, it passes, it totally trashes, the Bechdel test.)
This is a beautiful movie. If John Glenn had the right stuff, these three women, and many around them, had the good stuff.
1st March 2017
Read: Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (2017-10)
The story so far: :
Rendell Locke, a school guidance counsellor, is killed by one of his students, Sam, leaving his wife and three children devastated. They move to Rendell's childhood home, Keyhouse, in Lovecraft, MA, and are pursued by the escaped Sam. Sam is killed, but in the process, Lucas "Dodge" Caravaggio is released from the Wellhouse where he has been kept for decades as the result of something, still not quite known, that Rendell and his friends did.
Keyhouse is full of mystical keys, most of which are found by the youngest Locke child, Bode. One opens a door that frees you temporarily from your body, leaving it apparently dead; another opens up your head and lets you take memories out and put them in. Kinsey, the middle Locke child, uses this key to remove sorrow and fear from her head, against the warnings of her older brother, Tyler. And, apparently, grownups can't see all this.
In the meanwhile, Dodge has insinuated himself into the Lockes' lives as a fellow student of Tyler and Kinsey. Kinsey uncovers the first clue to what happened when she nearly drowns in a cave, but doesn't really understand what it means.
In this volume, Kinsey tries to get some information from a woman whose name she got from some writing in the cave. The Lockes are tormented by repeated attacks by what they call "The Dark Lady," who wants the Omega Key. And things get much, *much* worse...
Hill's and Rodriguez's storytelling is superb; they blend as well as Alan Moore did with Dave Gibbons on _Watchmen_, or Neil Gaiman with Dave McKean on _Violent Cases_ and other work. The art is clean and complements the script. Two-thirds through the story of _Locke and Key_, I'm intrigued and will definitely continue. Anon.
28th February 2017
Read: Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie (2017-9)
So this won all kinds of awards, and, as far as I can tell, it deserved them (I haven't read enough of the competition to _really_ say it did...). It is good old-fashioned sensawunda science fiction *and* good old fashioned literary science fiction, at the same time. :
A former Radchaai starship, _Justice of Toren_ travels under the name Breq, seeking something much more complex than the vengeance the back cover blurb says she wants. We learn fairly early on that the Radch uses "ancillaries," human bodies slaved to their ship-mind, as soldiers, and we figure out quite quickly that Breq is one of these ancillaries, the last surviving bit of _Toren_'s ship-mind. The Radch, you see, have spent thousands of years annexing neighboring Human polities, so cannon fodder of a sort is a prime need. They get it by taking people from resisting worlds and making them into ancillaries.
Actually, they have far more ancillaries in storage than they need, and that's part of the problem. Because the Lord of the Radch, Anaander Mianaai, has signed a treaty with an even more powerful alien neighbor, which means that the Radch will stop expanding, and _that_ means that ancillaries really aren't needed anymore.
(It is a side note to this, that all these stored human bodies are to be destroyed; any analogy to the destruction of embryos by scientists is for the reader to find for herself.)
At the start of this book, the first of a trilogy, Breq rescues a stray - a Radchaai officer who has been missing for a thousand years. (Average Radchaai lifespan is about two to three hundred.) Seivarden Vendaai had served as a Lieutenant aboard _Justice of Toren_ long ago, and come to command her own ship, which was lost with all hands ... except, apparently, Seivarden. On a remote planet, Breq comes across her, strung out on a drug called kef, and takes her along with herself on the last stage of her quest.
(A second side note: the Radchaai language is ungendered. This is represented in the [first-person] text by referring to all persons as "she" and "her." This means that we don't know the gender of the characters we encounter as the story progresses, a slightly unsettling effect similar to that produced by Delany's use of gender pronouns in _Stars in My Pickets Like Grains of Sand_. In fact, Seivarden is the only character whose gender we actually know - she is male. As Heinlein famously did with being a PoC in _Starship Troopers_, Leckie manages to give us the feeling of what it is like not to care what a person's gender is unless you're specifically interested in them sexually, where your gender does not affect how you are treated socially, economically, politically.)
Much of the book is taken up with flashbacks, telling us the story of how Breq came to be a singular person with the (remains of the) mind of a ship. This gives Leckie the chance to do something stylistically brilliant, the equivalent of a first-person omniscient viewpoint. _Justice of Toren_ is physically present, itself and through its ancillaries, in many places at once, and is able to narrate simultaneously multiple events in which it is more or less involved. That it works at all is technical bravura; that it works _well_ is sheer artistry.
So, yes, I intend to read the rest of the trilogy. Volumes 2 and 3 are already sitting on my to-read shelf. I intend to look forward to them for a while, though, while I read some other stuff. Part of this is because the book comes to a reasonably clean conclusion; while it is clear that more difficulties await Breq, this movement of her adventures is clearly complete. But maybe it also signals that I wasn't as captivated as all that by this volume, that I would feel impelled to go right on to the next book.
Still: Highly, highly recommended.
20th February 2017
Read: Crown of Shadows, by Joe King and Gabriel Rodriguez (2017-8)
Part 3 of "Locke and Key" is definitely getting to be, well, the middle bit of the story. Which isn't to say it's boring; it has a story arc of its own, and advances the arcs and development of the various characters and blah, but it isn't _quite_ as compelling as the first two. Since there are six parts in all, we are at the equivalent of the middle book of a trilogy, and it shows somewhat. :
It's good, mind you. It advances the central mystery (What did Rendell Locke and his friends do back in the 1970s that puts Dodge hellbent for revenge?) somewhat, ties up a few loose ends from book one, and has some incredible sequences (especially the near-drowning of Kinsey and her friends). And it will definitely propel me on to part 4 in the near future.
I would be remiss if I didn't emphasize the contribution of Gabriel Rodriguez. There is a sequence of several pages of one huge panel each, no dialog, and it's one of the best sequences in the series so far.
The magic is still there, even if there isn't quite as much of it.
19th February 2017
Read: The Portable Dorothy Parker (2017-7)
When I bought this book I had, to be honest, no idea what I was getting into; what I knew of Dorothy Parker were a few witticisms and one poem (the [in]famous "Résumé"). I had a vague idea that she was a book reviewer who had devastated A.A. Milne's _House at Pooh Corner_ in four words. :
I had no idea that she wrote short stories, for example, let alone such good ones as "Big Blonde" and "The Game;" nor that she was a dramatic critic par excellence. And the _Portable_, twice expanded to its current stately 613 trade-sized pages, is a huge dollop of all that and more. Her three collections of light verse are all contained herein in, as near as I can tell, their entirety, along with a few dozen short stories, articles, letters, an interview for the _Paris Review_, and the proverbial More.
Parker was an archetypal crying clown, a humorous writer whose humor stemmed from pain. Hers was not, in general, a happy life, nor a stunningly successful financially; she was quite honest about the financial need that kept her at the typewriter.
A mistress of the devastating one-liner, she could also sum up a subject's good points and flaws in an amusing, balanced way.
Her short stories, to my surprise, are not generally humorous at all. They are mostly studies of character, and while she treats them with irony, she never makes them into buffoons or mocks them - no, not even the heroine of "Arrangement in Black and White," who makes such a point of her lack of race prejudice that her race prejudice leaks all over the place. ("I haven't any feeling at all about it," she says, in a way that prefigures our current-day bigots who claim to be color-blind.)
Then there are these ... things ... that aren't stories at all, so much as meditations or streams (puddles, really) of consciousness. Some of them are quite good, and none are bad, but I have no idea what they _are_.
Some of the book is amusing, some moving, some puzzling: what none of it is is _boring_.
17th February 2017
Read: Rarity from the Hollow, by Robert Eggleton (2017-6)
This is a very hard book to classify. :
Oh, it's science fiction, all right, but then you have to ask, "What _kind_ of science fiction is it?" And the answers that come to mind are confused and contradictory: Well, it's kind of Vonnegutian, but with some Sturgeon thrown in, and maybe a little Douglas Adams, plus some Manly Wade Wellman and a hint of Bradbury ... by which time you have such a hellbrew of a concoction that it doesn't mean shit to a tree.
Speaking of which, there are talking trees in this. And a talking dog and talking cockroaches.
Wwwwwaitaminnit ... lemme try this again.
You see, _Rarity from the Hollow_ is, mainly, the story of Lacy Dawn, a young girl who lives in a hollow in (approximately) West Virginia. Her father is kind of abusive, suffers from Gulf War flashbacks and such; but not as abusive as the father of her best friend Faith, who whups her to death early in the book. But Faith remains a character, as she can talk to Faith from rocks and logs and such. And the various trees of the hollow talk to Lacy Dawn, too.
Well, maybe she's crazy, but it's hard to say.
Her other best friend is DotCom, an android from the planet Shptiludrp, who is gradually becoming human so he can marry Lacy Dawn when she comes of age. But first, he has to recruit her to Save The Universe ... or at least Shptiludrp, which amounts to the same thing from the point of view of Mr Prump, the General Manager of that mall-planet. Seems the good people of Shptiludrp have been breeding humans a long time to produce Lacy Dawn, the only person in the Universe who can do it.
In the meanwhile, DotCom is "fixing" Lacy Dawn's parents to be better parents, more successful, and generally better human beings, and teaching her things a girl her age doesn't normally know - like calculus and advanced psychology. Why, what did you think I meant?
I know this all sounds pretty whack, and it _is_, but it's also quite moving. Lacy Dawn and her supporting cast - even Brownie, the dog - are some of the most engaging characters I've run across in a novel in some time; and, if I'm not convinced that what she's doing is actually Saving The Universe, it's quite clear that it does matter to a lot of people. And roaches.
The writing is not on the level of Delany/Wolfe/Le Guin/Russ, but it's more than competent, and it stays out of the way of the story, which is what it should do in a book of this particular type. Probably the weakest point is the inner voices of the characters, which are plentiful throughout, and which are so similar to each other that at times it isn't entirely clear whose inner voice this particular paragraph-in-italics is supposed to be: but that's a minor quibble and doesn't distract from the enjoyment of the yarn.
Which is large and broad and deeper than you'd think, from my breezy, jumpy description. As I said, it's a hard book to classify, or even talk about without giving worse spoilers than I already have.
The final page of the book helpfully tells the reader that this is "The End of This Adventure," which seems to promise that there will be more. I expect that I'll be on board for them.
13th February 2017
Read: In Search of Silence, by Samuel R. Delany (2017-5)
A new book by Delany is always cause for celebration chez moi, and this is no exception. For the past week and a half it has been my only leisure reading; that it has taken me that long to read a six hundred page book is a measure both of its density/richness and of how little leisure reading time I have lately. :
What this book is:
Beginning near the end of December 1957 - dating is a little complex -, the young Samuel Ray "Chip" Delany, Jr. began carrying around a spiral notebook and jotting in it his thoughts, observations, poetry, sexual fantasies, notes for stories, and many other things. He continued this practice for many years; for all I know, he still does it today.
_In Search of Silence_, then, is a selection of material from the first dozen years (roughly) of these notebooks.
What this book is not:
Cohesive and proairetic. Entries start and stop abruptly, sometimes to be continued later in the same notebook (or another), and, other than the general sense of watching a young mind develop, there is no sense of narrativity running through them. Some entries are simply opaque or mysterious, quite likely even to Delany at this distance of time. Others are, well, almost banal, as perhaps one might expect from a teenaged genius.
It is also not an introduction either to Delany's work, or to Delany the human being. I do not claim to "know" Samuel R. Delany, except in the most casual possible sense*, and _Silence_ has not changed that. I have, now, some insights into who he _was_, fifty years ago, but even if I were to take a timetrip to New York in (say) 1968 and arrange to meet that young man, he would be a stranger to me - quite properly.
That said, reading it offers a great deal of insight into the _processes_ of the young Delany (and processes are key to personhood, or anything else, but that's another matter entirely). It also offers a selection of the quotidianness of life in that long-gone time, as it was lived and experienced by a very specific human being.
The editor, Kenneth R. James (more on this in a bit), suggests that this volume might be profitably read with/against Delany's _The Motion of Light in Water_, an autobiographical sketch covering much of the same period (though _Motion_ both begins and ends a bit earlier than _Silence_). This is a pungent suggestion. In particular _Silence_ appends a great deal to the sense _Motion_ gives of Delany's relationship with his co-student and, after a while, wife, the poet Marilyn Hacker.
The insights to Delany's writerly process are both surface and profound. On the surface level, it is fascinating to know that his first published novel, _The Jewels of Aptor_, was intended to be a lengthy dream-sequence in his massive non-genre novel _Voyage, Orestes_. Another massive project, _Prism, Mirror, Lens_ came at one level to nothing; at another, it provided seed material to _Dhalgren_ (including its [in]famous first line) and _Trouble on Triton_, though _this_ volume ends before either of those novels is properly conceived.
Kenneth R. James makes it clear that this is by no means all the material contained in these particular spiral notebooks. Rather, he has made a selection, among other things mostly excluding drafts of published, and even to a large extent unpublished, stories and novels. I respect this choice: while it would be fascinating to see how (say) _Babel-17_ developed in drafts, such material would be better saved for individual studies of the development of the individual novels. (Though not, one hopes, to the extent that Christopher Tolkien has made a cottage industry of his father's minutiae. While those books are fascinating glimpses into JRRT's creative processes, there are times when I think he, a very private man, would feel violated by the publication of some of them.) Certainly Delany's major works are deserving of such treatment, though perhaps, if only out of mercy, not while he is still alive and creating new texts.
What James does include is generous, even lavish.
There will, assuming the funding occurs**, be a second volume, _Autumnal City_, and it will (I do hope) continue from there.
* I met Delany once, in 1978, and made a damnfool of myself; in recent years I have been connected to him on Facebook. That, coupled with careful reading of his fiction and non-fiction, is the extent of my "knowing" Delany.
** James has an Indiegogo to procure said funding, with some interesting rewards...H'mmm....
7th February 2017
Amy died yesterday. :
No, wait. Let me walk back a bit.
In my adult life, I have been blessed with a good circle of friends, including four or five - outside of family - I know I can count on for, like, anything
(and vice versa). This is as much as anyone needs and far more than I deserve.
Amy was one of them.
The child of a judge who grew up in Fresno, ran away to the University of San Francisco, on to law school, and eventually found her niche as chief counsel for Cal-OSHA (in charge of enforcing safety regulations on employers: her cases over the years included Chevron, Disney, and "The Porn Industry," which latter meant that for a while she was legitimately watching porn on the State's dollar).
When I met her, almost seventeen years ago, she was working as the in-house attorney for a startup that would soon stopdown. She did eventually get most of her back pay.
She was introduced to our gaming group by my friend Jon, a techgeek who worked in the same company. She and I hit it off immediately, with common interests in politics, religion, and the aaahts, and quickly became - well, the word "best friend" is too vague: I have, as I said above, four or five people who might deserve that name. But she became someone I relied on in a lot of ways, and I believe she did on me (and my family) also. She was a regular member of our gaming group the rest of her life, and often came over to our house for coffee on weekend mornings.
I, as well as several other people including Fr. John, were instrumental in her decision to return to the Catholic Church as an adult - as, a year later, they were in my decision to be confirmed in said Church. She always had doubts, as do I, but real faith involves living with questions and doubts.
That game group, at that time, included not only Fr. John, but another Catholic seminarian, a Methodist minister, and the aforementioned Jon, who had completed seminary as an Evangelical minister, though he had not been "called" to any parish. One of my happiest memories is the night all these clergy were singing "Amazing Grace" to the tune of the Gilligan's Island
themesong in my livingroom.
She and I conceived and co-GM'd the most complex, and I believe the best, FRP game world I've ever been involved in as player or GM. It was called "TFAR," which stood for "The Fundamentalists Are Right" - the idea behind that title being that FRP'ing - as well as many other things, like Tarot cards, Kabbalah, and - reading tealeaves - really were
Satan's Open-Sesame, that magick was real in the world, and that doing it slowly sucked out your soul. It was set in the 1980s, with a detour to the 1930s; it ended, too soon, after it became clear that the players couldn't keep up with all the complexity due to long breaks between games.
I have never known anyone more dedicated to their dog.
Two years ago, she started having weird pains and discomforts "down there." Several months later, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer and had her "ladyparts" removed, followed by radiation and chemo. But it was too late; the cancer receded, but then it came back, metastasized to - among other places -her diaphragm, which is pretty much inoperable.
I saw her only three times in the last month.
The first time was when she called me at work to ask for some Ibuprofen. I made a stop on the way home to get it, and brought it to her. We chatted a while. She seemed no sicker than before.
The second time was when she invited the game group (she had not attended in several weeks) to her house for a Friday evening. She was much worse now, spent the evening lying on the couch and occasionally taking part in the conversation (no game was played). That was about two weeks ago.
Then this Saturday morning I got a call telling me that, if I wanted to see her, I should get there by 11, because she was being medevacked to Fresno to receive palliative care in her sister's home. I, and family, went. I sat in a chair beside her and said things that I immediatly found embarrassing; I have no idea how to talk to the dying.
She was semiconscious at best, and the only coherent thing she said while I was there was, "It hurts." We left after a while, to make room for others, and that was that.
Yesterday morning, she died in Fresno. I will miss her for a long time. I see things and think, "Amy would like that." And she would.
3rd February 2017
Seen: The Day of the Triffids (2009)
I'm told that this BBC Wales TV version is more faithful to the book than the 1962 theatrical and the 1981 teleplay, and, though I haven't seen the latter and haven't read the book in over 40 years, I believe them. But it has some definite "original" plot elements, most important of which is a kind of mystical tribal mask that lets you use the triffids' venom as a sort of triffid repellent. :
Well, anyway. Triffids are huge, mobile, carnivorous, semi-sentient, orchid-like plants which (and I'm pretty sure this is *not* in the book) produce an oil that solves all the world's energy problems. Ummmm. Right. Whatever. It's a gimmick that explains why the triffids, a rare deep-African-jungle species, are everywhere on Earth as the story begins: they've been bred in vast numbers to provide oil.
In flashback scenes, we see how the mother of Bill Masen (Dougray Scott) was killed by a jungle triffid these twenty years or so ago, resulting, amongst other things, in little Billy becoming estranged from his father, though both become obsessive about triffids. Bill works for a triffid oil company outside London, and, while capturing a terrorist triffid-rights activist, gets stung in the face by a triffid. (They always aim for the eyes.)
Well, a predicted solar Event takes place, with most of the world watching - never mind that the world is round and half of it *wouldn't* see it - but anyway - it has the unexpected side effect of blinding everyone who sees it. Who could have foreseen that looking at the sun would cause eye damage? Because his face was bandaged, Bill doesn't see it and becomes one of the rare-ish two-eyed people in this new England of the Blind. Awakening in a London hospital, he comes across grotesque scenes of people who don't know how to be blind asking everyone they bump into for help.
Another who didn't see it was the terrorist, who, seeing his opportunity, lets the triffids loose and gets what he undoubtedly merits when he's killed by them. We are given to believe that this has happened all over the world, and certainly all over Great Britain, because the sheer number of triffids loose seems improbable for one plant.
Bill hooks up with a sighted radio personality, Jo Playton (Joely Richardson), and they begin trying to find other sighted people and begin putting society back together. One of the first they meet is Torrance (Eddie Izzard), who miraculously survived a plane crash and who, we have already seen, is an opportunist and not a nice person at all, and who takes a fancy to Jo.
Then they come across a band of, well, survivalists, who have seized arms and who are out for themselves, counting the blind as as-good-as-dead. Bill takes Jo to find her father, who dies at the tentacles of the triffids. It is now Bill's goal to find *his* father in hopes he knows something that will stop the evil orchids.
But they fall back in with Torrance, who has slimed himself into a position of power in a survival gang which is gradually taking over London and "protecting" (in the Mob sense) blind folks. He sends Bill out to be killed by triffids, and begins moving in on Jo, who, incidentally, has fallen in love with Bill, though I don't think she knows it yet.
That ends part one of this two-parter. I'm not going to summarize the second part, except to say that there is a lot of the worst (and a little of the best) of humanity on display in this show; Torrance gets what's coming to him in the end; and the ending is a little hopeful, but basically downbeat.
The acting is off-the-shelf BBC acting except for Izzard, who chews the scenery delightfully. He makes an excellent villain for a melodrama. The triffids, the only major special effect, are only a little bit stiff in their motions and fairly convincing. And the settings are many, varied, British, and quite delightful.
The pacing is deliberate, not like the constant-action-quick-cut-in-your-face pacing of most modern thrillers. There are a few springloaded cats, but mostly the triffids -- like Romero zombies -- frighten more by their numbers and their gradual inevitability than by their speed. Some would call it "slow paced." I wouldn't.
In all, I enjoyed it. I don't feel any pressing desire to see it again, but wouldn't walk out of the room if someone started playing it.
(And I haven't even mentioned Vanessa Redgrave. Oh well.)
1st February 2017
Follow-up to the post below
I will not be ruled by fear. I must fight. *WE* must fight. You-Know-Who is the battle of our times, and we cannot stand idle. :
We must fight, not just against, but *for* -- for decency and the real American values -- whether they be Christian values, Jewish values, Muslim values, or Atheist values; Hindu values, Buddhist values, Sikh and Jain and Agnostic and Pagan and Neo-Pagan or Wiccan values -- the values that all belief systems of any value hold dear, of respect for the dignity of the human person, stewardship for the care of Creation, and awe in the presence of the creative Force.
We must fight as if our lives depended upon it, for lives do depend upon it: if not ours, then those of others; thus we must and can and will stand up, as many times as it takes, and say: Not this time, motherf-----s; if you come for some of us, you will have to face *ALL* of us, and we ain't backing down, no how no way.
We must fight for the innocent, the widow and the orphan, the oppressed and the refugee, remembering that our own good fortune is unearned and provisional, as is their ill fortune.
We must fight with the Sword of Righteousness, for, as Mrs. Obama said, when they go low, we MUST go high; we must not throw the first punch, but be ready and willing to throw the last punch; we must speak truth to power and accept the consequences of our words and actions.
We must fight for -- yes -- truth, justice, and the American way (remember: Superman is an illegal alien refugee created by Jews...) -- and, no matter how He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his henchpeople try to hide behind the Flag and Patriotism, refuse them that privilege.
What this means is still a little inchoate for me. I can sign petitions, donate money where it will count (but don't ask me where, it's NOYB), and maybe attend the occasional protest: but that seems like not-enough.
I suppose we all feel that what we do is not-enough, but perhaps all these not-enoughs can add up to something bigger than the sum of us.