Playlist of the Month: January 2018

A lot of my comments at the start of these playlists are along the lines of “how did all that time happen,” you’d think by now I’d have figured out how it works, but no.
Saturn – Sleeping At Last
Nobody Else Will Be There – The National
Slow It Down – The Lumineers
Starboy (feat. Daft Punk) – The Weeknd
Coming Down – Bon Iver
Silence (feat. Khalid) – Marshmello
5AM – Amber Run
Freehand – Novo Amor & Ed Tullett
Stranger Things (feat. OneRepublic) – Kygo
Pteryla – Novo Amor & Ed Tullett
Ontario – Novo Amor & Ed Tullett
Earth – Sleeping At Last
Anatome – Novo Amor & Ed Tullett
Shadow and a Dancer – The Fray
Lost In the World (feat. Bon Iver) – Kanye West & Bon Iver
Vantablack – Novo Amor & Ed Tullett
Big Yellow Taxi – Counting Crows1
Little Talks – Of Monsters and Men
Amateur Blood – Novo Amor & Ed Tullett
Dancer – Novo Amor & Ed Tullett
(Depart from Me, You Who Are Cursed) – Blueneck
Little House – The Fray
Say It First – Sam Smith
Punching in a Dream (Stripped) – The Naked and Famous2
Cavalry – Novo Amor & Ed Tullett
Cold – Novo Amor
Never Say Never – The Fray
Free – Kidswaste
Higher (Stripped) – The Naked and Famous
Down – Marian Hill
Last Forever (Stripped) – The Naked and Famous
O Superman (For Massenet) – Laurie Anderson3
Cheap Thrills – Boyce Avenue
Over – Julien Baker4
Daya – Lane 8
Stir Me Up – Lane 8
Appointments – Julien Baker
This Is What You Came For – Boyce Avenue5
Atlas – Lane 8
Skin & Bones (feat. Patrick Baker) – Lane 8
Don’t Let Me Down – Boyce Avenue
First Time – Elderbrook
Open Your Eyes – School of Seven Bells
Second 2 None (feat. Christine and the Queens) – Mura Masa
One Dance – Boyce Avenue

  1. Because sometimes you need a throwback, y’know? 
  2. There’s a couple other ‘stripped’ versions of stuff by them on this list, but this is the best one. 
  3. This piece is just so delightfully weird, and so quintessentially 1980s, I love it. 
  4. Go listen to the Song Exploder episode about this one. 
  5. I found this album by way of the background music to an Instagram video, and I’m remembering that I tend to prefer covers of popular songs over the originals. 

“What Dreams Shadows Cast”, or, “the cave isn’t haunted, but it does hate you”

Barbara J. Webb
So, a year and a half ago, I read the first book in what I assume is an ongoing series. At the time, I was quite clear on the fact that I loved the setting of the book. If you want all the explanation, hit up that link; for now I’ll just say it’s a new take on post-apocalyptic, where the apocalypse was being abandoned by the gods who’d previously been quite happy to intervene on people’s behalf.
That gap between reading the first and the second wasn’t the greatest thing for my enjoyment of the second — I spent a bit too long trying to remember where we’d left off, and some of the references back to the first I gave up on trying to remember. Things are in a slightly better place than they were in the first, though in order to avoid spoilers I’m not going to explain how, but you still get the sense that the world is deeply broken. Which, true, it sorta is; they’d based their entire economy and governmental system around an external force, which one day decided to up and leave. Maybe not the best way to have done things.
Honestly, I’m a bit annoyed with the handling of business in Miroc, the city where the first book took place; in the aftermath of that one, it’s set up to begin recovering from the Abandonment. In this book, we’ve skipped forward six months, and aside from a couple references to tentative recovery, nothing much seems to have changed. Sure, it’s only six months, but it’s also a metropolis that just finished making itself entirely self-sufficient, there should be more happening.
Which is rather the crux of my opinion on the book: “there should be more happening.” There’s background details — mentions of an influx of immigrants, as well as an increase in emigration — that aren’t explored very well.1 Instead, there’s a digression, ignoring the leftover villains from the first book to go have an Indiana Jones adventure in the desert.
This book feels like it was supposed to be either the second of two books, or possibly the second of a trilogy, but halfway through someone decided they wanted it to be an ongoing series. And to match the expansion in scale, they tried to expand the setting — the already compelling villains from the first book are almost entirely ignored, despite having been clearly set up to be the main antagonist throughout the series, and what was set up as the background for the whole setting got awkwardly retconned.
It just didn’t work as well as the first book. Which is a shame, because that first one was amazing, and this, while still captivating, left me disappointed at the end. Nonetheless, here’s the link; that said, if you haven’t yet read the first one, go do that instead.

  1. That specific example is actually a huge plot thread that’s just… entirely dropped partway through. Everyone is all secretive about where they’re emigrating to, and then something new comes up and the characters decide to leave that Chekhov’s Gun just sitting on the table, ignored. 

Playlist of the Month: December 2017

Good lord, it’s already 2018. Hopefully I’ll be able to stop accidentally putting “2014” as the date on stuff sometime soon.
Haze – Amber Run
Take Five – Patrik Almkvisth1
Waves – Hayden Calnin
Saturn – Sleeping At Last
Work Song – Hozier
Nobody Else Will Be There – The National
I Took a Pill in Ibiza – Mike Posner
715 – CRΣΣKS – Bon Iver
Unsteady – X Ambassadors
Heathens (feat. MUTEMATH) – twenty one pilots2
Slow It Down – The Lumineers
Starboy (feat. Daft Punk) – The Weeknd
Coming Down – Bon Iver
Silence (feat. Khalid) – Marshmello
Ocean Eyes – Billie Eilish
Cleopatra – The Lumineers
Kusanagi – ODESZA
Crazy in the Night (Barking at Airplanes) – Kim Carnes3
Betty Davis Eyes – Kim Carnes
5AM – Amber Run
Freehand – Novo Amor & Ed Tullett
Come to Me (Ofenbach Remix Radio Edit) – Lily & Madeleine
Stranger Things (feat. OneRepublic) – Kygo
Pteryla – Novo Amor & Ed Tullett
Ontario – Novo Amor & Ed Tullett
Earth – Sleeping At Last
Weaving Spiders Come Not Here – Blueneck
The Forbidden Spark – Collapse Under the Empire
Lilitu – Blueneck4
Anatome – Novo Amor & Ed Tullett
Shadow and a Dancer – The Fray
Here (In Your Arms) – Hellogoodbye
Lost In the World (feat. Bon Iver) – Kanye West & Bon Iver
Christmas Eve / Sarajevo (Instrumental) [Remastered] – Trans-Siberian Orchestra5
Vantablack – Novo Amor & Ed Tullett

  1. “Why are you still posting playlists on your blog when you can just share them through Apple Music?” well you see, this song isn’t available anywhere, and if a song isn’t on Apple Music, then Apple Music’s playlist sharing pretends that it doesn’t exist and there was never anything there to start with 
  2. Yeah, I am the reason that’s stuck in your head again. Sorry. 
  3. Sometimes you just need some 80s, y’know? 
  4. My current description of Blueneck is “the sound of Seasonal Affective Disorder” 
  5. It’s practically obligatory; that said, don’t try to grab this whole album, because it’s like nine hours long and randomly interspersed with a reading of some Christmas story or another, which is really surprising when you just hit shuffle and expected Christmas music for an hour or so. 

Playlist of the Month: November 2017

You know that point in the school year when time loses all meaning? I’ve been there for weeks. Or possibly years.
Haze – Amber Run
Cruise (Feat. Andrew Jackson) – Kygo
Take Five – Patrik Almkvisth
Animals – Tamu Massif
Black Or White – Yoe Mase
Waves – Hayden Calnin
Dancing In The Dark – Imagine Dragons
Saturn – Sleeping At Last
Work Song – Hozier
Bike Dream – Rostam
Nobody Else Will Be There – The National
I Took a Pill in Ibiza – Mike Posner
715 – CRΣΣKS – Bon Iver
Unsteady – X Ambassadors
Heathens (feat. MUTEMATH) – twenty one pilots
Lust for Life (feat. The Weeknd) – Lana Del Rey
Sober – Lorde
Slow It Down – The Lumineers
Starboy (feat. Daft Punk) – The Weeknd
Green Light – Lorde
Thatch Snow – Rostam
You and I – Toro y Moi
Coming Down – Bon Iver
Silence (feat. Khalid) – Marshmello
So Clear (feat. Meeka Kates) – Kraak & Smaak
Do I Wanna Know? – CHVRCHES
ocean eyes – Billie Eilish
Cleopatra – The Lumineers
Kusanagi – ODESZA
Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten – English Chamber Orchestra & Nigel Short1
Escapar – Enrique Iglesias2
Hero – Enrique Iglesias
Crazy in the Night (Barking at Airplanes) – Kim Carnes
Betty Davis Eyes – Kim Carnes
5AM – Amber Run
Freehand – Novo Amor & Ed Tullett
Come to Me (Ofenbach Remix Radio Edit) – Lily & Madeleine
Stranger Things (feat. OneRepublic) – Kygo
Broken Glass – Rachel Platten
Pteryla – Novo Amor & Ed Tullett
Silvery – Novo Amor & Ed Tullett
Ontario – Novo Amor & Ed Tullett
Earth – Sleeping At Last
Weaving Spiders Come Not Here – Blueneck3
The Forbidden Spark – Collapse Under the Empire
Lilitu – Blueneck
Welcome to the Jungle – Novo Amor
Anatome – Novo Amor & Ed Tullett
Scars – Sam Smith
Shadow and a Dancer – The Fray

  1. Pärt and Britten are my favorite composers, how did it take me this long to find out this piece exists 
  2. The lyrics in the Spanish version are exactly as creepy as the ones in the English version. 
  3. It’s properly winter now, which means it’s time for the Music of Desolation 

Playlist of the Month: October 2017

By my estimates, it has been roughly 96 days since the end of September.
Smoke Filled Room (Acoustic) – Mako
Haze – Amber Run
Wastelands – Amber Run
Cruise (Feat. Andrew Jackson) – Kygo
All We Need – Fyfe
Take Five – Patrik Almkvisth
Animals – Tamu Massif
Black Or White – Yoe Mase
Sugar for the Pill – Slowdive
Waves – Hayden Calnin
Dancing In The Dark – Imagine Dragons
One Man Band – Albin Lee Meldau
No Answers (Acoustic) – Amber Run
Dark Side Of The Gym – The National
Carin At The Liquor Store – The National
Walk On Water – Thirty Seconds to Mars1
Say You Love Me – The Nor’easters
Falling Ashes – Slowdive
All Boundaries Are Conventions – Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek & Reinhold Heil
White Mustang – Lana Del Rey
Saturn – Sleeping At Last
Firefly – BANNERS
Kesselring – Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek & Reinhold Heil
Work Song – Hozier2
Bloodshot – Albin Lee Meldau
Cherry – Lana Del Rey3
Bike Dream – Rostam
Nobody Else Will Be There – The National
Sleep Well Beast – The National
I Took a Pill in Ibiza – Mike Posner4
715 – CRΣΣKS – Bon Iver
Unsteady – X Ambassadors
Gold Dust – BANNERS
Heathens (feat. MUTEMATH) – twenty one pilots
Lust for Life (feat. The Weeknd) – Lana Del Rey5
Dancing on My Own – Pentatonix
Sober – Lorde
EOS – Rostam
Warning Intruders – Rostam
When – Rostam
Slow It Down – The Lumineers6
Her Diamonds – Rob Thomas
Never Going To Catch Me – Rostam
Starboy (feat. Daft Punk) – The Weeknd7
Green Light – Lorde
Thatch Snow – Rostam
You and I – Toro y Moi
Coming Down – Bon Iver
Silence (feat. Khalid) – Marshmello8
So Clear (feat. Meeka Kates) – Kraak & Smaak
Do I Wanna Know? – CHVRCHES
ocean eyes – Billie Eilish
Cleopatra – The Lumineers
Kusanagi – ODESZA9

  1. I described this to someone as “centrist propaganda” the other day, and I stand by that remark. 
  2. A text message I sent a couple weeks ago:
    “Man I’m listening to “Work Song” and it’s creepier than I thought, like, ‘when my time comes around/ lay me in gently in the cold dark earth/ no grave can hold my body down/ I’ll crawl home to her’
    “like she’s just at home mourning the death of her beloved husband and his corpse crawls through the front door? that’s some Edgar Allen Poe shit right there” 
  3. I wish I could copy/paste the iTunes ‘explicit’ symbol in here, because honestly this song is just four minutes of Lana Del Rey cussing someone out 
  4. I wonder if Avicii heard this song and called Mike Posner like “oh my god dude I’m sorry I didn’t mean to pressure you, are you okay?” 
  5. This song has a nice melody for singing along to, but then you realize you’re walking down the street going “take off, take off, take off all your clothes” over and over 
  6. I think this song signifies fall in the same way that Blueneck signifies winter. 
  7. You don’t really notice until you try to sing along, but dang does this guy have a high voice 
  8. Probably my most-played song this month 
  9. This song is great for when you need a nap but only have time to put your head down for a couple minutes, it’s really relaxing. Also, I’m exhausted. 

Playlist of the Month: September 2017

I have so much that I need to do and so little time; does anyone know where I can buy a time turner?
Smoke Filled Room (Acoustic) – Mako
Haze – Amber Run
Wastelands – Amber Run
Cruise (Feat. Andrew Jackson) – Kygo
All We Need – Fyfe
Take Five – Patrik Almkvisth1
Better Man (Feat. Peter Gregson & Iskra String Quartet) – Fyfe
Animals – Tamu Massif
Thunder – Imagine Dragons
Black Or White – Yoe Mase
Sugar for the Pill – Slowdive
Waves – Hayden Calnin
Miracles (Someone Special) – Coldplay & Big Sean
A L I E N S – Coldplay
Dancing In The Dark – Imagine Dragons
Drive Slow – LUCASV
Hymn – Kesha
Praying – Kesha
Boots – Kesha2
One Man Band – Albin Lee Meldau
Chandelier – Sia
No Answers (Acoustic) – Amber Run
Drugs – Roach Gigz feat. DB The General3
Nirvana – TheSamLao
Rainbow – Kesha
Hunt You Down – Kesha
Dark Side Of The Gym – The National
Broken Glass – Sia
Carin At The Liquor Store – The National
Learn To Let Go – Kesha
Don’t Believe In Love – Mr.PottyMouth
Walk On Water – Thirty Seconds to Mars
Say You Love Me – The Nor’easters
Fools – The Nor’easters
Falling Ashes – Slowdive
All Boundaries Are Conventions – Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek & Reinhold Heil
I Found (Acoustic) – Amber Run
White Mustang – Lana Del Rey
Saturn – Sleeping At Last
Firefly – BANNERS
Countdowns – Sleeping At Last
Kesselring – Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek & Reinhold Heil
Work Song – Hozier
Bloodshot – Albin Lee Meldau
Cherry – Lana Del Rey
Bike Dream – Rostam
Space Between – Sia
Born To Beg – The National
Change – Lana Del Rey
Nobody Else Will Be There – The National4
The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness – The National
Sleep Well Beast – The National
No Longer Making Time – Slowdive
New York – St. Vincent5
Breakdown – Jack Johnson
I Took a Pill in Ibiza – Mike Posner
Skinny Love – Bon Iver
715 – CRΣΣKS – Bon Iver6

  1. One of my favorite things about this one is watching people try to pronounce the guy’s last name. 
  2. This is a great one if you’re missing that “classic Ke$ha” feel. And yes, spelling it “Ke$ha” instead of “Kesha” was deliberate. 
  3. At this point I’m just keeping this in here because it’s fun to have one song that really doesn’t fit the vibe of the rest. 
  4. Probably my favorite off this album, although “The System Only dreams in Total Darkness” is also very good. 
  5. “What, do you have a Song Exploder playlist?” – Chase 
  6. So, I use Workflow to automate the process of making these posts, because otherwise it’d take me a couple hours each time. The long and short of it is that it uses the iTunes Store’s search stuff, by dumping the full title of the song in, and then lets me choose the right one from a list.
    Somehow, given the full title of this song, iTunes’ search was unable to find anything, and I am utterly baffled by how that happened. 

“Not Your Sidekick,” or, “if you dropped hints any harder it’d cause an earthquake”

C.B. Lee
My obsession with superhero books continues, and I’m ranking this one second place out of the superhero books I’ve read for interesting worldbuilding. Set in Andover in what used to be the California-Nevada area, it takes place something like 100 years after a massive solar flare kicked off a low-key apocalypse. Between the Cosmic Radiation and the simultaneous failure of the safety systems in every nuclear power plant around the world, the radiation bath triggered a latent gene in the human population, giving some fraction of a percent of the population superpowers.1 World War III cropped up, apparently in a non-nuclear manner, and the various governments of the world ceased to exist.2 New ones sprung up – there’s a South East Asian something-or-other pulling together after a couple decades of civil war, a Global Federation that sounds like “the UN, but better at covering things up,” and NAFTA merged together into the North American Collective.
It gets interesting pretty quick, though, with a few references3 to old fashioned media being banned – presumably, collecting old TVs, books, DVD players, and so on is about conserving resources in a still fairly resource-starved world.4 But the government has done a great job of removing references to those old things at all. There’s just a whiff of fascism, and once you catch that it’s a hard thread to let go of. As background materials go, it’s utterly fascinating.
The story proper is also pretty hilarious – the protagonist is the daughter of Andover’s superhero power couple, which gives her an inside view into their normal lives. They’ve got cover jobs – real estate, the both of them – that they’re varying degrees of terrible at pretending to take part in. Their primary villains, Mr and Mrs Mischief, are more about pranking the population than causing any actual havoc, so even when they have to go in to work, such as it is, it’s not exactly a life-or-death situation.
Without superpowers of her own, though, their daughter Jess is at a bit of a loss about what to do with herself. After her precocious little brother5 makes one too many references to her underachievement in school and lack of powers, she decides to go do something with herself and applies for an internship at Monroe Industries, the high-tech firm that’s apparently Andover’s staple business. After getting the job, she’s a bit shocked to find out that the ‘experimental research’ division she’s working in is a cover for how the Mischiefs are getting their resources – her bosses are her parents’ arch-nemeses.
Hilarity ensues, and I’m quite happy to recommend the book to you. Give it a read.

  1. The degree to which it’s generic feels more tongue-in-cheek than anything else, so it works. 
  2. Except the European Union; apparently all it’ll take to resolve the Brexit mess is the end of the world? 
  3. These aren’t the heavily-dropped hints I’m referring to in the title; the romantic subplot is possibly the single most obvious thing to have happened in the history of ever. Subtlety, thy name is not Jessica Tran. 
  4. There’s some nice references to the fact that meat is a very rare luxury item, and the majority of the population lives on an economical vegetarian diet. 
  5. Now, we’re not going to say ‘super-genius,’ but we’re going to heavily imply it. 

“The Mystic Marriage,” or, “this book changed genre like four times”

Heather Rose Jones
School has begun in earnest, and I’ve suddenly gone from reading a book a day to taking a couple weeks to finish one. I’d call it depressing, but considering that I’m down to only a couple more books that I haven’t yet read, it’s actually working in my favor, keeping me from running out of new material quite so quickly.
“The Mystic Marriage” is set in the fictional European country of Alpennia, a small country that, were I to guess, is somewhere bordering France and, perhaps, Spain? It’s hard to say, as it’s never explicitly explained, but the recent collapse of the French Empire feels more personal than do the interferences from the Austrian Empire.1
There’s two twists that make the book really interesting.
The first is the presence of magic. It’s a different system than I’ve seen before, though – works of thaumaturgy are referred to as ‘mysteries’ and rely on the intervention of the saints. It’s all very Catholic, with some interesting utilitarian aspects. It’s reminiscent of the ways that science would have to be fit into the Catholic canon – tweak the wording a little bit, make sure to express some wonder about the great things God does, and you’re good as long as you don’t get too scandalous.
The other is more scandalous, and where it gets really fun. The core of the cast is, basically, the Lesbian Noblewomen’s Society. There’s a lot of mention of the fact that, as Noted Eccentrics, they’re allowed more strangeness by the high society of Rotenek, which is how they can get away, for example, a pair of unrelated women living together despite both being wealthy enough for their own households. It’s the scandalous nature of it that makes it feel realistic – there’s no “oh, yes, in this fictional country, unlike the rest of the Continent, everyone is totally fine with this!” It’s a “we’re powerful people, and as long as we’re not blatant we can get away with it.” Sort of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” applied to the upper crust of society.
And really, it’s a very enjoyable book. The genre changes were interesting, and allowed it to explore a lot of ground without being predictable, which I quite liked. So I’m quite happy to give it a recommendation – go give it a read.

  1. I think it’s the Austrian Empire; they’re referred to as ‘Austrians’ throughout, and only in glancing references, so it could just as well be the Holy Roman Empire. 

Playlist of the Month: August 2017

Classes have started and everything happens too much
Smoke Filled Room (Acoustic) – Mako
Killer Queen – FIL BO RIVA
22 (OVER S∞∞N) – Bon Iver
Haze – Amber Run
Wastelands – Amber Run
Cruise (Feat. Andrew Jackson) – Kygo
Big Jet Plane – Angus & Julia Stone
One More Light – LINKIN PARK
Dreams – Sunday
VPN ft Palmistry – Mr. Mitch
All We Need – Fyfe
Take Five – Patrik Almkvisth1
Better Man (Feat. Peter Gregson & Iskra String Quartet) – Fyfe
Zero Summer – Dirty Nice
Animals – Tamu Massif
The Roman Call – Beshken
Thunder – Imagine Dragons2
The Ends and the Means – Robby Hecht
Leave out All the Rest – LINKIN PARK
Black Or White – Yoe Mase
Borders – Fyfe
Sugar for the Pill – Slowdive3
Waves – Hayden Calnin
Miracles (Someone Special) – Coldplay & Big Sean
A L I E N S – Coldplay
Walking The Wire – Imagine Dragons
Dancing In The Dark – Imagine Dragons
Drive Slow – LUCASV
Hymn – Kesha4
Overgrown – Oh Wonder
All I Can Think About Is You – Coldplay
Praying – Kesha
Boots – Kesha
One Man Band – Albin Lee Meldau
Chandelier – Sia
No Answers (Acoustic) – Amber Run
New York – St. Vincent
Drugs – Roach Gigz feat. DB The General5
Nirvana – TheSamLao6
Rainbow – Kesha

  1. Seriously, this song is so calming 
  2. I just really like this one. “Now I’m smiling from the stage while/You were clapping in the nose bleeds” 
  3. Another very calming song, I recommend it. 
  4. Kesha is the only person that ever makes me think “yas queen” 
  5. My sister played this while she was visiting and it got stuck in my head immediately. Which is okay overall, because I think it’s a pretty hilarious song. 
  6. Another one I can blame/thank my sister for. 

“Ambassador 1: Seeing Red,” or, “the title turns out to be an extremely satisfying pun”

Patty Jansen
I honestly had no idea what this book was about going in, and I think it worked well that way. As it turns out, it was a political thriller: the protagonist is a negotiator between Nations of Earth and gamra. It’s roughly equivalent to, say, being Turkey’s negotiator to the EU for the membership talks. Only Turkey is a stronger version of the UN with full executive powers over the entire planet, and the EU is a trade coalition that regulates FTL interstellar travel.
Where it gets really interesting is the various non-humans involved. The rough layout of the galaxy features something like 95% of the entire population being various humanoids; there are some references to the fact that one of the member races of gamra is far more ancient than the rest and not only developed the FTL technology but used it to seed the galaxy with the various humanities. But each version of humanity had tens of thousands of years to diverge from one another, and you wind up with some really interesting cultural and even biological variations. The Coldi, the majority group within gamra, have some serious differences in how they treat one another and think about the world in general.
And that’s what makes the book so interesting – you’ve got a Eurosceptic-analog President of Nations of Earth, a novice diplomat without his cultural exchange attaché, and a negotiating culture based on a completely different style of interpersonal relationships and loyalty than anyone from Earth is used to. It’s fascinating looking at all the interactions, and the author has done an incredible job of taking one or two differences and seeing what happens when you let those differences influence things for a few hundred years. It’s an excellent read, and I couldn’t put the book down, so if you at all enjoy good science fiction or the occasional political thriller, give it a read.

“Death by Silver,” or, “the landlady has a point, the plant DID try to bite the help”

Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold
I’ll start off by saying that this is definitely within the Sherlock Holmes archetype of stories,1 but it’s got enough differing it from the rest to be interesting.
The first big difference is in the setting: it’s the same Victorianesque time period as the average Sherlock Holmes book, but this is a world with magic of a sort – or, as the locals refer to it, metaphysics. It’s a bit of a complex system, based upon written language and a fairly complex grammar, utilizing a variety of different written squares. I don’t have a great grasp of how it all works, which is okay, because the way it’s written it has a good mix of detail and lack thereof. It’s a good balance, and the way its integrated into the rest of the world is quite nice.
That leads into the second difference: while there’s a clear Sherlock figure, I got the feeling that he’s the secondary of the two narrative main characters.2 While the Sherlock is still the normal Sherlock, albeit using magic instead of opium, the Watson is a metaphysician for hire, rather than a doctor. The story begins with him, in fact: a customer comes to him to remove a curse from the family silver. Finding a lack of a curse, he does a cleansing… and is rather surprised a few days later when he’s hired again to sort out the murder of his previous client, his skull having been bashed in with some of the recently-cleansed silver. It’s at this point that he brings in the Sherlock, as that’s more his area of expertise.
The relationship between the two of them is the third major difference.3 They went to school together, had a bit of a schoolboy dalliance, broke it off in college, and then resumed it in their adulthood. It’s a weird interaction – one of those rom-com style things, where both parties involved want the same thing, but are both convinced the other doesn’t want it. It makes the switching viewpoints mechanic pretty hilarious, to be honest; I spent a lot of time gleefully muttering “you idiot” at the both of them.
It’s the taboo quality of that relationship that I enjoyed the most, I think: the book doesn’t go in for the gloss-over-it style that some take, wherein the Victorian “don’t ask, don’t tell” style4 is stretched to cover openly gay men. Instead, it’s a matter of only being shown or spoken of behind closed doors. Secretive clubs that one must be vouched for by an existing member to get into. Careful remarks that can be said to have been misheard if the wrong response is given. It makes the whole thing realistic – take away the magical aspect of the book, and I could absolutely believe it was someone’s autobiography, hidden away and recently rediscovered and published by a descendant.
All in all, it made for an interesting read, and I’m quite happy to recommend it to you.

  1. I should have a tag for ‘Holmesian books’ by now, I read enough of them. 
  2. Two protagonists, working together; the viewpoint switches off between the two of them throughout. Nonetheless, the Sherlock has the helm slightly less than the Watson. 
  3. Well, insofar as it’s explicitly stated; there’s a lot of queer theory talk about the canonical Holmes/Watson relationship. 
  4. See “a bared ankle is improper, but I’ll meet you at the brothel for some opium later.” 


You may not have heard, but there was an eclipse recently. While I wasn’t going to go out and buy one of those expensive camera filters for doing proper eclipse photography, I did have an extra pair of eclipse glasses and some duct tape, so I made do. (The photo above is without the filter; during totality, which I was in the zone of, you can look at the event with the naked eye… or the naked lens.)

This is right before totality began – just a sliver of the sun was still showing, but without a filter, that’s still a lot of light.

I was switching off lenses throughout – I had a prime lens with the makeshift filter attached, and a kit zoom that I used when I wanted no filter but didn’t want to deal with the duct tape. This is that kit zoom, no filter, at its maximum zoom level.

Finally, here’s what it looked like through the filter.
I’m not going to talk about it being a ‘life-changing experience’ or anything, but I will recommend checking out some of the recordings – I believe NASA put out a 3D livestream that I assume is archived somewhere, and lots of better photographers than I am got some good photos, I’m sure.
And hey, next time there’s going to be an eclipse in the US, go check it out.1

  1. But, y’know, make sure to get your campground reservations a year early or so. 

“Interim Errantry 2: On Ordeal,” or, “origin stories are actually interesting when they’re new”

Diane Duane
And really, that’s the long and short of it: the origin stories for three characters in Diane Duane’s marvelous Young Wizardsseries. And they were very interesting origins – the third, there were hints about in the rest of the series, but the first two were entirely new. The second was very unexpected, as well – more vicious, and sadder, than I’d thought.
But rather than talk about this book specifically, I think I’d be happier talking up the series as a whole. I haven’t really had a chance to write about it here before, but it’s been one of my favorites for ages. I received the first book in the series as a birthday present years and years ago,1 and promptly fell in love.
It’s been mentioned in both college and graduate school application essays. It drifts through the way I look at the world. I can name chunks of my value system that clearly come from these books, and I can trace my interests – up to and including my major and planned career path – back to the way these books taught me to look at the world.
Before I ever read Peter Parker’s thoughts on responsibility, these books were teaching me that having power meant you should use it to help others.
And they taught me that names, and really all words, are very powerful things.
They’ve been hugely influential to my life, and I happily recommend them to everyone. Start at the beginning: the first book, the delightfully-titled So You Want to Be A Wizard, should be in your local library. If not, I’d recommend picking it up directly from the author: she certainly deserves your patronage. Regardless, go start reading.

  1. I don’t remember exactly how many years it was, but I can tell it was sometime that in elementary school, based on where the birthday party was and who I can recall being there. 

Tidbits from Apple’s Machine Learning Journal

A short while ago, Apple launched a journal on machine learning; the general consensus on why they did it is that AI researchers want their work to be public, although as some have pointed out, the articles don’t have a byline. Still, getting the work out at all, even if unattributed, is an improvement over their normal secrecy.
They’ve recently published a few new articles, and I figured I’d grab some interesting tidbits to share.
In one, they talked about their use of deep neural networks to power the speech recognition used by Siri; in expanding to new languages, they’ve been able to decrease training time by transferring over the trained networks from existing language recognition systems to new languages.1 Probably my favorite part, though, is this throwaway line:

While we wondered about the role of the linguistic relationship between the source language and the target language, we were unable to draw conclusions.

I’d love to see an entire paper exploring that; hopefully that’ll show up eventually. You can read the full article here.
Another discusses the reverse – the use of machine learning technology for audio synthesis, specifically the voices of Siri. Google has done something similar,2 but as Apple mentions, it’s pretty computationally expensive to do it that way, and they can’t exactly roll out a version of Siri that burns through 2% of your iPhone’s battery every time it has to talk. So, rather than generate the entirety of the audio on-device, the Apple team went with a hybrid approach – traditional speech synthesis, based on playing back chunks of audio recordings, but using machine learning techniques to better select which chunks to play based, basically, on how good they’ll sound when they’re stitched together. The end of the article includes a table of audio samples comparing the Siri voices in iOS 9, 10, and 11, it’s a cool little example to play with.
The last of the three new articles discusses the method by which Siri (or the dictation system) knows to change “twenty seventeen” into “2017,” and the various other differences between spoken and written forms of languages. It’s an interesting look under the hood of some of iOS’ technology, but mostly it just made me wonder about the labelling system that powers the ‘tap a date in a text message to create a calendar event’ type stuff – that part, specifically, is fairly easy pattern recognition, but the system also does a remarkable job of tagging artist names3 and other things. The names of musical groups is a bigger problem, but the one that I wonder about the workings of is map lookups – I noticed recently that the names of local restaurants were being linked to their Maps info sheet, and that has to be doing some kind of on-device search, because I doubt Apple has a master list of every restaurant in the world that’s getting loaded onto every iOS device.
As a whole, it’s very cool to see Apple publishing some of their internal research, especially considering that all three of these were about technologies they’re actually using.

  1. The part in question was specific to narrowband audio, what you get via bluetooth rather than from the device’s onboard microphones, but as they mention, it’s harder to get sample data for bluetooth microphones than for iPhone microphones. 
  2. Entertainingly, the Google post is much better designed than the Apple one; Apple’s is good-looking for a scientific journal article, but Google’s includes some nice animated demonstrations of what they’re talking about that makes it more accessible to the general public. 
  3. Which it opens, oh-so-helpfully, in Apple Music, rather than iTunes these days. 

Quarry Cove

Technically speaking, this is part of Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, but that’s a bit long of a name, and I rather like “Quarry Cove” better. I’m also quite happy to have had another opportunity to get my camera out.
Continue reading Quarry Cove

“Blood Ties,” or, “nobody will ever convince me these two aren’t married”

Quincy J. Allen
I’m standing by that title, and it makes a good follow-up to my review of the short story prequel to this that was in one of the anthologies I read recently.
It’s still a wonderful take on post-civil-war America, and I quite enjoyed the read; although, being as I’m without internet as I’m writing this, I’m rather annoyed that I don’t have the sequel, because there’s a whole lot left to happen in the plot. Like, to the degree that I’d argue this shouldn’t have been the end of the book, just the end of Part One of the book.
Still, it’s a fun read – the main characters are a delightful pair of cowboys that are basically married with a child,1 and if I want to utterly misrepresent the book I’d call it the story of their vacation to San Francisco. Although, considering how much they enjoy themselves, it sorta is, if a bit more lethal than the average vacation. Hey, the six destroyed buildings won’t cost that much to fix, right?
Basically it’s a fun romp of a book, and I’m quite happy to recommend it. Give it a read.

  1. Canonically this isn’t true, but all of the places where the book makes it clear it isn’t feel a little bit forced in. A word of advice to the author: when your characters are trying this hard to make something happen, just let it happen. 

“Out of This World,” or, “it’s like Fifty Shades and the Chronicles of Narnia had a child”

Catherine Lundoff
The last of my string of anthologies; I’ve run out of them for the moment, and I’ll be going back to reading and reviewing novels for a while, at least.

“Great Reckonings, Little Rooms”

A Shakespearean tragedy, though not in the normal way.

“Medium Méchanique”

And this, folks, is why we leave the dead alone.

“The Egyptian Cat”

There’s something really fun about a staggeringly normal person getting caught up as a side character in an epic story.

“At the Roots of the World Tree”

I wanted this to be a bit happier than it actually was, but I liked it regardless.

“A Scent of Roses”

A happier ending to the Tam Lane story than I really expected it to have.

“At Mother Laurie’s House of Bliss”

Now I want to watch a police procedural that takes place in a medieval kingdom full of knights and magic.

“Spell, Book and Candle”

If I were a TV witch, this would be the point where my chatty familiar would give me sound advice, which I would then ignore. But then, if I were a TV witch, I wouldn’t be a dyke with the hots for her old college sweetie.


The fact that this whole thing was leading up to a “Beauty and the Beast” joke is just spectacular.

“Red Scare”

An odd twist on the noir detective trope.

“A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace”

I kinda hate body-swap stories, it’s just difficult to keep track of who’s who.


The city of sorrows has a Diablo sort of feel to it – ancient curses and all that.

All in all, a good collection of stories to end on. Give it a read.

“The Best of Penny Dread Tales,” or, “why is there never a nuclear boiler in the steampunk airship“

Yet another anthology! I’m on a roll.

“Iron Angel”

Cayleigh Hickey
Oh, we’re off to a good start here. I wasn’t expecting to leap into the land of the fae, but here we are.

“The Dirges of Percival Lewand”

Aaron Michael Ritchey
Okay well, this belonged more in the last anthology I read than here, but oh well.

“The Tunnel Rat’s Journey”

J. M. Franklin
Futuristic steampunk! An interesting twist, and one of the more hopeful bits of post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve ever read. I like it.

“The Cutpurse from Mulberry Bend”

Gerry Huntman
Short and sad.

“The Great Dinosaur Roundup of 1903”

Laura Givens

Traveling through time turns out to be loud and flashy but not as uncomfortable as you might think.

Told as a letter from, basically, a background character in an Atomic Robo flashback sequence.

“American Vampire”

Keith Good
Well that’s a rough life, my guy.

“Lasater’s Lucky Left”

Quincy J. Allen
I’m gonna be honest, I was kinda hoping this would turn into a horrid romance noel halfway through. The sequel’s still got room for that, though, so I’ll hold out hope.

“Sinking to the Level of Demons”

David Boop
Well, that got dark.


J.R. Boyett & Peter J. Wacks
Oh, that was cool. A variant on vampires, and a retired hunter? Very cool.

“The Noonday Sun”

Vivian Caethe
An exoskeleton-wearing monster hunter, clearing out the Wild West.

“Industrial Melanism”

Aaron Spriggs
If you’re claustrophobic, don’t read this one.

“Today, the Sun Sets in the East”

Peter J. Wacks
Another good story that I’d like to read more of. Tiger is an interesting character, as is Hummingbird.

“The Weather God”

David W. Landrum
Well that war went a bit differently than the British expected, I’d say.

“The Spirit of the Grift”

Sam Knight
A portable X-ray, I think? I wish we had more stories of grifters using some sort of advanced technology to pull it off.

“The Heart of Appricotta”

Mike Cervantes

With a salute, punctuated by a word that sounded like a punch to the stomach in Yiddish, the assembled tossed the raft in the river.

It’s a comedy in a style I’d describe as “British Imperial Braggadocio,” which isn’t exactly to my taste, but a couple lines (the one above, for example) got a laugh out of me.1

“Budapest Will Burn”

Jonathan D. Beer
Why do anthologies end on such weird notes? I’d rather have them end on something happy, which this could be if you squint, but it’s a Pyrrhic victory at best.

Nonetheless, this was another good collection of stories that I’m comfortable recommending. Give it a read.

  1. Another good one:

    In my panic I struggled to remember precisely what the five stages of grief were supposed to be, so I experienced denial, anger, gassiness, and that strange confusion you get when you feel you’ve left a door unlocked before finally achieving acceptance.

“Ghost in the Cogs,” or, “a neutron bomb, but it makes angry zombies, too“

I’m continuing on my anthology kick, I suppose.

“Asmodeus Flight”

Siobhan Carroll

The Great Exhibition had attracted a seething mixture of nationalities—scar-faced Americans, queue-sporting Chinese, green-scaled Inner Earthers—even an odd Frenchman, the latter drawing suspicious glances from John Bull and continental exiles alike.

Ah, Britain.


Folly Blaine & Randy Henderson
“Imagine that with power.”

“The Misplaced Body of Fitzhugh Alvey”

Jessica Corra
I do enjoy a story where the women are smarter and the men don’t reject that fact.

“The Ghost Pearl”

Howard Andrew Jones
A slight Pirates of the Caribbean vibe to this one, even though the whole thing takes place in London.1

“Frænka Askja’s Silly Old Story”

Emily C. Skaftun
This is the saddest one so far, somehow.

“Edge of the Unknown”

Elsa S. Henry
There’s a slight Pratchett feel here, and it works really well.2

“The Blood on the Walls”

Eddy Webb
Sherlock Holmes investigating actual hauntings, basically; I wish this was a series I could read more of.

“Tipping Point”

Nayad Monroe
Gotta love good old Victorian capitalism.


Jonah Buck
While that was a pretty obvious outcome, I’m still annoyed about it.

“The Monster”

Erika Holt
Man, I’m with the narrator, I hope he didn’t actually succeed.

“The Book of Futures”

Wendy Nikel
A locked-room mystery! Oh, I do like those.

“Death Wish”

Parker Goodreau
Another one that I want more of – I’d quite enjoy reading this weird love story.

“City of Spirits”

Christopher Paul Carey
Well, that could’ve gone better. I’m a bit curious as to how a cold-burning fire can be used to generate electricity, although I suppose it’s possible…

“Team 17”

T. Mike McCurley
I think I’m gonna go ahead and call this my favorite from the book, without even reading the rest: it’s set post-WWII, during the cleanup from a war where Germany weaponized life-force and the Blitz was done with something like a neutron bomb. The entire city wiped out… and an army of angry ghosts left behind.

“The Litany of Waking”

Scott Fitzgerald Gray
Another excellent one – feels like a post-apocalyptic version of Girl Genius.

“Labor Costs”

Richard Dansky
And this is why we need unions, folks.

“The Twentieth-Century Man”

Nick Mamatas
A sequel to an earlier story in this anthology, actually, which made it even more interesting.

“Clockwork of Sorrow”

Spencer Ellsworth
I suppose the title should’ve warned me that this one would be a tragedy.

“The Lady in the Ghastlight”

Liane Merciel
Oh, the wick was a nice touch, I didn’t expect that part.


Richard Pett
Forget about the cuckoo, I want to know what happens to the engine.

“The Shadow and the Eye”

James Lowder

Like everyone who had read a newspaper in the past twenty years, I was familiar with Professor Thaxton’s temper. He’d been at the heart of brawls at scientific conferences on six of the seven continents; only Australia has, so far, been spared.

I can only assume he just hasn’t been to a scientific conference in Australia yet, that seems like the most likely place for a brawl at a conference.
That said, we’re also throwing this in the category of “I desperately want a whole series of this.”

“Golden Wing, Silver Eye”

Cat Hellisen
Oh, we’re ending on another sad one.

Quite a few very good reads in here, I definitely recommend it if you’re in the mood for some bite-sized works. Have a read.

  1. Well, I assume it’s London, these things usually happen there. 
  2. Or possibly Diana Wynne Jones. Either way, I strongly recommend it. 

“The SEA is Ours,” or, “is the proper term ‘biopunk’ or ‘genopunk’?”

That’s actually a nice little wordplay in the title there – it’s a steampunk anthology centered around Southeast Asia. From the introduction:

… if in the larger English-language science fiction world straight white men call the shots, then our anthology presents a range of authors and characters that is predominantly women, and hella queer.

“On the Consequence of Sound”

Timothy Dimacali
Man, I’d have been more attentive in violin lessons if being able to play well was going to enable me to fly, dang.

“Chasing Volcanoes”

Marilag Angway
Post-apocalyptic landscapes are usually made that way by nuclear weapons, but this time it was just a ton of volcanoes. Still unclear on what, exactly, they’re trying to extract from the volcanoes, though.


L.L. Hill
Something about clockwork and holy places just doesn’t mesh in my head; I blame the Luddites.

“The Last Aswang”

Alessa Hinlo
Oh, now that is a story. I like it, and I might have to do a bit more research on the myths behind it, they seem interesting.

“Life Under Glass”

Nghi Vo
I was expecting a very different ending, but I guess that works.

“Between Severed Souls”

Paolo Chikiamco
There’s a trend through all of these – more respect and acknowledgement of ancient things than you get in the mainstream of steampunk. It’s different, and it’s a good contrast.

“The Unmaking of the Cuadro Amoroso”

Kate Osias
A tragedy, and a tale of revenge. Sad and sweet and wonderful.

“Working Woman”

Olivia Ho
I wasn’t really expecting to laugh at a story this grim, but dang was it ever funny towards the end.

“Spider Here”

Robert Liow
Less ‘steampunk’ than it is ‘biopunk,’ and it’s cool.

“The Chamber of Souls”

z.m. quỳnh
There’s a lot going on in this one, and I’m a bit at sea. Which apparently doesn’t exist here?


Ivanna Mendels
It’s like a superhero team, I’m digging it.

“The Insects and Women Sing Together”

Pear Nuallak
A strong ending to the anthology.

I liked the whole thing- a lot of good stories, and authors that are well worth supporting. Give it a read.