70: The Time Travelers Wife -Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's Wife
The Time Traveler’s Wife -Audrey Niffenegger

i have a weakness for a good chick-flick. Its a fact that few of even my close friends know about me. To me people who say they hate The Notebook are either lying or sociopathic! i’m also (as this Book Club of One project would indicate) pretty dang nerdy! So Time Traveler’s Wife manages to scratch two itches reeeeaaal good!

Niffenegger does a good job of putting a new spin on time travel. In TTW (long title, abreviation established… let’s just accept it for this post) time travel is sporadic, uncontrolable, mysterious. There’s not quantum particals, no Time And Relative Dimension In Space vehicle, no 1.21 Gigawatts or 88 MPH… there’s just Richard DeTamble bouncing around occasionally in the time continuum. Uncontrollable, sporadic, sometimes amusing, sometimes touching, often dangerous; he arrives T-800 style butt-naked.

Niffenegger paints some very interesting pictures with her novel. What happens if love between two people occurs out side of a predictible linear time-line? If good people appear random times and places without so much as their skivies how do they learn to cope with that?

Characters feel rich and developed, the story of Richard and Claire’s love together is equally rich. Most of the supporting cast also feel well rounded, complex, and interesting. The origins of the time travel problem are interesting. Some scenes are steamy enough to fog up a mirror but never feel distasteful. (side note: as a male i’m often very interested in how female authors write about sex and sexuality. Niffenegger did a good job depicting sexuality from both sides of the gender coin, both from Claire’s viewpoint and from Richard’s. Kudos)

Book Club of One grade: A+ i recomend this one with zero reservations. This is a book i’d throw into the ring of a non-nerd book club too, you know one with more than one person in it haha. Paced well, great characters, thought provoking, i’ll likely re-read this one agin in a few years.

79: Something Wicked This Way Comes -Ray Bradbury

Something Wicked This Way Comes
Something Wicked This Way Comes -Ray Bradbury

Something Wicked This Way Comes feels like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman sat down and wrote a project together… which since the book was published in 1962 i guess a better way to phrase that would be that Something Wicked feels like it should be a notable influence on the work of King and Gaiman.

We follow two boys in a small town in America in an age that has since moved on. An age when traveling circuses and carnivals moved around and set up temporary shop outside of towns for a week or so. An age when young boys left the house in the morning and played unsupervised until dinner time. The book proves to be both a glimpse into a world that no longer exists and a deep stare into the fears that plauge us.

Something Wicked is delightlfully surreal. The carnival rolls into town but arrives with odd and ominous portents of it’s true dark nature. A magic carosel features prominently in the story, a ride on this carosel is able to effect the age of the rider as they revolve around on it’s carved horses, either moving you forward or reversing the aging process. This proves to be a source of temptation for several charaters in the novel, including one of the main ones! As i continue to age, and especially now that a new tiny-human is a part of my life, aging is very much in the forefront of my mind many days. A recent trip with my own aging father highlighted the gravity of the passage of time on the human body even more. So i’ve read this book at a time in my life when this magical carosel is of extreme interest to me!

 

In short this roving band of supernatural and evil carneys come to town looking for the “food” they need… the essence and life-force of life itself. Our two main protagonists are both tempted and terrorized by the creepy carnival hands and their leader.

In the end one of the boys own aging fathers (he’s not old, just older than the father of a boy that age should be- yet another thing i can relate intimatly to right now) cracks the mystery of defeating the evil carneys and winds up in the end saving the day and the town (although the town is mostly unaware of the danger they were really in).

 

Book Club of One Score: Solid B: Bradbury does a great job painting this dark tale on the stark contrast of such a wholesome backdrop. Its a pretty easy read overall and dips into heavy enough subject matter that while not taking long to read it still sticks in my brain and gives me pause. It has a slight YA feel overall, which i like in a book from time to time (even as a grown man). Pick it up and give this one a go!

The Orville

The Orville
The Orville

i just wrapped up season 1 of The Orville. i’m not a huge fan of McFarlane’s other work, particularly Family Guy. i appreciate some of the humor and i’m convinced that McFarlane is this generation’s Mel Brooks. He’s able to make jokes few others would get by with. There is just a sort of self-congradulatory feel to much of Family Guy that leaves me feeling like i’ve just had dinner with one of my ruder, more arrogant aquaintences.

So i rolled into The Orville with low expectations.

Maybe it was my lowered expectations, or the strong cast, or the money they clearly sank into the special effects… or a combination of all of those factors. i wrapped up season 1 pretty satisfied overall!

The Orville starts off as a parody of the much loved (by me and many, many others) Star Trek universe. Just a few episodes in it seems to switch gears from parody to tribute. The Orville uses it’s platform to address current social issues that our world is dealing with today, and it often does so with a great blend of tact, humor, and irreverance. It’s got a softer edge than some of McFarlane’s other work but it drives points home possibly even harder than they do.

i started watching The Orville because i’m a Trek fan, i wanted to see how bad a Family Guy version of Trek would be… and now:

i’m just waiting around for season two to drop!

 

83: Consider Phlebas -Ian M Banks

Large ring structures that spin in space.
Consider Phlebas: Orbital

Consider Phlebas is the opening novel in the Culture Series, written by Banks.  The series is most often branded as a Space-Opera and i think that fits it just fine. It’s fast moving, full of big spectacular sci-fi tech that would make for great visuals on a movie screen, and the characters are often fast-talkers who are entertaining to the reader.

The opener focuses on a “changer” named Horza. From a fading race of humanoids who are basically sci-fi doppelgangers (with a few extra bells and whistles, poison bells and whistles).  He’s the fastest talker of them all in the book and throughout his dialogue was probably my favorite thing in the book.

A little like Perdido Street Station the book reads like watching someone’s table-top RPG campaign, one with lots of charisma based checks in it. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail.

Book Club of One Score: B-; if you want a hefty book that’s still a fast-paced read and want your imagination to soar at the visuals then consider Consider Phlebas (see what i did there?).

#63: The Road-Cormac McCarthy

The Road
The Road -Cormac McCarthy

The Road is New-Moon midnight stroll dark… It’s dark roast coffee with no cream dark…. It’s vanta-black dark!

That’s just a friendly PSA for those of you who don’t like dark things. This book though… So good!

Set in an indeterminite dystopian future where the world lays in ash and waste with no foreseeable source of even food production in sight. The story follows the journey of a father and son as they head towards the coast and whatever hope that may offer.

The trials they encounter and navigate along the way are gut-wrenching. They both feel like real people who react to things and each other in realistic fashion. The dynamic between the two feels so real with the father often speaking harshly to the boy when he doesn’t react quickly enough in dangerous situations and then comforting him lovingly afterwards.

i really can’t put into words how much i like The Road. It’s hard to read, i had read it a few years back and re-read it for Book Club of One. Even on a re-read it was still as jarring as it was the first time through.

Book Club of One score: A+. Well written, solid characters with complex interactions. Dark and bitter. If you have a hankering for a story WITHOUT a happy ending, you certainly can’t go wrong with this masterpiece.

#84: The Crystal Cave -Mary Stewart

The Crystal Cave
The Crystal Cave -Mary Stewart

 

The Crystal Cave follows the development of Merlin from the Arthurian mythos before he was THE MERLIN we all have ingrained into our imaginations. It follows his growth from a child into a young man.

The story has some twists and turns along the way, with Merlin fleeing multiple times for his life, establishing himself a few times by the cleverness of his mind and wraps up with him manipulating Uthur into treachery that will ultimately lead to the birth of Arthur, an event that Merlin has foreseen.

The book was well written and the characters compelling. It’s interesting how Stewart weaves fantasy with history in this book.

Book Club of One score: B-. It’s a solid book, actually one of my most enjoyable “Arthur books” (The Once and Future King being my all-time favorite of the genre). i found out that it’s part of a series, a series that i could one day see myself returning to. i think overall i enjoyed Stewart’s writing more than the content of the book. Her writing has a nice tempo and is nuanced and interesting to me. If you love Arthurian stuff and want some “prequel” action this could be your best bet!

#74: Old Man’s War -John Scalazi

Old Man's War
Old Man’s War -John Scalzi

Old Man’s War is a seriously fun ride from start to finish.

It’s got some graphic violence, some thoughtful dialogue, heartfelt moments, irreverent moments, cool sci-fi tech, and low-fi likable characters.

The book follow the adventures of John Perry a 75 year old starting his career in the Colonial Defense Force as an infantryman. While set in the future humans haven’t achieved any extended longevity, so a 75 year old military recruit has the potential for some real entertainment value. What has the potential for even MORE entertainment value? A whole army of 75 year old military recruits! Ships and ships full of them!

Spoiler: they all get new, heavily modified and augmented, bodies. Scalazi does an interesting job digging into the what-ifs of 75 year old minds in super-human 20-something year old bodies. Perry’s brief moment with his old body (while in his new body) had me a lil’ misty!

While keeping a brisk pace that makes this book what i consider an “easy-read” Scalazi touches on themes like: Consciousness and identity, and the morality of war… you know the light fluffy stuff.

 

Book Club of One grade: A. Fun & Fast but with some meat on the bones here and there. Old Man’s War would make a great read to pack for a trip! If you want a the literary equivalent to a sci-fi Die Hard pick this book up! i liked Old Man’s War so much that when i found out it was a series i got genuinely excited! i fully plan to dip back into this world!

Disenchantment: Netflix

Screen-Shot-2018-05-23-at-4.50.31-PM-920x584.png

i’m a HUGE Futurama fan (but the Simpsons get a pretty solid “Meh” from me) so i was pretty excited when i found out that Netflix was releasing Disenchantment.

i rolled into the series with pretty high expectations, it looked like Futurama, it smelled like Futurama, but science and aliens were swapped for magic and magical creatures! It seemed like a real win for me!

So, the first several episodes felt pretty weak to me, and i was filled with disenchantment myself… but i pressed on. It’s only 10 episodes long. The characters were unlikeable-lovable, like so many of the Futurama gang. Plus episodes are only 24 minutes long so they make great fillers.

Here i was, plodding along… disillusioned… a little disappointed…  and then…. EPISODE 9!

In my opinion the first 8 episodes are all just set-up for episodes 9 & 10! They felt disjointed and random but suddenly… it all came together, like making whip cream or mayonnaise from scratch. You don’t see it coming, one second its just liquid and then BAM its there! i have pressed on to the final two episodes of season one and in those two episodes i went from “let’s just finish it so we can say we gave it a shot” to “How long until season two?”

i know it’s gotten mixed reviews from critics and fans, but this fan is now on board!

#78: The Dispossessed – Ursula Le Guinn

The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

The Dispossessed is an engaging and intellectually stimulating trip into a Sci-Fi universe that’s well thought out and very interesting. The two main locations in the book are Urras a planet inhabited by humans who’s society very much so mirrors the society/societies found on Earth, and Anarres the moon of Urras. Anarres is a sort of Utopian society that is oft described as an anarchist utopia but to me it much more resembles an off-shoot of communism. There’s no money, everyone is provided housing and an allotment of food. There is an overarching body that gives people work assignments; these can be ignored but rarely are as there is some social pressure to accept them. Anarres is a society where everyone owns everything and nothing at the same time. Urras is a capitalist system that most of us are well acquainted with.

Shevek is the protagonist of the story, a physicist who’s theories hold the key to faster-than-light space travel. He’s committed to dispersing his theories to all societies simultaneously so none can use them to take advantage of other civilizations. He’s complex, imperfect, does some shady things, and some heroic things.

i like how Le Guinn uses the story to ask some questions that 40ish years after publication are still powerful: She looks at sexism in society; she questions both capitalism and (what i call) semi-communism; she probes at the basic nature of humans individually, collectively, and governmentally; and she leaves us thinking about how innovation is sometimes used as an aggressive tool politically.

 

Overall i’d give The Dispossessed a Book Club of One grade of C+: The concepts are great, the writing is solid, but for some reason i had to force myself to stay engaged with the book. It’s an intangible thing for me that i can’t put my finger on.  Pick it up if you’re looking for a Sci-Fi read with some heft to the story that could leave you thinking about bigger things.

More bike than i needed… but the bike i wanted!

2019 Stumpjumper Comp Carbon
2019 Stumpjumper Comp Carbon

i picked up the 2019 Specialized Stumpjumer Comp Carbon 29er a few months back and have put 200 miles or so on it at the time i type this, so here are my thoughts:

It’s my first full-carbon mountain bike: She’s Carbon fiber from head tube to rear dropouts! Plus for 2019 Specialized only makes one carbon Stumpjumper frame. That means my Comp Carbon Stumpy has the same frame as the S-works stumpy… which is pretty amazing!

Back to full-squish: i’ve spent the last year riding a hard-tail mountain bike. My old bike was also a “sport” bike. A sport bike that i rode in non-sport conditions from time-to time. So getting by bum over a VERY capable full suspension bike has been amazing!

29er: Since one of my jobs is at a bike-shop i have access to demo bikes from time to time. Riding a decent spread of bikes has lead me to the conclusion that for me 29ers are faster, and more fun. i have nothing against 27.5″ bikes, they’re just not my preferred cup-of-tea right now.

 

Here’s what i love about my 2019 Stumpjumper: 

  1. it’s forgiving: Stray off-line, land a little crossed-up, get distracted & sloppy? Stumpy don’t care. Stumpy eats trail for breakfast. Stumpy eats trail however you throw it at the trail. Stumpy woke up hungry for trail… Stumpy ALWAYS hungry!
  2. Big Squish! i know, it’s considered a “trail bike” it’s not like i’m shredding downhill on an enduro bike but for me 150mm up front and 140mm in the back is a LOT of travel! i’ve grown accustomed to 120mm up front and chain stay flex and creaky knees in the back. Rocky and rooty trails that i had started to avoid are now a pleasure to ride.
  3. All that carbon fiber: My first carbon road bike made me a believer in carbon fiber bikes. rough choppy roads became buttery smooth, yet the bike felt like a rocket when i put the hammer down. Carbon fiber frames are engineered to be flexy where flexy is good and still where stiff is good. You just don’t get that sort of control from any other material currently.
  4. S.W.A.T.: i really like the S.W.A.T. box on the bike. on shorter rides i’m notorious for taking nothing but a water bottle out there with me (tools, tubes, etc are in a camelbak that i typically only wear on longer rides). The S.W.A.T. box means that i have a place to stuff all that stuff without an unsightly bike-scrotum dangling from my saddle. The Multi-tool integrated onto the bottom of the bottle cage is equally nice!
  5. Stability: My stumpy has proven to be maybe the most stable platform i’ve ever ridden (definitely the most stable platform i’ve ever ridden REGULARLY). Even when the trail gets loosey-goosey and the tires start sliding around  the bike stays under me and goes where i point it. It actually makes those previously terrifying sections of trail super fun.
  6. Position on the bike: It was a HUGE adjustment for me. i lean towards XC style bikes and the stumpy is a trail bike through and through. The Stumpy has me riding in a more upright and neutral position. I’m accustomed to getting my weight waaaaaay back on technical sections but on the Stumpy i find that i can just ride those sections and the bike loves it and eats it up. The more neutral position also means that at the end of a bigger ride when i’m beat my body doesn’t feel as generally beat-up as it used to.

 

Things i don’t love so much:

  1. Climbing: i know, it’s not built to be a climber. i’m fully aware of that. But i enjoy the long slow suffering most days. If i don’t want to die on a bike at least once on a ride then it’s an “easy ride”. Don’t get me wrong: for a 150/140 travel bike it climbs pretty well. The rear shock stiffens up but doesn’t lock all the way out (which i wish it did). The fork will lock out but only on fire-roads or the rare hard-top connector do i ever lock the fork out. There’s some magic to the geometry that keeps the fork from feeling too bobby on climbs for me.
  2. S.W.A.T. rattle: i LOVE the S.W.A.T. box… (see above). Love it! but no matter how i adjust the contents or how firm i pack stuff in there; stuff rattles when the trail gets gnarly. Given the nature of the S.W.A.T. box i don’t see how there’s anyway around this. Its a hollow part of the down-tube you can stick stuff in. Then you ride the bike, with the down tube stuffed with stuff, down rough stuff and stuff shakes around. This is a SUPER minor thing, but i mention it.

 

Conclusion: Yeah the Stumpjumper is really too much bike for me. I’m not out there shredding like those crazy kids! My ride style is much more XC-Fun. But i wanted a bike for once that leaned more to the Fun side, so i got one. The more i ride this bike the more i like it, and i liked it a lot on the first ride! My dislikes are really silly things, one is evident from the style of bike the other is price you pay for that convenience. My likes are all solid reasons to buy and ride the bike! Would i recommend the 2019 Stumpjumper? Hands down! With zero reservations! Loving this big ole squishy bike!

 

Now watch this ridiculous promo-video Specialized produced: Watch it and love it! Stumpjumper 2019 Promo