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Farewell to 2016

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States of Mind I: The Farewells, Umberto Bocciano, 1911

There’s a very good chance that historians will remember 2016 as the year we tipped the flusher on the toilet, leading to a long spiral into oblivion. Between Brexit, the Great Celebrity Die-off and the recent American election we have plenty of reasons to cast worrying gazes at the future. I did not want to see the re-emergence of fascism in Europe, and now a party founded by Nazi sympathizers who looked with longing at the Vichy regime is considered a viable option to lead in France. Based on demographics, I can’t help but feel like the previous generation has decided to stomp on mine with a giant boot to the face one last time before letting go of the reins, but with the added sting that there might not be a planet to piece together again after this latest experiment in pursuing ideology over practical concerns.

Couple that with a quarter-life crisis and you have quite the anxious mix. Continue Reading »

Over on the Iatropexy Podcast.

Download to your listening device of choice from here.

When I bought a new laptop this year, the shiny HD screen lured me over to the world of digital art. I bought a Wacom Intuos tablet shortly afterwards and had a go at painting with a stylus. What’s really impressed me over the last few months have been the wealth of free and open source tools available for creative expression that are capable of some really impressive results. Not just for painting, either: Blender, InkscapeGIMP and LibreOffice are all catching up to their commercial counterparts, sport an appealing anarcho-punk approach to giving users complete control over their products, and are sometimes friendlier to use.

My tablet came with ArtRage Lite as the bundled software, but I found I didn’t get along with it. The heavy focus on reproducing the effects of physical media ran counter to what I wanted to do—take advantage of the freedom provided by the digital space to produce artwork that would be otherwise impossible or too time-consuming if I used the supplies in my “art box”. The user interface was also a major turnoff for me, performance issues proving the final straw. After some experimenting, I’ve settled on three painting programs for use with my tablet: MyPaint, Krita and FireAlpaca. Continue Reading »

December Recommendations

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Kicking off the last month of a rotten year with some cool stuff I’ve stumbled across in the last few weeks that I want to share, all available for free:

1. The Imaginary Worlds Podcast

I’ve been listening to episode after episode of this non-stop since I first heard a snippet played on CBC Radio’s Podcast Playlist. Eric Molinsky consistently delivers thoughtful, well-produced audio essays about science fiction and fantasy, often emphasizing the relevance of various popular films and books to the real world and how popular media can reflect and even drive cultural and political discourse. To this end, he interviews an army of scholars, fans and specialists in fields ranging from psychology to history to economics. Really fantastic stuff. A particular standout is the episode on Dracula, putting to rest the common wisdom that Bram Stoker based his vampire on Vlad Tepes and instead pointing to a far more convoluted and yet more thematically relevant inspiration for one of the nineteenth century’s most enduring literary characters. Continue Reading »

Welcome to the CBC

 

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The only times Tatsuhiro Satou ventures out of his tiny apartment are for the basic necessities of life, and even then, he doesn’t go far. 22 years old, a college dropout, unemployed and living off a meagre allowance from his father…Satou seemingly has no hobbies or interests beyond sleeping, staring at the walls, or getting drunk/high. He’s been like this for four years now, and while he berates himself and dreams up various schemes to become a “normal person” again, he inevitably ends up retreating into his constricted existence. The days flow by and his only comfort rests in bizarre conspiracy theories about how the world is out to get him. That is, until he bumps into a young woman named Misaki who makes him sign a contract to take part in a “special project” to reform his life.

The hikikomori phenomenon was starting to get major media attention in Japan when Tatsuhiko Takimoto wrote Welcome to the NHK! (2002). While this manifestation of alienation, social anxiety, and inability to deal with expectations is largely unique to Japan, the problems that lead to it are common enough in the western world. NHK is in part the author’s own attempt to come to grips with these issues, but is clearly also a personal expression of the yawning hopelessness the author himself once felt. The Afterward confirms that NHK is semi-autobiographical, “I felt as though I were taking my own shame and revealing it to the whole world.” Out of all I’ve read, it most closely resembles the middle section of Lanark: both by the main character’s depths of self-loathing and the honesty with which it touches on that character’s less savoury qualities. Continue Reading »

Hype and its Consequences

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Most authors want discussion and buzz to swirl around their books upon release. Understandably so, attention leads to book sales and reaching a larger audience, but the flip side for readers is that the hype around a book can negatively impact the reading experience. As much as I like to think I give each book a chance based on its merits, there are undeniable instances where the articles, reviews, tweets and forum posts I see about a book have changed the way I approach the text. Hype played a big part in my making me dislike Naomi Novik’s Uprooted (2015) more than I probably would have otherwise. Continue Reading »

Fantasy Economics

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One charge often lobbed against secondary-world fantasy novels is that they don’t dwell on the economics of their imagined landscapes. What currency do the people use? Who grows the food? Who manufactured that cloak? The complaint strikes me as a little silly; most realist and historical novels I’ve read are similarly disinterested in these questions if they’re not directly tied to the narrative. I don’t see why the switch to an imaginary place suddenly makes the absence of economic matters a sin. The romantic tradition that influenced fantasy literature involves narratives that don’t, by and large, make economics a primary focus. Maybe our society frowns upon literary creations that seem overtly escapist when they don’t factor in the primary ideologies that run it–in North America, capitalism and economics; similarly, in post-Soviet Eastern Europe, the spectre of Marxism. Or maybe the capitalist focus of our society makes dealing with those issues in fantasy seem like a path to being taken seriously in a genre that still isn’t very respected.

Which isn’t to say that narratives where economics play a huge part are boring or unsuitable for fantasy. I spent this summer reading the Spice & Wolf series by Isuna Hasekura, a 17-book series out of Japan that centres heavily on economics. Hasekura takes the high medieval setting of most western fantasy and makes the stories all about the nuts-and-bolts of trade and commerce that those stories usually elide. Continue Reading »