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I really, really wanted to enjoy the new Welcome to Night Vale novel. As a faithful podcast listener who went to the live shows and enjoyed the first novel two years ago, I’d expected something as fulfilling and creative, but I was a bit disappointed in what I found.

The new novel focuses very little on the characters we all know and love from the podcast. Instead, Cecil, his family, and the protagonists of the first novel make a brief appearance, and Carlos shows up for a little while, but most of the action is concentrated on brand new characters. One is Nilanjara Sikdar, one of the scientists who arrived to Night Vale with Carlos. The other one is Darryl Ramirez, a faithful follower of the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God.

This novel is yet another attempt to approach the ancient debate between science and religion. The two main characters, unfortunately, are two-dimensional stereotypes with a fair amount of personality slapped on top. As they team up to investigate the strange phenomenon (or possibly a creature) that devours parts of Night Vale, the anti-religion scientist learns to accept unscientific things and hunches, while the super-naive religious guy reconsiders his beliefs and offers some moral pointers to Carlos and his merry team of scientists.

This novel has some great writing, and oh-so-many quotable passages, as well as little jokes that make Welcome to Night Vale so great. (“D-Day is short for Dog Day, which happened during World War II, when we defeated the Germans by not letting them come over to pet our dogs anymore.”) It has some insightful thoughts about the nature of humanity and the overall silliness of humans. But overall, it’s not an entertaining novel that was written to entertain the reader. It’s a story about science and religion, with some characters thrown in to keep it going and bring a preachy ending that’s relatively easy to see coming.

Without giving away any of the plot, let me put it this way: if you enjoyed the postmodern romance movie “500 Days of Summer,” which was cleverly written and shot but had a very non-traditional ending, you’ll enjoy this book. If, on the other hand, you want your leisure reading to have a concise story where everything ends well and everyone lives happily ever after, you might want to skip this book – or get it from the library.

Come to think of it, a good analogy would be the Narnia books by C.S.Lewis: it’s a fun and interesting story on the surface, but then you realize the author is preaching to you, and it becomes far less enjoyable. In this case, the preaching is balanced out and neither side is fully right, but that doesn’t make it better in my eyes.

I give this book three out of five stars.

Buy “It Devours” on Amazon, if you’re so inclined

I love time travel novels: they’re challenging to write and fun to read. There are inventive plot twists, creative time machines, and tons of historical trivia. Paradox Bound, the new novel by Peter Clines, is all that and much more. According to Clines, he’d spent more years writing Paradox Bound than he did any other book – and that certainly shows!

It’s tough to describe the plot without giving away the wonderful, delicious surprises, so I’ll just state the very basics. It’s a story about a Millennial guy named Eli who lives in a boring small town in Maine and who has a crush on the mysterious woman who passes through every few years, wearing antique outfits and driving a souped-up Ford Model A. It’s a story about America and its history, both the heroic past and the uncertain future. It’s a story about a community of time travelers (or “history travelers,” as they prefer to be called) who travel through history in their antique cars. (Similar to Chuck Palahniuk’s “Rant,” only with less NC-17 content.) It’s a story about the pursuit of a dream above all else.

It also features faceless government men, an ancient Egyptian god, the Founding Fathers, and subtle references to every other novel Clines has ever written. The many, many plot twists kept me glued to the book: some of them could be guessed, while others were both beautiful and brilliant in their complexity. It helps that Clines used to be a Hollywood writer and knows his way around pacing, dialogue and overall structure – the book flows like a dream. (Or like the 2030 Tesla X!)

The only other time travel novel I’ve read that achieved this level of beauty and twisted complexity is The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold, an underappreciated 1973 masterpiece that was ahead of its time. Clines left enough loose ends for there to be a sequel, which I’ll await most eagerly.

Paradox Bound also touches on some deeper themes. There is an interesting encounter with a folk hero from the 19th century whose story is told from a different angle. There’s the uncomfortable fact that female time travelers have a much easier time if they disguise themselves as men in their trips to the past. There’s an interesting subplot of cops forcing another cop to sign a document that would permanently change his life. (And not for the better.) The book doesn’t preach, but it gives more than enough food for thought to its careful readers.

One word of caution: there are a couple of mild adult moments in the novel, so you may not want to give it your 8-year-old – wait until they hit their teenage years. If, however, you’re buying this book for yourself and if you enjoy time travel yarns, inventive plots, and strong female characters with low tolerance for nonsense, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

I give this book five out of five stars.

Full disclosure: I received an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Buy Paradox Bound on Amazon

Seattle summer scene

At
my
midway
bus stop,
met an artsy
young woman
with an MBA
from
an
unlicensed
pharmacist.
Together,
we harvested
roadside
berries.

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“bless your heart” – 449,000 search results on Google
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Do you like interesting books? Got nothing to read? I’ve got you. 🙂 This week (until the end of Friday, 6/02) I’m giving away 2 of my e-books.

Update: the giveaway is over, folks. Big thanks to all 500+ of you who downloaded the books, and I hope you enjoy them! If you didn’t make it in time, fear not – there are always options. If you have Amazon Prime, you can borrow one book for free each month – go over yonder for details. And, as always, feel free to leave Amazon reviews if you liked the books or reach out to me directly if you didn’t. Constructive criticism is always welcome around here.


 

“50 Shades of Yay” has 50 different essays and poems on the nature of happiness, written by different famous folks throughout the ages. They’re great for getting some perspective, as well as food for thought. (We have air conditioning, indoor plumbing, pizza delivery, and worldwide web, yet unhappiness is still here among us. This book may help.)

“Legends & Lore from Around the World” is the biggest collection of mythology (15,000 pages) in the world, with ancient stories from Ireland, Japan, Africa, Native Americans, etc, in addition to the usual stuff from Greece and Rome. Reading these ancient tales for the first time can be quite an experience, both intellectually and emotionally.

You don’t need a Kindle to read them – you can just install the Kindle app on the device of your choice. (Phone, tablet, microwave…) If you like the books, please feel free to leave a nice review on Amazon, share this post and tell your friends! (Not necessarily in that order.)

Thanks in advance – and enjoy!

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I really wanted to like Game of Thrones… I’m reluctant to start reading a book series that hasn’t been finished yet, so I avoided the books and the TV show for the longest time, all the while valiantly dodging spoilers and skillfully extricating myself from GoT-related conversations.

But then I saw the free week-long HBO trial that’s available on Amazon. After binge-watching all of Westworl, I decided to finally give GoT a try. It is well known that TV shows shouldn’t be judged on the quality of their first episode. Or the first few episodes. Or, sometimes, even their entire first season. (Case in point: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek: The Next Generation.) That said, I can’t quite explain why I binge-watched 80% of the second season as well before finally cancelling my HBO trial once and for all. I plead boredom.

And so, in no particular order – and without any particular spoilers, first impressions by a complete GoT newbie who only watched the show and never touched the books:

  • The whole thing could have been avoided if a certain 10-year-old with ADHD could have been kept in check by his parents.
  • Or if a certain couple didn’t decide to copulate with a window wide open, despite being in a new location. (I assume the GoT world had binoculars, spyglasses or telescopes.)
  • Incest. Sooo much incest. I don’t think there’s a baseline for incest in medieval-themed shows, but if there is, GoT is definitely ~400% or so above it.
  • If the king’s kids don’t look anything like him and the queen’s brother is perpetually single and never dates any men, women or livestock (the sheep option was actually mentioned in one of the episodes), does it really take a dramatic plot development for their royal subjects to put two and two together?
  • What the hell kind of orbit is that planet on? If you keep getting spontaneous miniature ice ages that occur at random intervals and last anywhere between 3-15 years, you probably don’t live in a garden-variety solar system. A solar system with multiple suns would kind of make sense, but it doesn’t look like they have more than one sun in the show. (I know, I know, that’s what I get for bringing sci-fi logic into the fantasy world. I’ll leave my phaser at the door next time.)
  • Considering that all of the main characters are from the top 1% and most of them spend their overabundant free time being insufferably posh/incestuous/suicidal/arrogant, who exactly am I supposed to root for here?.. This is like the Dune, only with 5% more social mobility.
  • Do the messenger ravens have miniature jet packs? Because I’m pretty sure they routinely cross the continent in less than a day. (Whereas, by comparison, it takes the king months to make the same journey on foot.)
  • If a large segment of the population ended up living in the northern wilderness for 8,000 years, with extremely limited contact with the so-called civilization, why do they look the same and speak the same language with the same accent? (Read up on the Ainu people and how they differ from their Japanese neighbors – and that’s without a giant wall between them.)
  • In addition to jet-pack ravens, we apparently have telepathic direwolves? Not sure if the concept got explored in the future seasons, but after the rather clichĂ© scene in the first season, I was expecting to see more.
  • If your entire empire can descend into a bloody civil war because of a single hyperactive 10-year-old kid, maybe it wasn’t such a good form of government in the first place, and maybe whoever gets the throne in the end will only perpetuate more of the same.

As always, I welcome an intelligent and/or snarky discussion in the comments.

I’m a bit of a news junkie. Reality is always stranger than fiction, and recent events have made it stranger yet. (My sincerest condolences to the writers of “House of Cards.”)

Interesting times call for interesting news sources, and at one point last year I found that regular news sites just weren’t providing enough diverse information fast enough to keep up with my ever-growing appetite. To that end, I’ve created my very own news portal by harnessing the power of Twitter: after some trial and error, I’ve identified particularly interesting journalists and started following them in real time.

If you follow enough interesting and active people, your Twitter feed will be full of odd insights, interesting links and instant notifications about fresh news stories posted in their publications – or other news media that they, in turn, follow.

A lot of the people I follow are bloggers and writers, but they don’t produce the news so much as disseminate it. And so, in no particular order, here are the reporters and journalists whom I follow:

@costareports & @DanEggenWPost & @Fahrenthold – Washintgon Post politics
@maggieNYT – NYT White House correspondent
@SopanDeb – NYT culture writer
@DouthatNYT – NYT columnist
@JohnJHarwood – economy reporter on CNBC and NYT
@KatyTurNBC – the world’s top expert on Trump – she shadowed him (and got under his skin) since the day he announced his campain, way back in 2015.
@chrislhayes – MSNBC news host
@cbsMcCormick – CBS foreign affairs
@KatzOnEarth – freelance journo, really big on history
@elongreen – New Yorker
@AoDespair – former Washington Post journo, then a crime chronicler
@paulkrugman – the world’s most interesting economist!
@RalstonReports & @annieflanz & @MikeHigdon & @brianduggan – journos from Nevada
@froomkyn – Washington editor at The Intercept

I’m fully aware that a list of Twitter handles recorded on a personal blog might seem charmingly antiquated in the very near future, when we all get instant OmniSphere updates pumped straight into the frontal lobe via subdermal implants. Until then, however, feel free to follow any and all of the above – and leave a comment if you know any other interesting newsmakers.

(And here is my own humble account – @GrigoryLukin, should you be so inclined.)

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“the liver wants what it wants” – 10 search results
“the lungs want what they want” – 8 search results
“the spleen wants what it wants” – 1 search result
“the appendix wants what it wants” – zero search results