(this is a very earnest post, and if you’re here for backpacks and travel, maybe skip this one)
This letter in a scifi tale would come to you out of the ether, dropping onto your iBook G3 on some particularly dark night of the soul. I’m you, but 16 years older, and hopefully a little wiser.
The next few years will be a lot of fun, but also really, really tough. You will lose friends and family to cancer, then to divorce and…
You transition. You finally do it, and it goes mostly ok! You don’t talk to family anymore, but you probably saw that coming, and it’s fine because you have friends who love and support you.
Your finances will get worse for a while. Really bad. You’re going to spend a little while sleeping in your car and on folks’ couches. It sucks. You’ll smoke too many cigarettes, and do some ridiculous stuff.
It works out.
Eventually, you get a job with folks who you really like, and they encourage you. You join a company that is doing amazing stuff with messaging (kind of like IRC, but way, way cooler—you’ll see). After a year, you get a little bit of stock, and finally pay off your student loan debt that you’ll have ground down for 13 years. It will feel great.
You’ll see a therapist, and a doctor, and a dentist with a regular cadence. It will help. I promise.
You’ll love, you’ll lose, and you’ll get back on that horse. Ultimately, you’ll do a lot of reading and spend a lot of time with your best friend, a cat named Snorri. You and Snorri will travel from Austin, to Portland, to Oakland, with a ton of flights in between to Europe, Asia, Canada, and NYC.
I know what it feels like a lot of nights right now. It sucks. It’s real, and you’ve had a hard time. Most people you know won’t get it, and you deserve better. When you get older you’ll know more people who’ve also gone through a lot of shit, and they’ll be good listeners, and you’ll listen a lot too. Don’t stop loving, and don’t stop trying to be open with your friends. It pays off more often than not. Your biggest asset is your heart. Don’t lose it.
I love you, and I can’t wait for you to get to where I am now. For all the good times, and the bad ones, just know I’m here in the future cheering you on.
Gideon the Ninth — Tamsyn Muir
Queer space necromancers! Queer space necromancers! OMG. This book was utterly bizarre, and a hell of a lot of fun. I’m a fan of low-tech future space stories, where for the most part the book seems more like fantasy than sci-fi, so this book was a joy. Plus there was necromancy! Apparently there are going to be two more books in this series, which is a delightful thing to learn, because I want to stretch out and learn more about this strange universe.
Raven Strategem — Yoon Ha Lee
All the world building and deciphering of the strange calendrical system paid off in full in this book. Getting a hint of what Jedao/Cheris might want at the end of Ninefox, this book deals with the aftermath of a dangerously peerless tactician let loose in the galaxy. I enjoyed all the strange details of the hexarchs, and imagining what each moth looked like. It’s been a minute since a sci-fi book got me so excited. This series can feel like a slog at first, but I think it’s worth it.
Ninefox Gambit — Yoon Ha Lee
This was one of the more challenging sci-fi books I’ve read in a while. Ultimately, figuring out what the hell was going on was well worth-it, but the first half or so was a frantic dog paddle to stay afloat. The world of NineFox Gambit is deeply strange, with technology that borders on magic that requires an empire to hold to a strict calendar for it to function. We follow a rad lady, with a homicidal general trapped in her head as she runs what seems like a suicide mission. I’m excited to read the rest of this series.
Masterworks — Simon Jacobs
The idea of this movie made me very anxious. Middle school is rough, and I was on edge for most of the film wondering if something very bad would happen, or if Checkov’s AR-15 would reappear. Spoiler Alert No. There’re definitely some sad moments, and some very tender and sweet ones, but no one big terrible event occurs. This isn’t that kind of movie. Instead, Eighth Grade perfectly encapsulates how nervous and awkward we felt in our youth, and just how embarassed we were by our parents. I loved it.
Between Two Ferns
I love the parallel world of these bizarre and failed actors. I haven’t seen very many episodes of the web show, but this was pretty fun.
TL;DR: Low-budget sci-fi cruise ship. This movie reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode, at least in its premise. I really enjoy movies where something goes horribly awry, and “what if we’re stuck in space forever” definitely meets that criteria, but unlike the Twilight Zone, there’s no big twist, just a slow sadness. There’s a certain charm to the fact that it’s Swedish as well. Plus, there’s space lesbians. We’re everywhere.
Mega Time Squad
Completely silly and fun. Low-budget time travel movies are often awesome (think Primer), but what if it was also a very low-brow comedy? Sweet as.
Wow, I really should’ve watched this in the theater. This movie ruled. Outstanding cast, hilarious from start to finish. I want so many more amazing comedies that center rad women. More. Lesbian. Characters. In. Everything.
Steven Universe: The Movie
I’m not super fond of musicals, and this was most certainly a musical. Generally, I’ve enjoyed Steven Universe, but more so when it’s weird, and not saccharine. This movie leaned more towards the latter, so it was cute, but not really my bag. If singing and supportive friendships are your favorite part of the show, you’ll love the movie. TL;DR your ex’s polycule adopts you.
Godzilla: King of Monsters
Ridiculous, but exactly what I expected. A bit of Godzilla, a bit of the Core. I’m fascinated by the idea that “eco-terrorists” have wide-reaching military power, lol. Shin Godzilla is still the best movie in the series, hands down, but this was a silly action romp.
I fondly remember the British show Spooks, which ended in 2011. This movie was a nice reminder of the great things about that silly spy show.
This year marked my 4th XOXO, and my 3rd at Revolution Hall. Last year was big, which meant it was even harder to wave at, or spend time with the other amazing attendees I knew. This year, it felt just right. I still waved at too many folks, and wished I had time to have a number of small dinners over the next year instead of so many “hey, I see you, sorry I’ve gotta run!” However, I got to spend time with a smallish group of friends, see all the talks I wanted, and even play some amazing new games. If you’ve never been to XOXO, and you make things on the internet, and enjoy building relationships, this is a great place for you.
As usually, the first day of the conference was a social one—with Glitch doing an Appy Hour, and Panic showing off the Playdate. It was super cool seeing all the strange community games and creations of Glitch users, along with a few presentations, and the Playdate is something I can’t wait to own. Topped-off with a dinner at Kachka, a lot of upcoming games, and one of the most hilarious videos I’ve seen in a while, wherein Brian Gilbert attempts to calculate his pet’s HP, Friday was a delight. The weather held, the toilets were uniquely chill, and the layout of the festival ensure I could wander and find neat things.
One of the first pieces of advice I’d give anyone going to a multi-day festival is “don’t drink too much on the first night”. I didn’t take my own advice. I wasn’t ill, but a combination of 3 glasses of wine and too little sleep meant 10am felt very early. Thankfully my hotel had Proud Mary coffee, and XOXO had Deadstock. A breakfast sandwich from Fried Egg I’m in Love completed my resurrection.
Day two felt a little longer, as I sat through every talk, alternately crying and laughing. A definite emotional rollercoaster. Helen and Hrishikesh were excellent hosts, and seeing their banter develop over the weekend makes me hope they host again next year. I missed the Andy’s camaraderie at times, but I hope only being responsible for the whole festival was a nice change from also MCing.
Lunch was Basilisk. Unbeatable fried chicken I eat every time I visit Portland. Yes, even when I’m there for hours.
Favorite talks from Saturday: Harry Brewis (very funny guy who I didn’t know anything about beforehand), Hundred Rabbits (delightful French Canadian vegan sailors), and Soleil Ho (what happens when you become the representation?!).
After a quick dinner, I sat down for a night of unforgettable podcasts. I watched a man interview a chainsaw, and was utterly destroyed by Demi and Miel with special guests Neil and Mike doing Ray Parker Jr’s Ghostbuster song. The number of folks I heard singing “bustin’ makes me feel good” after this podcast taping tells me I wasn’t alone.
Coffee. Sandwich. Almost there. I was wiped at this point, but the talks were delightful. Mikki Kendall, Jenny Odell, and Rhea Butcher were my favorites from Sunday. A great mix of comedy and art. Food highlights were Navarre (another favorite), and dinner at Sardine Head. OMG Sardine Head. Oxidated white wine. Salt-cured anchovy. Dang.
The karaoke list was full by the time my friends and I got back from dinner, and a cab ride that included an episode of King of the Hill. It was fun watching various speakers and friends sing Pavement, Lizzo, and of course, the Ghostbuster’s theme. I ended my night with my friends Jenny and Joe, drinking on the balcony at my hotel. Our friend André’s room was right by the balcony, and he wandered out mid-way through. That moment of kismet was generally how the whole conference felt—friends wandering by, saying hi, and going on adventures.
XOXO at its best feels like what I imagine a community should feel like. It’s full of new people, old people, dear friends, and acquaintances. If XOXO was every day, I would lose my mind, but once a year, it feels incredible to be surrounded by so many people I care about, as we’re inspired together by talks, art, and each other. I’m so glad I got to go to Portland, for the first time as a non-resident, for XOXO. I can’t wait for another year of this magical festival, and hope many of the same folks will get to attend. My only regret is that I can’t somehow bring Snorri with me too. He’d hate it.
I wish I knew more about art. Reading the titular story, I found myself reaching for my phone to understand each scene in the strange and delightful post-apocalyptic tale. As I held the painting in my mind, and explored the flooded wastes with Liam, Nell, and Co. I found myself enamored by the framing. How often are our relationships held together by a retelling of an old picture? Are we always trying to build a life out of the classics of our youth? There’s a survey of life, and an exploration of lost moments in these vignettes.
The opening tale of this collection plants us in Ohio, a place, we see, where even supportive friends or loved ones can’t save you from the yawning abyss. The suburban Olive Garden echoes in my mind with all the breadsticks I absorbed through my high school years. These youth were me, and the chasm felt real then too. From there, we follow a mother who lost a son, and a sliver of a life exploring a name—just enough of both to leave the reader wanting more. Then, a journey through art, mentioned above. It’s strange and beautiful, and a great opportunity to learn about the great works of fine art, if like this reviewer, you largely skipped-out on art class.
Finally, we readers are washed up on the shore, like so many dead fish, with a man watching a lodge, and time-displaced, dealing with an all-too-familiar moldy bathroom. A word of warning: if you’ve lived in the the Pacific Northwest, the squelch of wet tile will be all too real. This novella is reminiscent of Jack and the Beanstalk, or another fairy tale of exploring a new land. The phrase “crotchal belch” made me laugh out loud. There are so many great turns of phrase in Masterworks. The story propelled me forward, alternately laughing and cringing. I wanted the protagonist to seize his agency, and change in the ways he so clearly desired. I find these characters at turns fascinating and deeply frustrating. There were so many places where I yelled, “say something” in my head, but this isn’t a story of success, but learning and remembering.
On the whole, I loved this book. Masterworks, by Simon Jacobs, is a fantastic collection of imagination, and creative bombast. At times it leans into magical realism, in others outright fantasy. There a slightly disjointed nature to these stories, as they’re collected over years of writing, and lead me to hope Simon writes more—a novel perhaps—in the future.
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