A vision of America: Witnessing divisiveness together

Debate Watch Party

Debate Watch Party (Photo by Andrzej Pilaczyk)

How are college kids approaching this election? Where I work, we’ve had debate watching parties open to the public. The communal experience of watching the debates have been eye-opening for students, who say that they value the ability to share the moment with hundreds of others, to see in real life and in real time how others — fellow students and members of the community — respond to the words of the two major party political candidates.

The togetherness, the shared experience, are a vivid contradiction to the divisiveness of the campaigns. They are a moment of hope. More photos are here.

The next Debate Watch Party is at 9 pm Wednesday, October 19, 2016. More info here.


My top cultural experiences of 2014

In my former career as an arts editor at a daily newspaper, the year-end best-of lists were a standard. And now that I’ve change jobs this year, and I’m reading so many other journalists’ best-of lists, I am impressed by how many cultural things they (and my past me) have been able to experience in a year. Now I also know how people who aren’t paid to experience so many things can find such lists to be impossible recommendations, a bunch of things that most people will never have the time to get around to. Though arts journalists try to present as complete as possible summaries, I think readers of such lists may only be looking for one thing that might inspire them to go out and experience that cultural thing for themselves.

So here’s a lean look back at 2014.
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Welcome to Sci-Fi November


What a great idea: a month-long gathering of bloggers to blog about all things Sci-Fi. The organizers of the event are book bloggers at Oh, The Books! and Rinn Reads. Thank you, Rinn, Kelley, Asti, and Leanne for hosting this event and letting me take part in it.

About me and Sci-Fi
You can read more about me here. My relationship to Sci-Fi goes way back, maybe all the way to the first book I remember reading, “Bears on Wheels” (does that count as Sci-Fi? Or is it sci-fantasy? Where do anthropomorphized animals exist within genre classifications if not Sci-Fi?). This is just my way of saying that, like many people, I was invested and interested in science fiction long before I knew the genre was called that. I consumed books, movies and TV shows that all fit within the genre. But I have my limits. I’m a big fan of the original series of Star Trek, but for some reason have never been able to get into Dr. Who. I really enjoyed reading Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (as well as 2010), but Kubrick’s movie always seems slow when it gets to space and bloated in the final third. Some of my all-time favorite books are set in post-apocalyptic zones (such as A Canticle for Liebowitz and the MaddAddam trilogy), and yet I’ve had a hard time getting into many of the post-apocalyptic TV shows like Defiance, Falling Skies, Jericho, and even, yes, BSG (though Walking Dead works for me).

I’m also a writer, and my recent publications have been in the speculative fiction genre, including stories in the anthologies Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History and Veterans of the Future Wars. I also have a day job, where I work in a very cool museum on a college campus in upstate New York.

What I’ll be doing this month
I plan on writing a handful of blog posts this month, including reviews of MaddAddam (thus completing a trilogy of reviews for the trilogy) and the movie Intersteller, and some posts that I hope will be provocative discussion starters about the relationship between science fiction and war, and about whether genre classifications are a necessary evil.

Most of the time, I will be reading what other bloggers’ contributions to the month. This, to me, is the best part, because so many of my fellow bloggers are new to me. So I’ll be searching Twitter for #RRSciFiMonth and reading and commenting on other blogs (this list of participants for Sci-Fi November is right here).

Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment to let me know you were here, even if all you want to say is “Hi!”

First impression: MaddAddam in development for HBO

Today’s news that HBO will be adapting Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy comes with mixed feelings.

That it is HBO? Awesome, because that will mean the three novels (Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam) will get space and time to unfold and be more fully realized than they probably could be as one, or even three, feature films, and definitely more fully than if they were to be developed for network TV.

Of course, there is the worry that my imagined Toby, Amanda and Zeb (my favorite characters in the trilogy, and characters who don’t appear until the second novel), aren’t the ones who will appear on the screen.

And then there’s Darren Aronofsky. I think he’s strange, brilliant and, too often, brutal. Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain were all hard to get through. The Wrestler was more toned down, and frequently humorous, which made it more effective. But Black Swan? Hugely overrated, melodramatic (without an emotional core) and shallow.

I haven’t seen his Noah yet, but it does make an interested parallel considering the second book in Atwood’s trilogy is “The Year of the Flood.”

So will his vision of MaddAddam be open to the rich humor of Atwood’s dystopian world — from the explicit satire of fast food “secret burgers” (they’re secret because you don’t know what the meat comes from) to the heartbreaking irony of how so many members of the apocalyptic cult God’s Gardeners actually survive the apocalyptic “waterless flood”?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, please read my review of “Oryx and Crake” and stay tuned for my reviews of “Year of the Flood” and “MaddAddam.”



GoT Episode 4.8 “The Mountain And The Viper” pre-reaction


Oh! Sh*t! No effing way!

(Next week: Ep. 4.9 pre-reaction)

What to watch on Memorial Day: War Zone/Comfort Zone

The PBS World channel, WMHT Ch. 17.3, will broadcast the documentary “War Zone/Comfort” a few times on Memorial Day. The film focuses on female veterans who must deal with poverty, homelessness, joblessness, and psychological and physiological effects of PTSD from military sexual assault and/or combat all within a system that is ill-equipped and, in some cases, unwilling to help.

The documentary follows Shalini Madaras and Joy Kiss in their fight to open the first transitional house for women veterans in Connecticut, despite neighborhood opposition. It also tells the story of four women who are coping with life after the military using interviews and footage that provide a surprising look into the lives of these invisible veterans.

The film airs Monday, May 27 at 4 pm, 6 pm, 9 pm on WMHT Ch. 17.3.