Archive for February, 2015

A mostly complete list of the new things I heard/read/played, etc. in the month of January, 2015

Books and Stories

redeploymentRedeployment, by Phil Klay — Redeployment won the National Book Award for its often harrowing stories about life on the front lines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  As a short story collection, an obvious go-to comparison is to Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.  That only gets you so far. Despite Klay’s acknowledgements that his stories are fiction, often taken from conversations he had with other soldiers, he doesn’t go for the same sweeping arc of “even though these things didn’t happen, they’re still true” that characterizes O’Brien’s book.  It’s an interesting book, even if it didn’t always work for me. Several stories purposely don’t resolve themselves in anything resembling a satisfying manner, while others rely so heavily on acronyms and jargon that you wonder if they’re meant to be read by anyone outside of the military.  My favorite story was probably the one about a contractor attempting to shepherd goodwill projects in the local communities, having to contend with meddling politicians and their donors back home. The Catch-22 nature of it works very well.

“A Colder War” by Charles Stross — If you haven’t read Stross’s Laundry novels, they’re well worth checking out.  Set in the workaday world of a secret British agency whose job is to keep the things in the dark from getting through. It may sound a little bit like Mike Mignola’s B.P.R.D. or any of several other such fictional agencies, but Stross’s books don’t forget to drown their characters in the tedium of bureaucracy and oh so many meetings and internal reviews.   As a short story, “A Colder War” zips past many of those hallmarks to step away from the Laundry and tell the tale of an American operative trying to stop the end of the world back in the ’80s.  Stross takes the Cold War-era landscape, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and American politics, and creates a real page-turner.  Just a lot of fun, especially if you like your apocalypses with a dose of Elder Gods.


grand_budapestThe Grand Budapest Hotel — I’m a big fan of Wes Anderson, although I certainly understand the criticism of his movies as emotionally remote dollhouses, pretty to look at but without much to feel. I didn’t always agree with that opinion, but I could see where it was coming from.  I felt like that started to turn around with Moonrise Kingdom, which continued his trademark visual formalism with some real, rough-edged emotions.  I think The Grand Budapest Hotel continued that work, although for me, it was less notable for the emotion and more for the pure silliness of some of the situations and visuals.  Moonrise Kingdom is still my favorite Anderson film, but I really enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel.


Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep
Tiny Tina, a homicidal 13-year old explosives expert who talked like a gangsta rapper with ADD, was probably my favorite character in all of Borderlands 2.  I jumped on the chance to grab some DLC in the most recent Steam sale, and Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep was really impressive.  The premise is that several Borderlands 2 characters play a Dungeons & Dragons-type game called Bunkers & Badasses, with Tina as dungeon master.  The Borderlands universe suddenly gets a RenFest feel, and you get some hilarious voiceover where the players argue with Tina about her game-running choices.  Most surprising of all, there’s some real emotion at the end of this one: something the Borderlands 2 universe generally doesn’t go near with an electrified stick.  Well done, Gearbox.  I wasn’t expecting that and it really worked.  Oh, and I got a shotgun that shoots swords, and when the sword hits its target, it explodes into three smaller explosive swords. They’ll have to pry that piece of weaponry from my character’s cold, dead hands.

A good review of the campaign:


Two artists whom I’d never heard of, but who immediately caught my ear.

Natalie Prass, Natalie Prass:
natalie_prassMy off-the-cuff description is “What if Kate Bush sang indie soul songs?” but there’s a better and more accurate way to describe it that will occur to me with more listens, of which there will be many.




Caitlin Canty, Reckless Skyline:
caitlin_cantyCountry/rock blend with great vocals and excellent production. Really liking this one.  Everything just seems to work in that indefinable “you know it when you hear it” kind of way.


Read Full Post »