Least Worst Parts of 2016

Okay so I guess around these times is when I usually write a “best of” recap of the year’s music and fiction, but this year I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with those things. This is partially because 2016 was a trash year for the world, but also because of some cool stuff at home.

So just picking some movies and games feels silly this year. I don’t feel like writing about that. Instead, I’m going to rank last year’s events from best to worst. Cool? Cool.

  1. We havin’ a baby!
    • I found out in 2016, but she shows up next month. Wild. This is keeping me pretty busy.
    • I’m hoping to do more daddy blogging where I talk about raising a teeny tiny social justice warrior and eventual Empress of Earth.
  2. I got a great new job!
    • I’m writing for a living and I’m working to make the world a better place. I’m kinda in to it, and I’m becoming a better writer for it.
    • One thing that’s interesting about it is that I’m not writing as much fiction now, mostly because I’m writing so dang much for work. This is cool, because fiction can be a fun hobby instead of a desperate dream, but I do also miss fiction a little.
  3. Everything else.
    • This includes cool art, like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (I know it came out last year, but I played it this year), Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Books,¬†La La Land, and Adam Ruins Everything.
    • Yup, that’s it, that’s my top game, album, movie, and TV. There’s a lot I haven’t read, watched, or played, so if I’m missing something I probably just missed it.
  4. Health food ūüė¶
    • My doc doesn’t like my weight and wants me to eat smarter and move more. I enjoy a lot of things, and none of them involve eating smart and moving more.
    • I’ve been surprised by the emotional toll dietary changes can take. It turns out I care about food more than I’d like to admit.
    • Plus, I never drank a lot but now some health stuff means I’m not supposed to drink at all and I miss beer.
  5. The world >:o
    • OMG y’all I could go on for a while on this. I’ve said a fair bit on Facebook, I say even more in person (and on the phone with “representatives”), and I may well say more¬†on this blog.
    • I used to try to be polite about my progressive politics, but it turns out a few loud and powerful people want to set the planet on fire¬†and strip rights from everyone who isn’t a wealthy cishet white man, and that’s not politics¬†– just evil.
    • You can’t be polite about evil.

Have a good year, everyone. Be strong. Resist.

2015 Faves

You can be honest – you look forward to this all year.

“Josh writes two, maybe three blog posts a year,” you say, “but I’ll be darned if each and every one of them isn’t the highlight of that whole month.”

Well you’re in luck, because it’s February and that means it’s time to talk about some of my fave crap this year.

Fave Album
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To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar

Remember last year when I said my favorite genre is this hyper-specific kind of electronic dream pop that only FKA Twigs did in 2014? Well, in 2015, Made in Heights, Son Lux, FKA Twigs and Purity Ring all dropped new stuff and it was all great. (Links take you to my fave singles from each)

But never mind all that. My fave album this year was easily Kendrick’s super angry, super passionate, super jazzy rap masterpiece. It made me legit cry a bit in my cubicle by the end, and that’s pretty much the one sure-fire way to lock in my vote. Gotta say my favorite track is The Blacker the Berry, though. So raw.

Fave Book
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Wolf in White Van – John Darnielle

Listen, I know this came out in 2014 but you can deal with it, okay? I got to it this year and I’m still thinking about it and I think that means it’s pretty good. Besides, I’m a little behind and always will be. Ugh, stop looking at me like that.

Besides, this book’s good. Considering it’s written by a master songwriter it’s almost too easy to call it lyrical, but it is. It does a lot of things I usually hate and it pulls them all off with aplomb. It’s a short read and if you know the dude’s music at all you know it’s a total downer, but it’s a fantastic fusion of form, content, and strange sad humanity.

If you do read it, I feel like you’ll a) be mad at me for recommending it and b) want to talk about it.

So, y’know, all according to plan!

Fave Cartoon
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Steven Universe – Cartoon Network

This is maybe the only thing on this list that isn’t a downer in any way. In fact, I’d go so far as to say there is nothing more wholesome, life-affirming, and joyous as this wonderful piece of television. It’s also super feminist and super woke overall.

I also just got shivers rewatching one of my favorite moments from season one. I’d share it, but it’s a spoiler that only has meaning if you watch the whole show, which you should do anyway. (If you have, you know I’m talking about “Stronger Than You”)

Fave Television
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Jessica Jones – Netflix/Marvel

No hesitation, not for a moment – easily the best thing this year, and it was a good year. Sure it’s a superhero show, but it’s also a gritty film noir that confronts abuse, survival, and the heavy weight of power. She’s a hero who has to conquer herself before she can start saving the world, and that’s far more compelling than any Superman.

Like most art I love, it’s emotionally draining to the point of being straight-up devastating. It’s worth the effort in every way and it’s a great watch, but this won’t put you in a good mood. Who needs that though? That’s not what art is for anyway.

And don’t let the superheroes and the Marvel universe confuse you – this is fine art. It exists in the same world as Ant-Man, Iron Man, and Thor, but it’s its own beautiful and challenging piece.

Fave Game

 

Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen – Capcom

Boy oh boy if you were mad about the book being a year old you’ll be FURIOUS about this. It came out in 2013! The thing is I’m working on a PS3 and an old PC, so I’m not really up-to-date. I also tend to wait for¬†great deals¬†before buying anything because I’m a completionist and I’m still working through my intimidating Steam library.

So I haven’t played like anything from this year. If I had to pick, I might say Not A Hero for the gameplay, but whatevs. I bet I’ll love Undertale when I get to it and I’m pretty sure Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 will both blow me away when I get to them.

Not a lot of people seemed to dig Dragon’s Dogma, but I spent a lot of time with it. I still spend time thinking about it.¬†To be fair, the gameplay is fun, but it’s a bit sloppy. The characters are flat, the story is simplistic, and there’s a lot of backtracking and some grinding.

But I loved it. I loved the sense of adventure when you check to make sure you have enough food to go on a long journey, I loved jumping off an ally’s shield to cut the goat-head off a chimera, and I loved [SPOILER] the way it took a classic dragon hunt¬†story and turned it into an apotheosis and a meditation on the RPG genre. [/SPOILER]

Fave Flick

Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller

Like you had to ask. I wrote an article about this for work. My desk plant is named for Charlize Theron’s character, Imperator Furiosa. When it was nominated for Best Picture, I was so proud you’d think I produced it.

The movie is absolutely insane. It’s 100% itself and it makes no apologies about that, so it won’t be for everyone. It’s a perfect example of a complete fantasy world built for the screen and a great action flick to boot. It’s also beautiful in a way that a post-apocalyptic rock and roll car chase should never be.

Oh, and oddly¬†feminist to boot.¬†It’s so weird that sometimes I wonder if I dreamed it.

This was a great year for movies though. If George Miller hadn’t specifically made Mad Max just for me, I might have had some hard decisions to make. Here’s my top ten from least to most fave:¬† It Follows,¬†Star Wars VIII: The Force Awakens, The Danish Girl, Straight Outta Compton, The Revenant, Dope, Inside Out,¬†Ex Machina, and Room.

I saw almost everything, and there’s a lot of really great stuff that just doesn’t make the cut for me personally. Perhaps controversially, I will say I liked¬†Furious 7 better than¬†Hateful Eight¬†and I thought¬†Spotlight¬†was about as good as¬†Terminator Genisys.¬†I haven’t seen¬†Carol¬†yet and I’m sure there’s others I missed, but I feel pretty good about this list.

***

What did I miss? Are my faves totally wrong and your faves the only right faves? Let me know in the comments!

I’m Just Sayin’

No one seems to understand what “free speech” means. It doesn’t mean you can say anything to anyone with impunity. It’s not a shield against political correctness or the growing SJW horde.¬†It doesn’t even mean your boss can’t fire you for the nonsense you spew.

In fact, all it means is that cops aren’t supposed to arrest you over the stuff you say, and even that’s no guarantee.

Where I see it misused the most is when somebody says something crazy dumb, and then gets called out for it. They cower and shout free speech, forgetting that the person calling them out is exercising that same right. Just because you’re allowed to say something without getting arrested doesn’t mean you should say it.

I also see people say dumb stuff and then end it with “just saying,” like that somehow mitigates it. Hate speech is still hate speech, no matter how you wrap up your crap sentence.¬†Especially when the phrase you’re uttering means literally nothing, as “just saying” does. I know what you’re doing, you’re doing it. Now stop.

You’ll notice these kinds of things always come from a place of privilege, too. These are the people who think equality and political correctness are funny, because they’ve never been the butt of a joke themselves. That’s why phrases like “reverse racism” and “reverse sexism” exist – they assume there’s a proper direction for hatred to flow.

The fact is “PC” is like “SJW” in that when you actually say the words, it sounds pretty much like a good idea. Social Justice Warrior sounds like the best kind of warrior to be. It’d be nice to be correct, politically or otherwise. It’s often used as a pejorative, but the fact is there really is nothing wrong with choosing your words to offend the lowest possible number of listeners.¬†Offend no one, challenge every one, that’s what I always say. Starting now.

You’ll also catch people treating their hatred as if it’s a heroic action. “Someone had to say it,” they’ll say, but the fact is no one did. The devil has plenty of advocates. And it’s not about “having a sense of humor” either. You try getting murdered and marginalized for the entirety of human history and see how¬†funny that feels. I get that humor has to stretch boundaries, but maybe let’s not make people feel worthless, huh?

It’s not hard.

I’m just sayin’

I Got Opinions 2014

I love top lists, but I hate how people always call them “best of” lists. I don’t care how much critical expertise you got, you’re still just telling me your favorite things. Maybe we share taste, maybe we don’t, but don’t go around saying something’s the “best” just because you like it – and that goes double for “worst.”

In fact, you know what’s the worst? Opinions no one asked for.

So here’s my unwanted opinions about last year’s best stuff:

Album of My Year

FKA twigs – LP1

Let’s be real: we probably don’t share taste in music. I like a little bit of everything, the weirder the better, and this album definitely ain’t normal. It’s like inside-out pop, the lonely ghost of Tiger Beat. She sings about stuff you’d hear on the radio, but it’s ethereal and haunting. If the robot DJs of top 40 stations dreamed about vast desert¬†ruins, this is the whistle of the wind through the stones. My favorite track’s probably Two Weeks.

I’m currently really into the very specific genre of beautiful voices hauntingly singing over trippy dubstep-ish synthesizers. Neither Purity Ring or Made In Heights¬†released an album in 2014, but I listened to them a bunch too. I’m looking for more like it!

Book of My Year

Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited

Okay, this is cheating a little bit. I mentioned last year that I don’t often read books while they’re new, and I’m pretty sure this service wasn’t even new this year, but you know what? It’s what I read. Alexia got a subscription for me for my birthday and I’ve been reading a lot of comics and I love it so.

So what is it? Basically, in the words of every start-up pitch, it’s Netflix for comic books. Marvel books specifically. You read them on your computer or tablet or even phone if you like tiny comics, and there are thousands of them. It’s daunting, so I’ve been using Comic Book Herald‘s wonderful Complete Marvel Reading Order Guide. I’m telling you, I love that site. And this service. I still read a lot of prose (obviously, since I write prose), but this year was the year of Marvel.

Cartoon of My Year

Over the Garden Wall

Don’t remember this category from last year? TOO BAD. I like all sorts of stuff and you can’t stop me. Seriously, I’m already holding back with all the categories I’ve got here. Anyway, check this miniseries out. It’s magical and weird and hilarious and just so good. It makes me feel warm just thinking of it. It was incredible of Cartoon Network to take a bet on it, and I think it resulted in a really cool little modern fairy tale.

Television of My Year

Fargo

This had no right to be so good. It just went ahead and did it anyway. I loved the original, but this still managed to be its own thing while maintaining the dark humor and tension. It’s brutal and brilliantly acted and just filled with people you love to hate and people you just plain love because they’re just trying to do their best in a bad world. Very good stuff.

Game of My Year

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

I love indie games, and play a ton of them, usually because that’s where the most interesting gameplay mechanics live. But not this year. As far as I know, any way – I haven’t played them all. I’m especially looking forward to¬†Transistor, which has been on my to-do list for a while. ANY WAY, Shadow of Mordor is great. It borrows mechanics from the best – a little Zelda here, a little Assassin’s Creed there, a lot of Arkham – and makes it all work well enough it’d be a fine game even without the nemesis system.

But the nemesis system makes it all so much more. It moves from open world to open story. And we’re not talking choose your own adventure, where the writer has the endings figured out for you – here, you create your own adventure. You develop your own enemies, and have little stories and nemeses and incredible frustrations and impossible wins, and it all feels like you.

There’s a normal story in there too, but we all know we’re really there to brutally murder a bunch of orcs. And thanks to the improved story technology, they’re not just any vicious enemies¬†– they’re¬†our¬†vicious enemies. I still hate and kinda miss Tugog¬†the Butcher.

and finally….

Film(s) of My Year

Alejandro Gonz√°lez I√Ī√°rritu – Birdman

Movies are hard to pick. They’re all so different, and everyone works so hard on them, and I love most of them in different ways. It makes sense that people do top ten lists, and I will mention my top ten¬†in order from least to most fave: Blue Ruin,¬†Gone Girl,¬†The Grand Budapest Hotel, Edge of Tomorrow, Snowpiercer, John Wick,¬†Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Selma,¬†Nightcrawler,¬†and The Lego Movie.

And¬†Birdman¬†takes the top prize. Most of the reason is the¬†astounding and imaginative technical magic – the movie looks like one very long shot, which should be a gimmick but somehow is essential and beautiful. The story is good enough to (fingers crossed) be the literal ultimate¬†story about sad artists. I’ve seen this kind of thing before, but the performances and meta story and magical realist strangeness make it all worth it.

There’s some other good stuff this year, like¬†Guardians of the Galaxy¬†and The Winter Soldier and¬†Boxtrolls,¬†and I actually feel like I did a good job of seeing most of the big ones this year. Yes, I saw Boyhood. No, it’s not on the list. Nor is Foxcatcher or The Imitation Game¬†or Interstellar.¬†Any one of them might be better than John Wick, for instance, but I just don’t love them the same.¬†I didn’t catch¬†Whiplash¬†or¬†A Most Violent Year,¬†but they seem like my kinda thing.

Anyway, that’s the whole list! What did I miss? Which of my opinions makes you mad because it’s not the same as your opinion? Let me know in the comments!

Understanding Time-Travel in Fiction

FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m not a scientist. I don’t know anything about time travel in real life, or how it works, or what the whole deal is with the universe. But I have noticed that time travel stories confuse a lot of people, and I have realized that most fictional time-travel can be clearly understood if we sort it into one of three primary categories. Don’t worry folks, I’m here to help.

(To avoid spoilers, I’m avoiding examples. You’ll know what you’re looking at when you see it nine times out of ten.)


Category One: SINGLE TIMELINE

Everything that future you will do in the past* has already happened. If you meet yourself, you will eventually experience both sides of the conversation. You cannot change experiences you have already had, so, if anything, your time travelling will only¬†ensure things occur as you remember them. You’ll have the easiest time understanding this kind of time travel if you look at time from the outside – everything that will happen has happened, because time is an illusion. The past is the present is the future.

This mode is most consistent with a universe that has a guiding force, often referred to as fate or destiny. People might talk about the timeline self-correcting, too. The central tenet is that humanity’s view of time is narrow and inaccurate, which implies that a) another view exists and b) free will is an illusion. Paradoxes are very possible, because there is no¬†such thing as an “original timeline.”

If your future self appears to you and gives you a time machine, you will use¬†later go back in time to give yourself a time machine. There is only one timeline, the one in which you receive a time machine from your future self. Where did your future self originally get the time machine? Easy: from their future¬†self! There’s an odd sort of cleanliness to this theory.

A fun subcategory of the single timeline principle is what I’m calling the Rewind – where timeline editing is destructive. This most often occurs¬†when someone’s consciousness (rather than physical form) is travelling back in time. They are able to change the future, because when they go back in time there is no future any more. They might have memories of it, but those are instantly false and often fade.¬†The Butterfly Effect is a spoiler-free example of this. The one true timeline is the last one the traveler settles on.


Category Two: MULTI-TIMELINE

Many of the more confusing time-travel stories adhere to this format, with some modifications.¬†When you time-travel, you are leaving your universe and going to a new one. The past version of yourself that you meet is a different person, who will have different experiences. When you travel forward, you’re moving to the future of this brand new universe – you most likely disappeared entirely from the one you were in before. Maybe that universe ended all together; it’s hard to say.

Your actions now only impact the new universe. Your original universe sprouted off of this one, perhaps, but it went a different direction the moment you landed here. Thus paradoxes are impossible – your actions have no impact on the timeline that ended with your stepping into a time-machine. That already happened, it’s over. Don’t worry about it.

Now things can get wacky here, because it can often look like you’re still in your original timeline. It might seem like your actions are affecting the past you remember – maybe your memories are even adjusting. This is perfectly natural! Humans are adaptable creatures. Now that you’re in this new timeline, you’re becoming its future version of you. This is why if your past self cuts directions into his arm or if your parents don’t seem like they’re getting together, you¬†start to change or disappear. Just because you’re not from this world’s future doesn’t mean you’re off the hook: you’re still from a future, and the odds of that future occurring are starting to change. It’s a probability game.

Look at like this if it helps (it won’t, we’re getting complicated). When there’s infinite timelines, each moment and each decision spawns a new one. Some changes are more visible than others, and every new timeline depends on the timeline it spawned from.

Let’s pretend your life is binary¬†and assign an A or B to the big decisions in your life. We’ll say there were three of them for simplicity’s sake (though we’re far past that). Your original timeline was AAA (a 1 in ‚ąě chance). If you go back to your second major choice and change its outcome, you’ve halved the probability that timeline AAA will occur (.5‚ąě in¬†‚ąě chance) and are now in timeline AB. You still exist, obviously, so the less likely branch will still spawn, but its odds are lower. Now you go back and change the outcome of choice one, taking you to universe B. Now you’ve halved the chance of your universe existing again (.25‚ąě in¬†‚ąě) and you’re really on thin ice. Your original universe is extremely unlikely,¬†and the results of your first choice are now evident in all possible universes – you may start to remember the most probable one. If you kill your past self, all possible universes that ended in your time travel are cut off from this timeline, and you will disappear¬†along with this universe¬†– it wouldn’t exist if you never time traveled.

Ugh, that was intense. It probably still isn’t that clear to you, but I think it makes sense and I’m happy to discuss it. Hit me up!


Category Three: Subjective

Or: Timey-Wimey. This, in my opinion, is lazy writing. It can be poetic, I guess, but by and large it’s less than ideal. Doctor Who’s time travel works like this: effects of time travel are dependent on your observation of it. There’s not really any rules here. If you kill your past self, you’ll probably keep living because nothing exists outside of your perspective on it. Go ahead and fiddle about with the past: the future will change even if you’ve been there already, because all of the time stream is adhering to your personal timeline. The only real past is your past, your memory, and the only real future is that which you’ve not yet experienced.


And that’s it, as I see it! Do you think I missed any key time travel formats? What might fit into or challenge these categories? As the social media savvy say, let me know in the comments!

*Time travel is only really¬†complicated when we’re going to the past. Forward-moving time travel is basically a high-tech version of waiting.

P.S. I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek, and some episodes can be tricky. I submit that different methods of travel apply different categories – most can fit into a multi-timeline theory if you assume that the characters explanations for what’s happening aren’t always accurate (they’re usually best guesses any how). For instance, when Sisko, Bashir and Dax are sent into Earth’s past and seemingly prevent the forming of the Federation, we see the future being affected simultaneously. Either this is lazy, pseudo-subjective writing, or the future ship moved with them to the future of the wrong timeline. When things are set straight, we’re now in the future of¬†that¬†timeline, not the original. However, when the DS9 wormhole aliens/prophets mess with time, they’re working within a single timeline – same with the anomaly that sends Data’s head to the Wild West.

This Is What a Feminist Looks Like

I don’t want to mansplain feminism – it’s hard to get more ironic than that.¬†So stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Feminism is the belief that men and women are equal.¬†That’s all.

Therefore, I am a feminist. I would hope that you are too, and that you would identify as such. I know people get uncomfortable when I talk about the patriarchy like it’s an old nemesis, but there’s a war going on.

When women talk objectively about their experiences, such as in the catcall video¬†or in the¬†Tropes Vs Women¬†series, people jump to defend men, shocked that a woman would dare to cast such aspersions. “Not all men behave like that!” they declare, not realizing that there was no accusation¬†leveled in the first place. Defenders see reality and take it as a personal attack – that’s how bad the reality is.

Gamergate has brought this further to light, and makes me feel literally sick to my stomach when I think about it. When women raise their voices, men attack and threaten them. When women say they’re being attacked,¬†men feel attacked, and when men say they’re being attacked even women run to defend them.¬†The victims become “irrational” and “oversensitive.”

So I just want to clarify: feminism is not an attack. Equality is not an attack. More rights for women is not less rights for men – more safety for women is not less safety for men. If all men have to lose is their perceived “right” to a female stranger’s attention, we could do much much worse. Besides, they wouldn’t do it to men.

I just want people to speak up. I want to speak up more – I probably let more slide than I should. Women need to speak up (my cousin Charlotte is an inspiration), men need to speak up, and we all need to fight. Feminist is not a bad word, and it does not favor women. It favors people.

Do you believe all people are equal?

Good news: you’re a feminist!