11893832_10153533099238866_6770475447966674860_o

Somelsewhere: A Back-To-School Playlist

It’s been awhile, but I’m back to being a college English professor. Just an adjunct, although I’m teaching twelve credits this semester. So, between putting together my syllabus, compiling readings, and designing assignments, I’ve managed to splice together a conceptual ‘back-to-school’ playlist.

Hope it passes the time pleasantly enough & allows for some settling in whether you’re starting a new project, a new semester, or even just continuing on as per usual. I call it Somelsewhere:

In Want of Even More & Difficult Games

I play video games to relax, but also to allow my mind to wander. Doing so helps me generate ideas for things I want to read, write, and examine. Not so long ago, a friend of mine shared a Facebook survey determines your gaming style. Usually such surveys are rather shit, but this one seemed to give fairly accurate information.

My gaming style was described as “Calm, Analytical, Relaxed, Gregarious, and Creative.” I don’t know about ‘gregarious,’ but I wouldn’t say I’m a surly gamer. This certainly fits with my preference for PC gaming rather than Xbox/Playstation gaming. I don’t use a controller, I use a keyboard. Like a proper William Gibson fan. But it has lead me to ruminate over what kind of games I play and what kind of games I want to play.

chart

Continue reading

david-bowie-low-12-728

A New Career in a New Town

I’m not in a rush, but I am putting together an English composition course kinda last minute. In a week, I’ll start teaching at Murray State University as an English adjunct. I’ve got three classes this semester meeting four days a week (fortunately, it’s all the same course). In the midst of putting together a syllabus and trying to get all this last minute HR stuff done, I’m reading the course text and trying to plot out a schedule that will then have to be departed from once I encounter how engaged/disengaged the students are.

So to keep me on task but not stressed, I’ve been squirreling away moments to read and watch things for myself. One of which is the new season of Rick & Morty; the most recent episode is broken down superbly over at The Mary Sue. Can’t explain just how good this show is.

rickandmorty.0

Another outlet has been writing for Midfield Press on the NASL. And my latest thing is exploring Spotify. I’ve just created a rather insufferable playlist to space out to that I call “zone out.” Why not listen to it & hate my musical tastes as I loathe yours. 

kentucky

The Kentucky Tour of Life-Threatening Hamburgers

This month saw me move yet again. I’ve now lived in eight states over the last fifteen years. I would never have guessed I’d end up in Kentucky. Living in the Appalachians of Virginia was bad enough. Yet here we are.

Murray, Kentucky. Murray State University. This town basically exists due to the university. That’s not uncommon. It claims to have a population of 17k but given that Murray State’s student body is 12k, I suspect that the real population of the town is in the 5k range. In a lot of ways, this is like the town I grew up in (Sparta, WI) but just with a university in it.

‘Sleepy’ would be an appropriate word to describe it, although this might be more due to the Southern tendency to move at what can be judiciously called ‘deliberate.’ As a Northerner (not a Yankee, but a proper Northerner), it’s going to take time getting use to. It’s not a weird town. But I foresee myself having a lot of ‘what the fuck’ moments over the next few months.

Such as when the wife and I go to second-hand stores.

11036030_10153518918958866_7983245854732709653_o

Mekka Lekka Hi Mekka Hiney Ho

11058354_10153518919508866_2614367141644811758_o

This terrifying doll–a fifteen inch tall anthropomorphic rabbit dressed like Liberace

But what has really been interesting over my first week as a Kentuckian has been the epic unhealthiness of the food I’ve been eating.

This weekend we stopped in at Matt B’s Pizza where I got a slice of what can best be called a meat thing.

11221342_10153518436693866_8136400379986632879_n

Sausage, ham, pepperoni, & lots and lots of bacon

Prior to this, when we first arrived and finished unpacking we went out to what I guess was a new restaurant in the ‘downtown’ of Murray. The burger was called something like ‘The Triple Bypass’ or ‘The Heartattack’ or something like that. It consisted of two patties held together with swiss and american cheese latticed with about six or seven bacon strips.

11779846_10153453179690900_8224582315353616649_o

Oh, and with tater-tots instead of fries

But the winner of what my wife is calling The Kentucky Tour of Life-Threatening Hamburgers is the delicious monstrosity I had a place called Tap 216.

11836863_10153465426150900_8025070645953109081_n

A chicken tender, a burger, and a slice of pizza

What is all this? It’s called ‘The Gentry.’

11794486_10153521018913866_4153863017878390336_o

The Gentry

I’m still alive, for now…

Books 1 & 2 of Ascendant Realms Available for Free

In an effort to expand my readership, I decided to make my non-magic fantasy novel series available through the e-book site Kobo.

kobo_720w

Kobo is fairly easy to deal with–get the app for your phone or tablet, set up an account, and start to download books. There are a good deal of free ebooks through the site, and I decided to make my books free as well. Although you can still buy the paperbacks and help an author out.

So here’s book one, Adversaries Together

Adversaries_Together

And book two, Winterfinding

25216862

I plan to have book three, tentatively titled The Punishment Hand, available at the end of Summer or in early Fall of this year.

If you do decide to pick these up, then I would love to hear what you think. Check me out on Goodreads or send me an email (gentlyreadlit at gmail).

The First One is Free: Reviewing TV Pilots (Humans)

humans

Humans
Episode One
“Right, now what do we do?”

By now you’ve probably watched or heard of AMC’s new show Humans. Debuting June 14th, the series is already four episodes in and can be checked out on AMC’s site. The premise is simple: humanity has invented practical human-like androids that have become ubiquitous. These robots are the full-figured versions of the smartphones we all carry with us everywhere all the time.

Science fiction taking on the topic of robots, androids, cyborgs, or AI (artificial intelligence) is nothing new, yet even as a well-worn path it continues to draw us to it as a trope. I’m always a bit worried when approaching robot narratives. Not because they may and often do fallback on rather exhausted cliches but because they rarely dig deep into the heart of what is so fascinating about the trope–what does it mean to be human?

What is so promising about Humans is that it poses a variant of this question in its pilot episode. Towards the end of the episode, the company that manufactures the robots has one of its PR guys on television at once selling and settling fears. He asks “What is human emotion?” and this question is the thrust of the series.

Although the show opens with the usual robot questions (in the opening credits there’s an infotainment voice that ask if these androids are someone or something), it grounds itself in rather standard family drama from the outset. The robots of the series are called Synthetics or ‘Synths’ and are marketed as ‘a family android’ and that is how our lead Synth, played by Gemma Chan, is introduced.

The Hawkins family is rather ordinary–mom, dad, three kids (an insufferable older teen daughter, a revoltingly pubescent son, and a wide-eyed innocent youngest daughter). Marital tension is the drama here, the distance that the spouses feel from one another, which is superficially blamed on work (the father, Joe, apparently works from home while the mother, Laura, is a lawyer who is frequently away). Katherine Parkinson (Jen Barber in the hilarious comedy The IT Crowd) plays Laura’s quiet desperation brilliantly making the character exceedingly English.

Joe’s ‘solution’ to his own poor stay-at-home parenting? Get a maid. Or, more precisely, a robot slave. While Joe insists that purchasing the ‘Anita,’ the name they give their new Synth, is meant to alleviate the parenting and household workload in order for he and Laura to reconnect, he discretely pockets the card detailing Anita’s ‘Adult Content 18+’ options. Joe is a shitty husband and subpar father; he is, unfortunately, the default setting for the vast majority of hetero-cis men who when presented with a robot immediately ask:

I have little interest in this family melodrama. However, it looks as though I am going to have to endure it. What’s more interesting is the character George played by William Hurt. George Millican is a former engineer who worked on the original Synth project. He lives isolated from other due to his wife’s death. His only companion is a long outdated Synth named Odi. George refuses upgraded Synths offered to him by the national health service. This narrative move is an excellent way to demonstrate just how the public sector, government, would make use of androids. 

George isn’t just a hermit, he’s ill and needs a nurse. This was Odi’s function but in the course of their relationship, George has developed an intimate connection feeling that Odi is more his son than merely a machine. When Odi begins to malfunction and breakdown, losing its memory and experiencing tremors we see that the Synth is a proxy for George’s own illness/mortality. Keeping Odi going becomes a way for George to keep himself going. It’s notable that when law enforcement makes its first appearance (after Odi accidentally harms a woman in a grocery), it wipes away any trace of sentimentality referring to George as owner of “the device.”

George’s character suggests itself to be the most interesting. The episode continues on as it introduces characters to us in a very well-paced and organic fashion. To parallel the Hawkins family, we are presented with Anita, now called Mia, five weeks before her purchase with a group of other Synths hiking but obviously trying to get away from something or someone. While making camp for the night, several of the party are kidnapped. Mia ends up being resold to the Hawkins as Anita while another woman Synth Niska is sold as a sexbot, a prostitute. Confronting human trafficking is one of the themes that I desperately hope this series explores.

The leader of this band of sentient Synths is Leo, the human(?) love interest of Mia/Anita. Played by Colin Morgan, Leo could become a very messy character, meaning that Leo could be a sort of John Brown for Synths. This conflict is real when we encounter the Synth hunter Hobbs. There always has to be a Decker/Blade Runner angle to narrative about androids. Hobbs provides that but he isn’t merely some detective or bounty hunter. Professor Edwin Hobbs it is revealed was second only to Synth creator David Elster (who is only alluded to). Elster, it is revealed, was looking to create “machine life.” While Hobbs characterizes the Synths as “a parody of life,” it is clear that he is being driving by something other than profit or power.

Even though his intent is unclear, Hobbs is looking to find sentient Synths and stands in opposition to the company man, who sees a captured sentient Synth as a freak to be studied and profited on. This elicits the best (and really only) sci-fi philosophy exchange in the episode: 

Hobbs: “Robert, these machines are conscious.”
Robert, the company man: “How do you know that they don’t just simulate it?” 
Hobbs: “How do I know you don’t?” 

Humans managed to avoid nearly all existential talk about androids but such a topic can only be put off for so long. What the show gets right is presenting the questions as a call to action not as merely some thought experiment. A call to action is what the entire first episode is about–the Hawkins family, George and Odi, Lou and the sentient Synths, and Hobbs. It brings us back around to the first question that Joe asks immediately after buying Anita/Mia, “Right, now what do we do?”

humans (1)

The episode ends with Anita walking off into the night with the Laura’s youngest child, Sophie. Not so much ominous as foreboding and a brilliant way to compel viewers to watch the next episode. I have to say that I want to watch this series. The writing seems strong and the performances confident.

Other narratives have handled the trope of AI better. Most notably the comic Alex + Ada. I realize that between the dreadful and popular films Her and Ex Machina, audiences may have a rather trite or misguided sense of how to approach this series. Humans could rectify that as it’s a good show that could turn into an excellent one if it keeps itself focused.