Happy New Year from the West Coast. It’s been a crazy one. Moved to California from Japan, only to go back to Okinawa for a bit, so I could go adventure through Malaysia before coming back to California.
Most importantly, and the best thing about 2019, was all the wonderful moments I shared with my wife and daughter. I look forward to a lot more in 2020.
Looking back at what I read over the past few years I’ve come to the conclusion that my favorite novels qualify as historical fiction and adjacent genres. Shogun, Tai-Pan, Scaramouche, Captain Alatriste, and Master & Commander are the novels I gravitate towards.
It’s that time of year again, that weird, awkward few days in between Christmas and New Years Day, when all the cat-lady book bloggers put out their best of the year lists.
I’m not a cat-lady, I’m actually allergic to cats, or a book blogger, but I read a lot. Especially considering the amount of travel, deployment, and child-raising, I do each year. Not only that, but I happen to have impeccable taste.
So I’m going to list a few books I read this year that I think are worth your time. For the sake of the list I’m going to exclude my re-read of The Brothers Karamazov, which is the greatest novel ever written, and if you consider yourself a peer or even an aspirant to my level of discourse you must read it several times.
My favorite fantasy novel this year was Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest A Brightness Long Ago. Kay writes adult fantasy with impeccable style. He is one of two writers of fantasy that I list as a favorite, the other being Robin Hobb. A Brightness Long Ago is a fantastic bit of fantasy set in an alternate Renaissance Italy, that is character driven and thematically deep. A must read.
The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 by Anthony Beevor was an excellent overview of one of the most interesting and often overlooked bits of 20th Century conflict. The Spanish Civil War is chilling, especially when one looks at the cultural events going on around us.
The Last Ancestor by Alexander Hellene is a fantastic piece of science fiction adventure that reads like a throwback to a better time, a time where novels were action packed, heroic, and fun, instead of ironic and nihilistic. I look forward to reading the follow up that is being written as we speak. I have a feeling Alexander has a lot of good stuff in store for the new pulp indy crowd. Read his stuff.
Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini. I just finished this one and loved it. An action packed adventure set during the early days of the French Revolution. The novel is not only fast paced and exciting but also intellectually and philosophically satisfying in its discussion of class, privileged, duty, and political responsibility. Scaramouche has one of my favorite villains and does the famous surprise reveal about sixty years ahead of its time.
Captain Alatriste by Artura Perez-Reverte. This is actually book #1 in The Adventures of Captain Alatriste. I read this and the follow up and I highly recommend the series. A swashbuckling tale set in 17th century Spain that follows a soldier and sword for hire who get’s himself entangled in court politics and mischief. Sword duels, prostitutes, evil consorts, corrupt inquisitors, massive pike and shot battles during the 30 years war, and basically everything you ever wanted out of a modern Three Musketeers. Historical action pulp at its best.
There you have it, my best of the year cat-lady book list. Do yourself a favor, click on the links above and bask in the glory of my fantastic taste.
I read a lot. Novels, history, and political science. I also listen to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts discussing writing and literature. The written word is my preferred form of relaxation and entertainment.
Reading is not my job, finishing novels is not my duty. I read histories and biographies because they provide me hours of entertainment and bring me joy. My primary reason for reading is not self-improvement, or professional gain. I’m not a paid reviewer or critic, and I have no responsibility to engage with any of the work. My reading and writing is strictly for my own pleasure.
Because of this I have no qualms about abandoning novels after a few chapters. I have no reservations about giving up on a series after a disappointing episode. I recently gave up on Tim Mason’s The Darwin Affair, a plodding historical mystery that lacked mystery and did not capture my imagination. I got a good halfway through the book and decided that spending time in that world did not entertain me and did not bring me any joy. Sometimes I stop a series because I don’t like the aesthetic. Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter books are fun reads but I don’t enjoy urban fantasy action. I read the first, found it fun, yet, not to my taste, so I moved on. I have no compulsion to slog through entertainment I don’t enjoy.
I wanted to talk about this topic because my social media feeds are currently overwhelmed with Star Wars negativity. Post after post about how much people didn’t like the new movie. Posts from people that hated the last five movies. My question to them is why did you go see it? You didn’t enjoy the last one so why put yourself in a situation that brings discomfort. Entertainment should bring you joy, it should relax you, or make you think, or enrich you. It should not bring you so much displeasure.
I don’t understand the mindset that causes an individual to consume entertainment that they don’t enjoy. Why force yourself to read novels you don’t like? Why sit through a movie or television show that doesn’t bring you joy? So you can post negativity about it? The truth is nobody cares. Nothing you have to say about it matters to anyone and most likely your opinion will not be seen by many.
Life is short and often filled with negativity. Do not wallow in it. Do not create more of it. Novels, art, film, plays, and videogames are all forms of entertainment. They are meant to bring joy. If you are not enjoying yourself move on to something that does entertain you. Life is too short to focus on things you don’t like and spread negativity.
There is so much great material out there. Find it, read it, watch it, post about it, share it with your friends. Find what you love and make that the topic of your posts and videos. The world does not need another negative take down of Star Wars or whatever the latest trend. Your time is better spent creating art and enjoying yourself.
It’s December 10th in the Year of our Lord 2019. In ten days the last of the new Star Wars movies comes out in theaters. Between its upcoming release and The Mandalorian birthing a deluge of Baby Yoda posts social media is overrun with Star Wars conversations so I wanted to remind everyone that no matter what, the new Star Wars will be disappointing. Why? Because Star Wars is, and always was, for children, and as an adult it will never live up to your imagined expectations, because … say it with me, Star Wars is for children.
What made the original Star Wars great is also what keeps it from replicating that magic. There is nowhere to go with a property that is aimed at children.
Unlike a lot of science fiction fans Star Wars was never my favorite. I saw all the movies on VHS growing up, went to Disneyland and rode Star Tours, played all of those awesome SNES games, and even owned the TIE simulator PC game. I went to the theaters excited about Phantom Menace, came out disappointed, and moved on, that was the last SW I bothered with. I was never a hardcore fan. I never had action figures, lunchboxes, lightsabers, or any intense emotional connection to the franchise. I enjoyed it as a kid and always looked back fondly on the movies, but I never obsessed over it.
The other night my wife decided to give The Mandalorian a try. She’s the movie and television fan in our family, I usually sit around and read while she watches Netflix or Prime shows unless it’s something that really interests me. But, The Mandalorian caught my attention and we ended up watching all of the available episodes. It’s a fun, awkwardly paced, light science fiction adventure show. Most of all, it’s a kid show put out by Disney, a company whose primary market is children.
When we finished the last available episode we decided to watch Episode IV: A New Hope. I can’t remember the last time I took the time to watch it and my wife barely remembered the plot. Luckily Disney+ has all of the Star Wars movies. Unluckily it only has the edited versions with the garish CGI additions. But, nonetheless we started watching it and I was excited. I even decided to re-watch the whole series, maybe all of it, and try to write about them.
Sadly, like a lot of things from the past, I should have let this movie live fondly in my memories. It’s a good movie, if you ignore the CGI vandalism Lucas vomited onto his own work, but it’s a movie made for 12-year old boys and I’m a 36-year old father. The acting, the plot, it’s rather cringe. In my mind’s eye I remember Vader and the Empire being menacing. On screen the acting is stilted and the whole thing comes off campy. Luke is dweeby, Han is campy, and Fisher is a poor actress. I got sleepy and sadly gave up a bit after they left on the Millennium Falcon and never had the urge to continue.
The detailed Star Wars sci-fi epic that I imagined doesn’t exist anywhere but in my memories. But that’s ok. Star Wars was a kid’s movie, it’s a great kid’s movie, and will always be a great kid’s movie. I outgrew it not the other way around and I believe a lot of the anger, disappointment, and failed expectations of the new material comes from adults that have forgotten how campy, cheesy, and childish the original movies are.
Back in 1999 when The Phantom Menace came out I was in High School. I remember all of the hype, significantly heavy and impressive in an era before social media. Anyone else remember the Star Wars pogs at Taco Bell? Either way, we went to the theater as a family, and of course, like most people I was disappointed in it. It was childish, stupid, filled with dumb CGI characters like Jar Jar and those dumb droids. It felt like a kids movie and my snobby high school self was into serious stuff like punk rock and Tolstoy. My brother, who is 10 years younger than me absolutely loved it. Why? Because it was a movie made for him. Even the main character, Anakin, was his age. Because Star Wars is for kids.
So, if you go watch the new Star Wars in theaters, or bother with The Mandalorian, take a minute to remember that it’s not for you. It’s for children.