Firefly Meets Pirates of the Caribbean

In The Hobbit, Tolkien’s observes that tales of inspiration are “soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling.” The same rings true for book reviews, I fear.

If a book is truly great, how does one give a recommendation equal to it? On the other hand, everyone loves a good tear down. Here’s your social proof: I have garnered a few dozens likes (combined) for the 49 five-star reviews I’ve left on Goodreads; meanwhile, my scathing review of Ready Player One has (of this writing) 140 likes and is the 20th-most-liked review among the 56,000 reviews of that book.

Such is my dilemma as I sit down to write my review for Retribution Falls, without doubt one of the most entertaining, rip-roaring reading experiences I’ve ever had. If you’re in the mood for a tear down, go elsewhere. I’m about to spend the next three minutes verbally felating Chris Wooding’s steampunk masterpiece.

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The Day Mike Brown Murdered Your Childhood

The smut rag that is Mike Brown’s How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming has been inducing existential crises the world over for more than a decade.

In it, Brown makes two things abundantly clear: Pluto is not a planet, and he thinks your childhood was a complete sham. He seems blithely unaware of the role Pluto played in our collective, cherubic upbringings, and staunchly unwavering in the face of protests. Like Santa, Saturday morning cartoons, and the blinding tang of Colt 45, Pluto is the stuff of childhoods gone right. How dare he, then, be arrogant enough to “scientifically prove” that Pluto is not a planet?

With the malice of a hedonistic devil worshiper, Brown blatantly disregarded our emotional investment in a nine-planet solar system in 2005, when he declared that Pluto was simply a giant hunk of ice, a “dwarf-planet,” one of the largest jewels in the crown that is the Kuiper Belt (a ring of small interplanetary bodies that’s 200 times the size of the asteroid belt).

The scientific community was rocked in the wake of Brown’s sacrilege, from his fellow astronomers right down to your grade school educators (who were proven to be nothing more than charlatans).

Twelve years after Brown’s “discovery,” the public has yet to forgive him.

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Making Friends With the Habit of Listening

The best piece of advice I ever received was to wake up in the morning as if I’m doing it on purpose. Getting out of bed with a sense of ambition or eagerness is a simple, yet effective, life hack. It sets the tone for your entire day, it makes every action afterwards feel like a choice instead of an obligation, and it’s healthier than snoozing. Unfortunately, I’ve rarely (if ever) been able to do it.

I’m a night owl by nature and an early riser by vocation, which means getting the minimum six hours of sleep is an accident, at best, and a defeat, at worst. I don’t drink coffee, which means I get out of bed like Garfield on a Monday. So how am I supposed to get up and get going like Winnie the Pooh chasing some honeybees?

To put it bluntly, I am not and I will likely never be that person. Mornings just aren’t my thing. But that doesn’t mean I can’t benefit from this “wake up with purpose” attitude. For me, the “morning” aspect of that advice was never the important part to begin with. What it’s saying is that there are huge benefits to be found in a positive outlook and just a little bit of intent.

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When Life Gets You Down, Keep Climbing

A good friend of mine is going through a pretty difficult time. He’s approaching his mid-30s and is saddled with two young children. He is the sole bread winner in his family, but he pays the bills with a job he hates. He is deeply in debt. He feels trapped, and scared, and entirely without options. He is not only laying down the tracks in front of himself, but the rest of his family, too. Meanwhile, he can hear the train coming. The sound never goes away.

I am equally close with my friend’s wife. The three of us were inseparable in college, thanks to the fact that she basically moved into our two-man dorm room five weeks into first semester. She texted me about my friend yesterday, and she, too, feels scared, and trapped, and alone. Her husband is deeply depressed, and she doesn’t know what else to do.

None of us do. This is a battle he’s been fighting for a long time.

I tried, as best I could, to give her some advice. I think it helped, if only for that day. Sometimes that’s all we need. Something to get us to the next day. But I haven’t stopped thinking about it, what I could have said.

Today, I was reminded about my favourite passage from one of my favourite novels, Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. While it doesn’t provide any answers in terms of what my friend can do to help himself, it definitely gives it some context: most of us get to the point he is at right now. Most of adulthood is about disillusionment.


“You spend your whole childhood watching TV, assuming that at some point in the future everything you see there will one day happen to you: that you too will one day win a Formula One race, hop a train, foil a group of terrorists, tell someone ‘Give me the gun’, etc. Then you start secondary school, and suddenly everyone’s asking you about your career plans and your long-term goals, and by goals they don’t mean the kind you are planning to score in the FA Cup. Gradually the awful truth dawns on you: that Santa Claus was just the tip of the iceberg—that your future will not be the roller coaster you’d imagined, that the world occupied by your parents, the world of washing dishes, going to the dentist, weekend trips to the DIY superstore to buy floor tiles, is actually largely what people mean when they speak of ‘life’. Now, with every day that passes, another door seems to close, the one marked ‘professional stuntman’ or ‘fight evil robot’, until as the weeks go by and the doors —’get bitten by snake’, ‘save world from asteroid’, ‘dismantle bombs with seconds to spare’—keep closing, you begin to hear the sound as a good thing, and start closing some yourself, even ones that didn’t necessarily need to be closed.”

— Paul Murray, Skippy Dies


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A Magician, a Conqueror, and a Man with One Eye

I’ve written book reviews for several different sites over the years, all of which are now defunct. This is the first in a series of mini-reviews that will parcel out some of my favourite reads over the past few years. 


CARTER BEATS THE DEVIL

by Glen David Gold

Carter Beats the Devil opens with Carter the Great executing a particularly risky trick. He murders President Warren G. Harding on stage before feeding him to a lion, only to have Harding burst from the lion’s stomach alive and well. The show is an unbridled success. But a few hours later Harding is found dead in his hotel room and Carter is considered a prime suspect. He flees, only to be pursued by Secret Service agents, most notably aging Serviceman Jack Griffin.

The novel then jumps back in time to tell Carter’s life story, of how he came to perform magic, how he met the girl of his dreams and then shot her out of a cannon to her death, how he befriended Houdini, made arch-enemies, married a blind woman, and used the invention of the electric television to propel him to heights no other magician had ever dared.

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