My Douglas Adams year

A few weeks ago I turned 42, which prompted my friend Paul to declare I was entering my “Douglas Adams year.” (Though somewhat worryingly, one of his other analogy-years was 33, because that’s how old John Belushi and Chris Farley were when they died… Douglas Adams died at age 49. Hmmmmm.)

Bend Beer: A History of Brewing in Central Oregon2014 was an eventful year, primarily because I wrote a book! The contract was signed around December of 2013, and I began researching and interviews in earnest in January, with a deadline of mid-July. Meaning, I had about seven months in which to complete it—pretty quick, by publishing (and writing!) standards. Following the submission of the manuscript were rounds of edits and proofing, with a publish date of October 21—at which point the rest of the year was a whirlwind of signings and publicity, including the Big Time—a talk and signing at Powell’s Books in Portland!

So now I am the authority on Bend beer and its history, for better or for worse. But that’s okay, because now I have a published first book under my belt, from a real publisher, which opens doors to a second, and third, and more books. For which I already have ideas.

But 2015 is (mostly, since the majority of the year I am 42) my Douglas Adams year, which means I need to be well on my way to figuring out the question to the question of life, the universe, and everything. Or at least inventing a computer to do so. Hopefully that means 2015 will be eventful too!

(So far, so good—mostly with events stemming out from the beer writing, which is a good thing!)

Shakespeare turned 450 years old today

William ShakespeareI don’t quite know how I’d missed this until the latter half of the day—I’m actually surprised Google didn’t do a doodle on this today—but William Shakespeare was born 450 years ago today (April 23).

(Okay, to be fair, nobody actually knows for sure that Shakespeare was born on April 23; however he was baptized on April 26, 1564 so the 23rd is as good a guess as any. It also holds an appealing parallel to the date of his death: April 23, 1616.)

But 450! That’s a milestone. Only 50 years until the big 5-0-0. It’s pretty amazing to think of the influence on the English language for so long—and no end in sight—that Shakespeare had. And I’ve said it before, but if you’ve never seen Shakespeare performed live—at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland would be my top recommendation—then you really should; it’s eye-opening and will change whatever opinions you might have about his works.

Sherlock Holmes

At some point back I’d picked up an older hardcover copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, and since I’ve found myself watching (and enjoying) the series “Elementary” on TV (no, I’ve missed BBC’s “Sherlock” thus far but I’m quite sure I would love it)—as well as thoroughly enjoying the Robert Downey Jr. “Sherlock Holmes” movies where he plays Sherlock as basically autistically dysfunctional—I decided I needed to properly read the original stories. (I had previously only ever read two or three at most.)

They are as enjoyable as you’d expect, and I have to say, I can quite see where the “modern” interpretation of Holmes comes from: he’s (mostly) able to function in society, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle pretty well nails the combination of bipolar/manic depressive behavior combined with the savant-level of genius that’s borderline dysfuntional. And he’s a cocaine addict. (Which I knew.)

It’s good stuff, but I have to adjust my mental model to account for the fact that (in the early stories, at least) both Holmes and Watson are no older than their early 30s. Which, to my mind, makes the Downey Jr. Sherlock movies actually… pretty true to form.

Robopocalypse

RobopocalypseI recently read the novel Robopocalypse, a science fiction-y thriller about the, er, robot apocalypse—the uprising of robots and technology and the attempt to wipe out humanity, and overall I quite enjoyed it: a good “popcorn” book that entertaining and mostly plausible if you don’t think about it too hard. Definitely movie fodder, and I see that Steven Spielberg is indeed attached to direct the movie that’s coming out next year.

From a storytelling standpoint, it’s structured in much the same way as World War Z: a history of the robot apocalypse, from various records and recollections, from the initial incidents through the finale of the war. This is a good, logical and easy-reading structure to adopt and as a result reads pretty quickly. And, it’s good at building suspense: even though the conceit is you’re reading a history—something that’s already happened and resolved otherwise you wouldn’t be reading it—you’ll keep turning the page to see what will happen next and how it all comes together.

The main quibble I have is the presence of a couple of “deus ex machina” (heh) plot threads that become key elements in the climax and resolution (one of which has a bit of a Matrix quality to it). Yes, I know it’s set in the (near) future and it’s sci-fi, but really that makes this type of thing even more jarring if you think too hard about it.

Otherwise it’s a good read, and of course there’s enough wiggle room to allow for a sequel. Because really, you can’t get enough robot apocalypse!

Further reading in case you’re interested.

Reamde and Bill Cosby

No I’m not entirely sure how those two things go together: one is the latest novel from Neal Stephenson which had me riveted all the way through the 1000-odd pages, the other is the comedian best known for his influential TV series from the 1980s. I suppose it’s a pop cultural thing, but I’ve been trying to figure out what theme might be running through both topics in order to produce something profound out of a blog post.

Instead, well, here we are. The “theme” if any is that both were things I experienced in July, and it now being the end of July I figured I’d get it written down.

Reamde is a terrific novel that I nearly couldn’t put down; it weaves high-end World of Warcraft-style MMORPG cyberpunk er, nowpunk(?) with straight thriller style shoot-em-up almost seamlessly and so adeptly that you have to keep turning the page. I loved it and it occupied the better part of my mind while I was reading it, and except for one nagging minor plotline that never got addressed by the end, it’s nearly a perfect read.

Seeing Bill Cosby live in Central Oregon was, despite its significance for Central Oregon, an event I was less excited about. Mostly because it took place on a Sunday afternoon (during a kid’s birthday weekend) out at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds—not exactly the ideal venue for which to see a comedian (seriously, the Tower Theatre would have been much better) but my wife won free tickets so what are you gonna do? The performance itself was fine, not entirely the caliber of his earlier years, and despite several issues with the handling of the venue and event itself (not Bill Cosby’s fault), it was an entertaining hour and a half.

So what does one have to do with another? Well nothing really, but there’s an interesting contrast between stories of a childhood framed by an era very few of us can understand (Cosby was born in 1937), and the modern future-is-now headspace of works like Reamde from authors like Neal Stephenson. And it seems like there should be something profound in that.

November wrap-up

Much of November was uneventful—it mostly consisted of the usual routine for the first few weeks minus a kid’s birthday—but for the week of Thanksgiving we visited Burbank to spend the holiday with my brother and his family.

That trip started out slightly awry, as we tried to leave town on Friday the 18th, right after work, and only managed to travel all of 50 miles or so to Crescent before being stopped for several hours only to learn that the road (Highway 97) was closed entirely. See, that was the night of the big statewide winter storm that dumped snow and ice everywhere. So instead of getting to Redding that Friday night we ended up turning around and coming back home (after about 5 hours on the road) and left again the next morning. That was more successful; there was still snow on the roads but it was daylight and the road was open, and once we crossed over into California the roads were pretty much cleared up.

So we drove all the way through to Burbank (north of Los Angeles) in the one day. Which isn’t as bad as all the way to San Diego in one day (we’ve done that one too) but still makes for a long drive all in one sitting.

The rest of the holiday week was good; we drank a lot of good beer, toured the Warner Brothers Studios lot, checked out Burbank and the area a bit, and had a nice Thanksgiving.

Coming back was easy in some respects—as far as the drive went as we split it out over two days—and hard in others (whaddya mean I gotta go back to work?). We got back Sunday relatively early which left time for unpacking and cleaning and such but not a lot of decompression time before going right back into the routine.

Let’s see, what else went on in November… read a good book that I’d recommend, Ready Player One, which has its flaws but is a fun, clever, engaging read. It’s essentially a caper novel masquerading as a near-future/video game/pop-culture/MMO sci-fi adventure, set some 30 years in the future and mostly taking place in an online game/virtual world. And it heavily mines the pop culture of the 80s (and 70s to a lesser extent), particularly that of music, movies, and videogames, which makes it catnip to the contemporary Gen X geek who spent a lot of time playing with computers and videogames during the 80s.

Hmm… is it bad when that’s all I have for the highlights for the month? The rest has been filled with work, and the family stuff—a school concert and other school functions, birthday parties, the usual kind of things.

But! We’re going into the Christmas season, which is one of my favorite times of the year. That always livens things up!

Top 10 books lost to time

Just ran across this Smithsonian.com article: The Top 10 Books Lost to Time. Neat read, rife with possibilities; every link I’ve seen pulls a quote from the #4 selection, Inventio Fortunata, which does have a bit of a Piri Reis-sounding mystery to it; but the “lost” Shakespeare work of Cardenio interests me more:

Cardenio has been called the Holy Grail of Shakespeare enthusiasts. There is evidence that Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men, performed the play for King James I in May 1613—and that Shakespeare and John Fletcher, his collaborator for Henry VIII and Two Noble Kinsmen, wrote it. But the play itself is nowhere to be found.

And what a shame! From the title, scholars infer that the plot had something to do with a scene in Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote involving a character named Cardenio. (A translation of Don Quixote was published in 1612 and would have been available to Shakespeare.)

Kind of sounds like the ultimate Elizabethan-era crossover.