new year's

2020: the good parts version

Weird year. On the one hand, 2020 has been the high point of my career—Thanks, HBO! Thanks, New York Times bestseller list!—but on the other hand, yeah, it was still 2020.

Despite social media’s constant attempts to convince me otherwise, not everything was terrible. Here are some of the things that gave me joy over the past twelve months:

* Star Trek: Discovery Other than Lovecraft Country, my favorite binge-watch of 2020 was this recent entry in the Star Trek franchise, currently wrapping up its third season. My wife, who loves Discovery as much as I do, initially wondered why we hadn’t heard more online buzz about the show. No doubt part of the explanation is that you need to sign up for CBS All Access to stream the series, but it probably also has something to do with the fact that Discovery presents a darker and more violent future than is typical for Star Trek. Mike Stoklasa and Rich Evans, reviewing the series over at Red Letter Media, suggested that Discovery‘s tone is more akin to Battlestar Galactica than the fun, wish-I-could-go-live-there pajama-clad future of traditional Trek, which I think is a fair point. But Lisa and I loved Battlestar Galactica, too, and we’re fine with grafting that sensibility onto the Trek universe, especially when it’s so well written and acted. Sonequa Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh are particularly good in this, and Anson Mount made a great Christopher Pike.

Other bingeable series of note include Dracula, The Queen’s Gambit, Kingdom, Evil, The Mandelorian, The Crown, and Ugly Delicious.

* Island of the Sequined Love Nun, plus cookbooks — Despite the lockdown, I was too distracted to do much long-form reading this year. I started a lot of novels, but one of the few I managed to finish was this delightful comic adventure by my friend Christopher Moore. Set in Micronesia, it’s a Cargo Cult story that weaves in other plot elements most authors would never think to combine (sound familiar?). To say more would be spoiling it, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

Though I didn’t read as much as I’d hoped, my book lust certainly hasn’t gone away. In particular, I spent a lot of money on cookbooks. My prize acquisition of 2020 is Peter P. Greweling’s Chocolates & Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner. Published by the Culinary Institute of America, this is a book for professionals that includes not only recipes and techniques, but tips on setting up a production line (with different equipment and space requirements depending on how many artisan truffles you want to make in a given day). I doubt I’ll ever use it, but it’s fun to leaf through it and salivate at the photographs.

Other new cookbooks (some of which I have actually cooked from) include Pieometry, The Tahini Table, The Complete One Pot, and Dumplings and Noodles: Bao, Gyoza, Biang Biang, Ramen—and Everything in Between. And next time I find myself up the hill at the Book Larder, I’ve got my eye on Pushpesh Pant’s India Cookbook.

* Messing about in virtual reality — Unless your name is Barack Obama, this was not a good year to try to publicize a new book. One advantage I had with 88 Names is that the novel’s virtual reality theme readily lent itself to online promotion. When the pandemic forced the cancellation of my book tour, I already had a number of online events lined up (most notably the 88 Names podcast, for which I am indebted to Blake Collier, Darryl Armstrong, the Threaded Zebra Agency, and Rise Up Daily). Not only did this give me something to fall back on immediately, it meant I had all the hardware and software I needed to do additional remote interviews and appearances.

I ended up trying a lot of different online platforms. Zoom is ubiquitous for a reason, but the one that left the biggest impression on me was Sansar, the VR version of Second Life. The technology still has some issues, but my appearance on the Drax Files Radio Hour, and subsequent visits to the Second Life Book Club, gave me a real sense of what future publicity tours might look like. While I did miss meeting fans and booksellers in person, I was happy to skip the long plane flights.

Of course, I also used my Oculus headset to play games. My standout favorite was In Death, a first-person roguelike that casts you as an archer fighting your way across Purgatory. Other games and experiences I enjoyed include Beat Saber, Superhot VR, Space Engine, The Under Presents, and Manifest 99. And in the non-VR realm, the games I had the most fun with this year are Hearthstone, Marvel Puzzle Quest, Oxygen Not Included, and Titanfall 2.

* Feminine Chaos podcastSmart contrarian culture commentary by Phoebe Maltz Bovy and Kat Rosenfield, aka “Phoebe and Kat discuss that thing people have been ranting about online.” A nice antidote to the Twitter doomscrolling I did way too much of this year. In addition to their Patreon-supported main feed, they have a back catalog of episodes on Bloggingheads.TV, featuring occasional cameos by Rasputin the cat.

Bonus shoutout to my friends Tatiana King and DJ BenHaMeen at the For All Nerds podcast, who I had great fun visiting with back in September, and who were huge supporters of Lovecraft Country.

* Hacksmith Industries’ plasma lightsaber — Last, but definitely not least, the YouTube algorithm recently decided that I needed to see this video from Hacksmith Industries, a makers’ group who build real-life versions of sci-fi and fantasy tech:

There’s also a test video where they use the saber to cut through all kinds of stuff. A festively destructive note to end the year on.

25 years

I let the actual anniversary slip by unnoticed, but 2013 was my twenty-fifth year as a published novelist.

When you’ve always known what you want to do with your life, and you’re fortunate enough to actually be able to do it, there’s a tendency in hindsight to think of the breaks you got as inevitable. It’s not true, of course. I’ve been very, very lucky and I know it.

So as the sun sets on 2013, I want to say thank you to everybody who helped me get this far, most notably my parents, my wife Lisa, my teacher and mentor Alison Lurie, my agent Melanie Jackson, my publishers and editors, and of course my readers.

Thanks, guys. And have a great 2014.

Things I enjoyed reading, watching, and playing in 2013

An end-of-the-year list for anyone wanting suggestions on how to spend your leftover holiday money/spare time:


I didn’t read much new fiction this year. Long-form TV has taken up a lot of the time I used to spend on novels, and when I’m focused on a new novel of my own, as I am right now, most of the reading I do tends to be either research or revisiting old favorites (tops on my repeat list this year: The Haunting of Hill House, No Country for Old Men, and William Gibson’s Bigend trilogy). Still, there were a few good new things:

Layman’s Report, by Eugene Marten — This fictionalized account of the life of Fred Leuchter (aka “Mr. Death”) was my favorite novel of the year.

Langston Hughes’s newspaper column, circa 1954 — As part of my background reading for Lovecraft Country, I’ve been going through old issues of the Chicago Defender, and Hughes’s weekly column is consistently my favorite part of the paper. Some pieces describe Hughes’s experiences traveling around the Jim Crow-era U.S.; others take the form of dialogues between Hughes and his imaginary sidekick Jesse B. Semple (“Simple”). The latter are collected in The Best of Simple.

Fractures, by Lamar Herrin — Though technically I read it in 2012, this was the only book I blurbed this year (“A moving and beautifully crafted family drama, with characters who are more than the usual suspects”), and I wanted to give it another shout-out here. As is often the case with moving and beautifully crafted family dramas, Fractures lacks the sort of high-concept plot elements — e.g., Holocaust-denying electric-chair designers — that make for an easy sales pitch, but just to give you a sense of what I dug about it, here’s a short excerpt from the opening chapter describing how the protagonist once slit his wrist, not because he was suicidal, but because he was trying to figure out if he was suicidal:

[H]e wanted to see if, when the blood appeared, he was willing to let it flow… he’d read that the veins running down his wrist would yield, if cut, a dark blood, which would only ooze out, and that gauze pressed down beneath an Ace bandage would be sufficient to stop it. Flanking the veins and deeper set were the radial and ulnar arteries, and these would yield a bright red blood in a pulsating flow, which would take a tourniquet, in addition to the gauze and bandage, to stop. The arteries brought blood from the heart, oxygenated to that brighter red as it passed through the lungs; after its long, wearying trip through the body, the veins brought the blood back.

He’d intended to cut to the deeper and thicker-walled arteries, so that he would know, know for sure, but had in fact cut only to the depth of the veins… Of course, he accused himself of cowardice… but he also commended himself for not wasting time. He didn’t need the brighter, more youthful blood to tell him what the darker, more traveled blood had already made clear. He wanted to live.

Like I say, not the usual suspects. Check it out.


Upstream Color The second feature film by Shane Carruth, the writer/director of 2004’s Primer. I started watching this with no real notion of what the story was about (other than that it was vaguely science-fictional) and recommend that you do the same if you can. Best, most interesting film I’ve seen all year.

Orange is the New Black Though binge-watching the entirety of Breaking Bad was my favorite TV experience of the year, this was a very close second.

Cloud Atlas I wish the economics of film allowed for more ambitious failures like this one. Though the story ultimately doesn’t quite work, boy was it interesting.

Boardwalk Empire Not your typical Jersey gangster series. Watching the first three seasons, Lisa and I kept remarking to each other how they were doing things with the characters that we hadn’t seen before. And the women’s roles are as compelling as the men’s. Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael K. Williams, and Gretchen Mol are all great in this, though my favorite character is the disfigured World War I vet played by Jack Huston.

The Heat Melissa McCarthy, where have you been all my life? The forgettable plot (they fight crime, yadda yadda) is just a pretext for gal to misbehave for ninety minutes, with Sandra Bullock gamely playing the straight woman. This left me wanting to see a version of Gravity with McCarthy in the George Clooney role.


Hearthstone Blizzard’s upcoming World of Warcraft-themed online collectible card game. As of this writing it’s still in beta test, but I got an invitation and it’s my favorite new game of the year.

The game is very similar to Magic: the Gathering, but Blizzard has come up with a much smoother and more user-friendly interface than the current M:tG computer game, so I find it a lot more fun to play. Also, it’s free: You get a limited number of cards to start out, and buy booster packs using gold that you earn by completing quests or winning matches. (There’s also an option to buy booster packs with real money, which is how Blizzard will make a profit, but the game is well-balanced enough, and gold easy enough to win, that you really won’t need to spend money to be competitive.)

Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign An addictive Bejeweled-style match-three combat game with a Marvel superhero theme. Free to play, with an option to purchase extra resources. (One quick play-tip, if you don’t want to spend money: Use all your hero points to acquire extra roster slots, so you’ll have room to recruit new heroes as they become available.) Available on both tablet and PC.

Gone Home A cool piece of interactive fiction that casts you as a young woman just back from trekking across Europe. You arrive at your family’s new house late on a stormy night and find that no one is home. There’s a note on the door from your little sister saying she’s run away and a frantic message from your mother on the answering machine. Rather than wait for Mom to call back so you can ask her what’s going on, you decide to treat the house like a crime scene and conduct a thorough, room-by-room search, without regard for anybody’s privacy. As one does.

The story that unfolds is a good one, worth encountering unspoilered. There are a few locked doors and cabinets to contend with, but these are less puzzles than means of channeling your progress so you come across the pieces of the narrative in the right order. The key to making it to the end is to examine everything: open every container, read every scrap of paper. And use the map—the one time I got stuck, briefly, I realized I’d somehow skipped a room.

Things I am looking forward to in 2014

Reading: Porochista Khakpour’s The Last Illusion, Nicola Griffith’s Hild, Wilton Barnhardt’s Lookaway, Lookaway, the finished manuscript of Lovecraft Country. Watching: Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending. Playing: More Hearthstone.

Goodbye 2012

Edward Hopper’s IKEA Monkey (via @SamSykesSwears)

Paul Constant, who is nominally the Books Editor for the Seattle Stranger — though lately his duties seem to have expanded to writing half the content of the paper — invited me to contribute to the annual Regrets Issue, in which staff and local celebrities confess their professional and personal regrets about the year just ended. Naturally, I missed the deadline. So, yeah, sorry about that, Paul, but the truth is this has been a good year for me, and the few disappointments were things beyond my control.

The big news, of course, was the publication of The Mirage. My book tour recap post is here, and the full list of Mirage-tagged posts is here. My Big Idea essay for John Scalzi’s Whatever blog and my interview with Nancy Pearl are both worth a look. And if you’re at all curious about book design, check out the Huffington Post interview with artist Oliver Munday, in which he discusses the evolution of The Mirage‘s cover art.

The Mirage made the San Francisco Chronicle‘s “Best science fiction and fantasy books of 2012” list and Alyssa Rosenberg’s list of “65 Favorite Things From the Year in Popular Culture.”

The American trade paperback edition of The Mirage will be published in February 2013. I will be appearing at the U.W. University Book Store at on February 20 at 7 PM and at Elliott Bay Book Company on February 28 at 7 PM. A German translation of The Mirage is scheduled for publication in Winter 2013. No word yet on whether there’ll be a German book tour to accompany publication, but just to put it out there, I’d be happy to come if my publisher invites me.

I remain hard at work on what I hope will be my next novel. If it were a Bad Monkeys-sized book, it’d be almost half done now, but it looks like it’s going to be a lot longer, so I’m just getting started. Stay tuned.

The one truly sad note of 2012 was the passing of Queen Anne Books, my favorite Seattle independent bookstore. Since QAB shut down at the end of October I’d been hoping a new owner might swoop in to resurrect it, but it wasn’t to be, and by now the staff, the real heart of the store, have moved on to other things. I wish them all the best, and will always be grateful for the decade of support they gave me and my novels.

So, on to 2013! And just to start things off right, have another monkey, courtesy of ZooBorns’ “Top 25 of All Time” list: