This is an archived newsletter from Robin Sloan.

Week 44, veraison

Queen Mab's Cave

Queen Mab's Cave, Joseph Mallord William Turner, after 1846

As you might have heard, a wildfire—another wildfire—is raging north of here, up in Sonoma County, this one stoked and spread by winds so fast they have unsettled meteorologists. About 180,000 people have been instructed to evacuate.

The wind is whipping here in Oakland, too. There was, not that many decades ago, a deadly wildfire in the hills straight east of where I’m sitting now. From down here in the flatlands, those hills with all their houses always look weirdly two-dimensional to me—they seem to stand straight up like a theater backdrop. In the evening, the windows reflect the setting sun, squares of molten light, and later, at night, the hills are a glittering mass, a presence. Last night, there was no glitter; the hills were a void. The whole stretch has been de-electrified, part of the power company’s blunt fire prevention protocol. The power will remain out until tomorrow, I think.

Charlie Loyd, who I have commended to you before, wrote something last year that remains the best and wisest assessment of these fires; and, I suppose, of living on this planet.

The oldest Californians living can’t remember the kind of forest we’ll need for the future.

The olive harvest is fast approaching: in some groves it’s already begun, and, with luck, we’ll harvest next week and the week after. (I say “with luck” because there are a lot of moving parts, the weather not least among them. Friends of ours had to cancel their harvest this weekend, simply because the wind was blowing too hard!)

On Saturday, Kathryn and I were out in the Fat Gold grove, doing a last inspection tour. Here’s how the olives look, just on the cusp of harvest:


That lovely color change that accompanies ripeness is called veraison. But even the olives that have turned fully purple are still bright green (almost neon green) on the inside:

Bright green

Can you tell we’re happy with the way things look?

Bright green

As I’ve mentioned several times, I did some writing for a video game that was released recently. Turns out, writing for books and writing for video games are simultaneously very different… and really not that different??

For my publisher’s email newsletter, which is consistently great, I wrote up a few notes on the experience. Go read my contribution to the Electric Eel.

News from the Republic

In an airy apartment just off the main street lives Navneet Alang, longtime resident of our small seaside town. But don’t look for him at home; he is always on the move, moving from one cafe to another: reading, writing, chatting, sipping a glass of wine.

His newly-inaugurated newsletter The Purposeful Object has featured, in each of its two editions so far, a very precise Netflix-and-wine pairing; no further recommendation is required.

Nav is an essential writer on technology and culture: a voice, always, for the humanities, and for complexity. In particular, I enjoyed this recent installment of his column in The Week: an assessment of Mark Zuckerberg’s theory of free speech.

He’s also someone who is often, very transparently, figuring things out, which makes reading Nav different from reading other writers (even very good ones) whose approach feels like… I don’t know, a long sigh, followed by the burden of explaining something they’ve understood for years. And maybe that understanding is, in fact, correct, and valuable… but who wants to read anything with that tone? Better to read Nav; better to figure things out together.

Many people sent this to me, for which I am grateful: the typography of Neon Genesis Evangelion. (Previously!)

This clever new packaging product from 3M looks very useful. I send a lot of things in the mail and I am always looking for, and failing to find, a small-ish box.

Books bound in human skin and “the Order of the Good Death”!! This is like an unwritten, very gothic chapter of Penumbra

Kathryn and I rewatched Kiki’s Delivery Service the other night and I can report to you: it is still my favorite movie of all time. Everything I value about life and the world is right there.

The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16 October 1834

The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16 October 1834, Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1835

On Saturday, we went to a memorial service for a very fine man named Stuart Steinhardt, and one of the speakers, reeling off characterizations (you know: “He was a faithful friend; a great cook; a wonderful musician” and so on) included in her list: “One of the great defenders of the post office!”

And I said—quietly, but out loud, surprisingly myself—“Hear, hear!” and the man in front of me—bolder—shouted “Hear, hear!” and then everyone, all of a sudden, clapped and cheered: for Stuart, and the post office.


October 2019, Oakland

This website uses the typeface Albertus Nova, an update by Toshi Omagari of Berthold Wolpe’s classic, and GT America, designed by Noël Leu with Seb McLauchlan.

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