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This is an archived newsletter from Robin Sloan. You, too, can receive these! They go out every Sunday.

Week 9, opinionated and customized

Still Life with Ham

Still Life with Ham, Philippe Rousseau , ca. 1870

Saturday was a day in the olive grove, green and gloppy from weeks of rain. We were down on our hands and knees under the trees—basically playing in the dirt. The chickens were down there, too. I’m still new to close encounters with chickens, and I never expected them to be so… social? It’s not like they’re up close looking for love like dogs, but they do follow us around the grove.

They sort of… orbit.


A recommendation for Bay Area readers, and/or future Bay Area visitors:

Gaumenkitzel, the warm and inviting German spot on San Pablo Avenue, is currently my favorite restaurant in the world. It is somehow both fully German—the menu is really truly traditional German food; the beer list is all imports from German breweries that have been operating continuously since like 1632—and fully Californian: the restaurant is powered 100% by the solar array on its roof and the ingredients (do I even need to say this?) are fresh and high-quality. The place—its continued existence—just makes me happy.

If you go, you are required to get one (1) fresh pretzel with butter and hot mustard, and in addition to that, I strongly recommend the veggie cakes, modeled on a Hamburg recipe from 1914. They might be the best thing on the menu.


I have a subscription to American Cinematographer which I deeply enjoy for reasons I don’t totally understand. I was reading a piece in an old issue about the making of Thor: Ragnarok when this matter-of-fact aside set me back on my heels:

Thor: Ragnarok in American Cinematographer

145 Canon cameras in an array! Every prop, extra, costume change, set piece, “etc.”! Oh no big deal we are just casually TOTALLY DIGITIZING EVERYTHING. If you left a half-eaten burrito laying around on the set of Thor: Ragnarok, guess what, IT’S DIGITAL NOW.

I think there’s a deeply weird, deeply new kind of… metabolic… process?… happening on these movie sets. They’re doing something there that eventually everybody is gonna do everywhere.


Still Life: Fruit

Still Life: Fruit, Severin Roesen, 1855

The analogue in Arabic storytelling to English’s “once upon a time” is a phrase that translates roughly to: “There was, and there wasn’t.”


Before bed on Thursday and Friday, I read The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts, a brainy, science-y, philosophy-y, thriller-y, okay-maybe-everything-y sort of novel. It has one primary timeline but/and also leaps back and forward. The leaping-back sections, in particular, have a flavor that reminded me of the outer chapters of Cloud Atlas, which is to say, they are skillfully done and, as a result of that skill, a bit fussy to read, and so… I skipped them.

I didn’t skip out of boredom; I skipped because I felt those chapters threatening my investment in the story, tugging at the edges of the waking dream, and… I wanted to keep dreaming!

So, my reading of this novel was opinionated and customized; truly mine. And I loved it! Is this “okay”? Were my wholesale chapter-skips an insult to the author? Did I not really “read” this book at all? Reasonable readers can disagree on all these points. For my part, I will defend the skimmer’s prerogative until the very last torn page, its edges charred, flutters to the ground at the bitter close of the Reading Wars.

The Thing Itself has some VERY BIG ideas at its core and, in places, it feels like the material might be almost bigger, and weirder, than the vessel can handle. I love this feeling; it makes me trust the author. By contrast, when I read books that are technically perfect, I get suspicious. An author for whom every kind of material, regardless of scale or subtlety, is a kind of perfectly obedient clay… honestly, I don’t think a person like that can tell me very much about life, or the world. I really don’t!

This is why I appreciate pulpy science fiction so much, I’m realizing. Often—not always, but often—it is preoccupied with these vast, almost unspeakable ideas; and the author’s urgent fascination is just so palpable; and the telling is just so dopey. But, of course it is! We’re human!

The Thing Itself is in no way pulpy science fiction. If anything, it’s a kind of philosophical fiction; but/and, for all I’ve spoken of its time-leaps and brainy terrain, I want to say again “thriller-y,” because this novel pops. It’s a swift vessel sailing cosmic seas, and I think its author is very trustworthy indeed.

Pictures of Kindle editions are really... not as much fun

Pictures of Kindle editions are really... not as much fun

One more thing. If you’re a fan of Jeff VanderMeer, The Thing Itself can be read very interestingly with/against Annihilation. Like, a person could imagine both sets of events are happening at around the same time, in the same fictional universe and… it might work, and it might be amazing.


Friend of the Meteor Jesse Solomon Clark has a new release out called Caern that will improve your Sunday night. It feels to me almost like a wave function; given a particular starting point—an instrumentation, a feeling—these are all the tracks that might have emerged. Except in this case, they all DID emerge, all at once. My favorite track is “Tearne”; it’s the music that plays in the movie as a young person, twelve or so, rides their bicycle down the hill into town, having finished all their chores, free at last. (For your reference, the first revolution of the pedals occurs at 0:12.)


Kathryn and I watched the show Russian Doll on Netflix in two sessions last week. It was captivating and delightful and, to me, palpably indie; like, you can so clearly envision a great merry band of filmmakers slamming this together over the course of a couple of weeks in New York City. The physical scale of the story is small, but/and, as you’ll see, the temporal terrain stretches on and on, and even minor supporting characters blossom in the story’s telling (and retelling, and retelling), which I think might be the point of the whole thing.


Still Life with Fruit

Still Life with Fruit, John F. Francis, ca. 1857

☄️R

February 2019, Oakland

Here, at the bottom of the page, I shall say again: the newsletter is the best way to keep up with new offerings.

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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