Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Life Post: Home Time

It's been more than a week since my last life post, but I don't really have anything new to share. I've been staying home, only going outside for walks every other day or so, and that's basically it.

The state of emergency hasn't been extended as of now, and we probably won't find out whether it will be or not until after Golden Week. I feel like it probably will be since the cases are still rising, but I could be totally wrong. It just seems like it would be the right thing to do to me.

Whether it's extended or not, I'll be teaching online classes in May instead of going to the school, so I'll still be staying at home and social distancing.

Right now though, since the online classes haven't started, I'm occupying myself in other ways. That's mostly looked like a lot of reading and writing, which has been nice even if not talking to anyone for days at a time is difficult sometimes. I'm incredibly introverted, so I haven't found being stuck at home all that bad. I'm definitely not bored; there's plenty to do. Just look at how many blog posts I've managed to post in comparison to the past couple of years.

I have no idea what the future will bring, but I do hope that things start to get better soon.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Book Review: The Razvak Hunter by Arel B. Grant

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Published: February 28th, 2016
Publisher: BZN Writing House (self-published)
Read from February 25 to March 3, 2019
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Aelwyd has worked hard to become strong. As the Fairest One of Vallenthar, her power is formidable. Years of battle honed her into a fearsome warrior who never falters in front of an enemy.
However, there are shadows that when they come, they can swallow you whole.
After a hundred years of praying against it, the minute she walks into the chilling scene of death in front of her, she knows her personal nightmare is back.
He nearly destroyed her once, but she isn't a victim anymore. This time, she will stop him, or she will die trying.
Dalbran knows nothing of friends, joy, or mischief. The orphaned ward of a ruthless warrior woman, she’s never showed him love or affection. Instead she fills his days with learning the art of battle, savage teachings of how to survive in their harsh world. Days are filled with pain and exhaustion, but nighttime used to be his own. Even that is now lost, though, for something lurks in the shadows of sleep, clawing at him the moment his eyes close. He tells himself it’s okay, that he can handle it. However daunting the voices may be, however cold the hand that chokes him in the darkness, as long as it stays within the nightmare, everything will be all right.
As long as it stays within the nightmare…

The Razvak Hunter had a writing style that made me have high hopes for it when I started reading.

Not too far into the book, I realized that there were a number of typos in the book that left me wishing it had been better edited, but I enjoyed the author's voice enough that I wanted to keep reading in spite of that.

Unfortunately, the book's climax left me more confused than anything else. There are a lot of things that happen that don't make much sense, but I don't want to go into too much detail in this review because of spoilers.

That being said, the rest of this review does contain some spoilery details, so don't read past this point if you're worried about it.

The Razvak, who is the villain of the story, seemed to be rather easy to kill despite a lot of build up about how difficult it would be. The climax of the book played out very, very quickly. I felt like I didn't even have time to become invested before everything was over.

There were some details that were mentioned that left me going, "Wait. When did that happen?"

I either missed a lot of things or these things were happening off the page and only being told to us later. It would have been much more interesting to see them happen on the page, and then I don't think I'd have been as confused by the events of the book as they played out.

All in all, I think The Razvak Hunter as a lot of potential to be a really great book, but it felt like it needed to be fleshed out more. There were too many details that we're told about without seeing them, and it made the story both confusing and too fast. That's a real shame since I do think there were so many great seeds here that could have become an amazing story.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Book Review: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, Translated by Ken Liu

Published: November 11th, 2014
Publisher: Tor Books
Read from February 16 to 25, 2019
Synopsis from Goodreads:
The Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience the Hugo Award-winning phenomenon from China's most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.
Set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.


The Three-Body Problem is a sci-fi book that I knew would be unlike anything I had read before.

The idea of a world that unites once aliens enter the picture is a common one in sci-fi, but many sci-fi stories popular in the West are also those written in the West, which means that the "united" Earth pictured is very West-centric no matter what the author's intentions were.

Not so with The Three-Body Problem. Liu Cixin is Chinese, and the Earth portions of this book take place in China. This naturally provides a different starting point for exploring what the world would do when faced with the problem of aliens, and the differences between Chinese and Western culture are apparent in what happens next.

This book also starts farther back in time than I had expected. We enter the world in the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Anyone who knows about that period of China's history knows that many aspects of it are hard to wrap your mind around, and that chaos goes a long way towards establishing a sense of uncertainty about what is happening during the book.

There are many unknowns. The aliens themselves are a mystery of course, but in many ways, the governments of Earth are just as much of a mystery as Wang Miao tries to sort out what is happening from what little information he's being given.

Because this book was written in a culture different from my own, there were aspects of it that were challenging to wrap my head around. The characters don't necessarily act in a way that's easy to understand because they've had very different life experiences than me, and because the book was written by a Chinese person for (originally) a Chinese audience, the book wasn't written to explain any particular character's actions to people from other cultures. But I found that to be one of the enjoyable aspects of the book as I got to experience a different view of how the future might go.

This book is a translation, and that does present difficulties in how things are translated from Chinese into English. The writing style struck me as somewhat plain, and in parts of the book, italics were used for thoughts in a way that I found distracting. These are things that can have more to do with the translation than the original.

There were a couple of other details that I found frustrating:

We are introduced to NATO, CIA, and Chinese military officials throughout the book, and all of these officials are assumed to be men. So much so that them being men isn't noted. I noticed this because I was struggling to figure out which gender the characters were before realizing I was supposed to assume they were all men.

One woman character is called autistic by Wang, and it seems pretty clear from context that he means it as an insult. However, Wang also becomes fascinated with this woman to an extent that I found creepy.

There are also some questionable comments made about different cultures. The Aztecs are portrayed rather negatively by one person. Someone else then defends the Aztecs only for someone else to defend conquistadors by saying they helped the Americas become a democracy. (In case you need a reminder, this book has a Chinese author, and this part of the book is taking place inside a video game. The game raises questions about who's actually a human instead of a program, and on top of that, there's no way to be sure of what part of the world each person is from. I struggled with what to think of this scene a lot, and I'm sure different people will interpret it differently.)

There are large chunks of the book that just involve discussing theories, and the characters aren't afraid to deep dive into those theories. It made the book drag a bit for me at times, though I'm sure there are some who would enjoy those parts as well.

But despite that, I found the plot of the book fascinating.

In the book, there is a video game, and the main character has been tasked with solving a very important problem through playing this video game. He's not the only person playing it, and just who in the game is a real person and who's a computer program is one small part of the mysteries within the book.

Beyond the game, everyone's actions in this book feel suspect. I was never sure who was meant to be trusted, and there's an overwhelming sense of anxiety over just how much is being seen and by who. Throughout the book, you feel as if someone is aware of everything Wang does, but you're never sure if it's the aliens, the government, or someone else entirely who's watching him. Or if it's all of the above.

This is the start of a series, and this first book ends with far more questions than answers. I was left with no idea what to think about what I had just read. This book was a "thinker" through and through. It wasn't a fast-paced read; I needed to sit with it. In a similar vein, the ending wasn't one that had me wanting to rush out to get the second book. (I had too much to think about first.) But it did leave me feeling like I needed to read the second before I could even begin to have a final opinion on the first book.

The Three-Body Problem isn't a book for everyone. Many will find that it drags or that it's not fast-paced enough for them. Personally, I liked the way it made me think. The entire book was like trying to solve a puzzle, and I still haven't put all the pieces together. I'd like to read the sequel eventually to see how much more of it I can solve.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Life Post: A Trip Outside and Other COVID-19 News

Hello, again!

Since my last post, I have left the house exactly once. Two bills arrived in the mail with due dates before the state of emergency is due to be lifted, so I needed to go to the convenience store to pay those. I bought some snacks while I was there. It was a strange experience.

The convenience store closest to my house has put plastic sheets up in front of the counter between you and the cashier when you're checking out. I'd already seen that at the convenience store right next to my work, so it wasn't too shocking. The clerks there are also all wearing heavy duty plastic gloves, the kind you wear when you're scrubbing down the bathroom or something. And, of course, they're all in masks.

I actually saw more people than I expected while I was out. While people in the US are used to buying a lot of food at once, which makes storing it for long periods easier, a lot of houses don't have room for that kind of storage in Japan. And frozen foods and other things that keep for a long time exist but not in the same abundance as in the US. Most people I know here go to the supermarket on a near daily basis to buy food, so I imagine a lot of people are cutting back on how often they go but might still be going more than in the US. But obviously that's just me speculating.

Though I bought myself a sandwich (and some frozen food and ramen) at the convenience store yesterday, I've been eating a lot of furikake and rice to avoid going to the supermarket for as long as possible. (I can't pay my bills at the supermarket; otherwise, I realize that going there for food would have been the better option yesterday.)

Yesterday also marked the day when Tokushima got two more cases of COVID-19 because I choose the best days to finally leave the house. That brings our total up to five during this entire thing.

The other big piece of news yesterday was that Awa Odori, the festival that Tokushima is famous for, was canceled. It's not until August, but I guess that the most famous dance groups start practicing months in advance and they don't want those groups gathering for practice. It's really sad since Awa Odori is such a big point of pride with Tokushima, and it's a reminder of how long the effects of this pandemic are going to last.

Meanwhile, I'm still at home. Eventually, I'll venture out to the supermarket, but for the next few days, at least, I'll probably just be here trying to keep myself occupied.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Life Post: Social Distancing at Home

In the week since my last post, the school where I work has closed because of the state of emergency declared in Japan. That means I'm officially social distancing at home and haven't left the house in more than three days, though I'm probably going to have to go to the grocery store either today or tomorrow.

While many people have been talking about struggling with this, I'm honestly more than fine at this point. This, of course, comes with the disclaimer that I've only been doing this for a few days whereas people in other parts of the world have been stuck at home for much longer. But at the same time, I feel like I was kind of built for this. Left to my own devices, I'd stay at home for days on end anyway and not think much of it. I have a list a mile long of things to do, and all of those things are things I can do at home. I'm not even close to wanting in that regard.

Most of my anxiety is still from the disease itself and the effect it's having on the world. Thinking about it too much does get me into a less than ideal mindset. However, that hasn't been much of a problem really.

While I was still working, I was checking the internet for updates on COVID-19 constantly, and it was really wearing down my mental health. I was worried I might do that even more once I was stuck at home, but the opposite has been true. I'm still checking some information and seeing some things on social media, but I'm not obsessively checking the news for updates like I was when I was still going to work.

Because of that, I feel much calmer at home than I did before. I'm reading three books right now (I was in the middle of one before being stuck at home), and I've been writing and such as well. I have plenty to keep myself distracted for the moment.

I can only hope that nothing gets worse either here or anywhere else, but I know that dwelling on what may or may not happen won't do me any good.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Life Post: More COVID-19 Updates (and Everlark Fic Exchange)

It's been nearly three weeks since my last post, and I don't really want to write this because it's just more of the same.

Things are continuing to get worse here in Japan, and my anxiety is going up as it does. Everything is unknown at this point, and the developments that have happened since I last posted here aren't things I really wish to share on the internet right now.

In my last post, I mentioned that daily life here in the countryside was mostly the same, but that's not really true anymore. We've gotten two more cases since my last post, and today (Saturday) when I went to work, the city was noticeably quieter than normal. Many of my students came to class, but many people aren't really leaving home unless they have to.

And I'll be one of those people. I'm planning to go to the store this weekend, but other than that, I'm planning to stay home. Both because of COVID-19 and because my Everlark Fic Exchange fic, which needs to be up by the end of tomorrow, still needs to be edited and posted!