Archive for Books

Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I recently finished Silver Nitrate, the latest novel by one of my favorite horror (or perhaps horror-adjacent) authors, Silvia Moreno-Garcia*. This one was set in the early 90s in Mexico City and involved an audio engineer getting mixed up in the occult and dark magics started by a possibly Nazi occultist film-maker a few decades back.

What I love about this author’s work is how it’s not written to exoticize Mexico for English-speaking audiences. There’s so much that this culture has in common with ours, and Moreno-Garcia doesn’t de-emphasize this. And yet, the setting is interesting and different enough that it satisfies my desire for novel experiences.

As usual, the protagonist is a prickly, awesome woman who I would enjoy having as a friend. The supernatural elements are more overt than I expected, after having read Velvet Was the Night most recently, which was more of a crime noir than anything else. That said, it was a welcome return to the subjects that first captured my attention with Signal to Noise.

If any of that sounds up your alley, I highly recommend giving this one a read. It kept my attention even in this time of atomized attention spans, which is really saying something.

*Disclaimer: I did Silvia’s website a few years back.


Recently Read–Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention–and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari

Stolen Focus by Johann Hari cover

Funny story; at some point in the last couple of months, I put this title on hold via Libby and my public library, but during the excitement of the last month, I didn’t realize it’d arrived on my Kindle (or rather, I had added it to my Kindle and completely forgotten due to my scattered nature lately). I’ve been eager to read books about attention span since the great attention span crisis that was COVID-19 and the past three years. Me, I don’t read nearly as much in my 40s as I did as a teen or even as much as I did in my 20s, and this has bothered me for some time. I’ve noticed that I’ve trained myself so well to skim articles that I start to do it even when reading novels and nonfiction books. I also suffer from the usual problems the rest of us do — social media stealing my attention, wasting time etc. Basically, I don’t often feel like I’m in control of what my brain decides to spend time on. I want to do better in this regard.

So I dove into this book and found it really quite readable, interesting, well-argued and persuasive. The opening chapters were the strongest ones and helped lay out the case that we actually are finding our focus stolen by technology (and technology’s evil older brother, Capitalism), and some few ideas of what we can do about it. I was especially happy that Hari addressed the idea that this is simply old age catching up with us with studies that show a decline regardless of age.

Most of the book is divided into chapters looking into the various factors that Hari believes are contributing to our stolen focus. These include the regular suspects, as well as a few that are more surprising to me, like bad food and pollution, but which make sense when explained here.

Ultimately, the book concludes that we need mass collective action to really attack the core problems, but the era of Americans agreeing to change anything at that scale strikes me as over, so I was far more interested in what the book would have to offer as far as personal modifications I can make.

It’s got a few ideas (switch to a 4-day work week if you can, use limiters to block yourself from distractions like your phone or internet browsing on your computer with apps like Freedom) but mostly reading this book served to cement my interest in finding ways to recapture focus and think more clearly and deeply about things.

Thanks to this book, I’m hoping to turn 2024 into a grand experiment for me in restructuring how I interface with my work and clients and how I structure my day. I am giving serious consideration to a 4-day work week, and I want to structure my day in terms of focus blocks of extended time instead of task-switching every 15 minutes from issue to issue. To be fair, I don’t think any of my clients asked me to work in this distracted manner. It’s just kind of how my brain decided to tackle the workload. I’ll be curious to see if any of these tips help me feel an improved sense of focus and flow. I have to write up the changes and float them to my major clients– that will be the first hurdle to the experiment, but I am hopeful.

I would be remiss in not mentioning that the author of this book is apparently the subject of numerous controversies which you can read about on his Wikipedia page. At least in the case of this book, it seemed well researched and provided quite a healthy back matter of citations (not that I did more than skim them). Having heard that from Gord Sellar (who has a far more detailed writeup about this book than I do), who read the book last year, I decided to take the book with a grain of salt. Especially in later chapters where Hari decides to tackle ADHD and children’s mental development. The research in that area seemed particularly on shaky ground to me, but it’s more of a gut instinct than anything specific, so take what I say with a lump of salt as well.

Have you read this book? What did you think? What do you think about the idea that we are all having a much harder time thinking deeply these days? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Spring Has Sprung

I’m working on a longer post about our vacation in Florida – I have a lot to say about the theme park experience, and several people have asked me for tips. It’s going to take me a few days to process all my thoughts about it, so instead, I’m blogging about the first day of spring.

It doesn’t feel very spring-like here this year, compared to past years. The earliest flowers came and went in February, and now we’re waiting on crocuses and daffodils to make their appearance. The trees are about to burst into bloom. Birdsong is quiet, due to the high winds we’re experiencing. Temperature-wise, it definitely feels like spring, but the forecast calls for at least one more freezing day ahead of us.

Still, today is the official first day of Spring and I intend to embrace that. I spent much of the weekend cleaning, organizing, and generally trying to improve our lives in tiny ways that hopefully add up in the end to a noticeable impact. I feel like we all walk around with metaphorical pebbles in our shoes, irritating us, but the effort to remove them is too much, so we continue living with them. I know I do this, but sometimes, especially after I’ve had a chance to rest and recuperate on a vacation or something like that, then I feel empowered to deal with those things.

I started with our trashcans. We’ve had the same ugly plastic, broken trashcans for a decade, and trash can technology has gotten crazy. I splurged one some fancy ones for the kitchen and the bathroom. Before I tell you which ones, we’ll live with them for a while to make sure they are actual improvements. The foot pedal lid on the dual trash/recycling one is already getting a lot of use. And the bathroom has a fancy sensor so you don’t even have to touch it. Both are stainless steel and advertised as being resistant to fingerprints.

We’ll see about that.

I’m also printing various space organizers and things, alongside some requested prints for friends and family. I enjoy using my 3D printers to help people with things. If you’re local to me and need a little something printed up, let me know. I’m getting pretty good with the new tree supports in Prusa Slicers, so I am finding it easier to print fancy things. I’m also about to take the dive into printing with PETG for the first time, which means I’ll be able to print things that can be kept outside. Most of what I print with will melt and warp on a hot day, so that’s a step forward for me.

For a long time, my interest in 3D printing was relegated mostly to gaming, but I find myself increasingly wanting to live in the real world, and that means functional prints. It’s a whole new world for me, and I’m excited to learn all about it.

In reading news, I finished Murderbot book #2 and Psalm for the Wild-Built over the past few days, as well as caught up on all the released episodes of Station 151, a podcast produced by some local friends of mine. I commented to some friends on Discord recently that reading for pleasure has been one of the most positive changes in my life in recent memory. Writing had me reading not for pleasure, but as a kind of chore, and now that I’m mostly retired from that pursuit, I can read things that speak to my soul, not aimed at growing my skillset. I’ve already read more books in three months than I did all last year.

Books. So good. Don’t sleep on books, y’all.

Photo by Arno Smit via Unsplash.


low angle photo of cherry blossoms tree

Books, Freelancing, Personal Life

Mystery and Crime Reads to End February

I continue to be on a bit of a tear this year with my reading. I’ve found reading novels to be the balm for my social-media-tortured soul. For so long, I’ve been refreshing the same dumb websites, looking for something, but it turns out, whatever it was I was looking for, I find it in the most old-fashioned of pages. Go figure.

I put a call out on my Facebook for cozy novels, which mostly got me mystery novel recommendations. As can be the case, people’s definitions of “cozy” varied wildly and ultimately it kind of felt like a list of general recommendations. About the only thing that got a secondary recommendation was the Armand Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny. So I picked up Still Life, the first in the series.

I actually started out reading mysteries before moving to SF/F in elementary school, so it’s a genre I do enjoy. This was no exception. The POV floats around like a ghost, though, which is really weird for me having been stuck in such limited perspectives in SF/F for years. Head-hopping ln the same scene, which I’d always been told to never do back when I was writing, but I liked it here. There were times where I felt like my POV was the ghost of the victim, in fact. Coziness factor would be about a 6.5 out of 10. There’s a lot of Canadian political tension I didn’t expect, and a few really unlikable characters. I’m probably going to buy the second one and continue though, as I absolutely adored Armand Gamache himself. What an idea – a kind-hearted detective. I’m so used to the brilliant but cold types.

Tonight, I finished a noir/crime book called Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Chaze. I picked this up on the recommendation of Nick Mamatas, who has never steered me wrong on a book. Published originally in 1953 (a fact I had missed in the original recommendation, so I had found it very oddly quaint when first reading it, thinking it was a contemporary novel), and for me, it’s an instant classic. I had never heard of Chaze before, but this work felt easily on par, in prose and style, with what little I’ve read of Chandler and the like. I came to read it like a Greek tragedy. There’s always this inevitable downfall in pulp crime novels, and this one lets you know from early on that it is no exception. After spending so much time reading longer novels, it was nice to pick up one that I could finish in a couple of days.

That’s enough for now. I’m having so much pain in my shoulders that typing is getting kind of hard. Been sleeping hard lately, I guess, and waking up very sore. Blogging for the rest of the week is likely to be shorter than this, at least until I can wake up without feeling like someone spent the night beating me about the head and shoulders with a bat.


close-up photo of blue bird


Well, That Sucked – The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin

The book was fine, but the effect of reading it sucked. One of the darkest experiences I’ve ever had with a book.

Nihilism isn’t something that comes naturally to me. Don’t laugh; I know I can be cynical, but the idea that everything is meaningless, that existence is zero sum (or worse)–some possibly romantic part of me rejects all that. Liu Cixin embraces that part and whispers insults in its ear while slipping a blade between the ribs. This is the least optimistic science fiction novel I can remember reading. It has a deeply uncharitable view of humanity, and for me to say that lately is really saying something!

I know the book has been out for years, but I don’t want to spoil it by discussing it in detail. Just know that the use of the word “dark” in the title is pretty apt here and unless you’re prepared to struggle with that and are in a good mental place, give it a pass. I can’t bring myself to read the third in the series; I just went and read a summary of it on Wikipedia, and I’m glad I didn’t put myself through that.

February, my calendrical nemesis, was a terrible month to start reading these books. I’m already gloomy, but this has made my mood black. It’s combined in my head with all that UFO bullshit to give me a low level of fear I’m having trouble shaking.

Ah well. Maybe a few days away from it will shake the vibe. And if not that, well then, I can re-read a bunch of Pratchett until light is restored inside my soul.


photography of forest


That Old Ebb and Flow

I’m feeling rather tired today, in part because we appear to be fighting off yet another illness in the Tolbert household and also for a rather shocking reason: I had trouble putting a book down last night and stayed up too late reading it.

This appears to be the year I finally get around to all the exceptional things that had buzz years ago, so I’m reading The Three Body Problem and so far, I’m hooked. I devoured about a third of it in a single sitting last night. More on it later.

I wish that our form of capitalism had more forgiveness built into it. I’m very lucky that I can take an easy day, but I won’t, because I’ve internalized capitalism just as much as the next poor sap. I’ve got meetings that can’t be delayed and projects that must continue if I want to keep a roof over my head.

I’ve been teetering on the brink of finding it all a bit overwhelming for a while. Not an uncommon sensation for me in February. My list of things that I need to accomplish before our trip in March is not… small. But I find myself wanting to do little more than crawl back into bed with my iPad and keep reading my book. Damn all the capitalist toil.


hippopotamus lying on surface near body of water

Books, Personal Life

Kobold Press’s Deep Magic 2 Launch

I’m cheating today because work has taken over my life and I like to support my clients.

Kobold Press is a 3rd party RPG publisher (soon to be 1st party with Project Black Flag!). They just launched a new Kickstarter for their book Deep Magic 2. Here’s how they describe it:

Deep Magic Volume 2 is the next installment in Kobold Press’s popular series, presenting potent new options for game masters and players with a penchant for enchantment. . . . And fully compatible with the evolution of the world’s first tabletop RPG!

The great thing about this Kickstarter is that the book will be forward-compatible with the forthcoming Project Black Flag from Kobold Press, so you will be able to play it with an all new system and skip on supporting the world’s first tabletop RPG that shall remain nameless. I hear Project Black Flag will be truly open and have no digital monthly subscription fee.

If you’re semi-illiterate before 10 AM like me, you can watch a video instead!

The team at Kobold Press works really hard on each one of these releases. I’m not involved on the creative side, but I also work hard to help with their websites, so I’m not a neutral third party here. If you support Kobold Press, you support me. So go do that, friends.


Books, Gaming

Intellectual Starvation

It’s a short one today. My life is so consumed by Open Gaming License fallout and such that I have been swamped these past few days. I’m rapidly running out of steam and desperately in need of the weekend. Stay tuned to the end of the post for a few miniatures too.

So I’ve been reading Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch and it’s really hitting the spot. Reading it for 30 minutes at a time even has been giving me the satisfaction of a particularly well-cooked meal does, and it suddenly hit me. All of these months without reading real written material crafted with a purpose other than to get clicks has been starving my brain.

I am being a bit hyperbolic, but I think there’s something to this comparison, something in the nature of internet content in 2023 and the way we consume it that is thin fucking gruel. It’s addictive though, and so we scoop it up. It’s low effort, so we can do it for hours and hours. But increasingly, I am convinced that most of it is not only not beneficial, but is actually harmful to our ability to think clearly.

I’ve had to dip back into Twitter lately to get work related news and I find the site so repugnant that I find myself subconsciously holding my breath while I scan the feeds. I dip back out as quickly as I can. It’s amazing how only a few weeks away can make something you previously felt was essential seem completely toxic.

So at least in that sense, my 2023 is going better than my 2022. I’m on book number four of the year and showing no signs of slowing down. I feel sharper, and I’m noticing that my writing skills here are improving already. I do have some bad habits to fix, like starting new paragraphs with the word “so.”

If I have any advice to you, my six readers, it’s give up on social media and read a book. Jesus, that’s boring advice. But it is what it is.

Here are the four miniatures I painted last night – #14 to #17. I am particularly proud of the wet-blending I did on the axe. I’ve never tried that type of gradient transition before, but now I’ll probably be looking for places to do it all over because it’s sexy as hell.

Four assorted miniatures painted by Jeremiah Tolbert
That left-most dwarf was a crappy print and hard to paint, but I do like the other three.


Minis 5 and 6, Mornings Suck

I start each week determined to wake up early and attack my day, and each day I wake up a little later and a little later. Especially in winter. I think my body finds it easiest to wake up with the sun, and getting up while it is still somewhat dark is particularly difficult for me. On cloudy days, I can accidentally sleep in an hour or two. If they ever give humans the ability to hibernate through winter, sign me up. Until then, I’ll be groggy and poorly composed for the first hour or two of every day. I really should take up drinking coffee. I am pretty lucky not to have to sleep with an alarm. Freelancer life!

Last night (when I wasn’t tired, how’s that for a segue?) I managed to paint a couple of goblins after Matty went to bed. Nothing too exciting or difficult here. My brush control continues to improve, which feels pretty good.

Two goblin miniatures, one with sword and shield and another holding a spear with orange cloth on it
Whut’s over there?

I started a new book yesterday after painting these guys. I found a copy of Grady Hendrix’s Horrorstor on Libby, which appears to be about a haunted Ikea analogue. It’s about work also, which means it is right up my alley. I’m enjoying it so far. More when I finish it.


Books, Miniatures, Personal Life