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What I'm Reading, Watching, Playing: August

What I'm Playing

 Edge of Darkness

This kickstarter game combines elements of deck building and card-crafting with worker placement and monster fighting. It's complicated, has a ton of pieces, and a strong city-factions theme. The box is massive, the rulebook long, and gameplay is medium complex. I'll say it's not exactly my cup of tea, but if I took the time to learn it and get really good at it, it could be really fun. John and Diana really liked it, Gunnar liked it okay, and I was just meh about it. But then, I really hate learning new games and the factions theme isn't my think and I pretty much hate deck building haha.

What I'm Reading

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

This one wasn't as exciting as the first book in this series, which I reviewed last month for a lot of reasons. First, there was a lot of explanation of things that happened in the first book which while interesting didn't move things along very much There also wasn't very much at stake for the main character personally. She was never really in danger, and when she was she didn't seem to care very much. People she cared about were in danger but it didn't make a ton of sense why she cared about those people. And thirdly, it felt a little preachy. The social justice issues that this book tackled were handled by the main character pointing them out and using her power to fix them with no consequences or backlash, which was really boring.

Despite these criticisms, the ending felt very space-opera and resolved enough of this books problems to feel satisfying while also building anticipation for the sequel. I definitely enjoyed it and ended it looking forward to the third book!

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Thankfully, the conclusion to this series made up for the middle-book-slump! Finally, the main character had to tackle the social justice issues for herself, confronting her own biases and transgressions, and they were suitably science fiction in nature to not be boring! This book tackled the issue of person-hood that I feel like the author wanted to tackle all along but didn't get to do thoroughly until this book. The aliens, the AI, and the action were all great, making this series one I'm glad that I read!

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

I've been reading a lot of Sci-Fi and wanted to read this classic for a while. When it comes to classic literature sometimes it can feel boring because we've read those themes and ideas so many times in modern literature--even though the classic was the first, it's not new to people who grew up in the new millennium.

That said, it was pretty good and actually still very relevant. I think I was a little brain-tired from reading so much sci-fi in a row and it was difficult to keep up with all the new alien names and places and dialects, but the world itself was really cool and the story was interesting. I picked it at random from Le Guin's works and was susprised how relevant it is to the modern discussions of gender and sexuality in modern science fiction, including the Ancillary series I had just finished. The world featured in The left Hand of Darkness is populated by humans who are most of the time gender neutral, but changed into male of female at certain times of the month (called "kemmer"), during which time they find a mate of the opposite sex who is also in kemmer and are isolated with that mate for the whole time that they are sexually active. Le Guin explores how this effects not just relationships between people, but how the entire political landscape is changed by the lack of bias against people depending on their gender. The narrator is an alien to that world and observes these people from the outside, like us.

It was cool to see this kind of exploration of social norms that we are dealing with now in a book that was written over 50 years ago. I like the way it was handled and I liked comparing it to the more modern sci-fi explorations of the same topic.

Educated by Tara Westover

I had to switch to some non-fiction, and this popular memoir had been on my list for a while now. I managed to snag it from the new books  section at the library the last time I was there. It's about a girl who grew up on a mountain in Idaho, raised by a family of paranoid, religious "preppers" who didn't believe in modern medicine or public schools. She spent her youth riding horses and working at her father's junkyard, without a birth certificate, vaccines, and without ever setting foot in a classroom. The twist? She ends up going to BYU, Cambridge, and then Harvard, ending up with a PHD by the end of the book.

This whole book was very well written and completely captivating, the best of both worlds for a memoir. There was pain and humor, and lots of self-reflection on the part of the author. In a way it was incomplete though, like she might need to write a part two about the rest of her life when she is much older. It was cool that she was able to refer to her old journals and diaries, and interesting how she reflected on memory and how unreliable it can be.

I really enjoyed this book. I have a deep love of memoirs, and as a lifelong diarist I do have ambitions of trying my hand at a memoir someday. I highly recommend it, before it gets made into a movie like so many of the bestselling memoirs do!

What I'm Watching

Orange is the New Black Season 7

Speaking of memoirs...I started watching this series when it first came out, shortly after I read the memoir on which the show is based.  Of course, after the first season the show is nothing at all like the book or the real life of the main character. Real life Piper did her time, got released, went back to her fiance, and wrote a book about her experience. The show has her involved in prison gangs, riots, moved to a maximum security detention, and eventually (spoilers for later seasons) marry the woman who landed her in prison. But it's more than just Piper's story. The show, as ridiculous and dramatic as it was at times, tackles some of the real issues and plights of prisoners like cyclical poverty and homelessness, sexual abuse and mistreatment, and the privatization of prisons in our country. But even beyond that, I was drawn in by personal, often tragic stories of the characters. My favorite character through the seasons was Taystee, my least favorite was definitely Piper.

Season seven, on it's own, was pretty good as an ending to the series. I liked that they wrapped up a bunch of loose ends and even the irony in so many of those endings bringing things around full circle almost to where they began. A few characters got happy endings, a few sad endings, but overall I was satisfied with where things ended up.

If you missed a few seasons but want to know how it ends, I'd say give the final episode a watch. Otherwise, check out a few Youtube recaps. Either way, I'm glad I finished it!