Bloom County's second reboot collection: the election of 2016 and beyond

When Donald Trump entered the election race, it brought Bloom County creator Berkeley Breathed out of a much-deserved retirement to lampoon Cheeto Hitler as only Milo, Opus, Bill and the gang could; the first collection chronicled the 2016 campaign, and a second collection, Brand Spanking New Day is a comic snapshot of one of the weirdest, worst years in living American memory.

Cat Wishes: a picture book about being a wish come true

Calista Brill is a legendary comics and picture-book editor, part of the powerhouse team at Firstsecond (she's my editor!), and with Cat Wishes, a picture book that's sweet and surprising, she shows just how well she understands the form she practices.

This device lets me work in mosquito-free bliss

For part of the year, my wife has a gig that brings us into northern Alberta. To save money and make the most out of being here, we live off the grid in our RV for weeks at a time, relying on our rig's power system, propane and water tanks to keep us going. I connect to the internet through my T-Mobile phone plan. It’s quiet, I have a beautiful view of the Rocky Mountains and, when I want to go for a hike in the woods, all I need to do is grab my bear spray and step outside. There’s just one thing I’d change about being out here.

The frigging mosquitoes.

They’re plentiful enough that I can’t step foot out of the RV without for more than a minute in the late afternoon without being chewed on, instantly. They’re small enough that, even when I haven’t opened the door in 24 hours, they still manage to find a way inside. Today’s been a bad mosquito day: we had some pretty heavy rain last week, which resulted in a lot of big puddles being created around where we camp. Mosquitoes breed in standing water. There’s thousands of the little bastards outside right now. Despite having stuffed paper towel into the space between all of my screens and windows to buttress the weather stripping that’s already there, I’ve killed 12 of the buggers since I sat down to work, just over an hour ago. On days like this, I break out my Thermacell and set it up inside. Read the rest

The Montague Paratrooper Pro is the best damn bike I've ever owned

When you live full-time in a motorhome, no matter how big it is, there’s not a lot of room for extras. In order to have enough space to be comfortable, its necessary to strip your belongings down to the essentials. A library full of books gives way to e-readers and tablets. Full-sized anything? You’re gonna want to swap it out for a compact model or, better still, a version of it designed to collapse down to a smaller size to store when its not in use. My Montague Paratrooper Pro mountain bike does that. I love it.

Bike designer David Montague put together the original Paratrooper folding mountain bike for the U.S. Military. It was designed to accompany parachutists out the door of a flying airplane and, once on the ground, be used to get the soldier riding it to an objective far more rapidly than if the approach were made on foot. I’d known about these bikes for years. I was obsessed with them. Moving into an RV gave me an excuse to finally get one: it’s a full-sized bike that collapses down small enough that I can stow it in one of our rig’s basement compartments, out of site and out of mind.

The bike I ride, the Paratrooper Pro, comes with a few bells and whistles that the original Montague Paratrooper lacks. It’s front forks can be locked for riding on pavement in the city, or unlocked for a smooth, suspension-aided ride down trails and dirt roads. It’s got 27 gears to the OG Paratrooper’s 24. Read the rest

Mother American Night: John Perry Barlow's posthumous memoir

John Perry Barlow lived many lives: small-time Wyoming Republican operative (and regional campaign director for Dick Cheney!), junior lyricist for the Grateful Dead, father-figure to John Kennedy Jr, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, inspirational culture hero for the likes of Aaron Swartz and Ed Snowden (and, not incidentally, me), semi-successful biofuels entrepreneur... He died this year, shortly after completing his memoir Mother American Night, and many commenters have noted that Barlow comes across as a kind of counterculture cyberculture Zelig, present at so many pivotal moments in our culture, and that's true, but that's not what I got from my read of the book -- instead, I came to know someone I counted as a friend much better, and realized that every flaw and very virtue he exhibited in his interpersonal dealings stemmed from the flaws and virtues of his relationship with himself.

David Graeber's "Bullshit Jobs": why does the economy sustain jobs that no one values?

David Graeber defined a "bullshit job" in his viral 2013 essay as jobs that no one -- not even the people doing them -- valued, and he clearly struck a chord: in the years since, Graeber, an anthropologist, has collected stories from people whose bullshit jobs inspired them to get in touch with him, and now he has synthesized all that data into a beautifully written, outrageous and thought-provoking book called, simply, Bullshit Jobs.

The Freeze-Frame Revolution: mutineers unstuck in time, strung out across an aeon

Peter Watts (previously) is a brilliant bastard of a science fiction writer, whose grim scenarios are matched by their scientific speculation; in his latest, a novella called The Freeze-Frame Revolution, Watts imagines a mutiny that stretches out across aeons, fought against a seemingly omnipotent AI.

Actually, Solo is good

Solo: A Star Wars Story, the latest Star Wars feature film and Disney's fourth, offers something new even as it stays connected to the old. I have a few gripes, but Solo is a nice side chapter to the ongoing Star Wars mythos.

Set roughly a decade before A New Hope, the original Star Wars film, Solo chronicles the journey of a 20-something Han Solo from an orphan looking for a brighter future to the swaggering but lovable scoundrel originally portrayed by Harrison Ford.

Standard backstory fare includes Solo meeting the Wookiee Chewbacca and fellow miscreant Lando Calrissian. We find out where he grew up and how he came by his surname. He acquires the Millenium Falcon and his biggest claim to fame: making the Kessel Run in a record-breaking twelve parsecs. Solo brims with action and humor—I think it's a great stand-alone film.

Read the rest

Bandwidth: science fiction thriller about networks of power and the power of networks

Eliot Peper's novel Bandwidth is a global technothriller that pits the barons of a world-spanning networking monopoly against the hydrocarbon barons who've manipulated the world's politics to let them go on boiling the world in its own emissions, and the lobbyists and shadowy resistance fighters who play them off against each other.

All Rights Reserved: a YA dystopia where every word is copyrighted

In Gregory Scott Katsoulis's All Rights Reserved, we get all the traditional trappings of a first-rate YA dystopia: grotesque wealth disparity leading to a modern caste system, draconian surveillance to effect social control in an inherently unstable state, ad-driven ubiquitous entertainment as the only distraction from environmental collapse -- but with an important difference.

John Hodgman's outstanding Vacationland: now in paperback!

I found John Hodgman's Vacationland to be a genuinely moving and hilarious read; and it has stuck with me in the year since its hardcover release -- now it's out in paperback, and Hodgman is touring with it. Read the rest

84K: A grim meathook future novel of exterminism, with a theory of change and a glimmer of hope in its centre

UK writer Claire North's 84K is a grim tale of a near-future Britain in which Toryism has come to its logical extreme, with all functions of the state assumed by a single massive corporation, and with all human life weighed and priced by how "socially useful" it is.

Exit West: beautifully wrought novel about refugees, mobility and borders

Mohsin Hamid's Exit West is a science fiction novel with a simple, allegorical premise: what if the poor, oppressed, and alienated could simply vanish through mysterious doorways and emerge somewhere else?

Hope Larson's "All Summer Long," lively YA graphic novel about tween friendships, rock and roll, and being yourself

Hope Larson's All Summer Long is an incredibly charming, subtly complex story about friendship and coming of age, the story of Bina and her lifelong friend Austin, who, as far back as they can remember have spent every summer playing a game where they award themselves "Fun Points" for petting cats, finding change on the sidewalk, going swimming, and otherwise making the most of a long, wonderful summer. Until now.

Paper Girls 4: duelling invisible megabots, time travel and the prime directive, now with more Hugo nominations!

Paper Girls is the outstanding Stranger-Things-esque graphic novel series by Brian K Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, a tale of time-travel, meddling, war and coming of age whose mind-bending twists and turns earned it a Hugo nomination this year. Now Paper Girls 4 is on shelves, and it's time to party like it's 1999.

Book review: Melancholy Accidents

With guns on the public mind, now might be a good time to read Melancholy Accidents: Three Centuries of Stray Bullets and Bad Luck, an anthology of newspaper accounts of accidental shootings, mostly fatal, compiled by Peter Manseau. Spanning 1739 to 1916, they’re brief, only a half-page on average, but their old-fashioned diction, formal as a wing collar, and the ironic distance between their deadpan recitation of the facts and the mayhem they recount gives them a prosaic poetry. They uncover the matter-of-fact madness of what Manseau calls “a nation that fancies itself created and sustained by guns, yet remains resigned to being culled by them with unnerving frequency.”

Some of the book’s entries have a Fortean absurdity that splits the difference between tragic and comic, like the February 13, 1739 item from The New England Weekly Journal about some men trying out a new firearm on the broad side of a barn. As fate would have it, “one of the Bullets struck upon some piece of Iron and split it (the Bullet) in two, one piece of which flew to a considerable Distance from the Barn.” A Doctor Rice was traveling along the road; it cut him down. The other half came to rest near a cluster of people but “did no Hurt.” One of them, the Reverend Mr. Sterns, “sent the piece to the Men who were firing, with a desire that they would take more Care for the future.”

Other reports are contenders for the Darwin Award, testimonials to the stupidity of the species. Read the rest

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths

Peter & Ernesto have a good life: the two sloths sit in their Amazon treetop and make up songs about the animal shapes they see in the clouds. But one day, Ernesto gets it into his head to see the whole sky, from every place on Earth, and sets out through the jungle.

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