The last time I wrote one of these was JUNE, and it’s not hard to work out why: between writing/publishing/promoting Becoming Martian, a 3 week blitz through Canada and the US, and being a media ambassador for National Science Week… well, not to put to fine a point on it but the last few months have been an absolute shitstorm.
Thankfully things are progressively easing up over the next month. I’ve still got to write my papers for International Astronautical Congress 2017 (aka IAC2017) by Sept 7, develop the presentations for the congress by Sept 14, attend a space industry roundtable discussion in Canberra about a future Australian space agency, help out at a science communication event, THEN fly to Adelaide for IAC2017 itself… but beyond that I’m into clear air for the rest of the year.
I’ve got a few ideas for what I want to do with the rest of 2017 and there’s some big things brewing on the horizon for 2018, but one of the biggest priorities is to commit to a lot more writing, especially for Patreon! This has easily been one of the best moves I’ve made in a very long time, and I’m incredibly grateful to all of you for your support – it’s making it possible to do and create more every single day.
There’s going to be a few changes on here in the near future too – I’ll keep you updated on what’s in store as the pressure starts to ease, but in the meantime here’s a long overdue look at what I’ve been reading, watching and listening to!
What I’m Reading
As usual, it’s been a lot more writing and speaking than reading. My “To Read” list is getting pretty extensive these days, and there’s a genuine desire to pull a Thoreau and disappear to a log cabin by a lake for the rest of 2017 to read, think and write – I still might. I’m still about halfway through both Werner Herzog’s “Guide for the Perplexed” and Nukariya’s “Religion of the Samurai”, but I feel like I’ve run out of steam with both and it’d take a genuine effort to restart reading them – an effort I just can’t muster at the moment with everything else going on.
I’ve been keen to read some Kurt Vonnegut for awhile, plus I have Marcus Aurelius and Seneca both stored on my Kindle too waiting to be started, but instead I’ve decided to venture back to one of my all-time literary favourites…
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The Trilogy of Five by Douglas Adams – It’s hard to fathom just how much this affected me when I finally read it a few years back. Reading science-fiction (or fiction generally) really wasn’t my thing as a kid, so while I loved the Hitchhiker’s film (sacrilege to “true” fans, I know) it wasn’t until 2015 that I finally decided to try reading the original book. It turns out buying the entire “trilogy” is cheaper than buying even one of the books individually, so I bought the whole series… and read the entire series in about a week.
Neil Gaiman sums it up perfectly in the foreword for the 2nd book: Douglas Adams’s writing is all about playing with ideas. Twisting, flipping, tearing them apart, then arranging them neatly into a decorative table setting. It’s warped, funny, surreal, smart and ridiculous – everything I’ve ever wanted my own writing to be.
What I’m watching
As usual, it’s easier to remember the things I’ve watched recently. The last few months have been notable for a few different things I’ve seen, with a nice blend of old, new and renewed favourites.
Rick and Morty – It might sound like hyperbole, but this entire series has been genuinely life-changing and even more overwhelmingly influential to me than Hitchhikers Guide. Rick and Morty has this beautifully brutal way of making you laugh at how fucked things are while never cheapening the experience, and every time you think you know what traditional story structure an episode is following, Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland have already thought of it and the dozen other obvious “twists” and deliver something categorically more unexpected.
So what can I even say about Season 3? Everything I love about Rick and Morty – the hyper-intelligent and obscure literary jokes juxtapositioned with literal fart jokes, the outright declaration of every idea or sci-fi concept they’re drawing from, the existential/multi-universe view of reality – have all been turned up to 11 in the first 6 episodes. Every character is being deconstructed (literally in the latest episode), analysed, thrown at a brick wall to see how they bounce, then roughly pushed back into shape. Season 1 ended with the entire universe frozen, and season 2 ended with Rick in supermax prison and the Federation’s taking over Earth, so I can’t even begin to imagine what we’re in for as we head into the 2nd half of Season 3.
John Wick (Chapters 1 & 2) – This was quite an unexpected surprise. John Wick completely passed me by when it came out in 2014, and even when chapter 2 was released earlier this year I mostly ignored it – I just didn’t know anything about it, and didn’t really care. I was back in Perth just before National Science Week and Chapter 1 came on after I’d been watching something else, and I was immediately hooked. When I look back on my interest in Sam Fisher from Splinter Cell, Jack O’Neill from Stargate SG-1, John Kelly from Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse”, there’s definitely something intriguing for me about the concept of a retired “weapon” being dragged back to a world they’d taken active steps to leave and finding a second life in it… probably because I’m scared of it myself.
Either way whoever the weapons/CQB advisor on John Wick is knows their stuff, and it’s definitely an incredible universe that’s been created… even if the director wants to revel in unrelenting but “clean” violence a little too much. I’m not going to re-watch them, but I’ll definitely be watching Chapter 3 when it’s released in 2019.
Grosse Point Blank – Speaking of hitmen, here’s a long-time favourite about one losing his taste and escaping it. John Cusack is an incredibly awkward weirdo in pretty much everything he does (and given the reports from colleagues of when he was hanging around with Damien Hirst, he’s a fairly awkward weirdo in real-life too), which places him perfectly as Martin Blank. I was watching this a lot around the time of my own 10 year reunion – having left the military a few years before and still finding my feet before discovering Mars One – and so with all the weirdness of 2012 seeming to repeat this year it made perfect sense to put this on again. Still great, but also a really wonderful reminder of how far I’ve really gone in the last 5 years.
Legally Blonde – There’s a bunch of films that girlfriends would quote over the years that I simply hadn’t seen. Since about 2014 I’ve decided to give them more of a chance, but while I’ve seen Mean Girls, Easy A, Heathers, Pitch Perfect, and even the bloody House Bunny; I’d never seen Legally Blonde. It was alright. I’ve come to appreciate that these aren’t films for me, but I can still appreciate them for the people they do really resonate with. That doesn’t mean I’ll be rushing out to watch Legally Blonde 2, but I’m not going to rag on those who love it – I’m not the target audience.
Catalyst “SETI” – With all my recent writing, I’ve essentially laid out a fairly solid roadmap for the topics of my future books. It’s no secret that my next book will be a written version of “Cosmic Nomad” – looking at how my life has changed by applying to Mars One. What’s probably less well known is that the book after Cosmic Nomad will be focused on humanity’s relationship with the cosmos, specifically the search of extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) and the messages we’re sent into space (METI).
I’m already collecting research for this book (working title “Calling ET”), so when I saw the renewed Catalyst series on ABC was premiering with an episode on SETI, I had to watch it. It’s a nice blend of general SETI background along with the latest ground-breaking research, with a surprising number of details I hadn’t heard of yet. So if you’re in Australia and missed it, check out this link for a little taster of what I’ll be covering in what will hopefully be my third book!
What I’m listening to
After relentlessly listening to endless recordings of rainstorms while writing Becoming Martian, I’m back to actual music now. I’m still listening to a lot of what Spotify feeds me, but after I cleaned out all the saved content from my phone a week back I’m now avoiding the same stuff over and over again and having a LOT of new tracks come through – it’s genuinely refreshing. My phone is also getting progressively more useless too, so I suspect I’ll be having something of a musical renaissance when I replace it later this year.
90’s Rock Renaissance by Spotify – This was a random experiment that paid off… for awhile. Nostalgia is an interesting beast – those old memories are great to revisit briefly, but you don’t really want to stay long in the past or you’ll quickly develop a nasty case of memberberries. So while it was great listening to some old Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, and even Oasis… it always leaves you feeling a little empty after a couple of listens.
That said, “Killing In The Name Of” will always be endlessly listenable as one of the greatest songs ever created.
Sound of SIlver by LCD Soundsystem – Spotify added “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” to my Discover Weekly playlist while back, and I was instantly hooked. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of LCD Soundsystem or the rest of the album – it’s good, not great – but I can definitely have it on in the background or while I’m writing… like I do right now.
Trouble Will Find Me by The National – In another weird mirror of 2012, the last time I was listening to The National was just after I’d stopped working for Damien Hirst but still in the UK, and I had High Violet on repeat a lot. I’ve caught songs by The national since 2012, but it wasn’t until an interview during National Science Week 2017 that I realised they’d put out a whole other album, and many of the singles I’d heard were actually from Trouble Will Find Me. I’ve been listening to it quite a bit, and while it’s more engaging that LCD Soundsystem it’s actually easier to listen to as I’m writing.