Amy Hempel’s magical prose

“Sing to It: New Stories” by Amy Hempel is the 19th book I’ve finished this year. Just discovered what an amazing writer she is. Some of the short stories are just a page long, but it’s astonishing what she can do with just a few words.

This quote is from the longest story in this collection, “Cloudland”.

“I remember being surprised to learn that asking for help is a sign of strength. Someone who knew what she was talking about set out to convince me of this when I told her I had failed to gauge the point at which I had to stop asking for help, had to figure something out for myself. Why was it hard to see this as strength? I’d seen people all my life who felt it was a matter of character to puzzle through a problem by themselves. Self-sufficiency as a point of honor—I was persuaded by this. But help could come in so many forms.”

Life is meant to be valued, not optimized

You are not a product.

This is a great reminder. That your life should be a work of art, not a product. That you should live according to your own values, not those of the people around you.

“Works of art are made to be beautiful. Beauty is not susceptible to changes in ‘demand’. If no one wants it, it can still be extremely beautiful, and therefore valuable.

“Products, on the other hand, are made to be sold: to serve, or please, customers. Demand is everything. If no one wants a product, it’s worthless.

“If your life is a product, then, if no one wants your life, it’s worthless.”

Live the life you want.

Of paper tigers and distant stars

Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories” is the 18th book I’ve finished this year. Truly a wonderful collection of powerful and beautifully-written stories. I hope more of the works in this anthology will be turned into a “Love Death + Robots” episode, just like “Good Hunting”.

“The Paper Menagerie” (the first work of fiction to sweep all three major science fiction awards: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award), ”Mono No Aware”, “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”, “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” — these would all make great episodes.

“Look up at the stars, and we are bombarded by light generated on the day the last victim at Pingfang died, the day the last train arrived at Auschwitz, the day the last Cherokee walked out of Georgia. And we know that the inhabitants of those distant worlds, if they are watching, will see those moments, in time, as they stream from here to there at the speed of light. It is not possible to capture all of those photons, to erase all of those images. They are our permanent record, the testimony of our existence, the story that we tell the future. Every moment, as we walk on this earth, we are watched and judged by the eyes of the universe.”

Why D&D rules

How many of you have played or are still playing Dungeons & Dragons? Interesting The New York Times article by science journalist and io9.com co-founder Annalee Newitz. She’s the author of one of my favorite books, “Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction”.

“What makes D&D different is that we can never forget about the human beings behind the avatars. When a member of my group makes a bad choice, I can’t look into his face and shout insults the way I would if we were playing online. He’s a person, and my friend, even if he also inexplicably decided to open an obviously booby-trapped trunk, get a faceful of poison and use up my last remaining healing spell.

“But online, my friend would be just another dude with leathery blue skin, not someone whose face might crumple in sadness if I’m a jerk. There’s a toxic distance created by online gaming and social networks that allows us to pretend we’re not socializing with friends. Our empathy gets switched off. That may be one reason gamer arguments over fake countries and nonexistent knights can morph all too easily into hate-based social movements in the real world.”