REVIEW: All Together Now

In April 2020 I was supposed to see Alan Doyle at Copps Coliseum (I guess people nowadays call it the 1st Ontario Center though) here in Hamilton, Ontario. The last time I saw him live was back in 2013 for a Great Big Sea anniversary tour, and while that night ended up horribly, the time I spent in the plush theatre seat singing The Night Pat Murphy Died at the top of my lungs while a drunk couple next to me did a jig in the aisle was one of the best concert experiences I’ve had.

I grew up on his music and on Great Big Sea.

And then the pandemic hit.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, 2020 was a hard year for a lot of us. It was – and still is in 2021 – isolating and hopeless and just hard… So when I heard that Alan Doyle had a new book meant to be full of silly stories he’d tell at the pub I thought maybe that would cheer me up. Seeing it was called All Together Now: A Newfoundlander’s Light Tales for Heavy Times had me hitting “purchase” immediately.

Right off the bat, this book had me smirking and it wasn’t long before I was actively laughing while reading along with the audiobook narrated by Alan himself playing through my headphones. Not even a full story in and all I could think about what how aggressively and heartwarmingly Canadian this book is. I’ve never been the most patriotic of people but I do love my country and many of these shorts reminded me why. Right now our government is failing us and while there are more regular people that are also failing us than I’d like to count, a lot of what Alan wrote about reminded me of the good in Canada. The people that come together to help one another, the strangers who ask if you’re okay on the street or in a store, the people in a pub who chat over a pint or something stronger like they’ve known you for years.

I miss a lot of my friends. I miss my family. I want to be there for the people in my life who are not only struggling mentally to keep going but the handful who are at their physical limits, too.

These silly shorts by a goofy Canadian folk-rock star lifted my spirits when I was reading. It reminded me of the pleasant things in the world after so much of it is dark and sad.

Maybe one day I’ll get to see Alan Doyle in concert again and maybe I’ll be one of those lucky fans who meets him at the pub. If that ever comes around, I want to thank him for this book. It truly was light tales for heavy times and if you’re a Canadian like me who’s having a rough go of things, I highly recommend picking it up.

Cheers.

REVIEW: Rashomon & Other Stories

I have been wanting to get a hold of some of Akutagawa’s short stories for a while now, and finally got my hands on the Tuttle collection that contains six stories. Considering I started reading this on March 1st (Akutagawa’s birthday) and finished it on the third (an important date in the final story), it seemed like fate brought this collection to me.

As much as I would have loved to have bought a larger collection, Tuttle Publishing always has really quality translations and I love supporting a company that does so much work producing educational material and language studies books (like 90% of my self-study Japanese textbooks are from Tuttle). Of course, that being said, I think this is a great edition for anyone who wants to get a taste of not just classic Japanese literature, but also a taste of Akutagawa in general. The stories in this edition include In The Grove, Rashomon, Yam Gruel, The Martyr, Kesa & Morito, and The Dragon.

I primarily wanted to read this collection for Rashomon and In The Grove as they are the most famous of his work due to the Kurosawa Akira film adaptation of the latter (although it was called Rashomon). Both stories were exactly as I expected them to be. Rashomon is a story of morals and while being short and cynical, really forced readers to question what they would do if they were starving and the choice was between your own survival or the survival of others in the same situation. In The Grove was a classic murder mystery with nothing but unrealiable narrators and the lack of closure is so interesting and unique as it leaves the decision up to the reader. The lesser known stories in the collection were are so different from each other while keeping that cynicism towards human nature and human desire that gives Akutagawa his edge.

What I found the most interesting is how, despite the difference in translators, I can see where Akutagawa influenced the works of my personal favourite, Dazai Osamu. Dazai held Akutagawa in a high regard (the two even died the same way) and I can see where their questions towards human nature crossover. That was my main reason for wanting to read these stories and I’m so happy I was finally able to. I look forward to tracking down more of Akutagawa’s work in English and – hopefully with some help from my textbooks – Japanese when translations are not available.

Happy [belated] birthday, Ryuunosuke.

REVIEW: All Systems Red & The Future of Work (Murderbot Diaries 1 & 0.5)

It’s been a very long time since I’ve read a serious sci-fi book that wasn’t Star Wars so when I kept seeing these Murderbot Diaries books everywhere I turned, I just had to pick up the first book from the library.

All Systems Red starts off with Murderbot telling us how it would rather watch television dramas than be a murderer and how boring it is to be a security unit. It’s so done with everything around it until all systems go haywire and the story goes from a silly narrative from a bored robot to a self-hacked robot trying to save everyone from their own system that has gone Hal 3000 on them (for those who don’t get it, that was a 2001 Space Odyssey reference where the ship tries to kill everyone).

I loved this story from cover to cover. Murderbot was hilarious and relatable as hell and despite not having a ton of information on the rest of the team, I really enjoyed the whole cast. Fast paced, action packed, and entertaining, this is probably one of the best original sci-fi stories I’ve ever read. An excellent start to a series I can’t wait to devour and something I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to get into science fiction without worrying about intimidatingly long books or overly complex world building.


BONUS

In seeing the reading order of the next books, I discovered that Wired Magazine actually published a prequel short story about Murderbot being stationed on a mining station. The short story gives us a little more insight into how and why Murderbot comes to care about the people it is assigned to protect and while I definitely recommend reading after the first novella, it is a great example of what Martha Wells’s writing style is like in terms of this incredible series that I highly recommend reading immediately.

You can read the story here on the Wired Magazine website.