The Best Songs of the First Half of 2020

Guys! The first half of the year somehow ended! Only seventeen more decades left in the year! There’s been some good records, certainly, and that’s helped, so let’s get down to some of it before I bust out crying about not being able to have seen a band in a million years. There’s a spotify playlist at the bottom, as usual, and there will be a folder for downloading here, when I get to putting it together. The playlist doesn’t have the clipping. Song 1, which is replaced by Mint Mile’s “Shy”. So there. 

Fiona Apple – Heavy Balloon

I have basically nothing to say about this record that isn’t said by basically everybody else. I love the record, it’s very good, this is a very good song, please see literally anything else written about music in the first half of this year for more information. 

Arca – Afterwards

Arca made a pop record! Or, well, longtime ONAT-favorite Arca made a focused, easy-to-understand record out of the same set of songs she usually uses to make weird, amorphous records. She actually made two great records this year, KicK i and @@@@@, but this one has songs, the greatest of which is this one, which could probably have been predicted given that it’s the one with Bjork on it

Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin – The Bastard Wind

You know, I love Bell Witch, genuinely, but I really only have so many words that I use to express that love. It’s true, however, that the “The Bastard Wind” pretty well requires them all, so here they are: “crushing”. “Heavy.” “Sad.” “Doomy.” “Dark.” “Awesome.” 

Caspian – Ishmael

You know, On Circles was one of the first records I listened to this year, and it’s still one of the best. It seems to get better every time I listen to it, and although I’ve bounced around from favorite song to favorite song, I think “Ishmael” really is emerging as my actual favorite song on the record. Maybe the title track, but probably “Ishmael.” 

Chubby and the Gang – Blue Ain’t My Color

I loved Chubby and the Gang’s record 1,000 years ago in February when I first heard it, but man, jumpy, catchy anti-cop songs are really the thing to have written at this point, and I’m pretty happy about this one.

Clipping – Chapter 319

I mean, pretty much any kind of anti-cop song works, though. Especially the noisiest ones.

Coriki – Shedileebop

It is true that Coriki is a bit more “The Evens with an awesome bass player” than “half of Fugazi with a different drummer”, but, well, I like the Evens, and they sound great with an awesome bass player, so it’s hard to get too worked up about.

Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats – DIET

Play this one and remember the beginning of the year, when telling someone to go to church would be something you out of concerned, and not because you wanted to grant them a death sentence. Ah, simpler times.

Diet Cig – Stare Into the Sun

In general, I like Do You Wonder About Me? less than the less-polished, more-bashy Swear I’m Good at This, which is also basically true of anything. But it’s fine, and “Staring Into the Sun” is a good song with a very good vocal. 

Dogleg – Ender

There’s always a tonne of room in my heart for huge, shout-along climaxes at the end of big guitar songs. “Ender” is one of the best ones in years, and it’s been a real balm during an extremely difficult few months.

Empty Country – Ultrasound

Since the appeal of Cymbals Eat Guitars was largely in their singer, I wasn’t pretty surprised to find that I liked Empty Country a great deal. Just excellent high-quality rock and roll music here. 

Field Works – A Place Both Wonderful and Strange (f Noveller)

Noveller’s excellent album Arrow didn’t really yield a song that I thought belonged on the list (but it’s great, go listen to it), but she certainly provided the high point for this record, made in collaboration with a bunch of experimental/ambient heavyweights using the sounds of an endangered bat. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and features some stellar playing.

Hinds – Just Like Kids (Miau)

It is true that Hinds, like seemingly everybody else, have discovered the joys of putting unnecessary synthesizers 2 all over their records. Obviously I’m not in Hinds, and not interested in telling them what to do, and The Prettiest Curse is good, but the best song is the one that’s the most like their other records. So there. 

Hum – Cloud City

Did I expect a new Hum album ever? No I did not, let alone one right now. I’m thrilled as hell to have one, and even more thrilled that it sounds as good as one could hope it would. 

Jason Isbell & 400 Unit – Only Children

I’m not saying the heartbreakingly sad quiet songs are the only good Jason Isbell songs. Lord no. I’m just saying they’re generally the best Jason Isbell songs.

KeiyaA – Hvnli

I feel like for all the sturm and drang about lo-fi rap, we could all be sleeping on a lo-fi R&B revolution, and if we are, I think that KeiyaA is likely to be a huge part of that. 

Knxwledge – Minding My Business (f Durand Bemarr & Rose Gold)

Let it stand as a testament to how weird things are in hip-hop that 1988 is Knxwledge’s 5,184,167th release, but his “second” album. That’s weird. Also, it’s great, and this song is incredible. 

Maserati – Der Honig

I mean, I certainly had a great deal of love for the music of Maserati before, but adding Bill Berry made it cooler, and whoever they got to play the organ on this song 3 is both hilarious and welcome. What a great song.

Mark McGuire – I Want You To Know (extended mix)

Mark McGuire has really been exploring his strummy/songwriter-y impulses for the last couple of years, and while I don’t find it yields as consistent returns as his bleepy guitar stuff, I like this song a lot, and look forward to more like it, if that’s in the offing. 

Megan Thee Stallion – Savage (Remix, f Beyonce)

Hey guys, I’m only human.

Midwife – SWIM

I suppose that “heaven metal,” the term that Midwife uses to describe her own music, is as good as anything. It’s certainly more easy to drop in conversation than my own referent, “Loud Grouper”, but in any event, “SWIM” is a lovely song.

Helen Money – Marrow

Sometimes it’s the day for a woman doing very loud, unspeakable things to a cello. Actually, most times it’s the day for that. 

Moor Jewelry – Working

Moor Mother (who is awesome) reconnected with Mental Jewelry (who is awesome), and somehow topped their previous collaboration (which was awesome) with a largely live-instrument assisted album. It’s angry, it’s loud, it’s deeply effective, and I’ve been listening to it all the time. I guess you could say it’s working 4

John Moreland – East October

More of that fancy unnecessary synth work all over this record, but John Moreland’s voice and songwriting are the reasons to listen in any event, and they’re both coming through just fine. 

Mourning [A] Blkstr – Mist::Missed

It’s always the case that if you get a handful of people up there to sing different parts of interlocking, complex rhythm and blues songs, I will love your band in the first place. Put on a great live show and come from Cleveland, and I’m extra-super likely to write about it here. That all established, The Cycle is even more incredible than I expected it to be, and it could have been any of several songs here. I ended up with this one because it seems the most crowd-pleasing, but what the fuck do I know from pleasing crowds? Listen to the whole record. 

Myrkur – Svea

It is true that Id id not expect a straightforward album of folk songs from Myrkur, but it is even more true that I’m very glad to have one. 

Naeem – Stone Harbor

There’s a lot of loud, frustrated, angry music here, so a little rhythm and blues smoothness is a necessary balm. I’ve been using Naeem for that a whole lot, and mostly “Stone Harbor”. 

No Age – Turned to String

Always happy to have No Age back. It’s comforting. There are no real surprises here, just a great duo doing what they do greatly. 

Old Man Gloom – Love is Bravery

Old Man Gloom put out two records so far this year, the first being the sequel to the second, because Old Man Gloom are very funny. The first is generally not as good, but it does have the best single the band’s ever put out, possibly because it’s also the closest thing to catchy they’ve ever managed. 

OOIOO – Kawasemi Ah

OOIOO is definitely the best band ever created as a fake band for a photo shoot, and is way up the list of the best bands formed by members of the Boredoms. I don’t have much else to say about it. This song rules. 

Kassa Overall – Please Don’t Kill Me (f Joel Ross & Theo Croker)

Over the course of the last several years, a bunch of people have put up houses at the border of jazz and hip hop. Kassa Overall’s is a mansion, and he made maybe the first jazz/hip-hop fusion record that I’ve loved this much. 

The Pack AD – Shake

It’s always sad when a band stops banding, but there’s a lot to be said for going out on a high note, and not overstaying your welcome. Good job, Pack AD.

Jeff Parker – Max Brown

Jeff Parker wrote one of his best ever songs about his mother. Awwwww. 

Princess Nokia – Harley Quinn

You know, I’m the only one making rules here, but there are rules, dammit, and one of them is the “one song per name per year” 5 rule, which really caused some trouble when it came down to winnow the Princess Nokia records (there are two of them, Everything is Beautiful and Everything Sucks). So it could have been this or “Sugar Honey Iced Tea”, so go ahead and listen to them both, because rules are stupid.

Quelle Chris & Chris Keys – When You Fall (f Nappy Nina, Fresh Daily & 5ill)

There is, predictably, a bunch of good work on Innocent Country 2, even if it was a sequel that didn’t seem demanded and was certainly unexpected, but the real high point is the long, convivial closer, “When You Fall”, which is immensely satisfying as its own listen, even if the album isn’t your bag. 

Shilpa Ray – Manic Pixie Dream Cunt

I believe some things are self-explanatory. 

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Cameo

You know, I like RBCF. I sort of sat out most of the hype over the last couple of years, but I have the records and they’re pretty good. I’d go see them if they played near me, that kind of thing. But “Cameo” is really something else. What a great fucking song. 

Run the Jewels – Yankee and the Brave

You know, if you run it all the way to R.A.P. Music, El-P and Killer Mike are coming up on just about a decade of this hot streak. RTJ4 is better than 3, not quite as good as 2 and, like all of them, a blast to listen to. I’ve got very little to add to the general discourse in that regard. 

Micah Schnabel – How to Ride a Bike

In which the erstwhile Two Cow Garage singer, and the best-ever songwriter from Bucyrus, Ohio, makes plans for a nebulous future. 

Shabaka and the Ancestors – They Who Must Die

Shabaka Hutchings makes records, and then I love those records. It’s a very simple formula, really. 

Shabazz Palaces – Wet

Sometimes you just want to hear a dude rap about how good he is at rapping, I guess. I mean, sometimes I want that. 

Nadine Shah – Buckfast

It’s sometimes difficult to find something to say about every song here, especially when I don’t have a particularly personal stake in why I like it. This is an excellent piece of art-pop, and Nadine Shah’s voice is an incredible instrument. That’s about it. 

Soakie – Boys on Stage

I mean, just because there aren’t too many boys on stage right now, because there’s no one on stage at all, doesn’t make the sentiment any less meaningful. 

Soccer Mommy – Circle the Drain

Sometimes, no matter how much I like a song, as these writeups always end up proving, I just don’t have much to say about stuff. “Circle the Drain” is a very good song by a very good songwriter. 

Thundercat – Black Qualls (f Steve Lacy, Steve Arrington & Childish Gambino)

You know, despite my long-documented love of the comedy work of Donald Glover, and my occasionally liking his music for awards-show-documenting purposes, this might actually be his first appearance in one of these writeups. I’m certain that he’s relieved. Also, this Thundercat record is great, and this is one of his best singles. 

US Girls – Red Ford Radio

There are more pop-oriented songs on Heavy Light, and there are also newer songs, but this, a re-recording of a song from way back on Go Grey, is probably still the best part of the record. It’s bigger, more insistent than the original recording, and the propulsive, chanting quality of it is a mode that I almost always prefer US Girls operating in. 

Ric Wilson & Terrace Martin – Don’t Kill the Wave

I still don’t dance much, but I like to pretend that I’m someone who does, you know? It’s nice. Then I could be the wave. 

The Weeknd – Blinding Lights

The Weeknd has really figured out how to be this pop star version of himself, and while that’s not anything new, or even anything particularly unique to my attention, it’s also meant that he’s ushered in probably his best pop song right here. 

Charli XCX – Anthems

While it’s true that I don’t have much need to go out to the club, specifically, a need that is explored lyrically throughout How I’m Feeling Now, I’m a hundred percent sympathetic to the need to go out and get some damn music in your bones. Charli would probably rather I choose that Christine and the Queens song, but I still don’t like that song very much, so here we find ourselves. 

YG – FTP

Fuck the police

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Swamp Dogg’s “Please Let Me Go Round Again” is a pretty effective plea to stay on Earth, featuring the recently-departed (and sorely missed) John Prine. The Sadies’ “The Most Despicable Man Alive” is a very funny story song about a bad acid trip abetted by King Khan, with whom they split the single it’s from. Steve Earle’s “The Devil Put the Coal in the Ground” is a very effective mission statement for an album about the horrors wrought upon Appalachia. I tired to include Mint Mile’s “Shy” because I love Ambertron so much, but it’s not really a “singles” experience, so it didn’t quite make it. Ambertron is great, though. Go listen to it. Destroyer’s “Crimson Tides” is his best single in a few years. Khruangbin & Leon Bridges’s “Texas Sun” is as relaxing as you could want, and has been a good song to have in my back pocket for the dumbest year on record. 


  1. actually, neither does the folder, because it’s a charity single, so go buy it yourself. 
  2. here at ONAT, we are huge fans of necessary synthesizers – see this and every other list of good songs I’ve ever made – I’m just talking about the unnecessary ones, here. 
  3. of course I could look it up. Of course I could. 
  4. I’m funny! 
  5. That is to say, there could be two OMG songs here, or two Princess Nokia songs, because they both made multiple records in the first half of the year, but the rule doesn’t prevent a different name – Liz Harris, for example, has definitely had these writeups where she’s had more than one song on them as two different acts, and if there had been, say, a Sumac record this six-month interval that would have worked also. It’s a weird rule, but it’s there, and I admit that it’s completely arbitrary. 

The Best Records of June 2020

Hum – Inlet (look, maybe this one will drop as the months go by. Maybe it’s not the best record of the month – these things change all the time anyway, nothing is static, etc. – but IT’S A NEW HUM ALBUM. RIGHT NOW OF ALL TIMES. I’m over the moon. I’m going to go listen to it again. New Hum album. Whee!)

Run the Jewels – RTJ4 (It’s nice to be able to rely on Run the Jewels to deliver every time)

Bell Witch + Aerial Ruin – Stygian Bough (i’m just happy that Aerial Ruin is finally credited as a contributor, given that he’s on the last several Bell Witch records anyway. Also, this is a crushing, bleak, downbeat record that feels great to listen to. I highly recommend it)

Noveller – Arrow (Speaking of reliable, this record goes past like a dream, and is full of vivid imagery and incredibly beautiful playing.)

Nadine Shah – Kitchen Sink (It’s potentially the most aptly-titled record of the year, if nothing else)

The 2020 Locus Awards

Last year at about this time, I wrote about the Locus Awards 1, mainly because I couldn’t get my hands on enough of the Shirley Jackson Award nominees in time to write about them 2. This year, since there’s, you know, nothing to do I thought I’d revisit them. 

The Locus Awards are a challenging one to give my usual treatment. Generally with the book awards 3 I try the best I can to read everything under consideration, or at least ot become familiar with what it all is. The Locus Awards nominees are announced like, a month before the awards ceremony happens, and it includes like seventeen billion books. I’m a pretty fast reader, but I can’t get through all that. 

That said, I’ve read a bunch of them, be they for other awards considerations or for pleasure, so I’m just going to buzz through these, in case anybody needs guidance in these important matters during these uncertain times. 

Also because what else am I going to write about? Diplo’s country album?! 4

Illustrated Art Book

This is, genuinely, a category that I wish more awards had. The Hugos tried it out last year, and it didn’t come back 5, which is sad. Anyway, the library near me still isn’t letting me take books from there, so I’m not super up on these. I like Julie Dillon generally, and Bill Sienkiewicz’s Dr. Moreau stuff is really cool, so that’s about as far as it goes. I guess I’ll go for the latter.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Bill Sienkiewicz, The Island of Doctor Moreau

Non-Fiction

Desirina Boskovich’s Lost Transmissions: The Secret History of Science Fiction has been high on my list of stuff I want to read for a long time. I, unfortunately, have not gotten to it yet. That’s very sad. I didn’t know about Gwyneth Jones’s biography of Joanna Russ until it was nominated for a Hugo, but I’m also very sad to not have gotten to that one yet, either. I have read Mallory O’Meara’s The Lady From the Black Lagoon 6, as well as Monster She Wrote, and they’re both fine. The former is the history of a delightful woman who did some really cool monster-design work and had a tough time being that particular woman at a time that was hard on women. It’s fine, I’ll say more about it in the Hugo consideration. The latter is a book of brief essays on creators and a list of their works and works that are similar. It’s useful, but not super-great as a book in and of itself. Still, pick up a copy and you’ll learn some stuff.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I’m going to speculatively say It’s Desirina Boskovich – Lost Transmissions, even though I haven’t quite gotten to it yet. 

Artist

I denied Julie Dillon the book award up there, but see no reason to do so down here, especially since I still don’t really know anything about visual art.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Julie Dillon

Editor

I usually skip the editor categories, I don’t know. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: John Joseph Adams, I guess

Publisher

The Kelly Link one, you see.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Small Beer Press, if only for the Sarah Pinsker collection. 

Magazine

Let’s say Tor.com? That’s the one with the most content I read, anyway.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tor.com

Collection

I’ve read a lot of this category, which is nice. Joe Hill is Joe Hill. I like him, but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything and thought “oh this definitely deserves awards.” Maybe Heart-Shaped Box, but that was a long time ago. Still and all, he’s a good writer. Greg Egan, R.A. Lafferty and Caitlin R. Kiernan are all terrific writers who put out well-deserved best ofs, but I’m sure I’ve articulated my reticence to give awards to best-ofs in categories like this before. Ted Chiang is an all-timer, and Exhalation is great, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say on it as the awards year develops, but Sarah Pinsker is  genuinely one of my very most favorite authors currently authing, and I’m very happy that her short fiction was collected.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sarah Pinsker, Sooner or Later, Everything Falls Into the Sea

Anthology

There’s a lot of great work here. The Very Best of the Best collects some of the best of Gardner Dozois’s indispensable Year’s Best Science Fiction series, which is foundational to my understanding and appreciation of the genre, but, again, is a cherry-picked thing and therefore less likely for me to call it “rightful”. The Best of Uncanny and Jonathan Strahan’s The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year are in the same boat 7. Ann & Jeff Vandermeer’s The Big Book of Classic Fantasy is practically a textbook, and it’s good, but it’s more “complete” than anything else, and it’s a lot to take on as a reading project. Echoes and The Mythic Dream are both excellent outings by generally-great editors, but I really think this one should go to John Joseph Adams & Victor Lavalle’s A People’s History of the United States.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: John Joseph Adams & Victor Lavalle, The People’s Future of the United States

Short Story

I’ve read all of these, and they’re all pretty high-quality. Ordinarily I’d say that the Kelly Link story was the best, but I really think that Ken Liu’s “Thoughts and Prayers” is a really interesting meditation on what happens as our online lives grow somehow even more than they already have, and the natural end result of trolling as a feature of everyday life. So that one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ken Liu, “Thoughts and Prayers”

Novelette

Many of these will/have come up in other awards write-ups, but “Omphalos” is one of my favorite stories in Exhalation, so it narrowly beats out Siobhan Carroll’s “For He Can Creep” and NK Jemisin’s “Emergency Skin” as the best novelette in the category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ted Chiang, “Omphalos”

Novella

I’m still not entirely on the train for This is How You Lose the Time War. I liked it a lot, I’m just not sure that it deserves to be nominated for seemingly every award for which it’s eligible. It’s fine. I’m even less into The Deep, my longstanding fandom of clipping. notwithstanding. P. Djeli Clark’s The Haunting of Tram Car 015 turned out to be a whole lot of fun, which was great. “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom” is very good, but I actually think that Becky Chambers’s To Be Taught, if Fortunate was an absolute masterpiece of optimistic Utopian space opera. I’m a huge fan already, and even that state was surprised by how much I loved it, especially the ending.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Becky Chambers, To Be Taught, If Fortunate

First Novel

This is another whopper of a category. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s entree into novel-writing was as good as could be expected. Sarah Gailey’s Magic for Liars was wonderful 8. Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, Alix E. Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire and Sarah Pinsker’s A Song for a New Day were all considered back at the Nebulas, and everything I said back there is still the case.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Arkady Martine, A Memory Called Empire

Young Adult Novel

I haven’t read Destroy All Monsters yet, so that might color my eventual reconsideration, but it’s almost certainly Catfishing on CATnet, and definitely not anything ever by Phillip Pullman. Ever.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Naomi Kritzer, Catfishing on CATnet

Horror Novel

Claire North’s The Pursuit of William Abbey seems satisfying and impressive, but I bounced off my first attempt to read it. Stephen King’s The Institute is also unfinished, but also seems like pretty normal late-period King. I’ve got Curious Toys and The Twisted Ones for other ongoing awards-reading, but haven’t gotten to either one yet. I will say, though, that the likelihood that any of them strikes me as more impressive than Marlon James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf is, if not exactly impossible, then kind of unlikely, as I really enjoyed a lot of what the book accomplished in terms of time and narrative. It wasn’t very scary as such, but it’s an impressive piece of work here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Marlon James, Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Fantasy Novel

Hoo boy. I will have some things to say when I write about The Ninth House in longer-form writeups. It’s not the winner here. I look forward to reading a bunch of these eventually, but of the ones that I’ve read, and the handful I’ve already read don’t really strike me as the eventually winner, so I’m going to give another speculative answer and say it probably ought to be Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ann Leckie, The Raven Tower

Science-Fiction Novel

I’ve always liked Kameron Hurley’s nonfiction work, and generally failed to get into her fiction, so it was to my delight that I really, really enjoyed  The Light Brigade, and am happy to declare it the rightful winner and have done with it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kameron Hurley, The Light Brigade


  1. I also did so several years ago, before I was writing about book awards regularly. 
  2. that’s kind of also happening this year, but since very little else is going on in terms of awarding things, I’m writing about those with some major holes.  
  3. and less so with many other awards 
  4. this sentence does not rule out the notion that I will be reduced to writing about Diplo’s country album at some point. It’s bad, y’all.  
  5. each Worldcon is allowed to give out a special award for that Worldcon, and that was last year’s. 
  6. if this set of sentences makes it seem like I’ve got a real slapdick method of choosing what to read when, well, I’m not denying that. 
  7. although the latter is somewhat less so – it’s more useful as a survey than a straight-up “best of”, and so could be considered somewhat more seriously.  
  8. also I was surprised that it was her first, and that the longest thing she’d written prior to it were the novellas. I genuinely thought I’d just missed a bunch of it. 

On the Fullerness of Houses, and the Cosmogony Thereof

Several years ago, Full House was resurrected, and the result was so bizarre, so inscrutable, and so unbelievably misjudged that I was compelled to make my thoughts on the matter part of the record. 

As the watch-through progressed, it became apparent that there was more than just the surface-level sitcom badness. Nearly all sitcoms are bad – the nature of the medium is such that, especially with the traditional sitcom 1, nothing can really change, and there has to be just enough forward motion to make it feel like there’s a story, while also resetting as much as possible so that people are given the familiar things that they, presumably, started tuning in to see. Fuller House carried it one step further, making the striving for sameness, if not an explicit part of the plot, then a definite major feature of the subtext. 

This led me to the conclusion, after watching the first season, that the characters were clockwork pieces in an elaborate machine that existed only to propel itself through the motions of sameness. This seemed logical but was, in fact, incorrect.

Fuller House is actually the most frightening, brain-twisting piece of weird fiction thus far to appear on Netflix. Definitely more so than Hill House and even more than Black Mirror. Fuller House is a story about a house that is torturing the cursed family that dwells within it, forcing them to wait for a Godot that never arrives in the form of real relief.

Whereas before it appeared that the triumvirate at the center appeared to be the engine that made the thing go, it is now apparent that they are each reactive. DJ, thought to be the agent of sameness that the world existed to please, is actually the one being rewarded for her decision to allow the house to affect her as it wishes – she has fooled herself into thinking that the world exists for her benefit, rather than her existence being for the sake of The House. She has a thriving veterinary business that she never has to actually do anything for and, in fact, can drop any aspect of to deal with another part of the house with zero ill effect, for The House makes it so. When the ritual Meal of Giving Thanks is taken over by Stephanie, The House re-enacts the trauma of the past 2. She further fulfills her role by refusing to fire Kimmy from a job that she’s clearly terrible at, and intervening to ensure that Kimmy’s daughter (Ramona, about whom see below) never is allowed to leave. She is given primacy in the wedding, being the one child that is escorted down the aisle by the surviving parent at the eventual group wedding. The House loves DJ above all others, because DJ knows that without the House as a benefactor, she’s stuck in the world alone, with no aid or succor. 

She can be sure of her place because of the contrast with her sister. Formerly believed to be an Unrepentant Narcissist, it’s now apparent that Stephanie is merely the one who is most in denial about The House and the world that it twists around itself. What seemed to be relentless self-centeredness is merely a turtle-style retreat into solipsism. And, when you’re 33% of the beings that matter in the world a House has built around you, it is probably sensible. She returned from a world where she was a successful DJ to be a failing mother who had no abilities. She was rewarded for her role in convincing the Hated Kimmy to carry her child with no benefit to herself 3 by being granted a role as an opening act for Lisa Loeb (?!) on a tour that lasted “a few days” having written a single song. She is permitted to make a salad for Thanksgiving after thoroughly abasing herself by destroying part of The House. She is forced to confront the fact that she is unable to consider another human being – almost murdering her fiance with allergens in the process – but not to change it, because her role is as sacred as DJ’s, and it is not her place to maneuver within it. She is escorted down the aisle by Uncle Jesse, who represents a world that is in far orbit around The House although still, inextricably, bound by its rules. 

Kimmy’s role is, perhaps, the source of the confusion, because hers is the oldest and the least-changing. It’s because her role as the Hate-Sink is apparent, but it’s easy to forget that in the Times Before, she was drawn to the house. Her family was outside of the house, and she was there all the time, just to make people hate her. The fact that DJ’s Stockholm embrace misses the hatred doesn’t make her immune – she does fail miserably at doing even a rudimentary afternoon’s work at the veterinary office 4. Her husband hates her (at least in part due to her periodic need to invoke extreme jealousy in him – at one point she goes on a string of speed dates to be sure that Fernando is “the one”). Stephanie seems to receive the least of active opportunities to hate Kimmy actively, presumably because, with her focus turned inward, it doesn’t make much difference to her role if Kimmy doesn’t actively antagonize her, beyond trying to ruin her wedding, which is also Kimmy’s wedding. It is the case, however, that Stephanie did work as part of Kimmy’s stable of entertainment (we see her at one point dressed as a cowboy for a party that Kimmy planned), so their relationship is clearly more intertwined than it may first appear, culminating in Stephanie marrying and then being impregnated by Kimmy’s brother. Kimmy will never be part of the family, but her blood is mingled. She suffers at the mercy of The House to provide a better opportunity for her descendants. She is escorted down the aisle by Uncle Joey, the most loathsome character in television history, because she cannot be allowed to enjoy even a moment of her life. The two also bond in a coat room over not truly being part of the family – the aid and succor offered to Kimmy Gibbler is done so by a man who, one minute later, does a Thurston Howell impression. It is also possible that Kimmy is the initial experiment in creating Beings to interact with the Sisters – see the next part for that. 

Their spouses, then, may not in fact even exist. DJ’s husband, Steve, is brought back from the Before Times to serve The House. He has absolutely no personality, and a skill set that is so mind-melting that he must be a construct. He’s able to beat Max at chess, but only once. He’s able to throw axes with record-breaking skill, but only when it seems to drive someone to apoplectic violence to do so. He’s able to cook, but only in the context of a cooking class to drive Mindy Sterling to absolute madness. He’s a doctor, but routinely seems so dumb that it’s a miracle he’s able to wear shoes without severing his own fingers. He’s not a person. Fernando is a successful race car driver with no savings or income 5 or choices but to live in a house with his fiancee’s entire family. He’s easily driven to jealous rage at the idea that his wife has ever thought lustful thoughts about other men, and also at the idea that a child would be able to out-fence him (said child can, in fact, out-fence him). This is also a set of attributes that no human could possibly have. Jimmy, Stephanie’s Fiance and Kimmy’s brother, is nothing more than dumb. He is dumbness given flesh and voice. He is never shown to be good at anything except being dumb. Because Stephanie cannot interact with the world, she does not have a husband who can interact with anything without trying to eat it. He is also absurdly, inappropriately jacked, which is a decision I cannot explain, and must be necessary for some inscrutable purpose of The House, because there is no other way to get my head around it.

The question that this raises, however, and the answers are not forthcoming, are “were the Gibblers designed by the house?” My inclination was to think that they are, but we have some evidence that they are, in fact, more biological than that. They seem to have some joint memory of their childhood, for example. Given that the final moments of the series involve Gibbler Blood mixing with Tanner Blood, I am left to assume that Jimmy, alone among The Spouses, is real, and the other two were generated merely to grant symmetry. The House is resourceful. 

Their children exist, because children must exist. The Three themselves were children, and so there must be children. Their roles are unformed, pupary, because the ecosystem (cosmogosystem?) does not have their roles set for them yet. Mostly they are varying shades of “inept and annoying.” Jackson seems to share Steve’s capacity to be good at things (computers 6, we’re informed he can sing well enough to get cast as the lead in a high school production of Pippin right there off the bat, he’s able to net a girlfriend simply by existing in the same room with her), and is able to move DJ to feelings of inadequacy necessary to spur her into doing things (play Rocket League 7, feel bad about forgetting about her husband’s tuxedo, see below), but does little else besides. His younger brother Max, formerly the most loathsome non-Joey character on the show is here mostly just a random collection of quirks and incoherent skills (the aforementioned chess and fencing, fashion design, game show hosting) that could develop into a dervish of hateful qualities 8, and it’s not impossible that he is supernaturally aged well past his own years. He could emerge from a chrysalis into a life as a wizened eccentric, there to spur feelings of inadequacy and rage. But it’s unclear. Ramona seems to mostly exist as a spirit of yearning. Her plan is to go to college across the country. She is primarily seen bolting out of rooms if she isn’t falling bodily down stairs. She scolds often, but very rarely is correct. Her lone apparent skill is eating sandwiches. This is clearly an unfinished being with an undetermined role. The younger children are less-formed yet, but they do provide evidence of the House’s power – regularly all of the other characters are out in the world, going to bridal shows or eating sandwiches or visiting colleges, and the children are left behind entirely, the toddlers and the newborn alike, to be cared for by the power of The House. Nothing bad can happen to them in The House. The House needs them for its future goals. 

The Original Three are still locked in their orbit around the house, but are granted respite. They don’t have to be there every day. This is their eternal reward – The House has relaxed their grip on them, and they are free to be. Their relationships exist to prod the others into making sure that they do their parts effective. Danny shows up to grant his blessing to the mingling of the Blood and to cite his own lack of usefulness. Uncle Jesse shows up merely to drive intergenerational conflict at several points, most notably by hosting a party to see who is biting his daughter 9, and he also gets the Original Three locked in a freezer. Joey is there to continue to be loathsome. He has the strongest ties to the house – it’s his car that’s driven through it again, and he’s the one that has to have an emotional bond with Kimmy Gibbler, reinforcing that, while they both exist, they are not of The Family, even though they are forced to be of The House. 

Other characters slide in and out of the orbit of The House, mostly called according to the needs of the Primary Three to be wrong so they can be Righted. Matt, a veterinarian, has the most to do, because he works with DJ, and is a former suitor. He is accepted into the group without question, but he has no particular definitional traits. His wife is Gia, who is Stephanie’s best friend 10, and yet never interacts with Stephanie. There’s Ethan, a delivery driver who is tied to the house, despite that not being how that works (see below). There’s Rocki, the poor girl who is forced to fall in love with Jackson because they stood on the same carpet for long enough. There’s a wedding-dress designer who hates her own wares, and her own clients. There’s Kirk Cameron, who goes on a wildly successful speed date with Kimmy Gibbler, then shouts his own name and runs out of the house. There’s Lisa Loeb, who is tied to Stephanie by dint of Stephanie’s longing, but never seems to have much to say about it. The House can provide figures both real and imaginary, and never seems to run out of material to spur its denizens to make the audience say “WHOOOO”.

(The audience must always say “WHOOOO”. Their contributions accrete, greeting every reference, ever entrance, ever vaguely suggestive joke-like object, every sapphic jiggledance, but the audience doesn’t exist. Is the audience the voice of the house? Is the audience voices of those who came before? Is the audience in my head?)

Where The House makes itself known the most, however, is the world that it twists around its characters. It provides for them, in the micro-sense. It offers them totems – here is Michelle’s stuffed animal to show the audience that they remember the one that escaped, even if the escape was total. Here is a song about lollipops, to enable DJ to jump around the house singing it for whatever inscrutable reason. Here is a tuxedo to remind Jackson that his father is dead, but being replaced. Here is the mother’s wedding veil, to remind Stephanie that among the things she has lost, one of them is any memory of her mother. It uses these things to keep them in, to more tightly bind them. It is allowing them to believe that they live in the same world as the rest of us – there are pop culture references all over the place, from Game of Thrones to Million Dollar Listing to Friday Night Lights, they clearly think that they live in a world controlled by the same random chance as everyone else, and not a dread whirlpool controlled by a malevolent House. 

The House, however, seems at first blush to have its weaknesses. 

This is made most important when one must understand the nature of “profession”. The House understands “work,” but it is not human. It is adapting to its life amid humans, so it is aware that there are humans that have professions, but they do not conform to the way that we understand them. DJ and Matt’s veterinary office that is staffed haphazardly (and seems to see literally any animal that is brought through the door, common or exotic, despite them having a staff of two doctors and a receptionist) is a leading example. But there is a doula who turns out to be a baby-stalker with the intent of replacing Stephanie as a parent (which does serve the benefit of her having to pay enough attention to the baby to write the song – things weren’t about her for a moment so she had to change that – that would yield her stint opening for Lisa Loeb). There is Kimmy’s party-planning business that only exists when she’s explicitly naming it. There’s a cooking school called Cooking School where they teach a class that no human that was familiar with food or classes would ever teach. There’s a version of Postmates where you can choose your driver 11. There’s world-famous DJ jobs that pay no money. There’s the capacity to be a race car driver with no money 12. There’s a notary public (a title, not a profession, but it’s in the same vein in terms of The House’s relationship to it) that stamps a document she did not witness the signing of, which completely defeats the purpose. 

Places of business do not escape the House’s will. A cocktail bar must be permitted to include dancing because The Three wish it. A wedding expo becomes a fashion show for The Three and a singing exhibition for Jackson. A college becomes the site of a heist because of a tiara. A bar where axes are thrown with zero training and minimal safety measures becomes a place where people learn about friendship (and not gaping wounds). A wedding venue is closed immediately by the IRS, who then send an FBI agent (?!) to speak Yiddish at The Three. 

It’s all indicative of The House growing into a role that acknowledges the requirement of economic stability in order to have vital stability, but which doesn’t understand why this is so. When we first encountered The House, it was left stable by the television income of Danny (no matter what Joey and Jesse were contributing financially). As it grew, it became more apparent that it was going to have to twist everything around itself to prevent the paradoxes of its lack of knowledge from overwhelming the story.

Indeed, it seems that money itself is somewhat beyond the understanding of The House. The House knows only things and lives, and not the machinations of those things and lives and their interactions with each other in this hellish simulacrum of San Francisco. The cost of the wedding is occasionally mentioned as being overwhelming, but it’s never in question. The Original Three are allowing the current denizens of the house to live there Rent Free, despite them being a doctor, another doctor, a very recently-retired race car driver, a very recently retired famous DJ that also moonlights as an occasional pop-folk singer, a photographer and a party planner. This is not the machinations of something that understands money.

Is it any wonder, then, that The House engineers a great simplification, in the form of an extremely unlikely sandwich shop? The Sandwich Shop storyline is sort of the whole show in microcosm. At first it seems the same sort of sitcom-level unlikelihood as everything else. The owner of the beloved local sandwich shop retires on the spot, and the three husbands buy it from him. Cue the audience. But this is sheer brute-force machination to get the number of locations and the amount of commerce down. They buy the sandwich shop before they visit the bank, because The House was in a hurry and couldn’t wait. They buy the sandwich shop, which everyone loves, then close it and reopen it, with no apparent change to the clientele. They buy the sandwich shop despite no one involved having so much as a day of food service experience in their history, and it all goes off without a hitch. They have no relationships to purveyors 13, no business plan, nothing. But it never matters, except for one sitcom interlude where they run out of food on their first day, until The House compels the entire community to deliver some more food unto them. 

The House has such tremendous power over the world in which these people live that it’s able to twist the entire concept of restaurant ownership in upon itself merely to provide the characters with something that is less abstruse than what they are already doing. It concretizes a second location (and, eventually, an unseen third location as Uncle Monty’s expands). The possibilities for why boggle the mind, but the one that seems to make the most sense is that this is how The House expands – its spores become the seeds that will convert Uncle Monty’s, and then possibly more buildings, until all of the hellscape simulacrum of San Francisco that this takes place in is overtaken with buildings. What seems to exist as a means of escape, what I have referred to as “weakness”, is, in truth, an example of The House’s indifference to the things that it does not feel are part of its concerns. The House is beyond all of us, it is inhuman in its motivations. It will never know money or profession, it will never understand human needs beyond the most basic ones, it will never know anything except for what it is.

Drive a car through it, and it will heal itself instantly, and without further comment or complaint. Try to move away, and you will find that you can’t. 

“We don’t have to leave,” Stephanie says to DJ, after hugging, after the audience has said “AWWWW”, ignoring Kimmy who is in the frame. “We don’t want to. We’re staying because we want to.”

The House is Fullest. It will never be otherwise. And it’s growing.

And it’s coming. One sandwich shop at a time.

Until it’s everywhere you look.


  1. Which Fuller House takes the form of even well past the point of even other traditional sitcoms, as will be discussed further later 
  2. when I wrote the first part of this, I wrote that one of the only things Ir remembered about the show the first time around was the gag where Stephanie drove Joey’s car through the wall of the house, and that is repeated here, this was the first sign that The House also sees me, and that I am also a part of the story. It is very jarring, but I have learned from DJ’s experiences that I must go along with it. All things must serve The House. 
  3. As much as the baby is not present in the series beyond plot-related reasons – see below – it is also the case that Kimmy never interacts with it. Not even once. 
  4. including scheduling a “Bark Mitzvah” for a Jewish dog (?!) on the following Shabbat, which is the sort of thing that only someone actively trying to generate hate could possibly think was a good idea. 
  5. money will come up later, but it is also true that Stephanie can’t have blown through all of her DJ money, surely? 
  6. ok, well, his computer knowledge is terrible and only exists in the world, nobody actually thinks or talks about computers that way, but see below for more on the way that professions work in the world. 
  7. her instant faculty at Rocket League – it’s enough to get her into the finals of a Northern California tournament of some description 
  8. they also combine to code him as a one thousand year old gay man, but that is, I think, an accident rather than something that is being communicated. 
  9. his daughter figures only glancingly, and nebulously, into the world, and gnaws on her own arm to be given band aids. What this means is, like Jimmy’s obtrusive muscles, beyond my ability to comprehend. 
  10. a thing I am told by the internet 
  11. which seems, if nothing else, an open invitation to severe harassment, if not outright stalking 
  12. although the text does mention that Fernando is the race car driver with “the highest audience mortality rate” which is insane on its face, but also hints that The House is not good at designing beings to interact with the outside world. 
  13. Although it’s also worth saying at this point that if The House ha a weak point where money is concerned, it has an even more acute weak point, if not as gaping, where food is concerned – every time food comes up, it is treated in a way that no human would treat it, which includes a scene where Stephanie spends several minutes of in-world time transferring chicken thighs from a skillet to a plate. Several. Minutes. This is another case of The House watching me, personally, and letting me know that it’s onto me, and that it is displeased. But it’s even a sandwich shop. Everyone who knows me knows about my relationship to the sandwich. Hell, I write about them once a year in this very space. I can’t shake it. I close my eyes and it’s still there. I can’t stop seeing it. 

A Considered Look at Every Inductee Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Part 20

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a place that I find, as an institution, vexing. The actual, physical hall of fame – the pyramidal building on the lake in Cleveland – is pretty cool, but it is spoken and thought of often as an intangible – as a sort of arbitrating body on the worthiness of the body of rock musicians. My thought, for many years upon surveying lists 1 and the like was to think that they have about a fifty percent success rate for getting it anything like right.

But what if it doesn’t? Previously I listened to and considered each of the best-selling albums of all time, and learned that they were considerably more of a mixed bag than I had thought  2. So what if the inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are the same sort of deal? 

And so it’s time to dive in and take a look at what the nominees and their enshrinement actually are.

Click the links for Part 1,Part 2Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18 and Part 19 of this series.

NOTE: This is the end of this part of the series. There’s a few words about it at the end of this post, and then I’m going to rank them all like I did with the best-selling album. Stay tuned in the future for a new series of Considered Look posts, and thanks for coming along for this set!

2020

Depeche Mode

WHO THEY ARE: A British synth-rock band, and the scourge of all sorts of vintage alternative stations/playlists/programs. A scourge.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They were inexcusably popular, and I suppose hearing them was probably somebody’s gateway into liking this kind of thing, so they probably deserve credit for that. I suppose they were the band that they were for a long time, and were successfully able to navigate several radio-music trends on their way to longevity, which is something that the RRHOF likes to honor.

AND…?: They were awful. A scourge, I tell you.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

The Doobie Brothers

WHO THEY ARE: Pretty close to the bottom of the seventies radio-rock barrel

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Because we’re clearly going to empty that barrel here. They were popular, certainly, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone who was particularly influenced by them, and they’re not particularly memorable to people who weren’t there at the time.

AND…?: There’s nothing wrong with being a band of your time, certainly everyone’s record collections are full of stuff that worked because of who you were at the time you heard it, but I don’t think some fond memories from some old HOF voters is the same thing as a useful induction.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

Whitney Houston

WHO SHE IS: A veritable hit factory for a couple of decades.

WHY SHE’S HERE: She was an undeniably talented singer, and she had an enormous amount of radio success and influence on subsequent generations of lady pop singers. I suppose once per installment I have to point out that she has fuck all to do with rock music, but that’s pretty much a dead issue at this point – we’re at the end of the list, and there’s tonnes of non-rock in here. Also, she’s dead, and that’s sad, but it tends to lead to an induction.

AND…?: I don’t think I’ve ever intentionally listened to her music for fun, and I’m almost never happy to hear it, but this isn’t about me.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Eh. I guess somebody has to be inducted every year. There are worse cases, but I’m not going to be happy about it. 

Nine Inch Nails

WHO THEY ARE: the most popular (and radio-friendly) practitioners of industrial (or industrial-adjacent) music,

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They were the weirdest band on the radio in the nineties 3, and managed to retain a lot of their popularity even as their music got weirder and more abstract. They introduced a bunch of young radio listeners to bands and sounds that they would have taken longer to hear about otherwise, and while their records haven’t been as great as they were at their peak, they’ve still never made a bad one.

AND…?: I owe a lot to Nine Inch Nails, and I’m happy to see them in here.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

The Notorious BIG

WHO HE IS: Among the very best rappers New York has ever produced 4

WHY HE’S HERE: The HOF has been making inroads into inducting rappers for the last few years, and if that’s the way they’re going to go, he’s pretty much necessary. He was popular, incalculably influential, and all of his music holds up pretty well.

AND…?: He’s not my favorite, certainly, but he was one of the best.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

T Rex

WHO HE IS: A somehow-beloved glam rock dude. Also, this seems to be a real year for the induction of people who died tragically and young. So there’s that.

WHY HE’S HERE: His catalog lacks depth, but it does contain eighteen seconds of good music 5 overall, so it also lacks quality. It was popular, but only a couple of songs, and it aged very poorly. So I guess he’s here because of the same old people that need everybody that had a hit in the seventies to get inducted. 

AND…?: I usually try to leave my opinion out of these things in terms of trying to evaluate whether people should be here, but really. Marc Bolan did nothing that David Bowie or Freddie Mercury or the New York Dolls or whatever didn’t also do, and he did it (for the most part) worse. I just don’t really see where this comes from. They didn’t induct any songs this year, but I would’ve accepted “20th Century Boy” as a song induction. I would not have accepted “Bang a Gong” because that song is awful. 

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: I really don’t think so. 

Irving Azoff

WHO HE IS:The former executive of Ticketmaster.

WHY HE’S HERE: Because the HOF sucks, and they’ve inducted the guy who used to run Ticketmaster and now runs Madison Square Garden, and also, incidentally, can go fuck himself.

AND…?: Irving Azoff can go fuck himself

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

Jon Landau

WHO HE IS: He’s a guy who quit being a record critic to go manage Bruce Springsteen. 

WHY HE’S HERE: He is also head of the nominating committee for the RRHOF. We’re really looking through the glass onion now 6, folks

AND…?: I have absolutely no opinion about Jon Landau as such, unless he’s the guy responsible for Depeche Mode being in here, in which case I’m also mad at him. 

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Well, no. But I see no way that it would have been stopped.

And that’s it! Every single inductee, looked at in consideration. There’ll be a ranking post, like there was with the best-selling records post, and I’ll probably still do the thing in October where I run down the prospective nominees.

This one was probably somewhat less painful than the best-selling records posts. For one thing, I didn’t have as much listening to do, and when I did listen to stuff 7 it was generally less of an ordeal. Not to mention it was significantly more variegated. 

So anyway, stay tuned for where they all stack up against each other, and then for another Considered Look series, which is almost certainly going to be about Best New Artist Grammy winners. Toodles!


  1. also the centerpiece of the museum itself, for those that have never been there, is a very long video encapsulating each inducted class, with clips of performances by most of them and things like that, and is generally a pretty cool thing to behold.  
  2. although they did, as you can read here and going back from there, skew toward “pretty bad” 
  3. well, ok, they were the weirdest good band on the radio in the nineties 
  4. or anywhere else – he’s in pretty much everyone’s Top 5 – but he’s so tied ot New York that it seems unfair to not cite it.
     
  5. the first eighteen seconds of “20th Century Boy” 
  6.  GEDDIT? 
  7. which I did primarily to familiarize myself with a bunch of the old vocal group situations, or to hear aspects of bands that might not have been represented by what I knew about them just from living on Earth 

A Considered Look at the Top 10 Netflix Titles (Last Week)

So for reasons related to an upcoming post, I’ve got Netflix on my mind. Luckily, recently-ish (twelve thousand years ago, in February) Netflix started letting users see what the top 10 most-viewed movies and tv shows are for that week. Or, in this case, last week.

Anyway, this is a blog, fundamentally, about things that are popular/culturally honored, so why not dive in and look at some of these things? This might be a recurring feature, in fact. It’s fun to look at lists. 

TV Shows

Space Force

WHAT IT IS: The new Greg Daniels show slash the new Steve Carrell show. They made the American The Office, about which see below, and also it contributes to the greater culture of King of the Hill erasure, which is the greatest Greg Daniels show, and is, therefore, complicit in a cultural crime that cannot be allowed to stand. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Well, it’s also about a ragtag group of hapless workers impelled to action by a feckless, overbearing president who’s trying to set the world on fire, so I’m pretty sure I don’t have to actually analyze this one that deeply. 

Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich

WHAT IT IS: A true-crime style documentary about a rich monster. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US:  People love true-crime style documentaries about rich monsters.

I mean, I’m probably not going to do a sufficient job explaining it, because I don’t understand it, but this is part of that. This dude hurt a lot of people, and seemingly succeeded because of it 1, and there’s a real public need to examine that and figure out how it can happen in a world that many people (and especially, as far as I’m aware, a lot of the Netflix true-crime audience) think of as “ok”. This is a non-value statement: I don’t care what people watch, and the true crime audience contains a large amount of people that I consider myself in agreement with in most ways. It isn’t for me, but it’s clear that there’s a therapeutic aspect to this sort of thing – digging around in the events to see what perversions of the power structure are necessary to enable this sort of thing. I hope they’re finding something. Or at least being amused for eight hours while it happens (I don’t know how long it is don’t @me). 

Sweet Magnolia

WHAT IT IS: A zippy, gentle, soapy romance show based on a series of zippy, gentle, soapy romance books

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Because it’s an unchallenging look at a world that is not literally on fire. This is sort of the subtext of a bunch of this stuff, really, and one of the reasons a list like this is hard to look at. Lucky for me, there’s nothing else going on in the “silly gauge of popularity” world that I write about largely, so here we are, doing it. Wouldn’t it be nice if everything wasn’t on fire? 

Avatar: The Last Airbender

WHAT IT IS: A much-beloved Nickelodeon cartoon about a kid who can bend all the elements (eventually)

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: It’s quite good, and very popular, and everyone has lots of time on their hands, including the young people that might watch it. Since we’re very much living in what could be dubbed a “fire nation,” what with everything being on fire and all, it’s comforting to think of having our own Aang to fix it. 

Riverdale

WHAT IT IS: It’s a crazy-ass supernatural soap opera putatively based on the Archie  comics characters 2

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That everyone is happy to imagine a world even crazier and more on fire than our own.

Dead to Me

WHAT IT IS: A show about two women in mourning and the terrible secrets that unfold. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Pretty ladies solve mysteries is also pretty evergreen in terms of popularity, as are puzzle-box plots (which, I guess spoiler alert? this one is.) They’re extra-engaging for maximum distraction from the world that’s on fire!

Flash

WHAT IT IS: The most popular of the currently-running CW-DCU shows. It’s about a guy who’s super-fast. Zoom.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Zoom zoom zoomy zoom. The world is on fire. Zoooooooooom. 

Outer Banks

WHAT IT IS: The Goonies go to North Carolina. Apparently it gets good somewhere along its run. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: We loooooove puzzle shows. And teenagers solving mysteries. It’s good practice for trusting young people to solve shit, which we’re going to have to start doing in order for the world to not be on fire. 

The Office

WHAT IT IS: A somehow hugely-beloved sitcom that everyone watches all the time. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: We like to remember when the world wasn’t on fire, and the worst thing we had to worry about was being weird enough that some smirking dickbag would perpetrate potentially-lethal pranks on us for his own amusement. 

Movies

Uncut Gems

WHAT IT IS: Adam Sandlers most recent emergence from his “making movies with his friends in far-off expensive locales” cocoon to make a movie worth watching.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: I think it says that there is taste for stuff beyond escapism, which is probably true, although my own viewing habits don’t bear that out. I mean, I probably would have watched seventy-four episodes of Forged in Fire basically in a row anyway, but it’s definitely something I’m doing instead of watching Uncut Gems because the world is on fire. 

The Healer

WHAT IT IS: A Jesus movie about a dude who can heal the sick with his magical Jesus powers.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That even before everything that happened last weekened, the world was on fire due to a virus that was straight-up killing the most vulnerable, and it would be nice if someone could heal people with magical Jesus powers. 

The Help
WHAT IT IS: A movie about how, actually, black people can count on white people to fix everything.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Fuck this movie. The world’s on fire. 

Clueless

WHAT IT IS: A surprisingly-durable nineties comedy. I mean, it’s only surprising that it holds up so well. It was always great, I just figured it would’ve been great in a way that didn’t translate. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: The world didn’t used to be on fire in quite this way 3, and a period piece about a different sort of on-fire-ness is kind of nice.

Just Go With It

WHAT IT IS: The most-famous of Adam Sandler’s aforementioned “making movies with his friends in far-off expensive locales” movies. This is the one with Jennifer Aniston. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That people either watch Uncut Gems and want a gentler Adam Sandler movie to distract them from the fact that the world’s on fire, or they watched The Wrong Missy and wanted a comedy in a similar locale with a better leading man. 

The Wrong Missy

WHAT IT IS: A Happy Madison “friends in far-off expensive locales” movie that doesn’t star Adam Sandler. It stars the perfectly-amiable but not-particularly-well-used-here David Spade and comedy force of nature Lauren Lapkus. Happily, it seems to be a real coming-out party for the latter, who’s been funny in stuff for years and years, and now has a bunch of mainstream notice. Good for her. Good for the movie.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Well, it’s not like there’s anything else to watch, because the world being on fire has cancelled production on just about everything, so you might as well watch Lauren Lapkus be the lone good part of this otherwise-terrible movie. 

The Lincoln Lawyer

WHAT IT IS: A movie where Matthew McConaughey does lawyer stuff in his car. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: uh….you know what? I have no idea. The world is on fire, and in addition to the other stuff that doesn’t make any sense, this also doesn’t make any sense. It’s a so-so movie from a decade ago. Are we that hard up for McConaughtent? 

Despicable Me

WHAT IT IS: A very good movie about an evil overlord that adopts some kids.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That some of us have kids, and need Steve Carrell content 4 to help distract us from the fact that the world’s on fire 

Priest
WHAT IT IS: Yet another movie from 2011 5, this one is about Paul Bettany as the titular priest who hunts vampires. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: You know, I really think that the movie list is less instructive to guiding us in the viewing habits of this subset of a world that’s on fire. But hey, I would feel safer if Paul Bettany was here to murder some vampires. That would mean I had a problem with vampires which, honestly, seems preferable to the problems of murderous paramilitary law enforcement and the looming threat of a deadly plague. Maybe I should go watch Priest

Juwanna Mann

WHAT IT IS: Uh….it’s transphobic propaganda that tries to prop itself up by cloaking itself in standard early-oughts morality bullshit?

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Fuck us all. We got the world on fire that we deserve.


  1. I mean, I say seemingly because there’s famously literally no other reason for his money to exist, but also the string of proof ended when he “killed” “himself” in his cell.  
  2. for one of my more uh…esoteric theories, come find me and ask about it. I’m not making it public. It’s too dumb. 
  3. which is to say, it still was, it just wasn’t so visibly on fire all the time 
  4. his name doesn’t lend itself to a clumsy portmanteau as well as Matthew McConaughey’s does. 
  5. The Help and The Lincoln Lawyer are also from 2011. Despicable Me is from 2010. It’s a weird little cluster of movies, temporally-speaking. 

The Best Records of May 2020

Hey guys. 

 

Everything sucks, and in the US (where ONAT Headquarters is located) we’re watching things accelerate into a really frightening, apocalyptic place. In light of that, it seems weird for me to continue on as normal, and post a dumb roundup of records. 

Of course, I’m not sure what, short of curling up into a ball and crying, can be done at this point (especially chunks of the City of Cleveland 1 are currently under military-style police lockdown because merchandise is more important than lives – they’re calling it a “curfew”), so here’s a dumb roundup of records. 

Give all your time and money to places where it matters, and be kind to each other. From six feet away, because also we’re all going to die of the fucking plague.

Anyway. Here’s some good records. There were, despite everything, an above-average amount of them (this does not, for example, include the excellent Jason Isbell or Conway the Machine records, because of the arbitrary but somehow completely immutable 5-album limit)

Mourning [A] Blkstr – The Cycle (Cleveland’s finest R&B outfit make another incredible record. At least some things are consistent, and can be counted on)

Ka – Descendants of Cain (a Ka record is always welcome, but this one really rises to the occasion, and my be my favorite of his records yet)

Field Works – Ultrasonic (Field Works are one dude – Stuart Hiatt – and this time he sent out his recordings of an endangered bat’s echolocation to a bunch of ambient/experimental music titans, and the result is truly great)

Medhane – Cold Water (I think this might be the first great Medhane record, and I’m as surprised by it as anyone)

Old Man Gloom – Seminar VIII: The Light of Meaning (We’ve gotten two excellent OMG records this year. I feel like I’m getting spoiled over here.) 

 


  1. I live in a suburb, but it’s a suburb that has succumbed to police wackiness.  

The 2019 Nebula Awards

The Nebulas are happening! I mean, they’re happening online, but they’re also happening this weekend, which is very exciting for, say, bloggers with very little else to write about who happen to love the Nebulas anyway. 

After all of last year’s business, it’s kind of nice that the move online is pretty much the only noteworthy wrinkle this year 1.  It’s an unusually strong field, largely untouched by anything but the genuine excitement of some good work.

Which is, you know, nice, given that nothing else right now is going according to plan, and everything is on fire. Way to go, SFWA!

The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

I suppose there’s something to say for the fact that fully two thirds of these are television. I mean, what it says is “there is a whole goddamned lot of television and, proportionally, that increases the number of things that are good 2. The movies are both very good, but probably not awards-worthy. Captain Marvel was well-done, and had a lot of things about it that were fun and worth enjoying, but I’m not sure it makes it to the top tier of the things on offer, even though I’ve spent much more of my time on it versus, say, Watchmen. Avengers: Endgame was, as previously noted, largely a triumph of organizational skill and special-effects teams. While some of the performances were fine, the people that made the movie a triumph definitely weren’t the writers, except in the sense that they had to figure out how to glue all of the pieces together into something that provided a satisfying ending while still allowing for the story to continue. While these are impressive things in a circus-tricks mechanical sort of way, I don’t think they bring the movie into consideration for a writing award 3

That leaves us with the tv shows. Watchmen turned out better than anyone could have expected, and “A God Walks into Ambar” is a fine piece of work, but I feel that it only really works as a lynchpin of the series, and while for some that might not be a disqualifying thing, it is for me here – I generally prefer an episode that can stand on its own 4. Russian Doll’s “The Way Out”, then, falls into the same situation, although it’s also much better. The Mandalorian also worked better than I assumed it would, and while “The Child” is definitely the episode most worth talking about, I actually think it doesn’t work as well as several of the later episodes in the season, and don’t think it’s the best one here. 

It surprises me, then, to say, that in this particular analysis, I’m leaning toward the rightful winner being an episode of Good Omens. I liked the miniseries well enough (and, naturally, adore the book to bits and tatters), but found that most of the deviations didn’t serve the story. One of the places where the differences did add to the experience were in “Hard Times” and its journey through time. It’s a satisfying treatment of the characters, it stands largely on its own, and it’s deeply satisfying both as an entire story and as an entry in the larger series. Well bowled, Mr. Gaiman.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Neil Gaiman, “Hard Times” (Good Omens)

Game Writing

I do not play a lot of games. My game-playing habits could best be described as “boring to outsiders” given how rarely I manage to incorporate new ones. That said, the Fate Accessibility Toolkit is an amazing and much-needed piece of RPG ruleset-incorporation (it provides rules for characters with disabilities), and I’m very much in love with it, even moreso than everything else associated with the Fate rule system, which I love.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, Laura Bell, C.D. “Casey” Casas, Lillian Cohen-Moore, Philippe-Antoine Ménard, Zeph Wibby,  Clark Valentine, Jess Banks, Brian Engard, with Mysty Vander, Fate Accessibility Toolkit

The Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction

This was a pretty enjoyable field this year, although it didn’t quite rise to the level of the rest of the prose-fiction categories. Carlos Hernandez’s Sal and Gabi Break the Universe is part of the Rick Riordan Presents line, and it’s surprisingly free of the usual mythology content of that line. It’s a fun standalone novel about stage magic, actual magic and occasionally robots that moves well, and comes to some satisfying conclusions, but also suffers a bit from setting up a series that it doesn’t really need.

Yoon Ha Lee’s Dragon Pearl (also a Rick Riordan Presents) is, similarly, a fun space opera flavored with Korean mythology, and while it was fun to read a straightforward adventure story told by Lee (an ONAT favorite), it wasn’t much more than a fun, satisfying read. Greg Van Eekhout’s COG was in a similar vein – it’s another standalone novel, this one about novels and a sinister corporation. The audience for COG skews a little younger, which makes it a little bit harder for me to judge. Rounding out the cool-shit-driven middle of the pack is Henry Lien’s Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions, the second book in a series 5. It’s more fun to have read than it was to actually read, as it runs into one of the things I really find hard to engage with about YA: it has a protagonist that has to learn every single lesson the hardest possible way, and the narrative has to whack on it every single time. It’s a feature, and it’s probably not intractable for people that are into YA fantasy, but it’s really hard for me to enjoy. Still, it wins points for being admirably weird, and having a genuine twisty ending that I liked. 

I oscillate on the top spot, and it could go to either of the remaining books. Fran Wilde’s Riverland is impressive and well-rendered, and was one of the most moving things I read for the whole series. It’s excellent, if heavy, and it’s stand-alone, which earns it points. Naomi Kritzer’s Catfishing on CATnet 6 sets up a series, but it also has some terrific characters, and not just the AI that provides the title and the centerpiece of the story. It’s a well-executed thriller that starts out a tense, close-focus story and turns into a road piece, with a pretty terrific execution of artificial intelligence. It’s also got a heavy dose of wish-fulfillment and plenty of uplifting material in the end. Also, some very funny bits about bird ownership.

Honestly, I could go either way (I’ve changed my mind twice since I started writing this thing). Riverland is an entire story, and it’s really solidly put-together. But Catfishing on CATnet is just about its equal in prose, and I found it more gripping, and ended up thinking about a lot more of it outside of the narrative. It’s a close thing, but I think Kritzer has it by a nose.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Naomi Kritzer, Catfishing on CATnet

Short Story

All of the stories here are very good, or at least very easy to enjoy. Seriously, this year was a genuine pleasure to get through. Perhaps the least-good, however, is Karen Osborne’s “The Dead, in their Uncontrollable Power,” an impressive, non-linear story about a space-faring civilization and their bifurcated memories. It’s well done for all that, but it gets by on style more than on ideas, and while it was fun to puzzle out 7 the events of the narrative and the way it was all set up, I didn’t like it as much as the other ones here. Similarly, AC Wise’s “How the Trick is Done” is a fine sort of reverse-chronology thing (we start at the end and then fill in the details) about the cost of men’s ego and the way that people in power manipulate the people that help them (or even provide for them). It is, however, a revenge story, and, as such, makes me pretty uncomfortable. It’s told well, and the writing is top-notch. Your mileage may vary. 

Shiv Ramdas’s “And Now His Lordship is Laughing” is also, after its fashion, a revenge story, but for reasons that make me feel less uncomfortable 8 (there are spoilers in this footnote, if that matters to you). It’s surprising, very gripping, and very punchy. I would have liked to see it be a little longer but I will also admit here that I’m not sure what, exactly, I’d like more of. A.T. Greenblatt’s “Give the Family My Love” is a terrific space story, truly, the best story about a space anthropologist slash conservationist I read all year, but it’s also in two distinct parts and the transition between them is pretty jarring. It’s a quibble, but it’s enough to keep it out of the winner’s circle. 

Fran Wilde makes another appearance in this year’s Nebulas for her terrific story “A Catalog of Storms”, a kids-eye view of a battle between storms and the “weathermen” that fight them. The “weathermen” are conscripted, leaving marks on the societies and families that, functionally, sacrifice them for the good of the fight against the storms. It’s basically an examination of the main character’s understanding of the events, and as such, turns out to be something of a character study more than a narrative, which works surprisingly well. Or, at least, I was surprised. I don’t know why. I love Fran Wilde.

The best of them, though, was Nibedita Sen’s “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island,” which tells its story through the device in the title, which is incredible, and also credibly puts forward a variety of responses to the titular events from an academic perspective, which is just a terrific way to tell the story. I’m not sure I have anything to say coherently than to say that it delivers on its title absolutely perfectly, and that I love it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Nibedita Sen, “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”

Novelette

Once again, I find that Novelette is my least-favorite of the non-YA categories, and it’s for reasons pertaining to the stories either not having enough in them or having too much in them. That said, there’s plenty of good work here. Mim Mondal’s “His Footsteps, Through Dark and Light” is a really interesting piece of worldbuilding with a fairly-scant story laid over the top of it, and I’m hopeful that it will be seen in the future as a sort of “proof of concept” of some more elaborate stories built on this idea. Even if it isn’t, it’s fine, and it’s nice to read, but it’s not quite in the same league as some of the others. Sarah Pinsker’s “The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye” similarly seems like an interesting idea that got built out into something that was either a little too long (it could have been a wicked short story) or a little too short (it also probably could have been the beginning, or rather, early-middle and late-middle of a good story), but as it is it’s the closest to not loving a Sarah Pinsker story I’ve gotten in the entire body of her work 9

Cat Rambo’s Carpe Glitter 10 was a beautiful story about family legacies, and familiar problems, and also I’m stretching the rules to state that it technically includes a robot (and robots make just about everything better), and I was happy to read it. Similarly, Siobhan Carrol’s “For He Can Creep” was definitely the best supernatural story told from the perspective of a cat I’ve read all year, and I found the narrative device absolutely delightful. It also compelled me to learn about Christopher Smart, which I appreciate very much, so it unquestionably made my life better. 

G.V. Anderson’s “A Strange and Uncertain Light” is a lovely story that starts out a creepy haunted-hotel story and twists itself into something else entirely. The twisting part is handled extremely well 11, and the story turns out to be a much lovelier, more engaging sort of thing than it started out as (if still not entierly not a horror story). It’s a very impressive outing. 

Caroline M. Yoachim’s “The Archronology of Love” is, however, even more impressive. The narrative itself is buried in the incredibly cool concept of “The Chronicle,” which makes this a stealth time-travel story (which is excellent) as well as a sort of locked-room mystery for the end of an entire planet (which is excellent). The narrative turns out to be something else entirely, which I won’t mention here for the spoiler-averse, but which is both genuinely surprising and quite moving. It’s the head and shoulders stand-out here, even if it doesn’t have an awesome cat. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Caroline M. Yoachim, “The Archronology of Love”

Novella

This was a particularly challenging year for me here in this category, as many of these novellas I found particularly hard to engage with. If it’s long been a foregone conclusion that I’m going to love Ted Chiang the most in one of these categories, well, this year is definitely no exception, but I tried to make sure that everybody else at least had a fighting chance.

Vylar Kaftan’s Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is a well-drawn non-linear “what-is-real” narrative that I did not engage with even a little bit. I didn’t mind some of the setting choices, and I liked a lot of the ideas, but it seemed like every choice I wanted as a reader was the opposite of the choice made by the writer. It is frustrating to be unable to engage with something in this way, but it is also my darned website, so it doesn’t win. So there. Rivers Solomon’s The Deep is, similarly, something that I find difficult to get into, a problem I often have with Solomon. I expected an easier time given the connection to ONAT absolute-favorites clipping., but it speaks to the powers of Solomon as a writer that she comes through a lot more than they do 12, and while that’s impressive, it also just really doesn’t do it for me. Again, though, I liked many of the ideas and the world stuff, I just couldn’t really get into the execution. 

The narrative and prose of AC. Wise’s Catfish Lullaby are pretty good, and it moved well and was engaging, but I kept being removed from it by the fact that it didn’t seem to take place in its setting as much as it had the setting painted in around it. The parts of it that could hav taken place anywhere seemed to work pretty well, and then it would run up against the swamp parts of it and I’d have to force myself through it. I’m not sure why that happened, to be honest, but it keeps it out of the top. 

Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s This is How You Lose the Time War is good – it lives entirely in its world, and it tells its story well, and it has a really affecting ending. I also like the various devices used to deliver the letters that make up the text. It feels, however, a lot more like an exercise than a story at times – the ping-pong writing, the characters that are bas reliefs in the cipherious wash of the philosophies of their warring sides, even the epistolary nature of the story itself all contribute to this looking more like an experiment made real than a for-its-own-sake work of fiction. That said, people love it, so I guess it has a pretty good chance. Just not here. 

That leaves us with the aforementioned Ted Chiang, and his incredible “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom,” an incredible story about causality, freedom of choice, guilt, and the nature of time and experience. Also opportunism, capitalism and loss. In short, it’s an incredible, perfect story 13. I can’t think of many years where it wouldn’t have won. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ted Chiang, “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom”

Novel

And here we are, at the 900 pound gorilla category. The grande dame. The big enchilada. The thing. They’re all pretty good, with one presumption. I didn’t read Charles E. Gannon’s Marque of Caine. I read the other three that were nominated when they were nominated, but had a very, very hard time with the third one. I skipped the fourth one and, rather than try to get back through them, I assumed that very little had changed 14. I’ll allow for the fact that it was fun if you’re into that sort of thing (I’m not, really), and that it probably wouldn’t have been in the top spot by my reckoning, with the caveat that it might be the best book ever written (this seems unlikely) and I’m really missing out. Ah, well. 

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow was a pretty good road book, with a really interesting take on its mythology, and a pretty well-drawn main character. It also takes place in jazz-age Mexico, a thing I know absolutely nothing about, and thus I also found the setting particularly engaging. That said, it doesn’t quite make it into the top echelon, as much as I did enjoy reading it.

Alix E. Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a sort of semi-historical portal fiction, with a twisty narrative involving a book within the book that informs the story. It literalizes the notion of a story as a portal, and is satisfying self-contained. It’s a very good novel that would have stood a better chance without three titanic achievements in the field. Despite that, it has probably the best line-for-line prose of anything I read all year, and that can’t be discounted.

The remaining three (the aforementioned titanic achievements) are such a hugely-impressive thing that I’m having a hard time deciding on them. I’ll start with Sarah Pinsker’s A Song for a New Day. When it came out it was a terrific building-out of the world of “Our Lady of the Open Road” 15. As time progressed and the world we live in grew to resemble the world of the book – the book takes place in a world where fear of a contagious disease – and terrorism – meant that large gatherings are banned – it came to seem unusually, frighteningly prescient. Even without that (which is impressive enough) it’s still a wonderful story about navigating the world of live music performance, and what compels people both to perform and to be in the audience, and the symbiotic relationship between bands and their audiences. It shares the narrative out between two incredibly well-drawn characters, and, as lagniappe, describes a bunch of experimental music that I wish I could hear. It’s a very good book, and I might be undervaluing it’s rightfulness because it’s so completely, entirely the sort of book that I’d read all the time if there were more books like it. It’s entirely in my wheelhouse, and it’s definitely the book that spoke to me personally the most. 

Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth is the wild card here. It’s very good, and I don’t know that there’s a lot of dissenting opinion about its very-good-ness, but it inspires passionate fans 16. It does an impressive job of cramming every single Cool Shit object into itself – space necromancers, locked-room mysteries, conspiracies, swords, really gross magic (the result of the space necromancy), really well-done interpersonal conflict between the two leads, and lots and lots of really fun prose. If it loses something in some of the background characters and covers a huge amount of narrative ground in some giant steps, well, nothing is perfect, and the whipcrack-pace actually suits it pretty well. I’d probably have to read it again to firm up my opinion about it, but it’s definitely good enough to warrant a fair shot at the win (it will probably win), and I’m excited to read the rest of the books in the series. I’ll also mention that I was genuinely surprised at the ending, also, which was nice. 

As far as it goes, though, I really think Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire is the book to beat. It’s got a lot to like about it, certainly – it’s funny, and it does a terrific job of showing all of its cards about the conflict at the center of the book, as well as the nature of the colonizer/colony relationship without dumping information or leaving too many things shaded. The prose is wonderful (if not quite as good as that of The Ten Thousand Doors of January), and Martine’s use of language – the conflict between the languages the main character speaks and those of the colony she ends up on does a lot of the lifting for illustrating the differences between the two civilizations, and the naming conventions are flat-out great –  is top-notch. All told, I think that, even though I emotionally liked it less than three of the books in this category, on a construction level it’s just about perfect, and I can’t think of a single thing about it that can be improved 17, and it’s therefore the rightful winner.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Arkady Martine, A Memory Called Empire


  1.  it is also worth noting that the 20booksto50k people, who raised such ruckus last year, are starting their own organization, presumably with their own awards, which is just fine, and also probably not something I’m liable to pay much attention to, for reasons you can probably glean from what I had to say about it last year. .If you don’t like to ctrl+f, you’re looking for FN15. 
  2.  ten percent of eleventy billion is more than the same ten percent of, say, twenty, is what I’m saying here. 
  3. this may leave the reader with the impression that I don’t like Endgame. That’s not the case. I enjoyed it a lot – I liked how it glued all the pieces together into something that provided a satisfying ending while still allowing for the story to continue, and I especially liked all the stuff with Captain America.  
  4. one may argue that this is counter to the point of serialized television to which I say: yes, probably, and also will remind the reader that I don’t much care for the medium, so there. 
  5.  the first book of which was also nominated last year. 
  6. which takes off from her story “Cat Pictures, Please” from a few years ago, also a previous Nebula nominee 
  7. for a specific value of “fun,” it’s actually a pretty sad story for most of its run 
  8. I’m willing to accept that this isn’t an entirely consistent position, but in the Wise story they let the magician die because he’s abusive, and in the Ramdas the people that are killed by the laughing doll are oppressive colonialists. Again, I accept that this isn’t going to be the case for everybody. 
  9. even “And Then There Were (n-)One” had a joie de vivre that got it past its murder-mystery trappings.  
  10. I’m taking the italics vs. quotation marks rules from the Nebulas’ website, but it does annoy me that novelette’s straddle text feature types. Grrr. 
  11. well enough that it actually turned me around completely on the story, which I wasn’t that into before it was clear what was happening 
  12. I mean, the jury’s out on how much noise-rap can make it through an sff novella, but you know what I mean. 
  13. it’s one of the hands-down standouts of Exhalation, a top-flight collection in and of itself. 
  14. based primarily on the fact that reviews, presumably written by people who had read it, reported that very little had changed. 
  15. which you can find me gushing about when I wrote about it for its own Nebula nom 
  16. it’s got the same sort of response as, like, a Prince album, where people like it, and some people absolutely ape-nuts love it. 
  17. and it’s a first novel! It’s almost enough to make you want to curl up and cry! 

Shamelessly Punting: A Ranking of Things That Turn 25 This Year

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I just did this. Well, nothing’s happening, so I guess i’m doing it again. Next week is the Nebulas, that’s very exciting. Expect to see at least one more of these, no less! I can only be baffled by the existence of weird records so often, you know. 

Jeff Smith, Bone #1: Out From Boneville

Neil Gaiman, Sandman: The Kindly Ones

Mr. Show with Bob and David

Welcome to the Dollhouse

Palace Music – Viva Last Blues

Babe

NewsRadio

Geraldine Fibbers – Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home

Charles Burns, Black Hole

Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist

Radiohead – The Bends

The Maxx (the tv show. The comic is from 1993, and would be #1 on any of these lists ever, because it’s probably my favorite thing to ever exist ever. The show was good though.)

Friday

PJ Harvey – To Bring You My Love

James Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me

Sonic Youth – Washing Machine

Toy Story

Bjork – Post

Twelve Monkeys

Hum – You’d Prefer an Astronaut

Stuck Rubber Baby

Swans – The Great Annihilator

Seven

Pulp – Different Class

The Drew Carey Show

Mike Watt – Ball-Hog or Tugboat

Star Trek: Voyager

A Considered Look at Every Inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Part 19

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a place that I find, as an institution, vexing. The actual, physical hall of fame – the pyramidal building on the lake in Cleveland – is pretty cool, but it is spoken and thought of often as an intangible – as a sort of arbitrating body on the worthiness of the body of rock musicians. My thought, for many years upon surveying lists 1  and the like was to think that they have about a fifty percent success rate for getting it anything like right.

But what if it doesn’t? Previously I listened to and considered each of the best-selling albums of all time, and learned that they were considerably more of a mixed bag than I had thought 2 So what if the inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are the same sort of deal?

And so it’s time to dive in and take a look at what the nominees and their enshrinement actually are.

Click the links for Part 1,Part 2Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17 and Part 18 of this series.

NOTE: Because the list of songs at the end makes the list of nominees twice as long as it is in traditional years, these last few entries in this series will only cover one year each. This is also convenient, as there are still no damn awards shows, so….

2019

The Cure

WHO THEY ARE: Post-punk’s cuddliest goths

WHY THEY’RE HERE: As shoo-in candidates become more rarely inducted, it’s nice to see a band get in that was extremely popular, hugely influential, and artistically viable for a very long time. The cure inspired countless bands, had a bunch of hits, and made a bunch of great records, and continue to do so even now.

AND…?: Oh, I love the Cure very much.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Def Leppard

WHO THEY ARE: The most popular of the NWOBHM bands, if I’m being charitable. 

WHY THEY’Re HERE: they sold a tonne of records, and they really pioneered a sound (with producer Mutt Lange) that took over the radio for a long time in the eighties. So they were “influential” in that sense, to be sure. The problem is that basically everything they did that other bands did after them is largely made of things that I’d request be left out of my rock records, and their “influence” was directly contributing to a lot of terrible music. It’s hard to hold a band responsible for the things that came after them 3, but when it’s the band’s whole mien that is copied and used to make terrible music, then it seems a little bit more warranted. 

AND…?: Def Leppard were awful. Even the handful of songs they’ve made that aren’t outright nausea-inducing are, at best, forgettable radio dreck. 

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

Janet Jackson

WHO SHE IS: The most famous of the Jackson sisters, and the second most famous Jackson

WHY SHE’S HERE: Well, rolling back the usual boulder of “this isn’t, by any available definition, rock and roll music” and forgetting about it once more 4, Janet Jackson was, within her milieu, tremendously influential. She made interesting records that managed to sell well despite often being weird as hell, especially considering she could have just coasted on her name (which many of her siblings did).

AND…?: You know, Janet Jackson’s music isn’t for me, but I’m glad as heck that it’s in the world, and I don’t begrudge anyone that loves it.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure

Stevie Nicks
WHO SHE IS: One of the singers for Fleetwood Mac. 

WHY SHE’S HERE: Her solo career yielded a bunch of hits. People go ape-banana-nuts crazy for Stevie Nicks, and that’s something. She’s another of those people that has this huge, deeply-dedicated fanbase that I can’t really put my finger on. Generally speaking (and it’s the case here) I assume that rabid devotion has to do with something I don’t understand, and am willing to accept that there’s more going on in her music than I am able to credit and that, therefore, she is a worthwhile and influential figure.

AND…?: I don’t get it at all, but, again, am willing to allow for the judgment of people to whom this music means a great deal, and defer, in this particular estimation, my own judgment for theirs.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Probably, but I can’t explain it at all. 

Radiohead

WHO THEY ARE: The most recent RRHOF inductees to form, certainly. 

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They were very popular, and extremely well-regarded. They managed, during their high point, to take their music to some really interesting and innovative places, and with it, take their audience to their furthest corners. I’m not sure what their cross-generational appeal is beyond their handful of hits, but for Rock People roughly my age, they’re pretty much a godhead. 

AND…?: well, at their best they were, anyway. They’ve continued to make albums that are fine, but their high water mark (The Bends/OK Computer/Kid A/Amnesiac) is one of the best four-album stretches ever made by anyone, and if they don’t live up to that, well, almost nobody does. 

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Roxy Music

WHO THEY ARE: The best glam band that ever was, primarily because their music dressed like glam rock, but behaved functionally as punk-inflected prog.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: You know, I’m generally kind of surprised that they’re here, but it’s for all the usual reasons. They made a tonne of cool records, they sold a bunch of copies of them, they launched a bunch of bands. Bryan Ferry really made an archetype out of his sleazy lounge-act onstage persona, and while I’m not sure how much of Brian Eno’s influence contributed to their position as inductees given that he’s not represented anywhere else here, I’m going to go ahead and cite his incredible synth/electronics work in the context of this band as a major source of the joy in their music.

AND…?: I like them a lot, especially the Eno records (Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure), although they were always pretty good.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

The Zombies

WHO THEY ARE: The last of the British Invasion bands to be inducted. I mean, I’m comfortable going out on that limb, and I guess the surviving members of Herman’s Hermits can laugh at me if I’m wrong.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They were tremendously influential and well-regarded, even if they didn’t have as many hits as other BI bands. They also followed the general BI model of having some hits and then moving on into making great, horizon-expanding records afterward. They created a blueprint for a sort of pastoral, non-aggressive art-rock (along with the Kinks, although the Zombies were more musically accomplished and, for lack of a better term, “fancier” sounding) that influenced lots of bands, albeit very few that became particularly famous.

AND…?: I love The Zombies beyond reason, especially Odyssey and Oracle, and while it’s true that their reasons are a little flimsier than some other BI bands, the fact that they were so goddamned good makes up some ground.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes.

The Chantels – “Maybe”

WHAT IT IS: It’s probably the first “Girl Group” song, although calling something the first is tricky.

WHY IT’S HERE: The RRHOF has a real thing with fifties vocal groups, and an opportunity to induct songs independent of artists is an opportunity to get some more of them in here. So here we are. 

AND…?: I guess it being first gives it some claim on the spot, but I’m not sure that I agree that that’s enough to get it in there. It’s not a particularly good song.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not really

The Champs – “Tequila”

WHAT IT IS: The song that Pee Wee dances too in the biker bar

WHY IT’S HERE: Because everybody knows it, and everybody loves Pee Wee

AND…?: It’s fun, I guess, and I suppose there’s a lot to say about the presence of novelty songs in rock and roll, especially early rock and roll, but there are lots of much-better instrumentals that could have taken this spot.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No, but I’d never stop anyone from listening to it. It’s a lot of fun.

Barrett Strong – “Money (That’s What I Want)”

WHAT IT IS: It’s been a hit for a bunch of people (including the Beatles), but the original is a real one-of-a-kind, involving Barrett Strong jamming on the piano and, if the folks involved are to be believed, two random strangers that wandered into the studio and were lost to antiquity.

WHY IT’S HERE: It’s a terrific song that’s been a hit a bunch of times, and probably the best example of the early, wild and woolly R&B days of early Motown. The recording itself might not be influential as such, but it’s certainly aspirationally – a song that sounds like this is the sort of thing one could spend a long time chasing.

AND…?: I love this song, and it’s a good example of a song that should be in despite the performer not belonging himself as a performer (Barrett Strong could be inducted as a songwriter, but not really as a performer)

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

The Isley Brothers – “Twist and Shout”

WHAT IT IS: Oh come on, you know “Twist and Shout”

WHY IT’S HERE: for many of the same reason as “Money”, honestly. It’s a song everyone knows that’s been a hit a bunch of times, including for The Beatles.

AND…?: This is an interesting one, because the Isley Brothers themselves were inducted (rightfully) in 1992 5, and they’re still here, which seems to imply that induction for a song is separate from induction as an artist. We’ll see if that bears out any further, and also it probably opens the door for a bunch of Beatles songs or Bob Dylan songs or whatever. 

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Absolutely

The Shangri-Las – “Leader of the Pack”

WHAT IT IS: A much better girl-group song than “Maybe”

WHY IT’S HERE: It’s the best teen-tragedy song (dude bites it on a motorcycle), and, while it didn’t invent the “Be My Baby” drumbeat 6, it’s definitely an early entrant in its appropriation.

AND…?: On an early tour, the drummer for the Zombies would “play” the motorcycle engine by…starting a motorcycle backstage. Reports that the original was achieved by driving a motorcycle through the studio were found to be greatly exaggerated.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

The Shadows of Knight – “Gloria”

WHAT IT IS: The uh…worst version of one of the greatest songs of all time.

WHY IT’S HERE: Well, it’s still one of the greatest songs of all time, but I’m utterly at a loss to explain why the Shadows of Knight version is the one that’s here. It should be Them’s version, which is both the original and better than this version in every single way.

AND…?: No seriously. Are the Shadows of Knight blackmailing someone? What the hell?

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not in this form, no. 


  1. also the centerpiece of the museum itself, for those that have never been there, is a very long video encapsulating each inducted class, with clips of performances by most of them and things like that, and is generally a pretty cool thing to behold. 
  2. although they did, as you can read here and going back from there, skew toward “pretty bad” 
  3. the above blurb in praise of The Cure, for example, doesn’t hold them responsible for every band that sounds like The Cure, a set of bands that is, almost to a one, pretty terrible. 
  4. I mean, we’re nineteen installments into this thing, I think it’s time to consider the battle officially lost. 
  5.  by Little Richard, may he rest in peace 
  6.  it goes “dum. dumdum. DAH. dum. dumdum. DAH.” and once you hear it you’ll find it everywhere. My favorite deployment of it is in the Jesus and Mary Chain song “Just Like Honey”