The Cat Who Reviewed Some Books

As promised, I am still doing sARTSurday posts about arts, including book reviews. In this case it’s not the review of a book but a review of a series. Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who… series, to be precise. So sit down and relax for a bit of feline whodunit review.

Personal History

This is a very special series for me. I was in primary school when I read a book from the series for the first time — not the first book in the series, though, but rather the 16th book, The Cat Who Came to Breakfast, titled in Italian Il Gatto Che Giocava a Domino (“The Cat Who Played Dominoes”). For a kid that was already into Agatha Christie novels, it felt so nice to read something more modern, and despite this not being something that my parents or my sisters ever cared about, it turns out the series is also fairly age-appropriate, at least most of the time.

I did manage to read four of the books in Italian – plus one of the unrelated short stories by Braun – but anything more was a lost cause. I went into so many different bookstores, even second hand bookstores, and I never found more than those. I even wrote to the publisher (Mondadori) asking them if they published more of the books, and how to find them and order them… this is before Amazon, and before most online bookstores, you need to understand. When I say I wrote to them, I mean that I typed it on an Olivetti typerwriter, and sent it over by snail mail. They did reply, by the way — but they also had no idea how to find any of the other books; I’m fairly sure the impression I got was that they didn’t print any of the other books, but Italian Wikipedia appears to disagree with me. Instead, they sent me over an anthology of short stories about cats and mysteries (or deaths), that included one story by Braun.

As an extra fun aside, some of you out there might remember a toy called 2-XL – not the 8-track version but the compact cassette one – which was available in Italy as well as a number of other countries. I loved that toy as a kid, and I think I might still have it somewhere at my mother’s house. It was pretty much just a tape player with trivia questions. One of the tapes I was given for that toy was about mysteries, and it had a question about this series of books! With hindsight, I guess they just translated the original Tiger Electronics cassette to Italian, because the series clearly had much more success in the USA than in Italy.

Anyway, when I decided I really wanted to be able to read English – after high school, when I didn’t have terrible teachers thinking they were helping while making us hate the language – I turned to these novels again, and bought a few books from one of the first Internet bookshops in Italy that actually sold English editions. Unfortunately even then it was not something I could read start-to-finish, because of the availability of the physical books. So it wasn’t until earlier this year that I decided to read the whole series, in order. It was a quarantine project.

This is one of the reasons why I feel that eBooks are still extremely empowering, despite the whole problems of artificial regions, DRMs, and so on. With very few exceptions, eBooks, like all digital goods, are removing the wall of scarcity that physical books have to live with. For good or bad, there’s no hunting down a second hand copy of the Italian translation in a bin in a small bookshop on the outskirt of Treviso — you go online, and get a copy of the book.

Well, at least most of the time. I know that some authors have explicitly boasted setting up deals selling only a limited amount of eBooks copies, to make an artificial scarcity that reproduces the physical world’s rarity into the digital world. I don’t particularly like this, but it’s their art and it’s their choice — I’ll just avoid playing to those notes myself, and not buy “limited edition” eBooks.

400 Miles North of Everywhere… or Not

So let’s talk setting for a moment, because this is a series that is fairly interesting. First of all, these are mystery novels, and they are generally light mystery novels. With a handful of exceptions, there’s no description of gruesome deaths, and while there’s fairly obvious references to characters sleeping around, they are only obvious to an adult, and I’m sure I had not picked up on any of them when I was younger.

The protagonist is Jim Qwilleran, a journalist from Chicago, and his cat companion Koko, who are later joined by another cat, Yum Yum. These are the only constants throughout the series, because the rest of the characters are not only varied, but they are also fairly disposable: I have not calculated the body count of each books, but there’s a lot of characters that, despite surviving for a number of books, end up dying some times “off stage”, for all different type of reasons: accidents, malfeasance, old age, health issues, …

The location of where the main action takes place is also not constant. When I read the four books as a kid, they all took place in the fictional rural community of “Moose County”, which is described as being 400 miles North of everywhere. But that’s not where the series started.

Indeed, the first few books take place “Down Below” in a city that could very well be Chicago, but is never specified. That’s where we get introduced to recovering alcoholic Qwill, and the posh Siamese cat Koko, and the first characters in the cast, some of which will stay around until the very end of the series. Then after twenty years from the first book, Moose County is introduced, which became the permanent setting for the series — well, with a couple of exceptions.

The different setting doesn’t really change the main feeling of the series, except for the fact that book number four The Cat Who Saw Red, the first book after the 18 year hiatus of the series, and the last one in the big city, that contains the only death that made me sick in my stomach when reading. Otherwise, the main difference between the two settings is that the cast stopped cycling, and started “building up”.

As for the cats… they feature prominently in the stories, not just as human companions but as raison d’être, at times, with most of the “good folks” sharing their life with a cat. The titular character, Koko, is a normal, pampered Siamese cat, that somehow acts just the right way to make Qwill see through misdirection and mysteries, and solve whichever murder just happened around him. While there’s the usual need for a suspension of disbelief of the typical whodunit series – why did people still invite Jessica Fletcher for events, knowing full well that someone will die just before or just after dinner? – Braun made a point that none of Koko’s behaviour was not out of the ordinary for a cat… just a lot of coincidence.

While the cast is far from diverse, and you can probably tell that Braun had not been mingling much with people outside of the USA, except maybe for Scots, it gives a warm feeling of rural closed communities, with a lot of time dedicated to the fictional history of the county, with immigrants from… a bunch of white European places. It’s definitely the product of its time in this regard — the only character that is described as being not white is a woman with not-well-defined “Mediterranean” origin.

A more interesting point is that, unlike a lot of other books I have read when I was a kid, the cast is generally older. Qwill himself is middle-aged to older, having gone through a nasty divorce before the events of the first book, and being a recovering alcoholic, and most of the friends he makes in the whole series are older than him. Any character that is described as being less than thirty is pretty much described as a youngster, if not a delinquent!

Qwill also appear to be – like me, my wife, and Sarah Millican – a “cheery childless”, not having particular fondness for children, avoiding babies, and having a short temper with their “nonsense”, which I totally relate to. While there’s a number of babies being born in Moose County, they usually stay off-screen, until at least they are grown up enough to at least say something.

And being a recovering alcoholic, he’s also the character that always goes for a mocktail — although I wonder if that word was even used at the time. But the Squunk Water with cranberry juice sounds pretty much like it. Once again, relatable.

As I said already, there’s a couple of exceptions about all the action happening in Moose County. Two of the books – The Cat Who Lived High and The Cat Who Moved a Mountain – have a different settings, Down Below and a different rural community, respectively. But at the same time, they are very clearly books that remind the reader why the action will stay in Moose County. So not really “pilots in disguise” for any reboot.

29 25 Delightful Novels.

The Cat Who… series includes 29 novels. Of these, I would recommend stopping after the 25th, The Cat Who Brought Down the House. There are repeated rumors that Braun, who was getting on with age herself, had not been writing the last few books — I have no idea nor proof about the situation with this, but the last four books definitely have lost their shine, and would not recommend reading them. Indeed, as I’m typing this review I’m still not done with The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers, but I thought it wouldn’t be important to actually finish it, as already the previous book was hard to swallow.

It’s not just the writing going a bit off-style — Braun has definitely played with different writing styles between books – in a way that reminds me a bit of the first few books in Charles Stross’s Laundry Files – but her characters have always behaved… in-character. While many of them have not been particularly well developed, they have at least always acted consistently between books… until those four books.

My honest, personal impression is that Braun might have had a general outline of where she wanted to bring a bunch of stories and threads, and a ghost writer took care of fleshing it out. The reason why I say that, is the number of inconsistencies, the characters that appear to be completely forgotten, other characters that appear and disappear out of nowhere, instead of being at least introduced and discussed.

I’ll give you a few examples with spoilers, so be careful about this section.

In the Moose County books, the unofficial historian throughout is a character named Homer Tibbitt — who became clearly a dear friend of Qwill. Indeed, Braun at times talk about how the latter never met his grandparents, and that’s why he gravitates around older people, such as Homer. As of Turkey, the title of county historian has been passed on to a different character (Thornton Haggis), and there’s no hearing about Homer until Bombshell, in which he dies, off-stage, announced by a phone call — not to Qwill, but to the plumber, never heard of before, and never heard of since, who came visiting the barn just right then. And despite the long-running job that funerals are big deals in Pickax, and that Homer was like a grandfather to Qwill, there’s no discussion of funeral arrangements, no discussion of wills, no call to his widow, … it isn’t until Whiskers (the last book), that Qwill even appears to care about Homer being dead!

This is just one of the reasons why I think Braun might have left notes about her wanting to “kill off” Homer before the 150th anniversary of the city, but it wasn’t her actually writing the whole treatment. And similarly, once people complained about not having heard anything about Homer’s funeral, the following book tried addressing that.

Similarly, at the end of Bombshell, another, much younger, character dies, that has a relationship with a close friend of Qwill — and neither him nor anybody else that talks about how that death will reflect on the friend! Not even a quick call to express regrets, no talk about funeral arrangements… despite, once again, the local tradition of funerary prowess.

And to top it off, the reason why I’m slow at finishing Whiskers is that I’m now reading descriptions of how Qwill, a columnist that prided himself to be able to write a thousand words on the colour green, is having trouble finding new topics, and can’t extract a good column on… viticulture. I mean, sure, he’s not had a drink for half a century by then, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped him before mixing cocktails and talking shop. This is all so out of character that it makes reading the book just painful.

Speaking of out of character… in the last four books, Koko becomes a caricature of himself — while there’s always been the tension and mystery of whether Koko actually had supernatural powers, or just happened to be doing stuff that Qwill would read too much into (which, I found out recently, is called apophenia)… but in the last four books it became much more paradoxical, including suggestions that he would be able to send wrongdoings pretty much unrelated to anyone in the books at all — come on, someone “firebombs” city hall, Koko senses it before it happens, and it’s dismissed with a call of the police chief?

There’s more — the attorney that would rarely be spoken about except when something bad happened suddenly becomes “Uncle George” and appears every third chapter — the multiple young women that appear out of nowhere, drop the answer to the current mystery, and disappear — the young sidekick that joins the newspaper under false name, and then disappears without a trace — Lisa Compton nearly flirting with Qwill, or vice versa, despite them knowing each other for years by then.

I can see why the rumors spread, and I’m willing to believe them. As I said, my impression is that some time during the writing of Turkey (which starts fairly on par with everything else, but then degenerates), Braun started being unwell, and the publisher brought in someone to help. Someone who only gave a superficial reading of the plots of the series, and maybe a character sheet, but couldn’t keep them straight enough to write as well as Braun.

There’s a missing closure for Turkey, there’s missing characters in Bananas, there’s just plain bad writing in Bombshell, and Whiskers feels like a hackjob to the point I ‘m not sure how else to describe it.

Personal Views and Impact

I really enjoyed the “trip down memory lane” with reading The Cat Who… back to back. I wished there was a bit more closure towards the end of the series. I have a feeling that it was planned for it, but it just didn’t manage to materialize.

I can’t say for sure that the books have directly influenced me. But they definitely have left an impression in my memory, with the whole experience of trying to find a copy, writing to the Italian publisher, starting to read English books with it, and so on.

And maybe a bit of a subtle, subconscious influence made me worry less about old age and loneliness — even though I’m very unlikely to inherit billions of dollars like Qwill, particularly after reading the whole series, I can feel that there’s plenty to do in my later years to feel satisfaction, even without kids of our own.

While the journalistic profession is not really something I’m interested in, you can see from this blog that writing is something that I ended up doing quite a bit for. Was I impressed as a kid that from Qwill’s lifestyle? Did I miss the part where he could afford it because he inherited billions and owned the newspaper he wrote on? I don’t think it’s that easy, but I guess it might have been in the back of my mind growing up after all.

And of course, reading this now, that I’m not quite that young, that I can’t be drinking (and don’t care for), and that I share my life with a person I love, with no intention of having kids, I can definitely feel closer to Qwill, although clearly not entirely, and not just for the money.

Generally, if you’d like a reading that “feels” like the early seasons of Murder, She Wrote, then this might be the series for you. For the most part, I’d say it’s also a kid-friendly read, since there’s very little explicit violence – beside the murders, of course – and as I said, not really any explicit sex. Indeed, at most it’s said that Qwilleran and Polly just happen to lose track of time, since at many points Braun wrote they met after dinner for a quick chat, and one or the other left when it was quite dark out there — this was totally lost of ten years old me, since the concept of “after dinner” in Italy would imply darkness anyway. It wasn’t until I lived in Los Angeles, and then Dublin, that I realized how early Anglosaxons eat!

There’s a lot of nice pearls to dig around; Braun seems to have been predicting a lot of the banes of modern life, including smartphones’ autocorrects. And while she sounds a lot like a technophobe, you also need to keep in mind that most of the books predates “modernity” by quite a bit. And is aimed at a generally older audience.

I’m happy I read these books in a binge – and I hope that, if you pick up the series yourself, you’ll enjoy it as well. Given it’s now “winter lockdown” up here, I would suggest reading it while wrapped up in a blanket while drinking a strong, black coffee — just like Qwill would like it!

Digital Artist Spotlight: Seerlight

Given lockdown continues, we’re effectively not expecting to join other fans for conventions for quite a while longer. This also means not finding new artists in person, for a while, and instead relying on more… modern options. Indeed the artist that I’m going to write about today is one that I found on Facebook, thanks to a share from an acquaintance who shared the post of a page that (for once!) credited the original author.

Seerlight is a digital artist that draws extremely detailed scenes. Many are inspired by popular anime, including Studio Ghibli or (as shown to the right) 90s anime like Sailor Moon and Card Capturor Sakura, but also games such as Final Fantasy and Zelda. A number of others are original, and are just as cute and interesting.

One of the main thing that piqued my curiosity with Seerlight is that is the first artist that I have found that provides a lot of their focus on animated wallpapers for phones and (it seems more recently) desktops. And indeed, the animated wallpapers are what you get access to by subscribing to their Patreon (and since it’s an up front charged Patreon, now is a great time to subscribe, if you’d like them.)

As an aside, it seems like animated live wallpapers on Android are… very manufacturer specific. On my Huawei P30 Pro, I ended up getting this app, which has in-app upgrade to ad-free, and didn’t request any risky permission beside file access to load the video. I can’t guarantee it’s perfect, but it seems to do the job.

Another thing that I found very interesting as an option (and one that I have not ordered yet, but I’m sure thinking of ordering soon), is that they sell credit card covers — not travel passes, which we’re totally used to in London (and possibly UK), but stickers to put on the actual credit (or debit) cards. This is something that I had seen in Japan before, particularly for IC cards, but I have not seen as being popular in Europe, which is not totally unexpected, as credit cards have typically had the owner’s name and 16-digits PAN, and covering those up would be… strange.

To be fair, the store (Cucu Covers) does sell half-height covers that are not meant to cover the information area, which depending on the colours on your credit card might make it still feasible. But more interesting, a lot of credit cards nowadays have stopped providing embossed names and numbers, and quite a few of them decided it’s cheaper and easier to print everything on one side of the card.

Revolut for instance now only put the cardholder name on the front, and the rest is all logos. Curve does something similar, although if I remember this correctly, they don’t even put the cardholder on the front. Admittedly, both me and my wife have gotten used to just relying on Google Pay at least here in the UK, and have not bothered taking the card out of the wallet for, well, a really long time now.

But if you have something that you need to keep with you and use daily, for instance a travel pass, or a building access pass (well, after the lockdown is over at least), and you want to give it a bit of a spirit, you may want to take a look at these covers, I find them absolutely gorgeous.

So, if that’s your cup of tea, consider subscribing to their Patreon, or at least follow them on Instragram or Facebook to see when they’ll release a live wallpaper you’ll be ready to pay for!

Clothing & Games Spotlight: TeeTurtle & Unstable Unicorns

— What do you do at the office?
— I keep it weird.

I have already written about Genki Gear, which is probably the “uniform supplier” for British Isles’ geeks. They are clearly not alone — and I thought I would give a shout out to another geeky supplier.

TeeTurtle makes clothes, slippers, plushies, underwear, stickers, … with some of the geekiest art ever. You can find on their website original art, Disney and Marvel, Star Wars or, if that’s your cup of tea (it’s not mine), Rick & Morty.

And they have probably my favourite filter selection for an art clothing store: by animals! Because whether you’re into puppies, cats, foxes, pandas, bunnies, dragons, … everybody needs their favourite tshirt.

And, let’s not forget, Unicorns!

Indeed, these are the same people behind Unstable Unicorns and a bunch of other awesome board and card games. If you have not had a chance to take a look at those games, do now. Unstable Unicorns is one of our favourite party games, together with Exploding Kittens.

If you’re locked in with your significant others, or with other housemates, you may want to give it a try… but just remember the advice on the box: Unicorns are your friends now!

Bragging sARTSurday: Plushies At Home

#plushie #plushieathome #seagull

In this week’s sARTSurday, I want to show off my own creation, for once.

Because of the lockdown, we had to sacrifice not just our conventions, but also our visits to Kew Gardens — and despite it reopening next month, we’re not sure if we feel safe enough to go and visit, since with diabetes I’m considered at risk. And Kew is where I would usually spend some time taking pictures with the weather we had… and that’s not happening any time soon.

Instead, since I started this weekly column, I have been taking quite a few more pictures inside the apartment. I even decided to invest in a couple of accessories for my camera to make it easier to take pictures of those and my art project — namely a flashgun, and an L-bracket (which will be useful even in Kew when I’ll be able to get there again.)

So for the past week or so, inspired by the last post header picture, I decided to take “candid” shots of the plushies that we have home. Most of these used to be on my desk at the office, both in Dublin and London — but given the current situation, they are likely going to stay at home for a while.

Good morning! Your usual?

I’m clearly not a professional photographer, I’m not even a particularly good photographer. But I thought it would make people smile to see them, and that’s all I care about.

If you want to see more pictures, particularly of squirrels, you can find them on Flickr, Facebook (separately from this blog) and Instagram. I have some more pictures to take of Star Wars plushies and LEGO sets, so keep your eyes on them if you’re into those.

Sweet Slice of Life: Sarah Graley

It’s a bittersweet time to post this, but very sweet content in it, so I hope it’ll brighten your days, as all sARTSurdays aim to. This weekend was meant to be the MCM Comic Con weekend in London, but in the current situation, the ExCeL center where it was supposed to take place is still the NHS Nightingale, as far as I can tell. With the rescheduled July date also cancelled, we’re currently not sure when, or even if, we’ll be back to a convention. And in particular at this MCM we were planning to look out for Sarah and Stef (again), to grab the set of Our Super Adventure books.

At the last MCM (October 2019), we were just walking the floor when we saw a giant kitty showing clearly on top of the booths — cat people as we are, me and my wife ran straight towards it. We had at that point no idea what Sarah and Stef were — but the Pesto plushie was too cute not to pick up, so we bought it, and for the following day I had her mischievous glare staring out of my bag.

A little later we were queueing for my photoshoot turn with Simon Pegg and decided to take a look at the comic — and loved it! But content warning: if you’re the type of person who suffers being alone or lonely, it might be bad for your mood. I know that I wouldn’t have appreciated the comic nearly as much, if I hadn’t found it as a newlywed. But otherwise, it’s one of the sweetest and cutest online comic I’ve ever read — and positive, too! It’s not trying to make it sound like life is completely carefree, but it’s also making light fun of the harder moments of a relationship, and that made out outright laugh on the floor of the con.

Our plan for this MCM was to go and see them again, and pick up a book or two (or three) — we had a preference to pick it up directly from them, also to thank them for the many laugh we got from their comic — but given the situation, online ordering will do. And this weekend there’s an exclusive pin thrown in, which was supposed to be exclusive for the MCM. (Sigh, I did say bittersweet, right? Every time I type MCM I’m sighing.)

In addition to Our Super Adventure, which is posted on their website, Sarah’s Instagram and Facebook page, and probably a few more syndication websites, they stream their game sessions on Twitch, where this very Saturday they have been running an “Our Super Stream Con” from home. (Although by the time you read this post it’s probably mostly over, unfortunately).

So if you’re up for a sweet laugh, particularly while laying in bed with your significant other after an exhausting lockdown day, give a read to Sarah’s and Stef’s adventures. You won’t regret it.

Metal Spotlight: Beast in Black

I have overlooked music in this past series of sARTSurdays, and it’s time to fix this mistake, with a metal band that is close to my heart — Beast in Black. And the reason they are close to my heart is that it was thanks to them that I met my wife — she was coming to the Rhapsody Reunion concert to see them being support, while I was there for the main act.

As you probably can guess by, uh, everything up to now (title, Rhapsody’s involvement, the style of the T-Shirts, …), Beast in Black are a metal band, and so if you don’t like that kind of music it’s unlikely you’ll be interested, but if you are, stay with me. It’s not just metal, it’s metal with 80s throwbacks, pretty much what our generation would find nostalgic if we ever went into that kind of music. Which is why my wife loved them from early on, and I found myself appreciating them with gusto.

I think that for me personally, part of the pleasure is that they are not bass-heavy music — my ears tends to prefer higher pitch sounds (funny how ears work), which is why I originally started listening to Dragonforce. So between Yannis’s voice and Anton’s guitar work, my wife didn’t have much work to convince me.

Speaking of Yannis, make sure you check out his YouTube Channel — in addition to singing in Beast in Black, he’s releasing vocal covers of… lots. Nightwish? Check. Disney’s Frozen? Check. Zayn (uh?)? Check. I shouldn’t be surprised that he seems to have quite the fan club, as proven by the folks we chatted with in the queue to see them in Amsterdam.

Okay so I should probably point out that we can come out a bit… strong in our support. After seeing them in London the night we met, my wife went to Japan explicitly to see them at a festival there, and together we saw them again in London (twice), and then went to Amsterdam and Budapest for two of their concerts — taking the time to make a proper holiday out of them. And thinking back, I’m fairly sure I gained a few kilos in Budapest, the food was so good.

You may have noticed from the t-shirt picture the Beast riding a very surprised unicorn. For once this is not a reference to Unstable Unicorns, but rather to the band joining the Scottish band Gloryhammer in their British Isles tour — Gloryhammer being known for the Unicorn Invasion of Dundee, which does make me wonder whether there’s something up in Scotland when it comes to supernatural invasions.

So, pick your poison between Spotify, Google Play Music YouTube Music, Apple Music, Amazon Music, CDs, vinyl, cassette tape — and have a listen. Pump up the volume (if you can, your mileage may vary depending on whether your neighbours would like the music), and enjoy some “expensive cheese”, as Derek once said.

Artist Spotlight: Patrick’s Art Room

As you might have noticed from the previous post about Sezzadactyl, we like our Pokémon art. And while a lot more people might have seen Joshua Dunlop‘s Pokémon Zoology renderings (and we have some of his art as well), today I want to put a spotlight on a less well known, but totally worthy artist, who we have seen multiple times in the past few years.

Patrick’s Art Room in particular has a very distinctive mark: the terrariums. These sizable dioramas set into a Pokéball are very eye-catchy at a conference, and I have to say we had trouble deciding on which one to get for home — we might get more later on, because they are just so cute.

In addition to the terrariums, Patrick has lots of other cute art. The same pictures can be found in various formats, including as cushion covers, and the postcard format you see in the picture. We went for postcard size this time because we didn’t know where else to fit everything otherwise, and we loved the red/white colour on the frame and mount, to stick with the Pokéball theme. The frame is, by the way, again from Frame Company.

It’s not just Pokémon, though — other games, and mashups of other games with Pokémon, with a very soft texture that fits neatly both the cushion covers and the canvases.

If you want to follow Patrick’s work, in addition to Instagram, you can find him on Facebook. And hopefully soon at the conventions, when they restart.

Clothing Showcase: Genki Gear

A selection of Genki Gear shirts — and a Latte plushie!

This week’s sARTSurday is not going to be surprising for any convention goer in the UK, given that Genki Gear is a staple at conventions around here (and in Ireland, too!) Which makes it more sad not having seen them around in so long now.

Known for their quirky, original t-shirts, some not really safe for work (even when honest), they recently started adding plushies licensed from Tokidoki and BT21 (which you may know for stickers on various messengers — or, if you visited Los Angeles in the past couple of years, for the huge cutesy store, downtown.)

Their webshop has content for pretty much any taste. D&D? Check. Cat people? Check. Terrible puns? Check. Not safe for work jokes? Check. Big fluffy ears? Check.

Also, the folks running Genki Gear are good folks. Not only they have some of the most inclusive range of shirts and gadgets, but during this situation they have been boosting other traders on their Facebook page, which was a great thing to see.

On the photo you can also see the one shirt I have that is a convention exclusive — for the defunct Nine Worlds Geekfest in London — which again shows the care they put on making products available even for smaller events (when compared to other events happening in London, that is).

I also want to spend a word or two on the quality of those shirts: they are soft, and warm, and nicely printed. You can possibly notice that the Nine Worlds shirt is a bit worn off — but that’s because I have used it many times (it’s one of my favourite colours), and I used to just put everything in the tumble drier with not much care. And it still looks better than some other shirts in my closet. So don’t worry about that. If you’re not as bad as me to care for clothes, they’ll last forever!

sARTSurday Sci-Fi Books

Not all arts is visual — and so after a number of terrific visual artists, let me bring you some written words artistry. And because I’m trying to just point people at arts rather than provide full book reviews, I’m going to point at a few different authors and different content.

First of all, my Gentoo-focused readers can possibly remember Tobias Klausmann as a Gentoo developer — some of my ex-colleagues might remember Tobias as a colleague as well. The Slingshot Trilogy is an awesome science fiction trilogy of books, that take place in a distant future, where technology progressed, but human interaction… pretty much stayed the same.

Tobias’s work was particularly enjoyable for me, not just because he’s a friend, but because it’s lightweight, it’s dark and gritty, but it also comes with a positive message that if somehow we work together, we can change things. I like that. We have plenty of terrible negative narratives out there.

Speaking of a bit more dark books, this month John Scalzi‘s The Interdependency trilogy came to conclusion with The Last Emperox. This is a bit more gritty, definitely more adult-oriented (and at times NSFW) sci-fi. This is one of the funniest series I’ve read in a while, starting from the various names of starships, but also considering the way characters behave and all.

From adult to young adult, Brandon Sanderson, of Mistborn and The Stormlight Archive fame, published over the past couple of years two out of a sci-fi book series called Skyward. It’s much more clearly aimed at young adults, and it avoids swearing, any more adult themes, and so on.

Of this whole set of sci-fi books, this is the one that I would suggest for those who are looking for readings for teens, or who prefer some more lighthearted readings. I definitely enjoyed it even at my age, particularly because Sanderson is a real artist with words!

To switch again gear, Chen Qiufan‘s Waste Tide is another awesome title, and he brings you not to another galaxy but, if you like me grew up in continental Europe, to a completely different culture. The book take place “fifteen minutes into the future” in China.

While I’m sure that for quite a few people reading this post China is not that far of a place, or that unknown either, I have to say that for me it has been a mystery up to a few years ago. I took a shine to Chinese sci-fi after listening to Christine‘s talk a few years ago, while I was supporting a whole product development team in Shanghai — it was actually very helpful to have a (small) inkling about the different culture when I landed in the city to work closely with them, and I started keeping an eye on anthologies and new books.

Chen Qiufan’s book is probably my favourite when it comes to the “expansion” of the story, and I totally recommend it, even more so in the current political situation.

Happy reading!

Artist Spotlight: MrEchoAngel

Back to the convention scene for our artist of the week! MrEchoAngel is an artist that we saw multiple times at conventions in London last year — and I’m glad I managed to find them the second time while my wife was busy somewhere else, so I could surprise her with the set of lovely Studio Ghibli art cards that you see pictured on the right.

The brown paper look of the prints is what probably attracted me at first, but the way the artist is presenting the well known characters makes my heart warm — every time I see Jiji I want to scratch his belly!

Despite not being a particular fan of the frames I used here – they are not from my now-usual supplier – I find the 4-in-row arrangement very satisfying for the prints. I was happy to show it to MrEchoAngel themselves when we stumbled across them again later last year.

Like many other artists on the convention scene, you can also find quite a few vinyl stickers, which for a lot of tech-conference goers, at the very least, tend to translate to laptop stickers. I have honestly stopped sticking things on my laptop simply because I kept scratching them, but I found that there’s another good use for them: identify (and name) devices that you have multiples of in the same environment: powerbanks, Kindles, Nintendo Switch, … This works not only when using them at home, but most importantly when you meet up with friends.

Subject matter wise, take a look at their Instagram, as well as the website. You’ll find a variety of different anime and videogames. As well as a number of original characters that might not be entirely safe for work (although, with everyone working from home, that might be less of an issue).