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Time Flies And Other Insects: Reading, Watching And Playing SF

Over at Wil Wheaton’s blog, Wil points out and long and interesting interview with Neal Stephenson on Barnes and Noble’s website. Aside from discussing many things Anathem, I’d like to follow up on the same quote that Wil talks about:

If you choose to read a book today, it’s not like a hundred years ago, when that was your only option. Today, when you read a book, you’re making a conscious decision not to play a video game, not to surf the web, not to watch a movie, not to turn on the TV. It does require a certain discipline to make that decision…

In one of those ironies of life, when you’re young and you feel you have all the time in the world, time seems to pass so slowly, yet, when you’re older, with a job and family and you know you’re time isn’t unlimited, it seems to pass so quickly. Sometimes I wonder just when, exactly, did my oldest son become 12 years old. Where did it all go?

All of that is to say that, like many people, my time is valuable, and what with family obligations and all, my free time is even more limited. And as a SF/gaming/tech geek, I have several demands on my free time, and it’s impossible to engage in them all.


My number one favorite thing to do is read, of course, and with the number of books we receive at the SF Signal hidden underground lair, there’s always something available for me to pick up and read. But reading takes time, time that I usually scrounge up before bed. Most nights, I have to read something before nodding off, it just feels wrong if I don’t. The bad part being, if the book is really good, I won’t actually go to sleep till 1am or so, and I really feel it the next morning. I don’t see this bug being killed anytime soon.

My second favorite thing is gaming. I’ve been a gamer since way back, since my dad brought home one of these sweet Magnavox Odyssey 2 game systems. We moved on to an Apple ][+ a few years later, and it was the very first Wizardry game that made me a hardcore gamer (at that time, not so much now). Scott and I spent hours playing the heck out of that game, and we still occasionally play other games together now. Like a book, on the days that I do game (which is fewer than I’d like), I may be up till late playing because I just want to go to ‘one more room’. With the veritable cornucopia of SF themed games this year I just don’t have enough time, or money, to play them all, even though I really want to. It doesn’t help that most of the games I want to play are rated ‘M’, so I have to wait until my older boys are in bed, and will stay in bed, which isn’t till 9:30 or so most nights, later on weekends. Sometimes I just won’t bother turning on the 360 or PC to play because I’m too tired, so I swat the game bug by switching on the TV.

It used to be that SF, aside from a scant few shows, wasn’t represented on TV very well. That has changed in the recent past, with so many shows, that I have to actively seek out which shows to not watch, just to keep up. And with only one DVR, there is a log jam of people wanting to use the TV watch recorded stuff, so, again, I end up watching my shows either late or the next day online at lunch. The good news is that there are only a few ‘must watch’ shows for me, and they are all on break till the new year, so I don’t feel any pressure to watch anything right now.

The last thing I like to do is get online and surf. I’m a tech geek and I like to keep up with a wide range of stuff. But this is one ‘bug’ that is most manageable, in terms of time. I can do a bit of surfing during the day, so that helps, and I do a bit more when sitting with the baby as he nods off to sleep. But after that, the last thing I want to do is sit in front of the computer and surf more or even game. I sit in front of one all day, doing it at home has lost a lot of its appeal. Which is rather depressing as I used to love to sit and surf and/or play games all day.

So all that to say, basically, that I agree with Stephenson that it takes discipline to sit down and read, which is a passive activity, when you could be actively engaged in storytelling in any number of cool SF games, or engaging in SF conversations on the web. Our highly technologized society has given us more gadgets to enjoy our chosen field of entertainment, but it has also ensured there isn’t enough time to see or do it all. And in this fast paced world, there’s nothing quite like picking up a book and reading, which is why I choose to do that more than anything else. There’s no commercials, no one jumping up from behind a crate and shooting at you, and no email or IM alerts to catch your eye. Just you, the book and a few hours of quiet.

If only I could read faster and save some time, I’ve got monsters to shoot.

About JP Frantz (2323 Articles)
Has nothing interesting to say so in the interest of time, will get on with not saying it.

5 Comments on Time Flies And Other Insects: Reading, Watching And Playing SF

  1. I feel your pain.  I’ve made it a habit to read on the train to/from work.  It’s the only place where there’s nothing else to do. πŸ™‚

  2. Like Stuart above I’m in the same situation. Because of this I’m considering changing my line of work back to being a humble security guard again working the graveyard shift. I’ve been on some slack sites that have allowed me the luxury of earning a paycheck and lots of time to read. it worked for me.   

  3. You took the thoughts straight out of my head — right down to the books before bed and the 360 after the house is asleep.  I’m glad to know I’m not alone.  The Neal Stephenson interview was a great read, makes me reconsider waiting for Anathem in paperback.

  4. I feel your pain JP – I have the same challenges as well. 

    Trying to read a book from Gene Wolfe or John C Wright a little per night at time before bed is very difficult – those authors demand your full brain at work and that’s hard to do right at bedtime.  I found it was far easier to read that Batman comic book (oh and Watchmen, but I haven’t written up a review of that yet).

    I made the mistake of playing Civ4: Colonization – a game that encourages you to play ‘just one more turn’ and realizing it was 3am before I knew it.  Ouch.  I have been trying to play more games that I can play co-op with my son – either on the 360 or on the Wii (the Dark Alliance games on the XBox were awesome for this.)  That way I get some gaming in and some quality time with him. 

    TV has become alone-time with my wife – after the kids are in bed (10pm) we sit down and watch something that appeals to us both for an hour or so.  That means I’ve been missing lots of the sci-fi TV that she won’t watch, but she has been willing to watch Fringe so far so I’ve seen several of those.  In general, my TV time is very limited but that doesn’t bother me.

    Finally, I think Neal Stephenson has fallen out of favor with me.  I still think of Snow Crash as one of the best sci-fi books I’ve ever read, but since then he’s moved away from things I like to read.  And then there’s that part about him deciding to write all his novels with a fountain pen that doesn’t surprise me yet makes him less interesting.  I don’t know – it seems wildly unfair but his moves to become more like Harlan Ellison can’t be good, can  they?

  5. Matte Lozenge // October 21, 2008 at 6:42 pm //

    Maybe everbody has their own unique method for reading, but for me it is extremely interactive. My imagination kicks into overdrive as I build the visual analog to the book in my mind’s eye. The words themselves are only an outline, signposts to the full-sensory narrative that is created in the imagination realm. The author’s words only constitute the blueprints; the imagination builds the house. The story and characters are co-created and in a very real sense I develop a personal relationship with strong characters.

    It’s an extraordinary pleasure when an author can exploit this to the fullest extent. All of this is a roundabout way of saying that yes, Anathem is indeed worth a few weeks of your life to read and co-develop a world in your imagination. It should sweep the science fiction awards and a few mainstream ones too.

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