I recommend the Strain for people who like being grossed out and depressed.

I settled down to watch The Strain‘s Season 3 premiere last night, hoping to see Angel, my favorite vampire-fighting former luchador.

Fierce-Fighter

^ (not him specifically, just a general luchador)

When Angel didn’t appear, I couldn’t remember if he was dead. This is double-embarrassing because I’ve also read the books. 

I can never remember who’s dead on a TV show between seasons.

If a show has more than, say, 10 characters, I can’t keep track of them. I require very concise recaps before the credits every time, if possible.

Back to the Season 3 opener of The Strain, a show I mostly like because the vampires are not sparkly or sexy. During transformation, their noses and genitalia literally fall off. Their hair falls out. They develop giant attacking throat-tongues. In the books, a huge deal is made of the fact that they pee and poop from the same hole, and it smells like ammonia.

Oh, and the Nazis‘ Holocaust was their trial run for human-farming methods.

This show is so gross. Every time it comes on, I’m surprised anew at that FX will put this content on TV.

Every scene is sprinkled with viscera. Every character is flawed to the point of being hateful. The vampires are heinous. The child-acting is a disaster.

Which brings us back to Angel (who was not in this episode). He is an old Latino guy with a limp who can use his old, buff body to rip those genderless uni-pooping bodies to shreds. I don’t think he’s dead. I hope he isn’t. He my shimmering favorite in a world of sadness.

If you want to immerse yourself in The Strain‘s horrific, virulent misery, it’s on Hulu.

My Top 5 Summer Reads!

SUMMERPICKS

I’ve read precisely 20 books this summer, which feels so good, you guys. It’s an accomplishment, but more importantly, it’s a round number.

It’s like petting a puppy. Or taking off your bra at the end of the day. The world is right and you are doing okay.

Of those 20, I’ve picked my top 5 for you to try. 5 is a nice, attractive digit. It has a sharp part and a curve.

Of the twenty, it is “one-quarter,” a phrase that sounds British somehow.

Without further dithering, I present my summer reads, which are, I suppose, going to have to be your fall reads.

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel. A bunch of giant, ancient, metallic body parts turn up all over the world. Where did they come from? What happens when they assemble? Is humanity ready?

This book is mostly interview transcripts and journal entries, and the postmodern jumble works here.

I found out in my research for this post that there’s a sequel, which I hadn’t been expecting. The book works well on its own. You can read it without feeling compelled to get sucked into a series.

The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu. What happens you blend Asian mythology, science fiction, magical realism, and oodles of heart-rending emotion? Something much tastier than that paltry protein shake you’re drinking at home, that’s for sure.

This collection of short stories has a ridiculously good percentage of winners. I describe most short story collections as “hit and miss,” but this one was “hit, and hit, and hit, and hit, and I guess that one was just okay. Now back to more hits.”

All The Birds In The Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. An awkward young teenage witch befriends and falls out with an awkward teenage genius. Years later, they find themselves on the opposite end of a war of magic vs technology in a quest to determine, you know, the fate of the Earth.

Usually books about the fate of the Earth reach too high and, like Icarus, become violently re-acquainted with the ground. Not so here. The ending is satisfying.

But What If We’re Wrong by Chuck Klosterman. This book features a section in which the author gets in a tiff with Neil deGrasse Tyson over whether another scientific revolution is possible. Their interaction alone is worth a read.

But the rest of the book is interesting too. It talks about how most of history is distilled down to simple ideas or representative figureheads for movements. And it’s not always the thing that’s popular at the time.

The writing of history is written, of course, after it happens. We’ll never know how we’re going to be remembered. We can guess, but we’d be wrong.

Klosterman’s points often get muddled by digressions, but I like that. You don’t go in there for answers. You go in there to plod through his head. You’re flipping up rugs. Sitting on the couch in the frontal lobes. Checking out the refrigerator behind the limbic system.

Grunt by Mary Roach. I’ve loved Mary Roach since Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. She looks into the science that’s less popular, and typically considered “icky,” if not outright offensive.

Her approach to the science of soldiers isn’t about guns, nukes, formations, etc. It’s about the off-kilter, unsung science you don’t consider about war. Reducing insects. Controlling diarrhea. Replacing injured penises.

Sure, you thought about prosthetic legs. But have you considered prosthetic schlongs? What about transplanted ding-a-lings from corpses?

You haven’t. Until now. You’re welcome.

This book is compulsively readable. You will also enjoy reading it aloud to the people around you. If you have to know about these things, so does everyone else.

It occurs to me that I’ve given you these recommendations as school is starting. Think of them as your anti-syllabus to complete while you’re avoiding your actual duties.

I Lost 200 Pounds, Made Friends, And Overcame Agoraphobia — All Thanks To Pokemon Go!

I was pumped to see lot of geeks outside playing Pokemon Go today. Who knew that forcing us nerds outside — exercising — would be so successful?

CATCHTHEM

For those of you who don’t know, Pokemon Go is an app. As you walk, when you walk past landmarks, parks, art, or points of interest, you can collect trinkets, animals (Pokemon), etc. Your phone buzzes, and you catch the Pokemon in real life. Certain areas are dense with Pokemon and drops, such as parks, cities, and college campuses. There are people catching Pokemon in hospitals, finding corpses, and committing crimes.

Here are the 3 best things about the game:

The game incentivizes exercise. I predict that people are going to lose a lot of weight playing this game. Walking and running can be sweaty and dull. It takes a long time to see results.  But if you’re collecting things, you feel a sense of accomplishment. You’re triggering feel-good hormones in association with something you hated before. Just today, for example, I went on a 3-mile run to grab some trinkets, then walked with my husband around campus to get more. Then, after dinner, we had to walk to a park to experiment with another feature of the game.

The game puts you near other people. Video games typically happen in the privacy of the home — alone. This game’s nature involves leaving the house and going to hotspots where other people might be. This afternoon, my husband and I ran into tons of people playing the game. People were exchanging tips, instructions, and locations of different areas to catch certain Pokemon. Because everyone was playing the same game, there wasn’t that socially awkward “what should we talk about?” moment. There was at least one common denominator. Talking to new people felt easy.

The game helps you discover new features of your town. One of my friends stated that this game would revolutionize the public’s interaction with public art. It’s true: my husband and I have found new parks, sculptures, murals, and dedicated benches all over town.  I’m not sure how they’re determined, exactly, but there are some awesome spots embedded in the game.

The game gets you out of the house. There’s a lot to be said for just leaving sometimes. Sunshine, fresh air, and exercise are all great for you; but sometimes one can’t be bothered. This game makes you bother, and, I suspect, will help people with agoraphobia get out of the house. It’s a project.

The game isn’t the solution to the world’s problems, but I do think that making dull things fun and rewarding is something that should be pursued further. Turning onerous tasks into games helps get them done.

I, for one, am exhausted. This Pokemaster is going to bed.

A Few Good Mensch: How The Jews Saved Earth, Again, in Independence Day Resurgence

The original Independence Day was about a lot of things: stinky alien corpses, Will Smith hitting things, the White House exploding, Data from Star Trek getting possessed, unspoken words between lovers, families reaching across distance, and nerdy Jews.

The two main characters were a studly action star and… geeky, scraggly, hairy, fussy, introverted Jeff Goldblum.

Independence Day was mostly considered “Will Smith’s summer movie this year.” People said “Did you see the new Will Smith movie?”, not “Did you see the new Jeff Goldblum movie?”

It’s surprising, therefore, that Independence Day: Resurgence is a Jeff Goldblum movie. While there is a “Will Smith” character (a similar-looking actor who plays his adopted son from the first movie), he’s hardly on screen at all.

The franchise’s sequel-switcheroo changes everything. It even changes the way I think about the original. 

Mensches

To briefly summarize Independence Day Resurgence:

On the 20th anniversary of the attack, the aliens return. They want to kill us again.

The aliens blow up our satellites and most of our defenses. They wreck our landmarks. The odds look bad.

The president gives a rousing speech. Humans rally. There’s a fight. Some live. Some die. The aliens win. The end.

Just kidding.

After watching the movie, my husband was confused about the huge part that David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum)’s father, Julius Levinson, played in the film. This time around, he doesn’t have any brilliant ideas. He just putzes around and uses a lot of Yiddish. He could have been removed from the movie entirely and not affected the plot a whit.

Mr Levinson is the comedic relief,” I said. “This movie is basically a Jewish comedy with aliens.”

And I realized, after I’d said it, that it was true.

In my heart, David Levinson had always been the protagonist/mastermind. Will Smith was a pawn in Levinson’s game of mental chess against the aliens.

This was the movie version of Garry Kasparov (who had a Jewish dad!) vs Deep Blue — humanity versus the Other.

What’s interesting here is that humanity typically treats Jews like the Other. They’ve historically been treated like second-class citizens, yet they’re the ones spearheading the campaign against the aliens in these films. Their oddness — their unconventional approach — is what usually makes them loathed. But it gives them the intellectual edge here.

Jews are the underdog of humanity. Humanity is the underdog of this fight.

The Independence Day series is a David and Goliath battle, maxed out. 

It’s basically Bible storytelling.

With aliens.

Which makes the plot really simple and archetypal.

Depending on your point of view, that makes Independence Day 1 & 2 either classic or stupid.

Most critics agree that the movie didn’t need to be made twice. Independence Day 2 was a re-hash of the first, with a deluge of callbacks and references. Though it doesn’t break any new ground, it did make me re-consider the first movie in a new light.

And also? It was a shit-ton of fun.

Corpses, Anatomical Models, Bullet Wounds, and Paintings

Death, disease, tumors, and pustules peppered my family’s dinner conversation as I grew up.

“Pass the salt,” my parents said, as well as: “you wouldn’t believe what I found inside a body today.”

And also: “honey, never go into medicine.”

Disease01

I only dabble in the macabre on weekends.

My latest morbid jaunt was the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Maryland.

Disease02

The museum was chock-full of samples, specimens, illustrations, replicas, prototypes, and tools. The most beautiful and horrible things hopscotched across the line between medicine and torture.

Life-sized dolls that look like diseased humans.

Flash cards of skin lesions.

Orderly rows of scissors, saws, syringes, and knives.

Disease03

Don’t forget tidy kits for exsanguination.

Disease04

I didn’t become a doctor, but I have a stomach of steel.

Bring on the corpses.