Likes can never be hugs!

You liked my profile picture. You know I went on a holiday because you saw my Instagram picture from a beautiful beach. You assume I am rich because of the swanky surroundings in the pictures on my Snapchat stories. You gather that I live an enviable life because my super thoughtful tweets prove that I’ve gotten it together. You assume I have loads of money because insta, fb, twitter, snapchat shows that I spend a lot. Based on these social media updates, you’ve assumed that you know all about my mental, financial and physical condition. 

Wrong. You know nothing. My profile picture is nothing but a pretence. That beautiful photo of a beach is the one I clicked 5 years ago, a vacation that I’m probably still paying off on my credit card. My tweets are not a testament to my togetherness, on the contrary, they’re my dialogue with myself which is a testament to the fact that I’m holding onto sanity as tightly as I can. 

Now, don’t go jumping to conclusions. This is not a confession, this is not a rant. But just an observation. The above paragraphs apply to all of us. At least some parts of it do. Sometimes, we measure our achievements against the impossible benchmarks set by our peers on social media. We look at our timelines, and go through various emotions like excitement, happiness, envy, denial, jealousy and then self-loathing. I am guilty of it and you are too.

Then come folks who think that by the function of seeing your posts, they know everything. Well, they don’t. They only see what I want to show them. And most of us want to show a shiny happy life. However grimy and dark the surroundings, we compose a selfie to make sure that we look like we’re shining. 

Out of the 1700 odd people I’m connected (not going to say friends) with, not even 17 know that some mornings, I cannot get out of bed. So basically, less than 1 percent of my ‘friends’ on social media know the real shit that goes on in what is the real life wall of my life. Now you’ll say you blame me for posting hunky dory things. Please don’t! Well, first, I don’t owe any honesty to all these 1700 people. Would you go to a party and start talking to everyone like they’re your therapists? Would you stand in a town square to talk about just how miserable work is or how a break up was really hard? No, right? Second, if you share the real, deep, dark stuff, it is very likely that these ‘friends’ will stop interacting with you. There was a blogger who tried out posting bland, depressing thoughts to his social media as a social experiment and noticed a huge drop in interactions on posts (I can’t find the post, please share the link if you know what I am talking about). Why? Well remember in college when you had a hard time and stopped being your usual cheery self and most of your friends (except for those who really cared) stopped hanging with you? Same reason. People want cheer around them. They would rather not know your dark stuff unless you’re romanticising this dark stuff (that is a whole different post). Social media magnifies this college canteen behaviour. It also desensitises us. When a Marathi filmmaker posted a suicide note to Facebook, people actually liked that post. His last post following that note was, ‘are people even reading this post before liking it?’. 

That said, social media is not that bad! It’s a great way to connect with people. I have found some very close ad very dear friends on Twitter and reconnected with many old friends over Facebook. But that happened when we took our connections offline. 

So, instead of poking friends on fb, call them. Instead of sharing stories on snapchat, go sit on the beach and create real stories. There are dark times in life and friends, the real ones, are the only way to light them up and come out of it. So get offline, and show each other you care. Invest in real relationships, not numbers. Because likes can never feel as warm as a hug. And as someone who is lucky to have an on-demand, never ending supply of hugs, I can vouch for their effectiveness. 

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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