Review: The Trinity Paradox

The Trinity ParadoxThe Trinity Paradox by Kevin J. Anderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Got this in the Time Travel Storybundle

This book was a good read. That said, I was disappointed, given the title of the story – The Trinity PARADOX. I thought it was going to be like Back to the Future 2 where our main character ended up in the alternate timeline and then had to somehow stop herself from creating the alternate timeline. Or multiple people would try to change it or something like that.

Instead, what we had was more akin to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court or Timeline in which, like the former, someone is knocked out and knocked back in time. Our main character used to work in the atomic industry then became a protestor. Then the time travel results in her working at Los Alamos during the atomic tests.

The book does a good job pointing out how the war split the scientific community. In modern times research transcends national borders and it was more of a government enforcement that splits them apart during the war. This has consequences as it’s one of the ways that our main character ends up accidentally passing information to the Germans.

The author does a pretty good job of showing how things would have changed and how the war was going from both sides. Good character studies of various historical figures. I liked learning about some of the bickering among scientists on the German side. Although I can’t stop thinking of Fermi and Feynman as depicted in The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 1: Science. Bad.. A fun read although, again, slightly disappointing considering the title.

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Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wanted to read this book before talk of the TV show caused the plot to enter the wider zeitgeist and ruin it for me. I’m going to put any big spoilers in the spoiler tag, but this is a book from the 80s and there’s a TV show now that everyone is talking about. (At least 2 podcasts I listen to have spoken abou it) So if you want a pristine read – stop reading this review or anything else online and go read it! Amazon said it’d take 5 hours to read and I think that’s more or less on point. You can finish it over a couple of afternoons if it’s that important to you. OK, now that we have those preliminaries out of the way we can begin with the review proper.

I have so many things I want to talk about that this review may end up being a bit disjointed. Sorry about that. First of all, this book was devastating to me as a parent. I have two daughters and one of them is the same age as Offred’s daughter in the before timeline. (If you’re reading this review because you don’t care about minor spoilers – not because you’ve read it and want to see what others have said – there are 3 timeslines plus a meta-timeline. 1 – Before the formation of dystopia; 2 – Our Protagonist in the reeducation camp; 3 – present time for our narrator; meta – it’s a narrative being told to someone so there’s an after the fact-ness to that timeline) I’ve struggled in the past with the knowledge that if I were to die today, she’d not really have anything but the foggiest of memories of me. The idea that Offred’s daughter could have been brainwashed so easily because she didn’t really remember the past is heartbreaking – especially considering the role of women in the society. Also, the crazy pressure the women were under to get pregnant. As part of a couple who took a while for both pregnancies, it was hard enough without the threat of death over your head. Although I’m not a woman, I felt like Ms Atwood did an awesome job of communicating the way pregnancy and birth are traumatizing in normal circumstances and in the circumstances of Gilead.

Second, I looked at Ms Atwood’s age and correctly surmised the reason for this book’s plot. She’d grown up and reached adulthood in the 1960s. She’d seen women go from having minor rights to becoming full citizens with equal-ish rights. And then twenty years later she saw the Moral Majority (religious right) campaigning so hard to overturn these gains. I remember reading books from the church library about how the Equal Rights Amendment was going to ruin society and how it was going to demoralize men because they wouldn’t have anything they were special at anymore. And a bunch of other stuff. Ms Atwood has one of her characters use similar lines when explaining motives to Offred. (A podcast interview with one of the creators had him mention that while the TV show might seem of the moment to people who want to criticize it as anti-current administration, it was in reaction to what I stated above)

Third, so I don’t know if this has been going on for a long time, but Bush, Obama, and now Trump – everyone who’s in the other party has diluted the epithet by comparing them to Hitler and fascists. So I don’t want to be yet another me too. I bet there’ll be a few dozen think pieces (thanks to the TV show) about how this is an important story now because of the current administration. I’m going to swing in a slightly different way. To begin with, the march towards ever more freedom and equality and awesomeness is not a given and is not always linear. Ms Atwood was not creating a future that could never be – she’d seen it happen in Iran. Iran before the Ayatollahs was just as liberal as the USA. You can see bikini ads from Iran and their fashion looked just like ours. Sure, they didn’t get as dystopian as Gilead, but I’m sure any women alive at the time of the transition would have felt as much dissonance as Offred. And we’ve reached some kind of world zeitgeist with fascist or far right parties winning elections or at least being taken seriously for the first time in decades. It’s not 100% unlikely that things like this could happen here. Shoot – the book even starts with a terrorist attack blamed on Muslim terrorists. That is STILL happening. There have been at least a half dozen attacks that were blamed on Muslims before we realized, nope – right wing white guys. eg The Oklahoma Bombing

Fourth, maybe this is because ever since reading 1984 and Brave New World, I’ve mostly read YA Dystopia, but I kept forgetting our protagonist was a grown woman. It doesn’t help that they were referred to as girls and the Aunts at the reeducation center treated them like kids.

Fifth, I really enjoyed Ms Atwood’s great ability to create compelling and realistic characters. Offred wasn’t a blameless Mary Sue. She had an affair with Luke before he was divorced and they got married. (The second marriage was a great plot point – although I think I missed that’s why they had to run away until I got to the epilogue) She acts selfishly at times. Shoot, her whole thing with Nick was crazy.

Sixth, it was interesting having an unreliable narrator. Most recently I’ve been dealing with that from the A Song of Ice and Fire books (Game of Thrones to you TV-only people). But in that case, most of them don’t realize they’re being unreliable. They don’t have complete understanding of what’s going on or are fooling themselves. This one was someone recollecting what happened. Although the most fun part (and the part that really drove it home) was where she had 3 descriptions of what happened with Nick (and I think even after the third one she said it wasn’t the whole truth).

Seventh, I couldn’t stop myself from schadenfreude against Serena Joy. Because it’s such a weird human trait that we let people get away with such hypocrisy without calling them out on every turn. Women on TV constantly calling for a return to domesticity while they avail themselves of the freedom to have the same jobs men do. Oh, the deliciousness of Joy’s lack of Joy in the world view she made money peddling.

Eighth, Ms Atwood made good use of the concept – “they came for the gypsies and I did nothing because I wasn’t a gypsy….etc”. She had the society slowly remove people until it was too late. First the gays then the slutty people and so on until they reached the people who were on a second marriage and it was too late at that point – too many people had bought into the new society.

Finally, the scene where Offred is cut off from the economy has completely soured me on electronic-only money. I didn’t get why it mattered if you weren’t buying drugs. But now I completely understand – it is control over commerce. (in fact, I’d seen similar issues with credit card companies being shied away from processing payments from certain online places, but hadn’t put 2 and 2 together).

Like all dystopia books, I think people need to read it and then remain vigilant against the dangers. I think 1984 has done more to keep us safe from fascism than any other book. It’s only in modern times that we’ve started to screw ourselves via Facebook and allowing rights to be eroded because fewer people died in a few plane crashes than die from most things we can actually prevent via diet, or restricting gun access, or keeping pools safe, or driving at the speed limit….

Post Script: Because 2 of the first Handmaids we’re introduced to are Of and then word that could be a place or name – Glen and Warren – it took me WAAAAAAAAAAY too long to realize they were possessive names.

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Review: Lightspeed Magazine, March 2013

Lightspeed Magazine, March 2013Lightspeed Magazine, March 2013 by John Joseph Adams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Got this as part of a Humble Bundle in 2015, I think. Finally got around to it. There were some really great and moving stories in here. As usual with anthologies, a collection of my status updates:

“Things Undone” (Novella) – That was a crazy emotional ride. We often read time travel stories concerned with what might change.

This one takes place in the alternate world in which a discovery changes the progress of technology completely. A catastrophic time travel event takes place and we follow investigators trying to root out what happened.

“Midnight Blue-Light Special” (novel excerpt) – First few chapters of a pretty darned interesting-looking book. The premise: a woman is part of a multi-generational cryptozoologist family that helps and catalogs the “monsters”. And to make ends meet, our protagonist also works as a dancer at a burlesque club in Manhattan. If I didn’t already have such a ridiculously long to-read list…

Interview with Angelica Gorodischer: insight into Argintenean SF. According to this author there isn’t much of it. Odd, I thought everyone would have stories that speculate about tech or the future.

Interview with Philip Pullman: Discussion of various books he’s written, teaching in England, and an example of being an athiest and respectful of religion.

Artist Showcase: Matt Thkocz – Cover Artist for this issue

**Fantasy**

“Lily Red” – A woman leaves life behind and goes to a small town. Metaphors for love, attraction, and gender.

Ash Minette – So far, a family of 3 girls born into wealth suffers a reversal of fortunes. They get invited to a ball by a baron that doesn’t realize the family is no longer noble. The two older girls go, leaving their younger sister – under the excuse that the rich are more evil than the mundane. Turns out it’s a retelling of Cinderella.

“The Dream Detective” – This took a wildly different turn than the early parts suggested it might. It’s a neat urban fantasy tale with a great ending. Good use of the short story form.

** Science Fiction **

“Biographical….Prince” (SF) – I always enjoy when an author doesn’t use straight narrative to tell a story. Blog posts,newspaper clippings, etc have specific goals that don’t align perfectly with story-telling. This story was in the form of the Wikipedia page of an author in a post-apocalyptic Earth. Like good SF lots of uncomfortable themes that help us reflect on today. Even more relevant with the Syrian Crisis going on now.

“Three Days of Rain” – A moody piece about a city in Latin America where all the water has dried up. There’s a background story about whether to stay or go, but the main story is just about living and doesn’t really have any plot. Still, a good read.

“Let’s Take this Viral” – So much to say about this. Lots of post-cyberpunk fiction has these worlds where everyone can do every drug because tech keeps us alive anyway. Also common theme of the lack of death leading to boredom leading to crazier stunts. This one hit me hard, emotionally, though. Especially the ending. Great example of an author doing short fiction so well;gets you to care about someone you just met.

“The Sense of the Circle” – A bit of an archeological mystery set on another world. The literary style is quite different, which makes sense as the author is South American. Some of the turns of phrase were odd – perhaps from translating idioms? Neat.

Author Spotlight: John Barnes – Interview with the author of “Things Undone” – this is the kind of interview I love with authors. Too often they focus on trivialities, but this one plumbed the depths of what was most fascinating about the story in the magazine.

Author Spotlight: Karen Fowler – “Lily Red” – put it into a bit of perspective and made me like it more.

Author Spotlight: Sarena Ulibarri – “The Bolt Tightener” – interesting, but no new ways of viewing the story.

Author Spotlight: Felicity Savage – “Ash Minette” – neat getting her opinion of tropes and when they’re helpful and how best to work with them in speculative fiction.

Author Spotlight: Lisa Tuttle – “Dream Detective” – neat little story of how she got the idea

Author Spotlight: Jake Kerr – “Biographical….Prince” – cool interview about how he decided to use Wikipedia to tell the story

Author Spotlight: Kevin McNeil – “Three Days of Rain” – a look into the mindset of the author when he wrote the story

Author Spotlight: Rich Larson – “Let’s Take this Viral” – wow, he wrote that story quickly and it was so great.

Author Spotlight: Angelica Gorodischer – a few tidbits on the story.

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Review: You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself

You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding YourselfYou Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself by David McRaney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a great book that I think would have blown my mind if I hadn’t already been listening to Mr McRaney’s podcast for the past few years. However, if you’re in to amateur psychology and understanding all the ways that your brain is getting in the way of your life, this is a great book. It’s also great for understanding the world. There’s a chapter that explains why people end up with Realistic looking Sex Dolls (those creepy Japanese ones you’ve probably seen) or super old men. Another chapter explains why we always have issues telling if someone is flirting with us or just being nice. Overall it’s a fun read – David used to be a journalist so he has a conversational style that works well.

Nitpick: 2 of the examples he uses Kitty Genovese and the Student Guard/Prisoner study have been proven false and/or called into question. There is a chapter in there that would tell you that this doesn’t mean you should discount everything. Just because something someone says is wrong doesn’t mean everything they say is wrong. In other words, sometimes you find yourself agreeing with the President even if you think he’s a bumbling buffoon. (Whether it’s this one or the previous one or any president who doesn’t match your party and/or beliefs)

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Review: Whiskey and Water

Whiskey and Water (Promethean Age, #2)Whiskey and Water by Elizabeth Bear
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was hard to read. I enjoyed it, but it was definitely hard. Goodreads says it’s the second book of this series and it probably is (the info is populated by GR people who volunteer to be librarians and is sometimes wrong). So I’m sure part of my difficulties come from jumping in past the initial narrative. Ms Bear has created a semi-alternative world that is complex and full of complex characters. This realism to the characters is what drew me in despite how much I had to work. Ms Bear also did a great job at making this an acceptable entry point into the series as she explained characters’ relationships to each other whenever they were introduced.

What made it hardest was the fact that it presupposed a LOT of fantasy knowledge. If I hadn’t read a few books from fantasy bundles recently introducing me to things like The Summer Court, The Unseelie, and Kelpies I would have been utterly lost. If you are a huge fantasy geek, you will probably love this book.

Second hardest was the fact that everyone had at least two names or identities. The Kelpie was also known as Whiskey and Usebaugh (not spelt correctly) and the Queen of the Unseelie was known as Aine or The Cat Anna.

So what was this actually about? I’m not 100% sure. In addition to everyone having two names, everyone also had at least one if not two ulterior motives. Do you like the intrigue and back-stabbing of A Song of Ice and Fire? That’s got nothing on this book. I will say that, somewhat realistically, there’s a lot of churn for what seems like very little gain. Which – depending on whether you’re a journey or destination type of reader – might be fun or frustrating. I used to be exclusively the latter and now I’ve moved towards the middle.

Just as time travel can be a real mind screw to get your head around, this book employs a similar theme to Bill Willingham’s Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile – the stories people tell about mythology affect things. In the most non-spoilery example, there are 3 different characters of the Christian Devil to represent different stories about him. There’s Lucifer, Satan, and one who goes by Christian. I think one is from the Bible, one is from Milton, and one is from Chaucer.

I think this review probably seems a lot more negative than I intend it to be. I’m more just trying to explain why I didn’t quite get it – why I read and read and am not sure exactly what happened. I’ve been reading constantly since I was a kid – sometimes reading adult fare as a kid and sometimes reading YA as an adult and there are very few books (outside of time travel) that have ever left me feeling so befuddled. And yet, I enjoyed all the characters – they have pathos and real motivations for their actions. They’re earnest, mean, tricky, petty, megalomaniacal, horny – they’re “real” human beings And that’s great. I’ll read more of Ms Bear’s work and I might even read more of this series.

I guess in the end, this review is a great meta example of how I felt while reading.

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Review: Clipping Through: One Mad Week In Video Games

Clipping Through: One Mad Week In Video GamesClipping Through: One Mad Week In Video Games by Leigh Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I discovered Ms. Leigh Alexander when she appeared on one of the E3 podcasts at Giant Bomb. I found her perspective fascinating in a sea of men. I was still too new to this world to understand why this led to so much hate and abuse that she hasn’t been back on. (At least that’s how I understand what happened) Since then I’ve followed her on twitter (and even made an ass of myself with a tweet to her) and I generally enjoy her reading of the industry and games. From her pieces, she seems to be slightly older than me, but we’re roughly from the same era in video games and so it’s a voice that speaks with the same cultural background and that’s always neat.

This book is in the gonzo style of journalism. If you haven’t heard of that term, perhaps you’ve heard of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? It was supposed to be a newspaper article about a race in the desert; it ended up a tale of Hunter S. Thompson and his lawyer doing drugs in Las Vegas. Essentially, gonzo journalism is using an event as a jumping off point to learn more about the author. Tim Rogers, who makes an appearance in this book, is famous for this style. He has a review of Super Mario Brothers 3 that is more about creating the perfect video game and living in Japan than it really is about SMB3. You either tend to love or hate this style – at least based on the types of comments his articles tend to get.

So this book is ostensibly about GDC, the Games Developer Conference, but it’s really about Ms. Leigh Alexander and the industry and her place in it. I think if you know that going in, you’ll be more likely to appreciate it (subject to how much you like her writing). Having interviewed some of my favorite creators at Comic-Con (Chew, Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice creators John Layman ( https://youtu.be/yjO7J3MY4wk ) and Rob Guillory ( https://youtu.be/UpI6DgmYgFw ) ) I can definitely sympathize with her nervousness at interviewing the Castlevania creator. There’s this need to keep the fan(boying|girling) to minimum while also making it something different than everyone else has asked this person.

Recommended if you enjoy the new games journalism.

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Review: The Making of Prince of Persia

The Making of Prince of PersiaThe Making of Prince of Persia by Jordan Mechner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this as part of a bundle – probably Storybundle as I’ve bought nearly all their video game bundles – and I had put it off in favor of other books because I don’t have a strong connection to Prince of Persia (POP henceforth). My family was working poor until I was getting into later elementary school, by which time a lot of computer game industry had lost its first “death” to the consoles. By the time I was playing computer games, it was mostly just RTSes hanging on and we weren’t anywhere near the Steam Renaissance that would make the PC the best place to play games again (except for bad ports).

But a couple months ago, I sat at my computer and took at look at my To Read list on Goodreads and the 400-odd unread ebooks in my Calibre database I’d bought because, “how could you not buy 15 books when they’re about $1 each?” So I made a plan to try and satisfy my need to read newer books with my need to read the books I’d purchased (or face my wife’s wrath at wasting money on books). So I basically sorted the books by date added to Calibre and selected (approximately) one book per bundle (or free release from Tor.com’s ebook club) and when I got to this bundle, I decided to take a look at these journals.

While I was never an Amiga gamer (see above), I’ve read plenty of how it was the superior machine in terms of what it could do at the time compared with Macs or IBM-Clones (what we now call PCs) and yet management ran it into the ground and we were left making up for progress all these decades. Likewise, BeOS was superior to Windows and Mac when it came out, but MS used their anti-trust strong-arming to keep it from taking off. So I’m already used to the idea that the best don’t always rise to the top. Nevertheless, it was frustrating to see how Mechner was thwarted and we almost lost this amazing contribution to video gaming.

Mechner had Broderbund as his publisher – one of the giants of computer gaming at the time. I remember everyone having Print Shop Pro. I remember playing Carmen Sandiego at school and eventually owning it when my family got a computer around the time I was 11. They merged with Sierra, maker of my favorite adventure games as a kid. But they didn’t know what to do with this action game. And they refused to give Mechner a promotional budget. I’m sitting here in 2017, knowing how great this series becomes – I played a bit of the Xbox version when my brothers had it one time when I came home from college. It is the spiritual ancestor of the Assassin’s Creed series. It ends up becoming a movie. Just goes to show it doesn’t matter if what you’re doing is brilliant if you don’t have the right support. (Spoiler: Eventually he gets the right support)

Who should read this book? Anyone who’s interested in the game development scene of the late 80s and early 90s. It was a time when one person could put together a great game and by allying himself with just a few others, produce an incredible game. Since these are his journals they’re very personal, not technical so I think you can enjoy it even if you’re not a technical person.

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Review: Big Pulp Fall 2011: On The Road From Galilee

Big Pulp Fall 2011: On The Road From GalileeBig Pulp Fall 2011: On The Road From Galilee by Michael D. Turner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fun anthology that had more stories I liked than didn’t. As usual for an anthology, a collection of my status updates as the review:

“On the road from Gallilee” – time travel and it tackles the age-old question. But they deal with it in a very creative way.

“Built for the Kill” – a future Chicago in which the mob genetically alters their muscle to make them better at their jobs. The story’s about a job – told in a reminisce. Very fun.

“Nether-Air Ambush” – a poem about a steampunk air battle

“Luna Springs” – A reminder that sometimes we do not treat the elderly with the respect they deserve.

“My Dumb Summer Job” – last story for the SF section. A valley girl works at a refugee camp for aliens. Pretty funny and a nice little twist on the ending.

“Sensitive Ice” – a mix of romance and urban fantasy. It’s pretty neat and didn’t quite go where I thought it might.

“A Kiss and Makeup” – Very short story and very interesting ending.

“Struck by Lightning” – some urban fantasy, magical realism story. Not quite the ending I was expecting based on the setup.

“Misunderstood Identity” – Someone is stealing a mystery writer’s identity. I really enjoyed the ending on this one.

“Blood Tells” – Some Americans go to Ireland and encounter some spooky times.

“One Night in Manhattan” – A crazy stream of consciousness story about a writer experiencing an ever changing universe. I grew more confused with every sentence.

“What Happened while Don was watching the Game” – very fun and witty portrayal of what happens to things we lose and can’t find. And the ending was GREAT.

“Flight Risk” – I think this story would work better as a novella. I think it was just getting started when it was finishing. There are a few places I think it could have expanded and really freaked me out. That said, good story and nice mini-twists and plot fakeouts.

“Virus” – Great look at surburbia and dealing with your ideals clashing with reality. I thought it was great up until the last sentence. I think it should have ended about a paragraph earlier.

“Promises” – Maybe I’m just too biased due to my history with super hero stories and comics, but this was my favorite story. We always get the POV of the super hero because that’s exciting and fun to read. But what’s it like for the people who grew up with X-men to see their best friend suddenly constantly saving the world?

“Aboard the Lady Maria” – a ghost ship terrorizes a rich couple on a Yaht. Interesting narrative style – I enjoyed it.

“Virgin Sacrifice” – Some fun pokes at Buffy. What if there was another group fighting monsters – the kids in shop class? What if they kept doing it even after they graduated? Story isn’t a parody or satire, just another look at the same tropes. Wouldn’t mind more stories in this universe.

“Parker/Jesse” – That was …. disturbing.

“Paying for it” – 2nd best story in the volume. It’s only a page so I can’t say anything without ruining it.

“By Association” – the desperate lengths an artist will go to in order to become famous

“The Annual Scarecrow Festival” – strange little horror poem

“Lodger in the Ripper’s Room” – Another weird poem.

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Review: The Machine God

The Machine God (The Drifting Isle Chronicles #3)The Machine God by MeiLin Miranda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, this story functions quite well to continue the story from Black Mercury. We see the fates of many of the characters from the previous novel, but this really is quite a different story with a different focus. The series is going from mostly Steampunk to Steampunk Fantasy in this book while also exploring ideas of colonialism, fallen empires, and racism. (Also university and identity politics)

The characters were quite relatable and I actually found Adewalle to be some I liked a lot more than Cas in the previous book.

If you found the previous entry fun, I’d definitely continue on to this book. I actually stands alone very well. Like many Discworld books you’ll be poorer for not understanding more subtleties of the world, but it’s not required to know who Hildy or Cas are to enjoy the story here.

It’s a nice, measured pace and a good read. Check it out!

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Sam and Stella’s first visit to Coney Island

Earlier this year we took the twins to Coney Island for the first time. They were not amused.

Scarlett’s First Dance Recital

This year Scarlett concluded a season of ballet and tap with a recital. It was pretty neat to see it all come together after having seen it in bits throughout the season. Here are some of the photos I took. I think next year I’ll do the same thing the guy behind me did and rent some f2.8 glass so I can freeze the action a bit more and get less motion blur.