2021 in Review

Here’s something I don’t usually do. But perhaps it’s worth doing, especially for this past year.

What were the significant events of this past year, in my personal life and in the history I’m living through?

I had a heart transplant! I’m still alive! I have a supportive family, and a step-grandson who just turned 1-year-old in October. And I am making visible progress toward a couple three long-term goals, even though I’m not optimistic about ever finishing any of them.

Here am I, the grandson, my partner, and the grandson’s parents (partner’s son and his wife):

At the public level, two major stories stood out.

⦁ Trump supporters laid siege on the Capitol on January 6th, trying to prevent the presidential election from being certified for Biden, and almost no Republicans seemed to mind; in fact there are ongoing efforts in several red states to manipulate the integrity of voting, through gerrymandering and voter-restriction laws, in order to swing the 2024 election back to Trump.
⦁ Vaccines for Covid became available, and a significant portion of the population (many or most of them Trump supporters) denied their efficacy in favor of crackpot cures, or maintained various bizarre conspiracy theories to deny the existence of Covid itself.

These will go down in history. We lived (are living) through them. Things keep getting a little worse each year. Many commentators see these two events as omens of very bad things to come. It’s hard to see how the millions of followers of Trump will ever come to their senses, or whether they will withdraw themselves into red state bubbles.

I will quote from a Fb post by Carl Freedman from today, coincidentally quite apt.

From the Book of Revelation to the latest blockbuster at your local multiplex, Western civilization has been haunted by the spectre of sudden, catastrophic civilizational collapse. But these stories are fiction: not the way that bad things happen in real life (the volcanic destruction of Pompeii is an exceedingly rare exception). Historically, civilizations do not collapse: They decline–gradually, with extreme complexity, unevenly, and nearly always with a great deal of continuity between “before” or “after”. Not only did the “fall” of the Roman Empire unfold over centuries: Much of the Roman Empire continues to exist to this day.

The US seems to be in such a decline.


2021 for me

  • Health. After one heart attack and bypass surgery in October 2020, I had a second heart attack in April 2021, leading to a heart (and kidney) transplant in May 2021. I was in the hospital over two months.
  • In the weeks and months following, I had to revisit the hospital and its clinic offices regularly, at first a couple times a week, decreasing to once a week, then every other week, then by year’s end every two months. My partner Y, as supportive a partner as anyone could want, drove me — into the heart of San Francisco — every time for the first three months.
  • My recovery from that has gone well, and has included thrice-weekly cardiac therapy sessions since September. (Stretching, riding exer-cycles and walking treadmills.)
  • Trips. In part because of my heart issues these past two years, and in part because of the shutdowns due to Covid, we haven’t taken any trips recently. The last “vacation” trip Y and I took was to London (and Bath), for 10 days in April 2019; the last trip driving to SoCal for the holidays was in Dec 2019, when among other things we visited Gary Westfahl and his wife.
  • Moreover, after each of the hospital stays, I was prohibited from driving for 6 weeks.
  • The only thing close to a “day trip” I recall in the past year was the afternoon we drove Y’s loaner BMW 440i on a trip through the Berkeley Hills then inland through the hills to Concord and then south to Dublin (a trip described here, with a stock photo of the model car we drove). It wasn’t even all-day; we did have lunch in Dublin. But we did see some new territory.
  • Family.
  • We see Y’s older son and wife J&H regularly, since their son, Y’s grandson, Nicholas, became a year old in October (he was born just a few days before my first heart attack in 2020), mostly at their house in Alameda. Y goes there himself more often than we go together. I think Nicholas will be more fun to play (and talk) with in another year or so.
  • Y’s younger son and his wife M&H (with whom we stay when we drive to SoCal) have driven to the Bay Area several times this past year, to visit us, to visit J&H&Nicholas, to visit their various cousins and friends in the area. They were here at Thanksgiving, when we made a big dinner and bought Christmas trees; they were here in October, and August, and at least once while I was in the hospital. H, herself an ER nurse at UCLA, was diligent about phoning the hospital where I stayed to chat with the nurses directly to check on my condition, and she visited me for one afternoon in my hospital room in early June.
  • And there were several “cousin” gatherings, these being cousins (on their mother’s side) of Y’s two sons. There just happen to be several of them who’s settled in the Bay Area. The locus of cousin gatherings has been Angela’s place in Foster City (an interesting area on the peninsula south of SF, built mostly on landfill with artificial canals, much like Venice CA). We gathered the Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving for a “pie party”; we all met at the famous House of Prime Rib for dinner in October. And way back in November 2020, we gathered at Joaquin Miller Park for a picnic, when several of them first learned I’d had heart surgery (I unbuttoned my shirt to reveal a bit of my long chest scar), and when D showed off his drone.
  • I am not close to my own family, though they did respond to Y’s texts about my most recent hospital stay. My brother K de-friended me on Fb at the beginning of the Covid shutdown. K and his daughter J did send nice Christmas cards this year, photo cards with collages of photos of their families, and they are all very handsome, and I appreciate them. K’s daughter J now has four daughters.
  • Publications. After the recovery from the 2020 heart attack, I resumed writing regularly for Black Gate, the one public outlet for my writing (not counting some editing and list compiling I still do for Locus Online, or my blog posts here on this site) that maintains my least bit of public presence. But had to give that up again in the aftermath of the 2021 hospitalization. My partner is supportive, but is a harsh task-master.
  • My SF Awards site. I maintained my science fiction awards site, sfadb.com, throughout the year, and added sections for several of the newer awards (Dragon, Eugie, Ignyte).
  • More significantly, I finished two steps toward my long-term goal of consolidating all the awards data, along with anthology and citation data, into composite ranked lists, in 2021 for novelettes and novellas. Though to a bit of criticism, which has led me to rethink the project just a bit. Continuing this is a goal for 2022.
  • Family history. I resumed my family history project, in particular by sorting through those three metal boxes of slides from my father, and scanning/photographing roughly a third of them. I found a trip diary of my mother’s that I had never seen before. But a goal for 2022 is to organize these and post them in the family history section of my website.
  • Reading. I did reasonably well in reading books, this year. I am not a fast reader and struggle to read as many as 100 books in year. (I read 102 books in 2016, and before that it was 1987 before I read the same number, over 100.) I did well this year despite being in the hospital for two months; I benefited from the Covid pandemic and our reluctant to go on trips or leave the house for any but essential reasons.
  • As always my reading these past few years tends to be a mix between reading or rereading classic SF novels — this year, titles by Wells, Asimov, Clarke, Wyndham — and reading current or past essential nonfiction works. These latter generally have the most long-term impact.
  • So the best books I read (or in a couple cases reread) in 2021 were:
    • Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis (a reread, but still not blogged about, but a very important book);
    • Michio Kaku’s The God Equation (still not blogged about, but a surprisingly clear and concise history of 20th century physics, despite the author’s reputation as pandering to the masses);
    • Shankar Vedantam’s Unseful Delusions, blogged about here;
    • Richard Dawkins’ Unweaving the Rainbow, blogged about here;
    • Frank Wilczek’s Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality, blogged about here;
    • Fareed Zakaria’s Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World, still not blogged about;
    • Carl Sagan’s novel Contact, which I wrote a review of for Black Gate here;
    • All of Arthur C. Clarke’s short fiction (which I reread in the weeks after my hospital release, in July), tracked in this Black Gate review, but with actual reviews and a selection of Clarke’s top 10 stories, not yet posted.
    • And a number of classic SF novels by Asimov, Heinlein, Wyndham, Malzberg, Benford, Sheckley, Silverberg, Egan, and Wells; and Bester’s two famous SF novels, the first of them just finished rereading today.
  • Every year I look back at such a list and think I’m not doing well. I maintain a list of essential books to read before I die, especially of nonfiction, and realize at the end of the year that I haven’t done that well.
  • But actually I’ve done decently over the past few years. The ‘essential’ nonfiction books that I think I still need to read/finish are by David Deutsch, Steven Pinker, Robert Wright, Carl Sagan, Brian Greene, and others.
  • And in fact now that I look back at it, I did decently. I’ve been conscious about avoiding ‘trivial’ books in preference to meaningful books. I’ve read a decent number of classic SF novels, over the past two years, if only for reviewing them at Black Gate. And I’ve surveyed a sample of the top science fiction stories, as part of installing the ranked lists at sfadb.com.
  • All of these will converge… publications, the awards site, and…
  • My book. And the reason for reading all these books, ultimately, is *my* book that I have alluded to for so many years. A synthesis of science fiction and the latest scientific understanding of the universe; how what science fiction speculates does or does not anticipate what scientists actually discover. I’ve drafted a few segments here,
  • But I am not optimistic that I will ever finish this.
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