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Saturday Seven: Cold and Flu Season Reads

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

We’re well into the depths of winter now here in Ontario. Cold and flu season is in full swing. I spent the last several weeks fighting and just recently finally getting over a stubborn cold myself, so communicable winter illnesses like these have been on my mind. How do you stay healthy when everyone is sniffling and coughing their way through January? Will we ever come up with a cure for the flu or the common cold?

Today I thought it would be amusing to talk about books that approach these questions from a wide variety of perspectives. My list begins with one of the most common ways that germs enter a body, explores what happens when an epidemic occurs, and ends with the one of the greatest medical discoveries of all time.

Three of these books are non-fiction, and four of them are fiction.

5. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach. 

One of the most common ways to catch a cold, the flu, or other diseases is to touch your face after you’ve touched someone or something that is carrying those germs. That virus then travels from your eyes, nose, or mouth into your body and begins replicating.

While this book spends most of its time talking how the digestive tract works in general, it also discusses the body’s defences against germs and how someone’s diet can affect their chances of getting sick. I was simultaneously fascinated and also a little grossed out by the author’s descriptions of how all of these things work.


1. Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It by Gina Kolata. 

Imagine how terrifying it must have been for our ancestors to watch their loved ones die from this strain of the flu or from the secondary infections they developed as a result of it. Normally, influenza kills people who are very young, very old, or who have underlying health conditions. It must have been even more frightening to see so many young, healthy adults succumb to it.

Antibiotics and life support machines didn’t exist in 1918, so there was little the hospitals could do in general to help patients who had severe reactions to this virus. People either recovered or they didn’t. All the doctors and nurses could do was watch and wait.

What I enjoyed the most about this book was how much detail it went into why this strain of the flu was so deadly, how it disrupted the daily schedules of the people who encountered it, and why it faded away.

2. The Stand by Stephen King.

The Stand was the first story I ever read about a virulent strain of influenza accidentally being released and killing off 99.4% of all humans. It ignited my interest in this genre.

While the plot soon veered off in other directions, the first few chapters went into great detail about why the U.S. army weaponized this virus to be so deadly in the first place, how it ended up being introduced into the general population, and what happened once people began dying in droves.


3. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. 

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m a huge fan of Margaret Atwood’s stories in general. What appeals to me the most about Oryx and Crake is how much time she spent describing what the world would be like after all but a handful of humans died in a terrible pandemic.

Some species flourished after mankind died off either because or in spite of all of the ways we bio-engineered them. Other species weren’t so capable of looking after themselves without a friendly human to feed them and keep them out of mischief. The buildings, trees, and land in general also changed in many ways as the Earth quieted down.

4. The Plague by Albert Camus. 

Don’t read The Plague if you’re easily grossed out by detailed descriptions of disease or what happens to a body after someone dies. The communicable disease that these characters come down with is a particularly nasty one, and there were never enough people around to take care of the ill or bury the dead.

With that being said, there are a lot of poetic passages in this book once you get past the descriptions of what happened when the characters fell ill.

5. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson.

Most post-apocalyptic novels assume that everyone who comes down with the disease that’s destroying humanity will die. This one describes a world in which infected people remain alive but are changed into something that is no longer human. By the time the first scene began, there is only one human left in the entire world.

That’s all I can tell you about the plot without giving away spoilers, but I was fascinated by the idea of a virus that permanently and severely changes someone’s personality, habits, and ability to communicate rather than outright kills them.


6. Miracle Cure: The Creation of Antibiotics and the Birth of Modern Medicine by William Rosen. 

Finally, we come to the idea of a cure. The introduction of antibiotics changed how modern medicine was practiced in so many positive ways. Surgery became much safer, and with the threat of infection greatly reduced we were eventually able to start performing risky procedures like organ transplants as well.

Before I read this book, I had no idea how dangerous it used to be to give birth, have surgery, or even do something as ordinary as accidentally cutting yourself and then developing an infection in that wound. No one was too young or too healthy to avoid a terrible death if the wrong strain of bacteria entered their body during one of those events. I wonder if a similar drug will ever be invented that cures the common cold or the flu?

My fingers are crossed that we’ll someday have such a thing. In the meantime, stay healthy this winter!

Maintaining a Low-Sugar Diet Through the Holidays

Last August, I began seriously cutting back on how much added sugar I ate after a friend mentioned all of the positive changes she’d seen from doing that.

Not only did I lose a few pounds unexpectedly, my skin became clearer and I have more energy now than I did last summer. My early afternoon energy slump has ended, and I don’t crave sugary snacks the same way I used to. Cutting back has brought so many positive changes to my life that I’m planning to stick with it.

Is my diet 100% added-sugar-free now? No, it isn’t. I have occasional treats, and I know there is still a little bit of added sugar in some of the food I buy like spaghetti sauce. At this point, I’m not interested in completely eliminating every source of added sugar from my diet.

Going 100% sugar-free would require me to cook and bake stuff that I’ve rarely if ever made purely from scratch, from bread to homemade spaghetti sauce. Maybe someday I’ll want to give this a try, but for now I’m happy with the way things are.

It is going to be interesting to see how this low-sugar diet affects me over the next few months in a few different areas, though.

Changing Tastebuds

The funny thing about switching to a low-sugar diet is that it changes your perception of how sweet something is and how much of it you want to eat.

Fruit and carrots taste much sweeter than they used to taste. They’re almost becoming a new version of candy to me because of how sugary and flavourful they are.

To give another example, I bought a pie for Canadian Thanksgiving last month thinking it would be a special treat after spending two months watching what I ate so carefully. While it did taste good, it was so sweet that I didn’t want much of it at all. The savoury dishes my spouse and I had that weekend were much more enjoyable, so I suspect I won’t bother buying or making a dessert for Christmas.

What will Christmas season treats be like in general this year?

Well, there is a flavour of speciality herbal tea I’ve already stocked up on for the winter. It happens to be a sugar-free variety that tastes so wonderful I’ve never felt the need to add anything sweet to it. It’s delicious just the way it is.

I might buy a couple of bars of dairy-free chocolate for the winter if or when I notice interesting flavours at my local grocery store. I also expect to eat them much more slowly than I did in the past. If carrots taste almost like candy to me, dark chocolate might not taste bitter at all anymore.

Fewer Treats

So far, I’m not stocking up on dairy-free Christmas treats like I’ve done in the past. I bought Halloween candy last month, and I still have plenty of it left to nibble on here and there.

Having a lot of sugary treats in the house also make it harder to stick to a low-sugar diet. There is something about having to bundle up and walk to the store that discourages me from actually doing that most of the time when I have a sudden urge to eat something decadent.

I’m not saying I won’t buy anything sugary this holiday season. Grocery stores often sell delicious holiday-themed candies and chocolates this time of the year, and I’m not opposed to trying one or two of them if any of them are dairy-free as I mentioned earlier.

The difference will be in how many I buy and how often I eat them. Some of my Halloween candy actually got stale a few weeks ago because I was eating it so slowly. That’s never happened to me before, but I like the fact that I can be satisfied by much smaller and less frequent portions of sweets these days.

Holiday Sicknesses

My final prediction for the holiday season has to do with getting sick.

Every Christmas I used to eat far more sweets than normal because they were sold everywhere and it always made me so happy to find a few of them that were safe for me. On or soon after Christmas, I’d come down with a cold or other mild illness.

Obviously, the sugar itself didn’t cause me to get sick. Late December is prime time for all sorts of respiratory illnesses to get passed around as people meet up for celebrations and spend much of their free time indoors in crowded places in general. I’m sure that most of the blame for my annual Christmas cold can be placed on all of the germs that thrive during that part of the year.

I have read, though, that sugar can curb your immune system just enough that a germ you might have normally been able to fight off is able to make you sick.

It will be interesting to see if this pattern repeats itself now that I’m eating sugar far more sparingly.

Go Low-Sugar with Me

If you’ve been thinking about adopting a low- or no-sugar diet, now is the perfect time to start.

It only took a couple of weeks for my tastebuds to begin adjusting, and I didn’t take a cold-turkey approach to this dietary change. It can be as simple as putting one teaspoon of sugar into your morning coffee instead of two.

Small changes can make a big difference over the long haul. Don’t think of this as temporary experiment. Make it a permanent lifestyle change, but go as slowly as you need to in order for every tweak to your habits to stick. They build on each other, especially once your tastebuds become more sensitive and fruit begins to taste sweeter than it did in the past.

The more tweaks you make to what you eat and how often you eat it, the easier it will be to stick to the next small change as well.

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5 Horror Movies You Should Watch If You Dislike the Horror Genre

Sometimes I giggle at the fact that two people who hate horror movies somehow created a daughter who has developed a fondness for the non-gory types of it. I have no idea where my appreciation for getting scared comes from, but it’s one of the few ways in which I’m nothing at all like either one of my parents.

Will my mom and dad be tempted to give any of these films a chance after reading this post? I’m not sure, but here are 5 movies I’d recommend to them and to anyone else who isn’t a fan of the typical horror slash flick. There are horror movies out there that break the stereotypes about this genre, and some of them are truly excellent stories.

The true appeal of these films to me lies in the questions they ask the audience to answer about grief, regret, humour, friendship, and love. A story doesn’t have to be a happy one in order for it to make me see the world in a different light or question some of the assumptions I’ve made about life works in the past.

I’ll include a gore rating on a scale of 10 for each of them so you’ll know which ones to avoid if you truly can’t stand any blood at all.










The Babadook (2014) Gore rating: 0/10.

Years before this tale began, the main character’s husband was killed in a car accident while she was enroute to the hospital to give birth to their son. The storyline picked up years later while she is struggling to raise their son, who has behaviour problems, alone. The Babadook was a monster who soon moved into their home and couldn’t be dislodged no matter how hard they tried to make him go away.

This isn’t your typical horror movie. In fact, it has a lot more to do with grief than it does with anyone harming or being harmed by a supernatural creature.

My first experience with grief happened when my grandmother died. I was seven when she passed away, and it was the first time in my life I realized that I and everyone I loved was going to die someday.

What I love the most about this film was how it explored all of the ways grief interrupts a family’s daily routine. You only need to bury a loved one once, but you’ll be faced with their loss over and over again over the coming days, weeks, months, and years. There is no escaping these moments, and they will often pop up on otherwise good days when you least expect them to.

How, then, do you live with the shadow of grief – or The Babadook – always with you? When you discover the answer to this question, you’ll know why I love this film so much.










Coraline (2009) Gore rating: 0/10.

When a little girl opened a secret door in her home, she discovered a parallel world that was surprisingly similar to our own at first glance. It was only when she met the hidden members of that world that she discovered it’s dark secrets.

Not everyone is as who they appear to be when you first meet them. Sometimes they surprise you in wonderful ways, and at other times they reveal scary sides of themselves. I loved the fact that a kids movie addressed this so openly. It isn’t something I’d recommend to young children, but the storytelling is perfectly creepy for older kids.

The price Coraline would have had to pay to stay in the other world was a nice touch as well. Telling you what it was would give away too many spoilers, but it was exactly the right amount of horror for this age group.











The Others (2001). Gore rating: 0/10.

This is my favourite ghost movie of all time. The plot followed a woman who was living in an old house with her two young children while awaiting news of the fate of her husband, a soldier. After doors began to unlock themselves and the curtains in certain rooms began to get flung open when no one was near them,  she soon became convinced the house was haunted.

Not only was the storytelling top-notch, but I loved the questions The Others asked the audience to ponder. What happens when you can no longer trust your own memory? How should a parent react to a child who is beginning to develop his or her own ideas about how the world works? How do you communicate with a ghost who refuses to acknowledge your existence? How long would you wait for someone you loved who may or may not even still be alive?











Let the Right One In (2008). Gore rating: 3/10.

Vampires are supposed to be many things: violent; bloodthirsty; unnaturally strong; immortal. This one happens to be a petite 12-year-old girl named Eli. After the main character befriended her, all of her secrets began to be revealed.

The scenes that lead to this rating were limited to a scene where Eli feeds on an adult man and another scene where a character is treated for an injury at a hospital. They were both brief, but you may want to skip this one if you can’t handle seeing any blood at all.

For everyone else, this was a fascinating look at how people treat those they sense are different in some way. I really enjoyed how the writers explored the pain of social exclusion and what happens when someone has a secret that is so big it can’t easily be contained.










The Cabin in the Woods (2012). Gore rating: 7/10.

This is by far the goriest movie I’ll be recommending to you today. Do not watch it if you are squeamish.

One of the things I love the most about Joss Whedon’s storytelling is how talented he is at turning stereotypes on their head. Everything from what happens to characters who have sex or who will die first once the bad guys discovered the cabin full of vacationers was upended in this funny – if occasionally slightly bloody – film.

The plot was much more complex than zombies finding innocent people in the woods. I can’t say much about it without giving aways spoilers, but I can tell you that the zombies were released from an underground facility and that there were  technicians working there who were placing bets on everything from who would be killed first to what would happen next.

This is the kind of film that should be watched by anyone who has ever watched a horror movie and shaken their heads at the senseless and often downright ridiculous decisions the main characters make in those kinds of plots. Nobody ever thinks they’d react the same way in that situation.

I enjoyed the commentary from the technicians almost as much as I did the twist ending. If you don’t already know what a Joss Whedon ending can look like, be prepared for something completely unexpected.

Happy Halloween to all of my readers! I hope you found something worth checking out in today’s post

Who to Follow on Twitter If You’re Into Health and Fitness

Earlier this year I started a new series of posts on this blog about Twitter accounts that share the same theme.

This week I’m going to be recommending accounts that tweet about health, nutrition, and fitness.

To be honest with you, I’m quite picky about which Twitter accounts I follow when it comes to these topics.

They need to be scientifically accurate (as best as this non-scientist can tell), upbeat, friendly, and full of helpful information.

If they happen to offer a product or service, they should never be pushy about it. In fact, you’d have to dig somewhat deeply to find out more information about that at all. They are fellow humans first and foremost, and that’s why I like them so much.

A dash of humour is always appreciated as well. Luckily, all of the tweeps I’m about to talk about passed this test with flying colours. I would heartily recommend all of them to anyone who is looking for some support and encouragement as they try to live a healthier lifestyle.

If you have suggestions for  specific accounts to recommend or topics for a future post in this series, I’d be quite interested in hearing about them.


If you’ve ever thought about eating a (mostly) vegan diet or otherwise improving your health by living more simply, CluelessCurl has many tips, tricks, and articles to encourage you.

On a more personal note, I love reading all of her off-topic tweets and blog posts about the various places she’s visited. She seems like the kind of person that would be a great deal of fun to go on a trip with.


I have found so many interesting recipes from this account. All of them are based on using Ontario-grown food as much as is humanly possible, so this is the perfect time of year to check out their tweets and get some new ideas for future meals.

The other interesting thing about this account is how it changes depending on what’s currently in season in Ontario. I make a valiant effort to eat food that’s in season as much as possible, and I’ve gotten a lot of wonderful tips on how to do that from them.


Having good mental health is just as important as having good physical health. Christy is a clinical psychologist who blogs and tweets about mental health. She often uses examples from her own struggles with mental illness to illustrate her points. I really like her honest approach to this topic.


Rachel is a pilates instructor who tweets about working out, eating a balanced diet, and enjoying life. Her tweets make me wish I lived near the beach, and I admire her sunny personality.


This is the official account for Algonquin Park, Ontario’s oldest and most famous provincial park. You might be surprised to hear how many national parks have social media accounts these days! If you don’t live in Ontario, there’s a good chance that a national park closer to your home is also on Twitter.

The pictures this account tweets are absolutely gorgeous. They make me want to run outside and exercise every time I see them, and that kind of motivation is worth its weight in gold some days.


There are hundreds of free workouts in the archives of this account and on their Youtube page by the same name. One of the best things about this series is that it doesn’t have any background music. All I hear when I’m working out to a FitnessBlender video is the instructor telling us how to move next. I appreciate that.

This is one of my favourite ways to exercise other than taking long walks.


And this is my other favourite way to exercise as far as free online videos go. This is where I’d recommend starting if you haven’t worked out in a long time, although there are more advanced PopSugar and more novice FitnessBlender options if you dig through their archives.

Previous posts in this series:

Who to Follow on Twitter If You’re Into Science Fiction and Fantasy 

Who to Follow on Twitter If You’re Into Mindfulness and Meditation 

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Science Fiction and Fantasy Books That Should Be Taught in School

I thought this would be a fun post to share now that the 2017-2018 school year has either begun or will begin soon for many schools in North America.

As you might have already guessed, English was my favourite subject from the time my mom began the homeschool version of preschool for me until I graduated from college.

My classmates and I read countless short stories, novellas, and novels during those years, but I barely remember ever being assigned a science fiction or fantasy book until I entered college.

This is a real shame. The sci-fi and fantasy genres are full of stories that can be used to as a jumping off point to explore logic, history, math, geography, ethics, and so much more. I wish my classmates and I had been exposed to these genres as an official part of our curriculums from the beginning.

There are five books in each section of this post for the different age ranges: elementary school, middle school, and high school.

Elementary School

Fantasy sure seems like it has a stronger influence on elementary-aged students. I wonder if it’s because of the lure of traditional fairy tales to young children? At any rate, most of my recommendations for this age groups will sit firmly in the fantasy camp.


Gwinna by Barbara Helen Berger

I know I’ve blogged about this book before, but I simply must mention it again. This is the most beautiful modern fairy tale that I’ve ever read. It would be a wonderful place to introduce all kinds of classroom discussions about adoption, the dangers of breaking a promise, and what the students think happened to Gwinna after the end of the final chapter.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

One of the things that first drew me into this story were its descriptions of what life was like for children in England during World War II. There are many things that have changed since then, but basic human nature will always remain the same. It would be very interesting to see how today’s children would react to the idea of being sent away from home for their own safety during a war.

Of course, some students will already have personal experience with that kind of huge life change! Immigration, the separation of families, and the sad consequences of war are still every bit as relevant today as they were in the 1940s.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Rabbit

I have a vague memory of one of my elementary school teachers assigning this book to us when I was in the fourth or fifth grade. The thought of living forever had never crossed my mind until I learned about Winnie’s life, but I loved watching her mull over her choices once she discovered that the family she’d recently met had a surefire method to remain young and healthy until the end of time.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

This series covered so many timeless issues: child abuse; discrimination; grief; what happens when family secrets are finally aired. What surprised me the most about all of the Harry Potter books was how much fun the characters had even when they were dealing with serious topics that many kids face in real life.


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a book about a factory filled with candy and other sweets?

On a more serious note, I liked the way the main character responded to the difficulties he faced in life. He was such a brave kid even when the odds were stacked against him and he couldn’t imagine how he’d get out of his latest predicament.

Middle School

Middle school is a tough age. Tweens and young teenagers are often suspicious of admitting they like stories they think were written for kids, but they’re also not quite ready for more mature material. These books – or portions of them –  would be perfect for this age group.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

It takes courage to face an angry dragon, and that was only one of the many dangers Bilbo was exposed to during his first big adventure. If I were going to teach this book, I’d round off our readings with a discussion of what happens to people after other huge changes like going to war or being diagnosed with a serious disease. Bilbo’s response to what happened to him mirrored both of these real-life experiences in all kinds of interesting ways.

This is also the perfect introduction to the the Lord of the Rings universe for students who like Bilbo and want to find out what happened to him after he returned home.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

This book was about a developmentally disabled man who was given an experimental medical treatment that quickly began to raise his IQ. Suddenly becoming much more intelligent than you were before isn’t necessarily an easy experience, but the main character’s diary about what that process was like made me think about everything from how disabilities are defined to what happens when someone is given the chance to change their life in all kinds of unpredictable ways.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Imagine a society without war, hunger, prejudice, or pain. In fact, all but one of the people in that society couldn’t even begin to tell you what any of those experiences were like.

This was by far my favorite book when I was in middle school. I thought the society the main character lived in was a paradise at first. Figuring out its dark side made me ask myself all kinds of questions about the meaning of life and how much freedom I’d be willing to sacrifice to permanently remove suffering in the world for just about everyone.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

One of the biggest reasons why I believe this should be read by middle school students is because it distills complicated arguments about freedom, politics, communism, and propaganda into a simple allegory about a farm full of animals who decide to revolt against their owner.

The twist ending is my second largest reason for recommending it to this age group. It was as funny as it was thought-provoking.

The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The silly sections will make middle schoolers laugh, but they’ll also learn a few things about getting along with others and not assuming that you’re the centre of the universe. The sometimes-convoluted storyline would also be a good place to talk abut everything from unreliable narrators to how two people can remember the same event completely differently based on how their minds store memories and what small pieces of that day they’ve forgotten.

High School

My high school English classes assigned us a lot of John Steinbeck and Shakespeare readings. I think these books would make a perfect addition to that kind of curriculum.


I first read this in college, but I wish I had discovered it years earlier. The dark themes and occasional scenes of violence are best suited for more mature readers who are willing to push forward to the conclusion.

I also believe that everyone who speaks English should be familiar with the first poem we know of that was written in Old English. There is so much about the beginnings of our language that we simply don’t know. Holding onto what we do know is important.

1984 by George Orwell

Should the government be trusted? Is everything that’s shared on the news actually true? How do you know when you’re being lied to?

These have been dangerous questions to ask in many different cultures and eras. Knowing when you’re being deceived is nearly as important as knowing how to react when it happens. I think every high school student should graduate with at least a little practice at weighing what they’re told carefully.



Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Climate change has already begun to affect our world. How people live in a generation or two will probably be quite different from how the average westerner lives today.

Ms. Butler had such a creative take on what our future could be like. I wish she had lived long enough to finish this series, but I relish what she was able to write. High school students could learn a lot from her thoughts on prejudice and what happens when an entire society falls apart.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

This is a classic piece of science fiction about time travel and the ethical dilemmas that result from knowing what will happen in the future but not being sure how to warn everyone about what is coming. Not every conflict in life has or should have a black-and-white solution.

Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer

Most high school students are probably aware that there used to be other human-like species living on Earth, but I doubt most of them have wondered how our planet would be different if early humans had died out and another species had become dominant instead.

This tale asked a lot of hard questions about intelligence, environmentalism, and what it would mean to be human if we discovered that we weren’t the only intelligent hominids wandering around after all.

What science fiction and fantasy books do you wish would be taught in schools?

The Handmaid’s Tale: Jezebels

This post includes spoilers for “Jezebels” (Season 1, Episode 8) of The Handmaid’s Tale. As usual, the link on the left has full summaries of all of the episodes that have aired so far.  This week’s episode was another unusual one. The plot returned to focusing on Offred, but Moira was definitely competing with her for this viewer’s… Read More

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The Handmaid’s Tale: Faithful

This post includes spoilers for “Faithful” (Season 1, Episode 5) of The Handmaid’s Tale. As usual, the link on the left has full summaries of all of the episodes that have aired so far. This post is my reaction to what happened.  I was happy to see the pacing pick up this week after the slower storytelling… Read More

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An End and a Beginning

This is the final post of On the Other Hand. The last six years have been wonderful, but it’s time for me to move on to a new website and a different approach to blogging. Effective today, I will be blogging at There’s a post there explaining why I made the move and what you can expect… Read More

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Guest Post: Why Your Next Move Should Be to Orange County

Why Your Next Move Should Be to Orange County Orange County, CA is best known for its many tourist attractions. It is home to Disneyland, Downtown Disney, Huntington Beach, and Laguna Beach. Some would consider it a surfing mecca while others come to see the cities themselves. Whale watching, sunbathing, hiking, shopping, and events are… Read More

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Why the World Needs More Science Fiction

1. It gives you a hopeful vision of the future. As I’ve mentioned on Twitter, my spouse and I have been slowly watching Star Trek: The Original Series over the past few months. One of the things I appreciate the most about this show is its unbridled optimism. The characters live in a time and place… Read More

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