I recently took a risk on a book purchase as an ‘experiment’ on the properties of let’s call them trans-artist; can people make good art outside of what they’re known for? The actor turned singer. The musician turned actress, the music of a painter, and so on. In this case, a YouTuber turned author. Are people just good in one area, or can their talent somehow translate over into skill in another seemingly unrelated area?
exurb1a, author of Geometry for Ocelots, is known for his YouTube channel. Sometimes called “the depression turtle” he makes pretty weird, philosophical, sarcastic, funny, informative, and depressing videos about…whatever I guess. It’s hard to explain! What sets him apart from other YouTubers, at least in my mind, is how perfectly he represents the “positive nihilistic” mindset: where you realize everything is pointless and everything sucks but how that is kind of freeing if you think about it a bit. And how we might as well be fine with our flash-of-lightning existence and just ya make the best of it while we’re here? Kurtzgesagt also fits into the hopeful-nihilistic niche, with a bit more of a sciencey/informational lean, while exbur1a brings a philosophical/Buddhist vibe to the whole thing.
In one of his videos he mentioned he had written a book titled Geometry for Ocelots. He didn’t promote this book at all, just kinda mumbled at how he’d written a book and maybe if you liked his videos then maybe you’d like the book too? And he didn’t sound very hopeful that anyone would actually buy/read it. In short, he wasn’t peddling or self-promotiong the book at all, just mentioning that it was a thing he’d done. In fact, he titled his video “I’ve written a new book and I hope you hate it“.
(Note: I would just, ya know, embed the video on this page, but from this post titled “Life: A Series of Problems“ might be aware of my computer “issues” and this makes things hard. Is there a way to embed a YouTube video from the WordPress mobile app? Anyways, links to the videos are going to have to do.)
So I bought it. Think about the different types of mediums he’s using here. YouTube videos are 10-20 minutes long and require a bit of video editing skills and informative script writing. Sure, I love his videos but how the hell is he going to pull of writing a 440-page novel? Can he? They’re two totally different forms of art! How does YouTube success translate into book writing? What’s that going to look like; a mess that’s horrible or worse, totally mediocre? Because there’s no way it could actually be good…
Surprise: it’s good. I love it! In fact, I think it’ll stick in my head longer than some of the other novels I’ve read in the last few years. I can’t even name them because they’re so forgettable.
The book is a little rough around the edges. It doesn’t feel like it was written by an established author. Not that it’s bad, it just has a feel to it similar to indie music or independent films do. Rough, honest, slightly experimental, where the creator isn’t really sure of what he’s trying to say but he’s saying it anyways with little worry about how the work will be received. And I mean all of this in the best way possible. It feels like an adventure instead of typical store-bought novel would. It feels real. It feels honest. It feels genuine.
For starters it’s a unique book. If anything, I’d say it’s a Buddhist-inspired science fiction story that doesn’t fit into any clear category like other authors do. King: horror and mystery. Jordan: fantasy. Peterson: philosophical self-help. exurb1a? Who knows.
My first time reading I made it past page 50. That’s a good chuck of a book to read in one sitting, especially if you’re not quite sure if it’ll even be good. It grabbed me instantly and I felt like this random YouTuber somehow stumbled upon the exact story that was perfect for me to read. Something about Buddhism and the end of all desire framed in the depletion of resources on a galactic scale. Sure, kinda contrived Malthusian dooming, but it works. The galaxy-spanning civilization founded from Anaximander who basically was Buddah Part 2. And how the use of a drug called Moshka led to extra-dimensional travel in 4-space called Vex. And how these drugged-up bodhis appear as animal avatars in our regular 3-dimensional world.
As you can hopefully see, the book is a trip!
Despite all of this drug-inspired enlightenment as the basis of the story, the story works. It never loses itself in metaphysical drivel or self-congratulatory forced importance. There are a number of characters with their own personalities and relationships, and you do bond with them even if not to the degree you would in a Steinbeck novel. The pace of the book is also surprisingly perfect; unnecessary descriptions or flowery prose never bog the story down. I’ve never felt bored by what’s going on, but at the same time I never felt that things are moving too quickly, like the author just wanted to finish his damn story and get it over with.
Exurb1a also does what his YouTube channel does perfectly, embracing his positive-nihilism throughout the whole story and relying on his sparse humor to never let the tone get too bleak. As stated before “life stucks but we might as well make the best of it, shall we?” and this message is probably the fundamental theme of the book if I can say such a bold thing as someone untrained in critiquing anything. There are lessons to be learned, but you’re never beaten over the head with them. Buddhism and non-attachment is also present to the same perfect degree; you never feel as though you’re being preached at or proselytized to, especially when the most Buddhist and “enlightened” people are somehow the most flawed and corrupt in the story. And maybe it’s about actually living what you believe and not being a hypocrite?
I have 100 more pages left and the book is steamrolling towards some ending that I’m sure I’ll love. I doubt it can end in such a disappointing way that’ll kill my love for the book; it’s just not possible. In short, I’m delightfully surprised at how good this book is considering exurb1a in the minds of literal millions of people is a YouTuber and only that; he’s not an author, he makes videos. But here he is with a book that both keeps in line with the vibes of his YouTube videos and tells a pretty damn good, and unique, story.
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