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Friday, September 17, 2021

The Storm is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of EverythingThe Storm is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything by Mike Rothschild
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As an introduction to the underground Q community, it is fact-based, with plenty of examples and analysis and extrapolation. In other words, you can pretty much rely on this to give you the history and some of the threads, as far as we can understand them, and what it is.

So what is Q?

Conspiracy theories dressed up in moral outrage that tempt a lot of regular folks that can see that something is very wrong and just want to DO something about it.

Where it goes really wrong is also pretty clear. We all saw what happened on 1/6/21.
But Q has a direct-line to Anti-Vaxxers, anti-maskers, thinking there are mass pedophile rings in the Left, not to mention the Great Jewish Conspiracy, 9/11 Inside Job, FEMA camp concentration camps, microchip tracking devices (other than cell phones), Soros, Soros, Soros, and so much more.

It might have started as something kinda out-there but it absolutely got a lot of perceived legitimacy when Trump began taking on the mantle of being their messiah, listening to the cooky charges of what antifa was doing/planning, spouting key-words that Q posts wanted him to spout to give them a sign, alternative Covid treatments, including the most obvious and wild close-bleach option and Regeneron, and more.

We've seen what happened -- is still happening -- on Facebook and Twitter and more media outlets like Newsmax and Fox and countless blogs. How these kinds of conspiracy talking points have taken over whole governments in several states, how the problem is arguably worse now than it had ever been in the past, and is set to get much worse.

Suffice to say, the problem is real. Disinformation is, after all, a major branch of psy-ops.
We're dealing with massive amounts of propaganda and the continued rise of fascism is a direct result of people feeling scared and feeling the full strength of their moral outrage.

It doesn't matter whether the target of their moral outrage is the real problem. What matters is that they BELIEVE it to be so.

Q and those who use Q to dupe normal folks are THE biggest problem. Using lies and disinformation is only making this problem worse.

We all need to step outside of our echo chambers and actually listen to each other. Not just get outraged. Not just find any excuse under the sun to wail and rail against our perceived enemies. This whole moral outrage thing is really quite absurd. As humans, we're extremely susceptible to witch hunts and mass-momentum of movements. As long as we remain in our echo chambers, we only reinforce those beliefs that are repeated the longest and loudest.

It has nothing to do with the validity of the points. We're perfectly capable of hashing up the whole world without any enemy before us.

As we can see here.

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Inkheart (Inkworld, #1)Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit I'm a fan of unabashed book-loving books in general. I am a pretty big reader and imagination is a lot of my world, so as I got into this YA novel, smirked and nodded along with all the "my daddy REALLY loves books" and all the book doctor references. It never turned sour when I knew it would get magical and reading aloud from books often brought characters right out of the books, themselves.

It had SO much promise. And indeed, I was liking this book much more than the other Cornelia Funke series I had already read.

But then something happened. Either the execution just went into meh territory or it was just me, but the promise just wasn't enough. From everything I've heard, however, it's truly excellent in its original language, so I might have to give it some benefit of the doubt. I actually wish I could have read it in German. There's probably a lot of subtlety I missed in the English.

As it is, it came across as milk toast. Not bad, but not glorious.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1)Dune by Frank Herbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Update 9/15/21

Re-read. Number 14.

I cannot get over how beautiful this book is. Still my favorite after all these years. It only gets better with every re-read.

Update 8/28/17

Re-read. Number 13. :) I cry when Paul meets Gurney. I shiver when Jessica consoles Chani. I'm awestruck by the peaks and troughs of time, free-will, and the weakness in Paul even as he heroically strives against the evil that is about to be unleashed upon the universe.


Perfection. Easily the number one book I've ever read. :)

I waver, sometimes, but right now, it is my absolute favorite. :)

Original Review:

This is a phenomenal classic of literature.

It's not just science fiction. It transcends science fiction, as a fascinating discussion of free-will versus inevitability. Can the Jihad be denied? Can Paul ever really avoid his own death, despite seeing every time-line play out with him as the butt of every cosmic joke? Can even cruelty or mercy even remain comprehensible after such knowledge?

Yes, I think this work outdoes Nietzsche. It certainly does a great job of making us care about the question.

Is this all? Is this just a work that pays great justice to philosophy of action and inaction?

Or is the novel merely a clever play at turning the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle into the physical embodiment of a man? It is that, of course. The Kwisatz Haderach can be many places at once, and he can be both alive and dead at the same time just like that certain cat.

Is the novel a coming of age tale, first set as a mirror against his father Leto, only then to mirror the whole universe that had just turned against him? Yes, of course. He was, after all, both the product of all his upbringing and his genes, embodying the question of nature versus nurture. He was taught within many schools of martial arts and assassins, as well as training the mind in both the schools of the Mentats with their pure logic and that of the mystics, the Bene Gesserit, that allows complete control over the body down to the cellular level. And if this training wasn't enough, he was deeply schooled in politics, leadership, and the meaning of loyalty. The boy was raised right. Of course, that is nothing without ninety generations of genetic bloodline tampering from the Bene Gesserit, right? To become the fulcrum between cellular memory, tapping the minds and lives of all your genetic ancestors as well as tapping the ability to fold time and space, to become the eye of a storm of time.

What a damn brilliant setup for one tiny character, no? His training links to the unlocking of his genes and to the life-extending and enveloping spice, Melange, to make him not merely aware of time in a theoretical sense, but eventually to be unable to discern what was in the past, the present, or the future. Here's a true Super-Man, well beyond Nietzsche.

And don't believe for one second that this serious discussion about what would make a superior man makes for dull reading. No. We've got PLOT that's probably some of the most exciting and visceral in all of literature, driving us right into the web of intrigue, vengeance, treachery, and galactic politics.

To quote the text, we've got "Plans within Plans," and it hardly stops there. We know the House Atreides is falling into a trap laid by the Emperor and House Harkonnen, and yet free-will and pride prevents any chance to avoid it. The setup is brilliant and extremely political, giving us character sketches of some of the most brilliant and memorable characters of all time.

Duke Leto, the Red Duke, the most honorable and beloved leader.
Duncan Idaho, the emotional and intuitive hero.
Gurney Halleck, archetypal loyalist and troubadour.
Lady Jessica, the woman who ought to have had all honor in life, but was unjustly reviled and set aside for political necessity. (Chani being both her mirror and her eventual glory.)

And of course, my favorite character of all time, Paul Muad'dib Atreides, the one that would prevent the greater evils he foresaw, and went to enormous lengths and sacrifice to achieve, but who eventually failed in his task because even a god cannot overcome destiny. (Or the will of so many minds set as one.)

So damn brilliant.

Frank Herbert spent five years writing this treasure, working and reworking it until he published it at age 25. None of his other works come close to this masterpiece, and there's little wonder. It was birthed, fully-formed, like Athena from Zeus's head, with enormous forethought and care.

The worldbuilding was just as carefully formed, from the ecology of Arrakis and the life-cycles of the sandworms, to the history and the creation of the Fremen from their mild beginnings as Zensunni Wanderers, adherents to the Orange Catholic Bible, to their history of oppression so like those of those who are Jewish, to their settling and hardening of their bodies and souls in the wastes of Arrakis, also just like the Jewish who carved out a place for themselves in Israel. (Current politics aside, this was a very potent idea before 1965 when Herbert wrote this, and indeed, the core is still just as powerful when you turn it back to Muslims.)

The Galactic culture is rich and detailed. The CHOAM economic consortium, with their monopoly on space travel and their need for the Spice to allow them to see a short period into the future to plot a safe course before folding space. The Empire is caught on a knife's edge between a single power and every other House who sit in the possibility of putting aside all their squabbles for the sole purpose of checking the Emperor, if they so desired. (And Duke Atreides was such a possible popular leader among all the Great Houses, which was the primary reason the Emperor wanted him dead.)

And of course, we have our Villains.

The Baron Harkonnen has always been a crowd pleaser. Brilliant in his own right, devious and able to corrupt anyone with just the right sorts of pressure, including a certain absolutely trustworthy doctor we might mention.

"The Tooth! The Tooth!" -- You can't handle the Tooth!

Feyd Rautha Harkonnen is especially interesting for the question of nature versus nurture.

The Bene Gesserit had intended him to mate with Paul, who should have been Leto and Jessica's daughter, and that offspring should have been the cumulation of ninety years of a breeding experiment to recreate the Kwisatz Haderach which had come about almost by accident during the Butlerian Jihad in the deep past, to overthrow the AI overlords.

He was practically Paul's genetic twin, or at least, his potential to be the "One who can be many places at once" was on par with Paul. But instead of fulfilling the kind of destiny that we get with Paul, we see him grow up under the auspices of his Uncle the Baron, becoming as cruel and devious as he was deadly. He was the argument of nurture in the conversation, of course, and having so very little of it eventually cost him his life.

I often wonder about the directions that Dune could have taken, all those little paths in time and circumstance that could have been. What if Feyd had been brought to Arrakis earlier and overwhelmed with Spice the way that Paul had? Sure, he wouldn't have been able to convert the unconscious changes into conscious manipulation, but he might have had enough glimpses of the future, the way that the Fremen did, to have given him the edge he would have needed to kill Paul.

And then there's a relatively minor character, Hasimir Fenring, the Emperor's personal assassin, who was nearly the Kwisatz Haderach, himself. Unable to breed true, he was still potent enough to be completely hidden to Paul's time-sight in the same way that Paul was hidden from the Spacing Guild's weaker time-sight. His training as a skilled killer was also superior to Paul. He was, by all the hints and tricks in the tale, Paul's perfect downfall. It always gives me shivers to think about, and it was only in a single instant of both recognition and pity from Paul that stayed Fenring from killing our hero. It was just a moment of whim.

The setup was gorgeous. Paul's pity, had it been missing at his moment of greatest triumph over the Emperor, would have meant Paul's assured death. I still wonder, to this day, what stayed Frank Herbert's hand from killing his most wonderful darling. We knew the pressure of religion and politics was going to have its way upon all the oppressed peoples of Dune. The return of a monstrous religious Jihad was going to happen one way or another, sweeping across the galaxy and toppling the Empire, regardless of Paul's frantic plans and desires. Paul's own death would only mean a higher level of fanaticism, and Frank Herbert's warning against unreasoning devotion would have been made even clearer with Paul's death.

Perhaps it was pity that stayed his hand. Who are we to say who lives and who dies?

If you really think this review is overlong, then I apologize, but please understand that I could absolutely go on and on much longer than this. It is a symptom of my devotion to this most brilliant of all tales.

And yes, it still holds up very, very well after twelve reads. I am quite shocked and amazed.

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Monday, September 13, 2021

The Idiot GodsThe Idiot Gods by David Zindell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Even though I had read a number of Zindell’s books before this one, I grabbed this particular book because I am a big fan of the author (Requeim for Homo Sapiens happens to be one of my favorite series of all time) and this particular book’s premise seemed like it could have been a delightful satire.

In actual fact, it wasn’t particularly funny or all that dark.

As readers we always need to go into these things with proper expectations. Or no expectations, perhaps.

I did like a few things about this. The ending, for one, was pretty cool, and I enjoyed a number of the scenes with Helen as she and Arjuna (the main character who happens to be an orca) got to know each other’s languages. A few of the observations about humanity felt a bit forced, however, and that’s where my enjoyment slowly spiralled into a bare minimum of enjoyment. It wasn’t bad, mind you, but whereas I kinda thought it might have gone the way of Olaf Stapleton’s Sirius: A Fantasy of Love and Discord with funny asides and wonderful skewers, the text here focused more on philosophy (not always a bad thing, mind you) and a rather monotone commentary on how stupid we are… a seas of assholes kind of thing.

Okay. I don’t even disagree with the premise, but I honestly rather hoped for more humor. The story turned out all right, and the book was pretty scientifically nerdy when it wasn’t getting religiously mystical, but it just didn’t push the right buttons for me.

I think all those traditional fiction books that have main characters be pets and horses and all kinds of animal kingdom POVs don’t really do it for me, either, so that might just mean that this book is a kind of “It’s not you, it’s me,” kind of situation.

Who knows?

Still, I’m glad I got to read it.

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Saturday, September 11, 2021

Inhibitor PhaseInhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This new book by Reynolds is going to be slightly difficult to review. If you haven't read any of the previous novels in the Revelation Space universe, or the short stories or novellas, then you might have a perfectly fine time with the read.

It takes us on a long trip through time and space, letting us still feel the horror of the Melding Plague, passing through the time of Chasm City and through the ruins of Yellowstone back when it used to glitter in The Prefect and heads us right through the Wolves and the self-replicating ancient horror that is destroying all sentient life, more than touching on the events in Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap and sending us through Galactic North, as refugees and later as a kind of resistance front.

The writing is tight and the story is nearly perfect.

But. Nearly halfway through, I kept getting this nagging feeling that I had read this before. I was really enjoying everything about Glass, but just seeing Clavain return made me wonder how he was involved in all this. Mind you, I loved him in the earlier books and while I didn't read them when they came out, I did read them almost a decade ago, so maybe I was thinking that my memory was messing with me. That may still be the case, of course, and I would have to re-read the other books I mentioned again, side-by-side with this new one, to see the real differences, but I'm pretty sure that I just read a pretty extensive re-write of Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap. A lot must have been cut out and even more was tightened up, turning Inhibitor Phase into ... dare I say it ... a superior product.

Am I just imagining things? I don't think so. Of course, it could be a combination of all the short stories and novellas and novels wrapped up in my head, re-formed into THIS, a fully coherent, streamlined tale of the extras, and I'm just tripping.

Either way, I enjoyed it. Maybe less than I thought I would because so much of it seemed so damn familiar, but I still enjoyed it. After all, I enjoyed all the others, too.

Even though I spent a lot of time on this issue, I should mention that the Revelation Space series, as a whole, is something REALLY huge and amazingly detailed for any kind of SF comparison. Indeed the complicated and subtle distinctions between what we call people, be they cyborgs, half pig-half human, uploaded minds, ocean intelligences, slugs, or so much more, is perfectly offset by the pitfalls of tech, enhanced by blood-as-physical-weapons, universe-devouring nanotech, and such large-scale constructions that would have sent Niven or Clarke into conniptions.

This SF is on another scale from most. My problems or praise with it are only expressed in a comparison with Reynold's other books.

Definitely worth the read.

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Thursday, September 9, 2021

Heritage of Cyador (The Saga of Recluce, #18)Heritage of Cyador by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm eating up these Recluse books like no one's business.

Why? Because they make me feel good.

It surprises me every single time. I mean, I don't generally pick up an epic fantasy tome that's full of bloody battles, tactics, strategy, and massive magical explosions only to expect a sense of balance and well-being afterward. Being energized rather than drained by the ennui of the horror of war. But I am energized.

Why? Partly because of the familiarity of a gentle formula, but mostly because the main characters are almost always amazingly well-balanced, careful, honest, and full of deep reserves of that sense of RIGHTNESS.

This book continues the story of Lerial from book 17, now pretty accomplished as a warrior-mage, but now sent to a neighboring kingdom to help out with some sticky diplomatic issues.

Suffice to say, it gets very sticky. And a LOT of people die. And I loved every single second of it.

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False Value (Rivers of London, #8)False Value by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read 9/9/21:

I think I may have enjoyed this better the second time around. No spoilers, but I am reminded quite heavily of a Seanan McGuire October Daye novel. Those who know, know. That being said, I got even more into all the nerdy references this time and it was good. Very good.

Original Review:

On sheer enjoyment level, I'm always very enthusiastic about Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant series, and this one is no exception. I dug in and dug it well, indeed.

From the very start, we get knee-deep in many Douglas Adams homages almost immediately after getting a very emotional reference bot Bowie. I LOVE the whole idea of the Sirius Corporation. From first-day employees wearing a towel around their heads to Vogon management to a dozen other great London High-Tech Field goodies. You know, like Seattle tech goodies but LONDON.

Peter Grant, a magical investigator for the London police force, goes undercover, and this book is a pretty awesome mix of magic, intrigue, and high-tech mystery. I like it almost automatically. By default. But my main concern hearkened back to the earlier novels when it was established that technology tends to fry around magic. A bit of wrangling needed to happen and the full interesting import of later spoiler territory plot items comes to fruition nicely.

Did I have some issues? Perhaps. But the fact remains I still had a very good time and I really loved the twist. It may not be all that surprising, but the fact that it happened and could very well happen again makes my mind sparkle with the possibilities. :)

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