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Monday, August 2, 2021

A Little LifeA Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I feel like I must be very clear here. I never minded the writing. The writing was clear, evocative, and seemed to always have a lot of emotional turmoil and ongoing conflict -- enough to scream soap opera drama from the skies.

I read it because of all the award nominations and my feed blowing up about how brilliant it is, too. I always try to spread my wings a little bit and go for pieces that are not my usual fare.

So why DID I get halfway through this enormously long book and then decide I'd had enough?

I just didn't care.

Yes, it's nice and all to see such a loving gay couple going through the sexual ringer, having apparently awesome gay friends, learning about their lives and troubles and careers, and watching them be supportive (or not) to each other, jumping up and down the timeline of a whole life so that we KNOW what is to come but have all the in-between bits get more and more reveals, etc., but after a certain point I am OVER the DRAMA. A shorter, MUCH shorter book would have been fine.

But let's put it this way: after 45 references to cutting oneself, 32 references to being long-term sexual abuse in a conversion facility, what seems to be DECADES of self-loathing, regret, and mourning, and then what seems to be the END then just makes me realize that there is YET MORE TO COME.

I'm sitting here, never a big fan of Drama to begin with, being tortured with characters that only slightly tug on my heartstrings, and realizing that this slow-moving, endless slice-of-life drama is never going to end. Or at least it feels like it's never going to end. And this is where I have to ask myself, "Why am I putting myself through this?"

So, I'm sorry, Hanya Yanagihara, it's me. Not you. I already suffer from enough social anxiety and depression in my own life. I'm done.

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Sunday, August 1, 2021

God Emperor of Dune (Dune Chronicles, #4)God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For any of the times that I may have complained about the characters or how I may not have loved them as much as the previous volumes, I have three or four OMG moments for everything else about this book.

The sheer scope of future history is one bit. But I'm all about the reveals about the Golden Path and what it meant for the social, political, scientific, even genderizing the future for humanity.

Or perhaps the fact that Leto II Atreides, the son of Paul, with his prolonged life, transforming into a sandworm, with the opening up of both the male and female genetic bloodline memories all the way back to us on Earth, or his ongoing future prescience, was the de facto SAVIOR of the human race.

... of course, he did it by SQUEEZING it, taking over the Bene Gesserit's breeding program, giving everyone a solid, stable life, SQUEEZING humanity until they just couldn't take it anymore.

Nobody hates peace and prosperity more than the people living in it.

This book is a wonderful testament to both imagination and INTELLIGENCE. Herbert never looked down on anyone and never spoon-fed a single idea.

The same can't be said for the side series.

Look to the best for the best, folks.

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Friday, July 30, 2021

The SelloutThe Sellout by Paul Beatty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I couldn't stop laughing as I read this book.

The combination of mind-blowing absurdity, wit, and Chappelle-level self-aware racism and systematic breakdown of the wrongs while turning the entire structure on its head is next-level funny.

I mean, come on, I know I'm f**king white but funny is funny and this is so crazily courageous that I feel like I'm sneaking into all those black comedies in the theater hoping I won't get my ass whooped because crackers don't belong. And if you think I'm being funny, you're right, because I'm white, and that's kinda the point. Now take this book and turn that shit up and turn this poor black town subsumed in LA into the posterchild of segregation -- DONE ON PURPOSE -- for the blacks by the blacks and their betterment. Clearly delineate all those freaking lines. Give everyone a seat to comfortably sit their fat asses on and let folks start breathing easy again. Own the racism that's so systematically ugly everywhere else and call a spade a spade, stop hiding the shit.

The author presents all this in such a fresh, funny, and ass-whooping way that I was frankly bowled over by the sheer absurd satire of it.

Worthless note: The book won the Booker prize in '15.
Another worthless note: It seemed to be overblown back in '15 during the Obama years.
Another freaking worthless note: It's one step away from being our current reality.

There is one great takeaway, however:

Humor can mend all bridges. Or at least, I honestly think so. All this shit that's been going on is a nightmare, yes, but freaking hell, ya'll, humor CAN break anything: even the citadels of the self-righteous.

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Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Armies of Those I LoveThe Armies of Those I Love by Ken Liu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I liked the idea behind this more than the actual tale.

I did LOVE the whole mix between Mortal Instruments and Horizon: Zero Dawn, however. The worldbuilding was pretty big, a post-apoc steampunk melange with people being people. There's plenty of the good and nasty at different points.

But honestly? This short tale ended in a way that I didn't quite like. Alas. Nothing wrong with the writing, however, and Liu is still pretty great.

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Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient EgyptEgyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt by Geraldine Pinch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First of all, I really need to mention that this is a good INTRO to Egyptian Mythology. It gives us a good basis for the Egyptian empire, time periods, landscapes, and influences before diving right into the gods and goddesses.

What this is NOT is a collection of stories a-la Edith Hamilton's Greek Mythology. It does have a number of stories from different time periods and gives us plausible morphologies of main gods as they become less important, giving rein to others. Again, this is natural for any society that changes and wishes to distance itself from the past, but I found myself a bit mystified in places.

Instead of delving deep enough to get us invested in Osirus, Isis, Seth, or Horus, it spends, in my humble opinion, too little time on any. And all the other gods and goddesses? We sometimes get little more than names.

This may be just something that I have an issue with or perhaps it's the legends themselves being a bit sparse on details. I'll just assume for now that it's the latter. But I want more.

In fact, I'm thinking I should go right to the source of the big things that we DO have -- such as Herodotus.

Still, it's very readable for what it is and it would be a very good reference material for a new student. So, there's that.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Children of Dune (Dune Chronicles, #3)Children of Dune by Frank Herbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've always held that it's impossible to compare the Dune sequels to the first book but it would be insane to say that they're anything less than excellent in their own right.

It doesn't even matter to me that this particular book was nommed for the Hugo in '77. The fact that we get much more of a look into the hearts and minds of the Fremen, watch the tragedy of Alia unfold with the help of her maternal grandfather, and uncover the secret of the wandering Preacher shouldn't make much of a difference, but it does.

Jessica's transformation is something else. I particularly liked when she became a teacher and when she toyed with her own Gom Jabbar.

But the true stars of this book have got to be the twins. Leto and Ghanima are something special. Almost abominations like their aunt, they both walk a knife's edge and Leto leads the way. She's his rock, but Leto's ultimate choice to follow the Golden Path is ultimately only his to walk.

Mirroring Leto with Paul was amazing in the story. The focus on timelines either forking or narrowing down as more and more choices are made really illustrated how prescience is the ultimate trap. Paul absolutely fell into it, but one could make the argument that Leto's choice is the true tragedy.

A TOTALLY awesome tragedy, mind you, with tons of benefits and an even more explosive benefit for the human race to come -- (this is COMPLETELY debatable) -- but it's still a mind experiment and worldbuilding masterpiece that has continued to haunt me since the first time I read it in the late '80s to this very day.

An excellent SF? Well, to me, it's something of a BENCHMARK.

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Resistance: A Songwriter's Story of Hope, Change, and CourageResistance: A Songwriter's Story of Hope, Change, and Courage by Tori Amos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Back in the dark ages, I became an obsessed fan of Tori and went to two of her concerts. One was a tight little audience where we could see her close up and playing like MAD on two boards, her body a livewire as she poured all her energy, her life, into her music. If I hadn't seen her go through that, I still would have been a massive emotionally invested fan, but after the Pele tour, I became an uberfan. The second was a full stadium for Choirgirl. It was great but nothing could beat my first experience.

I had spent hundreds of listening hours trying to figure out the lyrics of all her albums. I thought I got pretty close.

It turns out, after reading her latest book, part autobiography, part creative resistance, part history and politics, I may not have been THAT close. But she herself explained why she pulled back to let most of her listeners make up their own minds. Good or bad or just another layer, I think that's great, but now that I understand what was really behind Cornflake Girl or Jackie's Strength, my understanding reached a new intensity.

Reading about how and what she went through for her tours, for each of her gigs, and how she tailored EVERY SINGLE GIG, on the fly, to match the needs of her audience, I shouldn't be all that surprised. All the best do that, don't they? But when I remember the two concerts I saw her at, to think that she never once slid, no matter what else was going on in her life, be it grieving or rage at injustice or anything, and gave less than her very best (and believe me, it's VERY good,) I have nothing but the utmost respect.

And those lyrics? Her real explanations for them are truly emotional and harrowing and sometimes uplifting. Getting the lowdown on those are actually mind-boggling. FGM, for one. Or the Kennedy assassination.

As for recommending this book to anyone, let me spell this out:

It might be confusing unless you are a fan of Tori, because she's not only brilliant, she's got that spark that sends her thoughts in strange directions. This is not only a musical book, but a very much political one. It came out in 2020 when the world was watching the lies and liars take over the media and she gave us her own horrific recollections of history as it unfolded. Spoilers: she's not a fan of MAGA or W or Koch. That's fair. Neither am I.

This is a hybrid autobiographical book. Its all these things I've mentioned -- and it's also a call of arms to all artists to KEEP ON USING YOUR ART to create rather than to destroy.

As a freeform artistic expression, I think this book is all kinds of awesome, but like her music, you need to fall into it to really enjoy it. :)

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