Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Origins of TotalitarianismThe Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

By the title, I might have gotten the impression that this might have been a full history and treatise on all Totalitarian regimes, but I'm not at all unhappy to see how the author narrowed it down to the full wealth of circumstances that gave rise to Nazi Germany and, to a lesser degree, Stalin's Russia.

More than that, Hannah Arendt proves to be an erudite master at breaking down huge subjects and many causes into easily digestible chunks.

The focus begins on the actual origins of racial targeting and the somewhat interesting disconnect between real grievances and a targeted terror movement starting early with the Rothschild banking, 19th century propaganda, and political climates including the Dreyfus account. (Very interesting stuff here.)

It leads, naturally enough, into MORE of the same charges and racially-charged Us/Them mentalities and exactly how the machinations of a few could inculcate a whole nation. The trick is to slowly, surely, make everyone guilty of the same kind of injustice, formalize it and redirect all culpability toward the Leader and wash your hands of the reality, and then hold on for dear life as everyone else you know is forced into looking over their shoulders to see if they might be next on the chopping block.

It's perfectly understandable. Totalitarianism is the utter eradication of self and self-destiny under the auspices of a single, irrepressible force. It runs on fear and distrust. Everyone under Hitler was in an untenable position and knew they could lose favor at any time.

Stalin worked the same way. The results were almost always similar as a whole. Many people died, and no one knew how to go on except by hanging on to the system that brought them there.

Ideology didn't really matter. Terror was the driving force, carried along by a fierce logical insistence that they were always right. Not even dissent mattered. The logical progression, taken to its extremes, was always used as the ultimate rationality.

This book showed us a wealth of information in every step. Starting out with imperialism and ending with totalitarianism, this book also gives us some other very important insights.

Believe it or not, they're insights that apply as equal now as they did then, and not as a pithy or ironic commentary on this or that politician we hate.

Mostly, it starts out as finding an Other to hate. It could just be any Us versus Them. Dehumanize them. Blame all your problems on them. And then make your supporters do something horrible. Turn your whole nation into people who are already guilty. Make sure they remain confused and uncertain. And then turn up the heat, making them all do worse things, progressively, until they see no way out but forward. Give them no other choice.

Easy blueprint.

Who is next? Women versus men? Another Race s**tstorm? Blue Vs Red? Rich versus the poor?

Quite sobering to see how we're pushing ourselves closer and closer to Totalitarianism all the time. All we need is one single Leader who can blackmail us all into doing his bidding, and here we go!

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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young MenThe War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men by Christina Hoff Sommers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's always an eye-opener when a really good look at statistics shows some glaring errors in widely held assumptions. It's even more of an eye opener to realize that some of your own carefully held assumptions are wrong.

This book, published in 2001, seems kind of political and reactionary, but that is only the fault of the title. The contents are much more revealing.

Feminism is political. This should not be surprising. We see it everywhere. Some a***holes take it way too far. What we have in America's school systems (and probably quite a few other places as well) is a climate where we are told that girls are being held back by the patriarchy, that their voices are not being heard, and that all boys should be more like girls.

No joke. I was in the school system when this was really getting started. I bought into it, myself. Even thought of myself as a feminist. Yes. I'm a white male feminist. Or, at least, I thought I should have been. I kept trying to be more feeling and thoughtful and in touch with my feelings. I valued cooperation over competition. I felt bad because I was a boy. Boys are violent. Boys are rapists. Boys the embodiment of the patriarchy that has done so much to transparently ruin women.

I was indoctrinated. And I bought it, hook, line, and sinker.

So what do I learn here? I went through college and got a degree in Psychology and English Literature in the mid 90's and learned a lot about education. The big keys were inclusion and tolerance and above all, making sure that women have all the benefits that had been taken from them in the past. I thought I approved of this.

I also found myself not being heard. I, as a male, surrounded by hundreds of academic studies revolving around a certain Carol Gilligan, then a superstar of feminist studies and the leader of the movement to change all our schools into this bright feminist ideal, was quoted everywhere. I didn't bat an eyelash. I studied more feminists and wanted to see more equality between the sexes. I got upset with every revelation of rape, abuse, and wage differential.

So, after all this time, thinking that it's only individual bad apples who like to say things like "murder all men", I held to my beliefs anyway.

So what do I believe after realizing that Carol Gilligan had fudged research data, hid sources, and used a very limited several thousand student sample in her study? Remember, she was the foundation of hundreds of similar papers and books that became the forefront of a full politicized movement. A movement that transformed almost every school in the nation based on faulty data.

A later study using a hundred thousand samples show a very different picture, and yet the weight of the political movement could not be stopped.

What did it report?

Little things like girls are twice as likely to be heard in class. That boys are much more likely to give up an not take tests like the SAT or the ACT, leaving only the very confident to take the tests, whereas girls almost always take them. That girls are more confident and self-reported happy in schools than boys.

And it didn't stop there. I went to many many in-school campaigns brought up in this book. Campaigns with a clear agenda where I was told about date rape, bullying (that was always bent toward unwanted sexual advances to girls), talking about my feelings, being inclusive, and never, ever, ever violent.

Remember, this is 2001 when the book came out. We were already seeing a whole generation of boys be told to be just like girls. That we should all be ashamed of what and who we are regardless of what we may or may not have ever done. I knew a lot of them that took it to heart like I did. Who bought the indoctrination.

Of course, after about 12 years of this, we get a complete eroding of value systems and a complete blindfolding of the educational system as to what BOYS ARE. They respond very differently to teaching techniques as compared to girls. It's NOT all learned. They're rambunctious. They do need strict limits and precise indoctrination into values. They respond to active play much stronger than girls, learn from scuffles and a lot of competition AND form very strong and beneficial ties with other boys through it. This is real. And yet the system is devoted to wiping out all the things that most boys are, naturally.

I'm speaking in general terms and ignoring outliers.

And it's getting worse. It's an ideology that ignores basic reality.

You know what opened my eyes back in the day? Fight Club. For how amazingly F***ed-up it was, it absolutely spoke to me on many other levels. It was the repudiation of all the indoctrination I had gone through.

I still don't want to hurt anyone. I still believe in equality. But by the actual numbers and the harmful teaching practices and the direction all this is taking us, I now fully agree with the conclusion.

Boys (and of course, men) are well on the way to becoming the "second sex". Just look at some of the stats in this book already and you'll see. College grads make more money, but 38% of men go in while 51% of women do. That margin has probably increased in the near 20 years since this book was published.

I'd love to see how many men are severely depressed or have gone through long periods of depression, listlessness, and despair after going through the school system. I know I did. I also improved a TON after getting into college. I was surrounded by a much healthier atmosphere.

I bought into the lies. I didn't realize I was being downgraded just because I was male. I wonder if a lot of this is the direct cause of some men's backlash. Anger, turned to violence, after having so many of their natural play and learning impulses quashed, being told that they were all rapists in training, that most of our natural desires were not to be channeled into appropriate directions, but told that they were simply and baldly BAD.

Of course, I'm not saying that we're all unaccountable to our own actions. Of course we are. But I'll admit that I am rather angry that I have not had any positive male role models.

I was brought up to be a girl. I love women. I thought that was okay.

It's just a shame... this dog was taught to use the kitty-litter box and meow for affection.

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Monstrous Regiment (Discworld, #31; Industrial Revolution, #3)Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read 12/10/19:

A delightful Discworld read that dives head first into a little country's war problem. Well, it's not really a problem, per se... in fact, it's almost done. As in fini. Kaput. With them the ultimate losers.

So you'd think, with all the men being dead and all, they'd be more welcoming of a bit of some added support. And I'm not talking bras... or AM I?

A very funny book. There are a few coffee drinking beasties here, a troll, and even an Igor(ina). It turns into a kinda Hogan's Heroes. Or rather, Heroines. And ooooh the abominations! Cross-Dressing Everywhere!



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Monday, December 9, 2019

NOS4A2NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read 12/9/19:

What a book to get me in the mood for Christmas! Again. :)

Okay, so maybe re-reading about the man who made Christmastown all that it is might not be EXACTLY everyone's cup of tea when it comes to getting in the mood for Christmas, but I'm a bit odd.

Fortunately, Hill writes a great horror and horror is good any time of the year. Still filled with great characters, great development, and great sick horror. :) Charley obviously never hurts children.


Original Review:

The novel really shines with characterizations. The depth and easy flow was excellent. How the peculiar abilities/ideas affected them was also quite memorable.
I was kinda surprised that we didn't actually get to go to Christmastown until much, much later in the novel, but the buildup and anticipation was well worth it. The creepy ending was also very very satisfying.

I don't like to compare styles between authors unless I was doing a serious paper, but for those who like SK, you'll like Joe Hill's work, too. :) There's plenty of obvious reasons, but fortunately, all of them made a good novel that isn't reliant on the relationship in the slightest.

I'll definitely read more of Mr. Hill's work. This was my first, and I was very pleased.

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Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical RightDark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am utterly astounded.

Not surprised, mind you. But I am utterly astounded. It feels like there are no books written any more that rely on real investigative journalism.

But this is one, and it has meticulous, astounding scope.

It's one thing to point out the flaws in your opposition. Those kinds of books are commonplace and are always designed to sway you persuasively. And then there are books that give you a very, very big picture that shows you something so scary, so pervasive, that it boggles the imagination and is worse than any horror novel ever written.

This is about the Koch brothers. Two men in the 6th and 7th richest place in the world, who built an empire on oil money with the very worst record for ecological disasters, where ends always justify the means, turned all their money toward politics. How did they do this? Philanthropy. As in, pouring all their money into foundations and trusts that then poured all their money into other foundations and trusts in such a horribly convoluted shell-game that it takes full-time researchers to uncover where the money originated.

Why did they do this? To bypass political financing regulations.

Where did these foundations and trusts lead to?

Educational institutions in order to promote radical right wing agendas in all the biggest schools, tempting all students with ongoing stipends and opportunities as long as they tow the line.

Astroturfing. Creating hundreds of seemingly grass-roots organizations like the Tea Party and many like it, like the Heritage Foundation, etc., to provide ideological foot-troops against any target they pleased.

Fundraising campaigns that stagger the imagination, still using the shell-game premise, that led to nearly 300 billion dollars just to capture all the seats in congress and the senate. And the presidency. They used every trick in the book. Smear campaigns in advertising was only a small part of it. They bought and paid for several networks, tons of writers, and spread their right-wing agenda across so many fronts that it APPEARED to be THE only game in town. They even eventually strong-armed the Republican Campaign into giving over the reigns.

It started with the Koch brothers and their ideological obsession. Now it's a full network of the richest banding together to create what, in the parlance, can only be an Oligarchy. Rule by the rich.

What is the bottom line? The rich get richer. No one else matters.

Definitely not the middle class or the poor. If you're not in the upper 1%, you're nothing. They have bought the political system.

If you think this is a propaganda piece by the left, then try reading it and prove me wrong. Check https://www.politifact.com/

It is so much worse than you might imagine. They have lied through their teeth on practically anything and everything. They have done everything they can do to dismantle the EPA, health care systems, anti-trust laws, inheritance laws (That ONLY affect the upper 1%), brainwashing the intellectual elite (or at least giving them all monetary incentive to tow the line even if they don't BELIEVE), fund every group that nay-says global warming, blames every victim for the housing crisis, and, of course, the Obamacare act.

None of this is about the reality any of us regular people believe in. They say whatever they want in order to accomplish only ONE thing: their bottom line. If that means dismantling all government, all checks and balances, and the possibility of ever having an egalitarian society ever again, then it JUST DOESN'T MATTER.

Almost everyone in the government has a major financial hand in the Koch pie. Local, State, Nationwide. The regulators have either worked for or still work with the worst abusers.

If it sounds like some mob-run scheme, then you're right.

The fact that normal people can't untangle the web, or if they've gotten far enough in the tangle, they throw up their hands and cry for mercy, is exactly the point.

People ARE untangling the web and this book is a fantastic example of it.


Am I scared of what I've learned?
Oh hell yes. I was so scared back in the 2000's that I swore off political reading or watching tv ever again. If I couldn't trust anything I heard, then I would spend my time better by reading fiction.

I stopped being depressed and feeling helpless. And now that I feel a bit better, I decided to step back into the knowledge playground. I have strength I didn't have back then. This book doesn't make me spiral into desperation.

Rather, it makes me proud that there are still people willing to report the truth.

Maybe someday, this book will be required reading after we get over this crisis. Or perhaps it will be an underground book suppressed by the Oligarchy. Either way, we will have seen how we got here.

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Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and IdentityThe Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity by Douglas Murray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Please use Google to look up White Couples. Look up White Inventors. Check out the pictures.

If the results doesn’t blow your mind, I don’t know what will.

I mean, this is real. Not a joke. It’s not even a search that is remotely racist or homophobic, and yet, look at this pendulum swing into madness.


I admit that reading this book made me laugh. Genuine laughter, mixed with incredulity and a reaffirmed firm conviction that people of any orientation, race, or political bent can be a jerk.

I love this book, and yet I do not identify as a Neo Conservative. And yet, this is a Neo Conservative book written by a gay man lambasting the more egregious insanities of radicals of any bent.

I was particularly touched by just how much absurdity was highlighted. Of course, all the highlights are entirely on the liberal left, gays, lesbians, trans, and blacks, but don’t let that dissuade you. This isn’t the normal hate-filled drivel that I usually see coming out of the Conservative Right.

Rather, it’s a very interesting wake-up call that points out the major systemic inconsistencies of these Political movements. Yes, that’s right. It’s not about whether someone is LGBT or Black or Asian. It’s just a big finger being pointed at the a**holes in each group.

For this, I’m both heartily amused and I’m also right on board. I love it when a**holes of any stripe get shown up for their absurdities.

Everyone needs a reality check.

How did you like Google now?

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Friday, December 6, 2019

The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust, #2)The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Something strange just happened.

After having just read La Belle Sauvage and also having just read the original His Dark Materials trilogy (for the second time, but again, recently), I have come to the conclusion that this might be my favorite of all five books.

Weird, right?

I mean, I liked the original trilogy well enough but I never went gaga over it. Maybe it was about the problem of agency. Or perhaps it was a few other issues. But I never disliked all the wonderful pan-religiosity, the many subversions, references, and the overall worldbuilding.

And then the first Book of Dust came along and while I thought the whole quest was somewhat interesting, it never lived up to the whole promise of the rest. I mean, if you can sum up the entire damn book in a single sentence and the sentence bores you, you know you have a problem.

So what happened here? All of a sudden we have a Lyra 7 years after the events of HDM and she's a young woman with a problem. A meme problem. A mental health problem. She's having issues with Pan and Pan is having (I rather think,) more issues with her. I'm on Pan's side here. Lyra's behaving abominably.

That being said, Pullman has pulled off a much more complicated tale than the first book, adding a real good reason FOR the first book, giving us many new reasons why Lyra's world is falling apart while also making a huge commentary on Europe's current issues in general. The worldbuilding is obviously commentary. But it's GOOD commentary.

Add all the spycraft, the mystery, the book-long chase and the quest that seems to revolve around separated Daemons, and all of a sudden, the Big Picture finally got interesting again. I missed that in the first book. A lot. In fact, if it wasn't for the need for the investment in a few certain characters in THIS book, I might say... skip the first book. Just skip it. The Lyra baby survives the flood and gets Sanctuary. Move on.

But seen in this next book's light, I have to admit it all comes together rather nicely. Even if there is a 20 year gap. At least Pullman is able to pull off some rip-roaring good tales full of episodic action, great timing, and a million interesting characters. I never got bored with this one at all.

Just a warning, tho:

CLIFFHANGER.

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Thursday, December 5, 2019

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and PovertyWhy Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoğlu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Despite the hutzpah of a title like WHY NATIONS FAIL, there's nothing in the text itself that I found disagreeable, and I've read a lot of different economic and political theories of wealth over the years.

Of course, there have been a lot of armchair historians and armchair economists and armchair politicians, so who knows if 20/20 vision is really accurate? They could all be riffing on one fundamental theory or another and making a messy conclusion. Right?

The beauty of this one is pretty simple in effect if not in the supporting particulars. Tons of examples are given from all kinds of nations and economic policies and politics all throughout history and including a very refreshing survey of modern nations. They first break down the prevailing bad theories that revolve around geography, culture, bad luck, or even the big modern one we see all the time: Ignorance. *laugh* You know, the one that says, "If only you had our experts, you too can have all the wealth we have."

The fundamental difference in this book, fascinatingly so, can be summed up quite easily. And it's kinda obvious, too.

Extractor policies and inclusive policies.

You can translate that into government/economic policies that loot in order to grow or those that give a share of all the profits and incentives to all the people working in the system. Vicious cycles and Happy cycles.

Dictators that keep on taking can keep it up for a long time and even if there are revolutions, the revolutions keep putting the same damn policy in place. Any kind of authoritarian government can work to that same tune. Short term growth, sharp declines.

The politics and the economics of it are perfectly entwined. You can't have one without the other.

On the other hand, there's the other side. If everyone, not just the elite, has a stake in the game, then everyone works harder and with more intelligence to accomplish whatever they have to accomplish.

Use guns, coercion, theft. Or use honest cooperation.

It's pretty obvious that BOTH can be a basis for any nation. As can a wide, wide continuum mixing both elements in any. And that's also the point. Any nation can succeed or fail. No nation is exempt.

But it still requires a rather huge change of heart and it must be truly enacted in both the economics side and the political side. One without the other will perpetuate the same looting cycle.


For fans of other authors and big theories that nail this same idea, look to Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Or Game Theory.

You will have all types of individuals either working toward a collaborative whole or those who will short the whole damn thing down. The institutions with enough checks and balances DO seem to edge toward the more prosperous equations. Those who dismantle those checks and balances or work together to loot other subsets will take from the total potential benefits of wealth until it is all used up.

It's quite complicated in practice, of course, but for a cohesive underlying theory, it works a lot better than saying Communism! or Capitalism! or Socialism!

All those can be filled with thieves or genuinely cooperative individuals. The difference is in the institutions and economic models that might favor the thieves or the genuinely cooperative.


The real joy of reading this book is the myriads of examples. :)

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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Between the World and MeBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This might just be one of the most important pieces of literature I've ever read.

That's saying a lot because I've read a lot. But not only is it written brilliantly, beautifully, and full of passion and thought, it is also a question.

A massive question that has no easy answer, but demands that everyone ought to open their eyes.

Oh, sure, we've all heard this argument before, you say, that problems of safety should always outweigh justice... but there is nothing in this life that says we must forego one in order to have the other.

Look. I'm a fan of dreamers and idealism, but after reading this absolutely fantastic socratic dialogue/personal awakening/heartfelt desire, I have to admit it might be time to put away the Dream.

What does this mean? It means there are Dreams, such as the American Dream, that are built on the backs of slaves, of plundered indians, of a dance on the back of any poor of any stripe, that brought the American Dream its prosperity. We can't ignore that. We can't continue this Great Forgetting. Nor can we keep on sweeping it under the rug when predatory lenders, new prisons, racial profiling, and misunderstanding keeps sweeping through our house.

Your American Dream is not untarnished. If you insist on believing in it, then you must also insist on taking responsibility for the injustice perpetrated in its name. This doesn't mean you ought to join white supremacists to justify your own guilt in the system that still bruises black bodies, giving yourself up to the hate that had submerged into the very fabric of your society.

It means we must wake up and see reality as it really is. That we have frank and open discussions and see how a whole class of people are not safe in their own persons. That everything and anything can be taken from them at any time. That they are an institutional underclass.

This isn't right.

I recommend this essay/epistle to everyone. Anyone. Its writing is beyond gorgeous and eloquent. It can do what this lousy review can never do:

Inspire, even as it makes me cry.



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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust, #1)La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't know. I think some of my friends will probably try to murder me, but there is nothing all that extraordinary about this novel. I think I might rate it more 3.5 for nostalgia and solid prose if not for exciting plot or developments.

Of course, that is a problem when you're dealing with a prequel.

We get all of... getting a baby to the college.

Sure, it's fine for all that this is and I enjoyed getting to know the wacky kids who discover all this intrigue on the fly and hop in to encounter a good few of the main characters from the original trilogy... but the fact that my greatest enjoyments were in connecting this book to the others and finding little to get excited over in THIS book, on its own merits, kind of makes me... sad.

Still, for all you folks who get extremely excited over the originals, I'm certain you'll still get along fine with this one.

On to the next, which apparently jumps ahead in time a good deal! :)

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We Were Eight Years in Power: An American TragedyWe Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Off and on throughout the years, I've gone through major stints into the world of political thought, diving in head-first to swim through the sometimes murky and oftentimes polemical and myopic drive for change.

This is not one of those books. Each essay in here is very well researched and backed up with a plethora of references I've either already read before or have been featured in grand scale elsewhere.

The big question being raised must also be willing to be extremely courageous.

We might assume this could be a last hurrah for equal rights for blacks right before the great backsliding, or we might assume that the issues are not as dire as they are portrayed, but I think both of these assumptions are false.

What am I trying to say?

Three hundred years of injustice just changes its face but never its core tenant. This is a systemic racial problem masquerading as a poverty problem. Of course, if you set up the housing issue so that blacks pay for worse housing at a much higher rate, we don't call it racism, we call it redlining. Never mind that it causes systemic poverty.

Or how about the fact that in five decades America now has 25% of the world's total inmates while only containing 5% of the world's total population? Or that reports were made right before this shift in policy that outlined the need to break away from the segregation of the 60's, the need to educate, equalize the possibilities for housing, and reversing the course of the breakdown of families due to opportunity and poverty in general... but yet, right after that time, all choices went another direction: prisons. Trump up drug charges and use draconian punitive measures for every inmate. No rehabilitation, just punishment. Make the prisons a moneymaking business, stack the deck against anyone getting out to lead a decent life, and then realize that 7 times as many men in the system are black. Instead of giving them jobs and education and the ability to move away from a system that now has tons of single-mothers raising their children in poverty, we are just putting a heel on an entire subset of humanity.

If that isn't racism, I don't know what is.

It doesn't even have anything to do with individual voices or desires. It doesn't have anything to do with single mothers working harder to break through the circular hell that is this system. It has to do with the system itself.

You know that housing bubble? The predatory lenders that sold hope to millions of people and downplayed the bottom line that their mortgages would increase in time, or drastically increase with a single missed payment? When you look at who they targeted the most, you should see things clearly.

Black men and women aren't a race of super predators no matter what the crime rates say. And the crime rates say a lot of things. Very interesting things... such as the increases in crime and decreases in crime remain pretty stable across all countries. Almost as if they are a function of population pressure, and not inherent badness. The measures taken, such as harsher sentences and the three-strike rule and more and more prisons DO NOT MAKE A DIFFERENCE. All we're doing is making a new class of slaves locked into poverty and despair.

This hasn't changed. Eight years of Obama as president has not changed anything except give a tiny glimmer of hope, properly squashed with the next big backlash.

This book spells out the tragedy.

Hell, most of the stats aren't new. What is really awesome about this book is it's writing. One needs to have this presented well for it to make any difference at all. Coates is a good writer and his objectivity is peerless. Of course he spells out where he is less than objective, but let's get real here: most whites don't scratch the surface to SEE what's going on.

Systemic oppression on multiple axis, approved of at every level, and reinforced by narratives that seem valid only because the actual causes are ignored.

So many things in our world follows the same suit.

Naysayers get screamed down by louder blustery demagogues.

Propaganda works because all you need is more voices saying the same lies repeatedly before the general populace starts believing it.

Is racism alive and well? Obviously. It might even get worse.

So what kind of world do we really want to live in?

All this money and effort that the system has put into segregating blacks (unofficially) could have gone into education and real opportunity. The old horrors of slavery have only taken new forms.

Who are we to let this continue?

Yes, I'm a freaking white man. I don't approve of this s**t. The injustice is real and pervasive and overwhelming.

And I don't know what to do except talk about it. Honestly. And from the heart. And it makes me so damn angry. This should never have happened.

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Monday, December 2, 2019

The Bookish Life of Nina HillThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Comfort food for the bookish soul.

It doesn't hurt if you are a big fan of wish-fulfillment, fraught personality-type romance, and so much cute it might split your skull open and let all that pure bookish nostalgia leak right out.

This might sound critical of the book, but it really isn't. It follows the formula to great exactitude. We all love a happy ending. :)

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Sunday, December 1, 2019

Alien: River of Pain (Canonical Alien trilogy, #3)Alien: River of Pain by Christopher Golden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let's be real. Novels based on movie franchises (or tv, for that matter,) often feel like a nostalgia trip if not an outright money grab.

So, you like the movie Aliens? The Cameron one? Well, good news! This one adds a lot to the original movie, adding a lot of backstory for the original colonists on Archeron where we get to see Newt and her parents and the ultimate destruction of the colony.

We also get Ripley and a bit more of her story on Earth before all the S**t went down.

Here's the real:

I fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.

I don't care. I love it. It's like watching an extended version of the film, only a bit MORE extended, with only a few bits here and there from the original re-done in the novel and leaving me wide open to watch the movie all over again with more appreciation.

Guess what DVD I just popped in my player? :) Yippie!!!

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Homo Deus: A History of TomorrowHomo Deus: A History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For all you technogeeks out there interested in transhumanism, the world-as-story theory of everything human, or you SF lovers, there really isn't all that much new inside this book. You're probably well versed in these ideas. Money, cultural realism, trust, and how we use technology or religion is al based on a fiction that we all accept. No problem.

When it comes to imagining what might come next, from singularities, man-machine hybrids, or the idea that AIs might consider us superfluous (an idea I am increasingly starting to agree with), there really isn't anything groundbreaking here.

So why do I give it a four rather than a three or lower?

It's entertaining, well-written, and while it doesn't scratch my itch to learn anything new, it is a fairly comprehensive backdrop of what might come next. Of course, we're dealing with future prediction here. Most of what we assume will never come about. :)

Oh, well! At least it's consensual food-for-thought. Zeitgeist stuff. Our current hopes and fears rather than reality. :)

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Saturday, November 30, 2019

James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. SheldonJames Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This biography of Alice Sheldon is brilliant. Brilliant, but sobering.

I didn't imagine there would be such depth and investigation going into Alice's life, but not only do we get the character of it, but we get the whole glorious, convoluted, conflicted joy, sadness, and understanding of this person.

I mean, sure, the later-life effects of her writing under the well-respected pseudonym of Tiptree and her increasingly difficult dodges she had to perform to keep her secret from all of fandom and the friends she made from other authors was pretty fun, sad, and freaking fantastic. But when we see all of this through the eyes of her personal feminism and the resulting blowback in the SF field, the whole subject takes on a very poignant and relevant light.

She was very conflicted on the whole subject and it shows.

She led a rich life, from being the daughter of a popular novelist, living in Africa during the heyday of the Great White Hunter legends as a kid, to always knowing she never BELONGED anywhere, of how she was driven by rage as a woman while always having to put on a happy face, to her days as a professional painter learning from the greats, to her short stint as a critic, her joining the military during WWII, to her life as a chicken farmer, to her time as a CIA analyst, to her time as a psychological researcher on perception, to her much later career as an SF author.

What started as a joke turned into a name thrown into fame. She was a man who finally understood women! (Never mind that so many of the stories are DARK, dystopian, highly sexualized male-dominated stories full of institutional and personal abuse... and both sexes were to blame.)

The biographer gave us everything in Alice's life. Her lesbian desires, never fulfilled, her rebellious decision to elope with a man who was just as angry as her, to finding deep companionship with her second husband while never really getting what she really desired. Compound this with her agreement with him to form a suicide pact when things got to be too difficult, and then, at the end, after much illness and depression, she kills her husband and then herself, the picture becomes quite as dark as her fiction.

But this is not the whole story. Of course. She suffered lifelong depression and rage at the world, but it was science and the drive to build something lasting that brought her the most joy. Her core belief revolved around anti-entropy. I thought it was beautiful. She was always rational and deliberate. How she went about saying goodbye to everyone was as thoughtful as it was heartbreaking.

I've never read a more multi-faceted and rich biography. Of course, I can also blame the woman who is the subject of it for giving so much interesting fodder in the shape of her life.

Yes, it's a difficult life, too, but it was full of something really special. It might even go a long, long way to redefining our understanding of history. From a humanist perspective.

Just. Wow. What an interesting person.


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The Wee Free Men (Discworld, #30; Tiffany Aching, #1)The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This might be the best YA book I've ever read.


Need I say more?
Everyone knows how charming Terry Pratchett can be and his humor was always top notch. But what people generally overlook is the wisdom.

First Sight, Second Think.

That's the main thing about being a witch or even being a bit bright. See things as they are and never settle for your first think. Hello!

I love Tiffany. Harder than the earth, handy with string and a big pan. And she demands respect. :)

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Friday, November 29, 2019

Interference (Semiosis Duology, #2)Interference by Sue Burke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The sequel to Semiosis starts out fantastically. I loved the amount of worldbuilding that had gone into this future Earth and the kinds of people they would be putting on a spaceship to interfere with Pax.

Ya gotta love the vagarities of human ignorance. It doesn't matter what we do or what we try, we always seem to f*** everything up.

So here we have an invasive species (us) doing what we do ALL OVER AGAIN on Pax. At least Steveland and the other locals have had an opportunity to get along for quite some time by now.

As we get to know both sides and watch the lies and the germs spread, I started getting a sinking feeling. All this downward spirals happened instead of a nice (possibly twisty) fantastic uptick with a sometimes wise Steveland. I discovered I had to start reading the book as if it was a commentary.

That isn't bad, of course. We all should see what the consequences should be for our blundering, mindless behavior and see the destructiveness of authoritarians. *shrug*

This is complex, well-thought-out, and subtle. Or sometimes not very subtle at all. That's FINE.

I guess I just wanted more diving into the whole cooperation mythos, more toe-dipping in other intelligences, new ways to make things work in the middle of sooooo much crazy interference.

The rest works on those levels, but I think this novel could have been GREAT. Not just good. But that's just my opinion.

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Thursday, November 28, 2019

Starsight (Skyward, #2)Starsight by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, all the goodness.

So, aside from not being able to talk about the joys in this YA space opera by the wonderful Sanderson, I can at least gush over the things it made me feel.

I was always thrilled about every space battle. It's a perfect blend of personality, piloting, humor, and many little oddities that make this kind of thing special. I was never annoyed by any of the main characters. I loved the AI's existential crises, the cuteness of the tiny fox/badger aliens and their king, and the fact that the majority of the novel deals more with perception and assumption than practically anything else.

The twists? Really great. But no spoilers. We've got an epic setup here and a very satisfying conclusion. You know, aside from that very last bit that makes me want to scream and tear out all my hair and demand that all the bookgods heed my plea for the next book in my hands RIGHT THIS INSTANT...

Ahem.

My only complaint? Our big bad aliens read like the ideological liberal left taken to an amazing extreme. Like, total caricature. And while we do dig below the surface and see a bit of variety, it's kinda funny how very... phobic... both sides get, or how those phobias take on some very strange features. Maybe it's not a complaint, but a bit of an annoyance because I would like to have seen a lot more subtlety and divergence in these details even as they grew more pronounced. But, let's face it, this IS a YA novel. Oversimplification, even in an ostensibly FUN tale written for the sake of FUN, is kind of the name of the game. :)

Putting that aside, I had a damn lot of fun. :) So I do believe this is a total win. :)



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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Angel Souls and Devil Hearts (Shadow Saga #2)Angel Souls and Devil Hearts by Christopher Golden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Enjoying a nice revisit with the Shadow Saga, with evil Catholics and saintly Vampires!

Seriously, I'm both thrilled and a little disappointed in this second book. Mostly thrilled. I mean, I can do without some of the slowish bits, but with all the big explosions and military might chopping up the PoV changes, taking a trip to hell to save Peter, coming back to a massive blow-out with major demons walking the Earth, I really have NOTHING to complain about.

I think my main problem, on this re-read, is not the first two books at all, but the memory of the third. I hate losing my favorite characters. Peter is great and even though we barely see him in this one, he takes all the other stages in fine form. It isn't HIM that I love the most, though. I love almost all of them.

Read into that as you will.

But as for this book? I LOVE the twists and turns it takes. There are some really funny and awesome ideas floating around in here and the short-sharp-idea-jabs are the BEST.

I'm glad I did a re-read. It's just plain FUN. :)

Not perfect, mind you, but it is definitely courageous and genre-busting and willing to go all out. That's something I can appreciate. Big time. :)



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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Her Smoke Rose Up ForeverHer Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I would like to say that each one of these stories by James Tiptree Jr., or rather, Alice Sheldon, are gender dystopian SF shorts that sharply highlight the darkness, doing it in miniature... but I would be wrong. Nothing she wrote is miniature.

In fact, all her stories are huge, not in length, but definitely in imagination, scope, and their inherent darkness. Even the ones that seem rather delightfully hopeful usually come from mate-eating gigantic alien spiders or from psychopathic and heavily abused tech who goes on a murder spree before she becomes one of the most positive people to enjoy a first-contact scenario.

Wow, right?

Most of these stories came out of the seventies and the focus on gender inequality, systematic institutional abuse, and the entitlement of jerks is all pretty front and center. The fact that Alice kept a tight lid on the fact that she was a woman writing as a man should tell you a lot. I personally think she did the whole shock-value, overboard characterizations of these abusive men as a way to normalize them in the literature. She made them heavier and darker than usual in order to underscore just how crazy it is.

The things we take for granted are NOT normal. Not back then and not now. But this is also rather the point. The shock value is in the psychology of it. We should be outraged, look at our own world, and see just how f***ing close we are to Sheldon's standard.

Scary. And others obviously agree. There are a lot of modern works that come very close to Sheldon's standard. Either they're paying homage or they believe the technique is worth revisiting.

But let me let you in on a little secret:

Alice Sheldon's writing is brilliant. Imaginative, scary, brutal, and definitely worth revisiting NOW.

This is some REAL dystopian literature. Psychological, societal, physical, and even existential. If you're scared of some nihilism, prepare yourself before picking up this book. :)

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Monday, November 25, 2019

The Body: A Guide for OccupantsThe Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For all of you other cyborgs and pure artificial intelligences out there, I should mention that this is a rather interesting primer on regular meat-sacks. It even has the distinction of not being science fiction at all.

But as the title suggests, outright occupancy usually comes with a rental charge. The bill always comes due.


I've read a few Brysons before... and my favorite has got to be A Short History of Nearly Everything. This one, from a regular knowledge-gathering stand, comes in as a tight second. The travelogues are fun and often funny, but Short History is pretty comprehensive and rather more funny. This one, however, was not very funny at all.

That's okay. Very little about our bodies, aside from sex and farts, is funny.

Bryson DOES, however, accomplish a lot, go over a LOT of ground. Pretty cool, in fact.

Do I recommend reading this? Absolutely. Everyone ought to have a primer on themselves. The benefit here is much more than meets the eye, though. So many new discoveries and outright debunking of myths have made it in this text. Recent ones, too.

You know that leaky faucet and the clog in the pipes? Yep. We really need to talk to the landlord.

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Saturday, November 23, 2019

Full ThrottleFull Throttle by Joe Hill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a fine, fine collection of short stories.

When I decided I wanted good, traditional horror with fantastic characterization and full-hilt (or throttle) gore, I knew I couldn’t go wrong with Hill.

It’s not like this is all he does, but when I just want that visceral surprise death after getting to know some rather interesting folk, I found myself laughing out loud in a good number of these.

Maybe it says more about me than I intended. *shrug* Oh, well! Obvious modern morality plays are FUN.

I think I loved the first five of these stories best. My ABSOLUTE top story now makes me wish I had a job driving a bookmobile truck. I mean, seriously, I LOVE this story.

My least favourite story happens to be Hill’s SF foray. Sadly. I mean, I’m a big fan of SF in general and Hill is obviously a fan of the genre, as seen from his many literary references, but it just didn’t do anything for me.

But when he goes right for the jugular of either fantasy through tiny doors, including big game hunters, or a Sons of Anarchy treatment by way of Duel, I’m all over it. :)

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Friday, November 22, 2019

We Should All Be FeministsWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

And in the space of a single short essay, I've just become an uber-fanboy.

She sums up all my own feelings on the subject in a delightfully welcoming essay on Feminism.

As in, hello, we all need to do better. Be more aware. Don't ignore the problem, but above all, be real to ourselves.

It's a simple message. And this author writes with such charm and very little anger. If I could choose any single manifesto to live by, (even as a man), I could do very much worse by looking anywhere else. :)


Here's another thing to chew on:

I feel hopeful.

I have hope.

Don't do as we've always done. See things clearly. And above all, treat everyone with respect.

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The FishermanThe Fisherman by John Langan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every fisherman is a storyteller.

And you won't BELIEVE what kind of fish got away.

As horrors go, we all know it's a hit-or-miss kind of thing. Some writing is fantastic, some of them have great ideas and thrills, and some of them ride that sweet spot all the way through. This is one of the latter. Our hero may not get too many fish on his forays, but his tragic tale, along with his buddy's tragic tale, sincerely sweeten the tale as it descends, steeply, into some really deep waters.

This book has lots of heart and lots of emotion. On that level, alone, this would have made a very fine psychological thriller that could have gotten away with soooo much less than it did.

But Langan gave us a feast. A real feast. I thought we were going into traditional Lovecraftian territory. Books dredged up from time, creepy circumstances, old horrific histories that are just as deep and terrifying as what was happening in the present... but then the author gave us MORE. And More. And More. And I loved every single second of it.

The scope got pretty damn big. Just like those fish those storytellers like to talk about. But these stories within stories within stories kept getting bigger, more fantastical, and then, eventually, DEEP into uncommon myth, blasting away at the normal Lovecraftian line and giving us something special to sink our sharpened teeth into.

I feel lucky to have read this. This is the kind of gem I'm always keeping my eyes open for. Most of the time, books like this fall rather short of my expectations.

Not this one. This one delivers. On many levels. :)




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Thomas the RhymerThomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's a lot to be said about a fantasy that is written WELL. In fact, one can argue that it is the only thing worth aiming for.

With tons of writers touching on this and that in the realm of the Fae, of wandering minstrels, of friendship, love, and loss, you'd think there would never be a way to STAND OUT from that crowd.

And then, this late in my career of hunting down all the best books on the Fae, I run across Thomas the Rhymer. There are no tricks in this telling.

It is, above all, a crisp, clear story about a minstrel who gets spirited away to the land of the Sidhe to live and love for the Queen, only to find the world changed when he returns.

I've read really great books about the fae, before, of course, but most of them are rich with side stories or buried within much bigger tellings. This book is ONLY about this one thing. And Kushner dives deep into these clear waters, only to bring back up one of the most beautiful, clear pearls of a story.


If I had to recommend just one perfect example of a man getting kidnapped by fairies, then this would have to be it. It's as shiny and beautiful as a crystal goblet. Or the plucking of a genius upon her harp. :)

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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of YmrKa: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr by John Crowley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm conflicted about this read.

On the one hand, I think, with managed expectations, this is a delightful book. Mild, thoughtful, and almost always following the PoV of a special crow through the ages. One that has died, traveled the land of the dead, come back, and lives on and on. Sometimes Dar Oakley talks with men and women, sometimes he just has adventures, but they all tend to revolve around life and death.

I think it has a really good premise.

What I wanted was something more, however. More interesting conflicts, less average, run-of-the-mill adventures, and maybe less seemingly middle-aged-white guy musings. The thoughts on Christianity, or the reflections of the classic Greek stories aren't amazing. In fact, they're a bit timid.

Maybe if I had come across this as one of my first books into the wide world of wandering adventure through lots of time, without knowing and experiencing a hundred others that do the same thing as well if not better, I might have been amazed by this book.

As it is, I have, and other than following the admittedly pretty cool PoV of this crow through a vast stretch of time, with some admittedly cool mini-stories interspersed, I was profoundly meh'd by this novel. It's far from being bad, but it was... boring. To me. But that doesn't have to be the case for anyone else!

This IS perfect for anyone, however, who likes morality plays, good observations about Crows in real-life, and enjoys a sprawling, wandering tome of stories within stories... AND likes them done mildly, gently, and introspectively.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Under Heaven (Under Heaven, #1)Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whenever I read a modern Kay novel, I always struggle trying to classify them.

In all normal respects, they read like classic historical novels set in culturally lush times, peppered with rich characterizations, and steeped in really classy, nearly (or fully) poetical language.

But this ISN'T a novel of the Chinese Tang Dynasty. It may feel like it, read like it, and have a truly heartbreaking setup that seems rather unique to the period, but it ISN'T historical fiction.

It is fantasy. Plain and simple. Made up era, made up world, (even tho it has a moon quite like ours), and enough references to make it FEEL like its a history we ought to KNOW.

And that isn't a problem, per se, but it's only fantasy in the worldbuilding. No magic. Just a fully realized world.

And this is very much a beautiful world. Saying anything more would still do it not enough justice.

I personally prefer a bit more magic in my fantasies, but that's only MY preference. I really loved the characters and the rambling progression of plot. Who knew that getting a gift of 250 horses for performing an act of charity for the dead could bring one SO MUCH TROUBLE?


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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Queen of the Dark Things (Dreams & Shadows, #2)Queen of the Dark Things by C. Robert Cargill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What can I say? I'm a HUGE FAN of Cargill.

The first book in the Dreams & Shadows was freaking brilliant, full of fae and magic, jinn and coyote. All the dark things were front and center. The eating and the eaten. Colby the little kid and Colby the adult was brilliant.

This second book carries Colby along his destiny. Extraordinary magician, keeper of Austin, TX, bane of the fae, drinker of the not quite great hooch. He does what he does for good reasons and yet he's proven himself one of the damned.

I feel for him. Every step of the way, I've felt for him. The wish from his best friend, the jinn, has brought him around the world to see all the magical things in it. He was also given the power to shape reality. This is no small thing.

In this book, we wrap ourselves in the Dreamtime. We hang out in Australia a bit. We get ourselves enmeshed in good friends and horrible choices and demons. Lots and lots of demons. 72 of them. And the best part? Solomon's Ring. :)

This book is SUPER rich with mythology. Like, you can wallow in it, love every magical reference, and sink your teeth into really great plot. And not only that, every character is a fantastic treat. :)

I think of this as a combination Gaiman (as per American Gods), Cat Valente (for her prose poetry) and even a bit of Kevin Hearne thrown in. And not just for his UF, but for the great mythology.

As such, I'm completely head-over-heels in love with it.

Mythopunk. :) Easily, this is gonna be one of my all time favorites.

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Monday, November 18, 2019

Towing Jehovah (Godhead, #1)Towing Jehovah by James K. Morrow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't remember when I last read a book as delightfully satirical, exciting, and brilliantly multi-layered as this.

It's very firmly couched in bloody-minded literalism, but don't let that fool you. This is one SMART COOKIE.

Yes, God is a main character. But unlike so many other humorists, this version is dead. But unlike any number of humorist novels out there, Morrow throws out all the lame ideas and goes ahead and picks the most interesting choices. Every Single Time. Like choosing a God that is FREAKING HUGE before dumping him in the ocean.

Add the Vatican with some really anxious and embarrassed angels hiring a disgraced captain to tow the Godhead to his makeshift burying ground, throw the boat into a rather awesome reversal of Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle, raise an island that is a crude, glitsy porn palace as a post-deist playground of unnatural selection, some mutineers, a hardcore rationalist subplot, and a bunch of nutty WWII re-enactment hobbyists, and you might get a tiny idea about where this might be headed.

This ain't philosophy. But then again, maybe it is. Hardcore philosophy behind a leering, jeering, madcap Monty-Pythonesque prose. Including the parrot.

I will never forget the parody of the transubstantiation.


I have found my next best favorite book. No holds were barred. Everyone, no matter who you are, is invited up to the table to get a punch in the nose. :)

All this aside, you know what I really, really want?

I want this book done as an Amazon Prime or a full-budget HBO miniseries. Including the gigantic corpse. All the frantic sailors trying to keep the predators off God's body. The air battle. The quiet, desperate times with full close-ups for the actors to show the deep conflict, the absurdist humor, the pathos.

It works on SO many levels.

This book has the probability to become one of the most brilliant adaptations ever.

I just wish.

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Sunday, November 17, 2019

Somewhere In TimeSomewhere In Time by Richard Matheson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book starts out rather rough and the time-travel aspect is half-laughable and absolutely necessary for the ambiguity inherent in the novel, but DAMN...

THIS IS ONE HELL OF HEA ROMANCE.

Love and first sight, straining against social customs, heaving bosoms, torn hearts....

Sigh.

I admit I kinda fell for this. I'm not a huge romance reader, but it was soooooo damn sweet and predictable and full of satisfaction.

But I also really appreciated the twist. :) I should probably re-watch the 1980 movie and see if it really does the book justice.

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Saturday, November 16, 2019

Black BeautyBlack Beauty by Anna Sewell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When you're growing up in the 1880's, nothing beats the traditional Liberal education. The important features you ought to be learning about your world around you shouldn't only be the plight of orphans in the streets or the seedy underbelly of our overcrowded and filthy cities.

You need to be aware of animal cruelty.

In particular, you need to be aware that if you mistreat your horses, they will not be able to write effectively on their typewriters.

Do not assume these are all ghostwritten. There are lots of horses out there who are very good at writing, but if you overwork them and mistreat them, they may never show you the other talents they may have, deep inside.

#HorsesAreWritersToo

Please, be aware.

Bless your Christian heart. Oh, and cabbies DO deserve Sunday off. Don't perpetuate the injustices.

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Corrupting Dr. NiceCorrupting Dr. Nice by John Kessel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this definitely falls under Romance. SF rom-com. But don't dismiss it so casually! It has a LOT of great worldbuiding features.

Time travel hijinx is only the start of it.

First, throw out paradoxes. New timelines pop up everywhere. But this also means that you can go back to the same past time and pick up the same person or mineral resource and bring it (or them) back to the future. Mozart writing a rock ballad? Yep.

Commercial exploitation of the past. Movie crews hanging out during the time of Jesus. Bringing Jesus forward. Several of him. Pop him out before he actually DOES anything. Enjoy the ramifications. Mix, stir, repeat.

Let's keep the reveals about the dinosaurs to the novel, shall we?

But the rom-com is actually the best part! Put a con artist next to a rich scientist and watch the sparks fly.

I had a really fun time. :)

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Friday, November 15, 2019

Dreams and Shadows (Dreams & Shadows, #1)Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I came into this with high hopes only because I knew the writer from the Doctor Strange movie and having really enjoyed Sea of Rust, but nothing quite prepared me for a full-out novel of the Sidhe. The fae folk. Changelings, a nasty Tithe, and the tricksy Coyote.

Oh, and let's not forget the other main story. Young Coby and his Jinn.

This is a very atmospheric and darkly delicious novel that really gives us the heave-ho into the whole storyline of poorly thought-out wishes, curses, and the kinds of monsters that live within all of us.

And the good intentions that lead soooo many people down the road to hell.

I loved this. It's right up your alley if you love Gaiman and Cat Valente. Dark, mythological, and as twisty as you like.

I don't think there's a single character in this novel that isn't a victim of his or her own hubris. And yet it always charms us, leads us to wonder and discovery, plays with us the way chaos magic always plays with us, and then sets us back down gently amid a field of gore, telling us that we'll be all right.

Or will we?

*tips his red cap upon his head, lets a little moisture drip upon his finger*

Yes, I think we will be all right.

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Sapiens: A Brief History of HumankindSapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is one supposed to have "fun" reading about the entire breakdown of HUMANITY from a collaborative Anthropological/Campbellian outlook?

Me?
Absolutely.

I was pleasantly reminded of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, but instead of wandering all about and being a little less funny than Bryson, what we get is a rather better focus with a little more depth on a subject very close to almost everyone's hearts: Ourselves.

Now let's get this clear. It's not supposed to be a full-out treatise, nor is it giving citations, but I've read a ton of other books that talk about almost everything in here. It's not new stuff. It is, however, written in such an engaging way that I pretty much fell out of my seat in love with the way they are all presented.

I really got into the counterarguments against agriculture, but before that, I loved the idea that people were all always pretty much always people. Language, myths, and ideas changed us all into the creatures we are now. It's a very Campbellian view. Language increases complexity, but also a closer reliance on details. Abstract concepts arose to help people conceptualize groups of people much larger than a decent gossip circle. We tell ourselves lies and stories in order to accomplish much bigger things.

Easy, right?

Well, the author takes us all the way through the agricultural revolution, into cultural theories, monetary theories, political theories, and scientific theories. All of these have made us what we are, and all of them come from the basic storytelling concept. We believe banks work, and so they do. We believe that our social structure works, and so it does. If we don't trust it, it falls apart, but that's the whole point. We trust the story to be true, and we continue on. Money works this way. The author goes into the fantastic rabbit-hole called Credit. Fractional reserve. We all know it works so long as we trust it works. The same is true for Capitalism, or Buddhism, or the Medieval outlook, or Christmas.

Shall we dismiss, or enshrine, the rest of human history this way?

Sure! Why not? It FEELS right. The story this author tells FEELS trustworthy. I'm hooked.

But then, I'm a writer, myself. I believe in the written word and its power to transform the world. Myth as Life. Myth IS Life. Every instant of our own lives is the artifact of the stories we tell about ourselves. It's not so hard to believe that everything else we do as a species follows the same method.

Hello, money. What makes you think I should believe in you? Oh, wait, you tell a very compelling story. :)

I like this book. :)

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ArcadiaArcadia by Mark Lages
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my second Mark Lages book and I'll be honest, neither of them would have caught my interest in the random playing field of searching for books in general. BUT... having read them by the author's request, or indeed, after getting past the first chapter or two with either book, I can now firmly say that I'm a fan of his writing.

I didn't expect it. I truly didn't. And especially when I learn I'm dealing with a novel about teen suicide, I really out to have squirmed and tried to wiggle out of it... but that's the magic of his writing.

It's warm. Gentle. Empathetic.

We don't jump into the mindset of the suicidal teen except through his poetry, his essays, or some of his actions. We see everything from the PoV of his confused but caring father, who, fortunately or unfortunately, snoops through all his son's things. A grey area? Yeah, of course, but in this case he really does admire his son.

Jacob marches to a different beat. Sees things very differently from most. He's an idealist in a crass, crude world. A sensitive boy unable to deal with the very real negative stuff in this world.

His father is just as lost, but in a different way. This is as much his story as his son's.

All of this could go either way, of course, depending on the writing. Mark Lages holds on to this very gently, leading us up to the critical event with love and care.

Best of all, he doesn't take any easy way out. I admire his courage.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

19841984 by George Orwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My third time reading this has confirmed something to me.

The world is worse than I originally thought, prayed, or hoped it could be.

It's also easy to scratch the barest surface of Orwell's grand dystopia to see the truth of the world of 1948 or 1984 or 2019 or probably even 2091.

We're all doublespeaking all the time. Maybe we believe we're not. Hell, I'd bet that none of us consciously maintain two contradictions in our heads as we juggle the party line... but then, maybe we do. You never know. It is probably about something personal, not political. Maybe it's about saying you love a job you hate, or a spouse, or your own body.

Just applying this to the grand sphere, that people in power got power for the sake of power, and then manipulated us all into believing that we put them there by our own free will, is just a single step further than all the other little lies we keep working so hard to convince ourselves about.

Do you like the way that we deny environmental concerns? Or the future of our energy? Or the very real idea that crop failures stemming from a cascade effect could starve us into near extinction in a single generation? How about the thought that even the most optimistic and drastic of measures in any of these realms is still going to be too little, too late?

We don't even need to look at Orwell's hate-driven society that systematically abuses its populace and then releases them once they're compliant. Just look around us, right now.

Who among us has the single overarching desire to JUST BE LEFT ALONE. Not hassled, not abused, not tormented? This is a far cry from reaching for self-fulfillment, love, and esteem.

I think we're already here. At least we're self-aware enough to know we've always been at war with Eurasia.

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God of WarGod of War by Matthew Woodring Stover
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a huge fan of Matthew Woodring Stover and that basically sums up why I took on this book.

I mean, I played GoW one and two back in the day and I have very fond memories, but it's not particularly DEEP, you know? Oversexed, overviolent goodies. If you love slaughter, you'll love those games. It doesn't hurt that the Greek Pantheon is being its usual nasty self.

So what about this book? Is it something different than the games?

Nope. It's pretty much all the fights and pathos from the game but done in novelization form. That means I can enjoy the nutty craziness in another format and have it all laid out for me in a single sitting.

Do you LOVE bloodshed? Do you love tons of monsters getting eviscerated and s**t stained talons rending flesh? Hello! Do you love climbing the backs of titans and taking on Ares in a one-to-one combat? Hello! Do you love going completely Over-The-Top in violence and rage and regret and bloodlust?

HELLO! This book is for you. You don't even really need to know the games. Just enjoy a fun romp through the hellscape of Greek literature twisted into Pure Action Goodness. :)

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Monday, November 11, 2019

The Shadow YearThe Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I would be lying if I said this was really a YA novel, but for all normal purposes, it is written from the point of view of a kid in Elementary school and has all the generalized coming of age elements.

However, this is very much for the adults. Nostalgia, sure, harkening back to a small town NY in the early sixties, drawing from all grand features of what I'll call the genre of Epic Grownup Nostalgia with Horror. You've probably seen it around. In A Boy's Life, or SK's IT. Or Stranger Things.

There are a lot of imitators, but the writing in these have to be MAGICAL if it's going to catch my love. This one has a lot of that magic.

Oh, a lot of the mystery revolves around a prowler in the neighborhood and missing children and the strange movements in a town mockup downstairs and his kid sister's strange abilities, but that's all window dressing to some really fantastic outright writing.

I definitely recommend this for you nostalgia fans or younger folk who are curious about what life might have been like, once upon a time, when it was NORMAL to go out with your friends all day long in the neighborhood without supervision.

I know, right? That's some SICK FANTASY, right there!

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Sunday, November 10, 2019

Supernova EraSupernova Era by Liu Cixin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me be honest here: we need to accept one major handwavium dance move to enjoy this novel. That being said, if we just go ahead and accept the basic premise that CHILDREN under 13 are naturally resistant to catastrophic radiation exposure, or at least they'll heal up when all the adults around them die off, then we've got a pretty great early dystopian nightmare.

The nearby supernova going off, close enough to do more than annoy and far enough away to not just kill us all, is an awesome macro-scale starter for any kind of SF novel.

Ok, so after that? We've got a pretty awesome setup for a kids-rule-the-world SF worldbuilding extravaganza.

The adults tried to do everything they could to prepare these kiddos, of course, but human nature gets the best of us all.

It's PLAYTIME. The old world was BORING, after all.

It's also almost like Liu Cixin was told to write a YA novel back in 2003 and he nodded sagely, snickered under his hand, and went about writing the ultimate coming of age novel.

Only this YA went ahead and killed off the majority of humanity gave us one of the most horrific wars ever created in the spirit of fair play.

Wow.

Now what I'm saying here is: the ideas are freaking awesome, explores a ton of great avenues, and horrifies the freaking hell out of me. The characters are not all that fantastic, but this SF is very much in the spirit of old-school SF masters who want to run hard with the ball.

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The Return of the SoldierThe Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written during WWI, I honestly thought this would be more about the war, but no, we get a sneaky peek into the inner workings of a man who came home, shell-shocked, only to find himself in an untenable position.

What? Has his wife left him for another man? No. He seems to have another kind of problem. ED? No, no, no... MEMORY LOSS. Sheesh. People.

Seriously though, this is a great snapshot of a time when so many men were voiceless. Indeed, as seen through the three women in his life... his wife, his old fiancé, and a female cousin... he's still pretty voiceless. The trick is in reading between the lines, or inferring from everything that happens in this plot and sometimes in letters we're not privy to, that gives this soldier his voice.

This is a romance, folks. A fascinating one, even. Lots of gray areas. And three women who only want to see him be happy.

Of course, the issue is clear and clearly horrible to contemplate.

A very thought provoking novella.

And for those of you who love period pieces and revel in really awkward class stratifications, this is also for you. :)

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Saturday, November 9, 2019

The ChimesThe Chimes by Anna Smaill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a rather original work revolving around music, the magical effect of music on memories, and how it takes this idea and runs full-hilt into total worldbuilding with it.

Huh?

I mean that certain music retains memories and others, including the Chimes, takes it away. Most of the world, or at least this oppressive, poverty-stricken future London, has forgotten itself. The Chimes are played to keep all the memories lost.

I love most of this. I really do. You can tell the author is very deep into her music. The main character and the group he runs with plays beautiful music, combatting the effects of the Chimes, surviving like street urchins, and finding love among all the questions and developing the tale into a quest to stop the Chimes.

I really enjoyed that.

What I didn't particularly enjoy was the slow, almost impersonal way the characterizations developed. It took a long time for me to wind my way through the musical riffs before some juicy handles presented themselves.

And then there was the way normal words were changed in spelling, for worldbuilding effect, that didn't really seem to have a reason. I didn't get the impression that this was a journal written by someone who had lost his ties with our standard language. I understood that Simon was a farmboy with some rather awesome musical talent and a side-talent for saving and storing memories. Writing, except for musical notation, seemed to be quite secondary.

*shrug*

That being said, I did enjoy the oppressiveness and the rather jazz-like discoveries and movements in plot and setting. :)

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