Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Battle Ground (The Dresden Files, #17)Battle Ground by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Words nearly fail me.

Even as I read this book, I was stunned into silence. (You know, one of those deep, inner-monologue silences that radiate deeply inward so much that I could hear a mental pin drop from forty mental yards.)

I knew, from the prior book, that we were preparing for WAR. The outsiders were coming. All supernaturals, gods, Fae, and even normal folk were being called to battle. It is ALL of Chicago on the line.

What I didn't expect was for Jim Butcher to pull an all-out Epic Fantasy battle against a freaking Titan, including massive damage to the city, the allies, or to Harry, himself. You know what came to mind? Butcher's Caldera novels. Huge scope, fantastic action, magic, and glory. Now blend that in with ALL our most beloved characters from the Dresden Files. Put EVERYONE on the field of battle.

I mean, it's only the fabric of reality that's at stake. The stakes aren't THAT high.

And then expect a novel that doesn't let up. At all.

And even when the main battle is done, that inner silence remains.


Let me be honest here: I cried like a little baby during this book. Many times. I was too shocked. Too... well... maybe words do fail me, after all.

Even now, I'm crying as I write this review.

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Monday, September 28, 2020

Raising Steam (Discworld, #40, Moist von Lipwig #3)Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read 9/28/20:

It turns out I liked this novel better the second time I read it, so I just had to give it an extra star. *sigh* I love Moist. And I really didn't mind the whole Dwarvish issue as much this time. It was genuinely funny this time.

I guess it just goes to show... sometimes we change as people. Sometimes a warm reaction can turn into something rather hotter. But then, maybe I'm just anticipating the end of all these novels. ; ;


Original review:

Welcome the age of reason, one and all, and see how math can be personified in the shape of steam inside a kettle.

The enthusiasm that overflowed the novel was joyful and catching, sweeping up so many long-standard pillars of Discworld and carrying them all into the future. It was a good end, if, indeed, it is the end. The cameos of so many characters lent it that inevitable feel. I don't know, since I haven't been keeping up with any official statements or the desires of Mr. Pratchett, but my intuition tells me he's wrapping things up.

The novel, while skimming over events so quickly as to be nothing more than steam, still showed us how fast the world could change, and how irrevocably it did so.

Not my favorite Discworld novel, I was still thoroughly amused by Mr. Moist, who is one of my favorite characters.

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PiranesiPiranesi by Susanna Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gorgeous.

From the start of this book to the finish, we are transported into a truly enormous house full of sunken rooms, many statues, fish, and birds -- a realm of nature, and an impossibly huge house.

Our narrator, far from being a prime candidate for truly reliable storytelling, is nonetheless a very objective and careful natural philosopher. The descriptions of this world are beyond beautiful.

Only one other, if you don't count 13 corpses, is his company during most of the novel. The Other is also a scientist of a sort, but he is more interested in the deeper pathways of magic.

I'll tell you though -- this book may not have any outright magic, but we are still steeped in it. It's not merely the descriptions, but these are the core of it. I was frankly blown away from the birds hopping between the statues. The idea that we can see nature as a world that is constantly communicating with us, that we can negotiate with, made me believe that we were either in the deep past or in the realm of the Fae. And more than anything, I just wanted to know what this world was, what was going on, and what was the true mystery.

Beyond this, I will not say, because it is the journey that truly counts.

I still feel the magic here. Hell, I feel the magic and the magick, for make no mistake, there is plenty of both in these pages. :)

This is a real treat for both natural philosophers and metaphysicians.


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Sunday, September 27, 2020

A Little Hatred (The Age of Madness, #1)A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read three other novels by Abercrombie and I was thrilled to see just how much grimdark fantasy has exploited the field of normal epic fantasy back in the day. I was IMPRESSED by the number of vibrant characters, the grit, darkness, the blood, and the feeling of utter hopelessness in the face of ridiculous odds.

I mean, we're all used to this kind of thing, aren't we? Now? Well, some novels capture the need to root for these characters at all costs, and Abercrombie is one of the best in the field.

Hopping into this new trilogy of his was something of a no-brainer. I mean, yes, I have to psych myself up for the grimdark aspects, but once I cracked the spine, it was the easiest decision I could have made. I got sucked right into the story. New characters, a few great walk-ons for old characters, but most importantly, a thrilling new story that catapults the kingdom into a truly delightful (if horrible) conflict.

It's the coming of the industrial age. Economics woes meet displaced workers as they knock heads with machine workers that do the jobs better. The worldbuilding is complex and timely (or universal if you take in the last 200+ years) and I found myself rooting for every side in the conflict.

This is a pretty awesome feat. I love it when authors refuse to give us clear-cut enemies. Instead, we have many wonderfully drawn characters standing on different lines, bloody and atrocious battles being waged, and the classic idealism vs opportunism motif.

I fell for this novel pretty hard. I really got into it.

Great characters, complex society and so many grey areas, and even love stories that I seriously love amidst all the hell. I'm all over this. It reminds me of the heyday of SoIaF but with characters I feel a bit MORE for. *ducks*

I'm quite pleased, indeed.

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Saturday, September 26, 2020

FerociousFerocious by Jeff Strand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes books like this are a breath of fresh air.

You know, a dash of humor and a whole forest full of undead animals, scary squirrels, and riding bronco bears. *yes, I know that ain't a thing*

It's all about the dismemberments, man. It's all about the dismemberments.

And THIS is why I can never have a normal conversation again.


This is a great start to spooky October. But since this is 2020, we all know that everything is out of whack. That's why October starts in September... so fake horror can replace real horror to make us all feel comfortable and secure in a totally fake world.

Be sure to wave bye-bye to all the undead animals, ya'll! ;)

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An American StoryAn American Story by Mark Lages
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book about normal people for normal people.

The fact that it is written in a fairly experimental way that eschews plot and even theme shouldn't dissuade anyone from reading this. It's vignettes upon vignettes, illustrating America and American life not as Dos Pasos would do it, but as if a normal, average man would portray it from within the heart of America.

This includes modernish issues, from the nature of war or religion or sobriety or cheating or the nature of work, itself, but aside from the sobriety bits, the center of the text never quite butts up against the vital reality of them EXCEPT when it comes to addiction.

All in all, it's a book about a life, told in mini-theme snippets, that does a lot of light moralizing. It's not bad, but perhaps it wasn't quite for me. Mileage for others might vary.

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Friday, September 25, 2020

Past MasterPast Master by R.A. Lafferty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's 1967. Most SF is generally steeped in a light-adventure mythos. Some are more tech-heavy, but around this time, most are leaning toward sociological SF constructs. Let's face it -- those were the times.

But when we have a fish-out-of-the-water novel that includes the famous Thomas Moore, the writer of Utopia, being turned into a front-man for far-future utopians to fix their broken world, the novel only *appears* to fit in the standard SF mold.

I mean, it's not like SF novels haven't tackled utopias before. Nor have they ignored Thomas Moore's own SF *SATIRE* from back in King Henry VIII's time. It's almost like Thomas Moore's own character was being used as a reasonable foil for his own satirical vision, flip-flopping back and forth between Hope and Disgust.

And it is. But there is something else that goes on this book that kinda blew my mind. I can totally get that most people might not see or care about it, but this particular book turned the popular medium of satire SF into a treatise on MYSTERY RELIGIONS.

I honestly laughed out loud as I read point after point. Right below the surface of the adventure, Lafferty was laying out something rather fundamental and somewhat universal. Okay. So. What the F am I talking about?

Hey! All you fans of The Golden Bough, Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreuz: Digest, or The Secret Teachings of All Ages! Lafferty OUTLINES in his plots the basic foundations of these mystery religions!

Being familiar with them, myself, I really enjoyed the deeper mysteries within THIS ONE.

And that's kinda the whole idea isn't it?

Past Masters refers to actual PAST MASTERS. Giants of thought. And it's funny, too, when we consider the Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreuz, one of the original subversive literary ALCHEMICAL masterworks of the day, that it should feature under the surface of a completely transformed social society, only to be fixed (or turned into a Rosecrutian allegory) BY one of the great minds that dabbled IN alchemy back in the day!

But what, you ask, would an Average Joe get out of this book?

Probably a great deal, assuming you know it's a clear and easy blueprint for the Greater Mysteries and not simply a light, easy SF tale from the '60s.




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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A LifeRuth Bader Ginsburg: A Life by Jane Sherron De Hart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I generally avoid speaking directly about political issues in my public life, but recent events have made me reconsider my stance.

I always considered myself a rather balanced person and I am STILL always willing to consider dissenting opinions on any subject so long as they are well-formed, respectful, and not explicitly designed to incite violent reactions.

I am American by birth, ideology, and natural gravity even if I no longer live within its borders. That doesn't mean I remain unmoved or less deeply invested in the amazing devolution of my home country.

I am an avid reader of news articles, social media, and I pay close attention to political trends, big decisions, and all the implications. I've been doing it since the late '80s. I never wanted to side with any particular party because none were all that admirable. So I kept my eyes open, tried to remain objective, and made up my mind on individual issues throughout current events and events from history that NEVER SEEM TO HAVE AN END.

One thing I can say, however, is that I've always respected Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Everything she stood for, fought for, and cleverly defended, I can easily say, "She speaks for me."

This book tells me, in particular, nothing new about the big judgments, from women's rights to modern-version desegregation. Nor does it lessen the horror that I feel, as RBG felt, to the devaluation of human life, the loss of reproductive rights, or the loss of the separation of church and state.

It does, however, re-instill an urgency, an immediacy, and the necessity to FIGHT FOR WHAT WE BELIEVE IN.

Me, I believe in cooperation, honesty, real justice, equality, and inclusiveness. I never thought I'd have to even SAY it. I thought, as an American, that all of that was a GIVEN.

It isn't.

Not by a long shot.

And if you know and respect RBG, you know how close to the edge we all stand before we lose it all.

Work together. Think together. Do everything we can to protect our liberties. We're all in this together. Don't let the few dictate the reality of our good majority.

Losing RBG was hard enough. We must all step up and be rational. Think strategically. Look toward the long-term goal. Don't let the Machiavellians drag the rest of us through the mud.

Peace.


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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Rational Male - Positive MasculinityThe Rational Male - Positive Masculinity by Rollo Tomassi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hypergamy.

**The act or practice of seeking a spouse of higher socioeconomic status, or caste status than oneself.**

Let me be very clear here. There are a LOT of interesting ideas rolling around within this book and almost all of them have *TM* words associated with them, but Hypergamy is one of the biggest takeaways I've seen.

So what's the context? I mean, other than the fact that about a million women want to murder Rollo Tomassi for speaking his mind. What could be so damning?

The term of the Red Pill. In general, it's taken from the Matrix and it always blows your mind and it can be applied to just about anything, but in this context, it's about waking up to the fact that women have different sexual agendas than men. Specifically, it's the double standard of women's agendas with respect to men.

Let's keep it simple here without going into actual history, tons of studies, evolutionary psychology, legal precedence, massive observational correlations, or the gut feeling that most men nowadays have that SOMETHING IS VERY WRONG.

I'll just lay out the idea of Hypergamy. It can apply to men as well as women, but in general, the tables have been flipped. The last sixty years have given us a nearly unending stream of media that celebrates female sexuality in any of its forms, telling them to get their rocks off when they're young and then settle down with the *dependable* man when their sexiness declines. A perceptive person would note that this was the male ideal BEFORE that time period, and aside from a brief macho period in the '70s that quickly became derision for men in the '80s, the tables have turned.

Hypergamy, in the vernacular, is "always trade up when the opportunity presents itself".

Men who know what they want and plan for success are generally regarded as alpha males. They are the ones who ignore verbal narratives and act and behave in ways that are aligned with observable reality. They tend to eschew talk of soul-mates, softness in relationships, cuddly-feely emotionality.

Since biology predisposes women to feel heavy sexual attraction to males who know what they want and who plan for success, alphas are the ones who always tend to get the most women for practically no cost in terms of investment, intellectualism, emotionalism, or even care. These are the truly sexy ones and they always tend to ignore the feminist narrative that SAYS men should put in tons of investment, intellectualism, and emotionalism, and care in order to appease a woman.

Note, this statement is backed up by science, massive observations of real people, and (almost universally) in popular media.

The other kind of male is the beta male. These are the men who have grown up in an obviously feminist-dominated society, who were caught in the feminist narrative as children and bought it, hook, line, and sinker. The author notes that 80% of men are betas. These are the men who bought the idealized version of what they thought women wanted out of men. The ones who believe in soul-mates, true friendships, true equality, and believe (mostly because they are told to, repeatedly,) that women are smarter, stronger, and more capable than men.

Does this sound familiar? I think most men will agree -- if pressed -- and definitely not in the presence of anyone who might let it slip -- that something is very wrong. Men are collectively demonized as a whole sex.

And this is reasoning is used as justification for demonizing a whole sex.

Why would women do this? It's simple: it protects them from having to look at the things they believe about themselves.

Have fun in your youth and then settle down used to be the narrative of what men were taught to believe.

In this case, specifically, have fun with the bad boys (the ones who refuse to get down with the feminist narrative), and then dump them because they don't provide long-term stability. Marry the beta-choice, the one that doesn't truly stimulate you, and make sure he knows that he's a second-class citizen and that you always have someone else lined up on the sides if he doesn't stay cowed. Fortunately, most men are thoroughly indoctrinated to accept this. A man's self-worth is determined by how well he can provide for the family. The expectation is that he gets all the sex he wants within this stable arrangement. But here's the thing: women's behavior, in general, doesn't align with the narrative.

They drop the alphas that don't magically become subservient to the narrative once women are beyond their sexual prime. They actively start looking for the men who will be able to tow the narrative line, provide for them (despite being told constantly that they are just as good as men in everything, or better). This happens between ages 29-32. The second-best choice is beta men.

How many times have women complained that there aren't any good men out there?

Here's the breakdown, adjusted for an idealized equal playing field where both the men and women are otherwise equally desirable. Women are turned on by the anti-feminist narrative men but these same men are not good marriage material. The ones who ARE good marriage material don't turn them on. Just look at the dominance fantasies in romance literature if you don't believe me.

Of course, once you get beyond this point, it's in a woman's best interest to double down on the feminist narrative and make sure that this beta man is completely cowed and accepting of any and every decision you make, or he might wake up one day to realize that he was always the second-best choice.

Maintain the power differential. He must provide, he must defer all parenting decisions, and he can't even dissent in an argument. How many "Yes, dear" men are out there? It is not a small number.

Laws are designed to always side with the women. One example: 1 million men in the USA are forced to provide for children who aren't theirs. Let's get real here. That's called cuckoldry. There are very few support groups for men who have either been raped, need mental health assistance, who need pro-bono legal support in bad divorces, and the law even supports keeping genetic-data sealed from men on the assumption that it would be "bad for the children".

This is only one facet of a much larger problem. Of course, men know there is a problem. It's obvious when you see that men are 4-6 times more likely to commit suicide than women. The problem is REAL, it is PRESSING, and it is tragic.

The real issue, described here and with multiple resources within this book, (and others I myself could name), is whether or not we are able to SEE that there is a problem. Tomassi uses the term Red Pill constantly for this very reason.



And all of this is mostly just an aside within this particular book. It is an important aside, but it's still an aside.

What did I think of this book, aside from the important ideas inside it?

I love the insistence that the whole subject should remain apolitical. I agree with this. It affects all men and should not be conflated with any other designation EVEN IF it disproportionally condemns, say, black men, more intensely than it does white men. The problem is becoming more universal every single day.

THAT BEING SAID. The way this particular book is written reminds me of Tom Cruise's character in the movie Magnolia. It does bring up a ton of interesting and/or valid points, but it does not and frankly cannot capture the spirit or the scope of the problem. And while I DO believe it brings up some excellent points against egalitarianism in favor of complementarianism, the WAY it is written makes it sound like it's trying to sell something... which, of course, it is.

Even Trinity and Morpheus needed to seduce Neo into taking the Red Pill, and he backslid quite a bit.

Suffice to say, while this book is not perfect, it is still a very important kind of book to be reading.

And I mean that for both MEN AND WOMEN.

Not all women buy into the feminist narrative. And by this, let's be very clear: I don't think anyone alive has a problem with first and second wave Feminism. It's the third wave we should all be very skeptical about.


Let's open discussions! No name-calling, no shaming, no dehumanization, please.



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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Point BPoint B by Drew Magary
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Drew Magary does it again. There hasn't been a novel of his that I've read that I haven't fallen over dead after having finished reading.

No, no, this isn't the Post-Mortal, and I didn't over-exert myself on a Hike. Indeed, the idea of traveling at all has become absurdly easy... just like reading this novel.

Cell-phones in ten years now allow us to teleport. Like Jaunting, ya? But these are tied to nasty cell phone plans with nastier reams of unread legal-sleaze. But who cares, right, so long as we can take a trip to Spain, Brazil, Newfoundland (just kidding), and back to school in New Jersey during your lunch break.

This SOUNDS like a pretty good YA, no? And it is. But it has some really dark points that are quite as dark as Post-Mortal (and with as huge a range of ramifications, evil, and annihilation) and *almost* as weird as the Hike. But let's just swap the weird with an epic tale of revenge and you'll have a better idea about what this novel is about.

It just goes to show, dehumanization and power and racism is STILL going to be a massively huge problem when anyone can go wherever they want. After all, if there are no restrictions, and just about anyone can hop into your room as you sleep, it may not be a *NICE* future. Take along your war, your hate, and your insanity, and suddenly no place is safe.

So how do we get to Point B? Dial it up! It's very worth the Jaunt, and lordy.... that last 1/3 of the novel was absolutely un-putdownable. Brilliant. I lost sleep over it.

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Monday, September 21, 2020

The Shadow Saint (The Black Iron Legacy, #2)The Shadow Saint by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This second book in the Black Iron Legacy was, IMHO, a better book. More interesting.

I'm sure some mileage will vary, but I was a lot more fascinated by the reconstruction following the war, the politics, the spy-stuff, and the total aftermath of all the god-stuff suffusing the world than I was for the previous book's build-up and explosion.

Overall, I think the entire novel was very entertaining.

What would I compare it to? The Powder Mage trilogy. There are a ton of similarities. I'm sure most fans of Epic Fantasy who LOVE the big magic throughout the worldbuilding will be tickled as hell by this.

Just be forewarned, this Epic Fantasy stems from a grimdark root, has everything from guns to god bombs, and let's not forget the city itself. It has personality. And anger issues. Fun stuff!

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Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Gutter Prayer (The Black Iron Legacy, #1)The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Gutter Prayer has a wonderfully balanced mix of worldbuilding, grimdark sensibilities, striking characters, and a huge blowout of an ending. Between an interesting race of Ghouls who get power from eating the dead, to men who are slowly, horribly turning into stone, or from an extremely fascinating history filled with old gods (and an extremely interesting setup and rule-orientation for them), overall, I thought this novel was a pretty decent epic-fantasy setup. There are many other details, of course, but I really latched on to these.

But the novel isn't merely a cool collection of interesting ideas. The characters are solid and interesting. The worldbuilding in particular tickled all my fancies. But above all, it is the balance between all these aspects, including pacing, reversals, and steady ramp-up to a huge ending, that made me take notice. I really appreciate how the author came from the gaming industry. It serves him in good stead.

So far, I'm quite pleased with the turnout here. I'm really curious to see how it takes the reveals in new directions, or if it does, in the next.

Those damn old gods... :)

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Friday, September 18, 2020

HorrorstörHorrorstör by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My initial impression of this novel and my post-reading impression are perfectly aligned. :)

A cool idea of setting a soul-less Ikea with a massive haunting and a crazy satire about the modern-day service industry is EXACTLY what I got.

In other words, I enjoyed my B-Movie experience. I chortled, groaned, and felt like I was One with the Corporate Narrative which is One with the batshit crazy Experimental Prison Culture.

I really enjoyed it for what it is. :)

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Thursday, September 17, 2020

Malorie (Bird Box, #2)Malorie by Josh Malerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a world so eerily similar to our own, fast-forwarded 17 years after our facemasks became a permanent fixture to our eyes rather than our breathing orifices, Malorie from the original Bird Box has teenagers of her own, raised in fear and a constant litany of "no, no, no" begins a new tale of discovery.

Or rather, rediscovery. Her parents might just be alive. Is this a blind-call to adventure?

This is undeniably a good tale of suspense. I don't think it is QUITE as suspenseful as the first, but living in terror for almost two decades can put a damper on your fight-or-flight response. Or does it? I think I most liked the creepy idea that the enemy might possibly have left. Who would know? :)

This is definitely our modern world right now. We can't see the evil, but we fully expect it to be right on the edge of our consciousness...



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The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying VampiresThe Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm already a fan of Grady Hendrix after We Sold Our Souls so picking up this one and a few more to come is not a brain-teaser. In fact, it's about as wholesome to me as a suburban book club taking on True Crime tales.

Well, wholesome isn't really the proper term, maybe, but just the fact of such late '80s, early '90s housewife rebellion is enough to carry the tale even WITHOUT vampires.

But with vampires? Well. It's been said before, but it bears saying again: NEVER MESS WITH MOM.


A personal aside: I grew up in suburbia during this time, so it was like a blast from the past. Including all the weird obsessions, the stifling conformity, the drugging up of our youth, wives, and the men who banded together to stamp any kind of dissension out of the family. And their eventual loss of control, of course. And who picks up the pieces.

Hmm. And yes, another thing: I'm a housewife now. I GET IT. The lack of control, the lack of respect, how we must juggle everything, and yet never get a single moment of peace.

And then there are those FREAKING BLOODSUCKERS. Gaaah!


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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Burning God (The Poppy War, #3)The Burning God by R.F. Kuang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It feels like a long time coming for the third book in the Poppy War trilogy, but that's only because I've been eagerly awaiting it.

Now that it has finally come my way, I'm all BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD excited for it, and it absolutely delivers. The war between the technological and sociologically advanced enemy and the more numerous but poverty-stricken allies is a clear reference to our modern world.

Who do we root for?

Ah, well, that's the real question, is it not? The first book is like a backwater student advancing her own career in a modern institution, while the second one is the full eruption of one's morals versus one's training, and the third is an all-out war that demands the utter sacrifice of... everything... and the real question is... are we good for it?

I'm not answering that question.

The fact is, there's a lot of great nuance in this novel. Great plot, great war strategy, and great moral conflict.

The emotions? It's solid here. The conflict? Epic. Gods versus technology, you know. And when they get to the point where all seems lost, well, it's that time when the novel gets really great. :)

Am I a fan of the full trilogy? Absolutely. Is it full to the brim with burning volcano flames of rage and vengeance? You bet. Does it come with tons of reversals and ginormous fantastic reversal-reversals?

Read it. :) It's awesome. :)


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Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Dark StarDark Star by Oliver Langmead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The one thing that drew me here to this book happened, in the final estimation, to be the least important aspect:

The fact that it is SF written as Poetry.

I read it in audio format but after the fact, I kinda wish that I had read it as print. I'm probably going to get a copy soon.

Why?

Because even though the core story seems to rely almost entirely on a Noir mystery with an investigator who is addicted to a drug that makes a person emit light, but it comes with addictions and a rather strange murder, with some rather big consequences -- it is also deceptive.

As a fan of poetry, I'm also overly aware of the fact that there are many layers to any text. Do you think that metaphor is dead? Ha! Iambic Pentameter is also used in Shakespeare to illustrate high importance and major turning points. Anyone reading this 5 hours long Noir SF mystery should certainly enjoy it on the surface-level, but it's the heart of it that makes me RAVE about it.

In this dark world, light is a drug. Heat radiates everywhere, but it's light (and here's where the metaphor is very, very strong) that causes tremors, creates an underground market, throws people into paroxysms of drug-addled numina, and is ultimately the grand reversal of the tale.

Have a partner named Dante and you can figure out the rest. Is light love? Maybe God's love in the bowels of hell? If it's such an addictive substance and the whole idea of getting off the drug or fighting the crime syndicates is such a huge deal, then the whole FLAVOR of this far-future SF becomes... something else entirely.

I really don't need to spoil it. This is a book that lends itself to many different interpretations.

Just rest assured that every word is important and carefully placed, as is most good poetry. :)



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This Virtual NightThis Virtual Night by C.S. Friedman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I might have mentioned in my review for the first book in this series, This Alien Shore, that I missed this kind of SF.

The bookgods have smiled upon me. (Or at least C.S. Friedman has.)

What we have here is a setting focused on gritty space stations, hacking, aliens everywhere among us, GAMES, mystery, and a good healthy dose of wanderlust gone wrong. If you liked This Alien Shore, I'm pretty certain that you'll love this one.

It's a return to quite complicated SF settings, characters, and investigations that are never reduced to stereotypes. There's heart here and a clear love of the possibilities inherent in these tropes. Virtuals, hacking, melting pot space stations, and pure noir. I'd say it might be a cyberpunk novel, but it's very well rounded.

I very much recommend it.

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Monday, September 14, 2020

Utopia AvenueUtopia Avenue by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I place this Mitchell novel in the firm hands of the ladies Muse not because it is gifted by the muses (although some people will say so) but because the tale is all about music and the entire gifted milieu of the mid-to-late '60s rock scene.

For this, alone, I got sucked into the torrent of the band. Utopia Avenue, from its struggling beginnings through its rocky career and a brief taste of stardom is more than enough for me. I love this kind of novel. I love music, I love the rebellion, I love the sheer chutzpah of MAKING A NEW REALITY for yourself.

There is one particular scene that reads like a fateful monologue and admonition for every age. The only real power we have is in stories, after all. We show the path to a new world. That story might be in a song, a novel, or in an impassioned plea to a loved one, but it's never not powerful.

I had a genuinely good time with this.

I may not have been alive during the time this takes place, but music and the heart are fairly eternal.


PS, yes, this book has a ton of weird Mitchellisms with fantasy and SF poking holes in the pretty standard traditional tale of the '60s. It doesn't say much NEW about these things, but it's still fun to see. :)

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Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte CristoThe Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Honestly fascinating and hitherto fully neglected, the hook of this biography is appropriately fantastic. The author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeer's father was a bonafide hero having commanded 50,000 troops... as a black man.

The author of this biography, Reiss, performed a heroic feat, himself, with his research. It's not only full of Alexandre Dumas's reflections on his father General Alex Dumas, but it's corroborated with extensive confirmations AND a truly excellent focus on the historical context, places, events, and significance.


I'll be honest here: I knew a bit about the French Enlightenment and the idealism and its ties to America. I also knew a bit more about the French Revolution. The rise of Napoleon? Yes. His reactionary and full-on return to racism and exploitation of slaves? Yes.

But this book opened my eyes to a much broader look at this surrounding history that showed a quite sympathetic eye racism issue. This isn't simply a modern take on it This is regarding France's own positive Enlightenment developments that preceded and were active during the American Revolution. (So much of this goes hand-in-hand with each other.)

France briefly insisted that all slaves ought to be free. It wasn't universal and it was quite uneven, but it DID exist before Napoleon. Alex Dumas had been an Enlightenment star, highly educated with fantastic martial prowess, and distinguished himself with all the best ideals, and was universally admired even before his successes in the field.

But we know of what happened during the French Revolution. We know how idealism was co-opted by craven power-hungry opportunists and demagogues. How people more interested in power can take advantage of terror to consolidate power and propel their own agendas.

Keeping our OWN world out of this is rather difficult. I'll admit that. I see too many similarities between what happened before the French Revolution to what's happening in the USA today. Bright ideals can quickly be twisted by demagogues to promote massive chaos... and bloodshed.

But as for this book, by itself, I'm MORE than happy with everything I learned. History is beyond important. I'm amazed at the truth of the saying, "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it."

I fear that we have dark times ahead of us.

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Saturday, September 12, 2020

Sucker Punch (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #27)Sucker Punch by Laurell K. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Happiness!

Anyone who has kept this series knows they can expect a certain amount of craziness of one kind or another. If you've kept up with these books, you know that the first ten-ish books were classic awesome UF that's bloody, interesting, and quirky. From then on, the books continue in this vein but take on a decidedly different personal turn. I'm talking about the polygamy.

I'm one of those that appreciates the message without not particularly caring about the cause. Sure, you can love whomever you want, with as many as you want. Check. But I kept with the series mainly because when all the earlier strict UF police procedural, thinly-veiled commentary about sexual activism as vamps and weres was said and done, the stories were just FUN, FAST, and FURIOUS and often OTT when it comes to the action and magic bits. To me, they were the gold standard, and when LKH focused on that, I was always as happy as could be. I wasn't in it for the neverending sex or the full-stage production of multiple deep relationships that made my head spin and my care-o-meter break.

So many of these middle books broke my care-meter. But the great stuff was great, so I kept going.

Fast forward to today. I think LKH is changing direction, or DID change direction in the main plot and concern, for this book. I was used to her focusing on sexual issues for so long that I almost missed how she had become TIMELY in a different way.

Legal Rights for the people who are disenfranchised. I'm talking about systemic racism. Injustice at its very core. What if there is reasonable doubt, but custom (in the guise of law) dictates that you must treat a whole people like animals?

In this case, it's literal. It's a wereleopard who must be "put down" but there's serious doubt that he did it. Anita has gone through this kind of thing too many times and it just happens to be this case that nearly breaks her. She pulls out all the stops to save him, calling in the calvary, and I actually appreciate this.

This isn't a book that's all about the blood and guts, raising zombies, or playing dominance games (much). It's about taking that first and hardest step toward JUSTICE when you see that there IS NONE.

And like reality, there are no easy answers. There is only the fight.


As for the sub-plot with Olaf... well... we can't win everything, but I appreciate the fact that there was NOT a total overabundance of millions of romantic partners this time. In fact, there was practically no sex at all. It was pretty much... a RETURN TO THE EARLY DAYS.

Me, personally, I LOVED the early days. With the timely new focus? I love this one even more.

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Friday, September 11, 2020

To Sleep in a Sea of StarsTo Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It having been much more than a decade since I've read anything else by Paolini -- his dragons were pretty okay -- I came to the idea of reading his adult space opera with mild anticipation.

I mean, sure, it's often true that many writers of fantasy who decide to jump the fence into SF do so brilliantly, so a part of my mind kept thinking of, say, Adrian Tchaikovsky, and I wondered. I wondered hard.

After getting my hands on this book and having started it, I began comparing it to Becky Chambers with a few hints of Iain M. Banks, but as I continued on this quite interesting journey with an already wonderful main character, Kira Navárez, I discovered something really gorgeous. This novel continues on with a single PoV in Kira. Loving her is easy. Falling into the complications of her life as they get rather more complicated -- and epic -- is something of a no-brainer for me.

I mean, the moment that the ex0-biology and exploration segments get to a certain spoilery point that I will keep mum about, it's all COMPLETELY downhill for me. I couldn't stop reading for the life of me. Really. I took the book with me EVERYWHERE and actually growled at everyone I met if they tried to draw my attention way from the book. And it's not like I have a PROBLEM with focusing my attention. I was hooked and it never let up and this is a DOORSTOPPER.

Let's just say that the novel became a huge confetti snowstorm of a classic alien invasion Anime, and combines a literal ton of great classic and modern SF easter eggs in the telling.

Oh, and as for you folks who were worried that a fantasy author might not have the chops for an enormous and very fulfilling SF romp of an adventure, let me just say this: Paolini knows his SF. Take it from someone who has read over 2.2k SF novels and knows his tv and movies. He weaves a great deal of SF tropes reminiscent of Neal Asher and Alaistair Reynolds with his quirky and delightful Becky Chambers crew.

We even get a full-on galactic war, people, with a full resolution in a single standalone novel.

Please, allow me a little squee here. *squees like a little girl* Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Out of several years worth of recent space operas, some of which I really enjoyed and some I even swear by, I think I had the most outright FUN with this one. Some of the others might be more intriguing in the plot, others might have blown me away with the sheer science-magic, but this one touched me deeply while giving me all my darkest wish-fulfillment SF desires in a single delicious Navárez package.

Please don't assume this is an old, tired space opera. Rather, think about the promise, if not the execution, of, say, Babylon 5 or the idea of a Guyver suit (Japanese only) on methamphetamines, and you might get a slight idea about what might be going on here. :)

*squeeeeeeeeeeeeee*



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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Throne of IsisThrone of Isis by Judith Tarr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Judith Tarr does what she does best, here. Fantastically researched history and really beautiful characters.

While this one is ostensibly about the grand romance between Antony and Cleopatra, I think it's really about Dione, one of the priestesses of Isis. The tumultuous romance of the other two is kinda obvious, after all. Antony and Cleopatra is one of Shakespeare's best Histories. It's probably one of the best-known romances in history.

Is this really enough to carry a whole novel, however well-researched?

Possibly, but Judith Tarr is a better writer than most people ever give her credit for. It's her equal focus on Dione, this priestess of Isis -- of love -- that balances everything out.

There are two relationships in this novel. The mirroring between Dione and her steady scholar from Rome is a wonderfully subtle indictment of Antony and Cleopatra.

The two couples mirror each other. Wonderfully. I was as invested with the quiet, understated romance as I was in the flashy and tragic one, and it served as a really nice antidote.

Between the bigger than life and the totally grounded, I felt like we were getting a wonderfully beautiful and rounded (perhaps eternal) exploration of love.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Selections from the Prison NotebooksSelections from the Prison Notebooks by Antonio Gramsci
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Without writing a book on this book (and believe me, I'm tempted) I'm going to try to keep this simple.

However, this classic working-Marxist text is anything but simple.

The first more-than-half of it has enough variations on political principles to make an Ism out of Isms, going into vast detail about enough 1910-1930 Italian politics INCLUDING the rise of Mussolini, post-revolution Russia political movements, and even some French.

As for me, I know enough history to be slightly dangerous, but trying to follow THIS Trotskian/Italian Fascism/polemical nightmare without having BEEN there and STEEPED in the times makes me realize that I am out of my depth. Slightly. BUT these Selections from the Prison Notebooks come with a pretty awesome bonus.

It has commentary. Whew!!!

Getting something out of the almost Naturalist descriptions, all the play-by-play political dealings of all these countries as they undergo a Marxist transformation, is more of a matter of letting the IDEAS sink in rather than hearing a formal statement. Indeed, the text is full of short maxims that felt more like reading Nietzsche than anything resembling a Social Science.

However, for me at least, none of THAT was as impressive or thought-provoking as what came in the second half of his writings.

The rest is philosophy. Fine philosophy that tries to drag the study of massive social movements out of the realm of art and into the realm of science. I swear, he was probably trying to pull a Wittgenstein on his logic, but really, I know he was just pulling a Hegelian argument.

Here's the weird thing about Gramsci: most of the later Marxist thinkers love the hell out of him, but first they had to pour over his overly complicated text to root out those rare nuggets of wisdom like pigs hunting for truffles. There is nothing overly clear about anything he has written.

Almost ALL of my understanding of Gramsci comes from the (much) later commentaries.

Some exceptions exist, however.

I got the clear impression that Common Sense, in the parlance that he uses it, is the core of any nascent or growing political theory. But Common Sense, as he uses it, is often very uncommon and is almost ALWAYS used to drive the unthinking masses into positions that may not (or likely probably not) be in their best interests. It's the idea that if you want to drive the people to do what you want, then first you must convince them that YOUR ideas are simple Common Sense whether or not it has anything to do with whether it BENEFITS them or not.

A common modern example is using any or all of the moral foundations See Here to whip a people into a frenzy (Pro-Life, for example,) and use this as a COMPLETE platform to push through a wide set of policies that will probably drain the constituents of all their self-respect, drive them to perform horrendous acts of racism, or even steal their money -- but it's perfectly valid because at least the prime tenet of (Pro-Life) is kept sacrosanct.

As Gramsci would put it, you must never get so intellectual that you lose the heart of the argument, and never be so emotionally riled up that you lose the core intellectual awesomeness. In other words, you always need to find that sweet spot and change tactics for your audience. (Gramsci was never so straightforward, however. We get our modern concepts of this from him, distilled over time and use.)

Another great (or disturbing) feature of Gramsci is the full, detailed descriptions of how Fascism came to its rise in Italy. How it could convince so many people to dehumanize and create enemies out of the other side.

It is a slow, painstaking process, but please refer to the Moral Foundations Theory I linked to above and couple it with massive, massive repetitions. This is the core of changing the basic Common Sense of a people. If you change the dialogue, if you change the fundamental NARRATIVE, then you can drive people to believe and do ANYTHING.

As people in Italy used to say, "Eh, I hate fascism, but at least they got the trains to run on time."

LET'S NOT TAKE THIS AS A GREAT EXAMPLE, EH?

After all, a little intelligence can get any train to run on time. It doesn't take fascism to do anything except have a whole people eat itself.



All in all, this is some pretty interesting food for thought. And trust me, I barely scratched the surface. I hope I piqued your interest, however.

If we don't know our history, we will always be doomed to repeat it.


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Architects of Memory (The Memory War, #1)Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So! The good:

The pacing, a lot of the action, the core concept of the aliens, and the OTT blowout of the end.

The so/so:

The relatively generic space-opera feel with very little to make it stand out from most space-opera setups. Such as corporate indenture. Has no one read Cherryh? Scavenging is also so commonplace as to be a core fixture of these types of SF-lite novels. The originality is centered, but not very developed, on the (no spoiler) abilities of the aliens and how it relates to our MC. That being said, the whole tale feels mostly surfacy and I never got that invested in either the over-plot or the characters.

I don't think this was a bad novel by any stretch. My main complaint is that I've read way too many novels that behave almost exactly like this. It didn't kick my pants in the originality department. At all.

That being said, it does fill a number of checkboxes for those of you looking for it: Disabled. LGBTQ. However, these aspects never really felt core to the story even if we were meant to believe they were. (At least to me.)

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Sunday, September 6, 2020

UnDivided (Unwind, #4)UnDivided by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, now that the series is done, I have to re-order my expectations.

Did I expect a bigger, more creative, and crazy end? Possibly. Did I expect a revolution? Yes.

Was I satisfied with the whole perception of reality resolution and the legal niceties and sacrifices? Yes.

So what's my problem? The YA conforms to all the general YA standards. The kids are given horrible situations but not TOO horrible situations. It's mostly dealing with their own expectations and plodding their way toward changing everyone ELSE's expectations. It didn't become a horror masterpiece with tons of shambling Cthulhu monstrosities of added limbs with full personalities active in every limb. We didn't have a full society of rejects or all the old unwound kids rebelling WITHIN all the bodies they were transplanted to. Alas. That would have been brilliant.

Instead, we have legal bills, special interests, public perception, and protests.


Not that I have anything against protests. Far from it.

I mean, the whole idea that any society could be set up to drive another segment of its population crazy is not very crazy at all. I mean, with all the destruction of human rights and dignity going on, we really SHOULDN'T be surprised that the disenfranchised are so upset.

Of course, to blame that same population for being angry after having been beaten down for so long and initiate draconian measures against them is pretty much a Fascist Playbook kind of thing.


Unfortunately, when I look at society now and compare it with the mildness of these books, I think this is a case of reality being stranger than fiction. Or at least wilder.

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Saturday, September 5, 2020

A Wind in CairoA Wind in Cairo by Judith Tarr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this way back in High School and I absolutely loved it. As a romance, it was magical and heartbreaking and I admit that I broke into tears then as easily as I did now.

As a fantasy set in the extremely well-researched time of the Early Crusades as written from the PoV of Muslims, it frankly blew me away. Not only did the humanity and the civilization shine through, but so did the culture.

But let me address the one problematic issue that pretty much prevented me from re-reading this well-beloved magical historical fantasy of a love story between a fiery headstrong Muslim woman and her equally headstrong horse: the rape.

This is no glorification, first of all. This was a crime in the novel that was met with a very severe punishment that could very well have led to much, much worse consequences for Hasan. But in the punishment, there was MERCY.

I know, I know, this is a trigger issue, but I personally believe the crimes should be treated with justice and not cruelty. The tale, over the full length of its telling, walks a very fine line and ends where I believe most tales SHOULD end.

They should teach us that mercy and justice are not dead. They should teach us that no one should ever be perpetually judged by the worst thing they have ever done. There is a balance here. And, indeed, the balance is all the harder because it teaches us that any of us can change.

Hasan, a selfish prick, can learn to be obedient, loving, and self-sacrificing.

If you want a novel that simply desires blood for the blood god, this is not for you. If you want a novel that is gorgeous, hopeful, redemptive, and a great tear-jerker that rests its head on Humility... then OMG, yo: PICK THIS UP.

The balance is real. Both men and women are real men and women. The quality of justice is NOT strained. It is hard, it is painful, it requires tons of effort, good-will, and the open-mindedness of all parties, but the quality of justice is NOT strained. It may, indeed, be one of the most beautiful things in the universe.

This novel touches something truly great. It may prod your boundaries, but it is still something truly great.

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Friday, September 4, 2020

UnSouled (Unwind, #3)UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is what might have happened if the plight of teens was turned into an industry of Frankenstein's monsters.

You know, the older folks shamelessly profiting on the consumption of young flesh.

No, no, this is NOT an accurate reflection of our modern society! No, no, not at all.

Ahem.

Well! I honestly hoped that the first book would continue on into a MUCH darker and nastier dystopia. Instead, we just get the normal kind of social dystopia that villainizes an underclass in order to perpetuate the massive profitization.

No, no, this is obviously NOT an accurate reflection of our modern society! No, no, not at all.

Even if it doesn't go in the direction I had hoped, it's still a pretty good skewer. You could almost cut and paste the whole non-SF setup and apply it to so many modern protest groups and see a pretty obvious correlation.

Key points: don't get violent, focus on peaceful protest, but don't forget... they will lie. It's an unenviable position. Let's hope you don't lose all your body parts, too.

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Thursday, September 3, 2020

MetrophageMetrophage by Richard Kadrey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit that I'm something of a fan of cyberpunk. I guess it has something to do with my geeking out over Max Headroom and Neuromancer and all the cheeeeeesy movies of that time period, but for the most part, I was a much BIGGER fan of the post-cyberpunk movement.

Why? Because it moves beyond the punk while keeping all the tech goodies, diving into stories well beyond gangs, drug wars, noir, etc.

Kadrey's 1988 novel happens to be of that type. It's not bad. I love the idea of this kind of thing more in its ideas than its execution, granted, but, like Arnold's version of Total Recall, it's still good fun.

It's mostly about plot. Drug running, a wide variety of inner-city locations, post-government crime cabals, and even intrigue with a moon colony. More than anything, I was reminded of a lite version of Altered Carbon. Between an interesting plague, various factions, freedom fighters, and a poor MC bouncing like a pinball between everything, I was always kept on my toes.

Was this something that rose above a crazy slip-and-slide gangland adventure?

No, not really, but it did give me a flashback feel of the '80s.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2020

UnWholly (Unwind, #2)UnWholly by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing the Unwind books remains pretty interesting. No huge over-plot has really developed, but it IS very interesting to see all the cracks in this society's facade.

I especially like how all the cracks are widening in such blatantly WEIRD ways. :) Re-wound? Yes, please.


I'm really curious to see if these novels get super dark and wild. Right now, I'm just seeing implications take on a life of their own.


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The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black ManhoodThe Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood by Tommy J. Curry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this will be a hard book for people in academia to accept.

Not because there isn't a mountain of evidence displaying not only the misandry of black men, because there is a big movement to maintain and further their entire erasure from the discussion.

What? Men are included, aren't they? We have reportings of their deaths almost every single day. I mean, just look at the news. This one was shot, this one was brutalized, this one... oh. Wait. These are just bodies. Did you want to talk about the actual MEN? Well, no. We only assume they are about to become a statistic.

Black MEN are not worthy of study despite a mountain of evidence proving that they are raped as often as women. Their suicide rates, depending on age, is 4-6 times higher than women. Job opportunities are much less available compared to black women, and it gets much, much worse after having the stigma of having been incarcerated. And they are arrested, searched, and brutalized at a much, much higher rate than any other sex or race, and often for only trumped-up reasons.

And yet, they are only studied as their dead bodies.

There is a major disconnect here. When men's balls are literally being crushed so as to need hospitalization, when plunger handles are used to penetrate men, is this not the definition of rape? When the numbers prove they aren't isolated examples, but pervasive and sickening, is this not WORTHY of study?

Let's face it. Academia has its own misandry and racism to acknowledge. When papers and books, even when they are monumentally well-researched, are not published because they don't set the right "narrative" about the plight of women, or about LGBTQ, they are, in effect, ERASING a whole CLASS of men (MEN, mind you, as defined by feminists).

When we talk of toxic masculinity, of patriarchy, of anything like this, it is NOT based on actual evidence.

Do not look at a class struggle in the same light as a sexual struggle, because the theories will come crashing down. Men, not just black men, are victims of class struggles too. Poverty doesn't give men a patriarchal advantage. It's completely absurd, with all the additional factors aligned against black men, that they are automatically the beneficiaries of male privilege.

Look at the actual evidence instead of pushing an ideological theory.

Neither men nor women are saints. One should not use intersectionality to dehumanize ANYONE.


As for this book, please read it as the academic eye-opener that it is. This work is about the erasure of men. So much talk goes on about "how they bring it on themselves," or "how to strip them from their actual gender identity," or to dismiss them on the basis of a perceived but unfactual arguments that have become fashionable in the rise of feminism. And by the way, dehumanizing men just because they are men is called misandry. Both men and women are guilty of it.

The NEWS is guilty of it. Academia is guilty of it. Politics is guilty of it. None of us are perfect, but disenfranchising a whole class of people is, in actual fact, the definition of prejudice.

Be aware.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

We Are Where the Nightmares Go and Other StoriesWe Are Where the Nightmares Go and Other Stories by C. Robert Cargill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm a big fan of Cargill's fiction. First, I loved his SF, but it wasn't until I dived into his two fae-based fantasy novels that I was rather blown away.

This particular book is a collection of short stories that really showcase his love of fantasy in general. When I judge them, I judge them solely on how much fun I had. *hint -- I had a lot of fun* Dark Fantasy? Yes, please!

There are more stories in the collection than the ones I mention here, but these are the ones I personally loved.

We Are Where the Nightmares Go - I kinda squeed on this one. It's all about a fairy tale gone very, very wrong. I actually chortled. CHORTLED.

As They Continue to Fall - At first I thought it was gonna be a little like Supernatural where the angels are all dicks, but no. This is much worse. And the implication underneath? Even darker. :)

Hell Creek - Why not have a MC be a triceratops surrounded by an undead invasion of other dinos? There's only one thing to say about this: HELL YES!

I Am the Night You Never Speak Of - Sin-Eating as a rather UF-y profession. I think I'd love (and be sickened by) a full UF series based on this.

A Clean White Room - (co-authored) but totally awesome continuation of the Sin-Eating profession. This is one HELL of a sick job. Perfect for those of us who want to be thankful for the jobs we already have, thank you very much. :)

The Soul-Thief’s Son - A side tale of Cargill's dark fantasy novels featuring Colby Stevens in dreamwalking Australia. I personally LOOOVED this one. It was like coming home. Even if home is a soulless husk. :)

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