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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The White DevilThe White Devil by John Webster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A startling classic play from London, 1612. ‘‘Tis better to be fortunate than wise.

Of course, no one in this play is either fortunate or wise, caught in the passions of jealousy as good as Shakespeare and as bloody and dramatic, as well.

For a modern reader with modern sensibilities, I’m shocked and amazed how this play goes from being an instant cancelable trope to a deeply heartfelt condemnation of the roles of both sexes.

And, even better, it’s a rousingly good tragedy.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

MachinehoodMachinehood by S.B. Divya
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I was pretty enthusiastic about the SF concepts in this book, hitting the intersections between normal humans, drug enhancements, human-machine hybrids, and artificial intelligence, I was unfortunately not as enthusiastic about the characters or the dark political landscape.

Mind you, I don't mind futuristic dystopias at all. I just happen to prefer them to wrapped up in slightly more interesting plots and characters and the fight for machine rights is obviously subtext. If I am to be at all honest about it, I prefer such things to be a bit more subtle and layered. The core of it was fine, but in the end, it was a bit too plain and on the nose.

I saw a lot of similarities between this and Ramez Naam's trilogy. A focus on Buddhism and getting along, class warfare, and obviously, the tech, but in the end, I much preferred Naam's trilogy.

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Monday, December 6, 2021

Winter's OrbitWinter's Orbit by Everina Maxwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With distinct YA vibes even if it isn't precisely YA, this SF M/M romance is perfectly fine for those who prefer this kind of thing. It's full of royals, light political intrigue, slow-burn romance with a galactic empire on the verge of war.

As for me, personally, I think it was light on the SF and worldbuilding and the characters were fine if not brilliant. This kinda hits a middle-of-the-road read for me and it isn't anything near my actual preference, but it matches a lot of the kinds of SF that are published these days and it didn't actually suck. It just didn't ring any bells for me.

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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Near the BoneNear the Bone by Christina Henry
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Maybe it's unpopular opinion time.

I mean, if you compare this with a lot of the other self-pub stuff out there in the horror market, it falls in that line. You've got a monster in the mountains, a tragic perma-victim abused by a kidnapper for 8 years, and a chance encounter with a group of modern yahoos. Stir, shake up, and let the blood fly. If this is all you're looking for, then go for it.

But, me, well, I've been reading an average of 500 books a year, going on 6 years now. Before then, I was averaging about 300 a year. I have the freedom to pick up tons of randoms and indulge in "what is popular" at any particular moment. I'm able to pick up on trends that may not bother perhaps a large segment of the population, but when I happen to pick up 50-100 books a year, all new ones, that all share a common theme, I feel honor-bound to mention it, especially if it's rather dark and ugly.

More and more and more books, whether Horror, SF, or Fantasy (for these are the ones I focus on) are nothing more than female victimization novels with single-dimensional male characters that either A: are massively abusive, or B: are useless tools.

Let me just say something. I'm a man, and I'm a huge reader, and I have a very sensitive soul. If so much of the f**king market is designed to try to convince me that my entire sex, and by extension, me, are this f**king evil, then the most natural thing in the world would be for me to actually kill myself or stop reading altogether. I don't want to be a self-hating man. None of these stories come close to accurately describing myself or anyone I know. And while I am not excusing actual bastards in reality, I have to be clear about this:

I don't see the point of allowing this little butt-nugget of misandry to keep defining the whole industry any further than it already has. It's hateful. It's inaccurate. And women are just as likely to abuse people as men. But no, the new stereotype has gone off the deep end and it's disgusting.

But wait, aren't you a huge fan of Horror, Brad?

I am. But I'm a bigger fan of good writing, with characters of both sexes being delightfully complicated, rich, and full. I don't have a problem with massively nasty situations so long as it's not some kind of cardboard cutout or an obvious political agenda to smear a whole sex in the mud when the grand majority of them are innocent.

Is this book the worst offender? No. Not at all. I mean, William was a right nasty piece of work that would have belonged in the nastiest, isolated parts of the world over a hundred years ago. But no, he lived in modern times. When it's very unlikely he would have gotten away with even a third of what he did, even in his most misogynic throwback moments. He was a true monster.

Sorry, I guess I just get sick of this cookie-cutter kind of portrayal of men because it feels like every other modern book I pick up that is either up for nomination for some kind of award or is shouted about all over the place all wind up having the same damn theme. Men hating women.

In actuality, these are all women writers, promoted by female-dominated agencies, for publishers that are taking a hit for not having women at the very top of their pyramid, and there's a PR problem.

On top of this, they scream that men aren't reading anymore.

I wonder if there is a connection.

There's a thing called manufactured consent. One of the most common tactics is to keep repeating a thing over and over and over until all the people believe it.

It doesn't even matter whether it is done on purpose or not. If all you readers keep reading the same kinds of talking points over and over and over, you'll start believing it. It's human nature. It's also propaganda.

Stop the hate.

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Saturday, December 4, 2021

Light from Uncommon StarsLight from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was surprisingly good. I wouldn't really call it a Good Omens replacement or a cookie-cutter Chambers, but here's something about it that was uncommonly good: it takes three wildly different genre scenarios and successfully blends them together in a way that REALLY shouldn't work but DOES.

Three characters, three wildly different situations. Katrina Nguyen is a transgender violin prodigy that takes a ton of hits in the tale, really describing a ton of prejudice and hate while also being picked out of a crowd for her talent, and then is groomed for the same.

Shizuka Satomi is the brilliant violin teacher who helps her, but she is cursed by a demon. She is forced to allow a demon to take the souls of her students.

And then there is Lan Tran, a donut shop owner who also happens to be a refugee from a vast alien galactic war with her ship and crew hiding out on Earth. She happens to fall in love with Shizuka.

I personally loved all the plot points surrounding the violins, from playing to fixing them up to everything.

But I also thought Katrina's plot arc was kinda cringe. I know it's supposed to make us feel loads of pity but it just went on and on, a total victim mindset which was even more cringe when we see how Shizuka just capitalized on it, luring her in with all the nice stuff and support while Katrina's past just predicted her future.

Fortunately, the writing was interesting enough that it didn't ruin the novel for me. The rest dovetailed nicely together, especially the almost out-of-nowhere inclusion of a true outsider (alien) being absurdly grateful for and learning to recapture the joy of living (with donuts) without fear.

All three characters were pretty great counterpoints to each other.

This is a book that happens to be greater than the sum of its parts. I had some smaller issues here and there and there wasn't nearly as much humor in this as I could have expected from the comps in the blurb, but on its own, the whole novel did add up to a lot more than its smaller pieces.

I was more than satisfied.

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Friday, December 3, 2021

Saving Time (The Time Police, #3)Saving Time by Jodi Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think it's safe to say that these and the St. Mary's books (all interwoven) will continue to be my go-to feel-good comedy/SF adventure books for years more to come. There's no sign of anything slowing down. When some characters get older, fantastic new ones always come to fill in all the very best gaps.

Team weird, no longer probationary, are free to get into the wildest trouble in the timestreams as they take down the baddie time-travelers, corporate greedsters, con men, and terrorists. Of course, sometimes the worst enemy is their own department. Or themselves.

This is firmly the kind of book that is the definition of, "oh, god, you just had to BE there to believe this..."

Fortunately, as readers, we're RIGHT in the thick of it. :)

Still fantastic.

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Thursday, December 2, 2021

The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market ReturnsThe Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns by John C. Bogle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a funny little book. It starts out very fun, making a strong case to attach itself to Thomas Paine's Common Sense, The Rights of Man and Other Essential Writings, the book that led to the American Revolution.

While the idea doesn't exactly feature all throughout this piece of good advice, it does underscore the obvious idiocies and point to a classy, simple solution. Kinda like the causes for the Revolution.

So, what, we need to overthrow the stock market? Um.. no. The actual idea is pretty damn simple and backed up with massive proof in the massive pudding.

*Buy* *Hold*

It outperforms almost everything. Second-guessing, day trading, money managers, almost everything else performs worse. It's pretty simple. Don't pay for middlemen, diversify for yourself, and have it rock out with compound interest.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book is just a lot of repeating the same good idea, always pushing for the value of ETFs, and it highlights how the system OUGHT to work, without interference or bad actors. All good, as far as that goes. So, if we live in a perfect world, this is just about perfect. And maybe it'll work fine for most, even so, but the point is to get going EARLY so the compound works FOR you.

Honestly, the book could have been even shorter but what is here is still good. I've seen most of these ideas many times before, even so.

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