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?


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.


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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