Monday, July 13, 2020

Season of Storms (The Witcher #6)Season of Storms by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a lot of ways, this book is more like The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny than the core five books of the series.

It's not to say that this is broken up into many short stories that flesh out the universe, but it reads more like books 4 or 5 in that there are mini-adventures that are more or less self-contained and don't push an overarching plot. In other words, this isn't about the great war or Ciri.

It is, however, fascinating as hell and sometimes humorous and often I just want to scream at Geralt's bad luck. One more bad thing after another.

It definitely makes for a fun read, however. I had as much fun during this as I had during the first two short story collections. And Dandelion? Always a treat. :)

As a matter of fact, this one really feels like some of the old classics of Fantasy. Fafhrd and Gray Mouser comes to mind. Great dialogue, fun, rather dark adventures, and a much-updated fantasy ethic.

I could honestly read things like this forever. :) Pure adventure.

Of course, don't come into this one expecting a huge fantasy arc, because this is not that.

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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Virion: The Black Cell (Virion Series, #1)Virion: The Black Cell by R.L.M. Sanchez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One part post-SF-apocalypse, one part investigatory mystery, and one part Mars commando a-la Leviathan Wakes. This book aims for a particular SF niche. I personally see it as a post-military tribute to plague-transformed societies, with just a small taste of an alien-invested social structure.

And oh, yeah, let's not forget the mindless hoards. It's definitely a noir/mil-SF and quite decent.

It'll definitely scratch a lot of SF itches out there for those who want more of this type!

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Saturday, July 11, 2020

Gone with the WindGone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a wild ride.

Let me be candid: I'm not a huge fan of casual Southern racism no matter how charmingly couched in close-knit family ties, genteel manners, or explosively self-destructive values that leave them all ripe for exploitation. Nor am I all that fond of the damn Yankees, either, if I must be honest.

But there's something about reading about the plantations and the elitism and the romanticism of a corrupt way of life written so... longingly... that made me want to gnaw my own wrists off during the first few sections of this novel. I mean, let's face it. I'm a modern reader. I've read tons about the plights of slaves and the tasks of modern intersectionality, so reading this novel was like reading the template for the modern Conservative party.

And I mean the good parts as well as the bad. YES, family is everything, YES, the society was set up to support its members *AS LONG AS THEY ARE THE SAME CLASS*, and YES, they sure were proud, weren't they? But they were also downright cruel if you fell outside of the right virtue signaling. And you were totally F***ed if you slipped out of the same class, let alone didn't share the same skin. And being Irish? No, it's not quite the same as being black, but to hear them talk about it... YES, there was a ton of ugly. The KKK section was particularly fugly.

But this is a modern classic, no? A sprawling epic romance that covers the time before the Civil War, during the Civil War, and a few years after the Civil War. And for all its problematic (at least to me) aspects, I still fell into the wild tale of Scarlet and Rhett and both sympathized and wanted to scream at their utter selfishness. To be fair, it was a great context to and contrast with the Southern Culture even from within it. I enjoyed the drama and particularly enjoyed the positive messages for women even while some took the messages two steps back.

In other words, it's a mess of good and bad messages. Worse, it's VERY readable and thoroughly engrossing and entertaining.


I can't compare this to the movie because I've never seen it. Odd, no? One of the most beloved movies of all time and I'd rather read a novel that's over a thousand pages. Huh. Oh well. :)

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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Annihilation Aria (The Space Operas, #1)Annihilation Aria by Michael R. Underwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When it comes to space operas, one generally doesn't think of things like actual SINGING, but I have to admit this is a welcome addition to the corpus of this subgenre.

Add to it some fairly oddball settings/characters, a massive space-nod to Indiana Jones, and transform the first half of the novel into an outright quest to save the universe from the empire, including space battles, more singing, and the optimism inherent in fighting fascism, and you've got yourself a fun book.

So why aren't I giving this an enthusiastic 5-star rating? Because for all its internal enthusiasm and SF-blockbuster movie ethos, it has, unfortunately, all been done before. All that's left is a tale that must do the old thing BETTER than all the ones before it and this one -- while definitely fun -- isn't the beat-all of the genre. There is a LOT of space operas out there.

Still, if you're looking for something new in the subgenre, I definitely think you ought to check this out. :) Expect adventure. :)

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Monday, July 6, 2020

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and ReligionThe Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There were many points as I was reading this that I had to check my assumptions and back down. Automatic groupings based on similarities tend to almost ALWAYS lead every single one of us to post hoc reasoning.

What do I mean?

Everyone jumps to conclusions based on their intuition. That feeling of rightness then leads us to find reasons and arguments why it is so.

Unfortunately, this is proven to be the means of how almost every single one of us uses reason. Over and over, we're constantly reminded of bias, of selective reasoning, of checking our assumptions, of realizing that not only our memories but our very foundation of knowing a thing is based on a lie.

And it's not like we do it on purpose. We try very hard to do the right thing all the time.

Unfortunately, Haidt makes a very convincing and well-researched argument showing us how we are all led by our noses. I don't particularly like his descriptive analogies, but their meanings are solid.

The breakdown? We are all led by our taste. Our moral foundations.

Right from wikipedia, the first five are:
Care: cherishing and protecting others; opposite of harm
Fairness or proportionality: rendering justice according to shared rules; opposite of cheating
Loyalty or ingroup: standing with your group, family, nation; opposite of betrayal
Authority or respect: submitting to tradition and legitimate authority; opposite of subversion
Sanctity or purity: abhorrence for disgusting things, foods, actions; opposite of degradation

Haidt adds:

Liberty, as in the opposite of oppression.

This means an awful lot for our current climate. Each side claims supremacy in each of these moral bullet points but often one side will do one better than the other in certain areas.

Liberals lionize Care.

Liberals and Conservatives focus on different elements of Fairness. Social justice over Economics.

Conservatives lionize Loyalty, while often Liberals point to the nasty effects of it. (But it is still absolutely necessary, with precautions.)

Authority and Respect also come up in very different ways between the groups, too. Conservatives assume that a breakdown of Authority leads to anarchy, while Liberals (broadly) see the abuses of

Authority and focus on Respect. This last is usually about equality.

Sanctity is a strange one. It's the one that ties closest to religiosity on both sides. Disgust at the horrible things people do, the degradation of public institutions, the incalculable loss of life and liberty. I see a lot of outrage here and it's almost always a pure gut-punch that rarely gets post hoc reasoning. It's almost always virtue signaling for either side.

And then there is Haidt's own contribution: Liberty. Usually associated with Freedom.

Conservatives tie it to maintaining a moral way of life, maintaining institutions, and their economics.
Liberals ask, "Liberty for whom? Whose Freedom is maintained? Who gets left out?"

The fundamental CONCERN for liberty is the same. Each side wants liberty and freedom. But here's where it gets funky:

Which side believes they are beset with impurities that must be expunged? Which side is BEING expunged?

If you can point to BOTH SIDES, then you might actually be rising above bias confirmation.

Of course, nowadays, party members are actively told never to converse with the opposing party. In fact, the very idea of finding common ground is usually used as a way to ostracize a party member. So what happens? An individual is forced to find their moral grounds ONLY from the party that they must maintain fealty to.

And all the while, real communication breaks down. The greater similarities fall away in gross mistrust and purity signaling. This is true for both sides.

The Us VS Them is now in full swing and it is almost NEVER based on facts or reason. It is tribalism. It is intuition based on previously formed moralisms that are the foundations for every decision we make.

It doesn't make it right, but it does make a lot of sense.

It's a good argument for bringing back a kind of religion. One that is actually based on the welfare of all its members, that break down divides between social groups, that actually provides a safe space for all kinds of people to talk.

Odd, right? We can even leave deities out of it. But we must respect it. This is how we have always gotten along. Uber individualism just doesn't work. We all need people to survive.

And come on -- it's TIME TO DE-ESCALATE.

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Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Angel of the CrowsThe Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm torn on this one.

As a fan of Sherlock Holmes in general and having been a rabid purveyor of delightful Victorian mashups with supernatural elements in general, I should have been all over Angel of the Crows. I should have been whooping it up. I enjoyed the author's Goblin Emperor, too, so I know she has the writing chops to pull it off.

So what happened?

First, I enjoyed the worldbuilding. There are several types of angels and they are locked into certain rules. There are werewolves in London and Doyle (A. C. indeed,) plays Watson as a Hellhound. Holmes plays an oddly constrained (or unconstrained) angel who seems rather... like a marginalized character.

The full extent of the supernatural races and the racism in London is also rather awesome.

And to top it all off, Addison runs a VERY CLOSE retelling of a TON of Sherlock Holmes stories! With the twist, of course. And you know what? I LIKE it. In concept.

Or I thought I would have liked it. In concept.

In actuality? I like all of this in concept. I don't know if I really enjoyed it all that much in actuality. After all, I know what happened in the original mysteries. I kept wanting to see some major breakaways or truly interesting twists that kept me guessing. In the end, I was appreciating the book more for the artistic commentary and the novelty value more than the actual writing.

And the novelty value was, unfortunately, not ALL that novel. How much angel fiction is there out there, by a rough count? Or UF in historical fictional settings? Quite a few.

So what we have to lean on is a very careful and elaborate retelling of the Sherlock Holmes stories INCLUDING Jack the Ripper in a UF base. The elaborate parts are better than most. They're careful and detailed. I really want to applaud the effort.

Unfortunately, what came to mind was Novik's Uprooted. Novik retold old myths, slightly altering the core AND the window dressing, while Addison seems to keep only an unaltered core while altering the window dressing. One surprises us, the other ... amuses us? At least some? Yes.

But I also feel like it could have been so much more, too.

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Saturday, July 4, 2020

Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century ParenthoodSomeone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood by Drew Magary
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I basically read this because Drew wrote it. It doesn't get simpler than that.

That being said, it's a painfully obvious memoir of parenthood that is as recognizable as it is deadly funny. Oh, and did I mention the painful bits? It's all there.

Yes, it's a no-holds-barred look at himself and his relationship with his small children. With an honest look at his mistakes, his frustrations, and his semi-willingness to let his daughter destroy a perfect pizza.

Trust me. That story was breathtaking and terrible.

I jest. It was the last part.

I do appreciate honesty and humor. Sometimes the only way to cry is through a laugh.

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