Saturday, March 23, 2019

Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of ThinkingSurfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking by Douglas R. Hofstadter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are two or three different books in this book, but by all apparent surfaces, it is all a single, exhaustive tome on ANALOGY.

As I read it, I was struck by how vast and careful his analysis was and how I would have REALLY loved this as a teen, being fascinated by all the variances, categories, and richness of analogies. They are a source of amusement, creativity, vast and widespread accidents, a mode and end of consciousness, and an integral aspect of math and science. What is an equal sign but an analogy? And let's not forget Einstein making thought experiments that later became provable.

Analogy is in every word we use, constraining and freeing our understanding of the world as well as tumbling it into a mass of contradictions. Only logic and careful analysis can free it, but the source of all our greatest creativity comes from it.

As a kid, and perhaps unused to all the varieties of analogy and hungry for such a careful and well-thought-out stream of reasoning, I probably would have given this a full 5 stars just for is sheer chutzpah.

As an adult, I think it went on WAY TOO LONG.

Once the great and rather obvious arguments had been made, fought over, and survived the logic grinder, I was perfectly happy to throw it on the grill and garnish my the buns of my life with thrilling mustard, spicy onions, wholesome lettuce, and timely tomatoes.

I could easily see this book fueling the understanding of our cognition or developing Artificial Intelligence. I can see it becoming a monumental if a rather pedantic tribute to obviousness. But it is obvious only because we're in the heart of it.

Or rather, I might recommend this book to aliens trying to understand us humans. Or AIs from other stars trying to get a good grip on our alien psychology.

For the general lay-reader, DESPITE it being always lightly humorous and clear, I cannot recommend this... except, perhaps, in small doses while sitting on the toilet.

But am I happy I read it? Yes. I can say I'm a complete convert to the line of logic. It aligns to my own reasoning very well. But was it often boring AF? Yes. It was that, too.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the VoidPacking for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mary Roach is a funny woman. I guess that's what you get when no subject is taboo and she has the charm to pull it all off. :)

What does she pull off? A full, scientifically accurate look at the little stuff in life. Astronauts living in space was rather more the focus. That's okay. We're not quite ready to go to Mars. But at least we're ready to drink our pee! Yay!

Seriously though, beyond the last quarter of the book being devoted to floating poo in a very fun and educational way, the whole book is a serious work of scholarship, investigation, and interview. We can throw out a lot of the myths and add a whole lot of true facts to our bags thanks to this non-fiction.

I honestly had a great time reading it. And since this is my second Mary Roach, I think I may be plunging ahead to read more. :) Yay!

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Ancestral Night (White Space, #1)Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had some really good fun with this book. The transhumanist elements, from all the various augs for the mind, body, and all the relevant lock-ins required to pilot, communicate, or engineer spacecraft is something I always tend to enjoy. It's realistic. After all, our bodies are such weak meat sacks. :)

In this case, our MC is got at from several directions all at once. Memory, behavior modification, social and political nastiness, all the way up to full and voluntary body control for the Space Opera elements.

The alien artifact, and I use the term lightly, adds a beautiful element to the rest, knocking the tale out of what really started feeling like a Becky Chambers novel right out of that orbit and into a straight adventure including a chase, more political horrors, the ghost of genocide, and tons of lies to work through with all the aliens and the "pirates".

I really enjoyed it. The ideas and the tech and the characters were all fascinating.

Unfortunately, there were a few parts that dragged, made me lost interest for a bit, before surprising me that I was enjoying myself again. BUT MOSTLY, the novel is one of the very best Space Operas I've seen for a while. With these caveats. It does the pushing of the envelope much better than most, and that's what I like to see even more than a character-heavy tale. But make no mistake, the characters are king, here. :)

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Chaos: Making a New ScienceChaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm totally in love with this book. Like, totally.

Why? Because it GETS ME, MAN.

Just kidding. I'm not anthropomorphizing a breakthrough in science. Although, if I was, I'd DEFINITELY be cuddling with this stream of seemingly random information that keeps repeating in regular ways, forming order from seeming chaos.

Give me a seed and I will make you a universe. Or one hell of a trippy fractal.

I think I'll leave butterflies out of this.

Small changes affect great extrapolations.

Our physics generators in video games relies on this. So do aeronautical research, weather forecasts, stock market prediction, presidential elections and the resulting public outrage, and the fluid dynamics of my creamer swirling in my coffee. Not to mention galaxy formation, fingerprints, shells, coastlines, or the thing that made the little dinos get the upper hand in those movies. :)

Truly, though, this book does a great job at explaining and giving us the unusual history of the science that brought pure mathematics out of the clouds and back into the real world, dealing with our observable reality. Newton was okay for some things but all these new equations describe just HOW little uncertainties can create huge chaotic messes... and still be reduced back to first causes. :)

Neat, huh? I'm totally stoked by these bad boys. Of course, we're all, yeah, we use those equations all the time now and it's old hat, but not so long ago, they were totally in left field and none of the big boys wanted to play with them.

So, yeah, it's like a total paradigm shift, man. I'm FEEL'N it.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Quakeland: On the Road to America's Next Devastating EarthquakeQuakeland: On the Road to America's Next Devastating Earthquake by Kathryn Miles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This attempts to be a catch-all on everything earthquakes, going through money loss, eyewitness reports, and a pretty substantial expose on dams. As an opener, I suppose it could have had a few more exciting starts... but later on, when we got into the historical accounts of earthquakes, I think it got better.

Especially when we got to fracking.

Later, when we got into the real science of seismology, I really began to enjoy it. I was looking for real science, after all, but, of course, there's plenty about this that still seems to encourage con men. "I will predict! For a low, low cost of..." :)

I hope, one of these days, some REAL money will be poured into the field so we have real data.

This book was okay. Not the best, but it isn't bad.

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A Night Without Stars (Commonwealth Universe, #7)A Night Without Stars by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another SF epic by Hamilton and it sure as hell doesn't disappoint. At all.

I admit I like the Commonwealth novels best. I LOVE getting back in touch with Nigel and Paula and many others. It helps that everyone has lifespans counted in the span of thousands of years, of course, but it also means that after all these re-lifers, uploads, post-mortals, and re-bodied characters can go through a ton of change over the years.

Hamilton has one hell of a fascinating timeline going on here. And this latest one is right up there with all the rest. 250 years after this particular world was kicked from the Void, the remaining humans are busy doing the same old crap as usual. Disenfranchising ourselves. The technological minorities are hounded by the reactionaries, but if that doesn't give us enough to enjoy, the world is in constant flux with Fallers. Shapeshifter aliens that only have one goal in mind: eradication of all other life. It's a simple equation for them.

The whole novel is fun from start to finish, including a mysterious fast-growing baby handed to a local astronaut who is told that the fate of the world is in his hands, an intractable official, a Captain from the non-technological ruling class out to hunt him down, and TWO delightful big returns to the characters from the previous novels.

One, and I won't spoil it, was a FREAKING DELIGHT once the secret got revealed. :)

Is this another big book by Hamilton? Yep. But it's fantastic the way that all the Void books are fantastic. High Tech, but now, without the inclusion of psionics from the Void and a distrust of all things High Tech, a few of these characters are freaking uber-powerful despite the Fallers. :) It's fun. :)

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Monday, March 18, 2019

How the Universe Got Its Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite SpaceHow the Universe Got Its Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space by Janna Levin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought this little primer on physics was perfectly delightful. I've never seen anyone explain physics in quite this way before, but it was absolutely charming. The biggest points (for me) were on the topology of the universe. Geometry trumps General Relativity. For, as we know, neither General Relativity or Quantum Physics can describe the actual shape of the universe. No predictive power at all.

But then, even Einstein said there would have to be yet another comprehensive paradigm shift.

I personally like to think that all science will always have to do successive paradigm shifts as if it, too, followed the Marxian axiom. It means there will never be an end to learning, and THAT is something gorgeous to behold. :)

ANYWAY, back to this book. Levin's prose takes the highly unusual tack of posing as letters to her mom, being awesomely personal and revealing while also illustrating just how much she loves the science she does. The mix, far from being awkward, turns the whole struggle and acquisition of knowledge into an end that we can all admire greatly. It also makes it REAL in a way I rarely see in these kinds of non-fiction books. Or perhaps it's not all that rare, because I do get a very awesome sense of the people for whom the science is everything, but in her case, I just feel love, sympathy, and shared joy.

This is not your standard boilerplate introductory pop-sci text. Rather, it is a personal and gorgeous love-note to the ideas that shine so bright, always asking more questions, demanding more sacrifices, and, in the end, revealing even more of the universe.

Totes respect.

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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer SpaceBlack Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space by Janna Levin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a rather fascinating personality-centric accounting of post-WWII science that lead to the facilities that currently detect Gravity Waves. The science is there at the core, from the postulations to the amazingly hard-fought politics and accounting that made the whole thing happen.

And believe me, it almost didn't happen so many times. Fortunately, it did and a few years ago we had confirmation of real-life Black Holes to celebrate over.

Truly, I couldn't be happier. Science needs these kinds of astronomical wins. It was astronomical in the way they pulled it off, too.

But wow, the rest of the story reads like a great novel full of difficult personalities, boundless hope, disappointment, and heroism. Kinda like most science. But then, it is a calling. These men and women are truly devoted to the cause despite not always agreeing on the best direction or means to the goal.

So did this read like a soap opera full of departmental squabbles, politics, money-wrangling, and even a little madness thrown in?

Yep.

But that's what makes it so interesting. They did it despite all that. And the project is very healthy now. :) :) Fun read!

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The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum MechanicsThe Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics by Leonard Susskind
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, I need to face facts: I'm a physics geek. I may not be brilliant on all that math stuff, but I have a pretty good intuitive feel for all the big and a lot of the really small questions. Just don't ask me to actually DO the math.

So after all these fun-filled years of grabbing all the popular science books by all the great names in physics today, I revel in all the conflicting theories and directions that they take.

Sometimes, they can get bitter and protracted, and other times... friendly, if still intractable. This particular book had a little of it all. But about what? Susskind VS Hawking square-off about BLACK HOLES. Specifically, whether or not entropy is, in fact, happening on the other side of the Schwarzschild radius.

The war is over now and Hawking had backstepped in the early 2000's, but it still meant that two camps of physicists were up in arms against each other about whether information COULD actually be lost in the special conditions of a Black Hole.

From the start to the end of this book, I was hooked. It FELT like we were on the stage of a grand debate. Susskind always felt like he was on the losing side, but you know how those niggling doubts are. Conflict, losses, concessions, brief respites, and ultimate vindication. It's all here. :) Fun. :)

Yeah, but what about the science? Oh? You want to know about that? Well in the spaces of these years, we went from total loss of information and not just scrambled information (information being any kind of physical state in the universe) to a discovery of a cool little idea that states that if you add information (matter or energy) into a Singularity, it will either A: get bigger by at least a Plank or B: heat up. We must incorporate the little idea that the information of a holographic universe is contained on the SURFACE of any kind of container and not its volume.

Cool, right? Well, things get better once we start introducing String Theory. :)

Susskind makes one hell of a narrative here. I love reading about all these great men battling it out over long stretches of time and visiting each other amiably and still holding on to their positions for their lives.

The point is... none of them knew who was going to be right. The battle was the thing. And in the end, it was the very real and fundamental conflicts on a pure science level that pushed everyone to new heights. :) And we got to see it. :)

Very fun.

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Saturday, March 16, 2019

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryCharlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to admit that there's nothing quite like reading a book to a kid that you both love in equal measure.

I cried, she cried, we both cried and laughed and cheered when those nasty, nasty kids got their just deserts. :)

And the songs? I admit I had a great time singing my own little tune to each as they were violently nasty and creative and delightful all at once. :)

Yeah. This is one of the best books ever. And I refuse to care one bit about the typos.

TOTAL CLASSIC.

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The Origins and History of ConsciousnessThe Origins and History of Consciousness by Erich Neumann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love and hate this work. All at the same time and for some of the same reasons simultaneously.

Why? Because it pre-dates a lot of Joseph Campbell's much more interesting and more carefully analyzed use of mythology. The subject matter is the same in a lot of ways, using the analysis of myth to understand what is going on inside us as individuals, but his conclusions are Pure BS.

Look, I know it's easy to sit here and review massively impressive works that feel like a direct-line inheritance from Carl Jung, full of glorious archetypes and VERY impressive scholarship, and let me be clear: I have no problems with the scholarship. The bibliography and the erudition are beyond reproach.

What I have a problem with is something pretty simple. His thesis has no antithesis.

Backing up, the whole idea here is that human consciousness arose from the conflicts between the female and male principles. It's very Jungian but I think Neumann takes it a bit farther. His full analysis is ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS from the perspective of Fantasy Worldbuilding. I'd buy and read the hell out of a heroic series of books that expounded everything in here... as long as the FINAL CONCLUSIONS were re-analyzed.

Practically EVERY SINGLE IDEA in here propagates the idea that women, or rather, the World Mother, is the Dragon, the great Oroborus, and that all myth continues this trend all the way down to the overthrow of the female. From ALL the myths of castration to the extrapolation of the Furies as the ubermyth from which all our legends stem, justifies the patriarchy.

Where's the devil's advocate, here? A little lip service saying that men are spurred on and challenged by the female principle and women are spurred on and challenged by the male principle?

So what? Freud had been around for generations by this point. And at the end of the 40's, we should have gotten a little bit beyond this. But wait, it's the 40's and WWII was still fresh on everyone's minds.

I appreciate the attempt to analyze the models of our subconscious reliance on all the models that now seem broken and I LOVED the rich, rich, rich mythology and even the attempted thesis, but there's no serious counter-argument going on here. And there are TONS of possible counter-arguments.

Do I really need to write a book on this book? Suffice to say, WOMEN AREN'T EVIL. Let's leave it at that. Sheesh.

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Friday, March 15, 2019

The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can MasterThe Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master by Martha Alderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For what this is, it's pretty good.

For whether it was helpful to me, personally, I'd say... no.

So what WAS it? Exactly what it says. It refers to two different types of writers and allows for the differences between right-brained and left-brained individuals, saying, point-blank, that you've got to shore up your defenses. Good enough.

Beyond that, we're dealing with the very basic ideas of keeping tension, not overwhelming the opening with too much backstory, keeping the descriptions strong and not crazy, and best of all, the good stuff about the plot.

Of course, she uses some of the classics like Lord of the Flies and Great Gatsby and even Hunger Games, but it all boils down to introducing great antagonists early (even if it's the main character), having them fail and come to their big realization at the 3/4 point, and then wrapping it all up.

Very good for beginners.

What is not covered is, say, the dramatic structure of Shakespeare's plays, the non-plot heavy character-driven classics, or anything much beyond the cookie-cutter. And most of the cookies are left out, too.

But at least it does capture the spirit of the Plot. Boiled down. Sanitized. And ready for the next invitation to joining her next seminar. :)

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Hegel's Phenomenology of SpiritHegel's Phenomenology of Spirit by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is absolutely no way I can review this work in any meaningful way without writing a book on this book.

In this regard, I'm stuck in Hegel's own back yard, trying to observe a thing, understanding that I cannot fully understand the thing, but postulating anyway, only to revise after new information comes to light, and postulating again, revising again, postulating again, and revising again until I approach the Truth of what he's saying while never quite arriving at the Truth.

So much of what is spoke of in this towering castle of cards is aimed at understanding the Geist, the whole conceptualization of Consciousness. Doing it, he had to work from Kant and build an entire edifice from practically nothing at all.

So, of course, he goes in some culturally obvious directions that make modern philosophers cringe. For example, he not only works through the cultural bias angle, but he also goes through the entire Religiosity angle, attempting to divorce spirit from religion and winding up at the point where people can have morals without the Church.

With me so far? Well, that's only two angles among many, and we really need a BIG Venn diagram to work out his entire phenomenology.

Just so you know, this BARELY scratches the surface:



I found myself scratching my head at how dense and obscure it was in all the "In itself"s and wanted to strangle him for the needlessly recursive recapitulations.

And yet, for all the things that I, in my own culturally biased way, dismiss in Hegel as being a blind fool, I can still appreciate WHAT HE ACCOMPLISHED.

He basically formulated a non-working AI template.

Cool, right? He worked from what he believed to be base principles, (religion being one of them, including God as an outside restrictive force,) to build a Mind. Or Spirit. Or Geist. The definition always errs toward the Whole Ball of Wax.

He also got pretty close to nearly formulating a complete formal-logic construct. :)

Of course, it's wrong. But we learned a LOT from Hegel. The Hegelian Dialect is something we all use today, bringing up Thesis and Antithesis, figuring out what went wrong, then doing it all over again until we reach The Truth.

Mad props.



Oh, for you weird fanboys out there, I should mention that while I was reading this, I noticed a very cool thing. Asimov worked out his own formulations of all these same points in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit in his Robot books. He explained the questions and anti-questions in a much more enjoyable, if not quite as thorough, way.

My appreciation for Asimov just went through the roof.

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human CadaversStiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I never guessed I would want to know about what happens to a dead body after it ... dies. But here I am, reading and now reviewing a book on just that.

Was it funny? Sometimes. Was it gross? Sometimes! But was it deeply FASCINATING?

Yeah, I guess it was.

It really wasn't too deep on the science bits, actually, not spending too much time on the actual bugs in your gut partying down on the glut of the you-buffet, but it did have plenty of eyewitness accounts of morgues and the everyday lives of the folks there. Plus the military outfits that used bodies for ballistics research. And let's not forget about the second half of the book that goes into the really funky stuff.

You know, like methods of disposal of your earthly remains from a historical standpoint. Oh, you wacky Resurrectionists. Or my personal favorite modern (and hopefully soon-to-be-legal for you, soon) composting farms!

Look, seriously, folks, I think it's a wonderful idea. First I get freeze-dried, shattered into hamburger-sized chunks, then I GO ON TO FEED THE PLANTS FOR REAL.

Like, for real, for real. Since ashes are pretty much worthless for that and getting buried is a joke when you think about it, getting turned into mulch so that you ACTUALLY return your nutrients back to nature is a BEAUTIFUL gesture.

Where can I sign up? I mean, donating my body to science is great and all, but the poetry of getting mulched is TOO MUCH FOR ME.

My daughter to my granddaughter: "Your grandfather helped grow this grove of apple trees."

"I thought he was a writer of Science Fiction who rarely went out of the city?"

"Oh, I mean it literally, sweetie. After we mulched him and spread him across the land, he literally helped grow these!"

"But not with his own two hands."

"Oh, no, we used those, too."

"You don't understand me!"

"I want to grow roses. Pink ones."

"Moooooooom!"

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and DreamsWhy We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know, I'm not usually one to tout NY Times bestsellers, but in this particular case, I want to mention that...

This kinda should be required reading for everyone.

Why? Because despite the rather innocuous title and no-nonsense factual information being presented, with no less than 750 scientific studies supporting the findings within, the author OUGHT to have been screaming that we're all freaking fools and morons.

Sure, I've heard of some of the studies, such as the ones related to the huge probability of obesity and depression and cancer rates for people who don't get 8 hours of sleep, but when we see all the other facts involved with it are all laid out, I frankly despair. Our societies are made up of complete idiots.

Most of the most powerful and necessary REM sleep happens in the last block of sleep, between 6-8 hours. Most of us are reducing our sleep to 6 or less. Learning and retention and memory decrease as if you're constantly drunk, and the long-term effects short circuit all rational behaviors. We eat more because we act high. We get into more car accidents. Test performance is abysmal, as is our moods, our ability to digest foods properly, and our ability to resist the flu drops from an 18% chance at 8 hours of sleep to a whopping 50% chance when you get less than 6 hours. These are studies, based on people who, in a controlled environment, are swabbed with the sick. Think about that. Add VERY significant numbers to cancer, suicide, and total life dissatisfaction, and the picture becomes very dire.

Oh, and sleeping pills short-circuit the REM cycle. As do drugs for ADHD.

This is the funniest and most horrible thing I picked up here: Teens all have a natural change in their circadian rhythm. They all become night owls. So WTF are we forcing them to get up earlier and earlier to go to school? They AREN'T getting enough sleep. So what happens? They go in, do abysmally in school, show all the same symptoms as ADHD, get diagnosed with ADHD, and then get drugs to help them concentrate while only making the fundamental problem of not getting enough REM sleep WORSE.

*slow clap*

Idiots.

And I'm talking about ALL of us. Long term sleep deprivation is the thing we do to TORTURE PEOPLE WE DON'T LIKE. And yet, there's this thing about rewarding long work cycles, turning people in unthinking zombies with decreasing work productivity JUST BECAUSE we're trying to squeeze out that last hour of work? It's KILLING US. Literally. Our minds aren't working well enough to even realize there's a problem.

Put a STOP to this! Seriously, folks! This is right up there with dancing around in a cloud of radium. Oh, look, it's so pretty!

This is science, folks. Not a fad. Don't be an idiot.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Rationality: From AI to ZombiesRationality: From AI to Zombies by Eliezer Yudkowsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Despite just a few niggling quips I might have with a few parts of the structure of this absolutely fantastic collection of essays, I think I've found one of my most absolute favorite books of all time.

I've read a ton of philosophy over the years and more psychology, thanks to my degree in psychology, but nothing QUITE prepared me for this. What we have here is not just a man in the process of designing, from the ground-up, a nice AI that won't turn around and rationally destroy us all because we're vermin, but a man who has gone ahead and taken the idea of real rationality and turned it not only on his work, his life, and himself, but has gone out of his way to give us the benefit of his experience.

Sound like a self-help book? It isn't. Or, at least, any of us could use it that way, but to me, it's probably the single-most-useful, courageous, funny, and excruciatingly smart book I've read in a very long time.

Does Eliezer have charm? Hell yeah. Does Eliezer champion Bayesian probability? HELL YEAH. Does Eliezer throw a perfectly understandable spotlight on our desperate need to reduce bias and seek truth no matter how painful? Yes. Very much so. And he sends a lot of great light on the whole field of AI research, Cognitive Science, Philosophy, Quantum Physicists, and everyone who might be laboring under faulty models of thought and lazy thinking.

Above all, he's passionate as hell about Thinking Clearly. It also helps that he's fantastically devoted to rigorous standards, correct predictive models, and thorough ethical considerations. This isn't all about AIs although we know he is passionate about it. It's about EVERYTHING.

And he's right. We need rationality, and I mean, REAL RATIONALITY. I mean meticulously and carefully considered thought. Courageous exposing of our own faults. Our stubbornness, our ability to get up when we fail and learn from our mistakes and DON'T MAKE THE SAME MISTAKES AGAIN.

This isn't just a primer on logic. It's pretty much a beacon of shining light in the darkness. :) And Eliezer brings it all to us in such a charming and self-deprecating way that I wouldn't be surprised if he gains a cult following of aspiring Rationalists flocking to his cause.

Of course, he would question the HELL out of that. Jeeze... I feel like we have a modern Socrates in our midst. Only, this modern Socrates is building on ALL the myriad scientific foundations of those who have come before and is unwilling to take even a dram of Hemlock. :)

(He already tried that as Eliezer of '96.) :)


So. What am I trying to say here?

Oh, nothing much. I don't care who you are or what you're into. EVERYONE should read this monster of a book and see for themselves. This world is not hopeless. Not when we have such minds in it. Of course, that means we all need to step up to the plate and don't let bias, willful ignorance, or intellectual dishonesty win.

Everyone needs to step up. Even if you don't use Bayesian. :)


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The Nicomachean EthicsThe Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This re-read was perhaps a slight bit superfluous. I remembered reading it way back in high school - on my own - just because I was that kind of geek.

Get the foundations read, kid! Know what the whole line of thought is all about! Use it later to trounce your fellow debaters!

Yeah, whatever. Logic and an examined life have since then been more of an end rather than a means.

Case in point: This is about examining Happiness. It does so in a fairly exhaustive but not exhausting way. Aristotle just lays down the foundations, brings up the various opinions people usually hold about WHAT happiness entails, and then tries to pare away the flawed answers.

Usually, a normal adventure tale is never about the end destination. End destinations are usually a let-down. The effort to get there is usually a lot more satisfying.

Same for Aristotle. It turns out I remembered the first journey perfectly. And it brought me happiness. :)

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Monday, March 11, 2019

The Little Book of Stupidity: How We Lie to Ourselves and Don't Believe OthersThe Little Book of Stupidity: How We Lie to Ourselves and Don't Believe Others by Sia Mohajer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, now. What do we have here? A neat little primer on what it means to be biased? Ten different means and ways we are biased with pretty decent descriptions about each?

Yep. That's about it.

Not included, unfortunately, is any trace of humor.

Why did I act on my bias that this might have been funny? Maybe it was the cover and the GREAT title for the text. It seemed PERFECT for a snarky little book on Logic and Self-Help with tons of tongue-in-cheek observations that could have been genuine, personal, and delightful.

Instead, we do get a SLIGHT taste of the personal and a rather abrupt zinger at the end letting us know that we're all pretty stupid and biases will always be with us.

Sure, it may be very true, but the way the author said it was completely without charm. Alas.

So, congratulations. You're biased. I know I was. I got this book based on a silly set of expectations that certainly didn't pan out.

I guess I learned a valuable lesson. The author is a genius.

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The Ends of the World: Supervolcanoes, Lethal Oceans, and the Search for Past ApocalypsesThe Ends of the World: Supervolcanoes, Lethal Oceans, and the Search for Past Apocalypses by Peter Brannen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For what this book is, it is good.

So what is it? An accessible rundown of the events of the five great extinction events of the Earth's past. Good for newcomers, decent for an update if it's been a few decades beyond your previous encounter with possible extinction causes... (remember the debates surrounding the Cambrian?)... and entertaining enough if what you mean by entertainment is the cognition of our eventual death as a species. :)

Okay, granted, a lot of the material is slightly glossed-over in favor of narrative brevity and facts and causes are somewhat light... but the book knows its audience... and it's audience isn't glamorous or snazzed up with buzz-words... or is it? Oh... wait... "emergent" comes up a bit.

Ah, well, no book is perfect.

Makes me kinda want to re-read Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything or Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History if you want to get REALLY scared.

But, again, for what it is, Brannon's book does a decent readable job. I just kinda wish I had more descriptions of the life that is now long gone. *sigh*

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

Tractatus Logico-PhilosophicusTractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Get your P's and Q's ready, folks, because we're in for the ride of our lives.
Or not.

Wittgenstein was living proof that androids were around and functioning during WWI. That at least this single android had a sense of humor dry enough to turn the Mariana Trench into the Mojave Desert, too.

Or was this a joke at all? Let's see.

Most of the numbered propositions were imminently clear and devoted to a single purpose: describing reality.

Language is the big limiter, which should never be a big surprise, but he insists that all reality that is, can be explained clearly.

Unfortunately, Wittgenstein, the big brilliant man that he is, was fundamentally incapable of describing or CLEARLY STATING his philosophy. Or using any object in his philosophy for the purposes of further elucidation.

The resulting numbered tracts and use of Formal Logic were used to numb the biological minds reading it... but there is good news! It did help out with the translation problems for future AIs reviewing this work!

Difficult to read? You have no idea. Really. Or perhaps you do if you use chalkboards. But THIS work of philosophy is the target for that old joke:

"What's the difference between a mathematician and a philosopher?
Mathematicians know how to use an eraser."

The logical problem of describing only physics in any positive way while never coming down hard on absolute statements -- like the way we only hypothesize that the sun will come up tomorrow -- eventually curled around itself in very strange ways, like the problem of including your own description in with the description itself.

It keeps adding to the problem of description, mathematically, until the recursion explodes your head or makes you divide by zero. (Same difference, really.)

It presages, at least in part, Goedel's Incompleteness Theorem. Also, P=NP. As in, is it possible to include the index to your library in with the library itself, or do you need to make a brand new card catalog system every time to include the original index? The time it takes to prove a thing is disproportionately large (or impossible) compared to the FACT OF THE SOLUTION.

This goes beyond logical fallacy. It's a real thing we still deal with. And yet, Wittgenstein throws out the baby with the bathwater at the very end. He makes a beautiful house of cards and claps his hands, making us wake up after the long novel with a classic, "and it was only a dream."

Am I kinda pissed? First by having been bored to tears and misunderstanding a handful of DENSE and OBLIQUE propositions that refer to undefined and objectless other works, unlike the careful analysis he made at the start? Yeah. I am.

And like his reference to covering your right hand with your left while also covering your left with your right, this text attempts to disprove everything -- firmly.

It makes me believe, once again, that formal logic, while glorious in one way, is an absolute horseradish in another.

I recommend this for anyone in love with highly complicated logical mazes and other computer science majors. YOU MUST HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR OR YOU WILL DIE. Or kill someone. One, or the other.

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Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Masks of God, Volume 4: Creative MythologyThe Masks of God, Volume 4: Creative Mythology by Joseph Campbell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

OKAY. For as much as I generally love Campbell for his scholarship and his breadth and depth of knowledge on all things religious, mythical, and anthropological, I have to say he goes rather overboard in a DIFFERENT direction for this book.

What direction, you ask?

Living culture. And I'm not really talking about modern culture so much as I'm referring to the scope of the Dark Ages through Thomas Mann and James Joyce. He does the literary analysis thing. In spades. Want Beowulf? Check. Want tons of Parcival, Gawain, and even the tragic love story of Adelard and Heloise? Check. Want the erudite traditions, influences, mythological connections and cultural transformations laid out? You got it.

But wait, that's not all! We get some of the best and fully explained nastiness of the truth behind chastity in Christianity and the best visceral descriptions I've ever read that makes me UNDERSTAND why the whole Romantic Love thing took off so HARD back at the opening days of the Rennaisance. Grail Legend? Chivalry? The whole love thing was bucking the Church and Society HARD. Trubadors were the punk bands of the day. :)

We get the influence of Alchemy and Science in poetry, music, and opera. We get dozens of traditions, a great analysis that shows just how much Islamic thought is slathered throughout the Divine Comedy, and so much more.

So what's my problem?

It feels like half the book was devoted to fanboying over Thomas Mann and James Joyce.

I mean, sure, these guys were like a wet dream for mythographers and sociologists and Jungian analysts and they wrote some fine fiction, too, but I would have been JUST FINE with... a slightly abbreviated analysis.

Don't get me wrong! I'm now interested as hell in reading more of Thomas Mann and I may go ahead and revisit Joyce soon, but BY NO MEANS is this very good reading if you're not at least slightly interested in either author.

Of course, if you're prepping yourself in College for writing one hell of a great essay on Joyce (or 14 of them), then DO YOURSELF A BIG FAVOR and read this book or the relevant sections. Some of it rather blew me away. :)


Is this the best stuff Campbell ever wrote? Hell, no. It's very learned and I learned TONS, but it was almost nothing like what I had come to expect from him. More like he had been sitting around doing a lot of reading and his brilliant mind came up with fantastic random crap that sooner or later coalesced into a huge coherent literary epiphany. I think that's great and all but damn... I wanted the world, not fiction, THIS TIME. :)

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Friday, March 8, 2019

The Masks of God, Volume 3: Occidental MythologyThe Masks of God, Volume 3: Occidental Mythology by Joseph Campbell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This third volume of Campbell's expanded mythological examination starts out with a good grounding in Sumerian, Babylonian, and other Near East influences and pulls the themes effortlessly forward through Greek and Roman and all the way into the Christain. If that isn't enough, we also get a huge amount of exploration in the Jewish, Egyptian, Zoroastrian, and Muslim traditions.

We get a very thorough if not utterly exhaustive look into all of these. I enjoyed the rather obvious and fascinating connections between all of these. All these mythos travel, reincarnate and evolve.

While this may be rather obvious to the rest of us now, let's put this all in perspective: it's 1964.

Campbell is rocking the world to a very thorough Jungian analysis of all the world's mythologies and religions, breaking them all down to their fundamental archetypes and underlying similarities.

And he's DESTROYING EVERYONE'S RELIGIOUS TOYS.

And he's doing it with ruthless logic, impeccable research, and encyclopedic knowledge of all traditions. :)

Cool. Right?

Campbell ushered in a brand new world. :)


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Thursday, March 7, 2019

Oriental Mythology (The Masks of God, # 2)Oriental Mythology by Joseph Campbell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Make no mistake, the Masks of God series by Joseph Campbell is something fierce.

The level of scholarship and devotion to the whole subject of mythology blows me away. Where the first book devoted itself to ancient mythos, the kind we can only infer from lacking sources, this Oriental Mythology tackles time-periods closer to home if not always particularly close.

The exceptions to this are Taoism and Buddhism. Both of these are treated in the perfect storytelling-way that the rest are treated. (And no worries, Christianity will get its day with equal time.)

This is Campbell, after all.

What we get here is Babylonian, Egyptian, Buddhist, Taoist, and a smattering of some others.

Did I enjoy the collective treatment and the positioning that showed us, in grand glory, how traditions and stories carry on from one culture to another? Hell, yeah. Did I appreciate the insight and the perspicacity of the author in laying it out in such an obvious and clear-as-day manner?

What do you think?

Yeah. I'm a fanboy. For good reason. Campbell has reshaped our society in more ways than one. Our whole way of looking at things has changed thanks to him. And no matter what your persuasion, a God Fearing Christian or any other faith, a clear eye is better than none.

I can and will thank the man for this. :)

Never go blindly.





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The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New WorldThe Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World by Andrea Wulf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was never taught a thing about this man in any of my courses, whether HS or college. Odd, right? Especially since he was a man so unambiguously RIGHT about so many things, had universal acclaim in his lifetime and for a long time afterward, but has, since WWI and WWII, been relegated to the dustbin of history because he HAPPENS to have grown up Prussian. That's Germany for you young whippersnappers not hip to what they called themselves back in Mozart's time.

So, WTF?

Here are some really cool bits, yo. He almost single-handedly spawned the travelogue industry... I mean, the Naturalist movement, those wandering scientist/athletes who cataloged and drew and took umpteen samples all around the world and did the job of classification, theorizing, and understanding the world we live in.

This polymath of a man was also of a mind that all sciences should interact, that inclusiveness and interconnectedness in all branches of thought, processes, and nature ought to be the top goal. Details are important, but the big picture is even MORE important. He was good friends with Goethe and many poets and influential writers. Thoreau. He heavily influenced Darwin.

Humboldt was known around the world as one of the most well-loved scientists of all time. He was a walking encyclopedia. When he died, he was mourned around the world.

A little more interesting to us, in this modern day, he was also warning everyone, in a serious manner, about the dangers of an oncoming ecological disaster. He saw how, by our greed and demands, we destroy nature and the systems within it.

How we cause the extinction of species.

He was one of the first environmentalists. That's enough to love... but for me, I personally love the fact he was one of the most hardcore proponents of interconnectedness and systems theory. :)

Yes, science and poetry get along VERY well. :)

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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Origin of Species/The Voyage of the BeagleThe Origin of Species/The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To say that Origin of the Species might be slightly interesting is to make a monumental error in degree. Obviously. And no other work of literature... nee, science, has been as contentious.

This is the extremely readable work that provides us a step-by-step accounting of the theory of Evolution, after all.

I mean, what's the big deal? Indeed, what IS the big deal? This just the work of a Naturalist, after all. He made detailed descriptions of things he saw on his journeys, making a fascinating travelogue in Voyage of the Beagle, giving us a frankly FUN accounting of the adventure. And then, after several decades of working out the facts and combining the other works of other naturalists and regular breeders, from dogs to sheep to all kinds of plants in the agricultural fields.

In this particular edition of Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle and Origins of the Species, narrated by and specially abridged by Richard Dawkins, a lot of the detailed extras are boiled down to an easy to read and fully explained middle section that includes background information, concurrent debates of Darwin's time, and the circumstances that catapulted this work to the forefront of science.

Dawkins also boils down the major insights into the modern full theory of Evolution as we know it. The highlights? Well, if you're really interested, I TOTALLY recommend that you do yourself a big favor and just read this wonderful work for yourself. It's one thing to get a simple digest and it's another thing to get the step-by-step logical ascension for yourself.

Natural selection has been an idea that has been around longer than Darwin, but Darwin took the idea a bit farther and he gave us the strong idea that it is both universal and reproducible from a simple beginning. There are not a pre-formed plethora of species. We have what we have from the natural progression of optimization, die-offs, and improvements based on variation. The fact that plants, insects, and animals all predate on one another is not nearly as interesting as the fact that they also learn to COOPERATE.

It is the most interesting aspect to see emergent intelligence arise from evolution. And make no mistake, the intelligence is everywhere in nature. It is not limited to us. :)

I suspect that anyone who poo-poos Darwin does it without having read him. There's really nothing contentious about the text. He just applies observation and realism to what he sees all around us.

Of course, anyone can quote scripture to further their own ends, right?


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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Darwin Among The Machines: The Evolution Of Global IntelligenceDarwin Among The Machines: The Evolution Of Global Intelligence by George Dyson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OMG, I never imagined that non-fiction could be this FUN. Not only fun but sometimes mind-blowing.

In a nutshell, we're taking a history of science course that leads with Evolutionary science in the nitty-gritty and leads us through the history of math and computer science evolution, leading us through Turing, missile defense analytics, Game Theory, and above all... Artificial Intelligence.

Let me clear on this, however. I've read a lot of these kinds of things before, so I really enjoyed all the new details that I may have missed or had now come to light in the full scope of what George Dyson has accomplished, but more than that, I REALLY loved the big picture that he painted.

This is history and science, yes, of course, but it's also philosophy. He made a very readable and rich book that pays huge homage to von Neumann. Emergence is the keyword... but don't take my word for it. This is one of the very best and most informative non-fiction books on Artificial Intelligence I've ever read, and it barely scratches the surface of actual Artifical Intelligence.

What it does do in spades is give us the foundation for all the directions it can take. And it also gives us fantastic insight into what we ARE.

Oh, and I ABSOLUTELY LOVED the passages about Olaf Stapleton. There's another visionary. :)



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Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky PeachGods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So much goodness! There has been a sprinkling of pretty okay novellas coming out during 2018 but none have gone so far as to wow me beyond a few lovely characters or a clever premise or two.

Until now.

Now we have a wonderful premise full of fantastic worldbuilding and a dedication to all the cool little details that make a rich futuristic world. Add post-plague creative prosthetics, ecological disasters, time travel with the banks calling the shots, a global giving-up on the future for a stake in correcting the past...

... and the making of gods and monsters in Ur. :)

I admit, this novella pushed all my buttons.

I love the time period, the exploration of turning SF into mythology, and the great colorful details, and characters I could get behind. Did I mention I love stories that deal with Mesopotamia? *giddy dance*

Would I have liked a full novel continuing on where this ended? Hell, yeah. I even consider myself a fanboy. This level of quality needs all the applause. :)

I think I'm going to nom this for Hugo. Not doing it because it's ALSO nommed for Nebula. I just love it. :)

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Monday, March 4, 2019

Interview for the End of the World: A Children of Titan Universe Short StoryInterview for the End of the World: A Children of Titan Universe Short Story by Rhett C. Bruno
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Short, emotional, and hard-hitting.

Rhett Bruno's zeal for the Titanborn series shows here in a diamond-bright focus on the day of the meteor strike.

Yes, it takes place 300 years before the rest of the series, but knowing where all the later settlers came from and what kind of people they were led by is quite a treat. Does it foreshadow quite a bit to come? Yep.

But more importantly, does it stand on its own as a short-sharp-shock?

I think so. :)

Yes, it also relies on the appeal of the rest of the series, but that's okay. Popularity *is* a thing. I don't feel ashamed at all for enjoying my continued investment. :)

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The Masks of God, Volume 1: Primitive MythologyThe Masks of God, Volume 1: Primitive Mythology by Joseph Campbell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a delight! I've had my eyes on these four doorstoppers of mythology every since I read Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces. And like that other classic, Campbell mixes an enthusiastic and encyclopedic knowledge of everything from Australian Aborigines to Sumerian to African to Egyptian belief systems in an attempt to find all the core recurring concepts in the same way that Frasier did in The Golden Bough, only MORE SO.

This is beyond impressive. Even if we criticize some of the conclusions he comes up with, no one can dispute the research or first-hand scholarship or the breadth of his knowledge.

I think he's something of a god. He breaks down whole systems of thought into inclusive theories that are truly universal. His influence on sooooo many artists from Lucas to Gaiman is undisputed. Of course, that's far from all. You might say that his way of thinking has permeated rational inclusive scholarship across the world. By the time this particular book came out in 1959, his clarity of thought and writing and speaking brought in a golden age of open-mindedness.

What do I mean? I mean he's the one who came up with the idea "Follow your Bliss." Vast passages in this text are devoted to the sanctity of play. It's even a valid argument that most societies work on the principle that we fake it till we make it. Act as if until it becomes real. There's no difference between putting on a mask you know very well was created by your neighbor and dance around with the perfect assumption that you're now the incarnation of a god and getting on stage at Eurovision and singing your heart out to adoring fans who invest you with the power of their worship. The only difference is scale.

There is no way I can do this book justice like this. There is such a wealth of mythologies between the covers of this book that I can't think of any other single book that covers as much. It's also extremely readable. But expect a long, long quest. The other three books are much larger. :)

Side note: I am required to remain skeptical about some of the conclusions for one rather big reason: they're addictive. I love them so much that I'm tempted to swallow it all whole. Few theories are this powerful. Or enjoyable.

After all, Inanna is Isis is Aphrodite is Mary mother of Jesus, after all. We can place this at this man's feet. :)

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Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Anatomy of MelancholyThe Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The penultimate Self-Help book. The medical man's history primer of Galen and Astrology. The completionist's guide to a completely exhaustive and exhausting compendium of (now) obscure references, to Latin, and frankly inexplicable inclusions.

If he went out of his way to design for us a perfect way to exhaust us with his knowledge of poverty, nobility, love, the Humors, the Galenic qualities of all kinds of foodstuffs, and do it with more in-text annotations than actual text, doing it all in that peculiar idiom common to any English text coming out before the advent of the DICTIONARY, then I think he succeeded. Admirably.

And let me tell you... Robert Burton defeated me.

He set out to give us the full wide range of depression in this academic treatise that fills to the height of 1620's modern medicine, stoops to the depths of hundreds of poetical sources, revolts us in explaining just HOW one might get depressed... and teaches us how to fight our own depression by making us come up with a thousand and one reasons why we ought to stop this FREAKING ENORMOUS BOOK and JUST STOP... thereby relieving our -- by now -- enormous melancholy.

I made it half-way through. I found myself negatively enjoying practically every new step in this amazingly long-winded treatise. I could not find a single aspect about it that made me want to continue.

Not the science, not the beginnings of psychology, not the weird historical curiosity.

I was defeated. I am sad to say, after 29 hours of Librivox and epub slogging, that I will now DNF.

Goodnight.

I may laugh myself to sleep. The relief is palpable.

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The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum CryptographyThe Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography by Simon Singh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Coming on 20 years after the book was written, it’s still quite awesome despite all our subsequent advances in cryptography.

Or rather, I should say, we’re still living in the same world already transformed by pretty good encryption. The methods for breaking the security still falls in the same category as usual: interception. Of course, the means of interception has gotten amazingly good and creative as hell, but that isn’t the primary scope of this book.

Rather, it’s about an awesome crash course in the history of encryption from the Middle Ages or earlier, say Roman or Greek, all the way forward to mechanical solutions a-la Babbage and right into the thrilling good stuff of WW2, including Turing and the awesome Code Talkers.

The advances since then are almost stunningly fascinating, however, and aside from Zimmerman’s courageous advent of PGP, the REST of the story may well be trapped under National Security blankets still.

Alas. What I wouldn’t give to get a backstage pass to those goings-on. :)

Well written, accessible, and rather thorough, this book remains one of the best books on encryption for laypersons. Highly recommended.

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Saturday, March 2, 2019

The VelaThe Vela by Yoon Ha Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first heard of this book through the offer of an ARC, researching it made me a bit worried. It's a serial of a single story with contributions from several rising-star authors.

That, alone, should have been enough for me, and it was. I just didn't put TOO many expectations on the tale.

And now that I've finished reading it? Maybe I shouldn't have worried so much. This Space Opera was FUN!

On a straight story-level, I loved the focus on refugees. Several layers of refugees-related themes permeate this novel. I really enjoyed the explorations here. Plus there's a big selection of non-standard character choices. Non-binary being the big one that hits the page a bit stronger than anything else. But more than all the rest, it's just fun storytelling.

The star is dying and a lot of genocidal considerations are on the table. Hackers, battles, and new tech are all a big part of the rest.

Did all of these authors pull off a seamless tale? I think so. I mean, you can tell that they all add their own style to the individual sections, but in no ways do any of them get in the way of the tale. :)

Definitely worth checking out.

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Friday, March 1, 2019

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining WomenThe Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nonfiction month starts off with a huge radioactive splash! Painted with panache... and I can feel the sarcomas coming now...

Oh, wait... this is nothing to get excited over...

Actually, reading this, while making me sympathize and empathize with all the women in the book who died horrible deaths because they were lied to and ruined by the company back in the 20's and all the way through the 70's, was still VERY difficult to read.

Totally beautiful writing, but so horrible to experience.

My faith in humanity dropped a few notches. Especially since I've also read about so many experiences with DDT and the industrial pollutions of rivers and nuclear testing sites, you might have thought I couldn't have had a worse impression of humanity... But no. It's worse. Corporations keep being able to establish a great method of screwing over the people working for them. Once they find a good method, they really stick to it! Easily adopted across the board.

It's quite amazing how much we HAVEN'T CHANGED. Not one bit. Let's just get away with everything we can get away with, right, people?


Big takeaways...

DON'T TRUST ANYONE IN POWER. When they say they know what's best for you, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Never trust any platitudes.

Sigh. Truly horrible.


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Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Raven TowerThe Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cue up Simon and Garfunkle for this ride. Just a single song on endless repeat.

"Don't talk of love,
Well, I've heard the word before.
It's sleeping in my memory;
And I won't disturb the slumber
Of feelings that I've died.
if I never loved, I never would have cried.
I am a rock. I am an island."

Now make a novel of a god of a single rock, surround him with endless time, sleep, and other gods getting by or rising into a WWI assemblage of alliances and obligations, always keeping out of the fray.

Enjoy second-person storytelling, sitting over the shoulder of humans or ruminating inside yourself, combining the most interesting aspects of N. K. Jemison's Broken Earth with Lois McMaster Bujold's Five Gods, sprinkle in the feel of lazy ruminations, solid logic, and patience. And then... turn the novel into one of vast revenge. :) :) :)

What is this Raven Tower, after all? In this world, there are vast numbers of gods and many of them help out based on the amount of devotion and offerings given to them. And depending on the god's power reserves, the spoken Word becomes reality. If the god speaks more than the power can manage, or if the god makes a promise that can be loopholed, the god can die.

So much of this novel teaches us the power of language and limits and vast schemes, but our MC god, the Rock, seems to have all the time in the world... until vast logic and realization leads him/her to learn to value someone. At long last. And this is where everything goes to hell. :)

This fantasy novel is actually a murder mystery. It's FAR from being a standard murder mystery, but in its core, it revolves around reveals, discoveries, and piecing everything together... like a mosaic of stone only revealing the full picture after so much wonderful deliberation.

So, WHO DIES? Men, or gods?

I'm kinda dancing around here. The full scope of the novel hit me over the head at the very last and I'm more than pleased by the outcome. I always rather enjoyed it, but only by the end did I discover I loved it. :)


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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's NestOne Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm glad I finally got around to reading this. It's a counterculture classic that has touched many more people besides the ones that first got it in 1962. It's popularity nearly single-handedly drove Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters across so many parts of the world, bankrolling the freedom-loving iconic hipsters that quickly became the more obvious foundation for the flower children, the druggies, and the peaceniks.

But first, it had to get popular. And it really hit a nerve.

The most obvious clue is the battle between Freedom and Institution. Coyote VS the Man. Chaos VS Order.

Hell, Mice Versus Men.

Nurse Ratched embodies order and needless institutional brutality while McMurphy does all he can to liven the lives of the people of this mental institution. Some will be there for their whole lives while others might get better, but for all of them, Nurse Ratched rules with an iron hand. What's the point about preventing the inmates from having a little fun? Watching the World-Series? Nothing! And yet this and so many other great conflicts arise and we know there will be a showdown.

Most of the novel is quite funny and it's easy to root for the humorous trickster as he does everything in his power to suck the marrow out of life and sometimes even show the others that they HAVE THE POWER to live a good life despite their horrible situations.

See the sixties rolling in?

Well, this novel is also a tragedy. No matter how satirical and funnily moving, its end message goes quite a bit beyond the grand escape.

I honestly find it rather disturbing how Ratched treats Billy and what his fate is, but I find that McMurphy's revenge is just as bad. Is this the result of an immovable force versus an unstoppable object? Or is it a message of overcompensation in powerlessness? Or is it simply WRONG? As in two wrongs make nothing like a right.

Chief Broom is easily my favorite character, however, and his final mercy is true mercy.

What can we bring home from this, however? That everyone is wrong? That the only good we can expect is a clean death?
Very sad.

But that begs the question... what novel pulled this off so clearly that we can See and Feel so much after a single read?

To think at one point this was one of the most banned books in the world. Silly people. The divide is real, but the seeds of our reality lie in these pages. We STILL need to work it out. Now more than ever.

We are the nuthouse.



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Jingo (Discworld, #21; City Watch, #4)Jingo by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

War. War never changes.

Unless you're talking about Discworld.

And then history tends to change based on what you had to eat and whether or not a football is involved. And then, you need to remember the importance of knowing your neighbor's names.

You know... this second time reading this was much more interesting than the first. I simply had a much better time going to war. There's nothing like a bit of stabby stabby or running away from a certain man of the watch dressed up like a woman to get the blood moving.

Still, I have to say... poor Vimes. A dukedom? The poor man!!!



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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Pale FirePale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To explain this gem of a novel in anything less than five or six pages, single-spaced, is to wildly underestimate what is going on here.

This author, best known for Lolita, goes well beyond the scope of that novel while displaying his ever precise and gloriously beautiful mastery of the language. Is he one of the best novelists ever? The brightest? The most cunning and crafty and poetical of the lot?

Perhaps. Indeed, likely. Proof, exhibit A: Pale Fire is based on a mostly autobiographical epic poem that he wrote as a character named Shade who died under mysterious circumstances. The man annotating the poem knew him and did, at first, an admirable job of breaking down and scholarly interpreting the work.

Let me say this. The poem is quite funny and evocative and smart as hell. It's also good. Very.

When this editor, this annotator starts on it, he sometimes makes an inappropriate comment or two and I tended to let it slide, thinking it funny and annoying and went back to enjoying the poem. Unfortunately, as the work progresses, this man keeps interrupting the poem in more serious ways, getting nitpicky, more personal, and even vindictive. This aspect of the novel pretty much takes over completely and we learn some VERY interesting aspects of both their lives.

The time is 1959 but the novel was published in '62. For fans of LGBTQ literature, both good and historical, I totally recommend this novel. The way it is handled is both tragic, unique, heartbreaking, and horrible to experience. The times were rather rough on artists and people with non-culturally standard desires. The things the poet did... well... just thrown in there between the lines... *shiver*

As I said, heartbreaking.

The end is like a hat-trick. We are forced to get used to the annotator going whole-hog on the nitpick and the scholarly schtik, so just when I'm almost fed-up, even the annotator breaks down...

And this is the most brilliant aspect of the novel. :)

I'm still reeling. What a glorious thing.

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A Skinful of ShadowsA Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had a REALLY strong horror vibe in the first part of this book. Great atmosphere, vivid emotional impact, and I felt like I had no control. Beautiful. Hardinge is really great at this. :)

After that, however? The book went from being possessed by the ghost of a bear to a story of fantasy intrigue in the days of England's Civil War in the 17th century.

Say what?
Oh, yeah. Very period historical fantasy. Fun historical fantasy. Great characters.

Our MC's life stalls in the household of her biological family after she loses her mom who escaped from the horrors there, but she eventually escapes using her wits and ghosts and has an adventure across England. This wasn't so much horror at this point but it sure was fun. The rest is about survival, intrigue, and being hunted by a cadre of ancient ghosts. And what she learns is just as important as the adventure.

Color me impressed. Hardinge has always been a writer to look out for and I'm very happy to keep reading her work. :) This is my third. I expect to read everything. :)

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The Unbearable Lightness of BeingThe Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Or rather, a 3.5 star read.

I will be honest. There were times when the tale took on a very meta quality that I appreciated it to a full 5-star rating and times where the sex and philandering, mistress and the smell of another woman's juices on his face just got to be too much. The repetition of sex in the tale did not seem to be so much pornography but a literary technique to make us feel like Milan Kundera was trying to f*** the reader.

I did say meta, did I not? Well, sometimes it worked and sometimes I just wanted to put the novel aside forever.

Good thing is: I enjoyed it a lot more after the midpoint where these seemingly delightfully *real* characters were reduced to the author's fancy... the matter-of-fact way they got crushed under a truck just struck me as unbearably funny.

But this was not a humorous book. Not at all. It was heavy, man, and as light as ashes in America where everything is so foreign. And let's be clear about this. This is political, Soviet-era occupation literary sex-pomp. With a very touching scene with the death of a dog while the rest of the country expressed their hatred of all dogs as a substitute for hating their fellow men.

Yes, this had a lot of hidden depths and flighty fancy. The prose is pretty wonderful and the moments where it is good, it's very engaging and philosophical. But it's also about the unbearable lightness of being f***ed by Milan Kundera. I suppose that takes some getting used to.

Me, I'm a little sore.

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Monday, February 25, 2019

The Zap GunThe Zap Gun by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oldschool Dick but still a few years after The Man in the High Castle, this particular little novel is the most comic-book zany of all of his works. Pulp to the max.

I mean, that shouldn't be too surprising in the middle of the sixties when his output was insanely high, when he was dragging out a novel as fast as he could to attempt to make a living... and a poor living at that.

And yet, he still manages to write something quite akin to Dr. Strangelove. Half satire, half comic book wacky. Quirky enough to encompass idiot savants, time travel, shifting mazes, and a futuristic arms race that is a setup from the get-go. Everyone's in on the plot except for the normal joes.

Sound familiar?

Well, it's pretty okay for what it is. Slapdash and quick, there's plenty of odd females to go along with the odd guys, and together they discover that the whole world is not what it seems. In that case, it's pretty classic PKD... it just didn't strike my fancy all that much.

The other novels are a lot more polished, deep, and deeply strange rather than just surface strange. So, unfortunately, I must dub this novel the worst of PKD. It's a shame, really. It's still okay. lol

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Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere CollectionArcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sheesh!

Sometimes I make bad decisions... like putting off a so-called short story collection by Sanderson for YEARS after it was published because I'm more of a fan of his big novels rather than in-between stuff.

What I should have remembered is Sanderson's penchant for writing... and writing... and writing. His short stuff is usually nothing like short stuff. There are two short NOVELS in this "collection". Good ones, too. Like the secret history of Mistborn that ties up all the events of the first trilogy from the Cognitive Realm. :) SO Good.

Or, even better, a short novel based in the Stormlight Archive world. With a certain always-hungry 10-year-old Knight Radiant proving to be just as impulsive and LUCKY as elsewhere. I'm LOVING the big plot additions and twists showing up here in the grand scheme of Sanderson's Epic. :) It's actually kinda necessary to read this. It ain't no fluff piece. Serious changes happen here.

So am I glad to read it?

Amazingly so. :)

Oh, yeah, and there's a few others that are fantastic in here, but they're re-reads for me. Like Sixth of the Dusk and Emperor's Soul. But for Emperor's Soul, I really didn't mind re-reading. That one is really good. It was when it came out and it's the same now. REALLY GOOD. :)

As for the rest, they're all quite interesting and span 6 worlds of Sanderson's Cosmere. I particularly liked the one with Sand. :) It has all of Sanderson's goodness with rule-based magic. :)

Worth it? It's not really something you can miss.

HOWERVER, if you're just wanting to read Secret History, know that the entire thing is duplicated in this. Arcanum Unbounded is a completionist's dream.

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Sunday, February 24, 2019

Aftershocks (The Palladium Wars #1)Aftershocks by Marko Kloos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Solid opening on two counts. The beginning of the novel was pretty strong with the whole "what are we going to do after being in a PoW" vibe going on, full of space opera MilSF goodness between two human populations.

The other solid opening was for the expectation of a full series.

Unfortunately, the actual novel does not feel all that much like a set piece. It might be fine and rather perfect as long as you're reading it along with a full set of novels to come, but since the wait time will be somewhat long, I have the distinct feeling like I'll have to re-read this one just to pick up on the other various character's viewpoints and the details leading up to the hanging plot threads. One or two is no big deal, but this opener promises a bit more complexity.

Not bad, mind you, and great for MilSF space opera fans, but it does come with that caveat. :)

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Saturday, February 23, 2019

Time's Demon (The Islevale Cycle #2)Time's Demon  by D.B. Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not only is this a solid continuation of the Islevale Cycle started with Time's Demon, but it progresses much further into the magical wildlife that inhabits this world.

Do you remember those awesomely wicked demon children who eat their victim's years from the previous book? The ones with a penchant for giving up their prey as long as they can chew on some good riddles?

Yeah, the type and the things they become are a BIG part of this book. :) I love it! Very odd vampires. Like SF but more like Fantasy as SF, and have a much wider cast of interesting characters introduced here.

This is kinda like a sequel but better. A lot more happens and it branches out in very cool directions. My sense of the world is so much broader even if my TIME sense is completely wonked out. :) I can't quite say if this is better or worse than the first one, but I have grown much more invested in finding out what will happen next.

What cool reveals!

No spoilers. Don't want to ruin it for anyone, but I think I like the character developments even more here than the first. :)

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