Sunday, March 31, 2019

Elric at the End of Time (The Elric Saga #7)Elric at the End of Time by Michael Moorcock
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, now. Not exactly what I hoped it might be... namely, a collection of short stories featuring Elric in the fullness of his career if not epic in scope.

Indeed, I got a few essays on the state of SF and Moorcock's early career and that was fine and fun for what it is, but it read more like a reminiscence than anything else. Okay. Fine. I actually liked hearing about the push against the flippant and light junk that had been the staple of the SF community before then.

Let's face it. Moorcock is deeper than most writers. Deep mythology, deep exploration, clever and subtle cues to go right along with truly epic, storm-breaking battles between Order and Chaos bringing out multiple dimensions, vast armies, and a soul-drinking sword. Fun AND DEEP, man.

But this collection? Well, no. A hint or two here and there and a lot of ... hmmm. Maybe this isn't all that good. Win some, lose some.

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Remus RisingRemus Rising by Jonathan Williamson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This short novel or novella ought to be on the top of anyone's list if they want to see a fantasy treatment of Rome's founder come back to fight within the Ninth Legion. :)

Simple enough, right? And it is.
There's tons of great action, pathos, a little escaping from Hades, and a lot more stalwart fighting against vast, monstrous odds. :)

There DOES seem to be some good history in here but most of it is relaxed in favor of a great beginning to an epic fantasy. It reads like a fun action film. :) Lots of burly men with gladiuses and shield-walls, monsters, druids, and last-ditch defenses.

I'd read more. :)



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Women & Power: A ManifestoWomen & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are few books like this anymore. We're used to long scholarly treatises and we're used to little soundbites that say everything and almost nothing at all.

What we've been missing is a call to arms. That's what a manifesto is. A mixed mission statement and an outrage. A rallying call and a hot pinprick of a single idea meant to sear itself into your brain.

That's what a manifesto is supposed to be. A wake-up call.


But what is this one in particular?

It's about the nature of power and misogyny, first cutting through the crap of old Greece through her quality scholarship and then directly applying the topic to our modern world. I can be boiled down to the Voice of Authority. If you don't have a lower register, you're told to shut up.

This isn't a joke, although it is furiously funny. It's no laughing matter, but many women and more men than you might think have gone crazy with the absolute absurdity of it.

But there you have it.

Sit down, shut up, bear with the assholes, bide your time, work within the system, tell yourself that one day the glass ceiling might be shattered, and eventually give up, frustrated, disheartened, and disillusioned.

Or postulate: "If the power game is rigged, then it's not women who need to change in order to get power. It's the nature of power that needs to be changed."

But what is power? Ah, well, that's the trick, isn't it?

IT IS WHAT WE DREAM UP. It's words. It's our decision to make. All of us. We can bow down to the almighty lower register or we could start listening to what ALL our smart PEOPLE have to say. Use logic. Reason. Clarity.

It's worth thinking about.

I'm a feminist. I'm also a man. It's freaking RATIONAL to be this. I'm not playing a Us vs Them game because it only leads to further cutting. The only way through this mess is TOGETHER.

So do I appreciate this manifesto?

Hell, yes.


And I part with you on a high note. A little Laurie Anderson that makes me laugh until I cry. Mach 20, yo.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SirOx...

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Saturday, March 30, 2019

Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #3)Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a bittersweet read.

I mean, the APOCALYPSE is here and angels and demons are lining up in our modern world and since we're already so invested in some of the main players we're HERE, ya know?

And yet, for all the grudging collaborations between rebel angels and the chimera, the drama surrounding the portals, of anima, of magic, and especially the LOVE DRAMA still simmering, bursting into flame between our two MC's AFTER sparking this apocalypse... I have the feeling that something vital is missing.

It certainly isn't the writing. When I'm in the tale, I'm IN the tale and I've passed the threshold of really caring for all these characters. I do care. And it isn't the worldbuilding, either, for while I've read fantasy and SF that can blow this out of the water, this one is solid and delightful in a way I can easily see carrying an enormous fanbase AND still appeal to jaded readers like myself. :)

No. I think it's something deeper, something more fundamental that wasn't touched upon in the full realization of the grand conflict. What we see is great, and epic, and totally modern world-affecting, but the deeper questions and significance are left untouched.

Normally that wouldn't be a big thing. Most of the time, the big questions ARE left untouched. But with a writer of this caliber, I would EXPECT a deeper revelation below the purely sensual and that of Hope.

You know?

Even so, I'm very pleased with how this turned out. I just wish there was some more MEAT in this pudding.

Yeah, I know. Gross. But some of you will understand what I mean. :)

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Friday, March 29, 2019

Night of Cake & Puppets (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #2.5)Night of Cake & Puppets by Laini Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SWOON.

OMG the 12-year-old-girl in me is SOOOO melting in the hotpot of this whirlwind courtship featuring a Rabid Fairy aka Porcelain Doll aka never-been-kissed firecracker ventriloquist and her far-off crush, the boy with the violin. :)

Yeah, yeah, this MIGHT be a part of the Smoke & Bone series because she, like, shows up there and is quirky and delightful while the MC goes off and does her stuff, but when we get right down to it, the story of Zuzana and Mik can and should be read all by itself for it's sheer quirky and zany delight.

How does such a girl go about speaking to the boy she likes?

Why, she turns herself into a treasure hunt and uses angel and demon puppets and magic to entice and flabbergast the boy as he goes on his merry chase. :)

AND IT'S SO DAMN CUTE!


Look, folks, I'm a middle-aged dude, here. I don't DO high-pitched girly squeals. Except when I do.

*hangs head in shame*

SOOOO CUTE!

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Tiamat's Wrath (The Expanse, #8)Tiamat's Wrath by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Just wow.

I'm really afraid to say just about anything for fear of spoiling the crap out of this novel. It's just one of those things. I mean, I counted three times I cried and I won't tell you whether it is tears of rage, sadness, or happiness. That would be TELLING, you know?

But if I'm okay with being all general and gushy and stuff, and if anyone has read any of my reviews, they know I am, then I'll just go, "Oh, wow, What A NOVEL."

Duarte's Empire and the Resistance. There are no whiny nerf-herders or death stars here. Just protomolecule goodness, real developments along the line of What Killed Them, and more delicious characters than I can shake a Roci at.

Some of the dialogues were something wildly special to me. Heartwarming in a way only our loveable stone-killer Amos (as Timothy) can make anything. :) And then there's the way Holden plays a long game. :)

And then there's... but no spoilers. I was speechless multiple times. I had to consciously force a breath after I started turning purple.

And I couldn't help but ask myself why the authors gave special props to GRRM over and above their long, real friendship. I suspect it's the whole, oh, you know, let's KILL some people bits. Maybe. Well, I'll let you folks find out for yourselves.

BUT DAMN MY HEART IS TORN TO SHREDS.

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #2)Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dark.

Deliciously dark. Where the first book had the whole star-crossed romance going on, we are DONE with that. Well, almost. The weight of betrayal and hopelessness kinda did that in. And now we've got an ongoing and endless war ahead of us.

Am I impressed that the tale turned on such a dime without feeling at all forced? Yep. Absolutely. And I'm even more impressed that no one at all seems to be worth saving.

But there's hope. Oh, yes, there's still hope. And love. Even if it is mostly squashed to hell, the love and magic still have a chance.

Do I have some sort of goofy grin on my face? Possibly. Maybe. You'd think I'd have gotten my fill of this kind of thing by now since everyone and their little fat dogs have got a hand in this same game. The YA market seems to be nothing but this kind of thing.

BUT. Quality will rise to the top and this is quality. So no more complaining, ya'll.

I can't wait to see what comes next.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Last Continent (Discworld, #22; Rincewind #6)The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Despite the author's protestations that this isn't Australia in a thin disguise, I am back to confirm that this Last Continent is, indeed, Australia.

Even the God of Evolution basically came right out and said it. :)

Rincewind on another adventure, and this time it's in the outback, putting all his mad survival skills to the ultimate test, mate.

On a side note, the head staff of Unseen University seems to have misplaced themselves.

I can't quite tell whether I enjoyed Rincewind's ongoing adventures more than Ridcully's crew. Both were fun. But let's face it, this book is nothing but a bunch of Australian cliche jokes. Good enough for now and amusing for a moment, but I can't put this book on any "best of" Pratchett lists. I'd call this a placeholder Pratchett. Very good in general but nothing superior. :)

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Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #1)Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book passes my ultimate litmus test.

I have slightly higher standards for YA books because so many of them repeat the same tropes all the time. It's like I'm just reading the same book over and over and over. And the baseline story here is as classic (or banal) as they come. Girl meets boy, boy tries to kill her, they fall for each other, have a moment of happiness, and then the realization sets in. Have you heard this one before?

Well, no worries, this book falls into the same category. BUT, and here's a big difference: It's good. Very good. And with all the bone magic, the Chimeras, the Angels, and most importantly: the hope... it has the option of either being a clever twist or something that transcends both.

I'll leave that up to you. But for me, for someone who has read this kind of story about a million times, to have the desire to put aside all my other reading plans, including books I've been looking forward to for MONTHS, or series that I get so giddy over that I can't even sleep the night before the release?

Well, SOMETHING is definitely going on here that I can't quite put my finger on. I'm hooked. I'm super invested. And after that doozy of a reveal, I'm really tempted to sweep everything off my table and finish the whole series. :)

It passed my litmus test of being COMPELLING. :)

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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Rise of a Merchant Prince (The Serpentwar Saga, #2)Rise of a Merchant Prince by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oddly enough, I had a lot more fun with this than I expected I'd have with a title with MERCHANT and PRINCE in it.

As a matter of fact, I pretty much loved every part of Avery and his rise to grand wealth from practically nothing. All the bit parts from characters we've seen and loved before were just icing. Avery, on the other hand, was the real star. I think I liked this better than the first book in the Serpentwar Saga. By a lot.

HOWEVER, I do have one gripe that has a lot more to do with my personal preferences more than anything else.

Why do we need MCs who are unable to keep their pens in their pockets? I was pretty thrilled by his marriage and the news of his kid. I would SOOOO have preferred it if the man just stayed loyal. It really killed much of my enjoyment. I would have given a full five stars for his clever exploits. This other stuff just left a bad taste in my mouth. A different kind of Achilles heel would have been just about perfect.

Oh, well. Win some, lose some. I'm just happy that the rest of the novel was fun. :)

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Monday, March 25, 2019

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, StrategiesSuperintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm very pleased to have read this book. It states, concisely, the general field of AI research's BIG ISSUES. The paths to making AIs are only a part of the book and not a particularly important one at this point.

More interestingly, it states that we need to be more focused on the dangers of superintelligence. Fair enough! If I was an ant separated from my colony coming into contact with an adult human being, or a sadistic (if curious) child, I might start running for the hills before that magnifying glass focuses the sunlight.

And so we move on to strategies, and this is where the book does its most admirable job. All the current thoughts in the field are represented, pretty much, but only in broad outlines. A lot of this has been fully explored in SF literature, too, and not just from the Asimov Laws of Robotics.

We've had isolation techniques, oracle techniques, and even straight tool-use techniques crop up in robot and AI literature. Give robots a single-task job and they'll find a way to turn it into a monkey's paw scenario.

And this just begs the question, doesn't it?

When we get right down to it, this book may be very concise and give us a great overview, but I do believe I'll remain an uberfan of Eliezer Yudkowsky over Nick Bostrom. After having just read Rationality: From AI to Zombies, almost all of these topics are not only brought up, but they're explored in grander fashion and detail.

What do you want? A concise summary? Or a gloriously delicious multi-prong attack on the whole subject that admits its own faults the way that HUMANITY should admit its own faults?

Give me Eli's humor, his brilliance, and his deeply devoted stand on working out a real solution to the "Nice" AI problem. :)

I'm not saying Superintelligence isn't good, because it most certainly is, but it is still the map, not the land. :)
(Or to be slightly fairer, neither is the land, but one has a little better definition on the topography.)

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Orbus (Spatterjay, #3)Orbus by Neal Asher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As always, I'm surprised at how much I am eventually able to get into the psychology and biology and all the weirdness of the Prador aliens. I vacillate between annoyance and fascination.

Fortunately, I got into this by the end. Spatterjay's humble beginnings become very clear and the whole ultimate always-alive always-eating neverending replenishing food supply of everything on the planet, alive even as they're digested... or we are all digested, transforming, never dying... becomes clear at last.

No spoilers, but we've met the big bad before. :)

What we have here is a huge throwdown between different Prador factions including a handful of Polity peeps and the absolutely fantastic Sniper, the AI war drone. The interactions going on here made this novel a good deal better than average. :)

BUT, I will say that aside from the great end, the rest of the novel had quite a few dull parts. On the whole, I enjoyed it and the cool end made up for a ton of evils. Solid novel wrapping up Spatterjay. Better than the last, I think, but not quite as good as the first in the trilogy. I'm happy enough. :)

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Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Right StuffThe Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Back when I was a kid, I watched The Right Stuff. And while that really dates me, it also sparked my fascination with the OTHER side of the science fiction coin. You know, REALITY and the real men and women doing real science.

And even if I'm not fanatical about learning science, I've never stopped learning and I don't want to. Sure, I may be doing it only to give my own writing much more verve, but understanding reality has been an end in and of itself. :)

Of course, I can lay all that internal pressure at this book's feet. Maybe not directly, because I'm only NOW just reading it, but I got the awe and the fascination for the Space Program from it.


So what about the book, man?

Oh! It's great! Exciting, with novelistic concessions, flaws, tension, dramatic release, and pure Right Stuff splattering all over the place. What is the Right Stuff? It's Men, son. It's Real Men.

So many of the aspects to the early test pilots made me want to cringe with all the drunk driving, drunk flying, womanizing, and all the doublespeak going on in American culture at the time. I mean, the insistence that the public needs to be told and shown what to think was intense and to a modern eye, as pathetic and commonplace, if of a VERY different tone, as it is today. Everyone tells everyone else what to think now, but it's fractured. Back then, everyone was doing whatever they wanted under the surface and the whole collective banded together to put on a brave, otherworldly, face back then.

Or at least, that's the impression. And heck, that may not even be the most important part of this book. The heroism is. The cult of personality is.

The Space Program was in decline back when I watched this movie the first time and it sure as hell still is, now, and I'm given a very big impression that it only became a thing because of the personalities behind it. Kennedy is King Arthur and his Knights, the astronauts. The idealism and the space race and kicking the Soviets in the space-can was larger than life... and when these PEOPLE became too old or the initial fire dimmed, so did the Race to Space.

Of course, isn't it the same today? Cult of personality can bring it out and kill it. It's not about science or even NEED. It's not about doing all the real things we need to do as a species if we have a hope of surviving.

It's about narrative. Excitement. And if even a tiny bit of that goes away, then the support of the public will kill it.



LOL do I sound bitter? Leaving soapbox now.



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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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