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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Last HumanThe Last Human by Zack Jordan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was immediately hooked on the concept of an enormous galaxy-wide Network of aliens living and cooperating ... but fearing one species above all else: Humans. You know... because we break things. Get all tribal and s**t. We like to exploit weaknesses in others and lord over their spoils because we're a**holes.

Turns out, our main character is the last of this dastardly breed, growing up small in a huge network of Dyson Spheres with countless old alien species categorized in a hierarchy based on Tiered Intelligence.

Most of the book is rather fun and filled with all the normal Coming of Age stuff of discovery and adventure and breaking out of the rigid hierarchy while trying to get a grip on BEING the big bad that everyone is shivering in their boots about. A little girl should never have to be such a horrible monster. ; ;

I really enjoyed this book, but I'll be perfectly honest, I didn't LOVE it until the last third came rolling around. The whole Tiered Intelligence bit made it a real joy to read. What does it really mean? Networking, of course. Many, many collections of minds within other collections of minds. The more minds, the higher the Tier. When we get to the top Tier, we're dealing with the mind that can CREATE a full network of Dyson Spheres... and much more.

So what's the real story about? What is this little last human's fate?

NOT TELLING! Muahahahahahahaha... but it's awesome. Really awesome. :)

I loved the whole thing about game theory, biological emulation, and hawks vs doves. :)

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Monday, December 30, 2019

The Boys Vol. 3 Digital OmnibusThe Boys Vol. 3 Digital Omnibus by Garth Ennis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let's face it. I have an iron stomach. I can handle all the over-the-top violence a comic can throw at me. I like a good bit of horror, too. But what I like best of all?

Good Satire.

And let's face it, mate, this one goes all bollocks on every superhero franchise we've got. Who are the bad guys? Who are good? It doesn't matter. They're all summed up quite nicely by Butcher's Great Power observation. It sums up nicely that great power corrupts absolutely. And no, I'm not using the word he uses. I may enjoy a great R-rated comic but it doesn't mean I have to write an R-rated review. :)

I'm telling you, the big blowout oat the end of this, with the war, the coup, the everything... was freaking amazing. I even got that huge sinking feeling in the whole wrap-up that turned into a dark depression. And yet, the comic still kept coming on strong. And ended strong.

This is right up there with The Watchmen for me. Maybe, in some ways, it is better. Not all the way better, but **** me, mate, I had me some great laughs. This is a classic. I'll be making no bones about it.

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The Boys Vol. 2: Digital OmnibusThe Boys Vol. 2: Digital Omnibus by Garth Ennis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know those times when you just HAVE to have something that pushes all the limits, dives deep into satire, and still manages to tell a great, epic story?

Look here. The Boys does it all. We're deep into the backstories of the main characters, seeing a little bit of the innocents in the superhero category, and watching Hughie descend ever further into the cauldron of bloody caution.

But what about the satire, you ask? Oh, it's all here, mostly making fun of comics and individual heroes, twisting it all super dark, but Ennis is also stabbing the military-industrial complex, American politics, over-sexualization in the media, and the whole freaking category of humanity and all the s**t we put each other through.

This revels in the enormity of our basic incompetence.

I personally love every second of it.

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Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Boys Omnibus, Vol. 1The Boys Omnibus, Vol. 1 by Garth Ennis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


What a grand treat this is! I mean, I fell in love with the Amazon show and I've been a diehard fan of the Preacher (also Garth Ennis), so it's kinda a no-brainer that I would have gone gung-ho over this one as well.

What I DIDN'T expect was just how far, how raunchy, how purely, gloriously satirical Ennis would take it!

A lot of the iconic scenes and character twists are exactly the same in both the tv show and the comic, but in some cases, it's much MORE. Starlight, for example, got cornered by three of the Seven on first meet-and-greet. The Serum is much more widespread than we were lead to believe in the show, as well. And the embarrassing moments? The blackmail attempts? The full-out craziness of the supes, everywhere? These are worse in the comics. And by worse, I mean deliciously horrific and entertaining.

The satire is god-awful brilliant. I was really blown away by Tech-Knight (aka Batman) and his little problem. Getting to know The Legend (aka Stan Lee) was also great. But you know what blew me away the most? The f**k-up with the airplane. It was this alternate history's 9/11, taking out the Brooklyn Bridge. And the cluster-F surrounding big corporations owning the government is pretty much the same... only the big players are different. Supes are BIG BUSINESS, ya know?!

So delicious. And I'm only a third done in the Big Omnibus. I can't wait to see how this war ENDS. :)

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HousekeepingHousekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really thought this book was delightful for what it was: a tale of sisters growing up rather isolated in a small town, with few friends, and shuffled between elderly family members who die, only to be left with their aunt who... isn't quite right.

The writing is quite wonderful and evocative and clear but like many traditional lit pieces like this, it's often slow and thoughtful and nothing much happens except a quiet life of quiet, slow desperation.

I admit to feeling like I ought to have felt the bucolic country life seeping into my soul, but what I really felt was Sylvie's transience, her ghostliness, her inability to truly commit to taking care of her two nieces. She always had a foot out the door.

I really felt anxious as hell. It was sad even as it drew me in.

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Saturday, December 28, 2019

Some Kind of Fairy TaleSome Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a well-written Fairy Tale in all the grand tradition of fairy tales, including the unconscious desires, the spiriting away, the self-discovery, the missing time, and then the return to our shadow world.

What makes this special is the care given to the two main characters of Tara, the girl who came back, and Richie, the man whose life was put on hold for twenty years. It's modern. It's also nicely bracketed with modern psychology, giving us all a way to view all the events and the story that Tara tells from the accepted view.

Of course, we're not really supposed to relate to it that way, but it's really striking how much Tara is not believed despite some glaring giveaways: such as not aging. The number of hoops that so many of them go through to explain it away makes this whole novel BELIEVABLE. Scarily so.

Good stuff. You must love the mystery of the Fae, however. :)

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The Toll (Arc of a Scythe, #3)The Toll by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This went in a pretty interesting direction. I have nothing bad to say about the Thunderhead, the world-wide AI god managing humanity, and I don't even have anything bad to say about the nature of the society this far into the future.

However, while I was slightly amused with the whole Toll, the subsect of the religion-ish society, and its rather one-sided war with the Scythes, the whole thing came off as something little more than a cog in a much bigger game.

Not bad, mind you, but the whole setup is kinda obvious, especially when we head to the endgame.

No spoilers on that, but it certainly makes some good sense and it kinda repudiates the whole initial Thunderhead concept. Or does it? Who am I to judge. I think multiple redundancies are an awesome thing, even for a god. :) Life has it, why not improve upon the idea? :)

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Friday, December 27, 2019

Stormsong (The Kingston Cycle, #2)Stormsong by C.L. Polk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit I was super thrilled to get ahold of this after enjoying Witchmark so much. As a beautifully written fantasy/intrigue/romance with all the hallmarks of a late King George's England, (Aleland, that is,) it was super stiff-upper-lipped, bursting with repressed emotion, and it ended on a VERY strong magical note.

This sequel, however, has a very different tone. Yes, if you're looking for an F/F romance to match the M/M romance of the first, I'm sure you'll enjoy it... eventually... but the majority of the tale is political. A storm, to be combatted by magic, leads to major societal complications. The revelations regarding the people who were ill-used in the past (read: magical underclass,) must be addressed or some major upheavals will tear the nation apart.

It took me a while to get into the book. All the politics looks good on the surface but it didn't do all that much for my attention span for a long time. It was only when the reporter came snooping around when I finally got invested. It just took so much time...

I did enjoy the rest of the tale. It picked up some. But it still remained a mild political thriller with a few late action scenes. Not bad, but not nearly as good as the first book. The high point was the romance angle. The politics, which overtook the grand majority of the novel, was merely okay. I like seeing underclasses get rights and such, but when it comes to regular enjoyment in reading, it seemed ready-made to cater to modern political leanings.

LGBT communities, mainly, written as the magical downtrodden, made more vibrant with a vital romance.

Something is bothering me, though. The politicization of gender orientation never seemed to be that big a deal to me before. It's one thing to get equal rights, but it's another to actively repress those who don't identify with the same. This book is mostly about politicization. It kinda kicked me out of the characters and reduced my enjoyment of THEIR tale. I didn't have that problem in Witchmark.

Still, not bad, all told.

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Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Water DancerThe Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is simultaneously gorgeous to read (for the prose) and very much the horrorshow that slavery describes.

Coates' extensive research into the Civil War era leads wonderfully into this novel about the realities of living in the Big House. The original Big House. The plantation. I really loved the commentary, among so much else, that highlighted just how much of all the craftsmanship, the artistic flair, the industry was thanks, directly, to the labor, and not the owners.

Some of these passages are gripping and convincing and pretty glorious. When we get to the Underground, I'm drowned in the tale.

The other big aspect of this novel is the fantasy element. It's really more Magical Realism than a real plot driver, but obviously a lot of the characters we run into WANT it to be THEIR plot driver. The novel's reality takes a different turn, as will any character with their own ambitions and drives. The magical element is cool for modern readers, but it isn't necessarily the most important.

This is all about freedom, of course, but it's more, and rather delightfully, about MEMORY.

If you haven't read Roots or Color Purple or Uncle Tom's Cabin, you wouldn't go far amiss in picking this up if it is your first classic introduction to the topic. In fact, thanks to the quality of the prose and the extremely solid punches to our gut and head, this one underscores our need to remember our past.

Please don't whitewash. It's best to keep our eyes open and our memories active. Let's not repeat history because we've forgotten it.

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Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1)Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I prayed this would be good. I was a big fan of her fantasy heist but I was not so much of a fan of the YA love interest stuff, so when I learned she was writing an adult modern UF fantasy with major mystery elements, I half-cringed, half-fell-over-myself in anticipation. Oh my. When I finally read the first couple-dozen pages, I relaxed. The next dozen thrilled me.

I couldn't have been happier!

What's so special? The RESEARCH! This is more than just worldbuilding. This is our real-world secret society stuff. Skull and Bones, Scroll and Key. All those Powerful people in our society that go through these special doors that all presidents seem to be a member of? The powerful of all stripes?

Bardugo connects it all to magic, real magic, and turns it all into a full UF worldbuilding extravaganza sitting alongside Yale and the rest of the world, but the action here is all at Yale. And if that wasn't enough, the titular character, Alex Stern, sees ghosts. Lots of ghosts. It gives her an edge over most of the magic students because she doesn't need special drugs to see them. She wants justice. She wants to find out who is murdering all those girls.

She can't really afford Yale and the ones who employ her might just consider her staff among all the elites who really belong, but she's getting her education and finding out the truth. It has to be enough.

Sound like a good murder mystery? It is. :) Very good. The only thing that could make it better is fantastically detailed characters. And guess what? They are. :) I really fell into the tale and loved getting to know so many. Deeply. When some other bad stuff happened, I admit I freaked out. That's what being invested in a great tale is all about. :)

I really can't wait for more. This series is going on my read-immediately list from now on.

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Monday, December 23, 2019

Letters from Father ChristmasLetters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A delightful little collection of letters written by Santa and his polar bear and sometimes a few Elves across a generation or two to a single family... Tolkein's family, to be precise... evincing love, mischief, and cheery, gay, heartfelt holiday wishes.

The letters are quite delightful and sweet.

But to me, there is another side to this, one my devious mind could not ignore.

At first, I was like... where is Mrs. Christmas? There was always a Mrs. Christmas, wasn't there? But no. Father Christmas lived alone... with a polar bear. A big, burly, surly, hairy bear. They sniped at each other all the time and even after destroying one house, they moved in together in a new one. Much later, a bunch of elves moved in, too, but there was still no Mrs. Claus.

Suddenly, this merry gay Christmas became much, much gayer. ;)

Merry Christmas, ya'll!

And for those of you who don't know me, you should probably know I'm a horrible, terrible, no good scrooge. :)

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A Boy Called Christmas (Christmas, #1)A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very simple, standard, check-every-box kind of Christmas tale. You got your quest, your scrooge, your deep misunderstandings, and your reversals that all lead to happiness and cheer.

What else could you want from a Middle-Grade book designed for boys and girls with grey hair?

Honestly, this is one of the better YA books. It's pretty bare-bones. It tells the story of how this little boy became Father Christmas, but does it in all the modern Young Adult style. I might have really preferred THIS as a child over most of the c**p I was subjected to as a kid. :)

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Sunday, December 22, 2019

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and ProgressEnlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you're looking for a cure for the common pessimism, you might do much, much worse than to pick up this book.

I've read or seen many other examples of the facts portrayed here, but Steven Pinker does a very admirable job of showing us, exactly, how much better the world is now compared to the one we had even a hundred years ago. It's not just time-saving devices or some outright reversals of ecological damage, but how lifespans, general IQ, overall poverty level, and even WAR has improved for the better for all. Not that war is ever really all that great, mind you, but few nations jump into it with quite as little reason or abandon as they used to.

Pinker isn't saying that everything is peachy, of course, but the trend toward real positive progress is undeniable. This is, despite setbacks. And yes, we have many. But for every problem that exists, he makes a very good point that we have it in us to FIX our problems. It's not out of the question.

Global Warming, for example, not only has possible temporary and minor fixes available, such as applying a metaphorical sunscreen to the atmosphere, but we have the means to do much more than cut our carbon footprint down to the bone. We have a history of moving on to different methods whenever resources of one type or another run out, too.

Health and education are at an all-time high.

What we don't have is our optimism. In fact, we have a very solid outlook that things are worse than ever.

Terrorists are few in number and never accomplish their stated goals. They merely rouse the combined might of all the powers to quash them. Most of the first world countries have made a point of living by equality in the sexes and the trend is more of the same across the world. LGBT is already accepted on the same scale.

Pinker attributes all our actual progress to the Enlightenment. The old standard of 19th-century thinking, where humanism reigns supreme.

Look. I freely admit to being a humanist, myself. I LOVE the idea that we all should get along. That every life is valuable. That we should have a high fundamental basis for living for every man, woman, and child alive. It's so pervasive an idea that practically everyone shares it. It's like... OBVIOUS, right?

And as far as I know, Steven Pinker is right. But he also makes a very cogent point about the need to be rational, to use science for what it is intended. Inquiry, truth-seeking. No matter what the result, the truth is much more important than any ideology. He uses this to encourage each and every one of us to see past the doomsayers and the demagogs. Again, I totally agree.

Skepticism is not the same thing as pessimism. Almost everyone I know is a fundamentally decent person and we all want the same fundamental things.

So why didn't I give this book a full five stars?

Because he gives all the credit to humanism. Wishing does not make it so. He might be right, but let's face it: this might be what he, himself warned us about. Selection Bias.

Even so, I love thinking about it and I totally recommend this book for anyone who is sick and tired of the news and wants someone with a lot of facts and good reasoning to pick them up off the ground, dust their shoulders, and tell them that we are, on the whole, doing pretty damn well for ourselves. You know, despite the actual problems. But then, we DO have it in ourselves to FIX THEM. :)

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Saturday, December 21, 2019

Simulacra and SimulationSimulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I admit I read this primarily because I learned that the whole cast of The Matrix was forced to read it to get them all primed and pumped for the deeper meaning of the film.

Welcome to the Desert of the Real.

Indeed! In fact, most of the most salient points of this classic 1981 work of philosophy ARE delineated in the movie! One of the most telling points was when a certain piece of steak was getting cut and he was cutting a deal with the policemen of the Matrix, talking about how much BETTER the steak is.

This book is a regular nightmare to get through if you prefer all your words to get right down to the truth of the matter without being overblown with jargon that could have been better spent elsewhere, but the IDEAS within it are pretty awesome. And often ferociously antithetical to anything I believe. And yet, he's right on so many aspects and I want to fist-bump the air all the time while also, in an aside, wanting to revile him for being the worst kind of monster.

In other words, it's an awesome, divisive read.

There's a lot of great reviews out her on this book, but let me sum up the most salient points:

Maybe you've heard the saying that the map is not the terrain. That the conceptualization, the ideal of a subject or a real-world representation is NOT the thing, itself. But what happens when all of reality IS just our conceptualizations of it? Don't laugh. Our brains do not have a direct line to the world. We process it all through our perceptions and we are always getting that wrong.

So, the more we continue to map out the world, the bigger the map, the more likely we start losing the certainty that we're dealing with the map OR reality. Pretty soon, and I mean this is true for every single one of us, we cannot tell the difference.

This is an idea that has made it almost everywhere since 1981, and I think we can thank Baudrillard for making it popular in academia. He, himself, gives thanks to Philip K. Dick and Jorge Louis Borges and J. G. Ballard for his ideas, among certain mathematicians, philosophers, and nihilists of every stripe. He also gives us many great examples to support the context and the theme that pretty much made me nod and grin and want to curse him.

Why? Because in a lot of ways, he's entirely right. The debate about Art and Life is an old one. Art imitates Life, but Life imitates Art, too. We see it everywhere, from advertising to the great movies of nostalgia for times that never were to practically every dream we subscribe to. Like this example: wishing that we could be just like *insert impossible celebrity that is totally fake*. There is no substance to it. It is an artistic representation that we want to become, but when enough of us strive for it, we change reality to fit that mold in countless little or even big ways until Life, or Reality, has been changed. It doesn't alter the fact that there is no substance. It just means that we're all living the simulacra. The simulation, the Art, is merely the first step, but Art always has its foundations in the simulacra, the Real. When we can no longer figure out what is life and what is art, we have figured out that we are stuck in a recursive loop.

Many modern non-fiction books spell out the idea much more clearly than Baudrillard did. All our language is an example of this. So is our preoccupation with Myths. Let's not forget the very concept of money. They're all fake, but they're used in order to make a map of the terrain. And let's not fool ourselves. Most of us believe in the infallibility of money.

Come on. Give me some. Now.

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Sarah SmilesSarah Smiles by Sean-Paul Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bullying is a major problem today. Its effects have always been around but it's good to see some serious treatments of it done in novels today.

The titular character was a really fun person to get to know, but the PoV was Paul. These kids are on the young side, 11 or so, but few of their situations were strictly YA. The fun times were fun, but dealing with an abusive dad and alternately, an equally abusive friendship, it's often hard to see what to do. Even for children years older... or adults.

The other side of the tale really lifts up our spirits. Friendship. Love. These things made the whole novel something rather special for me. :)

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Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good SocietyBlueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society by Nicholas A. Christakis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've had a lot of love and interest in the social sciences over the years. I thought I was really into psychology until I fell in love with sociology. This led me to be a huge lover of SF in general, but concurrently, I read all about utopias, planned communities, shipwrecked sailors building their own natural communities, and all the kinds of political, social, and even biological foundations that any of these could arise from.

And then I read this book.

Christakis, a man with titles galore, has done a very thorough and interesting job in breaking down the fundamental similarities between all societies, starting from the same place that I began my research and taking it further... like communities in online gaming. But he doesn't stop there. He goes into the inherently social nature of animals, focusing on the features that are similar across the board.

Anyone who has ever had a cat or a dog will recognize the intelligence, altruism, cooperative natures of other social creatures. The same is true for dolphins and whales, elephants and the whole simian hoard. Just watch Animal Planet!

It's easy to see we're all more alike than different. And that's the main point. We're all biologically, genetically set-up, to want certain things. Some of those things conflict with each other. Culture and social structures put a modifier on the worst aspects of those conflicts and reinforce cooperation... but cooperative structures can be gamed. Members within it can cheat and steal and reap the benefits of the cooperation without giving anything back. And then the reaction comes. Punishment, more self-modifiers, and a flip-flop between aggression and cooperation. Richard Dawkins explains this very well in the Selfish Gene, and in a lot more convincing detail, but Christakis is quite good for all that.

We create societies based on our biological "social suite". These are features that cross all boundaries of culture because they're hard-wired in us. I'll steal the list from Bill Gate's review on this book:

1. Individual identity
2. Love for partners and children
3. Friendship
4. Social networks
5. Cooperation
6. Preference for your own group
7. Some form of hierarchy
8. Social learning and teaching

The final takeaway from this book DOES give us hope, oddly enough. These are all positive features of not just humanity but of a lot of the animal kingdom.

But here's the trick: Any time a culture or a social structure tries to break this social suite by denying even a single aspect to it, things tend to fall apart. Social learning rather implies that. And some, like preference for your own group, can be conflated into a major us vs them that can lead to aggressive war parties our world wars.

BUT... when social divisions are crossed, or given aspect in an umbrella from that captures commonalities across the divides, cooperation CAN be reestablished. People have seen this countless times. Giving aid to enemy soldiers on the battlefield, or the Red Cross. Charitable organizations. Doctors Without Borders. Or perhaps we ought to remember that countless unrelated people flocked to the twin towers to help those in need. We DO have a lot of evidence of altruism in our social lives, but this is mitigated against our perception that there are thieves among us.

I personally see a failure of cooperation going on all around us. It seems more glaringly obvious to me every day. And for good reason. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The grand majority in the middle are getting pushed down to the poorer side. Mistrust is everywhere because of the thieves.

I suppose the big question is this: can we learn to cooperate once more to root out the real thieves and reestablish the fundamental social suite that we need to thrive?

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Friday, December 20, 2019

Prosper's DemonProsper's Demon by K.J. Parker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's a lot of great stuff going on in this novella.

My first, I believe reasonable, reaction was one of, "Hey! This is like Bujold's Penric's Demon!"

But very quickly, it went down the rabbit hole, scaring away every mouse, drenching itself in blood, and proving that art really IS mightier than the sword.

I like. A lot.

I doesn't end there. It doesn't even begin there. What I got during the reading was a treatment of the prisoner's dilemma wrapped around a despoiled world much like our own and set in a boiling vat of Enlightenment-era intrigue, authoritarian bullies, and the delightful introduction of widespread institutionalized demon possession.

Nice, right?
So, yeah, I want MORE. A lot more. Novels worth. GIVE ME MORE! :)

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The Light of All That Falls (The Licanius Trilogy, #3)The Light of All That Falls by James Islington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I'm speechless.

Okay, maybe not that speechless, but that doesn't mean I wasn't blown away by this final book in the Licanius Trilogy.

I think I've said this before, but it bears repeating: This is one of THE best Epic Fantasies ever written. I compare it to Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks in my head and in some ways it succeeds better where those do not. It's tighter, for one. These are three thick books that cram a hell of a lot of emotional and action-filled impact inside its pages.

Each book seems to end on a reveal that changes everything we ever thought we knew, but this one wraps back around and ties up every loose end in a way that is more than satisfying. It's more than amazing. It leaves me gutted.

Let's say something about the most interesting parts of the trilogy: It's Fantasy Time-Travel, time-manipulation battles, pocket universes, energy beings, and one of the hairiest paradox tales I've ever read. Take all the best aspects of the best time-travel SF, give it a full Fantasy treatment with full rules and the ways to bend or even break the rules, and then give us an epic battle that lasts a very long time for reasons that are shockingly brilliant and tragic and horrific.

But do you know where it really shines? The characters. So many character arcs and looming tragedies we try and try to avoid, but since we're dealing with time paradoxes and deep friendships and truly gut-wrenching events.

It pulls no punches. I was super invested and I freaked out.

I recommend this to any fantasy lover. I RECOMMEND IT. Without hesitation. With a feverish glee, even.

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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Auberon: An Expanse NovellaAuberon: An Expanse Novella by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I REALLY love the subtext in this novella.

It's not only a novel about the straight-laced Laconian government taking over a thoroughly integrated quasi-mob-based world of Auberon and the clash that arises.

It's also a fantastic commentary on America. With the rife corruption throughout all levels of government... not least with high cabinet members profiting on their positions by having billion-dollar deals in the very industry they should have been regulating... this novella lays out the problem of fixing it.

No ideological plan survives first-contact with an ideological enemy. lol

I can't wait to see how this gets folded into the final novel.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2019

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World ProblemsHow To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As always, when I read a funny book, BUT I'm also listening to a narration by Wil Wheaton, I'm suddenly nearly incapable of figuring out whether I love the book for its content or presentation.


Fortunately, I had a great time with both, seamlessly upping my chuckle factor by a few magnitudes as I learn how wrong it would be to make a really, really huge teakettle. *hint* (the rivers of lava might make your homeowner's association a bit upset.)

The most fascinating feature, other than just enjoying the ride when it comes to science explaining how to do the most ABSURD things imaginable, such as transmitting data across long distances by one of the most efficient forces of nature... such as BUTTERFLIES... is how much I was able to learn, regardless of the humor. :)

So, two thumbs up for a very, very enjoyable science book.

Um, why isn't this required reading in school? It should be. If only for every single possible reason in the universe. :)

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Monday, December 16, 2019

The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, AmericaThe Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America by Timothy Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very focused investigation centered solely on Russia's more recent history since the fall of the Berlin Wall, it's becoming a pure Oligarchy, or rather: a Kleptocracy. What's more, we get some rather startling and almost unbelievable details into the nature of Putin's aim.

Let me be more clear: end aim is very clear. He's stated it about a million times. He's so confident in his power and methods that I can't see any truly viable method to stop him. And so he is open and honest about just how many lies he can get away with.

What's unbelievable is how he's been able to revise history on such a massive scale as to make Stalin a hero, rewrite his involvement in WW2 drastically, or taking a relatively obscure philosopher who was a contemporary of Lenin and elegize him to the point of near godhood, projecting his text as the grand narrative of Putin's Russia. Literally. He's had the book printed everywhere, talked about everywhere, and it all boils down to some CRAZY S**t.

Like the unfettered belief that the leader is the soul of the nation, and that nations are always innocent. Harm can be done to Russia, but it will always remain innocent. There can be no double standards if there are no standards. Facts are for other people. Use facts as weapons against those who rely on them, but never be fettered by them.

Trust the leader who will always steer you right.

People in Russia may not believe this s**t, but remember, every media source will be spouting it. Anyone who has ties to America or Europe are immediately branded enemy collaborators. All the western countries are ruled by the Homosexual Agenda and Russia must never fall before them.

This is just a taste of the reality under Putin. He is a master at reality control. After the devastation of the 90's when practically all otherwise well off USSR populace was cashed in and the full reserves of the government power and wealth was transferred to a handful of men, it was absurdly easy to lock down everything. Putin has an amazing amount of combatant hackers at his disposal. Full media control. Banking. And of course the military.

Remember when the Ukraine was urged to give up over a thousand nuclear missiles in 2010? And then Putin invaded them, annexed them, and completely rewrote history about 5 times in order to justify everything about it in 2012? You know, like things saying there is no such thing as Ukraine. Or there is no Ukraine language. It has always been Russia.

This book has an amazing wealth of information in it. Don't take my word for it. It'll shock you.

Let me steal this from another review of this book (and btw, thank you!):
Methods of control:

{--Constant reference to a past era of greatness
--Hyperfocus on enemies who are enemies because of who they are and not what they do
--A profound belief in a zero-sum (or a negative-sum) world
--Willingness to hurt oneself if, in doing so, you can hurt someone else more
--The manufacture of crises and conflicts where none exist in order to control the news cycle
--Constant labeling of information sources as “fake” in an effort to delegitimize any source of truth
--Repetition of blatant, easily verifiable lies with no evidence to back them up other than the fact of the assertion}

His stated goal is to always keep Europe and America as eternal enemies, a-la Eurasia in Orwell's 1984. That means always being on an antagonistic footing, flooding his population with propaganda, and just plain telling any kind of lies he likes, so long as he gets the results he wants. There is no need for any kind of verifiability. He is an Eternal Leader who is Always Innocent and he does NOT need Facts. He just needs to control every narrative. And he does.

The next part of this book is just plain scary.

We've heard all about Russia's supposed involvement with Trump. We've heard both sides make a lot of noise and get nowhere because the signal-to-noise ratio is absolutely atrocious here.

When investigative journalism ACTUALLY does its job, however, a lot of truly damming facts come to light. You know, those pesky little things that Putin cares crap over?

Russian hackers, fully bankrolled by Putin's media empire, is attacking America. This statement isn't just some silly conflation. He's on record of saying it and there are MANY records proving it. Millions of fake facebook accounts with targeted marketing to tight demographics, pandering to prejudices and conspiracy theories, fake movements all across the internet, including millions of tweets by bots trying to influence the political debates. (Successfully, I might add.) Many attempts were also made on the voting machines.

Note the direction almost every convenient "leak" came from during the election cycles. The republican party knew about Trump's many economic connections to Putin, including a Trump Tower with MANY rooms bought by placeholder corporations whose paperwork all led back to Russia, many new real estate deals. The official line was to hush it up. Fire officials that tried to investigate it. And all the while, overwhelming hacker support flowed toward Trump. Let's not forget Trump and Putin's long-standing friendship. They're both fictional characters, after all, telling many interesting narratives, (read lies) that don't need any factual basis. They just need to be plausible for the moment until the power base can be firmed up.

Please refer to the list of power-grabbing methods. Does anyone else see a similarity between Russia and America?

It's almost like all the super-rich looters are playing by the exact same handbook. The goal is to get rich at everyone else's expense. If you don't make the 1% bracket, you're nothing. Just watch for the new grabs.

Look. I said it was nearly unbelievable. But I, unlike radical revisionist leaders, actually LIKE facts.

If this book tells me anything at all, it's to look beyond the noise. We can all be so involved in our little crazy lives so much that we fail to see the big picture. That goes for politics, too. What happens when we realize that a MASSIVE concerted effort to game America's political system actually SUCCEEDS?

Oh, nothing. We're still bickering between blues and reds. Of course, since we do most of that online, it's actually absurdly easy to focus all of one's resources on this choke point. Russia has a veritable army of hackers fanning the flames of all lefts and all rights, stirring up racial prejudices, sexist prejudices, and any other conflict they can dream up. And we buy it. Hell, most of all these "events" might be pure fabrication, but none of us seem to be doing ANYTHING to confirm or deny them. Certainly not our media. They're too busy running ideological platforms, themselves.

See how easy it is to sow SO MUCH confusion and chaos on your enemy...? And the best thing is, WE LAP IT UP, use it all as proof we are right, yet again.

Where are our antibodies? Where is the strong Press that digs up all this crap and shows it for what it is?

Oh, wait... that's what this book is trying to be!

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Ararat (Ben Walker, #1)Ararat by Christopher Golden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Perfect for the heart of winter, this high-altitude psychological horror at the top of the mountain has a bit more going on than most of its ilk. That's to say, I LOVED the ancient history poking its head up out of the landslide. :)

It's a pretty classic horror romp, too, moving well beyond the usual thriller aspects and diving, head-first, into some rather great and surprising twists that make me feel like I'm back in a comparative religion course, shaking hands with devils, and dealing with cancer all over again.

Fun, simple, and multidimensional. We get in the heads of almost everyone, and that's great because it is, at its core, a closed-room mystery, too! :)

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Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster CapitalismThe Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's 2007 and Naomi Klein builds a rather convincing argument about modern governmental/corporational trends.

I've personally never seen it laid out so baldly, but after having read several dozen of political books, perhaps an equivalent number of documentaries, and a lot of otherwise independent research into the topics herein, I'm willing to concede that she has a very valid point.

What is the point?

Modern economics theories are used to lay out a rather obvious plan of mass looting. They're constructed as laissez-faire Chicago School of Economics, which looks great on paper, letting the invisible hand of Adam Smith regulate all markets. In practice, putting it into effect, under the heading of Democracy or Liberation or whatever they want, the big heads of the Chicago school are backed with the CIA, big corporation interests, and a single additional theory that makes the whole thing gel together.

What's this extra theory? It's simple. They believe, as they have learned from their lessons in briefly earlier psychology research, that the best way to heal a patient is to first break their minds and bodies, starting them out on a tabula rasa, and then rebuilding from the rubble. So many have quoted the belief that the only way to get real change is after a disaster.

Never mind that the original torture victims in McGill college that underwent sensory deprivation, LSD, PCP, punctuated with ECT and blaring noise did not come out of the experience quite sane. Most of them never recovered. But THIS was the original study that they based their first great experiment on. Export the school of thought to Chile, and when it didn't quite take, destabilize the government, assassinate Allende, and install Pinochet. On Sept. 11, 1973. They used shock and awe, destroyed infrastructure, and people went hungry and were terrorized.

Guess who got a Nobel Prize in economics?

It's worse. The dictatorship was atrocious, but the big corporations were given leave to move in and rape the economy, loot anything of value, while allowing Pinochet to take the lion's share, turning him into an Oligarch, overnight. A decade later, Chile, once sporting one of the most impressive resumes of a growing and happy populace, could barely stand on its own. But the corporations got RICH.

Jump ahead to Russia right as Communism is going defunct. The same Chicago school economics of Free-Market offers them a deal. Businesses will loan expertise and open market doctrines and massive loans, but be sure to destabilize everything first. When enough blood is on the ground and people are terrified, starving, and giving up everything they ever owned, then offer them a deal they can't refuse. Capitalism on a plate that promises everything that the European nations and America has to offer since Communism is dead.

When democracy is offered but capitalism is competing, capitalism beats anything. Enter a capitalism-backed coup, corporate sponsorships everywhere, and a promise that our new leader will be able to make himself and a handful others into some of the top 30 ranked richest people in the world, opening up Russia to free trade on a scale never seen before, the only way to keep it going is by looting the population. And it did. What was the number? 14 million homeless children? Think about that. At least under communism there WAS something like a middle class. Now it's only the super rich and the survivors.

CLEARLY, this is an AMAZING outcome for the Chicago School! Companies got rich. The stock market had a field day supporting the victors. Everyone was shaking everyone else's hands. Except for the rest of the 99%, of course. They went hungry. A reported 50,000 AIDS victims exploded into 1.5 million over the space of a couple of years. Clearly, everyone was having a party.

But the rich got richer.

Remember what happened during the Iraq War, part 2? Privatized war, with every single aspect of the war delegated to private companies except for the troops, themselves. 90% of every contract went into overhead, contractors subcontracting up to four times until there was no longer any money left for doing the work. And easily, if you look back on the actual work for the reconstruction, either it was not completed in 85% of the cases, or what did get finished was at half capacity after a year. ALL work and workers were brought in from the outside. Corporations tried to set up McD and Walmart, unloaded big screen TVs on the streets that were lined with rubble.

Shock and Awe. Come on. The purpose is to drive them all into a permanent state of helplessness or create an environment of terrorism. Against them. But heck, as long as we can brew terrorists this way, each one wanting to get revenge or at the very least, JUSTICE for this travesty. 650,000 dead. For Oil. For the free market. For the freedom of a hoard of corporations to come swooping in and install a Free Trade Zone, where profits just kept coming.

Let's ignore for a moment that every cabinet member in the presidency at that time had vested and current interests in the very same corporations that made the most money on Iraq. Or that America inflated its debt many times over to pay for the graft, looting, and amazing incompetence, while leaving the door open to keep ALL of the contractors out of the legal crosshairs of ANY country, while walking away with astounding paychecks.

Ignore the fact that most invasions, if they're NOT there to loot, will actually set aside troops to protect national heritage. There is a lot of proof that the national museum holding artifacts thousands of years old was specifically excluded from that protection list, which is why troops sat by and watched as so many truckloads of priceless artifacts were spirited away. Later, even now, only 20% have ever been recovered.

We can add Hurricane Katrina to the list. The same contractors for Iraq came in to help out, taking more government money, pulling the same exact crap, and then leaving the job almost completely undone. We're talking BIG money, too. But look on the bright side! All that land can now be cleared out to build new condos! Tons of companies swooped in to reclaim the land. And they did. And a lot of them were linked, intricately, to the SAME people who were supposed to REBUILD for the original inhabitants.

Sorry, folks, couldn't do the job. You're gonna have to find a new place to live. My brother here wants the land for his new McD!

Yep, first you need to have a disaster. If you don't have a disaster, make one. If you can, build compounds and Green zones and make sure you give enough fodder to create a simmering cauldron of hate that you can regularly call on to rise up and smash down with your brand new war machine. And make sure it keeps on simmering, too, right, ISIS? We need a reason to keep getting the latest equipment to protect our super-rich bunkers.

It's great economics as long as your real intention is to get extremely rich. It's not good economics if you want long-lasting, sustained prosperity. It's the looter's creed. Make situations you can profit from. Make sure you always negotiate from the ultimate position. If that means making sure the rest of the world has a foot on its neck, then that's all for the best. That's GOOD NEGOTIATION TACTICS.

Laissez-faire, to these guys, means taking away all the safety nets. They're the same ones gutting social security, social protections, and basic food and health for the poorest people in our first-world nations. They want no government, or to turn all governments into shells with no power to do anything. They've stated this creed a million times. They want social darwinism at its worst. Keep everyone so shock and awed that they can take everything. Absolutely everything.

Let's judge an idea not on its stated ideal. Let's judge an idea based on its actual practice. If this wonderful ideal says it works best after a disaster, flawlessly re-establishing the free hand of the market, then by their own writings, we should have seen a flowering of cooperation, self-interest coinciding with everyone else's self-interest, and a natural growth of blanket prosperity that effects everyone involved. It's pretty. I've read many great books on the Chicago Style of Economics and loved them. But let's look at the ACTUAL FACTS of its implementation.

There has never been a free hand of the market. The big banana corporation pressured America to secure its economic freedom. America got it's most famous laissez-faire economists to embark on a campaign, assisted with a ton of money, integral CIA support, and a bunch of extra vultures hanging in the wings, smelling blood in the water. When the blood splashed and buildings with the elected government were murdered, all the looters moved in. Of course, back in the day, it was all ideological garbage. Sticking it to the communists, bringing in democracy. Ignore the fact that they just bombed a democracy and Pinochet the dictator came in, got rich, and entered a very profitable loot cycle with the outside vultures.

It begs the question. If, each and every time, they bring in the Chicago School of Economics, they always bring the same result, then maybe we ought to question their motives. Maybe.

I'm just waiting for other enemies of this paradigm to get their own shock and awe. Left-leaning college campuses? Gay bars? All they need is a disaster. They can wait for it and exploit it like with Katrina, but they're perfectly willing to orchestrate them, too. And give you wonderfully idealistic reasons why you should let them murder you, too.

Dark, right? But real. You've seen these looters in the housing bubble. The banking crisis. It's big. Very, very big. You can complain about transgenders in bathrooms all you like, but the really scary bits are right here. And they can take us all down. Equally.

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No LogoNo Logo by Naomi Klein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was published in 2000, coming out during the time when the internet bubble was riding high but before the fall of the Two Towers (the ones in NY, not Tolkein's).

Its subject matter was Shell, McD's, and Nike. Social awareness was getting a second wind after languishing in general and now it was all about sweatshops. Multinational corporations became our favorite bogeymen (again), and this was when we could throw our weight behind small-time activists and FEEL like we could accomplish some great-seeming things... like getting all the exploiters out of Burma so as to take away the support of that regime.

Remember those times?

Add awareness to the whole Banding idea, the feeling that Corporations are real people with souls (ha), and see this as a way to stop bad practices by attacking their PR image.

Then realize that the problem goes sooooooo much deeper. Much deeper than this book is prepared to take it, except to realize that these highly visible multinational corporations were great as a rallying point but even if anyone could break them down and hold them accountable, it was EVERY OTHER corporation doing the exact same thing that makes the situation seem rather hopeless.

So, and rightly so, this book does not delve into the economics and politics that made the rape of underdeveloped countries possible: the policies and the greed and the perfectly legal practices that can ravage whole countries, their land, and devastate indigenous peoples.

It can't. It's a problem that requires widespread awareness everywhere... and the knowledge of all the interrelated contributing factors... to combat.

We all need to be aware and awake to not just the fact of injustice, but the causes. The only real way we can combat this problem is by waking the real slumbering beast of humanity from its ignorant dream. :)

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Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for FailureThe Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Jonathan Haidt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When picking up this book, I had the distinct impression that I MIGHT be getting into a polemical debate with some sort of bias beginning to scream at Lefts or Rights... but that's the funny thing.

This book argues AGAINST triggers. Against going with your knee-jerk reactions. Against Safetyism.

A culture of safety is NOT the same thing as providing a safe physical environment. It should be obvious, but often is not, that having seatbelts in cars is not the same thing as students shouting down speakers on campus, issuing rape and death threats for people speaking of ANYTHING that they don't agree with, or equating social justice with REAL justice.

Stopping the KKK and lynchings is Justice. Making a school administrator fear for their lives because they misused a pronoun, or turning the misuse of a specific pronoun into something as nasty as actual physical molestation IS NOT JUSTICE.

And yet, people everywhere (and I mean, EVERYWHERE) are getting more and more scared of doxing, public shaming, and anonymous trolling campaigns. It has become an accepted practice to turn anyone of a different ideology into targets of ridicule and slander until both sides have no idea what the hell is going on.

What is truth? What happened to the search for truth ANYWHERE?

They sum up the book in three main points.

1. We've forgotten the adage of "What doesn't kill you will make you stronger." If someone insults you, you ought to ADAPT. If someone betrays you, ADAPT. And yet, increasingly, we're all climbing into our safe ideological niches, surrounding ourselves with ONLY those things we think we can cope with, until nothing else remains except a narrow, narrow worldview.

Open up your minds. Broaden your horizons. You don't have to agree with everyone or even anyone, but the experience WILL enrich you.

2. Following your feelings is often really, really stupid. We have minds and we must always combat our own biases every single day. Remember when you fussed about a food when you were a kid and then you realized, later, that you loved it? If we always did what our feelings said, (especially for those of us who suffer from depression,) then our suicide rates might jump higher than the death rates of cancer. Oh, and let's not forget... following our feelings when surrounded by a bunch of other fearful and angry people has another term associated with it:

MOBS. And we all know that no one is as stupid as all of us together.

3. Oh, and we must always look for fault in others. We're never wrong. It's always someone else that has done this to us. This way of thinking could NEVER backfire, of course. Unfortunately, the first two points described above are exacerbating everyone's mental health issues. And let's face it... we have TONS. Rates of murder and violence and abductions are as low as they were in the 60's and yet everyone is growing up coddled and fearful and crazy. We've lost natural socialization, not only in the physical sense (scheduled playdates versus running around and getting into and out of trouble), but also in the amount of screentime we're ALL getting. Children are maturing much, much slower than at any other time and they're unable to cope with the real world. Hell, most of us are.

We all need to open up our minds to listen as if we're wrong even while we argue passionately as if we're right.

The point is... TRUTH is getting lost in mob mentality. We all need to wake up and get courageous and stand up for our beliefs while simultaneously RETAINING AN OPEN MIND.

Otherwise, unofficially, our vaunted love of free speech is now DEAD.

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Friday, December 13, 2019

River of Stars (Under Heaven, #2)River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Returning to Kay's richly drawn worlds is like falling into poetry, extensively researched history, and the becoming one with the horrors that beset these wonderful contemporary protagonists.

I'm tempted to call this silkpunk, but I must admit there is *almost* no fantasy and definitely no SF in it. Instead, it is just an immersive look at what could be the Song Dynasty, 400 years after the original novel Under Heaven that resembled the Tang Dynasty.

This is historical escapism at its best:
A educated woman making her way, doing the best she can in this world.
A hero warrior turned bandit and later becoming the spark to ravage the land in civil war.

The only thing I could do was float away in the text. :)

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Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Origins of TotalitarianismThe Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

By the title, I might have gotten the impression that this might have been a full history and treatise on all Totalitarian regimes, but I'm not at all unhappy to see how the author narrowed it down to the full wealth of circumstances that gave rise to Nazi Germany and, to a lesser degree, Stalin's Russia.

More than that, Hannah Arendt proves to be an erudite master at breaking down huge subjects and many causes into easily digestible chunks.

The focus begins on the actual origins of racial targeting and the somewhat interesting disconnect between real grievances and a targeted terror movement starting early with the Rothschild banking, 19th century propaganda, and political climates including the Dreyfus account. (Very interesting stuff here.)

It leads, naturally enough, into MORE of the same charges and racially-charged Us/Them mentalities and exactly how the machinations of a few could inculcate a whole nation. The trick is to slowly, surely, make everyone guilty of the same kind of injustice, formalize it and redirect all culpability toward the Leader and wash your hands of the reality, and then hold on for dear life as everyone else you know is forced into looking over their shoulders to see if they might be next on the chopping block.

It's perfectly understandable. Totalitarianism is the utter eradication of self and self-destiny under the auspices of a single, irrepressible force. It runs on fear and distrust. Everyone under Hitler was in an untenable position and knew they could lose favor at any time.

Stalin worked the same way. The results were almost always similar as a whole. Many people died, and no one knew how to go on except by hanging on to the system that brought them there.

Ideology didn't really matter. Terror was the driving force, carried along by a fierce logical insistence that they were always right. Not even dissent mattered. The logical progression, taken to its extremes, was always used as the ultimate rationality.

This book showed us a wealth of information in every step. Starting out with imperialism and ending with totalitarianism, this book also gives us some other very important insights.

Believe it or not, they're insights that apply as equal now as they did then, and not as a pithy or ironic commentary on this or that politician we hate.

Mostly, it starts out as finding an Other to hate. It could just be any Us versus Them. Dehumanize them. Blame all your problems on them. And then make your supporters do something horrible. Turn your whole nation into people who are already guilty. Make sure they remain confused and uncertain. And then turn up the heat, making them all do worse things, progressively, until they see no way out but forward. Give them no other choice.

Easy blueprint.

Who is next? Women versus men? Another Race s**tstorm? Blue Vs Red? Rich versus the poor?

Quite sobering to see how we're pushing ourselves closer and closer to Totalitarianism all the time. All we need is one single Leader who can blackmail us all into doing his bidding, and here we go!

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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young MenThe War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men by Christina Hoff Sommers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's always an eye-opener when a really good look at statistics shows some glaring errors in widely held assumptions. It's even more of an eye opener to realize that some of your own carefully held assumptions are wrong.

This book, published in 2001, seems kind of political and reactionary, but that is only the fault of the title. The contents are much more revealing.

Feminism is political. This should not be surprising. We see it everywhere. Some a***holes take it way too far. What we have in America's school systems (and probably quite a few other places as well) is a climate where we are told that girls are being held back by the patriarchy, that their voices are not being heard, and that all boys should be more like girls.

No joke. I was in the school system when this was really getting started. I bought into it, myself. Even thought of myself as a feminist. Yes. I'm a white male feminist. Or, at least, I thought I should have been. I kept trying to be more feeling and thoughtful and in touch with my feelings. I valued cooperation over competition. I felt bad because I was a boy. Boys are violent. Boys are rapists. Boys the embodiment of the patriarchy that has done so much to transparently ruin women.

I was indoctrinated. And I bought it, hook, line, and sinker.

So what do I learn here? I went through college and got a degree in Psychology and English Literature in the mid 90's and learned a lot about education. The big keys were inclusion and tolerance and above all, making sure that women have all the benefits that had been taken from them in the past. I thought I approved of this.

I also found myself not being heard. I, as a male, surrounded by hundreds of academic studies revolving around a certain Carol Gilligan, then a superstar of feminist studies and the leader of the movement to change all our schools into this bright feminist ideal, was quoted everywhere. I didn't bat an eyelash. I studied more feminists and wanted to see more equality between the sexes. I got upset with every revelation of rape, abuse, and wage differential.

So, after all this time, thinking that it's only individual bad apples who like to say things like "murder all men", I held to my beliefs anyway.

So what do I believe after realizing that Carol Gilligan had fudged research data, hid sources, and used a very limited several thousand student sample in her study? Remember, she was the foundation of hundreds of similar papers and books that became the forefront of a full politicized movement. A movement that transformed almost every school in the nation based on faulty data.

A later study using a hundred thousand samples show a very different picture, and yet the weight of the political movement could not be stopped.

What did it report?

Little things like girls are twice as likely to be heard in class. That boys are much more likely to give up an not take tests like the SAT or the ACT, leaving only the very confident to take the tests, whereas girls almost always take them. That girls are more confident and self-reported happy in schools than boys.

And it didn't stop there. I went to many many in-school campaigns brought up in this book. Campaigns with a clear agenda where I was told about date rape, bullying (that was always bent toward unwanted sexual advances to girls), talking about my feelings, being inclusive, and never, ever, ever violent.

Remember, this is 2001 when the book came out. We were already seeing a whole generation of boys be told to be just like girls. That we should all be ashamed of what and who we are regardless of what we may or may not have ever done. I knew a lot of them that took it to heart like I did. Who bought the indoctrination.

Of course, after about 12 years of this, we get a complete eroding of value systems and a complete blindfolding of the educational system as to what BOYS ARE. They respond very differently to teaching techniques as compared to girls. It's NOT all learned. They're rambunctious. They do need strict limits and precise indoctrination into values. They respond to active play much stronger than girls, learn from scuffles and a lot of competition AND form very strong and beneficial ties with other boys through it. This is real. And yet the system is devoted to wiping out all the things that most boys are, naturally.

I'm speaking in general terms and ignoring outliers.

And it's getting worse. It's an ideology that ignores basic reality.

You know what opened my eyes back in the day? Fight Club. For how amazingly F***ed-up it was, it absolutely spoke to me on many other levels. It was the repudiation of all the indoctrination I had gone through.

I still don't want to hurt anyone. I still believe in equality. But by the actual numbers and the harmful teaching practices and the direction all this is taking us, I now fully agree with the conclusion.

Boys (and of course, men) are well on the way to becoming the "second sex". Just look at some of the stats in this book already and you'll see. College grads make more money, but 38% of men go in while 51% of women do. That margin has probably increased in the near 20 years since this book was published.

I'd love to see how many men are severely depressed or have gone through long periods of depression, listlessness, and despair after going through the school system. I know I did. I also improved a TON after getting into college. I was surrounded by a much healthier atmosphere.

I bought into the lies. I didn't realize I was being downgraded just because I was male. I wonder if a lot of this is the direct cause of some men's backlash. Anger, turned to violence, after having so many of their natural play and learning impulses quashed, being told that they were all rapists in training, that most of our natural desires were not to be channeled into appropriate directions, but told that they were simply and baldly BAD.

Of course, I'm not saying that we're all unaccountable to our own actions. Of course we are. But I'll admit that I am rather angry that I have not had any positive male role models.

I was brought up to be a girl. I love women. I thought that was okay.

It's just a shame... this dog was taught to use the kitty-litter box and meow for affection.

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Monstrous Regiment (Discworld, #31; Industrial Revolution, #3)Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read 12/10/19:

A delightful Discworld read that dives head first into a little country's war problem. Well, it's not really a problem, per se... in fact, it's almost done. As in fini. Kaput. With them the ultimate losers.

So you'd think, with all the men being dead and all, they'd be more welcoming of a bit of some added support. And I'm not talking bras... or AM I?

A very funny book. There are a few coffee drinking beasties here, a troll, and even an Igor(ina). It turns into a kinda Hogan's Heroes. Or rather, Heroines. And ooooh the abominations! Cross-Dressing Everywhere!

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Monday, December 9, 2019

NOS4A2NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read 12/9/19:

What a book to get me in the mood for Christmas! Again. :)

Okay, so maybe re-reading about the man who made Christmastown all that it is might not be EXACTLY everyone's cup of tea when it comes to getting in the mood for Christmas, but I'm a bit odd.

Fortunately, Hill writes a great horror and horror is good any time of the year. Still filled with great characters, great development, and great sick horror. :) Charley obviously never hurts children.

Original Review:

The novel really shines with characterizations. The depth and easy flow was excellent. How the peculiar abilities/ideas affected them was also quite memorable.
I was kinda surprised that we didn't actually get to go to Christmastown until much, much later in the novel, but the buildup and anticipation was well worth it. The creepy ending was also very very satisfying.

I don't like to compare styles between authors unless I was doing a serious paper, but for those who like SK, you'll like Joe Hill's work, too. :) There's plenty of obvious reasons, but fortunately, all of them made a good novel that isn't reliant on the relationship in the slightest.

I'll definitely read more of Mr. Hill's work. This was my first, and I was very pleased.

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Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical RightDark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am utterly astounded.

Not surprised, mind you. But I am utterly astounded. It feels like there are no books written any more that rely on real investigative journalism.

But this is one, and it has meticulous, astounding scope.

It's one thing to point out the flaws in your opposition. Those kinds of books are commonplace and are always designed to sway you persuasively. And then there are books that give you a very, very big picture that shows you something so scary, so pervasive, that it boggles the imagination and is worse than any horror novel ever written.

This is about the Koch brothers. Two men in the 6th and 7th richest place in the world, who built an empire on oil money with the very worst record for ecological disasters, where ends always justify the means, turned all their money toward politics. How did they do this? Philanthropy. As in, pouring all their money into foundations and trusts that then poured all their money into other foundations and trusts in such a horribly convoluted shell-game that it takes full-time researchers to uncover where the money originated.

Why did they do this? To bypass political financing regulations.

Where did these foundations and trusts lead to?

Educational institutions in order to promote radical right wing agendas in all the biggest schools, tempting all students with ongoing stipends and opportunities as long as they tow the line.

Astroturfing. Creating hundreds of seemingly grass-roots organizations like the Tea Party and many like it, like the Heritage Foundation, etc., to provide ideological foot-troops against any target they pleased.

Fundraising campaigns that stagger the imagination, still using the shell-game premise, that led to nearly 300 billion dollars just to capture all the seats in congress and the senate. And the presidency. They used every trick in the book. Smear campaigns in advertising was only a small part of it. They bought and paid for several networks, tons of writers, and spread their right-wing agenda across so many fronts that it APPEARED to be THE only game in town. They even eventually strong-armed the Republican Campaign into giving over the reigns.

It started with the Koch brothers and their ideological obsession. Now it's a full network of the richest banding together to create what, in the parlance, can only be an Oligarchy. Rule by the rich.

What is the bottom line? The rich get richer. No one else matters.

Definitely not the middle class or the poor. If you're not in the upper 1%, you're nothing. They have bought the political system.

If you think this is a propaganda piece by the left, then try reading it and prove me wrong. Check

It is so much worse than you might imagine. They have lied through their teeth on practically anything and everything. They have done everything they can do to dismantle the EPA, health care systems, anti-trust laws, inheritance laws (That ONLY affect the upper 1%), brainwashing the intellectual elite (or at least giving them all monetary incentive to tow the line even if they don't BELIEVE), fund every group that nay-says global warming, blames every victim for the housing crisis, and, of course, the Obamacare act.

None of this is about the reality any of us regular people believe in. They say whatever they want in order to accomplish only ONE thing: their bottom line. If that means dismantling all government, all checks and balances, and the possibility of ever having an egalitarian society ever again, then it JUST DOESN'T MATTER.

Almost everyone in the government has a major financial hand in the Koch pie. Local, State, Nationwide. The regulators have either worked for or still work with the worst abusers.

If it sounds like some mob-run scheme, then you're right.

The fact that normal people can't untangle the web, or if they've gotten far enough in the tangle, they throw up their hands and cry for mercy, is exactly the point.

People ARE untangling the web and this book is a fantastic example of it.

Am I scared of what I've learned?
Oh hell yes. I was so scared back in the 2000's that I swore off political reading or watching tv ever again. If I couldn't trust anything I heard, then I would spend my time better by reading fiction.

I stopped being depressed and feeling helpless. And now that I feel a bit better, I decided to step back into the knowledge playground. I have strength I didn't have back then. This book doesn't make me spiral into desperation.

Rather, it makes me proud that there are still people willing to report the truth.

Maybe someday, this book will be required reading after we get over this crisis. Or perhaps it will be an underground book suppressed by the Oligarchy. Either way, we will have seen how we got here.

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Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and IdentityThe Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity by Douglas Murray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Please use Google to look up White Couples. Look up White Inventors. Check out the pictures.

If the results doesn’t blow your mind, I don’t know what will.

I mean, this is real. Not a joke. It’s not even a search that is remotely racist or homophobic, and yet, look at this pendulum swing into madness.

I admit that reading this book made me laugh. Genuine laughter, mixed with incredulity and a reaffirmed firm conviction that people of any orientation, race, or political bent can be a jerk.

I love this book, and yet I do not identify as a Neo Conservative. And yet, this is a Neo Conservative book written by a gay man lambasting the more egregious insanities of radicals of any bent.

I was particularly touched by just how much absurdity was highlighted. Of course, all the highlights are entirely on the liberal left, gays, lesbians, trans, and blacks, but don’t let that dissuade you. This isn’t the normal hate-filled drivel that I usually see coming out of the Conservative Right.

Rather, it’s a very interesting wake-up call that points out the major systemic inconsistencies of these Political movements. Yes, that’s right. It’s not about whether someone is LGBT or Black or Asian. It’s just a big finger being pointed at the a**holes in each group.

For this, I’m both heartily amused and I’m also right on board. I love it when a**holes of any stripe get shown up for their absurdities.

Everyone needs a reality check.

How did you like Google now?

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Friday, December 6, 2019

The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust, #2)The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Something strange just happened.

After having just read La Belle Sauvage and also having just read the original His Dark Materials trilogy (for the second time, but again, recently), I have come to the conclusion that this might be my favorite of all five books.

Weird, right?

I mean, I liked the original trilogy well enough but I never went gaga over it. Maybe it was about the problem of agency. Or perhaps it was a few other issues. But I never disliked all the wonderful pan-religiosity, the many subversions, references, and the overall worldbuilding.

And then the first Book of Dust came along and while I thought the whole quest was somewhat interesting, it never lived up to the whole promise of the rest. I mean, if you can sum up the entire damn book in a single sentence and the sentence bores you, you know you have a problem.

So what happened here? All of a sudden we have a Lyra 7 years after the events of HDM and she's a young woman with a problem. A meme problem. A mental health problem. She's having issues with Pan and Pan is having (I rather think,) more issues with her. I'm on Pan's side here. Lyra's behaving abominably.

That being said, Pullman has pulled off a much more complicated tale than the first book, adding a real good reason FOR the first book, giving us many new reasons why Lyra's world is falling apart while also making a huge commentary on Europe's current issues in general. The worldbuilding is obviously commentary. But it's GOOD commentary.

Add all the spycraft, the mystery, the book-long chase and the quest that seems to revolve around separated Daemons, and all of a sudden, the Big Picture finally got interesting again. I missed that in the first book. A lot. In fact, if it wasn't for the need for the investment in a few certain characters in THIS book, I might say... skip the first book. Just skip it. The Lyra baby survives the flood and gets Sanctuary. Move on.

But seen in this next book's light, I have to admit it all comes together rather nicely. Even if there is a 20 year gap. At least Pullman is able to pull off some rip-roaring good tales full of episodic action, great timing, and a million interesting characters. I never got bored with this one at all.

Just a warning, tho:


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Thursday, December 5, 2019

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and PovertyWhy Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemo─člu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Despite the hutzpah of a title like WHY NATIONS FAIL, there's nothing in the text itself that I found disagreeable, and I've read a lot of different economic and political theories of wealth over the years.

Of course, there have been a lot of armchair historians and armchair economists and armchair politicians, so who knows if 20/20 vision is really accurate? They could all be riffing on one fundamental theory or another and making a messy conclusion. Right?

The beauty of this one is pretty simple in effect if not in the supporting particulars. Tons of examples are given from all kinds of nations and economic policies and politics all throughout history and including a very refreshing survey of modern nations. They first break down the prevailing bad theories that revolve around geography, culture, bad luck, or even the big modern one we see all the time: Ignorance. *laugh* You know, the one that says, "If only you had our experts, you too can have all the wealth we have."

The fundamental difference in this book, fascinatingly so, can be summed up quite easily. And it's kinda obvious, too.

Extractor policies and inclusive policies.

You can translate that into government/economic policies that loot in order to grow or those that give a share of all the profits and incentives to all the people working in the system. Vicious cycles and Happy cycles.

Dictators that keep on taking can keep it up for a long time and even if there are revolutions, the revolutions keep putting the same damn policy in place. Any kind of authoritarian government can work to that same tune. Short term growth, sharp declines.

The politics and the economics of it are perfectly entwined. You can't have one without the other.

On the other hand, there's the other side. If everyone, not just the elite, has a stake in the game, then everyone works harder and with more intelligence to accomplish whatever they have to accomplish.

Use guns, coercion, theft. Or use honest cooperation.

It's pretty obvious that BOTH can be a basis for any nation. As can a wide, wide continuum mixing both elements in any. And that's also the point. Any nation can succeed or fail. No nation is exempt.

But it still requires a rather huge change of heart and it must be truly enacted in both the economics side and the political side. One without the other will perpetuate the same looting cycle.

For fans of other authors and big theories that nail this same idea, look to Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Or Game Theory.

You will have all types of individuals either working toward a collaborative whole or those who will short the whole damn thing down. The institutions with enough checks and balances DO seem to edge toward the more prosperous equations. Those who dismantle those checks and balances or work together to loot other subsets will take from the total potential benefits of wealth until it is all used up.

It's quite complicated in practice, of course, but for a cohesive underlying theory, it works a lot better than saying Communism! or Capitalism! or Socialism!

All those can be filled with thieves or genuinely cooperative individuals. The difference is in the institutions and economic models that might favor the thieves or the genuinely cooperative.

The real joy of reading this book is the myriads of examples. :)

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