Monday, August 31, 2020

Xeelee: RedemptionXeelee: Redemption by Stephen Baxter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay. I'm going to have to caveat the hell out of this novel.

I am BOTH waving my hands over my head like a green muppet AND I'm slamming my fists down on the floor, yelling, "Nooooooo!"

Let me unpack this:

As a long-time fan of Baxter and being a bonafide nerd about the Xeelee universe, I'm also extremely annoyed at Poole and all the relatives of Poole and all the alternate universe versions of Pool. (Although, I'm pretty okay with the software version of Poole. He's all right.)

YES, I get why so many Pooles are necessary and I even enjoyed the gimmick for quite some time, but ALSO as a long-time fan, I just want NEW CHARACTERS with all shiny awesome shit.

And let me be clear: this novel (and the one right before it) are JAMMED PACKED with shiny awesome shit. From the sheer scope, from the inception of the universe to the creation of the Ring (or here, called the Wheel), and far beyond the last star winking out, we've ALSO got multiple do-overs in alternate universes, tons of time-like loops, galaxy-spanning wars (or you'll see, you spoiler hounds,) and so much more. Just read the novel if you want to have all that neat stuff.

It is AMAZEBALLS.

And so that brings me to one of the hardest things I've ever had to say:

NEW READERS, START WITH Xeelee Vengeance (book 16), continue with Xeelee Redemption (book 17).

HUH?

As a new reader, getting to know Poole is no big deal. Baxter has improved his writing over the years, too. If I had read these two novels without ever once knowing ANYTHING about Baxter or the Xeelee, I would have started worshipping him as an SF god.

Do you want a scope like Cixin Liu's recent trilogy? How about some classic Asimov or Clarke? Do you want HARDCORE magical science with good science but taken to totally magical levels? Do you want an obsessive story that has taken on mythical levels?

START HERE.

And here's the good part: you get a total overview of the over-story. If you get hooked and need to fill in ALL the massive amazing blanks, THEN go back and read the entire Xeelee sequence.

It's a total win-win. The best of all worlds.

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Sunday, August 30, 2020

Xeelee: VengeanceXeelee: Vengeance by Stephen Baxter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Xeelee sequence is one of THOSE huge storylines that I just can't get out of my head. It's a monolith of HUGE HUGE HUGE space and time stories that spread from the inception of the universe to the very end of the universe, countless time-travel re-creations, battle-lines that re-form all of HISTORY many, many times, and often just punch ultimate holes in the universe to GET THE F**K out and into alternate universes.

And through it all, Humans have become the runner-ups in the galaxy-wide conflict while being unable to communicate with the more advanced and inscrutable Xeelee who freaking SHEPHERD STARS or create a naked singularity out of a galactic core. You know. Little things like that.

This particular book, late in the many, many battles and time-rewrites and massive battles, takes us back to a time -- again -- to the Pooles. And between putting a wormhole into the sun to heat remote parts of the Solar System, uncovering and engaging with an ancient Xeelee artifact that had been buried for millions of years despite having come from a very distant future (or discovering that Poole, himself, is a grand hero celebrated half a million years in the future,) (again), things soon go to total s**t again.

The war never ends. Not when time-like loops and vast scales are matched with even more vast scales in multiple timelines.

This is HARDCORE hard SF, folks. I LOVE IT.

So why did I give it only 4 stars?

Because of Poole. The first time we had an alternate timeline with another version of Poole or one of the extended historical Poole family, I was like... okay. This could get very interesting.
The fourth time, it was beginning to look like a gimmick.
The eighth time, I was already begging to just GIVE ME A NEW CHARACTER ALREADY.

If I was going to judge these books on just that one little annoyance, I'd probably say toss it only 2 stars. But when I judge these books on their great over-plots, the tactics and strategy, the mind-blowing physics and scale and creative uses of ... EVERYTHING worldbuilding? I have to give it a full 5 stars. Every time. Every book.

In fact, that's why I keep coming back. It's really awesome. Deeply, deeply satisfying.
And pity humanity.

Even Poole pulls some awesome s**t. Give him some credit.

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Saturday, August 29, 2020

How to Stop TimeHow to Stop Time by Matt Haig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit I have a soft spot in my heart for stories about immortals. You know, regular, average, everyday immortals who aren't vampires.

The whole idea is rich, in my opinion, and full of almost limitless possibilities. Unfortunately, I've rarely read particularly GOOD tropes like this. They usually feel drawn-out and weak, aimless, and/or unnecessarily wrought with ... too simple emotionalities ... that don't do a life that's LONG any true justice.

There are exceptions, of course, such as The Boat of a Million Years, which I loved. The history was rich and so were the characterizations.

But what about this one?

Honestly? I STILL want to read more complex characterizations, psychology, and books of history along these lines. This wasn't bad -- at all -- and it felt like a really good literary, emotional, and heartbreaking treatment of the idea.

All in all, however, I still want MORE. Like, a lot more. A life that doesn't automatically devolve into "just getting by" or an amorphous ill-defined "carry on". Why? Because it FEELS as if his life is just like everyone else's.

But wait, am I missing the point of OTHER PEOPLE?

I don't know. I don't think so. I thought it was rather sweet. But this didn't give me the full emotional hit that I wanted.



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Snuff (Discworld, #39; City Watch #8)Snuff by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 08/29/20:

Reading this in the light of race relations is rather enlightening. It's a gentle treatment on simply learning to treat people like PEOPLE in the end, but this is a very GOOD thing.

So, honestly? I was sad, enthusiastic, angry, and hopeful as I read this again.

It's a fine novel.



Original Review:

I go through different stages of Pratchettism throughout my life. Sometimes I can't do without Death, other times, I love the witches more than anything else. Then I've got to have my wizards. Lower down on the rung of things, I disliked the Night Watch more than I've ever disliked anything in Discworld; and then something really odd happened: I didn't dislike it at all. In fact, I kept thinking about how interesting all of these goofy characters have become. And then, without my quite realizing it, I loved them.
This is a novel about the Law. And a book named Pride and Extreme Prejudice.
Classic chicanery in the hills during a much-deserved vacation, and all that, and smartly done, too. Right!

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Friday, August 28, 2020

Emerald Blaze (Hidden Legacy, #5)Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ahhh, Catalina and Alessandro. After a few rocky starts, a slow-burning romance, and a major reversal in the previous book, we finally get... more reversals.

There are some really cool magical bits, a nice and nasty antagonist, and enough familial angst and reveals to throw a kitchen sink at, but in the end, this novel IS pretty much a HEA romance through and through.

We THOUGHT we'd get that HEA in the previous one before the rug was pulled out from under us and the rocky start in this one seemed destined to keep that HEA out of our grasp with all the "I'm spurned so, therefore, I'll spurn" standard trope, but this is just a trick.

The novel delivers. In beautiful paranormal romance style.

What? You miss Nevada and Connor?

***psssst. They're here***

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Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Kings of Paradise (Ash and Sand, #1)Kings of Paradise by Richard Nell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I honestly didn't know what to expect when I started this. An epic fantasy using a low magic system, lots of grit and grim, and a fairly expansive world? Sure. That sounds reasonable. And pretty standard.

Pretty soon after we get through a pretty general opening with a downtrodden prince and a few other rather more interesting low characters, I think it started getting pretty good. I wasn't all that impressed with the start. But later on? It definitely drew me in and kept me engaged.

Runes? Count me in. A main character that goes through MANY, MANY changes of life, learning, failing, getting the full reversals, and still keeps on chugging?

I admit I began to LOVE it. No matter what happens, there's high risk, higher consequences, and a chance it all goes to worse hell than ever before. And yet, I'm glued to the page.

At this point, I'm totally hooked. It's not always the ideas that do it. It's the sheer storytelling goodness. I'm reminded fondly of some of the epic fantasy greats. :) Think about a mix between Feist and Rothfuss and you might get an idea.

Give me more!

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Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Artemis Fowl (Artemis Fowl, #1)Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For some odd reason, I've been avoiding reading this book (or the whole series) despite it being well-beloved in general.

Why? I mean, I like a good heist novel and the cockier and the more headstrong the character, the more interesting I find it. So this should be right up my alley, right?

Well, it's YA. MG, even. Okay. So that's a big thing.

Even so, I thought I ought to finally GIVE IT A CHANCE. After all, wasn't there a big movie was made for it?

*crickets* *embarrassed shuffling over at Disney* *more crickets*

OKAY. So my desire to read this is no predicated only on sheer stubborn doggedness. I want to say I did it. That's it.

And so I read it and didn't think it was all that bad. Some fun bits. Fairly reasonable amounts of handwavium but that's okay even in the terms of plot because it's just meant to be FUN.

It wasn't bad. Flashy, genre-bending SF/Fantasy with interesting if simply-portrayed rules in a mythical book. And Action. Lots of action.

It's on par with that old movie Spy Kids. Just add spy tech to an Arsene Lupin kid, throw high-tech fae cops at him, and stir.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get my girl to read it past a few pages. This just had to be for me, this time.

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Sunday, August 23, 2020

23892389 by Iain Rob Wright
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This straightforward space horror is right out of an old video game. Just add space zombies, a lunar amusement park, and shake all the grand elements of both.

I really have nothing much to say about it except it passed the time in an amusing way. I wanted to re-watch Event Horizon while I was reading this.

Corny stuff? Who knows! I just know I like a good classic horror SF story now and again. Like a bloodier old Doctor Who with a classic Zombie action ethos.

It was pretty good. Amusing. But not ground-breaking.

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Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick (Zoey Ashe, #2)Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick by David Wong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let me just say that I'm STILL super impressed that this title ever got out of the gate.

As for everything else going on, this is very much a sequel but it's hardly needed to read the first book first. Crazy s**t happened. Zoey is way out of her depth. Still.

In fact, this novel goes completely off the deep end. Let's keep the humor running high, make sure our poor Zoey is now super freaking rich, inheriting all the ills of the rich, and feeling the total terror of rampaging human augments, gigantic farting kitties, and even more about futuristic suits.

What's the real issue tho?

Zoey is isolated like crazy and is starting to go crazy. It doesn't hurt that this totally nuts place in Ohio is a privatized anarchistic wonderland that has more in common with an anime than a rational city.

And that's what's awesome about this.

That, and the cat. Any of the cats. I'm all over this book. It's all about the cats.

It takes a lot of unusual social takes and maybe even takes an unpopular stance, but I have to grand the balls on this book. Or rather, where the focus goes. :)

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Saturday, August 22, 2020

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of ColorblindnessThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A little bit of honesty here:

This is an extremely important book that too few people will read.

"Why?"

Because it tackles the systemic institutional racism issue and breaks down all the many aspects that turn it into a full-blown machine.

"Wait. Huh? Why wouldn't people want to have that?"

Because it's understandably complicated and people are afraid of complicated.

"Oh. Right."

But this does not mean it shouldn't be read. Indeed, I think everyone should read it and understand it.

I've personally been reading about things like this for ages. Bits and pieces. Never the whole picture. And this one ISN'T the whole picture because no short-ish book can tackle it all. But this one DOES tackle a rather large portion of it.

I won't be able to mention them all here, but I'll do some:

Alexander brings up the historical aspect in brief and specifically how, during the race riots 50-60 years ago the whole idea of even mentioning race became a taboo subject. I think this is very important. If racism is at all to have a future, it must be couched in innocuous terms, and deniable policies or the "obviousness" of it would get all kinds of human rights violations thrown at them. The whole point was to create a new system where they could create a permanent underclass while avoiding racial terms while ALSO making it mostly about race.

Solution? Make a drug war. Ignore the fact that drug-related offenses were going down. Find something everyone can unilaterally agree upon during the '80s, hype it up WAY out of proportion to the actual problem, and turn it into a class/race specific issue without directly calling it a race thing.

The author backs up everything with all kinds of proof, easily verified with 20/20 hindsight, but the vast majority of drug users were white. Crack cocaine was only as addictive as regular cocaine. Alcohol abuse is MUCH worse than cocaine, crack, or especially marijuana, but since crack was actually unloaded upon black communities SPECIFICALLY, shortly after America's involvement in the drug cartels in the '80s, it was fair game to focus almost ALL attention on crack, and specifically, the horrendously pervasive narratives about its danger.

Anyone alive during the time will remember a deluge of ads, focus groups, MILITARY HARDWARE being gifted to police departments everywhere, and new laws that specifically allowed the seizure of property, homes, and vehicles on only SUSPECTED drug use.

Think about it. If someone calls a tip line saying you're up to no good, and you're black, this is all they need to blast down your door, freeze your bank accounts and take all your property. This is not PROOF of wrongdoing. And guess who gets the property? The cops are allowed to keep it all to fund the war on drugs directly.

Add to this that racial profiling is VERY much a proven thing and that it is pervasive, with sometimes more than 4 times as many blacks getting subjected to this and most of them too poor to buy off the racket, it means widespread poverty with no recourse.

And then we get to the good stuff. The prison system. Since the '80s, the prison system grew to an unimaginable size with MOST of the people in jail being black men. Why? Because most of them are there because of draconian laws on drug possession. Even though alcohol is objectively worse across the board, it is relatively light and is almost always focused on treating the problem. In other countries, sentences are described in terms of months, not a minimum of 5 years for possession. And yet, the whole IDEA of being TOUGH ON CRIME seems too GOOD to be TRUE, right? Well, yeah. It IS too good to be true.

The collateral damage is pervasive. Already poor people who have suffered "soft" segregation and housing issues are villainized further with all the same arguments made by plantation owners against their slaves. The forward-looking politicians of either side embraced these narratives equally. On the surface, it FEELS right. And that's the point. Let's not look at the conditions that keep an entire people in fear of losing everything, let's blame the ones who already have practically nothing for being angry that they have practically nothing. And then wonder why they're upset.

Oh! Let's send in more cops to clean up the streets! (Meanwhile more folk lose their houses whether or not they're actually guilty of anything. Take the case of the grandparents who lose their house because a grandchild was caught smoking crack two blocks away. Multiply truly egregious cases like that by thousands, and you might get a better idea.)

And then we come to one of the worst aspects of all this. Post-incarceration.

We all know that felons are massively discriminated against. It's almost like it's a law. Denied jobs, denied schooling, denied housing, denied hope. It's a perpetual system of punishment going on far, far longer than a prison sentence. Basically, the feeling goes, if you do the time, it'll be permanent. Permanent underclass.

So let's look at the judicial system a bit. Most cop dramas are pure narrative. And what I mean by that is that they are NOT accurately portraying the system we have. If a poor person gets a lawyer (and predominately, those arrested are black) they are generally always pressured to plea bargain. This means that whether they actually INNOCENT or not, they're pressured to do the time because the free lawyers are extremely overworked and don't have the time to do anything else with an overburdened system designed to target blacks. Again, the author does her homework and because there are so many obvious cases like this, it's become something of a dark joke.

What isn't clear to most people put into this position is this: once you're branded a felon, you stay one for the rest of your living life.

Most get their driver's licenses revoked. Their right to vote is revoked. Many of these aspects are done in such a way as to be a "soft" prevention, such as needing to pay, in perpetuity, legal fees, probation fees, even whopping $750 fines to just be allowed the right to vote again. When 100% of your paycheck can be garnished to pay for the legal costs (and many, many incidentals) after your getting out of prison, you are permanently locked into a no-win situation with no way out.

Now, combine this with tough on crime laws that target blacks WAY more than anyone else, who pull you over for minor traffic violations and then rifle through your vehicles, maybe finding a dime bag of marijuana, getting arrested, put through the plea-bargain machine, do several years, and then been way below the fact of poverty and be turned away ANYWHERE you go afterward... because you smoked marijuana while being black.

All of this is compounded as a huge social issue happening to millions and millions of people all the time. At one point, the prisons were 40% filled on drug possession charges. And afterward, after the meat-grinder of the justice system is done with you, all your prospects for a decent life dry up.

No, of course not, we don't call this racism now. It's NOT about race. It's about being tough on crime. In a perpetual punitive system that just HAPPENS to focus on mostly black people.

The whites who tend to USE the drugs more is just a weird fact. For all those whites that go to jail under the same rules, it's considered collateral damage. But since the ones that are hurt the most are the ones who are already poor, too, it doesn't really matter. Right? Because, if they could have afforded a good lawyer in the first place, they would have FOUGHT this travesty from the first arrest.

Note that rich drug kingpins and rich people, in general, tend to get out of the penal system. The war on crime doesn't care about getting the drugs off the street. They're too busy making sure that informants keep the seizure machine well oiled, fully funded, and that means making sure that the targets of these attacks are never organized, always politically in-fighting, and physically hurting themselves. It's also classic psychological warfare.


So yes, I don't go into everything that's in this book, but the primary points are here in this review.

I absolutely recommend reading the actual book for a much more detailed analysis. It's not really enough just to know about individual aspects of these problems.

We must see the whole forest, too, and not just the trees.


I *especially* recommend this book if you want to know the fundamental reason why "Defund the Police" is trending. Bazookas? REALLY? IS THIS WHAT WE REALLY NEED?

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Friday, August 21, 2020

The Saints of Salvation (The Salvation Sequence #3)The Saints of Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have nothing but positive things to say about Peter F. Hamilton's new series, now on its third book.

It has everything I dream of in a story. Not just a good story that takes on the full subjugation of humanity, but tens of thousands of whole technological alien species, but a rebellion story that goes all the extra miles with solid tech, solid circumstances, and mind-blowing ramifications.

For not only did we start out with micro-black-hole technologies in the first book, but we go way beyond that with post-human neutron-star hacking, expanded and split consciousness immortals, standard and not-so-standard cyberpunk, and a scope that spans the entire freaking galaxy.

The stakes? Freaking end-of-the-universe stakes. The enemies? An alien species that started its monocultural crusade to cocoon ALL other species to "save" them for the end of times more than a couple of a million years ago. The resolution?

Muahahahahahaha it's epic, man. It's epic.

Hamilton rocks. I've known this for a while. I did take some time to get into his earlier works, it's true, but now I'm a believer.





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Thursday, August 20, 2020

Future Home of the Living God: A NovelFuture Home of the Living God: A Novel by Louise Erdrich
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, this is definitely LitSF for you folks out there who love your LitSF.

What is LitSF? The self-styled lyrical, ambiguous, often rambling, sometimes even pretentious style of mainstream fiction that touts itself as being SF while being, primarily, pages from a regular everyday diary. The SF aspect is usually quite remote, and even if it might have an interesting premise, it usually never directly impacts the main character except during a few key points which are usually underwhelming.

Don't expect a plot. Expect waxing poetic on the joys of motherhood -- in this case -- and the vague fears and growing terror as expectant mothers are being taken away. This is terrifying, of course, and I would have loved to read a whole novel from a PoV that actively tries to resolve, act, or fight this trend. Or even a PoV that was one of the religious nutters that brought about the end of the world only to redeem themselves by fighting for the opposition of reason. But no. We are subjected to staying at home, staying out of sight, and our big mistakes are always preventable and the results are always predictable. But that's just plot.

Fans of this kind of novel will throw out plot entirely and just wax poetic on the lyrical (somewhat) language and the deep HUMANITY even while everyone else seems to lose their own humanity. Except for the post office. The post office was pretty heroic. But if you're stuck at home and the only kind of outside contact you ever get is from the postman, I suppose that makes perfect sense. After all, there are few choices when it comes to heroes.

Her man ... was rather one-dimensional. The feminist take on this entire story was quite predictable. Men did not have any choice in anything. They were either there to protect (or fail to protect) women, provide for them, or fail them. So, there's that. All intellectual thought or discussion came from only within our main female's brain and her uber-focus on the child in her belly that might destroy her life.


It may be, at this point in my life, I'm tired of just hearing stories of the womb. We hear a lot about humanizing women but when I read books like this, there's absolutely nothing done about humanizing men. There's no balance. There's not even a resolution with the overstory or the SF dystopic setting. Both men and women brought THAT world about together. The medical parts, the whole devolution bits? I thought it was done a lot better in Greg Bear's Darwin's Radio. That book was TERRIFYING.

This one just rambled and went nowhere.

Sorry, LitSF fans! I guess I'm not that much of a fan.



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Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Unwind (Unwind, #1)Unwind by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've already been a fan of Shusterman's, so digging deeper into his original novels isn't that big of a stretch.

Cool underlying concepts taken to their full extremes? Check.
Kids having to live under these extreme conditions? Check.
A horrifying look at a society that has gone completely bonkers? Check.

Sounds pretty average for REALITY, right?

Eeehhhhh. Wait a moment. The Second American Revolution was fought over reproduction. Indeed, it was the Lifers and the Choicers that took it nuclear, with one little handwavium. All medical science now allows for totally easy transplants and a single human can be chopped up into all different kinds of pieces and used for... anything!

Of course, my mind went to huge flesh monsters first off, but no, this is all for *valid* reasons. It's all totally dehumanizing. You know, because while abortions are no longer legal... at all, we can now recycle our children when they turn 13. Have them live on eternally (or rather, internally) in other people. It's a respectable way to keep on living. And economical, too.

Enter another handwavium here about people actually agreeing to this horrific compromise. It happened, okay? This is America, home of the brave and terminally psychotic, and no one won the war.

*deep pause*

This is a rather dark book. For a YA, I kinda expect this kind of thing as a matter of course, but I'm just gonna say it. This is a rather dark book.

And especially if we just run with the natural problems being presented here and enjoy the truly sick premise of Humpty-Dumpty having a great fall, it's still sick.

It SHOULD be a straight horror. Not a YA. It ought to be hitting all the most horrific high-points of a horror novel. It doesn't. It's NORMAL. Adventure, escape, and confrontations, choices, growing as a person... all that is here. But DAMN. This is Human Centipede territory.

I think it's even SICKER because it is almost like it's a commentary on YA novels and how much they truly get away with. I'd have less an issue with it if it just went the way of blood. lol

I'm likely to continue. I have this horrid fascination thing going on inside my noggin.



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On Stranger TidesOn Stranger Tides by Tim Powers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is what happens when you're the ACTUAL inspiration for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

The movies shuffle around some pieces, make it streamlined and less complex, and of course NAME it after a ride.

But the story itself...

It's a truly historical romance that is filled to the brim with press gangs, pirates, hidden islands, Blackbeard, and with so much magic overflowing from the Lao that it absolutely reads like a modern epic fantasy.

It is not a modern epic fantasy. It came out in 1987. And yet... it happens to be one of the most wonderfully described and world-built pirate adventures I've ever read... and there are a lot of them. Some will go big, some will go crafty, but this one rests its laurels on realism and realistic details. DESPITE the magic. Indeed, the magic itself feels as real as the rest. :)

So magical realism? No. There's a lot more magic in this than that. :) Let's just say I was completely sucked in and this could still have been utterly real. (There's even a great deal of discovery about why magic is going away! Hint: head to the stranger tides to find out...)



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Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Sandman (Sandman Audible Original, #1)The Sandman by Dirk Maggs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Very satisfying.

Mind you, I've read the comics several times through, so I was apprehensive about how well it would have transformed into an audiobook format.

Fortunately, it worked brilliantly. I'm sure it required a great deal of re-imagining for the format, but this should come as no surprise since it will soon come out as a TV SERIES!!!!

Wooo!

But back to the story. This only takes on the narrative through the Midsummer Night's Tale. We can all expect more, later.

Just imagine.

The lord of stories, of narrative, of dream.

For all of you who have never read the comics and think you might like to get introduced to this?

Definitely. Listen away. It only gives you a taste of the full tale, but it's very, very fun.

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Monday, August 17, 2020

The Towers of the Sunset (The Saga of Recluce, #2)The Towers of the Sunset by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I fell in love.

I mean, I really liked the first book in this series and I really rocked to the whole Chaos vs Order magic system. I’ve always loved this kind of thing. Still do.

But this second book? I freaked out. What appeared to be a hardcore adventure rebelling against a political fate and an arranged marriage had be reeling when I realized it was actually a

ROMANCE.

All this time I expected an epic fantasy with tons of swordplay and magic and discovery, adventure, torture, and even more magic.

I got that. And I FELL IN LOVE WITH THIS ROMANCE.

Honestly, it’s the best part. These two tore me to shreds.

Oh, and the whole founding of Recluse was all kinds of awesome, sending us far back in time before the events of the first book, but it was the ROMANCE that floored me.

I didn’t expect it.
Such a wonderful surprise. :)

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Sunday, August 16, 2020

Dead Lies Dreaming (The Laundry Files, #10)Dead Lies Dreaming by Charles Stross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes I'm just astounded.

After reading this book, I'm not only reeling after a great Heist story, but I'm rocking to a Dark Fantasy that happens to be Hard SF while very much being a Superhero tale being couched in a Lovecraftian universe while setting me up to be murdered by Bond in its classic thriller milieu just before I wonder if Peter from Peter Pan will ever grow up.

If you're asking WTF, then you're in the right frame of mind.

And it's AWESOME.

For you old fans of Bob and Mo and fairy kingdoms clashing against Elder Gods, put your expectations on hold. There's not much of that here. We're very much in a day and age after a Greater Evil has taken over the government and the best thing that a government employee can hope for is holding the chaos at bay just a few seconds longer.

For the rest of us, and that includes a group of thieves and a thief-taker in modern pre-apocalyptic London, we've got a little mission. And a -- or rather, The Necronomicon.

If you're not just a tad thrilled (or horrified) by this news, then go read some romance fluff. That's the only genre that isn't expertly mashed in this brilliant novel.

Oddly enough, a new reader of Stross could read this particular novel without having read the previous ones. They may miss a lot of the worldbuilding jokes and might freak out at the sheer complexity of the inherent humor of computational necromancy or residual human resources, but that's okay. They'll still be in for a treat. After all, Santa is dead.

Long live Santa.

*I cackle, running off into the sunset, my hair turning pure white just before I jump on a sleigh, fleeing Boris Johnson*

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Saturday, August 15, 2020

The Killing MoonThe Killing Moon by Chuck Hogan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fairly decent thriller. It has a lot going for it. It's an easy read full of snappy chapters, clear characterizations, and an old-boy network in a dying town that just seems to be rife with corruption.

We know the story, no?

As I was reading I got the feeling like I was reading a Koontz novel and that's not a bad thing. All the setup and the mystery surrounding our main character drove the novel forward even as the crime drama propelled the plot.

This is still pretty much a standard cop thriller, however. Between all the tv dramas and books, it's rather hard to say anything more than I liked the pacing quite a lot and it felt like light (if horrific) amusement. I really enjoyed the twisty ending.

We all need fluff sometimes. And this happens to be pretty good fluff.

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Thursday, August 13, 2020

SeveranceSeverance by Ling Ma
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would like to say this is mostly just a light satire on capitalist ethics amid some barely perceived end-of-the-world zombie-ish apocalypse in the still-beating heart of everyday routine and habit.

Indeed, it is almost entirely about the short-sighted and carefully constructed world-view that is so much our very modern selves that refuse to notice that the world has, in point of fact, come to an end.

Don't let the fact that everyone else keeps going to work fool you. Don't imagine, for just a moment, that it might be time to quit. You have a good job, after all. Or even if it isn't GOOD, it's still a job, and you know that you still need it... if only for your peace of mind. Of continuity. Of routine.

It's very, very good to have routine. People may not fight for the thrill of chaos, you know, but they will ALWAYS fight to protect their routines.


For all that this book reminded me of Lit-SF, of Station Eleven in style and immense focus on everyday life, I wanted to like it more. Maybe my personal complaint is that the worldbuilding and the SFnal aspects were just barely there in the background.

In point of fact, this was really just a slightly disguised New Adult Contemporary coming of age. Good if that's all you're looking for, but I wanted something with some more teeth.

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Noumenon Ultra (Noumenon #3)Noumenon Ultra by Marina J. Lostetter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the first book in the series, we had generational starcraft in a convoy, learning to survive through tragedies and several huge discoveries.

In the second book, we get a significant upgrade and a new mission to the stars, really laying out the foundation for inclusiveness among our own branches of humanity. The feeling gets significantly epic and quite interesting and it doesn't go quite the way the traditional space-operas.

And then we're lead to this third book in the trilogy, really taking Noumenon, the convoy, to new heights... but first we must get from A to B. And this is where the novel really shines.

We cover a hundred thousand years of humanity ... and more. I'm getting this shiver and a flashback to some old-school Olaf Stapledon. So many steps are covered, including effective immortality, to let us follow our favorite characters. Including, I might add, a certain little environmental control unit.

I give this five stars for future history and the commentary on inclusiveness.
I give this three stars for a slightly faltering thread of conflict.

If this was a straight history, I probably wouldn't even think twice about it, and compared to most modern space operas, it's positively refreshing by how it doesn't rely on standard tropes. But still, I did expect something a little more.

The worldbuilding absolutely shone, however. I totally recommend this for people wanting a truly ambitious yarn.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream - and Why It MattersMen on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream - and Why It Matters by Helen Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Misandry.

mis•an•dry mĭ-săn′drē►

n. Hatred or mistrust of men.
n. Man-hatred; a bad opinion of man, as being unfair or oppressive toward women.
n. Hatred of men. Contrast misogyny and cf. misandrist.

Let me be clear here. I believe in equality.

This should not be a lot to ask for. Back a hundred years or more ago, there were popular and populist groups that made a point out of making laws EQUAL for both men and women.

Unfortunately, the original movement has passed by equality and has swung, like a pendulum, until the tables have turned.

If you don't believe me, you haven't been paying attention.

I repeat: I believe in equality.

When boys are not allowed to be anything but defective girls in schools (going on 40 years now), when the rate of suicide for boys between 15-20 has risen to 4 times that of women, and 6 times that of women for those men between 20-25, when fewer and fewer men are going into college, or once there, learn that they are despised, and never graduate, it should be a warning sign.

A simple little warning that something might be wrong.

Men aren't stupid, no matter what the media, their teachers, or their wives might say.

If I were in an auditorium right now, speaking with a large group of men, I would ask them to raise their hands to each of these questions, and put them down if it didn't apply:

"In the last year, have you been subject to verbal abuse from women or suspiciously feminist-sounding men such as 'all men are idiots', 'all men are assholes', 'don't be a man-child,' 'grow a pair', or, 'don't talk to me about your patriarchy bullshit' in person, the media, or by the little voice in your head?"

I'd wait, and see every man's hand go up. In my imagination, it'd be a stadium. Then I'd ask:

"How about the last month?"

All hands would remain up.

"The last week?"

Maybe a few hands would go down, but the rest would remain up.


Why don't we see men complaining about this? Because we're taught to be self-sacrificing, to put up with it, to not rock the boat, or because we're afraid of losing what few rights or privileges we might have left.

Ignoring the rate of suicide or the fact that men are NOT getting married all that often anymore, that somehow all the good men have disappeared, I have to ask:

If they're all such idiots and assholes, then why are they dropping off the workforce, the bedroom, or the classroom? Only 16% of teachers are men and it's dropping. Any kind of unfounded accusation can turn good teachers into unemployed teachers. The same goes for students on campus. There is no rigorous examination of proof, and public opinion is against all men anyway.

If we are rational about this, we can draw certain conclusions about people in general. Bad ones are pretty much cropping up at the same rate regardless of the sex of the offender, be it sexual abuse, prejudice, or just plain mean-spirited behavior. Assuming this is true, and there is a TON of evidence that it is, then the likelihood that men or boys are actually BAD PEOPLE is approximately the same as it has ever been. So why is 90% of the population of prisons just men? A corollary is of course the higher proportion of BLACK men, but the fact is there for all to see.

If most men are good, decent, and caring people, (WHICH THEY ARE), then we must assume that it is perception bias that is now fully arrayed against them. If all the teachers are women, and even if most women MEAN well, it only takes one teacher to ruin the life and/or prospects or the basic HOPE of any boy.

Add to this the obvious facts of MANY support groups and self-esteem seminars and pro-bono legal assistance and basic PUBLIC OPINION that is showered on girls and women, it might seem like society is doing really well for itself.

But there are few to none of those same support groups for boys or men. Not even the Boy Scouts is open only to boys any longer. Boys are derided for playing video games with other boys. They're no longer allowed spaces in public to hang out or they will automatically be broken up. They are isolated, ridiculed, and even if they work their way through this ... nastiness ... they are still forced to deal with natural biological desires in a world where women hold all the cards.

Look at it realistically. There is a double standard. Women are attracted to alpha males. Asshole loners who aren't alpha males are often mistaken for alpha males. But women only want alpha males. If they can't have one, they only want a man from the OLD patriarchal standard that will work themselves to death to support them.

Everyone else is pretty worthless. It's been over forty years since this turnaround began. Economically, socially, women are not only working more, they have SURPASSED PARITY with men. If we ignore the top 3% of the population making ungodly amounts of money, we're left with an economy with MUCH less opportunity for men than women. Almost all of the growing fields are designed for women. Check out how many hold positions that control hiring or middle management. They are encouraged to be the gatekeepers. Look at reality as it is now, and not what we believe it must be from how the media spins it.

When I was getting my degrees in college, I was astounded to see that I was only a single man out of ten women in my psychology courses. I thought this was a fantastic improvement. I thought the horrible patriarchy was going down.

It's true. I bought all the narratives. I even considered myself a feminist, always choking on the "extremist feminist movement"'s words and repeating to myself, "I believe in equality. I believe in equality." Of course, certain personal experiences made me believe I was an outlier, just someone who got some bad luck with women. I still believed in the ideals even if I couldn't trust the kinds of hate-speech coming out of the media or mainstream books.

I started shutting down and withdrawing from all the hate. I just had to believe that it was a passing phase. I withdrew from women. I was scared of them and the power they held over my reproductive rights. Even now, there are one million men in America who, even with proof that the children they're paying for are NOT EVEN THEIR OWN CHILDREN, the law is against them. They are forced into bonafide slavery. 400,000 cases of men being put into prison because they aren't able to pay child support in a modern-day version of debtor's prison is PERFECTLY NORMAL, right?

Divorce court automatically sides with the woman regardless of the situation. Men are guilty unless proven innocent and even that doesn't mean a thing. Infidelity by a wife makes no difference in child custody. For the 60 pro-bono support groups for women with legal or marital issues, there are a grand total of zip, zilch, and nada for men. If you want legal recourse, you have to pay out the nose.

Is this equality? A total disregard for both facts and basic decency?

Wait, isn't this just a few examples? Is it just America?

No. It's all around the world.



It might be time to ask a question: "Is there a problem here?"

Or better yet, maybe it might be time to opening up dialogue with men if you actually profess to love them.

Switching one horrible social problem with the reverse is not a solution. We all f***ing need each other.

So what about all those men who have given up? They are isolated, have no spaces in their own homes, are threatened by divorce by their wives and when they realize it is all a complete no-win situation for them, they GIVE UP. They withdraw. Or they have lots of anger that they try to anesthetize using WHATEVER.

Men aren't idiots. They all know something is deeply wrong. If you ask where all the good men have gone, I recommend simply ASKING them. That might require actually LISTENING to them, however.

I say we need to demand respect. If you want to have respect, you must give it. No more hurtful comments. No threats. The threats are REAL and they cut DEEP. Because I'll let you in on a little secret:

Men love their children. This is REAL. It goes against ALL the other narratives. If you drive them into a corner and make them feel helpless, because the law is entirely on YOUR side, then you've just made an enemy.

Respect your men. Understand that you cannot push them so far into a corner that they either give up on life or choose to avoid all women in the future. No one wins here. No one should ever have to go on strike or give up on their own lives.



Stop the very real misandry.






I totally recommend this review of this book... I probably wouldn't have read the book otherwise.

This Review

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The Hate U Give (The Hate U Give, #1)The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just reading this book without the social context, I think it's a fantastically interesting and entertaining tale. I cared and I even cried. I recognized myself and empathized and very much raged right along with the tale.

But WITH the social context...

The novel sunk me. A torpedo to the chest.

If I had been reading this before the recent protests, I think I would have been encouraged to BE there for the protests despite being anywhere near the action. It's not just the basic ongoing injustice. It's not the slow realization that things will never get better without speaking up.

It's the visceral realization that it is HAPPENING. People ARE and SHOULD be upset.

WHAT we do about it is the big question. And at this point, it's the only question. And this is where the novel really shines. Staying silent is death. But so is indiscriminate rage. So is giving up and going away.

We are our communities. We are our own support system. If we forget that, then we can all be picked off.

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Monday, August 10, 2020

The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do about ItThe Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do about It by Warren Farrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I cannot overemphasize the importance of this conversation.

And because this topic often becomes a target of both ridicule and dehumanization, I must reiterate:
This is an important and real conversation we must make.

Boys, and men, are suffering. I can take and use statistics from outside of the context of this book, but even this book spells a lot of it out.

There are no free consultations for men's health or mental health despite the fact that 4 times as many boys between 15-20 commit suicide as compared to girls. That rate increases to 6 times between 20-25.

Our culture tells us we must self-sacrifice for everything we do.

Example: if we have a medical problem, we don't go to get it fixed either because we are less likely to be covered with medical insurance. It might also have something to do with a little voice in us saying that we just need to "push-through" despite winding up with stupidly aggravated conditions.

Self-sacrifice is pervasive. We are told that we must sacrifice ourselves for our country, for our family, for EVERYTHING. As a man, I can attest to this. I also rebelled against it. And in rebelling, for years, I discovered that there was no sense of purpose to replace it.

In the past, it was cynically transactional. Men bring home the bacon while women rule the home. Most of these roles have either been overturned or are widely ridiculed for more than 40 years now. Kids who grew up in feminist-idealized schools are now middle-aged. Boys grew up learning that their natural biological drives are nasty and brutish and dehumanizing to women. I know I did.

Every man was a potential rapist if he isn't a source of income to support women.

Be honest. Whether you are a man or a woman. How would you feel if you were only seen as either a servant or a threat?

Of course, all the old roles are overturned. Women are super unhappy and it may have something to do with their having to work as hard as men ever had to. They also generally reject the idea that working more than 70-hour work-weeks, (a general prerequisite for higher positions,) in favor of their families.

In the meantime, men have not received any attention to altering their own roles.

Think about that. To attract mates we must be Alpha Males. But Alpha Males are not the type of men that are allowed to thrive in schools. Male teachers make up only 17% of the workforce. They are generally driven out despite real cause, or because they teach in ways that don't align with the political environment. After all, let's face it: all men are fundamentally evil and the patriarchy rules everything.

The same thing is true for the field of psychology. When I was getting my degree, only 1/10 students were men and there was a very heavy focus on women's health. There was no focus on men. At all.

I am absolutely certain that the list can go on and on. Let's ignore the top 1% of any field for just a moment. Exceptions are not rules. Look at any profession you care to. Do you see the current roster of jobs being particularly welcoming to men? How about becoming a nurse? (Most are women.) An agent? (Most are women.) A teacher? (Most are women.)

Dangerous jobs that have a regular loss of life or a sharp decrease in quality of life is still open to men. Garbage collectors. (Most are men.) Military. (Most are men.) Truck drivers. (Most are men.)

I'm just spitting a few of the more obvious ones out.

But none of these explain the increase in the rate of suicides in the past 40 years. It may hint at it.

It also hints at the huge drop in academic achievement and the widespread loss of opportunities or support systems.

Because we are told it is a man's world, none of us look at the reality of the world.
It does not follow. Divorced men are 10 times as likely to commit suicide than women.

There are tons of studies that say, outright, that men want to be a part of their children's lives. That their one regret was in working so much to make ends meet, that they would have given it all up in order to have that one purpose in their lives.

We can all look at the popular stories these days to see the deeper issues. Courts systematically rule in favor of women in custody hearings. Public opinion always automatically sides for women because, obviously, men are evil. Even when confronted with facts to the contrary, public opinion keeps piping up with massive assumptions that always ends with, "It's a man's world."



I postulate that abuse swings like a pendulum.

One-time victims will become victimizers. Just look at the dehumanization aspects.

Are men appreciated for what they do? Soldiers commit suicide once every 65 minutes. Older men commit suicide because they've come to the conclusion that their death-insurance will mean more to their family than their own life.

Men no longer have purpose. Few are actually able to follow their bliss. They are expected to make money. Period.

Before, in the bad old-times, they relied on a purpose of supporting their family. Showing love by self-sacrifice while suppressing any other kind of sensitive emotion because it just doesn't FIT with the purpose of self-sacrifice. Now, women are independent. Unhappy, but independent. Divorces strip away a man's purpose, just turning him into a paycheck that must put up with cultural abuse such as being called a deadbeat dad, or being emotionally stunted, an idiot, or just plain malicious.

I'm being general here. But damn if I don't see JUST THIS THING everywhere I look.

Assume, just for a moment, that most men are decent people.

If we consider the fact that both men and women are abusers at the same rate, while only one sex has the social support system to speak up about it, the imbalance is very real. Are children the patriarchy?

Evolutionary psychology is also real. Boys and girls CAN learn the skills of the others, but one comes naturally, and the other does not. Teaching boys to express themselves is useless when they know their concerns will not be heard. Competition is not patriarchy. Neither is roughhousing. It is a major point of learning in emotional intelligence. Getting a thick skin is ADAPTIVE. Girls can do it, even if, on the whole, they generally don't prefer it. That doesn't mean it isn't true for boys. And yet, this is what even *I* was taught in the '80s. Remember the statistic on men being teachers?

Corrective assumptions have made the pendulum swing way too far in the opposite direction.

Great progress had been made, but reform turned into retaliation. Punitive measures.

Here's a little thought experiment: 87% of the prison population is men. Black men are 4 times as likely to be incarcerated, true, but they are all still men. If men still had a purpose, their aggression could have been channeled into something positive. Don't we say the same thing about boys?

Then ask yourself: if the total situation is still getting worse and worse, where men feel hopeless and cast adrift in their own lives, then WHY AREN'T WE HAVING THIS DISCUSSION?

Fact: if men and women keep alienating each other like this, we are all going to suffer. The grand majority of man and womankind still wants healthy heterosexual relationships. Oddly enough, this isn't a reactionary backlash statement designed to antagonize the LGBTQ+ community, either. Nor is it designed to antagonize radical feminists who would like to see total segregation of the sexes.

I'm merely saying that people still want healthy relationships and MOST of them happen to be hetero.

By dehumanizing one half of the population, we have an epidemic of depression and suicide. Of existential crisis. Of PURPOSE. And it only gets worse when we all get defensive.

Strangely enough, one of the things that men do very well is in providing a safe space for children to roughhouse and have teachable moments. It also teaches children to have expanded empathy with those who they fight with. Evolutionary psychology does NOT favor this behavior with women. And yet, it is still essential for learning how to cope and adapt to any kind of antagonistic situation.

So I can also postulate that these last 40 years spent dehumanizing men have also created an environment of people unable to cope with any kind of antagonistic situation. Cancel culture IS real.


I may not agree with every point this book makes, especially when it derails at the end with highlights on the ADHD phenomenon, but Farrell obviously cares a lot about our well-being and he is trying to be as all-inclusive as he can be.

I think he does a fairly good job of illustrating a lot of the other points. Men's health, both physical and mental, are almost completely neglected. Try looking up any programs to help out men who are suffering and you might just find Alcoholics Anonymous.

Women will have pages and pages and pages of free support systems.

What would YOU feel if you happened to be male? Neglected? Ridiculed? Unappreciated? Belittled?

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to make anyone wonder why there is so much anger and resentment. What I'm really surprised about is why there isn't MORE resentment.

Maybe it's because most men are good people. Maybe it's because they genuinely care about their wives and children. They may be in a bad position and they are told they will not hold any more power, but most keep on trying.

This is a two-way street. At least acknowledge that there is a problem. Purposeless kills, and it's hitting our boys the most. They see how hopeless it is. Give them credit. They may not be able to voice these concerns, but they sure as hell see the problem.

Addictions, whether drugs or video games, risky behaviors of all kinds including extreme sports, apathy, failure-to-launch, obesity, and anxiety are just a handful of the warning signs.

If you hear, "What's the point?" then know it is being said EVERYWHERE. Every western country and it is growing everywhere else. It is not isolated to America. Not by a long shot.

Have these conversations with your loved ones.

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Sunday, August 9, 2020

Psychological Warfare (WWII Era Reprint)Psychological Warfare by Paul M.A. Linebarger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let's set the stage for this one.

This 1948 publication was first and foremost designed to be a manual. It was not a rigorous academic study. It was designed to teach intelligence operatives the basics and intermediates of psychological warfare.

He even makes no bones about intersecting and sometimes outright conflating Public Relations with the field of Psychological Warfare. Indeed, their purposes are often the same, in many cases written by the same people.

Similar things have been going on since there were people gathering to make cities. The examples in this particular book draw from many WWI and WWII real examples from America, Russia, and China.

Now, I'm pretty certain everyone has seen something of this in our modern life. You may even make a huge hobby of pointing out gaslighting in politics, obvious falsehoods told by ideological enemies internationally or right in your own country.

If you do, then you know that this book is old news. There is no difference between Psychological Warfare and Public Relations. We lie to our own side to maintain morale and we lie to the other side to reduce theirs.

We tell the truth mixed with little lies to get the other side to READ our propaganda, but subtly twist it to know when and where enemy combatants are using your information. Like a footprint.

We promise the world. Peace, happiness, prosperity -- to our own AND to our enemies... if they only come over to our side.

What we don't do is make things unspecific. Generalities are laughable. Details and compelling.

We don't tell our enemies that we will crush them. Such tactics only entrench the other side. Rather, the point is to soften their resolve. Show them how well you're doing. How strong you are. How capable.

The point is to be effective. Most of the time it's a hit-or-miss game, but when information is EVERYTHING (whether in peace or in war) every gambit counts.


Now, for anyone who ISN'T already aware that we are utterly surrounded by psychological warfare RIGHT THIS VERY INSTANT, you might want to check your assumptions.

It never stopped. The whole Cold War should be proof of that. The whole American lifestyle, all of Western Thought, any political faction in any country, all corporations, and all media brands down to YouTubers and your local church gathering is an example of it.

Whether you are consciously aware of what you're doing or not is another matter.

You position yourself and your group to be seen in the best light, do you not?



First, make yourself appear like them, either literally or ideologically. Make them trust you by being a part of their in-group.

Then make them trust you by being a reliable source of news.

Then, start poisoning the well.


It's pretty simple, after all. Anyone can do it, right, Twitter? And best of all, ANYONE can do it!

There's a great book called Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media that spells out many of the best time-tested methods.

Repeat your message over and over. It won't matter whether it is true or not. As long as you have total saturation, enough people will pick up on it and repeat it. It worked back in WWII. It works WONDERFULLY in America.

Give people a horrible setup, then offer them a way out.

If the media won't play along with you, then call them all liars and set up your own media outlets.

If the other side calls you on your bluff, make a smokescreen.

At all times, muddy the water. A tried and true method is to accuse all your enemies of what you've been doing yourself. Usually, because you've been doing it first. (Some people are MASTERS of this kind of deflection. It's not a psychological pathology. It's an outright wartime tactic. Tried and true.)

But above all, be sure to use the six Moral Foundations if you want to get the most bang for your buck:

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

If you see your in-group pumping up all six of the positives while attributing all the negatives to the other side, you know they're doing a FANTASTIC job with their propaganda.




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Saturday, August 8, 2020

The House of StyxThe House of Styx by Derek Künsken
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've honestly not had much experience with many SF titles that directly deal with Venus, so this is a very nice treat for me.

Yeah, sure, I've read some older titles that have been made laughable by the ACTUAL conditions on the planet, the huge pressures, the deadly acidic atmosphere, and any number of technical difficulties that would make anyone consider this planet a HELL rather than any sort of love goddess.

Fortunately, I had a really good time with this one because it directly deals with those issues. We get terraforming, survival in the clouds, and the full colonial (and anti-colonial) experience.

It is very much a modern novel in all respects. Our main characters transform this into a family drama that touches on everything from economic disparity, identity politics, how we treat the disabled, all the way to a secretive rush toward a *spoiler spoiler* exciting goal. :)

I enjoyed this quite a lot. There were definite tones of, say, Iain McDonald's Luna series. The technical detail is very much in line with the classic Arthur C. Clarke. But the story... well, the deeper over-story... that is also rather Clarkish. :) That's a good thing, btw. No spoilers, but that part is very, very fun.



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Friday, August 7, 2020

The Breach (Travis Chase, #1)The Breach by Patrick Lee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Picking up and putting down this book, I'm left with a huge impression that this was designed to be a video game.

Action, shootem-up, video game. Along the way you can pretend you're the MC of "24" and you go from one bloody step to the next bloody step as the otherwise fairly high-concept SF trope driving it gets revealed.

Like I said, a video game.

Unfortunately for me, I like role-playing video games much more than the straightforward shootem-ups. I want to feel the consequences of my actions, not just move on from one horrific scene to the next in a glorified homage to bullets and guns and explosions.

But hey! This is what Western Civilization is known for, right? This is the epitome of what we're good at! Building beautiful things to provide a backdrop to kill lots of people. Oh, and explode it.

Like I said -- there are a lot of people who would probably love the hell out of this. A part of me has spent years watching similar movies or playing similar video games, so I guess I used to be one of them. Maybe I'm a bit over it, now.

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Thursday, August 6, 2020

Yurugu: An African-centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and BehaviorYurugu: An African-centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior by Marimba Ani
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes, I run out of words. I want to write a book on this book and disseminate it among the masses. I want to encourage everyone and anyone who is interested in seeing a full -- a rather awesomely full, detailed, and well-reasoned -- critique of Western Thought.

Let me be clear: this is a critique of Western Thought while USING Western Thought in conjunction with African spiritualism, zeitgeist, and practical/historical experience with the invasion OF Western Thought. It is a synthesis, but it is also a rather piercing indictment.

AS a personal reaction to the book, I'm flabbergasted as to why it isn't HUGE and widely discussed in ALL academic communities or popularized to the public at large in bite-sized chunks.

Many anti-colonialists already do. Many counter-culture philosophers also do.

Few, if any, actively show us a NEW (or if you please, extremely OLD) zeitgeist, worldview, to see through.

Let me break it down. There are a few terms that are absolutely essential. To discuss other cultures - or your own - you need to accurately define them. If your entire worldview is enmeshed with your descriptions of other peoples, you automatically see-through your own lens no matter how objective you might want to be.

From this point, almost any argument you might make will be colored by your preconceptions. This is the real value of this book.

Asili is the idea of a cultural essence. What kind of world-views does it hold highest? Humanitarianism? Christianity (whatever flavor)? How does it hold the idea above all other values? It defines itself against what it RESISTS. Everything else is lower, less valuable, even worthless. That's asili.

Utamaroho is the drive. A culture's will to power. It's the direction and flavor of what the culture tries to accomplish. World dominance? That's utamaroho. World saviors? That's utamaroho.

Utamawazo is cultural thought process, the rationalization that allows the culture to propagate. How about bringing the convenience of 50's American zeitgeist to the rest of the world, showering everyone else in the love and harmony of the nuclear family unit? That's utamawazo. Progress? A world community? All the pretty things we say we want that paint such pretty pictures of ourselves even as we know we will betray those same ideas? That's utamawazo.

So what's the point? It's this: we have a framework of thought to work within that is NOT Western Thought. We are free to discuss how a culture thinks of itself, how it feels of itself as if it is a real person.

We can use psychology on it. We can ask the hard questions and compare how it perceives itself versus how it actually behaves. We can examine its cognitive behaviors and pinpoint the logical inconsistencies. The hypocrisy. We can judge it by what it ACTUALLY accomplishes versus its stated goal.

When seen from the outside, Western Culture is freaking INSANE.

I mean, most of us already know this. We see bits and pieces and shake our heads. Sometimes we say it's just a bunch of bad apples and sometimes we say it's just huge groups of misguided men and women.

But this book breaks it down in unflinching terms. From Plato, we get the idea of objectivism. We get the idea of dichotomies. We get the idea that we, as individuals, are separated from our actual selves. We split the mind from the body. Instead of having a single real, living creature that we call us, we now have abstract terms that are completely divorced from the living person. We may put them back together and see if we come back with something more or less like Frankenstein's monster, but in the end, it is a divorce from reality.

When you take these ideas and forget that the Terrain is NOT the Map, it's very easy to start objectizing everything. Today, I have a very easy time watching people get blown up or die in horrible ways on tv, but always have a very difficult time watching a puppy get killed in the same show. Why is that? Because we, as a Western asili, are so used to the maps we make of people that we forget that they are ALSO REAL PEOPLE. We're shocked out of that complacency at random times when we see something that is JUST as real but doesn't jibe with what we expect.

We are comfortable with tons of dead people but not a dead puppy because we have dehumanized ourselves.

What does this mean for someone who values being a Humanist?

Disconnect.

Now let's not forget all the times when western countries invaded foreign lands under the banner of god, country, or progressive economic equality. The utamawazo, the reasoning, matches our asili, our self-conception. What doesn't match is our will-to-power, our need to dominate, to exploit, or just destabilize foreign nationals because they might prove to be just as rational as you but use a different system of government/economic-system/god.

The stated claims, even for those who are missionaries propelling god's truth, do not match with the actual effects. They hardly ever do. That's because the asili and the utamawazo are there to make ourselves feel good and bamboozle others while the utamaroho, the ACTUAL DRIVE of the culture, is defined by exploitation.

You know the type. Winning is everything, you know. The good guys win and the bad guys lose. That's a Platonic dichotomy, by the way. You'll find drives like this everywhere you look -- once you see them for what they are.

It's the private reasoning of certain individuals who will not be named who believe, in the core of their being, that they must win at all costs. Literally, at all costs. It doesn't matter how many people get dehumanized in the process. They're all maps, after all. The terrain no longer exists. But yet, we still have the utamawazo fully intact. Just look! We're Making ******* Great Again!



Be aware of yourself. Of your culture. Find frameworks that are outside of it. View yourself from others' lenses. It's the only way to truly see yourself as you truly are.


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Wednesday, August 5, 2020

No Time for Fear: How a shark attack survivor beat the oddsNo Time for Fear: How a shark attack survivor beat the odds by Paul de Gelder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I had come to myself as I was 5 years ago and said that I will have read an inspirational memoir about a shark attack victim and the tale of his life before and after the big event, my old self would have probably have laughed in my face.

"What," the old me would have said, "the hell would have inspired you to read such unabashed tripe?"

I'd reply, "I got roped into it."

"You sure you didn't get tossed in the drink to be a chew toy?"

"Eh, smartass. It's meant to be INSPIRATIONAL."

"Why, because you're such a stubborn athletic specimen that had gone through both Australian infantry and the dive teams? Because you really have that go-getter f*** y** attitude?"

"I am stubborn, you jerk."

"Yeah, yeah."


So I read this and it is inspirational. The boy succeeded against the odds.

But do you know what I really got out of this?

He's got some top-notch toys now. He's gone transhumanist. He's a real-life swimming cyborg.

Okay. I'm a bit weird.



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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Black Sun (Between Earth and Sky, #1)Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I feel vindicated. Rebecca Roanhorse writes a fine, fine epic fantasy.

I knew she could do good UF, but we all know that epic fantasy requires a huge amount of worldbuilding to do it right. And this is evident in Black Sun. :)

One strong point: the opening worked REALLY, REALLY well for me. I haven't read such a strong start of a book in a long time. Visceral, scary, making me ask tons of questions and freaking OUT. Very good stuff.

As for the epic stuff? Gorgeous backdrop, lots of fascinating PoVs, and enough sea action to make any captain proud.

For those of you who aren't already familiar with Roanhorse, just trust me. This is an excellent example of the genre. For those of us who ARE familiar with Roanhorse, this one kicks serious butt.

Important note: There's lots of inclusiveness in this novel. The disabled, this time. I thought it was done very well. It sure as hell made him VERY interesting.

And that end?

Well... No spoilers. :) I'll definitely be looking forward to the full trilogy.

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Monday, August 3, 2020

Planet of the ApesPlanet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book that deserves to stand the test of time. I think it's as valid now as it was back in the fifties.

Let's ignore the movies for just a moment. They're important in their own right for capturing a cultural zeitgeist and for showing us all how damning cultural bias can be. One can make the argument that the Planet of the Apes movies underscored the 60's, put it all in sharp relief.

But I'm going to talk about the book -- about why the book needs to be read now.

Cultural bias is everywhere. All around us. It's in the very air we breathe. In general, we don't see it.

Our assumptions make us prisoners.

The apes are the epitome of Western Thought. Casually racist in everything they do, they rationalize everyone OTHER than themselves into a kind of slavery. Whether it's about cultural superiority, scientific superiority, military superiority, or ANY reason to make themselves appear more important than the OTHER, they take it.

Because what would happen otherwise?

Rhetoric would fall apart, giving way to a careful observation of the real circumstances.

People are being kept in cages. They're experimented upon. They are left in atrocious conditions and made to fight for scraps to survive. The purpose is to turn them into animals FIRST in order to prove the original assumption that they are animals.

If this isn't classic racism, I don't know what is. Every argument they make must revolve around the basic assumption that THEY are better than US. If the argument doesn't fit, it is thrown out.

Only OVERWHELMING evidence to the contrary can lift a single human out of this bondage, and but the great emancipation only works for this single human.

The pervasive racism persists.

Classic cultural bias.

We are fully immersed in it. We feel the hopelessness underlying their bulwarks of rationalizations. We are made small, helpless, even as we retain our dignity in all the tiniest of ways. And ultimately, we lose.



It takes a whole society to change a whole society.

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Sunday, August 2, 2020

Circles in the SpiralCircles in the Spiral by Shane Joseph
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As implied by the title, things start out slow and easygoing -- a retreat for the body and the soul -- but this is where things begin to spiral out of control. :)

The changes are imperceptible at first. A free-spirited romance. A few reveals.

*grin*

This is what happens when writers throw off their yokes and write what they want to write, letting the crazy out. Each new reveal, each new piece of the puzzle throws a monkey wrench into the bigger work until the circles become an ever-widening gyre and all hell breaks loose.

A staid and solid life this may have appeared to be, but just as we think we've gotten a handle on the last bombshell, another one comes along. And another. And another.

No spoilers. The personal reveals are as interesting as the political ones and everything comes together in a perfect storm of crazy. All our choices come back to haunt or aid us. Getting tangled in people makes our lives more interesting. :)

Quite an enjoyable read, amusing and dark.




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Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Old Man and the SeaThe Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is little I can say amongst so many great reviews that will shed any light upon this classic masterpiece of literature, but I can speak of my feelings.

Let me be honest. Before I read this the first time, I groaned. It's a fish story. Anyone who grew up around people who tell fish stories knows that they get bigger and bigger with each telling until the hero of the tale successfully takes down the great white whale. Or not, as in Moby Dick's case.

I was afraid that I would be overwhelmed with a big whopper.

What I got, instead, was a deeply personal, tragic, and heartbreaking.

People say much about Hemingway's simplicity of style, his minimalism, and I have to agree. He cuts right to the bone.

It's also perfect if you feel like this life is tearing a piece of you away, one bite at a time.



Those damn sharks. The waters are full of them.

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