Tuesday, November 24, 2020

UnspeakableUnspeakable by Chris Hedges
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is somewhat unique in claiming, sometimes rightly so, that it talks about the topics that modern political discourse completely disregards.

It's not that the subject material (the growing disparity between the rich and the disenfranchised, the total consumption of wealth by military spending, the complete lack of regard for those who don't already have power) isn't real. It's freaking obvious. So obvious it's pervasive and stifling.

No. The point of this book is to say the quiet part loud.

Chris Hedges was a war correspondent -- and not just a normal one that sat in safe hotels waiting for safe tidbits to drop into his lap. He was out in the field and broke news about war atrocities. In other words, he made enemies by following his standard of morals and his sense of right. Throughout his career, and making mistakes that sometimes might not be considered mistakes, but simply the revolutionary idea of standing up for the ideal of truth, he soldiered on.

Whether it was speaking the truth about Iraq's involvement in 9/11, atrocities in Kosovo, prison riots in the States that were more about heating elements to keep the inmates fed, rather than the idea of anarchy, or whether it was about the real tragedy of the Occupy Movement or even Nelson Mandella, the tragedy of the anti-war movement of the '70s or the wry legitimization of war in the '80s under a guise, truth always seemed to die.

Hedges, like Chomsky, has a razor-sharp focus. He refuses to let the standard line get in the way of good reporting. You know, the reporting that we have now. The kind that comes out of money, that relies on big money, that bows before war efforts, corporations, banks, and the blindness of ideals.

He doesn't care what side of a line anyone is on. He has plenty to say about the Right and the Left, and much more to say about the underlying problems of the class divide, institutional racism, and the rise of the current fascism.

Make no mistake. It may seem like old hat now, but he was writing about this long before it became a common household theme.

For this, I can thank him for bringing up all this long before it became a thing on a lot of people's radars.


Suffice to say, we need more of this unflinching honesty and devotion to truth.
Everywhere.

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Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (Charlie Bucket, #2)Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having always been a fan of Wonka, it occurred to me that I was a very, very bad man for never having read the sequel.

Was I slightly afraid? Maybe. I mean, the story was all kinds of perfect all by itself. Leaving in that great glass elevator was rather a perfect ending.

And when this book begins, exactly where the other left off, I WAS slightly disappointed. The whole SF aspect was... ahem. Fortunately, it got back to speed once we returned to the factory. I enjoyed the rest just fine. :)

Ah, greed. It never really changes. :)

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Monday, November 23, 2020

Charlotte's WebCharlotte's Web by E.B. White
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Very little needs to be said about this one. It's a classic. Even my jaded kid-self loved the original cartoon, but it took ALL THIS TIME to finally get around to reading the book.

Tisk, tisk, right?

In reality, it's a story about a con job and the rise of the PR firm, "Charlotte's Web". It becomes a cottage industry for all the fat pigs out there.

Just because it's heartwarming doesn't mean that we can't interpret it with an evil bent. :)

Oh, and my daughter loved it, too. :)

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Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & PowerRequiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power by Noam Chomsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When it comes to sussing out the state of our world and all the factors that contribute to where we've wound up, I'm not a slouch. I've read hundreds of books and have followed so much news and have discovered, again and again, that Noam Chomsky *Knows His Shit*.

Just from the standpoint that he has also been one of those intellectuals with a fantastic memory, unimpeachable logic, and a burning heart, I should mention that he should be read just because he cares.

The title of this book is pretty inflammatory, no? But my advice is this: read it for the information within. I've read a lot of books that back up each of these concise points in vast detail.

So why should anyone read THIS particular book, though?

Because it's diamond-sharp, doesn't waste a single second of time getting to the point, and it IS based on facts. It should come as no surprise that almost everyone is getting disenfranchised while the rich and powerful are getting more rich and powerful by the second. If you want to get that breakdown in a very short period of time, you would do much worse than to consider this a brilliant primer.

Get your foot in the door.

It's not like the world is getting better. Don't fall for PR or pyrrhic victories. The causes of our problems are still here. We need to understand the problems before we can cure them, and no amount of palliative care is worth the time.

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War in Heaven (A Requiem for Homo Sapiens, #3)War in Heaven by David Zindell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is absolutely no way to review this book with any justice.

Suffice to say, I have to revise my top ten book list.

Mind you, I must put all four books into the pile as one long story because while they can be read individually with their own major punctuation point, there's simply no way to separate one YES, YES, YES from the rest.

What is this book, these books?

They are some of the finest Science Fiction I've ever read. It has everything.

Heart-searching, amazing worldbuilding, philosophy, amazing action, gorgeous prose, and ... even now, after having read nearly 6 thousand books in my life, even manages to CHANGE MY LIFE.

Look. I'm kinda skeptical and I take certain book-journeys with kid gloves. If a book accomplishes what it sets out to achieve, or if it is entertaining, or if I learned a ton from it, I tend to give it full marks just because it was excellent on its own terms. But then there are some books that take me by the back of my neck, stare deep into my eyes, and fill me with a soul-hungry WILDNESS that asks me that single, awesome question:

"How do you capture a beautiful bird without killing its spirit?"

THIS book is the answer.

I laughed, I cried, and I want to scream out to everyone I know... YOU MUST READ THESE!!!!

I can't say it enough. They are amazing. They should be ranked right up there with the best books of any field, not just SF or Fantasy. I say the same thing about Dune. It's not only wise and overflowing with life. It's heart-wrenching.

Don't let the fact that it's hard-SF set in a far future filled with lightships and computer gods and alien worlds. Those are for context. The heart of these books in nature of life, of the injustice of life, and how to live with it. In that respect, it's very much a classic tale.

But when you answer the question that I posed, before, it answers about three dozen other questions and it may simply blow your mind.

I think I'll be putting all four of these books in my place of pride on my bookshelf and read them over and over. Danlo is a friend I will always want by my side.

Oh, and if this isn't that clear, I need to say: OMG ya'll, FIND these, READ them. They BEG for readers.

There is serious injustice going on here. It's hard to FIND them. The publishers SCREWED the author over. These books deserve to have airtime and be gushed over by millions of readers and be subject to endless online arguments and be petitioned for movie deals. But instead, I'm afraid that they will remain forgotten and left to rot under tons of trash.

I cannot stress this enough.
These are CLASSICS. The REAL DEAL. Utterly amazing.

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TroikaTroika by Alastair Reynolds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading Reynolds is always a treat. This relatively older novella doubles down on the old Soviet Space program and turns it into a paranoiacs dream while simultaneously giving us the Big Dumb Object effect. The attention to detail is superb.

The COMMENTARY, however, sneaks up on you. It's not just a great story. It's a slap in the face for everyone else NOT in the old Soviet Era.

WHERE THE HELL IS OUR SPACE PROGRAMS?


Well, I guess everything changes. It doesn't get better or worse. It just gets STRANGER.

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Sunday, November 22, 2020

On Safari in R'lyeh and Carcosa with Gun and CameraOn Safari in R'lyeh and Carcosa with Gun and Camera by Elizabeth Bear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

No spoilers, but this fun little Elizabeth Bear story has tones of Lovecraft and R. Chambers while reading like a straight SF novel of scientific and personal discovery.

Did I think it was brilliant? No. But I did think it was solid and evokes all those glorious memes and religious terror wrapped up in an awesome genetic jewel.

It almost makes me believe that the spirit of inquiry DOESN'T automatically lead to 1d6 dead investigators.





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Saturday, November 21, 2020

Shaman: A Novel of the Ice AgeShaman: A Novel of the Ice Age by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I should make a disclaimer here. I hesitate to call this SF except in a single case: Kim Stanley Robinson has created a world, built it out of the kind of science we know, featuring old humans during the ice age and extrapolating from there.

It's not really SF or F, but it shares a lot of the features. Most interestingly, it feels like a lot of the low-magic fantasy novels that have come out recently. Modern feel. And of course, it reminds us of Clan of the Cave Bear. But it's much more fascinating to see a more modern take on the subject from one of the most science-devoted writers in the field.

Primarily, I loved the psychology of it. Shamanism, nature worship, personality typing, and just how freaking difficult it was to survive during the age. Anyone who says that these people weren't intelligent has got to have a few screws loose. Survival takes a lot of effort.

This should all be pretty self-descriptive. But I should point out that Robinson's tale of life during this time IS a fascinating and interesting one. The story itself never lost me, and even if I have to let the novel take liberties with certain language bits and let the translation of certain ideas take its course, I'm not going to complain about it here.

It still produced a good novel for us. Even if I might want to complain about certain aspects of how they might have thought about things, the grand majority was spot on for my understanding. (Right or Wrong, it was a good novel.)

I do recommend it. Especially if you were annoyed with Clan of the Cave Bear and wanted something with a bit more substance and less violent sex.

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Thursday, November 19, 2020

Plan for the Worst (The Chronicles of St Mary's, #11)Plan for the Worst by Jodi Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a wild ride! ... by the end. :) At the beginning, it kinda felt like I was revisiting old plots from previous novels, but that's because they were... in a way. It was a perfect buildup for what eventually became...

SPOILER TERRITORY OF EPIC PROPORTIONS.

This isn't meant to scare you. If you've been following these hapless historians you must already know to expect the unexpected, especially when it's already happened. Yes, old foes show up again. Yes, Max is right to mistrust authority figures. And yes, you really, really need to defrost the chickens.

You had to be there.

And then we get the biggest spoiler in all the books. At long last... we get Markham's name. And oddly enough, it's wickedly good fun.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The TroopThe Troop by Nick Cutter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'd like to say this is simply a novel of Blood for the Blood God, but no, it's actually lacking a bit in the blood department.

However, if you love WORMS, you're gonna LOVE this.

Straight horror, through and through, and simply disgusting. :)

While I think I'd LOVE to see a good version of this done in a movie, I think it might be simply TOO MUCH.

While eating this novel, be sure to bring extra food! :) Muhahahahaha

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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Needful ThingsNeedful Things by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 11/17/20:

Just sitting back to re-read Needful Things and I was struck by how odd this novel is now, when all Needful Things seem to take the character of toilet paper and gyms.

I just had to think of Gaunt sitting us down to sign up for a 6-month membership, a pass to a bar, or a pack of Costco bum rolls. It's a bargain, you know! Never more than you can afford!!!

Yes. Indeed. And the pranks are all political.


It's still a classic King novel! :) We're not any wiser, that's for sure.


Original Review:

With this tome of Stephen King small town horror, I'm constantly amazed that I had missed picking this up and geeking out over it when it first came out.

I'm certain that I would have. It has all the things I'd been learning to geek out about with his general horror universe, including Cthulhu references, homages to his previous works including events and characters, all of them strung up as if on a map of homicide victims on a perp board, and of course, Castle Rock, itself.

Castle Rock Entertainment, indeed. This is the grand blowout of the town, with evil creeping in and changing all of its residents from a patina of middle-class respectability and Rockwellian charm into roving bands of gleeful murderers with very dark hearts.

And can we really blame it entirely upon Antique Madness? Roadshow Antiques? That equally weird craze of the early '90s, turned EVIL? Or was it just Mr. Gaunt, aka (Flagg, maybe?) stirring up loads of crap? Nah, it's just the greed and pride of humanity, stoked in just the right way, and that's what Stephen King is really known for.

His supernatural aspects are generally underplayed and always in direct support of deep characterizations, of twisting flawed people into even more atrocious examples of humanity, with usually only a few semi-heroic survivors at the end that *sometimes* manage to make it through the fire.

This novel is a shining example of all this, taking all the best simmering-pot boil-over of 'Salem's Lot, the twisted madness of Tommyknockers, and throwing in an epic battle of two older ladies eviscerating each other in broad daylight on the street. :)

Truly a charming novel. :)

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Monday, November 16, 2020

Doing Time (The Time Police #1)Doing Time by Jodi Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I started this feeling a little anxious. I mean, after all, I'm a fan of St. Mary's. It kinda feels ... icky... going over to the other side that always shoots first and ... well... shoots first.

I thought I would be missing my favorite time-traveling historians who most definitely do not have a clue.

Fortunately, Jodi Taylor hits all the right notes in this spin-off series. I immediately thought I was reading a Police Academy mixed with time travel. And then I realized I was reading a mix of time travel with NCIS.

And then I realized that the bunnies would destroy Australia.


Between a mousy harangued woman who joined the Time Cops just to get away from her domineering grandmother to the billionaire playboy son who was sold into slavery to the Time Cops, or Matthew, the son of Max from St. Mary's, this is a team-building exercise of fine, fine humor.

It's pretty much everything I didn't know I was wanting in my life. Think Hot Fuzz with time travel.

I'm SOOOOO glad I gave it a shot. :)

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Sunday, November 15, 2020

Goblin MarketGoblin Market by Christina Rossetti
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Who would have thought such a spritely dance of a poem could be so LEWD?

I totally get why this would have become a sensation in 1859. It doesn't wax poetic about religion or morals, but it sure as hell tells of the underlying lust and anguish that sex brings. Socially as well as within.

To be clear, it never speaks directly of such, but reading it in any other way soon becomes a real chore and boring to boot. :)

So read away, my lovelies, but read it with a lusty heart.

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Saturday, November 14, 2020

The Wild (A Requiem For Homo Sapiens, #2)The Wild by David Zindell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This next book in the Requiem for Homo Sapiens is just as wild as the previous two.

I don't often see books like this. It's full space-opera, but by way of The Odyssey by way of debunking various far-future searching for God.

But, of course, gods are a relative thing when thousands of years in the future, adding so many high-tech paths to enlightenment, physical power, and ways of thought (including electronic immortality, the stars in the center of the galaxy blowing up, a stellar cloud being a solid-state machine intelligence or even clusters of Dyson spheres being evacuated).

And below it all, ancient wars between uber-powerful races of humanity still feel fresh. Vital. And Danlo only wants to stay true to his belief in humanity. Of living life. High-tech nirvana, extreme maths, exploring ever-deeper parts of the galaxy, and reconnecting with ancient high-tech civilizations devoted to turning themselves into various versions of gods is the name of the game.

The Architects, in particular, are just as thoroughly imagined as Neverness was. Reading this book pretty much blew me away.

Whether it's a search for a cure for his people or the deification of his father or just wanting to get an answer for how BROKEN this universe is, Danlo's quest is timeless, rather MORE impressive than any other book I've read, and these have suddenly become a candidate for one of my top-favorite series of all time.

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Thursday, November 12, 2020

The Broken God (A Requiem for Homo Sapiens, #1)The Broken God by David Zindell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's really hard to emphasize just how important this book is.

Or, indeed, just how important the book before it is. Or, if I'm reading this correctly, how important the following two books are.

I'm in awe.

This is very much a Neverness book, set in the far future, rich with history, languages, high-technologies, and settled into comfortable and sometimes fraught castes that are so very, very human. The icy landscape, filled with skaters and mathematical prodigies, resplendent and decadent societies, poet-assassins, mage-technologists that model (and manipulate) human minds, DNA crafters, alien guests, warring gods in far parts of the galaxy (and galaxies), far off nano-recreations of worlds, sprawling machine intelligences, and the oncoming death of the universe.

All of these are important, are discussed, worried over, and become major plot points, but at the very core of this particular novel, it's all about the Broken God. You might say it's the Manichean Heresy. You might even say, "Yeah, we know our reality is broken... isn't it obvious?"

But the truth is far more subtle and amazing.

This novel takes what might be a Coming of Age story of Danlo, the lost son of Mallory, as he finds his path in the shadow of his father, and turns it into a setup of friendship that becomes a tale of epic enemies. And all through it is woven the concept of what is memory, what is spirituality, what is the corruption of a new, popular religious movement, and what is the nature of a godhood.

Mallory's shadow extends far.

But this is, again, not the complete tale. Zindell explores everything.

From philosophy to psychology to linguistics and the nature of human thought to the strange paths a high-technology can create religious fever and fervor in the implantation of memories, the alteration of chemicals, and the kinds of social structures that hunt and feed on our deepest desires and credulity.

And the entire time, it's a book that made me shiver and cry with the pain of a great story that should have ended in a friendship that might have lasted forever. A love story that, while suffering a lot of difficulty, still had the will to survive. Or the beginnings of a philosophy, a deep understanding of human nature, that should have brought enlightenment to all.

From the worldbuilding to the carefully constructed characters to the amazingly gorgeous panorama of this far-future vision of humanity, I can find no fault. It is a head-and-shoulder above MOST SF, period.

This, and the book before it, and probably the two books after it, ought to be on the MUST READ list for anyone who reads SF. If only to see what the fuss is all about, or start asking others (LIKE PUBLISHERS) why it isn't given a huge push once more. This could, theoretically, still take off like Dune had taken off. It is RICH as hell.

This would be justice.

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Monday, November 9, 2020

Axiom's End (Noumena, #1)Axiom's End by Lindsay Ellis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I suppose, after reading a few hundred first-contact novels and/or movies, I should really read this book as a study of all the things that came before, rather than trying to put this on the same level as Arrival (movie) or Blindsight (book) or Deepness in the Sky (book). Or about 30-40 others that may be better than this.

That isn't to say that this was a bad book. Far from it. But it's dealing with old tropes. Cyborg aliens? Coverups? Translation issues? Fundamental communication breakdown based on a basic alien idea of futility? Sure. I can buy it. It isn't bad. Transformers have been around for a long time.

HOWEVER, I get the feeling that this novel wasn't really aiming at being groundbreaking. It tried to focus quite heavily on the whistleblowing aspect. The MC's father was a Snowden-like character and the entire tale takes place in the 2000s and the milieu shows. The new direction, the focus on linguistics, kinda felt like a poor-mans version of Arrival, especially since the handwavium ear implant could theoretically have been given to ANYONE. It was just more convenient to stick with Cora for narrative reasons. But honestly? After we get away from being Snowden's daughter/coverup tangent I couldn't really buy the whole ex-temp worker becomes essential translator schtick.

If I turned off my mind and just went along for the ride, I was okay. It was entertaining enough. But by the end, I wasn't all over this book. It felt kinda like Meyer's Host by the end.

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Saturday, November 7, 2020

Riot BabyRiot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought this was stunning. The writing was all kinds of gorgeous.

I think it's a perfect companion piece to watching Do the Right Thing or reading Between the World and Me or The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.

Note, each of these references are a bit more hardcore than the last. But it's all related.

After all my previous readings over the last few months, this is a perfect companion piece and a microcosm for what's been happening in America for hundreds of years. Particulars change, but the fundamental injustice remains the same.

In this particular book, written so well, we have some pretty conflicted psychology and super-powers that are more a fantastic spice to a story that is becoming increasingly more universal than an actual superhero tale.

Of course, with this much injustice, this much hate despite wanting to stop the hate, the REAL conflict is revealed. And it's not violence.

It's the pressure. We need to know it for what it really is. If we want to solve this problem, we need to recognize that we create our own hells. All of us.

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Friday, November 6, 2020

The Space Between WorldsThe Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm of two minds on this book. I want to heap a ton of praise on it for being an amusing multi-universal tale that reminds me of the DC universe and Sliders in how many Earths there are, but that's old-school stuff.

I then want to heap praise on it for keeping so much focus on the same sets of characters that our main character has always been interacting with, showing a lot of subtlety and flexibility with the greater tale. But then, there's a lot of that in multi-universal novels, too. Or any novel. This still does a fine job that remains interesting to the end.

So that leaves me with the worldbuilding. The focus on the very rich walled society right next to the very poor and violent society, with all its subtle variations across the multiverse, is a good trope. We're focused on the disadvantages and the inequality and the casual (or not so casual) violence. On its surface and quite far below it, it makes the total novel a pretty rock-solid tale rife with many, many plot reversals and subtle changes.

If I stop here, it's a very decent read. If I don't think about the elephant in the room, it's a great read.

So what's the elephant?

Many-universe theory, as explored here, has infinite variations. Indeed, it goes from the very tiny to the extremely large differences. So why are we stuck in the mid-300's in this tale? Is the limitation needed to keep the novel focused? Apparently. And probably necessary. The alternative is a wide-open tale that can solve the inequality issue, in theory, because there never would have been a need for a single inventor to keep all his secrets THAT close to his chest. We'd be fine with an exponential explosion because there would still be an infinite number of worlds. And then there was the whole question about the rest of THIS single world. All we got to see or hear about was the single city. That was a private universe to itself. So... where is the rest of the complexity? Is it all really just a microcosm after all?

Let's not ask such questions, tho. Let's enjoy the ride for what it is. :)


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Thursday, November 5, 2020

A Deadly Education (The Scholomance, #1)A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's some call to name this the slightly more hardcore magic successor of Harry Potter, but I personally like to think of it as an overpowered destruction-magic teen just trying to deny her heritage while going to school in a void-enhanced pocket universe Hogwarts that doesn't mind killing a vast portion of its students for the sake of keeping them in line.

Oh, and there aren't any teachers. Spells are learned directly from the void and the intelligent library and clans.

For me, I fell HARD into this tale and got snappy with the people in my life when they wanted me to pay attention to them when I really wanted to focus on THIS TALE.

I loved it. It was wild, very YA, but also all those no-holds-barred tropes that make me tumble in love. You know, like saying screw all the cliques, going total nonconformist, feeling that vast loneliness, and yet -- somehow -- making really good friends. Old stuff, but I honestly fell entirely under its spell. No icky stuff. Just pure-fun. I was reminded a bit of a mix between Hogwarts and Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children in a really good way.

And now I honestly can't wait for the next book in the series.

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The Invisible Life of Addie LaRueThe Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quiet, even deeply introspective, this Faustian bargain of a book seems, at times, like a dream come true and a clever nightmare. Addie LaRue gets freedom and eternity for the loss of her soul and others' memory of her.

I immediately thought of Claire North's novels as I read this. Lush in time and setting, deeply thoughtful about the conditions of the bargains and the conflicts and, of course, excellent worldbuilding.

At least to me, Addie LaRue feels like a departure from her other novels. This one has none of the urgency because that is the nature of the bargain. How does one maintain a love for life if you go through it, invisible? Or close enough as to make no difference.

I really enjoyed getting there. The love story was a great counterpoint. In fact, both love stories were fascinating. Or three, if you consider the love of life as a love story. :) Which I do.

What I should focus on, when it comes to this novel, is how I feel. And I feel CHARMED. Not cursed. :)

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Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Rafael (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #28)Rafael by Laurell K. Hamilton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let's get some of the housekeeping taken care of first.

If you're still reading Anita Blake, you know what to expect. Perhaps 3/5ths of the opening of the novel will be relationship angst with a particularly high focus on -- you guessed it -- Rafael. A quick note: every one of these novels that have a name as a title are all rather short, focused, and almost entirely relationship stuff.

That being said, this particular novel DOES pick up in both action, consequence, and a whole bunch of new metaphysical goodies that call back to the 8th book and some of the better books in the upper-mid teens. If most of all the sex-fixation stuff had been cut out, I would have been rocking to this book. Maybe add a good murder mystery to ease us into the were-rat kingdom stuff, first, and I'd have been saying this is one of the better Anita books. As it is, I give it a 3.5 rating.

Unlike the other name-title novels, it has some important stuff in it. I wouldn't skip it.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Network Effect (The Murderbot Diaries, #5)Network Effect by Martha Wells
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The quirky security robot has certainly made a splash over the last few years. I've enjoyed the popcorn fun for exactly what it is: a noir tale with a take on prejudice set in a space opera mil-SF.

The fighting is always fun and the characterization is even better.

In this particular novel, expanding on the story and action compared to the previous novellas, we get the best of all worlds. It gets truly funny and the amusing relationships become rather heartwarming by the end.

Fights, hacking, subterfuge, and crazy robot exploits are the name of the game. Fun, not particularly deep, but definitely fun. Popcorn all the way.

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Dark Mirror: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance StateDark Mirror: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State by Barton Gellman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Barton Gellman, formerly of The Washington Post, was one of three journalists — including filmmaker Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, who Snowden contacted after a fairly lengthy vetting process. He wanted and needed journalists of the highest integrity.

Gellman himself was rather an interesting choice. From his own book, he was rather lukewarm to Snowden and made some serious errors of judgment when it came to leaking Snowden's online identity, burning him in the process, but it became water under the bridge, later.

Having watched documentaries and having read Snowden's autobiography, I'm pretty on top of the whole subject, so while there wasn't a lot of new material here: Snowden's early life, how he was trusted by the NSA and how he could, scarily, research almost anything on anyone and tell you how it was accomplished, and to his ethical decision to reveal to the public just how EVERYONE was spied on.

This isn't new. We all know by now that the agencies grab ALL the information, whether you're a US citizen or not. It's basically the end of privacy and it's only the fact that the people in those positions of power SAY they're not using it for nefarious reasons that we have any desire to TAKE THEM AT THEIR WORD.

There's no transparency, and that's the meaning behind the title in this book. They can see anything anyone else does, but THEY are shrouded in secrecy.

This book takes a very middle-of-the-road approach. It insists on nothing other than objectivity and proof -- but that was never really in doubt. Compared to any day in public political discourse, the revelations from Snowden shines like a happy beacon of truth rising high above the poisoned apples littering the ditch of Facebook. It's not hyperbole. Snowden was a whistleblower who took, and then judiciously released, after much deliberation, damning information.

Gellman gives voice to the OTHER side of the coin, the coin that says that rulebreakers should all be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But he does it while also making sure that Snowden's ethical concerns were given full credence. It's the universal question: We need watchdogs, yes, but who watches the watchdogs?

What happens when the NSA can pull up -- everything -- on the Supreme Court? The protections against that are almost nonexistent. You have to trust in the inherent goodness of everyone in the NSA. If a certain administration with a massive disregard for rules manages to find someone with hawk-tendencies in the NSA, what is to say that they can't use the full might of the NSA to quash all his political enemies?

Who is to say it hasn't already happened?

This is why we need transparency. And this is why Snowden is important. We need a light shone on these things.

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Monday, November 2, 2020

The Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the PlanetThe Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet by Noam Chomsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For someone who has mainly devoted his ecological reading to old carbon-tax discussions and the grandiosity of a total ecological disaster (in many books), I feel as if I'm coming into the Global Green New Deal topic rather late.

You know, because so many other things have been going on. Like social inequality, the rise of fascism, possible nuclear winter, global pandemics... the list is huge. And pressing. And because of all that, when we hear about the need to put our collective political will in gear to fix a problem that is going to affect our children and our children's children HARD, and much harder than we're feeling it now with the rising heat and massive fires, we all tend think... hey... well... yeah, it's bad (when we're not being climate change deniers) but it's FAR AWAY and HARD.

Ahem.
Yeah.
Well.

It's going to be even harder when none of us can afford the electric bill for our air conditioner when what we really need is 14 air conditioners for a single apartment. And that's not even bringing up the subject of mass deaths across the world because it's just too hot. Period.

So what, exactly, is THIS book about?

It's a straightforward interview including both Naom Chomsky and Robert Pollin. Pollin is the expert on the topic of getting ourselves into a good position to achieve the ecological goals. Naom Chomsky is just a brilliant man who happens to remember everything he's read and has been at the forefront of two fields: Linguistics and, later in life, politics and current events and how they apply to wonderfully analyzed trends.

Having read and watched many documentaries with Naom Chomsky, I'm something of a huge fan and believe that everyone should pay close attention to all that he says. He breaks things down in ways that are stunningly clear. And he also refuses to shy away from voicing his own opinions while being very clear that they are just opinions. He doesn't conflate analysis with subjectivity.

As for Pollin, I learned a lot of interesting facts about the Global Green New Deal. First of all, it takes its name from FDR's New Deal stance. Mobilizing a HUGE portion of society toward one end. It's possible. It may even be likely at the eleventh hour, when all hope has been lost, that we might even GO THERE. But then, the book does give equal time to the HOPEFULLNESS and logical steps that governments and political movements to pressure those governments would have to take in order to move toward a task that would still take 10 to 30 years to even accomplish, and it also gives time to the absolute absurdity of what we CURRENTLY HAVE.

Some high points:

Dropping oil and logging is not an apocalypse. There is a LOT of financial opportunities in alternative energy. And I'm not just talking about the existing economic giants getting on board, but for all the existing workers who make a living in the old industry. Making money and selling alternative energy is CURRENTLY on par with oil. Careers AND the price in the end-products.

Things have changed from 15 years ago.

Being knowledgeable about the current field is NOT a luxury we can forgo. Living with the fear that everything is going to hell kinda begs the question: WHY are we living with a fear of change when the change is all for our benefit? We all need to drop the old assumptions and look toward re-tooling ourselves en-masse.

It really is a global concern. It affects everyone of every political motive. And yet, like the pandemic, people are turning it into a selling point. It should never have been a bone of contention.

It is POSSIBLE to pull it off. Unfortunately, we need EVERYONE on board.

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Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical TalesThe Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remember seeing this book in the bookstores in the '80s and thought it was a fantastically weird title.

Humor? Nah. But I stored it away in my head, thinking it was just some pop-psych stuff and I was SO not into pop-psych stuff because I was going to be a full-on psychologist.

It was a dream, right alongside being a world-famous writer.

And then I mistook my wife for a hat.

It's weird how cyclical reality is. :)

Honestly tho, I wanted to know more about the condition that prevented people from recognizing faces or facial expressions. I always wanted to read up on a ton of different right-brain issues.

What I didn't realize, way back in the day, was that this author also wrote Awakenings, which was turned into a movie with Robin Williams of the same name. And that he had been instrumental in a number of really fascinating discoveries and case studies.

Indeed, both the writing and the information within was pretty far from being pop-psychology. It was well-written, takes a focus on narrative for the express purpose of re-humanizing the people being discussed, and brought up a wide number of really fascinating conditions.

Moreover, the focus was never on dehumanizing anyone. Classifications and societal expectations being what they are, the tendency to drive people into "functional/nonfunctional", "dependent/independent" ignores the entire slew of capacities, individual excellence, and qualities that made these people special, regardless of their issues.

This isn't really a feel-good book so much as it highlights the limitations of the institution of neuropsychology up to that point in history. Most of the field had been focused on what was missing from the temporal left-lobe in patients -- or the ability to reason. But what about the ability to recognize reality? That's what the right hemisphere is best at.

Down's Syndrome might lack the left's strengths, but excel in the right. Autism is illustrated by a weakness in the right while being quite good on the left. (Of course, this is very simplistic and that's my fault here, not the book, but it's still a point.

Case studies are quite worthwhile. It shines a light on our own perceptions. People are not one thing. The real joy of this book is showing such a wide range of thinking and being. :)


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Mexican GothicMexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this on Halloween was a perfect treat for me. I was CHARMED.

Not charmed in the usual sense, mind you. Nothing about this honest gothic novel was anything I would naturally have swooned over except in the sense that shuttling me away to a distant English moor would give me a taste of something strange and exotic.

Indeed, I wasn't sure -- at first -- but having BROODED over the subject, feeling the ROT of the occasion, losing myself in a high mountaintop mansion transplanted from old English sensibilities to the remoteness of a Mexican village, I wound up, gleaming eyed, in the slow burn of a nearly Byronesque tale. Or Wuthering Heights.

Of course, one must place this novel precisely where it falls on the spectrum. It's romance, or at least romantic, even when it's creepy and horrible and even morally disgusting. This is not an apology for old gothic novels. This is a modern recreation and we can expect a huge, if ambiguous, wrap up.

I was thoroughly amused. :)


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