Oct 152018
 

Hyperion, by Dan Simmons

Synopsis: Seven pilgrims journey to a distant world, to visit a mysterious murder-alien who is rumored to grant wishes… or kill you.

Another book I’d been hearing about for forever. Turns out that yeah, this is a damn masterpiece of science fiction.

The novel has a primary storyline, concerning the pilgrimage. However the bulk of the text is the pilgrims tell their life-stories to each other in self-contained novelettes. Each of these novelettes is written in a different style, with a different theme. This allows Simmons to show off his range and versatility, and gives us a rich sampler platter of story-types to read. There’s xeno-exploration, military fic, Poe-style poetic tragedy, family drama, etc. All of them strongly SF-flavored. Each of these novelettes (with one exception) is a deeply engrossing story in its own right, with great character and world building, and engrossing plots. But the really masterful part is the way that all these individual novelettes build up the wider universe that the primary story takes place in. You quickly begin to see hidden actions and associations between the novelettes that isn’t very significant within a single novelette, but that are obviously connected and draw a much larger picture of what’s happening in the world when taken together. It’s telling a meta-story behind/within all the smaller human-scale stories the pilgrims are relating.

Taken together like this, we readers see an epic storyline unfolding from the various pieces we’re given. The feeling that comes with slowly realizing what’s happening is fantastic, and very rare. The only book I can easily recall pulling off something similar was Vellum, though the revelation in Use of Weapons was similar, if smaller scale. This is a hell of a feat for an author, and an absolute delight for a reader. I don’t want to over-hype the book, but it is really good, and you should read it if you haven’t yet.

A couple notes: The book is named for an abandoned epic-poem by Keats, and both Keats and the poem are referenced several times within the novel. I looked up the poem, and while I didn’t read it (cuz I suck at poetry), I did read about it, and seeing the deliberate parallels between the two works made the reading process even more enjoyable. Simmons is mirroring the themes in Keats’ poem in an SF setting, and it works.

Also, the reason I read this when I did was because I’ve started listening to the Doofcast, and this was their September Book Club book. They do a long dive into it in their episode, with many cool insights, and I think it makes a great companion. However it is full of spoilers, so wait until after you’ve finished the book. Shout-out and thanks to them for pushing me to do this, or it might have been several more years before I got around to it.

Absolutely Recommended.

Oct 032018
 

I’m going to ignore the question of whether Brett Kavanaugh actually did what he’s accused of. I’m more interested in the environment that shaped him.

Brett, to all appearances, was a Frat Bro. He drank too much, and he thought doing so was awesome. He partied, and bragged about how much he partied, and exaggerated his sexual exploits. Brett cared about his own enjoyment, and wasn’t too concerned about others.

I grew up a nerd. I was alone a lot. I didn’t drink until several years after college (to be fair, I dropped out after one year). I didn’t date or kiss anyone in high school. I was terrified of hurting others. I was neurotic as fuck about sex. Because one of the lessons I internalized about sex, in my Christian upbringing, was that sex ruins women. Before sex, they are pure beings with overwhelming inherent value. After sex, they lose all that value and are common, like the rest of us. I never got on board with “someone who’s had sex is like chewed gum,” but I was aware that stigma was out there as well.

This meant my primary role within the human experience is as a despoiler. I take what was beautiful and precious, and degrade it. I cannot help but do so, it is part of the very nature of existence, and I cannot be divorced from it. This is on top of the fact that men are the bringers of violence, the spreaders of war, and statistically dangerous to be around.

I’m not saying this is a good mindset. It’s certainly not a healthy one.

I despise Frat Bros. Because Frat Bros don’t give a fuck about others. They embrace all aspects of the despoiler archetype that I loathe. They’re obnoxiously loud, they trash the environment around them, they make people afraid and uncomfortable, they impose their careless violence on anyone around, and they’re fucking proud of it at the end. It makes them “cool.”

I despise them not just because of how they hurt others, but for how they burn the commons. They make women afraid of men. They spread the impression that men are despoilers. They destroy the ability for people to be comfortable displaying sexuality in any but the most protected settings, which just infuriates me, because I love the expression of sexuality in all its forms. These fuckers are the reason women can’t trust men. These fuckers are the reason patriarchy exists.

Brett loves beer. Brett loved to party until he vomited, then party some more. Yes, his brain hadn’t matured yet, and he was living in a toxic culture that encouraged this behavior. He no longer has that excuse. He’s in his 50s. Not only has he not made amends for his thoughtless violence, he defends it. He sees nothing wrong with today’s young men perpetuating the same Frat Bro culture. A grown man doing that should have his professional life fall to tatters in his hands. He should not be allowed within a hundred miles of a position of authority. Not until he’s shown some understanding of why what he did was wrong.

If he fails in that, I have no sympathy for him. Let him burn. Other parents should point him out to their sons and say “Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t drink too much. If you see your friend drinking way too much, watch out for him. Make sure he doesn’t assault anyone. Take him home, and if he made anyone fearful that night, tell him the next morning so he can make amends. Friends don’t let friends ruin their lives.”

I don’t know what happened at any particular party. I do know rape culture when I see it, and I cannot stomach a defense of it.

Oct 022018
 

Any synopsis would be spoilery. These are books 2 and 3 of Terra Ignota. If you liked Too Like The Lightning (book 1 of Terra Ignota), you will continue to like these. They’re really good. If you haven’t read any yet, see my post on Too Like The Lightning, or my interview with Ada Palmer.

This review kinda contains some spoilers, in a general sense, but nothing that isn’t already strongly telegraphed in the first book.

The more I read about today’s Culture Wars, the more I see Terra Ignota in everything around me. When I started Too Like The Lightning, I thought this was a wonderfully built future world. Fabulously imagined, meticulously built up in many layers across wide domains, and incredibly imaginative. Now I read it and I think “Holy fucking shit, this is the world we are living in right now, with the skin changed so that observations on the current day can be made through metaphor.” And yes, I know that all fiction is contemporary. I know that SF/F has been used since its very first works to actually be conversations about pressing current-day issues that pretends to be fanciful so it can say things one couldn’t say otherwise. But it still startled me just how insightful these works are when I woke up to what was happening around me.

The hives are our cultural tribes taken to their fullest extreme. One of our great problems today is that our geographic nations rule greatly disparate cultural tribes under a single government, binding them all with laws that are morally unacceptable to every one of them (although which laws it is are that are morally unacceptable differs from group to group, so everyone despises some thing, but never the same thing, and often what one group considers morally abominable is a moral requirement of others!). This leads to constant struggle to seize power and rewrite the laws (and norms) binding everyone, and thus The Culture Wars. This is exactly the situation in the Terra Ignota series, except they’ve found a way to prevent anyone from having to live under laws they find morally abhorrent. Problem solved!

Except not really, because all this did was paper over the problem and tell everyone it’s fixed, so we should all ignore it. The root cause, the incompatibility of the cultures, is still present. It continues to cause social strife and conflict, so that it can only be averted by a global regime of full surveillance and preventative assassination.

Let’s also take a moment to admire how Palmer included the parallel social construct of suppressing all gender expression. She says on more than one occasion, both within the books themselves, and in interviews, that she is portraying a society that went post-gender badly. Instead of resolving the sex divide, everyone simply agreed to remove any acknowledgement of gender and pretend this fixed the problem. It leads to deep pathologies within society, as well as individual defenselessness to sexual desires and sexual predators. This is the exact same tactic that was used to “resolve” the culture wars. I didn’t realize it while reading the novels, but in retrospect it’s so obvious it’s blinding. Palmer is yelling “Hey, society! Stop burying problems and pretending they don’t exist! Actually solve this shit!!”

She seems to be less than hopeful as to what will happen to us if we don’t. The society of Terra Ignota is descending into full civil war. A vicious, terrible war, because there are no borders, and thus there is no place that is safe. Every combatant lives interspersed with the enemy at all times. There’s a lot of people in the US worried that we’re heading for a Civil War II. We would find ourselves in the same situation. Sharing our grocery stores, our subways, and our neighborhoods with filthy Alt-Righters, Social Justice Activists, Rationalists, etc.

I also want to take a moment to highlight how damned prophetic Palmer is. She started writing this series in 2008. 2008!!! When I heard that I asked “Waitaminit… you were already writing the post-gender They/Them world in 2008? I know I haven’t been on college campuses in quite a while, but that seems really freakin’ early! I’m not totally out of touch, and this has only been a thing for a few years now. Was this already a thing where you were in 2008?” She replied, with some exasperation, “No! It came out in 2016 and people were all ‘oh, she’s jumping on this gender bandwagon’ but I totally want credit for coming up with it way before that!” And first of all – mad props to her for just that. But think about what she’s done. Combining historical insights and the subtle interactions she saw building in the world around her in 2008, she created a world that reflected the most pressing cultural issues of ten years in the future before any of us were even near that stage. Back when we were still freaking out about the worldwide financial collapse and catching Bin Laden. I know it’s partly luck, but even so, it’s damned prescient. I am honestly shocked.

And as frustrating as it must be to have your book in limbo for years before it finally makes it to print, I think it may have been a boon in this case. Five years ago, we didn’t know this was the world we were living in. It may not have made this same impact, and drawn this much attention.

Or who knows, maybe it would have. Maybe we could have more clearly seen what was coming, and been better able deal with its unpleasant surprises. I don’t think most people are quite that insightful. I certainly wouldn’t have been. Hell, I didn’t even fully realize what was happening when I read these two books a few months ago.

If you are at all interested in the world around you, or how truly exceptional SF can be more historically relevant than anything in the New York Times: Highly Recommended.

(added: a few hours after I wrote this, I discovered Ada has launched a Kickstarter to fund a lecture & discussion series on Censorship & Information Control In Information Revolutions, should you be interested in that as well)


Sep 282018
 

I saw this driving in to work. I will say that it’s really disheartening that the term “geoengineering” is already starting to get baggage!

Petrov Day Shenanigans. To quote a friend: “Seattle, in the midst of confusion stemming from a technical malfunction, launched an unprovoked (pretend) nuclear strike against Oxford. This attack resulted in the senseless, fiery death of Oxford’s cake, but perhaps we can find wisdom among charred, frosting-strewn rubble”

From post:  “I think this is highly illustrative of the real point of Petrov Day, which is that we treat nukes way too lightly and make it far too easy to kill other humans even when no harm was intended on anyone’s part.”

 

Software disenchantment. “Look around: our portable computers are thousands of times more powerful than the ones that brought man to the moon. Yet every other webpage struggles to maintain a smooth 60fps scroll on the latest top-of-the-line MacBook Pro. I can comfortably play games, watch 4K videos but not scroll web pages? How is it ok?
…Google Inbox, a web app written by Google, running in Chrome browser also by Google, takes 13 seconds to open moderately-sized emails
…Modern text editors have higher latency than 42-year-old Emacs. Text editors! What can be simpler?
…Windows 95 was 30Mb. Today we have web pages heavier than that! Windows 10 is 4Gb, which is 133 times as big. But is it 133 times as superior? I mean, functionally they are basically the same.”

I know this isn’t the fault of my software developer friends, and is instead a problem with Inadequate Equilibria. But goddamn this just frustrates me soooo much. The world doesn’t have to be this way!

 

Memetic Tribes and Culture War 2.0 is long, but so worth it. A thesis that brings together everything about today’s cultural crisis and explains both its origins and effects. This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time. Here’s just one small part:

“The internet pornifies our private lives, including our political views, leaving nothing to the imagination. When everything is laid bare, respect vanishes, for our proximity exposes all of our ugliness. This manifests in what psychologists call dissimilarity cascades (the more we know about someone, the less we like them) and environmental spoiling (proximity with those we don’t like spoils the environment as a whole).

Mutually exclusive memeplexes, or “mutex” memeplexes, have no distance from one another thanks to the global village. This is the proximity crisis. Good fences make good neighbors, and the power of media has flattened all social fences.”

 

SMBC with a fantastic example of “The Medium is the Message”

 

This song is really good! If you liked “This is America” you’ll probably like this. Her other stuff is also very good.

 

Why PayPal’s crackdown on ASMR creators should worry you. Oh look, FOSTA is being weaponized to enforce misogyny. Who the fuck could’ve seen THAT happening??
/veryangry
Also, fuck 8chan

Modern text “communication” is insane. “How the hell is anyone supposed to communicate and connect through this stupid world of words? Apparently we do it by saying very, very little, and by restricting what we think and share so that it fits this insanely sparse format”

 

My friend Thomas is Kickstarting a new translation of the 2nd century stoic text “The Enchiridion.”

Why for? Stoicism continues to be a popular philosophy, but the last English translation of this text is over 100 years old. This new translation will be written in modern, conversational English. This will not only be easier to understand, it will also be more accurate to the original Koine Greek.

Example given: “consider this line from lesson 40: αἱ γυναῖκες εὐθὺς ἀπὸ τεσσαρεσκαίδεκα ἐτῶν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνδρῶν κυρίαι καλοῦνται.

Previously, this has been translated this as “Women from fourteen years old are flattered by men with the title of mistress.” But this is a very inaccurate and misleading translation! “καλοῦνται” does not mean “flatter”, it means “call”, as in “calling your sheep back to their pen”. Flattering a person has a clearly different connotation than calling an animal. It almost comes across as a positive thing, which is very much not what Epictetus is trying to convey!

Thus a more accurate translation is “Women as young as fourteen are catcalled by men.” This makes much more sense to a modern reader, and is actually applicable to your life – catcalling is still an issue, even eighteen centuries later.”

Also, their final stretch goal will fund an audio book version that will be narrated by me, so there’s that

 

Country pride: what I learned growing up in rural America. All sorts of interesting in here. This is only a small piece of a very varied read:
“Owning a small bit of the countryside brought my father deep satisfaction. The state had seized some of his dad’s farmland through eminent domain in the 1960s to dig the reservoir and move water east in underground tunnels for the people of Wichita. Sometimes Dad would park his truck on the shoulder of the two-lane blacktop that ran along the lake dam and take my brother and me up the long, steep concrete steps to look at what would have been his and then our small inheritance, now literally underwater. We couldn’t use the water ourselves; it was for Wichitans to access by turning on a faucet. We thus had dug a private well right next to a giant reservoir on what once was our land. It’s an old story: pushing poor rural communities out of the way to tap natural resources for cities.”

 

People often say “Sugar is poison” or “Coconut Oil is poison” or etc, for memetic/dramatic effect. But alcohol is perhaps the only thing most people regularly consume that is *ACTUALLY* poison. So every study I’ve ever seen saying that it increases health I have dismissed as wishful thinking/pack of lies. Today I am vindicated.

That being said, I ain’t gonna stop drinking. That can be some really fun poison!

“Numerous peer-reviewed studies found evidence that people who have a drink or two a day are less likely to have heart disease than people who abstain or drink excessively.

But the new study, while noting the lower risks of heart disease from moderate drinking, as well as a dip in the diabetes rate in women, found that many other health risks offset and overwhelm the health benefits. That includes the risk of breast cancer, larynx cancer, stroke, cirrhosis, tuberculosis, interpersonal violence, self-harm and transportation accidents.

“People who report drinking in moderation tend to be very different from people who don’t drink at all. They tend to be a healthier population, they tend to exercise more, they tend to be more affluent, they tend to have more access to health care,” Brewer said.”

In case you’re wondering what the difference is between teetotalers and moderate drinkers, I’ve heard that part of it is that teetotalers include a lot of former alcoholics.

 

“Reducing China’s ocean plastic pollution by 3% would be as valuable as getting the USA all the way down to zero. Also much easier as it just involves scaling up well-understood rubbish collection methods used elsewhere.
If we cared about saving the oceans we’d focus on bringing the countries that pollute the most up to scratch rather than eeeking out the irrelevant incremental gains possible in the USA/EU.
Data source Table 1 and Data Supplement 1: science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768/tab-figures-data

 

 

This is really big for both readers and writers – Walmart and Kobo Launch Walmart eBooks, Including an Audiobook Subscription for $9.99 Wal-Mart is one of the few entities I think could actually compete with Amazon on this. Thank god. We need some competition.

 

Forward Progress! Scientists Just Successfully Reversed Ageing in Lab Grown Human Cells

 

The prison industry is fucking evil. How Florida’s Prisons and DRM Made $11.3M Worth of Prisoners’ Music Disappear

“There is no technical reason why the files can’t be transferred: the decision to prevent prisoners from keeping the music they bought at a steep markup is a purely commercial one

The Florida Department of Corrections is already earning record sums from Jpay, taking a cut every time a prisoner’s family pays to transfer money into the prisoner’s Jpay account. The music-repurchasing bonanza that will follow the Jpay switchover represents an especially lucrative windfall for the department”

 

GOOGLE scrambled to contain leaks and internal anger on Wednesday after the company’s confidential plan to launch a censored version of its search engine in China was revealed. TY friends that work at Google, keep fighting the good fight :)

 

Yuppie Fishtanks: YIMBYism explained without “supply and demand”. “Most of the yuppies would probably rather live in the fishtanks. The fishtanks tend to be located downtown, near to where the yuppies work (SoMa, Embarcadero, etc.), rather than in the older residential neighborhoods. Additionally, the fishtanks are pretty and modern and new, with gyms and common space and other stuff yuppies like. Probably more attractive for the average yuppie than an aging Victorian far out in the Mission or Haight with no built-in community or on-site services.

Now if the new fishtank units catch the incoming yuppies and prevent them from invading long-time residential working-class neighborhoods, that’s good!

And if the new fishtank units lure yuppies away from long-time residential working-class neighborhoods, that’s also good!”

 

TIL the origin of the phrase “Terminate with extreme prejudice.” Funnier than I expected.

 

And finally, a reminder that things are getting better.

Sep 252018
 

The last few months I’ve had some time to read a few books outside of book club (*gasp!*), and I’ve decided I might as well post a few thoughts about them. They aren’t full book club reviews, but they’re something.

Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow

Synopsis: A society on the edge of breaking into both post-scarcity and transhumanism suffers intense adjustment shocks.

This is an intensely interesting look at the border state of a capitalist society turning into a post-scarcity one, and the potential conflict that could engender as people struggle to make the switch. One might not think it’d be that hard to switch to not laboring for anything once machines can do it, but the values of the work ethic and earning one’s keep can be really hard to transmute into something that doesn’t judge people for not working. The portrayal of a society struggling between such fundamentally opposed ideologies is very compelling, and that alone would be enough to entice me. But on top of all that, the human race starts dipping its toes into transhumanism here, struggling to create/stabilize the first uploaded humans, and that parallel storyline is fascinating as well, if perhaps not as integral to the plot.

Ultimately, this is an idea-novel. It has a lot of big ideas it wants to talk about, and it wraps those within an interesting storyline about rebellion and growth. The story works well enough, but it’s not the main attraction, and I could tell that in the reading. There are many occasions where characters monologue or dialog about ethics or economics (and usually both). It’s basically transhumanist punk message fic. Which is fine with me, I enjoy message fic! :) I really enjoyed Atlas Shrugged, and The Golden Compass, and several of John C Wright works, and so on. I consider message fic to be both fun, inspiring, and motivational, even when I disagree with the message! Assuming that it’s well done message fic. Walkaway isn’t as well done as the ones I’ve named, but it’s still pretty darn good. Recommended.

As a note, this book is heavily inspired by the post-scarcity community at Burning Man. Doctorow attends at least sometimes (I got the book from him there in 2017, when he gave me an audio version on USB), and if you’ve been before you’ll recognize a lot of the ethos, as well as great heaps of the jargon! It provided me with a sense of familiarity. Although it also meant I was constantly visualizing everyone in the Nevada desert rather than the Canada wilds. At least, up until the blizzards became a plot point.

Sep 212018
 

This post has spoilers that go right up to the last few chapters of Downbelow Station.

 

So don’t read it if you don’t want spoilers! Big ones!

 

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Now that that’s out of the way, also a content warning – this post talks about rape. Although that itself isn’t a spoiler, since the alluded-to rape happens in the first few chapters. But it’s another possible reason not to read this.

 

Early in the book, a character (Josh) is taken as prisoner of war by a warship captain (Mallory) and used as a sex slave during his captivity. He is clearly raped by her, seemingly multiple times, before being left at Downbelow Station. He’s damaged by this, and later in the novel when Mallory returns, makes an attempt to murder her in revenge.

Later on, Mallory begins a redemption arc. She’s shown to be one of the least bad captains, given the situation. In the end, she breaks from the fleet admiral and turns on her former comrades in order to save the station and save the lives of tens of thousands of civilians that were to be slaughtered. It’s a great emotional moment, which builds for chapters as we see more and more injustice through Mallory’s eyes, and feel her silently raging against it, until she realizes the holocaust that’s about to take place and simply cannot stomach to accept orders anymore. We readers are very glad she switches sides and comes to the rescue. However it occurred to me as I was reading it that if this had been a male captain who had raped a female sex slave in the early chapters of the book, I wouldn’t be even a fraction as accepting of this redemption arc. I might accept it grudgingly, because preventing holocausts is a good thing. But I’d be angry with the author and wondering what the hell they are trying to pull. As it was, I was only really uncomfortable and struggling with this dissonance.

Then, in the last chapters, Josh returns to Mallory and volunteers to join her crew. And is accepted. He is now part of a family, content to be a crew member of the captain who raped him repeatedly. If this was a male captain and a female character going back to him in kinship, I would have thrown the book across the fucking room and cursed the fucking author. Disgusting, and unbelievable, and infuriating. As it was, I was again only uncomfortable… and now REALLY struggling with the fact that I feel that I should be outraged, but I’m just kinda fucked up instead.

Why the hell are the two situations so different? I did, of course, turn to rationalization right away. Men are less likely to contract STIs from women. Men can’t get pregnant, the most horrific STI of all. Men raped by women are far less likely to by physically damaged by the act. Men do not suffer the stigma and (depending on the society) loss of status of being “impure” or “dirtied” by the act.

However the violation of bodily autonomy is just as present. The helplessness of being an object used by someone else is just as damaging. It was still rape, after all. Shouldn’t I be just as outraged? I should be enraged that this character could be portrayed as forgiving and living with (and under the command of) his rapist.

I’m still not sure what to make of all this. I don’t have any statements or conclusions to make. I’m just expressing my own discomfort with my non-equal emotional reactions in this post. I think that Cherryh was wise to choose the sexes of Josh/Mallory as she did, because this would have been unacceptable to most audiences if written with their sexes swapped. But, OTOH, it probably would have also been written very differently if their sexes were swapped, and likely would have resolved in a completely different way. So the fact that we are more willing to accept it written this way says something about us. With this subplot, Cherryh has held up a mirror to me, and shown me an aspect of myself I was unaware of. And done that to our society as a whole, I venture. That’s good writing.

Still weirded out by myself, though.

Sep 192018
 

Downbelow Station, by C.J. Cherryh

Synopsis: A neutral outpost is drawn into a war between two vastly more powerful adversaries, threatening everything they believe and ultimately their existence.

Book Review: For a book published in 1981, this is still a surprisingly relevant story! It starts with a refugee crisis, one infinitely more interesting and well-represented than whatever Exit West was trying to do. It shows the moral difficulty of the situation, displaying both the injustice and despair of the abused refugees, and the societal problems and resource constraints experienced by the pre-existing population. One of our heroes even begins to fantasize of atrocity to solve this problem.

This deep understanding and unguarded presentation of all sides continues through-out the book. Cherryh presents real people with compelling views among all sides, which I greatly admire in fiction. While there are some villains, the biggest true villain is the specter of war itself, and the horrors it brings. When an antagonist looks poised to take control of the station, all I could think was “Yes! Please let him do a good job of this! I don’t care who controls the station just so long as we can avoid the ravages of warfare.” This is good writing.

The station itself reminded me of Renaissance-era city-states. Geographically small, dependent upon the laborers of the lands around them to survive, with politics ruled by strong families that often have bitter rivalries among them. Betrayal and intrigue is the order of the day, but in the end it is the city that is the most important thing, rather than any individual person or family. I loved it.

Maybe it’s not a perfect book… the protagonists are slightly too Paladin-like for my tastes. The innocent pre-civilization aliens that work with the humans are just over-the-top innocent and sweet and helpful, going beyond even the caricature of the Noble Savage. But nonetheless, this is a fantastic novel. It was never slow, never anything but supremely written, and I cared for the station and what was happening on the next page. The structure of the novel, written in many places as a series of vignettes that show how major political decisions affect the day-to-day lives of the small people on the ground, as well as the outcomes of flashy space-battles, was exquisite. This is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

I’m reading Hyperion in my free time right now as well, and these two books together are making me reconsider my reading strategy. Rather than chasing the shiny new thing, which often disappoints, I am beginning to think I really should focus on reading through all the books that I hear many times, from multiple sources, are amazing. Seminal works, things considered classics of the genre, and so forth.

Recommended!

Book Club Review: Also a great book club book. There is much to talk about, and everyone will find something to love. In addition to asking if ideals can survive the necessities of a callous world, the book raises several moral questions that will likely get people talking. I’ll be writing about one tomorrow, but it’s hell of a spoiler, so I’m not including it in this review. If your book club is willing to have conversations on difficult issues without good resolutions, this is a great starting point. And even if they aren’t, it’s still a good book which will be enjoyed and bring discussion with it. Recommended.

Sep 132018
 

A few pics and comments and vids.

StarBuds 4Ever

Sorry Mario, your princess is in another castle. :/

Outside Baba Yaga’s hut. This was the coolest thing, propped up on giant chicken legs. The inside was gorgeous! Very atmospheric, and it felt much bigger on the inside than it had any right to be. :) Sadly, I’m not a photographer, and couldn’t really capture the coolness of it.

Inside Baba Yaga’s hut (one small corner only!).

Bottom of the Car Spike. We climbed to the top, it was great! Lots of handholds and standing room, good climbing design. But they closed it to climbers on the 3rd day anyway, cuz some doof fell and broke his shoulder. Advice to all: get to cool climbable stuff early in the week, before the doofs injure themselves!

Houses, from human sized, to 6 foot, to 2 foot, to tiny. I counted six houses altogether, the last one being maybe an inch tall. I like that the birdcage enclosing the largest one is broken open at the top. Like the house finally grew big enough to escape.

I’m on a train. Take a good, hard look at the mother-f**’in train!

[Edit: replaced pic with a better-quality one from a friend.] It’s hard to get the scale of this thing. This sphere was HUGE. Could be seen from halfway across the city, and we used it as a landmark and a meeting place. Very useful, and pretty. My favorite memory was reuniting with my great friend under the sphere at midnight, in the middle of a big ol’ dust-storm, because we agreed to meet under it at midnight if we got separated. It was a reunion scene for the ages!

Robot Prophet.

The manufactured man looks to be leaving the wheat behind. I take it to symbolize how we will no longer require nature’s bounty to sustain us once we’ve surpassed our flesh bodies. A little melancholy, but as we grow up as a species we must put childish things behind us.

This was a nice place to chill out in the middle of the desert.

Atlas, defeated. Having finally broken, he slumps in his failure. And yet, the world remains aloft. What was all his straining for? Why the anguish and agony, struggling to hold up all this weight, when it turns out that he was never needed? All those millenia… for what?
Is my interpretation, anyway.

Our bikes, resting together, like friends.

Burning Man is among the greatest fireworks shows in the country.

The Temple Burn was much more solemn this year than last year, which I appreciated.

Burning Man is an amazing experience. However it wasn’t as good as my first year. I knew what to expect this time. Last year everything was mind-blowing and new and unbelievable. Knowing what was coming made this year very different. I think I spent much of this year trying to recreate my first year’s experience, and that was a mistake. Next year I will be much more intentional in my explorations.

I did bring two virgins, however. Watching them experience Burning Man for the first time was pretty damn fantastic. :)

Aug 292018
 

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, by Theodora Goss

Synopsis: The daughters of Victorian-era SF heroes and villains band together to solve a mystery.

Book Review: This novel hits you with its cool twist right in the epigraph – the story is being told by the protagonist, who is typing it out while her friends are watching, and their comments as she’s telling of their exploits are included in the text. It’s a delightful conceit! Feels a bit “Series of Unfortunate Events”-ish, in that the author/narrator is an active part of the story. This gives it a very conversational feel, like your friends are all sitting in the room with you and telling the story at once, butting in to interrupt each other.

It’s used to great effect several times, where one of the supporting characters complains about something, or protests how they are portrayed, only to have the author immediately change things within the novel to aggravate them even more to teach them a lesson. It’s fantastically fun!

In addition, it’s really cool being introduce to most of the characters through their commentary, and then meeting them in the narration as the story is related and saying “Oh! *THAT’S* who Justine is!! Neat!”

I also enjoyed the re-imagining of so many old characters, from Jekyll/Hyde through Sherlock, mostly seen through the eyes of their daughters. They spend the novel basically cleaning up the mess their fathers have left behind, and it’s a fun romp. Also, Diane is amaaaaazing. If you like stabby tom-boy characters (like Arya!) you’ll really enjoy her. She’s fantastic, and hilarious. Shortest daughter is best daughter!

On the downsides, the book isn’t very deep. It feels very much like the pilot episode of a series, where all the characters are introduced, but there are no character arcs and the plot isn’t terribly relevant; presumably because it’s basically setting things up for later. It’s also an ensemble piece, and each character is focused so strongly on being unique that they start to feel a bit single-note. Their strongest character trait is stressed over and over.

In the same way, there’s a number of things that are repeated ad nauseum, just to make sure we reaaaaaaaally get it. Yes, the crazy man is innocent despite his guilt admission, WE GET IT. It makes everyone in the story look like idiots because they keep saying “Wow, it’s so unbelievable that this gentle, weak, harmless, disconnected from reality old man could murder someone! But I guess he admitted it, so there’s just no way he isn’t guilty! So weird!” auuuuugh.

Similarly, there’s a few times very important things are ignored by characters just so they can be revisited later. Like, hey, if the girl I just rescued from an orphanage keeps calling me “sister,” maybe I should ask her why, instead of putting it off until after tea, and lunch, and dinner, and a good night’s sleep, and breakfast the next morning?

And the interjections don’t do nearly as much in the later half of the book. Most of the cool narrative jostling is in the first half, which made me sad, I would have enjoyed seeing more structure play.

This is a light, fast read, and fairly enjoyable. But it’s a set up for a longer series, and doesn’t have any weight to it. I get the feeling it’ll be popular, because it is fun and inconsequential, and lots of times that’s what people want in their pleasure reading. But for me, Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: I was surprised by how much there was to discuss. This hits the sweet spot of having a bunch of cool things that people liked, and a bunch of little irritating things that people had opinions on and could dig into for a fair bit. We ended up chatting for quite a while about this! The fact that it’s fanfic of SF classics that everyone is familiar with also really helped. There were some strong opinions on some of the portrayals. :) And that sparked further conversation about the nature of transformative works, as well as opinions on bringing modern sensibilities and language into old stories.

It also made me despair for American copyright law again. This is the sort of thing we are stealing from the current generation with our ridiculous restrictions.

Anyway, this made for some great talk, and it’s not a hard read! I’d use it as a break between heavier stuff, but yes – Recommended.