May 182017
 

I have learned a lesson the hard way, and wish to pass along what I’ve learned in the hopes that others need not learn it the same way.

For any agreement that is long term and important (define as you will, but anything lasting more than a few months and likely to entail over $10K would qualify IMHO) – PUT THE AGREEMENT IN WRITING.

This sounds obvious to the point of absurdity on the surface. We all know this already! But allow me to point out a couple edge cases.

  1. If the agreement starts small (maybe under a thousand dollars, maybe only a couple thousand, maybe just for a month or two), but it starts to grow slowly over time, you will eventually become very uncomfortable talking about it. Because there was implicit trust when the stakes were lower, and asking for a formal written agreement now implies lack of trust. It does not matter. PUT IT INTO WRITING, or cut it off.
  2. The agreement may be with someone you trust implicitly. A sibling. A lover. The person who saved your life. Implying you don’t trust them by asking for the agreement to be put into writing would be insulting, and throw the strength of your bonds into question.  It does not matter. PUT IT INTO WRITING. If they actually love you and trust you, they will want to have it put in writing as well, for your safety as well as theirs.
  3. Perhaps BOTH 1 & 2 are the case. This compounds the difficulty greatly. Guess what? Yeah – Writing.

You think I’m being silly.

In a long term situation, the person you are dealing with today, who loves you and saved your life, may not be the same person you are dealing with in several years. Future-Them may have developed a drug dependency. Or they may not care as much for you, values do drift. Maybe you are simply wrong about them right now. (Humans are terrible at judging three things: Volume, Acceleration, and Character).

But even if they should change, you think you’re basically protected. Because the tribe knows of your arrangement. Both of you have spoken of it publicly many times. You’ve had dinner with each other’s parents where these things are discussed. You’ve created bank accounts, you have paper trails and history, everyone knows the deal. Even should your partner go nuts, everyone knows of the agreement.

That’s where I got tripped up. The entirety of our social environment is only a minuscule fraction of the humans in the area. In the ancestral environment, if everyone both of you knows is aware of a thing, that’s the entire world for all practical purposes. In the modern environment, that’s no one. Unless your social circle includes the judges and lawyers that will be presiding over the court case, none of that matters.

Naively, one thinks “Look, everyone knows the score. We can go and explain it to any Judge. They are impartial arbiters, set by society to maintain justice and fairness. All we need do is explain the situation and they’ll do their best to bring about an equitable resolution.”

One is wrong to think that. They are sentinels set to keep society as stable as possible and the status quo as untouched as possible. There is already a standard solution to your problem, and it will be imposed, and none of your arguments really matter. Do you really want to argue about why YOUR situation is different and unique and special, and explain why the standard formula is unjust and inequitable, given the arrangement you had that EVERYONE knows about? Really? Ok, fine, you can do that. You’ll have to put off the resolution for months (at least) while court dates are made, motions are filed, and so forth. I hope you weren’t trying to get on with your life in that time, because that certainly won’t happen. Your lawyer bills will be in the thousands per month, so you’re looking at a minimum of $10,000 just to present your case, and very likely much more.

And all this buys you is a chance for the judge to say “Eh, this is very unusual, but you make a good case. I’ll adjust the standard formula by 20%.” Not “Here’s a Fair Judgement based on The Case At Hand.” Just an adjustment of the standard resolution. Unless you were talking huge numbers in the initial case, that adjustment to the standard solution may not be worth all the time, money, and psychological turmoil you paid to get there.

This is because the court has a vested interest in NOT MAKING EXCEPTIONS. And when they do, only slightly deviating from the norm. Their goals are to keep things as steady and predictable as possible, and make sure everything cleaves as close to the Standard Resolution as possible. Simply by presenting your case to the court for consideration you are making yourself its enemy. Stop trying to rock the damn boat, it’s got important places to go.

But you know what completely short-circuits the standard formula? What nips the entire process in the bud and smothers this unholy abomination in its legal crib before it can grow into the vile abortion of justice it wants to be?

A written agreement, signed by all parties.

Because two adults can agree to most anything, as long as it’s not unconscionable or illegal. And once they’ve agreed to it and there’s written proof of that, that supersedes the default procedures.

Sure, you can still fight over the details. But at least what was *supposed* to happen is documented. The goals that were originally being pursued and invested in. That paper defines the entire battleground. Without it, you are in hostile territory, and the powers that rule it just want you out of their hair.

Put It Into Writing. You don’t need a lawyer. You don’t need anything super official. Sure, those things help, especially if it gets ugly. But even a simple print-out of intentions and expectations, signed by both people, does WONDERS to define the territory. Always define the territory.

No one who actually cares about you will ask you to risk jumping into hostile territory. And if you’ve found you accidentally wandered into it, stop wading deeper in. Don’t go another step without a piece of paper. It’s better than a map. It is the territory.

May 162017
 

Fun trivia:

The visualization of recorded laughter is almost invariant among humans. That is to say – Everyone Laughs The Same. I’ve seen laughter recorded from I dunno how many people, dozens at least, maybe getting close to a hundred? And it always looks like this:

A series of choppy vertical lines, close together, with high spikes followed by deep dips. The “Ha-Ha-Ha” sound. It didn’t take me very long to learn this. It’s very easy to pick out laughter in tracks by sight, without any audio. And whenever I see these spikes coming down the line I smile, because I know what’s coming. I’ve come to associate this waveform with warm feelings. It makes me happy that all humans basically laugh the same.

May 112017
 

Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee

Synopsis: A young captain, aided by the ghost of a genius-but-insane general, must retake an impenetrable space fortress from the rebels that have seized control of it — in a universe where the laws of physics can be changed by consensus belief.

Book Review: First thing to note is that this is a Science Fantasy. That’s a fairly new term for an old concept. It’s been said that genre is mainly defined by its furniture, and I basically agree with this. So what do you call it when the furniture is both Science Fiction – spaceships, lasers, computers – and Fantasy – ghosts, ritual magic, sword fights? You call it Science Fantasy. It’s generally closer to Warhammer 40K than Star Wars, but both of those count. So, if you don’t like magic in your SF, you may not like this.

The magic in Ninefox Gambit is particularly neat, because the conceit is that consensus belief (as expressed through holy days and religious ritual) alters the laws of physics. That means that if enough people start believing things outside of official dogma your super-powerful space weapons and exotic defenses stop working, and your stardrives break down and you can’t keep the empire together. Publicly torturing heretics to reinforce orthodox belief becomes a matter of both galactic security and personal safety (who wants to find out what happens when your artificial gravity or inertial dampners stop working?).

The fact that the story is convey within an altered physics by a character who is native to that physics makes the world endlessly fascinating. When a fox-servitor hops up *on the air* to come level with a table was my first big “Oh, wow, this is nothing like my physics” moment. In places light has texture. It’s relentlessly cool. But it’s also dense and alien, and all these things are conveyed by just thrusting you in the world and letting you figure it out via context, so the reading requires work. It took me as long a read this book as one twice it’s size normally would, because it was slow going parsing what was going on. I view this as a mark in the book’s favor, but don’t underestimate the time this will take, and don’t rush through it or you’ll lose lots of important details.

The plot is mil-fic layered over espionage. I find this a bit of a problem, because I’m not that big a fan of mil-fic, but I wasn’t ever bored, so at least it wasn’t bad mil-fic. The espionage added an interesting aspect, but… well…

I fell in love with this book early, due to the rich complexity and the LIBRARIES of potential here. The insane general who can only speak to the protagonist (Cheris) is basically an AI-in-a-box, with Cheris’s mind as the box! And she has to rely on him to win the battle, while being very careful not to let him escape, or betray the empire covertly, or subvert her into joining him. I thought the line “When he sounds sane and the rest of the world doesn’t, you know it’s time to pull the trigger” was the best freakin’ setup in the history of mental-battles ever. I was looking forward to some serious Death Note/Sword Of Good-style mind-fuckery.

The general’s mysterious mass-slaughter betrayal centuries ago was a fantastic set-up for some sort of Traitor Baru/Mycroft Canner/Cold Equations style “forced to do horrific thing for the greater good” backstory. The servitor’s secret society who’s existence must remain hidden from the humans was fascinating. There was just sooooo much deliciousness here that I still get excited thinking about it!

Plus the writing is gorgeous.

But in the end it all boils down to a basic plot with pretty simplistic motivations. All that potential is wasted in the service of a regular ol’ good person v evil empire story. It’s well done, and I feel like the parent who complains that their super-genius child is wasting their potential simply getting A’s in regular school when they could be pushing into early-college classes and super-advanced hard stuff. Like, it’s the kid’s life, it’s the kid’s potential, they can use it any way they please. But it’s still so heartbreaking to know what’s possible, and not see it realized.

I think this is an amazing set up for what could be one of the most epic Rational Fics ever. I kinda (very much) hope that someone in the RatFic community picks this up and creates the fanfic that makes it what I wish it was. :) Which sounds awful to say, and I’m sure Lee wouldn’t thank me for poo-pooing on their ending. I’m sorry! I loved the rest of it so much.

Anyway, despite the flat ending, still Recommended. Enough coolness in there to make it worth it, and maybe someone will be inspired to take it further.

Book Club Review: An interesting mix. This seems very much a book that grabs you early or turns you off early. A few of our members just didn’t get (or didn’t like) the “physics is altered by consensus beliefs” thing, and so the magic was chaotic and confusing and the universe made no sense to them. To be fair, the magic is chaotic and confusing, and the universe is intentionally bizarre. If you don’t pick up several core concepts fairly quickly the book is borderline nonsensical. Even among those who got it, not everyone appreciated it.

Due to the strangeness of the setting, most of the discussion ended up circling around that. Exploring the implications and/or complaining about the obfuscating explanations. The major theme(s?) of the book were lost among world building details and explosions. I don’t think this is bad though, we still had a pretty fun time talking.

It’s also a Hugo Finalist, so a bunch of other people will also have read it. One can discuss what traits likely caught the attention of Hugo readers, and how one feels about literary awards generally.

If your group is up for a challenge, then Recommended.

May 092017
 

Guys, I’m totes gonna solve discrimination today.

People are complicated and hard to get to know in a short amount of time. But sometimes you need to make quick a judgement without the time to really get to know someone. So people often use simple heuristics based on what they can see. Things like clothing, race, accent, etc.

This kinda works, because in the aggregate there are statistical difference between groups. If you pick a random man from the population, statistically he’s likely to be taller than a random woman. There are a lot of these sorts of statistical correlations, the most controversial of which deal with intelligence and criminality, which I won’t get into because you already know them.

The most important thing about statistical correlations is that they are SUPER fuzzy. A few percentage aggregate difference between groups that measure in the hundreds of millions, or possibly billions, leaves for astounding variance between individuals. I’m tall-ish for a man, and I’ve met a number of women taller than I am. The tremendous variance between individuals makes it unfair for someone to be pre-judged based on a group they fall in. It is claimed that “Research in human genetics has highlighted that there is more genetic variation within than between human groups, where those groups are defined in terms of linguistic, geographic, and cultural boundaries.” Statement 2. Guiding principles on using racial categories in human genetics (Soo-Jin Lee et al., 2008)

So we’re left in a tough dilemma — the information available to us is crappy and unfair to any given individual. But it’s based on aggregate statistics, and when that is the ONLY information someone has to go on, they will go on that, because even unfair data is often better than nothing at all. IE: if you want to optimize your group for tallness, you’re better off rejecting all female applicants (if the only info you have on applicants is their sex), despite the fact that a mixed group picking from the tallest candidates from both sexes would be taller.

But you know what groups actually have a very low degree of variance within them? Families. Specifically, children to their parents.

When I was a wee one, I believed strongly in blank-slate-ism. Almost everything was Nurture, in my opinion. To the point that I argued very strongly on Xena forums that it was evil for Xena to try to murder the infant child of Satan, because if it was raised by Gabrielle it could have totally grown up into a kind, caring, productive member of ancient Greek society. I still do think that it was probably wrong for Xena to have attempted that particular bit of child-killing, but I’m now far more sympathetic to the side of “Look, her dad is literally the embodiment of evil.” Turns out genes really do make a lot of difference, and everything is at least partially heritable.

This has been floating around in my head for a while, but I was recently reminded to post about it due to someone saying:

if you have a kid with some kind of horrifying predatory criminal, and now your kid is a horrifying predatory criminal, and you have no idea how this happened because the father left before he was even born and your new husband is a great guy and you’ve both always done your best to raise your kid well and give him a good home, your kid’s psychiatrist will listen empathetically to your story, and then empathetically give you a copy of The Nurture Assumption.

Also, “But we’re his foster parents! And he was taken away from his biological parents at age two weeks old! And we’ve given him the best home and every advantage you could imagine!” Lady, as soon as my next bulk shipment of The Nurture Assumption copies come in, boy do I have a book for you!

If someone wanted to eliminate all practical reasons for discrimination in situations where there’s enough time to run a quick database look-up on someone, I think by far the best way to do so would be to implement a strong genealogical record and make it entirely legal to look people up at will and base decisions on the results. Now the black kid with a teacher mother and an electrician father has a FAR better chance on his job application than the white kid with a mom in-and-out of rehab, and a dad who’s been in jail twice for assault.

Yes, it’s STILL unfair. Popular fiction would be full of stories of the kid who’s parents are horrifying predatory criminals, but the kid is kind and gentle and doing his best to cure cancer or break the lightspeed limit, and he’s almost there, but The Man is judging him based on a past that he had no hand in creating and couldn’t control. But it would be FAR MORE fair than what we have right now, because the correlation between parent-child is far stronger than within-racial/religious/sex/etc-group. It would help decision makers as well as applicants in almost all cases.

There would be ways for people to get around the stigma of awful parents, just like there are ways to get around the stigma of being poor, or female, or the wrong race or religion nowadays. But instead of every single member of groups that measure in the billions being forced to use these techniques for proving themselves, the numbers would be restricted to those who have problematic parents. Which I (naively?) assume is much lower.

I have this silly dream that it would drastically reduce the prevalence of racial/etc stereotypes if this sort of thing was widespread. People would grow used to accepting that there’s no real difference between races, or religions, at all. The difference is between parents, and families. This has the benefit of being closer to the the truth than the current status-quo, even if it isn’t the actual truth. And it’s much harder to paint an entire country/race as subhuman monsters that your nation needs to subjugate in a Just War if no one believes those are a natural grouping we can generalize about, and instead asks “Look, how many of the families in that country are known to be horrifying predatory criminals? And is there some way we can target just them, rather than wiping out the whole nation?”

I’m looking forward to a future where “Who are your parents?” is consider due-diligence rather than rude.

May 022017
 

What overthinking looks like:

 

The final paragraph of Scott’s Hungry Brain review is the best backhanded complement-cum-advertisment I’ve ever seen. This comes after thousands of words reviewing a nutrition book that posits that modern extremely-tasty food is damaging our bodies’ fat-regulation mechanisms. I actually lol’ed.

“I want to recommend [MealSquares] as potentially dovetailing with The Hungry Brain‘s philosophy of nutrition without using phrases that might make MealSquares Inc angry at me like “bland”, “low food reward”, or “not hyperpalatable”. I think the best I can come up with is “unlikely to injure your hypothalamus”. So, if you’re looking for an easy way to quit the junk food and try a low-variety diet that’s unlikely to injure your hypothalamus, I recommend MealSquares as worth a look.”

 

5th Element is 20 years old this month. Some theaters are holding 20th anniversary screenings, you can check if there’s one near you Here.

 

It’s weird being on the other side of this now. Marijuana should be legal, it’s less harmful than alcohol. But it’s not as harmless as all its proponents say. Most of my friends use it like they use alcohol – perfectly responsibly for special occasions. But I’ve seen at least one person utterly consumed by it, in the manner of alcoholics who start every day with a beer, and don’t slow down from there.

I found this funny, because it didn’t go the way I thought it would:

 

On the Impossibility of Supersized Machines:

“In recent years, a number of prominent computer scientists, along with academics in fields such as philosophy and physics, have lent credence to the notion that machines may one day become as large as humans. Many have further argued that machines could even come to exceed human size by a significant margin. However, there are at least seven distinct arguments that preclude this outcome. We show that it is not only implausible that machines will ever exceed human size, but in fact impossible.”

 

What Would a Fighter Jet Buy 60 Years After Eisenhower’s Speech?

“The first item Eisenhower listed was a “modern brick school.” The National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities places the national average for a 600-student elementary school at $14,800,000. A single B-2 would buy 99 of these schools.”
Nearly everything that happens in Washington is a petty distraction next the wholesale transformation of our fellow citizens’ wealth into machines of death.

 

An interesting perspective on Fearless Girl

“Commissioned not by an individual, but by an investment fund called State Street Global Advisors, which has assets in excess of US$2.4 trillion. [Fearless Girl] was commissioned as part of an advertising campaign developed by McCann, a global advertising corporation. And it was commissioned to be presented on the first anniversary of State Street Global’s “Gender Diversity Index” fund, which has the following NASDAQ ticker symbol: SHE. And finally, along with Fearless Girl is a bronze plaque that reads:

Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.

Note it’s not She makes a difference, it’s SHE makes a difference. It’s not referring to the girl; it’s referring to the NASDAQ symbol. It’s not a work of guerrilla art; it’s an extremely clever advertising scheme.

In effect, Fearless Girl has appropriated the strength and power of Charging Bull. Of course Di Modica is outraged by that. A global investment firm has used a global advertising firm to create a faux work of guerrilla art to subvert and change the meaning of his actual work of guerrilla art. That would piss off any artist.”

The comments make intriguing counterpoints as well.

 

This angers me more than the United thing. I’m not entirely sure why, maybe I have a deeper emotional connection to tech stuff? – “ad designed to trigger Google’s voice-activated Home smart speaker”

There was some justice, if not enough –
“Wikipedia users began altering the first line of the article about Burger King’s Whopper. These edits included references to the burger as “cancer-causing” and stating that its ingredients include “cyanide.”

 

We are returning to the days of multiple Scott Alexander links per post! Doesn’t everyone just read him all the time?

“The nightmare scenario is that “free speech” goes the way of “family values” to the point where a seemingly uncontroversial concept gets so tarnished by its association with unpopular/conservative ideas that it becomes impossible to mention or invoke in polite company without outing yourself as some kind of far-right weirdo. Right now I think we are on that path.”

[interjection: I have never in my life known a time where “family values” wasn’t a synonym for Ignorance and Hatred. To the point that I was surprised to see Scott call it an “uncontroversial concept.” If “free speech” falls into the same disrepute, we’re all damned. ]

“If partisanship has grown stronger than principles, then even an incontrovertible proof that a certain principle supports your own tribe is going to turn out to be a gigantic booby prize. It won’t make the other side reconsider what errors have led them to contradict such hallowed ideals. It’s just going make half the population start hating the sacred principles necessary for society to function.”

 

From Robert Wiblin:
…Perhaps we are not designed to be content, but instead to forever compare our lot with that of our competitors, and to be happy only when we do better. The contented may simply have died out in the Malthusian era. … Happiness research does suggest one interesting parallel between taxation policy in our world and that in the Malthusian era. We saw in chapter 2 that taxes to fund the wasteful lifestyles of the rulers actually had no social cost in the Malthusian era. The glories of Versailles were not purchased at the price of the misery of the poor—whatever public relations problems Marie Antoinette may have had. Happiness research suggests that the same holds true for the modern era. If we value such collective goods as scientific research, space travel, public art, and fine architecture, then we should tax to fund them, whatever the economic cost. The consequent reduction of our material consumption will have little psychic cost…

 

Jonathan Coulton is back! And his new video is fantastic!

 

IMHO we’re already down the first few steps to this future.  Anti-Star Trek: A Theory of Posterity

“how to maintain capitalism in a world where scarcity can be largely overcome?

intellectual property [is] the ability to tell others how to use copies of an idea that you “own”

Anyone who tries to supply their needs from their replicator without paying the copyright cartels would become an outlaw […] if everyone is constantly being forced to pay out money in licensing fees, then they need some way of earning money”

 

Destroy them all. >< Why You Should Care About The Supreme Court Case On Toner Cartridges – “Tl;dr: They are trying to end Patent Exhaustion, and make it illegal to use things you buy for anything except the use it was sold for.

The specific case is whether you can refill your old printer cartridges, but if the principle is allowed, a company could sell you a a toothbrush with a license prohibiting you from using it to e.g. clean grout.”

from article – “you don’t “own” things like movies, music, or even the software on your phone; rather, it’s being licensed, which means companies can go to all kinds of lengths to keep controlling how, when, and where you use the things you’ve bought long after you’ve bought them.

The question before the Supreme Court, then, isn’t one of “can Lexmark patent this?” Because Lexmark can, and has. The question is, rather: Can patent exhaustion still be a thing, or does the original manufacturer get to keep having the final say in what you and others can do with the product?”

 

A perspective on fascism by Neo-reactionary thinker Nick Land

“Fascism is broadly identical with a normalization of war-powers in a modern state

Fascism is practical socialism, distinguished from its dim cousin by its far more sophisticated grasp of incentives

Since the fascist state justifies itself through perpetual war, it naturally likes wars that cannot end. The Cold War looked like one, but wasn’t quite. The War on Terror is a better bet….Waging modern wars, and their metaphorical side-products, is what the fascist state is for. Winning them on occasion, and by accident, is only ever a misfortune.

Fascism won WWII so decisively that its opponents were driven to the political fringes of paleo-conservatism (once mainstream conservatism), libertarianism (once mainstream liberalism), and Trotskyism (once simply ‘communism’).”

Ends with some crazy shit, but intriguing up to that point.

 

I always thought I didn’t like poetry. Turns out I just hadn’t come across the right kind yet. Oh My God, I am *in love* with villanelles. The four examples here are AMAZING

 

YASSSSS!! Always use Oxford comma, or risk major legal repercussions!

 

I’m not sure if this makes me a hipster or pretentious or whatever, but I really love stories about stories. Meta-stories, if you will. Like Valente’s “The Consultant

 

Oh wow, this study into “What if Trump were a woman” is very interesting. Not sure what to make of it yet. Replications are needed!  quoting a friend:

“Hillary managed to impress enough people to become the democratic nominee and was considered quite qualified by a lot of liberals. Does that mean “mansplaining” type behavior is less grating when it comes from a woman? Also, does interrupting and shooting from the hip seem more justifiable when it’s from a woman (because we know she won’t be listened to otherwise, or something)? Maybe the pro-Trump audience is just more gender blind?”

 

Patriotic Correctness stifles speech and criticism just as much as Political Correctness can.

“The French government’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq prompted Congress to rename French fries as “freedom fries”. When the Dixie Chicks opposed the Iraq War, many stations pulled the group’s music from the air so as not to “trigger” listeners. Fans destroyed Dixie Chicks albums in grotesque public demonstrations. The radio became a safe space.”

Apr 272017
 

Red Rising, by Pierce Brown

Synopsis: Another crappy remake of Hunger Games.

Book Review: The worst part of Red Rising isn’t that it’s a crappy remake. The worst part is that it’s so blatantly obvious that this is a completely mercenary, soulless work meant to cash in on a fad. There is no joy or passion in this writing. You can literally see Brown just taking large chunks of good books and putting them together in typical Hollywood fashion while changing a few words. He preserves the corpses of the works he’s looting, while discarding all the soul and emotion they once held. It is a monstrosity.

It starts with a crappy remake of Braveheart for motivation, uses a crappy remake of Hunger Games for setting/plot, and runs heavily as a crappy remake of Ender’s Game (with medieval weaponry) for its action. It temporarily marred my memories of the previous works (slightly) with its grubby paws.

And due to its soullessness, it’s impossible to care about anyone in the story, or anything that’s happening.

Actually, I take back what I said at the top. The ACTUAL worst part of Red Rising is that it’s successful. It sells spectacularly, with the 3rd book in the series making it to #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list, and it is now being made into a movie. Brown’s rich now. It worked. Even though these books are the Transformers Franchise of SF Lit. As Cracked puts it “The question isn’t what’s wrong with him, the question is what is wrong with US.”

Also, I want to know who in Del Rey decided this should NOT be categorized as YA. Then I want that person to lose their job, and contract a very painful rash, and have their house catch on fire. I dislike most YA, and if it had been categorized correctly at least I would have been prepared. This is a STELLAR example of the worst of YA. It is NOTHING but YA tropes, stacked on each other, and sold to the YA audience. Look, you incredibly cynical, soulless, motherfucker at Del Rey – you and I both know that just because your YA novel has murder, rape, and cannibalism, that does NOT make it an “adult” novel (whatever the fuck that means). It is simply YA with murder, rape, and cannibalism. I hate you, don’t lie to us.

Not Recommended With Extreme Prejudice.

Book Club Review: Some people enjoyed it. I don’t judge people for enjoying something, everyone should be free to like whatever they like. Hey, I love Tinglers! I don’t read Romance, but I don’t begrudge people their Romance novels. I don’t judge Romance authors either, because they are putting out something they love, something with passion in it. All this goes for Lit Fic and YA as well. Enjoy what you enjoy, write what inspires you!

I do judge the cynical author who doesn’t have any passion for his story, or any care for his art. Much of the discussion in our group was along those lines, with some people (like myself) being offended at the brazenness of this exploit, and others saying “Eh, it was an easy read and I was entertained.” I don’t know if all groups will split this way, or if people will find other, deeper themes to discuss. But I cannot, in good conscience, inflict this “story” on anyone else. Not Recommended.

Apr 212017
 

In order to get my regular antidepressant medication refilled while unemployed I got on Medicaid, the government health program for the poor. And my medical world has turned upside down. For the first time in my life I have decent medical coverage.

All my adult life I’ve been employed and insured through my workplace. The last several years I worked as an accountant making a decent fraction above the national median income (at the time of writing ~$55K/year). I was by all accounts a responsible, contributing member of society. My credit score rocks.

I paid a couple hundred dollars a month for insurance. I basically never went to the doctor, because it costs $30 and I don’t need to pay $30 to have someone tell me “Get plenty of bed rest for a week” or “Don’t do any squats or stress your back for the next month.” I only got medical care when it was really dire.

When I injured myself I went to physical therapy ONCE. I got their list of recommended stretches and exercises and then continue them at home for the month(s) advised. Because I can’t afford to go back regularly at $70 a session.

And everyone basically understands that savings only exist until such a time as you suffer from something really bad, in which case you get to go bankrupt, because that’s just how life works. Sucks, but it’s better than what our ancestors had, where you just died.

Then I got Medicaid, and I paid $2 to see a doctor to get my prescription renewed.

$2. Two. Dollars.

So you know what I did when I pulled something in my back (again) a couple weeks later? I went to the doctor!

Any time in my life before this I woulda said “Man, that sucks. Gonna take a lot of Tylenol and not stress my back at all and get through it.” Because that’s what the doctor would say anyway. But this time? For $2? Yeah, sure, I went to go see the doctor.

And yeah, that’s what he said. But then he also said “And go get physical therapy, here’s a place across the street that takes Medicaid.” So I went. You know how much it costs?

Free. Up to twelve sessions per year. Free.

So now I’m in physical therapy. And I’m finally actually addressing the lower back problems that I’ve been avoiding and struggling with for over a decade. It’s slow going, but I’m seeing progress, and I can’t believe this is really happening.

It’s a weird feeling knowing that I can actually go and get medical care whenever I need it, now. Life feels a bit less hostile. For the first time in my, I have real health care coverage.

What a bizarre country. I can either be gainfully employed OR I can get decent medical coverage. But not both at the same time. This is perverse. I am dreading the day I have to get a steady job again, simply for health reasons.

Apr 192017
 

For the ease of my book club, plus anyone else who may want them, here’s where to find the Hugo Finalist Novelettes and Short Stories that are available free online:

Novelettes:

“The Art of Space Travel”, by Nina Allan
“The Tomato Thief”, by Ursula Vernon
“Touring with the Alien”, by Carolyn Ives Gilman
“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay”, by Alyssa Wong

Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex, by Stix Hiscock – not available
The Jewel and Her Lapidary, by Fran Wilde  – not available

Short Stories:

“The City Born Great”, by N. K. Jemisin
“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”, by Alyssa Wong
“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”, by Brooke Bolander
“Seasons of Glass and Iron”, by Amal El-Mohtar
“That Game We Played During the War”, by Carrie Vaughn

An Unimaginable Light, by John C. Wright – not available

Apr 182017
 

City of Blades, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Synopsis: In a world where humans killed their gods, the functioning of certain holy relics suggests one might have survived, and the consequences if this isn’t fixed could be world-ending.

Book Review: This is a sequel to City of Stairs, a book I really liked! Unfortunately, the sequel has lost much of the mojo.

To start, the protagonist of City of Blades isn’t nearly as charming or likable. The setting feels much less realized, and with the exception of a single cool fight scene, there just aren’t the Moments of Awesome that the first book had.

It also is basically a low-budget remake of the first book. The plot is nearly identical, with a few details changed here and there. But again, a government agent working in secret is investigating a murder, and discovers clues that a deity may not be as dead as was thought, and has to work against skeptical local government interference and the plotting of cultists in order to unravel the mystery and stop the god.

Now, I understand many people like this sort of thing. There’s quite a number of authors who make a fine living by having written one really good book, and then just re-writing it every year or two with the details changed but nothing of substance differing. I understand the human pull to relive and relish the familiar and the comfortable. It’s every sitcom episode, it’s every romance novel, it’s every Disney movie (and I mean every property Disney owns, not just the animated stuff, side-eye-at-several-franchises,you-know-who-you-are). But I find it boring. Please give me something new.

I dunno, am I a whore for novelty? Will I some day burn through all the creative new stuff, and live a life of artistic ennui, never satisfied with a world I’ve drained of color? Hm. A topic for another day. In any case, I consider this story to be somewhat creatively lazy.

And just as bad, I found it lazy in terms of craft as well. The first half plods along slowly. Then we get a GIANT MONOLOGUE that reveals everything to our protagonist, in the worst tradition of “Let me tell you the entire plot now.” It’s not a bad plot, but that is not how to skillfully guide your reader through a plot! You might as well just have handed us your outline. I expect to have a fair bit of plot revealed to me over time, within the story, preferably via actions/investigations of the protagonist. To have so much of it laid out as a lecture is unexciting.

Then in the second half it feels like the author lost a lot of interest in the story, and sorta goes through the motions hurriedly in order to get us to the end.

I can’t say this was a bad book, really. It was OK. But there was nothing here I found interesting, and quite a bit that I thought was subpar. Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: Not bad. We did talk a bit about the nature of sequels, and the human desire for repetition vs novelty. Also the demands we place on creative people (“Make your next album like your previous album, I want more of what I loved! But not TOO much like it, I want it to be new!”), and how one evolves in their creative lifetime. But those things don’t really necessitate reading this particular book.

There was praise of the cool scene in the middle, and some griping about the various things that annoyed us (grenades are not demolition charges!), and most people in the book club enjoyed this to some extent. A few liked the book quite a lot. So I’m reluctant to say one should avoid this. But there are so many other, better books out there, that I can’t recommend it either. If you’d like a good book in this setting that is new and interesting, I’d steer you to the predecessor, City of Stairs. :) But as for City of Blades – Not Recommended.

Apr 132017
 

I basically don’t read posts in color. The amount of effort it requires to differentiate them from ads doesn’t seem worth it at all. And usually they’re basically contentless anyway. (I know, that’s judgy…) Combined with in-line ads, I scroll past like 1/3rd of my feed now. Way to go, Facebook.

I assume this was to make it harder to ignore ads, but it’s backfired, at least in my case. Now I’m gonna go out and finally get Facebook Purity.