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.

Apr 112017
 

A few years ago a wrote a flash fic piece called “Communion” for the NPR 3-minute fiction contest. The story had to take place in the form of a voicemail message or messages, which I thought was fun. It didn’t win, and I tried a couple other venues, before forgetting about it.

Then not too long ago I discovered Sub-Q, a market for Interactive Fiction. And I thought “Oh, this could be neat! Since I wrote the story entirely as voice-mails, and I have a lot of experience doing audio fiction/podcast stuff, I bet I could make the entire thing audio!”

My first attempt didn’t pass, because it was a linear story, and Interactive Fiction has to be interactive. (doh!) So I expanded on it, doubling in word-count to give it multiple endings and a couple branches. Then I resubmitted.

It still didn’t pass muster. So now I’ve got this bizarre little story that is basically unpublishable in any other market, since half of it is audio and there’s clicking and stuff that needs to be done. What does one do with such a thing?

Well shit, why not self-publish?

If you’d like to read/hear a short Interactive Fiction piece by me (15 minutes-ish), here you go:

Communion, by Eneasz Brodski (Twine version. This is the official version, and looks best)

Communion in HTML, by Eneasz Brodski (HTML version. Not as pretty, but it works as a back-up for people that can’t get the Twine version to work for whatever reason. The choice options are links at the bottom.)

Apr 072017
 

Yesterday my dad came out to me as atheist.

Specifically, he said “Remember when you came out to me as an atheist? We were driving home from work? I thought to myself ‘Oh thank goodness, he’s not crazy’.” Background – I often went to work with him on the weekends to help out and make some spending cash. I don’t remember the exact day, but I was around 15 yrs old when this happened.

Apparently he’s been atheist-ish for over two decades. He did he whole “Going to church and putting on a religious facade” thing in order to provide me & my siblings with religious/moral grounding and for the community benefits of having a tight-knit high-trust in-group ready made when arriving in a new country full of strangers that spoke a different language. (From my observations, the first objective failed spectacularly, and the second one succeeded equally spectacularly. And since me & brothers developed a good moral grounding anyway, a definite net win)

This has thrown me for a MASSIVE loop, though, because it means everything I thought I knew is a lie. Slight hyperbole, but it’s hard to overstate just how big an influence my relationship to religion has been on my life. I still hold to this day that if the claims of religion are true, the Spanish Inquisition is not only morally good, but a moral requirement.

I took the religion thing seriously. The first time I committed a sin (masturbation) I was in shock for nearly two days. When god didn’t strike me dead I had a severe crisis of faith, and it was one of the cracks that helped to eventually bring down my belief. When my belief crumbled, so did everything I knew about the world, because if god wasn’t real, what was left that I could trust? I had to re-examine everything. It caused me to jettison everything my parents and society at large had ever told me and do my best to start over. It led to an overhaul of my moral system, my epistemology (rah empiricism!), and my ability to trust any sort of authority. It’s basically my Rationalist Origin Story. If it wasn’t for my rejection of religion, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

 

Not only that, it also helped to iron out some of my character. My religion (Jehovah’s Witnesses) is extremely insular. Any contact with the outside world is discouraged. Most of my life all my friends and my entire social circle consisted of other believers. And the Witnesses have a strong Shunning norm. Anyone who leaves the faith is to be cast out entirely. Often in church we heard great stories lauding people who cut off all ties with family members that strayed from the faith. In particular I recall the praise heaped upon a mother who would not speak with, look at, or in any way acknowledge her daughter after she left the religion. For years. Even when the daughter came crying and begging outside the mother’s window. Eventually the daughter returned to the faith, huge success!

I didn’t think my parents would really go that far. But I knew it was a risk. I didn’t come out to them until I (in my teenage hubris) figured I could survive being kicked out of the house and having my entire social net stripped away. I have a lot of mental issues that led me to have a very isolated and lonely childhood, but this preparation to be alone forever was certainly one of them.

And once I did come out, the courage of my conviction helped me to learn how to stand up for myself. To read deeply about the issue I cared about, and be ready to defend it. To accept being the weird one that didn’t fit because I was right goddammit, and you can’t take that away from me!

It led to me feeling like I don’t have a family. It led to me struggling all my adult life to find a surrogate family to fit in with.

It’s one of the reasons I don’t want children of my own. I look at my parents, and I ask “What did they get out of having children?” We have abandoned their religion, one of the most important things to them. We have abandoned their morality. We are memetic strangers. We drained their resources for 20+ years, and in return they got strangers who have left and don’t have anything in common with them. I’ve always felt like we’re intense disappointments to them. Why would I want that for myself? I can have far more memetic influence on the future by writing (both blogs and fiction, mehopes) than by having children. Not much influence, but maybe more than the zero I would get from kids. And I value memetic contribution to the future far more than genetic contribution.

Speaking of memetics… while everything I do is influenced by this past, a lot of my writing directly addresses my conflicted religious past. Both “Of All Possible Worlds” and “Host” are directly religious, and my bios for those stories include “He was raised in an apocalyptic sect of Christianity, which has heavily influenced his writings,” and “Eneasz was raised in a fundamentalist Christian sect dedicated to saving every soul possible. At the time, he couldn’t figure out why far more direct action wasn’t being taken,” respectively.

And now I find out all that time, I was rebelling against… nothing?

I could have had a parent that I could talk with about these things, and relate to about it, all this time?

Do I have a family now? Suddenly, magically, I feel like I can relate so much more with my father. Although in actual reality, nothing has changed. Only my perception. What the fuck does all this mean?

My entire life up to now has been a lie. If everything was different and nothing was the same, who would be sitting in this chair right now? Would it be someone happier and better adjusted? I’ve always been a bit envious of my secularly-raised friends, who had parents as allies in a crazy and hostile world, working as a unit rather than out there alone.

Why did my dad choose to be alone all these years?

Apr 062017
 

Here’s two replies from a recent post, where my responses became long enough to make into their own post.

Daniel:

>But quite often the intended interpretaions will prove more important. On your Star Wars prequels example, imagine if that fan theory became widely supported before the release of episode III. Then, the creators of the films say “no, that’s not what we mean”.

I think Star Wars is a fascinating example, because the creator of the film (Lucas) did at one point say “No, that’s not what I mean” and changed one of the most iconic scenes of the movies, the one where Han shoots Greedo in the Cantina. And en masse everyone said “Screw you,” to him, and the world continues to accept that Greedo never fired, despite Lucas’s assertions (and film-doctoring) to the contrary. So, while Word of God is considered very influential, it doesn’t have the power to alter the actual work, and is often just considered a very well-reasoned opinion on the piece to be taken into consideration. The piece itself still stands on its own though.

Darius:

> How much of the text has to support an interpretation before it can be considered valid?

For you? However much you want. For others – however much is needed to convince them. This depends a lot on how convincing one is, and how friendly the audience is. :)

> If the author isn’t, in fact, dead and makes a statement that a given interpretation is incorrect, could that statement be considered a part of the work’s canon and therefore invalidate the interpretation?

Canon is a weird thing, because it is determined by a central authority. In the USA, this is generally whoever owns the copyright. The day that Disney said “The Star Wars Extended Universe is no longer canon. Now what we licence and produce is canon instead,” that became true. When the Catholic church declares which books (and which translations) are canon and which aren’t, that’s true for them as well.

But on the other hand, that’s only true insomuch as people accept it. When a protestant sect says the Book of Judith isn’t canon, that’s true for their followers. And when the entire Star Wars fan base says “We don’t care what Disney or Lucas declare, we don’t accept that Greedo shot first,” then Han Shot First is the story that lives in everyone’s mind regardless of what “official” canon may be.

My big run in with this was in Redshirts. At the end of the novella Scazli ends a chapter with:Several months later, an asteroid hit the ship and everyone died. The End. (paraphrased, I didn’t look up the exact wording). I was reading on an e-reader, and so I couldn’t see the next page. And that ending really shook me. I sat and thought about it for quite a while. And finally I said, “No. The author is wrong. That didn’t happen. The story in my head does not end that way, because fuck that ending.” And that was that. Then I turned the page and saw the next chapter started with “Just kidding.” My friends who read the physical version said that the end of the previous chapter and the start of the next chapter are both visible when the book is laid open, so they never had any such moment, they could see the “Just Kidding” right there. I am sad that they did not have as profound of an experience as I did.

Of course I can do that because Redshirts doesn’t have an entire community built around it. The Star War Extended Universe erasure was far more contentious, because it creates a bit rift between those who had their universe “taken away” by Disney, and those who don’t care because they’re too young or weren’t interested in the previous EU. Even if the traditionalists refuse to accept the erasure and continue to call the old EU canon, they will eventually be supplanted by a new generation, and their tradition will die out. It is a sad thing. :(

So yeah, canon, bleh. What is it good for?

Apr 042017
 

Synopsis: An orphan child prodigy is held by the military, who conduct bizarre experiments on her and her classmates. The outside world appears to be crumbling.

Book Review: The good parts of this book are REALLY GOOD. And basically all the good parts are the ones focusing on the eponymous protagonist Melanie. She is an absolute delight to read. She reminds me very much of Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres of HPMoR. Prodigious, with tons of book-smarts, but no idea about social conventions or how to relate to other people.

And very very isolated from the world, due to her captivity by the military. We realize quickly that Melanie has never seen the outside world. Here’s a fantastic depiction of a super-smart kid with huge gaps in her knowledge trying to describe a new object her teacher has brought in from the outside world:

> The big stick breaks into smaller sticks, and again and again, so there’s more and more of them, like breaking down a great big number in the long list of its prime factors.
“It’s a branch,” Joanne says.

The entire first part of the book is full of this sort of stuff, and it’s a delight to watch. Plus Melanie has the most adorable puppy-crush on her teacher. And we get more and more clues as to what’s going on with this research project and why the outside world seems to be falling to pieces, until at some point the reader realizes what The Thing is, and we go “Ooooooooh shiiiiiit!! That is a really good thing!”

I’m being as vague as I can, because the moment of realization is really cool, and it’s as easy to spoil as “Snape Kills Dumbledore.” You cannot even read most blurbs or reviews without risking spoilers. So try to avoid those. It’s worth it.

That being said, about a quarter of the way through the book the focus shifts away from Melanie. She and a handful of adults (both scientists and soldiers) escape from the military facility, and after that the book becomes pretty boring. It has a few bright spots here and there, but nothing worth the slog.

I mean, it’s not painful or anything. But it’s just the exact same thing we’ve seen a thousand times before. Some running, some hiding, some shooting, some yelling. There is nothing new here at all. It’s color-by-numbers. It could be cut-and-paste from any of a thousand shlock stories.

But then we get to the ending, and the ending is once again freakin’ amazing. It’s the bright nova at the end that inverts everything that we were presented with in the first quarter of the novel. A perfect mirroring, and it feels so right!

This book was adapted from a well-regarded short story, and one can tell exactly where the short story ideas are. They are the first quarter of the book. Up to page 150 or so. The ending is a fantastic follow-up to the story itself. But everything else, the 3/4ths that’s in the middle, is basically just filler. It feels like Carey was just running up the word count so he could get a novel out of this, and it’s NOT a novel-length idea!

Unfortunately, with the publishing world being what it is, only novels make money. So if you have a brilliant story idea, the only way to be financially rewarded for it is to write the cool story, and then bloat it with lots of meaningless extra stuff until you’ve got enough mass to sell it as a novel. Bleh.

As published – Not Recommended. But if you read up to the point where they leave the military base, and then skip to the second-to-last chapter (and maybe ask me or someone who’s read it for a quick summary of what happens in between) – Totes Recommended.

Book Club Review: I’m torn on this. It has the benefits of being accessible and fairly easy to read. It’s mostly enjoyable, and there’s several cool things to talk about, as there would be with any good short story. However there isn’t a ton there, because like I said, there’s a lot of filler. On the other hand, that makes a topic in itself, sort of. And also may bring on conversation about the state of the genre in general (the book is a very specific genre that everyone will be extremely familiar with). And the good parts really ARE good. Several people in our book club didn’t mind reading through the formulaic parts.

I guess, since it’s unreasonable to ask a book club to skip the majority of a book, I have to go with Not Recommended. That being said, your mileage may vary, I’m pretty unsure about this one.

Apr 012017
 

I don’t review movies, cuz I’m not a film guy. But sometimes I have thoughts on things? And I grew up with cyberpunk, the original Ghost in the Shell, and Stand Alone Complex, so I went to see the movie, and I thought a few things.

No Spoilers:

I really liked it. It was cyberpunk as hell, and for the most part felt very GitS-y. The interjection of a traditional american villain was meh, but aside from that, was very close to the earlier works in feel and theme.

And ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS visually.

I had a hard time getting into it at first, because it’s a reboot, and I’ve had so much of the earlier versions in my veins that it was hard to separate. But once I fully internalized that this is an alternate-universe story, it really clicked for me.

It was unfortunate that they tried to recreate several of the classic scenes, because you just can’t force in something that like. The recreations were OK, not as good as originals. Anywhere that the movie stuck to new stuff it was quite good!

One sorta-spoiler below, stop here if you want to avoid it!!

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I was surprised that they addressed the “ScarJo is white” thing! On the one hand, it’s not really an excuse, and it was slightly immersion-breaking. But on the other, it demonstrated they were at least aware of the issue? Dunno, kinda weird.