embrodski

Feb 122020
 

Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi

Synopsis: A paint-by-numbers 2nd world fantasy with medieval Africa flavor rather than medieval Europe flavor.

Book Review: Anyone who was a kid in the 80s will recognize this novel. It’s a basic 2nd world fantasy that fits right in with the pulp fantasy of that era. If you’re a kid, and it’s the 80s, this is ok. Because kids don’t have good taste, and in the 80s this whole 2nd world fantasy thing was still new and exciting and lots of authors were exploring the possibility-space of this newish genre. But I’m not a kid, and the 80s are long ago.

This novel doesn’t have an ounce of ambition. Everything here has been done before so many times that you can see the ruts in the ground as you’re trundling through them. The one difference is that the scenery is African rather than European, and even THAT isn’t new, it’s been done since at least Quest for Glory III in 1992, and likely much earlier via D&D supplements.

What’s worse, Blood & Bone doesn’t even take inspiration from the better stuff of the era, it dives right into the careless schock. The plotting is actively stupid – things happened not because there was a good in-world reason for them to happen, but because the author decided that they wanted the thing to happen… so now it does. Goons were cartoonishly incompetent, they literally stood around until it was convenient for the heroes to fight them, like in those bad ninja movies. Villains are cartoonishly evil, genociding populations just for the heck of it. There’s the standard pairing-up of the opposite-sex protagonists because they’re opposite sex and protagonists, what other reason does one need?

This reads like a cheap cartoon where the writers didn’t care one whit for making good stories for children, they just wanted to churn out weekly 22-minute animated ads for toys. I haven’t read genre fiction this bad since Grant’s “Deadline”. Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: Not everyone hated this as much as I did. While no one thought it was “good writing,” there are people in our book club that haven’t become jaded grumpy readers, and can still take joy in a silly shlock adventure. You may get a good book club meeting out of discussing differences in tastes, how expectations affect perception, and what different people want out of a reading experience. Plus the haters get to vent some steam by hating, and the non-haters can laugh at them and talk about the fun bits they enjoyed. Still, it’s not really the sort of discussion I think book clubs are seeking, more like something they occasionally stumble into. Not Recommended.

Jan 312020
 

Do Cops Lie? (click image for link)

“the replacement of algorithms with a powerful technology in the form of the human brain is not without risks. Before humans become the standard way in which we make decisions, we need to consider the risks and ensure implementation of human decision-making systems does not cause widespread harm.”

 

Joker is interesting because it reminds us where we (or our parents) came from, which still impacts a lot of the present day.

“Our problems are different now, but Joker remains a product of a different era. Arthur Fleck lives in a fragile system on the brink of collapse, whereas we live under a system that only gets more stable and entrenched, so much so that the most powerful nation on earth can have an childish yet vicious know-nothing serve as President and continue prospering.

Perhaps the ebbing of chaos and crime left our psyches wounded in a special way.”

Of particular note is that CyberPunk was basically this setting with cool cyber stuff on top of it.

 

The entirety of this post is gold. About an actual thing that happened regarding a technical term in computer science.

“the trouble with obsessing over terms like “quantum supremacy” is not merely that it diverts attention, while contributing nothing to fighting the world’s actual racism and sexism. The trouble is that the obsessions are actually harmful. For they make academics—along with progressive activists—look silly. They make people think that we must not have meant it when we talked about the existential urgency of climate change and the world’s other crises. They pump oxygen into right-wing echo chambers.

But it’s worse than ridiculous, because of the message that I fear is received by many outside the activists’ bubble. When you say stuff like “[quantum] supremacy is for racists,” what’s heard might be something more like:

“Watch your back, you disgusting supremacist. Yes, you. You claim that you mentor women and minorities, donate to good causes, try hard to confront the demons in your own character? Ha! None of that counts for anything with us. You’ll never be with-it enough to be our ally, so don’t bother trying. We’ll see to it that you’re never safe, not even in the most abstruse and apolitical fields. We’ll comb through your words—even words like ‘ancilla qubit’—looking for any that we can cast as offensive by our opaque and ever-shifting standards. And once we find some, we’ll have it within our power to end your career, and you’ll be reduced to groveling that we don’t. Remember those popular kids who bullied you in second grade, giving you nightmares of social ostracism that persist to this day? We plan to achieve what even those bullies couldn’t: to shame you with the full backing of the modern world’s moral code. See, we’re the good guys of this story. It’s goodness itself that’s branding you as racist scum.” ”

 

Everyone, forever (yes, even me) XD

This is how much damage one person can do when put in power. Our history would be radically better if Andrew Johnson had never come anywhere near the presidency. Lincoln done fucked up.

 

Imagine that tomorrow everyone on the planet forgets the concept of training basketball skills.

“You don’t get better at life and rationality after taking one class with Prof. Kahnemann. After 8 years of hard work, you don’t stand out from the crowd even as the results become personally noticeable. And if you discover Rationality in college and stick with it, by the time you’re 55 you will be three times better than what you would have been if you hadn’t compounded these 3% gains year after year, and everyone will notice that.

What’s more, the outcomes don’t scale smoothly with your level of skill. When rare, high leverage opportunities come around, being slightly more rational can make a huge difference. Bitcoin was one such opportunity; meeting my wife was another such one for me. I don’t know what the next one will be: an emerging technology startup? a political upheaval? cryonics? I know that the world is getting weirder faster, and the payouts to Rationality are going to increase commensurately.”

 

I think I would love this. Oldest Mall In America Turned Into Tiny Homes

 

Metal Genres Without Distortion

 

I already wrote about this recently, but here’s the link: On Short Hair And Gender. Or Back To The 50s Gender Norms, With A Twist?

 

People’s perceptions of what they can do to reduce CO2 usage varies drastically from the actual numbers.

“This is an area where I think informing people about what is actually useful might really shift their behaviour. They’ve mostly just been misinformed and never stopped to research it. After all one can never directly see what is actually causing the most emissions.”

 

This makes me happy. I just need to clarify that I’m 3rd Wave Feminist and I can embrace the label again. (also, 4th wave feminists are as bad as TERFs. Judean People’s Front unite!)

 

Bad: Superhero whose secret identity is just staggeringly obvious, but nobody picks up on it for various implausible reasons.

Good: Superhero whose secret identity is just staggeringly obvious, and everybody “knows”, but in spite of countless people’s best efforts nobody can actually prove it.

 

Interesting perspective – the economy has been in a state of wartime mobilization since WWII began, having never returned to a peace-time economy, despite a lack of war.

 

I think I would actually watch this:

Jan 252020
 

Ra, by Sam Hughes

Synopsis: When magic is discovered in the 70s, it quickly becomes a branch of applied engineering. After losing her mother under magical (and mysterious) circumstances, a young student takes up Magic R&D to try to undo that loss.

Book Review: There’s so much to like here, it’s hard to decide were to begin. Right off the bat, this is the most true-to-life depiction I’ve seen of what would happen if magic did exist in our world. Much like the discovery of electricity, arguably the last time we found magic, we immediately set out to understand this new thing and learn everything we could about it, then use it to make life easier and better. But also much more complicated, and sometimes more dangerous. Especially in the period of time where we don’t yet fully understand this new force — which is the period that this book is set in. The most exciting time. :)

I’m also impressed by how deep the plotting and world goes, and how skillfully it’s slowly revealed to us. Every time we mostly grasp something, a new layer is revealed that adds to the mystery and intrigue. The rabbit holes are branching and deep, and often self-supportive.

But the scope of this whole thing is what really gets me. When I started the novel, I was in an interesting near-future story about magic and research. By the time I got to the end the story had morphed several times and greatly expanded, seamlessly enough that I didn’t notice at the time. But when I finished the book, and I looked back on where I finished, vs where I started, I would have never guessed I’d get there from here, and damn was that a hell of a ride.

This novel is supremely ambitious, and it’s a joy to read something that bites off so much, and chews it so well.

Along the way, I was confronted by a new revelation about what I value in reality/life, and I had to think hard about what makes human lives valuable. I still haven’t come to answers for the moral questions that the book raised in me. These two things are among the highest praise I can give a book.

It’s not perfect. There are times where it drags a bit (one too many digressing vignettes), and other times where it’s too damned hard to follow (I’m still confused about a couple minor points). Most regretably, about 2/3rds of the way through there is a revelation which caused me to almost stop reading the book entirely. I put it down and considered just not bothering to continue. I’m glad I did, because it turned out I was incorrect in my reading of that revelation, which I discovered two chapters later. But that’s a flaw that could have been avoided with slightly clearer writing.

Nonetheless, this is an outstanding work, and worth reading every word. Highly Recommended.

Book Club Review: This is a challenging read, and not for everyone. A few people dropped out early in frustration, and attendance was a bit light due to that. And not everyone that stuck it out enjoyed it quite as much as I did, a couple of them thought that the density and focus on the engineering angle brought down the story overall. However we did have a fair few things to discuss and either marvel over or complain about. And it was certainly interesting to mull over the human-value related question as a group. I think you’ll have to take your group into consideration before deciding on this one, it certainly makes the reader put in work. I think it’s worth it, so – Recommended.

Personal opinion/note – The author released a Revised Ending several years after the original publication of Ra. This Revised Ending is so much better than the original that I recommend not even bothering reading the original ending. Maybe if your curious, afterwards, just to compare. But the Revised Ending is leaps and bounds better.

The book can also be read or downloaded freely from the author’s home webpage.

Jan 182020
 

Spoilers for The Village.

The Village is a Shyamalan movie about a group of people that leave modern society to raise their children in an American Colonial time-period replica, so that their children will never be exposed to violence and alienation of modern life.

In a recent Discord conversation, it was speculated that maybe the only way to really get rid of racism would be if everyone agreed to suppress all their racial emotions, act as if they don’t exist, and raise the next generation in a world that pretends there is no racism. The children won’t internalize racist impulses, and hopefully won’t even realize that racism was ever a thing until they’re old enough to find out about it in history books and be shocked that people used to be so shallow.

Someone pointed out that this was basically what was being done in the 90s, and it fell apart.

It then occurred to me that this was also done for gender in the 90s, and with far more success. It legit worked on some people. Notably: myself.

In the 90s, basically every piece of children’s media had at least one girl in it, and the girl was always as capable as the boy(s). Gadget in Rescue Rangers was the nerdy engineer and got the crew out of tons of jams. The Pink and Yellow Power Rangers kicked an equal amount of ass as Blue, Black, and Red.

This “sex doesn’t matter” permeated everything. Lara Croft was disproportionate to entice male players, sure. But she was still a better athlete and killer than every man in her video games. Every female character in fighting games had just as much ability to win as the male characters. RPGs that let you choose what sex your character was gave the same starting stats regardless.

When I was a teenage, my heroes were Xena and Sarah Connor. I loved Buffy too. I admired Chyna, though I didn’t watch wrestling.

The un-dimorphism of the era extended to male action stars. Some of the most popular of the decade were fairly lithe. Neo certainly isn’t one of the muscle-bound lunks we got in the 80s. (Have you seen what happened to Hugh Jackman between the first X-Men movie and the latest Wolverine? yikes)

Yeah, we had the lunks too, if less frequently. But they were more like jokes. Schwarzenegger wasn’t a real person, he was a cartoon in human flesh.

And honestly, I’m not sure why I’m harping on action movies. Action movies were but one symptom, and they don’t even matter that much because most people have zero action sequences in their lifetimes. This “there’s no difference between men and women” extended into all domains. People were primarily presented as unique individuals that may have incidental differences in personality, but whose gender only mattered for mating/matching purposes. It didn’t define anything else about the characters.

Ally McBeal was so egalitarian that they didn’t even have sex-segregated bathrooms. Daria, the most Gen-X teen show ever created, only ever used gender-types as the butts of jokes to show how stupid they are. The main characters we identified with were basically androgynous. As it should be!

Of course the true encapsulation of 90s media, the one thing that sums up the decade and its ideals, is Friends. America has always used sitcoms as the mirror it sees itself in. And what did we see in Friends? A group of attractive young people that hooked up with each other a lot, but treated each other as equals, with basically no differences in temperament or treatment due to sex. They even all have roughly the same morphology, having similar heights and builds. Joey and Pheobe don’t quite fit, but they are caricatures —the throwbacks from the 80s that we laugh at in recognition of our own past follies.

Being raised in a striving middle-class suburb, I didn’t just get this message from media alone. I got this message from everyone around me. My parents, my teachers, everyone. There’s basically no difference between boys and girls, we’re all people.

The thing is, it worked. I didn’t care what sex/gender people were. It struck me as an insanely weird thing to care about, and I chalked it up to the same lunacy that made people hate other religions or skin colors. Our ancestors be fucking nuts, yo.

One of my favorite essays was P.Z. Myer’s post about how any differences between the sexes must be contained entirely on the Y chromosome (since only that one is different), and how ridiculous it is to think that things like “preference in colors” or “favorite genres of fiction” would be encoded within it. There’s seriously almost nothing different between us, and any difference that there is has to have put selective pressure on the Y-chromosome. C’mon guys, are we really this dumb? Selective pressure being put JUST on the Y chromosome?? Stop being a dogmatic, sexist fool.

It worked so well that I was legitimately shocked when I discovered the large differences in physical strength between the sexes, even among people of similar sizes, in my late 20s. (Yes, it took that long). It was a vast chasm in my model of reality that I plunged into, smashing into every protruding jagged edge and rock outcropping along the way.

So sure, maybe this view isn’t as accurate as it should be. But I still believe deeply that that was a better world for everyone. We managed, for the space of a few years between the mid 90s and early 00s, to create a world without gender. We still had sex – everyone could see sex, and it determined who you were sexually attracted to. But gender didn’t matter. There weren’t (much) gender roles or expectations or stereotypes. Everyone was an individual. And since gender didn’t exist, your pronouns didn’t matter. People defaulted to what it looked like your sex was.

Then 4th wave feminism happened. I could go on at length as to why 3rd wave feminism is the one true way and 4th wave feminism is vile trash that has destroyed incalculable amounts of value. But I won’t. I will, instead, bemoan the fact that it brought back gender, and made it THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. We had fixed the world in one small way. At least in some corners of it. Until, like someone finding a hidden store of small pox, 4th wave feminism couldn’t wait but re-infect the world with glee. We were almost there guys. And now? Now your gender defines you. It defines how you act, how you are treated by both strangers and friends, and the broader social system, and it decides what side of the culture wars you are on.

We were almost there.

No wonder the newest generation wants to opt out entirely, and go un-gendered. I would too, if I hadn’t lived through proof that the same results can be achieved in a better way. In the 90s, you could just be who you are and it was fine. Now you are either a strongly-identified gender, or you have to contort your appearance and lifestyle into aggressively signaling “I am no gender!” While also imposing costs on anyone around you. That’s fucked up man.

I guess that’s part of why I resented Them, and why I felt They were on the side of the 4th wave feminists shoring up the vital importance of gender. Opting out of gender isn’t something you bother to do if gender doesn’t matter. It’s only if one has bought into the “Gender totally matters for everything!!” hype that one would be so concerned they’re not seen as either one.

I get now that it wasn’t that they were intentionally reinforcing the narrative. They just didn’t have other options, given how badly gender equality has been mangled over the past decade.

I’m hopeful that 4th wave will eat itself sometime in the 20s. wokeness already appears to be imploding. Hopefully the next generation will get to grow up in a less polluted social atmosphere, once we get back to pre-2010 levels of dignity and human respect. The dream of the 90s is still alive, and not just in Portland.

Jan 082020
 

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O, by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

Synopsis: A poorly-run government agency with a time machine attempts to alter history, and hijinks ensue.

Book Review: This will be a short review, because there isn’t terribly much to say. This is a well written, fun romp through time. It’s almost like a very intellectual Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. We have a team of scrappy underdogs that are very easy to relate to and to fall in love with. I absolutely ADORE the “witch” from 19th century Prussia, every single scene with her is the best thing ever. <3 The government is both powerful and incompetent in the ways you come to expect as you get older. The villains are so deliciously easy to hate. The scenes set in the past feel incredibly realistic (which one would expect with both Stephenson and Galland at the helm). There is an extended scene with a raiding party of naked Vikings pillaging a Wal-Mart which is hilarious and makes perfect internal sense.

The book is also written with the fun gimmick of being a collection of archival evidence that is being presented to the reader, so every single bit of it is either an excerpt from a journal, or a letter that was intercepted, or an email that was leaked, or a PowerPoint presentation, or something. It’s a cool constraint, and it’s fun to see how the authors pull off telling a great story in an entirely epistolary format.

That being said, there isn’t much of substance here. It’s a fun trip, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, but it doesn’t really have much to say about humanity or the world or whatever. I like my fiction (even the comedic romps) to have a deeper motive as well. So not something to rush out for, but good if you’re in the mood for something well written and fun. Mildly Recommended.

Book Club Review: Overall people enjoyed the book, although nearly everyone else thought that it really dragged in the middle. I don’t see it, but if everyone else thought so, it’s something to consider. We had a fun time talking about the characters we loved and the scenes we enjoyed. But there wasn’t any deeper discussion either. Fun for a get-together, but again, not quite what I look for in a book club meeting. Also, it’s a typical Stephenson-length novel, so about twice the length of most novels, which is a lot to ask for a book club, and can bring down attendance. Mildly Not Recommended.

Dec 292019
 

I saw the first episode of The Witcher on Festivus, and boy did that unintentionally fit the holiday theme. tldr is that the writers are just phoning this in, and hoping the strength of the fight choreography will keep people watching.

Full Spoilers below.

 

The problems start right out the gate, where we see a stranger fighting a monster. Why do I care about this monster, and whether it wins or not? Or is it the stranger I’m supposed to care about, because he’s human? There are no stakes in this fight, I don’t care about either participant, so I’m already bored. Also, since I know that’s Geralt, I also know I’m *supposed* to care if he wins (lazy writing!), and that he will win because they aren’t killing off the lead in the first 4 minutes of a series.

Geralt struggles to reach his sword when it’s been knocked from his grasp, but fails to do so, and must go back to grappling. I guess this is suspense? He then reaches for it, and fails to get it, AGAIN. Oh my god. I was on pins and needles, seeing a close up of a hand failing to close around a sword for several grasps. How many times will this incredibly suspenseful gambit be reused? *At least once more*, because we have run time to pad!

Most of the rest of this episode is mumbled exposition in boring locations while two characters look at each other. This also fails to draw me in. I don’t know what kingdom you rule, or why I am in support of it. I don’t know who the Nilfgardians are, why they are coming, or what bad things will happen if they are not thrown back. Sure, the nobility will likely have some bad times, maybe execution, but they’re nobility–they probably deserve it. Sic Semper Tyrannis! Like, I really just can’t feel any anticipation at the revelation that the enemy army is already within your borders if I don’t give a damn about you or your borders yet.

Same for your weird dissection of people born during an eclipse. That could’ve been spiced up with ominous music and flashbacks, or something. Just having two dudes mumbling at each other stoically about mutations had me actually zoning out.

Lets talk about the big skirmish between the two… armies? First of all, I don’t know where the hell it happens. Is this nearby? Just outside the city? Several days’ march away? Does this field even exist in the world? Because I swear before all the gods that if felt like a Green Screen Room that everyone was teleported to, and then later teleported back from. It’s implied the battle goes on for at least a couple days, but I have no sense of time passing as well as no sense of location. And the CGI is the worst I have seen this decade. When we got distance shots of cavalry moving, or infantry rushing each other, it almost looked like I was playing Myth again. Well, ok, maybe not that extreme, but it was really bad.  The CGI in the Witcher 3 video game was strikingly better, which is just not something I expect from a Netflix show.

There were two really good things about this show, however. The first was Renfri, the maybe-demon lady. She has an actual personality, with motivation and everything! Her dialog is fun, she gets our sympathy very quickly, and she’s a freakin’ bad-ass. The actress portraying her does a fantastic job. I was willing to keep watching this series on the strength of what would be done with this character and her arc alone — and then they killed her at the end of the episode. Y’all removed the only good thing about your show in the pilot, dammit. Screw this whole thing.

The other really good part was the two fight scenes we get at the end. They were beautiful. A high-budget call back to the ridiculously over-the-top Xena-style fighting from my childhood. It was pure bombast and awesome eye candy. I had so much fun watching them.

(I did hear a friend say that someone told him this was “very realistic fighting,” which made me choke on my Comed-Tea. This is the opposite of realistic fighting. I don’t care, because it was wonderful and super fun. But the only universe were someone could think this was realistic is if their only exposure to fight scenes is Marvel movies.)

Unfortunately, this is 2-3 minutes of screen time at the end of a 56 minute slog. It is not worth the loss of 1/16th of my waking hours for the day. I will be watching the fight scenes on YouTube, and that’s it. I’m disappointed that a series with such potential was tanked by people who don’t care to do any writing work.

Nov 112019
 

Aftershocks, by Marko Kloos

Synopsis: Years after an interplanetary war has ended, insurgents from the losing side are starting to show up.

Book Review: I’ve written before about my dislike of the Series Trend. ie: everything is a series now, rather than a single book, because that’s the only way most writers can make a living. But Aftershocks is really taking this problem to a new level.

Aftershocks is a prologue to the real story. That’s it. It is the equivalent of taking the opening crawl from Star Wars and inflating it to a novel rather than a few paragraphs that set up the movie. You can see the beginnings of a story coming, and it looks like it’ll be a good one. The world building is good, the writing is intelligent, the characters are interesting. But the main action of the story literally doesn’t even start, it’s all just set-up.

One might say that this is fine, because Marko Kloos is a proven author with a solid track record. His prior series is well received, and even people who don’t like Military SF say that his series is a stand-out exception. I can believe it, because like I said, the writing really is good. One could very well just trust the author and settle in for a ride. Isn’t this what I do anyway when I read web serials?

The prose is particularly good at quickly and efficiently building visuals. Where other authors take pages describing something, and you still aren’t quite sure what’s happening, Kloos manages to play a fully realized scene in your mind on every page. Everyone is accounted for and the environment feels rich, and he does this all with just a few lines. It’s an extraordinary power!

The characters, likewise, are relatable, and each one feels like a different person with a unique personality. I, personally, also really appreciated the recognition of human sexuality. Much like real-life people, these characters have libidos. They recognize when someone is attractive, and the effect it has on themselves. I’ve been seeing this less and less in SF/F, as novels either become directly about sex/sexual relationships, or completely ignore it. It was neat to actually see a character feel sexual attraction to a stranger, but just not act on it, like almost everyone IRL does almost every day.

Still, I can’t get past the fact that nothing happens. When I reached the halfway point of the book and realized that I hadn’t even get to the part where the author makes a promise to the reader, and probably wouldn’t until the last chapter because Everything Is A Series, I felt disappointment lapping at my knees. Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: It really is good prose. It reads fast, and the novel is short, which helps with turnout. There’s even a few things of interest to talk about, regarding the (rather intentional) parallels between Aftershocks’s world and post-WWI Germany. If anyone in your book club has experience with military bureaucracy and/or military culture, they’ll bring a fair bit to the discussion. So you can get talking for a while. But the most common refrain was “It felt sorta… empty.” I guess I’d wait until at least three books are out and then read them all in one go, so there’s something to sink one’s teeth into, story-wise. Until then, Not Recommended.

Also… I had a ridiculously hard time getting hold of an ebook version of this. I wasn’t allowed to simply give Amazon (or any other online retailer) my money in exchange for the book! I had to put in a lot of work to get it, and if I wasn’t reading it for my book club I would have given up early in the struggle. WTF, Capitalism? What is going on here?

Oct 252019
 

I had a saddening encounter this weekend. On a panel about civil verbal disagreement, an audience member asked what to do when people use terms that are viewed by one side in a debate as slurs (such as “climate-denier”) and was told that in such a case, rather than getting upset one should stay quiet and introspect on their situation and see if they can understand why the other party would say such things. So I turned to my fellow panelist and told her that sounded very self-serving. Yes, we all dislike climate-deniers and don’t find anything wrong will calling someone literally what they are. But by way of comparison, if someone called me a “fag,” should I also introspect on my situation and see if I can understand why someone would say such a thing, rather than getting upset? She said of course not, and there was some concession that maybe this wasn’t the most fair-handed advice, but the topic was quickly moved past because panels are fast-paced and many people had questions/comments to get to.

(I know that “climate denier” is obviously drastically different. No one’s ever been kicked out of their house or beaten to death for being a climate denier. But after a failed attempt using a more analogous example, I found this was the only one that could get my co-panelist to consider how someone from the outside would view her call to ponder “why am I so bad?” rather than anything remotely realistic.)

Importantly, afterwards the panelist told me privately that she didn’t mean to be unfair or anything. It’s just that the person who asked the question was a White Man, he obviously needed to reflect on himself. And implicit both in her words and the “you know…” look she was giving me was that white men can have no legitimate complaints about how they are treated, and that was the basis of her answer. They are a class that can only ever do violence, and no verbal abuse can be visited upon them that is not morally justified. The only thing she knew about the question-asker was that he was white and male and somewhere north of his 40s, and that was enough.

:(

Oct 162019
 

The Freeze-Frame Revolution, by Peter Watts

Synopsis: A group of engineers living in a total-surveillance spaceship decide they must overthrow its near-omniscient sovereign AI, and have to figure out how to do so while also only being awake a few days every several thousand years.

Book Review: I continue to love everything Peter Watts writes. He is a super-stimulus to my taste in fiction.

The premise of the book is already interesting. A covert revolution with ridiculous constraints on action, against a tyrant that can decide to never wake you up every time you go to sleep if he finds out what you’re planning. Watts then rockets us directly into Kafka territory, as the crew almost immediately loses all contact with the rest of humanity due to sleeping away eons between their shifts to create wormhole gates. Why do they continue to make gates for a humanity that may not exist anymore? Why are eldritch monstrosities erupting from these gates and trying to destroy their ship? Why does anything matter? It doesn’t, just keep making gates, that’s your sole purpose, so latch onto it.

After reading a number of works by an author, you come to see common themes between them. Watts’s books are always incredibly lonely. The characters within them are singular and alone. The rest of humanity either doesn’t exist, or may as well not exist anymore. Their peers are all distant, strange creatures, whom one can’t form bonds with. Everything is cold, and quiet, and isolation is all-pervasive. (yes, I love this)

Also, Watts loves non-sapient intelligences. Things that behave as if conscious, but which are not. They are generally incredibly creepy. One of the major themes in Freeze-Frame is the protagonist slowly coming to accept that the AI she speaks with isn’t a person. It’s a series of flow-charts and equations meant to mimic human interaction. And this hurts, because due to the previously-discussed isolation, the AI was the only friend she had. Not only is she losing her friend, she’s realizing she never had one to begin with.

Probably.

The mark of a good book is, of course, the drawing together of mood and theme into a compelling plot that moves the reader through the story, and Freeze-Frame has that too. The changes that occur over deep time, and the insane level of engineering that was bent to the task of making a thing that would remain stable over so long (and the interesting ways it fails) tie into the covert revolution plot as well. There’s just so much to love here for fans of dark SF.

The two main complaints I have is that the protagonist is the only developed character, everyone else is a bit one-dimensional. I’m not sure that’s a valid complaint though, because the fact that no one else feels fully real is to be expected when you are so isolated and have no connections to anyone. The other complaint is that this is too short. Not just in a “Hey, I want more!” way (although there’s that too!), but in a “This is basically a novella being sold as a novel,” way. It only barely squeaks into the lower bound of a novel in length. However this does force Watts to keep his prose tight, there aren’t nearly as many ponderous descriptions of objects and actions, and much more getting-to-the-point, which I appreciated. And to be honest, if it was a novella it wouldn’t have been read by our book club, since we only do novels.

Regardless, definitely Recommended!

Book Club Review: A good book for book clubs as well. The fact that it is so short meant no one had trouble finishing it, and we had very high attendance. Not everyone is the Watts fanboy that I am, but most everyone found it interesting. There were quite a few things to talk about, and a bit of speculation about the nature of the reveal near the novel’s end. For that matter, there was speculation about what happened to humanity, and how realistic certain aspects of the story were/weren’t. This is a dense book, and like all of Watts’s books, it expects a lot from the reader. There’ll be just as much discussion about this as there are in most books triple its length. Recommended.