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review 2017-03-09 16:51
Seven Years Gone: Undesirable (Volume 1)
Seven Years Gone: Undesirable (Volume 1) - Liz Iavorschi-Braun


Seven Years Gone: Undesirable (Volume 1) by Liz Iavorschi-Braun is a journey through a not-so-distant dystopian world where the protagonist shuns the collective "The Society" in a desparate last gasp to keep her individualism. Without giving away too much of this great story I'd like to add that there are a lot of parallels between what occurs in this novel vs the coming question Americans face in determining the future course of their country. This novel is well written and entertaining. I highly recommend it.


Source: liziavorschibraun.com/blog
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review 2016-10-18 13:33
Plato's Dystopia
The Laws - Plato

For some reason when people think of Plato and government we seem to automatically jump to the though 'gee, what a wonderful idea' as if a Platonic government would actually be a good thing. The question that I raise is what if it isn't? What if this form of government that Plato outlines actually isn't all that good, or moreso what if it doesn't work. In a way it is a bit like the western reaction to Buddhism. For some reason the young and hip seem to love Buddhism, believing that it is the one religion that you can do whatever you like, but as long as you treat other people okay then everything will be all right. However, when they delve into it (such as offering to volunteer at the Tiger Temple in Thailand) they pretty quickly discover that Buddhism is not all that it is cracked up to be – what no sex!?! No alcohol !?! Okay, I've known Buddhists that have breached both of those restrictions – at the same time – however they probably fall into the category of 'nominal'.


As for Plato we seem to have this idea that because he is this really famous, and apparently really smart, philosopher then any form of government that he comes up with has to be good, and has to work. Well, my argument is what if it turns out that this wonderful form of government sort of turns out to look a little like this:





The thing is that the more I think about Plato's political theories the more I realise that the freedoms that we enjoy under our modern democracies will be basically non-existent. For instance, you know how when you are in school you get to choose what you want to study at University, or even if you go to university – well, that won't happen in Plato's realm – your career path will be chosen right from the word go, and if you don't like it then tough, deal with it because the state that Plato envisages is a perfect, and efficient, state, which basically means that human free will sort of takes a back seat because free will is actually the thing that causes half the problems that we face today. Oh, and you know that idea that is known as the family - well we have none of that in Plato's realm because families are bad since they work to undermine the perfect nature of the society (or was that 1984: I don't know, but I recently saw it in London, and this book was so long and, well, dull that I may have got the two mixed up).


Another interesting thing about Plato's state is that it happens to be communist – it is against the law to have excess wealth, and if you have excess wealth well, at best it simply gets confiscated, at worse you are severely punished. Oh, and don't think that you can get around it by hiding it in another form of currency because he has that area covered as well. Oh, and let us talk about punishment because in Plato's mind nobody does wrong willingly – the only reason they do bad things is because they don't actually realise that they are doing bad things – even though we have free will this free will isn't actually free because we only do things out of ignorance, and if we weren't ignorant then we wouldn't do these things. However, Plato seems to acknowledge that people will do bad things even if they are told that they are bad. Well, it seems that in Plato's mind they have some sort of inherent defect so we might as well kill them. Yep, you heard me right, Plato is a big fan of the death penalty – if you are criminal then, well, there is no way that you are going to change so off with your head (or whatever way they decided that they will kill you).


Another rather interesting thing that I noticed in this particular edition was that the editor, and I assume translator, had a go at us moderns because we look down on slavery, and because we look down on slavery then we consider the ancient Greeks to be somewhat barbaric. Well, it is probably a good thing that we consider slavery to be barbaric because as far as I am concerned we really shouldn't be owning people and forcing people to do things against their will. However, those who look down on the Greeks because of slavery really don't understand the world in which we live – we have a form of slavery – it is called employment. Okay, we can leave our job whenever we like, but when we have a mortgage, and countless other debts, then the ability to walk away from our job really doesn't exist. While our employer may not be the slave master, the banks certainly are because if you don't pay back those debts they will let you know about it.


Which brings me to an interesting point about bankers – being a Christian I have heard how a number of people have given up a promising career in banking to become ministers of religion. Most of the time I just let it go over my head however I suddenly realised that banking is hardly what you would call an ethical profession. Okay, there isn't anything intrinsically wrong with banking, just as there is nothing intrinsically wrong with law, accounting, or even politics. However, I would hardly call the lot who brought about the global financial crisis paragons of virtue. Moreso, I have never heard anybody say that somebody has given up a promising career in plumbing to become a minister of religion (despite the fact that you can make some pretty decent money as a plumber) even though plumbing is actually a lot more honest than banking. Okay, there was one minister that I knew indicated that he didn't leave the legal profession for some holy and righteous reason, but rather because his conscience really couldn't handle the rubbish that he had to deal with. Actually, the more I think about it – bankers, fund managers, and lawyers as ministers of religions – I think I'd rather go with the plumber.


As for this book, well all I can say is don't bother – it really isn't all that great. In fact it is sort of half philosophy half idealistic legal text. In fact the translator writes it as if it were a piece of legislation, or at least the parts appeared to have been like that rather confusing stuff that politicians get paid ridiculous amounts of money to argue over. Sure, Plato may have some good ideas, however what I discovered was that these good ideas were few and far between and in reality were buried deep within what appears to be little more than a totalitarian state. Sure, Plato says that the military (otherwise known as the Guardians) and the rulers were to behave in a certain way but seriously, these are humans that we are talking about – as the saying goes power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. As for the Greeks being less sophisticated that we are – all I can say is that I don't think so – apparently our lust for technology and luxuries have pushed us past the point of no return – we have destroyed our environment and the global financial crises has resulted in a greater discrepancy between the haves and and the have nots that it feels as if we are returning to the middle ages, that is if we don't nuke ourselves over Syria first.



Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1768167172
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-07-13 14:46
Wells' Dystopian Vision
The Sleeper Awakes - H.G. Wells

When I started reading Jules Verne a number of years back I became increasingly interested in some of these pioneers of the science-fiction genre, and while many of us have heard of Wells' more well known books, after digging around the internet I discovered that there were quite a few other books that he had written that I was particularly interested in, especially the ones where he writes about the possibility of flight and how disruptive a technology it would become. Okay, [book:The War in the Air] is still sitting on my shelf waiting to be read, however since it had been a while since I had read a Wells book I decided to grab this one.


Sure, I knew a little about this book – namely a man went to sleep and woke up two hundred years in the future to discover that, not surprisingly, everything had changed. I guess the thing that attracted me to this book was what Wells' vision of the future would be. Mind you, it is not his only foray into this speculative realm, since he also does it in The Time Machine and The Shape of Things to Come. Still, I do have this interest to try and see how visionary Wells, and other writers, really were.


As it turns it – quite so. In fact this book reads very much like the more famous dystopian visions of our age, such as 1984 and A Brave New World. In fact there are quite a few things in this book that as I was reading it made me wonder if he had actually had a crystal ball and looked into the 20th Century. For instance we have the working class who earn only enough to make it from day to day, which seems to be where the working class of this era is quickly heading, while the wealthy are able to spend their lives in pleasure domes and when they either get board, or run out of money, they can then euthanise themselves. What is also quite interesting is how the working classes are kept in line through something that is reminiscent of modern television, or even the internet – otherwise known as 'The Babble'.


The story goes that Graham suffers from insomnia, so he undergoes a treatment that allows him to sleep. Unfortunately he oversleeps – by a long shot. It sort of reminds me of Ash in the alternate ending of Armies of Darkness (which I actually saw once, and was really annoyed when I bought the DVD and it didn't include it in the special features, not that the DVD actually had any special features).


Armies of Darkness Image


As it turns out, Graham has become some sort of legend – the sleeper – namely because when he went to sleep he had some money saved in the bank, but over two hundred years it grew thanks to compound interest, to the point where he had so much that he could literally buy everything on the Earth. Okay, he didn't do that, namely because he was asleep, however a trust was appointed to look after this money, and as the money grew they used to to pretty much take control of the world. However, they didn't count on him waking up, so they decided to lock him up, which doesn't get them far because he escapes and meets a chap named Ostrog who, with Graham's help, overthrows the trustees (which are now known as The White Council), installs Graham as a figure head, and takes control of the world.


Mind you, he doesn't last all that long because the people once again revolt, but I won't spoil the ending by saying any more. However, what I will mention is this idea of money compounding over hundreds of years. In fact Futurama did an episode where Fry had discovered that he was broke, however remembered that he had some money in a bank account – a measley 93c, back in 2000, and decided to see if he could withdraw some, only to discover that he was now a billionaire. That started me thinking, so I found a compound interest calculator on the internet, plugged in the numbers, and low and behold:

Fry's Bank Account


For those unable to read it the figure comes to just under nine billion dollars (at 2.3% interest a year).


Anyway, I could probably write a lot more on some of the ideas that came out of this book, however I might leave it for a blog post down the track, particularly since there is actually a lot I could write. However, I should mention that it is interesting how people like Wells viewed the future, particularly since prior to him writers never actually seemed to be all that concerned with speculating as to how society would turn out – rather they seemed to write about society as it was then, and while writers like [author:Bentham], [author:Marx], and [author:Rousseau] did write social commentaries, they only did so to address the problems that faced society at the time as opposed to attempting to predict what would come to pass in the future. What we have with authors such as Verne and Wells is the idea to not look at society now, but where society is heading, both technologically and socially.


Some might suggest that it was because the world was starting to see a rapid change with technology, but technology had been progressing for hundreds of years. However, it could also have a lot to do with industrialisation because what was happening was that the traditional agrarian society was suddenly being disrupted. Up until that time a bulk of the population lived in the country and cities only existed as centres of trade and administration. Industrialisation not only meant that more could be made quicker, and cheaper, but also labour was needed where the factories were as opposed to where the farms were – and the factories tended to be located near the coast, which is where a bulk of the cities existed, and grew. Even in Wells' age society went from travelling as fast as a horse could run, or the wind blow, to travelling as fast as an engine could spin its wheels – in fact the world was changing right before their eyes as the internal combustion engine first made sailing ships obsolete, and then the good old horse and buggy.


Yet writers such as Wells, and later Orwell, could see a dark side to progress, as they both portrayed in books that are remarkably similar. However, by the time Orwell was writing 1984 a new technology was appearing in the form of the television, which had built upon the foundations of film and radio before that, and television ushered in a new age of thought-control through what is know known as the mass media.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1691627794
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review 2016-03-25 08:55
Jules Verne's Forgotten Novel
Paris in the Twentieth Century - Richard Howard,Jules Verne,Eugen Weber

This is what has been termed as the 'Lost Book of Jules Verne'. The reason it was lost (and nobody actually knew that it existed until it was discovered in a safe in his old house in Paris) is because when he wrote it his publisher basically thought that it was rubbish and refused to publish it. So, like many writers, he simply filed it away for another time, and it was subsequently forgotten, only to be discovered in the late 20th Century. Is it Jules Verne? Well, it is difficult to tell since the version I read is a translation, and it isn't a 'travel narrative' as most of his other books are. However there still seems to be a number of qualities that suggest that it is.


One of the main questions though, is it possible that a modern author wrote it under his name and backdated it? Well, it is always possible, but what one needs to do is to consider what he was writing and the predictions that he made. The book paints a picture of a highly industrialised world, but we don't have concepts of flight nor do we have extensive use of automobiles (other than the Gas Cabs) nor do we have complex computing systems. We do have automated calculators and fax machines, but they were already in existence at the time, albeit in a basic form.


However, it is not the inventions that Verne is trying to paint here, but rather a culture. Sure he describes an extensive canal network that turns Paris into a Seaport, and he also describes huge ships which are pretty much floating islands, however the main context of the book is the social structure of the time. Basically, the story is about a young man who has just completed university, majoring in Latin Verse. However, it is pretty much a dead subject. The only reason he graduated at the top of his class is because he was the only person in the class. Much of the book involves discussions between Michal, his uncle, and one of his professors, who is a professor in Rhetoric, another 'dead' subject.


It is these discussions that actually show Verne's foresight into the modern culture. Art is no longer art and poetry is of no interest to anybody. While this may not be the case, people of the 21st Century have basically lost interest in the literature of previous centuries. Hollywood is pretty much a cookie factory that churns out formulaic movies, and when they do work on something from the past, they tend to heavily modernise it. While people still read books, many of the books that are found on the bookshelves, and what people read on the bus, are what my English teacher termed as Airport Trash. They are mindless books which people read because they don't really want to think about what they are reading. Further, many have turned away from reading and simply rely on television to the point that some will proudly say that they have never read a book in their life.


Verne's Paris is not necessarily like the Paris of today, and the French still seem to put pride in their movies, however it is difficult to say whether they still read books (I was only in Paris for 2 days, though they seem to), nor can I tell whether it is just pulp that they are reading (I can't speak or read French - yet). While the technical manuals that Verne prophesies as being the only books read in his future, and to an extent this is true of today (since the only books many people read are technical manuals, if they chose to read it as opposed to simply putting the items together as is).

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/201651653
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review 2016-02-07 04:08
Time for a Good Old Book Burning
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

This is one of those books that I have known about for quite a while but never got around to reading it until quite recently. In fact it wasn't until I was browsing a bookshop in Sydney that I came across a copy of it, and it didn't take me all that long (in fact it was instantaneous) to add this book to the pile that I was already planning on purchasing (and the owner was pretty impressed that it took me less that a couple of minutes to have made my selection – I'm a bit like that in bookshops). Anyway, I first heard about this book when I was a kid, namely because there was an adventure game for the Commodore 64 with the same name (and I had no idea what it was about at the time). However, seeing it sitting on my bookshelf for the last couple of months finally prompted me to take it down and read it.


Anyway, I'm sure many of you know what this book is about – a future society where books are illegal and there is an elite squad that goes out raiding houses they believe have a secret stash of books, and then burn the house, the books, and arrest the occupants. Not surprisingly this elite squad are called the fireman, though unlike the firemen of today their job is to start fires, not put them out. The reason for this is because houses don't burn down anymore, unless they are given a bit of a push by the fireman (who run around with flamethrowers by the way).





The protagonist of the story, Guy Montag, happens to be a fireman and one day he is out for a walk (which is also technically illegal because people who walk tend to think, and thinking is bad) when he meets a young lady named Clarice. This encounter changes his life and instead of burning books he starts collecting them. However his little hobby (which is very much on the illegal side) soon gets him into trouble, and he very quickly finds himself on the run. Mind you, being a fireman gives him a bit of an advantage because he actually knows all of their tricks and tactics so he is able to avoid them.


Okay, the modern world may not be anywhere like Bradbury's world, however one of the ideas behind this book was that he could see it heading this way, especially with the advent of the television. The thing with the television is that as a form of mass media it can very easily be used to control the thoughts and beliefs of the population. Cinema plays the same role, and in many cases the only things that we see on television is that which the government and industry wants us to see. The thing is that the cost to set up television stations, and to also produce content, is prohibitive, meaning that only governments, and major corporations, are able to do so.


However we are beginning to see the power of the mass media provider under attack with the rise of the internet. In fact these days anybody with a smartphone, a computer, and an internet connection, can create content. However the catch is that there is so much content out there that it can be really difficult attracting people to view (or read) it. Still, the power of the internet is able to undermine the dominance for the mass media providers, however we still have a problem in that the infrastructure is controlled by powerful corporations who are constantly seeking the power to restrict access to sites that they don't particularly like (through undermining concepts such as Net Neutrality).


As for books, well people still read them, and it isn't illegal to own your own library, however there is still some subtle pressure against people who spend too much time reading books. For instance it seems to be okay for people to walk down the street reading their smartphones, however do that with a book and you seem a little odd. Also, while I feel comfortable reading books in the inner-city pubs and bars, when I go out to the suburbs I begin to feel out of place. In fact while I may not have been hugely challenged, I do tend to attract the wrong sort of attention. However, things have always been like that, and in the past intellectuals generally didn't wander into working class pubs and sit in a corner and read a book. Another thing that struck me is that I am surprised nobody has ever come up to me in one of those pubs and ask if they could buy any drugs – I don't know but reading a book in a working class pub makes me feel as if I'm a drug dealer of sorts.


So, I guess the question arises – why do they burn books. Easy – books and cheap to produce and distribute, and it can be very difficult to control the content. While the television stations acted as gateways for content, anybody with a type writer and photocopier can produce literature. In fact with the rise of mass publication also saw the rise of underground newspapers, something you still see very much today. Printing also allows rebellious ideas to be spread – Martin Luther did that with regards to the reformation – at it also has the ability to undermine government control. Books make us think, and thinking is dangerous because it means that we question authority and realise that we have a choice to say no. The ruling class does not like people saying no, or challenging their authority, which is why in the past (and in many cases still are) book burnings.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1044097585
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