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review 2019-09-23 12:29
A joy of a book that will make readers feel as if they had been there.
Apollo 11: The Moon Landing in Real Time - Ian Passingham

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review. What a blast!

There are events that become fixed on people’s minds, either because they witnessed them and felt they were momentous, or because the impact of the news when they heard them made them remember forever the moment when they heard about it and what they were doing at the time. Some become part of the collective memory. The first manned mission to land on the Moon is one of those. As I was a very young child (four years old, if you want to know), I don’t remember it, but I do remember my father recounting having gone to a neighbour’s to watch it as we didn’t have a TV at home at the time. And I’ve watched the images, seen pictures, and read articles and watched documentaries about it over the years, but no, I didn’t experience it live at the time. So, on this year of the fiftieth anniversary, I couldn’t resist this book. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The author collects an incredible amount of information from a large variety of sources (there is a bibliography at the end, which includes the sources although not the specific details of each and every one of the articles and news items, as that would have taken more space than the book itself), and manages to select the most informative, wide-ranging, thought-provoking, and entertaining materials, creating a fun and gripping reading experience that, although we know where it’s going, never gets boring. He is also at pains to try to provide a balanced view of the facts, collecting as well the voices of those opposing the project for a variety of reasons (mainly economic, to do with poverty and conditions in the USA, but also some for religious reasons, and others due to the fear of what that might mean for humanity and the likelihood of space’s exploitation for war purposes).

Passingham lets the materials speak for themselves in most instances (and it is a joy to read the opinions of the general public at a time before social media gave everybody the tools to share their voice with the rest of the world), and he does so while creating an easy to read and compelling account of events that evidence his professionalism and his experience as a journalist. Where some authors would feel tempted to butt in and make explicit their points of view, here we are allowed to make our own minds up.

After a first chapter called ‘Race to the Moon: 1957-69’ highlighting the USSR’s successes in what would become known as ‘the space race’ and the USA’s determination to turn things around (spurred on by JFK’s promise, in 1962, to get to the moon before the end of the decade), the book takes on the format of a count-down, from Wednesday, 2nd of July 1969 (launch minus fourteen day) to Splashdown day (24th of July) and a final chapter looking at what has happened since. This format makes us share in the excitement of the team (and the whole world), at the time, and, although we know what took place, we get to feel a part of it.

I have marked many items in the book that gave me pause, and the description also gives a good hint of some of the gems readers can find in the book. If I had to choose some, perhaps the comments by Michael Collins about how he felt about the possibility of having to leave his two fellow astronauts behind if things went wrong with the Moon landing; the advancements on computer sciences and technology brought up by the project (when looking at the data it sounds underwhelming today, but it’s incredible to think they managed to do what they did with the equipment they had) and the same applies to the cameras they took with them and used; the mention of Amy Spear’s role in developing radar systems used for landing and docking the module; worries about what would happen to all the people who had been working on the project once the flight was over, many of whom had come from other states (would the new jobs be maintained?). I loved the enthusiasm and the optimism of people convinced that in ten years there would be hotels in the Moon and humanity would be settling other planets (oh, and they were phoning aviation companies to book their flights already!); the sad comments by US soldiers in Vietnam who contrasted the public support the  Apollo 11 enjoyed with the general opinion about the Vietnam war; I was very sad about the fate of a monkey they sent into orbit (alone! Poor thing!);I was interested in the opposing voices as well, in the fact that Russian women had gone into space but at that point there were no women in the programme (and due to Navy regulations, Nixon’s wife couldn’t even accompany her husband when he went to welcome the astronauts aboard USS Hornet…), and a mention that the astronauts had access to a microwave oven in the Mobile Quarantine Facility (they had been in existence for a while, but they were large and only used in industrial settings at that point), and, oh, so many things.

I enjoyed the book, which also contains many illustrations, all from NASA, and apart from making me feel as if I had been there, it also gave me plenty of food for thought. Many of the things people imagined didn’t come to pass, although it is not clear why (yes, it would have been very expensive, but that didn’t seem to stop them at that point. And why did the USSR pull back as well?), there were many advances due to it, but space exploration has remained controversial, perhaps even more so now than before. I wonder if there will be some positive event that will pull so many people together again in the future, rather than the catastrophes and disasters (natural or man-made) that seem to have become the norm in recent years. I guess only time will tell.

I cannot imagine there will be anybody who won’t find this book enjoyable (OK, people who believe the Earth is flat or conspiracy theorists might not care for it, and experts on the subject might not find anything new in its pages), and I’d recommend it to anybody who either remembers that event and wants to re-experience it, or wasn’t there at the time and wants to learn all about it. A joy of a book.

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review 2019-07-12 18:45
From Librarything
Boys Will Be Boys: An Exploration of Power, Patriarchy and the Toxic Bonds of Mateship - Clementine Ford

Disclaimer: I won an ARC via a giveaway on Librarything.


                There are thousands of reasons why you should read this book.  I would like to start with just one.


                The sentence about Oscar Isaac’s equipment.  It is around page 185.


                And if that doesn’t do it for you, the line about porn making men’s equipment not work is good too.  That’s around 134.


                But seriously, Ford’s excellent use of humor aside, you should read this book.


                Ford’s book about culture and how it not only harms women but also men.  In part, this is a mediation on the problems that her son will face growing up, but also the dangers that women face.  She dismantles the arguments that men’s rights movements people use and shows how circular and deceptive they are.


                The progresses from pre-birth to adulthood.  For instance, the book opens with a discussion of gender reveal parties, and ends with a letter to her son describing, in part, what she hopes he grows into.


                One of the most damning or interesting chapters is her look at film.  You will never look at movies, in particular Disney movies, the same way.  While at times in this section, I wondered a few things – for instance, while Rey and Finn are great, the Force Awakens really doesn’t fully pass the Bechdel test does it?  Or why not mention comic book movies where the female superheroes rarely seem to talk to each other?


                And there are other limitations in the book, which Ford addresses in her introduction, so she is at least aware. The book relies heavily on Australian events (not really surprising considering) but also mentions a few cases in the US and Ireland.


                The most anger inducing and upsetting section is about sex education and how that is used to police women and young girls.  In part, she is building on the works of writers such as Jessica Valenti, but she also shows how much has not changed and, in fact, how some things have gotten worse.


                We live in a world where if a female politician says something people don’t like, she deserves death threats.  IT’s her fault.  She should keep her mouth shut.  We live in a society where a judge tells a rape victim that she should have thought of her rapist’s future before she pressed charges.  A world where Lance Armstrong, who maligned a woman who tried to blow the whistle on his cheating, gets redeemed.  While all these things happened in America, they are hardly unique to America.  Ford’s book shows us how far we must go to do right by both boys and girls.

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text 2019-01-05 16:50
Reading progress update: I've read 0 out of 176 pages.
Anti-Semite and Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate - Jean-Paul Sartre,Michael Walzer

This is from v/vi of the longer than I usually read introduction, but so far this is super fascinating.    This is literally the first page and I have so many things to so.   


So Sartre wrote this after the occupation of France by Nazi forces.    In the aftermath, no one was speaking about bringing back the deported Jews and Sartre was like 'huh.   Maybe I should write about this.'   So he writes about the "...complicity of the French in the Nazi project.   He did so, however, at a level of abstraction that only a few of the French found disturbing.   The critique, as it turns out, was more disturbing to the Jews, with whom Sartre meant to declare his solidarity."


So, thoughts: first, I was reading this while waiting for the water to heat up for my shower.  Secondly, let's talk about the necessity for this abstraction when talking about antisemitism.    It shouldn't be there, but it kind of has to be at the same time.  It's like the way the women's march leaders continue to be directly called out and they go 'no, we're so good, no, we can't possibly be antisemitic, no, no, no.'   Maybe abstraction would have worked to get them to listen.   (I'm not a proponent of this, especially since nowadays every other minority is defended when they call out people blatantly, but I can understand why, in Sartre's time, this was what I assume he was thinking.)


Still, the Shoah has just happened: families were literally destroyed, a whole ethnic group traumatized by this huge loss.  I can understand why they wanted some very blatant solidarity and finger pointing, at the very least. 


Then again, I doubt the French would have taken more blatant, and more offensive-to-them accusations seriously.   Heads up, guys: France is still super antisemitic.   Just look at the elderly woman who was a survivor of the Shoah and killed in France last year.   Just look at the uptick of antisemitic crimes in France.   Yup, France is still a scary place for Jews, and I love France despite this. 


Also, another thought is Hydra.   Clearly a nazi stand-in at the beginning, Marvel watered it down to fascists in general which they used to gaslight everyone that Hydra was never about nazis at all, nope, no way.   This is despite Baron Zemo, a character fighting to take over Hydra when Marvel said this, was a nazi.   Womp, womp, fail Marvel.   (And this hurt will never away; I loved, and still love, Marvel deeply and the fact that they said this hurts. I will never fully trust them again, as much as I will still read their books unless they do something stupid like turn into full on nazi propagandists.   I will not stop calling them out on this until they apologize for actually gaslighting us about Hydra and recognizing those roots.)


This was because there were isolationists when Hydra was created: America had not entered WWII, and Kirby and Lee didn't want to make their books unreadable to the isolationists.   They wanted to talk to them, and yes, have them be willing to pay for their products.  How could they fight nazis without the isolationists being spooked about not getting drawn into the war?   Hydra, as a nazi stand in, worked. 


So why was it okay for them and not Sartre?   Is it because I have time, and the benefit of seeing what they were doing without the immediate raw wound?   Was it because America hadn't been complicit in the same active way France had?   (Yes, I know America wasn't occupied either, but I doubt the distinction mattered to thus with severe PTSD, or who had lost their families just then.)


Or maybe it's that Cap was being distributed in America, aka not those directly complicit, whereas Sartre was trying to talk to those directly complicit and Jews were not willing to trust the ambiguity given what they'd just been through: they were already being told that people were 'just following orders' so anything other than a direct 'France was most fucking definitely complicit' may have seemed like a way to try and wriggle out of taking any responsibility.  (Much like the women's march is trying to do, which is why I still don't trust them.)


So I'm probably going to Have Lots of Thoughts about this.

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review 2018-06-14 03:21
We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (audiobook) by Dennis E. Taylor, narrated by Ray Porter
We Are Legion (We Are Bob) - Dennis E. Taylor

Bob just sold his successful tech company and is massively rich. One of the first things he does with his newfound wealth is sign up to have his head cryogenically frozen upon his death. Not long after that, he's killed in an accident...and wakes up more than 100 years later as an AI. He is now property, and he's been selected as one of four candidates for the job of exploring and colonizing space for FAITH, the government that owns him. It's a good thing that Bob views this as his dream job. First, however, he has to beat the other three candidates, keep from going crazy like so many other AIs in the past, and avoid being destroyed by one of the many groups that don't want this project to succeed. Although Bob does make it into space, it's a rockier beginning than he expects.

I can't remember if I bought this on sale or if I used an Audible credit, but, either way, it was a waste. I only managed to finish it in a reasonable amount of time because of Ray Porter's excellent narration. He made the lengthy technical explanations slightly more bearable. His range of female voices seems to be pretty limited (I think this is the third audiobook he's narrated that I've listened to), but since none of the prominent characters were female and there were maybe only three female characters with speaking roles, that wasn't really an issue here.

I picked this up because I like books with prominent AI characters. Bob was technically an AI, even though he'd started off as a human. For me, the best part of the book was the period between when Bob woke up as an AI and when he was launched into space. I enjoyed reading about him adapting to his new life and skills, even as I rolled my eyes a bit at how easily everything came to him.

The first part of Bob's life in space, before he started replicating himself, was tolerable, but not great. I wasn't a fan of Bob's decision to build a VR environment for himself. Taylor's reasoning for it sounded okay (AI craziness is at least in part caused by sensory deprivation, because the human minds the AIs are built from expect sensory input they aren't getting), but I didn't want to read about some guy living in his magical environment that he could change at will. I vastly preferred it when Bob was housed in a very nonhuman body that was little more than a camera and some manipulators.

When Bob began populating his environment with animals, including a beloved cat from back when he'd still been human, I began to worry that he'd start recreating people he'd known and loved when he was alive. My biggest fear was that he'd recreate his ex-girlfriend. I was surprised and relieved that it never once crossed Bob's mind to do any of this.

After Bob found a stopping point and began replicating himself, the story branched a bit and should have become more interesting. Instead, it became more tedious and considerably less focused.

Each Bob renamed himself in an effort to make things less confusing, and the book followed multiple Bob POVs. I did my best to keep count, and by the end the total Bob count was 30 and the total number of Bobs who got to be POV characters was up to 9 or 10. This was one of the few aspects where I regretted the audiobook format a bit, since the different Bob POVs were briefly identified at the beginning of a section/chapter and were often difficult to tell apart if I missed hearing Porter say their names. Although each Bob viewed the other Bobs as having radically different personalities, the personality differences weren't as noticeable in the different POV sections.

One of the Bobs (Bill) opted to stay in one place and act as a Bob factory, tech researcher, and communication center. One set of Bobs headed back to Earth to see how things were going and whether there was even any point in looking for habitable planets anymore. Most of the other Bobs went in different directions and began exploring - some of what they found tied in with the storyline involving Earth, some of it led to action scenes involving an enemy AI, and some of it had nothing to do with anything as far as I could tell. Probably setup for the next book.

The discovery of the Deltans, intelligent but low-tech beings on one of the Bob-discovered planets, fit into the last category. Sadly, I found it to be more interesting than the primary storyline involving the fate of humanity, even as Bob's actions and plans made me more and more uncomfortable.

Bob (original Bob) discovered the Deltans and, at first, decided just to watch them. He gradually became more involved, to the point that he

considered culling one of the Deltans' natural enemies, the gorilloids, in order to make the Deltans' lives easier. Another Bob disapproved of this, although I got the impression that his disapproval was based more on his dislike of making the Deltans dependent on the Bobs and less on any qualms about genocide. Original Bob spent a lot of time studying the Deltans and almost no time studying the gorilloids. I wasn't as willing as he was to discount the possibility that the gorilloids were also sentient and sapient beings.

(spoiler show)

We Are Legion (We Are Bob)'s biggest problem was that it was boring. Taylor included a massive amount of technical detail, and I really just did not care. I say this as someone who largely enjoyed the scientific explanations and technical details in Andy Weir's The Martian.

It probably didn't help that I couldn't bring myself to care about the various Bobs and their storylines, either. The humans in Taylor's vision of the future were largely annoying and seemed determined to literally argue themselves to death. Rather than talk to each other, share knowledge and resources, and generally help each other out, they preferred to argue about who got to evacuate first and then refused to so much as share a planet. As for the Bobs, I never became very attached to any of them and

didn't even feel a twinge when any of them died. After all, the Bobs themselves barely mourned each other, and they could always just make new ones, even though the personalities wouldn't be the same.

(spoiler show)

Early on, Bob worried about losing his humanity and was reassured that he was still human when he regained his ability to grieve for the family members of his who'd long since died. Honestly, though, he should have continued to worry, because that moment of grief seemed to be his first and last deeply felt emotion in the entire book.

I don't currently plan on continuing this series. I'm not sure I could take another book filled with dozens of iterations of Bob, even with Ray Porter narrating it.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2018-04-13 04:50
Reading progress update: I've read 6% of Ice Ghosts
Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition - Paul Watson

The author has supposedly won a Pulitzer.  (OK, it was for photojournalism.)


This book was selected by the Guardian as one of the "best science books" of 2017.  The CBC put it at the top of its 2017 "holiday gift guide" of books about science and nature.


I regret to say at 6% in it is poorly organized, opening with three (inadequate) maps (and hard to read on a kindle, though that is not his fault - possibly the publisher's), and a chronology of events which is, depending on how you look at it, either spoilerific or because he couldn't be bothered to write a proper narrative history. 


And then the spliced sentences started popping up, as well as at least one sentence fragment.  Watson is also addicted to adjectives.


I'll be charitable and say he needed a better and more observant editor.  I would think W.W. Norton would have been capable of finding one, but perhaps the experienced ones were all busy elsewhere, and an intern got the job.


(I think - think, mind you - that I shall finish this, as I find the subject fascinating.  But his prose style and the freaking sentence splices are getting on my nerves.  My fingers are itching for a red pen.)

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