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text 2018-02-24 09:40
"Rosewater" Reading progress update: I've read 16%.
Rosewater - Tade Thompson

This is a startlingly original piece of Science Fiction, set in Nigeria in 2066.

 

It's been a long time since I've encountered a powerful new voice in Science Fiction that combines new ideas with a distinctive storytelling style.

 

I love how the main character thinks. Here's an example of how he describes suddenly becoming aware that he knows something:

 

It is a certainty, not just a conviction, the way believing in God is a conviction, but believing in gravity is a certainty .

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review 2018-02-23 17:38
Homeland / R. A. Salvatore
Homeland - R.A. Salvatore

In exotic Menzoberranzan, the vast city of the drow is home to Icewind Dale prince Drizzt Do'Urden, who grows to maturity in the vile world of his dark elf kin. Possessing honor beyond the scope of his unprincipled society, can he live in world that rejects integrity?

 

This novel relates the first installment of Drizzt Do’Urden’s back story, namely his birth into Drow Elf society. As I have come to expect from Salvatore, it is melodramatic in the extreme. Drow society is over-the-top evil, bad in every way. Despite the fact that Drow females don’t produce many offspring comparative to their extra-long lifespans, Drizzt was conceived as a sacrifice to the horrible spider goddess Lloth and he is spared this fate when one of his brothers murders the other. Lloth’s supremacy as spider goddess has yielded a matriarchal society, where women are dominant and, like female spiders, are quite willing to dispense with a male once his purpose has been served. There is nothing resembling honour in Drow circles—not even between family members. So Drizzt’s violet eyes and moral sense set him apart from his own society.

We also learn how he became involved with his side-kick, Guenhwyvar the black panther and how he became the fighting machine that we are familiar with from previous books.

I can see where in a gaming situation, OTT characters such as these would be fun to play. It’s often more fun to be a villain than a hero because you get to do the awful things.

Book number 273 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

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review 2018-02-14 02:31
The Wars of Gods and Men (The Earth Chronicles #3)
The Wars of Gods and Men - Zecharia Sitchin

It seems that Earth has always been a battlefield, from today all the way back to the beginning of history humans have been fighting one another, or maybe we learned from others in prehistory?  In the third book of his series The Earth Chronicles, Zecharia Sitchin examines ancient texts from cuneiform tables of Sumeria to Egyptian hieroglyphs to the Bible itself to reveal long memory and devastating results of The Wars of Gods and Men.

 

Sitchin begins the book going over the wars of the ancient world and how the chroniclers of those wars described that the gods intervened in those wars and determined the outcome, following this he went over the wars of the gods for supremacy of Earth from Horus against Set in Egypt, the generational wars of the Greek pantheon, and battles of the Indian gods.  Sitchin then set about showing that all these tales of battles reflect events in prehistory of members of the ruling house of the extraterrestrial Anunnaki, fighting for supremacy of “heaven” (Nibiru their homeworld) and Earth, with the rivalry between royal brothers Enlil and Enki extending into their children and grandchildren.  Soon these wars began to include the “gods” human followers joining them in battle after the beginnings of civilization in Sumer, Egypt, and the Indus valley.  Sitchin details that some of the Anunnaki put their personal interests above their own families resulting in various alliances with cousins against their own siblings, and parents in some cases, which began a chain of events that led Abraham out of Sumer to Canaan and how Sodom and Gomorrah were obliterated by nuclear weapons.

 

This book began as a more academic read like its predecessor, The Stairway to Heaven, but Sitchin quickly switched gears to more engaging prose as he brought forth his evidence for and the explanations of this theories.  Sitchin did not rehash his evidence and arguments from the previous two books, only alluded to his findings so as to allow the flow of the book to progress along the line of thought he had focused on.  Yet even though Sitchin did not rehash his arguments, he did contradict some of his findings in The 12th Planet in this book—namely with the identity of “ZU”—but did not state that further research had changed his conclusions which would have made a better book.  However, the most intriguing part of the book was Sitchin’s discussion about Abraham, his family history, and his journey to Canaan especially in light of his theory that extraterrestrials were the “gods” of the ancient world (though he does not specifically name which Anunnaki sent Abraham on his journey).

 

The Wars of Gods and Men is a very intriguing, well written book with a theory and evidence that Sitchin lays out in an engaging matter.  Even with the academic beginning and with some unacknowledged reversals in some Sitchin’s findings, this book gives the reader a worthy follow up to The 12th Planet that The Stairway to Heaven was not.

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review 2018-02-12 15:29
"American War" by Omar El Akkad - highly recommended.
American War - Omar El Akkad

I believe the thing that sets Omar El Akkad's "American War" apart is not his ability to build a powerful and compelling view of a 2075 America, damaged by global warming and collapsing into a civil war, prompted by the South's refusal to stop using fossil fuels, it is his creation of Sara T Chestnut - who calls herself Sarat. Sarat is a bright, curious young girl from Louisianna who is broken and finally destroyed by a war she had no part in making and a need for revenge that she cannot let go of.

 

Sarat is neither hero nor saint. She is strong, brave, bright and fierce. She has also been fundamentally ruined by the war she has lived through. What she does is literally atrocious. Why she does it is completely understandable.

 

It is this ability to help me understand Sarat without turning her into an object or either worship or contempt, that makes "American War" a great novel.

 

In the opening chapter of "American War" the narrator tells us that:

 

"This isn't a story about war, it's about ruin."

In this war of the MAG (Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia) against the North, everything and everyone is ultimately ruined. America becomes a place of violence and vengeance. A place where you or either "Us" or the enemy. A place filled with the desperate poverty of refugee camps, the truculent aggression of militias, merciless oppression by the government and self-interested interference by foreign powers who covertly fuel the conflict with weapons and subversion while publicly offering humanitarian aid. There are assassinations, massacres, torture and bone-deep hatreds.

 

Yet there is nothing here that I cannot look around and see today in the Middle East or the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp or Turkey or in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Omar El Akkad is a journalist who has covered many wars and revolutions. He has not had to make up the things that come with war, What he has had to do is to help us see them with fresh eyes, to put ourselves in the shoes of the losing side, the oppressed, the refugees, the ones who have seen everyone they love and everything they care about destroyed by an enemy so powerful that victory is unimaginable and the only possibilities are survival or revenge.

 

"American War" is not a book that preaches through soundbites. The pace is slow, You feel the years passing and experience hope being slowly extinguished and being replaced by shame and anger and an insatiable need for revenge.  The book avoids being a series of platitudinous abstractions by focusing on Sarat's slow transformation from a bright, curious child, into fierce fighter and then to a woman broken and in constant pain.

 

Sarat doesn't theorise about war. Perhaps, as the product of it, she is too close to it to be able to see it as anything other than how the world is.

 

The theorising is left to an outsider, Karina, who keeps house for the Chesnuts at one point. She is the one who understands that, diverse as people are when there is peace, they all become the same in war. She believes that:

“The misery of war represents the world’s only truly universal language.”

and that:

"The universal slogan of war, she'd learned, was simple: if it had been you, you'd have done no different."

Karina also sees Sarat differently:

"Unkike everyone else, she didn't admire Miss Sarat or hold her in some revered esteem. The girl was still a child. At seventeen she was still less than half Karina's age.  She knew from experience that there existed no soldier as efficient, as coldly unburdened by fear, as a child broken early."

The only other commentator on what truly drives the conflict Sarat is engulfed by is made by her childhood friend, who, trying to explain why she thinks a certain action is right, says:

"In this part of the world right and wrong ain't about who  wins or who kills who. In this part of the world, right and wrong ain't even about right and wrong. It's about what you do for your own".

This is a statement you could hear all over the world, Treating others differently than your own seems to be a basic human response. When war comes, this response is the oxygen feeding the fire.

 

This novel reminded me that, if I want to understand acts or war or terrorism, I should always remember the "before" that led that person to that event. I don't have to condone them, but I'll never understand them if I stay ignorant of the "before".

 

"American War" is a grim book but an honest one. It is heartbreaking without being in the least bit exploitative. It's wonderfully well-written and brilliantly narrated by Dion Graham.  Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample:

 

https://soundcloud.com/pan-macmillan/american-wart-by-omar-el-akkad

 

og_image_nprbooksClick on the npr books logo to hear Lulu Garcia-Navarro interview Omar El Akkad on how "American War" explores the universality of revenge. In it, Omar El Akkad talks about Sarat and says:

"No. I don't think you're supposed to have sympathy for her. My only hope is that you understand why she did it. I think one of the things that's been lost in this incredibly polarized world we live in is the idea that it's possible to understand without taking somebody's side. So my only hope is that when you get to the end of the book, you're not on her side, you don't support her, you're not willing to apologize for her — but you understand how she got to the place where she is."

 

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review 2018-02-09 06:25
If we had all of these lessons years ago, how can we still be so stupid?
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

The catch-up book club has got me hopping on books I should have read years ago or did read years ago and never really thought about. This seems to be one of two books my high school self just flat-out LIED about reading. I'm horrified. I have no idea why I didn't read this one, though I now completely understand why I didn't read Wuthering Heights.

 

"-- for how many people did you know who refracted your own light to you? People were more often – he searched for a simile, found one in his work – torches, blazing away until they whiffed out."  –  Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

There's no point in reviewing this for the most book savvy crowd on earth, so I'll point out that my edition looks different (even though I used the ISBN to look up) and is the 60th anniversary edition. 

 

It's twice the pages of my other copy because every note ever made regarding Fahrenheit 451 is added to the afterward. There are some great bits to be found here, including a truly whiny screed from Bradbury. He had a right to be upset because at the moment he wrote it, the book was being re-published (again) **to add in all the parts that had progressively been censored out through the years** and which he'd been getting letters from high school students about. The students appreciated the irony of his own publishing house censoring a book about censorship. He appreciated it less, I think it's safe to say.

 

The best part of this edition is Neil Gaiman's introduction. It helped me understand the treatment and roles of the women in this book, which I was far less sympathetic to before I read and reread Gaiman's words.

 

Sci-fi first turned me off as a kid in the 1970s. I think this was because most of it contained idiotic women and heroic, if also idiotic, men who always "won." The women over at GR are very angry at Bradbury, but I am not completely sold on the idea that he was just a complete misogynist. I reacted at first to the treatment of women by asking "what am I missing? clearly this had to be purposeful. This is nearly slapstick." I was told, "no, he's just a chauvinist pig." I don't buy that, but it took me a while to find the nuances and temper my own reactions.

 

I may have gotten overly generous at one point when I wondered how to give it more than 5 stars. Overall this is yet another book that feels before its time in some ways, enormously prescient in others and makes me worry for the US in particular at this moment, but the world more broadly too. If we had all of these lessons years ago, how can we still be so stupid?

 

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