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review 2017-07-05 17:10
Reamde - Neal Stephenson 
Reamde - Neal Stephenson

Gold farming in MMPORG, and game building, veterans and draft-dodgers, a British writer of fantasy with exquisitely hand-crafted languages and cultures and also an American fantasist of the most prolific stripe, Seattle hipsters and Iowan wind farmers, private jets and slow boats from China: everything and everyone has a foil in this book, but since it's over nine hundred pages, an exhaustive catalog would be really long, and far less entertaining. Stephenson manages to take a Clancy-like scenario, give it a Dickensian and international cast, keep up a Dan Brown kind of momentum even as he takes time for National Treasure sort of thinking. Lots of thinking.

 

And also I happened to notice a particular device Stephenson used to good effect: the first time a name is introduced he spells it kind of phonetically, the way the character heard it, but when the character actually appears on stage, as it were, the name is spelled as it is using the Roman alphabet and English transliteration. It's important because there are quite a few people with nonEnglish names and nonRoman writing. In the same way he keeps the plot going without taking the time to explain everything: eventually all becomes clear for a character without a lot of telling. I don't usually notice technical aspects of a novel's construction, but at over 900 pages I had a fair number of opportunities to ponder whilst doing other things which were not reading.

 

So, the upshot: an incredibly entertaining book that one can feel smug about reading. Recommended for ereaders because of the heaviness and awkwardness of holding a bound copy.

 

Library copy 

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review 2017-06-27 18:59
Al Franken, Giant of the Senate - Al Franken 
Al Franken, Giant of the Senate - Al Franken

It is terribly important that the most trusted figures in American politics right now are comedians: Al Franken, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert. It is important that our newest president has only ever actually been professionally successful as a television character.

 

Don't get me wrong: I don't think actors, performers, and certainly not writers are somehow less valid as elected officials. While the primary business of senators and congress people is lawmaking, I recognize that they themselves don't (possibly ever anymore) write the laws; federal laws are written by interested parties, think tanks, and congressional staff. So it isn't necessary to be a lawyer in order to shape laws. What is necessary: I think a broad, general interest is good; literacy is useful; the ability to listen is huge; one has to judge sources, because I'm sure there's never less than two sides to any issue, and all of them purport to have data backing them up, of which some must be less valid or useful than others; a willingness to admit ignorance and to learn is key, because no one is an expert in everything, and hastily-formed judgements are unlikely to result in successful solutions to complex problems. And of course, one has to be able to work with many difficult people, but that's true of all work, isn't it? That list of qualities leaves previous work experience pretty open.

 

It's important that our emperor is naked, and that as many people as possible are pointing at the bare ass he's waggling at us, and laughing. It's not possible to bring him down by arguing with him or fact-checking him: he's a shameless liar, he just makes shit up, most of his shtick is just childish insults. You can't argue with him. He doesn't believe in the idea of a fair fight. But you can point and laugh: he has no defense against mockery.

 

Franken is a mensch. I would give that man an organ I can't spare, secure in the knowledge that he would use it only for good. He is everything one could hope for in an elected representative, just once I would like to vote for someone who was so progressive and also so pragmatic. Harvard has gone up in my esteem by being Franken's alma mater. If you've never read any of Franken's political books you're in for a treat.

 

Library copy

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review 2017-04-13 17:21
Friday On My Mind - Nicci French 
Friday On My Mind - Nicci French

All of the Nicci French books, standalones and series work very well for me. There's that depressing tone you expect in a story about people who do horrible things, but there is also a strong sense of moral justice, kindness to the outcasts of society which is Christlike without being Christian (immigrants, the homeless, women, the mentally ill standing in for slaves, women, lepers, and the possessed) the importance of intervention, and so much about accepting the kindness of others. Everyone who knows Klein is devoted to her or in opposition to her, but there is no question that she deserves the devotion. Fortunately, she doesn't walk on water, only near it, so much walking, and such happy descriptions of what her little home means to her, and cats, and baths, and wines and tasty food. It's the same sort of mood that made the Richard Jury series a favorite. Because mysteries are involved with the restoration of order they often are very conservative. Not this series, though; Klein is a bomb-thrower at heart.

 

Klein is surrounded by people in harrowing circumstances and she does her best for others and herself. So the books are quite soothing, despite the dramatic tension.

 

Can't wait to have a go at the Saturday book.

 

Library copy

 

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review 2017-04-12 19:10
The Suffragette Scandal - Courtney Milan  
The Suffragette Scandal - Courtney Milan

Lots of people avoid Romance as a genre because
1) they don't care about women in ballgowns
2) everything they know about Romance novels is 40 years out of date
3) they assume Romance is a genre for lonely women with too many cats
4) they buy into the idea that a genre by and about women must be inferior
5) they have no idea where to start.

Let me address those concerns.
1) The ballgown on the cover is just to let you know that this is an Historical Romance, an it is available; no actual ball gowns are worn during the story
2) Although there are still stories being written about nurses falling for doctors and innocent young girls being married off to blackguards, those are by no means the most popular themes these days. This book, for instance, is first wave feminism in all its activist glory
3) And I suppose you believe that the average gamer these days is a teenage boy in his parent's basement* killing something in a first person shooter
4) Honestly I can't imagine that anyone professes this belief, even if they have it
5) Courtney Milan, but also Jezebel.com has been covering the topic with lots of good suggestions

This book is pure enjoyment, but it's the end of the series, so if this really is your first Romance in a while (or ever), go check out The Governess Affair (Brothers Sinister short 0.5)at Amazon for 99 cents. Selling shorter interstitial works in the series between novels is a genius move, by the way. You don't have to read the series strictly in order, they aren't that closely tied, but they do share some characters.

Personal copy

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review 2016-12-09 20:35
Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil - Melina Marchetta
Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil - Melina Marchetta

Marchetta does not play around with small potatoes: fifteen years after a notorious terrorist bomb explodes in London everyone who was in any way involved is forced to reexamine their previous assumptions when a bomb goes off on the bus of a group of British teens touring France. After reading The Lumatere Chronicles I knew she was brilliant on aftermath, on exile, and PTSD, and divided loyalties, and complex characters with nothing but hard choices to make. But that was fantasy intended for a YA audience. This one prominently features teen characters, but focuses on the adults and is being marketed to an adult audience. Nineteenth century novelists often tackled such hard subjects with such diverse casts, but they would publish twice as many pages, too. She leaves Hugo and Dickens in the excessively detailed weather reports and makes Dan Brown’s puzzles look like dot-to-dots. This is the novel to drive through the heart of any simplistic notions about race, ethnicity, religion, and terrorism.

 

Library copy

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