Monday, July 31, 2017

Musical Monday - Jackie Blue by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils


Here is another "name" song, this one is what pops into my head when I see a woman I know who is named Jackie. There's nothing about the song other than the name that applies to her, but as I have said before, the name associations in my head are so strong that they seem to override almost every other consideration.

On an entirely unrelated note, this is the second song in a row that features the word "blue", which makes me wonder how common songs with "blue" in the title are in the last several decades of music music. There are, of course, the two songs I have featured here - Crystal Blue Persuasion and Jackie Blue - but off the top of my head I can also think of Blue Suede Shoes, recorded by a number of artists but most famously by Elvis, Blue Velvet, recorded by Bobby Vinton, Blueberry Hill, recorded by Fats Domino, and Blue Guitar, recorded by the Moody Blues. Bobby Vinton seems to have made a habit of recording songs with the word "blue" in the title: In addition to Blue Velvet, he also recorded Mr. Blue, Blue on Blue, Blue Moon, I Am Blue, and Blue, Blue Day, and a whole pile of others. Thinking about it, it is entirely possible that a decent portion of the songs recorded with the word "blue" in the title are because of Bobby Vinton's career.

Is the word "blue" particularly prevalent in the history of contemporary pop music? I don't know for sure, and I don't really have the inclination to do the research that would provide an answer one way or another, but it does seem like it is true.

Previous Musical Monday: Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James and the Shondells
Subsequent Musical Monday: Roly Poly Baby by Doris Day and Perry Blackwell

Ozark Mountain Daredevils     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Book Blogger Hop July 28th - August 3rd: According to Sarah Connor in Terminator 2, a Normal Human Skeleton Has 214 Bones


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do you read tie-in novels to movies or television series? If so, which ones?

I don't read tie-in novels all that often, although I own quite a few. I have read some, but the odd thing is that the ones that stick out in my memory the best are the ones where I read the tie-in book before I saw the movie. I read the novelization of Alien before I even knew that a movie existed. I read the novelization of Dragonslayer before I saw the movie. Part of the reason for this is that during the early 1980s, I was living in Africa, and it was far easier to get books to read than it was to be able to go see movies. Essentially, if a movie wasn't in the theatres during the relatively short time frame that I was in the United States each year, I didn't see it until much later, when videotapes (and later, DVDs) became commonplace.

The other somewhat odd thing about the relatively small handful of novelizations that I have read is that I have enjoyed them more than I enjoyed the movies. Alien, as a novel, was scarier than it ever was as a movie. Dragonslayer, as a novel, was more mythic in feel than it was on screen. I don't know if this would hold true if I read more movie novelizations, but in my experience thus far, movie novelizations have all been better than the movies they were tied in to.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, July 28, 2017

Review - Ms. Marvel: Civil War II by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona, and Mirka Andolfo


Short review: This book has a story that feels a lot like Minority Report, except that it has Kamala Khan instead of Tom Cruise, and the plot isn't very good. On the other hand, everything but the plot in this book is excellent.

Haiku
First, a science fair
Then, some predictive justice
Last, stand on your own

Full review: Marvel doesn't really seem to have a particularly strong track record when it comes to "events" in which super-heroes turn against other super-heroes. The original Civil War event was a giant mess and pretty much a terrible story. The current Secret Empire event with Captain America leading a version of Hydra to impose a fascist order upon the United States has gone over about as well as a lead balloon. At its most overarching level, Civil War II was almost as poorly thought out and poorly executed as either of those two events, with an unconvincing attempt to make two morally unequal sides to a debate morally equal just to have the joy of seeing various costumed heroes punch one another. Despite the lack of structural integrity for the overall event, some of the individual story lines in the Civil War II series were actually quite good. Ms. Marvel, in the capable hands of G. Willow Wilson, is one of the good stories.

The volume opens on what is simultaneously a completely mundane and extremely exotic note: A science competition between teams from New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut with a year's supply of duct tape at stake, and representatives from a myriad of technically oriented institutions of higher-learning in attendance. Naturally, Kamala is on New Jersey's team, which is headed up by her best friend Bruno, but in a twist it turns out that the New York team's secret weapon is none other than Miles Morales. There is some humor resulting from the fact that Kamala knows Morales' secret identity but he does not know hers, but for the most part the competition goes on about as one would expect a science competition between high schoolers who can produce improbable superscience projects with equipment they have on hand in their classroom laboratories would go. The New Jersey team produces the "Skyshark", the New York team responds with the "Re-Aktron", and then Bruno ups the ante with the "FusionMaster 2000", and then everything goes wrong, ending the event, causing Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, and Nova to all show up for the rescue operation, and the precognitive Inhuman Ulysses to intone some ominous lines in what amounts to a voice-over.

The book then shifts in both time and place to India during the period following the 1947 partition that formed the countries of present-day India and Pakistan, with Kamala's grandparents among those Muslims living in what has become Hindu-dominated India among those affected. Much of the story in this volume revolves around Kamala making hard decisions, and these background sequences about her personal and family history, like others that are scattered throughout the book, give context to her decisions - essentially showing how Kamala came to be a Pakastani immigrant living in Jersey City, and and in the process showing how she came by the values that inform her choices. There is a certain basic expectation that super-heroes will fight on the side of "right", but often the question of what "right" means to a particular character is left unexplored, or is poorly defined. Wilson lays out what it means for Kamala (and in a sense, for the other Khans), highlighting their familiarity with being the oppressed and the outsider. In a telling scene, Kamala's father offers to pay the school fees of a boy he doesn't know upon learning that the boy has been displaced from his home and his grandparents are struggling to take care of him. He knows how it feels to be the person on the outside, and so he does what he can to alleviate the pain that causes when others find themselves in that position. This identification with those on the bottom of the social order is clearly at the core of Kamala's idea of what "right" means, and this notion has serious consequences in the story when it comes into conflict with Kamala's other notions about who to idolize and look up to.

In short order, Captain Marvel calls Ms. Marvel up to her space station to get the main plot of the book started, and it revolves around the Inhuman Ulysses. It turns out that Ulysses can predict the future, and Captain Marvel wants to use this ability to apprehend criminals before they commit a crime. If you think this sounds a bit like the set-up for the movie Minority Report, the book agrees with you, and even lampshades it with what amounts to as direct a reference as one could make without actually saying the name of the movie. If it seems like one would expect that this plan would go wrong based on that precedent, one would be correct, but Kamala is so star-struck by a request from her idol that she agrees to head up the pilot program for this idea. Not only that, Danvers gets together a group of assistants to help Kamala, which means, as Kamala says, that she now has sidekicks. This is pretty much the set-up that Kamala dreamed of: Trusted by her idol, given a special assignment, and with her own team to lead to boot. And, if there is anything that is consistent in the Ms/ Marvel series, it is that when Kamala gets everything she ever dreamed about, the reality is much less satisfying than her dreams. In fact, the reality almost always turns out to go horribly wrong.

To make a brief digression, given the history between Kamala and Danvers, this decision by Danvers to ask Kamala to lead this pilot program seems just a bit odd. On the one hand, the two start the story with something of a mentor-apprentice bond, with Kamala idolizing Danvers and seeking to emulate her, while Danvers has mostly been there to provide guidance and advice when Ms. marvel needed it. On the other hand, Kamala is a teenager, and has been portrayed as being pretty much as irresponsible and incapable as most teenagers actually are. After all, the last time Danvers interacted with Kamala was when Kamala called in Captain Marvel to prevent Jersey City from being overwhelmed by an army of clones created when Kamala and Bruno messed around with some Asgardian technology Loki left behind when the world was ending. Further, Kamala had created the clones because she was overwhelmed and unable to keep pace with her responsibilities. Given this background, it seems strange that Captain Marvel would decide that this awkward and well-meaning, but naive and entirely too busy teenager would be a good choice for this additional delicate responsibility. The fact that Danvers would hand off the job of running this program to someone like Ms. Marvel without detailed guidance and close supervision really makes one call into question Captain Marvel's leadership skills and judgment. One almost suspects that this story line was forced into the Ms. Marvel series by someone managing the overall Civil War II event, because everything about it feels forced. The character development is, as always, excellent, but every time the actual Civil War II event intrudes, the story kind of falls down a little bit.

At first, at least, the "predictive justice" system seems to work reasonably well: The crew is told that Hijinks, the leader of a band of Canadian anarchist ninjas, is due to steal an experimental tank and drive it around Jersey City until its automatic self-destruct sequence goes off, causing an explosion in the heart of the city and killing innocent bystanders. With the heads up from Ulysses, Khan and her sidekicks are able to apprehend Hijinks before the tank self-destructs. And this is where the book kind of falls down a bit, because everyone involved - both Hijinks and Kamala and her crew - all immediately start talking about the incident as if nothing illegal had been done. Hijinks maintains that he shouldn't be held because he hasn't actually committed a crime, and Kamala and her crew talk about the fact that they are holding him extralegally because he can't be charged with a crime. The only problem is that Hijinks quite clearly did commit a crime. He stole a secret experimental piece of military machinery and then drove around an urban area in that vehicle. There are probably a couple dozen criminal violations contained in that action, and the most obvious one is theft, which is a crime. Not understanding what is and is not legal seems to be a common thread running through both iterations of the Civil War events, as witnessed in the original Civil War event when Agent Hill attempted to arrest Captain America for refusing to help enforce a law that had not even been enacted by Congress yet. I don't expect that comic book writers will know every nuance of the law - I would not expect, for example, a writer to know that willful violations of the Anti-Deficiency Act are potentially prosecutable as criminal offenses, but I at least expect a writer to know that theft is a crime. The fact that none of the characters seem to know that Hijinks has actually committed a crime kind of undercuts the story at this point, which is in large part about the limits of an idea like "predictive justice". Essentially, the prime question posed by this story is whether it is just to detain someone because you have an at least somewhat reliable means of predicting that they will commit a crime, and having the first example be a character who has already committed a crime simply waters down the resulting conundrum. At least it does for the reader, because the characters seem not to realize that theft is a crime, making the reader think that they are all too stupid to be entrusted with any kind of law enforcement, let alone something as potentially fraught with moral hazards as predictive justice.

The story does get around to making its point, with Ms. Marvel and her crew apprehending people who have not yet committed a crime, but who Ulysses has predicted will commit a crime in the very near future. Everything seems to be going swimmingly, when Kamala is confronted with apprehending someone she knows, and her sidekicks prove to be more than a little bit overzealous in carrying out their part in the process. Things spiral out of control and people close to Kamala are first alienated from her by the "predictive justice" program with an especially brutal line where one of her classmates pronounces that none of them are friends, but are rather background characters. Eventually the fallout from the pilot program claims Kamala's closest friend, and she finally gives voice to her growing misgivings, arranging a demonstration for Captain Marvel of the limits of "predictive justice". This first leads to a confrontation with the most ardent of her own sidekicks, nicknamed "Basic Becky" in the story, and then with Carol Danvers herself. The problem with "predictive justice" is that it takes someone who has not committed a crime and treats them as if they have, and since Danvers outright states that they are operating extralegally, doing that is a crime in and of itself. As Kamala states, they may have stopped those crimes from happening, but they have just created a new collection of victims in the process. Kamala identifies with the people who are being oppressed, while Danvers can only see that the statistics show that crime in Jersey City is down. The notion that in the process people's civil liberties were stripped away and their rights were infringed seems to be an unimportant detail to her. No matter the ideological reason for the split, the key element here is that this represents an important break for Kamala, a part of her coming of age story, and it is pretty much done with beautiful poignancy.

Unfortunately, once again the absolute mess than Marvel writers make of legal issues crops up again when Captain Marvel shuts Ms. Marvel's project down and orders that "Basic Becky" be court martialed. There are a couple of problems with this sequence, most notably that since "Basic Becky" is not in the military, she can't be court-martialed, and second, when the civilian cops show up to arrest her, they take her in for kidnapping. But if "Basic Becky" is guilty of kidnapping, then so are Kamala, all the other members of her gang of sidekicks, and even Carol Danvers. In point of fact, they would not only be guilty of kidnapping, they would be guilty of a criminal conspiracy to commit kidnapping. One might argue that Captain Marvel is operating under some colorable authority (despite the fact that she had earlier said they were operating extralegally), but if so, then "Basic Becky" cannot be charged with kidnapping as she was acting under the rubric of Danver's authority. One thing that neither Kamala or Stark see fit to point out is that Danvers also created a new collection of criminals, namely Danvers, Kamala, and all of their eager helpers, and this omission seems rather glaring. These issues don't make the split between Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel any less dramatic, or the rift between Kamala and Bruno any less tragic, but the clumsy way they are handled does detract from an otherwise magnificent story.

The story has something of an epilogue, with Kamala taking a journey to visit her relatives in Pakistan as a means of getting away from her troubles in Jersey City and dealing with her mixed feelings about being on the opposite side of a dispute from Captain Marvel. The story has used the passing down of a set of wedding bangles as a connecting device, and now Kamala returns to the place where this sort of jewelry has meaning. Having shed the artificiality of the Civil War II event and returned to focusing on Kamala's struggles with being a teenager who must balance being a super-hero with all of the other usual responsibilities that come with growing up, the book almost immediately returns to the usual level excellence for this series. The first resalization Kamala has is that even though she has never felt that she fits in fully as an American, she also doesn't fit into Pakistan any more. She has been irretrievably changed by her experiences, just like the wedding bangles have been altered during their travels. Despite her plan to shed the Ms. Marvel persona for the duration of her visit to Pakistan, local gangs running water extortion rackets spur her to action, but since she doesn't know the local situation, she kind of messes up. She is more or less called off by local super-hero Laal Kanjeer ("the Red Dagger"), who essentially tells her to stay out of things unless she knows what she is doing. To a certain extent, this assuages Kamala's guilty conscience and leads to her second realization by highlighting that even though Captain Marvel is Captain Marvel, she directed the "predictive justice" project literally from a space station and really didn't understand the conditions on the ground in Jersey City like Kamala did. In short, Kamala is actually growing up and beginning to see that she has to chart her own course and pilot her own path.

Ms. Marvel: Civil War II demonstrates that even when handed the thankless task of writing a story in a poorly-conceived and badly executed continuity-wide "event", a skilled writer can salvage a pretty good book out of the larger mess. G. Willow Wilson is a skilled writer, and although this volume kind of falls apart whenever the overarching Civil War II story takes center stage, the elements related to Kamala's character and that of those around her are masterfully presented. The Ms. Marvel series has always been at its best when it focuses on Kamala's relationship with her family, her faith, her heritage, her friends, and her super-hero identity, and this volume is no exception. Despite the fact that the Civil War II elements of the plot are mostly not all that good, the portion of the story that is about Kamala grappling with all of the relationships in her life and trying to decide who it is she actually wants to be is so magnificently done that the overall end result is a superior book.

Previous book in the series: Ms. Marvel: Super Famous

G. Willow Wilson     Takeshi Miyazawa     Adrian Alphona     Mirka Andolfo

Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Thursday, July 27, 2017

2017 World Fantasy Award Nominees

Location: World Fantasy Convention, San Antonio, Texas

Comments: One thing about the 2017 World Fantasy Award nominees that seems notable is just how much they cross-over with the Hugo finalists. Despite the two awards really only sharing three categories, they share one Best Novel in common, four Best Novellas in common, and two Best Short Fiction stories in common. That's seven out of fifteen World Fantasy Award nominees in those categories that are also Hugo finalists. In addition, there were a total of three (well, technically two) nominees in the other categories who were also Hugo finalists. It isn't uncommon for there to be some cross-over between the two awards, but this year there seems to have been more than usual. I'm not sure what that means, but it is an interesting element of both awards this year.

This is also the first year at which the new World Fantasy Award statuette designed by Vincent Villafranca will be handed out during the award ceremony. The winners from last year also received the new statue, which replaced Gahan Wilson's bust of H.P. Lovecraft as the official award, but as the competition to determine the new version had not yet completed when the 2016 ceremony was held, the received certificates at the ceremony and their statuettes at a later date. This change has been needed for a while - Lovecraft is a polarizing figure in genre fiction, and no matter how much one might love his contributions, there is no question that there were a substantial number of winners and potential winners who felt anything but honored when presented with an award that was a statue of his face. In addition, having the award be a representation of Lovecraft always seemed to be a bit strange from a thematic perspective. Sure, he was a prominent figure in genre fiction history, but he represented a very specific corner of genre fiction, and was not a particularly good fit for an award that was supposed to be about the broad range of everything that could be considered fantasy fiction. Further, he always seemed like more of a science fiction author to me, mostly because his "fantasy" consisted of unintelligible and unimaginably old space aliens. In any event, the Lovecraft-statue era is over, and the World Fantasy Award is moving on, and I can't say anything else other than this seems to be a good development.

Best Novel

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Borderline by Mishell Baker
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
Roadsouls by Betsy James
The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North


Best Novella

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
Bloodybones by Paul F. Olson
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Best Short Fiction

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Das Steingeschöpf by G.V. Anderson
The Fall Shall Further the Flight in Me by Rachael K. Jones
Little Widow by Maria Dahvana Headley
Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies by Brooke Bolander
Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar

Best Anthology

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016 edited by Karen Joy Fowler and John Joseph Adams
Children of Lovecraft edited by Ellen Datlow
Clockwork Phoenix 5 edited by Mike Allen
Dreaming in the Dark edited by Jack Dann
The Starlit Wood edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe

Best Collection

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
A Natural History of Hell by Jeffrey Ford
On the Eyeball Floor and Other Stories by Tina Connolly
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie
Vacui Magia by L.S. Johnson

Lifetime Achievement

Winner:
Terry Brooks
Marina Warner

Other Nominees:
None

Best Artist

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Greg Bridges
Julie Dillon
Paul Lewin
Jeffrey Alan Love
Victor Ngai

Special Award, Professional

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
L. Timmel Duchamp
C.C. Finlay
Michael Levy and Farah Mendlesohn
Kelly Link
Joe Monti

Special Award, Non-Professional

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Scott H. Andrews
Neile Graham
Malcom R. Phifer and Michael C. Phifer
Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
Brian White

Go to previous year's nominees: 2016
Go to subsequent year's nominees: 2018

Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, July 24, 2017

Musical Monday - Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James and the Shondells


Continuing the theme of "songs that spring into my mind when people with a certain name", here is Tommy James singing (or more accurately, sloppily lip synching) his hit Crystal Blue Persuasion. There is a name in there, but it isn't really used as a name in this song. In any event, this is the song I associate mentally with one of the people I know, so it goes on the playlist in my head whenever I see them.

On an entirely different note, to me this video is pretty hilarious. Tommy James gives absolutely no fucks whatsoever about trying to match the recording. Near then end, he simply gives up completely. In addition, this video was allegedly made in 1971, after James had left his band and gone solo, but the recording James is lip synching to is fairly obviously the studio recording made in 1969 by the entire band.

Previous Musical Monday: Amanda by Boston
Subsequent Musical Monday: Jackie Blue by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils

Tommy James and the Shondells     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Book Blogger Hop July 21st - July 27th: 21.3.60 Is a Record Company Founded by Henry Rollins


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Have you ever read a book or books you would consider 'toxic' because of the effect it(they) had on you? If so, which one(s)?

This is an interesting question, in large part because I have written before about how studies done in the field of behavioural economics suggest that most people not only do not know how their preferences are formed, but that we cannot escape the influences that shape our thinking. In other words, if a book was actually toxic to your thinking, you may not notice because to the extent it influenced you, its effects would be woven into your preferences without you really consciously knowing it was happening.

I suppose one could interpret this question in a more banal manner as asking whether one had read a book that they found expressed toxic views. That is easy to answer: I have. Books like PureHeart, Dark Dawning, and even Oath of Fealty express a vision of life that I find to be completely repugnant (plus, the first two of those examples were really terribly written as well). They didn't really seem to change my way of thinking much, other than to solidify my already existing views, but they were books that expressed positions that I find fundamentally abhorrent.

On the other hand, one could interpret the question as one asking whether one had ever read a book that changed one's way of thinking in a toxic manner. That is, for reasons I pointed out earlier, probably an almost impossible question to answer unless one had changed one's mind at a later date. If you are still operating under the influence of a toxic work of literature, then you will be unlikely to notice that you are subject to that influence, or unlikely to be able to to perceive it as toxic. If one was under a toxic influence at one point, and subsequently had a change of heart and rejected such a line of thought, then one might be able to see the pernicious influence for what it was. The answer to this questions is: Not that I recall. Like I said, I have read some books that expressed fairly toxic positions, but in most of those cases, my opinions on the subjects were already well-formed enough that I wasn't swayed by them. That said, if there was some book in my past that put this sort of view into my head (and there very well may be), I don't know, and may not even be capable of knowing.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Random Thought - Four Dollars Worth of Books

This post is going to be a little bit of gloating, a little bit of an explanation, and a whole lot of love. What you see in the picture to the right is four dollars worth of books. Or at least, it is the number of books that the redhead and I recently purchased for four dollars at a library book sale.

I have written on this blog before about my love for library book sales, so it should come as no surprise that last Friday the redhead and I took a short trip to a nearby sale following up on an advertisement on the website Book Sale Finder. We knew we were going on a day when they were having a bag sale, so we brought a little cash and were prepared to spend an hour or two going through their selection and figuring out which books we already had and which ones we didn't (I have a tendency to buy books that I already own if I don't take a spreadsheet with me when I go book shopping). In my experience, one can expect to pay something on the order of five to ten dollars per bag of books, but when I walked up to the table the volunteers had set up, they were almost apologetic when they told me that they were charging one dollar per bag.

People sometimes ask me how one acquires a collection of thousands of books - the collection the redhead and I have amassed is just over eleven thousand books - and this sort of luck is a part of it. But it isn't really luck, because this sort of thing happens when one goes to book sales on a regular basis. Most of the time you show up, you buy reasonably cheap books, and you walk away having spent some reasonable amount of money for a reasonable number of books. Other times you get there and you just happen to be in the right place at the right time. I have had this happen before, when a library book sale had science fiction and fantasy paperbacks in flat fruit boxes and was selling them at a dollar a box. That time I bought everything they had and left with something like 1,200 books for around thirty-five dollars.

I wasn't quite so willing to buy out this library book sale's stock, and they didn't have that many books to begin with, but once I knew how little they cost, I became far less selective than I normally am. They had about seven flat fruit boxes of paperbacks and a smattering of hardcover. I ended up buying about half of their mass market paperbacks and a handful of their hardbacks and trade paperbacks. I am pretty certain that I unintentionally bought some duplicates of books I already have. I know that I bought duplicate copies of a few books I already owned, but in those cases the copy for sale was in better condition than the one I owned already. For example, I know I have a copy of John Varley's Ophiuchi Hotline, but my copy is beat all the hell and the cover is close to falling off. So I got a new copy that is in good condition. Similarly, my copies of Dune Messiah and Heretics of Dune are both pretty mangled. I got new copies of those as well. I bought one book twice at the sale, but that's the risk one runs in these situations. In the end, I wound up coming away from the sale with one-hundred and sixty-six books for my four dollars.

I figure that even if half of the books are unintentional duplicates (which seems reasonably likely), I'll end up coming out ahead. After all, the cost per book was in the two and a half cent range, so even if half are books I don't need that will only push the total up to something like five cents a book, and that seems like a pretty good deal to me. The most important thing about most of these books isn't that they were inexpensive. No, a lot of them are books that I probably would have bypassed on most days. Instead, I have a pile of books that I can now read and maybe find new storytellers and new stories that I might have missed otherwise. Some of the books are by authors who are unfamiliar to me, but are good enough at their craft that they have apparently managed to have several of their books published. Other books are parts of one or another extended multi-author series that I have never read. Others are books by authors that I know well, but I haven't read that particular title of theirs. And so on. The real point here is that there is a lot of new material for me to read in these boxes, and I am quite looking forward to it.

Random Thoughts     Home

Monday, July 17, 2017

Musical Monday - Amanda by Boston


Continuing with songs that are associated in my mind with specific people that I know., here is Amanda by Boston. There isn't really much to this other than the fact that I know a woman named Amanda, and whenever I see her, this song simply pops into my head unbidden. I still don't really know how common this quirk of mine where certain people are associated with songs based on their names actually is, or what it might signify, but it seems at least moderately interesting to me.

This song is actually kind of interesting, mostly because of the band that produced it and its position with respect to that band's overall oeuvre. Boston was one of the most successful bands of the 1970s, with their debut album Boston sporting numerous hits that still receive heavy airplay on "classic rock" stations, and a follow-up album Don't Look Back that was even more successful, with its own set of hit songs. Amanda, however, was on the band's third album, titled Third Stage, that wasn't released until 1986, ten years after Boston came out, at a time when Boston was more or less considered to be almost passe. And the odd thing is that Amanda became the band's most successful hit record - and as far as I can tell is the only single they recorded to ever reach number one on the Billboard Top 100. If you ask a typical music fan to list the most notable songs by Boston, they will probably reel off names like More Than a Feeling, Peace of Mind, Don't Look Back, Feelin' Satisfied, or even Rock and Roll Band, Party, or The Man I'll Never Be long before they even think of Amanda. All of those other songs have stayed in people's minds with much more tenacity than the song that was seemingly the most loved when it was released.

As a band, Boston seems to be plagued with a lot of odd misconceptions like this. I have had numerous people confidently assert to me that even though the band's debut album was a wildly successful album, they were never able to really build on that success, and every album after the first was a flop. The trouble with this narrative is that Boston's debut album topped out at number three on the album charts, while Don't Look Back and Third Stage both reached number one (although, to be fair, Boston had more staying power than either of the following two albums). Sure, the band never again had an album that sold as many as the seventeen million copies that Boston did, but calling an album that sold seven million copied (as Don't Look Back did) and another that sold four million copies (as Third Stage did) complete failures seems to be a bit harsh. It has, however, apparently taken root in the public consciousness that Boston was a one-album wonder, which seems decidedly unfair to the band, but is something that is unlikely to change.

Previous Musical Monday: Angie by The Rolling Stones
Subsequent Musical Monday: Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James and the Shondells

Boston     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Book Blogger Hop July 14th - July 20th: Archimedes Was Killed During the Sack of Syracuse in 212 B.C.


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: What is your go-to drink and/or snack while reading?

I don't really know that I have a specific drink or snack that I associate with reading. Most of my reading is done basically when I am not committed to doing something else, so I spend a lot of time reading on the bus, or while waiting for something, or in between other things, or just on a Saturday afternoon because I don't have anything that keeps me from it.

I suppose my "go-to" drink for reading would be Diet Mountain Dew, but that's only because that is pretty much my go-to drink for everything. For a snack, I don't know, something on crackers maybe? I'm fond of peanut butter on crackers, and I've found a pimiento cheese brand that is flavored with bacon that makes for a good cracker spread. Maybe peanuts, because those are easy to eat with one hand.

Most of the time, however, I'm not really in a position to have a particular drink or snack when I am reading, so I'll probably just end up with whatever happens to be on hand if I'm feeling peckish.


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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review - Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee


Short review: Tasked with putting down a heretical rebellion within the Hexarchate that has caused calendrical rot, Kel Cheris convinces her superiors to revive the insane dead General Jedao. If that sounds kind of incomprehensible to you, be warned that reading the book only makes it a little bit clearer.

Haiku
Calendrical math
Makes exotic things happen
Immortality

Full review: Ninefox Gambit is a work of military science fiction in which the science fiction is almost incomprehensible, and the military actions are only slightly less so. That said, it is a beautiful book that is not really hampered by the weirdly exotic world that it drops the reader into, and this weirdness is handled so well that by the end, it almost feels natural. Despite the alien strangeness of the setting, the story told in the book is fundamentally almost ordinary, and that manages to root the book in such a way that even with exotic calendar based math warping reality, there is enough that is familiar to hold onto that the story doesn't dissolve into impenetrability. One of the fine lines that science fiction authors have to walk is the balance between presenting a world in which technology and culture are different enough from ours that it feels at least somewhat alien, but not so different that the fictional reality has ranged so far from the familiar that it is effectively unintelligible for the reader. In Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee flirts with this line, standing right at the border where the setting would become entirely baffling, and occasionally stepping across for just a little bit, but for the most part remaining just shy of mystifying.

The central conceit of the novel is a brand of mathematics exists called "calendrical math", and by using it one can determine which collection of variables need to be controlled in order to change the way physics works, allowing for a variety of "exotic" technologies that are dependent upon this shared belief system. The government under which the various characters in the book live is the "Hexarchate" and it enforces a rigid calendrical orthodoxy of festivals, remembrances, and torture sessions to power the technologies that underpin the authority of the ruling Hexarchs. Deviations from the calendrical observances are treated as heresies and ruthlessly stamped out. Technology that does not depend upon calendrical math is called "invariant" technology, and is represented as generally being less effective than the calendrically powered "exotic" technologies - and with one notable exception none of the "invariant" technologies are ever really described. The "exotic" technologies are only described in slightly more detail than that: We get names like "Amputation Gun", and "Threshold Winnower", and "Carrion Gun", and a couple of dozen descriptions of various battle formations, but with the exception of the obvious effects some of them have, the technology is never really given any substantial definition.

Some have said that Ninefox Gambit is about calendrical math, but that does not seem to be entirely accurate. There are lots of references to calendrical math in the book, with discussions of people doing computations and the effects of maintaining or not maintaining the calendar, but there is no actual math in the book. To a certain extent this is to be expected - after all, if Lee knew how to do calculations that would reshape the laws of physics, he would be publishing ground-breaking academic papers, not writing fiction. On the other hand, when science fiction authors introduce heretofore unknown technologies into their stories, they usually try to give the reader some general idea of the parameters under which those technologies operate. Calendrical math, however, seems to have no limitation at all, which I suppose might be the point, because once you posit a particular technology that can alter the very fundamental elements of reality, all bets would seem to be off. This gives the book a pervasive sense of unreality, as the central conflict involves putting down a heretical faction that has cropped up and instituted their own calendar with an associated competing set of technologies. Since what is possible with calendrical math is never really explained, the reader really has no grounding in what is possible in this conflict, and as a result, must be content with simply gliding along as the various interested parties explain what is happening as it happens and satisfied with never really understanding exactly why.

One thing that is certain is that the political structure that makes up the Hexarchate are both instrumental to and supported by the maintenance of the orthodox calendrical arrangements. The nation is divided into six factions, each with a defined role within society. The Kel are the soldiers, and are imbued with "formation instinct", which causes them to reflexively follow orders. The Shuos are spies, assassins, and information brokers. The Nirai are mathematicians and creators of the exotic technologies that flow from the calendrical math used by the Hexarchate. The Rahal are the magistrates and judges, charged with enforcing civil order. And so on. Each faction has its place in society, and each member of a faction has a defined role to play. The incomprehensibility of the technology is almost entirely irrelevant to the book. While it is weird to read a book that is basically military science fiction in which none of the actions taken by the various forces involved make any sense because the technology they are using relied upon odd patterns of behavior and geometrical configurations that are never given any more detail than a fanciful name, the simple fact is that all of this exotic technology is just a way to explain the existence of a society that is so rigid that the deadliest heresy is allowing people to have choices.

The core story involves Captain Kel Cheris, a member of the Kel faction of the Hexarchate, whose use of unorthodox formations in response to having heretical weapons deployed against her unit has called attention to herself, leading to the Shuos Hexarch selecting her for a team to evaluate the best way to suppress a heresy that is causing calendrical rot at the heart of one of the most important regions of the Hexarchate in the key position of the Fortress of Scattered Needles. Cheris' proposal is to revive the dead and insane Shuos General Jedao and have him plan the attack that will allow the Hexarchate to retake the fortress intact and reimpose the proper calendrical order. This is a daring and dangerous idea: Daring because when he was alive, Jedao never lost a battle, and dangerous because in his final engagement he killed off the enemy and then turned on his own troops, slaughtering them to a man. The part of the plan that Cheris was not really prepared for is that to revive Jedao, he has to be attached to someone living, and that someone turns out to be her, creating what amounts to private a dialogue between the long-dead General and the living Captain (who is pretty quickly breveted to General for the operation). One might think that such an intimate relationship would engender candor, but like pretty much everyone else in the Hexarchate, Jedao plays his cards extremely close to the chest, even with someone who is literally the only person who can hear him. One problem with books in which intrigue is a major part of the plot is that the author runs the risk of withholding too much information from the reader because the characters would withhold information from one another, resulting in a story in which, from the perspective of the reader, things seem to happen almost at random. Ninefox Gambit doesn't quite sink to that level, but it comes close, and when this is combined with the almost inscrutable nature of calendrical math, the events in the book frequently seem almost haphazard.

For all of the exotic trappings, the story itself is fairly ordinary, although it does have some interesting twists: Rebels rise up against what appears to be a fairly oppressively harsh regime, forces are sent to bring the heretics to heel, various players have their own personal agendas they are trying to advance, and there are a couple of betrayals and reversals to spice things up. The heresy at the center of the story is the revival of the Liozh, a seventh faction that used to exist when the Hexarchate was the Heptarchate before they experimented with democracy and the calendar was revised to remove them. It seems notable that both the Liozh heresy and the creation of Kel formation instinct didn't take place until after Jedao had died the first time, but like all things in this book with its ever shifting reality, this is only an impression and there isn't really anything concrete to base that upon. The one somewhat unique question that seems to loom large in the background, but which is only hinted at, is whether it is possible to have anything resembling what we would recognize as a free society in a world in which calendrical mathematics exists. One can only hope this will be addressed in a future installment of the series.

Ninefox Gambit is a fascinating, confusing, and ultimately frustrating book. In it, Lee posits a strange alien society based upon a technology that is fairly off-the-wall and uses this setting to tell a story that feels oddly comfortable. While Lee never quite reaches the point where the story dissolves into complete chaos, the combination of bizarre technology, an alien society that underpins that technology, and pervasive conspiratorial machinations definitely serves to bring it to the brink of anarchy. There is a lot to love in this book, but there is also a lot that seems to simply whirl about without much rhyme or reason. This seems like a book that people either find interesting, or find absolutely intolerable. The real difficulty is figuring out which kind of person one is, and there's really no way to do that short of trying to read the book. That said, I am the sort of person who found it interesting, and as a result, I think it is definitely worth picking up.

2016 Locus Award Winner for Best First Novel: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
2018 Locus Award Winner for Best First Novel: TBD

List of Locus Award Winners for Best First Novel

2017 Clarke Award Nominees
2017 Hugo Award Finalists
2017 Locus Award Nominees
2017 Nebula Award Nominees

Yoon Ha Lee     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, July 10, 2017

Musical Monday - Angie by the Rolling Stones


As I mentioned last week, there are people who I associate with songs, mostly due to their names. Angie, by the Rolling Stones, is one song that fits in that category. I'm not going to explicitly say who this song is associated with in my brain, but it won't be all that hard for most people to figure out.

The odd thing about these associations is that they crop up without my really thinking about them, and most of the time the content of the song is irrelevant - only the use of the name triggers the association. I have no idea what this quirk might mean, but it is kind of interesting to me, because I've never met someone else who has a soundtrack like this running through their head all of the time.

Subsequent Musical Monday: Amanda by Boston

The Rolling Stones     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Review - Monstress, Volume One: Awakening by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda


Short review: Maika gives herself over to her greatest enemy to find out about her own past. Things more or less go downhill for almost everyone from there.

Haiku
Nothing but a girl
But maybe so there's much more
A monster within

Full review: The most important thing to know about Monstress is that it is, quite simply, a beautiful book. Yes, it has an intriguing story. Yes, it has a collection of interesting characters. Yes, it has an exotic and almost ethereal setting. But the one defining feature of this book is that it is full of some of the most beautiful artwork to be found in a graphic novel. It is also a brutal and gripping story about a young woman who is more than she seems, and the harsh and unforgiving but beautiful, and at times dazzling, world that she lives in.

As the first book in a new series, Awakening is heavy on world-building and character development, and somewhat light on plot development. That isn't to say that there isn't a story here, it is just that the story is, for the most part, used to give exposition and background relating to the overarching conflict to set the stage for the story of the main characters rather than delving into the stories of the characters in the book. The basic framework is that the world is divided into two regions, one controlled by humanity and the other controlled by the mystical "arcanics" who are essentially a collection of various mystical beings, some of which look almost human, while others have wildly exotic forms. Humanity is dominated by the Cumea, a religious organization of warrior -nuns possessed of mystical powers whose mission seems to be to rid the world of arcanics, while the arcanics are divided into two ostensibly allied groups: The Dusk Court and the Dawn Court. The two sides were at war in the past, but are now settled into an uneasy, watchful peace kept mostly because the Cumea were frightened by a powerful weapon the arcanics used to end the last conflict between the races.

Complicating matters somewhat, there are a trio of other races in this world, the most prominent of which is the sneaky and inquisitive cat race, identifiable by the many tails. The cats believe themselves to be the oldest (and most important) race, although most everyone else in the story seems to think of them as dangerous nuisances who are not to be trusted. One of the interesting conceits of the story is that every so often the book steps away from the narrative for a little time in the classroom with a cat professor giving a lesson on the history of the world and its inhabitants. The other two races in the setting are the beast-like Ancients and the enigmatic and terrible Old Gods. The Ancients seem to bear more than a passing resemblance to ancient Egyptian deities, and their indulgence in human sexual partners is apparently the reason for the existence of arcanics. The Old Gods are Lovecraftian entities, inscrutable and horrific who were driven from the world in ages past, much to the relief of all of the other inhabitants of this fantasy realm.

The opening page of Monstress shows the story's protagonist, an arcanic named Maika, naked and seemingly vulnerable, about to be sold as a slave before one of the warrior-nuns of the Cumea claim her and several other arcanics for sale as "donations". This apparent helplessness is deceptive however, and serves as a metaphor for much of the book. Maika is, in actuality, the most dangerous person in the room, possessed of a secret that makes her a threat to everyone around her. This theme is replicated in several other points throughout the book - the cute and cuddly looking multi-tailed cats are actually crafty spies, wise lore masters, and deadly assassins, the Cumean warrior-nuns despise arcanics and yet depend upon them for their abilities, and so on. Time and again, what is presented on the surface is inverted when one looks below the surface, a fact that looms large when one realizes exactly what Maika's secret is, and what it might mean for both her and the rest of the world around her. One might note, however, that these are only impressions: One gets the feeling that none of the viewpoints in the book are entirely reliable, and some are clearly engaged in outright deception.

Despite being a beautifully illustrated book, Monstress is quite a dark story. The book's tone isn't quite "grimdark", but it is just shy of it. The Cumea are quite ruthless as villains, and there are several sequences that are not merely violent but are over the top in their savagery. What makes these scenes truly chilling is that they are often undertaken by the characters in an almost casual manner - highlighting the fact that for the Cumea, for example, dissecting arcanic children and harvesting their organs is simply another task in a routine day's work. But it isn't merely that the villainous Cumea are given to vicious actions and offhand betrayal of their own, but so are their opponents, raising the question of whether any of the competing factions in this fictional world are actually "good guys". To be blunt, this book pulls no punches when it comes to depicting the depravity to which people will sink if they believe that their enemies are not even people. Even Maika displays an almost shocking level of callousness at times, and of course, the dark secret she holds is deadly to those around her - a fact that she hides even from many of those well-disposed to her, with some fairly tragic consequences. This isn't a story for the faint-hearted or for those looking for some light entertainment. It is a book about a terrifying monster who behaves like a terrifying monster and is still the most admirable individual in the story.

In the end, however, everything about Monstress comes back to the artwork. The story is brutal and dark, the protagonist morally suspect, the villains horrific, and the scenario makes everything seem dire, but it is all done so beautifully that it is impossible not to be carried right into the story. The lush depictions create an atmosphere that pervades the book with an almost perfectly ghastly allure that is both enticing and repellent at the same time. All of the elements of the story are well-done, but without the feeling of desolate magnificence that results from the depicted scenes, the parts would merely add up to an average final product. The artwork, however, elevates this book well above the ordinary, filling it with an ominous sense of dread that is both frightening and delicious.

Subsequent book in the series: Monstress, Volume Two: The Blood

2016 Hugo Award Winner for Best Graphic Story: The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams, III
2018 Hugo Award Winner for Best Graphic Story: TBD

List of Hugo Winners for Best Graphic Story

2017 Hugo Award Finalists

Marjorie Liu     Sana Takeda     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Book Blogger Hop July 7th - July 13th: Publius Cornelius Scipio and Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus Both Died Fighting the Carthaginians in 211 B.C.


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: In one sentence, describe your passion for reading.

"There's a myriad of worlds in there just waiting for you to go and visit them."


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review - The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

Essays Included
Persistence and the Long Con of Being a Successful Writer
I'll Make the Pancakes: On Opting In - and Out - of the Writing Game
What Marketing and Advertising Taught Me About the Value of Failure
Taking Responsibility for Writing Problematic Stories
Unpacking the "Real Writers Have Talent" Myth
Some Men Are More Monstrous than Others: On True Detective's Men and Monsters
Die Hard, Hetaerae, and Problematic Pin-Ups: A Rant
Wives, Warlords, and Refugees: The People Economy of Mad Max
Tea, Bodies, and Business: Remaking the Hero Archetype
A Complexity of Desires: Expectations of Sex and Sexuality in Science Fiction
What's So Scary About Strong Female Protagonists, Anyway?
In Defense of Unlikable Women
Women and Gentlemen: On Unmasking the Sobering Reality of Hyper-Masculine Characters
Gender, Family, Nookie: The Speculative Frontier
The Increasingly Poor Economics of Penning Problematic Stories
Making People Care: Storytelling in Fiction vs. Marketing
Our Dystopia: Imagining More Hopeful Futures
Where Have All the Women Gone? Reclaiming the Future of Fiction
Finding Hope in Tragedy: Why I Read Dark Fiction
Public Speaking While Fat
They'll Come for You . . . Whether You Speak Up or Not
The Horror Novel You'll Never Have to Live: Surviving Without Health Insurance
Becoming What You Hate
Let It Go: One Responding (or Not) to Online Criticism
When the Rebel Becomes Queen: Changing Broken Systems from the Inside
Terrorist or Revolutionary? Deciding Who Gets to Write History
Giving Up the Sky
What We Didn't See: Power, Protest, Story
What Living in South Africa Taught Me About Being White in America
It's About Ethics in Dating
Hijacking the Hugo Awards
Dear SFWA Writers: Let's Chat About Censorship and Bullying
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: On Empathy and the Power of Privilege
Rage Doesn't Exist in a Vacuum
Why I'm Not Afraid of the Internet
We Have Always Fought: Challenging the "Women, Cattle, and Slaves" Narrative
Full review: The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of thirty-six essays by Kameron Hurley that mostly focus on what it means to be a woman in "geek" spaces plus an introduction and an epilogue. Many of these essays have previously been published on various online outlets, but they have been compiled here in one place, which has both beneficial and detrimental effects - putting them all together serves to reinforce many of the themes that Hurley hits upon, but it also means that the fact that she reuses some anecdotes and arguments is easy to notice. A few of the essays were written especially for this collection, and those are, in large part, some of the strongest in the volume. Through all of these essays, Hurley delves into a wide array of topics related to writing, life with the internet, feminism, and modern geekishness, with a commentary that is biting, incisive, witty, and insightful.

The essays in the book are grouped into four broad categories titled "Level Up", "Geek", "Let's Get Personal", and "Revolution". Each section deals with a broad topic like "professional writing" or "being a woman and a nerd" or "how to navigate the internet as a woman", although these are not hard and fast demarcations. Not all of the essays neatly fit into one or another grouping, in part because many of the essays have overlapping topics, but also in part because some of the other essays wander down paths that are entirely unique. One minor weakness of the book is that this is a compilation of essays, many of which appeared independently of one another, so there is no real coherent unifying theme, and they don't really build on one another. Rather, each essay mostly stands on its own - and builds its arguments pretty much entirely within the confines of the essay (which leads in some cases to arguments being repeated), The end result is a moderately disjointed final product, but the somewhat scattershot nature of the contents means that the book that does manage to explore a broad spectrum of the topics that Hurley is passionate about.

The first section - "Level Up" - is the shortest, with only five essays, all about becoming a professional writer. Persistence and the Long Con of Being a Successful Writer, is fairly standard essay about what it takes to become, and remain, a successful published author, and seems almost generic in its advice. On the other hand I'll Make the Pancakes: On Opting In - and Out - of the Writing Game, details the unique, and exhausting travails faced by women working in the publishing industry, a theme that recurs in multiple essays in the volume. The most interesting essay in this section, and the one that probably draws most deeply upon Hurley's unique perspective is What Marketing and Advertising Taught Me About the Value of Failure, in which she uses her experiences working in the advertising industry to offer an interesting perspective upon how to achieve success. Both Taking Responsibility for Writing Problematic Stories and Unpacking the "Real Writers Have Talent" Myth are fairly straightforward essays on topics that have been written about by numerous other authors, but like all of the pieces in this book, these display Hurley's personal perspective and are presented with a modest amount of snark, a lot of harsh truth, and a dash of brutal honesty.

The next section is titled "Geek", but most of the essays really zoom in on what it is like to be a woman who is also a geek. This is also the longest section, with the largest number of pieces in it. Essays such as Some Men Are More Monstrous than Others: On True Detective's Men and Monsters, Die Hard, Hetaerae, and Problematic Pin-Ups: A Rant, and Wives, Warlords, and Refugees: The People Economy of Mad Max detail how fiction so often glorifies and celebrates what amounts to monstrous behavior, oftentimes smacking female fans in the face in the process. Hurley's tone through these essays is often not so much "anger" as it is "exasperation", as she notes the few times that a creator has understood the toxic messages that pervade so much fiction and run against that trend, and how these voices are so often simply ignored in favor of the lazy ans sexist version of storytelling that has become so comfortably familiar.

From there, Hurley launches into a series of essays concerning gender in fiction, and how both women and men are presented in problematic ways, starting with Tea, Bodies, and Business: Remaking the Hero Archetype and running through Gender, Family, Nookie: The Speculative Frontier. In this set of essays, Hurley recounts how she fell in love with genre fiction, but how it systemically excludes women and systemically presents men in ways that excuse or even glorify monstrous behavior. The tone in these essays generally runs from "resigned" through "enraged", and in most cases justifiably so. Hurley lays out the problematic aspects of fiction in general, and genre fiction specifically, and then proceeds to flense away all of the tired excuses and half-assed justifications that are used to prop up these problematic tropes and lays bare the sexism at their core.

The key to Hurley's criticism, however, is that she loves genre fiction, and not only wishes it were a more welcoming space for women, but actively advocates for the kind of awareness that would make genre fiction more informed and, one would hope, better. The remaining essays in this section, starting with The Increasingly Poor Economics of Penning Problematic Stories through Where Have All the Women Gone? Reclaiming the Future of Fiction mostly deal with the problems in fictional representations, and why changing these tropes would both improve the fiction itself and open them up to a broader, hitherto ignored audience. The best essay in this group is Making People Care: Storytelling in Fiction vs. Marketing, which is about exactly what the title says: How does an author (or advertiser) get people to care about something. Once again, Hurley draws upon her experience working in the advertising industry and explains how this informs her fiction writing for the better.

For the most part, the essays in this collection are better the more closely they draw upon Hurley's direct experience, and as a result, when taken as a group the essays in the section titled "Let's Get Personal" are probably the best in the volume. In an unsurprising twist, these essays all intensely personal, detailing why she likes the fiction she likes in Finding Hope in Tragedy: Why I Read Dark Fiction or describing the experience of being a larger woman on a public platform in Public Speaking While Fat, or simply reflecting upon what she gave up to achieve the success that she has achieved in Giving Up the Sky. The best essay in the entire volume is The Horror Novel You'll Never Have to Live: Surviving Without Health Insurance in which she details her own health issues and how the healthcare system in the United States failed her as it failed so many others, drove her to make decisions that she would not have otherwise made, and essentially dictated the course of her life for some years. Hurley also maintains that the ACA essentially saved her life and ensured that no one else will have to face these same sorts of issues in the future, an assertion that seems a bit premature given recent political events.

This section also contains the most problematic essay in the volume, titled Becoming What You Hate in which Hurley tackles the subject of the pseudonymous blogger Requires Hate, who also used the moniker Winterfox, but whose real name was revealed to be Benjanun Sriduangkaew. At the time Sriduankaew's alternate identity was revealed, she was an up and coming writer, and what made the revelations notable was that as Requires Hate she had become known for vitriolic reviews of fiction, and also issuing a number of rape and death threats at those she considered to be insufficiently attentive to various issues dear to her heart. In her essay on the subject, Hurley compares Sriduankaew's anonymous online persona to an alternate persona that Hurley herself had created when she was a young woman in which she posed as a male writer. By using this sort of comparison, Hurley isn't really excusing Sriduankaew's campaigns of online harassment, but she is definitely soft pedaling them, and that is something of an issue. One can see why Hurley wants to downplay Srinduankaew's vile behavior as Requires Hate, as she had discovered (and loved) Benjanun's fiction before the revelation of her dual identity was made public. One can also see Hurley's point that several prominent male authors have gotten away with similarly bad behavior. The element that is somewhat disappointing about this essay is that else where in the book - both before and after this essay - Hurley has taken a strong stance against harassment and abuse, but here she tries to elide past it when it comes to Sriduankaew using many of the same rhetorical tactics that she had stridently rejected elsewhere.

The contrast between the essay and the other pieces in the volume is highlighted in stark relief by just the other essays on similar topics within this section such as They'll Come for You . . . Whether You Speak Up or Not and Let It Go: One Responding (or Not) to Online Criticism in which Hurley speaks eloquently about the volumes of hatred and harassment that are dished out to anyone of note online, and especially the extra helping of gendered abuse served up to anyone who dares to be a vocal woman on the internet. The difference in tenor between the essay about Requires Hate and these is almost extreme enough to give a reader whiplash. To a certain extent this is not entirely unexpected - people are more complex than we often like to believe, but it is noticeable. The remaining two essays in this volume When the Rebel Becomes Queen: Changing Broken Systems from the Inside and Terrorist or Revolutionary? Deciding Who Gets to Write History speak to this point, with Terrorist or Revolutionary using Nelson Mandela to illustrate that how someone is characterized is largely determined by who is doing the characterization and when they are doing it, but also that seemingly contradictory labels can be applied to the same person and both be true.

The final set of pieces in the book is titled "Revolution", and while Hurley's feminism pervades the entire volume, it is pushed to the forefront in this section, resulting in a powerful array of essays that not only point out the events that perpetuate the inequities in genre spaces, but also come down hard on their architects. Hurley takes on some of the most notable scraps within the genre community in recent years with It's About Ethics in Dating about GamerGate, Hijacking the Hugo Awards about the Sad and Rabid Puppy "movements", and Dear SFWA Writers: Let's Chat About Censorship and Bullying about the flap over sexism in the SFWA Bulletin. In each of these cases, Hurley uses the events as concrete examples of the push back against women in geek spaces, and casts them quite effectively as an indictment of certain forces within current geek culture. Most of the remaining essays in this section move away from these sorts of geekdom-specific events to deal with similar issues in a broader context, although they are all still sprinkled with nerdy tidbits. As I noted before, the pieces that draw upon Hurley's personal experiences are the strongest, especially What Living in South Africa Taught Me About Being White in America, her account of how living in South Africa affected her view of both race relations and sexism.

The final essay in the volume is the Hugo-winning work We Have Always Fought: Challenging the "Women, Cattle, and Slaves" Narrative, and as one would expect of an award-winning work, it is a powerful piece of writing. Drawn from Hurley's experiences drafting her master's thesis while a student in Durban, the essay takes note of the fact that women made up a fifth of the forces fighting for the African National Congress against the minority-white pro-Apartheid South African government, and then proceeds to explain that this is entirely unremarkable for revolutionary movements. Hurley makes the point, in part, using a metaphor about llamas - specifically scaled cannibalistic llamas - arguing that the stories we have been told about the history of women (and for that matter, men) are not accurate. She details how women have been erased from our histories, both intentionally and through neglect, and how this has served to shape our perceptions of both the past and the present. Although not intentionally written as a summation of the major themes that she hits upon throughout the book, it does an excellent job as fulfilling that purpose and provides the perfect capstone to the collection.

People looking for easy answers, cheerful helpful hints, or friendly banter are likely to find The Geek Feminist Revolution disappointing. People looking to get an uncompromising take on the state of the geek world as seen through the lens of a woman who loves genre fiction, but is unwilling to quietly accept its glaring flaws. Historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich once said "well-behaved women seldom make history". Hurley is anything but a "well-behaved woman", and this collection of often brutal, frequently illuminating, and always sharply perceptive essays demonstrates that she is unruly in the very best possible way.

Note: The entire volume won the 2017 Locus Award for Best Nonfiction, Related, or Reference Work and was a Hugo finalist for Best Related Work. In addition, the essay We Have Always Fought: Challenging the "Women, Cattle, and Slaves" Narrative won the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Related Work.

2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Related Work: Writing Excuses Season Seven by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Jordan Sanderson
2017 Hugo Award Winner for Best Related Work: TBD

2016 Locus Award Winner for Best Nonfiction, Related, or Reference Work: Letters to Tiptree edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce
2018 Locus Award Winner for Best Nonfiction, Related, or Reference Work: TBD

List of Hugo Award Winners for Best Related Work
List of Locus Award Winners for Best Nonfiction, Related, or Reference Work

2014 Hugo Award Finalists
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Monday, July 3, 2017

Musical Monday - The Lees of Old Virginia by Ron Holgate, William Daniels, and Howard Da Silva


A somewhat idealized and simplified version of the history of the passage of the Declaration of Independence is told in the musical 1776. After some introductions that establish the character of John Adams and the fact that Congress has become mired in indecision, refusing to even consider the question of independence, the story proper kicks off with this scene. Benjamin Franklin convinces the charismatic but somewhat dim Richard Henry Lee to head off to Williamsburg to use his considerable influence to persuade the colony to adopt a resolution in favor of independence. Given that 1776 is a musical and Richard Henry Lee is used in the early going as comic relief, the scene is played for laughs, but it is almost certain that the reality was nothing like this - among other things Richard Henry Lee was probably not nearly as affably dopey as he is portrayed here - he was, after all, one of the most successful politicians of his era. It is, however, true that Lee, at the direction of the Virginia legislature, did propose a resolution on independence.

The song uses a play on Lee's name for much of its humor, and this aspect leads me to my next point: I associate songs with particular people and places. I live in a town named after Lee's family, and whenever anyone says the name of the town, I always think of this song. There are people that I know that I cannot see or talk to without hearing a particular song playing in the back of my head. I don't know if this is a common phenomenon or if this quirk is particular only to me, but it does create an interesting soundtrack in my head.

Subsequent Musical Monday: Angie by The Rolling Stones

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