Saturday, April 29, 2017

Book Blogger Hop April 28th - May 4th: The Second Punic War Ended in 201 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: How many books have you re-read? If you have re-read books, please tell us the book's title and why you re-read it.

I reread books on occasion. Sometimes I reread books just because I enjoyed them, and it has been a while since I last read them. Most books in this category are books that I first encountered when I was younger, and have reread every now and then just to revisit a world that I enjoyed before. Books like The Lord of the Rings, A Wizard of Earthsea, and Dune are the type of books that I have reread a couple of times over the years for this reason.

The other reason I reread books is to review them. Usually this involves a book that I read a while ago, but I am intent on reviewing now. There are a lot of classic works of science fiction and fantasy that I read in my youth that I would like to review as part of my long term goal of reviewing at least a reasonable proportion of the important works of genre fiction - which includes most of the books that won or nominated for the major awards in the field. Time dims the memory, and so when I am getting ready to review a book, I always make sure to read it in close proximity to the time that I will be reviewing it, even if I have read it before.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Review - Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Short review: Holden wants revenge for the destruction of his shipmates. Miller wants to find a mysterious missing girl. Their paths cross, and then lead to an alien threat that could destroy all humanity.

Naive idealist
And a hard-boiled detective
Join to save the world

Full review: The first book in the Expanse series, Leviathan Wakes is a kind of hard-ish medium future science fiction almost Space Opera story that feels a little bit like Firefly and a little bit like a Dashiell Hammett novel. The book is full of adventure, intrigue, and excitement, but it is the kind of industrial, oil-covered adventure, intrigue, and excitement that results in broken bones, bullet holes, and dead characters. Alongside the truckers and detectives in space in the book is just enough alien weirdness to shake things up and add a bit of inhuman horror to the impersonal dangers of living in a hostile environment that will probably kill you if you make a mistake.

Leviathan Wakes takes place in a future in which mankind has managed to spread out across the Solar System, but is still confined within its boundaries, although the Mormons have commissioned the construction of a generation ship to take them out among the stars. The book isn't really "hard" science fiction, but the human technology presented doesn't obviously break any known laws of physics, although the "Epstein Drive" that powers the spaceships used to flit about the void are improbably efficient. Having colonized Mars, the asteroid belt, and at least some of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, humanity has split into rival factions. Earth is still the home to most of humanity, but it is overcrowded and its populace is regarded as decadent and lazy. Mars is in the process of being terraformed, and is on the cutting edge of everything. The "Belters" who live hardscrabble lives on the edge of human civilization are regarded as little better than savages by the inhabitants of the inner planets, which has resulted in the rise of a Belter political force called the Outer Planets Alliance that is, depending on who one talks to, a terrorist threat, a trade union, or a legitimate government.

One of the strengths of this book is how well it establishes its setting, and how well it gives it a real sense of place - Ceres, Eros, Tycho Station, and all the other places the heroes inhabit feel lived in, like a place one could go if one could just get the ship to take them there. All of this is accomplished skillfully via atmospheric storytelling, with a minimum of walls of exposition: In one scene, the rice and beans that someone is eating will be mentioned, in another the configuration of a character's miniscule dwelling will be described, and so on. Throughout the book, Corey fills the story with little details that give the reader the confidence that they thought about what living in and around the asteroid belt would be like, and even if the details wouldn't hold up to a detailed examination, they feel right, and that gives the book a solidity that is comforting at times, and incredibly disturbing at others.

The bulk of the story is told from the perspective of two viewpoint characters, bouncing back and forth between them each chapter. The first is Jim Holden, an competent and somewhat overeager idealistic and naive executive officer on the ice freighter Canterbury who leads an expedition to explore a derelict ship broadcasting a distress beacon that turns out to be a trap that results in the destruction of the Canterbury and the death of almost everyone he knows. While on the run with the tiny handful of survivors, Holden uncovers what he believes to be damning evidence about who attacked them, makes a couple of somewhat overhasty broadcasts and sparks a three-way interplanetary conflict of epic proportions. As the story progresses, it seems that Holden has a knack for taking a bad situation and making it worse for everyone outside of his little bubble, although he seems to fail upwards - winding up basically owning and captaining his own warship which, in a fit of literary symbolism, he christens the Rocicante.

The second is Joe Miller, a world-weary, hard-drinking, cynical detective working on the grimy and corrupt tunnels of his native Ceres who would have been comfortable sharing an office with Sam Spade, but starts the story saddled with a partner who is originally from Earth. This pairing is interesting, because it allows the authors to illustrate the tensions between the inner planets and the Belters in a fairly convincing manner without being particularly heavy-handed about it. Early in the book, Miller is handed a missing persons case that he first ignores, but as events unfold and he had time on his hands, he pursues long enough that he becomes intrigued, and then obsessed. Like Holden, Miller is a deeply flawed character whose own weaknesses result in him mostly reacting to events for a substantial portion of the book. In fact, neither character seems to really start to take the initiative until they are all out of other options and almost literally run into one another.

One might think that a book in which the main characters are driven forward for much of its legth by events beyond their control would seem somewhat unsatisfying. To offset this, Leviathan Wakes relies upon a cast of supporting characters that surround Miller and Holden and feel like they belong completely to this imagined future. The primary characters are all fleshed out entities in their own right, from Naomi the incredibly skilled engineer, to Amos the hard-nosed mechanic with a heart of gold, to Alex the daring pilot who looks like a schoolteacher, to Fred Johnson the leader of the OPA (or at least some of it). The secondary characters like Havelock the Earther detective working on the colony of Ceres, and Julie Mao the scion of a wealthy family who has left her privileged life behind are less fully developed, but they are presented in such a way that it seems as if what is shown is merely the tip of the iceberg, and lurking behind what is on the page are the details of an entire life that has been lived. Even the minor characters who don't appear in more than a scene or two feel alive - notably the ill-fated medic Shed, the wrong-headed captain Shaddid, the slang-slinging Belter assault trooper Miller strikes up a friendship with, and even the low-key missionary Miller happens across while taking a low-budget shuttle to Eros. All of these characters help drive the book forward, even when Miller and Holden aren't really seizing the initiative on their own, giving the pair others to bounce off of while they get their acts together.

The point at which Holden and Miller come together is where Leviathan Wakes really starts rolling, grabbing the reader with both hands and never letting go until the very last page. This is also the point at which everything around these two characters starts to go pear-shaped and the world starts to become pretty weird. Holden and Miller form an alliance of convenience, albeit one that is continually strained by their fairly incompatible personalities, and begin to try to push back at what the world has unleashed at them - which turns out to be the fruits of a sociopathic megacorporation playing around with alien technology they don't understand, but are willing to sacrifice the lives of tens of thousands of people to find out. At a certain point, the book starts to feel like a runaway train, as every time the heroes think they have found a solution to the current problem, they find a new, even worse problem behind it. Eventually, everything comes to a head and requires an extreme, and somewhat improbable sacrifice that puts things to rest for the moment, but leaves the world changes in rather substantial ways.

Leviathan Wakes is often described as a space opera, and it does have a fair number of space opera-ish elements, but to the extent this is possible, it is a gritty, semi-realistic feeling space opera. The book is an almost impossible mish-mash of influences that seems like it should be an unpalatable mess, but somehow this unruly amalgamation works beautifully, resulting in a thrilling ride through its pages that are full of intrigue, action, adventure, mystery, and wonder. In many ways, this story is one that really shouldn't work, and yet has been executed in such a fashion as to yield a finished product that is quite simply top notch.

Subsequent book in the series: Caliban's War

2017 Hugo Award Finalists
2012 Hugo Award Finalists
2012 Hugo Award Longlist
2012 Locus Award Nominees

2018 Hugo Longlist

James S.A. Corey     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, April 24, 2017

Musical Monday - The Old Home Fill 'er Up and Keep On a-Truckin' Cafe by C.W. McCall

The redhead and I went on a road trip to Indiana and back the week before last, and between that and moving a lot of furniture to get ready for the impending baby this past weekend, I'm pretty worn out. The house is still a disaster, there are piles of things still all over the place, I had to pack up the table and supplies I use for miniatures to make room, and I still have no idea where we are going to store our bicycles, but there is now a room that is more or less ready for us to have a newborn live in it.

What does this have to do with C.W. McCall's ode to the glories of a truck stop cafe? Nothing really, but whenever I go on a long drive, I always think about McCall, especially if I'm on a road with a lot of long haul truckers like I-70 or I-81, both of which I spent a fair amount of time upon in the last couple of weeks. So here it is. Now I'm going to go ask Mavis for a cup of her best and a number three.

Previous Musical Monday: Heavy Boobs by Rachel Bloom
Previous Musical Monday: Convoy by C.W. McCall

C.W. McCall     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Book Blogger Hop April 21st - April 27th: The HTTP Status Code Indicating Success Is "200"

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: Would you stop reading a book if an element of the plot strongly clashed with your personal beliefs, or would you continue reading until you finished the book?

I can answer this question from experience, because I have read books that had elements that clashed with my personal beliefs. I finished those books. I can't say that my reading experience was enhanced by such elements, but it wasn't ruined either. For the most part, I simply move past such elements when they pop up. In some cases, such elements make a book unintentionally comical, such as when a libertarian leaning writer tries to put in some libertarian propaganda in their text, or when I a "Christian" science fiction or fantasy writer tries to insert their message into their story. I may not end up reading these texts the way their authors intended me to, but I do finish them.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: The Second Punic War Ended in 201 B.C.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review - Painting by Numbers by Jason Makansi

Short review: Numbers are used for all kinds of purposes, and this book seeks to make it possible for readers to separate the numerical wheat from the chaff.

People can be fooled
By numerical models
Think skeptically

Disclosure: I received this book as a Review Copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: Subtitled How to sharpen your BS detector and smoke out all the "experts", Jason Makansi's book Painting by Numbers isn't so much about numbers, but rather about how to understand and evaluate the use of numbers in the media, in business, and everywhere else models, charts, graphs, and other statistical representations are used in support of a particular position or projection. Despite being a book about "numbers", there are very few actual numbers in it, because the point of the book is not how to conduct analysis and create mathematical models, but it instead directed at providing the tools that an ordinary non-technically proficient person needs to be able to assess, at least to some extent, the reliability of the myriad of statistical models they are presented with in everyday life.

Painting by Numbers is divided into two broad sections. In the first, Makansi lays out the "Twelve Commandments of a Numerical Skeptic", taking twelve chapters to discuss each commandment in turn. Each chapter outlines one of these "commandments", seeking to arm the reader with a tool capable of picking apart models and presentations that rely upon the use of numerical information. Makansi presents these in an approachable manner, allowing those who are not versed in the intricacies of mathematical analysis to gain an appreciation for the limitations of such methods, and identify when such limitations are present. The commandments also, to a certain extent, allow a skeptic to assess just how critical those limitations are, and how severely they impact the reliability of the model being used. This is not to say that reading this section will make someone capable of doing a complete assessment themselves - that would be well beyond the scope and intent of the book - but rather that they can make a rough evaluation that will serve to separate the wheat from the chaff of numerical models.

The second section of the book is titled "Putting Your BS Detector to Work" and contains ten examples of numerical models to which the author applies the commandments outlined in the first section. Each of the examples is drawn from the real world, and the author states that he picked them and then evaluated them, in order to show how the "twelve commandment" system is applied rather than picking examples that were specifically chosen to make a particular point. This section is interesting, but not quite as effective as the first section. This is, in part, because the examples provided are only sketched out to the extent needed to show how the twelve commandments apply, which means that they feel a little bit disjointed and lacking in context. I would have preferred to see the entire item being discussed (although, to be fair, that would have made the book considerably longer), and then seen an exploration of how the twelve commandments applied to it, as this would have fleshed them out more completely. In a book dedicated to providing readers with the tools to evaluate the context of numerical models, the lack of context for many of the examples given seems odd. The other thing that sticks out about this section is that every example provided is riddled with problems. As I said before, the author chose these examples blind, in an effort to essentially "play fair", but one could come away with the impression that there are no numerical models that are worthwhile. This may be an impression that the author intended, but if so, he doesn't say so.

Despite those minor quibbles, Painting by Numbers remains a useful and informative work, aimed squarely at arming the non-numerically inclined with the tools necessary for them to deal with information provided via numerical models and their close companions, graphs and diagrams. This book is not a technical guide to numerical analysis, and it is not intended to be. The collection of "commandments" cover a wide range of issues that crop up in numerical models, and are presented in a manner that those who are not particularly comfortable with numerical analysis can both understand and apply them. The examples are, in general, easy to follow, and provide a broad spectrum of illustrations of the "commandments" in action. For those looking for a more in depth exploration of numerical analysis, Painting by Numbers comes equipped with a list of fifteen recommended titles on the subject.

At just over 150 pages, Painting by Numbers is exactly what it sets out to be: A clear and concise primer on how to evaluate the numerical data that bombards us on a daily basis. Although the tools provided in its pages are very basic, that should be considered a feature and not a bug. This book is not aimed at those who are already skilled at understanding numerical analysis, but instead seeks to equip those who do not have such a background to they can look at what they find in newspapers, on television, and in the board room with a properly skeptical, and hopefully, reasonably informed eye. For anyone looking for a guide to becoming a skeptic concerning numbers and their meaning, then this book would be an excellent resource.

Jason Makansi     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review - Ms. Marvel: Super Famous by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona, and Nico Leon

Short review: Kamala Khan has gotten everything she ever dreamed of, so her life should be perfect. The only trouble is that being a super famous Avenger is a lot harder than she ever expected.

She's super famous
But that isn't super great
For a teenager

Full review: In the fifth installment of the Ms. Marvel series, Kamala Khan has gotten pretty much everything she ever dreamed of. Not only did the world not end as threatened in Last Days, but she has mastered her powers, become the defender of Jersey City, and even joined the Avengers. The opening pages of this volume show Khan reveling in this fantasy come true as she fights alongside Captain America and Iron Man. Unfortunately, as is made clear in this volume, sometimes getting everything you want only leads to more problems and more heartache than you had before. Kamala is, as the title says, Super Famous, but the price of that fame is high, especially for a teenager still struggling to find her place in the world.

The volume contains two major "heroic" story arcs, as well as a collection of complementary story lines that deal with Kamala's personal life. The first story arc revolves around the Hope Yards Development/Relocation Association, and their use of Ms. Marvel's image in their advertising. Now, this plot line does raise questions about the legalities of using a super-hero's image for promotional purposes without their consent, but those concerns can be set aside due to the fact that Kamala is a teenager who may not really know what her legal rights are, and even if she did know them, enforcing her rights while remaining anonymous might be problematic. This story line does highlight the down side of being "Super Famous", which is that others will try to use that fame for their own ends. This story proceeds in a fairly typical super-hero story manner, with Kamala uncovering progressively sinister secrets concerning Hope Yards, which eventually culminates in the need to foil a villainous plot involving mind-controlling nanobots, but that is not really the point of this plot. The meat of the story is the headaches that come from sudden fame: Kamala is good at punching villains into submission, and she is even good at coming up with ways to defeat mind-controlling chemicals, but she is not so good at managing her public persona. Even when she defeats the villains, Ms. Marvel's reputation is tarnished because people assume that she was in cahoots with them until it became convenient to disavow their perfidy. This is brilliant, because this is exactly the sort of thing that a teenage super-hero would be terrible at handling, and the story retains its authenticity by showing that Kamala deals with the problem like an inexperience sleep-deprived teenager.

The second "heroic" arc involves a mostly self-inflicted disaster stemming from Kamala's efforts to keep up with her hectic schedule. As a member of the Avengers, the defender of Jersey City, a full-time high school student, and a Muslim girl with obligations to her family and community, Kamala has a more than full plate of commitments. In an effort to create some space in her hectic schedule, Kamala jumps into some experiments her friend Bruno has been conducting on the lightning golems Loki left behind at their high school after the events in Last Days and has him create simulacra that look like her. Kamala's idea is to send these replicated versions of herself to school and family events so that she will get credit for being there, but free up time for pursuing her other obligations such as Avenging. This almost immediately turns out to be a misstep, as the inherent limitations of the lightning golem material results in Kamala-golems that are similarly limited - with results that prove dismaying to her friends and family. Before too long, the situation gets entirely out of hand due to unforeseen complications that more or less drive home the fact that one should not mess with technology that has Loki as its progenitor. This is quickly followed by the corollary, "Never turn to Loki in an effort to try to fix a disaster", and the further note that calling on Captain Marvel is pretty much never a bad option. This story highlights that trying to always please people is its own trap, and Kamala has fallen into it through her own inexperience and inability to say "no". Once again, this story turns upon the fact that Kamala is a believable teenager, subject to all of the pressures teenagers face, and as inept at handling them as most teenagers are.

These two "heroic" arcs make up the super-hero portion of the story, but what makes the Ms. Marvel series truly special is everything that surrounds her heroic persona and highlights Kamala's travails as a Muslim daughter of Pakastani immigrants trying to navigate her way through her teenage years in the United States. On this front, there are two critical "personal life" story lines presented in this volume. The first revolves around Kamala's best friend Bruno, who had professed her love for Kamala in the previous volume, and who had been gently turned down, with Kamala protesting that her life was simply too unsettled to even consider romance coupled with a suggestion that Bruno should probably move on with his own life. Within the first few pages of this book, an oblivious Kamala learns that Bruno has indeed taken her advice and has struck up a relationship with a girl named Michaela, called "Mike" for short. Despite the fact that she had turned Bruno down, Kamala finds herself combating feelings of jealousy that both surprise and disturb her. This internal battle is presented amazingly well, with Kamala behaving pretty much like one would expect an awkward and confused teenager to behave, and at the same time berating herself for not being a better person. Eventually everything works out between the two women as Kamala comes to terms with the situation, but that is really only half of what makes this story line so good: Mike herself is an interesting character who brings a lot to the story. She is not brilliant like Bruno, but she is still smart and brave, and willing to put herself at risk in order to help others. In a twist, Mike has a very different look than Kamala, or really from most characters in comics. She is a little pudgy, with big thighs and a figure that can only be adequately described as a bit round. Despite this, everyone in the story appears to regard her as being attractive - and no one even comments upon her size or shape. She is a cute girl, and everyone in the story simply treats her that way, with no added commentary.

The other personal story line, and the one that probably causes Kamala more stress, revolves around her ultra-religious brother Aamir courting and then marrying Tyesha, a black American Muslim. From Kamala's perspective, this means more family obligations as she is expected to attend the various pre-wedding events dictated by traditional Islamic practices, but in exchange she gets a sister-in-law who makes references involving the science fiction novel Dune, so she is reasonably happy with the arrangement. What the story really shows, however, is the diversity and tensions within the Islamic community. The Khan's are immigrants from Pakistan, who brought their faith and customs with them from their home country. As what could be best described as secular Muslims, neither of Kamala's parents are as devout as Kamala's brother, but they have expectations that their lives will be organized along certain lines, and that certain things will be done in a certain way. Tyesha, on the other hand, is an American convert, whose parents are church-going Christians. Through the relationships between Aamir and Tyesha, and the elder Kamalas and Hillmans, one can see the undercurrent of cultural chauvinism and even racism that everyone tries to combat within themselves, reaching for their better natures despite their internalized prejudices. What this highlights is the fact that the Muslim community is not a monolithic entity, and even a minority group is prone to prejudices against others who they have something, but not everything, in common. As with most other story lines that touch upon culture and religion in Ms. Marvel, this thread is handled with grace and skill, and never once rings false even as it winds its way to an ultimately happy conclusion.

Ms. Marvel: Super Famous is, quite simply, the best installment in the series since the first volume No Normal. This is not to say that the intervening books have been weak, but rather that this one is so very good that it shines even when compared to the excellence of Generation Why, Crushed, and Last Days. Both of the super-heroic arcs are well done and help to develop both Kamala and her world while being full of action and humor. The personal story lines serve to both buttress the super-heroic arcs and make Kamala and those around her more fully realized characters. This is, in short, one of the best graphic novels of the past year, and well worth any fan's time.

Previous book in the series: Ms. Marvel: Last Days
Subsequent book in the series: Ms. Marvel: Civil War II

2017 Hugo Finalists

G. Willow Wilson     Takeshi Miyazawa     Adrian Alphona     Nico Leon

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Review - Pretty Deadly, Vol. 2: The Bear by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

Short review: The world is at war and the Reaper of War rides triumphant, but Deathface Ginny means to do something about that.

A reaper of grace
And reapers of war and fear
Reaper of courage

Full review: The second volume of the Pretty Deadly series, The Bear doesn't follow on directly after The Shrike, but instead picks up several decades after the events of the previous book, deep in the heart of the horrors of World War I. DeConnick's writing is still terse and pointed, Rios' artwork is still beautiful and hypnotic, and the story is still epic in scale and intensely personal in nature. In short, this is an excellent follow-up to an excellent opening act that serves to deepen the background and carry forward the overall narrative.

The most crucial difference between this volume and the previous one is that of tone. The Bear takes the mythic and at times ethereal nature of Pretty Deadly and grounds it quite firmly in our world. While The Shrike took place in a time no more distinct than "sometime when revolvers where the height of firearm technology, and in a location no more specific than "the Old West", The Bear quite explicitly takes place during World War I, and many of the events of the book are quite clearly located in France, in the trenches of the Western Front. This grounding givens the entire volume a different feel than the previous volume: Grittier, more visceral, and more tragic. By carrying the fairy-tale like atmosphere forward from the first volume, and weaving it together with the all too real horrors of the Great War, DeConnick and Rios have revealed the true terror behind the magical and almost airily surreal supernatural elements of the story. This contrast drives the book forward, and gives the book weight and strength that could not be achieved without this mixture.

Despite the years between the previous volume and this one, almost all of the characters from The Shrike return in The Bear, which isn't really all that surprising given that most of them are nigh-immortal servants of Death itself. Both the Bunny and the Butterfly are present in this volume, serving their roles as a framing device to help narrate the story. Deathface Ginny and Fox are back, as are Big Alice and Johnny Coyote. Sissy, the current incarnation of Death, and an elderly Sarah Fields, at the very end of her life both return in this volume as well. Sarah's impending death provides the impetus for the story, as Fox comes to reap her into Death's domain, while Sarah's daughter Verine demands a reprieve so that her brother Cyrus can return home to bid their mother farewell. This is complicated by the fact that Cyrus is away in France, fighting on the Western Front and making friends with Frenchmen and cavalry horses.

To a certain extent, the plot of The Bear is not the point of the story. Instead, the real meat of the book is in how it develops the mythology that underpins the world that DeConnick and Rios have created. In this volume, the nature of the reapers is made more clear - especially where they come from and why. In these pages, we not only see a clash between two reapers over the course of the First World War, we also see the birth of a new reaper born in the shadow of that conflict. Since this is Pretty Deadly, this birth is accompanied by death, as nothing can happen in this series that is not paired with death. One interesting element is that the line between life and death in Pretty Deadly is so indistinct: Characters slip from life into death without even knowing it, and without the reader even noticing until later, when the fact that these characters are no longer living is brought to one's attention. In a very real sense, death sneaks up on both the characters and the reader, wrapped up in pretty riddles and parables that cloak its real nature until it is too late.

The mythology of the book also revolves around the symbolic stories that it uses, and in this volume the most notable such story revolves around the characters of Johnny Coyote and Molly, the Reapers of Luck. Which reaper represents good luck and which is bad luck is not clear, and as Johnny Coyote points out, that's more or less the point. Their story is told using a folksy tale involving a Chinese farmer, a runaway horse, the farmer's son, and the Emperor's soldiers, with the repeated refrain "Good luck, bad luck, who knows?" This piece of folklore is reflected in the path followed by Cyrus and his fellow soldiers, as they come across things that both hearten and dismay them, as they believe their fortunes have turned for the better, or turned for ill. The problem is that neither they, nor the reapers who circle around them invisibly, can know the ultimate meaning of these happenstances until they reach the end of their journey. In a related tale (which serves as the basis for the title of the volume), the bunny and the butterfly tell a story about a bear and a hive of bees, in which the hungry bear tries to get into the hive to eat the honey and larvae found within, but is driven off by the stings of the bees. The butterfly asserts that this is wonderful, which the bunny agrees with, provided one is a bee. Once again, the story highlights how whether something is good or bad depends entirely upon one's perspective - as the bunny says, "the needs of the bear are not the same as the needs of the bee". One might even say, what is good for death is not good for the living, and the needs of the reapers are not the same as the needs of their quarry.

Pretty Deadly, Vol. 2: The Bear is a maturation of the beautiful and affecting story begun in The Shrike. Taking the fable-driven story introduced in the first volume and melding it with the harsh reality of one of the most vicious and destructive events in real world history results in a final product that is both hauntingly stunning and horrifyingly brutal. This combination of the mundane and the supernatural makes the mythic elements seem more fairy-tale-like, but also roots them in a reality that grounds them at the same time, while it takes the bitter harshness of war and elevates it to the status of fable. With this volume, DeConnick and Rios have taken the strong story they launched with the first installment and raised it up to even greater heights of excellence.

Previous book in the series: Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1: The Shrike by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Musical Monday - Heavy Boobs by Rachel Bloom

As anyone who has been following this blog knows, the Redhead is pregnant with our impending daughter Sophia. This has resulted in some rather predictable physical changes. The Redhead is reasonably busty even under normal circumstances, but now that she is pregnant, let's just say that each of her assets has its own gravitational field. This situation brought to mind Rachel Bloom's ode to her own mammaries, and consequently this Musical Monday is in honor of my Redhead's dense white dwarfs.

Previous Musical Monday: Chicken Attack by the Gregory Brothers featuring Takeo Ishii

Rachel Bloom     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, April 9, 2017

1984 Expanded Hugo Nominees

As I have noted before, due to a unique fluke, all of the raw balloting data from the 1984 Hugo Awards is publically available. This means that one can reconstruct not only the Longlist from this data, but essentially every work that received any nominations at all. The same dedicated science fiction fan who provided me with the information needed to reconstruct the "Longlist" for this year, also provided me with the information contained in this post. This is the "long tail" of the Hugo nominating process, and as far as I know, this is the only year for which we can see behind the curtain in this manner.

While it is somewhat interesting to see the array of works that received nominations but missed the cut to make the "Longlist", what I find more interesting is the overall landscape of the nominations. Some categories, such as Best Novel and Best Novelette, had a wide array of nominees, with an incredibly deep field of works receiving votes. Other categories, such as Best Novella and Best Semi-Prozine, had less than a handful of additional candidates receive votes. Still others, such as Best Fan Writer and Best Fan Artist, had none: Except for those who made the list of finalists and the longlist, no one received any votes in those categories. It seems that there were a wide variety of opinions about what novels and short stories were worthy of a Hugo nomination, but not nearly such a range of feeling in some of the other categories. I don't think any real insigtful conclusions about the state of fandom can be drawn from this pattern, especially not from a distance of more than thirty years, but it is a unique window into the mechanics of the Hugo process, and thus is interesting to look at.

Best Novel

Expanded Nominees:
40,000 in Gehenna by C.J. Cherryh
Annals of Klepsis by R.A. Lafferty
The Armies of Daylight by Barbara Hambly
The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica by John C. Batchelor
The Blackcollar by Timothy Zahn
Broken Symmetries by Paul Preuss
Christine by Stephen King
Code of the Lifemaker by James P. Hogan
The Crucible of Time by John Brunner
Cugel's Saga by Jack Vance
Damiano by R.A. MacAvoy
Dragon on a Pedestal by Piers A. Anthony
The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford
The Dreamstone by C.J. Cherryh
Escape Velocity by Christopher Stasheff
Friday by Robert A. Heinlein
The Gods of Riverworld by Philip José Farmer
Hart's Hope by Orson Scott Card
Lammas Night by Katherine Kurtz
Lyonesse by Jack Vance
Magician's Gambit by David Eddings
The Man Who Used the Universe by Alan Dean Foster
Manna by Lee Correy
A Matter for Men by David Gerrold
The Never Ending Story by Michael Ende
Neveryona by Samuel R. Delany
The Nonborn King by Julian May
On a Pale Horse by Piers A. Anthony
Pet Sematary by Stephen King
The Sleeping Dragon by Joel Rosenberg
Rocheworld by Robert L. Forward
Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster
Streetlethal by Steven Barnes
The Sword of Winter by Marta Randall
The Tree of Swords and Jewels by C.J. Cherryh
The Unforsaken Hiero by Sterline Lanier
Valentine Pontifex by Robert Silverberg
Wall Around a Star by Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson
Welcome Chaos by Kate Wilhelm
White Gold Wielder by Stephen R. Donaldson
Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
Worlds Apart by Joe Haldeman
The Worthing Chronicle by Orson Scott Card
The Wounded Sky by Diane Duane
Yesterday's Son by A.C. Crispin

Best Novella

Expanded Nominees:
Credos by Ray Brown
The New Untouchables by Joseph Delaney

Best Novelette

Expanded Nominees:
And the Marlin Spoke by Michael Bishop
Beauty by Tanith Lee
Borovsky's Hollow Woman by Jeff Duntemann and Nancy Kress
Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons
Cicada Queen by Bruce Sterling
A Day in the Life of Justin Argento Morrel by Greg Frost
Deathwomb by Poul Anderson
Deep Song by Reginald Bretnor
The Eternity Wave by Scott Elliot Marbach
Fire-Caller by Sydney J. Van Scyoc
Gemstone by Vernor Vinge
The Glitch by Britton Bloom
The Hand of Friendship by Rob Chilson
Hard Times by Howard Chaykin
Heritage of Flight by Susan Shwartz
The Hills Behind Hollywood High by Avram Davidson and Grania Davis
The Invasion of the Church of the Holy Ghost by Russell Kirk
The Kidnapped Key by Jayge Carr
Knight of Shallows by Rand B. Lee
The Leaves of October by Don Sakers
Life on the Tether by Mark Wheeler
The Lurking Duck by Scott Baker
Mirror Image by Diana L. Paxson
Mirror of the Soul by L.S. Blanchard
The Monkey's Bride by Michael Bishop
Multiples by Robert Silverberg
The Nanny by Tom Wilde
Night Win by Nancy Kress
Nunc Dimittis by Tanith Lee
Rogueworld by Charles Sheffield
A Simple Case of Suicide by Marc Stiegler
To Slay the Dragon by P.E. Cunningham
Subworld by Phyllis Eisenstein
Taking the Fifth by Hayford Peirce
The Taylorsville Reconstruction by Lucius Shepard

Best Short Story

Expanded Nominees:
Amanda and the Alien by Robert Silverberg
Basileus by Robert Silverberg
Brothers by Richard Cowper
Buchanan's Head by Avram Davidson
The Cassandra by Timothy Zahn
The Cruelest Month by James Patrick Kelly
Cruising by Ian Watson
Cryptic by Jack McDevitt
Darts by Steve Perry
The Emigrant by Joel Rosenberg
Feat of Clay by Gene De Weese
Ghost Town by Chad Oliver
Golden Gate by R.A. Lafferty
In the Islands by Pat Murphy
La Reine Blanche by Tanith Lee
La Ronde by Damon Knight
The Man Outside by George Alec Effinger
Memory by Michael P. Kube-McDowell
Needle in a Timestack by Robert Silverberg
The Palace at 4 A.M. by Donald Barthelme
Potential by Isaac Asimov
The Power of the Press by Richard Kearns
The Reluctant Torturer by Hayford Peirce
Revisions by Gordon Eklund
The Sense of Discovery by Jerry Oltion
The Shadows of Evening by Timothy Zahn
Slow Dancing with Jesus by Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann
A Small Kindness by Ben Bova
Solitario's Eyes by Lucius Shepard
A Song for Justin by Richard Mueller
Stone Eggs by Kim Stanley Robinson
Tank-Farm Dynamo by David Brin
We the People by Jack C. Haldeman
Welcome to Wizcon by John Morressy
What We Did That Night in the Ruins by Warren Brown

Best Nonfiction, Related, or Reference Work

Expanded Nominees:
Against the Night, the Stars: The SF of Clarke by John Hollow
The Art of Return of the Jedi by Carol Titelman
De Camp: An L. Sprague De Camp Bibliography by Charlotte Laughlin and Daniel J.H. Levack
The Guide to Supernatural Fiction by Everett F. Bleiler
The Science in Science Fiction edited by Peter Nicholls

Best Dramatic Presentation

Expanded Nominees:
Android [ineligible]
British Airways Cities in Flight (Television Commercial)
The Empire Strikes Back [ineligible]
The Keep
Never Say Never Again
Prototype (CBS Television Movie)
Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone
Special Bulletin (NBC Television Movie)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan [ineligible]
Strange Invaders
Thriller (music video)

Best Professional Editor

Expanded Nominees:
Lou Aronica
Robert Asprin
Charles N. Brown
Sheila Gilbert
Beth Meacham
Jessica Amanda Salmonson
Karl Edward Wagner

Best Professional Artist

Expanded Nominees:
Janet Auliso
Alicia Austin
Wayne D. Barlowe
George Barr
Doug Beekman
John Berkey
Jim Burns
David A. Cherry
James C. Christensen
Rick Demarco
Stephen Fabian
Phil Foglio
Frank Frazetta
Gary Freeman
Jack Gaughan
James Gurney
David Hardy
Stephen Hickman
Ralph McQuarrie
Real Musgrave
Wendy Pini
Richard M. Powers
Don Ivan Punchatz
Hannah Shapiro
Rick Sternbach
Walter Velez
Robert Walters
Dawn Wilson

Best Semi-Prozine

Expanded Nominees:
Pandora edited by Jean Lorrah and Lois Wickstrom

Best Fanzine

Expanded Nominees:
Anvil edited by Charlotte Proctor
Masiform D edited by Devra Michele Langsam
Private Heat edited by Lee Pelton
Weber Woman's Wrevenge edited by Jean Weber
Wiz edited by Richard Bergeron

Best Fan Writer

Expanded Nominees:

Best Fan Artist

Expanded Nominees:

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Expanded Nominees:
Clare Bell
Linda Blanchard
Susan Casper
David Eddings
Gregory Frost [ineligible]
Bruce T. Holmes
Rand B. Lee
David R. Palmer [ineligible]
Patricia C. Wrede

Go to 1984 Hugo Longlist

Go to 1984 Hugo Finalists and Winners

Hugo Longlist Project     Book Award Reviews     Home

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Book Blogger Hop April 7th - April 13th: In 2007, Ryan Howard Set a Major League Record With 199 Strikeouts

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: If you could meet one author, dead or alive, who would it be?

Ursula K. Le Guin. For me, there really is no other choice. There is no other author who I find as fascinating either through their writing or just in their interviews and public statements. She is quite simply a brilliant writer who has written many of my very favorite books and stories including The Dispossessed, The Left Hand of Darkness, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Day Before the Revolution, The Word for World Is Forest, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, and many other. In addition to her magnificent oeuvre, she is the daughter of notable anthropologist Alfred Louis Kroeber and writer Theodora Kracaw, and was raised in a vibrant academic environment culminating in her own studies in French and Italian literature. As a result of this background, she is a tremendously insightful and thoughtful person. I can think of almost nothing better than to meet her and listen to her talk about pretty much anything she wants to expound upon.

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

2017 Hugo Award Finalists

Location: Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, Finland.

Comments: After the past couple of years, the 2017 list of Hugo finalists is like a breath of fresh air. Or at least it is like a breath of much better written air. Okay, so this metaphor is not really that good, but the point is that this year the Rabid Puppies were reduced to being mostly ineffective and the Sad Puppies slunk away with their tails between their legs, leaving the nominating process generally reflective of the majority of the Hugo voters.

Two changes to the way votes are tallied served to make it more difficult for a minority voting block to dominate the Hugo nominating process. First off, while every nominator was still only allowed to make five selections in each category, the total number of finalists in each category was expanded to six. This was a relatively minor change, and essentially means that, at the very least, a group voting in a coordinated manner would need to vary their nominating ballots somewhat if they desired to dominate all of the slots in a category. They second, more important change was the adoption of the E Pluribus Hugo vote tallying system, which concentrates the votes of nominators who have had other works on their ballot drop out of contention. In effect, if a nominator has, as one or more of their choices, a selection that is eliminated from contention, the value of their votes for those eliminated works is transferred to their remaining nominations. The details of the system have been written about extensively over the last year, and I don't want to get too deep into the weeds on this, but suffice it to say that this system is intended to blunt the effectiveness of a coordinated voting block and create a ballot that represents the preferences of a broader portion of the electorate.

The end result is a Hugo ballot that includes fantastic works up and down its length, with stellar works in every category. Stories by N.K. Jemisin, Charlie Jane Anders, Cixin Liu, Kij Johnson, Kai Ashante Wilson, Seanan McGuire, Fran Wilde, Ursula Vernon, and Alyssa Wong are among the highlights. With just a few exceptions (and those exceptions are mostly the work of the Rabid Pups), pretty much every finalist is an excellent choice. This year, the Best Series category was debuted, and several quite good finalists were selected for this category as well, including the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik and the Expanse series by James S.A. Corey.

The overall excellence of the 2017 Hugo ballot is marred by just a few Rabid Puppy selections that serve to do little except drag the overall quality down. As has become their pattern, the Rabid Pups nominated a few "shields" to try to pretend they are doing anything but trolling (Deadpool, Miéville, Gaiman), a couple of selections designed to help promote Beale's pathetic little hobby press (Wright, Johnson, Castalia House Blog), and an out-and-out troll selections (Hiscok). I think that the most interesting thing about the Rabid Puppies is that when one sets aside the obvious self-promotion and trolling efforts, their tastes are so utterly boring as to be entirely banal. In several categories, the Rabid Puppies were unable to get a single finalist onto the ballot, and in some cases, this was because the potential nominees they touted were ineligible. To wit, the Rabid Puppies were so incompetent that they couldn't even figure out who was and was not eligible before putting together their slate. As villains go, the Rabid Pups at this point are merely dull and dull-witted.

A couple of years ago, I predicted that the Puppies would fail as a movement, because their motivation was based in their hatred of things, rather than their love for particular types of fiction. This was in marked contrast to the typical Hugo voter, who, despite the claims of the Pups, generally just vote for the works they enjoy. It is, quite simply, easier to keep a set of people voting for a particular award if they are voting for those things that they love, as opposed to voting against things that they hate - joy is easier to perpetuate than malice. Since then, we've seen the "Sad Puppy" movement wither away into irrelevance, and the Rabid Puppy movement reduced to a pathetic collection of whiners. Loving things is a stronger base to build upon than loathing things, and the non-Puppy Hugo voters have proved this to be true.

Addendum: On April 21, 2017, the Hugo Administrators announced that Fan Artist finalist Alex Garner had informed them that he had no qualifying work for the category in 2016. He was consequently removed from the list of finalists and replaced with Steve Stiles.

Addendum II: On May 17, 2017, the Hugo Administrators announced that Fan Artist finalist Mansik Yang had also informed them that he had no qualifying work for the category in 2016. He was also removed from the list of finalists, and Elizabeth Leggett was put on the roster in his place.

Best Novel

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
Death’s End by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Best Novella


Actual Finalists:
The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson
Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold
A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Rabid Puppy Picks:
This Census-Taker by China Miéville

Best Novelette

The Tomato Thief by Ursula Vernon (reviewed in 2017 WSFA Small Press Award Voting)

Actual Finalists:
The Art of Space Travel by Nina Allan
The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde
Touring with the Alien by Carolyn Ives Gilman
You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay by Alyssa Wong

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Alien Stripper Boned from Behind by the T-Rex by Stix Hiscock

Best Short Story

Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar

Actual Finalists:
The City Born Great by N.K. Jemisin
A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong
Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies by Brooke Bolander
That Game We Played During the War by Carrie Vaughn

Rabid Puppy Picks:
An Unimaginable Light by John C. Wright

Best Related Work

Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016 by Ursula K. Le Guin

Actual Finalists:
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg by Robert Silverberg and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
The Women of Harry Potter posts by Sarah Gailey

Rabid Puppy Picks:
The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

Best Graphic Story


Saga, Volume 6 written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples

Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form


Actual Finalists:
Hidden Figures
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Stranger Things, Season One

Rabid Puppy Picks:

Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form

The Expanse: Leviathan Wakes

Actual Finalists:
Black Mirror: San Junipero
Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio
Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards
Game of Thrones: The Door
Splendor & Misery (album) by Clipping

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Game of Thrones: The Winds of Winter [no more than two finalists may come from the same series]

Best Professional Editor: Short Form

Ellen Datlow

John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Jonathan Strahan
Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
Sheila Williams

Best Professional Editor: Long Form

Liz Gorinsky

Actual Finalists:
Sheila E. Gilbert
Devi Pillai
Miriam Weinberg
Navah Wolfe

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Theodore Beale

Best Professional Artist

Julie Dillon

Actual Finalists:
Galen Dara
Chris McGrath
Victo Ngai
John Picacio
Sana Takeda

Rabid Puppy Picks:
JiHun Lee [ineligible]
Tomek Radziewicz [ineligible]

Best Semi-Prozine

Uncanny Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, and Julia Rios, and podcast produced by Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky

Actual Finalists:
Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews
The Book Smugglers edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James
GigaNotoSaurus edited by Rashida J. Smith
Lightspeed Magazine edited by John Joseph Adams [ineligible]
Strange Horizons edited by Niall Harrison, Catherine Krahe, Vajra Chandrasekera, Vanessa Rose Phin, Li Chua, Aishwarya Subramanian, Tim Moore, Anaea Lay, and the Strange Horizons staff

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Cirsova Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine edited by P. Alexander

Best Fanzine

Lady Business edited by Clare, Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan

Actual Finalists:
File 770 edited by Mike Glyer [declined nomination]
Journey Planet edited by James Bacon, Chris Garcia, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Helena Nash, Errick Nunnally, Pádraig Ó Méalóid, Chuck Serface, and Erin Underwood
nerds of a feather, flock together edited by The G, Vance Kotrla, and Joe Sherry
Rocket Stack Rank edited by Greg Hullender and Eric Wong
SF Bluestocking edited by Bridget McKinney

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Castalia House Blog edited by Jeffro Johnson

Best Fan Writer

Abigail Nussbaum

Actual Finalists:
Mike Glyer
Natalie Luhrs
Foz Meadows
Chuck Tingle

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Jeffro Johnson

Best Fan Artist

Elizabeth Leggett

Actual Finalists:
Ninni Aalto
Vesa Lehtimäki
Likhain (M. Sereno)
Spring Schoenhuth
Steve Stiles

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Alex Garner [ineligible]
Mansik Yang [ineligible]

Best Fancast

Tea and Jeopardy presented by Emma Newman with Peter Newman

Actual Finalists:
The Coode Street Podcast presented by Gary K. Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan
Ditch Diggers presented by Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace
Fangirl Happy Hour presented by Ana Grilo and Renay Williams
Galactic Suburbia presented by Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts, produced by Andrew Finch

Rabid Puppy Picks:
The Rageaholic presented by RazörFist

Best Series

The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone
The Expanse by James S.A. Corey (first volume in the series: Leviathan Wakes)
October Daye series by Seanan McGuire
Peter Grant/Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch
Temeraire series by Naomi Novik (first volume in the series: His Majesty's Dragon)

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Ada Palmer

Actual Finalists:
Sarah Gailey
Malka Older
Laurie Penny
Kelly Robson

Rabid Puppy Picks:
J. Mulrooney

What Are the Hugo Awards?

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

2017 Hugo Award Longlist     Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, April 3, 2017

Musical Monday - Chicken Attack by the Gregory Brothers featuring Takeo Ishii

Sometimes the world needs something that is just a little silly. Okay, a lot silly. When that need arises, it produces a yodeling Japanese man who can control the powers of nature and chooses to use chickens as his weapons of choice to right wrongs, stop evildoers, and make the world a better place.

I really don't think any more needs to be said. I really don't think any more can be said.

Previous Musical Monday: Pregnant Women Are Smug by Garfunkel & Oates
Subsequent Musical Monday: Heavy Boobs by Rachel Bloom

The Gregory Brothers     Takeo Ishii     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Book Blogger Hop March 31 - April 6th: Public Law 93-198 Provided for Local Government for the District of Columbia

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 visit every listed blog in the linky list when you are participating in a meme?

I try, but I don't always have the time to visit every listed blog. In some cases, I stop visiting a blog consciously, if I don't really like the blog very much, but I endeavor to give even blogs I don't like at least a shot by visiting them a couple of times before writing them off.

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