essentialsaltes: (agent)
 A Darker Shade of Magic is a rollicking fantasy yarn. Not too deep, but pleasantly put together. Four parallel earths exist, and special magicians can travel between them. Each has a version of London, but otherwise they are quite different. Grey London is fairly indistinguishable from our own -- magic is largely dead. One of the magicians is tricked into receiving a Macguffin from Black London (which has been eaten up by magic), but before he can return it (somehow) to where it belongs and can't hurt anyone, it is lifted by a lightfingered guttersnipe wannabe pirate lass. Naturally, there are other interested parties, and a violent magical chase ensues through various Londons. Good summer fun, but I doubt I'll continue the series, despite the blandishments of the publisher.
essentialsaltes: (cthulhu)
Prey has some roots in Bioshock, and I love me some Bioshock. It even starts with kindofa callback - getting on a helicopter. Unlike the planecrash in Bioshock, the helicopter arrives safely at its destination. Or does it?

Ultimately, you find yourself on a sprawling spacestation, overrun by nasty aliens and beset by some significant maintenance issues. As the game progresses, you inject alien goo into your head to give yourself superhuman and alien powers. Nice doses of funny and scary and a thin thread of story.

<HR>



Trouble is My Business is a collection of four longer Marlowe short stories by Raymond Chandler. All good stuff, written with his characteristic verve. Golddiggers, casinos, fish-fanciers, and cops on the make, all in a Los Angeles you can still catch out of the corner of your eye when the light is just right.

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. 


essentialsaltes: (that's not funny!)
"The book is regularly listed as one of the best non-fiction books of the 20th century."

But I gave up. I couldn't take any more. (Speaking of giving up, I'm slowly figuring out what to do and where to go with the journal. I mean, just about everyone's gone already, and the new Russian TOS is not inspiring confidence.)

I really found the writing style(?) uncongenial. I think my main beef is that Arendt is primarily a political theorist and philosopher, and not a historian. So there are airy passages of theses and ideas, but I found it not tied enough to supporting factual detail. Often a reasonable story was being spun, but it all felt like a free-floating structure, moored only by tenuous lines to shore. And worse.

The book is organized in three main sections: Antisemitism, Imperialism, and Totalitarianism.

The most interesting idea I found in Antisemitism was that, in the feudal age, Jews could be categorized and understood as the Other. It was easy. Sure, there's an enclave of Jews in Paris. But we're Franks, and they are Jews. Or we are Teutons, and they are Jews. As the modern nation-state developed, suddenly everyone had to be categorized as citizens of some nation. What? We're all French? But they're Jews, they're not French! (I don't think Arendt mentions it, but it occurs to me that another state-less people that had maybe even more difficulty getting tied down to a world of 'nations' were the Romany.)
Many, many pages are devoted to the Dreyfus Affair, but I found it maddening that it mostly talks around the Dreyfus Affair, and not really about the Dreyfus Affair. I mean, it's a good thing I knew the basic details, because you will learn more about Zola than Dreyfus (the first foreshadowing of what ultimately made me throw the book across the... okay, okay, to snap my iPad shut quite forcefully).

The most interesting idea I found in the first 75% of Imperialism, was that one of the things that led to imperialism was there was excess capital in the major European countries, and there was nothing much to invest in. And there was some excess labor force in these countries with nothing to do. And imperialism is the outlet for this. Betraying some Marxist tendencies, Arendt sees this as an unnatural alliance of capital and mob-labor to go exploit the world.

There's a discussion of imperialism in Africa with a lot of focus on South Africa, but also long quoted passages from Joseph Conrad. As her attention turns to Asia, she delves a bit into The Great Game, and then inevitably to Kipling. And then it really started to bother me -- the discussion is light on facts, but heavy on allusions to works of fiction. However much they may reflect the zeitgeist of imperialism, I can't take this seriously any more.

Now it's time for the home game: what author is about to become inevitable? How long into the passage does it take you to identify him?

The Home Game! )
essentialsaltes: (islam)
A collection of short stories, about half set in distinctly Islamic settings, often a mix of the near-future and the 1001 Nights. Others range further, from the Old West to a more traditional sword and sorcery land. All very good stories, with strong character focus, with the possible exception of one supervillain-themed bagatelle that didn't quite work for me. Maybe just because it's fresh in my mind from being last, but I really dug the sword and sorcery milieu of 'Iron Eyes and the Watered Down World’. It starts as a love-letter to Fritz Leiber -- and you will always earn high marks from me for that -- and then wanders off into territory Fritz would never have trod in Nehwon.
essentialsaltes: (pKD)
A mystery novel set in an alternate (hopefully) universe in which the Earth is destined to be smacked by a large asteroid a few months in the future. This situation naturally has a great impact (er) on the way people think about their lives, and what they're worth, and what other people's are worth. There are a lot of suicides, and our titular detective investigates one such, an insurance actuary hanged in a McDonald's bathroom. Something doesn't sit right, and when you come to think of it... in a world where suicide is very common, what better way to hide a murder? Red herrings and revelations pull our hero by the nose through comedy and tragedy until the case is cracked. There aren't a lot of viable suspects, but Winters gives just about the right amount of hints and misdirection to keep the mystery mysterious.

I liked it a lot. Not quite love, but a lot. The book won the Edgar, and the followup won the PKD award, so I will probably make my way through the trilogy.
essentialsaltes: (muslin)
Know Your Values and Frame the Debate

This is an updated (2014) version of the 2004 original by Lakoff, a cognitive scientist at Berkeley.

Basic idea: conservative leaders have been better at framing issues than liberal counterparts.

Frames are embedded deeply enough in people that rational argumentation and facts are useless.

Voters have had these frames imposed upon them so that their kneejerk reactions are predictable.

e.g. describing a bill to lower taxes as 'tax relief' builds up the concept that taxes are (always) a burden. And inherently bad.

If liberals fight against these frames by mentioning them, this only reinforces the frame. Liberals may talk about tax relief for the middle class, but this leans on the idea that taxes are inherently bad.

Liberals need to find their own frames to use. 'Taxes contribute to the many valuable services we all make use of. They are investments in our future happiness and the happiness of our children. They are the 'membership fees' of citizenship.'

And then I start to get an itchy feeling.

"These are accurate views of taxes, but they are not yet enshrined in our brains. They need to be repeated over and over again, and refined until they take their rightful place in our synapses. But that takes time. It does not happen overnight. Start now."

Lakoff would like us to please brainwash ourselves.

This is not an exaggeration of his position. One of the strange things about the book is his frequent discussion that these frames are physical 'structures' in our brains. I mean, I too believe that mental states supervene on physical states in the brain, and there is no soul making 'free' decisions. But, unlike Lakoff, I don't think that makes rational argument useless.

“You might think that the world exists independently of how we understand it. You would be mistaken. Our understanding of the world is part of the world--a physical part of the world. Our conceptual framings exist in physical neural circuitry in our brains, largely below the level of conscious awareness, and they define and limit how we understand the world, and so they affect our actions in the world."

Inasmuch as he promotes frames as a weapon, he literally wants us to circumvent thought and react unconsciously to stimuli. [We will set aside his apparent disregard for the existence of an external world independent of ourselves.]

In discussing climate change, he notes that scientists are terrible at framing:

"The crucial words here are high degree of confidence, anomalies, consequence, likelihood, absence, and exceedingly small. Scientific weasel words! The power of the bald truth, namely causation..."

Those are not weasel words. Those are the correct ways to phrase these scientific results. If some treehugging granola-eater wants to wave a sign saying "Climate change caused Hurricane Sandy," that's fine, but it is not a scientific fact. Nor is it "the bald truth". It is irresponsible to ask scientists to say anything other than something like "it's unlikely for an event like Hurricane Sandy to have occurred without the influence of anthropogenic climate change." I know, it doesn't fit well on a placard. It's complicated. But it's what the science shows.

"The issue of "immigration" is about a new generation of such refugees. President Obama, in a speech ... beautifully states his moral understanding of the issue. His words showed that the current wave of refugees, referred to as 'undocumented immigrants' are in many ways already citizens --they contribute enormously to American society."

This has a couple things I want to mention. First, undocumented immigrants are not (in general) refugees. So Obama was right to so characterize them. Lakoff is indulging in spin, to put it most favorably. Second, Lakoff was hoping that by describing them as refugees, it would arouse feelings of compassion that would make us more likely to help rather than harm these people. Of course, Lakoff wrote his book in 2014. Right now, Americans are probably more afraid of 'refugees' than of 'illegal aliens'. I mean, that is perhaps a demonstration of the whole point of his book -- that there are different ways of framing the issue to cause kneejerk responses. But he has once again caused me some pause, since he starts his own framing exercise by lying, to put it less favorably.

In a FAQ at the end, he tries to distinguish between frames and euphemisms, spin, or propaganda. I wasn't really satisfied by his answer. Frames are not very different from euphemism, spin, or propaganda. These certainly have their place in politics.

His vision seems to be of two large masses of primates mindlessly shouting slogans at a small band of undecided primates in the middle, each hoping to inculcate the middle group with its slogan. While this is not an unfair description of American elections, I think we can do better. The way to fight propaganda is not (only) with propaganda of our own, but by exposing propaganda for what it is.

But possibly I'm wrong and brainwashing ourselves and others is the only route forward to victory.

Fortunately, it appears I'm not alone in being leery of Lakoff. I found a great point/counterpoint between Stephen Pinker and Lakoff. Skip to Pinker's Salvo to see his review of Lakoff's ideas from a different (but similar) book and a really good yo mama joke. This is apparently an outburst in a decades long intellectual war between the two, and I'm not qualified to judge the more technical aspects of their discussion of linguistics and cognitive science, but when it gets down to the political applications, I think Pinker is in the right:

But Lakoff’s advice doesn’t pass the giggle test. One can just imagine the howls of ridicule if a politician took Lakoff’s Orwellian advice tried to rebrand “taxes” as “membership fees.” Surely no one has to hear the metaphor tax relief to think of taxes as an affliction; that sentiment has been around for as long as taxes have been around. ... And even if taxes were like membership fees, aren’t lower membership fees better than higher ones, all else being equal? ... In defending his voters-are-idiots theory, Lakoff has written that people don’t realize that they are really better off with higher taxes, because any savings from a federal tax cut would be offset by increases in local taxes and private services. But if that is a fact, it would have to be demonstrated to a bureaucracy-jaded populace the old-fashioned way, as an argument backed with numbers–-the kind of wonkish analysis that Lakoff dismisses.
...
The problem with this burlesque is not that its targets don’t deserve criticism. It’s that it will backfire with all of its potential audiences. Any of Lakoff’s allies on the left who think that their opponents are such imbeciles will have their clocks cleaned in their first debate with a Young Republican. The book will be red meat for his foes on the right, who can hold up his distortions as proof of liberals’ insularity and incomprehension.


Overall:

B+ for showing how conservatives have used framing successfully.
F for suggesting that the liberal's only hope is to fight fire with fire, brainwash ourselves, and lay off the facts and rational thought.
F for not really exploring the liberal frames that already exist. The shortcuts to careful reasoning. Diagnosing police brutality, racism, sexism, without the full facts. Nazipunching. Reading the book, you get the impression that only wicked conservatives have frames to manipulate people, while the benevolent, wise, but prone-to-losing liberals are stuck with only useless tools like facts and rationality.
essentialsaltes: (cocktail)
The Business recounts a slice of life in an up-and-coming executive in the eponymous organization. It's a fictional(?) millennia old organization devoted to making money and amassing power. Not particularly secretive, but they don't make waves. Given its age and the nature of compound interest, The Business is well-funded and thinks big. On the current business plan is to find a modestly sized country and acquire it for business purposes. Being a Banks novel, it's populated by oddballs, strange details, and crackling turns of phrase. Lots of Machiavellian plots within The Business as different executives jockey for benefits both business-related and personal (and many of them can barely distinguish the difference). I enjoyed it, but felt the loose ends got wrapped up much too rapidly at the end.
essentialsaltes: (laika)
I found Revelation Space tough going. It's a pretty big book, but even so, I found attention wandering, and it's taken me quite a while to get through. The prose is perfectly functional, but it plods rather than sparkles(*). Lots of big space opera-y action, and some interesting ideas, but the motivations of the characters grow increasingly obscure; seemingly they are wired to seek out the next idea Reynolds wants to reveal, no matter how obviously dangerous that would be. One character is basically on a relentless quest from page one to pick up Chekhov's gun.

* Actually, the most amusing phrase is (I assume) a happy mistake -- "It was like gazing into the moonlit depths of an arboreal forest." I mean, what other kind of forest can there be? And then I started pondering a tiny forest that lives in a tree. And cracked myself up.
* The second most amusing mistake is the misuse of etymology where entomology was meant.
essentialsaltes: (you're a Kitty)
A $1 find from an estate sale. My eye caught the name of Shirley Jackson (of "The Lottery" and The Haunting of Hill House fame). But this did not seem to be in the same vein...

It's novel-length, but clearly is stitched together from short stories originally "published individually in women's magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, Mademoiselle, and others."

They are amusing vignettes of domestic chaos that are semi-autobiographical, definitely with a women's magazine tinge. Perhaps the oddest thing about this particular book is that it was published by Scholastic and the blurb is pitched at the younger set. I mean, certainly there are children in the stories, but everything is from mom's viewpoint (rather than that of the savages). As I said, amusing and interesting as a mid-century artifact and a very different look at an author whose eponymous award is given for works of "psychological suspense, horror and the dark fantastic".

I think Dr. Pookie's mom might enjoy it.
essentialsaltes: (beokay)
Why Violence Has Declined takes a long, long, too-long look at rates of violence over the past umpty-thousand years from our hunter-gatherer forebears to today. Pinker has marshalled a shitload of facts and statistics, and though there may be some niggling details here and there, on the whole, he's pretty convincing that rates of murder, war, and violence have declined per capita. This does require an explanation, and I think Pinker certainly outlines many ideas that contribute, but he doesn't seem to present a very strong thesis for an explanation. Rather he takes us on a plodding journey through the museum of ideas that every political philosopher has considered. The book plods so much that I found much of it a chore to get through. Reading through the outline in Wikipedia is good enough -- just feel certain that each point is held up by a few hundred footnotes each.

One of the ideas that did stick with me was that many violent acts are considered acts of justice by their perpetrators. They are not doing wrong, they are taking justice into their own hands. That bitch stole my man -- smack. That driver cut me off -- blam. Obviously, these solutions are not terribly rational, and generally frowned upon by Leviathan. I think it could extend to larger actions -- riots in Watts and LA. It doesn't make any fucking sense, but there was some ache for a justice that was not going to come from traditional channels.

Now, I have plodded so slowly through the book that that idea lodged some time ago. And then as I mulled it over in my mind, I considered the Trump voters in the lead-up to the election. Can a vote be an act of violence? A stupid plea for justice when you're aching for a justice that was not going to come from traditional channels? Mmmmm... no, I can't quite bring myself to consider a vote for Trump to be an act of violence. And then the vote actually happened, and Trump won. I still can't quite elevate it to an act of violence. But I think a lot of my friends may consider it to have been an act of violence. And certainly we have seen (even given some level of pernicious fakes) that some Trump supporters have been emboldened to enact actual violence. And we've also seen protests of Trump that have also risen to the level of violence.

Now I have to tread carefully here, because I think there are significant differences between the two sides. It is not just that I am trapped in my bubble and not their bubble (and I'll get to the bubble later, especially since almost everyone who will read this is in my liberal bubble). At the same time, the people (considered as people) in the two camps. Are not all that different.

Now apparently the worst thing I could possibly do is to suggest that we should reach out and hug the other side and unite. Which is fine, because I'm not suggesting that. When Trump has rotten plans, they should be fought. And many of his plans are rotten.

But possibly I'm saying something even worse. That people are people. And people on both sides are not all that different. And to realize that, it definitely helps to spend time outside your bubble.

Many of you know of the long years I've spent in the mission fields of Christian websites, spreading the good news of rationality and fact-based argument. It is not easy work, because they are beset by demons that deceive them. And again, it's not about compromise -- I think the earth is 4.5 billion years old, and they think it's 6,000 years old. I'm not looking to compromise at 2,250,003,000 years old. Wait, I'm rambling a little too much, but maybe we'll come back to this.

Another bit of bubble escape was listening to the infuriating drive-time talk show on a Christian radio station, though I haven't in many years. Until election night. As I drove home, feeling pretty confident that it was going to be close (my prediction: Hillary 278 EV) but would go blue, I turned that station on hoping for election news and... delicious Christian tears. Because that's a thing now. Enjoying people's tears. And because I'm a bad person.



And I got those tears. But I did not find them enjoyable. pout

A young Latina called in to the show. Her voice shook with raw emotion, clearly crying. Hillary was going to win, and as everyone in the conservative Christian bubble knew (as did I since I'd been visiting), Hillary believed that "deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs have to be changed". And as it was being spun in the bubble, this young woman knew that President Hillary was going to forcibly change religious beliefs in America. She was genuinely, fearfully afraid that hers was the last generation that was going to hear the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

All bullshit, of course. But the tears and pain in that bubble were real. Just like they were real when Obama was elected in 2008 and was going to take everyone's guns.

Anyway, fast-forward a few hours, and suddenly the tears were on the other foot. (Shut up.) There were organized cry-ins. And, and... the other side mocked it. They were enjoying those tears! How could they be so cruel?



Not all that different.

But they're all racists!

Yes, half of Trump voters hold implicit bias against POC. And only a third of Hillary voters do.

Not all that different.

But Trump's spouting ugly racism!

Well, yeah. Again, I don't want to rest on any false equivalencies. But if you want to characterize the GOP as full of racists, then you should step inside the other bubble and look at yourself.

You support murdering babies. You literally want doctors to crush the skulls of infants with forceps.
You want perverts to molest our delicate American girlhood in the bathroom at Target.
You want religious expression to be locked inside the walls of churches.
You let the biased(*) lame-stream media do your thinking for you.

[* I'm too tired, but to its credit, the media finally decided that he said/she said journalistic equivalency was no longer valid. Trump was lying. They called him on it. They endorsed Hillary. But... it does feed the narrative that the media is biased against Trump.]

You want them to stop being racist and join the correct party? Well, maybe you should stop killing babies, and join the correct party.

You scoff when people say they aren't racist, but voted for Trump? Well, what do you think of Tim Kaine, who personally opposes abortion, but stood for VP of the Democrat Party? And he's by no means alone. There are Democrats who think abortion is murder. If you can be against baby-murdering, and vote for a baby-murdering candidate, then surely you can be a non-racist and vote for a racist candidate. Sure, it must be a terrible internal conflict. Sucks to be them. But they got their racism/baby-killing just like the people-of-yesteryear got Skinemax with the package.

Not all that different.

But they are so very fact-challenged!

Well yes. That's what I combat the most. You give them a snopes link, and they don't believe snopes. You provide the links on the snopes page to the NYT, and they don't believe the NYT. There are some people there whose solitary (it appears) information source is infowars(*). They were primed and ready to believe crap like a Kenyan born Obama, or a Jade Helm takeover of Texas. Because it fits their narrative.

(* I'm too tired, but if you're getting info from occupydemocrats or Huffpo... Not all that different.)

In our bubble, the narrative is that Trump is a sexual predator. And I'm morally certain that Trump has grabbed more unwilling pussies than trans people have assaulted anybody in a bathroom. So the woman who accused Trump of raping her when she was a teenager fits the narrative. But when the press conference was announced, my baloney detector started beeping. Because (for better or worse) before I am a Democrat or a liberal, I am a skeptic. A court of law is where these things are decided, not at press conferences or FBI memos. And when the press conference was cancelled due to 'threats', my suspicion grew. It was not impossible that threats had deterred some poor woman, but I was not buying it at this point. But a lot of other people were. They railed against the Trumpeters who had cowed this woman. Maybe Trump had bought her off. How many millions did it take him? And then two days later, she dropped the suit. No cause given. Bought off? Full of shit? We may never know. But a retracted anonymous accusation is not much to hang something on, unless the narrative is more important than evidence.

And if you point to snopes articles showing that some cases of 'postelection Trump supporter racism' are imaginary... some people don't want to hear that shit. It doesn't fit the narrative.

I've showed dozens of snopes articles to conservatives, and know what it feels like to be ignored. So when it comes from the other side, it just shows that...

Not all that different.

We all laughed (I did, I'm a bad person) at that stupid bint who cut a backwards B on her face.



But we were also mad. She perpetrated a pernicious lie to denigrate a particular political candidate.

We were furious. She lied to say a black man did this. I hate her.

And now Trump supporters tore the hijab off a woman. Stole her wallet. That feeds the narrative.
But it's bullshit. All a lie.

C'mon now, everyone. Let's laugh at her. And hate her. C'mon. She made a pernicious lie to denigrate a particular political candidate. She lied to say white men did this to her. I hate her. I really do. But more importantly...

Not all that different.

As promised, this book review has devolved. Let me pull it back, at least briefly.

"According to Hofstede's data, countries differ along six dimensions. One of them is Long-Term versus Short-Term Orientation: 'Long-term oriented societies foster pragmatic virtues oriented towards future rewards, in particular saving, persistence, and adapting to changing circumstances. Short-term oriented societies foster virtues related to the past and present such as national pride, respect for tradition, preservation of 'face' and fulfilling social obligations.'"

Those are not bad descriptors of the two societies living in their bubbles that exist within America. The liberal and the conservative.

One of my regrets about the election is that so much was about the personalities and less about the issues. I have read that the Clinton campaign gamely released insightful policy statements to the media, but they never reached me. Since the Donald sucked all the oxygen in the primary fight, one would have thought that the Clinton team would strive harder in the general to make sure its message got out, but it didn't. Honestly, perhaps I'm giving them credit for having a message, because from my standpoint, most of what I heard from the Hillary campaign was...

It's her fucking turn. She cashed in her chips to keep the competition away. Only that asshole Sanders and McWhatever didn't get the memo. "Trump is awful. I'm not Trump."

Though true, this is not compelling. She could've done better with "I will be the third Obama term."

Anyway, one of the few policy things that did come out (because I watch closely) is for the coal miners of America.

HuffPo:

"Hillary Clinton has a $30 billion, 4,300-word plan to retrain coal workers that covers everything from education and infrastructure to tax credits and school funding.

Donald Trump’s coal plan is a duckface thumbs-up in a miner’s hard hat and a rant about hair spray, President Barack Obama and China."

Retrain coal workers? That's "adapting to changing circumstances". That's a Long-Term society strategy. And it's right.

A duckface thumbs-up? Well, if you can see through the HuffPo bias, that's a strategy oriented on today. Short-term. For the white working class families that are struggling.

And now, for you in my liberal well-informed bubble. Surely you are cognizant of the current spot price for coal.

No? Well, there are lots of reasons for it, but coal prices have tripled recently. And although US miners have not (yet) seen much of a boon, due to the horrible EPA, and Obama rules about coal-fueled power plants, a Trump presidency is clearly going to change that. Yes, there are certainly problems with burning coal like there is no tomorrow, but... if you are a part of an unemployed coal-mining family in Pennsylvania or Ohio focused on today... then you are part of the Short-Term Society, and I can see reasons other than racism to vote for Trump. And they did. And they are legitimately mad when we say their votes were racist.

In conclusion:

WE'RE ALL A BUNCH OF APES WHO ONLY RELATIVELY RECENTLY LEARNED TO WEAR CLOTHES AND NOT KILL EACH OTHER SO MUCH.
essentialsaltes: (cthulhu)
I didn't have high hopes for this book, but I heard there might be some Lovecraftian elements. In the sense that a big monstrous being with some powers of mind control was in hibernation deep under the water and gets woken up by the sciences straining too far in one direction, yes it is Lovecraftian. But in any real sense, it is not Lovecraftian. John Brunner wrote many great novels; this is not among them.

Favorite moment: male scientist hero type assumes that attractive female scientists without boyfriends must have something seriously wrong with them. Fortunately, he overcomes this prejudice and marries attractive female scientist.

Anyway, go read Stand on Zanzibar.
essentialsaltes: (jasmine)
Not entirely realistic, but this 1957 novel is a depressing peek into those days of yesteryear when we all lived under threat of nuclear annihilation (and hey maybe those days are coming back, better than ever!). A nuclear war has killed the Northern Hemisphere, and as the airborne radiation slowly crosses the equatorial barrier, spreading further south, the various inhabitants of Melbourne slowly come to terms with the inevitable and do what seems best with their remaining months, weeks, days, and hours, as they lose contact with other cities in the southern hemisphere one by one. If you need a book that will grind down your your sense of hope, this will fit the bill nicely.
essentialsaltes: (agent)
For contributing to Bryan's Poe bust project, I received a signed copy of Mrs. Poe, which probes into the relationship between Poe and poet Frances Osgood (and Poe's sickly wife, and Osgood's absent, philandering husband).

It's a very successful piece of historical fiction, although a few details stick out as gratuitous results of research rather than being intrinsic to the story. Told from Osgood's point of view, it provides an interesting look into her mindset as she deals with her changing feelings towards Poe, who charms and glowers his way through New York literary society like Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. Largely faithful to the actual history, the book is least successful in injecting a bit of a mystery into the action. And as a Poe lover it was very satisfying to see Griswold hatefully portrayed.
essentialsaltes: (city Hall)
I was intrigued by the idea -- an alternate earth where the guild of elevator repairmen is a big deal, and a story that (I was told) would shed light on race in America. But it just didn't quite deliver for me. Set in a nameless NYC-esque city in a roughly 1930s or 1940s era. Lila Mae Watson is the first black female elevator inspector (and one of very few black inspectors) and then something goes terribly wrong on a brand new elevator that passed her inspection. She investigates on her own and gets involved in internal politics, and the mysteries surrounding the founding of the Intuitionist school of elevator repair. I liked the loopy-but-recognizable alternate earth, and certainly the story felt accurate in what the black experience might have been like in such a place and time, but I don't really think it had much to say, and much of the ultimate resolution was unsatisfying. The book has drawn comparisons to Ellison's The Invisible Man, which I can see. Course, I didn't like that, either.
essentialsaltes: (cthulhu)
The Strange Dark One collects an eight-fingered handful of stories centering on Nyarlathotep -- at least Wilum's take on this protean entity -- set primarily in Pugmire's dream-haunted Sesqua Valley, though I also much appreciated the one detour into 'Lovecraft territory'. The stories leap off the page from time to time in fabulous passages of near-prose-poetry that are really evocative.
essentialsaltes: (dead)
Marlowe does his thing, while Chandler does his. Both of them are smart and keep secrets, and don't give away much. But I cottoned on to the whodunit part pretty early, but it's still an enjoyable ride through hardboiled Los Angeles. An interesting detail as he's heading out to a dam is that, during wartime, soldiers were stationed on the dam and asked drivers to roll up their windows, presumably to prevent people from sabotaging the water supply. And hard not to like a meta-discussion of villain monologuing.

'I've never liked this scene,' [Marlowe] said. 'Detective confronts murderer. Murderer produces gun, points same at detective. Murderer tells detective the whole sad story, with the idea of shooting him at the end of it. Thus wasting a lot of valuable time, even if in the end murderer did shoot detective. Only murderer never does. Something always happens to prevent it. The gods don't like this scene either. They always manage to spoil it.'

'But this time,' she said softly and got up and moved towards me softly across the carpet, 'suppose we make it a little different. Suppose I don't tell you anything and nothing happens and I do shoot you?'

'I still wouldn't like the scene,' I said.
essentialsaltes: (unleash the furry)
Subtitle: A History of Proper English

The book was not really what I expected, although I'm not sure what I expected. I guess I hoped for more war -- placing authorities against each other on the nitpicky rules of grammar we all love and/or hate. Instead, it was more of a history of how people have formalized the English language, from early grammars to modern linguistics. A strong undercurrent is the prescriptivist bent of 'grammarians' and the descriptivist bent of linguists.
I think I hoped for more amusing little tidbits, and although they are there, it is like one of those disappointing pours of breakfast cereal that you got as a kid, where you mourned that there weren't more dehydrated marshmallows among the cat kibble. Perhaps because it was a slower slog to get through the book, I've forgotten most of the tidbits already. One that did stick was the idea that, after the Civil War, where one side had been associated with 'the Union', the use of that phrase for the country as a whole fell out of fashion. The constitution speaks of forming a more perfect union, and a state of the union address. In the post-war period, we began to speak of the US as a nation. Perhaps related to this, around 1900 the government printing office (IIRC) made a declaration to standardize that "the United States" was a singular noun.
essentialsaltes: (pKD)
Similar to Leviathan Wakes, the last book I read, Altered Carbon is a mash-up of noir detective and science fiction. This one is more cyberpunk flavored, which already has a strong noir background (a formula I followed in making my own Cyber/Cthulhu/noir mashup in Eldritch Chrome). Morgan gets a lot of the feel of traditional noir right, unfortunately including the increasingly convoluted plot that gets fake-resolved and then rescrambled more and more unconvincingly. There's also a slight overseasoning of gun-and-combat fetishization for my tastes. But on the whole good stuff -- good enough to win the PKD award, anyway. It'll be interesting to see what Netflix makes of it, since they've announced a 10 episode series.
essentialsaltes: (agent)
Leviathan Wakes is the first in the Expanse series, which recently became a Syfy series. A pleasant blend of sf and detective noir. A few plot elements lacked in verisimilitude, but a pretty fun ride.
essentialsaltes: (devilbones)
This book traces the history of the idea of the origin of life from the Greeks to modern ideas of the Miller-Urey experiments and RNA-world and so on.

Most interesting to me, perhaps, was the fact that the concept of spontaneous generation was taken as a given for such a long time... and like so many things taken for granted in the West (geocentrism, say) support for it in the Bible was attested to. Everyone know that if you leave a pile of grain around, mice are just going to spring out of it. It was a sign of God's ongoing generative influence. And so Pasteur's work caused a sea-change in apologetics. Lots of good details, but since most of this was read on international flights, I'm in no position to go into much detail. Pretty good book, though.

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