Wednesday, August 29, 2018

[Book] Things That Make White People Uncomfortable by Michael Bennett and Dave Zirin

Book cover
"We have got to make the white population uncomfortable, because that is the only way to get their attention."  That quote at the start of this book is from Bill Russell in 1964.  He was a Basketball player, but also a civil rights activist.

I categorize this book as a Memoir, mostly because it follows the narrative flow of a memoir.  It starts out introducing the reader to Michael Bennett's childhood on a rural farm in the South, into college through the NFL, and discusses his own discovery of the importance of both support and activism on a number of issues of equality.

However, the point of the book is mostly to openly and honestly talk about racism and equality.  The key places where that racism presented itself in Micheal Bennett's life are chronicled here, and show that - instead of just getting angry or jaded, he also evolved and became more inclusive in his activism.

The narrative comes from a real place, it feels honest.  The most useful parts of this to me were where the author calls himself out.  He passes these self-reflections on, as olive branches to the reader; a note that mistakes are learning moments.

I must note that socially, I come from a liberal viewpoint already.  There is nothing in this book that I disagreed with, and no major concept that I wasn't already aware of.  This book definitely filled me in on a number of details, but didn't have to convince me of a point of view.  I could not care much less for sports than I do, but besides that, this book is aimed squarely at me and where I am in life.  That is, I care from over here, but I am not an active agent for change.

I have enjoyed this book better than I have any piece of non-fiction in a very long time.  It didn't make me uncomfortable, but certainly gives me some pause to think about where I should fit into the scale between caring and actually helping.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

[Shopping] eBuyer Beware

I know this.  Read the fine print.  I didn't do that.  The rest is geeky details having to do with rack-mountable servers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

[Book] Drawing The Dragon by April Adams

Book cover
Imagine the universe of Battlestar Galactica but add elves, trolls and dragons, remove the religious overtones entirely.  The dragons are spaceships, a bit like the galactic whale from Jim Henson's Farscape.  Instead of Battlestar's Cylons, we have Constructs, which are a bit closer to the Nexus of Bladerunner fame.

Scarlett, Jade and Blue are elite pilots of young dragons on the cruiser known as the Opal Dragon.  Calyph is the engineer of the Opal.

There's a lot of back and forth between the present and flashbacks.  Always done at page gaps or chapter breaks, but it sometimes takes a page to figure out the timeline context.  In the case of "Grandpa" it is present time, but it took me over half the book to figure that out.

The book stops telling a story, but I would call the ending an anti-climax.  There were many sub-plots that were not properly wrapped up, and there was ongoing action that hadn't yet resolved.  I'd go so far as to say the book ended with a soap-opera style cliffhanger, which is super out-of-place in a book that was otherwise well layered with action.

The last page, called Author's Note, basically just asks the readers to forgive the abrupt ending, claims that the next book will not wrap up any of the plot, but teases the next book anyway.  That next book is called Moons of Jupiter, I own a copy, but given the Author's Note warning, I doubt I'm going to read it.

The type of this book is almost twice as dense as any other book I've read published this century.  The margins are smaller, the lines are packed tighter and the font point is smaller.  There are no blanks in its 346 pages.  This is the sort of book that a professional editor would have forced some major fixes on, and the book would have been SO much better for it.  In the beginning of this book, I was confused by the introduction of words without context or definition.  Here are several examples...

Dragon & Ship (used interchangeably) leaves the impression that maybe they just call spaceships dragons, and that smaller ships that launch from the large ship are just called Fledgling simply because they are like the aircraft of a carrier.  I went four pages not sure if the narration was talking about a seafaring vessel or a space craft.  It took near a quarter of the book before it became clear that these spaceships are actual living beings, but have been fitted with interface equipment.

Fieldpack, in this book, is a device that creates an atmospheric field around the user.  I went through a quarter of the book thinking it was a military pack with mission necessary equipment, but that is what this book calls a flight bag.

Jordan, in this book, is a designation for a dragon pilot, but not the pilot of the big dragon, that person is a captain.  Dimlight, on the other hand, was introduced and explained through some really awkward dialog on page 9.  Then on page 10, it was explained again with more detail (the lights dim at regular intervals to help with people's circadian rhythms - thus it is a Sci-Fi stand-in for "day").

Engineer, as if it should be obvious, is an elf that has kinetic abilities with metals.  Basically the superpower of Marvel comics' Magneto without the evil intent or any of the action.  I'm not sure why we were introduced to this character having to study star maps.  Maybe he was originally going to be a navigator?  I don't know, but I again appreciate the job a good editor does.

Finally, I read the whole book, and I'm still not sure if a Troll is a living being or just a helper-droid with advanced AI.

The frustrating thing is that the writing style itself is quite engaging.  I never felt lost in the narrative, just lost on words and terms.  Bottom line, I cannot recommend this book unless you really, really think that everything I described above sounds like the kind of ride you want.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

[Book] Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Book cover
According to the preface, this book is a carefully researched retelling of surviving stories of the Nordic gods, Odin, Thor, Loki, Freya and others.  Where surviving versions of a story differ, artistic license allows for the best of each to be used.

First and foremost, these are Nordic tales.  If you are familiar with these characters from Marvel comics or movies, be prepared to relearn a lot of what you thought you knew.  This, in fact, was one of my favorite things about reading these stories.

The stories are told in a way that makes chronological sense in that things that happen to each character stays with them in subsequent tales, (there's really only one glaring exception to this) though each one can totally be read on its own as well.

Neil is a great story teller, and surprisingly there are points where I was pulled from the story by a needless repetition of fact - perhaps because he is telling these stories in a style reminiscent of the original sources: I'm not sure.  What I can say is that if this had been my first introduction to this author, I wouldn't put him at the top of my list.  That doesn't say this was a bad book - it really wasn't - it's just that I have lofty expectations for this author and this book isn't his best work.

As this has sources, I am filled with the urge to find out more.  I'm curious as to how close to the sources these tales actually are.  So, while I might not recommend this as a first Gaiman novel, I would absolutely recommend it as an engaging introduction to the gods of Nordic legend.

Norse Mythology
W.W. Norton & Co.
Release Date: 7 Feb 2017
Hardcover, 304 pages

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

[Book] Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Book cover
The descriptions of the country, fashions and even the names of characters channels Poland of the 1500s or 1600s.  The story focuses on a peaceful valley with little villages nestled along the Spindle river, but a dark forest grows nearby.  Corrupted creatures come from the forest late at night and attack human, livestock or both.  Or worse, a cloud of pollen might come in and corrupt a neighbor where they stand, turning them.

With leave of the king, the wizard named Dragon rules the valley and lives at the head of the valley.  The Dragon protects the villages from the forest, but is also feared more than appreciated as once every ten years, the Dragon demands his pick of a lady born in the valley from October to October and is in her 17th year.  The previous woman is released, and goes home, but doesn't belong anymore, and ends up moving to a city.

Agnieszka { ag-NYESH-kah } and Kasia are friends who live in the village called Dvernik, one town in from the edge of the valley where the evil forest looms.  They both have spent their lives knowing they were born in the year that the Dragon would pick from.  From one end of the valley to the other, though, Kasia is the prettiest, and everyone assumes the Dragon will choose to take her back to his tower.

2015 Nebula Award winner for best novel.

It has been such a huge pleasure reading this novel.  There are two characters who both do magic together throughout this book, and the relationship is like a cook who doesn't understand the precision of baking and baker who has never known or understood cooking.  They both get magic done, but they are both frustrated by the way they each get there.  The relationship between the two is amusing in its absolute believability.

The writing is engaging and descriptive, without bogging down in needless detail or needlessly skipping detail for a quick turn.  It is also a stand-alone story that has both a climax and a resolution (I've read so many books without a resolution lately that this basic building block of story-telling is actually note-worthy).  The build-up I describe above is all covered within the first half of the first chapter, which is to say - there's a lot going on in this story and the pacing is brisk.

Unless the description above sounds like misery to you, then chances are you will love this book.  I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

[Book] She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore

Book Cover (from publisher)

This is divided into two books, THE THREE and SHE WOULD BE KING.  A quote from the Author's Note (before the book even begins):
{Gbessa is pronounced "Bessah"}
The first book is the story of three characters, each from different places and backgrounds.  Gbessa is exiled from her African village as a witch.  June escapes slavery from a plantation in Virginia.  Norman escapes his scientist father in Jamaica.  This follows each of their journeys up to their first meeting.  The second book pulls them apart again, as they each journey to the American colony at Monrovia.

All of the book and dialog is presented in English, though the characters are not always speaking English.  Whenever a character is speaking a non-English language, the words are shown in a unique dialect, where each is unique to the language being presented.  In the beginning, with only the first language presented, this was difficult to read.  When other non-English languages started showing up, though, I came to appreciate the effort the author took to create readable dialects that were both new and distinct from each-other.  This helped me easily recognize who could understand what dialog.

This book is in the Alt-History category, as some characters have super-human powers.  This book made me curious enough about Monrovia and Liberia that I did a bit of reading of the history.  Many of the surnames used in the book are surnames from Liberian history, though (I've not done enough reading to verify the timelines) I suspect that the names were plucked from throughout early Liberian history.

If you enjoy Alt-History with a whisper of super-powers, I highly recommend this.  If you are uncomfortable with the brutality of American and European history where it collides with Africa, then this is going to be outside your comfort zone, but I still recommend it.