Book vs Movie: The Snowman – What’s the Difference?

Let’s explore a Scandinavian crime fiction classic, with Lost in Adaptation.

Video: The Snowman – Lost in Adaptation

Many years ago, when I was on something of a crime fiction bender, I stumbled across Jo Nesbo. People were raving about his take on the Scandinavian crime genre and how interesting it was.

Part of this raving was that he was touring Australia promoting the film Headhunters (an interesting thriller movie) and exhibited a charming and charismatic demeanour as he humbly gave credit to his novel’s English translator. Yes, that’s right, despite his fluency in English and the majority of his book sales being to the English-speaking book market, he lets someone else translate them.

So I picked up a few Harry Hole novels and read one.

Nesbo himself referred to the series as being inspired by Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, which I think is a fair comparison. But, the difference is that Connelly tends toward the dry real-world investigation influenced by his time as a crime reporter, whereas Nesbo tends toward the excitant – as much as a police procedural can do so.

Why did you read only one of the novels you bought?

That’s a very good assumed question from the assumed audience.

There are a few reasons. The first was that sometime after reading my first Nesbo novel I’d grown tired of the crime genre. As Dominic Noble mentions in the video, there are often numerous contrived red herrings in these sorts of books that start to become tedious rather than exciting and interesting. Often the main character is unlikeable or would be the person everyone at a party avoids due to their predilection for telling stories about linoleum texture styles through time.

The second reason was that, outside of a few exceptions, crime novels are part of the normalisation of the exceptional with a side serve of copaganda. When you start looking at crime data and policing and the giant chasm between that reality and the perceptions of crime and police, it becomes hard to enjoy this type of escapist fiction.

The third reason is something Dominic Noble alludes to in the video. The books aren’t exactly good. With a bit of distance from the genre now, I find myself less enamoured with authors like Nesbo, and thus have no real desire to read more of his stuff.

And on this point, I’m reminded of something Lauren Beukes said about being on a panel with Jo Nesbo. He was describing going to her home country of South Africa and how he got kitted out in body armour, had an armed guard to go places, etc, etc, and she commented how it was nice exaggeration that makes for a good story, but doesn’t really work if you give it any thought or know something about it.*

* I may be putting words in Beukes’ mouth here as this is a remembered comment from at least a decade ago.

Video: The Art of Editing and The Snowman by Dan Olsen aka Folding Ideas

Book vs Movie: The Beach – What’s the Difference?

Remember that time Leonardo DiCaprio used to date women his own age? Me neither. So let’s reminisce together and look at What’s the Difference between the book and the movie of The Beach.

Video: The Beach – Lost in Adaptation by Dominic Noble

The Beach was one of those books I picked up and put down. I can’t remember if that was before or after the movie – who am I kidding, it was probably after. But I do know that after watching the film, I’ve felt no compulsion to rewatch the film nor retry reading the book.

As Dominic discusses in his summary of the themes in the video, the hypocrisy of the characters wanting to find the non-tourist trap locations that only they can be tourists in is a great idea. But I’m not sure this idea was explored in an interesting enough way. Maybe it was in the book, hence its word-of-mouth success. Or maybe the book just executed a more engaging narrative that twenty-something me didn’t appreciate – I bet there wasn’t a single chapter devoted to things exploding after someone performed an amazingly athletic flying kick detailed in multiple paragraphs.

Actually, there’s an idea for a reboot: The Beach starring The Rock.

Toni Morrison’s Opus About Confronting a Terrible Past

Time for some Toni Morrison and her most cancelled book.

Beloved is the magnum opus of the late, great Toni Morrison. It has become a key piece of literature taught in schools and is considered one of the great pieces of American literature. To understand Beloved, we must first look at the woman behind the pages: Nobel Prize Winner Toni Morrison.

Hosted by Lindsay Ellis and Princess Weekes, It’s Lit! is a show about our favorite books, genres, and why we love to read. It’s Lit is made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Book review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail MaryProject Hail Mary by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The universal jazz hands.

Scientists around the world have discovered two things: a band of radiation (Petrova Line) and the sun is dimming. It soon becomes obvious that the two are related and the problem is getting worse, potentially world-ending worse. Rayland Grace, a high school teacher and former astrobiologist, is enlisted to examine a sample from the Petrova Line and discovers a new lifeform: Astrophage. Can the world and Rayland save the planet?

So let’s get this out of the way upfront: I loved this book.

My problem with reading Andy Weir books continues. Ever since I first purchased a copy of The Martian, I have failed to read a Weir book without it disappearing and requiring me to buy another copy or (in this instance) borrowing from the library. I’m sure there is a valuable lesson for me to learn about reading books as soon as they are purchased, but my TBR pile laughs at the mere suggestion of this idea.

A new twist to this adventure was accidentally ordering a Spanish version of Project Hail Mary from the library to replace my stolen permanently borrowed copy. My passable English (I still don’t have a good handle on American despite my best efforts) and primary school level French was not quite up to that particular challenge.

Weir continues his protagonist sciencing their way through one catastrophe after another disaster style of story with Project Hail Mary. He has a formula of sorts and it works. Even if some of it can feel a bit contrived or an obvious part of the Weir formula at times (my wife made a good point about some similarities between Weir’s protagonists).

My highlight from this book was the character of Rocky. This situation could have been handled any number of ways. A lot of authors would have gone for a much more scared, nasty, or aggressive route, but Weir went for nice and compassionate. Which, in turn, drove a more interesting plot – with the nice addition of some Wittgenstein inspired language problem-solving.

I’m looking forward to having Weir’s next book stolen from me.

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Book review: Callahan’s Legacy by Spider Robinson

Callahan's Legacy (Mary's Place #2, Callahan's #7)Callahan’s Legacy by Spider Robinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The next round is on me.

Jack and Zoey are two bar owners expecting their first child last week. The bar’s patrons are also their close friends who hail from all walks of life, time, and weird occurrences involving saving the world. What should be just another fun evening of drinks and song is interrupted by new patrons and trouble.

The Callahan novels were recommended to me via a list of humorous books. The only one I could lay my hands on easily was Callahan’s Legacy, one of the later instalments in the series. It seems to be representative of the rest of the books, as near as I can tell, and fans seem to enjoy it.

I’m really not sure what to say and how to rate this book. It was mildly amusing, the banter flowed freely, and some of the puns were ingenious. But I could pretty fairly say that virtually nothing happened in the story. This was pretty much a novel devoted to documenting an evening of drinks between friends, some of whom are aliens, resurrected early 20th-century scientists, and people from the future.

I’ll be generous and give this 3 stars because I quite liked the joke about the Buddhist Burger Joint that made you one with everything.

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Book vs Movie: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – What’s the Difference?

This month in What’s the Difference? let’s discuss a classic five-part novel trilogy and its movie adaptation.

Video: Lost in Adaptation – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy part 1
Video: Lost in Adaptation – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy part 2

I love the Hitchhiker’s books. In the above videos, Dominic Noble covers a lot of what was changed from the book(s) to the movie and I agree with his points about how they managed to ruin the adaptation. But unlike Dominic, I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about the movie. I think this comes down to how I largely dismissed the film as either:

  • A very American homage to the Hitchhiker’s books, or;
  • A very soulless adaptation by the Hollywood machine.

Take, for example, the point about Arthur Dent being portrayed as a snivelling loser with all the cringe humour to support that portrayal. I really don’t enjoy cringe humour and laughing at “losers”. Having them be the main character is an even worse idea. But I can see how an American or Hollywood adaptation would take the idea of an incompetent and insecure (i.e. British) character and make them into Loser McCringefest.

The stamp of this failure to understand what the jokes actually were is all over the movie. And it seems to be a common problem when American studios take British material and try to adapt it. There are numerous TV shows that American audiences have loved, which a production studio takes as the impetus to make a version without subtitles*, and then somehow they make a pilot or show that just mangles the entire point. American audiences really deserve better.

There’s actually a good documentary on this issue done as part of the Red Dwarf DVD extras. Essentially, the production studios don’t really understand what is funny about the source material and thus what any changes they make will do to the adaptation.

So I don’t hate the movie adaptation of one of my favourite books. Because I don’t regard it as a real adaptation.

* Oh, you think I jest? I’m afraid not. When I visited the US of A I was surprised to see subtitles being used when people of non-North American origin spoke English. I mean, Scottish people having subtitles I can kinda understand, but Irish people? At least it was good to bust the myth that Americans can’t watch stuff with subtitles…

Book review: War on Peace by Ronan Farrow

War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American InfluenceWar on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence by Ronan Farrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Diplomacy? No idea where that is. Do they have any schools that we can bomb there?

In War on Peace, Ronan Farrow argues that since the end of the Cold War, the USA has been gradually cutting back its diplomatic resources whilst supercharging militarism. He attempts to document examples of how military figures have access, resources, and influence on the way the US (and its allies) conducts itself internationally to the detriment of peace and (sigh) US interests.

Ever since I saw the US market the post-9/11 war in Iraq as a totally good idea and certainly not based on an easily disprovable lie, I’ve been interested in understanding war and diplomacy. Unfortunately, few books want to look at the bigger picture, instead focussing on the “mistakes” of a conflict or the “harrowing true story” of a kid who was promised free university if they went and secured oil resources freedom in another country. War on Peace is one of the few bigger picture books that try to document how we got here.

This book has a lot of good insights into how diplomacy has been defunded, marginalised, and under-resourced while the military has been placed front and centre. As the saying goes, wouldn’t it be great if we gave diplomacy a try for once? I think Farrow also shows that we can’t just blame any one government or side of politics. And he also gives examples of how the militarism approach has embedded all sorts of issues that make the world far less safe.

Where I think War on Peace stumbles is in its American Exceptionalism and Supremacy. Laced throughout is this deep current of the USA wanting to control the world to meet its needs as though that is a good thing. And along for the ride is the idea that the USA is the “good guy”, all while documenting plenty of examples where the USA was clearly the “bad guy”. This would have been hilarious and worthy of being labelled satire if it wasn’t exactly the sort of thing these kinds of very serious US journalism books do without even a hint of irony.

Further to this point, the US-centric nature of the book neglects the international trends in diplomacy vs militarism. There is a small mention of China’s moves in this area, but it would have really helped the central argument to document, at the very least, changes in US-allies’ investment in diplomacy.

This is an important book on an important topic if you can get past the blinkered parochialism.

Comments while reading:
Not particularly shocking to hear that President “Drain The Swamp” turfed out the experts in favour of either not replacing people or looking for partisan hacks. But it was interesting to hear that this has been a trend since the 90s and the end of the cold war. That ties in with Jeremy Scahill’s writing on the rise of the private military, outsourcing, and militarisation.

I find it kinda funny to hear someone lamenting the decline of diplomacy continually utter it in the context of American Exceptionalism and Supremacy. “Decline in control of the region” is uttered at the same time as “negotiation for nuclear non-proliferation”, while oblivious to the irony of a nuclear power wanting to dictate terms.

President “drone strike” Obama’s first term being filled with warhawk generals taking over diplomatic roles is not particularly surprising. It was quite notable how much of the placating of the establishment Democrats and appeasement of Republicans resulted in his brand of Hope being watered down to Status Quo. The military angle was a big part of that.

Interesting that the diplomatic successes of Obama’s second term appear to have been a lot of hard work over the whole two terms and in spite of the administration. That this came from Hilary Clinton recognising various efforts being made and offering (the minimum of) support is telling given so many of the problems come back to Bill’s time as President.

I laughed out loud when, without a hint of irony, Farrow called China a country “who are wanting to be an international leader without acknowledging their continued human rights abuses.” Farrow, the former diplomat, whose bosses helped suppress human rights abuses, some of which are mentioned in this very book, wrote this down. His bosses also helped go after Julian Assange and Wikileaks for exposing US war crimes. Neither of these human rights abuses has been acknowledged and any accountability held.

But on the plus side, they did imprison, ruin the careers, and took a blind eye to the murder of those who exposed the human rights abuses of the US military.

Remember kids, it’s not human rights abuses when we, the good guys, do it!

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Book review: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

To Say Nothing of the Dog (Oxford Time Travel, #2)To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

And never mind the cat.

The Oxford History Department has changed a lot since the invention of time travel. Ned Henry, a history student, has been tasked by the department’s wealthy benefactor with locating the Bishop’s Bird Stump. But Ned is overworked, time-lagged, and in desperate need of a vacation. So his professor assigns him some R&R in Victorian England… and a very important mission to fix the time continuum before history is completely destroyed.

After finishing The Time Machine Did It, I saw a list of other humorous novels. Ever on the lookout for entertaining reads, I started matching titles with my library’s catalogue. As luck would have it, To Say Nothing of the Dog was available and just desperately wanting to be read.

And it was fine.

The book is light and whimsical without ever being hilarious. The story is solid without ever feeling too tense. And the continual obstacles Ned and Verity have to overcome never feel insurmountable. As a result, I came away from To Say Nothing of the Dog with the sense of having enjoyed myself but not having relished the experience.

Something that I think is worth highlighting is that this book is nice. As in, there are no fights, no evil people doing bad things, no heroes with dark problems, and surprisingly, for a time travel book, not one person ceasing to exist because of time-ripple-magic-stuff. Instead, Willis grounds the conflict in the more ordinary and the stakes in the people vs events. I mention this as it can be quite refreshing to read a book that doesn’t feel the need to be gritty, mean, dark, or focused on people you’d pretend you don’t recognise at a party before sneaking out the upstairs penthouse bathroom window.

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Why Edgar Allan Poe Isn’t Just a Sad Boy

Let’s talk about one of the greats of fiction with this month’s It’s Lit!

Video: Why Edgar Allan Poe Isn’t Just a Sad Boy

My first memory of reading Poe was in high school. We read The Cask of Amontillado in English Lit class, which was either about exposing us to one of the greatest short stories of all time, or our teacher subtly hinting at what he’d have like to have done to his students.

I can’t remember when it was that I decided to read as much Poe as possible. I’m guessing it was during that standard phase everyone goes through sometime in their teens or early 20s. You know, the one that involves you wearing a lot of black and insisting that The Cure made awesome music you can dance to. And since that would have been the late 90s for me, it would definitely have involved a Brandon Lee poster of The Crow hanging on my wall.

Anyway, I remember being highly disappointed with Poe. I wanted to read The Pit and the Pendulum but the collection I’d found of his work hid it in amongst other far more cheery and sarcastic work. So, in some respects, I was aware that Poe was more than just a dark gothic author. Although, I don’t remember noting his sci-fi leanings and may have to revisit him as a result.

And I wouldn’t be a child of the 90s if my favourite Poe moment wasn’t also a Simpsons moment:

Video: The Simpsons adaptation of The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe (archive version here)
Image: I’m just a Poe boy, nobody loves me. He’s just a Poe boy from a Poe family.

We remember Edgar Allan Poe for his tales of horror and the macabre as well as inventing the entire Detective Fiction Genre. But unlike many of the great authors of Western classic literature, he has become an icon unto himself, recognized to this day by name and face almost more than the titles of his stories and poems. But his legacy is more complicated than school books may have lead us to believe.

Hosted by Lindsay Ellis and Princess Weekes, It’s Lit! is a show about our favorite books, genres, and why we love to read. It’s Lit is made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

How Tech Bros Get Sci-Fi Wrong

Recently on the den of inequity and monetised dumpster fires, I posted a tweet.

Text: Those who read spec-fic are doomed to see dystopias turned into tech company ideas.

This idea of how the “big brains” in Silicon Valley seem to miss the point of most speculative fiction has been in my thoughts lately. I’ve lost count of the number of articles I’ve read that have sung the praises of a new tech idea that was clearly ripped straight out of a dystopic novel.

Surely it isn’t just me and every other book nerd who understands that your favourite sci-fi novel was meant to be a warning, not a goal, right?

Well, this video from Wisecrack certainly appears to be on my side.

Wisecrack video: How Tech Bros Get Sci-Fi Wrong.

I think it is clear why tech-bros get sci-fi (and other spec-fic) wrong. The shallow, selfish and egotistical nature of being a Silicon Valley wonk precludes you from fully understanding subtle messages in fiction. You know, subtle messages like AIs will destroy the planet, anarcho-capitalism will destroy the planet, rich/greedy people will destroy the planet, pollution will destroy the planet, etc.

Take Musk’s Neuralink. When it’s not being inhumanely tested on monkeys, there is a lot of buzz around what it could do. Like brain uploading to make you immortal. Like in that sci-fi novel where people became immortal thanks to brain uploading. Which was a novel about how brain uploading was really really bad.

But is that the message that someone like Musk would take away from Altered Carbon? Would he look at that sci-fi dystopia and think “wow, bad, let’s not make brain uploading a thing” or does he look at it and think “wow, that rich guy had a sky palace and got to be super-duper immortal rich, let’s make that brain uploading a thing”? Hint, it’s the last one. Because that novel isn’t a dystopia for someone like Musk, it’s a utopia.

This is ultimately the point of speculative fiction. It makes comments upon our current society through fictional worlds, to show us the follies of our ways. The trick is to make sure WE heed the message and stop the rich and powerful from steering us (further) into dystopia.

Book review: We Are Legion by Dennis E Taylor

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (Bobiverse, #1)We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is it a Brazillian or Riker’s Beard?

Bob Johansson has cashed out of his software startup and cashed in on cryogenics. Thinking he’ll get to be immortal in a utopian future, he instead awakes to find himself as a slave to the new theocracy looking to spread the good word to the universe. The race to the stars becomes a race to Armageddon with only Bob floating in the way.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect with Taylor’s novel. The reviews were solid, people enjoyed it and they said it was humorous. But We Are Legion had the dreaded spectre of hard sci-fi attached to it. Too many times I’ve read glowing reviews of a hard sci-fi novel that ended up annoying the scientist and reader in me.

Happily, We Are Legion was good fun. It engaged with the hard sci-fi without becoming interminable and boring. The tone, while not what I’d call humorous, was light and helped keep the pace brisk. That did make the novel and Bob a little flippant and unengaging at times, but that didn’t undermine proceedings too much.

The only real complaint I have is that the novel just kinda ended. It felt like the first instalment in a series – hey look, there are three of these things – not like a complete story.

I’m looking forward to reading more Bobiverse.

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Book vs Movie: The Martian – What(ney) the Difference?

Let’s talk about space pirates in What’s the Difference?

The Martian restored my faith in hard sci-fi. I think it is fair to say that hard sci-fi has the habit of taking everything interesting about science and fiction and throwing them out in favour of writing down the boring stuff. Andy Weir took the interesting parts of science and fiction and combined them.

This combination was rewarded with millions of fans handing Weir money for his book and Hollywood saying “Yes Please! We’ll even cast someone charismatic as Mark Watney, like a pre-crypto-bro Matt Damon!”

After reading the book twice – that’s a long story involving someone always stealing my copies of Andy Weir’s books – I was ready for the movie. It really looked like they’d do a solid adaptation. And they did. Kinda.

My only real disappointment with the movie was the struggle of the last act was smoothed out to focus on Watney getting into orbit. While I can understand that decision, it felt like it left out some of the tension and struggle in favour of a climactic action scene.

Shows that good adaptations can be done.

How Do We Read? It’s Magic (Almost)

Have you ever wondered how we’re able to read? Not the learning bit, but how reading could even be a thing we can learn to do. Well, here’s the video for you.

It’s interesting that a lot of what makes humans intelligent, like tool use, language, and the retention of knowledge, comes down to our pattern recognition abilities. Reading being an emergent ability of pattern recognition – or rather, that we invented reading because we could recognise patterns – is so obvious once you’ve had it spelled out to you.

Spelled out. I’m hilarious.

It’s also interesting that a lot of what makes humans dumb and susceptible to misinformation and conspiracy theories is tied to our pattern recognition abilities.

So on the one hand, we’re able to read books filled with millennia of human knowledge allowing us to advance ever onward. And on the other hand, some of those books are filled with utter nonsense that is holding us back.

I believe that is called irony. Or a double-edged sword. Or the solution to the Fermi Paradox.

Reading. You’re doing it right now. I bet you don’t even have to think about it. But have you ever wondered what’s happening in your brain to turn all these weird symbols into meaning? This video will teach you how to read all over again. What you’re doing right now is way more amazing than you ever realized.

Book review: How to Philosophize with a Hammer and Sickle by Jonas Ceika

How to Philosophize with a Hammer and Sickle: Nietzsche and Marx for the 21st-Century LeftHow to Philosophize with a Hammer and Sickle: Nietzsche and Marx for the 21st-Century Left by Jonas Čeika
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s my will to pick up this book for the people.

Jonas Ceika’s How to Philosophize with a Hammer and Sickle is a brief insight into the compatibilities between the thoughts of Marx and Nietzche. He uses these insights to point out how anemic modern left/Marxian thought is and how a new movement and human freedom can arise.

Back when I started taking an interest in philosophy, there were very few Youtube channels dedicated to discussing the field. If you count The School of Life as a philosophy channel… But that changed fairly quickly and many good (and bad, some just really terrible) channels emerged to tickle my brain between books.

Cuck Philosophy caught my attention thanks to Ceika’s rebuttal videos addressing common misconceptions of postmodernism. So when this book was announced on the channel, I was interested in giving it a read.

This was a particularly interesting take on Marx and Nietzsche. Having recently read a little from Rosa Luxemburg, I think the argument that Marx’s revolutionary ideas and intentions have been watered down by more modern lapdogs of the bourgeoisie leftists is fair. Combining the “will to power” and Marx is also an interesting idea. And as Ceika alludes to in his summary, this is also the way a lot of current social movements are operating.

As a result, this was a thought-provoking book. But I feel I need to read more Nietzsche and Marx and then revisit this text.

This review is also quite good and has a great overview.

Some of my favourite philosophy Youtube channels:
Jonas’ CCK Philosophy (obviously)
Then and Now
Carefree Wandering
Early Philosophy Tube (later stuff is good too, but early stuff is more directly philosophy)
Gregory B Sadler
Wireless Philosophy
There are others who utilise philosophy in their content that I enjoy, but it isn’t their primary focus so they’re on a different list. A list you may never see. Mu-ha-ha-ha-ha.

Comments while reading:
“Science is owned by capital.”
The idea that science can only be done by those whose needs are met, and that the production of that science has solved the needs of others who don’t have their needs met is a great insight.

Slave morality and the power/class divide. The idea of immutable morality being about maintaining power is interesting. We’re told theft is a moral value but is it? Do we condemn the morality of Jeff Bezos for creating abominable conditions in his factories (and launching PR campaigns to pretend it isn’t happening)? But those conditions create the poor who can only meet their needs through a supposedly immoral act. So is morality just a way to punish the poor and keep them in line?

The second philosophy course I did had a section on Marx that I’m reminded of here. He was very much of the materialist and humanist school of thought. But he was also a fan of a philosophy of doing rather than just thinking. Good to see that covered here.

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Book review: Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #1)Hyperion by Dan Simmons
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A pilgrimage to a planet to be eternally impaled on a metal tree? Where do I sign up?

On the eve of an invasion of the planet Hyperion, a final pilgrimage has been organised. A select prime number of pilgrims will visit the Hyperion Time Tombs to plead with the Shrike, an immensely powerful being composed of blades. They decide to tell the tale of how they were chosen for the pilgrimage in hopes of understanding their mission.

Hyperion is one of those “classic” sci-fi novels that have the awards and street-cred amongst book nerds such as to make it compulsory reading. And I’m never quite sure what I’ll get with these types of “classics”. Will it be amazing, like Dune or Neuromancer, or will it be a trudge to get through, like any of the Dune sequels?

For me, Hyperion was a Dune sequel. Not so far into the series that you’ve stumbled into Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson performing CPR on Frank Herbert. But far enough that you’re not really invested.

This is partly because of the Canterbury Tales style utilised, where each character tells their tale about why they are on the pilgrimage. A format like this can work, if not for the second issue I had with Hyperion. It just ends. Tune in for the next instalment in this series. After ~500 pages the characters don’t even make it to the Time Tombs. So we don’t finish the story, we just get the backstory.

What Hyperion does well is diving us into the characters and world. But Hyperion didn’t make me invested enough to pick up the sequel to see how this story ends.

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Book review: The Time Machine Did It by John Swartzwelder

The Time Machine Did ItThe Time Machine Did It by John Swartzwelder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Did we really need more of me to go around?

Detective Frank Burly is terrible at his job. But he is persistent. His new indigent client wants him to find a family ornament that will somehow prove that he is actually a wealthy upstanding member of the community. The sort with buildings named after his family. Frank doesn’t know where to start. And it soon becomes clear that he doesn’t know when to start either.

The Simpsons was heavily influential on me. It screened every evening, sometimes multiple episodes per night, to the point that I could probably quote jokes from just about every episode in the first 10 seasons. And John Swartzwelder was a huge part of that.

As stunning as it is to realise that The Simpsons is still running 25 years after the start of its decline, it’s even more amazing that I’d never picked up one of Swartzwelder’s books. And it was fine.

The Time Machine Did It is absurdist humour from start to finish. Jokes pepper the page in a way that most authors would dream of being able to write. Of course, most writers would also not lean quite so heavily into the absurdity as Swartzwelder in favour of a story that is more engaging.

This is an amazingly off-the-wall book, but the way the story is told and the type of humour does hold you back from really enjoying it. Too many of the jokes are just jokes rather than being part of the story. Other jokes that are part of the story create holes that Swartzwelder fills with more absurdity and jokes. E.g. I’m still not sure if the time travel joke about the old elevator driver becoming a 4-year-old in the same job is genius, dumb, or both. Either way, it was clearly the sort of joke you put in a visual medium and not a wordy one.

I see from the ratings that the Frank Burly series improves with each instalment, so I’m likely to read some more from Swartzwelder in the future.

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Inside the Absurdist Mind of Kurt Vonnegut

And so it goes, in this month’s It’s Lit!

I have to admit to only having read two of Vonnegut’s books. Obviously the first is Slaughterhouse Five, because you can’t talk about books on the internet (or anywhere else for that matter) unless you’ve read it. The second is the short story collection Welcome to the Monkey House.

Two of my favourite short stories are in Welcome to the Monkey House, the eponymous short the collection is named after, and Harrison Bergeron. The latter was used in our high school English Literature class. Don’t ask me why it was used or what we discussed about it, I only remember it being refreshingly good after too many weeks spent reading ee cummings.

I think the reason I’ve not read more Vonnegut is that I never really bonded with his work. Sure, he wrote two of my favourite short stories, but that same collection also had some really bland stuff in it that could be best described as unmemorable. And some of his satirical takes were, as the famous philosopher said, meh.

Like the afformentioned short stories, which appear to critique egalitarianism by attacking a strawperson (because egalitarianism doesn’t seek to eliminate individualism nor enforce mediocrity for all). Is that really satire or is it misrepresentation? Or did I just miss something? Because I didn’t miss the “corrective rape”… ewww.

Further reading: https://digitalcommons.butler.edu/bjur/vol4/iss1/7/

It can be said that there are two types of fiction writers – those who take a backseat and let their work take the spotlight, and those who are as iconic as their work, sometimes even more so. But maybe there’s a third type – a type of writer whose complex persona is so intertwined with their fiction – that to ignore them as a person would be to ignore their work entirely. In this episode we explore the life and work of Kurt Vonnegut.

Hosted by Lindsay Ellis and Princess Weekes, It’s Lit! is a show about our favorite books, genres, and why we love to read. It’s Lit is made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Book review: A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge

A Fire Upon the Deep (Zones of Thought, #1)A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Who’d have thought puppy power was actually a thing?

Ravna Bergsndot has taken a posting at the High Beyond of the Transcend, where data flows quickly and transcended beings hang out before getting bored with mortals. But all that comes to an end as an artifact unleashes The Blight that enslaves all natural and artificial intelligences. Ravna is only able to narrowly escape with a reconstructed human from the Slow Zone, Pham Nuwen, and two Skroderiders. Now their mission is to find a potential cure for The Blight in a race against time.

If you are into reading those “Top 10/20/42” lists of “best ever books in [insert narrow genre here]” you’ll have no doubt come across a reference to A Fire Upon the Deep. Well, at least, that’s how I came across it. With no other recommendation, I tracked down a copy in my library and set to some holiday reading.

In some respects, I can see why this made it onto a list of top sci-fi books. There are some big ideas here and it is pretty well executed. I was particularly interested in the Tine characters and the idea of a group intelligence.

In other respects, this was a confusing book to start reading. It wasn’t until I was solidly halfway through the book that I felt like the story had hit its stride. Before that, everything felt like planet info-dump, population: cardboard cutouts we’ll expand on later.

A Fire Upon the Deep was fine. Once it got going things fell into place and it was good, but a fickle reader may not get that far.

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Book review: The Resurrection Key by Andy McDermott

The Resurrection Key (Nina Wilde & Eddie Chase #15)The Resurrection Key by Andy McDermott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Looking really good for 100,000 years old.

Nina and Eddie are trying to settle down, with Eddie hitting the big 5-0, and Nina in a cushy teaching job. That is until an ambitious student drags them both into an artefact purchase. From then on it is a race to uncover long-hidden technology and stop rich people and governments and their nefarious plans. But is that who they have to worry about?

Just before Xmas, my son realised that I was going to be the only person in our family without a present under the tree. So I was forced, forced I say, to go shopping for a suitable present from my local bookstore. This was the book I bought.

I continue to enjoy the Nina and Eddie adventures. There is a fun, fast-paced, action-packed nature to the books that I really appreciate. Other Artefact-McGuffin-Adventures often take themselves far too seriously for what are ridiculous premises. Andy leans into that ridiculousness and makes it fun and humorous.

Also, I have to commend Andy for writing a portrayal of Aussies and Australia that didn’t make me actively cringe. It is clear he puts some effort into the details that other authors don’t bother with, who instead opt to rewatch Crocodile Dundee while staring at a shirtless poster of Hugh Jackman.

I bought a few ebooks of Andy’s to read in the coming months/years/what is time now anyway? I think I’ll need some fun reading in the coming future.

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Book review: Trade Wars Are Class Wars by Matthew Klein and Michael Pettis

Trade Wars Are Class Wars: How Rising Inequality Distorts the Global Economy and Threatens International PeaceTrade Wars Are Class Wars: How Rising Inequality Distorts the Global Economy and Threatens International Peace by Matthew C. Klein
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Inequality is bad you say? But isn’t my second gold toilet more important than food for everyone?

Matthew Klein and Michael Pettis’ Trade Wars Are Class Wars attempts to argue that inequality distorts the way money flows around the economy and thus undermines the efficient and rational capitalisation of the economy. He draws upon historical and contemporary examples from around the world to show how this is bad. For the USA….. (sigh)

I picked up a copy of this book after reading Mark Blyth’s Austerity: History of a Dangerous Idea. The idea that many of the trade and economic issues are tied to inequality and class divides was an interesting one. And the central thesis is largely acknowledged as true by anyone who has seen how quickly economies tumble when the average person can’t afford to buy stuff.

Unlike Blyth’s excellent books, Klein and Pettis have a limited understanding and unwillingness to engage with broader socio-political issues in the discussion of their thesis. They continually place the political as removed from the economic as though that is a fair and unbiased thing to do.

But how can you engage in discussing economic history and outcomes without honestly engaging with all, or at least some of the major, other factors? It essentially makes any of their arguments and analysis useless as anything other than fodder for very serious nodding competitions at corporate retreats.

In summary, this book was garbage as it deliberately or unintentionally failed to engage with reality to argue something that most would accept as true.

Comments while reading:

Good quote on China:
“China’s policies do not just hurt Americans (because fuck those other countries) – they also harm ordinary Chinese workers and retirees. Chinese workers are underpaid relative to the value of what they produce, and they are taxed too much. They are unable to access the goods and services they ought to be able to afford. They breathe dirty air and drink polluted water because many local government officials place the financial interests of politically connected business owners above the well-being of the public.”

Trying to explain this idea to people is often a challenge.

In the “how we got here” section there is a misleading bit about Natural Advantage. While a bit later it implies how the idea is untrue, there is no direct refutation of the idea. Natural Advantage isn’t a rational nor economic reality, but rather a political and exploitative one. People will often hold up the idea of (e.g.) gold producing nations being those with natural gold resources who will trade with the nations without gold for the thing they have a natural advantage in. Just don’t tell that to the resource-rich nations of Africa, South America, etc, who are dirt poor despite their supposed wealth.

I’m a little unimpressed with the overall stance being taken in the presentation of economic history. The very liberal tone (i.e. capitalist apologism) is managing to gloss over things like imperialism, coups, and the fights for democracy. One example that made me almost throw the book away was with the statement “which caused the British financial sector to remove support from the country” glossing over a very bloody war of oppression the British waged on that country only to be overthrown and independence declared. It places the political as removed from the economic as though that is a fair and unbiased thing to do.

There is a strong “if only those stupid other countries did capitalism right” vibe to covering the issues with the economy. It’s pretty much implied that the policy frameworks have been poorly done and if we just do it correctly then everything will be fine.

But this argument isn’t just ahistorical nonsense, it is narrow, ignorant, and woefully naive. Does Klein-Pettis just assume that inequality is something that rich/powerful people did by accident? (The answer to that rhetorical question is, of course, yes).

The section on China’s growth is… problematic. I’ll be kind and say that this is once again due to the very narrow economic scope Klein-Pettis uses for his discussion of very complex socio-political-economic interactions. If I were unkind I’d have to call it racist. But to suggest that China suddenly grew because they started doing capitalism and before that those silly commies just couldn’t do anything right and were creating poverty, is wonderfully wrong. I mean, the issues for Mao’s China can fill entire books, but the summary here doesn’t even hint at that.

Odd to summarise the systemic defanging of unions worldwide by corporate, business, and oligarch interests via their flunkies in government, legal, and industry as “workers lost interest in unions”. I mean, it’s like saying that coastal flood insurance costs have gone up whilst ignoring that someone keeps dropping bombs offshore to send tsunamis.

The installation of a right-wing government with deeply racist, anti-semetic, authoritarian, and nationalist views as a move to democracy in Hungary is an interesting take on history and politics. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archiv…

Another example: South Korea and the statements about yay democracy and capitalism curing poverty there… Look, I’m not well versed in South Korean politics, what with its every shifting, amalgamating, and disbanding political parties, but I’m pretty sure that referring to a literal military dictatorship in the 1980s as democracy, and its brutal regime which included at least one massacre, as progress is a what us thinky types refer to as wrong.

I’d bet money the authors worked in finance and write for very serious industry publications now.
I checked, yep, Klein was at an investment firm and now writes for Barron’s, a right-wing financial news page.

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