Book Review: The Republic by Plato

The RepublicThe Republic by Plato

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Old white guys sit around discussing how to set up a totalitarian military state with them as the rulers.

Plato’s famous text covers a lot of ground as it tries to establish what justice is. It covers politics, personal and political ethics, idealised states (democracy ranks third out of four), education, and virtue. The Republic is a heady read, whilst being fascinating.

The strawman style to the interlocuter dialogue did annoy me as a reader. Whilst it was in service of making a larger point, it did make the discourse feel more shallow than it is. Plato’s thinking was also amazingly progressive for an age that predates the enlightenment by the best part of a millennium. But this thinking was also confined by the times.

Plato, along with Socrates and Aristotle, were the drivers behind western society. Books like The Republic put forward a lot of ideas for discussion and dissection, opening the dialogue that would lead to progress. That alone makes The Republic worth reading, but I also found it was worth reading if only to see much of it in context rather than discussed second-hand. E.g. The famous allegory of the cave takes on a slightly different light when not viewed in isolation.

For a more detailed understanding:
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-ethics-politics/

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Book Review: Electric Dreams by Philip K Dick

Philip K. Dick's Electric DreamsPhilip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sometimes you learn that aliens are better than people, so don’t be a jerk and you could stop an invasion.

Electric Dreams is a small sampling of an array of Philip K Dick short stories that were used as the basis for 10 episodes of a TV series of the same name. Dick wrote a huge number of short stories in his career – publishing 121 in a 30-year career, alongside 44 novels. So this selection (collection?) is probably best described as a taste-tester of PKD.

I find it hard to classify PKD as an author. What I have read of his works so far have left me thinking things like: “I was expecting more from this classic”*; “More interesting than engaging”; “Oh look, Deckard realised he lacks empathy so suspects he might be an android.”*** While I think PKD deserves to be acknowledged as a highly influential author I feel this is mainly for his ideas rather than their execution.

This collection was enjoyable on the ideas front and makes for a good sampler of PKD’s work.

*We Can Remember It For You Wholesale
**The Minority Report
***Really? You don’t know what book that is referring to? Would it help if I quoted some lines from the movie?

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Book Review: The Hoodoo Man by Steve Harris

The Hoodoo ManThe Hoodoo Man by Steve Harris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Budgie as a weapon? Sure, why not.

Danny Stafford was an ordinary kid until his brother shot him in the face. It was an accident that changed Danny, but it isn’t until his 30s that the change fully takes hold. Now in a stable relationship, renovating a house, and working a dead-end job, Danny’s life is turned upside down. And that’s before the Hoodoo Man starts coming for him.

Back in my formative years, the local librarian introduced me to the adult section of the library after I’d read everything on offer for young adults and kids. This novel, The Hoodoo Man, was the first she pulled off of the shelf for me to try. A brand new horror novel by a UK author. Bit of a leap. But I was hooked. I clearly remember devouring this book, to the point that I missed at least one meal.

Twenty-six years later I wanted to test if my memory of this novel held up. Was The Hoodoo Man as good all these years later, or was I just an impressionable kid who had just discovered his first horror novel? Oh, it stands up alright. It has aged very well and I wasn’t disappointed at all. My immediate response upon finishing was to exclaim “Well, I’m going to have to find more of Steve Harris’ books.”

This is where this story becomes interesting. The Hoodoo Man was Steve’s third novel and it was his most successful, it put him on the map, and became his website’s name. But his career was all but over by the time his seventh novel was released and he retired at the end of the 90s. His career came to an end after his publisher was bought out and he was dumped. He had one completed novel he was shopping around, another in the works, and a third that had originally been intended as his sixth novel but was deemed too terrifying*. Harris’ novels went out of print and after no success in finding a new publisher, he retired from writing and ran to the hills**.

In this day and age, a writer in this situation would probably take their back-catalog and self-publish, then release their new material. Of course, a publisher would be unlikely to let an author go out of print. But it does make me wonder how many authors are in a sense lost to us because of the machinations of the publishing world. I guess they won’t be getting any money from me*** hunting down Harris’ back-catalog in the secondhand stores.

*The Switch was an attempt by Steve to bring the reader as close to feeling actual pain as possible. Back when his website was active I read an excerpt and can confirm that he succeeded. I have never looked at liver the same since.
**This bad reference to Iron Maiden’s bass player of the same name brought to you by the number 666.
***Obviously, Steve won’t be either.
http://www.shadow-writer.co.uk/kinter…

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Book Review: Riot Act by Zoe Sharp

Riot Act (Charlie Fox, #2)Riot Act by Zoë Sharp

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Those in council housing shouldn’t throw stones. Molotov cocktails are much better.

Charlie Fox is dog and house sitting in a rough neighbourhood for her friend. After some kids manage to seriously injure her neighbour during a robbery, a vigilante mob and a security group move into the area. Ulterior motives abound and Charlie is stuck in the middle of it all as the violence is let loose.

It has been awhile since I’ve picked up a Zoe Sharp thriller. After reading a couple several years ago I went on a spending spree, but haven’t gotten to them until now. I do enjoy reading a female lead thriller written by a female author. Zoe brings something very different to the story that you don’t get from her contemporaries in the genre – her writing has been compared to Lee Child, similar to how all comedy shows are compared to The Office.

Riot Act keeps the intrigue and action coming in steady measures. This was an enjoyable thriller.

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Book Review: Edenverse by Matt Hawkins

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 8.19.16 PM
Edenverse: Think Tank, Postal, The Tithe, Eden’s Fall, Samaritan by Matt Hawkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Smart people take on the government. Because they should.

Back in 2012, I stumbled upon the first installment of Think Tank from indie comic publisher Top Cow. This was back when online stores selling e-comics were still not completely up with technology. I bought Issue #1 and then tried to read it. It wouldn’t download to my comic reading app. I tried to send it to my iPad. It didn’t like the strange format. I tried reading it in the store’s very own comic app. It suggested my iPad and computer were too new.

I won’t go into the details of exactly how I read that first issue (hint: comic files are just a bunch of pictures if you can slice them open), but even with all of the frustration of this first purchase I still enjoyed the story.

Dr. David Loren is many things: child prodigy, inventor, genius, slacker… mass murderer. When a military think tank’s smartest scientist decides he can no longer stomach creating weapons of destruction, will he be able to think his way out of his dilemma or find himself subject to the machinations of smaller men?

So started a five-year avid following of one of the more interesting techno-thriller series I’ve come across. Unfortunately, I switched from buying individual issues to the collected volumes, which were entirely more reliable in those early years of e-comics. I say unfortunately because as a result, I didn’t realise that Think Tank was part of an expanded universe – something the last few pages of regular issues highlights with previews.

Now I’m caught up. In particular, The Tithe and Samaritan are excellent additions to the Think Tank universe (Edenverse, named after the town in the Postal series). Matt Hawkins and illustrator Rahsan Ekedal have pulled together a collection of political machinations, high-tech possibilities, real-world issues, and social commentary for a brilliant collection of comics. Seriously, they have references for the topics, tech, and background at the end of each book, something that tickles my inner scientist with delight.

I highly recommend these series to comic fans, especially those who like techno-thrillers or crime-thrillers.

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Book review: How to Build a Universe by Brian Cox and Robin Ince

How to Build a Universe: An Infinite Monkey Cage AdventureHow to Build a Universe: An Infinite Monkey Cage Adventure by Brian Cox

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m going to bake some chocolate muffins from scratch, so this book should be useful.

Professor Brian Cox, Robin Ince, and Alexandra ‘Sasha’ Feachem are the team behind the popular The Infinite Monkey Cage, a BBC science show that pairs scientists and comedians for laughs and education. From 2009 they have produced +100 shows covering all sorts of topics. This book encapsulates some highlights and essays around their favourite topics and common science communication issues* they have covered in that time.

From the opening forewards to the covering of Schrodinger’s Strawberry I was heartily entertained. As a science nerd and fan of comedy, this book seems to have been written specifically for me. It actually left me feeling a bit annoyed that I haven’t, as yet, listened to The Infinite Monkey Cage show, despite having been aware of it for quite some time. So I guess I’ll be rectifying that soon.

What I like most about this approach to science is that it doesn’t seek to sex up science (or dumb down, depending upon the preferred flavour of marketing), but instead make it accessible and entertaining. There is a line between those two that too often those in the media can’t tell the difference between. Science is interesting, but it is complicated, it is often dry, and communicating scientific knowledge as done here is hard to do.

* Yes, I do mean how people aren’t willing to honestly engage with science, either through pseudoscience co-opting, or denial of evidence, or wanting certainty instead of the probability that science offers.

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Book review: Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1)Dune by Frank Herbert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tangential foreshadowing from the Collected Sayings of Maud’Dib by the Princess Irulan.

After his dad is asked to take over keeping the oil supply flowing out of the Middle East, Paul, a promising MMA fighter, witnesses the death of his family and friends, narrowly escaping into the desert with his pregnant mother. Befriending a small band of freedom fighters, Paul becomes their holy leader and prophesied deliverer. Meanwhile, the military-industrial-complex of the infidel are trying to apply their bootheel to the impoverished desert people. Can Paul use guerrilla tactics to overthrow the infidel, become Emporer and bring jihad to the west?*

Okay, so Dune does predate the general cluster-truck that is the Middle East conflict, but you do have to wonder if Herbert was munching on a bit of spice for inspiration when writing.

Unlike some other sci-fi classics, Dune does hold up as a novel in the modern day. There are some aspects that mark this as a book of the 60s (e.g. anything related to women) but it isn’t as jarring thanks to the complex worldbuilding. A lot has been poured into this novel that had me marveling at the efforts involved for one book. And yes, I know about the sequels and expanded universe novels, but this was clearly written as an open-ended standalone.

I have previously tried the expanded universe books that were co-written by Kevin J Anderson and Herbert’s son Brian. They did not grab me. The amazing worldbuilding that defined many of the concepts of space opera sci-fi** didn’t appear to have enough legs for those novels. I’m glad I picked up the original Dune to understand what the fuss was all about.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…

** https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…

https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/dune-endures

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/30/frank-herbert-dune-at-50-sci-fi-masterpiece

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