Book Review: Incorruptible by Mark Waid

Incorruptible Digital OmnibusIncorruptible Digital Omnibus by Mark Waid

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lifetime villains just don’t know the recipe for being good.

Max Damage was at ground zero the day the Plutonian went berserk. But Max knew it was coming, he’s known the Plutonian’s secret since the day he was sent down the path of criminality. Now with his own superpowers, he realises that if the world’s greatest hero has switched sides, he has to become a hero. It was never going to be that simple though.

Incorruptible is the companion series to Mark Waid’s fantastic Irredeemable. When I originally read both series in 2011-12, I thought they were both very comparable, but that I enjoyed Max’s story more. Now upon re-reading, I’ve switched sides.

The story for Incorruptible deals with more of the consequences to the world after Superman/Plutonian turns villain. The redemption of such a despicable and immoral character is much more interesting than good guy turns bad. But where Irredeemable looks at the repercussions on multiple characters, Incorruptible mostly focuses on Max. This would be fine if Max was actually the protagonist. Unfortunately, Max is merely along for the ride, with major plot points and decisions taken away from him by the events in Irredeemable.

So if you are going to read Incorruptible, do so at the same time as Irredeemable.

View all my reviews

Advertisements

Book review: Irredeemable Volume 1 & 2 by Mark Waid

Irredeemable Digital Omnibus, Volume 1Irredeemable Digital Omnibus, Volume 1 & 2 by Mark Waid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Why does everyone treat me like I’m a bomb about to go off?” He shouts unironically.

Irredeemable asks the question: What if Superman became evil? We watch the fall of the world’s greatest superhero, the Plutonian, how his friends and fellow superheroes attempt to find a way to stop his rampage while dealing with their own problems of betrayal and hopelessness. And being a superhero comic, there are alternate dimensions, aliens, supervillains, myths become real, and the spirit realm for good measure.

I originally read this and the companion series Incorruptible in 2011-12, toward the end of their run. It was also one of the first comic series I bought in e-format. Originally, I found this take on superheroes to be far more interesting and rewarding than the sort of stories we usually see. The old Spiderman quote, “With great power comes great responsibility”* butts heads with “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” in this story to great effect.

Whenever I think of superheroes, I always think of this series.** Re-reading the series in one sitting made me appreciate more of the story. During my first read through, I thought segments of the series in the run-up to the final arc got bogged down in their own intricacy and lack of relevance to the main story. But this time, I appreciate their inclusion more, even if it did slow the pacing a bit.

If you like superhero stories, then this will probably be a refreshing shot in the arm.

* Although, this quote predates Spiderman by a couple of hundred years.

** And Garth Ennis’ The Boys. I guess standard superhero stories just don’t interest me the same way.

View all my reviews

Book review: Austerity – The History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Blyth

Austerity: The History of a Dangerous IdeaAusterity: The History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Blyth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You have to live within your means unless you are a bank, then you get someone else to pick up the tab.

Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea is pretty much as the title implies. Mark Blyth lays out the history of austerity economics, the arguments for its use, and then counters those arguments. Job done: let’s have cake.

In general, the deployment of austerity as economic policy has been as effective in bringing us peace, prosperity, and crucially, a sustained reduction of debt, as the Mongol Golden Horde was in furthering the development of Olympic dressage.

I first became aware of Mark Blyth as one of a handful of experts who were explaining the European sovereign debt crisis and why countries like Greece were mad at the austerity measures. He and others were the only ones who managed to accurately cut through the econobabble and victim blaming. Before then, various people involved in causing the Global Financial Crisis seemed intent on pointing fingers at out-of-control government spending, or nation states who were riddled with debt and no major industry. This was, of course, a distraction.

As an Aussie, I clearly remember during the Global Financial Crisis our treasurer dusting off his copy of Keynes and stopping us from being on the list of victims of the banks. As much as I quibble with some of the details of that economic stimulus, it worked. So it has puzzled me why so many financial experts seem to want to beat the economy to death in order to save it.

This book offered the explanation. It was eye-opening and expanded upon tackling the concept of austerity for sovereign nations who were forcibly sidled with the debt of multinational banks. For such a highly supported and enacted policy you would have thought there would be some very solid economics underpinning it… Yeah, not so much. As Mark outlines, pretty much every case of its use is purely ideologically driven and has rarely worked. In fact, quite often it has been a disaster.

Well worth a read. Or you could just watch a 5-minute version of the book:

Or a 1-hour version:

View all my reviews

Book review: How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley

How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and ThemHow Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them by Jason Stanley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fascism: coming to a country near you!

Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works is an overview of the ten distinct strategies employed by fascists in their thirst for power. Stanley’s family escaped Nazi Germany, so this is clearly a topic he has a personal affinity with.

Each chapter covers one of the strategies:
1. The Mythic Past – the time when things were as they should be for the chosen ones.
2. Propaganda – have to sell the abhorrent.
3. Anti-Intellectualism – can’t have those pesky thinkers pointing out you’re wrong.
4. Unreality – replace reason with fear and anger.
5. Hierarchy – democracy and equality have no place in fascism.
6. Victimhood – that out-group are trying to destroy us!
7. Law and Order – utilise framing to make the out-group look unlawful then actualise that.
8. Sexual Anxiety – this is related to the hierarchy and how women and LGBTQI people undermine this.
9. (Soddom and Gomorrah) Appeals to the Heartland – this is related to the mythic past, hierarchy, and lionising the base of support.
10. (Arbeit Macht Frei) Work Shall Make You Free – dismantling of public welfare and unity as part of attacking the out-group and seizing power.

Have (or create) a major social and/or economic upheaval that allows for inequality to have created a disgruntled and disenfranchised group. Take those in the group who believe in hierarchies, combine with a leader/movement (demagogue) who promises to create the hierarchy that puts that group where they feel they should be, create an out-group to demonise, gaslight and utilise revisionism for a mythic ideal past, and make sure no one challenges your power.*

There were two things that disappointed me about this book. The first was that there was a decidedly American-centric feel despite the inclusion of examples from Europe and Africa. Whilst I understand that Stanley is an American Yale Professor with his eye on the rise of fascism in the USA under Trump, he only makes passing mention of this rise occurring elsewhere. Considering the causes of the current rise are global in nature, I’d have liked to have seen a more global view.

The second point is related to the first. Stanley does a terrific job of identifying and explaining fascism but he doesn’t go into much depth. I suddenly found myself at the end of the book when I was expecting a bit more, like the above mentioned global view.

These are minor points, however, and overall this is a very good introduction to understanding fascism. Sadly, it is a topical book.

Also see my review of Antifa, my review of a book on how we got here in Winners Take All, and and my post on BlacKkKlansman.

* Then watch it all fall to pieces because fascism tends to destroy itself, but only after doing massive amounts of damage.

View all my reviews

Book review: In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell

In Praise of IdlenessIn Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”*

In Praise of Idleness is an essay written in between the two world wars and expands upon one of the points made in his Political Ideals essay. Once again, Russell manages to argue a challenging concept in an erudite and concise manner. Even if you disagree with him on the idea of work being overrated, there is value in engaging with what he is saying.

On inequality:
“Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for others.”
Variations of this statement are still being made today around inequality. They tend to use far more words.

On wasted efforts:
“Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labour required to secure the necessities of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the war.** At that time all the men in the armed forces, and all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or government offices connected with the war, were withdrawn from productive occupations.”
I mean, could you be any more scathing of warmongering?

While I think he does make his argument well, there are some points that are taken as a given. The example of the wasted effort of war in the quote above is one of those. There is a valid point made about how society managed to function despite being asked to drop everything and fight a war, but the point about war being a waste of time and that standards of living were still okay just has to be taken as a given.

Worth a read, even if you disagree with Russell on some or all points.

* Parkinson’s Law, coined in 1955.
** WW1
View all my reviews

Book review: Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the WorldWinners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first rule of MarketWorld is you do not criticise MarketWorld.

Winners Take All is a critique of the modern market-driven and capitalistic thinking that dominates the social and political landscape. Giridharadas focuses upon philanthropy in particular, as the more moralistic and benign problem of MarketWorld that is often used to whitewash the more obviously bad actions of those solely interested in the accumulation of wealth and power to the detriment of others.

This was a very interesting read and particularly insightful.* Throughout the book, Giridharadas is able to show us how MarketWorld created itself and now perpetuates and grows itself. And it doesn’t back away from being critical of people who think of themselves as doing good (and in a sense are) and of the system that allows this to happen.

Two topics in the book particularly resonated with me. The first was the idea of the immoral or amoral approach that is used to making money, which is then used for philanthropy later. This money is often made by exploiting people and the commons ruthlessly, and then is whitewashed of guilt by “giving back”, rather than, you know, not exploiting people/commons in the first place and thus negating the need for giving. I’ve previously come across this idea from a few philosophers and people like Alain de Botton who have discussed this on moral grounds.

The second topic was that of the Thought Leader. I’ve long been troubled by the happy-clappy approach to ideas and intellectual thinking we see in popular culture. Whether it be TED talks or deceptive pop-science authors like Malcolm Gladwell, there is a tendency in this field to be anti-intellectual or present a facile understanding of an issue/topic. So I especially enjoyed seeing the Thought Leader taken down a peg or two and the winning formula exposed.

Thought Leader 3-Step:
1) Focus on the victim, not the perpetrator.
In this way, you can avoid dealing with larger systemic issues and instead make smaller changes that have more direct and emotional appeal. Think, telling women to not dress too sexily so they won’t get raped** instead of addressing the issue of rape and rapists.

2) Personalise the political.
Or to put it another way, don’t be a critic pointing out systemic and collective issues, but instead make it about personal and individual dramas.

3) Be constructively actionable.
This is about having some nice and easy steps that people can do to make a difference. Remember to keep it at a personal level!***

This book wasn’t without fault. I’m not a particular fan of the narrative/literary journalism style employed. You commonly see this style in the pretentious long-form essays and “important” journalistic pieces. What it tends to do is obscure hard facts in the narrative and steer away from addressing points fully. This might make for a more “human” piece of writing that many would call more engaging and interesting, but it weakens just about any point and argument made.

I highly recommend this book.

Thanking our sponsors:

*The reason for the insightfulness is obvious if you are familiar with Giridharadas or read the Acknowledgements section. This is his playground. He is the son of a director of the McKinsey Institute consulting firm (they come in for a lot of flak in the book), worked there himself, he’s a Harvard alum, has given TED Talks (thought leader), and was a Henry Crown fellow of the Aspen Institute.

**And ironically, this is a great example of why this sort of focus just doesn’t work. It is a myth that clothing has anything to do with rape, but addressing rape and rapists would require a systemic change that makes many uncomfortable.

***This is why we see IPCC and other climate change reports making recommendations like installing solar panels, installing led lighting, and buying an electric car, rather than demanding a move away from fossil fuel usage at a society level.

View all my reviews

Book review: Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Magic Bites (Kate Daniels, #1)Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, if magic and science are incompatible, does that mean gravity is magic or physics?

Kate Daniels is scraping by making a living as a mercenary. In her world magic rolls through in waves, knocking out technology and allowing all the beasties to have way too much fun. As a result, people need mercenaries with magical abilities like Kate. Then, as part of a power play, someone kills her guardian sending her after the most powerful magical beast in Atlanta.

The Kate Daniels series was recommended to me by my wife. She has been steadily reading the whole series and kept making appreciative sounds whilst reading them. Written by Ilona and Andrew Gordon, I wouldn’t have immediately picked up a book that hints at fantasy romance. The cover of Magic Bites may be more neutral, but some of the later books in the series I saw in the library had a lot of chiselled male torsos on them.

Fortunately for me, Magic Bites reminded me more of a Harry Dresden book than a steamy romance. Kate is a much more likeable character than Harry,* and the world she lives in makes a bit more sense.** There is also the implication of Kate having continuing adventures that are building toward something, not just another series that will keep churning out instalments.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Kate Daniels’ adventures.

*I originally described this book as Dresden Files except without a jerk as the main character.
**I mean, there are only so many world-ending events that Dresden can take on single-handedly before a) someone non-magic notices, and b) the Wizard Council would also get involved.

View all my reviews