Staying at home is the norm... What are you reading?

Drathnoxis

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, by Mark Twain. I don't know about this one. I find it hard to swallow how dumb everybody is presented to be in the middle ages. I don't actually think people were any stupider a thousand years ago, just they didn't have the education to understand the world as we do today. The main character is also some kind of absolute genius, being able to recreate so much 19th century technology from memory without any of the modern day infrastructure, and in only a couple of decades. My suspension of disbelief was strained many many times over the course of the book.

I also just don't know what the book was going for. Is it supposed to be a serious consideration of what a single modern time traveler could do if transported to the middle ages? I don't think so because it's so unrealistic and you get so much silly stuff like knights wearing sandwich boards. Is it supposed to be a comedy or a parody of Arthurian mythology? Again, I don't think so because it's not that funny and has a very dark and miserable ending. The tone seems all over the place and I'm just not sure what I'm supposed to be getting from it.
 
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I’m catching up on my backlog of The Goon and My Little Pony. Season 10 of the latter is coming out, so I want to be up to date.
After I’m done I’ll probably reread Lady Mechanika or Legends of Magic/Nightmare Knights.
 

Thaluikhain

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Oh, Lady Mechanika...which is not bad, there just seems to be something missing. Maybe it's the worldbuilding.

I am pleasantly surprised, though, as I though it'd just be cashing in on the gimmick of Lady Mechanika having her appearance (at least initially) based on Kato, but, no, they put actual stories in there.
 

Johnny Novgorod

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, by Mark Twain. I don't know about this one. I find it hard to swallow how dumb everybody is presented to be in the middle ages. I don't actually think people were any stupider a thousand years ago, just they didn't have the education to understand the world as we do today. The main character is also some kind of absolute genius, being able to recreate so much 19th century technology from memory without any of the modern day infrastructure, and in only a couple of decades. My suspension of disbelief was strained many many times over the course of the book.
The time travelling didn't set the tone for you?
 

SupahEwok

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The time travelling didn't set the tone for you?
Plus it's a pretty obvious parody of chivalric tales, especially Le Morte d'Arthur. Not to mention, it's one of the very first time travel stories. They didn't have the internet in the 1800s, and the common (and even the educated) did not have awareness of the full scope of the literary field. For many, the time travel and parody of the at-the-time idealized Dark/Middle Ages was incredibly fresh.
 

Drathnoxis

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The time travelling didn't set the tone for you?
And what tone is that supposed to be? Because the tone seemed very inconsistent chapter to chapter.
Plus it's a pretty obvious parody of chivalric tales, especially Le Morte d'Arthur. Not to mention, it's one of the very first time travel stories. They didn't have the internet in the 1800s, and the common (and even the educated) did not have awareness of the full scope of the literary field. For many, the time travel and parody of the at-the-time idealized Dark/Middle Ages was incredibly fresh.
See, I suspect that's the case, but I have no experience with the kind of work he's parodying so the effect is lost on me. My understanding of a parody is that its supposed to be funny, and Connecticut Yankee its just not a very enjoyable work. What little humour is present is just dumb, such as knights wearing sandwich boards and selling newspapers to a population that isn't even literate. A good majority of the book is spent soapboxing against everything Twain doesn't like, such as the church. Most of the rest of the book is spent laying out the logistics of implementing the 19th century in the 13th, which is not believable in the way it's presented. And the later chapters get to be a very miserable affair with a downer ending.

The science fiction aspects of the book conflict with the parody aspects, and he seems to commit to neither wholly.
 

Johnny Novgorod

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And what tone is that supposed to be? Because the tone seemed very inconsistent chapter to chapter.
It's a comedy. Some parts are more serious than others but the novel is consistently parodying the romantic notions associated with Arthurian legend by importing modern-day tech/rationale without too much hassle. What are the odds that the protagonist would 1) just so happen to know about this one eclipse hundreds of years ago, 2) just so happen to be executed around that same time and 3) use this foreknowledge with such laser precision to his advantage? The point is how easily knowledge can conquer superstition, and how knowledge essentially means power.
 
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CM156

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I just finished Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou, which is about the rise and fall of Theranos and its founder, Elizabeth Holmes. Her trial was supposed to start this month, but COVID-19 has pushed it back until later this year.

Fantastic book. Cannot recommend it enough. I'm amazed that she and her company got away with as much as they did for as long as they did.
 

SckizoBoy

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Oh, Lady Mechanika...which is not bad, there just seems to be something missing. Maybe it's the worldbuilding.

I am pleasantly surprised, though, as I though it'd just be cashing in on the gimmick of Lady Mechanika having her appearance (at least initially) based on Kato, but, no, they put actual stories in there.
That's a title I haven't seen in a while, but damn I really need to read that, and catch up with Monstress.

Can't really read comics unless it's online and I much prefer TPB's (which is a pity because they're really difficult to obtain in my part of the world).

But anyway, at the moment slowly making my way through War Does Not Have a Woman's Face, Svetlana Alexievich... again.

It's a comedy. Some parts are more serious than others but the novel is consistently parodying the romantic notions associated with Arthurian legend by importing modern-day tech/rationale without too much hassle. What are the odds that the protagonist would 1) just so happen to know about this one eclipse hundreds of years ago, 2) just so happen to be executed aroudn that same time and 3) use this foreknowledge with such laser precision to his advantage? The point is how easily knowledge can conquer superstition, and how knowledge essentially means power.
A part of me thinks that it's because of the archaic writing style, the comedy aspect of an unedited version fails to come across to a fair proportion of modern readership because turn of phrase, vocabulary and generally accepted literary vernacular was so much different. Like, at first reading of 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, it's difficult to interpret Ned Land's character as being a jock because, to modern audiences, he seems pretty eloquent. Similarly, it takes more than a casual read through of Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems to realise not only that Salviati & Sagredo are being colossal trolls, but how. Or perhaps I'm just a cretin... -.-
 

Agema

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I just finished Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou, which is about the rise and fall of Theranos and its founder, Elizabeth Holmes. Her trial was supposed to start this month, but COVID-19 has pushed it back until later this year.

Fantastic book. Cannot recommend it enough. I'm amazed that she and her company got away with as much as they did for as long as they did.
"It's not what you know but who you know", I think would sum it up from a very long newspaper piece I read on it. It's a fascinating story though.

Still, at least some of the major losers from amongst Theranos's investors are some pretty awful people.
 

Drathnoxis

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Looking Backwards: 2000-1887 by Edward Bellamy.

Wow, Edward had high hopes for the future. We've far surpassed his vision technologically, but socially we've fallen completely flat. Honestly, his system sounds pretty good, I'd be willing to ditch capitalism and give it a shot. The only thing was his view of women, while pretty progressive for the time, is still a bit behind what it is now.

I was expecting a quite different book. I was kind of hoping to be able to laugh at all the weird inventions a guy from the 19th century thought that we would have at this point, but it really wasn't that kind of book. It was more like the opposite of 1984.
 

Hawki

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After Earth (3/5)

As the title suggests, this is a novelization of the film After Earth. I know the film doesn't have the best of reputations, but I haven't seen it, so can't really comment. The good news about the novelization is one can easily read it without any knowledge of the film, let alone the wider After Earth expanded universe. The bad news is that the book has notable issues.

I'll give the author credit, the novelization isn't just a scene for scene retelling of the film. There's basically two parallel stories going of sorts. The first, and primary one, is the story of the film, taking place in 1000AE (1000 years after mankind left Earth). The second story takes place from the leadup to that exodus to just a few years before the present, with each section focusing on a new member of the Raige Family (the ancestors of the protagonist), and in doing so, detailing how we got from Earth to Nova Prime, encountered the skrel, and so on. On this front, I'm mixed. On one hand, this does make for good worldbuilding, even if some of the details are iffy (the population is way too calm when it comes to leaving Earth since only a fraction of mankind can be saved, and it appears that interstellar travel in this setting is purely from one spiral arm to the next), and the skrel are iffy as well (their entire strategy seems to be dropping ursas). On the other hand, none of the flashback stuff really connects to the stuff occurring in the present. Like, say I write a book about John Doe, and have flashbacks concerning James Doe, Jane Doe, and Jonathan Doe. It might be interesting to learn about these characters, but if they don't have that much bearing on John himself. I have a feeling that these flashbacks exist to either:

a) Pad the story

b) Sell the wider expanded universe that After Earth tried to launch

c) The author wanted to flesh out the story himself

But whatever the case, while there's nothing wrong with the content of the flashbacks in of themselves (bar what I've described above), their link to what's going on in the present is tenuous.

Speaking of the present, it's here that we get the material of the movie that the book covers. Weirdly enough, everything up to them arriving on Earth is more interesting than being on Earth itself, though I think some of that has to do with the fact that I don't think novels are condusive towards action scenes, while movies, by virtue of being a visual medium, are. So when Kitai's running around on Earth, it's tedious. Everything on Nova Prime prior to that however, is reasonably interesting. There's a strong sense of worldbuilding here, even if, as I described above, elements of the worldbuilding are iffy. Also, regardless of how people feel about the film and the characters in it, I do like the characters here. I don't know if Will Smith was miscast, as so many people have said (again, haven't seen the film), but I think the novel captures the characters of Cypher and Kitai well. You could say it's a cliche (war-weary soldier who's emotionally stunted due to his experiences, coupled with a son who wants to follow in his father's footsteps, even if he's not cut out for it, but it's a cliche that at least works here, even if "adequately" is the word to use rather than "spectacuarly." Also, I don't buy the idea that Will Smith can't do toned down, serious roles, because this is a world where I Am Legend and Concussion exist, but that's another matter.

So, at the least, the book's decent.
 

Johnny Novgorod

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Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

Burroughs spent 15 years a heroin addict (and a thief, trafficker and murderer). He took notes in The Sickness, and then published them under the title Naked Lunch (Kerouac misquoted "naked lust" et voila). This isn't a confessional, like Junkie or Queer. This is rampant nonsense and there's not point to it. In the annexes to the revised version Burroughs writes more lucidly and reports on his many addictions like he's a correspondent for a war against himself. What a sad, pathetic man. In the text he's simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by his own homosexuality, and I guess his incoherent 'routines', as he called chapters with no flow or causality between them, were meant to express that inner conflct. The novel was a big deal back when you couldn't say this or that in reputable print but now comes across as desperate to shock and offend, way too juvenile to be taken seriously.
 

Hawki

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Black Kkklansman (3/5)

This is the book that inspired the film. For better or worse though, having seen the film, my view on the book is, ahem, coloured by it (is that a racist joke?)

The thing I noticed here is that the film, at times, adapted events pretty much verbatim, while leaving out some elements entirely, while also inventing entirely new ones. It's actually where the book and film meet that I became most invested. For instance, David Duke did indeed talk to Ron Stallworth over the phone, and maintained that he knew he wasn't black because of the way he talked. Also, Ron Stallworth did indeed have his photo taken with Duke after being assigned to him as a bodyguard. On the other hand, the events of the book don't always make it to the film. For instance, the KKK did indeed try to establish a chapter in Colorado Springs, but they were met by counter-groups as well, which the police department was just as concerned about. Groups ranging from the Black Panthers to far left groups - the Posse, or something. Basically, a 70s version of Antifa. What strikes me about the novel is that it's eerilly parallel to modern times, that far right groups will be met by far left groups. And it isn't just me making that connection, Stallworth states as such in the book itself. And like the film, the book ends on a very pesimistic note, that in his opinion, not much as changed in the US.

That all being said, I couldn't really get into the book. It's not poorly written or anything, but I guess the film gave me expectations of events whereas in the book, things are much more down to earth.
 

Hawki

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Islamophilia: A Metropolitan Malady (3/5)

This book was released in 2013, but recently was republished. It got it for about $5, and at around 60 pages, it's a brief read. And reading it, the book manages to feel both dated, yet eeriily pertinent.

I think a lot of us are aware of this, that there is, or at least was, a tendency to treat Islam with kid's gloves. The constant assertions of "Islam is a religion of peace" every time there was violence done in its name. The way that South Park could get away with mocking every religion except Islam. The way that few people objected to Dawkins criticizing Christianity, but how the gears changed when he criticized Islam. The way Islamophobia was weaponized in such a way that criticism of Islam itself could be deemed Islamophobic. I fell into this trap as well back in the day, and was just as guilty of it. Something to say is that the book doesn't dispute the existence of Islamophobia, at least in as much that bigotry towards individual Muslims exists and should be called out, but it does examine what Murray calls Islamophilia. That there was, and to an extent is, this bizzare fawning over Islam within society (mainly on the left, but even on the right to an extent), subjecting it to different standards from other Abrahamic religions.

Something I should note is that part of the reason I haven't ranked this book higher is that Murray's style of writing is eloquent, but sometimes too eloquent for its own good. It's flowery, but can come across as a pean, and there's no actual statistics cited. It's more a collection of individual events to present the thesis. Now, it's a thesis I agree with, but someone could easily ask for harder data. That being said, it does present a pattern that I do recall. Like I said, the book partly feels antiquated, because the stuff Murray describes feels a bit like old news. On the other, the same patterns he describes are repeated today via outrage culture. As in, people being offended on behalf of other people, and insisting that they be offended, and if they aren't, they don't understand why the supposedly offensive thing is actually offensive. The book has no shortage of these examples.

The counter-argument is, of course, that Murray is playing a game of what-aboutism? Murray, by his own admission, is "culturally Christian" (despite being atheist), so you could argue that he's going to sway a certain way on the issue. However, I have two points in contrast to this. One, examples highlighted in the book don't just include double standards, they include absolutely ahistorical statements. I forget the details, but one is a statement that "Europe is as historically Muslim as it is Christian." Okay, how? You could make that argument for Spain and Portugal, and maybe areas of eastern Europe, but the continent as a whole? No. Or when some scholars claim that people like Copernicus were actually Muslim, and the existence of science itself owes itself to Islam. It reminds me of nutters who insist that the pyramids were built by aliens, because there's no way the Egyptians could build such structures themselves. The difference is that such claims about the pyramids aren't treated seriously, while the above claims are, or at least were, being treated seriously.

The second point is that there's clear cases of double standards that I can't attribute to whataboutism. For instance, I still remember when Richard Dawkins tweeted out that he found the sound of church bells to be more pleasant than the Adan. Before long, he was being yelled at for being "Islamophobic," and not just on Twitter, by people within Al Jazeera. Hami Morsi (sp?) listed Dawkins as a "notorious Islamophobe." Okay, how? Dawkins has spent most of his time criticizing Christianity. But daring to say he dislikes the sound of the Adan, or extending his anti-theism to Islam? Suddenly the conversation changes. If "Islamophobic" extends to criticizing Islam (which at least one group listed in the work is/was attempting to do), then we're in big trouble. And this doesn't extend to Islam, it's the same way that anti-semitism can be weaponized against stuff like BDS, but keeping this on topic, then yes, it does become a problem. To borrow a quote from Majid Nawaz, "no person is below dignity, and no idea is above scrutiny."

So, have things changed? Well, like I said, the same behaviours described in the book haven't gone away, they've just morphed into new fields. But focusing on the book itself, it's mixed. It's preaching to the choir, it's a bit too anecdotal, but at the same time, it remains pertinent to the idiosyncracies we see in discourse today.
 

Johnny Novgorod

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The Children's Story by James Clavell

This is a short, very on the nose, pretty effective cautionary tale about the perils of indoctrination as staged here in an ordinary American classroom where a "New Teacher" takes over, not-so-subtly but very effectively leading the kids into blindly adopting a new ideology. Never mind that this newfangled blind ideology is merely replacing another: the book is clearly feeding on the Red Scare and is meant to spook parents, just as the author was spooked into writing this book. Still I have to admire how efficiently and portentously it's set up.