Tag Archives: Reviews

A Hungry Journey to Light a Fire

I just finished reading The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin.

The planet Urras is orbited by it’s moon Anarres. 200 years ago anarchists inspired by the philosopher Odo left Urras and moved to the harsh frontiers of Anarres to be free and live a life without masters, property or law. They formed a new language without the bloody history of property baked into it. They struggled together and overcame together. But the door is shut. No one emigrates from Urras and no one emigrates from Anarres. Each is afraid of being infected by the other’s ideas.

“And nobody hungry?”

“Nobody goes hungry while another eats.”

“Ah.”

“But we have been hungry. We have starved.”

Shevek is a brilliant physicist on Anarres, who wants to study, to learn, to create and to share the new ideas he’s created. He finds the support on Anarres wanes the further he goes from accepted norms and ideas. He finds that even on Anarres, there are centralized pockets of power. The revolution is never complete. In times of struggle, ideals are tested, power centralizes… And the center often holds.

“I got full rations: I earned them. I earned them by making lists of who should starve.”

He finds that his physics have a more receptive audience on propertarian Urras. We meet him as he climbs, empty handed, aboard a trade ship to spread his physics and his Odonian ideals on Urras.

More plot than most of her books, it still turns back into a person on a journey. Shevek is on a journey from his anarchic home to a capitalist world. What propels him from a simple world of shared struggles? Why leave? When he arrives can he accomplish his goals? Is there something he can do that the people there couldn’t do for themselves? Will he be trapped and neutralized by the soft prison of luxury?

And how can he return home? What awaits an anarchist who is seen to turn his back on the revolution?

I love the deep thinking about language and the practice of mutual aid in a land with few resources. I love the true struggle to stay good when the droughts hit. And the challenge that centralization and coordination always brings. Everything is dealt with in indirect ways that paint larger pictures just out of sight, beyond the edge of the book.

Highly recommend.

Fables Compendium One: Things Happen One After Another

I was always recommended Fables when I talked about how much I liked The Sandman.

This isn’t a grand story about the power of story or a new perspective on old tales. It’s a lot of stories with the names of characters you’ve heard of before.

The characters are only loosely connected to their sources and they change abilities and temperament to suit the plot of the week.

We learn nothing, we don’t grow while reading it and one thing just sort of happens after another. There are real risks and losses though! The author doesn’t wiggle out of death or consequences, which gives some stakes to the conflicts.

I would not recommend this to someone who says they loved The Sandman.

I originally reviewed Fables Compendium One over on BookWyrm, where we could connect and natter about books

Mar 2024 Media Diet

Books

The Status Civilization Robert Sheckley is a weird old SF writer that I very much love. I didn’t love this one.

Continuing to read The Power Broker, but now in conversation with my dad, which is pretty awesome.

Movies

TV

Dicktown

An adult animation about two sad sacks who form a detective agency. Loved it. John Hodgman (known for being a PC) has somehow made a career out being boring. Here he is a private detective who peaked in high school, assisted by David Rees, who used to be his bully. David Rees is so fascinating. I first found him through his web comics about fighting and filing and war. I didn’t follow him as he did deep dives of the mundane, like starting an artisanal pencil sharpening service – but it’s great to see this exploration of maturity and growth in such a silly format.

Blackfish City – urban ecopocalypse seasteading heist

Just finished Sam Miller’s beautiful book in the wee dark hours and it is a GEM. Qaanaaq is a place – I can see it and feel it’s culture, smell the noodles and the brine, feel the bitter cold. It’s like a long Geoff Manaugh article come to life. The nano-bonded orca-amazon that opens the book is one of the least weird things in it.

This book is start to finish what Robin Sloan calls gold coins, fascinating little surprises. Beyond the end actually – in the acknowledgments I discovered Bradley Silver’s modern tattoo work at white rabbit studio.

I enjoyed this as much as The Fifth Season, which is to say: immensely. Ended up checking it out twice from the NYPL on my Kobo just to savor through it.

Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

Finished Walkaway last night. It’s the hard utopian bit of wonderful you need in dark times. To live in the first days of a better nation, you have to build and believe that you can be in that nation before it is supported.

In Walkaway, the rich keep getting richer, the poor get poorer, the middle class is gutted out of society, fearfully scrambling to keep out of poverty and ignoring how close they are to being out on the street. Automation keeps progressing and the uber wealthy don’t need surplus people.

There’s no death camps, there’s just no jobs and no safety net and no healthcare for the unneeded.

So some folks walk away from money and just do for each other. That’s a threat to the base of a greed-sick society, so that society moves to protect itself.

The police are sent to deal with these terrorists and thieves.

The walkaway road is very hard and very dangerous and some people die.

I’m more energized than before to act to fix the place where I love, because what I do matters.  (You too.)

Two weeks with the Kobo Aura One

My nook finally died, so I upgraded to a Kobo Aura One. 

I wanted to treat myself to a really good e-reader.

Why not another nook? Meh. I heard that this one was pretty amazing. I don’t really like being locked into one store. Why not a kindle? Amazon already knows a hell of a lot about me and my family, we don’t really need to give them anymore info.

Besides, I heard a group of loyal and passionate readers contributed to the design of this reader. That’s a good sign that they made product testing part of the campaign.

What I like about it:

  • It’s waterproof. I can read in the tub or the rain. Which I do.
  • The integration with Pocket works great. Instead of falling down a twitter hole into an article in the morning, I can just send it to Pocket and set up a bunch of great reading on the subway.
  • You can check out books from the library right from it! This is a big deal – I can’t stand having to hook the thing up to a computer to transfer library books in.
  • I like the auto-warm light for nighttime.
  • Little stats all through it warm my nerd heart! Lots of little measures of how fast you’re reading or how many minutes of book you’ve got left sprinkled throughout the interface.
  • Easy to load on e-pub files!

Could be better:

It’s too big. Only fits in one jacket I own! My nook used to even fit in my back jeans pocket.

Wishlist:

I wish I could buy an e-reader that could integrate with my Calibre library of drm-free epub files. If I’m on a wi-fi network with a Calibre library, why can’t I have some sort of UPNP browsing through the books I’ve got? I’d chip in on development if this were a thing someone was making.

 

Review: The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read so much ABOUT this book that I thought I read it. Everyone talks about the gender fluid sex, but it isn’t that big of a deal in the story.

Duality and oneness are the themes – the most upfront example is how gender works on Winter, but there’s also the differences in how the main societies and governments function with openness/decentralized/feudal vs closed/centralized/communal.

The political intrigues that drive our protagonist across societies and from civilization into wilderness are gripping – and then it turns into an endurance adventure. I didn’t see that coming! Also, I’m not that into endurance adventures.

I’m probably going to reread this in a few years to see if I notice more.

View all my reviews