This was an interesting book, but there were parts of it that made me uncomfortable and I'm not 100% sure why.
First, there was the obligatory literatuThis was an interesting book, but there were parts of it that made me uncomfortable and I'm not 100% sure why.
First, there was the obligatory literature review. The author goes back into the history of Britain and Ireland, both the archeology we know, the history that has been written, and the myths and stories that are squeezed in-between. The disturbing part comes when he starts looking at how the myths have been used as justification of rulers and how those same myths (about Brutus the Trojan first king of Britain, or Arthur defending the Island from Saxon invaders, or "pure" Germanic ingenuity and strength) morphed into pseudo-science supporting racism. I want to just reject phrenology or ratings of "nigritude" used to justify colonialism and social darwinsim out of hand, and yet the author is saying that these works are direct predecessors to his own project chronicled in this book. That does not make me confident in the science, insights, or concusions drawn.
Next we have the science itself and how the author treats it. DNA science is amazing and has opened whole vistas of exploration of humanity. However, it is still constrained by other sciences including statistics. When the author apologizes for numbers run to 16 decimal places I become nervous again. Instead of statistical analysis, Sykes wants to tell us personal stories. And so we don't talk about haplotypes, but instead we hear about the clans of Jasmine or Wodan. I understand that this makes the work more accessible to those turned-off by the math, but it fundamentally isn't true. There was no clan of Tara exploring the Atlantic coast in small boats. There were people, maybe arranged in clans, but also of mixed genetic hertage that is not represented in mitochondrial DNA. Creating these named "clans" is poetic, but severly reductive.
And finally, I'm uncomforatble with what that reductiveness becomes, especially when dealing with m-DNA or Y-chromosome data. It is easier to analyze these DNA bits because they are sex-specific. That way Sykes can talk about unbroken lines of mothers and daughters or fathers and sons without addressing the mixing of genes in the rest of DNA. But this focus on sex can lead to braod gender-based statements and conclusions. Are we 100% certain the Norse settlement of Orkney was peaceful because there is Scandinavian maternal DNA there? So there must have been families - there were no Viking female warriors keeping Scottish men in their longhouses for their pleasure? Sure, the histories don't mention boatloads of invading valkyries, but they don't talk about hausfraus either. The science is silent and so Sykes is happy with his poetry without realizing how much it is a reflection of himself and his predecessors, and all of their horrible assumptions in their "science."...more
**spoiler alert** So we picked this up for May just before watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as a family. May immediately saw the parralel**spoiler alert** So we picked this up for May just before watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as a family. May immediately saw the parralels of leading a prisoner revolt against an evil overlord forcing people to dig in mines to find the MacGuffin. She wondered aloud if the enslaved kid who broke open the rock holding one of the Sankarra stones would be awarded a prize as the prisoners in Zita were promised. The pulp is strong in this one.
It was good to see that Mouse's despair in book two over Zita's spaceship theft is seen again as she finds she cannot defend herself against the warden's charges on this count. This is compounded by the reveal of Joseph as the Ghost and his bitterness over abandonded to slavers instead of sent home as Zita had thought.
That said, Joseph has done pretty well for himself as the Ghost and is a pretty good Batman analog with a gritty anger that had me fooled for much of the book.
Zita tries to pull a Prince and the Pauper and ends up being pursued by the Doom Patrol.
There's a pretty deep idea buried in this book about what it mZita tries to pull a Prince and the Pauper and ends up being pursued by the Doom Patrol.
There's a pretty deep idea buried in this book about what it means to be a hero. On the front of it you have Zita trying to avoid her public hero persona contrasted with the Zita-bot's pursuit of that acclaim. The there's the giant's hero-drive that conflates heroism with self-sacrifice. But there's a deeper look buried in there. The Zita-bot doesn't just replace Zita, it researches what it means to be a hero. And Zita is not perfect, Mouse's sad reaction of "now we are criminals" to Zita swiping a space-ship is very telling, and not becasue it maens Zita will be pursued by the Doom Patrol and lose her public hero persona. Mouse has been on the wrong side of the law before....more
For a start, geography as a field of study is an interesting lens to try and view the "black world" thrThis book is more than a little bit depressing.
For a start, geography as a field of study is an interesting lens to try and view the "black world" through. After all, even if they are "off-the-books", secret projects and groups still have to be somewhere. The idea of learning about secrets by marking out the boundaries that they declared off-limits is definitely interesting. However, this book doesn't stay in this old-school geography mean for long, quickly getting into more historical and political narratives.
I definitely appreciate the lengths that the author went to to keep the stories and narrative rooted in the real world. When talking about Area 51, the Skunk Works, the CIA, stealth sattelites, and Central American death squads it can be very easy to wander into full-on conspiracy-nut territory.
The story told here about the black world is fundamentally very disturbing. This is a HUGE amount of space, effort, and money going into efforts that are beyond the review of the people. And it's pretty clear that most of it is beyond the review of pretty much anyone. The potential for abuse is huge and inevitably the abuse is there - not just torture or indefinite detainment or gabbing the wrong suspects. Those could be written off as serving the purpose of the programs (haorribly). But also cut-corners like burning toxic chemicals and getting your construction workers sick, or covering up bad airplane maintenance under a claim of state-secrets. These do nothing to promote the country's security - it's just finding an easy way out to cover for incompetance.
The most damning thesis in this book is that Justice Breyer's famous saying that sunshine is the best disinfectant isn't the case with the black world. In the world of the secret government, when illegal secret behavior is revealed, the black world gets to redefine what's legal and change the "white" world to match. NSA warrentless wiretaps are clearly illegal as long as they are secret - when revealed, they are retroactively legalized. Torture? Now OK. Assasination? Sure.
The world of black sites and black programs is huge. I have know and continue to know people who work in the black world. The company I work for is expanding into the black world. I'm sure they'd all try to make a distinction between the "acceptable" black world they work in and the "dirty" black world of Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, Iran-Contra, or the Phoenix Program. But by looking at the sites and the plane flights and the holes in the laws (not to mention the missing sattelites), Paglen makes a pretty good case that there is no bright line here - it is all part of a parrallel government, military, industry, economy, and society....more
I'm not sure how to feel about this book. As a preacher's kid (PK), I felt like a knew a lot more about the world the author was entering than he wasI'm not sure how to feel about this book. As a preacher's kid (PK), I felt like a knew a lot more about the world the author was entering than he was (even with my more New Testament focus versus his Old Testament familiarity). Way too much of what he entered into was gimmicky and kinda insulting for that.
To clarify, I'm not really insulted on behalf of religion or the religous - I'm pretty wel atheist myself, sometimes an angry one at that. It was more the mocking was uncalled for. For all that Mr. Jacobs claims to have been trying to live biblically, he fails to realize that no one ever lived according to all the precepts of the Bible. When you read the Bible, you are reading only one side in a debate, argument, and even war.
Case in point - a recent visit to a exhibit on the Dead Sea scrolls. About halfway through as we are being shown what life was like at the time of the Essenes who wrote the scrolls. There are displays of household items and discussipons of different cultures in the area. And then there's a whole wall covered in statuettes - of Asherah - the wife of Yahweh, the Hebrew God. never heard of her? She gets a bunch of play in the Bible, but usually insulting, forbidding, sideways comments. But there she is. Such statuettes were common at the time. Make no graven images and have no gods before God are the rules of the priestly and the scribes who wrote the Bible, not always the rules of the people.
And note it is the Wife of God who has been erased. The lurking misogyny in the old rules is mentioned in Jacobs' travels and trevails, but it never seems to be one of the things that really disturbs him about trying to live by the Bible. His wife, hilariously at times, sadly at others, does not approve of many of the gendered rules. I question why impurity rules that originally applied only to entering the Temple are still applied if they seem to affect women.
Yes, I know, this was mostly a humor book. It was designed to have you laughing at the author and the freaky religious folks and then have a bit of catharsis at how even the weirdos are kinds just like us too. But ultimately, the whole thing just feels a bit too much like a shallow stunt....more
There are really two parts to this review, a discussion of the history and a discussion of the book.
For being a bit of a WWII history affiThere are really two parts to this review, a discussion of the history and a discussion of the book.
For being a bit of a WWII history afficianado I was woefully ignorant of the specifics of the Norwegian campaign before reading this book. As with so many bits of WWII, I was surprised by the low-percetage chances and absurd coincidences that seem to crop-up with disturbing regularity in the period. The fact that both the Germans and British independently had invasion forces prepped and even sailing for various Norwegian ports is just odd - I can get that certain days present the best invasion conditions, but if the Brits hadn't disembarked their force bound for Trondheim, the two invasion fleets would have met in the fjord and the Norwegians would have had to choose who to welcome and who to fight.
The British unpreparedness for modern warfare in Norways and the contempt they portrayed towards their Norwegian allies is particularly illustritive of the Brits views of themselves as a Great Power. It also serves as a good background to understand the later power struggles between British and US forces for leadership in coalition as described in An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 among other sources.
I read this as an e-book and I would NOT suggest doing so to anyone else. Yes it meant that I was not lugging around a relative tome and could easily read on the subway. However, I did not encounter the maps until the end of the text and these were not well rendered on my e-reader screen. Without an easy way to refer to maps (and flip between them and the text), much of the nitty-gritty of operational histories became a list of interesting sounding small towns, mountains, and lakes in Norway. I resorted to Google Maps just to give myself some orientation, but the text tended to be more detailed and I didn't have internet connection on those subway rides.
That relates to a larger point. Even after seeing the maps, I feel like there should have 2-3 times as many. This book is amazingly detailed, breaking down the action to company and at times platoon level - especially in the Narvik campaign. I feel like there was an opportunity here to really glean some tactical as well as strategic knowledge from the study of the campaign, but without clear visual aides, this was impossible.
In many ways I feel like Lunde was trying to write a much more academic military analysis limited to the Narvik campaign and his editor talked him into trying to write a more general audience history of the whole Norwegian invasion. I'm not the best judge of the success in writing an academic/military analysis, but I can say he missed the mark on the general audience history. This book clearly assumes the reader is familiar with the broader campaign, the personalities involved, and previous works written from British, Norwegian, and German perspectives.
All told, I think I likely would have abandoned this book if a) I hadn't had such a gap in my knowledge of the campaign, and b) didn't have limited access to other books due to construction on my apartment....more
Not to blame Kevin the giraffe - who doesn't love some urban feral giraffe jokes?
No, my problem was thaOK, this was one of the worse Stephanie novels.
Not to blame Kevin the giraffe - who doesn't love some urban feral giraffe jokes?
No, my problem was that the solution to the mystery was nearly pure chance. None of Stephanie's detective work or perseverance moved her any closer to the solution to her problems - just time for the book to wrap-up, so bang, it wraps up. ...more
I remember being somewhat frustrated by the vagueness of the Order of the Brass Octopus in the Parasol ProtecMore Sophronia - and more world-building.
I remember being somewhat frustrated by the vagueness of the Order of the Brass Octopus in the Parasol Protectorate. Now we see that group (maybe) is a larger ecosystem of secret societies and power-structures....more
Most of these stories were re-reads for me. The first is a bit rough (as Jim Butcher notes). I'm a little annoyed the various Bigfoot stories aren't iMost of these stories were re-reads for me. The first is a bit rough (as Jim Butcher notes). I'm a little annoyed the various Bigfoot stories aren't included, but I guess they were written later. I still have to track-down the first.
Since Changes the Dresden books have been a bit darker with Harry more isolated. I'm glad to see Harry and Murphy back together.More Harry. More fun.
Since Changes the Dresden books have been a bit darker with Harry more isolated. I'm glad to see Harry and Murphy back together. Michael has never been my favorite partner for Harry - Christian mythology is often a difficult fit in other aspects of urban fantasy. That said, where the story goes with Butters and the Swords was fun....more
I feel like this could have been a much better book. My complaints come from two places.
First, the framing of the book is difficult to follow. Over-alI feel like this could have been a much better book. My complaints come from two places.
First, the framing of the book is difficult to follow. Over-all there is a chronological flow, but (especially in the first few chapters) there are multiple digressions to explore related stories or flash-backs to explain a personage or place. Sometimes the hooks for these side-stories are astoundingly weak to hold-up entire chapters. The net effect is less charmingly ecclectic than frustratingly jumbled.
My second complaint is probably just a reflection of my anger at current events. I had some trouble finding the various main characters likable. Upstate New Yorker socialite ladies - Dorothy and Ros fit the description quite well. And the knowledge that thier town and culture was abolitionist and pro-women's suffrage reflects well. But the sense of privilege among this culture is amazingly high. Auburn, NY owes its wealth to the cheap labor of abused prisoners from Sing Sing Prison. Time spent rubbing elbows with counts or dukes in Europe is de rigeur.
On the other side, Colorado is full of hard-bitten, salt-fo-the-earth characters. And yet our main protagonist here is Farrington Carpenter, Harvard Law graduate turned cowboy-lawyer. The facts of the Homestead Act (still in place in the 1910s here) allowing for the free claim of land (after the local Ute tribe was driven off) feels like an astounding give-away. Yes, Ferry is all in favor of educating the children of homesteaders and building communities in the mountains - but much of the plan to bring college-girls out west to be teachers is to "increase the pool of potential wives" - mainly for himself and his close friends (not that he's above posting pictures for the local cowboys to review and vote on.
I know I'm being too harsh here. Times have changed (thank the diety of your choice). But I feel like this is too thin a slice to be a slice-of-life story. ...more
There's a predicable story started here, the outsider teen, a RPG gamer even, who finds a mystical artifact is declared the Chosen One to a mystical rThere's a predicable story started here, the outsider teen, a RPG gamer even, who finds a mystical artifact is declared the Chosen One to a mystical realm (often outside our own, in this case lying in hidden parralel). But that's not the good part.
The good part is being inside the head and life of an elite-level female athlete in a low-recognition sport (in this case fencing). Aliera has a compelling voice and sense of place in New York City. You feel the battling priorities of her sport, her family, her school, and her growth into a dating life.
I'm sure I could dig deeper into the meaning of Avery and his ubiquitous smile and beuatiful baby-butt smooth cheeks (her words, not mine). Aliera is certainly aware of the metaphors between fencing and flirting with her coach's assertion to "protect her heart" echoing in her ears. I feel like I need to read all the frog-dissection scenes again with an eye to the end-game reveals.
I'm not sure how to feel about there being a volume 2 to this book, Curses! Foiled Again. It seems obvious that there would be more; and I finished wanting more. The first book is an origin story for a hero and leaves many questions about what the world really is and what agendas are moving unanswered. And yet, I'm nervous that a second volume will focus too much on the adventure and not on the character of Aliera.
If May gets around to reading this and really likes it, we'll get our hands on book 2. If not, I'm happy to let Aliera's future adventures remain a haze of possibilities....more
So I started reading this book and connections just kept popping out at me. It was kinda disconcerting.
1) Went to see the latest Marvel movie (CaptainSo I started reading this book and connections just kept popping out at me. It was kinda disconcerting.
1) Went to see the latest Marvel movie (Captain America 2) and Operation paperclip gets a shout-out from Black Widow. That's how Hydra infiltrated SHIELD. 2) Get a company presentation on all the other places we staff with contractors and high on the list is the former Paperclip-staffed former-bioweapons lab at Plum Island, NY. 3) Rent a movie at home (Star Trek: Into Darkness) and former war-criminal Khan Noonian Singh has been recruited by the Federation to design weapons to defeat the Klingons. 4) Amanda asks about "chemtrails" after seeing them used as an example of insane conspiracy theories - and yet here's a passage about former Nazis spraying US fields with "harmless" bacteria to see how they would spread.
So, yes, these ideas resonate now.
I enjoyed the first sections first. There was much more of a detective-story aspect as multiple teams of Allied scientists and investigators descend on a dying Nazi Germany to secure all the loose scientific equipment and personnel. It seemed a better-funded if more secret compliment to .The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. But the various teams' agendas don't all match. Some are coming to get tools and weapons to fight Japan and soon the Soviet Union. Others are trying to stop, document, and punish atrocities.
The the war-crimes trials and the real Operation Paperclip begin. It almost looks like a flip-of-the-coin to see who will end up on trial and in prison (or hanged) and who gets to move to America to restart their lives. And it isn't a one-time flip either. people move back and forth - one day on an Air Force Base in Ohio, then in the dock at Nuremburg, then prdoned and back out in a US-run lab in Heidelberg.
Annie Jacobsen clearly intends the reader to be horrified at the compromises US officials make in the name of National Security. For a reason I can't quite nail-down, I couldn't quite get raging angry. Part of it is a bit of fatigue - in comparison to concentration camps, how bad is hiring some Nazi scientists. Part of it is distance in time - the closed doors of archives did their intended job and kept those who were in or ran these programs from facing questions in their life-times and the anger wanes when the culprits are dead. Part of it is transitive - is a Nazi scientist who researched biological weapons and wanted to use concentration camp victims as test subjects worse than a US CIA experimenter who doses his own colleagues with LSD without their knowledge (leading to suicide - or at least that's the best case interpretation).
It's all awful.
In many ways I guess this book bridges the WWII era and the Cold War to show how the over-the-top operatic villains of the first era were replaced by the banality-and-ubiquity-of-evil villans of the second era, even when they were sometimes the same people....more
Ken Hite is always fun. I'm more than a little bit of a WWII buff, but I consistently couldn't identify the line between history and fiction in this bKen Hite is always fun. I'm more than a little bit of a WWII buff, but I consistently couldn't identify the line between history and fiction in this book....more
Unfortunately I have to classify this volume as (so far) the weakest of the Clockwork Century books. I think the failure is due to the divided narratiUnfortunately I have to classify this volume as (so far) the weakest of the Clockwork Century books. I think the failure is due to the divided narration between Josephine and Andan. While Boneshaker also had divided narration (between Briar and Zeke), the two views felt like two sides of the same coin and Briar's POV easily carried me through my annoyance at Zeke's adolescent stupidity - in fact Zeke's naivete helped color Briar's world-weariness.
Andy and Josephine don't mesh as well. Their stories are too far apart and they have little chemistry when they exist on the page together. If I had to cut one narrator out of the story, I'm not sure whose story I would rather see.
Fundamentally, the main plot is Josephine's. She is the one connected to the strong sense of place in New Orleans. She is the one who connects the submarine, the guerillas, the Texians [sic], the zombis [sic again], the pirates, the voudou [I'm getting sic of this now] queen, and Captain Cly into the main narrative(s).
But it is Andan Cly who ultimately gets the most agency in directing the actions of the plot and Cly who is connected to the broader story of Seattle, blight gas, and undead. Also, he's smitten with Briar which I can totally understand. (Were we supposed to think he was going to be tempted to stay in Louisiana with Josephine? I'm not sure she'd have him, and why stay with Josephine if Briar's waiting for you back in Seattle?)
Now for a quibble. I know Cherie Priest asks the reader to give her a pass on history since her research on the Civil War is at least as accurate as her zombies. My main problem is geographical. It doesn't show it on the map provided, but (to quote wikipedia) "Lake Pontchartrain is not a true lake but an estuary connected to the Gulf of Mexico". Maybe there's a reason (besides Plot!) that they don't try to sneak the Ganymede out via the Rigolets (the lake is only 12-14 feet deep, but the modern Mississippi is dredged to 200 feet deep), but it's never addressed in the text. I'm just difficult....more
You know all those media tropes about teeneagers and the internet or teenagers and social media or teenagers and electronic devices?
Don't believe themYou know all those media tropes about teeneagers and the internet or teenagers and social media or teenagers and electronic devices?
Don't believe them.
Yes, the internet is changing the world. However, it isn't really changing kids.
Kids are not magically "digital natives" who know all this stuff by instinct. They learn just like everyone else. Kids aren't becoming separated from the real world or becoming internet addicts. They are using social media to talk and hang out with friends same as my generation used phones and cars and older generations used horse-and-buggy. The internet is not full of uber-scary cyberpredators any more than your local park is (which is way less than you think as well). Cyberbullying is bullying with a transcript, not a radical new threat.
I mostly knew this or would have agreed but hadn't quite gotten my head that far. Now for the stuff that hits me at home.
The internet is not fostering equality and cosmopolitanism - no utopia. Not all access is equal and even if you have good internet access, people bring their social networks with them into cyberspace. If you have a better network, you get more benefits from the internet. If you only have a smart-phone and your network hasn't been taught how to use internet resources, you will continue to fall behind. If you hang-out with one race/class/ethnicity/language group in the physical world (and yes, you do and so do your kids and your neighbors etc.), your internet world will also be segregated by those factors as well.
As a librarian/records manager that one hits home and hurts.
As a parent of a kid in a diverse city and school system, that hurts.
So what's really different? What Boyd calls collapsing contexts. Everything we do is done with an intended audience, whether you think about it or not. A context collapse happens when you get an unintended audience (i.e. Mom walks in on you talking sweet nothings to your significant other). The power of the internet to spread information and maintain access to information increases the chance of context collapse. Much of social media assumes you want to share and you can only limit your context through effort - the opposite of real life where making private conversations public takes effort.
What do kids or parents do about it? Damned if I know. Limiting kids' access to internet or social tools because of the chance of context collapse is short-sighted, dangerous, and ultimately futile (just lock your kid in their bedroom until their 18 - except that won't work either).
So, parents have to do the hard work we've always had to do. Help teens navigate a social world that is new to them and a bit foriegn to us as well. Be there to help but also stay out of the way. Be scared of the chances they take and failures they'll have and yet be amazed at the chances they take and victories they achieve. It's what we signed-up for by having a kid.
This review covers books 1-5 because I kinda-sort binge-read them all at once.
I'm trying and failing to rememebr where Manda and I saw a review of theThis review covers books 1-5 because I kinda-sort binge-read them all at once.
I'm trying and failing to rememebr where Manda and I saw a review of the Amulet series and decided to add these book's to May's reading (Anyone reading this can add the article as a comment).
Amulet has a very Hayao Miyazaki feel to it with a brother and sister as main characters (mainly the sister) and fantasy land with magic, robots, VTOL planes, airships, mecha, furries, wise talking trees, flying cities, walking houses, and evil elves. The art is quite beautiful and the characters have complex motivations and deep interior lives. The plot is complex with the goals suffering from major scope-creep and allegances shifting over time.
If I had any complaints, they mostly seem to focus around pacing. Having binge-read 5 books, I feel like I wanted more time to settle into some of these settings and set-piece problems. The narrative has a tendency to jump (especially in flashbacks), and I found myself wishing for a long pause among these beautiful places to really build a sense-of-place - just the skill that Miyazaki is the master of in his films. The splash pages just didn't quite have the heft of one of Miyazaki's wind-swept fields of grass or ran-dappled cobblestone streets. But maybe that failure is ultimately mine and I didn't pause where I should have paused....more
First, how cool is a genizah? The idea that the written word is sacred and that books that have "died" should be handled with as much respect as humanFirst, how cool is a genizah? The idea that the written word is sacred and that books that have "died" should be handled with as much respect as human remains is so very powerful.
That idea of the value of written works occurs throughout this book. However, there's a large difference in what it is that is being valued and what constitutes respect. For academics like Burkitt, Bensley, and Harris, the value of the manuscripts at St. Catherine's monastery at the base of Mt. Sinai is as windows into a past time and especially past languages. The content is key and the presentation is just a way to prove the age and authenicity of the content. For the monks, the object itself is a thing of veneration. Not only are the words sacred, but each volume represents days of work and deveotion, both in their creation and in their maintenance.
The eponymous twin sisters lean towards the academic view, but also have a strong line of faith and belief. The older editions don't just show a window into the lives of those who spoke Syriac, they allow the faithful to be closer to the direct words of Jesus and therefore closer to the base Truth - an idea that is very reflective of their austere Presbyterian upbringing.
With all of these differeing ideas of value, it's not surprising that there was so much distrust, theft, lies, and accusations of neglect tossed about between the varying communities involved in bringing more these manuscripts to academic light.
I am glad to know that now most of the research and transcription work on the St. Catherine's manuscripts is now being done within the walls of the monastery....more
I recently saw an interview with Olivia Wilde where she argued for more leading roles for women in film - espcially action films. I humbly submit thisI recently saw an interview with Olivia Wilde where she argued for more leading roles for women in film - espcially action films. I humbly submit this book for a move treatment.
This volume is sequel to the excellent Boneshaker, and while I didn't find myself as impressed by Mercy Lynch as I had been by Briar Wilkes, I think the plot and pacing of this book is better than the first Clockwork Century volume.
I seem to be a bit on a train kick, having just recently completed Raising Steam. There are some inevitable scenes in any cross-continental race aginst time on a train. Also, both stories have engines that are nearly characters in themselves. Sir Terry Pratchett inevitably explores this concept in his volume, and I feel like this was an opportunity Cherie Priest missed. Our first introduction to the book's namesake engine is nearly perfect. It lurks just off-screen like Jaws or the Alien, with a menace all the more powerful for its vagueness. However, familarity lowers this effect over time.
The dedication at the start of the book has the author asking the reader to not nit-pick history with her (a valid concern anytime you enter alt-history, particularly Civil War). With that in mind, I was still somewhat dissapointed by the layout of the train that dominates the center of the book. (I was expecting something more like the historical Polish armored trains - http://derela.republika.pl/armtrain.htm). Yes, the choice of how to arrancge your train cars has a major effect on plot development. Also, how the railroad network of the countryside is laid-out effects plot when you are dealing with a train-chase.
I'm a plot-first reader, so the historical/logical inaccuracies of having a heavily-armed locomotive in the front of a collection of poorly-protected passenger cars didn't bother me too much. Mostly I lament the missed opportunity seeing the drama of how historical train chases and running fights shook out. (I'm still waiting for someone to do a movie set in the Czech Legion's retreat across the Transiberian Railway in 1918 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolt_o...).
Wow do I have big gaps in my history knowledge, especially when it comes to China. Cixi's name rang a bell in my head, but I think I had her all mixedWow do I have big gaps in my history knowledge, especially when it comes to China. Cixi's name rang a bell in my head, but I think I had her all mixed-up with earlier dowager empresses. This volume made an interesting companion to When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail since that book ends just as this volume begins. However, the focus is very different. Jung Chang tries her hardest to place the reader within the walls of the Forbidden City to see the tensions between China and the West through the eyes of the ruling Manchu as opposed to seeing China through the eyes of Western merchants, soldiers, and diplomats.
There are times where I felt like I was reading a more thought-out version of A Game of Thrones, with puppet emperors and a parade of princes and uncles and grandees subtly manipulating each other. Except in Qing-era Beijing the societal rules and respect for authority was so much higher even if the stakes were the same.
I also felt like I was not the correct audience for this book. Since I was coming from a place of ignorance I was not aware of the "common wisdom" and "widely held" beliefs regarding Cixi and her roles in favor or opposing modernization of China. Therefore some of the language comes across as unnecessarily strident in her defense. It took me a few moments in several places to realize that new research or interpretations were being emphasized to oppose an assertion I had never heard.
The only truly negative point I have on this book relates to editing. At several points observers and resources are pointed out without any explanation of their role or importance. This may be because the author assumes the reader has other accounts (from these resources maybe) already under their belt. In other cases, the personage is given a proper introduction much later in the book. Both of these should have been resolved by better editing. Instead I found copyediting errors as well with a few words here and there randomly switching to all capitals for no clear reason. Such slapdash editing is damaging to the reputation of a work and an author....more
This was a fun little volume. Each 2-page spread contained a map on one side of the territory in question and a textual history on the other. The histThis was a fun little volume. Each 2-page spread contained a map on one side of the territory in question and a textual history on the other. The histories are light and light-hearted, more of a cocktail-party discussion than historical dissertation.
The list of proposals and oddities included are really widely spread, from failed colonial ventures through 1800's colonial adventurism to more modern protest publicity stunts. Added to that are various foreign territories and countries that someone though ripe for annexation.
That said, some trends do start to appear. There seems to be a long-running desire for a common state for much of the territory in the Appalachian Mountains independent from bordering lowlands - West Virginia seems to be the only successful plan of many for this region. Northern and Southern California really don't seem to like each other. And nobody seems to know how to handle the Dakotas or the American Southwest.
The biggest take-away is that the borders of US states were not inevitable and more often than not seem to be based on little to no particular facts. ...more
First off this is by far NOT the book to serve as an introduction to Discworld. Required reading (and possibly re-reading) includes The Fifth ElephantFirst off this is by far NOT the book to serve as an introduction to Discworld. Required reading (and possibly re-reading) includes The Fifth Elephant, Thud!, Going Postal, Making Money, Snuff, and possibly Unseen Academicals. Although the story is focused around Moist von Lipwig, in many ways it feels like an all-star cast. Only Tiffany Aching and the Lancre witches seem to be excluded.
In many ways this is the culmination of a series of books that have shown Ankh-Morpork and Discworld moving from it's psuedo-medieval roots into a much more clearly Victorian-esqe setting. However, the advent of steam-engine time in Discworld is an opportunity for Terry Pratchett to explore our own modern world and the reactionary responses to our own information revolution.
I had a few qualms. First, there seems to be a misplaced nostalgia for violence and the men for whom it is stock-in-trade. These 'hard men' of the past are celebrated along with violence in a righteous cause. Possibly I just missed something in the scenes in the Quirmian maquis (this may be due to my being an American and having a different myth of the coming of the train than a European). My second qualm is over the division of characters by gender. I was a bit on the lookout for this after my trouble reading Dodger, which had severe gender-politics problems. The problem here seems to be just that most of the female characters are in supporting roles (a problem mostly rectified in the last quarter of the book).
This book is not as tightly plotted as some of the more madcap earlier Discworld novels like Moving Pictures, but once you are in the last quarter, the hits and twists and spins just keep coming for 75 pages. I can only hope for more Pratchett at this level. ...more
Supposedly this is an apology to all dads for the treatment of the father in The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish. Here we have the doofus dad -Supposedly this is an apology to all dads for the treatment of the father in The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish. Here we have the doofus dad - or at least the expectation of doofosity. Mum barely trusts him with the kids and the kids expect he's gotten distracted in the simple chore of getting a bottle of milk. To cover for the lost time, the dad spins an absurd yarn of aliens, pirates, dinosaurs, a volcano, ponies, and vampires. Does anyone buy this? Does it matter?
At least this dad is engaged, doofus or no. ...more
**spoiler alert** I picked-up this series for my wife a few years ago after hearing about it on Schlock Mercenary. I have just now gotten around to re**spoiler alert** I picked-up this series for my wife a few years ago after hearing about it on Schlock Mercenary. I have just now gotten around to reading the first book myself.
I appreciate the "self-rescuing princess" trope being used here. However, I definitely could tell I was dealing with a male author who sometimes seemed to be having a little trouble with the female voice. It was little things, but when Danielle's pregnancy is magically speeded up, all I could think was "ugh-she's gonna have stretch-marks from hell". I was also a bit concerned by the (subtle) implication that Talia is 'became' a lesbian due to rape trauma - yes the rape is in the original Sleeping Beauty and having Talia have unrequited love for Snow is fine, but having both in the same character reinforces an awful trope.
None of this destroys my enjoyment of the book, it is just something I was aware of.
I was planning on reading the whole series straight through, but a Christmas gift of Terry Pratchett very much takes precedence....more