Reviews of the books I've read

A list of all the books I've read this year. For these reviews, this is my book review scale:

burn Burn any copy you find of this book, it is horrific.
mock This book is awful. Don't read this book and mock anyone you see reading this book.
don't Don't read this book.
desert If you're on a desert island and are bored out of your mind, this book is okay to read.
fan If you're a fan of this author / genre, this book is worth reading.
worth This book is interesting, fun, entertaining, and thus worth reading. I would hand this book to a friend who asked for a _____ type book.
strongly I strongly recommend this book
amazing OMG, this book is amazing and/or life-changing, let me buy you a copy.

Post date:

No Middle Name

Book Notes

Yeah, I'm finally in a place where I don't have Internet. This is both fantastic and, well, fantastic. I'm on my way to both reading five books this week, and being completely and totally okay without my computer. An interesting happy place to be.

And that's all totally unrelated to this book in particular, other than I read this book today. Well, much of this book today. It's a book of Reacher short stories. To me, that means I've likely read it before, being the Reacher fan that I am.

Fortunately for me, there were a number of the short stories I hadn't read. Can't say that any more!

Zipped through this book. Enjoyed it. A number of the stories Reacher solved a problem and went away. He didn't linger. He didn't get the girl. And those are all okay.

I enjoyed the short stories. Again, if a Reacher fan, yep, worth reading.

Surprise was always good. Delay was always fatal. Guys who let a situation unfold in its own good time were just stockpiling problems for themselves.
Location: 2235

A man in a dark room watching a lit street had an advantage. A man in a dark room watching a dark street might as well have saved himself the eyestrain.
Location: 2375

He heard the sound of steel on linoleum as the Colt skittered away, and he brushed the chair aside and groped and patted blindly until he found the collar of Croselli’s shirt, which he bunched in his left hand while he pounded away with his right, short roundhouse punches to the side of Croselli’s head, his ear, his jaw, one, two, three, four, vicious clubbing blows, until he felt the steam go out of the guy, whereupon he reached forward and grabbed the guy’s wrists and yanked them up behind his back, high and painful, and he clamped them together in his left hand, human handcuffs, a party trick perfected years before, enabled by the freakish strength in his fingers, from which no one had ever escaped, not even his brother, who was of equal size, or his father, who was smaller but stronger.
Location: 2502

Okay, who wrote this sentence? This is one sentence. One. I have to wonder if Child challenged himself to see what the longest sentence he could write and get past his editor would be.

This one wins.

The waitress shrugged and made a shape with her mouth, and said business was OK, but she didn’t sound convinced. And waitresses knew. They had a close-up view. Better than accountants or auditors or analysts. They saw the sad expression on the owner’s face, exactly once a week, on payday.
Location: 4663

Context, Reacher thought again. And melodrama.
Location: 5631

The Highwayman

Book Notes

Despite Longmire being a complete and total asshat in the television series (why, oh why was Lou Diamond Philips cast as Henry Standing Bear, then morphed into a whiny small man?), Longmire in the books is still a fantastic character. I'm still reading Johnson's Longmire books with enthusiasm.

And this one doesn't fail to entertain.

See how I just blew off that grammar rule about not starting a sentence with the word "and?" Ah, the delights of not writing an essay for a grade.

Anyway, Longmire. The book is a novella, which means it is shorter than a full novel, as is the case with this book. There isn't an involved mystery, though there is a small mystery and a couple coincidences that end up being not-so-coincidentals. There are also a number of super-natural occurrences, of which I'm not a big fan, but the mind can play tricks, and what one calls a ghost, another can call adrenaline and hallucinations.

I enjoyed the book, and recommend if you're a Longmire fan, keep reading. If you're not yet a Longmire fan, start at the beginning of the series. There's some weird stuff in this book that references events from the first couple books.

“He grew up—every once in a while it happens—been there, done that. Hell, you know as well as I do that young outlaws make the best lawmen.”
Location 296

“I think we’re all haunted, by one thing or another.”
Location 576

We’re taught to work independently, but nothing strikes you quite like a 10-78, the urgency to reach a fellow officer in need. It’s instinctual to individuals who are trained to respond and risk their lives for each other and complete strangers.
Location 640

"In my experience with the residents of the Camp of the Dead, they rarely act randomly or leave things to chance.”
Location 847

There was nothing normal about a career in law enforcement, and the strains of making life-and-death decisions every day were bound to have an effect.
Location 868

I didn’t have to wonder long, however, as I plunged into the Wind River and it seemed as though the 640 muscles in my body contracted to the point of breaking all 206 bones.
Location 938

“I am always interested when someone commits an act such as Womack’s as to what their conversation might have been previously.”
Location 1101

I removed the phone from my ear to enable a full-force face palm of epic proportions and then returned it. “You’re kidding.”
Location 1139

“The first time the term was used was back in 1320, nonesmanneslond, which was used to describe disputed territory between two kingdoms; then it was the name for a place outside the walls of London that was used for executions and even a spot on the forecastle of ships.”
Location 1153

“He died in fire. It is a bad way to go.”
“I don’t know if there are any good ones.”
Location 1237

“There are many, but fire is bad. The terrible thing about fire is that you become one with the wind, your ashes carried around the world over and over again seeking peace but finding none.
Location 1238

It was strange the paths the human heart chose to take and the attachments it made along the way. The surest sign of the altruistic nature of the organ is its ability to ignore race, color, creed, and gender and just blindly love with all its might—one of the most irrefutable forces on earth.
Location 1482

Bird Box

Book Notes

I have had this book in my stack of books to read pretty much since it was published. I had been wandering around a bookstore, noticed it on the Just Published table, picked it up, and bought it. It then sat in my stack for three years. I started carrying it with me because I decided I really wanted to read it. Except that I didn't really want to read it. I mean, the book is a psychological thriller nearly guaranteed to keep me awake at nights, clutching MK, and jumping at every new sound. Why would I want to read the book? Why wouldn't I want to read the book?

The book summary goes something like this:

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remain, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now, that the boy and girl are four, it is time to go. But the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat—blindfolded—with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster?

Engulfed in darkness, surrounded by sounds both familiar and frightening, Malorie embarks on a harrowing odyssey—a trip that takes her into an unseen world and back into the past, to the companions who once saved her. Under the guidance of the stalwart Tom, a motely group of strangers banded together against the unseen terror, creating order from the chaos. But when supplies ran low, they were forced to venture outside—and confront the ultimate question: in a world gone mad, who can really be trusted?

But that doesn't seem to do the book justice. If you're in a world where you suddenly aren't allowed to see, but the world continues to exist as is, eh... how is that going to change your perception of the world around you?

Well, I didn't throw the book across the room when I was done. That is a good thing in my book reviews of psychological thrillers, tbh.

I read a whole bunch of different parts of the book multiple times, because I couldn't figure out what was going on. I went back, read a part, pondered, went back, reread it, pondered more. Again, that is a good thing in my book reviews of psychological thrillers.

In the end, the book didn't live up to the hype that now surrounds the book. It did, however, engage and interest and thrill me. I'll lend you my copy of the book.

Unrelated, I have NO idea why I thought this part of the book was worth noting. I can't figure out what part I want to quote from it. This could demonstrate just how far into the book I was, that this is amusing to me in context:

Quest for Kim

Book Notes

Okay, again, when a friend strongly suggests a book, then hands you a copy of the book, then recommends another book about said book, you need to read both the original book, and the follow up book. Really need to read them.

Which is what I did with this book, when Moazam handed me a copy. He handed me HIS copy, which is also saying something (mostly that I needed to return it, but let's go with saying something).

Where Kim was a work of fiction based upon stories, incidents, and the world Kipling knew, The Quest for Kim is the author's journey of discovering what, if any, of that world still exists.

I enjoyed reading the book, learning more of the history of the area, and learning about what still exists and what was, as far as the author or anyone else can tell, pure Kipling fiction.

If Kim fascinates you in any way, I recommend this book as follow up reading.

Three Body Problem

Book Notes

Book 1 of the Remembrance of Earth's Past series.

I have lost my quotes for this book. I don't know where they are, and I find that a little offputting about my processes, because this book has some seriously good ideas when thinking about people, the human condition, and how we treat each other. Imagine, for example, living through the blood bath of a war or revolution, or worse, a "cultural revolution" where anyone who is capable of thinking is killed off in favor of those incapable of thinking but GREAT at the herd mentality. Come to think of it, we haven't progressed much past that point, and didn't learn much from that event, did we?

Anyway, imagine living through that and coming out on the other side hating people so much for the death of your parent that when faced with the choice of humanity or another species all together, you choose the destruction of mankind. I think that imagining might have been a spoiler. I'm not sure.

This book was not what I was expecting it to be, and it was glorious. The reading was a little slow to start, I suspect because I was trying to figure out the physics and the ramifications of the changes to the fundamental laws, but reading slightly faster made the book enjoyable and the slower parts fine, because they weren't THAT much slower.

This is the first Chinese sci-fi I've read. When I mentioned the basics of the plot to a friend of Chinese descent, without telling him the book was Chinese in origin, he laughed at it and said, "That sounds Chinese!" When I revealed it actually was Chinese, he added the book to his list to read. So, yes, accurately Chinese, and delightfully sci-fi.

I enjoyed the book and look forward to the next book in the series.

Norse Mythology

Book Notes

I can't say that I'm a big Neil Gaiman fan. I know, I know, I've read a number of his books, but the more of his books I read, the less I'm interested in reading his books. I'm not sure why this is, but I'll speculate that a large part of my lack of enthusiasm is due to the small amplitude of the plots in his books. In particular, I find most of his stories that I've read plod along. The climax of the of the stories are often "Oh, okay" instead of "OH MY GOD WOW," or something close to that. There isn't a thrilling zing or fast heartbeats or shallow breathing, just a thing that happened that of course it would happen, because, really, that's what should happen and okay.

Which is why I can say I have this book because Mom picked it out. Yes, I'm back to a book from that pile of books, because Internet (no, not really, but maybe a bit).

Anyway, I have this book. I read it. It was, uh, well, cute. Gaiman was fascinated by the Norse gods as a kid, and retells their tales in this book as a series of short stories.

From which we conclude, the Norse gods were asshats.

There were a number of amusing stories, and a number of "What. The. F---?" stories. Pretty much all were entertaining. A number included lessons one could take to learn what NOT to do. I enjoyed the book, and would likely recommend this book as someone's first Gaiman book to read. Just don't listen to the audiobook.

Dead Beat

Book Notes

The Dresden Files, book 7

This is, hands down, my favorite Dresden book. I thought, "Wow." the first time I read it. And the second. And the third. And the fourth. And the lost-count time, too. Because I knew this, that this is my favorite Dresden book, I was aware of myself trying to figure out why I like the book so much, what makes it so good?

I figured out a few reasons, but I think the top reason is that this is the first (and one could argue only) book that Dresden is vulnerable. He asks for help. He reaches out. He reaches out to his friends, and they say yes. He confronts his own mortality. He talks about death. A lot.

Which is pretty much what the book is about, with necromancers and all happening in it.

This book also has Butters, an unassuming unmagicked mortal, seeing a horrible act and, screaming like a little girl the whole time, pushes against his fear to do what needs to be done to save a life.

In any book, you see the author come through in her characters. I would believe Butcher was experiencing loss when he wrote this book, perhaps even actual deaths in his family. I haven't looked up what was happening in his life when writing this book, so I don't know if he were. Yet here, for the first time, Dresden isn't just a know-it-all, isn't an all-powerful arrogant witty Warden wizard, he's also human. And that's what I liked so much about this book.

Death isn’t something anyone likes to think about, but the fact is that you can’t get out of it. No matter what you do, how much you exercise, how religiously you diet, or meditate, or pray, or how much money you donate to your church, there is a single hard, cold fact that faces everyone on earth: One day it’s going to be over. One day the sun will rise, the world will turn, people will go about their daily routines—only you won’t be in it. You’ll be still. And cold.
Location: 461

“You don’t need to buy it,” I said. “It’s true. As a race, we’re an enormous bunch of idiots. We’re more than capable of ignoring facts if the conclusions they lead to make us too uncomfortable. Or afraid.”
Location: 1200

“I know how you feel,” I said. “You run into something you totally don’t get, and it’s scary as hell. But once you learn something about it, it gets easier to handle. Knowledge counters fear. It always has.”
Location: 1,283

In the past I hadn’t seen so many people hurt and killed and terrorized by the same kind of power that damn well should have been making the world a nicer place, or at the least staying the hell away from it. I hadn’t made so many mistakes back then, so many shortsighted decisions, some of which had cost people their lives. I had been sure of myself. I had been whole.
Location: 1,670

“And will for years to come,” said Cowl. “A great many things of significance happened that night. Most of which you are not yet aware.”

“Hell’s bells,” I complained. “I’m a wizard myself, and I still get sick of that I-know-and-you-don’t shtick. In fact, it pisses me off even faster than it used to.”
Location: 1,717

It was 100 percent pure, contrary stubbornness. Chicago was my town. I didn’t care who this joker was; he wasn’t going to come gliding down the streets of my town and push in my teeth for my milk money.
Location: 1,799

Cowl gave me a look that I felt, even if I couldn’t see his face, and he growled, “This isn’t—”

“Oh, shut up,” I said. “You lost. Go.”
Location: 1,835

“That fear is natural. But it is also a weakness. A path of attack for what would prey upon your mind. You must learn to control it.”

“How?” I whispered.

“No one can tell you that,” he said. “Not me. Not an angel. And not a fallen angel. You are the product of your own choices, Harry, and nothing can change that. Don’t let anyone or anything tell you otherwise.”

“But…my choices haven’t always been very good,” I said.

“Whose have?”
Location: 2,297

He put his hand on my head, and for that brief second I was a child again, tired and small and utterly certain of my father’s strength.
Location: 2,303

“At least they didn’t wreck this,” he said. Then he let out a short laugh. “Man. Are my priorities skewed or what?”

“Everyone has something they love,” I said.
Location: 2,732

“It must be very lonely, doing what you do.”

“Sometimes,” I said.

“Always being so strong when others can’t. That’s…well, it’s sort of heroic.”

“It’s sort of idiotic,” I replied, my voice dry. “Heroism doesn’t pay very well. I try to be cold-blooded and money-oriented, but I keep screwing it up.”

She let out a little laugh. “You fail to live up to your ideals, eh?”

“Nobody’s perfect.”
Location: 3,112

I’d always considered the line between black magic and white to be sharp and clear. But if that dark power could be employed in whatever fashion its wielder chose, that made it no different from my own.
Location: 3,658

Dammit. Investigation was supposed to make me certain of what needed to be done. It was not supposed to confuse me even more. When I opened my eyes, thick clouds had covered the sun and painted the whole world in shades of grey.
Location: 3,660

“He lets his fear control him. That’s what a coward is, Harry.”

“A lot of people would react the same way,” I said.

“A lot of people aren’t making themselves into excess baggage for my brother,” he shot back.

“No one does well their first time out,” I said.
Location: 3,694

“Doesn’t make him a bad person,” Thomas said. “But he’s a coward. He’s either going to get you killed or else freeze at a bad moment and die—and you’ll torture yourself over how it’s all your fault. If we want to survive, we need to get him somewhere safe. Then cut him loose. Better for everyone.”

I thought about it for a minute. “You might be right,” I said. “But if we tell him to rabbit, he’s never going to be able to get over the fear. We’ll be making it worse for him. He has to face it down.”

“He doesn’t want to.”

“No,” I said, “but he needs to.”
Location: 3,702

“I understand your refusal to allow another to control your life. It’s a poisonous, repugnant notion to think of someone who would dictate your every move, impose upon you a code of behavior you could not accept, and refuse to allow you choice, expression, and the pursuit of your own heart’s purpose.”

“Pretty much,” I said. The fallen angel smiled.

“Then believe me when I say that I know precisely how you feel. All of the Fallen do.”

A little cold spot formed in the pit of my stomach.
Location: 4,678

From the time we are infants, we learn to associate the touch of a human hand with safety, with comfort, with love.
Location: 4,990

Nearly everyone underestimates how powerful the touch of another person’s hand can be. The need to be touched is something so primal, so fundamentally a part of our existence as human beings that its true impact upon us can be difficult to put into words. That power doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with sex, either. From the time we are infants, we learn to associate the touch of a human hand with safety, with comfort, with love.
Location: 5,262

“Ah,” I said. “Then you’ll probably go to the second offer I always get. Go away and you won’t kill me.”

“Something like that,”
Location: 5,360

“Or maybe I’m just not quite arrogant enough to start rearranging the universe on the assumption that I know better than God how long life should last. And there’s a downside to what you’re saying, too. How about trying to topple the regime of an immortal Napoleon, or Attila, or Chairman Mao? You could as easily preserve the monsters as the intellectual all-stars. It can be horribly abused, and that makes it dangerous.”
Location: 5,434

“Why?”

“Because this is what I have to do,” I said.
Location: 5,450

“I think that you do not realize your own reputation. You have overcome more enemies and battled more evils than most wizards a century your senior... To them, you are a symbol of defiance to the conservative elements of the Council, and a hero who will risk his life when his principles demand it.”
Location: 5,845

“Maybe it’s the cloak,” Bob suggested brightly. “Harry, do you feel any more judgmental and self-righteous than you did this morning?”
Location: 5,944

I didn’t feel like a wizard. I didn’t feel like a deadly and powerful Warden. I didn’t feel like the supernatural champion of Chicago, or a fearless foe of evil, a daring summoner able to cast his defiance into the teeth of a supernatural titan, or an enlightened sage of the mystic arts. I felt like a scarred, battered, aching, one-handed man with few pleasant prospects for the future and a ridiculous pair of pants with one leg slashed off.
Location: 6,059

Besides, I found it aesthetically satisfying to defy municipal code.
Location: 6,356

“My God,” he said. “That was…that was so stupid.”

“Actually, when you survive it gets reclassified as ‘courageous.’”
Location: 7,130

I knew people who would face death, even embrace it, rather than surrender their principles. I’d seen burned-out cops before. They’d labored long and hard in the face of danger and uncertainty to uphold the law and protect the victims of crimes, only to see both the law and the victims it should have protected broken, beaten, and abused again and again. It mostly happened to the cops who genuinely cared, who believed in what they were doing, who passionately wanted to make a difference in the world. Somewhere along the way, their passion had become bottled anger. The anger had fermented into bitter hatred. Then the hatred had fed upon itself, gnawing away at them over years, even decades, until only a shell of cold iron and colder hate remained.
Location: 7,585

As Morgan struck, I took the coward’s way out and closed my eyes. I knew that it was inevitable that one day I would die. But I didn’t want to watch it coming.
Location: 7,621

“But I want to go with you. I want to help. I’m not afraid to”—he swallowed, face pale—“die fighting beside you.”
Location: 7,667

“When you do something stupid and die, it’s pathetic,” I said. “When you do something stupid and survive it, then you get to call it impressive or heroic.”
Location: 7,698

Cowl’s apprentice was tough and competent, but no amount of training or forethought can prepare you for the sight of an angry dinosaur coming to eat your ass.
Location: 7,907

"...And that I hurt. And that I want someone to be holding my hand when it’s my time. I don’t want to do it alone.”

"Everyone dies alone. That’s what it is. It’s a door. It’s one person wide. When you go through it, you do it alone.”
Location: 8,004

The Collapsing Empire

Book Notes

Okay, I hadn't exactly intended to sit down and read this book all in one go. I am in the middle of three other books and just happened to have none of them with me, along with no cell phone coverage and no wifi, when I realized I needed both to be doing something, and to be reading.

When in such a situation, you do the normal thing. You panic.

Okay, no, you pull up another book and start reading. If you don't mind having 10 books in progress, 11 isn't going to matter much.

At the end of the day when I finished this book, I was like, yep, I will read pretty much anything Scalzi writes, and I'm happy I read this one. It is classic Scalzi, with an interesting science-based world, action to satisfy any swashbuckler, and wit to entertain everyone.

Which is a thing with Scalzi books. All of his characters, the "good" ones, are witty and smart and quick. And good. Which is just ... not ... realistic. His stories and characters lack the overt pettiness and cruelty and anger and jealousy of the real world. Which may be why they appeal so much: a world where smart, good, even nice people are actually able to succeed. Oddly.

Anyway, yes, on my new book-review scale, this is a fan-worth book. If you're a Scalzi fan, DEFINITELY read it. If you aren't, you'll likely still enjoy it.

"You’ll be emperox soon enough.”

“And then no one can tell me what to do.”

“Oh, no,” Batrin said. “Everyone will tell you what to do. But you won’t always have to listen.”
Page 36

“What? No,” the duke said, and Kiva saw Ghreni twitch out the very smallest of smiles. “No, not that. I meant the difficulty with this virus your house brought to us.”
Page 55

Okay, when I read this line, I was reminded of Kim, and the part where Kipling commented (paraphrasing), "Asiatics never smile when they have won, but now, Mahbub Ali almost did." If you are a spy, or someone very, very good at maneuvering politically, you don't smile, not even the smallest of twitches, when you win. You don't reveal anything.

“I’m not sure I like this entirely honest you,” Cardenia said, after a moment.

“If you like we can adjust my conversational model to be more like I was in life.”

“You’re telling me you lied to me in life.”

“No more than to anyone else.”

“That’s comforting.”
Page 81

We all lie. Politicians and those in power more so than most.

This was also probably not true, since the University of Opole had more than its share of rebel sympathizers, ranging from stoned students looking for a movement to join, to reflexively contrarian professors who enjoyed sticking it to the duke while still retaining tenure.
Page 84

Marce suspected some drivers had disabled autodrive to take control of their cars directly, either in a panic or because they suspected the government was somehow going to disable their movement. The end result either way was that these newly independent cars were messing things up for everyone else.
Page 91

I've been thinking about this for a while. Likely the subject of a blog post.

"You’re right. It’s just a reminder that war favors the rich. The ones who can leave, do. The ones who can’t, suffer.”
Page 114

This reminds me of the quote, "The depressed and the realistic left and survived, the optimists stayed and died." The quote is about Jews in Nazi Germany.

Which did bring up the question: If you are leaving forever, what do you take with you?
Page 139

The final object was a threadbare stuffed pig named Giggy, bought for Marce on his first birthday by his mother, who had given Vrenna a stuffed bear named Howie at the same time.
Page 140

Hello, MK.

“Anyone can be a prophet. You just have to say that what you’re talking about is a reflection of God. Or of the gods. Or of some divine spirit. However you want to put it. Whether those things come true isn’t one way or another about it.”
Page 171

"Human institutions tend to drift from their creators’ intent over time. Another reason to have clear rules."
Page 172

Oh boy, do they.

“Well, I had the thing, and it wasn’t a vision. It was a dream.” “It was a dream that made you think. A dream that caused you to search for wisdom. A dream that made you consult me, the Prophet. Sounds like a vision to me.”
Page 173

“The short version is ‘Yes, but.’ The slightly longer version is ‘No, and.’ Which version would you like?”
Page 174

I love this distinction.

The man snorted at this. “An open planet is no place for humans. Give me a decent ring habitat any day.”

“Earth was an open planet.”

“And we left it.”
Page 182

In The Collapsing Empire world, only one habitable planet remains, everyone else lives in man-made structures orbiting celestial objects or tunnelled into them. An entire race of agoraphobes.

“Stupid or they have a plan we don’t understand.”
Page 186

Love this. Characters with the insight to realize that just because you don't understand something doesn't mean it doesn't make sense. Scalzi is wonderful about reminding us of this.

“There’s no shame in pissing yourself like a goddamned fire hydrant when a trained killer is about to knife you in the throat.”
Page 191

Nope, there isn't.

“It’s not whether she tells everyone,” Huma said. “It’s whether they believe her.”

“It’s the truth.”

“Oh, my daughter,” Huma said, and smiled. “Don’t tell me you don’t know how little that actually means.”
Page 274

These people are nuts, Marce thought, and grinned to himself. It was breathtaking the situations that humans put themselves into, and still managed to thrive.
Page 275

Habitats could theoretically last decades or even centuries before they failed, but there was the human element as well. Humans didn’t react well to the knowledge they were cut off and doomed to slow death by habitat failure.
Page 287

“I’m continually confronted with the human tendency to ignore or deny facts until the last possible instant. And then for several days after that, too.”
Page 326

nodded. “Remember there’s a reason I suggested the name Grayland to you. To remind you what had to be done. And to inspire you to be the person to do it.”
Page 327

Wouldn't we all be better with an inspiration to do what needs to be done.

“That’s the human brain,” Attavio VI said. “It creates patterns when there aren’t any. Imagines causality when there is none. Imagines a narrative where none exists. It’s in the design of the brain itself. It’s primed to lie.”

“And primed to believe the lie.”

“Yes,” Attavio VI said.
Page 328

Kim

Book Notes

Right. Kim. Kimball O'Hara, an orphaned Irish boy who grew up in India during the English colonial days. Or rather, during the Great Game, before India was split into India and Pakistan, an important distinction. Kim's story is actually in parts of the Pakistani areas, which is how I came to read the book.

Let's ignore the fact that the book has been sitting on my mother's bookcase since forever, and that I tend to grab books from her shelves and read them (hello, Voltaire). Instead, let's note that when a good friend says, "This book totally describes my childhood!" and then repeats several times about how it is one of his favorite books EVAR, well, you read the book.

Of course, I'm not likely to describe the plot, so many other sites do that, but I will note that the book is available on Gutenberg, so little excuse not to read it.

I enjoyed the book. In this case, I made the mistake of switching from audiobook to ebook. This technique normally works quite well for me, but in this case, didn't, because I needed to look up a number of the words, see the spelling, search on wikipedia for the references, and understand better what was going on. The audiobook didn't lend itself to that style of understanding, so I gave up on it fairly quickly. That said, if audiobooks are your thing, and you want to hear the book in English, I recommend this performance of Kim. It is good.

I don't have pages for the quotes, because I read a Gutenberg version that lacks page breaks. Easy enough to find them, I suspect.

'What profit to kill men?'

'Very little--as I know; but if evil men were not now and then slain it would not be a good world for weaponless dreamers. I do not speak without knowledge who have seen the land from Delhi south awash with blood.'

And at the last what wilt thou do?'

'At the last I shall die.'

'And after?'

'Let the Gods order it. I have never pestered Them with prayers. I do not think They will pester me.

'Hast thou never desired any other thing?'

'Yes--yes--a thousand times! A straight back and a close-clinging knee once more; a quick wrist and a keen eye; and the marrow that makes a man. Oh, the old days--the good days of my strength!'

'That strength is weakness.'

'It has turned so; but fifty years since I could have proved it otherwise,' the old soldier retorted, driving his stirrup-edge into the pony's lean flank.

'Who bears arms against the law?' a constable called out laughingly, as he caught sight of the soldier's sword. 'Are not the police enough to destroy evil-doers?'

'It was because of the police I bought it,' was the answer.

Apparently militarized police isn't a new concept.

Then Kim would join the Kentish-fire of good wishes and bad jokes, wishing the couple a hundred sons and no daughters, as the saying is.

Very often it suits a long-suffering family that a strong-tongued, iron-willed old lady should disport herself about India in this fashion; for certainly pilgrimage is grateful to the Gods.

And the old woman's family, to be sure.

The old lady is, after all, intensely human, and lives to look upon life.

'Flies go to carrion,' said the Oorya, in an abstracted voice.

'For the sick cow a crow; for the sick man a Brahmin.' Kim breathed the proverb impersonally to the shadow-tops of the trees overhead.

The Oorya grunted and held his peace.

Personally, he believed in Brahmins, though, like all natives, he was acutely aware of their cunning and their greed.

'But why not sit and rest?' said one of the escort. 'Only the devils and the English walk to and fro without reason.'

'Never make friends with the Devil, a Monkey, or a Boy. No man knows what they will do next,' said his fellow.

And further, he was prepared to spend serene years in his quest; having nothing of the white man's impatience, but a great faith.

Bennett looked at him with the triple-ringed uninterest of the creed that lumps nine-tenths of the world under the title of 'heathen'.

'That is not well. These men follow desire and come to emptiness. Thou must not be of their sort.'

'You will be what you're told to be,' said Bennett; 'and you should be grateful that we're going to help you.'

Kim smiled compassionately. If these men lay under the delusion that he would do anything that he did not fancy, so much the better.

I feel I understand Kim.

'It is no wrong to pay for learning. To help the ignorant to wisdom is always a merit.'

The indifference of native crowds he was used to; but this strong loneliness among white men preyed on him.

Kim meditated poisoning him with opium borrowed from a barrack-sweeper, but reflected that, as they all ate at one table in public (this was peculiarly revolting to Kim, who preferred to turn his back on the world at meals), the stroke might be dangerous.

'You're a good man.'

'Not in the least. Don't make that mistake.'

'It was said once to me that it is inexpedient to write the names of strangers concerned in any matter, because by the naming of names many good plans are brought to confusion.'

'Sahibs [Englishmen] get little pleasure of travel,' he reflected.

'... There are many boys there who despise the black men.'

'Their mothers were bazar-women,' said Kim. He knew well there is no hatred like that of the half-caste for his brother-in-law.

Do not weep; for, look you, all Desire is Illusion and a new binding upon the Wheel. Go up to the Gates of Learning. Let me see thee go ... Dost thou love me? Then go, or my heart cracks ... I will come again. Surely I will come again.

'Now I see, however,'--he exhaled smoke slowly--'that it is with them as with all men--in certain matters they are wise, and in others most foolish. Very foolish it is to use the wrong word to a stranger; for though the heart may be clean of offence, how is the stranger to know that? He is more like to search truth with a dagger.'

'... Therefore I say in my heart the Faiths are like the horses. Each has merit in its own country.'

'I did not seek truth in those days, but the talk of doctrine. All illusion! I drank the beer and ate the bread of Guru Ch'wan. Next day one said: "We go out to fight Sangor Gutok down the valley to discover" (mark again how Lust is tied to Anger!) "which Abbot shall bear rule in the valley and take the profit of the prayers they print at Sangor Gutok." I went, and we fought a day.'

'We were well matched. Ignorance and Lust met Ignorance and Lust upon the road, and they begat Anger. The blow was a sign to me, who am no better than a strayed yak, that my place is not here. Who can read the Cause of an act is halfway to Freedom! "Back to the path," says the Blow. "The Hills are not for thee. Thou canst not choose Freedom and go in bondage to the delight of life."'

'Our Lord Himself cannot make the Wheel swing backward.'

'She has acquired merit beyond all others,' said the lama. 'For to set a man upon the way to Freedom is half as great as though she had herself found it.'

And so he petted and comforted Kim with wise saws and grave texts on that little-understood beast, our Body, who, being but a delusion, insists on posing as the Soul, to the darkening of the Way, and the immense multiplication of unnecessary devils.
Chapter 15

'My chela is to me as is a son to the unenlightened.'

'Say grandson, rather. Mothers have not the wisdom of our years. If a child cries they say the heavens are falling. Now a grandmother is far enough separated from the pain of bearing and the pleasure of giving the breast to consider whether a cry is wickedness pure or the wind.'

'I have seen something of this world,' she said over the crowded trays, 'and there are but two sorts of women in it--those who take the strength out of a man and those who put it back. Once I was that one, and now I am this.

'Get up and see the world! This lying abed is the mother of seventy devils ... my son! my son!'

She trotted forth to raise a typhoon off the cook-house, and almost on her shadow rolled in the Babu, robed as to the shoulders like a Roman emperor, jowled like Titus, bare-headed, with new patent-leather shoes, in highest condition of fat, exuding joy and salutations.

Blood Rites

Book Notes

Yep, rereading the Dresden series. This is Book Six

Dresden spends some of his time on a porn movie set, and while I want to think that Butcher was trying to convey that, hey, these women characters were strong, doing a trade they enjoyed, were compensated well for, and it was any other job, I really didn't feel any affinity for that particular aspect of the plot.

We do get a lot of background in the story, and a bit of foreshadowing on a number of future plot plots, which is great. We meet Laura Raith, thanks to Thomas. And Mouse! Oh boy, scads of flying, flaming poo. That's a visual for the ages.

This book ranks as a fan level recommendation. It's about Harry, I'm going to read it (whether Dresden, Potter, or Hole, let's admit it).

Human violence was at its most hideous when a woman was on the receiving end, and supernatural predators were even worse.
Location 1424

“Trite but true—you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. People change. The world changes. And sooner or later you lose people you care about. If you don’t mind some advice from someone who doesn’t know much about families, I can tell you this: Don’t take yours for granted. It might feel like all of them will always be there. But they won’t.”
Location 1723

I had to be paranoid, which in this instance was another word for smart.
Location 2735

Sooner or later I’d be old and frail, maybe even tired of living. And dying. I would have no one to share it with me, or hold my hand when I was afraid.
Location 3469

for the first time I heard something like real anger in his voice. That was something to be noted. When kind men grow angry, things are about to change.
Location 3746

“I wouldn’t be betting my life on it otherwise. You’ve got my back, Murph. Shut up and dance.”
Location 4738

But several years of staring out at the darkness had showed her that the law was both blind and deaf to some of the nastier parts of the world. She’d seen things that moved in the shadows, perverting the purpose of the law to use it as a weapon against the people she had sworn to defend. Her faith had taken a beating, or she wouldn’t even have considered stepping outside the boundaries of her authority. And she knew it.
Location 4759

That knowledge cost her dearly. There weren’t any tears in her eyes, but I knew that they were there, on the inside, while she mourned the death of her faith.
Location 4762

“I don’t know the right thing to do,” she said. “Neither do I,” I said. “But someone has to do something. And we’re the only ones around. Either we choose to take a stand now or we choose to stand around at all the funerals regretting it later.”
Location 4764

That the power born into any wizard carried with it the responsibility to use it to help his fellow man. That there were things worth protecting, defending, and that the world could be more than a jungle where the strong thrived and the weak were devoured.
Location 4905

“For the record,” Kincaid said, “I was hoping for an answer that vaguely hinted at a specific tactical doctrine rather than spouting off general campaign objectives.”
Location 4927

An angel, blazing with fury and savage strength, spun toward the Renfield, her eyes shining with azure flame, a shaft of fire in her hands. The angel was dressed in soiled robes smudged with smoke and blood and filth, no longer white. She bled from half a dozen wounds, and moved as if in terrible pain. Murphy.
Location 5052

“There’s what’s right,” the old man said, “and then there’s what’s necessary. They ain’t always the same.”
Location 5795

The world might be vicious and treacherous and deadly, but it couldn’t kill laughter. Laughter, like love, has power to survive the worst things life has to offer. And to do it with style.
Location 5932

“It is, after all, a great deal more pleasurable to conquer than to rule. And defiant women can be conquered again and again before they break.”
Location 6408

I had started feeling a little crowded already, sure. But I took a deep breath and brushed it back. Thomas wouldn’t be here too long, and the dog was certainly a lot smaller than Mister. I could handle a little claustrophobia.
Location 7246

Endurance

Book Notes

I've read this book at least twice before, possibly more. It was originally handed to me by Jamie Fenner (so I can date the first reading to 1997), and I've recommended it to many people to read. I'll go ahead and say now, this book is on the amazing, "let me buy you a copy" part of my book review scale.

The full title of this book is "Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage" if you're going to look for it in the library or bookstore.

In mid-1914, Ernest Shackleton and his crew set sail on the Endurance on their way to Antarctica, with the intent of crossing the continent on foot. Along the way, the Endurance is trapped in ice sheets, and is eventually crushed, forcing the crew to disembark, save as many of the supplies as possible, and survive until they are rescued.

Except, this is before radio were commonplace. Before the technology we rely on to save us (satellites, phones, GPS, etc.) even existed. To be rescued, the crew pretty much had to go help themselves.

I'm not revealing anything by commenting EVERYONE LIVES, but holy moly is the story amazing. And nearly unbelievable. That you don't have a boatload of unemotional machines means there's the whole list of human problems, interactions, struggles, and successes.

The story reads quickly, and wow, I just love it.

And my warm bed.

Outside this planking, to keep her from being chafed by the ice, there was a sheathing from stem to stern of greenheart, a wood so heavy it weighs more than solid iron and so tough that it cannot be worked with ordinary tools.
Page 18

I am developing a fascination with greenheart wood as we speak.

The conversion of the Endurance from a ship into a kind of floating shore station brought with it a marked slowdown in the tempo of life. There simply wasn’t much for the men to do. The winter schedule required of them only about three hours’ work a day, and the rest of the time they were free to do what they wanted.
Page 40

And here is where one has to consider what they did with their days.

It was remarkable that there were not more cases of friction among the men, especially after the Antarctic night set in. The gathering darkness and the unpredictable weather limited their activities to an ever-constricting area around the ship. There was very little to occupy them, and they were in closer contact with one another than ever. But instead of getting on each other’s nerves, the entire party seemed to become more close-knit.
Page 50

I find this fascinating. It also plays a large part in my increasing love of this book and the whole tale. In adverse conditions, humans are at their worst. And sometimes their best. Experienced trademen succeed when they do what needs to be done, and this seems to be the philosophy of the crew. Doesn't matter if you like it or not, if it needs to be done, you do it.

A large part of the book talks about how the crew managed to stay a relatively cohesive unit, despite the long, cold days. Incredibly fascinating.

Though Hurley was a skilled photographer and an excellent worker, he was also the sort of man who responded best to flattery, who frequently needed to be jollied along and made to feel important. Shackleton sensed this need—he may even have overestimated it—and he was afraid that unless he catered to it, Hurley might feel slighted and possibly spread discontent among the others.
Page 90

More insights into human nature, and how good leaders understand, adapt to it.

In some ways they had come to know themselves better. In this lonely world of ice and emptiness, they had achieved at least a limited kind of contentment. They had been tested and found not wanting.

They thought of home, naturally, but there was no burning desire to be in civilization for its own sake.
Page 103

Until the march from Ocean Camp they had nurtured in the backs of their minds the attitude Shackleton strove so unceasingly to imbue them with, a basic faith in themselves—that they could, if need be, pit their strength and their determination against any obstacle—and somehow overcome it.
Page 117

But the fundamental, underlying factor in these discussions was that, for many men, the dogs were more than so many pounds of pulling power on the trail; there was a deep emotional attachment involved. It was the basic human need to love something, the desire to express tenderness in this barren place. Though the dogs were vicious, surly beasts with one another, their devotion and loyalty toward the men was above question. And the men responded with an affection greatly surpassing anything they would have felt under ordinary circumstances.
Page 120

And all the defenses they had so carefully constructed to prevent hope from entering their minds collapsed. Macklin, who had consistently struggled to remain hard-headedly pessimistic, found it impossible to hold out any longer.
Page 136

“It certainly looks promising.” But then he added: “Hope tells a flattering tale.”
Page 145

That she does.

Wild launched into a series of stories about his past escapades involving ladies, and McIlroy lived up to his reputation as the most cosmopolitan member of the expedition by explaining to an attentive audience his recipe for mixing several cocktails, including one guaranteed aphrodisiac called “The Bosom Caresser.”
Page 145

Laughing!

Even after the men were out of their tents, there was confusion about exactly what was the trouble and where the danger was. They groped their way around in the dark, bumping into one another and stumbling into unseen holes in the ice.
Page 146

For the most part, we in modern times don't understand the dark. We don't have the collective experience for just how black the night is without a moon. We don't understand how dangerous moving quickly in the complete dark can be.

Shackleton had already made up his mind, after long discussions with Wild, not only as to who should be taken, but who should not be left behind.
...
And Shackleton was not sure that Crean’s rough, tactless nature would lend itself well to a period of enforced and perhaps long waiting.
...
But both Shackleton and Wild felt that [McNeish] was still a potential troublemaker and not a good man to be left behind.
Page 193

And this is what a leader does: understands the nuances of a team, plays to its strengths, and minimizes its weaknesses.

enemy. Unlike the land, where courage and the simple will to endure can often see a man through, the struggle against the sea is an act of physical combat, and there is no escape. It is a battle against a tireless enemy in which man never actually wins; the most that he can hope for is not to be defeated.

Lansing, Alfred. Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage (pp. 225-226). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.
Page

Instead, life was reckoned in periods of a few hours, or possibly only a few minutes—an endless succession of trials leading to deliverance from the particular hell of the moment.
Page 230

Over and over again, a thousand times each day, this drama was re-enacted. Before long, to the men on board the Caird, it lost all elements of awesomeness and they found it routine and commonplace instead, as a group of people may become inured to the perils of living in the shadow of an active volcano.
Page 229

They're in a tiny boat. The boat is going up and over waves that tower fifty feet above them, able to crash a hundred million tons of water on them every surge, and they become used to it.

They had been the underdog, fit only to endure the punishment inflicted on them.

But sufficiently provoked, there is hardly a creature on God’s earth that ultimately won’t turn and attempt to fight, regardless of the odds. In an unspoken sense, that was much the way they felt now. They were possessed by an angry determination to see the journey through—no matter what.
Page 239

Chimera

Book Notes

Well, at least this book wasn't quite as tiresome as the previous book in the series, but that doesn't mean it was actually good. I mean, yes, if you're a fan of Mira Grant, then, no, wait, not even if you're a fan of Mira Grant. I'm a fan of Mira Grant's books from the Feed trilogy, and I found these books so incredibly sloooooooow.

Yes, we know that all life wants to live. We get that.

Yes, we know you're a worm who is in a human body and there are ethical issues surrounding that takeover. We get that.

Yes, we know that you love Nathan, tolerate Cale, and can't stand Sherman. We get that.

But say it all in fewer words.

Again, this book feels like each chapter was written as a short story, with Grant (not her real name) needing to explain (again) each part of the story's history in order to give some action. No, it wasn't needed. A small saving grace is that at least there's more action in this book than the last one.

Both of these books needed an editor who was willing to actually use her powers of editing to cut down on the repetitions. If I said this about Rowling, I can say it about Grant: Too. Many. Words.

Not recommended.

The point of no return is a philosophical construct, an idea that looks beautiful on paper or in a computer model, but which cannot hold up under the bearing strain of reality. The point of no return is reached in a thousand places at the same time, a thousand little fractal iterations all coming together and collapsing until the center cannot hold.
Page 7

"I had lived the first six years of my life going along the path of least resistance and letting other people make my decisions for me."
Page 19

Welcome to most people's first 18 years of life.

The human tendency to focus on the inconsequential to avoid focusing on the traumas at hand could be completely ridiculous at times.
Page 21

"Breaking things is human. It’s stupid and dangerous and irresponsible, but it’s human."
Page 85

That was human nature rearing its ugly head again: Break what you can’t control; destroy what you can’t understand.
Page 85

I wanted to live. I wanted to make it home. I wanted to see how this was going to end.
Page 138

YAWN. Yes. We know. We f'ing know this already. This is, by the way, the only reason I kept reading this book, even though I did so at lightning speed. In retrospect, I should have just read the summary from some website.

"Being a monster is not the same as being a bad person. It just means you’re willing to eat the world if that’s what you have to do to keep yourself alive. You really want to tell me that you wouldn’t eat the world if that was what you had to do?"
Page 163

"You’re insane.”

“I hate that word. All it means is ‘you don’t think like I do,’ and by that standard, everyone is insane."
Page 163

While the book is slow going, it does have a few zingers, bits of truth in it.

People would always be telling her who and what she had to be. At least this way, she could choose one of the things that would define her to the rest of the world.

Page 173

I wanted to ask why it was our good luck, and not the bad luck of the original owner — who had clearly either become a sleepwalker or been devoured by them—that mattered here.
Page 190

“Knowing the direction doesn’t mean you have to go.”
Page 194

"This is not what I intended. This is all her fault."
STAGE I: GENETIC DRIFT
Page 201

Unsurprisingly, this completely fits with the Sherman character: arrogant and impulsive, and completely unable to accept responsibility for his own actions. Grant got this part right.

"What if I did something wrong, and messed up Juniper the way the Mitchells had damaged me?"
Page 209

Blah blah blah, no, the Sal character isn't special. ALL parents feel this way. Every. Fucking. One.

Science is a powerful tool, but like any tool, it doesn’t care whether it hurts you. Fire warms us, cooks our food, protects us from predators, but it will burn us if we let it. Fire is more than happy to eat us all alive. Science is fire writ large.
Page 227

Humanity has always been disturbingly happy to sacrifice its future on the altar of right now.
Page 227

Hello, block of chocolate, meet my hips.

I had said it before.
Page 240

Yes, and sadly, we heard it. Over and over and over and over and over again.

It was nothing compared to what came next.
Page 262

JEEZ, this was another annoying part of this book. It was full of "and you won't believe what happens next." Ooooooo, foreshadowing. Editor, cut out all of these, except maybe (MAYBE) one.

“So… I’m doing this?”

The drums had stopped.

Everything was silence.

“This is me, somehow?”
Page 264

You know what? I have no idea what I was thinking when I highlighted this passage. I could go back and find it, but I don't care enough about this book to do so.

"When he came to USAMRIID to break me out, I could have screamed. I could have refused to go."
Page 265

Ah. This part. This is where Sal tries to argue that despite making the best decision should possibly could at the time she made it, no, it wasn't the best decision in retrospect.

Except, YOU CAN'T KNOW THAT. Looking back like this is complete bullshit. No, you couldn't have done better. No, you couldn't have made a better choice. No, you couldn't have screamed or refused to go, because youre priorities were different at that moment and those were the choices you made.

I can't stand this historical rewriting that everyone does.

So I went with him willingly,
Page 265

No, you didn't. You went under duress. There's a difference. There's a huge f'ing difference.

Who writes this crap?

Oddly, she was perfectly happy to have Beverly accompany me while she stayed behind. As long as there was a dog with me, she believed I would come back.
Page 272

Dogs are like that.

Haven’t you ever noticed how when a man says one thing, and the woman says another thing, people will almost always believe the man is the one who’s telling the truth? Even if she has more proof than he does.
Page 278

Yep. Same in the real world. Grant nailed that one.

“It’s interesting, isn’t it, how facts fall down in the face of appearances?
Page 286

All about marketing. Thought for another post, I'm sure.

“Amateurs. Evil amateurs, which is the worst kind. Couldn’t we have had the villains we deserved?”
Page 352

dead. How much time were we going to spend arguing about the dead before we started to understand how unimportant they were compared to the living?
Page 355

But still, I should have found a way to stop him.
Page 379

More annoying history rewriting. You know what? Sometimes you CAN'T. Especially when the author just wants to write a whiny character.

“She’s a spitfire and a half,” he said. “Always running for the hills and shouting when they don’t come to meet her.”
Page 380

“It’s weird when you say things that make sense,” I said.

Fishy beamed. “I am the living incarnation of the Konami Code.”
Page 403

This cracked me up.

I had asked once whether amnesia was a form of dying, and I had been assured that no, no, it was just a second chance at figuring out who you really were.
Page 415

Putting yourself in harm’s way over and over again is not the most effective means of committing suicide.
Page 429

Survival is the main drive of any living organism.
Page 433

If we didn't know this fact before reading this book, WE F'ING KNOW IT NOW.

I considered telling him what Fishy had said, about not blaming babies for the things they did before they were born. Babies didn’t ask to exist, but once they did, they wanted to keep going.
Page 433

SEE?

We walk on the graves of our unborn selves, the futures we never got to live, and some of those people wouldn’t get along very well with the ones we actually decided to be.
Page 452

The thought was sobering. How many people’s motives didn’t match up with what I’d taken for their actions? How many villains were the heroes of their own stories?
Page 457

Every. F'ing. One. Of. Them.

Death Masks

Book Notes

The Dresden Files, book 5

Rereading books you've read before is always interesting, because you pick up on details you missed the previous times. Good books are ones where you learn something new, find something new to reflect upon, or revisit a thought you had before when reading the book previously.

I am rather enjoying rereading the Dresden series. I keep noticing details I might have missed before, subtle foreshadowing (or deliberate referral in later books by Butcher), and entertaining parts in the series.

This is the book that introduces Nicodemus, along with Ortega, Ivy, Kincaid, and Shiro. We see Susan Rodriguez again, which gives Dresdent some relief from the overbearing (and I'd argue misplaced) guilt he had in previous books. We have Michael Carpenter and Sanya, and oh boy this is one of those books in the series where we are introduced to just so many players in the game.

I enjoyed this book, and keep it as fan in the recommend column. If you're a Dresden fan, you won't be disappointed. I don't know how you'd take urban fantasy, though, if you prefer historical crime non-fiction, say.

Based on my notes in the book, I'm amused by a typo that's been around for a while.

The priest left my car almost before I’d set the parking break, hurried to the nearest door, and ducked inside as quickly as he could open the lock."
Page 24

Pretty sure that was supposed to be a parking brake.

And why this book is called UC_Death Masks on both kindle and audible, I will likely never know. Annoys me when I'm looking for the book.

“So if you’re not religious, you risk your life to help other people because…?”

“Because it must be done,” he answered without hesitation. “For the good of the people, some must place themselves in harm’s way. Some must pledge their courage and their lives to protect the community.”
Page 74

Sanya is awesome.

“Perhaps some could argue that I am agnostic.”

“Agnostic?”

“One who does not commit himself to the certain belief in a divine power,” he said.

“I know what it means,” I said. “What shocks me is that you think it applies to you. You’ve met more than one divine power. Hell, one of them broke your arm not half an hour ago.”

“Many things can break an arm. You yourself said that you do not need a god or goddess to define your beliefs about the supernatural.”

Page 75

“But there is a better choice.”

“What?”

“Don’t fight. Can’t lose a fight you don’t have.”
Page 177

“Fighting is never good. But sometimes necessary.”
Page 177

"The blood on their hands does not make it right to bloody my own. My choices are measured against my own soul. Not against the stains on theirs."
Page 297

How many times do we make poor choices because of others' actions? Realizing that each is responsible for his own actions, and that we are responsible for ours, and can choose only our own responses not others responses, can help us make fewer of those poor choices.

It isn’t good to hold on too hard to the past. You can’t spend your whole life looking back. Not even when you can’t see what lies ahead. All you can do is keep on keeping on, and try to believe that tomorrow will be what it should be—even if it isn’t what you expected.
Page 373

Indeed.

Symbiont

Book Notes

I had read Parasite from Mira Grant when it came out, a number of years ago. I was such a fan of her Feed trilogy and independently fascinated by the different forms of zombie fiction, so was going to read this trilogy, too.

I recall thinking Parasite was okay, not great, not as good as the Feed books, but okay. This one, ugh, this one had too many words.

Do you really need two pages of description about how you walked into a building, your brother was standing behind a plant in the entrance way, watching you, and stepped out when he recognized you? I would argue, YOU DON'T.

And YES, yes, yes, yes, we know that Sherman is a bad guy and that he did bad things, and yes, everything is about survival. Yes, we know this, because you've told us a million times.

I swear this book was written as 20 separate stories, with Grant (yes, not her real name), forgetting the previous books when writing each one. So much repetition over and over again about the same things. Too. Many. Words.

This is book two of a trilogy. I'll read the next book because my philosophy on series of which I have enjoyed one book, is that two bad books in a row and I'll stop. This would be book one of the two that would make me stop reading.

You will not find information to exonerate me. You may find more proof that I should be reviled by history. It’s all right. The broken doors are open now, and I was the one who opened them.
Page 4

Adam nodded. “Mom says you know someone is getting tired of living when they stop asking questions.”
Page 27

I wanted to tell him that he was wrong, and that his absence wouldn’t make anything easier at all—that no one ever made anything easier by walking away from it. I couldn’t.
Page 31

disheveled. “I don’t think either of us has had a life that made sense in years,” he said. “We’ve just started noticing how strange everything is.”
Page 55

I was standing in the present, and when you’re only thinking about today, history is always so far away.
Page 61

It was easy to pretend to follow social rules when you didn’t really believe that they applied to you.
Page 69

You can move out any time you need to, and that means pain is nothing but an inconvenience. Now breathe.
Page 88

The whole point of going to where the monsters are is that the monsters will always let you in.”
Page 103

Being a human was hard. It was sharp and cold and filled with choices that had no good outcomes, just varying shades and shapes of badness. No matter what you chose, you were choosing wrong for someone.
Page 157

“Humans have been trying to clean up the world ever since they figured out soap and water. I think that’s what their Devil really taught them. There’s a lot of bollocks in the Bible about humans learning modesty and shame when they first sinned, but I don’t think they went ‘oh no, I’m naked.’ I think they went ‘oh no, I’m filthy.’ That was the true fall from grace. You can’t be a part of nature if you’re trying to be clean all the time.”
Page 189

It is an unfortunate truth that the inconvenient, when ignored, tends to become worse rather than becoming better.
Page 314

“Help is commonly reciprocal between equals, a matter of duty from inferiors, and a matter of obligation from superiors,” said Anna, in the same calm, barely inflected tone that she had used before.
Page 345

“We become entirely different people every seven years, and our minds let it happen because it’s slow, it’s graceful, and even then, we cling to childhood pleasures and high school goals like they somehow had more relevance just because they happened earlier in our developmental cycles."
Page 353

It’s not selfish to want to exist. It’s a function of the survival instinct buried in all complicated organisms.”
Page 362

The reality of her original identity’s death was years behind her, taking most of the anger with it. But not, I realized, the rage. They were two different beasts, close enough to seem identical when seen together, but unique enough that one could endure without the other.
Page 378

“Because it’s easier. It’s so much easier to say, ‘This is a story, and there are heroes and villains, and there’s an ending, and when we get there the book will close and we’ll all live happily ever after.’”
Page 394

It would be terrible to have an entire species with bellies full of mingled love and hate, anger and fear, walking around and thinking that they controlled the world.
Page 399

Every human was the result of social and cultural recombination, picking up a turn of phrase here, an idea or a preconception there, the same way bacteria picked up and traded genes. Nothing was purely its own self. Nothing would ever want to be.
Page 400

Even when things were at their worst, some people could be counted on to be absolutely terrible.
Page 425

This day just kept on getting worse, and I was ready for it to stop anytime now.
Page 438

The urge to survive is a powerful thing. It can drive even the most primitive of organisms to do things that should have been impossible, because they don’t want to die.
Page 449

That’s my fault as much as it is anyone else’s, but as I do not have the power to revise the past, I choose not to dwell on that.
Page 479

“I promise I’ll do my best not to,” he said, and that was somehow better than an outright pledge to never do it, ever, under any circumstances would have been: he was human, and fallible, just like all of us. He could make mistakes. Pretending that was never going to happen wouldn’t do anybody any good, but it could leave us unprepared for what was yet to come.
Page 496

Neuromancer

Book Notes

I swear I have read this book before. I mean, how could I not have read this book before? It is the vanguard of cyberpunk from which so many following books expand.

Yet, when I started reading this book, I was puzzled that it didn't seem familiar.

How could I not have read this book? I am no longer sure I had, to be honest. Case is a hustler, stole from his employer, was blacklisted. He's hired by Armitage and Molly, and takes on a project where they break into some high security place (digital and physical) to steal something. The book is about that mission.

Reading Neuromancer now, 30+ years after its initial publication is an odd experience, given that many of the terms and concepts Gibson describes are just common place. While avant-garde when published, so much has been become modern technologies, maybe inspired by the book? Unsure, but likely.

I really like Gibson's style of writing, similar to Kay's style of show-don't-tell. Of course, I like the book. Of course, it's recommended.

‘How you doing , Dixie?’
‘I’m dead, Case. Got enough time in on this Hosaka to figure that one.’
‘How’s it feel?’
‘It doesn’t.’
‘Bother you?’
‘What bothers me is, nothin’ does.’
‘How’s that?’
‘Had me this buddy in the Russian camp, Siberia, his thumb was frostbit. Medics came by and they cut it off. Month later he’s tossin’ all night. Elroy, I said, what’s eatin’ you? Goddam thumb’s itchin’, he says. So I told him, scratch it. McCoy, he says, it’s the other goddam thumb.’ When the construct laughed, it came through as something else, not laughter, but a stab of cold down Case’s spine. ‘Do me a favor, boy.’
‘What’s that, Dix?’
‘This scam of yours, when it’s over, you erase this goddam thing.’
Chapter 8 somewhere

“Doesn’t hurt?” The bright eyes met his. “Of course it does. That’s part of it, isn’t it?”
Page 108

"I try to plan, in your sense of the word, but that isn't my basic mode, really. I improvise. It's my greatest talent. I prefer situations to plans, you see..."
Page 118

The Finn grinned. “It doesn’t much matter. You gotta hate somebody before this is over.” He turned and headed for the back of the shop.
Page 166

“And the Yak, they can afford to move so fucking slow, man, they'll wait years and years. Give you a whole life, just so you'll have more to lose when they come and take it away. Patient like a spider. Zen spiders.

"I didn't know that then. Or if I did, I figured it didn't apply to us. Like when you're young, you figure you're unique. I was young."
Page something

"How do you cry, Molly? I see your eyes are walled away. I'm curious." His eyes were red-rimmed, his forehead gleaming with sweat. He was very pale. Sick, Case decided. Or drugs.
"I don't cry, much."
"But how would you cry if someone made you cry?"
"I spit," she said. "The ducts are routed back into my mouth."
"They you've already learned an important lesson, for one so young... That is the way to handle tears."
Page 177

Gettings Things Done

Book Notes

This book is a classic on Getting Things Done.

It is the first majorly-popular business book that outlined an effective strategy for dealing with paper and prioritization of said information overload. The processes outlined are, as near as I can tell, guaranteed to work if actually done. Amusingly enough, however, nearly all the details are for a world that doesn't really exist any more. The copy I read was from the nineties, before the Intarwebs became a household phenomenon. As such, there are a lot of paper handling tasks, a lot of folders, the use of a label maker, and many techniques that aren't specifically applicable any more.

Also, the focus of the book is more for managers, and less for, say, the workers, the coders, the engineers. Oh, many of the techniques do apply, but they aren't all relevant.

Given this book is a classic, and given that I did get good use, ideas, and processes from reading it, I do recommend it.

Just not the paper parts.

Forever War

Book Notes

I've had this book on my shelf for a great number of years. I'm pretty sure I bought it some time when I was reading Scalzi's Old Man's War, as people made comparisons between the Forever War and Old Man's War, hey, likely because they both had war and distorted times as theme elements.

The Forever War is an author-described commentary on the Vietnam War, where on the lowest level, none of the soldiers know why they are fighting. There was an interstellar ship that disappeared, and boom, now the entire planet is at war with the other race. The other race is somewhat baffling, in that none of their actions are smart in terms of war.

I can understand the comparisons of Old Man's War to the Forever War, even as I think they are both great science fiction books from the perspective (nominally) of the soldier. Haldeman's Mandella is less witty and less self-aware than Scalzi's Perry, likely because the latter is actually an old man, with a lifetime of experience before he entered the military, while Mandella is a two-tour, everyone-f'ing-died, seasoned vet by the time he's 25. Yet, we are still cheering for Mandella as his world just completely messed up.

I haven't and won't read the sequels, Forever Free and Forever Peace, as I feel the story is self-contained and ends well. While I have to say, "Wow, after all the shit that happened in your world, you end up in a sufficiently happy place, life just doesn't work out that way," I'm okay with this book's ending being relatively happy.

All those reams of theory crammed in my brain; there was plenty of tactical advince about envelopment and encirclemnet, but from the wrong point of view. If you were the one who was being encircled, you didn't have may options. Sit tight and fight. Respond quickly to enemy concentrations of force, but stay flexible so the enemy can't employ a diversionaly force to divert stregth from some predictable section of your perimeter. Make full use of air and space support, always good advice. Keep your head down and your chin up and pray for the cavalry. Hold your position and don't contemplate Dienbienphu, the Alamo, the Battle of Hastings.

Which lead down the rabbit hole of Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Wow. "After several days the French artillery commander, Charles Piroth, unable to respond with any effective counterbattery fire, committed suicide." There's a history lesson for one to learn.

"I've seen your psych profile," he said.

...

"What, it says I won't make a good officer? I told them that from the beginning. I'm no leader."

"Right in a way, wrong in a way. Want to know what that profile says?"

...

"I don't suppose it has any big surprises." But I was a little curious. What animal isn't fascinated by a mirror?

"No, it says you're a pacifist. A failed one at that, which gives you a mild neurosis. Which you handle by transferring the burden of guilt to the army."

The fresh beer was so cold it hurt my teeth. "No surprises yet."

"And as far as being a leader, you do have a certain potential. But it would be along the lines of a teacher or a minister; you would have to lead from empathy, compassion. You ahve the desire to impose your ideas on other people, but not your will. Which means, you're right, you'll make one hell of a bad officer unless you shape up."

We ticked off the things that bothered us: violence, high cost of living, too many people everywhere. I'd have added homolife, but Marygay said I just didn't appreciate the social dynamic that had led to it; it had been inevitable. The only thing she said she had against it was that it took so many of the prettiest men out of circulation.

And the main thing that was wrong was that everything seemed to have gotten just a little worse, or at best remained the same. You would have predicted that at least a few facets of everyday life would improve markedly in twenty-two years. Her father contended the War was behind it all: any person who showed a shred of talent was sucked up by UNEF; the very best fell to the Elite Conscription Act and wound up being cannon fodder.

It was hard not to agree with him. Wars in the past often accelerated social reform, provided technological benefits, even sparked artistic activity. This one, however, seemed tailor-made to provide none of these positive by-products. Such improvements as had been made on late-twentieth-century technology were—like tachyon bombs and warships two kilometers long—at best, interesting developments of things that only required the synergy of money and existing engineering techniques. Social reform? The world was technically under martial law. As for art, I'm not sure I know good from bad. But artists to some extent have to reflect the temper of the times. Paintings and sculpture were full of torture and dark brooding; movies seemed static and plotless; music was dominated by nostalgic revivals of earlier forms; architecture was mainly concerned with finding someplace to put everybody; literature was damn near incomprehensible. Most people seemed to spend most of their time trying to find ways to outwit the government, trying to scrounge a few extra K'S or ration tickets without putting their lives in too much danger.

And in the past, people whose country was at war were constantly in contact with the war. The newspapers would be full of reports, veterans would return from the front; sometimes the front would move right into town, invaders marching down Main Street or bombs whistling through the night air-but always the sense of either working toward victory or at least delaying defeat. The enemy was a tangible thing, a propagandist's monster whom you could understand, whom you could hate.

But this war … the enemy was a curious organism only vaguely understood, more often the subject of cartoons than nightmares. The main effect of the war on the home front was economic, unemotional, more taxes but more jobs as well. After twenty-two years, only twenty-seven returned veterans; not enough to make a decent parade. The most important fact about the war to most people was that if it ended suddenly, Earth's economy would collapse.

Summer Knight

Book Notes

The Dresden Files, book 4

I might be rereading the Dresden Files.

Okay, yes, I am.

This is book four, and, oh my wow, can I not stand how Dresden is feeling guilty over the plight of Susan Rodriguez. Okay, she been partially turned into a Red Court vampire. Okay, her life is now going to be one of constant denial of the internal hunger to kill. Okay, yes, Dresden withheld information from the people close to him in order to protect them and that withholding contributed to their going into dangerous situations without full knowledge of just how dangerous the situations were.

But COME ON.

There's only so much guilt one person can take for THE CHOICES ANOTHER PERSON MAKES. The guilt that Butcher writes into Dresden abdicates Susan of the responsibility for her own choices, which is bunk. While I'm not saying he didn't contribute to the situation she was in, and that his attempts to reverse the damage aren't admirable (yes, yes, fictional character and all that), the guilt thing was a bit tiresome after the fifth or sixth woe is me.

That said, Dresden. Love it.

Less about all the death and dying in the book as the faerie go to war, but the humour and characters and plot movement are top notch.

“But this is where it always begins. Monsters are born of pain and grief and loss and anger. Your heart is full of them.” I shrugged. “And?” “And it makes you vulnerable. Vulnerable to Mab’s influence, to temptations that would normally be unthinkable.”
Page 202

“You’ll get through it.” “What if I don’t?” I squeezed her fingers. “Then I will personally make fun of you every day for the rest of your life,” I said. “I will call you a sissy girl in front of everyone you know, tie frilly aprons on your car, and lurk in the parking lot at CPD and whistle and tell you to shake it, baby. Every. Single. Day.”
Page 219

Sometimes the most remarkable things seem commonplace. I mean, when you think about it, jet travel is pretty freaking remarkable. You get in a plane, it defies the gravity of an entire planet by exploiting a loophole with air pressure, and it flies across distances that would take months or years to cross by any means of travel that has been significant for more than a century or three. You hurtle above the earth at enough speed to kill you instantly should you bump into something, and you can only breathe because someone built you a really good tin can that has seams tight enough to hold in a decent amount of air. Hundreds of millions of man-hours of work and struggle and research, blood, sweat, tears, and lives have gone into the history of air travel, and it has totally revolutionized the face of our planet and societies. But get on any flight in the country, and I absolutely promise you that you will find someone who, in the face of all that incredible achievement, will be willing to complain about the drinks.
Page 333

Mockingbird

Book Notes

I read this book on Cal's recommendation. It was on his list of recently read and recommended books, so I picked it up, and read it relatively soon afterward (how unusual for me). It is a science fiction dystopian novel where the world is run by robots and privacy norms keep everyone isolated from everyone else.

The book opens with the last of the Make9 robots climbing to the top of a skyscraper, wanting to jump off, commit suicide, and being unable to do so. We then discover his world where robots run everything, and the world is deteriorating, because no one knows how to do anything, make anything, or, hell, even read.

We discover later that there are no children, to later discover why there are no children, having to do with the opening scene, actually.

I struggled with this book in the beginning, mostly because the implementation of the dystopia seemed wrong. When the future was everyone watching television and taking drugs (pot maybe to mellow everyone out?), I was like, "Television? Uh..." The book was published in 1980, so, okay, no Internet in this future. But a few other nuances about taking privacy to extremes felt completely off, too.

Eventually, I realized that while the details were wrong, the book was a commentary about the dangers of human isolation. Once I realized that, I was able to let go of the frustration with the details and just read the book.

While the details don't survive the test of time, the commentary does. If you're a fan of social commentary in the form of science-fiction dystopia, this is a book to read.

"You ought to memorize your life, the way I am doing. You ought to dictate your whole story into a recorder. I could write it down for you, and teach you how to read it."

He looked back toward me and his face now seemed very old and sad.

"I have no need to, Mary. I can't forget my life. I have no means of forgetting. That was left out."

"My god," I said. "That must be awful."

"Yes, it is," he said. "It is awful."

Sometimes Bob (the Make9 robot) is more human than any human I have ever known.

Dead Mountaineer's Inn

Book Notes

The full title of this book is "The Dead Mountaineer's Inn: One More Last Rite for the Detective Genre". It is the first Russian science fiction book I recall that I have read. I picked it up on the recommendation of Rob Brackett, who had read it and was enthusiastic while reading it, and less enthusiastic after the ending, which intrigued me. I had the book a while before reading it, but I'm not sure why the delay (wait, no, yes, I am).

The story starts with the protagonist, Inspector Glebsky, arriving at a remote mountain inn for a couple weeks relaxation away from his job, his wife, his life. He went to the inn on the recommendation of a colleague, Zgut. A few other guests appear before a murder happens, followed by an avalanche, which traps the guests in the inn until rescue.

Now, the genre of the book is science fiction, but it reads as a mystery. The ending makes it science fiction. The book also reads a little absurd, which I think is part of its appeal. Some of the internal monologues of Glebsky (Is he a police officer or a second-hand sink salesman? I couldn't tell.) are hysterical.

I made the mistake of attempting to read the introduction by Jeff Vandermeer, the author of The Southern Reach trilogy. I found his books boring, and his introduction just as awful. He goes into the plot of the book and saying "isn't this great!" before I know anything about the book, and I'm like, "Uh..." The man even gives away some plot points, along with his usual convoluted writing style. I am so not of a fan of that author.

The book is an entertaining read, not sure I'd recommend it if you're not already a fan of Russian science-fiction, though. If you are, though, you probably have already read this one.

In my new scale of book recommendations, this has a fan rating.

Unfortunately, in my quotes export, there aren't any pages, just Kindle locations provided. Double unfortunately, I'm not motivated enough to translate locations to pages. Quotes anyway:

“Two vices, to be precise: first, the pettiness of any criminal motive, and second, the imminence of a boring, disappointingly dull, plausibility-killing, awkward explanation. You can count all possible motives on the fingers of one hand … Your interest inevitably declines as soon as whos and whys are revealed.”
Location 170

“Haven’t you ever noticed, Mr. Glebsky, how much more interesting the unknown is than the known? The unknown makes us think—it makes our blood run a little quicker and gives rise to various delightful trains of thought. It beckons, it promises. It’s like a fire flickering in the depths of the night. But as soon as the unknown becomes known, it’s just as flat, gray and uninteresting as everything else.”
Location 289

"No doubt my gracious host couldn’t care less. Kaisa’s dumb. To ask Simone would be to bring his undead laughter back to life … But then what am I doing? Why do I care? Should I grab more roast? Kaisa is dumb, that’s for certain, but she knows a lot about cooking …"
Location 516

"Mr. Simone has provided me with an inexhaustible source of reflection on the glaring discrepancy between a man’s behavior when he’s relaxing, and the value for humankind of that same man when he’s at work.”
Location 651

At the height of his triumph, when the Viking was already towering over the porch, leaning picturesquely on one ski pole as he smiled dazzlingly at Mrs. Moses, fortune gave her wheel a little tap. Lel the St. Bernard made his way to the winner, gave him an intent sniff and then suddenly, with a quick, precise gesture extended his right paw out directly over his ski boots. I couldn’t have scripted it better myself. Mrs. Moses screamed, the crowd burst into a series of hearty curses, and I went back inside. I am not a gloating man by nature.
Location 738

“Do you remember what Hannibal did to the Romans near Cannes?”
Location 881

“All right. I suppose you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” the owner said.
Location 2335

“When a murder is being investigated, good citizens have a responsibility to provide the police with the desired information,” I said strictly. “Failure to do so could be seen as complicity.”
Location 2565

The only problem was that, if this was the case then there was nothing left for me to do but turn in my weapon: as some writer or another said, the afterlife is the church’s business, not the police’s.
Location 2707

“To giving me a few minutes. It’s important to me.” “It’s important to you,” I repeated, continuing to make my way towards the stairs. “If it’s important only to you, then to me, it’s not that important.”
Location 2717

Within the frame of his craziness all the means eventually became ends.
Location 3085

The thing is, my conscience bothers me. This never happens to me: I act properly, I obey God, the law and the people, but my conscience bothers me. Sometimes it gets really bad, and I want to find one of them and ask them to forgive me.
Location 3547

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