Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Bookworming: Guilty Pleasures

Guilty Pleasures, Laurel K. Hamilton, ***
About four years before Buffy started its TV run, another vampire slayer was on the scene. Anita Blake lives in a world where vampires and other supernatural creatures are public knowledge, raises the dead for her day (night) job, and hunts vampires with and for the police on the side. Add in a noir-ish mystery, some splatter horror, and overly sexualized undertones and you have a great basis for a wonderfully fun, exploitation style series. Things didn't really turn out that way in the long run, so I'm going to do this in two parts.

First, the book on its own. Guilty Pleasures makes for a reasonable first novel with the sorts of flaws you would expect from one. The writing is repetitive in places. The main character's reputation relies a little too much on pre-established reputation. (Characters expressing surprise that Anita is The Executioner begins to sound like the "Snake Pliskin, I thought you were dead." line from Escape From New York.) The main villains have the particularly slippery horror combination of way too much power for the protagonist to reasonably be able to deal with and enough arrogance and stupidity to allow her to be lucky at the right times to actually stay alive. All that said, many of the things some might find as flaws, I can see as good use of the tropes of the genres being played with by Hamilton. It was a decent enough read that I continued with the series.

Which brings me to part two, the series as far as I got. The style and tone hold relatively steady for the first five books in the series, though sex gradually becomes a larger focus. (Note that Guilty Pleasures has no actual sex in it.) Once past book five, the books begin to lose the procedural elements and become more about the interactions between Anita and the various, and ever-increasing, supernatural creature groups around her. And those interactions become ever more focused on sex and or violence. By the eighth and ninth books, the series' tone had changed enough that my enjoyment waned and I stopped reading, reportedly just before it swerved completely into erotica territory.

For my tastes, I can't really recommend more than the first five books in the series, and those only if you enjoy the rather grindhouse tone being set.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Bookworming: Pattern Recognition

Pattern Recognition, William Gibson, *****
I love a good turn of a phrase, and for my money Gibson is right up there with Douglas Adams in mastery of that art. As a consequence, Gibson novels are not easy reading, and having the internet handy to look up the occasional word would not go amiss. The pace here is even slower than usual for his books, with the central plot circling around a search and the mysteries that crop up because of that search.

That said, Gibson remains a favorite author, and this is my favorite book of his. This review actually comes after my third reading, and I love it now as much as before. It is also possibly his most accessible, keeping to a single, memorable point of view character. And while I put this on the sci-fi shelf, it is very grounded in the essentially-now. If a somewhat languid pace and some complex language aren't going to bother you, then give this one a try. I find it well worth it, and the observational details are second to none.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Automation vs. Capitalism

Since the bursting of the last bubble, the subject of job losses to automation seems to be a continuous background murmur in economic stories. Many of the jobs lost, it is said, are simply gone never to return. A quick search will turn up many, many articles on the subject. And many, many counter articles. I suspect how you respond to the subject will generally fall in line with how you feel about "The Market". But for me, there is a more interesting angle: to whom do the benefits of automation go?

Software, especially, is a good place to see wealth concentration through automation in action. But how much of that is driven by economics and how much of by psychology? (Whether there is really a distinction between the two is a subject for a different time.) Laurie Penny writing for NewStatesman pens (types?) a editorial taking on the subject from an interesting perspective: it isn't the automation that is bad, it's our economic system. Could we, through an offering of a living wage, produce a society where a life of leisure was a possibility for many? Would it produce a whole new underclass of lazy layabouts? Would it produce a burst of creativity and innovation where people are free to pursue their own passion projects? Would it do a little of both, but mostly leave society as it is because large houses, fancy cars, day care, and cable or cell phone bills are expensive? Can market capitalism ever move in a direction where more people work for less hours?

Personally, I think trying to get a living wage in place would be a stretch for a country that can't even agree that universal health care would be a good thing. But that's just my practical side. I would absolutely consider retiring early given the chance, though what I really want is the possibility to work, say, four days a week instead of five. It's a good question to ask: do you have an interest you would spend your time on if you worked less or not at all?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Bookworming: The Hero of Ages

The Hero of Ages (Mistborn #3), Brandon Sanderson, ****
Satisfying ending to the trilogy. Absolutely no a stand-alone book. My review of the first book in the series applies here too.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Watching the Watchers: The Wall Street Journal Invokes the Specter of Marx

"[Lack of influence by shareholders] is perhaps most evident in the preposterous salaries paid, particularly in the U.S. and Britain, to top executives of public companies. If the owners of these companies truly exercised authority over what is theirs, this wouldn’t happen. If these enterprises had grown over the last 20 years at the same rate as pay for the men who run them (it usually still is men), no one would be talking of a crisis of capitalism." 
"But Marx did have an insight about the disproportionate power of the ownership of capital. The owner of capital decides where money goes, whereas the people who sell only their labor lack that power. This makes it hard for society to be shaped in their interests. In recent years, that disproportion has reached destructive levels, so if we don’t want to be a Marxist society, we need to put it right."
–Charles Moore, "The Middle-Class Squeeze", The Wall Street Journal, September 25, 2015

At this point, I really should have had something prepared to look into some of the do-your-own-thing movements going around. Say something about the rise of podcasting in comedy, Kickstarter/Patreon, the pros and cons of Silicon Valley-style startup culture, etc. And then contrast that with restrictive health care situations and other holes in the fabric of U.S. business. But I didn't do that. Maybe some other time.

Meanwhile, go listen to the Planet Money episode about Netflix's hiring and firing practices. Whether you think their approach is brilliant or horrifying may tell you something about which side you will be on should the specter of Marx rear its head in our "modern" times.

If this post was a youtube video, I would end it by asking: Capitalism, are we doing it wrong? If so how do we fix it?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Watching the Watchers: From Above

The U.S. Air Force is in its 24th year of continual combat. Consider for a moment all of the implications of that little fact.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Bookworming: In the Dust of This Planet

In the Dust of This Planet, Eugene Thacker, *
I came to this book via the Radio Lab episode and the True Detective season 1 influence. As such, it may have been built up a bit too much. It is, in my reading, basically a series of similarly themed essays on the subject of a nihilist perspective of horror that goes beyond the human-centered viewpoint. I say "in my reading", because there will undoubtedly be other readings. This is an academic work couched in overly academic styles and verbiage that might make H. P. Lovecraft ask Thacker to dial it back some. It is a good one to read on an e-reader or tablet with word look up available. While the topic may be an interesting one, this is not a book for general audiences. Even horror fans may not find what they are looking here. Scholars of horror or philosophy, perhaps. In his RadioLab interview Thacker jokes about writing books for no one. I'm afraid that in spite of the book's appearance in pop culture, that joke is fairly accurate for most potential readers.

Bookworming: The Well of Ascension

The Well of Ascension, Brandon Sanderson, ****
This is the second book in the Mistborn trilogy. If you liked the first one, I suspect you will like the second one.