Wednesday, June 27, 2018

It's a Magical World

By Bill Watterson

Another wonderful collection of Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, this one ending with Watterson's last Calvin and Hobbes strip, where Calvin and Hobbes toboggan off down the snowy hill together for the last time.
Here are a couple of strips from the collection:


Ancillary Justice

By Ann Leckie

I will try to explain this science fiction novel, first of the Ancillary triology, but I must admit I found it very confusing.
First of all the ancillaries: just exactly what they are I never really grasped. Are they brainwashed humans? Are they bodies with robot brains? Are they people whose brains are partially replaced with computer components? The author never really explains what they are. It's like she just assumes you already know.
Second, the genders. For some reason, the author chooses to refer to everyone as if they are female. According to an interview Leckie did with Liz Bourke on, she wanted to portray a society that does not care about genders. But to me, it was so confusing. It would have been less so if she had used a gender-neutral term like "it" instead of referring to everyone as "she."
So given my very imperfect understanding of this novel, I will attempt to give a brief synopsis of it.
Breq is an ancillary, a former human who was part of a larger, joined mind consisting of many other components, all based with a starship, Justice of Toren. One of those components was One Esq, who served Lieutenant Awn on a newly conquered planet, Shis'urna. The Radch are expansionist and brutal and they are relentless in bringing new planets into their sphere of influence. Awn is on Shis'urna as one of the Radch's representatives. She (or he) runs afoul of a political plot involving the supreme ruler of the Radch, Lord Anaander Mianaai. Mianaai is like the ancillaries in that he (or she or it) is composed of many bodies and one mind.
An uprising is put down but, as it turns out, the uprising was actually fomented by Mianaai. Mianaai is having an existential crisis. Although one mind in many bodies, part of Mianaai does not approve of what other parts of Mianaai are doing. The uprising plot was meant to be an initial move by one part against the other part of Mianaai. Because Awn succeeded in preventing the uprising, Mianaai orders One Esq to shoot Awn dead, which she/he/it does. Thing is, One Esq, even though an ancillary who is supposed to have no individuality, he/she/it loved Awn. And is devastated to be the instrument of Awn's death. And is now determined that Mianaai must die. So One Esq/Breq/Justice of Toren is on the hunt for a legendary weapon that can break through Mianaai's many sophisticated defenses and kill as many Mianaais as possible. Truly a futile suicide mission, as all of Mianaai is probably not stupid enough to have all of himself/herself/itself in one place at one time.

This is a complicated story made even more complicated by the author's refusal to explain the whole ancillary thing and by her insistence on referring to everyone as female. I don't have the kind of mind that, upon seeing every character as referred to as female, can instead picture them as neither male or female. So that was just annoying as was the whole lack of explanation of the ancillaries. And to top it off, the names with their double vowels were a further annoyance.
So I was rather inclined to despise this story as too confusing and annoying. But the fact is that it was really interesting and, even though I was never comfortable with the double vowels, the exclusively female genders and the whole concept of the ancillaries, I did still enjoy the story and I am looking forward to reading the other two books in the series, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy.

NPR has a review:

You Had Me at Halo

By Amanda Ashby

Holly Evans has just died. Which is a real shame because she was just getting started with her life. She had a great job, a handsome and successful boyfriend and the good fortune to have her best friend as a coworker.
But now it is all over and, to make it even worse, everyone thinks she committed suicide. But she as she adamantly tells her heavenly "spiritual realigner," Dr. Hill, she most certainly did not commit suicide and she is really angry that all her friends, family and coworkers think she did! And this is preventing her from transitioning from entry-level heaven to real heaven and her longed-for reunion with her parents, already residents of heaven.
But her baggage is keeping her from advancing and so Dr. Hill gives her 48 hours to return to life and deal with her problems. The catch is that she will have to inhabit the body of a very recently dead person and she ends up in the body of Vince Murphy, a nerdy techie coworker.
Although no one at work knew it, young Vince had a heart condition and he suddenly passed on, enabling Holly to move in and take over his life for 48 hours. She is desperate to contact her boyfriend and assure him that she did not, in fact, kill herself. That she loves him very much and was looking forward to becoming engaged and getting married.
But how can she approach her boyfriend wearing the surprisingly well-built body of a geeky young computer tech? Even worse, turns out Vince didn't actually die and he is quite perturbed to find out Holly has taken over his body!

This was a silly story and I quite enjoyed it. It was a fast, fun and amusing read although I did find the ending a bit weak.
It is another entry in the long line of romance fiction where the girl starts out blindly in love with a scoundrel and totally ignoring the good guy right under her nose. Of course the boyfriend turns out to be a selfish creep and the evil step-mother turns out to have a heart of gold and the wonderful job turns out to be an illusion. So Holly is not the most perceptive of girls and much of what she thought to be true turns out not to be. Pretty typical of this genre.
What is different about this story is how the author sets Holly up with her new love, Vince. Since Holly is actually dead and her 48 hours will soon be up and she will be called back to heaven to face her final evaluation, it seems hopeless that she and Vince can ever have the life they are meant to have together. How the author chooses to solve this dilemma was not very satisfactory.
But other than that, I truly did enjoy this light and fluffy story.

Review from Publishers Weekly.

Born Standing Up

By Steve MartItin

The story of how Steve Martin got his start in comedy, beginning with his childhood days of working at Disneyland and continuing on through his studies and the development of his ultimate comedy act drawing huge crowds at gigantic stadiums. At which point he lost his taste for stand up and switched to doing mainly movies and other endeavors in the entertainment industry.
Starting as a young stand up with a what I would call a goof-ball act, Martin enjoyed that connection with the audience that playing before a small group gives the performer. He felt he lost that connection, that personal relationship when he became massively famous. It was that loss that led him to step away from doing stand up.
It's a wise person who knows when to call it quits.

This was a fairly amusing story and I found out I knew nothing about Steve Martin's rise from unknown to famous. Or rather everything I thought I knew turned out to be wrong.
It's really interesting to read about that transition from obscurity to fame. Made me wonder how come it happens for  some and not for others. As Martin points out, a lot of his act was derived from that of earlier comics and magicians. So even though there was a lot that wasn't all that original, I guess his particular genius was putting it together and putting his own spin on it. Plus being there at the right time and simple luck must have something to do with it, I imagine.
He does touch on his personal life, speaking of his unhappy relationship with his angry father and of some of the women who passed through his life. He does not go into any detail about his personal life, his current wife, lovers, children at the time the book was written.
Some of the funniest lines in the book are found towards the end where he talks about his mother and quotes her accidentally funny put-downs:

"In an interview she said, 'He writes his own material, I'm always telling him he needs a new writer.'"

"She once told me, 'Oh, my friends went to the movies last weekend, and they couldn't get in anywhere so they went to see yours, and they loved it!'"

"We were driving through Beverly Hills and she said, 'Get out and walk down the street so I can watch people look at you.'"

Review by

Monday, June 04, 2018

The Dosadi Experiment

By Frank Herbert

Jorj X McKie, from Herbert's novel The Whipping Star, is back to solve a new mystery: Dosadi. Dosadi is a toxic planet where a group of humans and Gowachin were confined within a rift valley.  They are trapped in the valley and along the rim by what they call the God Wall. The God Wall is maintained and powered by a Caleban, celestial beings who appear to be actual stars. No one may exit through the God Wall except via one method, which McKie discovers after he arrives in the valley. 
McKie has a close relationship with one particular Caleban, Fannie Mae. In the past, he rescued Fannie Mae from torture and certain death. Fannie Mae reveals that the only way to leave Dosadi is in a different body: "McKie cannot leave in his own body/node." Eventually McKie figures out that Dosadi is being used as a source of youthful bodies into which older beings have their minds transferred. Using the power of the Calebans, one person's mind can be transferred into the body of another person, no matter their species. This is being used by the rich and powerful as a way to have eternal life. The person whose body is used is transferred into the old person's body and then killed to keep the whole process secret.
The population of Dosadi has to cope with a very hostile and dangerous environment. It has made them the ultimate survivors. They have become a threat to the rest of the civilized universe and they are determined to break free of their prison. The wealthy cabal is now fearful of the result if these people manage to gain their freedom. Their solution is the destruction of the entire planet of Dosadi and its captive population of humans and Gowachin. McKie only figure this out once he is on Dosadi. When he reveals it to the warring factions in the rift valley, it brings the conflict to an end as they come together to face this terrible threat.

This was, frankly, a rather boring read. The characters spend most of their time together trying to read each other's body language. The Dosadi are so adept at reading body language that non-Dosadi are an open book to them. Which makes it easy for them to spot non-Dosadi. So a lot of the story is about various Dosadi reading each other and reading McKie and other non-Dosadi. Kind of boring. 
McKie's love interest in the story is a Dosadi woman, Jedrik, leader of one of the warring factions. She reminded me of the bitch mothers of Dune, those austere and cruel women trying to build a better society.


By Katy Tur

Katy Tur wasn't even living in the USA when she got offered the job of following Trump while he campaigned for the presidency. It meant she had to give up her place in London, England and move back to the States and then spend over a year on the road traveling. It was brutal. Just the physical demands of the constant travel, the fast food grabbed and gobbled, the lack of sleep and the lack of exercise and the mindless hostility of both Trump and his fanatical followers. I don't know how she did it, how any of the reporters tasked with trailing after Trump managed to do it without losing their composure, not to speak of their sanity (and their health).

A very readable book that illustrates both the hardships of being a reporter on the campaign trail and the basic dishonesty of Trump and his supporters as his many lies are exposed and shrugged off by his loyalists. It left me with a stomachache as everything I thought about Trump and the current Republicans was proven to be true. Sad days for our country when lies trump truth.

There's Treasure Everywhere

By Bill Watterson

A Calvin and Hobbes collection, copyright 1996. Calvin and Hobbes was one of my favorite comics and it is so nice to be able to revisit it through these collections. Frankly,  I don't know of any cartoonist today who compares in the least to Watterson.

Here is one of the strips from the collection that is a timely commentary on the state of the nation, thanks to the morons of the airwaves these days.