Review of The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle #6)The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was completely unaware that this was the 6th book of a series. I don’t think that really hurt my understanding of the expertly crafted world. This book explores, race, the sexes, sexuality, and the meaning of being human. Int his universe there are a number of worlds where humans live, at least 84, there could be more, but we only know of 83, plus the planet of Winter, where the story takes place.

The world is interesting for two main reasons. First, it takes place on a planet that has been in an iceage for millennia. Second, humans don’t have the two obvious genders, male and female. The humans on this planet are able to, and do, switch between the two during their “kemmering” whichis the ONLY time there are any sexes on the planet. In fact, the rest of the time they are essentially eunuchs. Technically having both male and female sex organs at this point. The book is interesting, because it’s a study of what life could be like without the duality of male/female. These discussions are important in this day and age, given importance of Trans rights in the political discourse and the general transphobia in parts of the polity (I literally looked at my twitter feed and the ACLU had just posted an article about a trans girl in Texas).

The book is, generally, written from the perspective of an Earth human, a young black man named Genly Ai. Which allows us to feel very connected to this book. The character struggles with handling the lack of duality and continually assigns maleness or femaleness to characters. He often gets them very wrong, especially in the case of his “Landlady.” Who looks more feminine to Genly Ai than many of the other humans on this planet. However, whenever he asked, he learned that the Landlady had never had any children of the flesh but had many children overall (essentially meaning the Landlady had never gotten pregnant but had gotten a number of other people pregnant).

Aside from the obvious relevance of the topic related to Trans rights, the book looks at how politics can change when a leader changes. How a peaceful country that has never known war, can create an otherness out of their neighbor and begin down the path of war. You can see through the action of people the impact of rhetoric of their leaders. This was written at the beginning of the Nixon administration and the end of the Johnson administration. But I think it still rings true given the Trump administration today. Our sense of otherness has moved from outside of our boarders to within our boarders in a terrifying way.

I really enjoyed this book. It was very thought provoking and definitely something worth checking out.

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Review of Farsighted by @StevenBJohnson

Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the MostFarsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most by Steven Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Steven Johnson is always an interesting read. I’ve been a fan of his since I initially read “Where Good Ideas Come From.” In this book, he clearly begins with the question of “how do we make good decisions?” In a way, this book is the natural sequel (if it can be said that non-fiction books can have sequels), to Ideas. If you wonder how you come up with an interesting idea, the process is similar to coming up with a good decision – or at least an informed methodical decision.

Like ideas, decisions don’t really come from the blue. Even the famous stories that Gladwell discusses in Blink, come from a long history of experience and relate to the amount of information that we have about a given situation. Now, we can of course, come to a decision without all the information we need. In fact, it’s guaranteed that this will happen. We never have all the information we ever need to make a decision. This book takes that as an axiom, clearly stated and referenced throughout the book. It’s not just a one off obvious statement. Johnson notes that the uncertainty of the outcome prevents a perfect decision plus, the fact that we cannot test what a decision would do before taking action. The best we can do is simulate and for most decisions, the best way to simulate is to tell a story.

In fact, day dreaming is one of the best ways for us to tell a story about how life could be different or how we could positively impact our lives. For example, if you’re thinking of getting a new job, day dreaming about how that job can improve your life is a great way of helping understand the impacts of your decision making process.

This book includes a number of real life examples of complex decisions that went well or went poorly. In the cases where things went well he digs into the decision making process and how these tools made an effective case for following the decision that was ultimately used. In the cases where things went poorly, he investigates the blindspots that lead to the poor decision (including a couple personal anecdotes) and the result.

I found this book to be really helpful and believe that it provides tools that can help improve our deliberation process.

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What Books Have Meant to Me

I have been a voracious reader most of my life. However, it didn’t come easy to me at first. In First Grade, where we really started to learn to read, I struggled a great deal. I always feared reading out loud because I would jumble words. They would swim in my vision and make it really difficult to read. I still switch words and I feel like when I’m reading out loud, I’m staring at the whole page rather than a specific line. It’s very difficult. However, I liked the stories that I was plunged into and it definitely made things feel worth it. In 3rd grade I really started to read ahead, but started to get major headaches while reading, so I had to get glasses just for reading. It eventually turned into requiring glasses all the time.

In 5th grade I really jumped into the world of Fantasy. When i’d get in trouble with the parents, we’d get sent to corners and one of the corners was next to my parent’s “nice” book shelf. In there was a really old version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was super interested by the book spines, as there was this crazy eye in the center of a ring. I decided to read this book when I got an assignment for doing a diorama about a specific book. Most of my classmates selected much shorter books, but I was super proud of selecting that book.

A few years later, my friends and I had a falling out. I ended up falling back into that series again. I read everything i could get my hands on. I was so depressed, but didn’t really understand what depression was. I was alone, but couldn’t really articulate to my parents and nor could my parents help me with my depression and loneliness because they didn’t have the emotional tools to help me with my depression. My dad specifically, because he was struggling with his own depression so he just wasn’t there.

As a result, I end up spending a great deal of time with Middle Earth. Since this was around when Metallica Load came out, I deeply associated that album with the Lord of the Rings. To the point where I was really disappointed with the video of “Hero of the Day” because I kept associating the narrator of that song with Frodo. It’s not the worst video, but it definitely didn’t fit with what I was expecting given how many times I heard that album while reading those books.

Over the years I’ve escaped into books to deal with the depression rooted in my parents fighting. Dealing with my girlfriend in HS. The divorce of my parents. Books were always my escape from these difficult times. Lately, I’ve been depressed to the point where it was a struggle to read.

I plan to start a small series on here for when the fancy strikes to write about a book that meant something to me and why it meant something to me. Something in more detail than what I wrote, here, about Lord of the Rings. This idea came from the Movies with Mikey episode about what Animation Taught Us. For me though, since I was limited in what I could watch on TV, including Movies, I think that Books are more appropriate. I’m not sure exactly how this will play out, so we’ll see.

Review: The Queen of Crows by Myke Cole

The Queen of Crows (The Sacred Throne, #2)The Queen of Crows by Myke Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a quick read. I wouldn’t say it’s a light read, there’s definitely some serious heavy material covered in this book. It doesn’t hit you over the head with the parallels to the Inquisition as the first one did, but it didn’t need to. That was already established in the fantastic first book. This book continues where the Armored Saint left off, Heloise trying to protect her family. Like the first book, it’s brutal, the heroine does not have an easy time of things and isn’t perfect. She’s young, very inexperienced at fighting, and making it up as she goes. She pays for it. So does her community. You want her to be perfect and succeed, much like Barnard does. She’s flawed, human, and great though.

This book really delivers in a lot of ways. If you’re looking for an easy entrance into the fantasy genre and want to have a strong female lead (who is also a lesbian), this book is definitely for you.

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On Relationships and Death

A few weeks ago a friend of mine committed suicide. I say friend, but we definitely had a falling out and I hadn’t talked to him since he’d moved from Portland. He was my roommate here for a while and we had some disagreements on how his dog behaved that ultimately drove a wedge between the two of us. However, I really think that was just the cherry on top. Both of us were depressed while he was living here and I was in such a bad spot that I wasn’t able to be that empathetic about it. I simply was overwhelmed with my own depression. Which is why I’m getting help. I know that I’m in a position where I can and am able to get that help.

This past weekend, a rapper, Mac Miller, I’ve never heard of overdosed. Apparently, he’d been dealing with demons for quite some time. Many people are attributing it to Ariana Grande breaking up with him. They are putting this death on her. To me this is a complete in justice. Similar to the reasons what my former roommate moved out, there’s a point in your relationships that you must do what is right for you. It’s not always easy. You feel like, to some extent, responsible for their actions afterwards. Like you could have done more or something different to help with that person.

The other reason that I’m really upset by this ridiculous backlash against Ms. Grande, is that I almost was in the exact same situation. While in Highschool and in College, I had a girlfriend that was extremely depressed and suicidal. I dated her for three years. Those years were very difficult for me for a variety of reasons. My parents were going through a divorce where they were asking me for advice on what to do. I had to figure out where I was going to school, knowing I was effectively on my own to pay for it. I was dealing with her depression, and I was adjusting to the school of my choice with her paranoid and constant demands on my time.

While we were dating, I helped her decide she needed to get therapy. She went to a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist where the former prescribed anti-depressants. Nothing helped her. She decided to move down to Pitt to be closer to me. I was against it, but I was too passive because of her increasingly erratic behavior along with her continual lack of trust in me. So she transferred and it became too much for me to handle my friends, school, and no breaks from her. I eventually reached out to her parents and her best friend and let them know I was breaking up with her. After I broke up with her, she hounded me, until I talked with her Therapist. At which point I made it clear that we were truly over. It was hard. At the time it was absolutely the hardest thing I’d ever done. I was terrified she was going to kill herself.

I found out years later, by random happenstance when I delivered a pizza to her mom, that she had in fact attempted suicide. I then talked to her afterwards, since her mom asked me too. Apparently her mom found her in the bathroom having took a bottle of pills. She survived and subsequently got better. Talking with her was super difficult, because I never really was able to deal with the emotional toll of our relationship. I didn’t realize that I had worried and dreaded finding out she had committed suicide.

I had needed to get out of that relationship because it was destroying me. There was nothing else for me to do. I was a mess I didn’t really figure out how to deal with what I’d gone through until getting therapy myself. I had to end that relationship and the fact that I knew she might kill herself simply increased the time I was in an unhealthy relationship.

We cannot punish people for electing to leave a relationship because their partner is abusing them with threats or past suicidal threats. Ms. Grande was very brave in ending that relationship and likely knew the risks of breaking it off with Mac Miller. I knew the risks when I ended the relationship with my HS GF. Ending the relationship is what ultimately saved her life. She would not have gotten healthier while still being with me. I would have been miserable, depressed, and constantly on edge waiting for her to try to kill herself – which may have ultimately happened despite my efforts.

Ms. Grande does not deserve to be castigated for ending this relationship. I do not envy her, I can only imagine what I would have gone through if my GF had been successful. I know with my roommate I beat myself up that I didn’t help him enough. This decision was ultimately out of our hands despite our best efforts. Sometimes when you love someone you need to cut them out of your life in hopes that they hit rock bottom and get the help they need. Sadly, it doesn’t always happen.

Review: The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin

The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2)The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really interesting read. As the sequel to the three body problem, which primarily focuses on how to human ingenuity can help solve the Three Body Problem for beings on that planet, this one focuses much more on humanity’s hubris. This manifests in a number of ways. First, is the fact that humanity has the audacity of believing that even in 400 years, with the cards stacked against us, that we can defeat a civilization so technologically advanced, that they seemingly have magical abilities to block the frontier of physics.

To take on the Trisolarians the UN commissions a project called the Wallfacer, which is was a project designed to ensure the Trisolarians had no idea what Humanity’s plan was to defeat them. There were four in total. each one pursued a different tract than the others. However, the Trisolarians had their own plan, the Wallbreaker project which was designed to uncover the true plan the Wallfacers developed.

The ideas were all interesting and all desperate, but Humanity in its hubris truly believed there was a solution that would have left them with minimal risk. Which leads to interesting problems in the book.

Overall, the book was well written, but there’s a big problem with the book. The characters don’t really speak differently nor do they really feel different. There are a few exceptions Da Shi and Luo Ji being the most obvious. Aside from their interactions, it’s easy for the reader to get lost in determining who is speaking whenever there’s extensive exposition or explanation of a Wallfacer plan or someone’s specific ideology. Compared to a philosophy book, like the Republic, this isn’t really out of line. However, more many sci-fi readers this might be difficult to follow.

Overall, I really enjoyed what I read and once I got back into the world, I quickly finished the book.

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Review: Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth, #3)The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, first, I want to apologize to Ms. Jemisn, because I’m only writing one review for this trilogy instead of the three I’d normally write. However, in my defense I read all three books in a span of about a week and at this point I only can think of this trilogy as a single long book.

This book was fantastically written. I loved the diversity of the characters. I really thought it was great that the bulk of the main characters were women. That’s really refreshing in a male dominated genre like fantasy. The magic system was really unique and I loved how it evolved and changed over the course of the book.

The world building in this series is fantastic. The world feels like it could be a moderately different version of earth, if there was magic. For the longest time I thought it was our Earth, I’m still not entirely convinced it’s not, because of the elements that call back to our time now. Which I think really added to the story over all.

So what is the story? Well, basically the earth has been broken and is actively waging a war with humanity and every other animal on earth. Why? because we pissed it off and caused the war. This is all explained in the book and in some interesting ways.

There two overall themes in the book, mother/daughter and bigotry. Both are handled with grace. The bigotry is interesting, because it’s reinforced by a major political faction, which could be seen as analogous to police officers. These are, in most respects, the most important branch within the government and allow other portions of the government to rule.

I definitely recommend this book if you’re looking for something outside your normal buff fighter and clever wizards. The characters feel real. Each book raises the stakes which drives you to keep reading.

Buy these books.

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