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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Book Review: Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig

Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful NarrativeDamn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the third or fourth writing book that I’ve read. Two have been on technical writing and one has been on the Snowflake method. Each book is useful in a specific context. The first two were for helping me professionally to create great help site material. While the Snowflake method has helped me with the managing the structure of the store. This book is something else. It’s about how to tell the story that goes within that structure. Which, given that I’m working on a book right now, is really helpful.

This is not a dry technical book. It’s not a “theory of writing” book that you might find at a university that sucks the life out of writing. It frames writing as means to tell a story. It does this through a lot of stories. Funny stories. Stories Chuck has lived. It also does this through stories most people have read or, at least, watched. So if you haven’t seen the original Star Wars trilogy or Die Hard you’re in for some serious spoilers.

The book provides a number of story telling rules, which I plan to reference frequently. Some of these, I think, are pretty intuitive, some are not. Or maybe, I’ve just gotten lucky with the writing I’ve done so far and happened to stumble upon them.

If you’re thinking of doing any story telling, either as part of a white collar job or as a professional story teller or just want to tell more interesting stories at parties, this book is for you. He uses stories that he’s told at parties a ton of times as a way to frame many of the rules he offers. So this book can certainly help with your boring stories that make my eyes glaze over.

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Book Review: God’s Last Breath by Sam Sykes

God's Last Breath (Bring Down Heaven, #3)God’s Last Breath by Sam Sykes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the great conclusion of the Bring Down Heaven trilogy. I loved it. At the end of book two, the characters were scattered to the wind and it looked like there was no way for them to ever have closure in a meaningful way with each other. Sam skillfully managed to do this. His characters grew in unexpected way, where one was full of hubris at the beginning of the trilogy and thoughtless to other people’s emotions, they became much more empathetic. Another character may have felt helpless, but was able to rally people to their cause in a manner that would have felt absurd if it was told that after starting the first book. Sam made these transitions feel authentic and earned.

This book did a fantastic job closing the series which I loved from beginning to end.

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Book Review: The Armored Saint by Myke Cole

The Armored Saint (The Sacred Throne, #1)The Armored Saint by Myke Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is a fantasy book that every woman and girl should read. The main character is such a believable character and I think we can think of a number of women in our lives that are as brave and bold as her.

This book is a fast read. Only took me a couple of hours to read. However, those few hours went by way too fast. The style is easy to read and could certainty be read by anyone in middle school or older (based on the style). As the blurb about the book states, this world is a pretty dark place. if this was set in the future, it’d certainly be a dystopian future. The world is controlled by a puritanical religious order with strict rules about how people should live. Which includes roles for everyone and a religiously entrenched Patriarchy.

Heliose chafes under the Order, as its called, because she doesn’t want to be controlled by a husband nor does she think the Order is truly just. This is exacerbated by the fact that many of the villagers, don’t truly believe in the religion as deeply as they should to avoid the Order’s wrath.

Heliose causes change by being herself. By standing up for what she believes in, even if it causes her and her loved one’s pain. However, she’s truly altruistic in this (even if they get hurt) because she’s doing this for them or her love for them. This is complicated by who she loves, which is something society rejects.

I cannot wait for the sequel to this book. It was a fun book dealing with weighty societal issues, done in a sensitive way, in an engaging world, with an exciting climax. Highly recommend for generally light quick reading.

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Review: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of TraumaThe Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book after reading Lost Connections. I discussed Lost Connections with my therapist and he recommended this book to me. I have to say this book is emotionally difficult to read. The author does everything he can to make the book easy to consume. I think just about anyone would be able to read this book, but there are some difficult medical terms and you need to remember some acronyms, but beyond that, it’s fairly easy.

This book focuses more exclusively on trauma and recovering from trauma, while Lost Connections is about depression. So if you’ve read that book, then think of this as a book on the trauma section in that book.

If you’ve experienced trauma in your life this book will likely cause you to feel anxiety as you read it. However, I think it’s more important for you to read this book than anyone else, because it provides you with tools to discuss with a therapist. I would suggest pairing this book with some meditation and to read it over the span of several weeks rather than sitting down and plowing through the book. I also suggest that you plan some time after you read to decompress and think about what’s happened. Meditation will certainly help with that.

On to the book itself. It provides a great history of psychology and psychiatry from the start (with fewer details) and in great detail from the late ’70’s to 2014 (when the book was published). The author goes into great detail about the history of PTSD for soldiers and how he was able to successfully apply the same treatments that were effective (or more effective) with soldiers to children that have had traumatic experiences.

He goes into great detail explaining that the body is essentially trapped in the moment that the traumatic event happens. That people who are having flashbacks or are triggered are physiologically going back to the moment of the event. This means their brains are literally shut down in some ways. That their heart rate, blood pressure, and adrenaline are all acting as if they are currently in the traumatic experience. The brain that shuts down always includes the part that is capable of telling the difference between past and present. This is a key part of treating PTSD, you need to get the person grounded back in reality for them to process the trauma at all.

In terms of Triggers and micro-triggers, he doesn’t directly deal with them in a way that would support a conversation with a tumblr that is aggressively anti-triggering. However, he does talk about how to deal with being triggered. First, if events do trigger something, you need to get treatment for it. You need to find someone that you can trust. Then together you can come up with a treatment plan.

Many of those techniques do not include medicine. They include meditation, Yoga (in many cases it works best if you do therapeutic Yoga – since some positions in Yoga can trigger people that have been raped), a therapy that uses rapid eye movement while talking about the event in a safe environment, and many others. The author went from being a strong advocate of better living through chemistry, but has moved into spaces that help people manage it.

The reason the book is called The Body Keeps the Score, is that you need to heal the body and mind to heal the person. It requires a holistic approach.

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Talking About Depression: On Being Defined by Trauma

I saw a tweet last night that went something along the lines of “People with trauma are afraid to get help because they’re afraid of who they would be if they weren’t defined by their trauma.” At first, I thought that this was an interesting thing to say. Yea, people need to get help and people are afraid of who they’ll be without their trauma. However, I think, for most people, they are terrified for their trauma and don’t want to be controlled by it. They have no real way of effectively dealing with their trauma. I’m going to use Shawshank Redemption as a way to talk about Trauma, it’s probably going to offend some people, but I think it will help people that don’t understand trauma how much it controls your life. I’m not even someone that has PTSD, but I understand how small trauma adds up through growing up in an unhealthy environment.

When you have trauma, you’re like Andy from the Shawshank Redemption. You were wronged in someway that takes your freedom away. You are basically imprisoned by that event. You aren’t able to mature or grow as a whole person. Like Andy, you do change. You learn new skills, you progress in your job and craft. In his case he learns how to break the law for the Warden, while you or I, might get a bachelor’s degree or become successful in our chosen profession. However, like Andy, you relive your traumatic event on a regular basis. In the movie, this can be represented by his rapes in the laundry room or his hopes being dashed when the Warden kills a man that could have vindicated Andy.

For a person, you’re stopped in physiologically, in such a way that when you are triggered, your mind and body returns to that point of trauma. There’s no light switch to get past it. You don’t want to be reminded of your trauma, but you have to deal with the fact that the trauma existed. In cases where people have defined their life by their trauma, it’s not a badge of pride it’s a coping mechanism. You’re trying to find a set of people that allows you to talk about your trauma and actually listen. For people with depression and trauma, you don’t want to feel like a burden on your friends and family. In cases of extreme trauma, people don’t want to hear about how nasty and horrific the events were.

Confronting these events in an attempt to heal from them and put the trauma behind you is terrifying. Therapy may look very clean and clinical, but that’s because that’s the physical location. It’s designed to provide a very safe space for you to work through your trauma and root cause of your depression. Psychologically it’s closer to “crawling through 500 yards of shit and stank” to get to freedom. But those 500 yards could take years to move through. You could get stuck in there. You have no idea where the end of the pipe is, if you’ll make it the whole way through, if what’s on the other end is really worth it.

Being able to make the plans to escape is terrifying. I haven’t had the trauma that a lot of people have had out there. I know how difficult it was for me to start therapy. For someone with a history of rape, molestation, child abuse, or survived a war it must surely seem insurmountable. You have to find someone you can trust. You have to feel safe. You have to be helped through a flashback when the trauma is too much to handle. You have to be able to afford it.

Defining your life by trauma is a coping mechanism. It’s driven by fear in a lot of ways, but saying that the person is afraid of not being defined by that trauma shows that they don’t truly understand trauma and the amount of effort that a person goes through to survive the trauma, let alone to address the trauma.

I definitely recommend, when you are experiencing an overwhelming flashback, to pull out an app like Headspace and do the one minute SOS meditation. Then, two minutes, and finally three minutes. By the time you finish with those 6 minutes, you’ll have centered yourself on your breathing and helped yourself to comeback to the present and out of the past. Physiologically, it’ll help get your blood pressure and hearth rate under control. As well as giving you a sense of control of your mind and body.

This advice is going to be nearly impossible to follow if you’re not already building the practice into your life already. So, start with doing daily meditation before you beat yourself up when you don’t do it. It’ll take time to get to the point where you even think about something like that. Don’t feel embarrassed about needing to that take minute for yourself (or longer), you’re going to take it anyway. This will help that minute be much more meaningful in dealing with your trauma and anxiety.