Everyone’s favorite villains…

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It didn’t occur to me until I read this book that while I’ve seen lots of book about the Nazis before and during the Second World War, I’ve never really read anything about Germany in the years after the war.

The Fourth Reich, by Gavriel D Rosenfeld, covers that period, and especially the fear that Nazis would try again. It looks at the conditions after the war, and the efforts to establish a new Nazi party, and to ensure that there would never be another Nazi party. It also looks at how the fears were projected into writing (both fiction and non-fiction) and film. I came out of the book with a list of other books I want to track down to read.

My only real disappointment with the book was that the description of the book included “He shows how postwar German history might have been very different without the fear of the Fourth Reich as a mobilizing idea to combat the right-wing forces that genuinely threatened the country’s democratic order”. I was a little disappointed by the lack of any speculation into what could have been.

Still, it opened my eyes to something I’d never thought about before. In my mind, WWII ended, and the Nazi’s were gone, at least until I became aware of the skinheads in the eighties. This book showed me the ways that the Nazi ideology continued to affect (or infect) post-war Germany, and how hard the German government (and the occupying countries like the US and UK) worked to make sure that fascism did not move back into power.

Here’s hoping that the current political problems around the world doesn’t mean that their efforts were in vain.
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for letting me read this

Lovecraft meets *Redacted*

42201505._sx318_Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky is a little gem of a book. It’s actually a novella, but it’s worth the price of entry.

Gary Rendell is an astronaut, but he is lost and at least slightly crazed. We alternate between his present, wandering through a bizarre alien maze, encountering others, but not finding the other members of his mission, and the past, giving the lead up to the current mission.

In short, a probe to the outer reaches of the solar system found a giant and bizarre… structure (Gary calls it the face of a frog god) that seems to be fractal in layout. It swallows the probe, but the probe eventually reappears, sending readings that indicate that the structure may actually be a portal to other worlds. After much political fighting, an international mission is sent out to explore the structure. Gary is a member of the mission.

Once there, they find a half-built rocket that looks like something out of a pulp magazine, but is unimaginably ancient. a ‘landing’ party, including our protagonist, is sent down to establish a base and start exploring, which is of course when things go horribly wrong.

I will admit, I spent most of my book thinking of this book as a modern equivalent to Lovecraft. As a result, it wasn’t until the last few pages that I finally figured what classic piece this book was also a retelling of. It was that realization that bumped up my appreciation of the story. I won’t say what it was a retelling of, since I don’t want to spoil it for other people.

But I will say that if you are a fan of the cosmic horror that Lovecraft praised, you will like this book.
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for letting me read this

Witches and Mermaids, oh my

36297088It has been a long winter so far, and it has barely started. Work has been kicking my ass, and I have been trying to get my Christmas shopping done before December (mostly succeeded) because I hate crowds, so I avoid malls and shopping centers in the month of December.

One part of Christmas shopping that I enjoy, though, is getting everyone on my list a book as part of their gift. Figuring out just which book to get each person is a lot of fun.

In the meantime, while my personal reading has been curtailed, I do have some book reviews to catch up on.

In recent years, I have been trying to read more poetry. Before this, I was not aware of the concept of Instagram Poetry. The poems tend to be shorter, and the poets younger, and often female. Names like Rupi Kaur, Nikita Gill, and amanda lovelace (yes, lowercase) come up in this category. The first did not work for me, the second blew me away (and I now follow on Instagram), and now I’ve tried the third, and I have become a fan of her as well.

The collections The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One and The Mermaid’s Voice Returns in This One are part of a series of poetry collections that examine feminist themes through. The first uses imagery from witch burnings, and the second The Little Mermaid (where the mermaid sacrificed her tail for a man who turns to someone else). They are taking the stories we grew up on and giving them a little twist for the modern era.

When I started reading this type of poetry, it took a while to get used to it. My memories of poetry in school was of longer poems with complicated rhyming schemes. Instagram poets tend to be short free verse, verging on being slogans. When well done, they can definitely provoke thought.

And being short, these books are perfect for reading a few pages before bed (or, I hate to admit it, sitting on the toilet)

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for letting me read The Mermaid’s voice.

Siri or SkyNet?

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As someone who works with computers every day (my job is as a software tester), AI is a topic that I’ve kept an eye on over the years. Initially, AI was an SF trope (HAL, SkyNet, Data on Star Trek TNG), but in recent years, there’s Siri and Alexa and all the other digital assistants.

But AI is also the algorithms that decide which Google results you see, or which posts appear at the top of your Facebook feed, but those are so invisible that no one thinks about it unless there’s a news story about conservatives complaining that Facebook filters them out of people’s news feeds. Also, AI often is filtering out applications to jobs, which is even more problematic. Last year, Amazon pulled their AI filters because it was filtering out women, since the training data for the AI was based on past discriminatory hiring. If your past involves hiring mostly white men, the AI is going to start filtering out non-whites and women.

This last is one of the things that leans into this new book about AI, the companies actively working on the code, both in North America and China, and where it is going.

The Big Nine, by Amy Webb, is divided into three distinct sections.

1) The companies (and governments) working on AI. Primarily, three companies in China and six companies in North America. Ms Webb goes into the history of their work and where they are heading.

2) Issues that need to be fixed in this development. This includes the mono-cultures within the companies (their employees mainly come from the same sorts of backgrounds and schools, with a lack of training outside of coding). She points out the problems with datasets built by people who don’t think of diversity, and the need for programmers to consider things outside of their schooling, like ethics for example. The results of this ranges from the innocuous (photo tagging AIs suggesting ‘gorilla’ for a photo of an African-American face) to the problematic (digital assistants that can’t understand accents). And in the future, will someone be saying, like Ian Malcom in Jurassic Park, ‘Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should’

3) In the third sections Ms Webb indulges in a thought experiment, presents three futures for AI that are ‘good’, ‘continuing on the same path’ and ‘negative’.

I will say, though, her ‘good’ scenario was to me ‘not as bad as it could be’. It was still a little unnerving as a vision of the future. But mind you, I am a software tester who doesn’t even have a cell phone, so take that for what it may be. It left me wanting to say ‘get off my lawn!’.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for letting me read this

Trump and Foreign Policy

40734925In the last couple of years, I’ve tortured myself with books about politics. Tortured through either books that look at things done well in the past, or looking at the current US president and the things he is doing completely wrong.

The Empty Throne, by Daadler & Lindsay,¬†looks at foreign policy and the ways that Trump (and previous presidents to a lesser extent) have failed in that foreign policy. The Next Decade, by George Friedman, which I am just finishing, also looks at foreign policy and suggest goals for the upcoming decade (the book was written a decade ago, so he was talking about the 2010s). Somehow, I don’t think he took Trump into consideration

In both books, foreign policy is described in very pragmatic terms of playing other countries off of each other for the benefit of the US, not going for the idealistic goals of improving other countries and encouraging democracy around the world. The Empty throne then looks at Trump’s actions in relation to foreign policy, and especially his behaviour towards Russia and North Korea and Iran, as well as his hostility towards traditional allies, and Trump comes up looking very foolish, if not downright dangerous.

And the sad thing is, if the author was writing the book today, he would have even more material. He might even be able to double the length of the book.

I would definitely read a follow-up at the end of the Trump presidency, whether next year or in five years. No matter how tortuous it might be
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for letting me read this

How to avoid Black Holes

40876750In Primordial Threat by MA Rothman it’s 2066, and scientists are just starting to realize that Earth is in terrible danger. A tiny black hole is heading into the solar system, and even if it doesn’t destroy the Earth straight up, it’s going to change conditions so drastically that it might as well have.

Burt Radcliffe is in charge of DefenseNet, an early warning set of satellites. In his attempt to figure out what Earth can do, he discovers that Dave Holmes, a brilliant scientist whose ideas are dismissed by most of the establishment scientific community, actually had an idea of what was coming long before everyone else, and maybe he is brilliant enough to find a solution. But he disappeared completely several years earlier.

Step one: Find Dave Holmes. Step two: Figure out if his solution will work. Step three: Figure out if his solution can actually be implemented in time.

While I found aspects of the science to be beyond belief (namely the possible solution), I did enjoy the book greatly. The side plot about a doomsday cult had me scratching my head, because I was never quite sure how they knew about this so far in advance that they could plant people in space missions that would have uncovered the danger earlier. The fact that they were determined to make sure that no solution is implemented and every will die was a little easier to accept, since people are crazy.

I wouldn’t call this book brilliant, but it was an enjoyable read, so much so that I have bought his medical SF thriller, Darwin’s Cipher, and I look forward to reading it.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for letting me read this

Frosted Lucky Charms…

35018892The third, and apparently final, part of the Librarians tie-in books came out after the series ended (and there was much mourning among the fans).

As you might guess from the title, The Librarians and the Pot of Gold by Greg Cox deals with… leprechauns, banshees and faerie changelings. Oh, and the Brotherhood of Serpents (and remember, St Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland).

The Brotherhood, in the time of St Patrick, used an infant to force a Leprechaun to hand over his pot of gold. The Librarian interferes, and the Leprechaun escapes with the baby, while the Brotherhood loses one of their people, and the gold as well.

In the present time, a group is trying to track down the Leprechaun again, still wanting his pot of gold. Or more to the point, they want to pot for nefarious purposes. The Librarians, while trying to stop this plot, are also pulled into the case of an Irish style pub being plagued by a Banshee. Gee, could these events be connected.

The fun thing about the tv show was just how tongue in cheek it was (stealing Santa’s sled? Why not?). Greg Cox does a great job of matching that tone in his spinoff books. I just hope that Tor books will continue with the books, even if the TV show is gone,

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for letting me read this

Summer reading in winter…

39971767Sometimes, reading a book can be the adventure you would like to go, if not for money or time or many other reasons.

Coves of Departure, by John Seibert Farnsworth, is more along the lines of the adventure that sounds cool, but hopefully wouldn’t be popular. Kayaking off the coast of Baja California to study delicate ecosystems. Travelling into the desert to observe buzzards. Things that sound intriguing, but it would be better for the environment that the average person didn’t do it. For that matter, I probably wouldn’t be able to handle the physical side of things.

Still, reading this book let me experience things second-hand, since Farnsworth definitely paints a vivid picture for the reader. I found myself sinking into the book, slowing down, as if I was reading it in a summer heat-wave instead of a cold winter. It also slowed me further as I took side-trips into the internet to look up the wildlife he describes

Very much recommended to anyone who loves reading about the environment. I look forward to seeing what the author does next.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for letting me read this

Don’t fall down *this* rabbit hole

40164340I’ve been reading Simon R Green’s books for about three decades now (seriously, I started with Blue Moon Rising, back in 1989). Trying to keep up with his output is almost impossible.

Lately, I’ve been sucked into two of his current series: the Ghost Finders series (which I think of a contemporary fantasy version of the TV show Scorpion) and the Ishmael Jones series (which leans more in the Cthulhu direction, with a touch of the British TV show The Avengers).

The most recent book in the Ishmael Jones series is Murder in the Dark, the sixth in the series. In this one, Ishmael and his partner Penny have been dispatched to an isolated country location where a mysterious hole to… someplace has been found. One of the scientists studying the hole has died under mysterious circumstances, and they are supposed to figure out who did it and why. Oh, and maybe whether the hole is a danger beyond the general location it already is in.

But once they get there, they end up stranded with no way out, and people are dying one by one. In order to figure out who the killer is, they first have to figure out the origin of the hole, and where it is a passage to. Oh, and how might it tie in to Ishmael’s distant past, which even he cannot remember

For a book that covers less than 24 hours, the tension builds nicely, and it starts to look like no one is going to survive. And as I am sucked along, I can’t wait to see what happens next for our investigators.

While you don’t have to read the entire series before tackling this book, I do recommend that you read the first book in the series, if only to get the origin of this partnership.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for letting me read this

Giant sharks! Yay!

40758773I’ve said in the past that I love a good disaster story, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I also love a good monster story. For example, the first Sharknado was a ton of fun, even if the follow-ups tried way too hard.

Michael Cole’s Thresher is also a shark story, but a much more fun (and almost believable) story. First off, go Google ‘thresher shark’ and check out just how freaky this shark is. Then picture one that ended up ingesting an experimental compound that increases its size and aggressive nature. Pretty scary.

Now, go to a small beach town where the grand sea festival is coming up. Take a big city hero cop who is trying to drink himself to death after a personal tragedy and his chief of police friend trying to save him from himself, mix in a rookie cop who has her own personal tragedies, a politician trying to make her reputation, a scientist trying to warn everyone, and top with a family of shark hunters brought in to stop the thresher shark before it can ruin the festival.

Yep, I’m sure everyone has a pretty good idea where this is going. I can see this as a movie on SyFy, no problem. It was a fun romp of a read, and I look forward to checking out some of his other sea monster books.

Ancient Woods and Modern Cities

36742955I did some googling, and was surprised to find out that Coldfall Wood is an actual ancient wood in London, England, covering 14 hectares. In this book, there are other ancient things there; ancient beings who do not like what humanity has done with the world. Beings that plan to turn things back to the way they used to be.

Coldfall Wood, by Steven Savile, is actually a sequel (the first book is called Glass Town), even though this fact is not exactly advertised on the cover, but while there was a learning curve to get the hang of who the characters were, the story was pretty much standalone.

Basically, an ancient king/goddess-consort takes advantage of a tear in reality caused by the events in the first book, and he wakes a number of his followers, placing them into the bodies of contemporary youths, all connected by an abusive foster home. This inadvertantly has the side effect of inflaming racial tensions. There are also a seres of young girls who drop into coma-like states, only to all wake up at the same time, all saying the same thing. Police find an old man alone in a house, with greenery shoved down his throat, but when the greenery is removed, he wakes up.

The story builds well, filling in details from the previous book without being overwhelming about it, and the dark atmosphere grows more and more intense. My only complaint was that while the ending was satisfactory, it didn’t quite live up to the tension that had been built. But it did leave me hitting Google, looking up elemnts of myth and geography that intrigued me, so I would call it a success.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for letting me read this

Who’ s afraid of the big bad gay

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A new year, and time to start catching up on reviews of last year’s reading.

Ike’s Mystery Man by Peter Shinkle is a very interesting combination of biography and history. On the whole, it is a biography of Robert Cutler, who was the first National Security Advisor.

He was also a gay man working in the government during the McCarthy era, when not only communists, but ‘sexual perverts’ were being hunted as security risks. It doesn’t appear that he went to great lengths to hide his sexuality, but he was never exposed. In fact, some powerful people seem to have deliberately shielded him.

So, while we learn a lot about the man’s life, through school and war and finally government work, as well as his infatuations with younger men, we also get a view of the changing view of government. For example, the book looks at the primary era of the CIA trying to change governments around the world in the US’s favour, even though the hindsight of now says that those regime changes rarely worked out well in the long run. We also get a first-hand view of how dangerous it was to be a gay man in government, although I get the feeling that he rarely was a lover of his paramours as much as a mentor. But while he never faced exposure, a number of the younger men in his circle of influence ended having to resign instead of being exposed.

The author is a relative of Robert Cutler, and had access to, among other things, a series of diaries that he gave to the young man who was the great love of his life, although the man in question had several regular lovers. Later in life, Cutler seemed to vacillate between great joy whenever they were together to intense depression when he didn’t get the reassurances he wanted that he was the focus of the life a man less than half his age.

All in all, it was a fabulous read about a part of recent history I knew little about. After all, few people think twice about gays in government anymore, but even in Canada, there was a long period of time when public servants could find themselves under investigation because someone made an accusation. In Canada, they were hooked up to a device called, I kid you not, the Fruit Machine in an attempt to determine homosexuality. Thankfully, the world, for the most part, has moved past that stage.