SevenEves by Neal Stephenson

seveneves
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22816087-seveneves

SevenEves is a near future story about how the human race would survive a sudden extinction level event (which is never really explained how that even came to be, but that’s not really the point). Not by wandering around a post-apocalyptic landscape, but how they would actually survive it in a cobbled together space program. And how they survive the near extinction of the human race (the Seven Eves a clear echo of the the Mitochondrial Eves which gave birth to Homo sapiens), which still results in the same type of social issues that trouble us today. Some things: tribalism, need to grab power, come to us from our primate ancestors and they are not going to be easy to shake, if ever. So in the backdrop of the best of mankind applied to trying to help the human race survive, you have the worst of mankind’s Machiavellian machinations that you wish, with great frustration, that characters were not so stupid to engage in, but you’re not surprised that they do because humans would so totally do that.

It had good, well rounded characters (and if one of them bears a slight resemblance to a popular physicist that is purely coincidental 😉 ). It was a good “the great will, intelligence and creativity of humanity surviving penultimate disaster” story. Complex, realistic and believable,  it included humanity’s greatest strengths as our salvation and our greatest failings as being the monkey wrench that kept being thrown into the best laid plans of mice and women for 5,000 years. So the plot kept you on your toes. There were lots of very edge-of-your-seat gripping moments and believable plot twists with a satisfying end.

The problem.

Neal Stephenson has become famous for “info dumps.” Not exposition, but page after page of related-but-unnecessary-to-the-story information he finds fascinating. And his fans love him for it because reading his books is an educational experience.

(Though I really could have done with the torture/experiment on the live dog in Quicksilver. Between that and reading through 50 pages without a plot showing up, that was one book I never finished.)

Cool. He is a genre writer writing for a fanbase to leans towards hard SciFi. But, he is at a point where he could take a page from Andy Weir.

the-martian-cover.jpg

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18007564-the-martian?from_search=true

Excellent book! I loved it! Very fun and gripping read. Weir’s take on the “resilience of human nature” involved more in-character humor. I think humor would be necessary in a survival situation, but I digress…

The Martian and SevenEves have a basic theme in the same basic setting: A survival story set in the near future where the primary mode of transport and survival is space exploration/flight. The Martian is simpler in that it’s one guy trying to survive and SevenEves is the human race. The Martian being confined to the space program does not allow for the personal conflicts which crippled the efforts in SevenEves. But Weir could tell a space-based survival story without diverting the reader for page after page of scientific technical data that had nothing to do with the story.

SevenEves would stop for an science/technical info dump for eight pages, have half a page of dialog, then go on a further info dump for five pages. It was especially bad in the beginning as it severely stalled the story out which made wading through the first 400 pages (out of 750) a slog. Once you got past where Stephenson thought he had explained everything he possibly could, then the story really got going. The Martin got the tech across without slowing down. Or at least it was not brought to a grinding halt. Repeatedly.

If they can’t cut the info dumps in SevenEves, the least the publisher could do would be to highlight the pages for people who want to get on with the story so they know to skip them.

But despite the slog, the book is worth it. I give it four out of five stars because all the other aspects of it are done so well.

SPOILER ALERT!

Addendum: As someone who has studied physical anthropology, I don’t buy that the “Pingers” were a matter of “selective breeding.” What would become cetaceans branched off from that would lead to primate a looooong time prior, so there would be very little, if any, of their code in our DNA. It would be helluva difficult thing to bring those traits to the surface just by making babies.

Yes, homo sapiens evolve to can adapt, but not like that in 5,000 years. The comparison is made to dogs, but dogs can start breeding when they are 18 months old (they shouldn’t but they can) and have at minimum two liters a year. The average dog lives to 14, has an average litter of five puppies, that’s 125 dogs produced in it’s life, with the youngest producing as soon they hit 1.5 years. That is a LOT of generations in 5,000 years.

Meanwhile humans can’t start reproducing until menarche (first menses), sometime between 10 and 14 years (again, like dogs they should not as early pregnancies are dangerous) but they can. They can also only have one kid a year, with 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage. If a woman is doing nothing but pumping out babies, maybe 20 if they are lucky, in their lifetime. So far fewer generations and fewer members per generation to play around in the genome.

They have found that the Canis lupus genome has a dizzying variety of genotypes that creates a wide variety of phenotypes (as anyone who has looked at a picture of Great Dane and a Chihuahua can see) which makes Canis lupus one of the most adaptable species on earth. In the wild, there have been Polynesian island strains of dogs, Central and South American jungle strains of dogs, Australian outback strains of dogs, African Savannah strains of dogs. And of course Wolves and Coyotes of North American temperate zones to deserts. All very different than one another, all without human intervention.

Meanwhile Homo sapiens have been around for a 100,000 to 200,000 years. We have seen very little genetic adaptation to living in different environments. We’ve had civilization for over 5,000 years and almost no sign of physical adaptation to the very different living conditions than our hunter-gather ancestors.

So the “Pingers” with their grey mottled skin and webbed fingers and blubbler, their massively extended breath holding, etc. I can’t buy without genetic engineering. Which is possible without the “Diggers” not knowing about it. The Pingers came from a government funded alternate plan B for the survival of the human race. The Diggers were just a group of regular survivalists who adapted a mine. (Though the book should mention they there are millions of cave systems and mines all over the Earth so this group in Alaska can’t be only ones that thought of doing that.)

But this is total nit-picking with no bearing on the believability of the story. I guess we all have our niches.

It is a great story of the determination of the human race to survive at an individual and species level.

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IdesofMarch

It was good while I was reading it. I enjoyed it. But in the end it did not leave much of an impression on me. This seems to be less a story than a character study of Julius Caesar, following him through the last months/weeks of his life in epistolary (letters, diaries, etc.) form. Historically, it’s a bit of a mess, the timing of some events have been shifted for more dramatic structure (I guess) and some characters are alive when the real people, who potentially should have had more of an effect on what was happening, were not. One gets the sense that this was Wilder’s pet project, his ode to Julius Ceasar, rather than a fully structured and more accurate historical novel. But as an ode, as a character study of Caesar himself at that point in his life, of why he was so disregarding of his safety, it is excellent and worth the read.

 

IronKing

To my shame, I had never heard of Druon or “The Accursed Kings” series until I got this novel cheap off Bookbub. And what a delightful surprise it is. The Iron King is historically accurate, its characters fleshed out and fun to read about, the drama intense in a story that, yet again, Hollywood could not have invented.

This book is the first of the series about the downfall of the Capetian Dynasty. This book is the beginning of the end. When Phillip of the Fair arrested the Templars in order to seize their treasure, he burned the leaders when they refused to sign confessions to the usual trumped up charges of heresy and sodomy wrung out of them after years (seriously, seven years) of torture. Druon uses the legend (not proven, but it started circulating shortly after their burning) of the Templar curse; that supposedly the Grand Master cursed Phillip and his family unto the 13th generation, his Keeper of the Seal (who trumped up the charges) and his puppet Pope in Avignon to give the novel the extra kick and create the theme. Hence “the Accursed Kings.”

But the truth is everything was in place for Phillip’s downfall before the Templars burned. The downfall of society when the worst aspects of “courtly love” were acted on by the brides of Phillip’s three sons. They committed adultery (or at least two of them did, enabled by the third), and were outted by Isabelle, Phillip’s daughter and consort of Edward II of England. (It has been noted that after that incident, the romances of the troubadours pretty much vanished from the landscape.) Obviously, this throws the characters and the country into some serious personal and political turmoil.

Which of course is always fun. I loved it, and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

 

Smoke

I have known of the YouTube series, “The Order of the Good Death” and her very funny and informative videos for years now. I did not discover she had written a book of her experiences in the mortuary industry until very recently. Of course, I immediately bought it.

This is fascinating book that swings easily from the rude realities of death to humorous anecdotes to poignant moments to pondering and personal insights and revelations.

Doughty is not merely a good storyteller, she also asks some of the “big questions” without harping on them or trying to “sound deep” herself. Often they come up in the course of the weirdness of her job. She is self effacing, acknowledges her initial naivete and mistakes, and guides us through the odd world of those who handle the dead.

It’s not anymore overtly “graphic” than a CSI episode, so if you can handle that, you can handle this book, which is definitely worth the read.

 

ArtinBlood

A decent mystery marred by the fact that Sherlock is seriously off his game. Sherlock is allowed *one* “Oh, I have been so stupid!” moment, not three or four of them. This means the mystery was actually not good enough to keep the character truly occupied, so the writer was reduced to PIS (Plot Induced Stupidity) to keep it going. However, the characterizations were good and enjoyably carried the story.

So it’s not bad, but it’s not great either.

 

Rescue Artist

One could almost call this the companion book Hupt’s The Museum of the Missing. In fact, the current front cover of the paperback for Hupt book is a picture of the crime scene of the case the Rescue Artist is constructed around: The 1994 theft of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. (Or one of them, at least.)

This is the police’s point of view, particularly how one detective who had become very experienced in recovering stolen art. This is how he infiltrated (for the umpteenth time) the world of stolen art and recovered The Scream. During the course of telling that story, we learn how this officer got into the game of recovering stolen art and the cases he was involved in. We learn about the odd world of stolen art, the mindset of the thieves (not nearly as meticulous, complex or even thinking long term as Hollywood imagines), to the odd places great works of art can end up (such as being used for currency in a heroin deal in Turkey). The existence of the fabled Thomas Crown/Dr. No connoisseur who would steal for their private enjoyment is debated. The stereotype is dismissed by the cynical police, but not by people in the world of art itself.

It’s a fascinating look into the world of stolen art from the people’s point of view, including interviews not only from police and members of the art dealing world, but criminals involved in art theft. (There is also a good, short, biography of Munch, his mindset, and how he came to paint The Scream.)

Restoree

So obviously as you can tell from the cover, not exactly hard SciFi here. It’s an interesting story of a human suddenly thrust into the political machinations of the ruling class of a different world. Taken at face value, it’s an entertaining, enjoyable book.

However, the characters were a bit flat and there were some parts that irked me. First, how the heroine is suddenly transformed from Plain Jane into the most beautifulist alien ev-VAR! At this jaded point, it’s a kind of sexist cliché (See: Twilight series). Second, the sexist world, bordering on neanderthal, she’s had fallen into and was perfectly happy in. Don’t get me wrong, she does have a vital, pivotal role in the story and plays it ably, especially considering her complete lack of cultural knowledge. But one can’t get over the fact that women are “claimed” by men practically on sight and their reason to exist in this society is to crank out kids. And the heroine is fine with that, because the man who claimed her is hot and sexy.

Now, I don’t define a “strong heroine” as necessarily one who has a sword in her hand. A strong woman can be a strong heroine without being an action hero. But when you looked at the overall picture of the world she just fell into by chance, *yeek*.

McCaffrey’s world building is interesting; what parts of society have advanced and what have not. She explains the advances by saying they were borrowed from their conquerors, though that doesn’t explain the medical advances or why someone who has undergone reconstructive surgery after injury is considered horrible. I mean, they’re still writing with stylus on permanent slabs of metal, but have extremely advanced medical technology? *head quirk*

But if you do not spend too much time pondering the deeper implications, it’s still an enjoyable romp.

 

I’ve also been reading Pirot mysteries in the interim for some light reading; some fantastic (Murder on the Orient Express, Cat Among the Pigeons), some not so much (One, Two, Buckle My Shoe-the ending for that came completely out of left field, she didn’t incorporate any, or at least enough, clues into the story).

 

 

Books, Books, Books

Life has been stressful for me, to say the least, so I have been in escapism mode for a while now. I deal with what I have to deal with, and then turn off reality.

I finished all the Discworld novels, including the Tiffany Aching ones which turned out to be wonderful. The final novel was a Tiffany Aching novel, The Shepard’s Crown, and it was a beautiful, if sad, end to our adventures in Discworld. It was not entirely written by Practchett. He had written the main scenes. It was filled in/completed by someone else and you could tell at which points because the characters just did not quite “sound” right. But it was still the perfect “Good Bye.”

But Pratchett’s daughter has promised this is the last of the Discworld novels. She said she would protect her father’s legacy, “Even from myself.”

The only ones I did not read with the “Industrial Revolution” novels because the characters simply did not appeal.

But I finished those a while back. Thanks to BookBub and Project Gutenberg, I have not been starved for literary entertainment.

After War and Peace, I read some lightweight fun.

Nefertiti’s Heart by A.W. Exley: Ostensibly this is a Steampunk Fantasy/SciFi novel, but the truth is, it’s a romance novel with a background of Steampunk (which seems to also be used as an excuse for verbal anachronisms) and mystery until the last couple chapters when yon dashing hero must save his lady-love from a serial killer with a magical artifact. The characters are o.k., not overwhelming. They’re romance novel clichés: The dashing TDH nobleman with dangerous reputation, the emotionally wounded tom-boy heroine he must tame with…

If you are looking for the schmexy, there’s plenty there. Not explicit, but you know, it’s there. I think the story a would have been better served with some more balance between the romance and murder mystery, but it’s a nice Saturday afternoon read.

Etruscans: Beloved of the Gods by Morgan Llewellyn and Michael Scott: Now don’t get me wrong, the story is great. Reading at face value I thoroughly enjoyed it. Good characters, good “coming of age” story, great incorporation of the mythical elements. A very enjoyable book, a fun Saturday read. My only nit picks are a historian’s pedantism.

I read Morgan Llewelyn’s Red Branch (her version of the legend of Cu’ Chulainn)  yonks ago. Back when I was a teenager, I think. It was very entertaining and made me very curious about the legend itself, which set me off on researching ancient Irish legends. She is very good at humanizing these mythic heroes, while incorporating the elements of native spirituality/religion and magic. Now, usually she’s about the Celts, but for this one she (and Michael Scott) took on the Etruscans.

Part of the problem with writing about the Etruscans is that we’re still learning about them. We have not even fully translated their language yet (which is one of those out of place oddball languages that has no relationship to the languages around it, it’s not Indo-European). So most of what we know we’re interpreting from art, grave goods and what is left from the layouts of their cities. (Which means it’s pretty tentative.) We know little of their myths and legends. I guess that’s was why Llewellyn and Brooks chose to pull their “Etruscan hero”  from the annals of Ancient (I mean, really ancient, way before the Caesars) Rome: Horatius Colces. (“Hora Trim” being his “Estruscan name”). So it is no wonder that the story spends minimal time in “Eutria” and sends the hero off into the wild and eventually to Rome.

Then why not set the thing in Rome to begin with?

And there was the stated theme that “Man gives Gods form” at the beginning that is not really explored in the story, which is a straight up fantasy adventure.

But it’s a very good fantasy adventure.

Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel: by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris. Now this is real Steampunk. The world is not merely a backdrop to the story, but fully formed and integral to the story (even if it does pull from all the conventions of the genre). The characters are delightful, an “Odd Couple” of a brash, explosives-loving Kiwi-“colonial” and a reserved British Archivist (not “Librarian”). The Ministry investigates and collects magical artifacts from around the world (there is even a room full of unsolved cases that the characters edge around calling the “X-Files”), while a madman with an ancient order plots to take over the British Empire and “make it great again.” (Hrm, where have we heard that recently?)

Eliza Braun is pulled into this mystery when her old partner suddenly turns up completely insane after following a lead on his own. Her misbehavior lands her in the Archives with the aptly named Wellington Books who gets dragged, sometimes very humorously, sometimes with surprising adeptness, into her personal investigation/vendetta. Refreshingly, while magic is present in the world, it is not the focus of the villain’s plot.

In the meantime there is a mystery surrounding the director of the Ministry’s activities and a political plot to undermine the Ministry in favor of a new agency, the “British Intelligence Service” who won’t have anything to do with this silly magic business, thank you.

It’s rip roaring fun. Highly recommend it for those who love Steampunk or just a good romp.

The Roman Mask by Thomas Brooke: It’s hard to write a novel (or make a movie) where the audience knows the end is not going to be good and keep them engaged. This book is about the Battle/Massacre of the Tuetobourg Forest, the greatest Roman military disaster that many historians agree helped shape modern Europe. Told from the Roman point of view it is, of course, a very bloody tragedy.

Brooke inserts a fictitious Roman “war hero,” Cassius (no not *that* Cassius, or that one, or that one)  who has lost his taste for the military and nerve for battle after surviving a particularly horrific almost-last-stand. In short, the guy has PTSD and spends as much time as possible drunk and distracted. Yanked out of his life of dissipation in Rome, Livia (wife of Princeps Augustus, now *there* was a couple fiction could not have invented) sends Cassius off to “advise”/keep an eye on Quintus Varus, the Governor of the new Roman province of Germany.

Varus was, as was well known, an utter failure. He had come from governing Syria, which was already a kingdom used to a king, agriculture and production for markets, taxation, etc. when it was conquered by the Romans. Indeed, most of Rome’s stable conquests were of, as one historian put it, “ready-made principalities.” Not so Germany, a land of Iron Age tribes not at all used to farming or taxes or exploiting the land beyond anything more than necessary for their warrior lifestyle. It certainly was not a proper occupation for a Germanic Warrior to work the fields. With low product yield, Varus taxed the hell out of them instead in order to build Roman cities as a showcase of the advantages of Roman civilization, which did nothing to impress any German on whose backs it was being built by force.

This of course led to the great alliance of German tribes under a Arminius/Hermann, the German leader who had been raised as a princely hostage of Rome and even served in the Roman Army. This experience served him well, making him appear as an ally to the Romans while he organized and managed to turn a horde of disorganized warriors into a fighting force capable of taking on three Roman Legions and destroying them utterly.

Cassius is an enjoyable character. His PTSD and guilt do not overwhelm the character to the point of making him a drag. He’s smart, caring, has a sense of humor and is annoyingly experienced and sensible to his young protégé who is filled with dreams of honor and glory. Marcus the protégé manages to be over exuberant without being annoying and you spend the novel on the edge of your seat wondering how the hell are they going to get out of this.

The action of the battle is very well done, incorporating some of the recent archeological finds.

The author takes the liberty of giving the Romans more resistance than they probably were able to put up in real life (also diverges from Tacitus‘s telling that *all* the Roman leaders offed themselves at once), but it builds the tension to a fever pitch of the Romans’ final doomed assault to help a megre few escape. He also redeems the image of Numonius Vala who is considered by historians to have rode out with the cavalry as a cowardly escape. In the book, it’s a plan.

I won’t spoil it for you except to say the ending is not all tragedy. It was a really good, satisfying, read. Well done indeed. The Battle of Tuetobourg Forest is one of those historical events that defies fiction. With events like this, no writer, no Hollywood producer could have come up with what happened in real life, but Brooke handles it deftly.

Much Geekness: Star Wars; Alas poor Ahsoka, I knew you well.

For those of you who enjoyed Star Wars IV-VI (the original trilogy: A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi)  and now VII (The Force Awakens, which rocked, so totally), there is a lot more to the SW universe.

For decades there have been the Star Wars novels covering just about every character seen and every era mentioned in the Star Wars Universe. I confess I have not read them. The Force Awakens definitively showed the novels to be in their own continuity. However, they have a great fan-following, despite being their own cannon.

Now for the most part I am a Star Trek fan (and Babylon 5), but I see no point of dissing one franchise for the other. They are both thoroughly enjoyable with their ups (ST VI: The Undiscovered Country and Empire Strikes Back) and their downs (Star Trek V and Revenge of the Sith). In fact, to compare them is rather like apples and oranges because while both take place in Science Fiction universes, in their stories, Star Trek is more Science Fiction, while Star Wars is more Fantasy.

Think about it, the lowly hero who is “the chosen one” who goes on a journey to find himself and his power, magical power (The Force, mitichlorians be dammed), a weapon of power handed down from father to son (and possibly to granddaughter). Even Joseph Campbell, the scholar who wrote Hero of a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth (an account of his interview with Bill Moyer) pegged Star Wars for what it was: A Hero’s Journey straight out of our classic legends. (And indeed, it came out that Lucas had read Hero with a Thousand Faces, which had in influence on his scripts.) It’s Epic Fantasy set in a SciFi universe. And there is nothing wrong with that.

In fact, the fact that Star Wars is Epic Fantasy in the mode of a classic legend was probably the secret of its wildly unexpected success. When the first film came out, 1977, it splashed down into a pop culture landscape that had a lot of moral ambiguity and disillusionment. In 1977 the movies were either distracting fluff like Smoky and the Bandit or depressing like A Bridge Too Far. (Annie Hall being the obvious artistic stand out of that year.) And SciFi had almost faded into obscurity. The only competition Lucas faced was from his friend Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind which was a straight up SciFi film.

Now we think of The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad & Odyssey, Beowulf and the Arthurian Legends as these ancient epics that belong in the realm of scholarly study. But we forget these were the pop culture of their time. These were the stories the working people listened to in taverns and at hearths and in temples and courts, etc. These were cultural ties that connected people.

Star Wars did that for the modern generation because it filled the need of the epic hero’s journey that modern society lacked. The Lord of the Rings film series did that again, reaching across the genre boundaries to touch billions of people with Tolkien’s take on that archetypal tale that is practically the basis of the human conception of ourselves and human universe/worldview.

Anyway, rambling aside.

The Star Wars prequels sucked. We can all agree on that. It really came down to one huge failing (Jar Jar Binks and wooden acting aside, which I blame in direction because how else do you make Natalie Portman wooden?): Anakin was unlikable. He was arrogant, whiny, snotty, and a mass murder (When he said “I killed them all!” why Padme did not back out of that room slowly and jump on the nearest land speeder out of there, I have no idea.)  When you have a character that is going to have a major fall as the audience knew Anakin must, you have to get the audience invested in that character, get them to care about him and grieve when he falls. Lucas did not do that. He had two films to get the audience to like him and Anakin remained an arrogant bratty adolescent that if the audience gave a damn about at all, it was because they wanted to push him into that lava pit themselves.

(Seriously, if I were Obi Wan I heard Anakin going off on one of his “He’s holding me back!” rants, I would have said. “Tell you what kid. I will take the advice of the Jedi Counsel to stop training you, and dump your sorry ass back on Tattooine in slavery were we found you. Then you can think about how you are being “held back.”)

What corrected that grave error in writing and casting in the films was not seen by the majority of the people who saw the films: The Clone Wars TV series. Taking place between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, in the six years it was on it showed Anakin as a likeable character! His arrogance is tamed to cockiness and a usually charming, and successful, disregard for the rules. His anger to tamed into a passionate protectiveness for the people in his life (and some jealously over any male that gets near Padme despite possessiveness being a major Jedi no-no). And he has a sense of humor. A real one! The series does hint and sometimes show the darker aspects of his character, that passion becoming rage, the jealously becoming paranoia, the cockiness to the arrogance that would become a single minded belief that what is “right” in his eyes (manipulated by Palpatine, who can be seen gently sinking his hooks into Anakin throughout the series) is worth any cost. And very occasionally they show that, when pushed, he can be a cold blooded killer. From time to time, they do hint heavily at the transformation coming. But for the most part, he is shown as a whole, real person and you actually get to know, like and care about the guy.

(Big Bonus: No whining.)

So much so that going back and watching Revenge of the Sith after watching the show, the film has a much greater emotional impact.

Part of that journey into likability is that Anakin took on a Padwan of his own: Ahoska Tano.

Ahsoka is just a kid when she signed on as his Padawan. As such she comes to idolize her master under what appears outward to be an almost fraternal relationship rather than that of master-and-student. In sharing rebelliousness and cocky natures, he frequently makes big-brother jabs at her while she frequently takes little-sisterly jabs at him. But the fact is she would follow him into hell. Their relationship is a large part of what humanizes Anakin, but Ahsoka quickly became an extremely popular character in her own right.

And let’s face, the SW Universe was short a few kick-ass women.

She also received a warning about Anakin’s nature and the effect staying with him could have on her life. At that moment, she brushed it aside. But Ahsoka’s time with the Jedi was cut short when she was suspected of being part of a terrorist attack. Anakin defended her constantly while she went on the run to find the real terrorist, another Jedi Padawan who had become disillusioned with the Order and realized that they were the cause of the war, that they was being misled (by Palpatine, though she did not know it) to the Dark Side.

But despite vindication, when the Jedi Counsel, a group Ahsoka had put her trust in since she was a toddler, doubted her, she began to have doubts in herself, of where her life was going. She left the Order and Anakin in what is one of the most heartbreaking series/season finales.

(Big props to the music here)

As someone pointed out, the “I know” says a lot about how far their relationship had come. That she knew how torn he was, and why, and had kept his secret. Far from master and student, they had become two people who knew and trusted each other implicitly.

(And without a hint of romantic tension. Because y’know, that can happen.)

Clone Wars continued for one more season after her departure, but it was never the same. Ahsoka was a vital spark in that show and it simply couldn’t float without her. Her abrupt departure and lack of information about her in the subsequent series/season and Revenge of the Sith (she was not shown among the Jedi killed under Order 66) and other media (I think she appeared in a video game) resulted in fans yelling “WHAT HAPPENED TO AHSOKA TANO!?!” every time a new Star Wars anything was announced.

The current TV series, Star Wars Rebels (which takes place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope), at last brought Ahsoka back as one of a leaders of rebels against the growing Empire. Not a Jedi, but perhaps with something the Jedi had lost.

And what was great is they got the same voice actors for Ahsoka and the rare instances where it was needed, Anakin.

And we learn is that her leaving may have had a more devastating effect on Anakin than we realized.

Ahsoka showed up in the series first, but when Darth Vader (then an unknown figure working for the Emperor) shows up at the end of series/season one, the fans were waiting for one thing: The show down.

And we got it at the end of series/season two. The thing is, knowing that we do not see Ahsoka in A New Hope or any of the subsequent films, I knew that she was not walking away from this. She is the final string to Anakin’s humanity that Vader has to cut (much like Kylo Ren thought killing his father would). But the battle itself, both physical and emotional, was what everyone had waiting for, for four years.

And it did not disappoint.

(And yes, that is James Earl Jones as the Vader, but it’s Matt Latner’s Anakin’s coming through  that kills you. If you spent hours binge watching Clone Wars, that is.)

And did anyone else catch that during the fight there were seconds of Vader’s lightsaber going green?

The writer/director did leave a slight ambiguity for those fans who need to believe she goes on. But if this is the end for Ahsoka Tano, and I think it was as it should be both artistically and in terms of continuity, it was perfectly done with light touches used to the greatest effect. (For example, it was Anakin’s voice very end saying, “Then you will die.” Not Vader’s. *heartbreak*)  A beautiful, if tragic, end not only to Ahsoka’s arc of becoming something more than a Jedi, but also Anakin’s arc into Vader.

Fantasy Genre and Psuedo Intellectual B.S.

My mother used to say, “Philosophy is the occupation of self-involved men with nothing better to do.” Now, I’m not quite that negative on philosophers as they began investigation into science, the world, religion, society, human nature, etc.. However, given some philosophers, I can kind of see her point.

I certainly apply that characterization to professional literary reviewers.

There are a lot of people, both men and women, who enjoy mental masturbation just for the sake of proving how intellectually superior they are while sucking the joy out of stories for other readers. The problem for them is the people smart enough to see through their mental gymnastics to what they are actually saying, which is often B.S..

For example, this little piece of “You have GOT to be kidding me” wandering around the internet I just discovered today.

I can’t cut and paste the salient points because the entire thing is a JPEG. But the principal idea in this “interpretation” is The Harry Potter series is not a Fantasy Genre story, but the story of a traumatized and mentally ill person (Harry) retreating from reality in a mental institution. Every adventure and achievement is made negative, everything is bad/false/a delusion, his heroism is a lie he tells himself as his psychosis becomes more deeply entrenched.

Now, speaking from a “post-structuralist standpoint” (which one can apply to *art*, not people), sure. That is one way to look at it. One way which, like too much post-modern thought, deconstructs the hero into a horribly damaged villain of the entire piece. One way which sucks anything worthwhile or enjoyable out of it.

First of all, all this “great intellectual” did was take the themes and situation of Sucker Punch and apply them to Harry Potter. So not exactly clever, original or even deeply intellectually-informed thinking here. They just want you to think it is/they are.

Secondly, this is someone who does not understand or like the Fantasy Genre. No, not everything is symbolic of the real world. Sometimes a wand is just a wand.

Third, this type of “interpretation” is, as I said above, nothing more than mental wankery in the interpreter proving their “intellectual superiority” over the fans of the series, or at least that PhD they got in English Literature was worth whatever they paid for it. I remember in High School (in California) in my Honors English class, we were going over The Scarlet Letter. The teacher (with her shiny new Doctorate) was insisting there were three “symbols” on every damn page. Well, that is only a slight exaggeration, but it got to the point where she said, “The moss is a symbol of his moral decay.”

Blue Curtains

That was it for me. I had grown up in Maine. “It’s moss! It grows on trees, it grows on the ground. It’s just there, part of the scenery.” I switched to the regular English course at the mid-year. (I transferred back the following year with a new Teacher.) If that was what “advanced study of English literature” was, I bloody well wasn’t going to sit through it.

Harry Potter is of the Fantasy Genre. It is a very classic Campbell-ianHero’s Journey” taking place in a fantasy world with magic and monsters and good and evil embodying universal themes of mankind, just as Star Wars, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are (for Bilbo and Frodo respectively), The Tasks of Heracles or The Epic of Gilgamesh are. (As Sir Terry Pratchett pointed out, the Fantasy Genre is the oldest literary genre.)

(The links in the previous paragraph lead to brief examinations of each example of how they fulfill the requirement of the universal “Hero’s Journey” which in fact hold much deeper themes of humanity than “He’s bonkers.” Like friendship and sacrifice and the role of free will in good and evil. Sometimes the hoi polloi are more intelligent and insightful than the literati are.)

But having been a fan of SciFi and Fantasy long before LOTR film series made it acceptable to the general public, it is has very amusing watching the elite of literature, who for decades dismissed SciFi and Fantasy as “kids stuff” (I particularly remember one conversation in which I was told that Fahrenheit 451 was not Science Fiction, the person’s argument basically boiled down to “It’s too good to be Science Fiction”), trying to review and analyze genres they have absolutely no knowledge of.  I have read some really ridiculous crap including a very ignorant treatise of the “History of Fantasy” that the reviewer stated came through books like Treasure Island and that George R.R. Martin was “revolutionary” for publishing the first “dark,” “gritty” Fantasy story.

No.

And No.

Needless to say, a bunch of long-time genre fans jumped in the comments thread and tore him to shreds. It was funnier than watching the NYT Book Reviewers bending over backwards trying to classify American Gods as *anything* but a Fantasy novel when the author himself proudly claims the title of “Fantasy Author.” (None of this “Magical Realism” or “Speculative Fiction” B.S. used by authors raised to disdain the genre they are writing in.)

What needs to happen is publications like the New York Times Book Review needs to hire (or at least get some freelancers)  some of the people who have been reviewing books for journals like Strange Horizons, Tor, Analog, and Fantasy Magazine, people who know and understand the genre they are reviewing, to come and work for them. Because right now, their literati book reviewers are just making fools of themselves.

And P.S. As I have said many times, interpretations of art are often more revealing of the nature of interpreter than they are of the art itself.

How Not to End a Story

I finished The Plague Forge, the last book in Jason Hough’s Dire Earth Cycle. And while I am not angry and do not regret reading the series, for on all other points he scored very high, I am disappointed. I am reposting my review from GoodReads here because I know some of the people following this blog are writers and this is a good lesson of how NOT to handle resolving a story.

Warning: Spoilers.

>This final installment in the Dire Earth trilogy has many of the same good points of the first two books: The compelling mystery of the builders, the well-drawn characters, first rate action, great visuals, the tension and jeopardy of the race between the two factions trying to complete the puzzle in time with no idea of the outcome. And the outcome of the mystery is unexpected. I also give Hough points for breaking up the unlikely romantic pairing of the first book and keeping them broken up, allowing them to find mates with whom they shared more common ground. And for making a character that was a bastard in the first novel become more three-dimensional and redeem himself. And it was kicked off by him getting what he wants. That was an unusual character arc that Hough made work.

However…

The detail did become excessive. We do not need a map of every corridor the characters walked down, especially when some of the features did not factor into the plot. The action, specifically the fights, became protracted. More in amount does not necessarily equal “more intense.” By the end it had started to feel like a slogg to read.

But where the book really failed was the ending. The reader has been following these characters trying to unravel and fight to overcome the mysterious “Builders” who have destroyed their world for three novels. We get to the very end where the biggest mystery of “Why” is about to be explained…

And then we cut to a letter-form epilogue that explains, 50 years after the fact, in broad brushstrokes what the mystery was and what the results were. Really. I flipped the pages back because I thought I had missed some. It was that sudden. The reader is robbed of the climax of the story. They are refused the emotional resolution of the characters reacting to the reality of what happened, the thought-provoking, debatable morality of what the Builders did, the choice the characters are given, and the debate among them that must have ensued.

And there was no reason for it other than Hough just did not want to write it. And authors can’t do that. Just no.

So while it was an enjoyable read, in the end the book is a let down.<

Yeah, don’t do that.  It’s just lazy. Give your audience a real climax and real resolution.

(And this is another sign that publishing editors do not do their jobs anymore. I can’t imagine why any editor would have let such a glaring flaw go and not sent it back, asking Hough to write what should have been the final chapter. )