Minor Thoughts

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.

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Brock Cusick writes,

My proposal for fixing these problems is fairly simple, and relies on a mix of civic organization and free-market entrepreneurialism. The goal is to break the current monopoly on ISP service held by local cable companies in most of America, force local utility companies to act in the public’s best interest, and bring some competition to the ISP business to keep prices low and innovation high.

Here it is.

Require utility companies to lease space on their rights-of-way to at least four ISPs, at cost.

Call it infrastructure neutrality, or open leasing. This proposal should independently provide most of the benefits in changing the Internet companies’ status to ‘telecommunications service’ as mere competition between local firms will discourage them from withholding any service or level of service offered by their local competitors. This competition would thus provide the consumer protections that voters are looking for, while allowing Internet companies to remain more lightly regulated (and thus more innovative) information services.

I like this idea much better than the current net neutrality suggestions floating around. I really want my internet providers to compete against each other for my business. I have far more faith in that competition than I do that we’ll get competent regulation of monopoly internet providers.

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A group of black Ferguson residents armed with high-powered rifles stood outside a white-owned business in the city during recent riots, protecting it from rioters that looted and burned other businesses.

… a group of heavily armed black men stood outside a Conoco gas station.

One of the residents, a 6-foot-8 man named Derrick Johnson, held an AR-15 assault rifle as he stood in a pickup truck near that store’s entrance. Three other black Ferguson residents joined Johnson in front of the store, each of them armed with pistols.

The men said they felt indebted to the store’s owner, Doug Merello, who employed them over the course of several years.

I said before that I didn’t like the rioting and looting that was going on in Ferguson. This story is both a good example of why not and a good antidote to the riots.

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Robert Tracinski writes,

The early reports were very clear that Michael Brown was a good, kind-hearted young man bound for college, that the shooting was totally unprovoked, that he was shot multiple times in the back, that he was executed in cold blood. Then the evidence, as it emerged, knocked down each of these claims one by one.

Cases involving the use of force tend to be messy, and getting at the facts is difficult. It requires a lot of sorting of competing claims, cross-examination and confrontation of witnesses, and a thorough review of the physical evidence, which often refutes the eyewitness testimony.

Here are his rules of thumb for future cases:

  1. It’s not a story until there are facts (and claims aren’t facts).
  2. Forensics is a science.
  3. People are individuals, not symbols.
  4. Legal procedures and privileges exist for a reason.
  5. You are not the story.

I’m especially fond of #3 and #4.

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David Harsanyi writes at Reason,

Even if many of your grievances are legitimate, “justice” doesn’t exist to soothe your anger. In the end, there wasn’t probable cause to file charges against Wilson. And after all the intense coverage and buildup, the predictable happened. Even taking a cursory look at the evidence the grand jury saw and heard, the details of Brown’s death were far more complex than what we heard when the incident first broke. Lawyers will, no doubt, analyze every morsel of evidence in the coming days. But if Wilson’s testimony is corroborated by forensic evidence—and much of it seems to be—it seems unlikely that any jury would be able to convict him.

That doesn’t mean that many of black America’s concerns about these kinds of incidents aren’t genuine. It doesn’t mean that police departments like the one in Ferguson aren’t a major problem. It only means that this incident should be judged on the evidence, not the politics or the past or what goes on elsewhere.

No person should be shot by authorities for stealing some cigarillos. Too often, cops in this country use excessive force rather than prudently avoid violence. Just the other day, a 12-year-old boy playing with a BB gun was shot dead in Cleveland. We have a need for criminal justice reform and law enforcement reform. After reading through the grand jury testimony in the Wilson case, it’s obvious there are far more egregious cases that deserve the attention.

According to Wilson’s grand jury testimony, Brown hit Wilson 10 times while he was in his police car. He had punched Wilson twice in the face and was coming for more. Wilson asked Brown to get down. Witnesses saw Brown charge the police officer. Brown also reached for the cop’s gun.

In this case, a number of witnesses paraded out by the media had never actually seen Brown’s death and simply repeated what they had heard elsewhere—namely, that Brown was shot in cold blood from afar. Those stories became part of a narrative—repeated even after the report was released—that is almost certainly believed by many of those protesting in Ferguson and elsewhere in the country.

I’m all for pursuing justice in cases of police brutality. But I don’t support railroading someone for the sake of “justice”. True justice means punishing the guilty, not punishing the innocent so that we can feel like something is being done.

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Asimov's Science Fiction - September, 2014

Asimov’s, September 2014
by Sheila Williams

My rating: ★★★☆☆
Read From: 22 August 2014 - 26 August 2014
Goal: Flotsam & Jetsam

Novelettes

Place of Worship by Tochi Onyebuchi—Lit fiction. I couldn’t even read it; I had to just skim it. It seemed to wander around aimlessly. It was less of a story and more of a meandering reflection. Parts happened in space—that was about the only thing in it that could be loosely considered to be SF.

A Lullaby in Glass by Amanda Forrest—New writer takes us to a future Vietnam. A young man struggles to figure out what caused a recent production failure, to protect his family. I feel like I should have felt more than I did, reading this story. But I didn’t.

Bogdavi’s Dream by Tom Purdom—This novella is the concluding piece of a much longer story that Purdom’s been writing about interspecies war in the distant future. Groups of humans and aliens will have to join together to fight other groups of humans and aliens, to protect the dream of peaceful coexistence. Before reading this, I hunted down some of Purdom’s previous stories. I enjoyed them. This feels more like the mid-50’s SF that I read growing up.

Short Stories

Patterns by James Gunn—A secret lurks inside of the most hidden of patterns. Of course, to talk about the secret is to trigger another pattern: denial, denunciation, and ridicule followed by dismissal and irrelevance. But the secret is still there, still lurking, still waiting. This was extremely short, but I really like it.

Everyone Will Want One by Kelly Sandoval—What is it about this new toy and why will every teen want one? It just might hold the key to gaining social status in the most elite of cliques. Isn’t that reason enough? This was another really good story. It’s something that’s plausible and that I could imagine being reality in another decade or two.

Scouting Report by Rick Wilber—A baseball scout spends a few days watching Cuban teams, checking out some new prospects. He also reflects on the aftermath of an alien crash that occured 10 years ago. I wanted to like this story more than I did. The infodumping was heavy handed and I feel like the main character is a real dunce for not seeing what was obvious to me just one-third of the way into the story.

Windows by Susan Palwick—This story showcases the harsher side of life. A mother travels to a far-away prison to pay a visit for her son’s birthday and to share birthday greetings from his sister, onboard a generational space ship. She arrives at the prison only to learn that the generational ship just exploded, but hides that news from her son in order to create a happier birthday for him. It’s another story, in this issue, that I didn’t really feel was SF at all. The only sci-fi element in the story was that it mentioned a generational ship. I think a story needs more than that to qualify as SF.

Departments

Reflections: Flashing Before My Eyes by Robert Silverberg—Every career has to start somewhere and this is Silverberg’s story of how he started his. Silverberg reflects on the SF magazines that he admired as a teen and his struggles to get his own stories into these magazines, next to the writers that he so admired.

Thought Experiment: Tomorrow Through the Past by Allen M. Steele—This is a speech that Steele gave at the Philcon Science Fiction Convention, in 2013. He looks back at the history of the SF field and how the genre has reinvented itself over the years. He laments the current clichés: alien invasions, space battles, dystopias, and guys in body armor shooting at each other with big guns. He argues that SF has become paranoid and militaristic and needs to regain a sense of optimism, to tell stories with positive outcomes instead of just stories with negative outcomes. He argues that the genre needs to be more about stories set in the future, rather than just stories about the future. It’s a thought provoking speech and I hope some of the authors and editors in the field are inspired by it.

My Take

I liked Steele’s speech. I liked three of the seven stories in this issue. Asimov’s continues to be something that I subscribe to and read but not something that I eagerly wait for each month.

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When I was young, before junior high, I strongly believed that women were the weaker sex and that it was up to men to protect them. I believed that women shouldn’t fight in the military, that they probably shouldn’t engage in the hurly-burly of the working world, and that men should take on all of the physically demanding work leaving women the easier, less physically demanding work.

Through the loving, persistent efforts of a Sunday School teacher and many female friends, I became accustomed to the idea that women were just as hardy as men, just as able to take on any task, just as able to bear any burden, and just as able to engage the world. For the past 15–20 years, I’ve heard that women are equal to men in any area that they care to be involved in and that men shouldn’t treat them any differently from how men treat other men. I thought that being a feminist meant believing that there were few, if any, differences between the genders.

Over the past 2 years, I’ve run into a different brand of feminists. They tell me that women are horribly discriminated against. They tell me that men are predatory beasts who prey upon women and that it’s up to men to protect women from these predators. They tell me that women want to be computer engineers, software designers, scientists, and mathematicians but that the culture in these fields is too toxic for women to endure. They tell me that these fields need to be cleaned up and sanitized before women can feel safe enough to work there.

Now I don’t know what to think. Are women strong and resilient like men? Are they hardy, able to live in unpleasant conditions, to clear a space for themselves, and to blaze a trail? Or are they hothouse flowers who need a carefully controlled environment before they can live and thrive? Are women as I was taught: strong, confident, able to defend themselves? Or are women as I first believed: a weaker sex that needs to be protected by the strong sex?

Here’s a perfect example of my dilemma. An anonymous women provided this advice on software development: Engaging With Hateful People in Your Community Lends Legitimacy to Their Presence. She’s writing in the context of a software development project that takes feedback and contributions from the general public. The words are hers. Any extra emphasis comes from me.

What’s the right way to deal with male supremacists and similar hate groups showing up?

I don’t have a clear answer. What I care most about is that community members are protected.

Here’s my suggestion #1: Don’t engage. It’s better to instantly block that person from the repo and delete their comments.

GitHub’s weaknesses make it not very safe for women and minorities, so if you want those voices heard, avoid the GitHub issue tracker.

By the way: Similar things apply when male supremacists send you reasonable-looking pull requests.

I noticed that this gr.amergr.ate person had sent a small PR to a [my-project] plugin, and the plugin maintainer merged it.

This made me super uncomfortable, and I hope I don’t have to interact with that maintainer, because I really don’t trust their judgment.

When you get a PR from an author whose very name spells hate, then even if the diff looks reasonable, don’t merge it.

This women is arguing that the best way to get women involved in software development is for other people to carefully police the software project, instantly banning commenters and contributors just on the basis of their usernames.

She’s not arguing that these contributors have demonstrated harmful behavior and need to be banned on that basis. She’s not arguing that these individuals have personally done anything that’s even threatening. She’s arguing that usernames that represent a community that she doesn’t like are themselves a threat and that anyone with such a username should be immediately banned from the software project. Without this, she won’t feel safe enough to contribute to the project.

To my ears, this represents a view of women as hothouse flowers that need protection. This isn’t something that a strong, confident, assertive, girl power, “hear me roar” woman would write. This is something written by a woman who always needs a fainting couch nearby, a shrinking violet who can’t survive in the harsh, uncontrolled environment of the real world.

I’m willing and ready to treat women however they want to be treated. Just, please, make up your minds. Should I censor your mail, only passing along what’s safe for you to read? Should I carefully pre-screen your online communities before letting you engage? Should I create special woman-safe zones, carefully monitoring language and behavior for anything indelicate or offensive? Or should I stand back and let you engage the world as equals, trusting that you’re strong enough to face whatever comes your way, that you’re up to the challenge of engaging the world without a male chaperone?

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Since I live in the People’s Democratic Republic of Dane County, I take great pride in having a losing record in each election that I vote in. This year was no exception. I finished with a 1-14 record. (My vote is in italics; the winning vote is bolded.)

Governor & Lieutenant Governor

  • Mary Burke / John Lehman (Democratic), 47%
  • Scott Walker / Rebecca Kleefisch (Republican), 52%
  • Dennis Fehr / No Candidate (People’s Party), 0%
  • Robert Burke / Joseph M. Brost (Libertarian), 1%

Attorney General

  • Susan V. Happ (Democratic), 45%
  • Brad Schimel (Republican), 52%
  • Thomas A. Nelson, Sr. (Libertarian), 3%

Secretary of State

  • Doug La Follette (Democratic), 50%
  • Julian Bradley (Republican), 46%
  • Jerry Broitzman (Constitution), 1%
  • Andy Craig (Libertarian), 3%

State Treasurer

  • David L. Sartori - (Democratic), 45%
  • Matt Adamczyk - (Republican), 49%
  • Andrew Zuelke - (Constitution), 1%
  • Ron Hardy - (Wisconsin Green Party), 3%
  • Jerry Shidell - (Libertarian), 2%

U.S. Congress, District 2

  • Mark Pocan (Democratic), 68%
  • Peter Theron (Republican), 32%

State Senator, District 27

  • Jon Erpenbach (Democratic)
  • Write-in: [I forgot what name I wrote in]

Assembly Representative, District 80

  • Sondy Pope (Democratic)
  • Write-in: Tony Stark

County Sheriff

  • David J. Mahoney (Democratic)
  • Write-in: Capt. America

Clerk of Circuit Court

  • Carlo Esqueda

State Referendum

Question 1: “Creation of a Transportation Fund. Shall section 9 (2) of article IV and section 11 of article VIII of the constitution be created to require that revenues generated by use of the state transportation system be deposited into a transportation fund administered by a department of transportation for the exclusive purpose of funding Wisconsin’s transportation systems and to prohibit any transfers or lapses from this fund?”

  • Yes, (80%)
  • No, (20%)

County Referenda

Question 1: “Should the State of Wisconsin increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour?”

  • Yes, (74%)
  • No, (26%)

Question 2: “Shall the next Governor and State Legislature accept available federal funds for BadgerCare to ensure that thousands of Wisconsin citizens have access to quality and affordable health coverage?”

  • Yes, (82%)
  • No, (18%)

Municipal Referendum

Shall the Village of Oregon adopt the following Resolution?

RESOLVED, the people of the Village of Oregon, Wisconsin, call for reclaiming democracy from the corrupting effects of undue corporate influence by amending the U.S. Constitution to establish that:

  1. Only human beings - not corporations, unions, non-profits, or similar associations - are endowed with constitutional rights; and

  2. Money is not speech, and, therefore, regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we hereby instruct our state and federal representatives to enact Resolutions and legislation to advance this effort.

  • Yes, (80%)
  • No, (20%)

Oregon School District

Question 1: “Shall the Oregon School District, Dane, Rock and Green Counties, Wisconsin be authorized to issue pursuant to Chapter 67 of the Wisconsin Statutes, general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $54,600,000 for the public purpose of paying the cost of a school building and improvement program consisting of the construction of additions to and renovation and improvement of Oregon High School, Oregon Middle School and Brooklyn Elementary School; renovation and improvement of Prairie View Elementary School and Netherwood Elementary School; acquisition and installation of technology improvements; roof replacement at District buildings; HVAC upgrades at the swimming pool; and construction of storm water improvements and other site improvements on the JC Park East property?”

  • Yes, (63%)
  • No, (37%)

Question 2: “Shall the Oregon School District, Dane, Rock and Green Counties, Wisconsin, for the 2015-2016 school year and thereafter be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin Statutes, by $355,864 a year, for recurring purposes of paying operation and maintenance expenses associated with new or upgraded District facilities?”

  • Yes, (61%)
  • No, (39%)
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Participation in a democracy is not the most important thing to preserve liberty and promote well being. I don’t see much value in showing up at school board meetings or town hall meetings or just showing up to vote. It rarely changes anything. Exit is what matters: the ability to say “If you’re not going to make me happy then I’ll go somewhere else where I’ll be happier”.

I bring this up because I was recently listening to Russ Roberts’ EconTalk interview of Martha Nussbaum. Dr. Nussbaum was arguing that it’s enough to participate, that it’s enough to have an accountable government that listens to everyone’s input.

Why do I say, ‘government represents the people’? Look, you do not need to show that you win to show that government is in some meaningful sense, yours. Of course, if you have a vote, some people will win and some will lose. But having the chance to weigh in on those policies is what I’m talking about. In the era when women couldn’t vote, well they might often get what they wanted by wheedling their husbands and getting the husbands to give them what they want. But there’s a crucial difference—namely, that they are being dominated. The government is not accountable to them. And in the era where women have the vote, it’s different. Women don’t always win. No, of course not. But no individual wins all the time. That’s what democracy is about. But on the other hand, you are in that process. And it is in that sense, yours. Even the Constitution, which I think does, by the way, command the agreement and assent of a pretty large proportion of Americans at some level of generality, you know, there’s an Amendment process. So, you can always work at organized work to amend the Constitution if you don’t like it, and see how it goes. You can’t expect to win, but you can participate in that process.

I understand Dr. Nussbaum’s argument about how government “represents the people”. I understand the argument but I don’t think that it gives government a moral right to control as much of society as our government controls. I think she places a far higher value on the mere process of participation than I do. Her view would seem to say that it doesn’t matter if you often lose. The important thing is that you participated, that you had an opportunity to talk, and an opportunity to cast a ballot.

I think the important thing is whether you were able to do what you wanted to do. Were you able to get the education that you wanted? Were you able to get the medical care that you wanted, in a way that you liked? Were you able to use your property in the way that you wanted? Were you able to exercise your skills? Were you able to not only make a choice but to follow through on that choice?

I think the crucial factor is not one of participation but one of exit. I think the crucial factor is that you can not only express disapproval with a policy but that you can go elsewhere, to find a policy that you do approve of. In the private sector, I have this choice. When I don’t like the look and feel of WalMart stores, I can exit WalMart and shop at Target instead. When I don’t want the hassle of driving 25 minutes to Home Depot to pick up a bolt I need, I can choose to drive 5 minutes to the local Ace Hardware to pick up the bolt I need. When I don’t like the fact that Google makes my personal information available to advertisers, I can choose to search the web through DuckDuckGo, a search engine focused on privacy, instead of through Google. If I don’t like the way that Mazda designs the control panel in their cars, I can choose to buy a car from Hyundai instead.

In each of these situations, I had the freedom to participate and to give these companies my feedback. More importantly, when they ignored my feedback I could ignore them and choose to fulfill my needs and wants elsewhere. In the minutes and hours of my daily life, I constantly exercise the freedom to exit something I don’t like and to move to something I do like. That matters to me far more than mere “participation”.

Participation, whether in education or in anything else, is not enough. You must have the choice to leave, when you don’t like the way that you’re treated.

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Asimov's, August 2014

Asimov’s, August 2014
by Sheila Williams

My rating: ★★★☆☆
Read From: 18 August 2014 - 21 August 2014
Goal: Flotsam & Jetsam

Novella

Of All Possible Worlds by Jay O’Connell—The Old Man lives downstairs, in the first floor apartment. He’s busy editing Earth’s history to save us from imminent doom from nuclear bombs and asteroid impacts. He’s ensuring that our timeline truly is the best of all possible worlds.

Novelettes

Placebo by Nick Wolven—A medical mechanic working in a home for sick children, does what he can to bring joy into the children’s lives. Even if that means putting up with a pet. Life is full of unsung heroes, but it may be a while before we forget about the protagonist of the story.

Writer’s Block by Nancy Kress—An off the beaten track novelette about a dreaded authorial problem. The protagonist tries different paths, through many a dark and stormy night, to get past his block. He finally succeeds.

Mountain Screamers by Doug C. Souza—This is Souza’s first sold story. A teenager and his grandmother capture several mountain cats. They’re destined for a planet that humanity will use as one massive wildlife preserve. Along the way, the teenager strengthens his bond with his grandmother and learns more about her lifelong commitment to wildlife. This story had warmth and personality. It didn’t blow me away, but I’m willing to read more of Souza’s work.

Short Stories

Wet Fur by Jeremiah Tolbert— This short story depics the unquestioning loyalty of humanity’s best friend. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for it. Tolbert told the tale entirely as a first person report, to a second person, of that second person’s conversation. I thought the resulting pronoun usage was confusing—needlessly so.

The Low Hum of Her by Sarah Pinsker—This short tries to remind us of family, grief, and love. Mostly, it reminded me of how much I don’t like steampunk / gollem type stories. That element just ruined the whole thing for me.

Departments

Reflections: Longevity by Robert Silverberg—Silverberg reflects on the many SF authors who have had long, productive lives. There sure are a lot of them. This was mildly interesting, but seemed like filler in that it was mostly a listing of people and ages.

My Take

I thought that “Of All Possible Worlds” was a strong story. I enjoyed the whimsy of “Writer’s Block”. The rest of the stories were okay, but I don’t feel like I would have missed out if I hadn’t read them.

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Over 300 authors have decided to take a joint stand against Amazon.

[H]undreds of other writers, including some of the world’s most distinguished, are joining the coalition. Few if any are published by Hachette. And they have goals far broader than freeing up the Hachette titles. They want the Justice Department to investigate Amazon for illegal monopoly tactics.

They also want to highlight the issue being debated endlessly and furiously on writers’ blogs: What are the rights and responsibilities of a company that sells half the books in America and controls the dominant e-book platform?

They have a rather apocalyptic view of Amazon’s role in the literary world. Here’s agent Andrew Wylie.

“It’s very clear to me, and to those I represent, that what Amazon is doing is very detrimental to the publishing industry and the interests of authors,” the agent said. “If Amazon is not stopped, we are facing the end of literary culture in America.”

And here’s Ursula K. Le Guin.

“We’re talking about censorship: deliberately making a book hard or impossible to get, ‘disappearing’ an author,” Ms. Le Guin wrote in an email. “Governments use censorship for moral and political ends, justifiable or not. Amazon is using censorship to gain total market control so they can dictate to publishers what they can publish, to authors what they can write, to readers what they can buy. This is more than unjustifiable, it is intolerable.”

Full disclosure: I’ve been an Amazon customer for about 15 years now. I was both stunned and thrilled when they announced the very first eInk Kindle. I’ve owned almost every eInk Kindle they’ve made and the Kindle has been my preferred way to read for at least 6 years.

With that background in mind, my response to Ms. Le Guin is something along the lines of “Say, what? How’s that again?”.

Amazon has created a self-publishing platform that allows anyone (literally anyone, have you seen some of the dreck that’s up there?) to publish a book. They give authors a platform to self-publish in both print and digital formats. How that correlates to dictating to authors what they can write and to readers what they can buy is beyond me. (As a reader of discriminating tastes, I sometimes wish that Amazon would exercise more control over what writers write and readers read.)

The Times attempts to provide some evidence of Amazon’s dastardly deeds and pernicious effects.

Even Amazon’s detractors readily admit that it is one of the most powerful tools for selling books since the Gutenberg press. But how that power is used is increasingly being questioned in a way it was not during the company’s rise.

So what are they guilty of?

Take, for instance, the different treatment Amazon has given two new Hachette books on political themes.

“Sons of Wichita” by Daniel Schulman, a writer for Mother Jones magazine, came out in May. Amazon initially discounted the book, a well-received biography of the conservative Koch brothers, by 10 percent, according to a price-tracking service. Now it does not discount it at all. It takes as long as three weeks to ship.

“The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea” by Representative Paul Ryan has no such constraints, an unusual position these days for a new Hachette book.

Amazon refused to take advance orders for “The Way Forward,” as it does with all new Hachette titles. But once the book was on sale, it was consistently discounted by about 25 percent. There is no shipping delay. Not surprisingly, it has a much higher sales ranking on Amazon than “Sons of Wichita.”

That’s really reaching. First of all, the complaint isn’t that Amazon is jacking up the prices on books that they don’t like. They’re complaining that Amazon isn’t discounting Sons of Wichita, as if a discount were a moral right.

This anecdote ignores the fact that the central disagreement between Hachette and Amazon is that Amazon wants a wholesale pricing model for eBooks (like the one they have in print books) that would allow them to discount eBooks. Hachette is fighting that, insisting on an agency model that gives them full control over pricing. And, yet, here the complaint about Amazon’s “abuse of power” is that they should be discounting more, not less.

Second. “Not surprisingly, it has a much higher sales ranking on Amazon than Sons of Wichita”. I’m pretty sure that the pricing discount isn’t the entire reason—or even the main reason—why a book by a national political figure is selling better than a book about comparatively obscure political donors. As much as Harry Reid wishes it weren’t so, most of America neither knows nor cares who the Koch brothers are.

Here’s what I think is going on. Andrew Wylie represents a large number of very successful literary figures. Like most successful people, these literary lights seem to feel that not only do they know their own craft better than anyone else, but that they know everything better than anyone else. As a result, they’re confidently claiming to know how Amazon should run its business. Not only that, they’re confident that they know how the entire publishing industry should be run. Not for their own benefit, of course, but for the good of civilization.

Personally, I think it’s likely that the authors know far more about the craft of writing than Amazon does. And I think it’s likely that Amazon knows far more about the craft of getting books into readers’ hands than these writers do. As a longtime voracious reader, I appreciate what Amazon has done for me over the past 15 years. I’ve continually had access to an ever widening variety of books, especially the obscure ones that I despaired of ever getting access to.

I find Ms. Le Guin’s and Mr. Wylie’s comments to be more than a little ridiculous. I absolutely respect their right to free speech and their right to advocate for any position that they like. But the more I hear of what they have to say on this topic, the more my respect for them diminishes.

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Days of Fire_ Bush and Cheney in the White House

Days of Fire
by Peter Baker

My rating: ★★★★☆
Read From: 28 August 2014 - 18 September 2014
Goal: Non-Fiction

Peter Baker wrote a surprisingly even handed account of the Bush presidency. I say “surprisingly” because I was familiar with the antagonism between the New York Times and the Bush White House. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book written by a Times reporter. What I got was a well researched, balanced look at how Bush ran the White House and how decisions were made.

Baker starts the book with a back-and-forth look at Bush’s and Cheney’s early careers. He covers their respective college years, then moves on to their political years. He covers Cheney’s years in Congress and in the Ford White House. He covers Bush’s political efforts on behalf of his father, his time with the Rangers baseball team, and his time in the Texas governor’s office. He focuses the majority of the book, of course, on their partnership while running for office and while in office.

The book wasn’t just about the politics of the White House. Baker relates some of the interactions between Bush and his staff. Bush, like most Presidents, had many ways to torment his staff. Visits to the ranch at Crawford provided unique opportunities.

[H]e loved clearing brush, of which there seemed to be endless supplies.

Aides would be recruited to join the brush clearing and judged on their prowess and endurance in the sweltering heat. Stephen Hadley, the new national security adviser, was teased for showing up in tasseled loafers. (In fact, they were leather shoes with laces, but the loafers legend stuck.) “There was like a hierarchy that was completely different from any other hierarchy,” said Steve Atkiss, the president’s trip director who traveled regularly with him. “When you start, your job is basically, after someone cuts down a tree, to drag it out of there and put it wherever it is going to go. Then, if you really did good at that, the next level up was you could be in charge of making a pile of all the things that had been dragged over so that it burned well when you lit it on fire. If you were really good at that, you might be able to, one day, get to use a chain saw.”

I wasn’t really surprised to learn that Bush liked to be thought of as a slow-witted dunce. He felt that it was an advantage to have his opponents continually underestimating him. I was surprised to learn that Cheney had a reputation as a moderate early in his career. People took his quiet, low-key personality to mean that he was far less conservative than he actually was. This benefitted him, as he started out.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the book was that Bush really was the Decider in the White House. Everyone interviewed for the book, and Baker interviewed many people, agreed that Bush was definitely in charge. Cheney had opinions and Bush knew what they were. But Cheney rarely spoke up in meetings and didn’t dominate the conversations around the White House. Instead, it was very clear that Bush was in charge of each meeting and ultimately made each decision.

Early in his presidency, Bush agreed with Cheney on a great many things. The most obvious area was how to respond to 9/11 and what to do about Iraq. But they were also in agreement on domestic policy, such as tax cuts. Bush allowed Cheney to be the point person, in areas where they agreed. Cheney would work quietly, through his massive network of government contacts and loyalists. He was very effective at getting done what Bush wanted done.

Bush definitely made his share of mistakes and had character flaws. One of them, in my opinion, is that he deferred too much to trusted subordinates. Everyone needs to delegate, but I think Bush took it to an unhealthy level. One example is the de-Baathification of Iraq.

Saddam Hussein was the head of Iraq’s Baath party. Some of the Baath party members were true believers, dedicated to Hussein and his methods. Most party members were not. They were only members of the party out of necessity, to hold a job and survive in a brutal environment.

Before the invasion of Iraq, Bush and his advisors debated what to do about the Baath party. Some favored disbanding it entirely and firing all of its members. Others favored a selective purge, of just the true believers. Eventually, Bush decided on a selective purge, reasoning that it would be too risky to dump many well trained and well armed people on to the streets.

After the invasion, Bush appointed Paul Bremer as his personal representative in Iraq. After getting to Iraq, Bremer decided to go ahead with a full purge of the Baath party. He fired everyone and put them all on the streets. Many of these people ended up forming the core of the Iraqi insurgency. Many experts believe that the de-Baathification of Iraq led to the insurgency and made it as bad as it was.

Bush had made the decision to only partially purge the Baath party. Bremer knew of this decision and decided to go ahead with a full purge anyway. Instead of overruling his deputy, Bush let his decision stand.

Bush was loyal enough to subordinates to trust their judgment ahead of his, once he’d delegated an area of responsibility to them. The de-Baathification of Iraq was just one example. There were others, throughout the book. I think this represented a real flaw in his leadership, as he failed to fully take ownership of decisions and enforce his own decisions.

While it often appeared that the Bush White House was lawless, doing whatever it wanted to in the name of national security, that wasn’t quite true. Baker tells of one renewal of the NSA’s wiretapping program, when the Justice Department objected to the terms of the renewal.

John Yoo was now gone, and a new crop of lawyers had arrived at the Justice Department, only to be shocked at what they found. Jack Goldsmith, a conservative law professor who had taken over as head of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel, thought some of the opinions he had inherited were poorly reasoned and unsustainable.

As a result, he refused to agree to the reauthorization of the program. A majority of the Justice Department’s top leadership agreed with him and backed him up. Ultimately, the FBI did too.

The President was determined to renew the program, whether or not the Justice Department agreed. When he tried, however, a dozen administration officials threatened to resign, including Goldsmith himself and FBI director Mueller. Bush was forced to rescind his reauthorization and modify the program to comply with Justice Department and FBI requirements.

These kinds of conflicts—between Cheney and those representing the rule of law—continued to escalated. Increasingly, Bush began to side with everyone else. Baker demonstrates that Cheney and Rice represented the two sides to President Bush. Cheney represented Bush’s impulse to protect America at any cost, going it alone if necessary. Rice represented Bush’s impulse to work within the law, to build Congressional support for his policies, to work with other foreign leaders, to cooperate, and to build a reputation as an international leader rather than an international cowboy.

During the first term, Bush agreed with Cheney more often than Rice. But as the first term drew to a close, Rice started winning more of the policy arguments. When Rice moved to the State Department, at the beginning of Bush’s second term, it was a clear signal that Bush was siding more with Rice and wanted her to have the clout necessary to carry out his desires. As the second term continued, Rice won almost all of the policy battles and Bush and Cheney grew increasingly estranged.

Ultimately, it become clear to me that Bush was who he claimed to be during the 2000 Presidential campaign. He was a moderate conservative, interested in domestic achievements that reached across the aisle and in building consensus among foreign governments. The 9/11 attacks shocked him, threw him off balance, and pushed him to respond in drastic ways.

Bush began correcting course at the end of the first term and became increasingly moderate throughout his second term. Ultimately, the dictatorial White House that the press loved to demonize didn’t truly exist. The aspects of it that did exist were a reflection of Cheney’s policies and Bush’s agreement with those policies in the months after 9/11.

As Cheney and Bush grew apart, that image of the White House became less and less accurate. Bush was his own man, fully in charge, and capable of growing in office. But he was consistently identified with his Vice President and the public’s image of him reflected the Vice President’s policies and not his own policies. I think history will remember him far more kindly than people do today.

This is how Baker sums that up, at the end of the book.

And yet to blame or credit Cheney for the president’s decisions is to underestimate Bush. “Bush had a little bit of Eisenhower in him,” said Wayne Berman, “in that he didn’t mind if people thought that he was the sort of guy who was easily manipulated because it also meant that his opponents underestimated him and the people around him thought they were having more influence than they really were. And he used that always to his advantage.” While Cheney clearly influenced him in the early years, none of scores of aides, friends, and relatives interviewed after the White House years recalled Bush ever asserting that the vice president talked him into doing something he otherwise would not have done.

Bush, in the end, was the Decider. His successes and his failures through all the days of fire were his own. “He’s his own man,” said Joe O’Neill, his lifelong friend. “He’s got the mistakes to prove it, as we always say. He was his own man.”

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Trade Secret

Trade Secret
by Sharon Lee

My rating: ★★★☆☆
Read From: 22 April 2014 - 26 April 2014
Goal: Series

The continuing adventures of Jethri Gobelyn—Liaden Trader, Terran Trader, the one man with good standing in two cultures. Jethri had loaned the Liaden Scouts a notebook he inherited from his father. It was supposed to be copied and then returned to him. It wasn’t returned. Balance was required. Jethri teamed up with a Liaden Scout, to track down and recover his stolen notebook.

The notebook, of course, is a MacGuffin. It’s an excuse to send Jethri and the Scout from port to port, world to world, both Liaden and Terran. It’s an excuse to show Jethri operating in both of his cultures, sometimes simultaneously.

There were some interesting moments. But, mostly, I was unimpressed by the book. Jethri had a purpose to what he did but I didn’t feel a connection to that purpose. The story itself wandered all over the place and didn’t have a strong narrative thread.

The book constantly jumped back and forth in time. There were a lot of chapters that started out a day or more after the previous chapter ended, making it feel like you’d blacked out and missed what had been happening. Then, all of the sudden, one of the characters would either reflect on what had been happening or would relate the events to another character, filling in the details of what you’d missed. It was an irritating narrative device and quickly grew old.

I normally enjoy Liaden Universe stories. I didn’t really enjoy this one and I would have been happy to miss it.

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Unschooling is the opposite of everything you know about what school should look like. It’s unstructured. It’s giving children “self-directed, adult-facilitated life learning in the context of their own unique interests”.

I read this article this morning and it really resonated with me. Ben Hewitt writes about his experiences unschooling his two sons. This part, about trust and responsibility, echoes what I want for my own daughters and what I’ve seen from them.

Our sons are not entirely self-taught; we understand the limits of the young mind and its still-developing capacity for judgment. None of these responsibilities were granted at an arbitrary, age-based marker, but rather as the natural outgrowth of their evolving skills and maturity. We have noticed, however, that the more responsibility we give our sons, the more they assume. The more we trust them, the more trustworthy they become. This may sound patronizingly obvious, yet I cannot help but notice the starring role that institutionalized education—with its inherent risk aversion—plays in expunging these qualities.

Then he talks about whether or not unschooling, the complete lack of traditional structure, will cripple his children for future “normal” careers.

Which brings us to the inevitable issue of what will become of my boys. Of course, I cannot answer in full, because their childhoods are still unfolding.

But not infrequently I field questions from parents who seem skeptical that my sons will be exposed to particular fields of study or potential career paths. The assumption seems to be that by educating our children at home and letting them pursue their own interests, we are limiting their choices and perhaps even depriving them. The only honest answer is, Of course we are. But then, that’s true of every choice a parent makes: no matter what we choose for our children, we are by default not choosing something else.

That, that right there, struck a chord. As an amateur economist-in-training, I’ve been learning over and over that every choice I make means that I’ve also chosen not to follow a different course, or a hundred different courses. There is no way to prepare our children for everything. They will, inevitably, be unprepared for many things in life. All we can do is make the best choices we can and prepare them for a life of learning and exploration, rather than settling for a few short years of imprisonment and drudgery.

This is what I want for my sons: freedom. Not just physical freedom, but intellectual and emotional freedom from the formulaic learning that prevails in our schools. I want for them the freedom to immerse themselves in the fields and forest that surround our home, to wander aimlessly or with purpose. I want for them the freedom to develop at whatever pace is etched into their DNA, not the pace dictated by an institution looking to meet the benchmarks that will in part determine its funding. I want them to be free to love learning for its own sake, the way that all children love learning for its own sake when it is not forced on them or attached to reward. I want them to remain free of social pressures to look, act, or think any way but that which feels most natural to them.

I want for them the freedom to be children. And no one can teach them how to do that.

I still haven’t made the choice to unschool our children. But Mr. Hewitt has pushed me further in that direction than I’ve ever been before.

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I find the entire situation in Ferguson to be infuriating and frustrating. I’m furious that a police officer got into an altercation with a young, black man and shot and killed him. I’m furious that the police department’s first response was to suit up and bring out the tactical military gear. I’m furious that MRAV’s, sniper rifles, and grenade launchers are considered appropriate tools for America’s civilian police force.

I was frustrated that it took 3 nights of standoffs, tear gas, and rubber bullets before Missouri governor Jay Nixon decided that something was wrong and relieved the police of responsibility for Ferguson. I was elated when the Missouri State Highway Patrol was given responsibility and responded by leading protestors through town, listening to protestors, and being photographed hugging protestors instead of pointing guns at them.

I was confused when I heard that protestors, on the very first night, had reacted to the shooting by looting and trashing a local convenience store. Looting, in general, confuses me. Who does that? Who responds to a tragedy by saying, “Screw it. I’m mad and I’m going to respond by beating up this other innocent bystander.”

Make no mistake, that’s what looting and vandalism is. It’s violence against the innocent and the uninvolved. Most stores that are looted are owned by local community members. They’re staffed by local community members. They provide goods, services, jobs, and incomes to local community members. By destroying them, you’re destroying local incomes, services, jobs, and wealth. You’re depriving the owner of a livelihood. You’re depriving the workers of an income. You’re depriving the people who live and work near that store of the services that that store provided.

I’ve heard that protestors are claiming that they looted because that was the only way to draw attention to their cause. That’s stupid. Protest marches, sit-ins, and rallies draw attention to your cause. Practicing non-violent resistance draws attention to your cause and generates sympathy from those watching. Looting and vandalism is a senseless act of violence and rage directed against those unfortunate enough to be located too close to the scene of tragedy. It’s violence for violence’s sake, responding to injustice by multiplying injustice.

So I was frustrated and angry when I heard that the night of calm in Ferguson was followed up with a night of renewed fighting and renewed vandalism. I was angry when I heard that the police stood back and allowed the looting to happen, forcing store owners to defend their own businesses. First the police over responded by armoring up and acting worse than most occupying forces. Then they under responded by allowing thugs to destroy community businesses. I’m angry because they don’t understand—and can’t perform—their own jobs.

I want justice in Ferguson. I want the police officer responsible for the shooting to be arrested and tried for murder, treated the same as any other civilian assailant. If a jury determines that his actions were justified, he can walk free and resume his job, the same as everyone else. If the jury determines otherwise, he can suffer the penalty, the same as everyone else.

And I want the looters to be arrested, charged, and tried as well. Their actions are neither necessary nor useful. They’re criminal and should be treated as such.

One final note. I’ve seen people on Twitter questioning why second amendment anti-tyranny gun nuts haven’t had anything to say about Ferguson. As one such nut, here’s my response.

The citizenry of Ferguson absolutely have a right to own weaponry sufficient to defend themselves from criminals, whether vandals or an overreaching police force. The police force certainly seems to have given sufficient provocation for these Americans to justify an armed response. It was just such provocations, in Boston, that ultimately led to the War for Independence.

That doesn’t mean that now is the right time for an armed response or that an armed response is the wisest course of action, at this time. I won’t absolutely advise against it, and I won’t absolutely advise it. I’m not on the ground in Ferguson, I don’t know all of the facts, and I don’t have the knowledge to speak wisely about the situation.

But the citizens of Ferguson, as citizens of the United States, have the right to assemble, to speak, and to petition for redress of grievances by any means necessary, either First or Second Amendment. But they don’t have the right to claim that violence against local property owners is one such means of redress. That’s why I’m increasingly angered with, and frustrated by, both sides of this standoff.

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Virgin Galactic is working to offer tourist trips to space in the next months to year. But they’re looking beyond that too.

“If we can make significant progress on the challenge of reusable space access then I think that opens up all kinds of opportunities in the future,” he said. “One of the directions that might open up is high-speed point-to-point travel on Earth — so that you could go from London to Singapore in an hour or go from London to Los Angeles in a couple of hours.

Regular passenger service to the moon and super fast travel around the globe—this was a staple of the Golden Age SF that I read as a teenager. I hardly know how to process the idea that it might actually come true. If it does, I’ll be positively giddy.

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Popular Science published an exciting, inspiring article about Dean Kamen’s water purifier. (Kamen is the inventor of the Segway, among many other items.) The purifier requires minuscule energy to operate and works reliably in remote, undeveloped places. This makes it well suited to improve health by providing the world’s poorest people with a reliable source of clean water.

As I was reading the article, this particular section jumped out at me.

“ ‘Dean,’ he says to me, ‘if we can make the water, why can’t we do other things too?’ ” Providing clean water could be the cornerstone of what’s known as a bottom-of-the-pyramid strategy for developing markets. By providing the poorest people in the world with new technologies, services, and opportunities, a company can help lift them out of poverty and transform them into viable customers. Hence, the Ekocenter concept took shape as a companion to the water purifier, at least in some markets.

Coca-Cola launched the first Ekocenter in Heidelberg, South Africa in August 2013. A slingshot attached to the faucets provides clean water. Courtesy Coca Cola “We believe Coca-Cola’s business can only be as healthy as the community it is part of, so the well-being of the community is important to our long-term strategy,” says Derk Hendriksen, the general manager of the Ekocenter program. Notably, the company won’t directly profit from the program; each “downtown in a box” will operate as a standalone business run by a local entrepreneur, typically a woman, selected and trained by Coke. (That the soda giant enjoys an image boost in the process goes without saying.)

I love Derk Hendriksen’s quote. It’s a direct refutation of the idea that businesses must be regulated because—absent regulation—they’ll sacrifice the health and safety of their customers for short-term profit. That fallacious idea is crazy making.

Every successful business wants their customers to be as healthy and happy as possible. Repeat customers are the best customers. There’s simply no long-term profit in killing off or driving away your customer base.

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In one of his academic papers, David Brat (he of the primary victory over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor), referred to government having “a monopoly on violence.” Journalists for the New York Daily News, Politico and the Wall Street Journal treated this as a statement of extremism rather than a straightforward reference to political philosophy.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, writing at Forbes, used that to call for a renewal of real liberal education.

In particular, two of the most fundamental requirements of citizenship were virtue and a liberal education.

The expression “liberal education” is quite important. Today, when we think “liberal education”, we think “Would you like fries with that?” But as the common root with the word liberty suggests, liberal education is an education that helps make us free. Only by first understanding not only the empirical scaffolding of our Universe–a.k.a. science–but also its conceptual scaffolding, a.k.a. the ideas, concepts and history which shape the world we live in, can we ever hope to be free, that is to say to be able to make informed, conscious decisions.

Similarly, the great men (and, sorry, they were mostly men) who bequeathed us this wonderful order understood that a regime of majority rule cannot long withstand the test of time without having a citizenship that takes seriously the notion of virtue. The virtues, to Aristotle and others, are not so much about being a goody-two-shoes, but rather about the lifelong effort to reach self-mastery through confronting our passions (today, perhaps, we would say: our addictions) and properly ordering our will towards that which is good. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll see how growth in virtue is itself a form of liberal education.

Without an awareness of these things, a bunch of very smart people who built our world and know the instruction manual have been warning us, we consign ourselves to doom.

Which brings me back full circle, which is that when a bunch of people, whose job is to write about politics, who presumably have nice-sounding educations, who have editors, don’t know one of the very basics of the political thought that gave us the world we live in, the hour is very late indeed.

This matches my own leanings pretty well. I believe that one should have a liberal education before undertaking the responsibility to vote. Voting shouldn’t be a lark, a popularity contest, an opportunity for cheap point scoring, or for “gotcha!” campaigns. Voting should be a civic responsibility, taken only after prolonged consideration of the best way to promote the general welfare.

In the past, I’ve suggested voter tests as a way to determine which people actually take this responsibility seriously. Given our nation’s history of racism and oppression, that’s not a good idea. But I do wish that people would take the responsibility seriously enough to prevent themselves from voting, if they lack the requisite knowledge and tempermament.

The low-information voters that should most refrain from voting are the voters least likely to abstain out of principle. A true liberal education would give voters those principles, but then they wouldn’t be low information voters in the first place. If you’re wondering why our election campaigns attract only the worst candidates, look no further than the unqualified, illiberal voters that populate the political left, right, and center.

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Eric S. Raymond reviewed Matthew Johnson’s short-story anthology Irregular Verbs and Other Stories. He used it as an opportunity to talk about the differences between SF, literary fiction, and other genres. It caught my eye because I’ve been doing my own ruminating on what SF is and what literary fiction is.

I will use Johnson’s work to explore some of the boundary conditions of the SF genre—how it differs from literary fiction and from genres such as mystery and fantasy.

Because I’m going to be saying a lot about genres of writing, I want to be clear on what I think a genre is. It’s two things: one is a set of expectations a reader has about the kind of experience an instance of the genre will deliver, the other is a set of genre-specific codes and expressive techniques that the genre writer uses in the expectation that readers will receive them as the author intended. Like all codes and languages, the purpose of genres is to make communication easier by allowing both parties to assume a repertoire of common referents. Genre art fails when the production of the writer fails to match the genre referents and constraints as known by the reader.

This analysis generalizes Samuel Delany’s observation that SF is not merely, or even mostly, a way of writing; it is a way of reading, too. The same is true of other genres, in different ways.

We will also require the following definition of science fiction (due in its most developed form to Gregory Benford): that branch of fantastic literature which affirms the rational knowability of the universe, and has as its most particular reader experience the sense of conceptual breakthrough—of having understood the universe in a new and larger way. Every constraint in this definition is important; removing or relaxing any of them lands us in other genres.

It made for some interesting reading. I also learned from the discussion in the comments.

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Parasite

Parasite
by Mira Grant

My rating: ★★★★☆
Read From: 20 June 2014 - 22 June 2014
Goal: Awards

This is the second 2014 Hugo nominee that I’m reading, before voting.

About three months ago, I listened to an EconTalk podcast episode about autoimmune disease and parasites. Russ Roberts, the host, interviewed Moises Velasquez-Manoff about his book, An Epidemic of Absence.

Roberts and Velasquez-Manoff discussed why allergies and autoimmune diseases have been increasing over the last 50 years. Epidemiologists have recently theorized that these diseases are increasing because of an overly hygienic environment that’s causing a decrease in various microbes and parasites. Some people have theorized that we could actually make people healthier by reintroducing parasites into our bodies and several groups are running FDA trials to test that theory.

This is a theory that I’ve read about a handful of times in the past 2 years. I was ecstatic when I discovered, a few pages into Parasite, that it was about exactly this idea. The story takes place in the near-future.

In 2016, SymboGen gained FDA approval to sell a genetically engineered parasite—based on a tapeworm—called the Intestinal Bodyguard™. Patients ingested the parasites in pill form. From there, they grew in the intestines and cured asthma, allergies, and diabetes. They also secrete natural birth control and prescription medications on a regular basis, freeing patients from the tedium of managing schedules for different drugs. They became the miracle drug that humanity had been looking for.

Our narrator, Sally Mitchell, had an implanted Intestinal Bodyguard™ when she suffered a seizure while driving and crashed head-on into a bus. Ten days later, her doctors declared her brain dead and tried to persuade her family to let her body die. Then she woke up. Her memory was completely gone but, somehow, she’d lived through the brain death that should have been fatal.

The story proper begins 6 years later, in 2027. SymboGen has been paying for her medical care for the past 6 years, investigating how her parasite saved her life. Sally (now preferring to be called “Sal”) has built a new life and just wants to be free of SymboGen, psychologists, and the constant medical examinations. That’s when the “sleeping sickness” starts, quickly growing into an epidemic. It appears to be linked to the Intestinal Bodyguards™ and as the world’s most famous survivor, Sal is right in the middle of the chaos.

Mira Grant’s story captivated me. I read well-nigh the entire thing in less than 24 hours. I could not put it down or—once put down—resist taking it up and devouring it in large chunks. The pacing and tension were superb, effortlessly driving the story forward.

Best of all, this story was true speculative fiction. Mira Grant took an on-going scientific debate, ran it on fast-forward a few years, and then wrote a compelling story about one possible implication of pursuing the science. It’s been a while since I’ve read speculative fiction and I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed the excitement of thinking through the implications of scientific discoveries.

Mira Grant’s story isn’t perfect. The biggest flaw is that too many of the characters are one-dimensional. Sally Mitchell, our narrator, is fully realized. Her motivations and conflicts are believable and understandable. Unfortunately, few of the people around her are similarly well fleshed out.

Dr. Steven Banks, one of the putative villains, is mostly a caricature of the evil profit-grubbing scientist. Sally’s parents and sister are insubstantial. Her boyfriend is too, although to a lesser degree. Some of this is understandable, as Sally is the narrator and has all of six years of life experience. It’s understandable that she would feel distant from her family and wouldn’t know them intimately. Given her expressed desire to learn though, the story’s lack of strong secondary characters is a weakness.

Don’t let that weakness dissuade you from reading Parasite. It’s an intriguing scientific idea, woven into a thriller of a horror story. It’s easy to see why it was nominated for a Hugo award.

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Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Justice
by Ann Leckie

My rating: ★★★☆☆
Read From: 15 June 2014 - 20 June 2014
Goal: Awards

This is the first of the books that I’m reading before voting for the Hugo awards. I’m ambivalent about this book. I don’t hate it but I don’t love it either. It has an interesting premise, but it never emotionally grabbed me.

The central character, the narrator, is Justice of Toren, the AI for a ship, a giant troop carrier. She is the ship. She also operates hundreds of human bodies, as her ancillaries. The ancillaries are the bodies of criminals and rebels, now transformed through implants into extensions of the Justice of Toren. (Punishing someone by making her an ancillary is equivalent to punishment by execution.)

Ann Leckie gives the reader a good idea of what it would be like to be an individual that’s capable of being in multiple places at once, doing many different things. It’s interesting to think about what it would be like to be able to multitask to that degree and to handle multiple different situations and tasks simultaneously. We get to experience that often, throughout the book.

Ancillary Justice also raises the question of what it means to be of two minds about something. We often talk of being internally conflicted, of disagreeing with ourselves, or of being at war with ourself. Would that look any different if you had multiple bodies? What kind of effect would that have on the world around you?

Finally, the book plays around with gender. The Justice of Toren has been operational for thousands of years. She’s seen many different cultures—and many different versions of the same culture—over the years. Gender markers are constantly changing: long hair or short, make-up or not, style of clothing, type of clothing, behaviors. As a result, she can never tell which gender an individual is and defaults to using the feminine pronoun for everyone unless forced to do otherwise.

Every character in the book is referred to as “she” or “her”, regardless of actual gender. I finished the novel and I still don’t know the gender of some of the characters. Even when I could figure it out, the constant repetition of the feminine pronoun made it hard to remember. It played with your head, in the best possible way.

This was a book with a lot of good ideas. On paper, I should love it. But I didn’t and I never felt like I just couldn’t wait to get back to it. I was disappointed by that.

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