Monday, August 10, 2020

The Trap

The humans go out on a train ride to "civilization". Alas, they are really just going to be food for the vampire leader. Only a few survive. However, a few of these humans are the "origin" that have the cure for vampirism in their blood. They are extracted by the leader's advisor who is a human in disquise. He wants them to be a source of weapons to fight vampires. They are don't want to. However, the leader changes all that. He wants them to kill a vampire who knows about the human colony. This girl just happens to be "Ashley June" - the girl he knew that had recently turned into a vampire. They go through a bunch of adventures, have some narrow escapes, and turn help cause a large amount of human and vampire death. He solves his "love triangle". They then find out the truth about "duskers" and "heapers" and go to start their own new world. The end is an interesting twist. They also feel "morally obligated" to go through extensive effort to save many people. However, this all backfires, with everyone they try to save dying. However, the experiences do become useful as they create a world of their own.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

The Prey: The Hunt Trilogy

Prey is the second book int he Hunt trilogy. Vampires dominate the world. A few humans escape the vampire world, and set sail to freedom. They eventually find some instructions and find other humans. (It turns out they are part of a "plan" with multiple redundancies.) The humans have their own little society. They say they are guarding the frontier. However, it seems they are operating their own little sex cult. It turns out there is no "outer world", but they are just breading humans for the vampires to eat. Alas, vampires catch on and chase them down. We also get a little love traingle between a human that has turned into a vampire and a couple humans. The humans also just happen to be part of the "cure" for vampirism. However, they don't find out how until the very end. The book is an interesting twist on the vampire storyline. However, the narration on the audiobook doesn't quite seem to do the story justice.

Geek Sublime

Geek Sublime starts with great potential. The author details his experience at the intersection of the literary and computer world. Writing computer code can be similar to writing literary works. There are good writers and bad writers. Early on, coding was a "female" profession. It was considered to be similar to typing up a memo that was dictated by the male boss. The algorithm created by the "guy" was important. Coding it into the computer was simple. However, it soon became clear that coding computers is a skill and an art form of its own write. There is also a great thrill in getting a computer to do things. 

Computer programmers can also be a difficult to work with bunch. Even in open source communities that depend on working together, there can be plenty of battles. Programmers will often look down on others that use "higher level" languages that allow them to more easily do things. However, today almost everyone uses differing degrees of abstraction from machines. Even low level assembly language has taken us a few levels above the electrical switches that are operating on microchips.

The also spends time exploring differing cultural attitudes, especially with regards to India and the United States. In India, engineers and computer programmers are highly respected. Males and females both enter the field. In America, it tends to be dominated by Geeky males. 

Finally, the book takes a detour into Indian cultural and religious views. This part strayed from the original theses and lost me. Bits on Sanskrit were somewhat interesting, though seemed a little out of place. However, bits on Tantra seemed even more out of place. Perhaps a nice readers digest version could focus on the good parts without drifting too far.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge : A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution

If you look hard enough you can find anything you want. In food of the gods, the author finds hallucinogenic mushrooms are the key point to the evolution of men. Hallucinogens are also a key component of a female-based partnership society. (Thus they are condemned by domineering, male-based society.) He sees the drugs as an important step that helped humans to progress from being "mere apes" to the higher intelligence they have today. Some cultures in the Amazon are able to hold on this "shaman" culture. He is enamored with the drug induced states and would love for society to have a greater respect for plants and psychoactive states they can provide.
He criticizes the drug policy of today for not performing more research into positive uses of drugs. This does seem to be a valid concern. However, he takes it further. Much further. For him drug policy is a means by which the male "dominate" group can assert their dominance over the female partnership society. Drug policy is how those in power stay in power. They pick drugs that they like and restrict other drugs so that they can get a cut of the revenue from them. 

His theories (such as "stoned ape" evolution do tend to be extreme. However, when the book does venture away from theory, it has some interesting content. A section describes the "drug history" of the world. The new world had a lot more available drugs than the old world. Some drugs like alcohol and tobacco assumed a regular place in civilized society. Others, including marijuana and heroine were shunned. Others, such as coffee, chocolate and sugar are not even considered to be drugs, yet they have significant psychoactive impact on humans. It is an interesting read that tries to make sense of the way that drugs have evolved to be placed in different buckets in our culture. It almost makes up for the extremeness of the general theories of hallucinogenics being the source of most human advancement. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Enchantress: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Book 6

The Enchantress wraps up the Nicholas Flamel series. This book is packed with action and doesn't get too bogged down with the theory. And that is probably good. I had trouble keeping track of why people were doing the things they were doing. The "sides" that people joined also became confused. People that seemed to be bad guys before were now good guys. However, there were plenty of new "bad guys" that came out to fight them. The author continues to pull more and more historical and mythological figures out of his hat to add to the story. They often seem to be living relatively peaceably in modern society despite being immortal. (Though their battles are often the story behind natural disasters.) The twins also learn about their true history and family, which was different from anything I was expecting. The primary narrative consists of a few different story arcs taking place thousand of years apart in different "shadow realms", but all related to the final goal. The ending wraps things up nicely. However, since things float freely between time and place, is there ever really an end? I found this book a satisfying conclusion and a positive step above the previous book.

The Memory of Old Jack

Old Jack had worked as a farmer in Kentucky. His life was coming to an end and he provided many memories. There were a number of events where people being "too true" to their character left them not as happy. A farmer had hired a farm hand to help him. However, he realized that the farm hand would never have the ownership needed. He wanted them to be equals, but they couldn't. This also made his wife distraught. She had hoped he would move on to the genteel class, and leave the working to the hired help. Alas, this was not to be. There were also tales of how there was love at first site as well as alienation and separation (Without divorce.) I sometimes had trouble determining whether there were new characters or just continuation of existing ones. Perhaps this was because the story just did not demand a lot of my attention.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America

Killing Lincoln covers the history of the last few days of the civil war and the assassination of Lincoln. While it mostly sticks with the historical facts, the tone is far from that of a typical historical narrative. The author is a political commentator, and uses aspect of that style in the delivery. Much of the story is given as a countdown of Lincoln's time to live. The events in the life of Lincoln's assassin are covered in greater detail than the life of Lincoln. Various conspiracy theories are brought up. (Though they are generally acknowledged as unproven theories.) The end of the civil war is portrayed as a battle of wills. The Union had the rebels in a bind. However, the rebels somehow kept finding the will to fight. In one battle, the Union infantry failed to rise up for the killing blow. Because of that, they were all killed. In other cases, Union leadership failed to "finish the job", giving the rebels more time to fight. In the end, this let the Confederacy survive for a few more days. However, their cause was doomed.
Booth was an actor and a confederate die-hard. He had been part of plots to kidnap Lincoln. Eventually, he hatched on a plan to kill Lincoln and other leaders in order to cause chaos and give the south a chance to rise up. He carried out his part of the operation. However, his co-conspirators failed. One just got drunk rather than do his killing. Another managed to injure a bunch of people, but did not kill his target. Booth managed to elude capture for a few days, but eventually he was caught and killed. (Though the book mentions many men dying in the swamp search.) The other conspirators were hung. Ironically, Booth's action probably made things much worse for the south. The new president was more of a hardliner towards the south and less willing to follow the peaceful integration that Lincoln desired. Even the "pro-south" newspapers at the time heavily criticized the assassination.

Life for Sale

Hanio Yamada is a single man living an anonymous life as a white color employee. One day, through some fluke circumstances, he decides to commit suicide. However, he fails in the process. Since he is unable to kill himself, yet feels his life has no value, he decides to sell his life. He puts up an ad, and waits for customers. Somewhat surprisingly, they start to come. The first is an old man that wants revenge on his much-younger wife that left him for another man. He wants Hanio to become involved with her so that the new boyfriend will find them in the act and kill them both. Since Hanio sees no value in his life, he goes along with it. However, instead of being killed on the spot, he is discovered and chased out. Later, he hears of the girls' death.
Later clients ask him to take part in potentially deadly experiments. In each case he is perfectly willing to lose his life. However, in all cases, others end up dying, while he continues to live. This seems to show the strength in putting down one's guard. Ironically, by paying no head to the value of one's own life, he can live the life in a much fuller way. This even helps in some diplomatic actions, as two agents from one country have been killed supposedly eating poisoned carrots. He, however, hates carrots, but goes along with it because he is employed. He discovers that regular carrots were what was needed to break the code, and that the poison was just a ruse. This is perhaps the least convincing of the escapades. (However, he does mention that for this case, he actually loathes carrots, and was only willing to eat one because he had sold his life.)
Eventually a secret spy organization is convinced he is an undercover police agent. They threaten to kill him. This is not something that he wants. While it was ok for him to sell his life, he does not feel ok with somebody taking his life from him. They are convinced he must be a master agent. They don't see how somebody could not be part of an organization. He does eventually manage to elude them, but finds things more challenging now that he has placed value on his life.

The Caldera: The Brotherband Chronicles, Book 7

Caldera starts with some of the crew members competing in the contest for the best warrior. The two identical twins end up "stuck" as neither can best the other. Stig is in the lead and almost a sure thing to win. However, his father mysteriously returns during the night. He asks the brotherband to help him rescue a young emperor who has been kidnapped. They end up sneaking out in the middle of the night to set on the adventure. They face some battles at sea and barely escape a volcano in the process of performing rescue. They realize the courtly life is not for them, and they return back home after rescuing the boy emperor. Stig's dad stays back in the empire to continue working as the boy's guard. While I was hoping for a peaceful reunion with Stig and his father, that never really happened. Stig even used some threats of blackmail to ensure that the reward money was properly shared. There were also open questions about the "Empress". Did she really want the boy back? Or was she just making nice before she would do something nefarious?
The book also had a short story from the Royal Ranger series. Maddie protected some farmers from a giant cat. She did that by healing the cat from its injury to encourage it to return back into the woods and not bother the easy prey.

Monday, July 13, 2020

The Schwa Was Here

The Schwa was here is a "mostly" realistic story of a kid that is never noticed. However, there are a few "magical" bits that go just enough beyond the natural world. "Schwa" got his last name form a relative who died right as he was saying "Schwartz" to the immigration agent. He is often not noticed by most people. (Though some do have greater ability to notice him.) One boy befriends him. They do a number of experiments to test the strength of "not noticing". They find he can do well at basketball because nobody thinks to guard him. He can do all sorts of other "hidden" tricks. However, they try to sneak in to a grumpy old man and steal a dog dish. This is the undoing, as he gets caught. He and his friends are forced to do service of walking a dog. They also are asked to help the man's blind grand daughter. There is some youthful crushes and hurt fields. We find about the curious case of Schwa being abandoned by his mother in a grocery store cart. Schwa also blows the family fortune on a failed attempt to be noticed. Eventually, he disappears to try to find his mom. There is also a surprising way to get an Italian restaurant chef and a family that struggles with cooking skills.
The "extreme" unrealistic elements in the book are obviously over the top, and often played for the humor. The story is just grounded enough to make the characters easily relatable, yet weird enough to keep it interesting.