Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Bone Witch: The Bone Witch, Book 1

A bone witch is a special kind of witch in this magic system. The world is a fairly traditional society. Men do their thing. Women do their thing. Some men's roles can be adopted by women. However, dancing is a special women's thing that men just don't do. Only, there is a boy that wants to do it. There is also a girl that is training to be a warrior. However, she also does tedious things and is stuck in a not optimal role. For a lot of the novel, they are in their training. Then a giant monster appears in the middle of a performance and one of the leads helps save people. Eventually, she passes a "test". She wants to learn the art of raising people from the dead "for real", but still struggles with that. 
The book is pretty rooted in the fantasy realm. I get confused with some of the magic and politics, yet I don't find it as bad as big epic fantasy works.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Farseer: Assassin's Apprentice

A boy is the illegitimate son of roaylty. He has a close bond with animals (this is some magical talent, but it is bad.) He also likes to hang out with the street urchins. This got him in trouble. Then he goes to some sort of training thing and the book goes on for a long while before it ends. There is a special skill that he is not supposed to learn, but he is learning. The story is set in some kingdom that is a unification of other lands. They have politics and different mechinations. Did I mention the book was long?

Monday, October 19, 2020

Sorcery of Thorns

Sorcery of Thorns is a fantasy novel that deals primarily with libraries. These libraries, hwoever, are connected to a magical world. Other people in the world have their own personal other-worldly servants. However, they may need to give a portion of their lives to gain their services. The protaganist is a youn girl that grew up from her infancy among the books. This would turn out to give her special abilities. She would gradually find these as she is framed for a crime that ends up being the first step of an attempted bit of world dominion. She meets up with a boy, they fall in love and save the world. It follows the pretty basic teen fantasy novel structure. However, the role of books in the magic makes it a little different.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Supernova: Renegades Series, Book 3

In the third Renegades book, everything goes crazy. Nightmare's secret identity is found out. Then through subterfuge it is not. Then it is found out again. Allies keep shifting. The consequences keep getting bigger. Characters that seemed fairly balanced suddenly get really bad - and then they are killed. At all reaches a grand climax where all superpower disappear only to reappear dispersed through society. We also find out about a number of different relationships. People are their own worst enemies. People that were thought dead are actually not and are living right under each other's eyes. There is a tight interrelated connection between various characters.
It all feels like a mash up. The superhero concept is a lot like Brendan Sanderson's Reckoners series. The "one person can save the world" ending seems straight from any summer blockbuster. The underlying love story also seems familiar. Boy and girl have secrets. They secretly hate each other, yet are in love with each other. Sounds like a "You've Got Mail" double identity plot. The most originality is in the super powers. There are a lot of heroes and villains that  appear with a plethora of super powers. Alas, it feels like we have a couple of complex three-dimensional leads with a number of flat supporting characters. (The character of Honey was especially bizarre. Suddenly she turned really mean - only to be killed off.) The book is very neatly wrapped up at the end, yet keeps plenty of threads open for future extensions.

Archenemies: Renegades, Book 2

The second book in the Renegades series sees the main characters get closer together while their alter-egos get further apart. When they are on "official" superhero control, they have a budding romance that ramps up. However, they also both have "secret identities" that are intent on revenge. The romance dials up in the second book as does the conflict. There are new superpowers that show up, including one that lets people "see the good" in things. It seems a little far fetched that nobody would get a clue. (But, hey, what do you expect from a superhero book?) The end of this books dials up the drama and makes the third book a necessity.

Thursday, October 15, 2020


Renegades is set in a post-apocalyptic world where many "prodigies" have super powers. Some are born with the powers, while others get them later. The world had previously fallen apart during the time of anarchy. The "renegades" used their super powers to bring order to society. Now they are the celebrated law enforces. Anarchists are the "bad guys" in society. There are regular "renegade" tries for new people to join the ranks of the renegades.
Alas, things are not quite that simple. The book centers around "Nova". She lost her family and hates the renegades. She tried to bring them down as "Nightmare". However, she later pivoted and adopted the identity of "Insomnia" to become one of the renegades. She tries to bring them down from the inside, yet ends up falling for them instead. (Of course, there is a boy involved.) She is torn between her loyalties. She also discovers that things are not black and white. There is good and bad on both sides. There are also some bigger forces at play.
The story is in a similar vein of Brendan Sanderson's Calamity series. These are heroes that need to be discovered, yet still have many of the foibles of man. The book is somewhat on the longer side, but is fairly fast paced. It is a little confusing at first as the characters adopt multiple identities and switch loyalties. However, it gradually becomes clearer as the book progresses. At the end, it is still not certain which side you should be rooting for. 

Infinity Blade: Redemption

The second Infinity Blade book continues where the first one left off. The hero is trying to find the easy life. However, he discovers that like the bad guy, he is constantly resurrected. How do they defeat each other? Well, there is a way. This book also drifts into the modern day. They invent some sort of teleportation capability. However, they realize that there are severe capabilities for badness with this. In the end it ends up being part of the solution to the big battle. The blade gives power, but also takes it from the holder and others. Peace can only be found by relinquishing it.

Infinity Blade: Awakening

Infinity Blade: Awakening was based on a video game and it shows. Bad guys can resurrect to fight again. The hero can defeat the seemingly undefeatable bad guys. The back stories make for interesting fluf to keep the battles interesting.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Sapiens takes the "far view" of analyzing the human species as if it where any other species. How did humans come to dominate? What about the other similar species (like Neanderthals) that previously existed. While it was politically correct to say that humans all came from the same genetic stock, it also appears that there was mixing with "related species" in different regions, giving some ethnicities small amounts of unique genes. However, modern humans managed to wipe these groups out as well as pretty much any new megafauna they encountered. The few that did survive were most often domesticated.
Humans were built to be hunter gatherers. However, they stumbled upon agriculture. At first cultivation seemed to help make lives easier. However, it soon led to all sorts of problems. New ailments appeared. Greater surpluses led to larger populations, which required greater cultivation. More people were living together, thus requiring people to get along. Religion and other common beliefs were a tool to help groups live together. (though it appears that some religious practices may have started before agricultural.) 
Religion is typically a common set of beliefs that helps tie a society together. Many institutions that we don't consider religions (such as Soviet communism) also server this purpose. People need a shared underlying belief set in order to regulate their society. Today "western liberalism" and "money" are two overriding principals that help tie the world together. (As much as many anti-western groups would hate to admit it, they are framing their "rebellion" in the western beliefs.) Most people in history have lived in large Empires. These often tolerate local customs, yet have some sort of overarching common belief. 
The actual context of the common belief is not nearly as important as the simple fact that it is shared. Some societies held that people were born different and different groups had different rights. Today, we tend to believe that all are equal. Both are just "beliefs". Neither is biologically right or wrong, they are just beliefs. It is also impossible to "regulate" things as "unnatural". Things can "happen" or they can't. People can't run at the speed of light. It is just not biologically possible. Something such as homosexual behavior can be done. Societies may condone it or support it based on their common belief set.
The rise of society is a great advantage for the human society, but not necessarily for individual humans. Similarly, the domestication of animals has allowed animals such as cows to spread their genetic material, yet individual cows live a fairly miserable existing. Wheat was able to have its genetic material spread across the world through agriculture. Even things such as "arms races" have an ability to propagate themselves without benefitting the individual countries. 
The book moved on to discuss economy. The idea of "credit" is predicated on the expectation that life will be better in the future. Economy helps for "advancement" of society. However, happiness has remained relatively constant. Even with many material innovations, the only real way we have improved happiness is through drugs like prozac. The idea that we cannot alter our happiness by material things is present in buddhism teach about the futility of seeking happiness. However, this has been twisted to be a quest for "inner happiness" in today's world. The state and the economy have taken over the family as a source for support for society. While family members would previously care for their aged, now the government provides pensions. We also have various identity groups (such as country, language, sexual orientation, fans of a music group) We feel a bond to those in "our group", even if we have never met them.
Today humans have moved beyond "evolution" to "intelligent design". Plant and animal breeders have helped nudge species to more quickly evolve to have more desired traits. Now scientists have even greater abilities to genetically engineer living beings to have certain characteristics  that they may have never had naturally. 
This may be one of the greatest dangers. We may talk about fears of resource depletion. However, mankind has had the ability to adapt to use different resources. It is the unknown that may be more of a challenge. Science fiction predicted vast space travel networks, but missed the internet. The future where scientists can manipulate people could pose some of the biggest challenges. What if our ability to manipulate humans exceeds our ability to control what we have done? Will mankind cause irreparable damage or even wipe man off the face of the earth?

Thursday, October 08, 2020

The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World

Wayfinders started out as a series of lectures in Canada. The book explores bits of "wisdom" of ancient cultures. Polynesians could navigate across vast oceans long before the Europeans could. They used many different pieces of information to piece together the complete mental "map" of where they had been in order to find where they are going. There are other cultures that treat the land as an integral part of life. Other cultures had various rituals and customs that helped unite them as people as well as sustain the life in the world. Our view of many of these ancient cultures is often quite incomplete. We see the society after they have spent time in contact with western culture. This has caused them to adapt their ways. 
The has respect for ancient skills and wisdom. However, he does not idolize them as is often the case. He acknowledges that they had a way of wisdom and a certain set of skills. They are not necessarily better or worse than others, just different. It is valuable to retain these bits of wisdom rather than attempt to force everyone into the current mold of western civilization.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions

Despite the title, the Math Myth is actually pro math. However, it enunciates many concerns with the way that math is taught and used as a "weed out". Most students are required to take standard math classes. These classes are often taught by adjunct professors, because the full professor do not want to teach them. This leaves most students exposed to mediocre math instruction and has also led to a decline in those studying math. The courses have also "weeded out" many students who would otherwise be able to complete degrees.

Math is critically import to society today. Calculus underpins much of our advanced technology. Due to complex mathematical calculations, we have airplanes, microchips, cell phones and most things we take for granted today. However, only a very small number of people are actually using the advanced math in their work. Even in the development of advanced technology, there may be only a handful of people that need to know math beyond basic algebra. And even for this math, people are rarely solving them "the way they did in school." Most of the work is done by a computer. 

What can be done? Practical math and arithmetic can be stressed in school. There is a need to understand basic financial transactions as well as other things that are encountered in daily life. Statistics is also highly valuable. Advanced math has its place, but an emphasis should be on understanding rather than solving equations that a computer could solve. The advanced math should also be made more appropriate to the study. Why not have a math course taught by a psychologist? If psychologists need math, a psychologist may be better able to teach the practical math than a mathematician. Courses in math related courses (such as statistics) may be much more valuable for some fields of study. Math should not prevent students from entering their careers.

Monday, October 05, 2020

Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness is a short novel about the ivory trade. It reflects many of the sensibilities of the the past days, with natives seen by the whites as "cannibals" and other racial terms that would not be acceptable today. It can, however, be read in various ways, including a condemning of the view of European superiority. It is a tough, dark novella to get through.