Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis Rothdas book review RSS
3.0 Stars

A mix of Wodehouse and Bukowski. The story follows the misadventures of a shitbag-academic in post-War England as he tries to hold on to his teaching post at a minor university. Some parts of this work really well, e.g. the descriptions of Welch, the protagonist's academic advisor, who is is this hilarious combination of absent minded, self-centered, evasive, demanding, and non-committal. The writer of the story is a good writer? And so his descriptions of these characters are very finely drawn, and can be pithy and absurd and hilarious. Other notables include Margret, who is basically this dragon who hoards uncomfortable situations, though sadly this does not entirely become clear until late in the book. I'm spoiling it here, since all of her scenes are much more fun if you know what is going on. Also Carol is a good 'un, and demonstrates the inborn British knack of "pulling on string A, to cause person B to change course, opening a slot up in person C, which allows them to connect to person D, which then disconnects person D from person E & makes person E available". Also, Atkinson & Bertrand & Johns & Mitchie are all fun.

The story works less well when it comes to the main character. He is not all bad as a character, but I do have 2 quibbles. One is that if he is bored and stultified, this is at least partly his own fault. I get that post-war England did not give people much freedom of action, but still, he did play a role in working for a college he dislikes teaching a subject that he cannot stand. He could have studied something else, he could have worked at something else, he could be doing a cleverer job of trying to shape or slither his environment. Quibble 2 is that I couldn't really get behind him in his quest to date his age inappropriate friend, Christine. Part of it is that he's a terrible match for anyone (lazy, a blackout drunk, spend thrift, smokes constantly), with his main positive feature being a sort of very minor charm & social reasonableness. Part of it is they did not have much chemistry. Part of it is that he's well outside the (Age/2 +7) band. And then a final part is that there is a bit of a phase-mismatch between this book and the modern reader, as the main character is ~30 years old, but due to the War and the British single-sex education system and the less developed times, he hasn't really spent any time around the opposite sex. So he's 30 years old, but he reads more as a 15 or 20 year old in terms of his emotional responses. Really, almost all of the men in the story are terrible, and with the exception of Atkinson and Mitchie I can't see any of them bringing happiness to someone else.

Anyway! If you'd like to read a funny British farce comedy, but with more malice & incel energy than Wodehouse, this would be your thing.

Oh ok, one more bit, I particularly liked this description of the main character, deep in the slumps of one defeat, has a new indignity assault him by surprise:
At this sudden appearance of Margaret on his blind side, Dixon felt like a man fighting a policeman who sees another approaching on a horse.
Like I said, Amis is certainly a good writer & if nothing else there are numerous gems scattered though out the story.

Hummingbird Salamander, by Jeff Vandermeer
3.0 Stars

A Lesser Vandermeer. This is Vandermeer trying his hand at writing a (eco-doomer) thriller, like Lev Grossman did with Codex. And like Codex, it turns out that the task is harder than it seems. The first problem that comes up is motivation, as in why is the main character doing any of this. Our protagonist is a middle aged tech professional, and it is super unclear why she continues pursuing the mystery past the first time she gets threatened. Maybe I'm just unusually cowardly, but if someone was staking my family out and running over my co-workers with SUVs, my reaction would be "ok, sure, calm down guys, I don't actually care about this ARG that much. Here, would you like to buy this super-valuable hummingbird off of me for $100K? great thanks." So for at least the first half of the book, the main character has zero reason to pursue the mystery outside of an idle curiosity, and a whole bunch of reasons to let the mystery drop. And I know, I know, the hummingbird was supposed to be this affecting symbol to her, awakening her to new truths, but I just did not buy it. If the protagonist has ignored the world and all such symbols for 35 years, the likely result is that she continues ignoring such things in her 36th year. As usual, I hoped that the bad plotting was intentional and had a material basis that would be explained later on, as in On My Way to Paradise (or now that I think of it, as in Annihilation). Nope!

The next problem is affect, i.e. why is the main character so very down all the time? Rough childhood, sure, but all the same it's been 20 years & you are a upper middle class software manager, maybe chill a bit & enjoy your family & your mountain home? Also, you must be a joy to work with. Also, why is your software job so serious, i.e. so Glengarry Glenross? Every tech job I have been in has had, at the worst, ultra-nerdy people being passive-aggressively petty about comically minor shit. There's none of this direct rudeness or physical intimidation or threats, that is a one-way ticket to HR. So the character and her job did not read true. Next comes caring, as in why do I care about the detailed history of these people she is investigating & trying to untangle? I don't, and doubly so in the context of the larger issues going on in the world. Next comes revelation. Vandermeer loves to do a series of reveals and rugpulls, but in this story they turn out to be, for the most part, some extremely small beer.

Finally though comes the good parts. It's a fast read! Once I got into the book, I downed it in a single sitting. Vandermeer is just an enjoyable guy to read, and while he doesn't always hit the mark he does have occasional passages of lyric beauty or genuine surprise. Overall I did like the ecology doomerism, and I did like the overlap of themes between this and Annihilation, i.e. of the line between us and Nature, of brightness, of change and changed understanding. Oh and I liked the mid-book Riven Tower energy that was going on. So despite all issues with the thriller, I wouldn't exactly call it *bad* like Codex was, just a bit of a structural misfire.

Gather, Darkness! by Fritz Leiber
4.0 Stars

A prototypical example of "good" Fritz Leiber; it is consistently intelligent, fast paced & actiony, inventive in its world building & mechanical details, and playful in its plotting & style. It has the joy of surprise, where new and unexpected paths open up in front of the reader at regular intervals.

The basic plot of the book is a sort of Player-of-Games scenario, where people are trying to overthrow an empire by subverting its main thesis. In this case a future Earth is ruled over by a caste of neo-Catholic atheist-priests, who keep the vast mass of humanity in chains with religious dogma, superstition, and technology enabled miracles. The revolutionaries in turn make use of their own tech-enabled Witchcraft and mummery and misdirection to prey upon the superstitious fears of that society. The story goes through several phases; there's a somewhat slow introductory phase, followed by several wrenches in the direction of the plot which make things more interesting. The book holds up amazingly well for being written in 1940, and when evaluating the book I kept constantly coming back to this realization that "wow, Leiber wrote this before they invented the vacuum tube." There's a surprising amount of now standard tech & sci-fi elements that are found in this early book; e.g. there is a NASA-style command center where an ops team has their sub-screens that they work with while a giant global-screen dominates the rest of the room (note; he wrote this before the invention of screens). There's fairly reasonable space travel, some light sabers, and the now standard neo-lemur designed species that our astronauts use to do the fine mechanical work in the cramped tubes and crawl spaces aboard space stations. Leiber really was a visionary in addition to being such a fun writer.

Cannery Row, Steinbeck
4.0 Stars

A collection of ~50 short, semi-connected stories about various down-and-outs along Cannery Row. These stories are all super-succinct, well written, and somewhat funny/interesting, like something an elderly good-old-boy would tell about their teenage adventures. Not a lot of deeper meaning, or not a lot of deeper meaning worth paying attention to, but the stories are eminently readable and the style is great.

Alex Verus, Books 3-12
4.0 Stars

"He turned me into a Djinn!"
"A Djinn?"
"I got better."
(trust me, in the context of the stories this is *very* funny)

There's a lot to like in these books. The most general, positive thing I can say is that this is a book series where you have a "coming down" period after reading it, as you make the adjustment from the world that the author has created back to our own reality. The main character's magic is that he is a Diviner, and is able to flip through possible, near-term futures. This is such an amazing comfort blanket. It's not that the protagonist cannot be killed, but his awareness of danger does give him a layer of foresight and security that obviously we don' have in real life. The author even plays around with this at a few points, where the main character's abilities are disabled/subverted, and how terrifying and crippling it is for him to not be able to constantly look ahead to see the effects of his actions. This makes a lot of sense! The author doesn't go super-super deep into the psychology that the protagonist's magic would create, but he does touch upon some of the main issues that could come up, e.g. the difficulty of going to sleep, since it means giving up this protective cloud of possibilities & awareness of danger and becoming vulnerable.

Other positive things: the books have a nice ensemble cast, and I appreciate that the author gives these secondary character the freedom to grow, change, leave, and occasionally die. E.g. Luna starts off as a miserable stick in the mud, before gradually blossoming into a jaunty & self-directed asshole. Varium starts off as a confrontational asshole with a heart of gold, and then continues being exactly that. Etc. etc. The villains are also well chosen, with a variety of different archetypes and levels of fucked-upness. Particular credit goes to the big bad, who spends the vast, vast, vast majority of his time calmly talking, questioning, debating, and negotiating with people. Ok, the other 2% of the time is ultra-violence, but it's still a very different villain than you usually get in fantasy stories.

On the negative side, I think the book hits a few story beats a few too many times (e.g. the Alex-Council conflict, though that does have a nice eventual pay off). Also, the general world building makes even less sense than usual for an urban-fantasy novel, and you just have to accept that there's this weird little world of murder wizards that is somehow adjacent to the more normal modern world. Also, the book sort of assumes the continued importance of Britain to the world, when really even if the worse case happened and all of the characters died, the wizards over in India or China or wherever could just come over and clean things up over the course of a long weekend. Also, Tallis gets hit with the idiot ball pretty hard in the later books, which is unfortunate since he was an early favorite. Also, the psychology & metaphysics of Anne was, uhh, pretty unrealistic, but whatever, that's a big load bearing part of the story so I guess we'll just roll with it.

Alex Verus, Books 1 & 2
4.0 Stars

An enjoyable, low-key, Dresden-adjacent series of Urban Fantasy books. I liked it! The book takes an interesting tack in making the protagonist a Diviner, someone who does not have supernatural strength or spells or whatever, but who can see the future. Or at least likely futures, or at least the likely futures that aren't too far in the future. Since the protagonist lives in a world of powerful mages and other supernatural beings, he spends a lot of time hiding, running, and generally trying to use his limited pre-cognition in order to avoid being killed.

The author has a lot of fun with the concept, and does a decent job of exploring both the exploits and boundaries of pre-cognition. One of the good choices is that the pre-cognition isn't absolute or cost free; rather it is like having to parse through the server logs of the universe. Doing so is a skill that takes time and attention to use, and becomes progressively more slow and complex the further out you go and the more relevant branches & factors there are. Some quick examples:
While the main character (Alex) is talking to the villain, Alex mentally flicks through several conversational gambits and sees that they cause his own death in the next ~10 seconds. Alex then chooses the conversational path that does not result in immediate violence.
Alex needs to talk to someone to get information. Rather than actually traveling to them and conversing, Alex stays on the couch and searches for the future in which he did get off the couch, travel, and converse. So he gets the information without having to go through the intervening steps or actually do the work. As a lazy person, this is an intensely appealing power fantasy!

Other minor notes: I appreciate that the series is set in London, and avoids all the US cultural bullshit that you find in the Dresden novels. E.g. there are no cops or priests, you can assume everyone is an atheist, the MC doesn't have a gun on him all the time, etc. etc. The female characters are also 80% less cheese-cakey. On the downside, the side-kicks are less interesting than in the Dresden series. Luna is a particular stick in the mud, with her constant complaining about "waaaah, my curse kills everyone who I care about, waaaaah". Lady, we all have problems. Alex is also a complete duff romantically, and fails to follow through on the obvious love interest, Delio/Rachel, the insane-Nietzschian shadow mage. A catch like that is not going to stay single for long! On the neutral side, I wish the author had gone slightly deeper and weirder in his exploration of what it would be like to have your consciousness exist in this hybrid of the present & possible futures. The author touches on this (e.g. the main character has seen his own potential deaths many hundreds of times), but I think he could go a bit further.

Anyway! Apparently there another 100 hundred books in the series, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the author takes the story.

Red Queen
1.0 Stars

A survivor of last summer's audio-book downloading binge that I found in my folders. Sort of a Hunger Games meets X-Men, that had some initial green shoots of cheesy interest before gradually losing my attention as the story wandered randomly around. DNF.

Editors Note: A year later, it has come to my attention that the audio book site where I purchased these audio books displays their results in *chronological order*, not in order of popularity. So while I thought I was purchasing the ~10 most popular fantasy audio books, I was actually purchasing the ~10 most recently published audio books. This explains a great deal about the quality of the results, and at least partially answers the question of "why are these all so insane"?

I feel like the true lesson of this exercise is that no matter how bad your idea, or how bad your execution, you should never feel bad about putting your deranged artistic works out there for the world to see. Other people feel fine just publishing wild shit, you should not feel any shame for doing the same.

A Country Doctor's Notebook, by Mikhail Bulgakov
4.0 Stars

Extremely short, which is a quality I like in a book. Has a series of brief, semi-auto-biographical stories about the author's term in ~1917 as a country doctor for several thousand villagers. The general theme of the stories is that the doctor faces medical challenges and self doubt, struggles against them, and mostly over comes. Kind of a light competence-porn, as the doctor gradually develops his skills and confidence and reputation among the villages while dealing with various cases. Except for a few aides, the doctor is alone in the wilderness, forming the front line of knowledge & civilization against disease, snow, and glacial ignorance. It certainly was a different time, when superstitious peasants preferred quack cures and charms over sound medical advice and treatment. It really is difficult to even imagine such a time.

I believe his prose would be described as "muscular".

The Razor
2.0 Stars

A book that has moments of promise before dissolving into a mediocre action movie. There's bits of Pitch Black, there's bits of Dead Space, there's various people stuck on a terrible prison planet that becomes more terrible as legendary killers, government bio-weapons, and alien artifacts come into play. This is making the book sound more exciting than it is, but really the last half of the book had the feeling of an action movie template, even if I could not quite describe the template itself. Maybe the author had a copy of _Save the Cat_ open beside him? Anyway the book was not leaning into the strengths of the novel as a medium. The writing was often fine, but it dipped more and more frequently into the bare-bones & skeletal as the script progressed.

Nightmare Alley, Gresham (1946)
4.0 Stars

Get this man a dog, stat.

A grimmmmmm book that follows an unhappy young man as he becomes an unhappy older man. Stanton starts off doing magic tricks as a carnie, and from there learns how to do cold readings & mentalist tricks, then graduates to doing his own stage shows, then to starting a new-age religion and scamming a congregation of well off older ladies, and finally moves on to his biggest con, swindling an industrialist out of a part of his enormous fortune. During this entire process Stanton is deceitful, contemptuous, and terrible to other people, and is himself often miserable as these traits become the only colors he can perceive in the world. So get ready for a cynical and drawn out slog with this book.

And yet...the book has qualities. The writing is solid, occasionally excellent. There is a ton of technical detail; one of the reasons the book is so long is that the author describes precisely how each of the various scams/illusions works. There's also an agreeably elevated consciousness by the author; the core of the book is grim, but there are decent people in its world. They're just not the ones the protagonist is hanging out with. There is a surprising amount of carnie solidarity, and there's a fair amount of meta-introspection as side characters question the nature of the protagonist. E.g. the psychologist who points out his Oedipal-issues-starter-pack, and the sex-positive socialist who points out how many of Stanton's problems are of his own creation, i.e. he's bringing his own meta-physical/moral baggage along & dumping it on the world and then complaining about the picture of the world that he has created. Also, the book is pretty consistently ACAB. Also, gets the fundamental connection between ministers/shamans/psychologists/cold-but-alluring-Swedish-dominatrixes.

So I very much liked the book both for its portrayal of early 1900's America, and for a surprisingly developed understanding of that world.

Other trivia: the author (Gresham) fought in the Spanish Civil War, against the fascists/Catholics. (Not a good war, but it did produce a lot of good writers). Despite that Gresham was pretty bad in a lot of ways, e.g. heavy drinking and adultery in his later years. His wife divorced him, and then she went on to marry CS Lewis. Gresham went on to commit suicide by pills, something he mentions in Nightmare Alley.

Beneath the Rising
3.0 Stars

Fine? Fine. I had read very high praise for this book, and so perhaps I was expecting too much going in. And it did have competent writing, some decent and well supported twists, and a reasonably fast paced and exciting adventure story. On the downside though, it's a bit too YA, and just a bit too woke (which is really my fault for having been sensitized to this quality by other books that go way overboard on that axis). I also wasn't entirely sure why I was reading the book, besides the fact that it was very cold and my cat was on me and I didn't want to move out of bed. The story is somewhat lovecraftian, but also abandons some of the tenets of the genre (e.g. the main characters should be absolutely fucked, and they should not be able to cast a fireball in order to solve their problems).

Colombus Day, and successive books
2.0 Stars

Fine? Fine. I originally chose this audio book series since A) there's a lot of them B) it had been recommended and C) and most importantly, it's about people in spaceships shooting lasers at each other. And the recommendation wasn't invalid; the author is making an effort, and he's a decently smart guy, and he avoids the hard-right attitudes that you usually get from mil-sci-fi writers. I did like the initial setup (aliens visit earth; from that point on the humans are buffeted by the whims and politics and economics and campaigns of technologically superior aliens fighting a long-running war with each other). And occasionally I did genuinely enjoy the comedy, although mostly it sticks to the level of an Andy-Rooney-like patter. Some of the problem solving and orbital mechanics and engineering was fine, and I liked the bits about the counter-intuitiveness of dealing with tactical FTL jumps.

Despite the moderately positive qualities, the books get steadily less interesting as they repeat the same conversational bits, or find new excuses for yet more lengthy engineering problems, or avoid any actual consequences in what should be an extremely dangerous universe. I trailed off around book 4, as things seemed likely to continue in the same rut.

The Thin Man
3.0 Stars

Nice. Short, pithy, occasionally dark, and often quite funny. I've already seen the movie for this twice, so I had a pretty good handle on the plot, but I still found the book to be an enjoyable read. The movie cleans up a lot of things from the book to make them palatable for 1940's screens, which is fine, but the movie also loses a lot of the more out there character bits from the book. So they are fairly different experiences.

I also like the fact that the title for the novel makes sense in the context of the novel, only barely makes sense in the context of the movie, and then is completely inaccurate for each successive movie. I like a franchise that sticks to its guns even in the face of all logic.

Domesticating Dragons
1.0 Stars

The author mixes up the terms "sandbagging" and "snowballing". These are very different things!

DNF. The above mix up was the most enjoyable thing in the first 80 pages, the story was just kind of joyless and boring and pointless. Why envision a fantasy world, and then re-create corporate America within that fantasy world? It reminds me of these pathetically heartbreaking last meals that American prisoners request, just a an absolute capstone on a constrained and blighted life.

The Last Graduate, by Naomi Novik
3.0 Stars

Fine. It has the same strengths as the first story in the series, but also the same flaws. On the strengths side you have inventive spell/monster design (though not quite as impressive as the first book), solid and distinctive characters, and moments of satisfactory melodrama. On the flaw side there are thematic/story beats that get repeated way too many times, and the world building fundamentally doesn't make sense as it would require every wizard family to have 20+ kids in order to make the child mortality rates work out. Oh and the protagonist is the worst person in bed; she's contemptuous, and selfish, and her boyfriend literally kills himself after sleeping with her once.

There is no Anti-Memetics Division
3.0 Stars

Not as clever as I first hoped, but I was still affectionate towards the book at the end. The basic idea is that there is an Anti-Memetics Division that is supposed to deal with artifacts/creatures/ideas that can erase themselves from human memory, or which can threaten/destroy people purely through being known or comprehended.

The book originated as fan-fic in the SCP universe, a fan-fic that was gradually extended and collated into a full story told through a number of vignettes over the years. The series has flaws; some low quality writing at the start that only gradually shapes up, plenty of comic book logic, too many thematic elements (ghosts? aliens? spells? orbital cannons?) overly-broad strokes, and as mentioned above not being as clever as I had hoped from the title/conceit. Still! Despite the list of imperfections the story often had a pleasantly gonzo vibe, and was perfectly happy to go through any number of framing devices as it travels backwards and forwards through memory and time.

Codex, by Lev Grossman
1.0 Stars

This was a superficially normal thriller/mystery, about an investment banker between jobs who has been hired to look for an ancient and possibly mythical book inside a forgotten library. This normal story is then paired with more high-brow literary attempts at adding various meta-textual strands to the story. Unfortunately, none of it works. The story is terrible as a thriller, and it is terrible at trying to do anything new or clever with the meta-text. My assumption is that big-brain Grossman saw the massive success of Dan Brown's **The Da Vinci Code**, thought that he could easily duplicate that low-brow book and rake in the cash, and then completely failed. It's not so easy when you're in the driver's seat!

So, in more detail. The first thing you notice about the book is that basically nothing interesting happens in the first 100 pages. A bold choice. Also, most of the characters in the book range between asshole, cringy, or unmanic pixie dream girl. So that does not help. Later on in the book more interesting possibilities open up, and then absolutely none of them pay off:

E.g. 1) there is an adventure-type video game that the main character plays, and at points the adventure in the video game seems to duplicate or rhyme with the adventure that the protagonist is having. And then you pair that up with the object of his search, a book from the 1400's, of which only second hand and incomplete versions exist, and those versions seem in many ways anachronistic? E.g. the old text has odd and varied creatures, characters die and come back and seem to randomly change in motivation, scenes and countries dissolve and reshape, etc. And it kind of sounds like the description you would get if a 1400's person were to see a modern video game (Fortnight?) and then try to describe said video game. So maybe there are time shenanigans going on? Maybe the author of the ancient text is immortal, or prescient, or had contact with a future person or artifact? (Spoiler, none of this is happens). Tying into this theory, the protagonist meets the creator of the video game, a singularly brilliant, monk like, extremely short dude (it was mentioned earlier in the book how short a 1400's Englishman would be) who speaks in a weird accent, like he learned modern English by watching TV. Maybe he is the author of the Codex as well? (Spoiler, no).

E.g. 2) At one point, the protagonist has reached a fail state in the video game, and also seems to be at a dead end in his investigation. This was interesting? Like what if you had a mystery novel where the investigator simply makes the wrong choices and fails to solve the mystery and the novel just disolves around them. And it would explain the poor quality of the novel, as a sort of shambling mis-production that falls further and further apart (e.g. something like like Nabakov's Invitation to a Beheading, or the BBC's A Christmas Carol). This does not happen, the investigation gets back on track.

E.g. 3) The protagonist is seeking a book for a rich English Duchess, and apparently the book contains a secret that is extremely relevant to the modern day. The secret turns out to be that the book **implies** that 600 years ago the Duke of Wentworth's ancestor had an affair and a baby with a commoner. Which is just the most underwhelming thing ever, and that nobody would care about in the present day except the most neurotic of nobles.

E.g. 4) The protagonist has no reason to do any of this. Basically he meets the Duchess once, and after that point he is under a Geass/Charm to seek out the book. His actions don't fit with his personality or his position in life, and every time he speaks with the Duchess it's like an electric wire in his brain. So maybe there is something odd going here? E.g. rather than just being bad writing, maybe there is a super natural explanation? Is this book part of The Magicians extended universe? And you do notice that the Duchess and Duke's other servitors have a similarly slavish quality to them. And then, spoiler, no. There is no interesting explanation. This is indeed just bad writing and plotting, where people do idiotic things that are against their character purely to advance the plot.

Final Notes on the novel: don't have sex while committing a robbery!

The Expanse, Book 9
3.0 Stars

A fine ending to the 9 books of the Expanse series. This final book has many of the same thematic elements and plot beats as the earlier books, and though they've reached their expiration date, they haven't truly begun to go rancid and stale. So: you have the protomolecule up to its usual protomolecule bullshit, although this time on a slightly grander scale as it's trying to NeonGenesisEvangelionize the whole human race into one sublime and gooey entity. There's also the creatures from beyond, who continue to try and mess with our precious universal constants. We find out a bit more about them; it turns out that this whole inter-universal war is because they are NIMBY's who object to our ring-space uglying-up their universe. And finally you have the Laconians, memorably represented by the omega-asshole Tanaka. The idea at the end of the last book was that it was not necessary to orbitally bombard the Laconian homeworld, since their main fleet was gone and their precursor ship yards were destroyed. Surely this would be the end of things and the Laconians could just return to being one world among many, without the need for committing yet another war crime. Nope! The Laconians are back and in full flower in this book, so, nice going Naomi. Fortunately the Roci is on the case, and wraps everything up semi-neatly. I think the ending has some problems, since the protomolecule is still out there and just waiting to be experimented on again, but eh, whatever.

Overall it is not great? But it is fine, and it is fast reading, and I do still love the parts where the author retreats from hand-wavy alien-tech and just returns to life aboard ship, and the minor clashes among the gunships and destroyers. As with the very first book, the authors have a deft hand for the audible, and for the thrums and sounds of their sci-fi vessels. I want to be in a crash couch when a rail-gun fires! It seems like it would be so delightful and cathartic, like combining the visceral feel of a roller coaster ride with the excitement and danger of paintball with the serene joy of a computer game.

Inspector Garrmosh, #6.5, by Louise Penny
2.0 Stars

I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. These novels seem to be childishly simple in terms of writing and plot. And the portions are small too! This mystery story was only 65 pages long.

It Was All a Lie, by Stuart Stevens
2.0 Stars

Kind of a mess. This book was brought to my attention by Driftglass, who singled out Stuart Stevens as the sole Never-Trump media figure to fully admit that the Republican Party's problems did not start in 2016, but rather have been building for decades. And this is true, Stevens does admit problems, and he does have a few genuinely funny zingers about his party. Despite that though the book was unsatisfying to me. This is partly because the history of Republican corruption that Stevens lays out was already long familiar to me, and so I wasn't that interested in yet another accounting of those events. Another thorn is that while Stevens is honest and repentant for a Republican, that is still like meeting an enlightened kobold. Yes, he is quite advanced for his race, but he is still below-average when compared to normal people. So you have these bits where Stevens can look at Trump and realize that "yeah, we must have fucked up to arrive at this point", but he still can't bring himself to say "We should all be supporting the Democratic party". Or he insults orange-racist, but he still can't bring himself to say anything good about Hillary Clinton. Or he thinks he cares about campaign finance reform and reducing the corrupting influence of money in politics, but he cannot recognize that Elizabeth Warren exists. Or the opposite version of this happens, where Stevens realizes that something terrible has happened in the Republican Party, but he hasn't really back-propagated that information through the rest of his brain. And so he is still dropping positive anecdotes about these Republican party figures like they were not stepping stones towards ruin. It has an Eichmann at Jerusalem feel; Stuart Stevens recognizes at some level that killing millions of people was wrong, but he does still very much want to tell you about how nice some of his co-workers were and oh take a look at this medal he got for making the trains run ahead of schedule.

In summary, Never-Trump Republicans are a good example of why Stalin had to send landlords and shopkeepers to work the farms. These people have spent decades steeping in conservative propaganda and it has left their brains raddled and useless. They need long years of de-programming, reflection, and radical introspection just to bring them up to the level of a reasonably intelligent ~20 year old.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24