The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang Rothdas book review RSS
3.0 Stars

Sort of a Chinese, YA version of the Traitor Baru Cormamant. The author uses Chinese history around ~1900 as the foundation for her world, removes the guns, renames a few things, and adds in some fantasy elements.

I recently learned that the author was ~20 years old when she wrote this, and that made a lot of sense, as the book is oddly (pleasantly?) uneven and very melodramatic. The novel has major shifts in the tone/genre, as the story goes through three main phases. We start with an exceptional peasant girl who aces a standardized test and goes to magic academy (mehhh), then move on to a war story as the Japanese invade and her academy buddies and magic friends have to go to the front (quite fun, lot of potential), and finally we have a wallowy story of oh everything is so terrible wah wah wah Unit 731 vivisected my teenage crush how sad (basically unreadable).

As I said above, it's an uneven book. At 25% of the way through, I didn't see any redeeming qualities and it just seemed like a off-brand magic boarding school novel. At 50% of the way through I was enjoying it; I like the Fire-Emblem narrative move of disrupting a school novel with sudden real world events. E.g. there's a Draco Malfoy character who's her antagonist at the start, but once they're on the front lines together she discovers that "oh yeah, the differences we had at school really don't matter much now that people are trying to stab us with halberds. In fact, some of the qualities that made him an annoying adversary in school are actually quite helpful out here in battle". So this part is fine! And then we come to the third part, where things gets dark and we go through the fantasy version of every, single, atrocity that the Japanese ever did to the Chinese/Koreans. Also it turns out that magic has a terrible cost! Also it turns out that the Chinese Empress has betrayed them! Also it turns out that blah blah blah. Two major things go wrong here. One is that beyond a certain point this isn't interesting/enjoyable to read. Two is that I feel like this constant focus on atrocities that happened 100 years ago is kind of just psyching yourself up to be OK with doing your own atrocities in the present day. Like, maybe envision a new and bright future rather than continually leafing through your book of old grudges. So this final part is not good, either narratively or politically.

Oh right, also, this is a world that clearly has the myth and the symbology of dragons (e.g. they are on flags and such), and the world has mythical creatures (monsters, demi-gods, etc), **but** the world does not have any actual dragons in it. Author, I am fed up with your dragon-baiting. Stop blue-dragon-balling me.

Wuthering Heights
3.0 Stars

BRB, starting my Instagram influencer empire teaching young men how to be more alpha like Heathcliff and to avoid the 10 worst mistakes that beta-Linton makes when dealing with women.

OK, now that's done, my more formal review is that this is another silly goose of a book. There's a summary of Romeo and Juliet that says that the play is not a romance, it is the story of a 3 day affair between 2 tweens that gets ~5 people killed. Wuthering Heights is in a similar bucket, it is the story of the two most emo and self-centered twenty year olds ever created, and how they manage to turn a single melodramatic mis-communication & a few hours of follow up dialog into twenty years of misery for everyone involved. I'm a bit of an emo bitch myself, so I'm sympathetic to their cause, but at the same time there has to be limits to the silliness and this book blows right past them.

Oh right and shout out to my bro Lindon-Junior, the most languid of languid fellows. We lazy people need to support and lift each other up, even if only metaphorically.

Finally, props to the book for pointing out the downside of putting your house at the top of a hill. Yes, you get good views. Yes, you avoid the danger of flooding. But it does mean that you are going to be exposed to the worst winds, which in the long term is a recipe for roof and structural problems for your house. My Mom made this mistake when situating her previous house, with the result that she dealt with years of leaks as the high winds jostled the joinings that kept the metal roof attached to the house. Learn from history! Build your house at a spot with some elevation, but not quite at the tippy-top of a hill.

Books of Amber, 1-5, Zelazny
3.0 Stars

Some weird, fast, plot-heavy little fantasy books. One of the first thing you notice is that these books have a lot going on; it is rare that 10 pages will go by without a fist-fight, sword-fight, psychic-duel, assassination, battle, invasion, panicked flight, car chase, horse chase, crippling, imprisonment, death, faked death, betrayal, theft, reveal, reversal, seduction, etc. etc. Zelazny definitely subscribes to the South Korean soap opera style of writing. This is helped along by the setting, where a family of centuries old, dimension hopping siblings are competing for the throne of the one true dimension, Amber. To a modern reader it's going to remind you a bit of Rick and Morty, as the main characters traverse/cause problems/flee/summon armies from various sub-dimensions, and are generally cavalier about what is to them an infinity of replaceable worlds and people.

Overall I liked this, but by the end of book 5 and the first narrative arc of the series, I had all the plot I could handle. There's a further 5 books in the second story arc, and I have absolutely zero appetite for them.

This is How you Lose the Time War
3.0 Stars

A silly goose of a book.

Agent Running in the Field, by John le Carre
4.0 Stars

BADminton, the game of TRAITORS

The last le Carre book. It's not his best, but it's still quite good considering his advanced age, the loss of his long time writing partner, and the topicality of the book. The book is relatively straightforward and quick, as a long time and sophisticated spy, enjoying perhaps the last hurrah of his career, gets accidentally entangled in a web of suspicion due to the actions of a bumbling, Twitter-poisoned oaf. Things end happily and abruptly, there's an unlikely marriage, drinks all around. A few stand out notes: the duets between parents and children, as complicated as any of the spy based interactions. The extreme taboo, in spy circles, of ever asking or even hinting about a project Code Name that you are not cleared for. The ambiguity of the novel, as the at least surface-level certainties of the Cold War dissolve into a cross-national web of gradations, sorted almost not by ideology but by temperament. And as usual, the structural complexity of the spy parts of the plot, with doubling and redoubling. Anyway, a fine novel, very perceptive as always from le Carre at an age when most of his cohorts have been completely cordycepted.

Sandman Slim: Kill the Dead
4.0 Stars

The second book in this series of proto-Dresden Files urban fantasies. On the one hand, not that great. Several of the plot points don't make sense, I don't remember many of the characters from the first book, and it falls into the Supernatural mistake of introducing God and Lucifer in like Season 4 when there's still 12 more seasons to go. Authors, leave yourself some room for escalation! Otherwise what is already a kind of silly premise becomes progressively more silly as you have to involve steadily higher and higher theological constructs. Or another idea, don't even escalate, just let yourself tell reasonably sized stories in a given setting.

And yet, I did like aspects of the book. The main character was moderately less annoying and edgy than in the first book, and I actually started to like bits of his shtick by the midway point of the book. The story moves quickly, and it was a pleasant and easy distraction while I was recovering from illness. I also liked the point about halfway through the book when he gets *redacted* and his viewpoint on things radically changes for the rest of the book.

The Desert of Stars, by Lumpley
4.0 Stars

Like the first book, doesn't quite cohere as a novel. The author continues to tell the story of nearish future, hardish sci-fi, space war. I feel though that what he really wants to do is write a history book about that war, rather than a novel set in that war. So there are chapters about diplomacy, and espionage, and space battles, and land battles, and the author somehow has to find a way to have a relatively small cast of characters be involved in all of these things on all of these planets. So you end up with a fair bit of whiplash? dislocation? as characters are rapidly moved around, and no one setting or ensemble really has a chance to gel. It feels like a play where stagehands are constantly running about and changing the scenery as characters try to get out just a few lines. This isn't helped by the author's style of writing, which seems influenced by his time as a news reporter and sticks to a bare and spare style most of the time.

A more modest criticism I would make is that a lot of the espionage and plot developments are rooted in a 1960's CIA view of things, where direct and active ops are used to try and change the course of nations. In the real world, these tactics backfired spectacularly over and over again, as covered in Legacy of Ashes/Jakarta Method, and were mostly superseded by the less risky and more effective method of finding and supporting right-wing crazies in the target country. E.g. on January 6th, Russia did not send a team of Spetsnaz to try and disrupt the transfer of power. Rather, Russia spent years funding and supporting the worst people and aspects of American society, which in turn helped lead organically to Jan 6th and a host of other disasters. You can see how the second method, while slower, is much more effective and has much less risk of blow back.

Anyway, despite these criticisms, and despite the fact that this trilogy of books is likely never going to be finished, I am oddly here for what the author is doing. I find the setting to be extra-ordinarily crunchy, I like the generally real-politik and historically aware world building, and I like how the books are quite fast paced. This was a one-setting meal for me, which is rare.

Delight, by JB Priestly
5.0 Stars

A series of ~100 jottings, each about some facet of life that has brought the author delight. I am going to include one characteristic entry in full. If you enjoy this entry you'll enjoy the others, and if not, then not. I quite enjoyed them.

Giving Advice
Giving advice, especially when I am in no position to give it and hardly know what I am talking about. I manage my own affairs with as much care and steady attention and skill as – let us say – a drunken Irish tenor. I swing violently from enthusiasm to disgust. I change policies as a woman changes hats. I am here today and gone tomorrow. When I am doing one job, I wish I were doing another. I base my judgments on anything – or nothing. I have never the least notion what I shall be doing or where I shall be in six months time. Instead of holding one thing steadily, I try to juggle with six. I cannot plan, and if I could I would never stick to the plan. I am a pessimist in the morning and an optimist at night, am defeated on Tuesday and insufferably victorious by Friday. But because I am heavy, have a deep voice and smoke a pipe, few people realize that I am a flibbertigibbet on a weathercock. So my advice is asked. And then, for ten minutes or so, I can make Polonius look a trifler. I settle deep in my chair, two hundred pounds of portentousness, and with some first-rate character touches in the voice and business with pipe, I begin: "Well, I must say that in your place — " And inside I am bubbling with delight.

Inversions, by Iain Banks
5.0 Stars

Classic Banks. Short, clever, tightly plotted, violent. Imagine 1800's Europe, with competing nation states, but at each of two competing courts one of the courtiers is an alien from the Culture. As the name implies, has numerous inversions of roles or expectations.

Dr. Siri Paiboun books 1 & 2, by Colin Cotterill
3.0 Stars

Low-key murder mysteries set in Laos, just after their mid-70's socialist revolution. Much of the appeal of the books comes from sort of extrinsic factors, e.g. the setting is interesting and new (to me), the tension between socialist Laos and capitalist Thailand just across the river, the beauty of the land, the poorness but solidness of the people, the advanced age of the protagonist and many of the characters. These things are all sort of fun and interesting in their own right. The stories themselves though felt kind of slack. The A and B plots wander around for a bit, before finally petering out after a certain number of pages. This is a minor spoiler, but light supernatural elements are quickly introduced, with the main character (a coroner/shaman) being able to interact with the spirits of the dead and the land. The supernatural elements though take the wind out of the sails of the mystery elements, e.g. a ghost will just straight up point out who the murderer is (but not like in a narratively interesting Hamlet way), a lucky spirit will save the main character from an assassin's bomb, etc. etc. etc. All told you end up with three elements (murder-mystery, spiritualism, communism) that don't really work well together, at least in terms of plot and pacing. The spiritualism disrupts the mystery aspect. The spiritualism also cuts the legs out from the communism aspect, since there are these sorts of Home-Alone type scenes where native spirits run rings around local Party bosses, making the entire story seem a bit childish. Finally the socialism aspect isn't that well handled; e.g. the book tries to be sympathetic to the time and place that it is set in, but it does not entirely escape from the viewpoint of being written by a capitalist author 50 years later. E.g. the setting is kind of an Dr Zhivago one, with sympathetic dispossessed royalty, and silly communist bosses, and no real mention of why people might have wanted to fight for decades to get rid of the previous regime. I know virtually nothing about the history of Laos, and I'm not about to change that by reading a wikipedia article, but I am confident in saying that these sort of anti-colonialist movements usually had good reasons behind them (e.g. decades of pillage and atrocities). (ok, also not trying to white-wash crimes committed by communist governments, I just want the critiquing to be accurate and balanced.)

Anyway! Putting all that aside, these are fine books for atmosphere, if you want a sort of lazy-river experience of elderly gentlemen bantering with each other, enjoying the simple sandwiches in life, dealing with nosy neighbors, and having enlightening chats with spirits, shamans, and monks. There's also murders and people trapped in caves by were-tigers, but these felt less vivid and interesting than the segments of light-character-interaction between humane and grumpy old people.

Transition, by Iain Banks
3.0 Stars

A lesser Banks. Rather than an infinite sea of stars, the story is set in an infinite sea of multiverses, and at every instant the infinity of existing universes branches into infinitely more infinities of universes. Set in this hyper-infinity is the Concern, an organization that has learned to send agents between universes, theoretically to do good and manipulate events in a positive direction. So, right away the setting runs onto Rick and Morty ground, with issues of what exactly it means to do good or even to act in such an endless sea of worlds. E.g. the Concern has a few tens of millions of people involved, which (to use the old Comp482 joke) you might notice is quite a bit less than infinity. So anything that they do, any positive or negative outcome of the story, is going to affect 0% of existing universes, with that fraction growing smaller at every instant. Besides this structural issue, there's also some content problems (waaaaay too much torture! Also perhaps too much sex and sexposition), and some narrative concerns (a raft of new rules and powers are dropped in, without any setup, in the last 40 pages of the book). So not really a Banks novel that I would recommend to anyone but a completionist. On the positive side, I thought Banks did a good job with all 4 of the main characters that he winds through the story (Temudjin, Madam Ortalon, Kleist, Mulverhill) in that they are all engagingly larger than life. Or to put it another way, what makes a good Bond story? Is it that the villain's plot makes a lot of sense? Or is that Bond, the villainous Mastermind, the Henchman, and the Bond girl are all memorable and entertaining? Banks mostly succeeds at this former task at least.

Edit: oh right there is a 5th main character, Adrian Cubish, but I completely forgot about him since he is irrelevant to the otherwise tightly twined plot of the other 4 characters.

Random ShadowRun series, books 2 & 3
1.0 Stars

"Meat is a drag on the electron spirit", too true buddy, too true

Not the best series. The main character is a twit, and most of the book is about him trying to take his sister, a strong and independent Wendigo, and make her back into a weak and boring human being. Which seems like a cruel thing to do. She is living the dream, 3 meters tall, claws like lawn mower blades, instant regeneration, hunting people in the forest, breaking hearts, eating hearts, yum. Anyway, while trying to "save" his sister he gets countless other people killed along the way. Unclear why any of these people are helping him. A few other flaws; disconnected writing that felt like it was skipping around a lot, a lack of any real structure or arc to the stories. It felt kind of mechanically generated, like you had an AI play a video game against itself and then transcribed the results. There are elements going on where people's actions and emotions and memories are being manipulated by external magical forces, but you can't really distinguish it above the background noise of bad writing and bad plotting.

On the plus side, I like the general idea of heists that simultaneously take place on 3 planes of existence (physical, astral, cyber). So the general idea is fine, it is just that the implementation is continually bad.

Kill Six Billion Demons
5.0 Stars

A free internet comic that has been a labor of love for one artist for Demiurge-knows how many years. The story and the universe take a while to develop, and the plotting can sometimes lean too much into simplistic or anime tropes, but wow, the art. The artist has been absolutely unstinting in the generosity they show, and has created page after baroque page entirely filled with beautiful images, precision, creativity, humor, world building, foreshadowing, and a thousand slice-of-life details of living in the Red City that stands at the center of 777,000 worlds. It's like Michelangelo decided to paint a several dozen Sistine Chapels in his free time, and then just give them away for everyone to enjoy. All together it's one of those achievements where you are like "yes, I am happy that this person decided to devote X decades of their life to creating this thing, the effort was entirely worth it." +1 for civilization.

Oh, and it turns out that the artist for this comic also worked for a moderately well known RPG called Lancer. I'd skimmed over Lancer before and thought "eh, neatish, but not my thing". Knowing that Lancer was made by the same people though makes me have a lot more affection for it, and it's been fun to go back to Lancer and see all of the artistic overlaps between the two universes.

Lost Fleet, Books 1 - 111
3.0 Stars

Space Opera that is heavy on the Opera and light on the Space. There's a lot to talk about in these novels, since the author varies the concerns pleasantly from novel to novel. There are space battles, there are empires at war, there are far voyages, discoveries, aliens, visits to old Earth, political campaigns, civilian politics, military politics, bureaucratic infighting, espionage, viruses, whistle blowers, and of course the love triangle between the protagonist Admiral, the tsundere Senator/political agent meant to keep him in check, and the murder-bunny ship captain who worships him but cannot fall in love with him because of their Honor! and! Duty!. The main flavor through all of this is a sort of patriotic liberal centrism. Normally I might white a bit about this, but the genre of mil-sci-fi is such a minefield of far-right authors that this author is a welcome relief.

Now begins the part where I mention the sort of quietly positive things that the book does well. The multiple alien species that are encountered are nice; with each one the author leaves a realistic amount of mystery to them, how they think, and what their goals are. Some are never understood at all, and even the most communicative and helpful are still creatures with their own values and patterns that are of course alien to our own thinking. I liked the author's choice of main villains; the Syndicate Worlds are a libertarian hellscape run by insufferable CEOs who are all delivered straight from central casting. There's a reason that so many sports and rom-com movies have the antagonist be some variety of smarmy rich person, it's an easy archetype to dislike. I liked how the characters in this far future practice a generic form of ancestor worships, and that at perilous moments the protagonist will pray to his ancestors for guidance, and will receive it from the author who is his presumable ancestor. Kind of a silly but fun little bit of metafiction there. I liked the work that the audio book team put into the production, and how there are characters and accents from all over the globe in the story and out there in space.

In the negative category, it's not clear that the space battles make any real sense, even in the context of the universe, but, eh, whatever. A few of them are too long/repetitive, but as with the rest of the story the author does make a good effort to break things up and bring different concerns into each situation. Probably more notable of a downside is that while the stories are fine, the author is never aiming for or achieving anything other than light, popcorn and pretzels type entertainment. So it's fine for audio books, but it is not a Patrick O'Brian type achievement.

Lost Fleet, Outlands, books 1 & 2
4.0 Stars

Kind of good? These are books number ~16 and ~17 in a long running series. Years ago I had read the first book in the series and bounced off of it, but I found myself liking these later books to a surprising degree. The world and the characters are way more developed, there's some light humor, and for the most part the focus has shifted from space-fighting to space-administrating, as the protagonist deals with political, diplomatic, personal, and espionagal hurdles while trying to manage an expedition sent to solidify diplomatic relations with an alien race. It's not brilliant work, but it is solid beer and pretzels stuff and I was disappointed that there's not another dozens audio books lined up for me in this series. I'll probably go back to the start of the series and see if I like them better on the second try, and now that I know that they improve over time. Oh right another note, for whatever reason I have basically an infinite appetite for space opera and mil-space opera stuff, for some reason my brain categorizes as important information that will be useful some day. The struggle though is that so much of this stuff is written by people with hard-right views, to the point where I can't even choke down their beer and pretzels any more. This series though is pleasantly liberal-centrist, which is a relief.

Fairy Tale, by Stephen King
4.0 Stars

All American high school football star goes on an Isekai adventure where he beats up various smaller and less handsome people that he meets. Actually wait, he also beats up a lot of people bigger than him. Not a work of genius, and leans hard on some simple emotional beats, but also very easy to read and quietly & soundly clever at times. Another way of putting that is that it's the work of a seasoned and skilled craftsman who wants to entertain a large swathe of people. Really impressive work for a 75 year old; we can all only hope to be so skilled and open to the world at that age.

Through Struggle, the Stars
3.0 Stars

Space opera that is very heavy on the Space and very light on the Opera. The author is one of the prime movers behind the video game Terra Invicta, and the book shares ~85% of its concerns with the video game. Both of them have a heavy focus on nearish-future space ship design and combat, where everything the ships are doing is potentially viable with our current day understanding of physics (wormholes excepted of course). It's also a sort of "fragile" setting, where humans have industrialized space and colonized other planets, but we have in no way settled the national and ethnic conflicts that separate the globe. So you still have nations on Earth that abhor each other and could mutually destroy each other with nuclear weapons, but added to that you also have vulnerable stations in low Earth orbit that are vital to making the Earth-space economy work, asteroids or bombardments that could easily be dropped from space onto Earth, and then a whole logistics chain from the colonies to Sol and back again that can be disrupted or blockaded. So there's a lot of potentially catastrophic points of failure that are all shoved up next to each other, and with no good way to guard them, except by trying to navigate this line between competition and atrocity.

Anyway! There's some space battles, some Jack Ryan type forays into covert ops, and only the lightest of characterizations connecting the various bits. It's less of a story, and more of a chance for the author to talk about space things and the course of a made up future conflict. In terms of politics, the story is somewhat agnostic. There are no real heroes or villains (ok, maybe one or two), just soldiers and astronauts and spies on both sides involved in a gradually escalating WWI type conflict over expansion and national primacy. The author isn't a great writer, but he's not bad or lazy or dumb either. E.g. he has a reasonable understanding of people, but he's not really interested in spending words talking about them. The prose is serviceable, and well above what you find from most amateurs or fan-fic writers, without every really being beautiful.

Ok! Now for fun facts about the cross over in strategy between the game and the books. Is the video game realistic? Take the quiz yourself and find out.

Fact or fiction: the best fleet strategy is to bunch up all your ships up into a tight & slow moving grid, so that they can mutually cover each other with PD while concentrating fire on whatever is in front of them.
Fact! This is born out in the first battle of Yuan-ti, where the American fleet tries some fancy maneuvers with flanking and bullshit and gets absolutely pasted by the Chinese wall of battle.

Fact or fiction: Fleet engagements happen at relatively low intercept speeds and short distances.
Fact! Both simulations and live combat show that high speed passing engagements are basically a death sentence for everyone involved, since it A) increases the deadliness of projectiles while B) decreases the time for PD to fire. So only truly kamikaze fleets go for high speed engagements, others either fight a battle they think they can win or they just run.

Fact or fiction: At one point in the book, two potentially hostile ships ended up floating within 30 km of each other, as one ship tried to occlude the other's firing arc on a disputed ground target. Did this really happen?
Fiction! No, there is absolutely no way that a captain would bring their ship that close to a threat. 30 km? Jesus H Christ, the youth these days. No of course this could never happen in real life.

Fact or fiction: As technology advanced, missile weapons were phased out of warship builds as they were no longer able to pierce ever more effective laser-PD screens.
Fiction! In the real world, missiles do not angle for a direct hit on their target. Rather the missile explodes into a cloud of projectiles while still dozens of kilometers out from its target, forcing the PD systems to try and intercept thousands of incoming threats. While missiles aren't a primary weapon of most fleets, they still play a role in engagements, especially when trying to force chokepoints around wormholes. However the developers of the Terra Invicta game found these shrapnel clouds too computationaly expensive to model, which is why the in-game missiles must score a direct hit and are less effective than their real world counter-parts.

Fact or fiction: Future wars will be fought by essentially random combinations of nations.
Fact! The war in the book is fought with China and Korea on one side, with Japan, American, Australia, and Iran on the other. The game Terra Invicta accurately models this and gets this aspect of sci-fi combat completely right.

The Spare Man
1.0 Stars

A murder mystery aboard a space-cruise-liner, which uses The Thin Man as its loose inspiration. I found it to be unreadable. The story is set in a future neo-liberal dystopia, where hordes of wage slaves spend their existence bowing and scraping and serving the trillionaire main character. For her part, she spends her time worrying about her tiny dog, her PTSD, her chronic pain, her medications, her triggers, her pronouns, and how best to ruin peoples lives with SLAPP lawsuits. One airlock could solve all of the problems for both the crew and her. This problem of class is particularly glaring when you compare this book to the original Thin Man books. In the Thin Man, the main characters are well off, in the sense that they have a nice penthouse in Manhattan, some shares in a lumber conglomerate, and no immediate material concerns. But at the same time, they are not in a completely different realm of existence from the rest of humanity. They do not completely own one segment of the infrastructure of a star-faring species. They do not need to be constantly shielded by a team of bodyguards, or else hidden by a cloak of anonymity. Instead, one of the neat features of the original protagonist is that he is comfortable with and has connections at all levels of society, from bankers, lawyers, dancers, musicians, criminals, cops, reporters, veterans, doctors, etc. etc. He and his wife go to clubs with normal people, they are packed into trains along with everyone else. So, yeah, that is the problem with the book in a nutshell. It completely eliminates class or any complaints about oligarchy, while elevating a gaggle of (boring) botique concerns to the point that they slow and obscure any actual story or plot.

Incidentally suffers from something common to most sci-fi mysteries, which is that the reader is not able to effectively reason about these worlds and so the mystery ends up feeling disconnected, unfair, and cheap. E.g. why is this a mystery at all, and why is every inch of this spaceship not covered with microscopic scale cameras? Any ship capable of intra-stellar travel is also potentially a gigantic WMD, like a fully loaded 747 but with orders of magnitude more potential energy. The idea that you would just let randos crawl all over this fusion powered rocket in an unsupervised manner is insanity, but that is of course what is going on in the story.

Edit: Another annoyance with the book that has stuck with me and that I feel compelled to expel from my mind is the vagueness with which the author describes her characters. For some reason the author is against physical descriptions of people, so we get character introductions like this: (chosen at random)
"An elegant passenger with beach blond hair and a soft, curving jawline"
Uh, what was their hair like? Long, short, close cropped, bangs, comb-over, wavy, other? Were they tall? Fit? How were their clothes and style elegant? Tell me about their face! Tell me about their fucking face. The author does this with like 50% of her character descriptions; she can only bring herself to describe the most trivial and unimportant parts of the person, like the color of their hair and maybe one other feature.
Compare this to a randomly chosen Iris Murdoch description of a tertiary character: "Noel was a very big man with a pale and unwrinkled face and pale colourless hair. With his look of gentle bland amiability he was like a large teddy bear. He smiled down at Dora, wanting to be sympathetic without humouring her mood."
or on the same page for a more prominent character:
" Before she sat down she inspected herself quickly in the mirror. In spite of all her awful experiences she looked good. She had a round well formed face and a large mouth that liked to smile.Her eyes were a dark slaty blue and rather long and large. Art had darkened but not thinned her vigorous triangular eyebrows. Her hair was golden brown and grew in long flat strips down the side of her head, like ferns growing down a rock. This was attractive. Her figure was by no means what it had been." "
But the author of The Spare Man cannot use this language, since it would imply lookism? ableism? fatphobia? ageism? And so she is left only being able to describe the most circumstantial features of her characters, like the color of their hair.

Edit 2: The fact I read this as an ebook might also have contributed to my problems with it, as for whatever reason my brain evaluates ebooks as being a notch lower in quality than physical books.

Legends and Lattes, by Travis Baldtree
3.0 Stars

What does it mean to be a murder hobo, once you have stopped traveling and stopped murdering people? Who are you even at that point? What does your life mean? An aging orc explores these questions as she settles down and starts a coffee shop, and tries to forget all the monsters she has fought, all the villagers she has killed and robbed, and all the weak, squishy, human men she has taken by force. A slow, meandering, introspective novel, as the protagonist tries to make sense of a lifetime of brutality.

Mariposa, by Greg Bear
1.0 Stars

A real piece of anti-art. The general vibe is of slightly conservative, aging-and-declining-autist. There is no interesting characterization, and everything from the tech to the plot is only briefly sketched out, and not an actual story told by one human being to entertain and enlighten another human being. This is all combined with the dregs of the war on terror and early 2000's right-wing fear-phantoms. Not a kind book, an interesting book, or an intelligent book, or even a book with consistent themes or ideas. The one line from it that I would keep is an exclamation from the President, "I refuse to be the first President to nuke Texas!". Which raises all sorts of questions, and kind of implies she would be fine with it if another President had done it first. DNF.

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