Authority, by Vandermeer Rothdas book review RSS
5.0 Stars

Authority is the delightful sequel to the wonderful Lovecraftian gem that is _Annihilation_. _Annihilation_ is a constant stream of action, revelation, and betrayal. From the very first the protagonist is struggling to survive in Area X, a normal seeming but immensely dangerous wilderness. _Authority_ is a slower book, and this time the deceptively dangerous environment is the government institution set up to watch over Area X. Here the operative mode of the story is not the constant physical threat of death/dissolution, rather it is in the sudden leap between normalcy and the utterly insane and alien. For this reason the book is a bit slower; it first has to setup a relative normalcy in order to later disrupt it. This is not say that the Authority is slow, there is tons of fighting, but most of the fighting is of the organizational, political, administrative, and psychological variety. I enjoyed this political infighting, even if it is not quite as compelling as the original. Authority is still in the LoveCraftian/Delta Green genre that I love, but this time it is less about the dangers of the field and more about institutional corruption and shadow wars.

I worry that in describing Authority I will fail to say how much I liked it. I liked it! I liked it enough that I read the 350 page book in basically one sitting. The problem that Authority faces is that its predecessor was basically a perfect novel in the genre, or at least perfect enough that I could not point out anything I would change. Authority is very good, but it is not quite perfect. The protagonist, a CIA manager, is not quite as relatable as the biologist from the first novel. His acerbic, absentee, and domineering CIA mom also reminded me a bit too much of Archer's Mom. :) And as I said, Authority is a bit slower. It also does not do quite enough to advance the plot/explore the mystery. We don't learn much more about Area X. The things that happen in this novel are, basically, what the biologist thought might happen in the first book. We don't get any new paragraphs of awesome, insane cultist gibberish (though I guess we do get a few neat cultist murals). In short, in terms of world building it felt like the author was just fleshing out the lines that he'd already laid down in the first book, without adding much more that was really new. Compare this to the first book, where every 25 pages there is a sudden lurch as something new is revealed and the situation completely changes. Ok, enough of my quibbles. Authority is a highly enjoyable read, and it has at least three completely wonderful, laugh out-loud, terrifying and f'd up moments. I'm looking forward to the third book in the series, even if like the second book it is merely excellent and not perfect.

Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie
3.0 Stars

A decently written but rather silly space opera. The basic (and neat) idea is that there is space emperor, who has used cloning and brain implant technology to create countless duplicates of herself. Each duplicate is linked via brain-implant to the others, so that theoretically they all have the same identity. Each one is put in charge of a different sector or system of the empire. However, as the empire has grown to thousands of worlds, propagation delays have caused the versions of herself to drift apart, to the point where after centuries of plotting the two factions of herself are now openly in conflict. So! This second book in the series starts off with the galactic civil war just getting underway. The fate of thousands of planets are at stake! Our hero has been given command of an FTL warship, and sent to a vital system with orders to protect the system. At which point our hero starts doing fetch quests. Her first order of business is to improve the plumbing and health-services for the ~100 or so people in the poor-person's block of the system space station. Not to, say, figure out the loyalties of the other warship captains, or to get her hands on the AI overrides for their ships. After her first bold move, she progresses on to similarly important tasks like making sure this one space station cadet gets out of a mildly abusive relationship, or improving working conditions for a small portion of the tea-growers on planet. Oh my lord lady. It is like in a JRPG, where there is this world-threatening evil, and you ignore addressing it in favor of doing fetch quests or finding a lost cat for townsfolk. Here is an idea; if the tea-harvesters have a crappy life, have some fricken' robots do the job instead. Now that that issue is taken care of, you can turn to the more important issues like making sure the whole place isn't nuked in the incipient interstellar war. The author does make some small nods to automation as a solution, by saying that most tea is made by automated factories, and only the prestige brands are made by hand. But that just leads to the question of why given the means of production available (mass automation and robotics, advanced AI, thousands of FTL ships, plenty of pleasant and sparsely inhabited planets, centuries of peace and reasonably competent rule), everyone is so incredibly, incredibly poor. The space ship crew can barely afford tea, a new officer can barely afford rum. Even the elites of the society are terribly poor; the grand oligarch of the planet only has a few McMansions and a few hundred indentured workers. I think the source of this problem is that the author wants to write a very social-justicy novel, and to do that you need injustices to highlight and fix. This doesn't really work though since A) the injustices the author comes up with are basically from our world and don't fit with the technology/sci-fi situation presented, and B) it often felt like pandering; e.g. have a laundry list of current social justice issues (colonialism, racism, income inequality, spousal abuse, etc. etc.), and then have our physically deadly and morally righteous protagonist slice through them. [Editors note: Someone on GoodReads described the novel as the one-sided continuation of an argument the author had on the internet; that seemed apt.] And in the end, I have to ask to what purpose? Even if the hero fixes all the inequalities in their system, she has only delivered its people into something moderately worse than a middle-class American existence. Why not have some imagination instead? You have AIs and anti-gravity and cloning and brain CRUD! Go to town! Create an actual positive vision of a humane future like Iain M Banks did, where people aren't wasting their lives as soldiers, or butlers, or manual labors. Let them flourish to the limits of baseline human potential, or let them go far beyond that if they wish. Oh! Or here is an idea, just fully accept that you don't care about the science in your science fiction, and instead write space romances, about the love between the AI ships and their captains. Make it the full focus of the novels like Termeraire did, and happily ignore the sillyness of the world you have built up.

Anyway! When the book can be bothered to turn back to the main quest line, it can be good. There are the seeds of interesting stuff in trying to suss out the loyalties of the other captains and governors and AIs in the system, especially since brain-implants and AI overrides can come into play. The main plot wasn't all that well developed, but I liked the parts that were there. And like in the first book, the protagonist is unobtrusively gender blind, which as in the first book I liked but was generally blind to. I believe this blindness is because I am similarly enlightened myself, and failed to notice the abscence of something I don't pay much attention to. Either that or I am an unobservant and lazy reader. :)

Pale Fire, by Nabokov
4.0 Stars

Enough has been said about this book elsewhere that I'm not sure I need to elaborate on it too much. The first time I read this was about ~15 years ago, and I loved it at the time. And I still kind of love it? There are sentences and paragraphs that just make me laugh for the pleasure of how perfect they are. The writing and structure of the book are simply brilliant. And when I say brilliant, I do not mean brilliant in my usual "desperate-search-for-adjectives" kind of way. It really is just genius level thinking that went into the creation of this story. Still, I wasn't as motivated/entranced when reading this a second time, since a large part of the pleasure of the book is unwrapping/decoding what is happening. And since I had already unwrapped the main part of the book, the things that are left to unwrap are the smaller and more minor puzzles, and to really do that I would need to start taking notes or reading other people's commentary on the text. And I'm not sure I want to commit quite that much time or go quite that meta. :)

One thing I did appreciate the second time around was how the commentary actually makes me appreciate the poem more. Initially, I did not particularly like poem that is the heart of the book (the constant rhyming throws me off and feels a little silly?), and I skipped over parts of the poem when I first came across it at the start of the book. However, the negative/acidic commentary makes a nice contrast to the poem, and helps me appreciate the poem more.

Anyway, if you enjoyed Pale Fire, I would also recommend its more modern incarnation:

Ficciones, by Borges
4.0 Stars

A series of brilliant but dry short stories. The stories tend to be abstract, self-referential, and experimental. They are what you would expect from a very smart South American who is skilled at writing and has an advanced CS degree. But the thing is, Borges didn't have a CS degree. o_O. Borges wrote all of these about 30-50 years before his ideas really started filtering out to other authors. Despite the clear genius of the design, his writing never really grabbed me. The stories were a bit too puzzle like, and I read each one focusing on identifying the trick or conceit of the story rather out of any enjoyment of the tale.

The Player of Games, by Iain M Banks
4.0 Stars

This was an inadvertent re-read, as I had purchased a copy for a friend and wanted to just refresh my memory of a few parts. Lol, we know how that turns out. I enjoyed the book on the second time around, though not nearly so much as the first. I found parts of the book to be more preachy and heavy-handed than the first time through. I was also more aware and bothered by a flaw that I mentioned last time, that the game Azad, which is the primary field of contention for most of the book, can never really be described. There are large parts of the book where there just isn't anyway for the author to have any detail in the writing, since the thing he is writing about is so nebulous. The McGuffin becomes the Albatross. Banks does better with the smaller games mentioned earlier in the book, since these he can actually outline and fill in some detail for. So, not a bad book, but I think it suffered a bit on re-read. Still very fun, snappy, and creative in many respects.

The Book of Imaginary Beings, by Borges
2.0 Stars

I picked this up since it seemed like it might be neat, and at the very least I could mine it for ideas to use in different games that I run/make. I ended up with the "least" scenario. The book is not particularly fun to read. It's not bad, but it's not something I would read if I were not looking for ideas for imaginary monsters. The book does have the usual Borges conceit of intertwining the fantastical and the historical, which is kind of cool, but in this instance it is not functionally different from the usual Monster Manual strategy of taking something that exists in the real world or in a real world myth and using it as a template/inspiration for your new fantastical creation. Or to put it another way, what Borges was using as a delightful literary idea 50 years ago has become, through the vagaries of the nerd entertainment complex, a standard and slightly lazy method to churn out product. Anyway. I was not unhappy that I read the book, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who is not GMing or game designing.

Invitation to a Beheading, by Nabokov
5.0 Stars

A wonderful, absurd, surreal, and darkly comic novel about a man condemned to die. It is like Nabokov took the last section of _The Stranger_, stretched the narrative out like taffy, and then subjected Meursault to a hundred different farces and indignities. Except in this case the protagonist is more likable and more innocent than Meursault, and the society that imprisons him more totalitarian and more Zemblan, and the ending more ... something? In any case, there is a neat sort of solipsistic shadow struggle carried on through out the book, and naturally it reaches its climax at the final scene.

Overall it is a delightful book. Two notes of caution though: Note 1) the first 20-30 pages are a bit slow, so stick with it for bit until the pieces start fitting together. Note 2) In my printing, the back of the book had horrible, terrible spoilers. Like, 3 sentences that just ruined some of the wonderful situations that Nabokov set up. So, grade A trolling on the part of the publishers. I'm not sure why people complain about 4Chan or Reddit when hooligans like Random House are allowed to roam free. If you are interested in the novel at all, rip the back cover off the book and toss it to the wind.

Ok, I cannot resist, here is a final bonus note. The next book on the Nabokov list is _Pale Fire_, which I would be reading already if I hadn't accidentally reserved the audio book version from the library. Pale Fire is a re-read, and while doing some browsing about it I came across this original, hilarious, NYTimes review of Pale Fire from when it was first published.
Wow. I'm sure I've misread a book this badly at some point in my life, but fortunately I've never published it on the internet to be preserved for all time.

The Enchanter, by Nabokov
5.0 Stars

I started off my new Nabokov campaign by randomly choosing this, and Wowwwwwww. The Enchanter is like the Wasp Factory on crack. It is the hipster version of Lolita, for people who were into old men who were into young girls before it was cool. A stunningly uncomfortable 100 pages.

Single and Single, by Le Carre
5.0 Stars

Another wonderful Le Carre book. It starts with a brutal and amazing in media res, and moves outward from there to explore the various ties of family, friendship, love, history, money, and betrayal in an international criminal conspiracy. Like with many Le Carre books, it is quite sweet despite the subject matter, with a focus on character and relationships that is only occasionally interrupted by AK-47s.

The Kreutzer Sonata, by Leo Tolstoy
4.0 Stars

Lol. I am definitely giving a copy of this to two of my engaged friends.

The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov
3.0 Stars

A decent book, that loses a some of its enjoyment simply because times have changed and much of it is no longer that relevant. The story has two main parts that are woven together. The shorter and more enjoyable part is a re-imagining of the Christ story. This re-imagining is from the viewpoint of Pontius Pilate, and is a sort of collision between security services and real-politik on the one hand and a supernatural peace on the other. This story is written in the style of a hyper realistic political or spy novel, with a focus on details like the troop contingents assigned to different areas, the division of political power in Jerusalem, the characters in the Roman security services, etc. These were my favorite chapters, both because they are actually moving and because of the interesting and unusual perspective on an old story.

The second and larger part of the book is set in 1930's Russia, as the Devil comes to Moscow. Here the tone is reversed; as the Devil and his cohorts trick, tempt, baffle, humiliate, and only occasionally decapitate various officials and venal self-seekers in Moscow. This Devil isn't so much a lord of darkness, as a fairy-tail figure, a fickle and powerful tester of mankind. He comments that the people of Moscow don't seem to be any worse than earlier people, it is just the housing crisis that makes them bad. :) A lot of this story is about the Devil's tricks to get a suitable apartment for himself and his entourage, as well as other people's efforts to secure lodging there once they realize spots have opened up. Anyway, this part is fine, and writing it certainly must have taken courage when you lived in 1930's Russia, but much of the humor and commentary is not as biting in 2015. If it was written about the San Francisco housing market or some such I might enjoy it more. There's also a love story that gives the book its title, but that didn't really do much for me either. For some reason I've never really clicked with Russian love stories.

The Wasp Factory, by Iain Banks
5.0 Stars

Another re-read, this time of the first Iain Banks book that I ever read. The Wasp Factory is still a snappy and hilarious little novel, and it is still a great and small and clear example of the qualities that I love so much in Banks. There is a wealth of invention, detail, wit, precise action, and clever/brutal plotting. It also has the sort of moral divide that you find in a lot of Banks' books, though usually not as simply and distinctly. One the one hand there is a sort of downward seeking, atavistic, Thanatopic mode of thought, and on the other hand a sort of upward seeking or life seeking mode of thought. I tend towards this sort of Manichean thinking myself, so it resonates with me. The Wasp Factory isn't Banks' most complex or deepest book, but it is still a fun read.

The Nice and The Good, by Iris Murdoch
7.0 Stars

As always, it is a bit of a shock coming back to Murdoch. Her style is so odd in some ways, moving between unprovoked bursts of metaphysics and high-flown desire to a cold blooded evaluation of psychological/social/sexual mechanics. One way to think of her books is as a replay or demonstration of how she thinks these mechanisms work, as well as propaganda (in the best possible way) for various ways in which she thinks people should live. Anyway, I like it. She accurately describes at least some experiences that I'm familiar with, which gives me hope that she is getting other things right, and there are at least a few tidbits in each book that I've taken away and incorporated. Err, what else to say. This story is a sort of Iris-Murdoch-Occult-Noir-Love story? But the focus is never on plot, it is pretty much all on psychology and relationships.

Marque and Reprisal, by Elizabeth Moon-Moon
1.0 Stars

Ok, I read another one. In my defense, I had already checked it out from the library and left it in the bathroom. It was an improvement over the first one, in that there was an actual action scene. There was also the weird and continual contract parsing of the first book; reading it reminded me most strongly of filling out the paperwork to rent an apartment. There was also some of the most awkward and sad flirting that I've ever read. I kind of want to give the author a hug.

Trading in Danger, by Elizabeth Moon-Moon
1.0 Stars

This book is a sort of low quality imitation of David Weber's already low quality Honor Harrington series. _Trading in Danger_ does at least make you appreciate all the things the Honorverse books did well. For all their flaws, the Honorverse books did have a certain compulsive readability (or listenability) and a beer and pretzels charm. Weber's series has high stakes, more interesting plots, tactical/strategic puzzles, better tech/world building, and even better characterization. Moon's first book just felt very flat. The relationships never quite clicked, the plot was kind of Hardy Boys level, and much of the made up tech was glossed over. Moon did have a lot of legalese and contract negotiation in her book though, so she has that going for her. :(

There's also a continuous fellating of military over civilian values. Not that great.

Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford
2.0 Stars

A disappointing and tepid book. There are two basic elements to this book. One is a sort of slice-of-life story telling in 1950's - 1970's Russia, especially amongst the scientists, engineers, and managers. It's natural to compare this to The Gulag Archipelago or The Cancer Ward, since these books have the same time period, location, type of characters, and general structure of storytelling. And when you compare them, Red Plenty comes up very lacking. It is the difference between The Wire (Gulag Archipelago) and an NBC cop show (Red Plenty). The characters in Red Plenty simply never felt right; they never matched up to my conception of how these characters should act or think. They lack the hardness and reality and details that you find in something like Gulag Archipelago, or in Isaac Babel, or even in novels like The Master and Margarita or Road Side Picnic. As Mao put it, Spufford has grown up eating only honey, and it makes his novel seem very false in its basic characterization and story telling (not that there is anything wrong with honey; I love honey! But at the same time I wouldn't try to write these characters.) Reading through the footnotes, Spufford is familiar with most of the Russian novels I listed above, so I guess he just has a lot of misplaced confidence? In fairness, there are some isolated parts at the middle and end of the book where the writing finally starts to come together, but by that time my patience for the book was *really* wearing thin. Page 300 is not the time to try and get the reader interested.

The second element to the book is the potential use of computers and algorithms in order to centrally plan and regulate the entire Soviet economy. This is ok? There are a couple of dozen good pages about this, but in terms of ideas it is not anything you would not pick up from a 4 year CS degree and either reading the back cover of the book or just having read some articles on all the different ways that metrics can pervert decision making.

Absolute Friends, by Le Carre
3.0 Stars

A surprisingly sweet Le Carre book, which is partially spoiled by a predictable and strident ending. This review is a bit spoilery, so if you are interested in reading the book I would perhaps stop... here.

The story covers 60+ years in the life of Ted Mundy, a British leftist, jack of all trades, and occasional spy. There is his early life in Pakistan, then boarding school in England, protest movements in Germany, lotus eating in America, a return to Britain to serve as a cold war spy, and then finally in late life one more espionage adventure. And of course there is the "Absolute Friend" from the title, Sasha, the German leftist, radical, idealist, and double agent, who is Mundy's companion through much the story.

There are a lot of familiar Le Carre themes in this book, but they have a lighter and happier touch than usual. The main character has a fractured and outcast background that prepares him for spying, but he retains a solid heart. He is psychologically fluid like in the _Tailor of Panama_ or _Little Drummer Girl_, but not so much that he splatters into a thousand little droplets. He does pay a price for his espionage during the Cold War, but the price is not so high that it destroys him. And after 60+ years, he has a happiness and peace and the knowledge that his efforts did some good in the world. Oh! And he has a 20 year old stand in for his childhood crush, which is nice for him, I guess. That takes us up to the final part of the book, where Mundy dips his toe back into the world of espionage. At this point it is like a Nabokov novel that has almost reached the end without something really terrible happening; you know that something is up. The last plot/scenes resolve in pretty much the way you would expect it to if you have read the rest of Le Carre's work. I'm not sure I would call it predictable, just in the sense that if something is sign posted enough you start to suspect a fake out after all and you wrap back around to expecting a different twist. But it is very typically Le Carre. The post script was also somewhat long and over done; it's not so much that I disagree with the general ideas, as I do with the cartoonish levels of malevolence and competence that Le Carre ascribes to some parties. I think that part of the reason the ending didn't age well is that it is very much a product of its time, which was immediately after 9/11 and the Iraq invasion, but before that invasion had become widely known as a fiasco.

Quote of the book: "Lawyers are all assholes."

The Algebraist, by Iain M. Banks
5.0 Stars

This is a fairly standard Banks' sci-fi novel, which is another way of saying that it is wildly inventive, smart, enjoyable, and engrossing. Banks has a wonderful ability to create completely enchanting worlds, such that after reading there is this drop or context switch where you have to reload the actual world and how it works. This is a really high mark of quality, and something that I almost never find now that I'm a terribly jaded and sophisticated reader. So, go Banks! :) :D :P

In more detail: The book is not set in the main Culture universe, but it does share many similar themes and ideas. There are multiple levels of simulation/reality and pondering on their worth, there are AI's and AI haters, there are deceptions and clue hunting journeys to exotic locals, there are Azad like empires of varying degrees of cruelty, there are space battles, and there is a technologically superior, affable, intelligent and more life-seeking Culture like grouping. In addition, since this universe doesn't have the widely available FTL travel of the Culture novels, there are a lot of neat ideas about how buildable (and destroyable) wormholes that can only be moved at slower than light speeds would play out on a galactic scale. In addition to these higher level ideas, there is a continual stream of invention and detail in the various races, histories, locations, characters, and religions. Really, there is an embarrassment of ideas in here, and any one of them could have been the foundation for another author's entire novel. This is actually what drew me back to the novel; I had first read the Algebraist years ago, and wanted to refresh my memory of one of the religions in the book. (The religion is a variant of Nick Bostrom's Simulation Argument). I had meant to just find a few passages about the religion, but ended up consuming the entire book. The story moved much faster than I remember (or maybe the Atwood has re-calibrated my idea of what a slow novel is like?), and I think I enjoyed the Algebraist even more the second time around.

The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood
3.0 Stars

I came to this book with high hopes. The Blind Assassin won the Booker Prize, and when I think of Booker Prizes I think of Iris Murdoch's wonderful _The Sea, The Sea_. Unfortunately, Atwood is not quite an Iris, and I don't think The Blind Assassin is of the same order of magnitude as Iris' works.

In terms of pure writing style, Atwood is never less than perfectly competent, and she does a good job with description, character, dialog, and occasional dry or biting humor. The writing isn't as brilliant as something like _A Stranger in Olandria_, but it is descriptive and readable and quite skillful. I particularly liked her biting notes to literary critics and thesis students. Nabokov had a similar talent; I get the feeling that authors spend a lot of mental energy composing these rejoinders. :)

The setting and plotting and structure of the novel were less agreeable to me. The book is somewhat dreary. Most of it is set in a small Canadian town around 1910-1950, and the primary narrator is a poor and elderly and regretful lady of that town. So, already the setting is pretty damn depressing, especially if you hate snow and ice and cold like I do. The plot is similarly grim. I don't want to spoil too much, but it's a bit like if Sansa and Arya were both captured by the Lannisters, and then lived with the Lannisters for a couple of decades, and then an elderly Sansa started writing her memoirs. Except that in that case there would at least be a lot of plotting and intrigue over the decades. In the Blind Assassin, there really is not that much plot going on. I feel like I could cover all of the major plot developments in 2-3 sentences, which is a problem when a book is 500+ pages long. One of the reasons this relatively simple plot stretches on for so long is the structure of the novel. The novel is told through 4 interleaved threads. One thread is the thoughts of an elderly Sansa in the present day (1990's), one thread is her reminisces of growing up (1910's-1940's), and then the other 2 threads are from an in-universe book, also called _The Blind Assassin_. The in-universe book is divided into 2 threads, one thread being a novelization/mirror of crucial "real life" events in the 1930's, the other thread being a Conan-style fantasy novel called, you guessed it, The Blind Assassin. So you have 4 threads, but the main plot is only moved along by 2 of them, and those two threads are in large part repeating/mirroring themselves. Maybe I was too unobservant to fully appreciate how the threads interacted with and supported each other, but to me it seemed like there were really 3 stories here, any one of which might have been fine, but when mashed together often slowed down and interrupted each other. As a final and hugely insensitive criticism, I would say that reading this reminded me a bit of reading some of Shakespeare's stories. You understand that the times and ideas were different, but you can't help thinking that man, if they could just abandon some of their meta-physical super structure and other bad ideas about how the world should work, they could have avoided a lot of trouble/death, and dealt with things in a much more sensible manner. Or to put it another way, if their education had only included the complete works of Iris Murdoch, they could have gone about their idealism much more effectively.

So! That is that. I actually liked the in-universe fantasy novel that Atwood created, and would have gladly read a full version of that. I also would have enjoyed an abbreviated, maybe 250 page version of the main plot line. Even the cynical and elderly Sansa would have been ok on her own. The amalgamated story line though was less than the sum of its parts, and it really only makes it to 3 stars on the solid strength of Atwood's writing.

The Way of all Flesh, by Samuel Butler
2.5 Stars

First off, despite the title this is not a zombie book. I know, it fooled me too. The book is instead a semi-humorous, semi-auto-biographical account of the writer's life, with most of the story taking place in England around the year 1850. The heart of the book is the struggle of the author to break from his parents and from the path to priesthood that they had set him on. This part is regularly interspersed with jokes, stories, philosophical tangents, and a general happy cynicism, and overall it works well. It's not quite Jeeves, or Three Men in a Boat, but for something written in 1850 it is surprisingly readable and enjoyable. I would snort and/or lol every 3-5 pages or so, and you feel for the guy, his terrible childhood, his misplaced idealism, and his willingness to lay out some truly embarrassing scenes of himself. The actual institutions he is criticizing are mostly discredited and gone now, so you miss some of the original impact of the book, but it is still enjoyable to read and the story makes familiar a somewhat unfamiliar time and place.

The heart of the book works well, but the appendages not so much. The first ~50 pages are fairly dull, as the author tells the story of the previous 2 generations of his family. There are only a few bright spots here, mostly about his parent's awkward courtship and marriage. The last ~80 pages are also lackluster. At this stage of the writing he lost the editor who had helped him with the rest of the book, and it really shows. The humor mostly goes missing, and rather than being a description of bad things happening to him, it becomes description of the author being an asshole once he comes into his money and freedom. He becomes unhappy with his wife, and then happily finds a reason to annul their marriage and put her back on the streets. He is unhappy with his entire family, so he breaks with all of them. He certainly doesn't want to raise his kids, so he ships them off for someone else to take care of. Literally, he is walking in the park, sees a working class family that seems cheerful, and he hands his kids and a stipend over to them. Parenting complete for the next 10 years! This part I actually liked, since it helped explain to me the British habit of avoiding their children (e.g. Churchill and his parents). At least in the author's case, the reasoning was that he was made miserable and hostile by interacting with his parents, so there's no need to repeat the process with his own kids. Instead he simply provides for them and tries to put them in a decent place to develop. Once he's taken care of all the family tasks, the author then sits back and spends the rest of the book living a life of leisure on top of his massive stacks of cash. Ok, I can't really fault him on that point. :)

In summary, the book isn't bad reading and it has aged fairly well, but it's not the deepest thing or the funniest thing that has been written.

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