Book Reviews (1)

Three Parts Dead – Max Gladstone

Part of the Craft Sequence, which I’m going to get more of because this was dank. It’s a fantasy legal thriller with an inventive contract-based magic system, Craft, tied into a richly developed world.

The fire god Kos, god/power source of the city of Alt Coulumb, has apparently been murdered. New Craftswoman Tara Abernathy has to work the case and resurrect him with the help of a chain-smoking priest, Abelard, her new boss, Elayne, and Cat, a magic cop addicted to having vampires suck her blood.

Fast-paced, highly imaginative, a very clever work with great characters and an intriguing setting.

Among Others – Jo Walton

Mori got crippled and lost her twin sister while stopping their mother’s black magic scheme. At boarding school it begins to seem that her mother’s at it again, while Mori spends the time she isn’t dealing with that or in classes reading so much sci-fi – more than she could possibly be managing while attending lessons and, presumably, sleeping sometimes – that the book’s meta-ness reaches meme tier proportions. (Yo dawg, heard you like books so I put a book in your book so you can read about reading while you read…)

The diary format lends itself well to establishing her likeable character, the ‘magic as seemingly insignificant actions leading to chains of coincidence’ thing is handled well, and the fairies are interesting enough as truly alien figures that they really ought to be featured more. It’s not exactly fast paced, which is fine, but maybe Mori needs another hobby. When she joined a book club I was torn between feeling glad for her getting bookish friends and groaning ‘crap, there’s gonna be even more books in this book!’

Kill All Normies – Angela Nagle

An interesting but flawed look at the growth of the far-right online, viewing it as a reaction against the left. Nagle does a good job sketching out the key players – 4chan’s /b/ and /pol/, the Manosphere, alt-light figures such as Milo, and the alt-right. She makes some neat observations on the right adopting traditionally left approaches – irony, leaderless online movements, subversiveness – in the attempt to cause political change via cultural change, c.f. Antonio Gramsci.

Less solid are her arguments regarding ‘Tumblr liberals’, an alternative for ‘SJWs’ she coins to refer to those with a politics based on identity and ‘the emotional injuries of systemic cultural prejudices’. She makes valid – straightforward – points about the toxicity of some callout culture and the need to address material conditions and class rather than solely identity and so on, but this doesn’t mean those darn ‘SJWs’ don’t also raise actual problems for real people!

The ‘snowflake student’ stuff here feels a bit reactionary, as do other dodgy takes. And while internet culture was a worthwhile thing to investigate, there’s limited grounding in material events.

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace

Hecking heck. This is good, folks.

IJ is a thousand-page behemoth with some obscure words and a lot of its content in tiny font as endnotes, but it’s not excessively hard. It’s immensely entertaining and about a lot of deep stuff: depression, addiction, criticism of reflexive irony as evasion of real human feeling, etc. In plot terms, it involves a halfway house for recovering addicts, a tennis academy, Quebec’s wheelchair assassins, and the search for ‘Infinite Jest’, a film so entertaining that people will sit watching it on a loop until they die in ecstasy.

I guess some of the pretentious vocab could be made normal English (why ‘aleatory’ when ‘random’ would do?), and the Wardine and yrstruly bits are grating. Some sections are a struggle to slog through, the chronology might be confusing, but have faith in DFW and it will be rewarded.

This has feels, laughs, big ideas. The challenge absolutely pays off. It’s an extraordinary picture of the human condition and a deeply profound, unique work of fiction.

Men Explain Things To Me – Rebecca Solnit

A couple of essays on feminism, with the title entry being the one that led to the coinage of the term ‘mansplaining’. Solnit’s a convincing writer with some sharp touches of humour, raising a number of gender issues with stark clarity, consistently coming back to the right of women to be heard, taken seriously, to have a voice, to be free to participate on equal terms.

Some of the book is more obscure – the essay on Woolf, and ‘the spider essay’. They do connect to her general message, but I found them a bit more ambiguous and less strongly rooted in specific events than the others.

Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor

A girl goes missing on holiday in a small village. This sounds like the start of a murder mystery or something, but don’t expect a thriller. This is a slow burn without much in the way of conventional plot, kept going by poetic prose bringing to life a wide cast of characters, the natural landscape, and the village’s social dynamic.

Each chapter swoops through a year in the life of the village, starting with the search party having ‘gathered at the car park in the hour before dawn and waited to be told what to do.’ The way everything unfolds, the deft touches painting each personality, the passing of the seasons, the twists and turns in intertwined lives, makes this a successful un-novel-like novel.

Who Rules The World? – Noam Chomsky

Wow. Reading this made me realise that, among various other things that feel obvious in retrospect, Obama wasn’t so great, US foreign policy has been even worse than I thought, and Israeli policy… yeah…

Chomsky basically just barrages you with facts and quotes – ‘the US/Obama/Israel/etc did this bad thing’, often adding, ‘this is them openly saying why they did it in terms not out of place in a Bond villain monologue’. This does all get repetitive, with the plus side that some of it has lodged in my memory through iteration. After a while, there was noticeable deja vu. Chomsky also isn’t the most engaging writer in the world, although he can be delightfully bitter and sarcastic.

I have no idea how Chomsky remembers so much stuff. His work here is an eye-opening deluge of deeply disturbing information, all of which should be much more widely known.

3 thoughts on “Book Reviews (1)

  1. About Nagle’s book, you wrote that, “She makes some neat observations on the right adopting traditionally left approaches – irony, leaderless online movements, subversiveness – in the attempt to cause political change via cultural change, c.f. Antonio Gramsci.” This can be best understood with a dual perspective of political science and social science, combined with historical context.

    There is a long history of that kind of thing, such as with ideological labels. Many have noted, including some famous right-libertarians like Murray Rothbard, that the ‘libertarian’ label originated on the left; and originally meant anarcho-socialism; whereas right-libertarians have re-interpreted it as meaning not anti-authoritarianism in general but only anti-statism, creating an ideological loophole for privatized authoritarianism. Alt-right reactionaries have similarly stolen the label of human biodiversity (HBD), which was formulated precisely as a critique of race realism and genetic determinists.

    Have you read Corey Robin’s Reactionary Mind? It’s influenced a lot of my understanding. Besides the tendency toward obfuscation, one of the main takeaways from Robin’s theory is that one of the reactionary’s most powerful tactics is co-optation; as related to their ability of mercurial mimicry as ideological camouflage, like those crabs that stick various objects to their shells to blend in. Also, it’s not unusual that, while borrowing heavily from the left (e.g., seeking cultural influence), they’ll caricature and scapegoat the left as doing what they are trying to achieve (e.g., conspiracy theory of cultural Marxism). This is part of their ideological game of denying their own ideological agenda, in denying they even have an ideology.

    As a side note, Robin doesn’t go into the social science, but his ideas seem to overlap with social dominance orientation (SDO). That is a useful context because it extends the reactionary beyond only conservatism, specifically when one differentiates dominance (SDO-D) from anti-egalitarianism (SDO-E) as is done in the SDO7 scale. The liberal paternalism of DNC elites could be interpreted as high SDO-E but low SDO-D — that is to say corporatocratic inequality without brutal oppression, what some call friendly fascism.

    An example of that is tokenism, where a few minorities make it into the ranks of the elite while the high inequality of wealth concentration and rigid hierarchy of political power is otherwise maintained. The stigma of ‘liberalism’ has largely come about because of these anti-egalitarians co-opting liberal rhetoric, while endlessly punching left and pushing the Overton window right. But as I’d note, these DNC elites are to the right of the American majority on many major issues. So, even though, the reactionary mind isn’t limited to the far right extreme, it typically is more prevalent on the broad right, at least in the Western world of capitalist realism.

    It is true that authoritarianism is found in higher rates on the ‘left’ in former Soviet states. But such supposed ‘leftist’ authoritarianism was always associated with social conservatism; just look at how the Soviets tended to persecute the same people as the Nazis; including labor unionists, socialists, Marxists, Trotskyists, anarchists, syndicalists, and the original left-libertarians; along with persecuting feminists, libertines, free speech advocates, avant garde artist, minorities, religious dissenters, etc. Interestingly, research shows that, with high rates of parasite load and pathogen exposure (real or imagined), there is an increase in the rates of both authoritarianism and social conservatism.

    The thing is SDO in general, according to studies, is strongly linked to Machiavellianism, whether overt manipulation or more subtle Nudge. In both cases, it lends itself to a reactionary mentality and worldview, rhetoric and behavior; as seen with how effective co-opting can be for perception management and social control, by simultaneously defusing the tools used by the other side and using them for one’s own purposes. This can become such a potent political force because SDOs are talented at manipulating right-wing authoritarians (RWA) most of all, largely because RWAs want to be manipulated. The leaders of far right groups are often Double Highs, a combo of SDO and RWA.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s