Book Review: Ancillary Mercy


Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very fitting conclusion to one of my favorite sci-fi series. I know some readers of this series were expecting something more of a grand space opera, with Breq perhaps flying across Radch space to end the wrongs of Anaander Mianaai.

That isn't going to happen here and scope and scale of something so large is unfeasible. Instead the story backs off, and focuses more on the specifics. It is telling Breq's story after all, not the story of the Radch. Through that story we get to see the growth and development of Breq becoming the person that she her self cannot admit that she is. It is that point that the rest of the story hinges upon, and really what so many good sci fi stories do hinge upon. They take a character's personal instances and struggles and extrapolate them out to the broader society in question. In this case that question is, is an AI a "person"? The culmination of this trilogy leads us to that point and question and ends not with the answer, but the posing of the question. Some may find that unsatisfying and to an extent, it is. But we are left with the satisfaction of Breq and her position in the world and that her crew and everyone she comes across does care about her.

I came away incredibly satisfied with Breq as a character and would put her right up there as one of the best written sci fi captains. She is cold, calculating and often times hard on those around her, but incredibly fair. That doesn't mean she isn't emotional. We see quite a bit of emotion internally and it is seen in her actions and care for the citizens of the Radch. She is undoubtedly exactly the type of captain you would want on a military ship and one to lead you into an impossible situation.

I also am completely enamored with the writing of the crew and the Left Lieutenants. It is remarkable to me how much the crew truly cares for their obviously flawed Left Lieutenants. They want to see them succeed in almost every situation. They stand up when need and care for them when it is required. In turn, we see the Lieutenants also reciprocate in their own way. And as always, the propriety of the Radch has captured me to no end. This is a series I would love to see some costume and art designers take a crack at. The gender neutral pronouns used in the culture lend me to believe that this is a society that itself has a gender neutral outward appearance. The descriptions of Radch citizens wearing gloves and jewelry stirs my imagination. Ann Leckie herself has a Q/A post over on Goodreads.com that I will quote.

"...I don't think I've ever said that Radchaai are gender neutral--just that they really don't care about anyone's gender, and don't mark it socially or linguistically... it's not really a thing they care much about. They care about it, maybe, as much as we care about hair color.

[I] think it's worth considering...how much of what we consider to be "obvious" about someone's gender when we look at them is actually a set of social cues. Hairstyle, kinds of clothes, even certain colors of clothing. Ways of standing or moving. These can change from culture to culture, or even from decade to decade (just a couple hundred years ago, high heels and hose were a guy thing. Less than a hundred years ago, pink was a "boy" color.)... And consider that while quite a lot of people will say that one's genitals are the defining element of one's gender, we very rarely see the genitals of the people we quite automatically assign gender to. We're not actually gendering the people around us based on their genitals. We're making assumptions about their genitals based on a complicated mass of social cues."

With that, I will say that I hope we get more from this series and this world and could you please prepare some tea.

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Book Review: The Monsters Know What They Are Doing

The Monsters Know What They're Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters by Keith Ammann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a really hard book to rate. It isn't a book of stories or any narrative really. It is a collection of blog posts that provide a description/recommendation on how to run each monster in D&D. On that front this book is very successful. The insight and writing is very well put together and I really learned quite a bit on how to approach encounters.

The real complaint I have with this book is the formatting and layout. This is really a reference book. Unfortunately, the layout and formatting doesn't lend it to be used as a reference book. The book is laid out in "chapters" and a narrative style. I think if the book was formatted more in a dictionary format, two columns per page and with an in-depth index, this could be infinitely more useful for Dungeon Masters to utilize.

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Book Review - Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book should have been called "Plymouth: A Story of Courage, Community, and War.

This was a well written narrative that chronicles the pilgrims, and their founding of the Plymouth colony through the first generation of settlers and King Phillp's War. This was an interesting interpretation of that moment in history. The story was written with enough intrigue and character development to keep you going through what amounts to be a very detailed description of the events. It is apparent that the English settlers did an excellent job of keeping diaries and other records of their struggles and trials.

It is important to note though that these accounts are largely from one perspective, and the book acknowledges that while even going so far as to try and provide logically explained reasons or alternatives to some actions.

Overall, a great read, especially if you are looking for an in-depth (sometimes too much so) description of the first decades of Plymouth and New England.


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Music Listening: AAC - Liam Gallagher - As You Were

Oasis is (was), hands down, my favorite rock band. Its ironic that I like them as much as I do considering I really do not like the Beatles at all. Oasis is as close as you are going to get to a Beatles sounding band without being an actual cover band. For those of you out there who are Oasis fans, you are well acquainted with the long standing feud between the Gallagher brothers. They are in short assholes and they are assholes to each other. Liam, the lead singer, developed an almost historic reputation for his antics and the journey that was Oasis came to an end around 2008.

All of the band member's have experimented with projects for the past decade, but we not have before us Liam's first solo album. I have always been able to enjoy his and Oasis' music without having to like the member's personally. I don't need to be friends with them, so what they do with their personal antics are of no concern to me. 

This album is pretty much exactly what you expect it to be. It sounds like Oasis, and for me that is just find. Some good, solid brit rock is always welcome. The opening track "Wall of Glass" is a great sounding song that captures that glimmer of Oasis and Liam. That quintessential Oasis guitar riff is featured right there while the track opens. 

The rest of the album is good, but doesn't really present any truly memorable songs. If you are an Oasis fan, like me, then you will probably love this album. It is good to have fresh album in my library with this sound. For everyone else out there, I would say check it out. It is sort of like how the new U2 albums are. When you listen to them they are all solid albums and well produced, but not necessarily "memorable". 

Matt's Reading Suggestions for Political Theory

You won't often see me get onto a soapbox on my blog here, but with the whole political atmosphere as of late I have seen too many posts on social media and elsewhere from people who have taken a few words from a political philosophy, put it onto a meme and then expanded that to encapsulate and summarize what an entire political theory is. That sort of stuff annoys me to no end. If one wants to disagree with a political ideology they should take the time to try and understand what that theory is, where it came from and why it's ideals came to be where they are. 

My undergraduate degree was political theory, and while that seems like a sort of useless degree to have in a practical world, I feel like being exposed and reading the works of political theorists has made me an extremely well rounded person and one who can empathize with various points of view. These political theories, philosophies, and movements were born out of a need. They didn't just spring up out of nowhere so there is always at least some degree of legitimacy to what they are trying to convey. Some, in fact many have not stood the test of time, while others ebb and flow in their prominence around the world depending upon various political and socio-economic conditions in the world. While none of them are the Truth, all of them hold some bit of truth and reasoning for why individuals and societies believe what they may believe. 

So with that in mind, I am going to outline a couple of the works that I have found to be the most influential upon me. Hopefully, you will read some of these yourselves. And please, in the future, don't just Google something and take the first sentence or two of Wikipedia and use that as your education on a topic. All of the books here also have volumes of work worth of discussion and critique upon them so I won't go and try to summarize in detail what they are about. Instead I'll try to mention the main topic from each book that is typically drawn out and discussed in conversations.  

Most of the books I will recommend are probably in the public domain, so I will try to link to their ebook and if it is available the audiobook. 

Finally, before I get into my list I want to point everyone to another resource which i feel is way more useful than Wikipedia for a lot of these topics. The Internet Encyclopedia or Philosophy, is a great place to go if you need to get your summarized version for some of these books. Most of these are going to be hard to read so some sort of companion is truly helpful.