Books

Star Wars Thrawn — Book 2 — Alliances by Timothy Zahn

The second book in the new Thrawn saga and it changes the tone a bit. It runs in two timelines parallel, one where Thrown and Anakin are going on an adventure, and a second, “present” timeline where Darth Vader and Thrawn are serving the Republic and the emperor.

I found the book a bit less engaging than the first one and thought the pacing was somewhat less tight. It also probably doesn’t help that I didn’t really care much about the Anakin story line, not so much because it was boring but the character of Anakin I just never really warmed up to.

Rating: 3.5/5

Star Wars Thrawn — Book 3 — Treason by Timothy Zahn

Where as the second book in the series had lost me a bit, this one I actually enjoyed quite a bit more. In no small part because we are focussing a bit more on Thrawn and his tactical genius than Anakin.

Rating: 4/5

The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It's Broken — By Secret Barrister

A few years ago at a bar I met a prosecutor here in BC and we started talking a bit about his job. I was curious because at that time Stephen Harper was on one of his “law and order” crusades, promising new, tougher laws and more money for police. It struck as weird that we only ever seem to care about that end of justice. The guy I spoke with pretty much confirmed my impressions, that the courts and prosecution generally were struggling and overloaded, yet, rarely do you read in the news that they are hiring more judges or providing more funding for the prosecution.

The Secret Barrister is not about the BC justice system, but rather the one in England. It is written by, well, a barrister (lawyer in North America) and is a pretty brutal take down of the same political language you hear in Canada all the time. How courts are too lenient, how criminals go free etc. He digs into these headlines, explains the principal of the laws and shows how English courts and prosecutors are understaffed and underfinanced.

This all cannot be transplanted one on one into Canada but the common law system is similar, a lot of the underlying legal principals apply here as well and it quite an eye opening read.

If there’s a secret lawyer out there in BC, take this book as inspiration and write one for the local audience.

Rating: 5/5

It Came from Something Awful: How a Toxic Troll Army Accidentally Memed Donald Trump into Office — By Dale Beran

Ah, the internet. A place of puppy pictures and… Oh, hold on. No not really.

Like everywhere else, the internet has both nice and not so nice places. In “It came from Something Awful” Dale Beran takes a closer look at what a lot of people would describe “troll forums”. 4Chan et. al. are known to many more people now than before Trump became president. But this “seedy underbelly” has existed for quite a long time.

In fact, the title itself is a bit of a double entendre. Before there was 4Chan there was a forum called “Something Awful” and although compared to what the Chans grew into it was tame by comparison, the signs were already there.

It is an interesting read to get an overview over one slice of internet sub-culture.

Did the Internet create Donald Trump? I think that is an interesting question. The book tries to make that claim pretty strongly. I am not fully convinced of this. I think forums like 4Chan can be re-enforcing though. Where you are in an echo chamber and only hear the same things over and over again. Is this enough though to turn a whole country suddenly to the dark side?

Rating: 4/5

Safehold — Book 7 — Like a Mighty Army by David Weber

I continue to enjoy the Safehold series. Things seem to have gotten now to the point where they are “self-running” in that both sides of the conflict are in a race to try and develop the technologies they need to win the war while also trying to make sure they can actually economically survive it.

What I find myself greatly enjoying is that Weber goes to great length to explain how these new technologies come to be and how they work. From breach locks to canal locks, he spends a lot of time making sure the reader understands the technological developments.

Rating: 4.5/5

Greenzone War — Books 1 - 4 by Jake Elwood

I had this series on my list for a while. It is, by and large, a pretty bog standard Military Sci-Fi series. A kind of underdog hero that through circumstances gets pushed into heroic deeds.

It is competently written, with likeable characters but there isn’t really anything unique about the story line. It makes for a nice, light summer reading.

Rating: 3.5/5

Expeditionary Force — Book 8 — Armageddon by Craig Alanson

This is probably one of my favourite SciFi series out there and I am always looking forward to the next book in the series.

This though was quite a bit darker and grittier than previous ones. The title of the book is pretty much program. The “Merry Band of Pirates” has to overcome the odds once more and this time it comes at a high price.

What impresses me with Alanson is that even eight books into the series it still feels fresh and not like we are treating over the same area again and again. In part I think it is because the main characters actually do develop throughout the books and the canvass he is painting on is big enough to keep it enjoyable.

Rating: 5/5

The Fixer — Book 6 — Head Space by Andrew Vaillencourt

This had slipped under my radar when it was first published, but like last month’s entry this is another series I greatly do enjoy. The book starts with a failed assassination that then very quickly goes much much deeper. We finally get a “peek behind the curtain”, we learn who is trying to take Roland out and why and, I admit, I did not quite expect who that turns out to be.

Rating: 4/5

Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World by Timothy Morton

How to review a philosophy book? I think the only way I can go about it is by giving you the Wikipedia entry on the topic.

I found the book interesting in that he gave name to something I sort of “saw” as well, though I didn’t really think that deeply about it as Morton does and in the end I found it interesting that the best way he could “translate” a hyperobject into our world was through art.

I do not fully agree with his whole definition, namely that hyperobjects are “new” and part of the enlightenment. For me, these things always exist, it’s just that we lacked the context to recognize them (if that makes any sense).

As to what a Hyperobject is, I let Wikipedia to the talking:

In The Ecological Thought, Morton employed the term hyperobjects to describe objects that are so massively distributed in time and space as to transcend spatiotemporal specificity, such as global warming, styrofoam, and radioactive plutonium. He has subsequently enumerated five characteristics of hyperobjects:
Viscous: Hyperobjects adhere to any other object they touch, no matter how hard an object tries to resist. In this way, hyperobjects overrule ironic distance, meaning that the more an object tries to resist a hyperobject, the more glued to the hyperobject it becomes.
Molten: Hyperobjects are so massive that they refute the idea that spacetime is fixed, concrete, and consistent.
Nonlocal: Hyperobjects are massively distributed in time and space to the extent that their totality cannot be realized in any particular local manifestation. For example, global warming is a hyperobject which impacts meteorological conditions, such as tornado formation. According to Morton, though, entities don't feel global warming, but instead experience tornadoes as they cause damage in specific places. Thus, nonlocality describes the manner in which a hyperobject becomes more substantial than the local manifestations it produces.
Phased: Hyperobjects occupy a higher-dimensional space than other entities can normally perceive. Thus, hyperobjects appear to come and go in three-dimensional space, but would appear differently if an observer could have a higher multidimensional view.
Interobjective: Hyperobjects are formed by relations between more than one object. Consequently, entities are only able to perceive the imprint, or "footprint," of a hyperobject upon other objects, revealed as information. For example, global warming is formed by interactions between the sun, fossil fuels, and carbon dioxide, among other objects. Yet global warming is made apparent through emissions levels, temperature changes, and ocean levels, making it seem as if global warming is a product of scientific models, rather than an object that predates its own measurement.
According to Morton, hyperobjects not only become visible during an age of ecological crisis, but alert humans to the ecological dilemmas defining the age in which they live. Additionally, the existential capacity of hyperobjects to outlast a turn toward less materialistic cultural values, coupled with the threat many such objects pose toward organic matter (what Morton calls a "demonic inversion of the sacred substances of religion"), gives them a potential spiritual quality, in which their treatment by future societies may become indistinguishable from reverential care.

Rating: 5/5

Atomic Awakening by James Mahaffey

Atomic Awakening, written in 2009, chronicles the discover of the atom and how we tried to tame it and make it do our bitting via nuclear reactors. If you were curious how we ended up building nuclear reactors, and the missteps we took in their development, this book is rather fascinating.

As it was published in 2009 though, and it doesn’t seem to have been updated since, it does not account for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear reactor accident. Which does make his prediction at the end of a resurgence of civilian nuclear power a bit…. Well, miss I guess.

Rating: 4/5

Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World by Adam Tooze

It’s a bit hard to think that it’s been more than ten years since the US banks failed and almost a decade since the Euro crisis. So it was with interest that I read Tooze’s book where he makes a very convincing case that both crises are actually much more connected then one might think.

The book deals both with the causes and the responses to the two crisis and paints a pretty good picture were we are now.

Considering that we may be on the verge of another recession, this is a pretty timely reading.

Rating: 4.5/5

Movies

FAT - A Documentary

A nutrition. There is a lot of back and forth in the media, often with people claiming to have “the one truth”. Things like “superfoods” abound. Entire websites exist of that, not to mention lots and lots of books are written about this.

FAT is an interesting compilation of the argument that we should eat less carbs and more fat, with lots of interviews and examples. It is a pretty standard, modern, documentary similar to others about any other type of diet you can think of.

If you’re curious about the arguments by the pro-fat side but don’t want to read endless blog posts or dozens of books, this is a pretty good entry point.

Rating: 4/5

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Oh boy. This movie is a pretty good example of what is wrong with most modern Hollywood movies. Cut out baddies that really aren’t baddies and get a chance to redeem themselves at the end with a lot of drama for dramas sake. Mix in some really good special effects and monster designs and you get this.

I am not sure what it is, but it seems writers for Hollywood movies have all decided to phone in their stories while SFX, production designers, camera men and sometimes directors are doing a great job.

Come on Hollywood, you can do better.

Rating: 3/5

Active Measures

How did Trump happen? Active Measures takes a look at Russia under Putin and how he got involved in putting Trump into the Whitehouse.

There are some interesting things being tied together. I think the question at the end of the day is if people actually care or if they appreciate a helping hand.

The documentary itself is competently made and the dots they connect make sense. But from a viewer perspective it will also come down to what you want to believe.

Rating: 4/5

Men In Black: International

Another entry in the “Hollywood is out of ideas” folder. The last MIB movie was a pretty lacklustre affaire, this one though actually does have a bit more legs and is actually enjoyable at times.

Still though. I do not think it can really capture the magic of the original one with Will Smith. Overall, enjoyable though.

Rating: 4/5

Avengers: Endgame

I said this before with “Captain Marvel” that I am pretty superheroed out (exception: “The Boys”) and the only rational I can give why I watched it was as a kind of “compeltionist” thing.

Once again, it is a “paint by numbers” kinda deal for me and in the end I didn’t really care about any of this. At three hours it’s also an extremely long movie.

I am not going to give it a rating here, in the end, if you do like the MCU you, then you’ll enjoy it.

If, like me, you are a bit tired of it, save yourself the three hours and do something more enjoyable.

John Wick: Parabellum

A good entry into the series and I am happy to see that #4 is already in the making.

If I had to criticize one thing it is a fight scene early on, where the flow seems to be all wrong. I re-watched the scene trying to figure out why it felt off and it seems to be down to this being the only scene where they try to incorporate two dogs into it and it breaks the flow as they seem to have to set the dogs up only for specific scenes. So the dynamic of the fight goes away. Shame really.

Otherwise though a good entry in the series.

Rating: 4.5/5

US

RedLetterMedia mentioned and recommended it and I would have to say I agree. It is not an overly scary or violent movie, but it has just enough of both to keep you engaged.

Rating: 4/5

TV

The Boys - Season 1 (2019)

I have been a fan of Garth Ennis’ comics for almost two decades. “The Boys” was, like “Preacher” the kind of comic I couldn’t really see being turned into TV but the same team managed.

I greatly enjoyed the first three seasons of “Preacher” and the fourth and final one is starting this month and runs until the end of September. I will review.

But on to “The Boys”. The concept is essentially a “dark Avengers” kind of worked. The Anti-Marvel world where Superheroes are in it for the money and the glory. They are as, if not more corrupt than the criminals they claim to fight.

Ellis’ books have a tendency to be incredibly violent and graphical and translating that onto the screen is a challenge, so on that end the show is a bit toned down. But the overall menace, violence and arrogance of the people involved is still around and still keeps giving you a good feeling as to the world you are watching.

“The Boys” was not on my radar, so it was a pleasant surprise when it dropped on Amazon video. Definitely a recommended watch:

Here’s RedLetterMedia’s discussion around this:

Rating: 4.5/5

Music

Chill Collins: An Ambient Tribute to Phil Collins

Above & Beyond: Flow State

Above & Beyond has created a yoga soundtrack. It probably was only a question of time before they would, as they already curate a playlist on Deezer for Yoga & Meditation.

TOOL: Fear Inoculum

It’s been more than ten years. But finally….

Interesting Reads

Case Nightmare Blonde by Charlie Stross

Charlie Stross on what is currently going on in the UK. An interesting, if depressing read.

Internet Videos

CRINGE AND WHINGE | A Book Review of Trigger Warning by William Johnstone

Best of the Worst — Petey Wheatstraw

Techmoan: It’s not a cassette - So what is it?

Miles Power: Chiropractic: Quackery Hiding in Plain Sight

Philosophy Tube: Climate Grief

Lucas the Spider — Anybody Home?