February 2020 Culture and Media Review

February 2020 Culture and Media Review


Geostorm series (Book 1 - 3) by Bobby Akart

Back in December I read Akart’s “Pandemic” series and though it was okay for the first 1 1/2 books before it became boring and in general was rather cookie cutter.

Unfortunately with Geostorm there aren’t really any redeeming qualities. There’s a fourth book in the series but I am not going to bother.

Akart likes to claim that he works with scientists to “get the stuff right” in his book, but much of what he describes sounds wrong to me based on what I know about the material, and I don’t mean small little things, but often entire concepts.

At the end of the day Akarts book is jerk off material for “survivors” and “preppers” you know, the guys who dig themselves a doomsday bunker under their house thinking after six months things will be fine and because they’re such badasses they will survive while the rest will perish in the meantime.

I am okay with these kinds of books, they can be fun, but the problem with Akart is that he isn’t really a very imaginative writer either, he’s very cookie cutter and works from the same template for all his books. He could do a search and replace for what is causing the end of the world this time and could probably publish a book every other week.

Rating: 1/5

Soldiers of Earthrise - Book 1 - The Earthling by Daniel Arenson

I read the original Earthrise series a few years ago and greatly enjoyed the first trilogies in the series, but by the third it…. Got a bit out there.

There also has been another spin-off series called “Children of Earthrise” which I didn’t really manage to get past the first two books or so, and now there’s “Soldiers of Earthrise” which is set in the same universe but a few hundred years after the original trilogy and….

Well, it’s more of the same. Arenson has a distinct style in his story telling, it’s this weird combination of military sci-fi with interpersonal relationships. Alas, he suffers from following pretty predictable paths. The way he introduces characters you know exactly how their arc will develop and this is already apparent in the first book of the series.

I will probably give the second book a shot as well, but I think I have to admit to myself as much as I like a lot of his world and the view he takes the characters and their stories just aren’t grabbing me.

Rating: 3/5

Lost Starship - Book 10 - The Lost Supernova by Vaughn Heppner

This has been another long running series that I think is quickly passing it’s best-by date. The concept is interesting, but the feeling I am getting is that Heppner has run out of ideas and either doesn’t know how to bring the story to a close or doesn’t want to end it because the books sell well enough.

Either way, I have the next one in the queue and will probably get to it next month, but this one wasn’t really having me at the edge of my seat.

Rating: 2.5/5

Opus - Book 3 - Investigating Deceit by Michael Anderle

Opus continues to be enjoyable. Anderle manages to continue to expand on the universe he created and there remains enough of a hint at the bigger mystery that I want to find out more.

Looking forward to the next one.

Rating: 4/5

Undying Mercenaries - Book 13 - Glass World by B. V. Larson

Whereas the Lost Starship series is quickly losing me, Undying Mercenaries still keeps me entertained. I think it is the combination of a snarky character and an entire universe he gets to play in with no risk of death. In fact, death is expected if not outright encouraged. Couple this with interesting political manoeuvring of the higher ups and you get an entertaining story out of it.

There isn’t really a massive overarching story, at least not right now, it feels a bit like in no-mans land. But it fits the story so far and there is a sense that it is all building up to something bigger.

Greatly enjoyed it, it makes for a quick and entertaining read.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Finance Curse: How Global Finance is making us all poorer by Nicholas Shaxson

If you think things are going wrong financially this is the book for you. Shaxson is British based and it shows in his writing. It’s dry humour used to devastating effect all the while being insightful.

I probably enjoyed this more than I should have, considering the topic.

Rating: 5/5

The Cockroach by Ian McEwan

I have been a fan of Ian McEwan for almost 20 years and his novella “The Cockroach” is a biting look at Brexit and how it happened. It came out without much announcement late last year and I think McEwan really just wrote his own frustration outs on paper. It’s definitely a nod to Kafka on some level and the general absurdity that is BREXIT and British politics at the moment.

Rating: 4.5/5

Owner - Book 3 - Jupiter War by Neal Asher

This was a bit of a let down after the first two books which I greatly enjoyed. The whole thing felt slightly rushed and a bit as if Asher didn’t necessarily know how to bring it all to a satisfying conclusion.

It does get concluded though, though with enough openness to allow him to revisit if he wants to.

Rating: 3/5

This is not Propaganda - Adventures in the War against Reality by Peter Pomerantsev

Since 2016 a lot of attention has been heaped on Russia and how social media can be weaponized. Not that anybody has yet figured out how to sort this out. Pomerantsev’s book is an interesting trip to the front lines of this “war” and how we got there.

If you’re curious as to what might happen in the 2020 US Presidential Election (or why), this is def. worth a read.

Rating: 4.5/5

Culture - Book 4 - The State of the Art by Iain M. Banks

This departs slightly from the other Culture novels I have read so far. Mostly in that is the titular novella and a collection of short stories. It is an interesting, quick, prism into the culture world and much less dense than the other novels so far.

Although this is the fourth book in the series, and why I read it now, I would almost recommend it as an entry point to the series as you get a pretty broad view the Culture and Banks’ universe as a whole.

Rating: 4/5

Galactic Startup - Book 3 - Shadows by Brian Whiting

Another series I am done with. I greatly enjoyed the first book and it looked like an interesting “boostrap yourself into the universe” kind of series. Alas, it lost me. It’s… pretty boring to me most of the time. The conflicts feel forced and so do most of the character actions. Bummer really. Had potential.

Rating: 2.5/5

The Problem with Everything, my Journey Through the New Culture Wars by Meghan Daum

This was somewhat refreshing. If for no other reason than that many of my own observations were echoed here, albeit from a Feminist / female perspective.

My main thinking about all of this right now is really that it is a generational and social media thing.

Generational, in that when you’re young you have a much different look at the world. A social media thing because in the past these views were constantly challenged by the people around you. With social media though you can find all the people that think like you. The whole tribalism argument / observation.

The end result is that you will never have to change your view / approach to things because you will always find people that will agree with you.

The book doesn’t really provide any solutions, it really is just the story of someone who tries to understand what happened.

Rating: 4/5

Treasure Islands - Uncovering the damage of the offshore banking and tax havens by Nicholas Shaxson

This one predates “The Finance Curse” and boy, this was a bit of an eye opener. If for no other reason than that the role that the UK plays in the international financial market, especially when it comes to deregulation, is quite… astonishing.

It makes me wonder just how much of that really drove BREXIT. There have been rumblings that much of BREXIT was driven by the well monied who tried to keep the EU out of their pockets with regulations etc. and since 2008 there have been repeated clashes between the UK Governments and the rest of the EU over how the financial markets should be regulated.

Shaxson still uses his British sense of humour to write entertainingly. But if you really want to get angry, just read both of his books.

Rating: 4.5/5

You look like a thing and I love you by Janelle Shane

I came across this in a podcast from the BBC and it’s definitely worth a read. When it comes to AI a lot is promised and this book makes it clear just how hard AI is and how far we are to have a “universal AI” and even the more narrow ones we have suffer from serious short comings.

Shane writes entertainingly and with a sense of humour when she describes the weird and unexpected failings of modern AI systems and why we’re probably going to have to wait a whole lot longer before HAL flies us to Jupiter.

Rating: 4.5/5

Galaxy’s Edge - Savage Wars - Book 1 by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole

Two years ago I stumbled across the Galaxy’s Edge series. A pretty hardcore Military-SciFi series / not so subtle social commentary. But entertainingly written with interesting characters and even the cannon fodder feels real.

During the series a lot was hinted at “The Savage Wars” that lead the foundation to the societal order that dominates during the Galaxy’s Edge series but not a whole lot of details were provided.

So I am actually quite happy that they decided to go “back to the beginning” and actually tell the history of the Savage Wars and the first book does not disappoint. Like in the original series it’s about war, it is brutal and at the same time highly entertaining.

Some of the core background characters from the original series are introduced as well, though rather late in the first book, which I am okay with. I am really looking forward to the next book in the series.

Rating: 5/5


Servant (2019)

I just started watching this with a bit of hesitancy because it was billed as a M. Night Shyamalan series and…. Well, I never really was a big fan of his but it turns out Servant is actually decent.

It is a quiet thriller, mostly set in the house and the creepiness is always in the background. The main characters are…. Convenient, but if you can ignore that aspect it is nicely shot and the story itself is creepy without being stupid.

I am curious to see where season 2 takes this.

Rating: 4/5

Star Wars Resistance - Season 1 (2018)

I watched this out of curiosity as I liked the animation style. It is a kids series no doubt and that reflects in the characters and some of the more simplistic stories. But what the series does manage is to at least get the Star Wars feel right, unlike a lot of the other recent Star Wars stuff (notable exception: The Mandalorian).

It’s fun, if not deep and at this point in the life of the Star Wars franchise it’s more than I hoped for.

Rating: 3.5/5

James May - Our Man in Japan (2020)

James May is entertaining, if for no other reason than that when he does stuff like this he is genuinely interested in what he does about. It’s not about “showing off”, but rather showing the viewer and discovering with him.

I wouldn’t mind him doing a travel log for other countries in the future. He has the ability to find all the quirkiness in the places he visits.

Rating: 4.5/5

Babylon Berlin - Season 3

This was good. The swinging 20s are back and this time the film industry gets involved.

It is one of these shows that you are either drawn too or not, but they picked up where they left off at the end of season 2 and I am really looking forward to season 4 now.

Rating: 4.5/5

Mad About You (2019)

I did enjoy the original series back in the ‘90s so I was curious to see how they “revive” it 20 years later.

The good news is that they actually did project their life forward 20 years and “pick up where they left off” and it is entertaining enough. Does it need another season or two? Maybe, but as a “one off” follow up? Enjoyable.

Just one thing I have to point out: Helen Hunt looks like Odo and it’s just…. weird….

Rating: 4/5


Ford v Ferrari (2019)

This was really good. I had watched the documentary about this a few years ago and before I saw the trailer I thought this was just the Hollywood remake of it… Well, not quite. This is really more about the personalities who made it happen and it was good.

If you’re interested in cars in any way this is really recommended.

Rating: 4.5/5

Fat-topia (2018)

This was entertaining. Mostly because I encountered a lot of the HAES and Fat acceptance types five or so years ago when I started going on my journey to become fit again.

It is a really weird sub-culture and I think more people should be aware of it.

Rating: 4/5

Knives Out (2019)

This was probably more entertaining than it should have been. A good old “whodunit” movie with quirky characters and sets.

Is it Oscar worthy? No. But entertaining none-the-less.

Rating: 4/5

Jojo Rabbit (2020)

This was good. By all accounts a kid having Adolph Hitler as an imaginary friend should not be that funny and it shouldn’t work, but it does. It is well acted and although there are many bitter-sweet moments overall it is an upbeat / positive film.

Rating: 4.5/5


A Strangely Isolate Place Mix 96: bvdub: Obelisks in Onyx

Skunk Annie - This Means War

Agnes Obel - Myopia

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Why Gas Engines Are Far From Dead - Biggest EV Problems

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Why are car manufacturers still improving and spending money on combustion engines in the year 2020? Should all development research be going into electric cars and electric vehicle technology? Unfortunate news if you think ICE transportation is going away in the near future to be solely replaced by electric vehicles (EVs).
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Meat: Grows the Brain or Rusts the Body?

The Magnetic Tape Viewer - see the sound on a tape

An intriguing piece of retro gadgetry that lets you view the magnetic patterns recorded on tape.

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