Forging Zero – TwoMorePages Book Review

Forging Zero – TwoMorePages Book Review

Well this is interesting. I simultaneously love and hate this book. Why love? Because the main character was well written – the way he reacted to the things that happened to him were believable, and well described, and I felt very invested in his character.

Why hate? At the end, THE STORY DIDN’T MAKE ANY SENSE. FORMER ENEMIES ARE NOW FRIENDS. AND FRIENDS ARE NOW ENEMIES (SOMETIMES). AND I DON’T REALLY UNDERSTAND THE MOTIVATIONS OF SEVERAL CHARACTERS.. And to be honest, a lot of the conflict at the end was a pure idiot plot – a plot that only occurred because everyone involved is an idiot. The problems created could have been solved with a simple conversation, but noooo, lots of people had to die instead.

So um, yeah, let’s dissect this book.

Choe

So, the positives – the protagonist, Joe, is very, very well written. If you read reviews about Sara King’s books, you’ll find this is common praise. She writes character driven books very well.

Her descriptions of how he tried to deal with his claustrophobia, of how he felt about taking his brother’s place in the draft, of how he felt about taking care of his groundteam – they were all wonderfully written. I was heavily invested in his growth. When he was anxious, I was anxious. When he was angry at something unjust happening to him, I was angry. When he was horrified about some of his friends getting killed (oftentimes in very gruesome or surprising ways), I was horrified.

His internal struggle about him being “the chosen one” to bring down Congress, and whether he wants it or not was interesting as well, albeit also a little frustrating. He starts off understandably very upset at Congress since they’re kidnapping every 5-12 year old on Earth and forcibly drafting them. Many of these kids end up dead, some in horrifying ways (getting eaten, getting shot in the head), so it’s easy to empathize why he would want to bring Congress down. While I personally don’t *really* understand how his feelings on this change through the story, it’s an interesting journey for him as the book goes on.

Idiot Plot (Things that don’t make sense)

So that all being said, I was very much enjoying this book right up until the last 10-20% of the book, where for me, shit fell off the rails and stopped making sense.

SO MANY QUESTIONS. NOBODY TO ASK. SO MUCH SHIT THAT DIDN’T MAKE SENSE.

Na’Aleen

So okay, there’s this guy, Na’Aleen. Up until now he’s very much acted like a bad guy. He’s one of the most powerful members of Congress, generally acts like a dick, and has been no friend to our protagonist, Joe. But wait, at the end, he’s leading the rebellion? How? What?

But okay, let’s just kind of go with it and assume he has his own reasons for hating Congress. (Btw, if everyone hates Congress, WHO LIKES IT AND WHY IS IT SO POWERFUL?!) In that case, why was he such a giant dick to Joe. He doesn’t ask for Joe’s help until he’s basically killed all of Joe’s friends. Yeah, that might disincent someone from helping you, especially that person who is supposed to…by himself…destroy Congress. You two probably have the same goals. When you first meet Joe, all he wants is to go home and he hates Congress. You could have just had a simple conversation with him and solved everything without murdering all his friends and turning him against you. Blah. Idiot plot.

Yuil and the Resistance

Speaking of Na’Aleen, so if he’s part of the resistance, then that means that anyone working under him is also part of the resistance. Which means that his assassin, the one who morphed into an Oorekei to hang out with Joe and try and sway him, works for him. Why not treat Joe better after knowing that Joe is trustworthy through this way? Why not clue him into the plan?

Nope, let’s definitely just wait until he kills several of our soldiers trying to break into a place *that we told him about*. And why did we tell him about it again? I don’t get it. NOTHING THE REBELS DO MAKES ANY SENSE. ALL YOU HAD TO DO IS TALK TO JOE.

Maggie

And okay, let’s talk about Maggie at the end, the only one of his ground team to survive. She’s been the 6 year old girl that he’s been protecting this entire time. Yeah, she’s artificially grown up now since the food they’ve been feeding the humans ages them to their prime more quickly, but she’s still basically his tiny little sister. And at the end, she hates him?

Idiot plot again. I get the misunderstanding that could happen – from her perspective, it looks like he didn’t help Libby and so got her killed. Then, weird aliens start shouting about how the prophecy says that Joe is the chosen one who will bring down Congress, and so she starts questioning his loyalty. Then, she freaks out and gets shot, presumably killed.

But since by a stroke of luck she’s alive, why doesn’t just GO TALK TO JOE afterwards instead of transferring from his ground team and hating him forever? Seems super stupid.

Alien fighting scale doesn’t stay constant

So let me get this straight. One Dasha can kill 8,000 Oorekei. One Oorekei is strong enough to probably kill 3-5 humans. The Jreet are the only species that can kill a Dasha one on one. But a Jreet can get killed by a human?

That shouldn’t be possible at all. They’re 40 feet tall and invisible, and based on the aforementioned power scale, it should take like 20,000 people to kill one Jreet since it would take about that many people to kill one Dasha.

But at the end, we’re mowing down Jreet like it’s going out of style. Invisible 40 foot reptile pteranodons and we’re killing them? What? How? Yes, lots of the kids are dying, but if the scale held true, ALL THE KIDS SHOULD BE DEAD. And the Jreet should be laughing.

Wait, I thought they were my friends/enemies?

Speaking of consistency, I can’t figure out who my friends are supposed to be or not. Khgil was my friend – he died because of some prophecy to save Joe*because he wants to bring down Congress*.

Nebil was his friend, and so I guess is Joe’s friend now? He treats Joe and his batallion very well, and is obviously the most competent battlemaster. He dies at the end PROTECTING CONGRESS???!!?! How in the…what? Shouldn’t we be on the same side as the resistance? Couldn’t we have just chatted and prevented this?

Tril has been an asshole this entire story to Joe the entire time. He keeps Joe from getting battlemaster for forever, is shown to be woefully incompetent at leading and seems to not care about getting his recruits killed for the sake of his pride. But at the end, he’s shown to be protecting Joe from people that want to arrest him? Kerswut?

NOTHING MAKES SENSE.

Conclusion

So yeah, I’m pretty frustrated. It’s not like the book was straight up bad. I was captivated, and very invested in the fate of Joe and his groundteam. So, great character writing there.

But the story goes so far off the rails at the end. And since I was expecting an awesome ending, I find myself extremely frustrated. NOTHING MAKES SENSE.

I’m very on the fence as to whether or not I’ll read the next book in the series. It looks like the story still centers around Joe (Zero), but 50 years into the future. I’m leaning no, but maybe I’ll calm down and give it a try. I’m already invested in this world anyway…? It took forever to learn all the different species names haha.

Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring – TwoMorePages Book Review

Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring – TwoMorePages Book Review

If you ask questions you are either a traitor, an infidel, or both. Fact checking authorities is looked upon as a form of mutiny against the country or against God. If you challenge those claims, you don’t like the country or you are misinformed by “mainstream media”, which is not telling you the “truth.”

Quick sanity check – do you think that the quote above references the current Egyptian dictatorship under Sissi or the current US government under Trump’s administration?

The correct answer is actually Egypt, but isn’t it weird that you have to think about it? Bassem Youssef’s book chronicling his adventures and experiences through not one BUT TWO revolutions in Egypt is a fantastic read. His insights into the kind of populism that led to a religious dictatorship, followed by the (totally not a coup?) military dictatorship are extremely intelligent and thought provoking.

He had to literally leave his country because he was going to get arrested and probably jailed forever (maybe executed?) for hosting an Arab version of the Daily Show that didn’t always show the Egyptian government in great light. It was literally the most popular show in Egypt at one point.

You know, after having read Trevor Noah’s book about growing up in Africa and then this book, I’m liking this whole “expand your horizons by reading about people who grew up in elsewhere in the world” thing.

I didn’t know that much about the Arab Spring when it happened, and I got really confused when I tried to learn more about it at the time. This is a fantastic recollection of how it went down in Egypt – first, describing the revolution that overthrew the existing 30 year dictatorship of Mubarak; then, describing how the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, two very different Islamic groups that hated each other, somehow came together to create a religious majority that made a government based on Sharia law under Morsi; then, describing how the military seized power from Morsi and instituted a fascist military dictatorship that entirely censored free speech afterwards.

I remember reading about the conundrum that the US faced at the time: if you don’t call it a coup, then you still have to give Egypt $1.5 billion in aid. If you call it a coup, well…then you have to recognize the not-peaceful seizure of power from what you considered the legitimate Egyptian government. And if that’s the case, how do you want to handle this on an international stage?

For the first time we didn’t make fun of the Islamists. I directed my sarcasm at the ”liberal” media now. I always felt it was my job to keep whoever was in power in check – and even though these people used to root for me and against the Islamists back in the day, they were now the ones fueling hate and racism.

Reading about Youssef’s struggles under both governments was eye opening. People that supported him when he was speaking out against the religious majority of Morsi’s government then turned around and attacked him when he pointed out the same inconsistencies of Sissi’s military government.

The same people who were attacking him under Morsi’s government and accusing him of being a “secret Christian traitor” were singing his praises under Sissi’s government. He was the same person criticizing the same things, but suddenly those people were 100% A-okay with him when the government they supported was gone. How weird is that?

Moreover, reading about how much worse Sissi’s militaristic regime was was crazy. He went into detail about how the government came out and said they had created a machine that could cure Hepatitis C, AIDS, and cancer. The machine would “take the virus away from the patient and return it to him in the form of a kabab sandwich.” Dude’s a heart surgeon; he knows that’s total bullshit, and yet when he says there’s no way that machine works, he’s called out as being a liar and that his information is fake. Sound familiar?

Obviously that machine didn’t work. Here was the climate in Egypt:

A 22 year old college student was arrested and sentenced to 3 years in jail for photoshopping Mickey Mouse ears onto Sissi’s head.

An Egyptian judge sentenced FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE TO DEATH for killing ONE police officer. All of them were convicted of the same crime!

A British couple was captured and delivered to the police by “concerned citizens” in the subway who’d overheard the two talking in their own language, you know, English.

“The country is in a critical condition now and I can’t allow my channel to be part of this. We are thankful for what you have done in teh past; your contribution to enlighten people against Islamic fascism will not be forgotten. But Egypt doesn’t need you now.”

– Station Owner, shutting down Youssef’s show

He only got a few episodes into his show under the new Regime before the government *forced it off the air*, and he had to flee the country soon afterwards to prevent himself from “disappearing.”

In a time when I worry about whether or not free speech will truly remain free here in America, it’s sobering to think that free speech is not a given in lots of places in the world.

This is the road that I fear we’re going down here in the US currently. Hearing Sean Spicer literally say “We have a respect for the press when it comes to the government, that that is something you can’t ban an entity from. I think that is what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship” , and then turn around as White House Press Secretary a few months later and ban CNN from a white house press meeting is insane.

The parallels with what Youssef’s stories in Egypt and what we saw here in the US are frightening. Who supported Morsi and Sissi in Egypt? Older, less educated people, who were easily manipulated and lied to because they are afraid of people different than them. Who supported/supports Trump? Pretty much the same demographic, except white and Christian this time instead of brown and Islamic. Facts need not enter the discussion – it’s all based on *feelings*.

It’s the same side of the same coin.

“Whenever his supporters were faced with facts and reality they would simply tell you that this is the talk of liberal media who hate Trump and who hate America.”

“But as I was inside the Republican convention it was deja vu for me…I would sometimes translate parts of their speeches in my head and they would sound exactly the same as the ones I heard back home. The fear, the xenophobia, the hate, they all came in different shapes and forms; only, they were wearing more expensive suits and had much pastier skin.”

“The (Egyptian) military supporters still lack any thoughts resembling logic. They are part of the same echo chamber you’d find yourself in if you attended a Trump rally: “Everyone is conspiring against us. They are out to get us, they hate us for our freedoms.”

So, reading this book was a little surreal for me. The same sense of awe that Youssef had regarding how he couldn’t believe the way the people around him were acting and voting is pretty much the same sense of awe that I have regarding people continue to support Trump.

The one perhaps positive difference? Trump’s approval ratings are historically low for a sitting US President in his first 100 days, so maybe people are coming around and thinking for themselves. They may be quiet about it (nobody likes admitting they were wrong), but that’s better than nothing. In comparison, all the Egyptian leaders were apparently extremely popular.

This was a really good read, and I’m glad that Youssef didn’t “disappear” back in Egypt, which looks like it could have been a distinct possibility *several* times.  I’ll definitely keep an eye out in the future for books like this that help give me more of a global perspective of the world.

Kingkiller Chronicle Trilogy – “The Name of the Wind” “A Wise Man’s Fear” by Patrick Rothfuss – TwoMorePages Book Review

Kingkiller Chronicle Trilogy – “The Name of the Wind” “A Wise Man’s Fear” by Patrick Rothfuss – TwoMorePages Book Review

2,000 pages. I just read TWO THOUSAND PAGES. What just happened? That’s as much as the first four The Expanse books put together.

So, sorry about the delay since my last book. I’ve been…busy.

In my defense, with the giant tone shifts in between parts of the book, it’s like I read several books, just all squished together into one overarching story. Let’s see, if I list them out, Kvothe’s adventures break down into little sections like this:

A. Life is great with my Edema Ruh family Troupe. I met my buddy Abernathy and he taught be basic sympathy.  It was awesome.

B. OH GOD EVERYONE’S DEAD. The Chandrian killed them all. How will I live? How will I eat? Spoilers: shittily.

C. Woohoo, I got into University. But I barely have any friends and 3 of the professors kind of hate me. On the plus side, I’m actually good at magic/sympathy, and also at music. Let’s get into trouble.

D. Woah, something crazy happened at the town over. I think it’s the Chandrian. Let’s go check it out…and…woah, Denna’s here. Oh shit, a draccus.

E. Shit, got into too much trouble, have to take the semester off. Went to an entirely different continent it seems like. Now I’m playing royal games with nobles.

F. Now I’m leading a mercenary crew. This is…interesting. Let’s go kill some folk. Or you know, try not to die at least.

G. Let’s hang out with Felurian in the Fae lands for awhile. This is kind of great. Well, except the part about the Chtaeh. We’ll just ignore that.

H. Oh shit, I got Tempi in trouble. Let’s try to un-fuck this situation up by going with him to Haert where the Adem mercenaries hang out. Oh, double shit. Well, I’m stuck here now.

I. Woohoo, not dead from the Adem. Double woohoo, I found an Edema Ruh Troupe to hang out with. Hey wait…Ruh don’t have slaves…

J. Got back to the University! I’m the shit; stories are being told about how awesome I am; I’m not poor anymore; I can fight; I can practice sympathy; I’m getting better at naming. Let’s just…finish the story here. No? This is a tragedy? Fuck.

Intertwined in this are side stories about old me in the present, telling this story; adventures antagonizing Ambrose; and me failing at courting Denna because I’m a goddamn idiot. Oh, and loan sharks/student loans – they’re bad, mmmkay? Well, sometimes at least.

Denna’s Plot

Truth be told, I actually really liked the plot lines involving Denna. Later on, I started getting the feeling that that specific plot started bordering on an Idiot Plot, but oh well. In the first book at least, the chapters I enjoyed the most in the book definitely involved Denna. Their playful flirting banter, how he was just so afraid to make a move, about how different their relationship was than any of Kvothe’s relationships to anyone else. I loved it all. I started to get a little more frustrated with it in the 2nd book, because I started truly believing that it was devolving to an idiot plot, but oh well. They were still good reads.

Favorite Subplots

I think my favorite subplot in this is his time in Ademre. I really liked the characters of Penthe and Vashet, and how he trained with them. Penthe especially: I loved the way she tried to learn Athuran with Kvothe and was really the person to be nicest to him in the entire community.

“Vashet told me barbarians have strange rituals with sex. She said I should bring you to some flowers. These are the best I could find this season.” -Penthe

Like how cute is that? haha. Especially when you consider that she could beat him to a pulp super easily. I hope we’ll spend more time with that world in Book 3, you know, if it ever comes out.

Following that, I also really liked the plot in the Fae. It was described well, and there were just enough confusing descriptions to really show how weird the Fae world was compared to our own, and to highlight how little Kvothe remembers of his time in the Fae world. Plus, this is when Kvothe gets to become a man, right? So woot.

Less Favorite Subplots

This is the end of the story, Bast…this is not a dashing romance. This is no fable where folk come back form the dead. It’s not a rousing epic meant to stir the blood. No. We all know what kind of story this is.” -Kvothe

In the opposite vein, I actually didn’t really like getting the main story interrupted by returning to “the present”, where Kvothe is currently struggling. There are so many unanswered questions that aren’t even really hinted at. How come he can’t practice sympathy anymore? Why does he suck at fighting now? Where is his sword, Saicere? Why is Bast his friend and why is Bast so invested in getting him un-depressed? It’s frustrating not knowing the answers to all of these questions, or even getting hints as to what happened.

I know that a large part of this is probably just that this brings the story down to its inevitable end: A Tragedy. And I don’t particularly enjoy tragedies. Truth be told, I probably will dislike a lot of Book 3 when it finally comes out because I’m getting the feeling that Book 2 ends at the apex of good things in Kvothe’s life. Shit has to happen for him to go from being on top of the world to being a depressed innkeeper in the present just waiting to die.

Other than that, I didn’t particularly like the Maer storyline either, to be honest. And perhaps this is just a credit to the author – if I feel frustrated at things that Kvothe is frustrated with, then perhaps the writing is so good that I’ve empathized so well with it. But yeah, he totally gets the shaft in that entire ordeal. He saves the Maer’s freaking life, and nobody can know?!?! Then, on top of that, he has to go and help the Maer woo this girl, which he does successfully, and then he gets cast out because she’s freaking racist? He risked his life multiple times for this; he got totally hosed on that deal, pffft.

Also, I think a little of what bothered me about reading it was the sudden and jarring tone shift. One second, he’s having adventures at the University, fucking with with Ambrose, and flirting with Denna. And then the next, he has to leave and he’s in this new land, with new characters and a totally different culture. It was rather abrupt for my taste, but perhaps that was the intention?

Devi

I obviously really liked Penthe, as you could tell from above, but there are some truly well fleshed out characters in this book.

“Suspect? I beat you like a red-headed stepchild. You were my little sympathy hand puppet!” -Devi

His loan shark / student loan offerer, Devi, for instance was a pretty interesting character. Here, you have a loan shark that doesn’t work on muscle; she works using the threat of malfeasance, and is actually quite nice to Kvothe overall. Well, except when he came and falsely accused her of hurting him, and tried to use sympathy to overpower her.

Her motivations are interesting, in that on the surface, she just wants exorbitant interest from Kvothe. But as you run through the story, you realize she really wants favors. It’s most apparent when Kvothe announces that he’s found a way to sneak into the archives, a place they’ve both been banned from.

“Forty talents. Guild rates. And I will take you to bed.” -Devi

I thought this was both insightful and hilarious when I first read it. This is when you first learn that maybe she wants more than money. She was banned from the University, but still wants to learn things on the down low, and is truly desperate to find a way how. Also, this is when you also learn that she’s nuanced – she can offer you money, she can cajole you, but she also is willing to use her attractiveness as well.

All in all, I think it makes her one of my favorite characters not named Kvothe.

Denna

“Once there was a boy who came to the water. This is the story of a girl who came to the water with the boy. They talked and the boy threw the stones as if casting them away from himself. The girl didn’t have any stones, so the boy gave her some. Then she gave herself to the boy, and he cast her away as he would a stone, unmindful of any falling she might feel.” -Denna

The other character I really liked was Denna. Kvothe spends a huge amount of time in the book struggling with his relationship with her. I think the parts involving Denna are very well written. The flirtatious banter they have is pretty fantastic and fun to read; their adventure together in the first book doubly so; and their serendipitous meetings over and over are fantastic.

I do worry that I only like her because Kvothe likes her so much though. When I think about it, her character isn’t super fleshed out beyond being *the* girl that Kvothe has a crush on. What do we know? She’s super attractive, super flirty, kind of poor, is a good musician, and (like Kvothe) doesn’t have a family.

The only time we really learn anything more about her past is through little snippets like her sad story above, or when she’s helping out the one girl who was just beaten by a guy she skipped town for. Then, we learn that she’s well versed in the art of whoring, and…well, we don’t technically know for sure, but as she stated, “Even the fanciest horse is still a horse. That means sooner or later, you’re going to get ridden.”

As far as I can tell, she probably left home awhile back for some boy, and he broke her heart. And ever since then, she’s been traveling, and trying to make her way on her looks. She would *prefer* to make it on her musical talent, and she’s working towards that, but that’s the state of affairs at the moment.

It’s kind of infuriating to me (and to Kvothe!) that she won’t take his help. We learn from the Chtaeh that her mystery patron beats her, and she thinks that all that she’s good for is being pretty and being beaten. But Kvothe back at the Maer’s place offered a way out of all that. And she said no because…pride? Bah.

Auri

“I have an apple that thinks it is a pear. And a bun that thinks it is a cat. And a lettuce that thinks it is a lettuce.” -Auri

The one character that kind of just exists in her own little world is Auri, the girl who has obviously cracked from being in the University, and who know basically lives a hippie/homeless existence underground. But we know a few things: she’s smart, she’s flighty, and she likes Kvothe.

One of the more touching scenes in the book is when she alone of all his friends comforts Kvothe the most when he’s inconsolable. It helps to show, not tell, how close the two are, even if not in a romantic sense. Also highlighting this well is how happy she is when Kvothe returns from his adventures back to the University.

 

“I know. You have a stone in your heart, and some days it’s so heavy there is nothing to be done. But you don’t have to be alone for it. you should have come to me. I understand.” – Auri

Her childlike innocence is endearing in so many ways. It’s easy to see why Kvothe empathizes with her so much and wants to just take care of her. It’s also interesting to note that Elodin feels the same way. She surely has a bigger part to play going forward. I just wonder what it is?

She has her own little book branched off from the main story apparently. I’ll probably pick it up.

Final Thoughts

When I first started reading this book, I thought it started off really slowly. *Too slowly* even. And I very nearly gave up. But I’m glad that my friend Arielle convinced me to keep going. The storytelling was fun, the different settings kept the story from getting stale, and the book evoked strong emotional responses as I related to Kvothe.

Was everything perfect? No. Sometimes I felt like things were in Kvothe’s way “just because.” For instance, I don’t really get why Hemme hates him so much. Carcaret’s hatred of him was kind of in a similar manner, but at least that’s explained later. But, with that being said, I can take small things like that as plot devices to move the story along, and am happy with the result overall.

Now I get to wait with everyone else who has been waiting since 2011 for the third book in this trilogy that closes the story arc. Or maybe I shouldn’t. I’m not a patient person, and I don’t like tragedy besides.

Can I just pretend this ended with “And then Kvothe lived happily ever after?” Maybe I’ll just do that.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah – TwoMorePages Book Review

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah – TwoMorePages Book Review

So I put off getting this book for a long time. “I’ll read something else first.” I said to myself. In fact, that’s how I ended up reading that Jon Stewart book about the Daily Show.

I strongly regret that decision now. This book was so entertaining, so fun and easy to read, that I finished it in 4 days while I was out on a ski vacation. I’d go skiing, then come back and read until dinner. IT WAS FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC.

And I learned so much about how different my life could have been. Trevor Noah is 33 years old. I’m 30. While I was playing with legos and watching Power Rangers here in Texas, thinking that racism is kind of dumb and that was totally normal, Trevor Noah was growing up in Apartheid and thinking “yes, of course the cities are segregated. It’s totally normal that my dad and mom have to pretend to *not be my dad and mom* because I’m mixed.”

Sometimes books open your eyes to different perspectives and enlarge the scope of your world view. This one did that, and did it while telling extremely entertaining stories.

 

Wait, what? That’s a thing? That sounds like something from the Hunger Games.

One of the takeaways that I’ll always remember from this book is the description of how Apartheid society worked. For instance, he described how there was one black settlement of about a million people with only one road in or out. That way, in case the people living there started getting a little too uppity and started protesting or something like that, the government could close the roads and bomb the settlement and people would have nowhere to run to. WHAAAT?! O.o

That sounds like something from some fictional dystopian future, not a description of the 1980s which I was alive for.

Another thing that I learned was that there weren’t just two groups, black and white, like I’ve tended to experience here in America. No, there was an entire other one – colored (or mixed). They had their own segregation and their own set of unique ways to be treated. If you were mixed, you belonged to *that* group and not necessarily just white or black, depending on which way the color of your skin skewed. It’s a trippy thing to think about, honestly.

I’ve experienced very little racism in my life, and I am super thankful for that. Seldom have I thought it held me back, except perhaps when it came to dating. I never even experienced the whole anti-asian bias that Universities are sometimes accused of having, since I got into both the University of Texas and the University of Wisconsin when I applied. So reading about the stark contrast between the way I grew up and the way Trevor grew up was jarring enough; reading about how he just kind of accepted it and rolled with it, like it was a 100% normal thing, was much more surreal.

 

How African racism is different from American racism

British racism said, “If the monkey can walk like a man and talk like a man, then perhaps he is a man.” Afrikaner racism said, “Why give a book to a monkey?”

In America you had the forced removal of the natives onto reservations coupled with slavery followed by segregation. Imagine all three of those things happening to the same group of people at the same time. That was apartheid.

It’s weird to think that racism has different forms. That the racism that a person could experience in one country could be different from one country to another. I always thought it was a binary kind of thing – either it existed or it didn’t. I never thought about shades of grey in racism itself.

What Trevor did a great job illustrating through his stories was just how much more severe the racism under apartheid was. Yes, you have discussion and discourse about how there is a cycle of poverty here in America (and about how black people tend to be stuck in it), and about how hard it is to escape it, but at least here I’ve never heard anyone outright say “Yeah, don’t even bother teaching those kids. They’re x race.” or “Yeah, you have to live in this neighborhood that we’ve set aside for you. You’re x race.

Yes, through social policies, black kids might be tracked to poorer public school and so would get less of an education. Yes, because it’s too expensive to live in certain areas, you may end up with de facto segregation like in Austin where everyone of a certain ethnicities tend to live in certain areas, but it’s never specifically defined in the law. There weren’t requirements for separate restrooms for whites, blacks, and colored folks.

Now, I hear the argument that perhaps the end result is the same or at the very least similar, but the fact remains that it was literally spelled out.

Growing up in the way I did, I learned how easy it is for white people to get comfortable with a system that awards them all the perks. I knew my cousins were getting beaten for things that I’d done, but I wasn’t interested in changing my grandmother’s perspective, because that would mean I’d get beaten too. Why would I do that? So that I’d feel better?

At that point, I didn’t think of the special treatment as having to do with color. It wasn’t, “Trevor doesn’t get beaten because Trevor is white.” It was, “Trevor doesn’t get beaten because Trevor is Trevor.”

-Trevor, on growing up as a mixed kid in a black family

The way he went on to describe the societal differences, even in black society was eye opening as well. The belief that black people were inherently inferior seemed ingrained into South Africa’s society. When he, as a mixed kid, was hanging out with his black family, even *they* treated him differently, but in a better way.

It’s not reverse-racism like you often hear about here in the US, where a white kid in a black community would be ostracized; it’s a literal continuation of “white is better” that the rest of his society was promoting. Weird.

And his commentary on how people who were treated better would react is spot on. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who society has decided to treat preferentially – why would you go out and change it? Indeed, you might not even understand why you were getting preferential treatment – you might think it’s just because *you specifically* are awesome.

I won’t lie. I feel like I’ve been in that spot before growing up. Sometimes it was getting to do something my sister couldn’t because I was a boy. Sometimes it was the luxury of knowing that I as a kid would get in less trouble than other kids because I was a better student. But at least in my mind, it was because I was awesome. Nothing more; nothing less.

 

Commentary on living in “the hood”

The hood made me realize that crime succeeds because crime does the one thing the government doesn’t do: crime cares. Crime is grassroots. Crime looks for the young kids who need support and a lifting hand. Crime offers internship programs and summer jobs and opportunities for advancement. Crime gets involved in the community. Crime doesn’t discriminate.

The hood has a gravitational pull. It never leaves you behind, but it also never lets you leaves.

-Trevor, on his experiences in the hood

One of the absolute best things this book did was give me a fresh perspective on things I had never experienced. I grew up in a pretty affluent neighborhood without wanting for anything monetarily, so experiences in Houston’s third ward are completely foreign to me. And here’s Trevor talking about his experience in South Africa’s version of it.

And he describes things so vividly it’s perfect. His thoughts on how the economy of the hood is perfectly evolved for its environment is intriguing – how it doesn’t discriminate; how when traditional employment fails, the hood provides ways for its members to provide for themselves economically, to survive.

But the way in which he described how it’s *extremely* difficult to leave is kind of terrifying. His recollection of one of his friends who got a legit job, but was peer pressured basically to quit it is sad. Crabs in a bucket, right?

 

Poignant Life Observations

They’re free, they’ve been taught how to fish, but no one will give them a fishing rod.

Trevor did a fantastic job of coming up with very eloquent ways to describe some of the life lessons he learned. The sentence above was him talking about how you can educate people, but if you don’t give them any opportunities to use that education, it doesn’t actually help.

He talked specifically about how he had the intelligence to do things, the drive to work hard, and the personality to sell things, but it was really only when his friend Andrew gave him his CD-writer that Trevor was able to utilize his skills to be productive, to do something with his life (even if it was just to create pirated CDs).

The more time I spent in jail, the more I realized that the law isn’t rational at all. It’s a lottery. What color is your skin? How much money do you have? Who’s your lawyer? Who’s the judge?

This is one thing I’ve only heard from other people’s stories, and that I believe is universally true, whether it’s here in America or South Africa. And the way that Trevor describes his time in jail is…a little horrifying.

He describes a huge hulk of a man who was in for stealing, but who couldn’t communicate with his guards or his defense lawyers, and so would probably not get to defend himself in court; one who was apparently not a violent criminal but was being treated as such because of the way he looked combined with the fact that nobody could understand what he was saying because he spoke a different language.

You hear stories from things like the Daily Show where poor people don’t know how to navigate the legal system and so get much harsher sentences; and you also hear through the grapevine of how people with money are able to successfully navigate their way through legal troubles and it’s…disheartening.

So yeah, I agree with you Trevor. The law is a lottery. And you get better tickets if you have money.

We live in a world where we don’t see the ramifications of what we do to others because we don’t live with them.

Trevor’s point when saying this was twofold. One, he said this is why ghettos were created, so that rich white people in South Africa would not have to see the poor black people that they were taking advantage of; But ALSO, two, it’s how he said everyone in the hood rationalized stealing. You weren’t stealing from a person, taking something and affecting their lives: you were just taking something that was there. It wasn’t until he got a camera with a family’s photos on it that he finally felt remorse for being complicit in stealing something.

I think this is a poignant life observation as well. It’s so much easier to get mad at someone else or trivialize their problems if you don’t have to see their face, to see them deal with the problems that you may have had a hand in. So if you really want to change a person’s mind on something that you think they’re doing, make them see the firsthand human results of what they’ve done. Don’t argue with them on the internet. It will be much more effective. Hopefully, this is a lesson I can take going forward in my life.

 

Fun, Fun Stories

“Yeah, she was super sad too, because she had such a crush on you. She was always waiting for you to ask her out. Okay, I gotta go to class! Bye!”

Reading back on what I’ve written, I make his book sound super preachy, and that does Trevor a disservice. Perhaps literally the best part about his book is that he wasn’t preachy about his overarching messages. This book was, first and foremost, “a collection of stories from growing up in Apartheid in South Africa.”

And boy were those stories so entertaining. Whether it was in the context of an overarching message he was trying to get across (like the ones I referenced above), or just about him regretting his inability to ask a girl out (quote above), they were genuinely funny and delightful.

I mean, yes, he’s a comedian, and maybe you should expect that, but his writing style was *on point*.

Fufi was my first heartbreak. No one has even betrayed me more than Fufi.

I believed that Fufi was my dog, but of course that wasn’t true. Fufi was a dog. I was  boy. We got along well. She happened to live in my house. That experience shaped what I’ve felt about relationships for the rest of my life: You do knot own the thing that you love.

His story regarding how his dog used to go and hang out with another family during the day was hilarious. And the life lesson that he was trying to convey with it is pretty good in the grand scheme of things.

Life lessons with funny stories? Yes please.

 

Slightly less funny stories

But the closing story of the book was honestly the most riveting. And it sucks that this isn’t some fictional story, because it would be way better if it is. He talked about how his mom’s abusive relationship with his stepdad, and about how said stepdad tried to kill his mom.

This was the story that he told mostly just as a story – no life lesson, no entertaining bit at the end. And it showed. He conveyed his tone so well, you could feel his anxiousness, feel his anger at the situation and how helpless he was about it.

For the life of me I could not understand why she wouldn’t do the same: leave. Just leave. Just fucking leave.

I won’t spoil the story in case you haven’t read it yet, but I know that feeling, where one of your friends/family is in a situation, partly of their own doing, and THEY WON’T STOP. You just want to yell at them to stop, but they won’t.

It’s infuriating, and you won’t understand. And that’s basically where Trevor was. That’s good writing to me.

 

Final Thoughts

I’m so glad I took the time to read this book. It was entertaining, had good life lessons with each story, and gave me insight into how other people grew up. Hell, other people *my age* grew up (Trevor is basically my age).

My only gripe would be that since it’s a collection of stories, Trevor’s age jumps around between the stories. He’ll be a high school graduate in one chapter, then you’ll jump to a new story and he’ll be 11. Sometimes that was jarring. But whatever, I’m sure that he put some thought into the ordering of the stories, and that was a small thing overall.

The little excerpts he put in between his chapters describing something in history I thought were perfect too. They set up the following chapters well, and were little bite size nuggets of wisdom.

This might be my favorite book that I’ve read so far this year. I loved it.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch – TwoMorePages Book Review

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch – TwoMorePages Book Review

Hoooh boy, that was a fun adventure. First off, kudos to my friend Arielle for coming up with this book with absolutely NO hesitation when I asked her what I should read next.

The twists and turns were amazing entertaining, as well as thought out and logical, and I am so happy I took the time to read this book.

 

That was…a thrilling rabbit hole we just fell through. Can’t talk more without spoiling shit, so HERE WE GO:

Twist #1

A fine, red mist blinds me for half a second, and Daniela sits on the sofa, a hole dead center between her big, dark eyes.

-The book

One moment, life is great, and aww, isn’t it cute that they still have all this chemistry in what looks to be an alternate universe and then… ‘Wait, that blood red mist is HER BLOOD?!’ AAAAGH

-Me

I am so glad I made you read that. 😛

-Arielle

Yeah, so this book was rather traumatizing at times. Thanks Arielle. Probably the best part about this book for me was the stuff that came out of left field while propelling the plot forward. It really gave you a sense of the confusion that the protagonist felt while trying to figure out what the hell was going on; and the shocking events that the book pivoted around were done so well that I was as surprised as I was during GoT during the Red Wedding or during the Viper v Mountain fight.

…also, just as horrified.

So the above reaction from me is when Daniela in the other universe gets SHOT IN THE HEAD with no warning or provocation, right after our protagonist finally seems to be a little happy again after getting transported to a world that he doesn’t seem to know and that he doesn’t understand. It did an exceptional job of highlighting the confusion that Jason was going through, and the panic running through his mind.

Before this, I had been wondering “Why did you flip out when you woke up in that lab and run away? Everyone was acting nicely to you; why didn’t you just explain and figure out what was going on?” but this flipped the entire script on its head for me, which set up the next part of the story really well.

Twist #2

Okay, so now we’ve established the guys at Velocity Labs are bad guys, and now they’re pissed at our protagonist. They’ve murdered our buddy Ryan, who incidentally, totally had it coming for his part in getting Daniela killed, pffft, and look like they’re about to kill us. We seem to have had some connection with this girl Amanda, who works for the labs, but whatever probably not important.

Except it is! She gets us out of here, we figure out that this box actually transports you to other alternate universes, and we start a brand new adventure!

Up to this point, I had entertained the notion that we were looking at alternate universes, and that he’d swapped with one of his other selves, but wasn’t 100% sure. Having it spelled out was a nice surprise, and boom, scoreboard? haha.

Reading Jason’s adventures was a fun story in and of itself, and his adventures changed the tone of the book to a slightly more hopeful, if increasingly desperate tone. No more running around, not really understanding what was going on; now we’re basically doing Sliders adventures trying to find our home universe.

Amanda

There’s a connection here, and it’s getting stronger every day. If I moved even an inch closer in her direction, we would do this. No question in my mind.

Some version of me certainly kissed her in this moment. Some version knows the answer. But it won’t be me.

-The book

Another great thing this book did was to raise the hopes of a reader for a specific outcome…that never happens. *sob*

Going through the different portal doors, we saw our protagonist, Jason, grow ever closer to his rescuer, Amanda. I thought the book was going to end in Jason never finding his home universe, but growing closer to his travel companion with each adventure and then…eventually accepting his fate and just living happily ever with Amanda. I mean, Daniela seems to be okay with imposter Jason; I suppose everyone could win if original Jason ends up with Amanda.

But nooooope! He has to blow it, and he almost gets her killed in the one universe that has a giant plague, as well as the one where everything has frozen over.

So…she eventually leaves him, and that just…broke my heart more than a little.

Twist #3

All your life you’re told you’re unique. An individual. That no one on the planet is just like you. It’s humanity’s anthem.

But that isn’t true for me anymore.

-The Book

MULTIPLE JASONS? WHAAAAAAT?

So, twist 3 that I didn’t see coming, and that’s a little hard for me to wrap my head around: Every time we make an observable decision, a new universe is created. So when he gets back to his original universe, so does every other Jason that was able to make the correct set of choices to do so.

And they ALL want to get Daniella and Charlie back. Well, hmm, quite the kanundrum. As a result of their choices, some of the Jasons are murderous sons of bitches and our protagonist finds himself almost getting murdered several times.

This was a plot twist I definitely didn’t see coming. You could kind of see some of the other ones given enough clues; after all, I kind of thought about the multiple universe theory before it was explained, and we all knew that Velocity Labs had some serious firepower, so maybe I could have seen the murder of that one Daniela coming. But this? Awww damn. Way out of left field for me.

I really liked where the story went from here, between his (sometimes murderous, sometimes friendly) interactions with the other Jasons and his ultimately successful plot to be the first Jason to meet up with his wife and son again.

I didn’t really understand why there weren’t basically infinity Jasons all after Daniela and Charlie, but for the sake of moving the story forward, let’s just gloss over that.

The action sequences were really well written, and getting to read about his reunion with his wife and son was heartwarming.

Thoughts and Conclusions

(1) So if every observable choice makes a new fork with a new universe, that means there is at least one Jason out there that chose to just stick it out with Amanda. Good. Because only one Jason out of a bajillion of them ended up with a happy ending if they decided to go back for Daniela and Charlie. Poor guys.

It warms my heart to know that there is at least one set of Jasons and Amandas making the smart/easy/best choice and enjoying their lives. Really, that should have been a no brainer – the chances of him making it back to his universe in infinity universes was pretty much zero if you think about it. They should have just been focusing on finding a good world, like that futuristic one Amanda found, and making lives for themselves there.

(2) Jason’s a panicky son of a gun haha. He could have avoided all the murder if he’d just CALMED THE FUCK DOWN when he first appeared in Jason2’s universe. The people at the lab were obviously willing to work with him and had no reason to hurt him; he complicated everything by running away.

Also, in the same vein, Jason2 is a panicky guy too. He could have straight up TOLD Jason his plan, and maybe Jason would have gone along with it. Or at least, then, wouldn’t freak the fuck out when he appeared in Jason2’s universe. Not enough of the book dealt with Jason2’s rationalization that they BOTH could have had what they wanted, the experience of a family AND scholarly success. IF ONLY THEY HAD TALKED.

(3) This book was awesome. The pacing was wonderful, the turns were unexpected and fit well within the story, and it was just a straight up fun read. Thanks Arielle, and thanks for putting up with my reactionary texts while I was running through the story!

Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders – TwoMorePages Book Review

Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders – TwoMorePages Book Review

In light of our recent election results (*le sigh*), I decided to continue down my foray of non-fiction for a little while longer, this time with a book written by none other than Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

My first concern when reading this book was that it would be ghostwritten, and I’m pretty happy to report that based on my cursory research afterwards, it seems like Bernie Sanders did indeed write this book. I kind of got hints of that while I was reading in the way he said things, but some ghostwriters are really good at matching tone, so I couldn’t be 100% sure.

I didn’t know much going into the book, and mostly expected a recap of his experience running through the democratic primaries. There was definitely some of that, probably about 25% of the book, but most of the book dealt with the issues that were near and dear to his heart. Indeed, now that I’m done, it feels like this was Bernie’s platform in a nutshell. The entire 2nd half of the book goes point my point with what he thinks is wrong and, more importantly, how he would fix it.

It’s sad that in today’s political climate, it seems that complaining is given equal weight to problem solving, so that second part (HOW HE WOULD FIX IT) is especially poignant to me. Do I agree with everything he said? No, but that’s unrealistic to agree with everything. I was impressed with the thought that he had clearly put into his positions and his proposed methods of dealing with them. Honestly, after reading his stances on the current state of the US, and how entrenched those positions are, I don’t know how he gets up every morning. The weight of that would crush me, but it seems to drive him.

 

Takeaways and things I’ve learned

The Citizens United decision hinges on the absurd notion that money is speech, corporations are people, and giving huge piles of undisclosed cash to politicians in exchange for access and influence does not constitute corruption.

(1) I’ll admit I was not politically active enough to *really* know what Citizens United was all about until I read this book. And damn, is it damning. It is basically legalized corruption and bribery, and allows big donors to basically buy elections.

It allows unlimited money in politics so that way one person with deep pockets can in essence get laws made that are favorable to themselves. Whaaaat? It seems so unabashedly dystopian that I can’t wrap my head around how this is a real thing, in real life, and not something concocted in a fiction book I’m reading.

Bernie went into great detail about how had he become President, his biggest priority was in nominating a Supreme Court Justice that would be against Citizens United, and about the mechanics of just how you can use money to corrupt politics and legislation.

Sigh, what could have been…

(2) Republicans tend to win elections with low voter turnout. I’ve never fully understood why those drives to “get out the vote” seemed so important. Seems like you’d end up with a 50/50 split of people voting for one party or another, but end up with the same proportion. Now I know that’s generally not the case, not only because younger voters tend to skew more liberal / progressive, but because conservative voters tend to vote no matter what whereas younger voters only tend to vote when they are excited and involved in the political process.

He cited the 2014 mid term elections as a strong example, where even though the country was better in every way since 2010, very few people came out to vote (lowest voter turnout since WWII!) and Republicans took several seats in both the Senate and House.

The truth is that when people come into a room, or a gymnasium or an arena, and the look around them and see all the other people in that venue sharing those same views, they come away strengthened and energized. They are not alone.

(3) Rallies actually do matter. Sure, they matter more in smaller states, like Vermont, where there are just straight up fewer people, but they do matter. I’ve always internally wondered why candidates bother with in person rallies instead of just making sure they have a clear and concise message and broadcasting that as well as possible. I’ve personally never made a decision based on a rally, but based on Bernie’s anecdotes, they worked, and they worked really well for his campaign.

Moreover, his point was that they worked not only in persuading people that attended the rallies, but in encouraging them to become more politically active, reaching voters like me that have never attended a rally. Interesting.

Throughout the campaign, from late November to the end of my campaign, I defeated Trump in 28 our of 30 national polls, almost always by double digits.

(4) In the aftermath of the election, one thing I kept reading over and over was that Bernie would have done better against Trump than Hillary had. I originally attributed this to spilled milk revisionist history, but when I delved deeper, I was surprised to see that this claim was backed up with factual data. 28/30? Damn.

Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan were the key democratic states that Clinton lost in her bid for the Presidency, and they were states with an overwhelmingly rural population where I think Sanders message would have come across a lot better, especially in light of the fact that he spent time doing rallies in rural areas, much moreso than either Trump or Clinton did.

 

Reading more about his experience in the democratic primary makes me further upset about how it all went down, about how the press repeatedly counted Superdelegate votes before they even voted when reporting the lead that Clinton had, disincentive people from even going to vote. By the time that the California primary rolled around, most media outlets had already reported the primaries over. I didn’t realize that at the time, and that sucks.

You could feel the frustration in his tone when he recounts his experience there. Ugh, and now I’m frustrated too. Stupid DNC…I now feel like *you’re* partly responsible for this Trump Presidency.

Look at that ABC number again: 261 minutes devoted to campaign coverage this year, and less than one minute of that has specifically been for Sanders.


In fact, I was gently faulted by some for having excessive “message discipline,” for spending too much time discussing real issues. Boring. Not what a successful modern campaign was about.

(5) I never realized just how biased the media had been in covering his campaign until I saw the numbers laid out. And to see how much more airtime the mainstream media gave Trump vs any more rational candidates, ESPECIALLY SANDERS, is infuriating.

Like the whole “Bernie would have done better than Trump” rhetoric I saw post election, I originally attributed any arguments I saw about Bernie not receiving enough press coverage to spilled milk. And just like that example, I’m proven wrong by specific numbers. How…in the what?!

 

His political stances

The rest of the book basically went into his political stances:

  • How our current political climate is basically an oligarchy where the richest people wield a bigger amount of power than I even thought
  • The state of our domestic infrastructure and how he proposed to fix it (and finance said fixes!)
  • Climate change is fucking real, and how he would have encouraged further renewable power generation
  • A single payer health care system is the best and cheapest long term solution for anyone earning under $500k a year
  • The TPP is bad for the middle class, and should be repealed
  • Criminal justice and how the disproportionate treatment of minorities vs Caucasian people is bad for society as a whole
  • 90% of the media is controlled by 6 companies, and they filter what message gets out to most people. This damages the foundation of democracy.

 

It’s too bad this book didn’t come out during the democratic primaries. It would have helped his messaging a lot, though I also understand the argument that most voters would not have taken the time to read 450-ish pages of his stances and experiences, perhaps it would have changed the minds of a few people, or some people like me could have made a tl;dr version that circulated on the web equally as well.

As I write this review, I feel frustration/anger at the DNC and the media for trivializing his campaign and focusing on stupid things like emails instead of issues, which Bernie stubbornly insisted on emphasizing. It makes me genuinely angry to read about just how stacked the deck was against him in the democratic primary.

Since inauguration day, I’ve grown so much more angry and bitter than I thought possible at people who voted for Trump (not at conservative voters, but specifically who voted for Trump). I see him dismantling efforts at combating climate change, at seeing him censor censor any agencies that dare say that climate change is real, at seeing him trot out his press secretary to tell bold faced lies (oh, wait, I’m sorry “alternative facts” is the phrase that KellyAnne Conway would prefer) and expecting us to believe it.

And my heart weeps to see what kind of person we could have had instead. Though they were both considered “anti establishment”, you could not set up a more stark foil than Trump and Sanders.

Sanders’s closing message is supposed to be one of hope, one that’s supposed to inspire me and other readers to go out and change things, to be involved, and to make the world a better place with something similar to his vision.

And maybe one day I’ll be able to at least re-read the closing message and feel that way. Because right now I sure don’t feel hopeful.

 

 

The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History – TwoMorePages Book Review

The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History – TwoMorePages Book Review

Wow. I’ve never read a book in this format before. Instead of one author telling a story, it’s basically in a documentary format, with different people all talking about the same thing in a conversation.

It took awhile to get used to at first, but…I’m a fan. Especially in the latter half of the book, when I could place faces to names.

I caught on to the Daily Show later than most. Wasn’t around for most of the Bush years, but caught on a little after the writer’s strike while Obama was in office. So the first half of the book was really informative for me, and the later half was close to my heart since I remember watching several of the things they covered.

 

From The Daily Show with Craig Killborn to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart

I didn’t realize just how much the show changed from when Craig Killborn did it, and what Jon Stewart stepped into. They chronicled how they turned over basically *the entire staff*, and how it wasn’t really easy doing it. There was bad blood and power struggles, with people being forced out of the show. Reading about how the original producer was eventually shut out of the show and people throwing various bits of shade at her, and reading about her response to it all was intense.

But it did chronicle just how hard it was, and how the show dramatically changed afterwards, to emphasize Jon Stewart’s vision for the daily show. Results oriented, I know, but I’m glad it happened. I wouldn’t be the person I am today, and I wouldn’t passionately hold most of the views I do without it, and without him.

 

Switching the focus of the show

What the book really did well was to show how the focus of the show shifted over time. Jon Stewart’s early years were still mainly focused on comedy, not necessarily political satire. The book talked about how during the Bush years, the Daily Show was one of the first shows to start criticizing what it saw as outright lies and deception by the administration. It talked about how weird it was that the narrative in the country at the time was “If you point out our inconsistencies, you’re unpatriotic and you hate America.”

I specifically remember living that, and looking back now, it feels so weird to pointedly hate the Dixie Chicks for criticizing George Bush while in London, and to see how Toby Keith’s career was basically launched from super patriotic fluff songs.

So reading about the show’s internal struggles about whether or not to showcase the misinformation being given from the Bush and Cheney administration was extremely interesting. Especially the part where Stewart is recounting how he felt when he made the decision – how ANGRY he was that an administration would blatantly make up facts, be proven wrong, and then try to bury it and never address it again. And more than that, how angry he was with a press that he held partly accountable for helping the administration dupe everyone.

I don’t even remember feeling duped during those years. I’m one of those weird people who voted for Bush, liked Bush, then voted for Obama and loved Obama. Reading this book and seeing how the Bush administration did silly things like skirt around the definition of torture, blatantly make up reasons to invade Iraq, and then claim that anyone criticizing them was unpatriotic really sheds a new light on those years for me.

Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh, right, the book does a really good job describing the events that led to a shift in the Daily Show’s repertoire. It talked about how it first got correspondents into major political meetings, about Carrell’s experience on McCain’s bus, about how weird it was for the correspondents, who thought they were doing silly things in a very serious theater. But then to watch them realize that it’s really much less formal and austere than they thought. It talked about how the show started the trend of holding someone’s feet to the fire with clips of what they said in the past, with a poignant example of a fake debate between then President Bush and statements made publicly by Bush when was governor. I hadn’t even heard of that when it came out. It seems so hilariously sharp in retrospect.

 

Writer’s Strike

“I mean, put this in your fucking book. I needed that fucking money and there was no reason for Jon to give it to us then. Jon hadn’t been given his money then, from the publisher, but Jon gave us our advances – out of his pocket, to keep us alive during the strike.”

-Steve Bodow

 

So…fast forward to about the time that I started watching the show, which was around the time of the writer’s strike. I think that I originally started watching because someone had mentioned to me that the Daily Show was a really good example of what happens when you don’t have exceptional writing staff, that while the show was still good, it was noticeably less good with the writer’s strike ongoing.

Reading about how the staff felt, about how the writers went on strike while the producers and the talent stuck around was extremely interesting. Moreover, reading that Jon helped his staff out by paying them from his own pocket, a HUGE FEAT when you really think about it, is amazing.

But more than that, I loved reading about the divide that it created after the show came back on the air, and that still existed after the writer’s strike ended. Two of the main writers, David Javerbaum and Josh Lieb were on opposite sides of that strike since one of them was also a producer. Stewart talked about how awful it felt to be treated as the bad guy by his writers when he had PAID THEM OUT OF HIS OWN POCKET, and was the one that was going to bat for them with Comedy Central to try and get them most of what they wanted. And then how awful it felt after things got healed and how literally none of the writers said thank you at the time.

War with Fox News

Here is what Fox has done through their cyclonic, perpetual emotion machine that is 24 hour a day, 7 day a week – they’ve taken reasonable concerns about this president and this economy and turned it into a full-fledged panic attack about the next coming of Chairman Mao. Explain to me why that is the narrative of your network.

-Jon Stewart to Bill O’Reilly

One of the major takeaways I took from *watching* the show was the absurdity of Fox News. To this day, I still don’t understand how anyone can watch it, much less how it’s become the #1 cable news network. With the way it blurs the lines between opinion pieces and news pieces, how is anyone supposed to get news from what Stewart lovingly calls a “panic machine”?

But I digress. That’s not what I’m writing about here.

Much like on the show, in the book, Stewart really rails against how ironic it is that a network that’s slogan is “Fair and Balanced” is basically the most slanted news network there is. The book goes into detail about Jon Stewart’s interactions with the network, from interviews with O’Reilly and Wallace, to its relationship with Glenn Beck.

What I thought was especially cool was that the book got responses from people at Fox News and fit them into the chapters as discussion. They seem much more rational as people when you can see responses like the following. Well, except Glenn Beck. But whatever.

And that was actually one of the things I always liked about Jon’s show, is that yes, he mocked you, but it was mocking in a kind of disappointed way, like we should do better than that.

-Chris Wallace, Fox News

It was simultaneously hilarious and scary reading Stewart recount his meeting with Roger Ailes after a Fox News interview. Ailes started with “How are you doing? How are your kids?” which sounds friendly enough, until you realize that Ailes has never met Stewart’s kids and shouldn’t have known their names. The way Stewart describes it, it could easily be interpreted as a friendly but veiled threat against his family. WHAAAT? That sounds like a scene from a movie with an over the top bad guy.

Apparently that encounter was part of what lead up to the “Go Fuck Yourself” choir that is referenced on the internet as one of the Daily Show’s highlights.

 

The Rally to Restore Sanity (AND/OR Fear)

The book also went into detail about the Rally to Restore Sanity and the March to Keep Fear Alive. Reading about how it was originally supposed to be two events was eye opening for me. I remember seriously contemplating going to it back when it was was originally announced.

I think it would have gone over much better as two separate events, one with Colbert’s March to Keep Fear Alive, and one with the Rally to Restore Sanity. The juxtaposition and mock conflict would have presented a much more cohesive message. But it was better to have it happen than not.

It was intriguing reading about the difficulties with setting up the event, while simultaneously trying to cover the nearby primaries. I hadn’t realized that they never rehearsed it and that the script wasn’t given out until the figurative 11th hour. That’s amazing that they pulled it off.

What was extremely humorous was Jon Stewart recounting how people in Washington had told him his event failed because it hadn’t gotten people to vote more Democratic, since that was never Stewart’s goal.

 

The WTC First Responders Bill

And I was ranting to them (first responders being interviewed) about, ‘These fucking congressmen, they just want to go home, they’re talking about how nostalgic they are for Christmas and they can’t bear another day away from Tennessee or Arizona…” and Kenny Specht said, ‘Oh, you know we always thought it was an honor to work on the holidays, to protect people’s families.’

And I told him, ‘Say that. that’s how we’re ending.’

I remember watching the show and seeing this bill mentioned, but I never realized the scope of what was involved, or how dearly that Jon Stewart held it to his heart. I had thought it was just another piece about the absurdity of a Republican Congress saying that they love the work of people in uniform, but won’t pay to help the ones who need it.

Reading in the book about how much work had to go into getting the bill passed, how it was basically stuck and dead, and about how the Daily Show basically shamed Congress into passing it was eye opening. And to read about how they had to do it again 5 years later taught me two things. (1) Congress can be petty. Why would your bill expire in five years? (2) Shaming people publicly is actually a valid way to get things done in Congress.

 

Wyatt Cenac

One of the things that the book did especially well was shed light on some Daily Show controversies that hadn’t really been talked about, or at least that I didn’t really know about. One of these things was the reported argument between Jon Stewart and Wyatt Cenac, one that purportedly led to Wyatt’s departure from the show later.

It was something that I had kind of read about in passing and though “No way that’s true” when I had read that Jon Stewart had taken offense to getting called a racist after one of his more racial bits, and had kicked Wyatt off the show. The way the book described it, with people that had been there all giving their takes, really paints the picture well to me.

“I believe, to this day, Wyatt thinks he said ‘Fuck you, I’m done with you,’ and that is not what I heard. Jon started to walk down the hallway, towards his office, and Wyatt followed him, and they yelled at each other all the way down the hallway, into Jon’s office.”

-Jen Flanz

It seems like it was a heated misunderstanding that really blew up more than it should have. Granted, the book is pretty high on Jon Stewart in general, but most of the people’s perspectives that I read in the book seem to paint Stewart in a good light.

But it was interesting, albeit in a gossipy kind of way, to read about what went down.

 

How Comedy Central fucked up and could have had The Daily Show and the Colbert Report through the 2016 election but didn’t

I still truly believe that had the Daily Show show with Jon Stewart stayed on the air through the 2016 election, Trump would not be President-Elect now. I have at least a few friends that voted for Trump that I believe would not have if the Daily Show had stayed in its previous iteration. Now, I’m sure some folks would argue that’s not true, that Trump’s absurdities would have reached those people through traditional media. That anyone who would have voted for Trump would never have watched the Daily Show.

But I know some people who voted for Trump that loved the Colbert Report, and felt similarly about the Daily Show. Having a father figure like Jon Stewart telling you that voting for Trump is bad in SO MANY WAYS might have tipped the scales. I love Jon Oliver, but he doesn’t carry the same serious gravitas. He’s more like your silly brother telling you things. Stewart and the Daily Show felt more like your father telling you things.

Trump didn’t win by that much in each of those battleground states. Having the Daily Show might have made the difference. And if both Stewart AND Colbert were on? Crikey.

And so it’s so weird to me to learn that the main reason that we didn’t have either of those shows for the 2016 election is that Comedy Central tried playing hardball a little too much in contract negotiations. Instead of being signed through 2016, Stewart and Colbert, disillusioned with the contract negotiations, only came to an agreement with CC for 2 years, ending before the 2016 Election. This allowed Colbert to take his new gig with CBS, ending the Colbert Report, and allowed Stewart to back out of the limelight by leaving the Daily Show altogether.

I won’t lie. That hurts. A lot. Goddammit Comedy Central.

 

John Oliver

What they (Comedy Central) didn’t do was prepare for succession. Probably over two or three million dollars they let John Oliver slip through their fingers.

And to learn that Jon Stewart had picked John Oliver to be his successor, but Comedy Central was so shortsighted as to not have signed him to some sort of contract to prevent him from going to another show? Sheer lunacy.

The book went into great detail about how Comedy Central really dropped the ball in negotiations with John Oliver to keep him around. Dropped the ball so hard that he was getting offers from other stations, like Showtime and GODDAMN HBO, to host a show with them. It was endearing reading about Jon Stewart’s conversations with John Oliver about how he’d be insane not to take the HBO gig.

Reading about his last day made me look up the last episode that John Oliver was a part of. The book describes it with an extremely emotional tone, and I couldn’t help but feel it while watching the clip again. It was amazing.

 

Final Thoughts

This book was. AMAZING. It started off rough for me since I couldn’t really place faces to the names I was reading, and I wasn’t involved much in the early years of the Daily Show. Plus, the reading format took a little bit to get used to.

But it got SO MUCH BETTER. The book was so good that it got me to look up clips of the show from years past just to see how amazing a clip was. And it really got me more emotionally invested in the show…a dead show doh. I went back to watch the last episode with Jon Stewart again after reading the very emotional remarks by all the correspondents in the book and it…well, I’m not ashamed, it made me cry. haha.

This has really given me reason to watch the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, hoping that it hits a similar stride. I hope it does, because from the way that Stewart described it in the book and in random articles I read on the internet, he won’t be coming back or doing anything like the Daily Show ever again. And now I’m sad.

Babylon’s Ashes (The Expanse Book 6) – TwoMorePages Book Review

Babylon’s Ashes (The Expanse Book 6) – TwoMorePages Book Review

This is the first book I’ve ever waited on, the first book that I bought on launch day and put off other plans in order to read. Hell, I even spent the preceding week re-reading Nemesis Games, so that way I could get fully immersed back into the story in preparation for it. So I read 1000 pages in like 2 weeks. Does this mean I’ve become a full fledged book nerd? Haha

I thought for sure this book would center around the gates and about the mysterious aliens that seemed to live in there, eating ships sometimes. Hell, the epilogue of Nemesis Games is about one of the MCRN deserter ships disappearing while going through a gate! In fact, I thought the title Babylon’s Ashes would be about how said aliens would come through and wreck humanity’s shit, and we would see Holden et al deal with that.

But nooooope! The ashes in Babylon’s Ashes are the ashes of human civilization, created from the events of Nemesis Games. Color me surprised.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

Basically a continuation of Nemesis Games

Every other book seemed to have a good amount of time pass between it and the one before it, so that large events could have occurred. Not this one! This one picks up basically where Nemesis Games left off, with Marco Inaros running around, crowing victory with his stolen Martian fleet that he’s renamed the Free Navy.

Except…he’s a gourram idiot. Did he seriously think that he’d be able to keep Earth and Mars pinned back forever? His entire plan broke apart when the combined fleet killed *ONE SHIP*. I thought he was supposed to be some sort of genius.

Let’s recap the military situation once Earth is no longer pulled back. We know from before that the MCRN fleet is less numerous than the UN’s, despite being newer and better in general. We know that Mars can’t take Earth in a fight. Duarte’s deserters took about ⅕  of their fleet, and definitely left Marco and the Free Navy less than that. So let’s say that the Free Navy has like…1/20 of the original Mars fleet? That seems generous in my mind, but sure, whatever.

So you’re sitting here, with 1/20th of the MCRN fleet, trying to take on the remaining 70% of the MCRN fleet, the COMBINED Earth Fleet, and on top of that, whatever Fred Johnson OPA loyalists can scrape together. You’re a goddamn idiot if this was your endgame.

Oh, his endgame was to get to make the combined fleet “stretch their resources too thin” and rely on the vastness of space? Well geeh, that sure does make a gigantic assumption that this fleet wouldn’t have genocide on its minds. If I was Avasarala, I would have just said “Fuck Ceres” after Marco stripped it for parts and left; then I would have proceeded to burn for Ganymede, take control of the main food source left in the solar system, and let all the Belters starve to death, including the Free Navy.

Then I would have taken my fleet and either taken control of Medina station or blown it up. Yes, I’d probably take high casualties in doing so, but they only have so many rail gun rounds, right?

Yes, I realize that basically is the opposite of the point that Holden was trying to make, but whatever. So let’s say Avasarala did something like I had planned – what then? Everyone starves to death and you keep trying to throw rocks at Earth? Awesome plan, Marco. I can see why Michio Pa deserted you.

 

Michio Pa

Speaking of Pa, we got to see the perspective of an entirely new crew this time, on their own MCRN corvette. Too bad it gets blown up at the end; I rather liked the idea of the Rocinante having a sister ship out there that’s kind of on its side.

Alas, I had a little trouble relating to this crew on anywhere near the same kind of level as I do with the Rocinante crew. For one, I didn’t really get why she was so mad at Fred Johnson in the first place. We last saw her in Abaddon’s Gate as the 1st officer of the Behemoth. She helps with Bull’s mutiny against Ashford only when it’s 100% clear that shit has hit the fan – I got the distinct impression that she recognizes authority a lot.

So…why is she so mad then at Fred Johnson? It seemed like an abrupt character transition to me. Certainly when I’m supposed to buy that she was so mad, she quit the OPA after the events in Abaddon’s Gate, and then eventually joined Marco’s insane Free Navy.

But whatever. Let’s just assume it made sense. I do like that she was the first of the OPA heads to be like “Fuck this shit, I’m out.” when it was clear that Inaros kept redefining what “victory” was to suit his own needs, and when he was doing things to actively hurt Belters in order to do it. It provides good character continuity if you assume that she is the Belt’s Holden, someone who will do anything and everything in order for better the lives of her people.

 

Anderson Dawes

Anderson Dawes had been part of the OPA since before he was born. Trying to curry favor with their corporate overlords, his parents had named him after a mining company. Later, Fred Johnson’s butchery turned that same name into one of Earth’s greatest crimes against the Belt.

Speaking of cool Belters, let’s pour one out for our boy Dawes. Considering how suave and awesome he is portrayed in the show, I’m surprised that he really doesn’t get much play in the books. His POV chapter was probably *the best* in the entire book, and reading other discussion threads of the book, it seems like this was a popular sentiment.

Especially after having read The Butcher of Anderson Station and knowing about his backstory with Fred Johnson, his chapter is extremely emotionally moving. You can see him in his element, persuading these various OPA factions to do what they don’t want to do in order to help Holden. And why? Because Fred Johnson believed in Holden, so it must be the right thing to do for Belters.

That’s a big leap of faith right there. Sucks that at the end, it’s implied he was captured and imprisoned. He would have made a pretty good head of the new Guild that Holden proposed.

And we learn such cool things about him, like he was named Anderson after *Anderson Station*?! Mind. Blown. Now we can see why he’s been so committed for his entire life. He was basically born into this.

 

Fred Johnson

“I had a speech ready. Well practiced. You’d have liked it. All about the nature of politics and the finest of humanity being our ability to change to match our environment…What I really meant was I’m sorry. Not just sorry I backed the wrong horse. Am sorry about that. But I’m sorry I compromised you while I did it.”

– Anderson Dawes

Oh, did I gloss over one teensy, tiny little thing? HOLY FUCK FRED DIED!

That really added quite a bit of tension and danger to the story. His death was written so well too – we experienced it the same way that Holden and Bobbie and everyone else on the crew probably experienced it.

The preceding chapter describing the fight between the Rocinante and Inaros’s wolf pack was amazing, and definitely would have been my favorite chapter if the Dawes chapter didn’t exist. The urgent tone that was set was just *perfect* in describing the battle.

High G burns, quick whiparounds to shoot the rail gun, the enemy adjusting tactics so that they don’t lose a 2nd ship – the fact that the only people that really matter in the fight are Alex and Bobbie and everyone else is basically just fragile cargo. That chapter perfectly encapsulated the stress what I imagine it would feel like to be in that battle. And the way that Bobbie ended up winning the battle by basically re-using PDCs that had already been launched? Brilliant.

So then how do we find out that we lost Fred Johnson? Only when we’re done with the battle, thinking everything is peachy and we’re celebrating and happy and…oshit. Wut? He’s having a stroke? Oh fuuuuuck.

Fred lay on the table, stripped to the waist. The audotoc was strapped to his arm, needles inserted into the veins. He looked weirdly vulnerable, as if he’d physically shrunk between the time he’d gotten into the crash couch and now. Bobbie stood over him, arms crossed, glowering like an angel out of the Old Testament. One of the scary kind. The kind that kept you out of paradise and killed armies in a single night. She didn’t look up as they came in.

“How bad is it?” Holden asked.

Somehow Bobbie made her shrug an expression of rage. “He’s dead”

 

Goddammit Holden

Speaking of said battle, I remember highlighting the portion where Holden oh so casually disarms the torpedoes near the end and thinking “WHAT THE FUCK, HOLDEN?!” Didn’t realize it would become as big of a plot point later as it was.

“The damage had left a blind spot in their PDC coverage, but the torpedo that came through it had malfunctioned. If it had detonated, it could have cracked the ship in two, and the old bitch from the galley would have had to hope for the mercy of the inners to keep her leathery ass from drowning in her own waste air.”

– Filip

“If we’re not willing to win the fight, I’m not sure what we’re doing in the cage.”

– Amos

Goddammit Holden. You could have ended this entire thing. Your crew was good enough to to take on not one, but TWO stolen MCRN vessels, both of which were more powerful than your now out of date corvette.

Bobbie had the kill shot lined up. Marco would be dead, and this entire Free Navy bullshit would be over. His movement wasn’t one that would have survived without him and the people on his ship. Oi. Now I understand how Fred Johnson and Avasarala felt like when they dealt with you. -.-

 

Moar action!

“Inaros isn’t going to chase after the Giambattista and Rocinante, because he’ll be distracted by the largest and most aggressive fleet action in history kicking his balls up into his throat. By the time understands what we were really after, it’ll be too late for him to do anything but hold his dick and cry.”

– Avasarala

One really nice thing that I did like about this book was that you had 2 distinct action sequences. The first one was the skirmish between the Rocinante and Marco’s vessels earlier, the one where we *sob* lost Fred Johnson. But we also had a coordinated fleet offensive, the one where we simultaneously attacked the Free Navy almost everywhere in the system at once, but mostly as a distraction so that way we could take back Medina Station all sneaky like with the Rocinante.

Though I much preferred the first, the second action sequence had its own share of cool moments and surprises. I liked how Corey gave us the vantage point of people on the station as they were trying to figure out wtf was going on with this ice hauler that launched a million torpedo like thingies at them, and as the rail guns tried to take them out, only to find out that that was a feint designed to get troops not onto Medina Station, but onto the weird alien sphere where they’d basically rubber banded a bunch of railguns on.

It also gave us the first glimpse into Battle Bobbie in a long time, basically since she was introduced in Caliban’s War. Actually, more than that, we got to see her work with our other instrument of destruction, Amos, and that was entertaining to read.

It was interesting when Bobbie kind of accidentally won the battle by pissing off the alien sphere, which ended up messing up all the rail guns. They technically neutralized the threat, even though they didn’t accomplish their full objective to taking control of the rail guns, leading of course to the final weird climax for our story.

 

Filip and Marco

Filip hadn’t fucked it up. Marco was wrong, that was all. This time, he just got it wrong. Words came into his mind, as clear as if they’d been spoke. Though he’d never heard her speak them, they came in his mother’s voice. Wonder what else he got wrong.

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to feel sympathy for Flip from his POV chapters, but I definitely didn’t. He came off entirely as a petulant child the entire story, and I wanted his ass dead. Even after he “sees the light” regarding his father, he never really seems that redeemable in my eyes.

I think that’s part of why I was so frustrated that Holden disarmed those torpedoes. His ass *would* have been dead if Holden wasn’t such a goddamn idiot. But I digress…

I guess we’re supposed to see his adulation for his dad falter and fail from the beginning of the book to the end and feel happy for him? Happy that he didn’t disappear along with his dad and the rest of the Free Navy? So that way he can have some sort of redemption arc with Naomi later?

I dunno. I just did not care for this little shit that was clearly a spoiled little kid. The only reason he’s not dead from Dawes’s people on Ceres is because his daddy is Marco Inaros. He shot a cop for no good reason. What a dumbass.

Marco Inaros = Trump?

As far as Marco goes, I read a very interesting post in the Babylon’s Ashes discussion thread on /r/TheExpanse that basically equated Marco’s appeal to the Belters with real life Trump’s appeal to disenfranchised inner America.

“You hear a lot about how a vote for Trump is ‘a brick chucked through the window of the elites’ … well how about some rocks chucked at the planet of the elites?”

– /u/baconfriedpork

‘Marco’s the one who decides when he wins. You don’t understand how slippery he can be. Whatever happens, he’ll shift so it was his plan all along. If he were the last person alive, he’d say we needed the apocalypse and declare victory. It’s what he is.’

-Naomi

It’s a very interesting point in that if you disenfranchise people enough and give them no choices except to stop existing, they’ll do very desperate things, like BLOW UP THE ONLY VIABLE PLANET THAT CAN INDEPENDENTLY SUPPORT HUMAN LIFE.

And the part about Marco basically changing the plan and being like “yeah, this was my plan all along.” echoes how Trump’s campaign would seek to reframe things all the time, even what most would consider solid defeats.

Corey may not have intended for this to be commentary about our recent election results, but the parallels are very intriguing…and a little scary.

 

Clarissa

Side note: One of the unexpected things about this book that I *did* like was how much I liked Clarissa joining the crew. She didn’t really have a ton of character development chapters, really only one if you think about it, and that’s when she’s helping Amos and Holden in a firefight outside the ship, but it was nice how she integrated with the crew so seamlessly on nothing but Amos’s word.

I thought for sure it would be a problem, that there would be more tension than Holden just feeling a little antsy. After all, she did try and kill Holden and Naomi and this crew more than once.

It was cute, and I liked it, especially after getting to see her and Amos escape her prison back on Earth.

The Final Confrontation

“Huh. That is super creepy.”

-Amos

I’m probably not the only one who felt like the final confrontation between Inaros and Holden felt a little…anti climactic. I thought for sure that Naomi’s little trick would get Inaros’s 14 other ships and somehow we’d have a firefight between the Pella and the Rocinante. But whatever.

I very much liked how Naomi was the one to finally find a solution to deal with Marco. And she did it thinking that she killed her kid too. Can’t imagine how hard that must have been. It also wrapped up the story in a very nice circle, since she blamed herself for letting Marco get as far as he had in the first place.

 

Things I didn’t understand

 

1. How many ships did the Free Navy have? I thought they had at most like 15, but they got several of theirs tied up and blown up and were still able to send 15 after Holden. How?

Plus, it took the actions of the entire combined fleet to distract Marco and the Free Navy? That makes it seem like they could maybe kind of stand toe to toe with the combined fleet and that makes no sense to me.

2. Why did the dissident factions of the OPA help Holden? I get why Michio Pa did it – she needed protection from the Free Navy, and she wanted to keep helping Belters by commandeering colony ships and distributing the supplies to the Belt. But why all the other people? Particularly the ones that helped Holden try and retake Medina?

If I was a Belter on the Giambattista, I’d be like “Fuck you coyo, I’m not strapping myself into these tiny little capsules and trying to take out those railguns. That seems like a dumb idea that will 100% get me killed.”

And why weren’t UN or MCRN flagships the ones taking on the Pella? Why was it a little outnumbered and outmanned OPA force lead by the guy whose brother got killed, Micah al-Dujaili? That seems like poor strategic planning honestly. Poor guy, lost his brother, then his family and all his ships. I wouldn’t have agreed to that, no matter how charismatic Anderson Dawes was.

3. Why aren’t there more combined fleet ships out there helping Holden? Seems like you should have a ton of ships to spare. Why is the Rocinante the only one out there trying to A) take Medina Station and B) hold Medina station after? I know the plan was to take over the railguns rather than disable them, but it seems like a competent strategist should have planned for the possibility of them not working after you took Medina station.

 

Final Thoughts

There were just a few too many POVs for me (I think we had like 10?), but sometimes you have to overshoot to get the right number haha. I really liked Nemesis Game’s 4, and prefer 10 to the 2 that we saw in Leviathan Wakes, but 10 is just too many. And some characters I flat out disliked (Marco and Filip) or found annoying (Prax and sometimes Michio Pa), so…

That being said, all in all, a nice sequel to Nemesis Games, with two really great action sequences that I very much enjoyed reading, plus we got to see Bobbie as part of the full fledged crew!

I, like many other people, were pretty surprised that the protomolecule plot didn’t really make an appearance, but so be it. I obviously liked what we got enough to finish it within a week!

Too bad I can’t just start the next book like I’d been able to do with the previous books, but oh well. At least I’m not a Game of Thrones book fan, right? It could always be worse.

Paradise (Expeditionary Force Book 3) – TwoMorePages Book Review

Paradise (Expeditionary Force Book 3) – TwoMorePages Book Review

We hit book 3 of the Expeditionary Force series, also known as “The Adventures of Skippy and the Merry Band O’ Pirates!”

I will say I very much preferred this book to book 2, which alas did drag on for a bit, and went a little too heavy with Skippy related material. The switch to and from the perspectives from the characters on Paradise and in the Ruhar and Kristang ships was a nice break, and made me really appreciate the storyline involving Skippy a lot more.

Skippy was hilarious as always, and the ways in which our merry crew got around several obstacles was amusing to read. Specifically, Skippy’s interactions with “Count Chocula” were especially hilarious.

Where the book really shines though is the return to Paradise and picking up with characters introduced in Book 1, but that we never heard from again. Shauna, Perkins, and Bishop’s old Fire Team brought new and interesting perspectives and personalities that we got to know through their own adventures, even with Skippy/Emby.

SPOILERS AHEAD

I honestly thought this would be the last book in the series and our that our Merry Band of Pirates would somehow be able to rescue the remaining humans on Paradise and bring them home, and was surprised that wasn’t the case. So color me shocked when that didn’t happen, and the cliffhanger to introduce the next book was introduced at the very end.

I honestly will probably read Book 4, because I rather enjoy the low brow humor and banter that all the scenes with Skippy bring. But I can see why some other people would not. It kind of gets repetitive. Get in sticky situation; have Skippy say “Oh, well we’re fucked”; Have Bishop be like “Well, what if we did this?”; and then have the problem be solved with a few funny quips in between. I mean, I guess there’s no real way around that when you have painted humans as by far the least technologically advanced race in the book, and Skippy as by far the most technologically advanced. Humans can’t really go toe to toe with any of the other races, so the only way out is basically through Deus Ex Machina via Skippy.

What will be interesting is if Book 4 deals with the problem introduced in Book 2 – who went and killed the Elders, and how exactly Skippy et al are supposed to deal with that. Up until now, we haven’t even been able to deal with the Jeraptha and Thuranin host races, much less a race that is on par or better than the Elders. What exactly is Skippy going to be able to do?

But that’s a problem for another time, and overall, this book was still fun to read. 🙂

Rootless – TwoMorePages Book Review

Rootless – TwoMorePages Book Review

So my friend Taylor Brown wrote a book. For his kid. AND IT’S AWESOME.

I actually was late for work one day because I was at the end and cool stuff was happening and consarnit, I was going to figure out what happened NOW, not later. I was that engrossed.

Okay, guess I should back this story up. Context and what not.

Taylor has a son, Everett, who at the time of this writing is about say…2 years old? Taylor had an awesome and original idea to come up with bedtime stories that he could tell his son, featuring his son as the hero in the story. Eventually, this morphed into several stories, which Taylor tied together in one world in his book Rootless. And it’s awesome. Did I mention it’s awesome?

What I found really funny was that the story progresses like an RPG game, a genre that Taylor is pretty into. In fact, I mentioned this to him after having read it: “Hey, I noticed you wrote this story the way you like to be told stories, in game form. Was that on purpose?” Apparently, it was not, but I still find it funny.

Everett, the protagonist, goes on ever grander adventures, adding to his posse of awesome friends / allies and picking up enemies along the way, just like an RPG game. He doesn’t level up, like a game would, but the relative strength of his friend group does, as each new person adds something cool and unique to the group.

Also, like most children’s stories, there is an overarching theme for the book. I think I can safely describe it without giving up the plot – that even when things see like they’re going super uber wrong, making the best of the situation is way better than giving up.

Okay, well, that’s about all I can say without delving into spoilers, so here we go!

It’s like a children’s book, but for adults

In some ways, it’s funny that Taylor wrote this book for his 2 year old son, Everett, because this book’s writing style is waaaay above the reading comprehension level of a 2 year old. Everett is going to have to at least be in middle school before he can sit down and read this book without Taylor and Margaret’s help. But that’s okay, because you and I are past middle school and we presmably have reading comprehension skills >= middle school, so yay?

This does, however, allow Taylor to describe the world really well, and he takes the opportunity to do just that. This isn’t GRRM level of descriptive storytelling, but I’m not a big fan of that much time spent describing things (vs action) anyway.

Characters

One big problem a lot of new authors have is “talking head syndrome”, where in the author’s mind, everything is vivid and makes sense, but all the reader sees is conversation between characters. Taylor does a great job avoiding this, even going so far as to have included pictures and maps of the world that our fun protagonists live in.

I could easily picture Brixit and Rrwin and Everett and Therese and Agnes (our merry band of heroes) as they went along their journey. Even the antagonists, the power hungry mages were fleshed out well, certainly well enough for a children’s book.

Being a book aimed at children, having the antagonists be antagonists “just because” is an easy crutch to fall onto. But Taylor even gives them real motivations for what they do. They’re not “ethically grey”, since that would be too complicated for a straight up children’s book, but you can understand their desire for vengeance on our merry band of heroes, not only for making fools of them once after they healed Rrwin, but again when they almost die at the hands of our merry band of heroes once Everett manages to avenge everyone at the Mages’ lair. I can say I’d be mad haha. Yeah, I might try murdering our protagnosts in that spot as well.

Dealing with disappointment

Rrwin and Therese both end up having to deal with crushing disappointment in the story. Rrwin because he thought he could be healed by the monks at the monastery, and Therese, having run away from everything she knew to join the monastery, but being turned away.

In a coincidental twist of fate, just while Rrwin and Therese were at the point in their lives where they were like “This sucks. Everything sucks. I hate everything.”, so was I. So watching them deal with disappointment helped me through mine as well. Good job on making relatable characters, Taylor.

The major theme of the book was basically “everything happens for a reason, even if you don’t immediately understand it”, and the stories of Rrwin and Therese both helped to illustrate that. Both of them become immediately sullen and gloomy afterwards, much like I was in real life, and and lean on their friends to help get them out of it. That was a nice sentiment, and a good takeaway for the book’s intended audience, children.

Religious tones

So my friend Taylor is a pretty religious person, and so it didn’t surprise me at all that religion was part of his book. That theme I mentioned earlier? Technically, I should probably write it as “God has a plan, even if you can’t see it.” rather than “Everything happens for a reason.”

Not being particularly religious myself, I thought Taylor weaved things in pretty well in his book, not being overly heavy handed with it. In fact, one of the strongest moments in the book is probably when the characters realize that when Everett says God, he probably doesn’t mean the same one that Rrwin is talking about, or Brixit is talking about, or anyone else is talking about. I like that the book directly addresses religious tolerance by putting the characters in a position where children might be put later: when they realize that their friends may not necessarily have the same idea of religion as they do.

When I talked with Taylor, he mentioned his editor had questioned him about that specific moment, and Taylor wasn’t sure whether to leave it in. I’m glad he did.

Conclusion

I have definitely paid much more money for books written much less well than Rootless.

To be frank, I did not have high expectations originally for this book. Your friend asks you to read a book he made for his 2 year old son, right? You say yes, because he’s your friend, but you’re like “ehhhh, what did I get myself into?” when the book arrives and it’s a couple hundred pages.

But not only did I find myself liking it, I found myself engrossed in the world that Taylor created. I’m glad I took the time to read it, and I’m even more glad that Taylor took the time to write it and get it published. Apparently, it took more than a year, and for that kind of commitment to conclude in this kind of success is pretty fantastic.

Kudos to you, Taylor. I know that  when Everett reads this, he’ll love it too.