Book Review: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

(5/5 stars) This is an exploration of shame as a punishment, as a fundamental human impulse, as a force for good and bad. Ronson goes into a little bit of the history of how shame has been used in the past, but focuses especially on how shame functions in our internet-based society today.  To wit, he explores several contemporary case studies in shaming.

This book functions in some ways as a collection of essays rather than a structured exploration of ideas. As such, there are points where he pursues aspects of shame that seem to be a digression from the core theme, for example the parts about Radical Truth and humiliation paraphilia.  Those parts don’t make the book less interesting, but readers should be warned: you probably won’t come away with any strong conclusions about what can be done about internet lynch mobs. 

In sum, this book is funny and thought-provoking. I highly recommend it.

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What is Free Will?

What do people actually mean when they talk about free will or volition?  I don’t have any answers to that question, but I think about it from time to time and I thought this time I would jot down some of my thoughts.

Book Review: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

(5/5 stars)  I’m not sure where I heard of Akata Witch; it was probably one of my podcasts. I was just excited to read a fantasy novel based on a magic system from a non-European mythology. I did not know it was a YA novel, though, and I was very delightfully surprised by what I found.

The story structure and plot aren’t exceptionally different from other stories of this sort: a young outsider learns that she has a destiny and finds camaraderie in a community of other outcasts.  But the characters are fun and interesting. The culture is lush and fascinating.  And the magic system is scary and fascinating.  Overall, I really enjoyed this book quite a lot. 

Parasite (Parasitology, #1) By Mira Grant

(2/5 stars) Strange, inconsistent characterization in the main character combined with an extremely predictable plot made this a distinctly un-entertaining read for me.  You can pretty much guess everything about this book from the summary on Amazon:

A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite — a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the Intestinal Bodyguard worm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system — even secretes designer drugs. It’s been successful beyond the scientists’ wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives . . . and will do anything to get them.

If you want a book about parasites taking people over, I would recommend The Girl with All the Gifts instead.  And in my parasite hobbyist’s opinion, I think the chosen parasite in The Girl with All the Gifts makes more sense than a genetically modified tapeworm.

A Review of Two Books About Google

I recently chose two audiobooks from one of my local public libraries and they just happen to both be about Google.  Kinda. They are Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and The Circle by Dave Eggers.

It was a coincidence that they turned out to hinge on common themes and elements, but it was a very interesting contrast in perspective.  Mr. Penumbra’s takes a rather positive view of technology and data and how it can help us solve mysteries and enjoy life more deeply.  The Circle, however, takes a far warier view of our connected, internet society and the threat it poses to individual freedom and liberty.

I would recommend them both for different reasons.  The first book is a fun, light-hearted mystery/adventure with lots of literary color.  The second book is basically a horror story in the tradition of 1984 and A Brave New World.

Book Review: Outpost (Donovan #1) by W. Michael Gear

(5/5 stars)  I have mixed feelings about this book. I didn’t LOVE it, but I kind of loved it. 

Donovan is an alien world on the backside of nowhere and owned by The Corporation which intended to mine its plentiful mineral deposits.  Unfortunately, Donovan is the Australia of space and everything on the planet wants to kill people.  So, in the years since the last supply drop, the population of Donovan has made do with what they have and many of them have grown to despise life under The Corporation’s thumb. So, when a new corporate supervisor comes to the planet, things get… awkward.

Donovan is a dangerous and truly alien world. The universe the characters occupy is interesting and detailed. And I really love some of the characters. Parts of the novel seem a bit dry and cliche, but I still couldn’t get enough of it and I am kind of annoyed that the second and third books are not available right this minute for me to buy it. So, yeah.  A solid sci-fi adventure. Five stars.