Monday, August 14, 2017

Book Review: Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett

Monstrous Regiment (Discworld, #31)Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Polly Perks cuts her hair and leaves home to join her nation’s army to find her brother and bring him home; however her act of defiance against her country’s social norms turns out to have consequences geopolitically. Monstrous Regiment, the 31st book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and the third of the Industrial subseries in which the vast majority of the book comes from Polly’s point-of-view in which gender, religious, and military issues play a big role in the narrative.

The nation of Borogravia is always at war in one neighbor or another, their god Nuggan is dead because they believe his Abominations more than him, and their ruler The Duchess is probably dead after not being seen for decades but is slowly becoming defied in replace of Nuggan. All of these things conspire to make Polly go to find her brother Paul in the Kneck valley and bring him home so that she doesn’t lose the family inn. After signing up, she and the rest of the new recruits become the new “lads” of legendary soldier Sergeant Jackrum but on the way to the front Polly finds that all the other recruits are also women having joined for their own reasons. Throughout the book, the regiment starts impacting the war on an international scale as the Anhk-Morpork Times details the adventures of the troop making them underdogs back home even as they oppose the alliance that Anhk-Morpork is a part of.

Although the geopolitical aspects of her regiments actions comes as a surprise to Polly, most of her concerns throughout the entire book is understanding a “woman’s role in a man’s world”, the insane religion they’re dealing with, and finally military culture between commissioned and non-commissioned officers. Pratchett’s use of real world issues into his fantasy world might annoy some readers but I thought it was handled well especially in his dry satirical style. The only really big irritation was that after a while the surprise of another woman-as-a-man in uniform lost its impact because you could basically guess who was going to be eventually revealed to be a woman, so it became less important and just Pratchett check off another reveal.

Monstrous Regiment deals with a lot of real world issues in a dry satirical style that Pratchett is famous for. Although the book’s long running gag of revealing women-as-men in uniform gets old and easy to predict as the book goes along, it doesn’t take away from the overall good quality of the book. If you’re a Discworld fan you’ll like this book but if you’re new to the series try another book first.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Book Review: Spy Schools by Daniel Golden

Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America's UniversitiesSpy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America's Universities by Daniel Golden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The openness of American colleges and universities for thought and research is seen by academics as the keystone to higher education. However Daniel Golden writes in Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America’s Universities this is seen as opportunities to recruit agents and cultivate operatives as well steal technological innovations both by our own intelligence agencies and those across the globe.

Golden divided his book into foreign and domestic intelligence agencies exploitation of American universities. The first focused how foreign agencies, mainly the Chinese, have been exploiting American universities need of prestige and tuition money to gain partnerships between Chinese universities and their American counterparts resulting in an exchange of students and professors. Yet the most important focus of Golden’s investigation was on how the openness and collaboration within American university labs opens up opportunities for individuals to funnel research, including those paid by the U.S. government and American companies, to their home country to be exploit by their own government or to patient and start up a business. The second half was on the complicated relationship between American intelligence agencies and universities, some of who encourage a relationship and those that do not. The aspect of conflict between secrecy and openness is seen throughout the latter half of the book with 9/11 playing a pivotal role in each side’s views. Unlike the first half of the book, this section is seen over the course of 60 years compared to more near 2000 but in a way to show that past is prologue.

As an investigative journalist, Golden uses extensive research and a multitude of interviews in giving a full history and the scale of a front in the global spy game that many in the United States haven’t been aware of. Unfortunately for Golden the timing of this book while on the one hand current and on the other potentially dated. Nearly all his interviews take place no later than 2015, but since the election of Donald Trump with a seemingly nativist groundswell behind him and student demonstrations against conservative speakers might have begun a fundamental shift that could drastically change how both American and foreign intelligence services are seen on American universities especially as a post-9/11 “tolerance” on campus changes to hostility.

Even though the subject Daniel Golden has written about could be in the midst of a sudden sea change, Spy Schools is still a book to read in at least to understand an important part of the global spy game. Although no up-to-date, the recent and long-term history is significant for anyone who is concerned about national security and foreign intervention in American affairs.

I received this book via LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Book Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems

Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and PoemsEdgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Edgar Allan Poe is best known for his dark and psychological poems and short stories that have had an influence not only American literature throughout the world not only in literature but television and film. Yet while a number of Poe’s work has stood the test of time and made a large impression, a lot more expose stereotypical tropes and themes that repeat so much that they lose impact to the reader.

Before I go through the problems I have with Poe, I’m going to spend a little time praising his better pieces. “The Raven” is obviously the best known of Poe’s poetry and arguably his best, even though you’ve might have read it or heard it read before just reading it again makes you appreciate it before. The three Auguste Dupin short stories, the precursors to the detective genre, are wonderful reads in which Poe’s deductive reason is used well in written form to create fascinating mysteries and solutions. Although I could go on, the last story I will mention is “The Cask of Amontillado” which is a fantastic revenge story in which the narrator has no qualms with it afterwards.

Unfortunately this unrepentant narrator in “Amontillado” is unfortunately the exception to Poe’s trope of the narrator going crazy with guilt and admitting his crime which is featured in many stories Poe wrote. Along with a young woman always dying and premature burials, Poe’s writing is fraught with these tropes that after a while exhaust the reader with the almost predictable way a trope takes over a particular story to end with the same way. While these trope takeovers are discouraging, the tendency of Poe to begin a short story with a philosophical discourse only for the narrator to suddenly go off on a tangent (usually on a murder he committed) that had nothing to do with the discourse at the beginning. Frankly these literary quirks, or crutches, that Poe used throughout numerous compositions get tiresome while reading the entirety of Poe’s work and make one question his supposed literary greatness.

If you a true Poe fan, this complete collection of his tales and poems are for you. However, if you are someone who wants the best of Poe then avoid this complete collection and find a smaller collection that gives his best.

Story Ratings
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part VIII
Part IX
Part X
Part XI
Part XII
Part XIII
Part XIV
Part XV

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part XV)

Eureka: A Prose Poem
My rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

An essay on, well I’m not really sure to be honest and that was the first issue. Poe reused his “Mellonta Tauta” piece at the beginning of the essay and then went from there using or making up scientific information on a piece entitled “A Prose Poem” that had no poetry and might have been an attempt at humor that unfortunately was too serious for that.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Poe’s only novel was a bit of this and a bit of that, namely an adventure on the sea and exploring unknown regions. Think of this book as a “dime novel” sorta feel with the American hero smuggled on his friend’s ship only for said ship to have a mutiny then a counter mutiny complicated by the ship being hit by storms then slowly drifting and sinking before Arthur and one fellow sailor are picked up by a passing ship then begin exploring the Southern Seas and finding habitable lands close to the South Pole. Obviously then story trends towards quasi-fantasy today, but as an very old school adventure tale is as passable, but ended abruptly when Pym (whom Poe was writing for) dies with the manuscript incomplete.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part XIV)

The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Mesmerism is once again the focus as well as the transition from life to death, the narrator is a practitioner of the mesmerism and the titular character is the dying man who is mesmerized on the edge of death and stays like that for seven months before being taken out and his body decays rapidly.

The Sphinx
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Every once and a while Poe springs a surprise by thinking he’s going to do down the same path with the only difference being the scenery when he twists things just at the end to make you enjoy the story though wishing he hadn’t waited until the end. The narrator’s eyes play tricks on him and makes him believe he’s going insane until his friend sets him straight.

The Cask of Amontillado
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This revenge classic is one of the highlights of the book, hardly any meandering for the narrator, just a plain straightforward story of a man getting revenge and never regretting it.

The Domain of Arnheim
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

This is a piece on a garden and the wonder of nature, even if it is created by man, but the beginning is bogged down by a biography of the narrator’s friend who shaped it. If it had been a straight piece and a fantastical garden I would have enjoyed it more.

Mellonta Tauta
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A journal written a 1000 years in the future describes the person’s view of their present and what they think of the past, overall a nice little piece.

Landor’s Cottage
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A “sequel” to The Domain of Arnheim, frankly it was over the top and made me glad to see the end.
Hop-Frog
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A fat dwarf jester, the titular character, gets his revenge on a King and his council after he embarrasses the jester’s only friend, his countrywoman who is also a dwarf.

Von Kempelen and His Discovery
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The narrator spends over half the piece talking about other people instead of Von Kempelen, but once he does we learn that the discovery was the philosopher’s stone and that value of lead and silver have increased as gold’s has decreased.

“X-ing a Paragrab”
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A newspaper starts up in a town with the editor attack the editor the rival established paper, who then retorts back. The new editor then works to make an excellent comeback but somehow the letter O is missing from the press and X is inserted instead making the comeback unintelligible. The public reaction is anger and the new editor is gone. All I can say is this was supposed to be funny, it wasn’t.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part XIII)

The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

An “autobiographical” account by Mr. Bob about how he began his literary career, which is basically Poe satirizing the American literary landscape of his time.

The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

After her husband does away with his law about killing his wives, Scheherazade begins telling the further adventures of Sinbad by describing things around the (then) modern world but the sultan can’t believe what he’s hearing and decides to kill her. Honestly when you start reading, you know how Poe is going to end the story but the Sinbad tale is pretty well crafted.



Some Words with a Mummy
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A narrator gets a message from his friend that he is going to unwrap a mummy; the narrator accounts their progress when they decide to use a battery on him only it wakes him up. The mummy then proceeds to have a Q&A about the past and the present with the four men who unwrapped him.

The Power of Words
My rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

Another afterlife dialogue, this time about God and creation, the few words about this the better.

The Imp of the Perverse
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A long introduction about phrenology before the narrator details killing someone and how it didn’t bother him until it does and he screams out his confession on a crowded street.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part XII)

The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man visits a famed private insane asylum to learn about its “soothing system” from the asylum’s founder and director, but it turns out a new system is in place because the inmates (including the founder who went insane) have taken over the asylum. Although it was pretty obvious as the story went along that the inmates had taken over, it was somewhat humorous.

Mesmeric Revelation
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A conversation between a doctor and his mesmerized patient in which “the big questions about life, the universe, and everything else” are asked and given philosophical answers; couldn’t tell if it was a satire of the claims of mesmerism or a support, either way wasn’t impressed.

“Thou Art the Man”
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A wealthy citizen of Rattlesborough disappears and his neighbor leads the investigation into his death which leads to the conviction of the man’s nephew who was thought about to be disinherited by his missing uncle. But the narrator of the story figured out something was wrong and investigate on his own, find the deceased man’s body down the neighbor’s well and springs a trap on the murderous fraud.

The Balloon-Hoax
My rating: 2.5 out 5 stars

An account of a crossing of the Atlantic by balloon, although obviously a fake it was a nice little story with made up scientific facts and such.

The Angel of the Odd
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A well-read businessman comes across an article about a man dying a odd way making him upset about the ridiculousness of newspapermen, which upsets the titular being that causes odd things to happen to people. The man insults the entity and then has a series of odd and humiliating incidents before apologizing to the entity to find relief. If the Angel of the Odd hadn’t been written with a heavy German accent making for slow reading, this would have been rated higher.