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.