I found out Neil Gaiman when I read American Gods, which I enjoyed much more than the TV series based on it. Also a book about a parallel magical world that most people are not aware of, it was still something I felt was very American, very Western, even if it was telling the stories of a multitude of gods from all over.

  Neverwhere feels more like Spirited Away than a Western story, though. And it is funny, because the mythology used as its base is British and everything happens in a parallel underground London. The lead character is an anonymous successful dolt working in the financial system who is suddenly thrust into this magical world by a simple act of kindness.

  The book is rather short and the story, while extremely enjoyable and very well written, is not that important. I mean, it's a classic hero journey (I am a sucker for those) but the beauty is in the characters and the details. I still would have wanted the main character to do something about Anastaesia and the reasons why Door was alive, then people trying to kill her, then back again are quite dodgy when you think about it. Also, the Warrior? Seriously?

  Bottom line: if you feel like immersing yourself into a magical world that feels close and real, but also incredible and impossible, then that's the book for you.

  Finna is a novella of only 144 pages, of course the beginning of a series, one that I have absolutely no intention to read. To be blunt, the only reason why I didn't rate this booklet the lowest is that Nino Cipri is actually queer/trans/nonbinary and so I can't complain about the characters being that way with absolutely no relevance to the story. I probably fell (again) for one of those agenda driven fake reviews that recommended it.

  Speaking of the story, it's a rather refreshing concept but that can be explored in a single page. It's a variation on the "doors to other universes" trope. However, most of the short span of the book doesn't focus on the idea or on what happens or even on character development. Instead, it goes on and on about how offensive it is for people to not use the correct pronouns, how tough it is to be queer or mentally afflicted, which is the all the depth the two main characters ever reach. The writing style is telegraphic, almost report like, lacking anything to make me feel anything (good).

  It is a really annoying book because the leads are totally unlikeable. They work at an Ikea clone for minimum wage, they complain all the time, they couldn't care less about people around them except for the awkward romantic relationship they have and even then not much, they go through parallel universes without paying attention, they act and emote without considering the consequences of their actions then blame it on how their brain is wired and so on. It's a story seen through the eyes of teens who would rather spend time with their phone than wonder about the world. I wouldn't be surprised to hear this was one of those books written in tweets or whatever. Still better than 50 Shades of Grey, but that's not saying much.

  And yes, I sound like a grumpy old man because this is what this book makes me feel like: totally disconnected from the entire generation of the characters in the story. They don't even sound like real people to me. It's a story about exploring strange new worlds which pauses every time something could be interesting to focus on how the characters felt in the world they left behind and how their relationship should have, could have, will have...

  Bottom line: Minimum effort and maximum annoyance.

  I have heard about Kurt Vonnegut a few times, like someone I just had to read. So I started with Slaughterhouse Five, first published in 1969 and widely acclaimed as his best work. I guess for 1969 it was great. It is subtle, it is poignant, it is ingenious, it is satirical, it is anti-war. It is not entertaining, though. It's just really sad and bleak.

  Imagine if Forrest Gump would not have been a kind country boy with a slightly slow mind, but a guy heavily affected by PTSD after witnessing the horrific firebombing of Dresden, with illusions of alien abduction. Dresden was bombed in WWII into oblivion by British forces, some say as retaliation for the German rocket bombings of London, even if it was mostly a civilian city filled with refugees.

  But that part of the book, which is drawn from Vonnegut's own experience, even if it is the event that caused everything, is placed at the end of it. The rest of it is the story of the fictional main character who becomes (or believes he does) unstuck in time, which allows him to randomly travel back and forth into his life. He is also abducted by aliens who live in four dimensions, time being the fourth one, and to which time, cause, effect, action and consequences are nonsense. Every moment is unchangeable and set and they can just visit any of them. It is worth mentioning that one of the symptoms of PTSD is this very realistic recollection of past events. It also makes sense for a person afflicted by this to build a narrative in which everything that happens, no matter how atrocious, is not preventable. Anyway, this way of telling events adds an interesting way of understanding them, allows for comedy and satire, makes it all very personal, which is good, but that's about the only thing I liked about the book.

  Now, being studied in school, there are way too many commentaries and reviews trying to explain what the book was about and how brilliant it was. I can only say if I liked it or not. And the answer is that I understand why it is a highly regarded piece of literature, but I did not enjoy reading it. And not because it is terribly depressing, which it is, but because the main character is only interesting because he went through some horrific events, otherwise he is boring and worthless. This makes things even sadder, because this means a big part of the author felt that way about himself.

  Bottom line: It may be poignant, as the cover says, but it is not hilarious. Instead it is depressing and gets so more as one understands more of it. It is a personal expression of deep trauma, so if you enjoy that kind of thing, this is the book for you.

  When I was a high school kid it was fashionable among the street thugs of Bucharest to use the insult "slave". I don't believe this was related to the history of slavery of the gipsy people in Romania's past, which was the ancestry of many influential such thugs, as it was something borrowed from the Americans, where that issue is much more aggravating. If I am correct, then the very use of the term denotes the way Romanians relate to other people, especially those who they perceive superior. Of course, if I am wrong, then I am guilty of the same thing, so QED, I guess?

  After the Romanian Revolution against Communism (note the big R we use for that event, being the only real change we ever affected as a people) people from different countries came to assess the opportunities presented by a newly opened territory. One report that I saw with my own eyes was from a Jewish lawyer who said just that: Romania is filled with highly educated people who distrust their own government, laws and look poorly on local products and people. Instead, they revere national brands they never actually had any real recent contact with like the U.S. and West Germany, preferring ideas and things imported from there to things they could get or make locally. He concluded that it was a good place to invest in, since the quality of the local human resource was high and their expectations were low.

  The Revolution was in 1989, 32 years ago, but the mentality is still mostly there, as even the people who teach the children of today are still of the generation that lived through that era. It is funny to discuss education with a Romanian, they all complain about how bad it is related to how it was, because children aren't fed the same amount of unprocessed information that was the mainstay of the Communist education. They are rarely complaining about the lack of technological advancement in schools or of skills that are useful in real life or about how children are not taught how to be passionate and happy. Even so, they don't do anything at all to change anything. The only measure of control that parents have is to which school to pay people for their kids to get into and, more recently, to which expensive private school to send their kids in order to give them what they see as the proper education.

  The heroes of the Romanians are not the successful entrepreneurs. The media rarely mentions them and then it is mostly because they were paid for by those people. In case an average Romanian hears about a successful Romanian businessman, it is assumed they had connections with the people who ruled the country during the Communist era. Since they started with money and/or influence, their success is surely undeserved. Funny enough, people like doctors are not heroes either, because in Romania people usually have to bribe medical personnel to get any of the treatments that are theoretically free. Even when they go to private clinics the instinct is to pay extra to appease the doctors who, in their natural state, would try to kill them. This is, of course, caused by a systemic underfunding of medicine and by the endemic corruption which sees any funds misused or embezzled. Because of this, a medic who saves lives - even when they refuse to accept any extra money, is not a hero, but just incompetent or parasitic. Heroes are not the people who left the country to get abused as cheap labor abroad either. People who went to Spain to pick strawberries or to Greece to pick olives are just poor uneducated people who are clearly poor stock, perhaps even gipsy people. They deserve no respect. Same for prostitutes, who are universally despised as shaming the country and at the same time praised for being amongst the most beautiful of prostitutes.

  There was once a news report about people going to pick strawberries on TV and the mother of a girl going to Spain explained how she taught her daughter to conform to whatever they say there, to not antagonize the boss. Just work hard and make money and do whatever he says. This was her mother!

  Police people are not heroic, either. They don't protect the citizens, they enforce unreasonable rules. Politicians are not heroes, they are either the absolute evil or the person who is opposing the absolute evil, which makes them slightly less evil. The few situations where political fervor is so high that someone becomes close to being considered heroic, their efforts pale in comparison with the expectations put on them, which of course proves they were evil all along.

  No, the heroes of the Romanians are the hard working people who work for other people. Great theoreticians, the army of Romanian software developers that left the country to work for multinational corporations, any doctor who would be despised in the country is a hero when working abroad, engineers of all kinds, any white collar job, even people working in construction - which is somehow seen as a clean job. With the caveat that they must not be gipsy or poor stock, they surely left the country to thieve and steal and they are shameful to us all. If people "from the developed countries" (this is a phrase still very much in use in relation to the Western countries) praise a hard working Romanian, the entire country breaths a collective awwh of pride, like dogs petted on their heads for being good boys. "You see?", they say, "Now they see what we are made of!".

  One obvious exception is any managerial job. If you are a manager, you actually do little to nothing, you are an oppressor, not a hard working individual. Even if you got there through your own efforts (and didn't rely on the people you knew or money you had) you have a dirty job that deserves no respect. Unless you are related to the person who judges the situation, in which case you are the pride of the family. 

  The biggest heroes are of course great athletes, especially if they are part of an international team. If a Romanian is part of a of German football team, the entire country believes he would be the reason why Germans are good at football. Of course, people doing great things in Romanian sports are usually seen as part of the endemic corruption in Romanian sports. They still get the status of heroes, but they are always on trial and any mistake will be fatal to their reputation. An interesting exception is Simona Halep, which is the greatest Romanian hero of all, because she goes to international Tennis competitions and wins some of them against the best international tennis players in the world! The fact that she is reasonably good looking doesn't hurt either. She is of the people for the people.

  There are great Romanian writers, for example, but we only value the dead ones. We learn in school about great Eminescu, or Rebreanu, or Blaga. The more poetic, the better. The more obtuse the better. And in order to verify if children really read these big greats, we ask them to write commentaries. And kids just read existing commentaries and summarize them. With the advent of Google and AI, it's impossible to not automate this, since it requires the lowest level of human inventivity. Current writers are poor unknown quantities, always shorted when negotiating with local publishers. And no one reads books anymore anyway, what are they doing? There are great Romanian actors and filmmakers, but few people actually bother to watch Romanian productions. We occasionally see films winning some international prize somewhere and it's usually some drab and depressing drama about people being treated as slaves and behaving like one.

  All these point to a mentality that can only be called "slave mentality". Anything Romanian is poor quality, therefore we export raw material and import the very things made from it. As an example, we export a lot of apples and import a lot of apple juice. The opportunities for Romanians are to either find a good job in Romania or - much better - a good job abroad. To have a company, make your own money, employ other people, is still seen as something dirty. Romanians are not educated on how to make, keep or invest money, instead they are instructed on which jobs are better paid. When I was a child, I knew that I should go for being a medic or a lawyer. Now kids are probably taught to try to go into software. No parent would ever tell a kid to think freely, pursue their dreams and try to make something of themselves through their own strength unless it first starts with being employed somewhere. Surely, dreams can wait, they say, all sad and depressed.

  Funny enough, people who somehow get to be business owners, employers or managers many times behave like slave owners. This is also slave mentality: slaves don't dream of being free, but of becoming masters themselves. This sadly also encourages Romanian employees to feel that anything Romanian sucks. In my career the most unprofessional, choleric, petty and unethical employers were Romanians. With small exceptions that I will attribute to mental illness and not national culture.

  Even when we go on holidays, the biggest complaint we have is "it was nice, but there were too many Romanians there". When we were most complaining about how poor our country was, right after the big R, we were the country importing most expensive cars and high end smartphones.

  This is a sad sad cycle, Romania is and will continue to be a nation of employees. Nothing in our culture impresses the importance of self actualization, of generating and defending our own values, of pushing to get ahead and then actually pulling people with you. Nothing teaches us to band together under those values and fight for them. From all of the cultures we've had contact with, which mostly invaded our country and enslaved us for most of our history, we only learned to slave or enslave others.

  We had and we still have a lot of potential, smart people, hard working people, but is that relevant without a set of values? I personally feel that the Romanians abroad impress their employers, but also their employees or their subordinates and their friends, not by being hard working, but by being open and by not being complete assholes, by being kind and ethical. It hurts me to see how American we have become, partially because of the malevolent influence of Russia, but instead of going for the American ideal declarations of freedom and equality, we emulate the American actions of selfish individuality and status driven inequality. They also pushed this idea that somehow you are either a Capitalist or a Communist, master or slave. This just in case you are not a Fascist or a Terrorist, which makes you gipsy or poor stock.

  Let's abandon this obsolete thinking of masters and slaves and instead think of the others as simply people. Your employer is your partner not your owner, people from other nations are still just people, dreaming is still OK and when you reach the top, give yourself a pat on the back and help others up. Find something you care about and do it. There is nothing on the other end. Every moment is not the first day of your life, but the very last. Make it worthwhile.

  Rarely have I read such a frustrating book. Civilized to Death is trying to show that our modern life and societal order is not the only solution, that progress doesn't mean what we think it means and that a lot of the things we take for granted about our (pre)history and path as a species is just propaganda. So on one side, I was fascinated by the concepts shown in the books. However the tone of the text is so shrill, inconsistent and self contradicting that I found it infuriating.

  Christopher Ryan is obsessed with hunter gatherer societies. He rose to fame with a book that covered the sexual behavior of our closest relatives: chimps and bonobos, as well as the information he had collected on our ancestors in prehistory about the subject. Again, he was trying to show that most of what we know or take for granted about human sexuality is self interested bullshit, beginning with the arrival of agriculture. In Civilized to Death he just moves even further to blame all the ailments of humanity on that same event and the hierarchical paternalistic profit obsessed society that arose since then. Progress, he argues, can only be measured in human happiness and well being and modern society sucks at that.

  You can skip reading the book and just read the cheat-sheet that the author published on his web site for it. The basic gist is that we were better off hunting and gathering and that modern society is just a self-sustaining meme that leads to our domestication for its own survival, not something that increases our happiness. It's a zoo for ourselves and we should take control over what that zoo looks like and how it treats us.

  I agree with that last statement, but I call bullshit on Ryan's arguments. He vilifies Malthus, but then he claims if we limited our population to 100 million, we would all have enough resources to live without effort. He attacks statistics and experiments as being biased or even intentionally skewed, then he uses statistics and experiments of his own that he likes better. He attacks globalization and how it forced the same narrative on everyone, but then he makes his research and his money with the help of the global communication network that technology provided.

  His worst sin, though, is how we so liberally uses the terms "we" or "humanity" to define the specific group of people that he likes. For example, people are slaves to the drive to work. If they try not to work, the entire society brings hell down on them, so they are forced into this horrific labor camp that the Earth has become. He completely ignores the people that absolutely love to work! Ryan mentions people who could very easily stop working and live a comfortable life, but they don't, only he puts this all on some perceived addiction to work, not that it gives people meaning and fulfilment if doing the thing they love. He talks about how egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies are, but he completely ignores what happens to the members of those groups who do not want to be egalitarian. And so on. He is furious against what he calls the Narrative of Perpetual Progress, which he then dismissively calls NPP in the rest of the book, but he doesn't really come with an alternative.

  And that makes the book very frustrating, because you want to believe what he says, you want to look further into the sources he mentions, but the way he puts everything together feels like very artificial cherry picking. And the ending is always something like "OK, I may have gone too far, but what I really mean is...". No! Just don't go too far. Make me trust what you are saying, not feel I am being swindled by a TED talking Marx!

  Bottom line: a very interesting premise, but poor argumentation. Still worth a read.

  Last Call is about the occult and symbolism, threaded through history, actual famous people, the Vegas culture, the world of gambling and card games, Tarot cards and so on, filled with action and fringy characters. Tim Powers has put a lot of effort in the research and the details and that, ironically, may be the problem of this book. There are too many characters, too deeply rooted into the mythology of chaotic gods and the significance of cards, doing things that you need to reread a few times in order to understand. It gives the book a hallucinatory feeling, like you are there and not there at the same time. This might help people get into the atmosphere or push them away.

  The book is also quite long and just the first of a trilogy. While I've enjoyed living in the world described by the book, and while it is well written, I also found it a chore to read. That doesn't mean it's not a very good book, it's just that I don't think I was its intended audience or maybe reading a few pages before going to sleep or listening to it while walking the dog were not the best situations for getting into the story.

  Bottom line: very interesting concepts and well written, but requires effort from the reader to fully enjoy. I found it a bit too long for comfort and the pacing was a bit unreliable, too. If you're into symbolism and Tarot mythology, this might be the book for you.

  Yesterday I saw one of those things that make me exclaim "Only in Romania!". There was a pharmacy and in front of it there was an old lady waiting her turn to enter, because there can't be too many people inside. Next to her, like a few feet away, there was a maskless man puffing away on a cigarette, his smoky exhalations reaching the masked old woman as she was trying to protect herself and the people in the pharmacy.

  And it made me more attentive to people around me. Bands of maskless high schoolers, with the loud talking, fake swagger and hysterical laughter typical of their age and need for attention were happily walking on the street, not a care in the world, their bravado, as idiotic as it was, clear on their faces. Then groups of parents, masks on their chin, smoking and talking to each other as they supervise their children playing, blocking access ways where people have to squeeze between them in order to pass. I know those people, too. They already believe that they have been exposed as much as they could be, that trying to protect themselves when their children literally exchange spit and snot is futile. Then the drivers, happy that they don't have to wear masks inside their own car, but pretending to forget to use them even when they have to get out to buy something or to get home. Meanwhile, the police has found some specific sweet spots where they hunt for people not doing their duty regarding the pandemic, ignoring all others. And of course, the noseholes. People who wear their masks because it's mandatory, but only on their mouths, because they breathe through their noses.

  And yes, all of these are selfish assholes, but that's not my point now. These people are contributing to the rise of infections, but only a few weeks ago, when the rates were plummeting, they were careful with the masks, the distance, everything. The first and simplest hypothesis on why this happens is that as people stop wearing masks, infections start rising, and it surely does explain a lot, but it's not enough. These people could have relaxed weeks ago. Why now?

  My theory is that as schools opened, the number of people not wearing masks on the streets increased. Whether due to parent fatigue (let's call it that) or idiotic bravado or because some of them are too small to wear masks, children have skewed the proportion of people being responsible. And like a switch being flipped, other have started copying the same behavior. It's not even something conscious. I have difficulty believing people are actually reasoning that if a four year old doesn't wear mask, they should stop, too. It's a social phenomenon, a monkey see, monkey do thing. This has nothing to do with charts or numbers or public announcements which clearly show that we have now reversed our trend and the percentage of sick people is rising again. Another subconscious trigger is that more light is coming from the sun as we head towards spring. People attach darkness with crisis and light with things getting better. And yes, again, without thinking about it.

  This means several things. One of them is that communication of the facts doesn't function as it should. This is on the media and their panic inducing way of reporting things. They only discuss the bad things, the shocking things, not the good ones. Numbers don't matter for people who have lived in fear for months. At one point or another they are going to break and act out. The solution is to reward people when things are going well, to inspire rather than scare people off. It would have been easy to understand and feel what is going on if, after weeks of smiling news anchors congratulation the population for their efforts, they would have turned sad and announced the trend is reversing. But they don't do this and that makes them responsible.

  Second thing is that statistically people are barely aware of their existence. Like automatons they live their lives and copy each other's behaviors without a single thought. If prompted, they will find rationalizations for their actions after the fact, then feel resentment towards the person that forced them to make the effort. There is no solution for this, I am afraid. It falls on the authorities to be aware of this and act preventively to ensure a healthy proportion of people looking like they are doing the right thing. Note: looking like. This can also mean good propaganda or spin. Who would have thought that I would ever advocate for that?

  Finally, this cannot be turned into another cat and mouse game, where the authorities are punishing people when they catch them, so people do bad things when the police is not there. This is not a carrot and stick situation. The ingrained distrust of authorities and petty selfishness we learned during the Communist era makes traditional measures from the government fail miserably or even backfire. This is the most difficult thing yet: change the ways the system works in order to reward people for their good work. This is anathema to Romanian life and politics, but it must be done. Social responsibility needs to be bred back into our national DNA. Otherwise we will remain a nation of assholes like the guy in the image.

  Gina Kolata's Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 starts with a question that, I believe, is more important than the cause of the epidemic or even its terrible effects: Why don't we know about what happened in 1918? Why isn't it taught at school, why isn't there more information about what happened, why aren't there more books, songs, reports, movies and memoirs about what can be safely called the biggest killer event in human history in terms of numbers? Not only regular people, but also medical professionals find themselves surprised to know so little about it. In fact, if we weren't living during pandemic times right now and the parallel hadn't been drawn, we would still be in a general state of ignorance about the very existence of the event.

  And it's not only the military censorship during World War I, which surely had a lot to do with it, but a more insidious and yet generalized reason: people want to forget about it. The story is not one of heroism, it doesn't follow the hero's journey, it doesn't end with humanity defeating its foe, with suffering teaching an important lesson or with a patriarchal being or group coming to the rescue. Instead, it is one of utter defeat, of something unknown devastating tens of millions of lives, while they are incapable to do anything and no one comes to their aid or even acknowledges their suffering. Just senseless death, then it's over. Just like surviving a bear attack after the bear got bored of clawing and biting bits of your crying, self pissing helpless body.

  Yet the rest of the book is about the unsung heroes of the story, scientists that attempt to learn from the experience and guard against it happening again. It follows people trying to find the infectious agent that caused the 1918 pandemic, identify it and pry its secrets. These are people that focus on a task and obsess about finding ways to complete it. They work tirelessly in labs, dig up century old frozen bodies to find what killed them, overcome obstacles (mostly put there by other people) and are the only ones who actually know anything about something and can guide action against future disease.

  Gina Kolata's book is a great read in these times, because it not only shows people are actually doing something about epidemics, even if no one is excitedly talking about it in the media, but also shows how every pandemic follows a predictable path. It's not just our politicians that seem to be completely baffled on what to do. It's not just our scientists who get blocked in their work by malicious rumor and public opinion about things they understand nothing about. It's not just our industry that for financial reasons thwarts efforts to do something and not just us that think random chemicals can safeguard us from the new threat. Epidemics are the great stories that no one learns from and therefore we are all doomed to repeat living through them.

  Flu is also a great companion to Barry's The Great Influenza book. While that one was more historical in nature and focused more on the path the virus took and how people reacted to it, Kolata is almost taking the reverse path, starting with current efforts to understand what happened in 1918 and thus slowly creating a picture of the events then, through the work of dedicated scientists and the biological information discovered about the virus.

  Bottom line: this is a book well worth reading, particularly in these troubled times. Hell, it's not like you have a lot of other things to do anyway!

  Submission is the most French book I've ever read. It's an intellectual examination of political France (and by extension the whole Europe) from the viewpoint of a womanising, wine drinking, misanthropic, misogynistic university professor as it is suddenly, but without resistance, turning Muslim. Bound to generate reactions, the book is tongue-in-cheek offending everything and everybody: political systems and pundits, religions and zealots, apathetic atheists, women, muslims. But it is also examining human failings and demanding a solution that doesn't completely suck. This is the first Michel Houellebecq book I've read. It intrigued me and I may read another soon.

  Just a few quotes to wet your appetite:

  • the mediocrity of the ‘political offerings’ was almost surprising. A centre-left candidate would be elected, serve either one or two terms, depending how charismatic he was, then for obscure reasons he would fail to complete a third. When people got tired of that candidate, and the centre-left in general, we’d witness the phenomenon of democratic change , and the voters would install a candidate of the centre-right, also for one or two terms, depending on his personal appeal. Western nations took a strange pride in this system, though it amounted to little more than a power-sharing deal between two rival gangs, and they would even go to war to impose it on nations that failed to share their enthusiasm.
  • As I got older, I also found myself agreeing more with Nietzsche, as is no doubt inevitable once your plumbing starts to fail. And I found myself more interested in Elohim, the sublime organiser of the constellations, than in his insipid offspring. Jesus had loved men too much, that was the problem; to let himself be crucified for their sake showed, at the very least, a lack of taste , as the old faggot would have put it.
  • For men, love is nothing more than gratitude for the gift of pleasure, and no one had ever given me more pleasure than Myriam. She could contract her pussy at will (sometimes softly, with a slow, irresistible pressure; sometimes in sharp, rebellious little tugs); when she gave me her little arse, she swivelled it around with infinite grace. As for her blow jobs, I’d never encountered anything like them. She approached each one as if it were her first, and would be her last. Any single one of them would have been enough to justify a man’s existence.

The protagonist is a professor whose only love appears to be Joris-Karl Huysmans, of who he thinks constantly and of who he wrote the dissertation that allowed him his position teaching in the Sorbonne university. As the system in France is turned upside down by a combination of voter apathy and political mathematics, a Muslim party gains majority and, under the skillful leadership of its charismatic leader, it begins to turn France and then the whole Europe into a moderate Muslim empire fueled by petro-dollars.

Of course the premise is ridiculous, after all the book was written before Trump came to power, which seemed equally ridiculous right before it happened. The book compares the submission of women to their men, the only true way of achieving happiness, to submission to a religion, or a political system, or a literary philosophy. It is masturbatory in nature and speaks to one's weakness and decay. It is not an islamophobic book, it's a trollish, nihilistic book, meant to show how reasonable a change like that might seem when supported by politics and media and allowed by lassitude and apathy. Usually books like these end up describing the advent of some Nazi government ruling with violence, fear and ruthlessness. Houellebecq says no: let it be a moderate Muslim party that each divided part of society accepts for different reasons, but accept, submit, they do. The main character ends up considering converting to Islam and living his life married to three wives and teaching in the private Muslim university of Sorbonne.

  Octavia E. Butler blew my mind with her Xenogenesis trilogy, where she explored the needs and choices of human beings when their control is taken away from them not by aggressive beings, but by god like aliens who can control and change the very nature of one's body and mind and kindly, like parents who know best, rape Earth and all the humanity for three long books. It was daring, it was thought provoking, it was sickening.

  I can see similar motifs in Fledgling, where the point of view is that of an amnesiac vampire who needs to understand who and what she is and find the people who killed her entire family and almost killed her as well. Vampires are not evil in this book, instead just having the ability to completely redirect the feelings of people they feed from towards adulation and love, a bit like the aliens in Xenogenesis. And consider the fact that the protagonist looks like a ten year old black girl and in just a few chapters she has consensual sex with a large man. I wonder what the hell happened to Butler when she was young!

  Unfortunately, the story starts with this very intriguing reimagining of vampire lore, with a feel reminding me a bit of Let the Right One In, only to become mired in a sort of legal proceeding and then abruptly end. It's a fine exploration of this new idea of the vampire, but not much more. I liked the book, it was interesting from beginning to end, but it felt mostly like an intellectual exercise that could have become something so much better with just a little refinement and further exploration.

  Bottom line: I recommend it, as it again fiddles with our notions of propriety, sexuality and race, but Xenogenesis was much better.

  A Very Punchable Face is an attempt to answer the question "Who is Colin Jost?" by small sketch like chapters that have very little to do with each other and also seem to have not very much to say about Colin himself. Some of the more interesting or personal issues are just ignored or assumed known by the reader. If you don't already know who he is and what he did in life, some of the passages in the book won't make any sense to you. Also, isn't it obnoxious to write a "memoir" when you're 38?

  So who is Colin Jost? He is a guy whose greatest fear is to be mediocre. Understandable since he went to Harvard, married Scarlett Johansson and wrote and hosted for Saturday Night Live. Who in his shoes wouldn't, right?

  I usually enjoy self biographical works because they are deeply personal, and while I enjoyed reading this book, it didn't feel that personal. It was filled with jokes, but they didn't do anything for the story. They were there just because Jost is used to think of jokes all the time. It held some personal anecdotes, but mostly event descriptions, with little interior revelation of personal thoughts and feelings and intentions. Of all of the chapters I loved the one about his mother most, even if it had nothing to say about Colin himself. And I swear he speaks more about the times he shat himself than, let's say, Scarlett!

  Bottom line: The book doesn't say anything you probably thought you were going to read it for. The rest is amusing, but felt like a series of sketches and not something to convey how a person feels inside and experiences life. Also the writing was rather... well... mediocre.

  Daniel Suarez is a trailblazer: he takes technology in its infancy and creates stories about how it could be used today, given a little bit of determination and perhaps insanity. He is a competent writer, paying more attention to events and dialogue than to character development. This makes the books packed with ideas and information, but less lyrical, let's say. They also start brilliantly, with a new angle on a situation that could be happening today without big leaps in technology or stretches of imagination, yet kind of go over the edge towards the ending, become less plausible. Suarez's view of the state of the world and human nature in general is both optimistic and terribly dark.

  Delta-V follows the same pattern, this time focusing on space mining, a subject that I am personally really interested in. What would happen if someone would ignore the bureaucracy and the ethical bog in which Earth is mired in and instead just push the boundaries, dare to do where others barely dare to dream? What if we would use the money we throw every day on wars and maintaining an artificial system of wealth and politics on something that lifts us all?

  I liked the technical aspects of the book, but less the interactions between people and the way events unfolded. The story raises many interesting points, but fails to raise something more important: hope. The plot is akin to those high stakes James Bond chases, thrilling, but implausible, letting me feel like it would be crazy to even try. Delta-V leaves a bitter sweet taste after reading: to know what is possible with just a little commitment and to know that the world is poised to stop you at every point for the simple reason that it must justify its existence and protect its pecking order.

  I liked Daemon more, but this one has a subject that is closer to my heart.

  The Abyss Beyond Dreams ended with Bienvenido being thrown out of the Void and outside the very galaxy. A different set of heroes now need to battle Fallers, idiotic government people and spacetime to save the world!

   A Night Without Stars is almost as good as the first one. It brings new challenges, a slightly different setup, other characters. In a way, it's pretty much a separate book. And while it follows the plethora of different people, each doing their own thing, it keeps the entire narrative together and consistent. Still had parts and leaps of logic that felt a bit lazy, but the main flow of the story was captivating and the characters sympathetic.

   But, being the actual end of a story and being a Peter F. Hamilton book, it doesn't end on a cliffhanger, but as abruptly as falling off the cliff. To give you a taste: the fate of the Void is resolved in less than a paragraph. The end of the book introduces no less than three different alien races, each with their own few paragraphs. It was like Hamilton was saying "Hey, glad you enjoyed the book. I also had this list of ideas while writing it. I'll list them at the end and let you think about the possibilities as homework".

  Bottom line: if you are a Hamilton fan (or you like good hard science fantasy) there is no force that will stop you reading these two books. I even felt like they were slightly better written than the ones before, even if a bit less carefully. However, the cold turkey endings of these stories stop me from feeling like I want more. It's like enjoying a high speed car ride and hitting a tree. It was fun while it lasted, but you don't feel like driving now.

  The Void trilogy brought us the captivating idea of an area of the galaxy that has different properties than the rest, a place where electricity and electronics don't work well, but people have psychic abilities. Also steampunk heroes that fight the system and have superpowers. 

  Well, The Abyss Beyond Dreams is also set in the Void, but on another planet. It starts with Nigel and Paula discovering the cache of telepathic recording of "Edeard's dreams" and Peter F. Hamilton makes fun of his own work by having Nigel tear up at the end of consuming them because it was such an exact hero's journey. I understand Hamilton's embarrassment as I remember reading the books and waiting impatiently for the hard sciency part of the book to finish so I can see what Edeard was up to, which is the opposite of what I normally do.

  Anyway, Nigel goes into the Void to mess it up, as it engulfs more and more of the galaxy to fuel its function, and he arrives on a planet in an early industrial stage of development and that is ruled by a bureaucratic government. So he encourages a Trotsky-like movement in order to reach his goals.

  To me the book was very entertaining, I've read it in a few days, and I also think is one of the good Hamilton books. It's not hard to spot the logical errors in it. I saw clearly how he wanted to create a new story, this time examining other aspects of human psychology and sociology by dissecting a socialist revolution, and so he paid less attention to other sides of it. But it's a book, a hard science fantasy story! It is not perfect and still pretty cool.

  I also liked that the two parts of this story, one being this book, the other A Night Without Stars, were almost standalone, with different characters doing things in different ages. The ending of the book is abrupt as it usually is with PFH, but not as jarring as other of his books, nor ending in a terrible cliffhanger, nor like the end of the second book... :) And this time it's not a trilogy, but a duology. Hurrah for self contained stories!

  Bottom line: good read, I didn't realize how much I was missing reading some of Peter F's stories until I started reading this.

In 1859, Charles Darwin was publishing "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life", a book that was proposing a theory that was logical, but against every cultural idea that people adhered to at the time. It said that people were animals and that the only force that pushes for change and therefore speciation, is evolution. People went mad with anger: we are not monkeys! Evolution is really easy to understand though, especially if you are not thinking of people or even of live things. Bear with me, while I make this point, before we move to the real theme of this post.

Imagine a chair maker. He buys the wood, carves the various components used to make chairs, then puts them together and sells them. He makes normal chairs: four legs supporting a platform and then a backrest. Whenever people need chairs, they come to him. Now, another chair maker comes into town. He figures that a chair is almost as stable with three legs as it would be with four. So he starts making three legged chairs, which cost less to make, so he sells them cheaper. Most of the people who need chairs start buying from him. In this case the force that applies pressure on the chairs is the public wanting sturdy, comfortable and cheap chairs and the cause of change is the design of the chair maker. The four leg chair maker will either switch to three legs, make more beautiful chairs or find a different production method if he wants to stay in business.

And before you tell me that I am explaining evolution through intelligent design, I will agree with that point. Because evolution is not something that denies intelligent design, it works with or without it just as well. It's a logical outcome of existing conditions and the rules that govern the environment. It has nothing to do with gods and nothing against them. If you have a population of things that can multiply in a way that allows for change, be it random or designed, and there is a pressure that limits the growth of the number of things, whether random or designed, then evolution takes place, favoring some variants (species or races) and disfavoring others. It happens every time men prefer blue eyes to brown ones in women, whenever women prefer tall men over bulky ones, whenever people make chairs or when there is pressure applied to the growth of a virus.

Yes, we reached the real point of the post: the characteristics of a virus in the human population will depend on the amount and direction of pressure we apply on its growth. Let's take some examples, shall we?

When we open schools because the Covid virus doesn't affect young children, but we limit or forbid adults gathering or going places, we put pressure on the virus to grow inside children. It's not complicated at all. Just like the chair maker, if the virus survives it only does it where it can spread. Because you can't stand your own children being children in your house with you and/or because you somehow believe that the linear and continuous application of regimented education without any breaks is more important than your children's health, you get a variant of virus that spreads through children. If you're lucky, it will come home with them and make just you sick. If you're unlucky, it will kill your children, too.

When we let political and economic pressure dictate the response to a viral outbreak, thus letting the virus spread unchecked through the population, you exponentially increase the chance of mutation (remember the multiplication which allows for change? That's called mutation in biology) thus getting more virus variants. Some of them will be more lethal, some of them will not. It's a throw of a dice that you should never have thrown. If after this horrid year of 2020 we start getting vaccinated and there is a variant out there that can infect vaccinated people, then it will spread through the entire population like we did absolutely nothing. And this happens whether your country implements a full lockdown or not, because other countries don't. Viruses care nothing about borders. So you're not losing money or political clout in the short term, but medium and long term you are losing big time.

This brings us to the last example and you won't like it. It goes like this: if you vaccinate people starting with the sick and elderly, and without even testing them first, you will have more chances of vaccinating already infected people. That means that while the vaccine will make your body reject a specific type of virus, that virus is already multiplying inside you and - yes, you guessed it - if any of them mutate into something that the vaccine did not prepare for, then it will be selected faster for evolution and survival, thus increasing the chances for a virus variant that the vaccine is ineffective for. A vaccine is the true long term solution for any viral outbreak: it uniformly limits the spread of the virus at scale with minimal cost. But only if applied uniformly!

This is not medical science that I am explaining here, it's simple logical progression from a given point applying a set of rules. When people address the issue of a viral epidemic by discussing their legal or moral rights, the existence or nonexistence of various deities, by considering the economy or advantages for various political parties or even some crackpot conspiracy or their personal comfort, they are missing the point. All you can do, as a person, group or government, is to alter your behavior so that the pressure you apply or do not apply leads to the best result for you and your people. The application of logic does not invalidate your beliefs, unless your believe that logic is wrong, which just makes you stupid.

The virus doesn't care what you believe or what you think. It will just move forward on the path of least resistance. It's your job to carve that path so that it leads where you want it to lead.

Whatever you read on Facebook also obeys the rules of evolution. So do media reports and politics. If they can't spread, they will die, so they will mutate into something that spreads and infects more readily. Your job is again, to act according to your own interest, to decide where you want to take things. Where will you apply the pressure and where will you go soft?

As I was saying in a post from a year ago, a virus (or a meme) tends to become more infections, but less damaging in time. Again, it's pure logic. It needs to spread better and therefore not kill its host too quickly or limit its mobility and thus its ability to infect others. But that only applies on a virus that is left unchecked. Once you apply pressure, you change the rules, it changes direction. All I am saying here is push it towards where you want it to go!