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.

  Plain Bad Heroines is a lesbian gothic book, as it features unexplainable horror and almost everyone in it is gay and female. Should I call it sapphic gothic? It has the benefit of scaring you twice as much if you're homophobic, I guess. The first thing you notice is how well the book is written. Emily M. Danforth is clearly a talented author and she must be praised for it. I continued to read the book until I finished it mostly because of how well it was written. However, while I am a fan of intermingling stories and self referential prose, most of these stories bored me to tears.

  It is possible, though, that I was not connected to the subtleties of the book, as I was frequently falling asleep while reading it and starting to read it again from a random point that seemed vaguely familiar. I mean, it is a book about the making of a movie that is based on a book, itself inspired by Capote's unfinished work, that researched the spooky happenings at an isolate manor which was being used as a girls only school in the 1900's and where said happenings were being associated with a book written by an outspoken bixsexual feminist who wrote a confessional memoir. And that's just the synopsis. It talks about life in the glamourous Los Angeles movie scene, about societal gossip and the history of Truman Capote, the more or less overt lesbianism accepted at the beginning of the 20th century in high class educational institutions, book writing, sexting and flirtation, life under the spotlight with crazed fans following your every move, witchcraft, even a nod to Lovecraft.

  The thing that bothered me about the storytelling was that most of these subjects were not interesting to me. They felt neither very personal nor technical. As a book inspired by two others, one a shockingly honest autobiography and the other a shockingly honest autopsy of high social circles, Plain Bad Heroines felt really subdued. The scenes that most elicited emotion out of me were neither the lesbian romance, nor the behind the movie scenes machinations, nor the old timey 1900 era rich manor life. It was the witchy curse scenes, which in the end had a very underwhelming explanation. It felt like a book about nothing, going in circles around the point that it was trying to reach, but never getting there. It was a rim job!

  Bottom line: probably more subtle that I understood it to be, it might be just the thing to read if you're gay or into the socialite L.A. life. To me it was difficult to finish and find an interest in.

  I have been working on this adventure computer game that is a tribute to the history of adventure stories. One important part of that history is what we call a gamebook, a printed work that allows the reader to choose one of several paths to complete the story. Because of very aggressive marketing and copyright tactics, this is now almost absorbed by the Choose Your Own Adventure brand and for sure Bantam Books (now Random House) would like us to think that they invented the concept. In fact, the man who sold the idea to them, Edward Packard, was not even born when two American women collaborated on what is now credited as the first book in the genre: Consider the Consequences! from 1930.

  Now, imagine that you would know what is the first book in a literary genre, like the first horror book, or the first romance. You would expect to find pages and pages written about it, you would think others have mentioned it in their works in the field and you would certainly trust to be able to find it somewhere to read. Well, Consider the Consequences! has almost disappeared. A book that probably has a dozen copies left in the world and is carefully (yet greedily) hoarded by a few libraries and collectors.

  Go on, search for it on the web, the place where everybody talks about everything. You will probably find it on Amazon, where it is unavailable, and on Goodreads, where you have one rating and one review. Perhaps you would find mentions of it on a site called Gamebooks, which only seems fair, on a blog called Renga in Blue and a long tweet from a James Ryan. Then there are some context mentions and that is it! The first ever instance of a book in an entire genre is about to go extinct!

  Now, I don't know if it was any good or not. That's kind of the point, I can't judge this work because I can't find it anywhere. If I had lived in the US or the UK maybe I could have read it in the library of some university, although that is just a possibility and not something that I would expect to be able to do. I don't even know if it is in the public domain or not. The U.S. legislation says conflicting things and something written in 1930 may perhaps become free of copyright in 2026.

  And the authors were the real deal: activists, suffragettes and all that. Perhaps I should complain that the patriarchy is trying to stifle the roots of feminine literature and then something would happen. It's astounding, really.

  Update, September 3 2021: Andy Mabbett left a comment about a new Wikipedia entry for the book. Thanks, Andy!

  From the link, a partial play in a radio show, where you can get a feel of what the book was like. Revolutionary for the genre, to say the least! Here it is:

  [youtube:SWCu6PnK5ls]

  The Mother Code is not a terrible book, but it is certainly not a good one. It has problems of structure, story and characters. But worst of all, it is really not about motherhood.

  Imagine a world where Uncle Sam "tests" a biological weapon somewhere in Afghanistan, only later realising that they have doomed the whole of humanity. Their solution is not to create self sustained habitats that eschew the issue, going to another planet, moving to Antarctica. Instead they focus on two avenues: finding a cure and creating a fleet of robots that can incubate, raise and protect children that have been genetically manipulated to resist the disease. Yes, because that is doable if you put (just) a team of people to work. It gets worse. The only mention of other countries is in about three or four paragraphs. They don't exist in the American mind, other than an afterthought, and indeed that's the political response of the government in the book, working in secret even knowing they are the cause and that other countries might help. And of course, all the children are American, as are the personalities of the "mothers".

  And really, you might accuse me for nitpicking here, I mean, I've read a lot of bad or naive stories over the years, why be so upset with this? But Carole Stivers decided to also show what happens in the future in parallel to the epidemic story, thus eliminating any thrill of what might happen. The core of any sci-fi story, the what-if, was halved in the moment she presented the end at the same time with the beginning. And later on, when there was another serious question about the future of humanity, the author again chooses to show her cards early and resolve the tension before it even started building.

  So what's left? A deep and interesting analysis of what it means to be a mother, explored through the eyes of the children raised by machines? No. That's just an afterthought, instead the focus being on a group of people that just... exist, with no real consequences to the story until the very end. I understand the dilemma of the editor: should they remove the superfluous writing, thus ending up with a short story, or should they leave it in in hope people would buy "a book" and thus pay for their salary.

  And the whole "mother code" thing is barely touched upon, which is so very sad, because the concept of a software developer trying to understand and code a nurturing mother is amazing! Yet that part takes just a few chapters and it doesn't really feel like what would happen to a software person.

  Bottom line: a really good idea, wasted on a subpar book that buries it under a lot of unnecessary story and forgettable characters.

  I always appreciate autobiographies for the glimpse they offer into another person's life. Double points for something that is well written and, if anything, A Promised Land is well written. Barack Obama's voice makes everything feel present and personal, which is the hallmark of a good biography. Yet one has to wonder how much of the story has been left out, how many personal failures have been explained away by a personality affected by the hubris of being the president, particularly given the several sections of the book where political figures were criticized for speaking out of turn or saying too much to the wrong people. So am I conflicted about this. I liked reading the book and I am glad to have had a taste of the experience of being a president, but I cannot take anything else at factual value.

  The book only covers the first four years of the presidential term, starting before the Democrat candidate elections and ending with bin Laden's death. It portrays Obama as an idealist, a reasonable man, one of those few people that need the world to make sense. He tells the story of him becoming a candidate almost like he got caught up in a current.

  He then tells stories about his Democrat colleagues and Republican adversaries, taking great care to talk as nice of them as possible. Notable exceptions are Sarah Palin, which Obama sees as the prototype Trump: an uneducated know-nothing who gained political capital not despite, but because of her ignorance, and Mitch McConnell, who is for all intents and purposes the Palpatine of the story. Trump is also mentioned at the end, deliberately almost like a footnote and depicted as a mindless buffoon.

  Reading the book from start, when the hero is a young idealist who believes in America and its political system, to end, when the hero is a battered soldier fighting economic collapse, terrorism, Republican lies and suicidal policies meant to counter him personally, felt painful. A good kind of pain, like the one (I assume :) ) one would get after a good workout, but pain nonetheless. It also started as a manifesto of hope and kind of ended in a bunch of apologetic explanations on why the good things that he did were not noticed by people and why the good things he did not do had good reasons for not getting done.

  I liked that Obama is a politician who hates the way politics work. I loved that he is a principled man as it is my personal belief that only well thought and agreed principles should guide important decisions, not personal feelings. I liked that the book did not focus on racism or social justice and the few passages about that were well argumented and put in context.

  I don't think being president helped him a lot, it sounded like it was one of those soul sucking jobs that people get into for money and prestige and the hope of achieving something, but that get them exhausted and lifeless at the end. Even for a positive and hopeful person, his book leaves a bitter taste of disappointment in how the world works.

My conclusion: it is a long book, 1700 ebook pages, and it only covers the first term of his presidency and a few years before as a politician. It is well written and I imagine the audio book, which is narrated by Obama himself, has an even stronger impact. I liked that he tried to present himself accurately, with strengths and weaknesses, qualities and flaws. I do believe, though, that the narrative of the book and especially they way he sees himself is a bit fantastic. Some of the chapters felt like rationalizations of past failures. There were valid reasons for that, but they were failures nonetheless and it felt like he refused to own responsibility for some of them. I recommend the book, but for someone not interested in politics, it may feel a bit boring.

  Rhythm of War feels like a setup for something, like an interlude. Also, while it largely expands the scope of the story, it relies a lot of existing characters and their stories in previous books, without doing that smart thing Brandon Sanderson usually does to remind people what they were. I don't even know if it's possible with this large of a story. And remember, this is just the fourth in a ten book series!

  And so my reading of this book suffered from two things: I didn't quite remember what everything was about and the story just got too large! Meaning that I have to choose whether I care about individual characters and the sides they take or if I see everything as a big saga where people don't really matter. At this point, though, the choice is very difficult to make.

  To summarize, I loved the book, but not as much as I remember liking the previous three. The pace was slower, the implications grander, but also not reaching closure. A lot more characters, types of spren, gods, realms and bindings were revealed, but now I have to wait another two years to see what they were actually about. And Kaladin's pain now went into some weird directions, like battle schock and psychological help and accepting limitations in order to go forward. Was everyone depressed in 2020?! I thought Sanderson was immune to depression.

  Anyway, it seems to me that I will have to plan well the arrival of the fifth book in the series, probably by rereading the first four. Only then will the story click as it should and not make me feel like a stupid Taravangian.

  Winter Tide, the first book of the series, was a refreshing blend of Lovecraftian Mythos and a perspective focused on balance and peace, rather than power problem solving. So, a year and a half ago, while I said I enjoyed reading it, I was also saying that it was a bit slow in the beginning.

  Deep Roots has a few things going against it. The novelty wore off, for once. Then the characters are not reintroduced to the reader, there are no flashbacks or summaries, so I had no idea who everyone was anymore. Finally, it had almost the same structure as the first book, but without introducing new lore elements and instead just popping up new characters, as if keeping track of existing ones wasn't enough work. It starts slow and the pace only picks up towards the end. This made it hard for me to finish the book and maintain interest in the story.

 This time, Aphra and her motley crew need to stop the Outer Ones, ancient creatures with immense power, from saving humanity from extinction. Yes, it is a worthy goal, but they want to do it by enslaving and controlling Earth, treating us like the impetuous children that we are. With such a cosmic threat I would have expected cosmic scenes, powerful emotions, explosive outcomes, but it was all very civilized and ultimately boring.

  Bottom line: Ruthanna Emrys' fresh perspective persists in this second installment of the Innsmouth Legacy series, but it isn't fresh anymore. I am sure the experience is much better if you read Winter Tide just before it. As it stands, Deep Roots reads like a slightly boring detective story with some mystical elements sprayed in. I don't regret reading it, but I don't feel the need for more.

   This is one of those books that when summarized sounds a lot better than the actual story. In The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, we discover a brutal medieval and magical world, where magic is related to people from the stars who are considered gods, but may just be very technologically advanced humans. Yet this is just a vague backdrop for a two hundred and something pages novel. The main focus is on a guy who alternates between a very rough vernacular Black English and technobabble which one else seems to understand, who has magical powers and is part of a gang of fighters that work as security for caravans. He is a demigod, the blood of the star people courses through his veins, but he hides that part of him from the world. He is also in love with another guy who has the blood and much of the text concerns this gay relationship, which he also hides from the world. There are also some brutal fight scenes, but they don't bring anything to the story other than to make it a fantasy.

  I saw other people just as confused as I am. Maybe there was some subtlety that I missed and that is why so many people praise this first novel of Kai Ashante Wilson, a guy who started writing in 2013. Why are the reviews so wonderful? To me it felt like an above average pulp story, akin to those about cowboys riding dinosaurs. The writing style is also difficult enough to make the book less entertaining that it could have been. It's like Wilson rubs our noses into some intellectual shit that I can't even smell. Or is it that is it just another mediocre book that gets positive political reviews because it promotes Black culture and features gay people?

  So my conclusion is that I did not enjoy the book. It took me ages to finish it and I couldn't relate to any of the characters. I thought the world was very interesting though, which makes this even more frustrating, since it was barely explored.

  It has been a long time since I've finished a book. I just didn't feel like it, instead focusing on stupid things like the news. It's like global neurosis: people glued to their TV screens listening to what is essentially the same thing: "we have no control, we don't know enough and we feel better bitching about it instead of doing anything to change it". I hope that I will be able to change my behavior and instead focus on what really matters: complete fiction! :)

  Anyway, Unfettered is a very nice concept thought up by Shawn Speakman: a contribution based anthology book. Writers provide short stories, complete with a short introduction, as charity. The original Unfettered book was a way by which writers helped Speakman cover some of his medical expenses after a cancer diagnosis and the idea continued, helping others with the same problem. This way of doing things, I believe, promotes a more liberating way of writing. There is no publisher pressure, no common theme, writers are just exploring their own worlds, trying things out.

  Unfettered III contains 28 shorts stories from authors like Brandon Sanderson, Lev Grossman, Mark Lawrence, Terry Brooks, Brian Herbert, Scott Sigler and more. Funny enough, it was Sanderson's own addition to the Wheel of Time literature that I found most tedious to finish, mostly because I couldn't remember what the books were about anymore and who all the characters were. But the stories were good and, even if the book is twice as large as I think it should have been, it was entertaining. Try it out, you might enjoy this format.

  There are a lot of fascinating ideas and anecdotes in this book, especially in the areas which I wouldn't have considered interesting before reading it. Rabid is the type of book that I love, both because the subject is fascinating but also because of the effort the author made to research and write the content in a digestible format.

  In this book Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy describe the history of the rabies virus, how it affected humankind culturally, historically and, of course, medically. We learn in this book that there is a strong possibility that the myths of vampire and werewolf stem from the behaviour of people affected by rabies, the theme of beast biting person and turning them into one of their own proven irresistible even in times where no one understood how diseases work. Was Hector rabid when fighting Achilles? Were berserkers affected by rabies? Then we go into the actual zoonotic origin of the virus, a staggering 60% of infectious diseases affecting humans being of animal original initially. An idea I found extremely interesting is that farmers took over from hunter gatherers in so little time and so thoroughly because raising animals made them get new diseases to which they developed immunity, any contact with non farming populations thus fatally destroying them. Finally, a very nice perspective on Louis Pasteur, who is more popularly renowned for developing pasteurization and thus providing us with better tasting drinks than his final triumph which was a vaccine for rabies and an institute dedicated to studying infectious diseases.

  Bottom line: it might sound like a weird subject to read about or at least one hard to digest. The authors' writing is very good, the research splendid, and the book short enough to not take too much of the reader's time. I recommend it!