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  Andy Weir does it again, managing to make science and space engineering fun and engaging. In Hail Mary the stakes are a lot higher than in The Martian, because there is more stuff to save like... the world. There are some holes in the logic of the book, but it's a fun read where basically two guys spend the entire book fixing things, researching things and trying to stay alive. In short, if you loved The Martian you will like this book.

  I know these books are not really related and in no way does the author owe me anything, but I got a little disappointed with the now predictable evolution of space story: start with something close to reality, like a manned Mars mission or a Moon colony (hey! These have been realistic for 50 years! Classics!), then immediately find a gimmick that allows you to move among stars where everything is more exciting than in boring Sol system. Bigger, brighter and with more explosions. I understand that is the demand from the public, but what I personally enjoy about Weir's stories is the focus on the character's problem solving process, then using actual science to get by. I don't care about the size of the stakes. The less realistic and immediately possible the plot, the less I feel involved.

  Bottom line: a fun read, similar to The Martian, but bigger.

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  Matthew McConaughey is a well known actor that inspires different things for different people. He's attractive, but intense, easily switching from charming to violently wild. He was for a while the quintessential romantic comedy actor until he suddenly wasn't. He is active socially and spiritually, always coming with some emotional speech about some thing or another. So what would his autobiography be like?

  Well, it was good, but it felt a little too rehearsed even as it was constructed as a collection of unfiltered anecdotes from the author's life. The title, Greenlights, comes from the understanding that some things in life are opportunities for the future. They don't push you forward, but give you the green light to go, they are open doors. Each of the stories in the book represents a greenlight for McConaughey, regardless of how amazing, fantastical, horrible or dangerous they sound.

  In short, his crazy parents instilled in him the moral fortitude to choose and then stick with that choice. From a household in which all emotions were heightened - there is a story where his parents have a fight involving a broken nose and knife swinging, followed by wild sex, for example - Matthew learns to live and love wild but mind the consequences. And then, with a series of greenlight events, he gets into acting and fame.

  The way the author says it, his character was formed before he became famous. If you believe he does crazy stuff now, it's because he was always like this and he chose to do it. The wet dreams that also stand for premonitions on what he has to explore, the naked stoned bongo playing at night, the choice to not accept any rom-com scripts anymore, which led to him not working for two years until Hollywood finally managed to see him as an actor and give him other roles.

  Same thing with love. He had a lot of temporary relationships and sex until he met the woman he saw as "the one", wooed her, married her and they have been together ever since. When he won the Oscar, he lost 30% of his weight for the role. I know this doesn't a performance make, but it shows the way McConaughey makes a choice and sticks with it.

  A relevant quote: "What is success to me? Continue to ask yourself that question. How are you prosperous? What is your relevance? Your answer may change over time and that's fine but do yourself this favor – whatever your answer is, don't choose anything that would jeopardize your soul"

  Now, did I like the book? I feel conflicted about it, as it provided insights into how the man thinks and feels, but which also felt bland and processed. At no time did I feel I was really understanding the person or experience things together with him. As an autobiography it wasn't very effective, but then again the book was never meant to be that, more a statement of belief on how life gives you paths to choose from.

  Bottom line: good, inspiring work, but less personal that I would have liked.

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  Prions are a fascinating subject that we know almost nothing about. They are misfolded proteins that somehow proliferate inside our bodies and kill us with 100% efficiency. The diseases produced by prions are the deadliest there are, yet we know little about how prions multiply and even how they manage to kill us.

  Prions, a Challenge for Science, Medicine and Public Health System is a 2001 summary of works on prions. What does it say? That we don't know much. Then it gets terribly technical and, as I am not a biologist, I've decided to stop reading instead of pretending I understand anything. But I did scour the Internet for newer sources of knowledge and my finding is... that we still know shit about prions!

  So, what does misfolding mean? Prions are proteins, long chain molecules that are at the border of chemistry and mechanics in such a way that the way these molecules come to rest (fold) determines both their chemical and mechanical properties. Somehow (and no one actually knows how) a protein that is manufactured by our bodies (and that we don't really know what does) gets folded in the wrong way, leading to behavior that is detrimental to the body (in ways we don't really know). There is also a mechanism that turns proper proteins to this toxic form, much like a zombie invasion at nanoscale. And we don't know how it works.

  Why does it matter? Well, diseases such as scrapie in sheep, chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle (commonly known as "mad cow disease") and Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD), its variant (vCJD), Gerstmann–Sträussler–Scheinker syndrome (GSS), fatal familial insomnia (FFI), and kuru in humans are caused by prions. There is evidence that the same mechanism that destroys the nervous system in these diseases is also at fault with Alzheimer's. A biological weapon using prions, assuming it affects a large portion of a population, would kill 100% of the victims, decades after the weapon was used and without spreading the disease further.

  And why are prions so deadly? Because the immune system doesn't react to them. They are not viruses, they don't have nucleic acids, they are really tiny proteins that slowly but surely spread throughout the body and and up killing the brain of the victim (not unlike zombies, hmm).

  The leading expert in prions is Stanley B. Prusiner, the man who coined the term prion in 1982. The idea that a disease could be spread by just proteins was developed in the 1960 by people such as biophysicist John Stanley Griffith. Prusiner did a lot of work, but even so, there is little we understand about this, more than 70 years later.

  Bottom line: prions are fascinating and show us how much more we have to learn about biochemistry and disease vectors. Even if we hypothesized their existence in the '60s, we still don't know much on how they work. I welcome more research on the subject, as diseases caused by prions, even if rare, are deadly without exception.

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  Lightchaser is a story about complacency, one that faults not our silly human nature but an external alien influence. The "Domain" is the place where numerous human cultures live on thousands of planets and the Lightchaser is a starship pilot that moves from planet to planet giving and collecting "collars" which give the wearer extra status and record all of their life experiences. Further down the line, the company that builds the ships, controller exclusively by AIs, will buy the collars.

  I love Peter F. Hamilton stories because they go far, they allow the reader to dream of futures so vast and amazing that our own existence seems static and impossible to explain. Lightchaser is tiny, self contained, but it breathes the same concept. The book is not the best he wrote and in fact it is a short story with a singular idea, but I enjoyed it. Certainly a fan of Hamilton's, I am going to read everything he ever wrote at one time.

  Bottom line: good hard short sci-fi story. A light (heh!) read.

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  The Library of the Unwritten starts with a magical library which holds unwritten books, whether because their author has not written them yet or never got to before they died. And interesting premise, but one which made me afraid it was similar to Sorcery of Thorns. And I feel bad about it, but I did profile A. J. Hackwith before I started reading, which also filled me with apprehension (authors using their initials only make me suspicious). But the book was great! I am so glad to have been proven wrong.

  I don't want to spoil anything, but enough to say that characters like humans, muses, demons, angels, fallen angels, elder gods and literary characters who took shape in the real world are all characters in the book.

  While the story is a young adult fantasy, the writing is compelling, the characters complex and the plot quite refreshing and captivating. But I have to say I liked the characters the most: tortured souls (befitting a story which takes place in Hell most of the time) who have to resolve their issues in order to grow. All good characters are like that and inspire readers everywhere to do the same. The book also avoided getting mired in occult legislature (like defining a series of rules or a specific magic system) or pushing some gender agenda, instead focusing solely on story and characterization, which I applaud.

  Bottom line: not a masterpiece or anything, but one of the best books I've read recently and a very entertaining vacation read.

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  I want humanity to spread to the cosmos, to colonize the Moon, Mars, the asteroid belt or anything other than Earth in whatever order possible. Personally, I think asteroids are our best first bet, but it doesn't matter as long as I am presented with a well crafted argument and solution plan. Unfortunately, How We'll Live on Mars is not that.

  Stephen Petranek starts with the old idea that colonizing Mars will be a human endeavor that will bring glory and scientific evolution and the betterment of humanity. It well may be, but as history demonstrated no one cares about anyone else and certainly not for "the world"; they care for wealth. Until the ninth chapter, the author fails to provide any inkling on how a colony on Mars would generate wealth and even there he sees it as a port and manufacturing place for resources extracted from asteroids and nothing more.

  I was curious on how Petranek will solve some thorny issues like the chemical composition of the soil, cosmic radiation, medical emergencies and so on. Don't get me wrong, I think with 8 billion people to spare we can afford to lose as many as they are needed as long as they volunteer. I am a strong proponent of individual will and agency and so I despise people who stop progress for fear of losing a few lives. But the author provides nothing but wishful thinking and, when faced with a problem he cannot fix with a simplistic solution, he pivots to another, bigger yet unrelated, problem to which he finds even bigger solutions.

  In fact, without solving the basics, like how to get there in one piece and how to support life once we get there, chapters about terraforming Mars (in centuries!!) are completely useless.

  I like Stephen Petranek's optimism. It inspires me to want to look at space colonization more carefully, find solutions and finally do it. However, when that scrutiny is turned on the book itself, only dust remains. This book is more like a science fiction story from a guy who didn't know how to write fiction and not a realistic manual on how to achieve human expansion on Mars.

  Bottom line: I want us to get to Mars, and quick, but this book is nothing but day dreaming.

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  In a world where humans have solved the issues with biological-electronic interfacing you have people, electronically enhanced people, biologically enhanced robots and robots. One of these part biological robots is thinking for itself and... that's the story in All Systems Red. Some corporate shenanigans, some shooting, some world building, but in the end I wasn't charmed by the characters, the idea or the world itself. Probably it all becomes better in the next (at least five) books written by Martha Wells in the same series, but I don't think I am going to follow through.

  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed reading the book. It was fun, it was pulp, it was short, but I didn't feel that need for more when it ended.

  One of the things that turn me off from AI stories is when they act and feel and think exactly like a human. In this book in particular, this makes sense somewhat, because the main character is a mix of electronics and biological tissue, but I felt no real difference between the bio-robot and the robo-human characters. System AIs were stupid and robotic while Murderbot is watching TV shows for fun because... it has a skin?

  I can only assume that further down the line they discover it's a Robocop-like situation, that might fix this obvious issue with the story, but frankly I don't care.

  Bottom line: a short fun read that lead me nowhere, but was good while on vacation.

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  I only remember about Ready Player One that it was fun and pleasant to read, with kids exploring a virtual universe of cultural references to reach the magical MacGuffin. Ready Player Two is almost none of that, instead being boring, by the numbers and most of it written as exposition. It's like Sorento tried to write a Ready Player One book. I really did not like it. What was Ernest Cline thinking?!

  The exposition writing style is the thing that annoyed me first. You know when you are reading a book and it has to explain some thing that happened in a previous book, so it takes some well placed paragraphs to talk in the past about that? Well, this book starts with a third of it written like this. A complete third of the book is just exposition! And maybe it would have been OK if it were fun exposition, but no. It basically says "remember the good fun we had in the other book and the glorious feeling of victory? Well, that all went to shit immediately".

  It then proceeds on explaining (also in past tense) how two incredibly sci-fi things just... happened: first a complete machine to brain interface that is just there and you can put it on your head and then... an interstellar starship?! Which, BTW, does nothing for the entire book. It's an impossible to believe part of the story that then has no impact on it.

  Since the Oasis is basically Meta, with a working metaverse, the author does some lazy mental gymnastics to explain how it is still a good thing and how Wade is not Zuckerberg. Only it fails completely. I mean, we are meant to believe Wade temporarily joins the dark side only to recover later, while still remaining a positive character, but he comes up as a hypocrite who has no actual control over himself or what happens. After reading the first half of the book you hope Zuckerberg is going to take over, because Wade is so much worse. And then, the antagonist and a new quest are revealed by matter-of-factly presenting another impossible technological leap.

  No. This book is a total failure. Every character (including the wonderful do-gooder Samantha, voice of conscience and princess of awesome) is unlikeable, the writing style is amateurish and feels like an accountant explains in a board meeting what has happened while the plot is full of holes and deus-ex-machinas. But worst of all, by far, is that the book is not fun at all. 

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  Clive Thompson is a technology journalist and therefore perfectly position to write a book about how digital technology really affects us. Does it destroy the world? No! Instead, it makes it better. Most of the time and if used well. In Smarter Than You Think, we read about how computers take over some of our tasks, then enhance them when used cooperatively, how new ways of thinking, awareness and literacy are unlocked by technology and how education can be used to improve how we use tech which then in turn can be used to upgrade education. So this is one non fiction book that paints technology in a rosy light and looks forward to the future. We need more of these.

  A few things popped up for me while reading this book. First a quote about teachers and medics. If you reach into the past and you pluck a doctor from 20 years ago and bring them in the present, they will not function well, as they did not keep up to date with the latest discoveries and techniques developed. However, a teacher from 200 years ago can still find a job teaching children. The job hasn't fundamentally changed in centuries... until now. Reading about how good teachers have evolved to make use of digital technology is inspiring.

  Then there was the concept of pluralistic ignorance, where people choose to behave in ways they do not adhere to because they are unaware of the position of the people around them. It was sobering. The book shows how the Internet can help dispel this problem by sharing awareness. That is not the same as "spreading awareness", the governmental and social warrior mindset which requires all people to think alike, but the increase in transparency of what people really think.

  Finally there was a small bit about how pessimistic or negative views are statistically interpreted as more serious, realistic and intelligent than positive ones. Which makes writing the book a bit braver and also explains why everyone is whining all the time.

  Of course, this book was written in 2013. Many things have happened since and the toxicity of public discourse combined with the insidious techniques corporations and groups in power use to manipulate everything can sour even the most optimistic of people. However I found the book still relevant and bringing a fresh sense of hope, without feeling like someone tried to push their worldview down my throat or predict the future for me. Instead it studies the many and often unpredictable ways in which people use technology to make things better.

  I can't say it's a masterpiece, but I enjoyed reading a positive and realistic book like Smarter Than You Think. It was a welcome alternative to the gloom and doom we see directed towards us on a daily basis.

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  There is a psychological theory that tries to categorize behavior and personality into three: the Child, the Parent and the Adult. I am not really a specialist (I feel that the word "psychological" is an oxymoron), but in short you get the Child, who feels things and acts on impulse and pleasure and is creative, the Parent, who respects and enforces rituals that hold society together and free individuals from trivial decisions, and the Adult, who tries to do the best to mediate between the other two states by striving towards an objective view of reality.

  The roots of Star Trek, from this point of view, are that of an Adult that sometimes leans towards Parent. The show examines our current beliefs by creating fictional situations where they are put to the test. Characters or even entire societies assume archetypal roles, child-like, parent-like, while the role of the heroic Federation crew is to mediate some sort of understanding between them. As any good sci-fi, it is meant to make people think for themselves.

  No other show makes this mission clearer than Star Trek Discovery, which failed miserably to be Star Trek because it pushed its agenda on the viewer, rather than letting them think for themselves and make their own choice. Star Trek has touched so many controversial subjects, usually without taking things too far, but occasionally doing a brilliant job to inspire introspection.

  For example the Borg, which were always "evil" in their attempt to circumvent individuality and absorb everything and everybody in their megaorganism. Yet, with characters such as Hugh and Seven of Nine, grey areas were explored, culminating, I believe, with the conflict between Seven and Janeway, when her individuality is returned to her, but then her choices to return to the Collective are rejected. I still believe that they could have done a deeper job here, but times being what they were and the show being American, they got pretty far as it is. Personally, I would make an entire show about humans and a Borg-like species only.

  Frustrated by rules and rituals (heh!), Seth McFarlane, a huge Star Trek fan, decided to stop begging people to let him do a Star Trek show and created his own, borrowing what he could from the original show and improving or changing things to escape the confines of copyright. The Orville was born, a show that is a must see for any Star Trek fan. And I have to admit that when I decided to write this post, I was planning to talk about the differences between shows such as Star Trek Next Generation (and DS9 and especially Voyager), which leans a little too much toward the Parent role, and The Orville, which does a pretty good job being an Adult. But then I've changed my mind.

  The reason why I've changed my mind is the story of Topa. If you have not watched The Orville yet, please do so because I am going to spoil it for you.

  OK, so Topa is the female child of a two males Moclan couple in a society that considers females a genetic aberration. When a female infant is born, they immediately change their sex to male and never tell the children they were born different. How apropos this subject is, a society of homosexual males forcefully trans-forming any female baby, analyzed from our current socio-political point of view. And they did a fantastic job... at the beginning.

  You see, the first part of the story is about the disagreement between one parent and the other about if they should obey the mandated custom of their home planet, even if they are on a Federation (sorry, Union) ship. You can guess which part the crew was leaning toward, yet they had to accept the decision of the people in the culture that child was born... which was to proceed with the transformation. A disappointment for our American minded future union of planets, but what an episode finale! And before that, the revelation that the most revered poet of the Moclan culture is actually a female living in secrecy and willing to reveal herself to "fight for the cause".

  The second part is when the femaleness of Topa surfaces and makes her feel she lives in the wrong body. Again a lot of politics and scandal and opinions back and forth. This time, the episode is less ambiguous and I think the writers were actually afraid to do it any other way. Or they were lazy. Because at the end they skirt the law and the agreements between species and they reveal to Topa that she was born a female and immediately revert her to a female state in the same episode. A lot of effort went into making the supportive parent look good and the reticent parent look bad.

  Finally (maybe) the episode I saw today, where the female poet, now leader of a colony of all female Moclans that are protected from their homeworld's wrath by a Union agreement, tries to coopt Topa to be part of the "resistance" and she, hero-pressured, accepts, then almost loses her life at the hands of the evil all male Moclan military. I applauded the way it exposed the hypocrisy of the female leader, using a child to further her agenda and also endangering the entire colony that she was responsible for. However, again I felt like the conflict was resolved too quickly and too swiftly towards what we would accept as agreeable: Topa escapes with her life, the entire Union rejects the Moclan way of life and even the conservative parent makes a comeback complete with a full reversal of his opinions. How is the Union going to keep itself together if they can't accept the local idiosyncrasies of member states?

  And here is where the Parent, Adult, Child analysis feels appropriate. Topa, the child who wants to do what she feels is right and damn the consequences, Klyden the parent who won't renounce his custom and beliefs regardless of who that hurts and Bortus, the other parent - with an entire interstellar Union to support him, who has to find an adult way forward in which harm is minimized.

  I feel like the first episode about Topa lifted Orville above Star Trek shows. I know, blasphemy! How can I discount the eternal greatness of Star Trek? Well, because I compare the whole thing with the Seven of Nine storyline, where the show quickly dismissed her desire to return to the Collective as childish and went full Parent Janeway on her, even working towards a Mother/Daughter dynamic between them to justify it all. The Orville episode looked at individual opinions, cultural clashes, diplomatic discourse, the feelings of everyone involved and made the brave choice to not give the audience what it hoped for. Thus, making them think about the whole thing. Now with the other two episodes, I feel like the writers succumbed to societal pressure to resolve the conflict the only way the viewers would accept. And pronto! Before they #metoo McFarlane! Or maybe that's just stupid and childish, I don't know. I just liked the first episode so much compared with the "classical" other two.

  I think the PAC (Parent-Adult-Child) model is pretty useful in dissecting these Star Trek-like situations. I find it inspiring that the Adult, which is something people supposedly should strive to achieve psychologically, cannot exist in a vacuum. Without Adults and Children, it has no direction, it's like an AI system without a value function, while the two other roles generate this direction from feeling and instinct (genetics) and experience and tradition (culture). Whenever the crew encounter an alien species and enter the inevitable conflict, they have to not only solve the problem, but also do it in a way that is objectively and morally better, while also catering to their often strong feelings about a subject. Fascinating!

  We must be aware of the attraction we people have for strong authoritative figures that "know what's best", just as we must be aware of how easy solutions that feel good in the moment may have disastrous consequences further down the line. In some way, accepting everything from Picard-like people is almost as dangerous as acting like Q all the time.

  Haven't you ever wondered what a show like Star Trek would be like if situations were actually dangerous, where tech solutions would not solve everything in minutes and the alternatives are run, negotiate, intimidate or attack? When meeting some backwater one planet civilization that sentences your people to death for stamping on a flower, instead of spending one hour to save them using some loophole in the local law system to just arm photon torpedoes and say "Choose a city. Any city. Preferably one that you won't need anymore." Or if phasers would be set on "cut through stone" whenever firing at an alien lunging towards the crew? Or using any and all technology one finds to increase the tactical advantages of your ship and navy?

  But that's the whole point! Star Trek is not about levelling up, is about finding yourself with just shitty options and still choosing the one that is most principled and logical for everyone involved. About examining one's preconceptions and reaching not a conclusion, but a point of decision where the viewer can spend some time and think. It's about good writing! Compare that with Kirk on a motorcycle and you realize what the roots of Star Trek are all about.

  I wanted to write a post about how Star Trek treats too many situations as a Parent, probably because it was created by people in the 60s and 70s, and is sometimes too eager to put characters in their place because family (yeah, The Fast and the Furious doesn't have a monopoly on that) and how The Orville is going above that. Then I realize that they are actually doing the same thing, most of the time, with Orville just freshening things up and having a little bit more courage when writing their stories. And I love it! 

  Happy Trekking!

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  A Lush and Seething Hell is a collection of two novellas: The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky, where vast magical forces play with death and torture in a fictional Chile inspired South-American country, and My Heart Struck Sorrow, a story of dark magic working through verse and song.

  John Hornor Jacobs writes well, dragging the reader into the worlds of his mind, however I found it difficult to stay there. Perhaps it's the alert lifestyle of today, full of interruptions and distractions, but it felt easy for me to stop reading and it needed some effort to start again. It took me two weeks to read it all and even then it required a conscious decision to push through, though it's not a large book.

  Both stories have a common structure: people who are following the narrative of another and thus are drawn into the same world. Reading about reading, so to speak. They have elements of cosmic horror, although most of it is implied or not clearly explained - the traditional way of approaching the genre - intimating that even the tiniest brushes with these hidden realms are terrifyingly dangerous. What they both reminded me repeatedly is House of Leaves, though not so convolutedly detailed, and only marginally of any Lovecraftian work.

  Bottom line: I liked both stories, the world building, the style, the slowly getting under the skin horror elements, but I did feel the writing dragged a little.

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  Something that feels inspired heavily by Octavia Butler, Semiosis starts with a very interesting premise and continues through generations of human colonists on an alien planet. However, each chapter introduces a new generation, thus abandoning characters and attachments introduced before. In the end it simply feels too clinical, with characterization lacking luster, while still remaining a captivating read.

  The plot centers around a human colony on a distant alien planet. There are only a few dozen people and, with some equipment failures, they find themselves at the mercy of the world's inhabitants. Which are intelligent plants! It is a very interesting premise and both the generational span of the story and the cold calculations of different species that must coexist despite their massive differences reminded me a bit of Xenogenesis. However, Sue Burke didn't have the cruelty required to thoroughly violate her characters that Butler had, so in the end the mood was more positive, perhaps reminiscent of '60s sci-fi, with lots of deliberations and rational arguments as a major part of the story.

  Bottom line: I liked the book. Could have been better, but as a debut it's pretty good. I will probably read the second book sooner or later, because the world of Pax is so full of potential, however I do believe Semiosis can be taken as a standalone story without the need for a continuation.

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  Edward O. Wilson was a biologist who died at the end of 2021, aged 94. Nicknamed "ant man" for his world renowned expertise of ants, he championed concepts such as sociobiology and biodiversity. Reportedly, he was a very nice man, beloved by most of the people he interacted with. And yet, I didn't hear of him because of his scientific writings, but because of a vitriolic article published by Scientific American. In it, the author used Wilson's death and the renewed interest in his autobiography, Naturalist, to decry Wilson's views ("problematic beliefs"). He had tried to explain everything through biological lenses, for example that individual characteristics are caused by evolution and those characteristics cause the characteristics of a group or society or race in a particular environment. The article's author considered that as proof of "scientific racism", but was immediately shut down by scores of scientists who debunked her entire article and pretty much proved she didn't even read the books she was supposedly basing her writing on.

  So even when I try to filter out the political idiocy that pollutes every aspect of modern life and try to keep up to date with science and technology, I still fall into these toxic holes. Ironically, one of the last chapters in Naturalist talks about how weird it was for one of his colleagues to try to explain biology ideologically (in that case Marxism). Anyway, so I decided to read the book. I usually love autobiographies, especially those of scientists and other driven people, because it makes me feel as they did. Even if prompted by an ugly example of human stupidity and malice, still something good could come of it.

  Alas, while the book is interesting and takes the reader through much of Wilson's life and work, it merely describes his passion for nature, rather than evoke it. Even as it starts with a personal history and childhood, it feels strangely impersonal. A small boy with hearing issues and partial vision in one eye (accidentally caused by him trying to handle a spiked fish), he was nevertheless taught to never run away from a fight by his father, partially schooled in educational institutions that prepared children for military careers and had overall the belief that anything is possible, once you put your mind to it.

  I have no doubt that his approach to life wasn't as analytical as it is portrayed in the book, but what exactly that was is hard to glimpse from this biography. Wilson published Naturalist when he was 65 and, while I am sure he worked some time on it, he treated it as any of his scientific books at the time: facts, history based on journals, actions, expectations, results. I liked the book and I liked Wilson, but I wouldn't particularly recommend Naturalist for anything than a glimpse in Wilson's nature (pardon the pun).

  First of all, neither am I a philosopher nor have I read Nietzsche. The philosophical aspects that I am discussing are how a layman would interpret them. In this post I am going to discuss anime from the Baki Hanma and JoJo's Bizarre Adventures universes with a nod to Andromeda's race of genetically modified humans called Nietzscheans and also other media portrayals of similar concepts.

  Watching episodes from Baki or JoJo anime I got a weird feeling. Both series, while having completely different plots, focus on humans with superior abilities fighting each other. Nothing new here: both American and Japanese cultures are inundated with this cliché. Yet these shows are strangely humanistic in nature. The characters have impossible strong muscles, dress in their own special way and are proudly dedicated to particular philosophies that define their path in life. Compared to other people, they are intimidating, entirely dominating, and they are so strong that they defy the laws of medicine and even physics. They use their power in tactical and strategic ways, they hone their skills, they outthink their adversaries and use whatever the environment gives them in order to win. And this in order to gain power only over themselves.

  In so many ways, they reminded me of the Nietzscheans, from Gene Roddenberry's TV series Andromeda (before the show went to shit, so first season only). They also reveled in their physical, mental and knowledge prowess. Violence, to them, was justified as a way to eliminate weakness. The characters in the two anime shows are the same: they risk their health, their lives, in order to try themselves to the limit. As a result, they cannot exist in human society. People can't abide such obvious difference, when these guys are stronger than guns, impossible to detain through cuffs, chains, walls or cages and at any time they can just destroy a normal human being with little to no effort. It is this part that actually got me thinking and writing the blog post.

  Usually in media, people who care only about their own betterment to the point they eschew social norms are portrayed as villains. Human values are represented as communal values: caring about others, respecting their way to live, abiding social constraints and obeying laws, forming bonds and families, then dedicating effort to maintain and preserve them. The hero will defend, not attack, will arrest, not destroy, will consider, not dismiss, will protect, not invade. In fact, a hero is a social construct and can only exist as society's protector.

  In regular situations, the ones that are considered normal in society, heroes are not needed. Performance is not needed. There are some boundaries in which one is allowed to strive for better output, but only as cogs in a social mechanism that needs them to perform within expected ranges. Only when things go awry, from the breaking of a component (be it a tool, a flow or a person) to some huge disaster, some people "step up" and take over the load. Those are heroes. And here is the dilemma, because someone who has not made the effort of being better than expected of them will not be able to step up, while someone who does make the effort is inevitably vilified during "peace times".

  This reminds me of Rambo, in the first movie and not the ridiculous propaganda sequels. Here is a man who, through circumstances that needed to be tragic and out of his control so as to enhance his heroic status, reached a level above his peers, at least in one particular domain: fighting and killing. He was perfect as a soldier, but as he returns home he has difficulties integrating himself back into society. It takes only a small town sheriff bullying to bring the beast to surface. The old adage still stands: the best heroes are all dead.

  Going back to the animes, I found myself in conflict. Here is the usual portrayal of society, a safe place for everybody to live in, defining what human life is and should be like, but functioning as a soulless mechanism. And here is the usual portrayal of the self absorbed villain, a monstruous being of immense power who threatens the existence of all, but functioning as a proud individual constantly bettering themselves. I feel like the latter option is more humanistic, therefore truly being human is in antithesis to human society.

  Can there be a balance between the two? Could we actually imagine a benign Nietzschean-like society? One that would truly embrace diversity, specialization and performance while despising mediocrity and also not eating itself from within? I find it hard, if not impossible. Still, I can't but feel a sort of admiration for these larger than life characters and their dedication to a random thing than then defines them for ever.

  What do you think?

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  Gonna try something different today, by sharing the analysis of someone else, which I can only assume is way much better than me at this. This is the Mengarini variation of the Sicilian, where a3 is the reply to Black's c5. Similar to a wing gambit, it serves the same purpose: to deflect Black's development towards a side pawn sacrifice in order to gain the center immediately.

  A very natural continuation is Nc6 b4 cxb4 axb4 Nxb4 c3 Nc6 d4, after which almost every White piece is ready to attack, the king is temporarily safe and Black has only developed a knight which has moved three times.

  From what I can tell, Ariel Mengarini was an Italian from Rome who emigrated in the US and became a psychiatrist. He was also pretty good at chess, having started at 6.

Here is the embed of JayBayC's analysis on LiChess:

Also, let's see a PGN directly on the blog, from an amateur game, just to see how fast things can go wrong for Black: 1. e4 { [%eval 0.33] [%clk 0:05:00] } 1... c5 { [%eval 0.32] [%clk 0:05:00] } 2. a3 { [%eval -0.08] [%clk 0:05:01] } { B20 Sicilian Defense: Mengarini Variation } 2... Nc6 { [%eval -0.09] [%clk 0:04:59] } 3. b4 { [%eval -0.55] [%clk 0:05:04] } 3... cxb4 { [%eval -0.13] [%clk 0:05:00] } 4. axb4 { [%eval 0.0] [%clk 0:05:07] } 4... Nxb4 { [%eval -0.36] [%clk 0:05:02] } 5. c3 { [%eval -0.12] [%clk 0:05:09] } 5... Nc6 { [%eval 0.0] [%clk 0:05:04] } 6. d4 { [%eval -0.18] [%clk 0:05:12] } 6... d5 { [%eval 0.0] [%clk 0:05:06] } 7. exd5 { [%eval 0.0] [%clk 0:05:15] } 7... Qxd5 { [%eval 0.13] [%clk 0:05:07] } 8. Na3 { [%eval 0.14] [%clk 0:05:18] } 8... e5?? { (0.14 → 1.71) Blunder. Qa5 was best. } { [%eval 1.71] [%clk 0:05:03] } (8... Qa5 9. Nf3 e6 10. Bb5 Nf6 11. O-O Be7 12. Bxc6+ bxc6 13. c4 O-O 14. Re1 Qc7 15. c5) 9. Nb5 { [%eval 1.79] [%clk 0:05:20] } 9... Qd8?! { (1.79 → 2.76) Inaccuracy. Kd8 was best. } { [%eval 2.76] [%clk 0:05:01] } (9... Kd8 10. Bg5+ Be7 11. dxe5 Qxd1+ 12. Rxd1+ Bd7 13. Nf3 Bxg5 14. Nxg5 Nxe5 15. f4 h6 16. Ne4) 10. d5 { [%eval 3.32] [%clk 0:05:22] } 10... Na5?? { (3.32 → 7.92) Blunder. Nf6 was best. } { [%eval 7.92] [%clk 0:04:33] } (10... Nf6 11. Be2 Bf5 12. dxc6 bxc6 13. Qxd8+ Kxd8 14. Na3 Ne4 15. Bd3 Bc5 16. Be3 Bxe3 17. fxe3) 11. Qa4?! { (7.92 → 5.67) Inaccuracy. d6 was best. } { [%eval 5.67] [%clk 0:05:10] } (11. d6 Kd7 12. Nf3 Nc6 13. Ng5 Qf6 14. Bc4 Nh6 15. O-O a6 16. Ne4 Qg6 17. Qd5 Rb8) 11... b6?! { (5.67 → 10.14) Inaccuracy. Bd7 was best. } { [%eval 10.14] [%clk 0:04:29] } (11... Bd7 12. Qxa5) 12. Nc7+ { [%eval 10.12] [%clk 0:04:53] } 12... Ke7 { [%eval 8.36] [%clk 0:04:29] } 13. Ba3+ { [%eval 9.74] [%clk 0:04:55] } { Black resigns. } 1-0

Hope it helps!

P.S. Here is my own (and first) study on LiChess, based on human games and computer analysis: Sicilian Defense: Mengarini variation