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    1. I’m falling in love with the Revelation Space universe

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      I want to ramble about Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space series/universe. I will avoid spoilers.

      So far, I have read:

      "The Prefect" 2007
      "Revelation Space" 2000
      "Chasm City" 2001
      "The Great Wall of Mars" (Novella) 2000
      "Glacial" (Novella) 2001 (I haven't finished this yet.)

      I’m an occasional listener to “The Sword and Laser,” a book club/podcast where they read a book each month and discuss it, alternating between sci-fi and fantasy. I usually don't read the books, just enjoy the conversations, but if the early discussions sound interesting, I will read it before I get to the spoilery episodes.

      One such case was when they read ‘The Prefect’ in 2021. I had heard of Alastair Reynolds and Revelation Space and had considered reading him before. If I remember correctly, they said it was a good way to dip your toe in the universe with a story that takes place in it but isn't really connected to the main series, so it doesn't spoil much.

      I liked ‘The Prefect’ but didn't love it. It was set in this huge, complicated universe but had this small noir detective-type character we were following. It felt like seeing a narrow flashlight beam, aiming into an opaque mist of stuff that I couldn't quite make out.
      I liked many of the little pieces floating around the universe, but I didn't quite trust that it was real and would have internal consistency.

      I saw “Pushing Ice” (an Alastair Reynolds book that is unrelated to Revelation Space) recommended somewhere late last year and decided to try it. I loved it, even though the ending left so much unanswered that it was disappointing. I can see how it may make sense to do that for some stories. Still, I have this distrust of the author's intent sometimes. If it feels like they are including mysterious background info without any thought of how it all connects, it bothers me. Even if the story or characters are good, it is distracting. I'm afraid of getting a "Lost" or "Game of Thrones" type ending where I don't feel like all the threads paid off or had any real purpose. To be clear, "Pushing Ice" was nothing like those endings. I feel like it earned its story. It just didn't fill in the universe as much as I wanted. I still didn't fully trust Reynolds as an author.

      A few months ago, I decided to try the first proper book in the series, “Revelation Space”. I was surprised to see that I already owned it on Kindle. The first chapter was very familiar. I had bought it in 2013! As I read, I remembered I had gotten bored back then and left the book after a chapter or 2 to read something else. The beginning was a little boring. Again, it's set in a world I don't know and I'm not sure if I care about. In this book though, the perspective changes often. Multiple points of view seem to help me triangulate the world. It takes half the book, but I eventually fully buy-in, and then the world seems incredibly full. References to unknown factions, historical events, religions, movements, etc. They all feel like real plausible things with their own potential histories. Instead of the misty, non-tangible fluff, they seemed like when I read "The Prefect" or the first part of this book.

      I finished “Revelation Space” completely satisfied and excited to dive into the series. I did a little research and found there are a lot of options for reading order. At this point I’m fairly certain I want to read every book in the series, so I am not too concerned with reading order, I just want to find a fun way to keep the things fresh as I explore it. I decided to read “Chasm City” next as it seems like the next thing in terms of publication date.

      "Chasm City" was great! It followed the same pattern for me, with the beginning and the main character being the most boring parts of the book. But by the end, I felt like I knew the universe better and saw a bunch of interesting, fun stuff along the way.

      I then read “The Great Wall” a quick novella that was awesome! It tells an origin story for something that has been mentioned but left ambiguous in all the other books. So satisfying.

      I started reading another novella, “Glacial” today. So far, I'm really curious, but not sure what it's about.

      The Great Wall reminded me of a book I read probably twenty years ago, “Hellstroms Hive” by Frank Herbert. I can't remember the details, and I think I may reread it now to take a break and make sure I won't burn out on Revelation Space. After that, I think I’ll jump right back in with “Redemption Ark” the next main novel in the series, which I believe follows the story of the novella I'm reading now.

      Unless someone else has a better suggestion for what to read next in the revelation space universe? I've already bought the “Galactic North” collection to read those two novellas. But Im not sure if I should read any of the others until after I read further in the main novel series.

      Any other opinions on revelation space?

      15 votes
    2. "Recommend a nonfiction book" - Book reviews

      A couple months ago I made this post asking for nonfiction books to read. I read several recs from there, here are my reviews! Kingbird Highway: The Story of a Natural Obsession That Got a Little...

      A couple months ago I made this post asking for nonfiction books to read. I read several recs from there, here are my reviews!

      Kingbird Highway: The Story of a Natural Obsession That Got a Little Out of Hand - what a fun book! I read mostly spec fic and this felt a lot like an epic quest story. It was also interesting (and sad) to see the background effects of climate change with birds constantly moving farther northward. Recommended if you want some light reading and to get extremely excited about birds, vicariously

      The Ascent of Money - A really interesting history text that also explains a lot of financial market concepts. The author is center-right and I disagree with some of his opinions on particular developments being good or bad, but there's a ton of information here and I think it's a great book to have better financial literacy, but I'd still categorize it as "satisfying curiosity" and not "everyone should read this."

      The Perfectionists - A bit disappointing tbh, it started out strong but then it started being a bit esoteric in what it covered. I watched Longitude after it was mentioned here, and discovering that movie was the best part of this book so I recommend watching that and maybe not reading this.

      Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to war in 1914 - My favorite recommendation from the post! It's very long and a bit dense, and there's no way I would've gotten through it if I hadn't been both reading a physical copy & listening to the audiobook at the same time. There are too many names to do just audiobook, but having both was a great experience. I wrote some notes about this to hopefully make your life easier if you read this too, and you should, I highly recommend it!!!

      I also read a couple books recommended by HN in various threads:

      • The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer's Iliad and the Trojan War - tbh I have no interest in reading The Iliad itself, but this is a fantastic secondary source and I'm glad to feel somewhat familiar with the text after reading it
      • Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character - another secondary source about the Iliad, although this one is a bit more distant from the text. Enjoyed quite a bit & it's very interesting, but it's emotionally difficult to get through.
      • Two Wheels Good: THe History and Mystery of the Bicycle - this was not fantastic and had maybe two chapters total that were actually the history of the bicycle, the rest was "random anecdotes from my life or vaguely-bicycle-related topics that I personally find interesting." Some sections were interesting, mostly I felt lied to by the title.
      • The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science and What Comes Next - I had read The Elegant Universe in high school, and this book is in some part a response to that one. I found The Trouble with Physics a weird compromise between not being too technical but still providing detail about the state of the field of physics, and it didn't work for me too well, but I was a math major and took several physics courses in undergrad so maybe that's just how it is to read a popular science book in a field you have some background in. I didn't necessarily want equations, but some actual math terms would've been nice instead of just saying "haha it has nice math properties." Anyway, if you're interested in the state of the field of modern physics it's maybe worth reading but also you could just watch this YT video instead which my friend linked to me after I told him I was reading this.
      • Chip War: The Fight for the World's Most Critical Technology - this was the book that actually inspired me to make the post here, everyone should read this. Semiconductor manufacturing is one of the most important supply chains in the world today, and I didn't know anything about it prior to reading this book.
      19 votes
    3. Book recommendation: A Half-Built Garden, by Ruthanna Emrys

      This sci-fi book starts out as a first contact novel. Aliens show up and say "Your planet is dying--we're here to rescue you! Come join our galactic federation!" Here's the twist: the protagonist...

      This sci-fi book starts out as a first contact novel. Aliens show up and say "Your planet is dying--we're here to rescue you! Come join our galactic federation!"

      Here's the twist: the protagonist emphatically refuses. The world is sick, but humanity is healing it. Successfully. They have been for decades. And they refuse to leave Earth and go explore the stars until the job is done.

      Thus begins this story's major conflict. The aliens have visited a few other planets with signs of advanced civilization, and in every case they've arrived too late--the other civilizations have extincted themselves by the time they arrive. The aliens are emphatic that technological societies cannot thrive on a planet's surface; in every other case, either the planet or the civilization dies. The humans are unfazed. Repairing an ecosystem is possible, they say. We've proven it. Are proving it. Yes, there's a hurricane bearing down on us, but the storms get a little less intense every year.

      This is a story about meeting people utterly unlike you and finding common ground with them. It's about imagining a better future and working doggedly toward it.

      Eco-focused stories usually have a back-to-the-land, pastoral vibe; they want to get in touch with nature by reducing our use of technology as much as possible. That's not this book at all. Our heroes use neural interfaces and networked decision-making algorithms to manage the restoration of the ecology. They write algorithms that weight the vote in favor of community-defined ethical preferences. Technology isn't the enemy--corporations are, which is why the corps were exiled decades ago. Networks and algorithms can be powerfully good when they're used to benefit the many instead of the few.

      This book has so much heart and so much beautiful imagery. It is gloriously weird in lots of ways I'm not going to spoil. It's a hopeful book that's giving me ideas I'm starting work on now. You can find it here or in your local library.

      5 votes
    4. The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas and the stories that came after it

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      I think I first came across "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" by Ursula K LeGuin a few years ago. I read something else in conversation with it, but somehow had missed the original. Hugo Award winning and Locus award nominated, I thought folks might be interested in discussing it and its descendants.

      LeGuin's original in pdf format

      Omelas is a utopia in the middle of a festival. And as the narrator explains the city to you, they understand that you may not believe it is even possible.

      The ones who walk away from Omelas spoilers So the narrator explains that keeping this city a utopia relies on the horrible and perpetual suffering of a single child. At a certain age, all citizens are brought to see the suffering child and they're all horrified, but most come to see that the prosperity and safety of everyone is served by the suffering of this one child. The ones who don't, walk away and never return.

      Othe authors have written stories in conversation with this,

      NK Jemisin's The Ones Who Stay And Fight is directly engaging with it.

      In Um-Helat There is a utopia, and no child suffering in a hole. But when suffering arises, there is a call to fix it.

      The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik (the 3rd Scholomance book) engages with this idea too.

      Golden Enclaves major plot point spoiler All the major enclaves of magic users are build on the death of an innocent - someone that has never taken and used magic from the death or pain of other beings, and at least once a teenager, but likely a often child due to the restriction. This allows you to create a safe home against the magical monsters but also creates an ever hungry devouring monster of perpetual suffering (a maw mouth) that is unleashed on anyone who doesn't have an enclave to protect them. There's a way to build them without this, but the enclaves would be smaller and less luxurious, and after all, it's only one person...

      So I had read all of the above works and been mulling over the topic of Omelas, and then found this story today

      Why Don't We Just Kill the Kid In the Omelas Hole

      In which people, uh, start killing the kid in the Omelas hole. Sorry, not a lot of room not to spoil that given the title. I'll let you read the story for where that goes.

      Risk of spoilers for the above works from here:
      I think there is a lot about our society here. LeGuin herself said the story, "has a long and happy career of being used by teachers to upset students and make them argue fiercely about morality." Because what is the right answer? Novik, via El in the Scholomance series says to burn it down. Jemisin says there is a better way. I don't believe LeGuin is arguing that the ones who walk away are "right" in that they leave having benefited from Omelas and the child still suffers.

      But I thought folks who hadn't read one or more of these might enjoy them, and I find they make me think and often won't stop letting me think.

      ETA: ST:SNW did an entire episode using Omelas as an inspiration. I haven't seen it so I can't speak to it but wanted to add it here for reference.

      36 votes
    5. Similarities and differences between Psmith and Dirk Gently

      When I was reading a Psmith novel, I couldn't help but notice that Psmith had a certain similarity with Douglas Addams character Dirk Gently. I can't say for sure if it has any validity, or if it...

      When I was reading a Psmith novel, I couldn't help but notice that Psmith had a certain similarity with Douglas Addams character Dirk Gently. I can't say for sure if it has any validity, or if it is just make-believe patterns in random chaos. But regardless, these are my observations.

      Svlad Cjelli. Popularly known as Dirk, though, again, ‘popular’ was hardly right.
      Notorious, certainly; sought after, endlessly speculated about, those too were true. But popular? Only in the sense that a serious accident on the motorway might be popular -- everyone slows down to have a good look, but no one will get too close to the flames. Infamous was more like it. Svlad Cjelli, infamously known as Dirk.

      —Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Addams

      Thus were Dirk Gently introduced. But who is this Psmith fellow anyways? He is the titular character in a series of novels by P. G. Wodehouse, a great humorist who happens to be Douglas Adams favorite author. Douglas Addams writing, I’ve noticed, share the same whimsical mastery of language:

      Deep in the rain forest it was doing what it usually does in rain forests, which was raining: hence the name.

      and

      Richard stood transfixed for a moment or two, wiped his forehead again, and gently replaced the phone as if it were an injured hamster.

      —Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Addams

      While both characters have changed their name to something much more fancyful, their motivation contrasts greatly. Psmith wanted a fancier name, simple as that; Dirk Gently, on the other hand, changed his name repeatedly to avoid being held accountable for a lifetime of blatant hustling and has finally ended up with Dirk Gently:

      'My dear Svlad.'
      'Dirk, please, if you would,' said Dirk, grasping his hand warmly, 'I prefer it. It has more of a sort of Scottish dagger feel to it, I think. Dirk Gently is the name under which I now trade. There are certain events in the past, I'm afraid, from which I would wish to disassociate myself.
      —Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Addams

      Enter Psmith:

      A small maid-of-all-work appeared in answer to the bell, and stood transfixed as the visitor, producing a monocle, placed it in his right eye and inspected her through it.
      “A warm afternoon,” he said cordially.
      “Yes, sir.”
      “But pleasant,” urged the young man. “Tell me, is Mrs. Jackson at home?”
      “No, sir.”
      “Not at home?”
      “No, sir.”
      The young man sighed.
      “Ah well,” he said, “we must always remember that these disappointments are sent to us for some good purpose. No doubt they make us more spiritual. Will you inform her that I called? The name is Psmith. P-smith.”
      “Peasmith, sir?”
      “No, no. P-s-m-i-t-h. I should explain to you that I started life without the initial letter, and my father always clung ruggedly to the plain Smith. But it seemed to me that there were so many Smiths in the world that a little variety might well be introduced. Smythe I look on as a cowardly evasion, nor do I approve of the too prevalent custom of tacking another name on in front by means of a hyphen. So I decided to adopt the Psmith. The p, I should add for your guidance, is silent, as in phthisis, psychic, and ptarmigan. You follow me?”
      “Y-yes, sir.”
      “You don’t think,” he said anxiously, “that I did wrong in pursuing this course?”
      “N-no, sir.”
      “Splendid!” said the young man, flicking a speck of dust from his coat-sleeve. “Splendid! Splendid!”

      — Leave it to Psmith by P. G. Wodehouse

      As mentioned, Dirk Gently is a hustler. One of those enterprising characters who will push themselves tirelessly and unrelenting in order to aquire cash or commodities without labour. Earlier, he had cast himself as a psychic, something which backfired with terrible hybris. When we finally encounter him, he has ended up as a detective, seemingly specializing in searching for, but not actually finding, the lost cats of old ladies:

      'Yes,' continued Dirk into the phone, 'but as I have endeavoured to explain to you, Mrs Sauskind, over the seven years of our acquaintance, I incline to the quantum mechanical view in this matter. My theory is that your cat is not lost, but that his waveform has temporarily collapsed and must be restored. Schrödinger. Planck. And so on.'
      —Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Addams

      Psmith, by contrast, is no hustler, but fall squarely into the trickster archetype. Think Loki, who tricks the blind Hodr into killing Balder. Think the Joker, whose terror is its own reasoning. Psmith, by his own admission, is bored. He may steal umbrellas and impersonate poets in order to woe a certain girl, but one suspect that the girl is merely a pretext for the means.

      Both characters share the same flamboyant ignorance of the fuckedupness of their antics. Compare Dirk Gentlys quantum cat theory to Psmiths approach to being accused of umbrella thievery:

      “Mr. Walderwick was in here a moment ago, sir,” said the attendant.

      “Yes?” said Psmith, mildly interested. “An energetic, bustling soul, Comrade Walderwick. Always somewhere. Now here, now there.”

      “Asking about his umbrella, he was,” pursued the attendant with a touch of coldness.

      “Indeed? Asking about his umbrella, eh?”

      “Made a great fuss about it, sir, he did.”

      “And rightly,” said Psmith with approval. “The good man loves his umbrella.”

      “Of course I had to tell him that you had took it, sir.”

      “I would not have it otherwise,” assented Psmith heartily. “I like this spirit of candour. There must be no reservations, no subterfuges between you and Comrade Walderwick. Let all be open and above-board.”

      “He seemed very put out, sir. He went off to find you.”

      “I am always glad of a chat with Comrade Walderwick,” said Psmith. “Always.”

      — Leave it to Psmith by P. G. Wodehouse

      When the girl feel some reservations upon learning that the umbrella he so gallantly lend her was stolen gods, he casually brush it off:

      “Merely practical Socialism. Other people are content to talk about the Redistribution of Property. I go out and do it.”

      Psmiths outre clash of upperclass lifestyle and socialist glamour is mirrored in Dirk Gentlys clash between the private detective business and holistic new-age mumble-jumble:

      'I'm very glad you asked me that, Mrs Rawlinson. The term 'holistic' refers to my conviction that what we are concerned with here is the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. I do not concern myself with such petty things as fingerprint powder, telltale pieces of pocket fluff and inane footprints. I see the solution to each problem as being detectable in the pattern and web of the whole. The connections between causes and effects are often much more subtle and complex than we with our rough and ready understanding of the physical world might naturally suppose, Mrs Rawlinson.
      'Let me give you an example. If you go to an acupuncturist with toothache he sticks a needle instead into your thigh. Do you know why he does that, Mrs Rawlinson?'
      'No, neither do I, Mrs Rawlinson, but we intend to find out. A pleasure talking to you, Mrs Rawlinson. Goodbye.'

      Psmiths socialism bend is merely a humble joke. The quirky disrespect for property laws and insistance on calling other men "Camrade" is highly amusing, surely, but also a bit on the nose, lazy creativity which everyone else knowing nothing about socialism would come up with. On the other hand, with Dirk Gently, the holistic approach to detective work is mirrored in the novel themes and plotting. In contrast to the way Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy gleefully throws around outlandish scifi mindfuckery with absolutly no relevance to the plot, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is a beautifully orchestrayed mystery where "everything is connected". (for another tightly plotted mystery novel in the fantastic genre, I can recommend Who Censored Roger Rabbit)

      Another difference is that Dirk Gently is much more complex and deep, his casual money grapping contrasted with a moral compass of sorts. Both are clowns, but we get to see one of them after the show, devoid of pancake makeup.

      9 votes
    6. Book recommendation: Delta-V and Critical Mass

      It's hard to find hopeful sci-fi these days. The zeitgeist is that things are bad and they will keep getting worse. That's a problem, because before you can build a better future, you must first...

      It's hard to find hopeful sci-fi these days. The zeitgeist is that things are bad and they will keep getting worse. That's a problem, because before you can build a better future, you must first imagine one. This is the first book I've found in a long time that does a credible job of that.

      This post is about a pair of novels by Daniel Suarez. The first one is Delta-V, the physics term for a change in velocity; the second one is called Critical Mass. Together they're a heavily-researched look at asteroid mining, offworld economics, and space-based solar power.

      The series takes place in the mid 2030s. By this point, the symptoms of climate change are becoming serious, creating what people call "the Long Emergency": famines, storms, and waves of climate refugees. There is real concern that the global economy will collapse under the strain. To avert financial apocalypse, an expedition is launched to mine the asteroid Ryugu; the first book covers the miners' training, their long journey through space, and the hazards of mining an asteroid in deep space. In the second book, they use those mined materials to build a space station in lunar orbit, to set up a railgun for launching materials from the moon's surface into its orbit, and to begin building the first space-based solar power satellites.

      I was surprised to learn that space-based solar power is a real thing that the US, China, and several other countries and companies are actively pursuing. Basically, you have a bunch of solar panels in orbit, which beam power down to receiving antennas ("rectennas") on Earth. You lose a lot of efficiency converting the electricity to microwaves and back, but solar panels on orbit have access to ~7-10x more energy than those on the ground, since there's no atmosphere in the way and it's always solar noon. In exchange for a large initial investment, space-based solar power offers always-on, 100% renewable energy that can be switched from New York to California at a moment's notice.

      That initial investment is a doozy, though. SpaceX is working on lowering launch costs, but launching material from Earth's surface into orbit is going to be very expensive for a very long time. So these books look at what might be possible if we could avoid those costs. What if we could create mining and manufacturing operations in space? What if we could use those to generate clean power in heretofore undreamt-of amounts?

      I’m going to excerpt a conversation from the second book:

      [At dinner,] chemist Sofia Boutros described the unfolding water crisis in the Nile watershed back on Earth—and the resulting regional conflict. This elicited from around the table a litany of other climate-change-related calamities back home, from wildfires, to floods, to famines, to extinctions.

      The Russian observer, Colonel Voloshin, usually content to just listen, chimed in by saying, "Nations which have contributed least to carbon emissions suffering worst effects." He looked first to Lawler and then Colonel Fei. "Perhaps the biggest polluters should pay reparations."

      Dr. Ohana looked down the table toward him. "It's my understanding that Russia has actually benefitted from warmer climate."

      Yak replied instead. "Not overall. Soil in Siberia is poor. Wildfires and loss of permafrost also disruptive."

      Lawler added. "You guys sell plenty of fossil fuels, too, Colonel."

      The electrical engineer, Hoshiko Sato, said, "Complete decarbonization is the only way to solve climate change."

      Most of the group groaned in response.

      She looked around the table. "That might sound unrealistic, but there's no other choice if we want to save civilization."

      Chindarkar said, "We've been saying the same thing for fifty years, Hoshiko. It's barely moved the needle."

      "We’ve brought carbon emissions down considerably since 2020."

      Boutros said, "You mean we slowed their growth."

      Ohana said, "We should be planting more trees."

      Monica Balter countered, "Trees require water and arable land. Climate change is causing deserts to spread, pitting food versus trees. Plus, whatever carbon a tree captures gets released when it dies—which could happen all at once in a wildfire."

      Chindarkar looked down the table at her. "Nathan Joyce claimed we could use solar satellites to power direct carbon capture. Could that really be done at the scale necessary to reduce global CO2 levels?"

      Colonel Voloshin let out a laugh. "That's not even in the realm of possibility. It wouldn't even make a dent."

      Monica Balter said, "I respectfully disagree, Colonel." She looked to Boutros. "And Sofia, I understand we must do everything possible down on Earth to reduce carbon emissions: solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal—all of it. But that won't remove what's already in the atmosphere."

      Voloshin shook his head. "We must adapt."

      Lawler couldn't resist. "Easy for Russia to say."

      Balter spoke to Voloshin. "Back in 1850, atmospheric carbon was at two hundred eighty parts per million. Now it's at four hundred fifty-seven parts per million. We put over a trillion tons of CO2 into Earth's atmosphere over that time. Humans caused the problem, and humans can solve it."

      The colonel was unfazed. "Yes. All of humanity worked hard to cause this, and it still required almost two centuries to accomplish. It is naïve to think a few machines will correct it."

      "Half of that excess carbon was emitted in the last forty years, and direct air carbon capture powered by solar satellites can actually work at a global scale. I can show you the numbers, if you like."

      He scoffed. "Even billionaire Jack Macy says that solar power satellites are idiotic—that very little energy beamed from space reaches the terrestrial power grid due to transmission and conversion losses."

      Balter nodded. "The number is 9 percent."

      The crew around the table murmured.

      He spread his hands. "I rest my case."

      "But 9 percent of what? Jack Macy neglects to mention that a solar panel up in orbit is seven times more productive than one on the Earth's surface. The fact that he runs a rooftop solar company might have something to do with that.

      Boutros asked, "A sevenfold difference just from being in space?"

      Balter turned to her. "The best you can hope for on the Earth's equator at high noon is 1,000 watts of energy per square meter—and that's without factoring in nighttime, cloudy days, seasons, latitude. But a power sat in geosynchronous orbit would almost always be in 1,368 watts of sunlight per square meter. So you get a whole lot more energy from a solar panel in space even after transmission inefficiencies are factored in. Plus, a power sat won't be affected by unfolding chaos planetside."

      Voloshin shrugged. "What if it is cloudy above your rectenna? You would not be able to beam down energy."

      "Not true. We use microwaves in the 2.45-gigahertz range. The atmosphere is largely invisible at that frequency. We can beam the energy down regardless of weather—and directly to where it's needed. No need for long distance power lines."

      "But to what purpose? It could not be done on a scale sufficient to impact Earth."

      "Again, I could show you the numbers."

      Chindarkar said, "I'd like to see them, Monica. Please."

      Balter put down her fork and after searching through virtual UIs for a moment, put up a shared augmented-reality screen that appeared to float over the end of the table on the station's common layer. It displayed an array of numbers and labels. "Sorry for the spreadsheet."

      Colonel Fei said, "We are quite interested in seeing it, Ms. Balter."

      She looked to the faces around the table. "There are four reasons I got involved in space-based solar power... " She pealed them off on her fingers. "...electrification, desalination, food generation, and decarbonization. First: electricity. We all know the environmental, economic, and political havoc back on Earth from climate change. Blackouts make that chaos worse, but a 2-gigawatt solar power satellite in geosynchronous orbit could instantly transmit large amounts of energy anywhere it's needed in the hemisphere below it. Even several locations at once. All that's needed is a rectenna on the ground, and those are cheap and easy to construct."

      Chindarkar nodded. "We saw one on Ascension Island."

      Jin added, "J.T. and I are building sections of the lunar rectenna. It is fairly simple."

      "Right. For example, space-based energy could be beamed to coastal desalination plants in regions suffering long-term drought-providing fresh water. It can also be used to remove CO2 directly from seawater, through what's known as single step carbon sequestration and storage, converting the CO2 into solid limestone and magnesite—essentially seashells. This would enable the oceans themselves to absorb more atmospheric CO2. Or we could power direct air capture plants that pull CO2 straight out of the atmosphere."

      Voloshin interjected. "Again, a few satellites will not impact Earth's atmospheric concentrations, and where would you sequester all this CO2?"

      "Just a few satellites wouldn't impact climate, no—but there's definitely a use for the CO2—in creating food. Droughts in equatorial zones are causing famine, but hydrogenotrophic bacteria can be used to make protein from electricity, hydrogen, and CO2. The hydrogen can be electrolyzed from seawater and CO2 from the air. All that's needed is clean energy." She glanced to Chindarkar. "NASA first experimented with this in the 1960s as a means for making food here in deep space."

      "Really? Even back then."

      "The bioreactor for it is like a small-batch brewery. You feed in what natural plants get from soil: phosphorus, sulfur, calcium, iron, potassium—all of which, incidentally, can be extracted from lunar regolith. But I digress..."

      Colonel Fei's eyebrows raised. "That is indeed interesting."

      "The bioreactor runs for a while, then the liquid is drained and the solids dried to a powder that contains 65 percent protein, 20 to 25 percent carbohydrates, and 5 percent fatty acids. This can be made into a natural food similar to soy or algae. So with energy, CO2, and seawater, we could provide life-saving nutrition just about anywhere on the planet via solar power satellites."

      Voloshin was unimpressed. "Yet it would still not resolve climate change."

      "At scale it could. Do the math ... " Balter brought up her spreadsheet. "We're emitting 40 billion tons of CO2 per year, 9 billion tons of which can't be sequestered by the natural carbon cycle and which results in an annual increase of roughly two parts per million atmospheric CO2—even after decades of conservation efforts."

      She tapped a few screens and a virtual image of an industrial structure covered in fan housings appeared. "A direct air capture facility like this one could pull a million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere each year at a cost of one hundred dollars a ton. All of the components are off-the-shelf and have existed for decades. Nothing fancy. But it needs 1.5 megawatts of constant clean energy to power it—and that's where solar power satellites come in."

      Voloshin said, "But who would pay? Governments? Do not count on this."

      Chindarkar asked, "Monica, seriously: How many carbon capture plants would it take to make a difference in the atmosphere of the entire Earth?"

      Jin added, "And how many solar power satellites to power them?"

      Balter brought her spreadsheet back up. "Merely to cancel out Earth's excess annual emissions—9 billion tons of CO2—we'd need nine thousand 1-megaton DAC plants worldwide, each requiring 150 to 300 acres."

      The group groaned.

      Tighe said, "That's a lot of hardware and a lot of real estate, Monica."

      "It doesn't have to be on land. Just 2.7 million acres total—smaller than Connecticut. And that would be spread across the entire globe. More importantly, doing that stops the advance of climate change. If we reduce emissions, then it would actually help reverse climate change."

      Chindarkar studied the numbers. "Powered by how many solar satellites?"

      Balter highlighted the number. "It would take 1.6 terawatts of electricity—or 818 2-gigawatt SPS-Alphas. Each about 7,400 tons. But again: that halts the advance of climate change."

      The group groaned again.

      "Eight hundred eighteen satellites?" Jin shook his head. "That would take decades to build."

      "Not with automation and sufficient materials here on orbit. You've seen the SPS-Alpha I'm building—it's made of simple, modular components."

      "Yours is one-fortieth the size of these 7,400-ton monsters."

      "But it's the same design. We just need the resources up here in space, and we could scale it rapidly with automation."

      Voloshin picked up his fork. "As I said: it is a technological fantasy."

      Chindarkar ignored him. "Monica, what would it require to not just halt climate change—but reverse it?"

      Balter clicked through to another screen. "To return Earth to a safe level—say, three hundred fifty parts per million CO2-you'd need to pull three-quarters of a trillion tons out of the atmosphere." She made a few changes to her model. "So with forty thousand DAC plants, powered by thirty-six hundred 2-gigawatt satellites in geosynchronous orbit, you could accomplish that in eighteen years."

      Fei asked, "At what cost?"

      "Roughly seventy-two trillion dollars."

      Again groans and an impressed whistle.

      Voloshin shook his head. "I told you."

      Balter added, "That's four trillion a year, over eighteen years. Spread across the entire population of Earth."

      This was met with a different reaction.

      Jin said, "That is actually less than I thought."

      "And bear in mind the fossil fuel industry has been supported by half a trillion dollars in direct government subsidies worldwide every year for ages. Whereas this four trillion is for just a limited time and would permanently solve climate change, and we'd see significant climate benefits within a decade as CO2 levels came down. And once it was accomplished, all that clean energy could be put toward other productive uses, either on Earth or in space."

      She studied the faces around her. "But to accomplish it, we'd need tens of millions of tons of mass in orbit. Launching all that mass up from Earth would never work because all those rockets would damage the atmosphere, too. However, with your lunar mass-driver—and the ones that follow it—we could make this work. This is why I'm here."

      Those around the table pondered this. For the moment, even Voloshin was silent.

      Boutros asked, "Is it not risky to tinker with the Earth's atmosphere?"

      "That's what we're doing now, Sofia. This would just reverse what we've done and return Earth to the conditions we evolved in."

      Chindarkar pointed to the virtual spreadsheet. "Does that seventy-two trillion dollars include the cost of the solar power satellites?"

      "Yes. And doing nothing will cost us far more. Best estimates are that by the year 2100, continued climate change will reduce global GDP by 20 percent—which is about two thousand trillion dollars. Not to mention the cost of possibly losing civilization.

      "But if, as your CEO Mr. Rochat says, we intend to prove the SPS concept at scale here in lunar orbit, well... then you will make this commercially feasible. In other words, you can make this future happen. Everyone else has talked it to death. The bean counters and decision makers back on Earth clearly won't do it, no matter how critical it is. And this needs to be started as soon as possible—before the situation on Earth gets truly untenable."

      This book is not afraid to think big. That's what sci-fi is for, right? And it's extensively researched; there's a bibliography at the end of each book that I've used to start my own research journeys.

      I like these books because they're ambitious. They never downplay the scale of the problems we face, but they maintain that these problems are solvable, and they expose me to new ideas I'd never heard of. I found them in my local library. Thanks for reading this wall of text!

      29 votes
    7. Which books did you read in 2023 and how did you like them?

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      I didn't have as much time for reading this year. My daughters kept me quite busy (and happy). However, I managed to squeeze in one or the other title. I don't want to discuss all of the forty-something books I read, but here's an incomplete list of what I can recommend (and what not).

      I really enjoyed the following books:

      • number9dream by David Mitchell
      • Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
      • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
      • Red Rising (all six books) by Pierce Brown
      • The Cold War by John Lewis Gaddis
      • Dark Rome by Michael Sommer
      • A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman
      • The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka
      • At Night all Blood is Black by David Diop
      • The Future of Geography: How Power and Politics in Space Will Change Our World by Tim Marshall
      • First Person Singular by by Haruki Murakami
      • Guitar Zero by Gary Marcus
      • This is your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin
      • The History of Heavy Metal by Andrew O'Neill

      I think my favorites were Black Swan Green and The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. Both are very powerful stories with complex protagonists.

      I didn't really enjoy these books:

      • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (seriously, I like Murakami, but I hated this book – the plot was annoying, stylistic choices were questionable and the protagonist bland)
      • The Vegetarian by Han Kang (the book was interesting, but also a bit "too much" for me)

      I think those books taught me something, although they weren't necessarily fun to read:

      • Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
      • The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win by Gene Kim
      • Atomic Habits by James Clear
      • The Great Mental Models Volume 3: Systems and Mathematics

      Especially Chris Voss and James Clear can't stop boasting and/or advertising. I learned something from their books, but I found them annoying to read. The mental models book and the Phoenix project were fun, though.

      I'm a software developer and read quite some books about this topic this year. I can recommend the following of them:

      • Efficient Linux at the Command Line
      • 100 Go Mistakes
      • The Staff Engineer's Path
      • TypeScript Cookbook
      • Principles of Package Design

      But I didn't really like those (although they're good from a technical perspective):

      • Cloud Native Go
      • Security and Microservice Architecture on AWS

      So, what did you guys read? What can you recommend? Which books disappointed you?

      19 votes
    8. This is How You Lose the Time War - I loved it but I understand why some hate it

      After giving This is How You Lose the Time War a five star review, I started scrolling through other reviews and I found thoughtful, well reasoned arguments for the other side. This is a...

      After giving This is How You Lose the Time War a five star review, I started scrolling through other reviews and I found thoughtful, well reasoned arguments for the other side. This is a thoroughly crafted well written book that is not going to be to everyone's taste.

      The premise is two opposing secret agents, saboteurs, time and history manipulators who work for conflicting civilizations become aware of each other and start to exchange letters. It becomes a love story.

      The nature of the work each main character does to manipulate history across many centuries and many parallel universes makes the narrative confusing. I can't imagine it done effectively any other way, but I also like other confusing time shifting stories where the story starts to make sense later.

      The characters only meet through their letters with a couple of exceptions, so some say the love story is unbelievable. For me, it reflects the extreme isolation and loneliness of their work and how even minimal tenuous companionship of a peer would satisfy a gaping need.

      The writing includes extravagant romantic feelings and poetic literary allusions to go with the science fiction and time travel aspect. I appreciated it, but people who like romance and poetry don't always like science fiction and time travel and vice versa.

      The authors lean into the epistolary format. It's not exclusively letters but a significant percentage of the writing is the letters these two characters exchange.

      The creative forms the letters take were fun for me and seemed like a valid extrapolation of actual historical spycraft if you assumed much greater ability to manipulate matter. However some people find them over the top.

      It is an exuberant, enthusiastic book that is fun if you like it and possibly cringy if you don't

      22 votes
    9. 'The Three-Body Problem' is... bad

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      I just finished it today and it's hard to pinpoint exactly what parts I enjoyed.

      Spoilers I enjoyed the parts where we get to see inside the game of threebody. That felt engaging to me, but was really the only part I enjoyed.

      The rest of the book felt very preachy and a lot of it felt unnecessary. I don't think I liked a single character in the book. They all felt like caricatures and not how people would genuinely act or respond to the events happening in the book. Almost every single action taken by every single character felt forced to fit a narrative.

      I cannot fathom why this won a Hugo award other than the fact that it was the first piece of science fiction originally written by a Chinese author in the Chinese language to win. [edit: In terms of novelty. The fact that it was originally written in Chinese has absolutely no bearing on my opinion other than possibly due to the translation the characters seemed to have no depth.]

      I listened to the audio book, as I was told the names can be confusing and the audio book helped with it. I kept waiting for it to go somewhere, and when it was over I thought to myself, "that's it?"

      Maybe someone can give a different perspective on it, because right now I'm just frustrated I spent money on it.

      51 votes
    10. Review - White Tears by Hari Kunzru - especially recommended for music lovers

      I originally decided to review this book for Tildes because I know that there are music lovers here. I made this choice before I finished the book. This is a music focused novel. People who love...

      I originally decided to review this book for Tildes because I know that there are music lovers here. I made this choice before I finished the book. This is a music focused novel. People who love music will likely get a lot out of it. But the music content provides a context for a great novel.

      The first half of the story focuses on two music obsessed young men who become friends. One has a strong interest in sound technology. (I'm sure that there is a more precise way to describe it but I'm not a musician. Bear with me here.) The other is a collector, focused on old Blues recordings.

      Without giving away too much the plot, a new character is introduced part way in, an older Blues collector and there is a journey into the deep South to find Blues recordings and buy them from individuals who have family connections to the Blues musicians.

      About two thirds of the way through reading the book, I started to wonder about recommending it without caveats. It is extremely well written and tells a compelling story. I'm glad I read it. However, there are aspects that will probably make it difficult for some people to enjoy it. Other people will, I suspect love it, for the exact same content.

      Here are some aspects of the book that might need trigger/content warnings.

      Violence: There is a particularly brutal police encounter among other episodes.

      Revenge: Race and racism is one of several themes of the book and African American rage over mistreatment and abuse is bluntly expressed and enacted at a few points.

      Narrator (and reader) lacking real time contemporaneous understanding of what is happening:
      Part of the book contains content representing what might be a fever dream or a psychotic episode or a drug induced experience. Late in the book a possible supernatural/uncanny explaination is offered, but the question of why the episode is surreal is not definitively resolved.

      Strong contrast and vivid descriptions of wealth vs middle class vs poverty:

      Death:

      As I said, I think the book is exceptionally well written and the author quite skilled. I found it compelling, interesting, entertaining, but certain parts more fascinating than enjoyable. If someone reads it, I would love to know what you think.

      7 votes
    11. I love fantasy books with quality plot, character development and well written romantic content - These are my favorites

      Reddit refugee here, I've been posting my book reviews on /r/Fantasy for years and figured some of you all would be interested in a best of list. My full list of all book reviews can be found...

      Reddit refugee here, I've been posting my book reviews on /r/Fantasy for years and figured some of you all would be interested in a best of list. My full list of all book reviews can be found here, but most of the links are broken right now because the Fantasy subreddit is still private. Still, perhaps the titles, authors and keywords are helpful.

      What I enjoy

      A brief list of things I care about in books, to help you jugde whether your taste overlaps:

      • a good balance of romance and plot, where there is prominent romance but never feels like the story is just about that
      • quality prose and dialogue
      • believable relationship development, including romantic tension and explicit payoff for it
      • high stakes drama, be it interpersonal, warfare, duels, court politics or heists
      • LBGTQ+ main characters and queer romance

      Note that these aren't the only qualities of the books listed below, just generally what I look for. I'll also gladly take recommendations for fantasy books that fit these criteria if you have any!

      Books

      Kushiel's Legacy by Jacqueline Carey

      A divinely blessed masochistic courtesan and spy uncovers conspiracies against the crown of fantasy France. This series is probably my absolute favorite for how it combines intrigue, romance, kink and action, all with excellent prose and characterization. It has deliciously horny worldbuilding and ends up telling an epic fantasy story with an incredibly unique protagonist.

      Silver Under Nightfall by Rin Chupeco

      A recent addition to my absolute favorites. The author described the book as "vampire couple finds himbo in the trash and takes him in". If you're not sold on that, imagine a vibe like Netflix Castlevania and The Witcher - vampire hunter who's highly competent but looked down upon, vampire science, undead threat, dark gothic kind of setting, sprinkled with some "who's the real monster actually?" philosophy.

      A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson

      A Dowry of Blood is about healing from abusive relationships through murder. It's also walks an excellent line between being sexy and horrible. It tells the story of Dracula's "brides", and the beautifully messed up relationship the four of them have.

      Note: this one can't be described as having a "romantic subplot", since that implies some sort of happy ending. You know, because of the murder. (that's not a spoiler, it's revealed on page one)

      A Charm of Magpies by KJ Charles

      A disgraced nobleman returns to England years after escaping his father and finds himself and his family estate haunted. He hires a magician - who happens to bear his family a grudge. The Magpie series is fast paced, highly entertaining, well written, and plays with some delicious power dynamics between its initially hostile and soon reluctantly mutually attracted main characters.

      Folk of the Air by Holly Black

      The only YA series on this list, Folk of the Air holds a special place in my heart for its delicious fairy court politicking and for not pulling its punches. The titular Cruel Prince is a wonderfully hateable love interest, and even though I feel a few years too old to properly enjoy this series, the stabby and vicious dynamics between the two leads is just wonderful.

      Nightrunner by Lynn Flewelling

      A young man gets innocently imprisoned and receives unexpected help from his cellmate: a spy, rogue, thief and nobleman. The latter offers him a way out and an apprenticeship, which leads to well... spying and thievery, but also sinister necromantic plots against the throne. The highlight of this series is the ongoing relationship development between its leads. Book 1-2 are fantastic, book 4-5 are really weird, but the whole series remains a favorite despite some strange choices.

      Rook & Rose by M.a. Carrick

      A skilled con artist, a masked vigilante that challenges aristocrats to duels, and a dashing crime lord turned nobleman. The Rook & Rose series shines in its rich worldbuilding and prose, but especially in its handling of its main characters' multiple secrets, cons and identities. And especially shines when those schemes start crumbling down and some of the secrets become unveiled.

      If the third book in the trilogy sticks the landing later this year, this series will firmly establish itself among my all time favorites.

      The Stariel Quartet by AJ Lancaster

      Years after leaving her family, a young woman returns home for her father's funeral and soon needs to deal with a magical estate that has a mind of its own, and discover that there may be more magic in the world around her than she's realized. The Stariel series is cozy and home-y in many ways, but doesn't shy away from tension either, and I find myself still in love with the main characters even long after finishing the series. I also really enjoyed the spinoff, A Rake of His Own recently!

      Harrow Faire by Kathryn Ann Kingsley

      Most of the books on here are fantasy with romance, while this one sits more firmly in the capital R Romance genre. But it is dark romance ("villain gets the girl"), and features an absolutely unhinged love interest, a lot of murder, and an evil circus. The series isn't without flaws (some of the side characters get a bit too much page for
      how flat they are, and the pacing is a tiny bit uneven in parts), but I blasted through all five (short) books in a week because I had so much fun with it.

      The Last Binding by Freya Marske

      This series takes place in an early 20th century England where a secret magical society exists in parallel to the world 'as we know it'. There's even a bit of magical British bureaucracy that reminded me of aspects of the Harry Potter books, though the series have little in common otherwise.
      Every book in this trilogy follows the same overarching plot, but features a different pairing of main characters and romantic leads. It's queer, fun and fast-paced, though sometimes a bit on the fluffy and romancey side for my taste.


      That's just a brief selection of favorites, I highly recommend heading over to the reddit post (I should back that up at some point with Reddit's future being a bit shaky rn) to find more titles.

      Thank you for reading! There's lots more to say on each of theses books of course, but I didn't want this to get way too long.
      Let me know if you found this interesting, if you have similar books you'd recommend to me, or just share if you also enjoyed any of these books. This is my first post on Tildes and I'm happy to meet new fellow readers :)

      69 votes
    12. A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland

      Preface: I usually post my book reviews on /r/Fantasy. With reddit's future being uncertain right now I figured I'd experiment with posting on here, let me know if you're interested in future...

      Preface: I usually post my book reviews on /r/Fantasy. With reddit's future being uncertain right now I figured I'd experiment with posting on here, let me know if you're interested in future reviews. I should add that this probably isn't my most interesting book review ever, it just happens to be my latest read.
      Please feel free to let me know if you'd like to see more fantasy book reviews in the future, I am new to Tildes.

      Recommended if you like: ottoman empire inspired setting, royalty/bodyguard romance, MC with anxiety, queernorm setting, low-magic setting, m/m romance, homoerotically washing each others' hair, royal palace slice of life, fake-dating (sort of), gay yearning


      Blurb

      Kadou, the shy prince of Arasht, finds himself at odds with one of the most powerful ambassadors at court—the body-father of the queen's new child—in an altercation which results in his humiliation.

      To prove his loyalty to the queen, his sister, Kadou takes responsibility for the investigation of a break-in at one of their guilds, with the help of his newly appointed bodyguard, the coldly handsome Evemer, who seems to tolerate him at best. In Arasht, where princes can touch-taste precious metals with their fingers and myth runs side by side with history, counterfeiting is heresy, and the conspiracy they discover could cripple the kingdom’s financial standing and bring about its ruin.


      Review

      • This book starts out by throwing you in the middle of a handful of political machinations already underway - the inciting incidents have basically already happened off-screen beforehand. That is fine, but don't expect massive developments on these plots or new plot points to really matter. The book basically goes "this is the political background for this story" and then takes its time for the rest of the book to focus on the romance.
      • I should find this book too fluffy and romancey for my taste but I couldn't help but loving it. Some of it is really dumb, it's transparently obvious that the narrative only exists to facilitate a lot of gay yearning, but I also found myself very much enjoying all that gay yearning.
      • I feel like I logically shouldn't have enjoyed this so much, because the worldbuilding is negligible, the magic (touch-tasting, i.e. sensing the origins or compositions of metals) is an afterthought for most of the time, and the plot constantly takes breaks for everyone to talk about their feelings a lot. But somehow, I was totally here for all that and was sad when it was over.
      • There were various aspects I found a bit grating, from some very obviously contrived setups to make the two leads have to get closer (or make drastic choices that bind them together) to some of the side characters sounding rather anachronistically sassy, to just how often the plot takes a break for people to talk about their feelings. I can list a ton of things this book does "wrong", but none of them actually managed to tip the scale away from me being into it, don't ask me why. Maybe I was just in the right mood for it.
      • The setting is very queernormative and progressive in other ways, while maintaining a historical veneer in terms of technology and (for the most part) style. The use of neopronouns for some side characters caught me a bit off guard in the audio narration, but it's done with such a complete nonchalance that I assume many queer readers will find refreshing.
      • The main character has anxiety and panic attacks (without quite having the language to articulate what he suffers from, and equating it with cowardice), and I thought that topic was treated pretty well. Then again, everyone that matters is super supportive and understanding the whole time, so it doesn't really serve as a source of conflict for longer.
      • I've said that action often takes a backseat to the romance, but I found the action that was there pretty good.

      Discussion

      This contains significant spoilers, read at your own risk
      • I went from writing "No COME ON you are not seriously getting fake married now right 😂" to "ok that they now can’t fuck because it‘d consummate the marriage and take the option of annulment from them is delicious and hilarious" into my review notes within minutes. That development and the ensuing conflicted tention was fun.
      • For the longest time, I thought Lt. Armidan (sp?) who had the counterfeit coins in their (jer?) office was the same character as Melek (sp?) the guard/Kahia (sorry if I am butchering the spelling of everything, I listened to the audiobook), and was confused why they'd trust that person again.
      • I wrote down a dozen things that I found annoying or dumb but just as many things that I found adorable, hilarious, wonderfully fitting or hot.

      In conclusion: I really liked this, but I completely understand anyone who didn't. The only previous Rowland book I'd read is A Conspiracy of Truths (link to my review), where I had the opposite experience: I found it well crafted but didn't enjoy it all that much. This one just happened to vibe more with me.

      9 votes
    13. Short story review: A Logic Named Joe by Murray Leinster

      A Logic Named Joe is a 1946 Sci Fi short story that introduces concepts such as the internet, streaming music and streaming video, search engines with family friendly filters and artificial...

      A Logic Named Joe is a 1946 Sci Fi short story that introduces concepts such as the internet, streaming music and streaming video, search engines with family friendly filters and artificial intelligence.

      Link to story: http://www.baen.com/chapters/W200506/0743499107___2.htm

      4 votes
    14. On Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire and other works

      I recently finished reading Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, and prior to that I read his novel The Monkey Wrench Gang. I was left feeling quite differently than what I was expecting to feel. I'm...

      I recently finished reading Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, and prior to that I read his novel The Monkey Wrench Gang. I was left feeling quite differently than what I was expecting to feel. I'm an outdoorsman, a conservationist and an activist. I spent a good portion of my time last year on The Colorado Plateau, much of it in the places Edward Abbey has been and discusses frequently in his work. There is a distinct emotional connection I feel to this land, so my mental conflictions are especially notable. I recently wrote a friend a letter, much of it including my thoughts on Abbey thus far, and I felt posting the relevant excerpt here would be a good conversation starter. Let me know what you think!

      "I just finished Abbey's Desert Solitaire, while I enjoyed many aspects of the work, it also left me feeling conflicted. I wholeheartedly concur with many (but not all) of his views on conservation. He challenged my views in some positive aspects as well, his disdain for the automobile in national parks, for example. Other views of his I cannot ignore or absolve him of. His views on traditional family values (read: misogyny) are quite apparent in The Monkey Wrench Gang and seep into this work as well. Furthermore, his views on indigenous peoples are outdated, even for his time. His incessant diatribe on the blights that impact Native Americans and other indigenous populations, blaming their own attitudes (victim blaming, if you will), while simultaneously railing against the federal government and The Bureau of Indian Affairs is at best hypocritical (while also patently racist).

      Edward Abbey's actions also do not reflect his writing. The man continually rants about the ongoing destruction of this Earth, he blames everybody (The National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the modern consumer, tourists, oil and gas corporations, mining companies, logging businesses and wannabe outdoorsmen) but himself. He went so far as to work for the NPS, while admitting their culpability in their own decimation. During his time there he constantly capitulated to the tourists, the modern consumers in their iron contraptions. Some federal employees I've met have set out to change their respective agencies from within, but what did Abbey do? He left. He saw a problem, railed against it, and left.

      So I ask: Why didn't he do more? It has been suggested that Ed had engaged in some less-than-peaceful activities, "eco-terrorism" they call it. I personally don't believe it, I believe that any actions taken were never near the magnitude of the happenings of The Monkey Wrench Gang. Ed's books were his personal fantasies, which while not a guide, a reference point. He prefaces Desert Solitaire, describing it as an elegy. Almost as if he is passing an extinguished torch on to our time. It is frustrating and demoralizing to say the least. While grateful to read his words and as much as I concur with his notions, I disagree with hits actions (or lack thereof). I finish this book left feeling angry."

      4 votes
    15. Book recommendation: Anti-Social by Andrew Marantz

      I just finished Andrew Marantz's Anti-Social: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation, and I think it's a book that would interest a lot of the people on...

      I just finished Andrew Marantz's Anti-Social: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation, and I think it's a book that would interest a lot of the people on this site. Marantz is a journalist for the New Yorker who embedded himself with alt-right influencers and social media companies. This book is a compilation of all of those stories; part memoir, part retelling, part observation, part commentary.

      Despite its title, the book is not a one-dimensional hit piece. I actually strongly dislike the title as I feel it's a bit too barbed for a book that's rooted in extensive, thoughtful contemplation. The author is honest, open-minded, and critical. I hate the word "balanced" for all of the baggage it brings to the table, but it really feels like the best word to use, especially as an antonym for "unbalanced". He deftly handles a lot of different subjects here. He doesn't shy away from giving criticism where its due, but he's also not quick to judge, trying to understand the broader picture first before casting any judgments about it.

      I mention it here because I think it has a lot of relevance to Tildes as a site, as well as the type of people that have congregated here. It covers a lot of ground of direct interest to Tildes: the role of social media platforms to police speech and ideology; how the structure of social media creates influence; how bad faith actors can manipulate systems; how noxious ideologies continue to appeal and propagate. I also know that Tildes trends toward the left, and as someone far on that side myself, I appreciated this book for giving me what I feel was a fair and thoughtful window into the lives of certain high-profile people on the right. It's easy to think of them as a monolith, but I was surprised by the differences between all of his various character portraits. Marantz never loses the individual humanity of his subjects, even when some of them are abjectly abhorrent people.

      I should mention that the book is very US-centric, as that was where he focused his journalistic efforts. As such, readers outside the US might not appreciate it as much, but I still think a lot of what he shares is relevant no matter where you are located since we all share space together online.

      6 votes