Mike Finn
Reading progress update: I've read 26%. written about the government shutdown in 2013 but still relevant today
The View from Flyover Country - Sarah Kendzior

"The View From Flyover Country" is a collection of articles that have been wrapped around themes. The theme I'm reading about at the moment is the Post-Employment Economy.

 

It posits the idea that there has been a fundamental shift in the US that represents a war on the poor. Social mobility has ceased. Poverty has increased and is becoming inescapable. Companies are boosting profits by asking people to work for free (for experience or exposure or future opportunities) or for less than a living wage.

 

The rich now live in a world where they rarely meet anyone who isn't rich and where they blame the poor for lacking the get up and go to stop being poor while putting barriers to entry to professional jobs and lowering wages for service jobs to below poverty levels.

 

It is argued that this started with Compassionate Conservatism which:

 

"assumed that we could take care of ourselves so we did not need to take care of each other. It was an attractive concept, simultaneously exalting the successes of America while relieving the individual of responsibility for those whom it failed.

 

 Today the attack on the poor is no longer cloaked in ideology—it is ideology itself."

 

This is not put forward as the view of the majority of Americans. It is argued that poverty is now so widespread amongst the working poor that everyone knows people affected by it and doesn't see those people as shiftless scroungers. It goes on to say:

 

"...our opinion does not matter. We are passive subjects, held hostage to a vindictive minority divorced from public will."

 

In this context, a government shutdown (the one referred to here was in 2013 but the current one seems also to fit this description in my opinion) has to be characterised in a different way.

 

"The government shutdown only formalizes the dysfunction that has been hurting ordinary Americans for decades. It is not a political shutdown but a social breakdown. Fixing it requires a reassessment of value—and values.

 

When wealth is passed off as merit, bad luck is seen as bad character. This is how ideologues justify punishing the sick and the poor. But poverty is neither a crime nor a character flaw. Stigmatize those who let people die, not those who struggle to live."

Review
4 Stars
"Ways To Hide In Winter" by Sarah St. Vincent
Ways To Hide In Winter - Sarah Vincent
 

 

From the start, "How To Hide In Winter" is strong on atmosphere: isolated - cold - damaged and with more damage to come - a history like a shadow beneath the ice on the lake.

 

The story is told through the eyes Kathleen, a young woman working alone in the only store still open in the National Park on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania in the depths of winter. She spends most of her day alone, reading and thinking.

 

Then "The Stranger" arrives, a lone Uzbekistani man, not dressed for winter, not sure of where he is or why.

 

She's trying to pretend she doesn't limp and isn't in pain from her injuries. He's scrupulously polite and unaggressive, trying hard to be invisible. Both of them are tantalisingly unexplained.

 

What follows is a powerful, beautifully written, deeply thoughtful novel that tackles raw emotions and complicated ideas without ever becoming dry or self-consciously literary.

 

On the surface, "Ways To Hide In Winter" could be seen as one of those woman-with-dark-secrets-in-her-past thrillers. If that's what you're looking for, this book will disappoint you. It's not a thriller nor a simple narrative about discovering the dark secrets in the pasts of the two main characters. It's a deeply meditative book, filled with the cold silence of winter and the slowly thawing emotions of rage and compassion of a woman who has been abused and traumatised.

 

Winter is central to the feel of this book. The physical winter in the Appalachians in Pennsylvania is almost a character in its own right: bleak but beautiful, familiar but deadly, ubiquitous and inescapable. It is also an extended metaphor for the emotional state of the two main characters, each with their own story of abuse, betrayal, secret shame and physical and emotional trauma that have left them scarred, isolated and trying to hide from their futures as much as from their pasts.

 

Like water beneath the layer of ice on the lake, Kathleen's emotions run deep, slow and cold. Her rage is fierce but struggling to find expression. It is the fevered heat experienced by the hypothermic as they struggle to survive the cold.

 

She is consumed with a quiet, barely contained rage. She rages at how her community is treated by the government:

 “They sold us pain and said it was fine... They had such contempt for us, and they thought we didn’t see it. Just because we lived where we lived and were who we were.”

Rage at those in power, in Uzbekistan and in the US, who use torture, pain and humiliation to punish their enemies.

 

Rage at her recently deceased, violently abusive husband. Rage at all those who failed her: her parents, her priest, herself.

 

There is the possibility of hope, of support from her best friend and from men who are interested in her but she finds hope hard to trust, partly because she is not sure that she deserves it.

 

There is guilt and shame: her addiction to painkillers, her belief that everyone holds her accountable for her husband's death. There is responsibility for her sick grandmother. And there is, eventually, compassion, initially for The Stranger and finally for herself as she slowly and carefully considers what a person deserves.

 

The Stranger gives Kathleen another focus, someone as damaged and as vulnerable than she is. Someone quiet and indirect who may have done shameful things but who shows her only gentleness. Someone who makes her think about what living means. Through her contact with him, she starts to understand that by continuing to hide she is refusing to live. Staying where she is just a slower death, not survival.

 

The language is simple, beautiful and powerful. The pace is slow but in a way that builds tension, grabs attention and makes you focus on what's really happening. It demonstrates a nuanced understanding of abuse and powerlessness and their impact on identity and will.

 

The ending of the book doesn't offer any easy solutions. It seems to say that we all of us go through more than one winter. We move between light and dark. Perhaps being alive is about keeping moving. Perhaps compassion for others can help thaw our personal winters. Perhaps compassion just mitigates our guilt. Perhaps staying hidden is unsustainable because it is an extended act of abnegation.

 

"Ways To Hide in Winter" is Sarah St, Vincent's first novel. I'll definitely be reading her second.

 

I listened to the audiobook version which was performed brilliantly by Sarah Mollo-Christensen. To hear a sample of her performance, click on the SoundCloud link below.

https://soundcloud.com/audiolibrary-a/ways-to-hide-in-winter-by-sarah-st-vincent-audiobook-excerpt
Reading progress update: I've read 30%.a reaction I often experience
Guards! Guards!  - Terry Pratchett

Grimes has just seen a dragon for the first time.

 

The voices in his head sound just like the ones that talk to me.

 

And it was all wrong, Vimes thought. Part of him was marvelling at the sheer beauty of the sight, but an insistent, weaselly little group of brain cells from the wrong side of the synapses was scrawling its graffiti on the walls of wonderment.

Reading progress update: I've read 27%. - the innocence of Carrot
Guards! Guards!  - Terry Pratchett

The Librarian has just visited the Watch Office, which Vimes has left Carrot in alone, polishing his helmet and breastplate, to keep him out of trouble. So now Carrot is leaving with the Librarian to *fight crime".

 

The final sentence sums up almost everything about Carrot

 

"And then he went out on to the streets, untarnished and unafraid"

 

One of the things that I love about Terry Pratchett is that he leaves you to draw your own conclusions about whether Carrot is a hero or an innocent

 

I prefer to think of him as an innocent. He's not self-aware enough to be a hero.

 

This makes me smile until a voice in my head whispers a quote from Graham Greene's "The Quiet American":

 

"Innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm."

.

Terry Pratchett won't let Carrot cause any harm.

 

Perhaps that's why I'm re-reading him and not Graham Greene.

Review
3 Stars
"Outbreak - Nightshades #3" by Melissa F
Outbreak - Melissa F. Olson
 

"Outbreak" is the final novella of a three novella set about a special FBI unit hunting vampires, I've already reviewed"Nightshades"and "Switchback"

 

Like them, "Outbreak" was a light,fast - this-would-make-great-TV type of read. It's original, fast-paced and has some great action scenes.

 

I found the final resolution a little low key but there was enough good stuff along the way to make up for that.

 

Although we get some good vampire-backstory stuff that fits well with the motivations that drive the plot, the characterisation is very thin and nobody develops much. By comparison to Melissa F Olson's other books, this feels more like an outline than a novel.

 

The only thing I didn't like was the way these novellas were released. It seems to be a thing with publishers at the moment to split a novel into three or four pieces and then drip-feed them to readers. I guess it's a way of keeping the authors' name in front of people and it probably makes more revenue overall. What pushed this to beyond being an irritating marketing tactic was how long the drip feeding took. There was a two-year gap between the first and third novella. It was hard to sustain any sense of momentum. I'd rather have bought all three novellas as a novel.

Reading progress update: I've read 14%.
Guards! Guards!  - Terry Pratchett

I’m re-reading this for the first time in thirty something years. It’s a bit of a shock to meet Vîmes, one of my favourite characters, the one I hope I might get to be for a while on my very best days, drunk in the gutter.

 

Carrot has arrived and the Watch is about to change,so it made me smile to read about Grimes looking at the Watch House and reading the old motto:

 

“It must have been quite imposing once, but quite a lot of it was now uninhabitable and patrolled only by owls and rats. Over the door a motto in the ancient tongue of the city was now almost eroded by time and grime and lichen, but could just be made out: FABRICATI DIEM, PVNC”

Review
3.5 Stars
"Mystery In White" by J. Jefferson Farjeon
Mystery in White - J. Jefferson Farjeon, Patience Tomlinson
 

"Mystery In White" is a 1930's version of a Christmas Special drama,

 

It's set on Christmas Eve, a fierce snowstorm, strangers on a stranded train grouping together to look for a way out of moving on with the plans for Christmas, an empty but unlocked Country House in the depths of the English Countryside, with fires lit and food laid but with no one inside.

 

What follows is a series of "TA DAH!" moments as murders and mysteries are uncovered and we learn more about the group of strangers and, eventually, the occupants of the house.

 

The strangers are all from central casting: the bright, young charismatic upper-class but friendly brother and sister, the heart-of-gold showgirl, the blustering old bore, the tongue-tied socially awkward clerk, the East End ruffian and the de facto leader of the expedition, a fierce, unconventional old man who claims the ability to see the dead and who assumes the role of detective, magistrate and ghost hunter.

 

This is a book that is bursting at the seams with ideas and people but often doesn't seem to be sure what to do with them. This was a time when genre boundaries had not yet been set and this perhaps explains why sometimes this reads as a Christmas Ghost Story and sometimes as a "The Rivals Of Poirot Christmas Special".

 

What the book lacks in discipline and character development it makes up for in sheer brio and a Saturday Matinee fascination with adding yet another plot twist.

Off Topic Post: A poem by Elizabeth Bishop and some thoughts on why I miss writing letters

Reading "Letter to N Y" by Elizabeth Bishop, I was reminded of how I miss writing letters to people I care about. Bishop's letter is what an intimate letter should be, a gift to the person it is sent to.

 

It is an act of sharing, in which the writer holds the other person in their imagination, building pictures of where they are going and what they are doing, evoking those places and those acts as a form of empathy and perhaps as a surrogate for physical companionship, demonstrating that they understand how those acts and those places make the person feel, yet still inviting them to respond and share their real experience in return.

 

There is love in a letter like this, affection wrapped in light humour and decorated with sparse, beautiful images that open up the mind of the writer to the reader.

 

Receiving a letter like this, you would feel that you were in the writer's thoughts, that you were known in the writer's heart and that they hungered to hear from you so they can keep you and your experiences fresh in their imaginations while you are apart.

 

Neither Snapchat nor FaceTime provides this kind of opportunity to share. Their immediacy and their emphasis on the visual act to suppress the imagination that creates a shared place for you to visit. They rob us of words, of reflection, of the ability to savour what was said and left unsaid, what was meant and what was learned.

 

When I was first in love with the woman who eventually agreed to marry me, we were often apart. There was no email and no mobile phones. We could only talk on landlines at pre-arranged times, using public telephone boxes that stank of smoke, damp phone directories, and disinfectant or the things disinfectant was there to remove. It was... inadequate.

 

So we wrote and we read and we wrote again.

 

Each time I wrote, I imagined her: what she was doing, where she was doing it, who she was with, what it would have been like if I could have been there with her. I would save up things to tell her about my life, describing them either vividly or humorously, seeking something that would take root in her imagination and let her hold me there.

 

Each time I got a letter, I would read it greedily. Every line, fast and focused. Then I would read it again, hearing her voice in my head, trying to see through her eyes, letting my imagination breath her in like a longed-for scent.

 

Now we see each other every day and talk all the time and I would not wish us apart. Yet I sometimes miss the sharing that the writing and reading those letter brought us.

 

 

Review
0 Stars
"Sneakers" by Stephen King
Image from Carra Lucia Books

"Sneakers" is one of those ghost stories that is mainly about the living. It's filled with dark humour, low level but persistent dread and slowly dawning awareness. I guess, in that respect, it's much like everyday life.

 

It tells the story of a sound recording engineer/music producer who, while working in the old Music City building, sees a pair of mislaced sneakers, surrounded by dead flies, under the door of the first stall in the third-floor bathroom. He sees them for months. The number of flies grows as does his obsession with the sneakers. Yet, he is unable to bring himself to talk about what he sees or to confront what he thinks he might find if he pushes open the stall door.

 

Although this is a ghost story, with a real ghost in it, the story is really about the man seeing the ghost. It seems to me that Stephen King has a thing for names so I doubt that it's accidental that the hero of this story of a man confronting his fear in a toilet stall is John Tell.

 

Tell's biggest problem isn't the ghost, it's his unwillingness to confront the reality of who he is and what he wants. John Tell does not allow himself to speak the truth. There's a secondary character in the story, a man who is so firmly in the background people forget he is there and speak freely in front of him. He knows many things because of this but when he tries to say what he knows he becomes afflicted with a stutter, blushes deeply and cannot continue. John Tell's stutter is mental rather than physical. He loses time. He starts things he can't finish. This story is about how John finally lets himself see the truth.

 

I think the title is playful. Yes, the first and for a long time, the only thing we see of the ghost is its sneakers but I think the title also refers to those things we know about ourselves and the people around us that we try not to admit we know but which sneak up on us anyway.

 

In John's case, one of those things may be his own sexual orientation. He is an isolated man who has difficulty making friends and who, when he talks to other men, is often read by them as gay. John constantly affirms that he is not gay but it's not clear to me that he's entirely sure. This uncertainty extends to other parts of his life. I think it's this mixture of doubt and denial that allows the ghost to call to him.

 

The story ends with John finally confronting the ghost. Neither the ghost nor John's reaction are typical ghost story material. The story closes with John acknowledging the difference between being something and knowing that you are that something. He describes the difference as a "revelation". This act of knowing, this revelation, allows him finally to embrace being alive. What better ending could you have to a ghost story.?

 

"Sneakers" is the ninth story in "Nightmares & Dreamscapes" and is read with great dexterity by David Cronenberg.

Review
5 Stars
"An Accidental Death - DC Smith #1" by Peter Grainger - highly recommended
An Accidental Death - Peter Grainger

“An Accidental Death”, published in 2013, is one of the best British police crime novels I’ve read in a long time.

 

The first thing in its favour is that the whole novel is character driven. DC Smith is a wonderful invention: cliché-free and deeply imagined. In this first novel, he constantly surprised me, yet each new thing that I learned about him added to a picture that was as credible as it was intriguing. I liked his quietly unconventional, more than slightly subversive way of dealing with power and threat. The people around Smith are also much more than plot devices.

 

The second thing in its favour is the tone of the novel. The writing is assured, delivering the story at a pace that feels unrushed but never drags. “An Accidental Death” feels very real and very English. The police procedural elements are strongly grounded in the climate created by the crippling cuts to the Police service that Theresa May, as Home Secretary, had already begun inflicting when this book was published

 

The final thing in its favour is the structure of the plot. The current case under investigation is unusual without being sensational. It covers contemporary topics from school briefings on drugs through to international terrorism and is designed to provide as much insight into DC Smith as it does to the causes and execution of the crimes being investigated.  

 

By the end of the novel, I’d developed a deep admiration for DC Smith as a person and as a police officer and great respect for Peter Grainger’s ability to write character-driven crime novels that are original, entertaining, and thoroughly English.

 

I am now keen to read the rest of the book in series (seven more so far).

 

I recommend listening to them as audiobooks as Gildart Jackson’s narration really brings the books alive.

Review
3.5 Stars
"Cry Wolf - Alpha and Omega #1" by Patricia Briggs
Cry Wolf - Patricia Briggs

"Cry Wolf" is a fun Urban Fantasy with a lot of strengths and few flaws that I felt brought this below the level of quality Patricia Briggs achieves in her Mercy Thompson series.

 

The magic used in the story, especially the concept of the Omega and the novel way the Pack Bond is exploited as a weakness, is original and well thought through. The centuries-long backstories of both The Marroc and The Moor are used well- The rogue wolf character is well drawn. The winter conditions in the Cabinet Mountains seem realistic except for the final drive out. The fight/conflict scenes are tense and the ways used to try to thwart mind-control are novel.

 

A few things got in the way for me. I felt I never really got inside Anna's head, even when the story was being described from her point of view.

 

I found the speed and ease with which Anna recovered from her experience of years of being brutalised unconvincing to the point where it seemed the brutalisation itself was being treated as less of a big deal than it should have been.

 

I felt the age gap between Anna and Charles should have presented more difficulties than it did. This was partially covered from Charles' perspective but never seemed to come up from Anna's side.

 

I think it was a mistake on the publishers part not to include the novella that really kicks off this series as at least a preface to this novel.

 

Despite the various flaws, this has enough in it, partly by virtue of its cross-over with the Mercy Thompson series, to make me keen to read the next book in the series.

Two new poetry books to help me start the year.

I want to read more poetry this year. I find that easier to do when I have the physical books in front of me, so today I bought the latest books by two of my favourite poets: "Sincerity" by Carol Ann Duffy and "Anecdotal Evidence" by Wendy Cope.

 

"Sincerity" made more of a splash than most poetry books do. It's Carol Ann Duffy's last year as Poet Laureate and, in her words, her latest collection of poems was partly inspired by the "evil twins of Brexit and Trump".

I bought the book because I liked the poem "Gorilla" which describes her face to face, albeit through glass, meeting with a Gorilla in Berlin Zoo.

 

She captures the gorilla's anger and aggression perfectly

"Its eyes were smashed rage
under a pelmet of wrath.
Its nose, two boxing-gloves.
Its mouth, an unliftable curse;"

and imagines it free before concluding by saying:

"With a day's more evolution, it could even be President."

 

On the opposite page, I found "Swearing In", a poem made up of four verses of very creative insults ending with a one-line verse

"Mandrake Mymmerkin, welcome to the White House."

If, like me, you're not fluent in medieval insults, go HEREto see the definition (it's #18)

 

That was enough to get the book carried to the cash desk. Skimming it now, I can see lots of stuff about Brexit that I'm sure I'll find cathartic, I'll review as I go along.

It only took one poem of two verses to get me to buy this collection. It's called "Evidence".

 

It starts with a quote from the "Daily Telegraph" in 2012 where a researcher claimed that "anecdotal evidence suggests that we respond positively to birdsong". 

 

After a verse in which she gently pokes at this statement of the obvious she ends with:

"What's the use of poetry?
You ask. Well, here's a start:
It's anecdotal evidence
About the human heart."

I will savour her poems, allowing myself no more than one a day. I'm sure they'll tell me a lot about my heart and the hearts of others and make me smile, compassionately, as they do.

Reading progress update: I've read 2%. -wow - no wonder this went viral
The View from Flyover Country - Sarah Kendzior

I've only read the introduction so far and I'm already hooked. 

 

This seems like a book that gives a voice to all those suffering from America's economic decline, systematic corruption and wealth tilt towards the coasts.

 

Here's a two-paragraph extract to show you what I'm hooked by:

 

"The United States’ current contentious climate is the flip side of the false promise of hope we saw half a decade ago. In the aftermath of the recession, hope was wielded like a weapon by corporations that lured in desperate Americans with exploitative assurances: work for low wages now and you will be rewarded with a raise later; rack up college debt because a steady job is guaranteed. Hope was flaunted by pundits and politicians safely ensconced in elite coastal enclaves, who implied—with their endless proclamations that prosperity awaited if you worked for it—that the lack of prospects for the rest of us must be our own fault.

 

Above all, we were told not to complain. Don’t complain about exploitation. Don’t complain about discrimination. Don’t complain that you feel trapped. Don’t complain, because the problem is not real—don’t complain, because then people will think the problem is you."

Review
3.5 Stars
"The Zig-Zag Girl - Stephen;& Mephisto #1" by Elly Griffiths
The Zig Zag Girl - Elly Griffiths
"The Zig Zag Girl" is a period, very English, serial killer piece set mostly in post-war Brighton.

 

It successfully draws upon the restless nature of a generation of men trying to adjust to civilian life after serving in World War II and on the then-dying sub-culture of Variety show performers who peddled their songs and magic tricks in shabby theatres and at the end of piers for a week at a time in towns across the UK.

 

The people targeted by the killer all seem to have links to a wartime unit of the British Secret Service, nicknamed "The Magic Men", which was tasked with using illusion to convince the Germans that Norway rather than Normandy might be the focus of the Allied invasion of Europe.

 

Stephens, the policeman investigating the killings was a young but senior member of The Magic Men, although he was not a magician. The Great Mephisto, Stephens' best friend in The Magic Men, is still a Top-of-The-Bill performer who combines charisma and craft to deliver illusions to two audiences daily.

 

Both men are well drawn and their relationship is easy to believe in. Learning more about them gives pleasing insights into Post-war England's class structure, social expectations and the changing face of entertainment.

 

The Magic Men are larger than life characters that add interest to the puzzle of who is trying to kill them and why. Stephens' and Mephisto's memories of their war service are skillfully handled and add an emotional depth to the hunt for the killer. The killer's flamboyant methods of killing also keep things fresh.

 

I enjoyed the slightly introverted, mildly regretful tone of the book.tone of the book. I liked that, although this was all firmly rooted in the middle of the last century, the characters felt modern and vital. There was no faux "olden days" flavour to the people or the text. The spirit of Brighton as a slightly tatty town that gave a home to the eccentric and the seedy, making it a place of freedom in an often drab England was well captured.

 

This is very different from the other Elly Griffiths books I've read. It seemed to me that the writing was more confident and accomplished than her Dr Ruth Galloway series.  

 

Although I enjoyed "The Zig Zag Girl", it didn't leave me eager to read the next two books in the series. I'll probably get around to them but I'm left with the impression that I need to be in the right mood for this series.

 

"The Zig Zag Girl" worked well as an audiobook. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample

https://soundcloud.com/audibleuk/the-zig-zag-girl-by-elly-griffiths-narrated-by-daniel-philpott

 

Reading progress update: I've read 20%. - a good start
An Accidental Death - Peter Grainger

This feels very real and very English. An unrushed pace that doesn't drag. A main character fully fleshed from the first page. A strong grounding in the crippling cuts to the Police service that Theresa May, as Home Secretary, had already begun inflicting when this book was published in 2013.  

 

If it continues like this, I'm going to have another seven books to read when I've finished this one.

Review
4 Stars
"Shards Of Honour - Vorkosigan Saga #1" by Lois McMaster Bujold - Wonderful
Shards of Honour - Lois McMaster Bujold
 

"Shards Of Honour" is Science Fiction at its best, using the conflict between two cultures and the attraction between two strong, independent, action-oriented leaders both to tell an exciting tale and to spark insights into the nature of power, honour, personal courage, leadership and personal and institutional evil.

 

"Shards Of Honour" doesn't have a particularly strong plot. The story is linear and mostly unsurprising. On the surface, this seems to be a love-on-the-battlefield meets culture clash between a hierarchical male-dominated militaristic culture and a less obviously hierarchical, more sexually egalitarian, science and commerce based culture. If it had been a "Star Trek" episode it would have been cheesy but fun.

 

Two things lift "Shards of Honour" beyond level of cheesy romantic space romp and make it into science fiction that continues to be relevant and challenging.

 

The first is that the two characters at the heart of the story are richly drawn. They both decline to be what others expect them to be. They both struggle to define and do the honourable thing. They both succeed in being both lionised and rejected by their home cultures and neither of them defaults to the simplest understanding of an individual or the circumstances that drive their behaviour.

 

Cordelia Naismith is calm, courageous, resourceful, leans heavily on humour to keep threats at a manageable distance and driven almost entirely by her values and her curiosity.

 

Aral Vorkosigan is a born strategist, prone to both anger and violence but who seeks to control both in the name of honour. He serves loyally but not uncritically and he leads because he cannot help it.

 

The second is the depth of political and moral thought in the novel. "Shards Of Honour" was published in 1986 but the political commentary is perhaps even more relevant now than it was in those, in retrospect, optimistic times.

 

The need for personal honour is shown by its lack in a sadistic senior officer who uses his power over women prisoners to break them for his pleasure using rape and torture. After an up close and very personal encounter with this man, Cordelia describes him as "the ultimate in evil".

 

I agreed with her but Aral, the strategist, the man who commands fleets of warships sees a greater evil. He describes the sadistic rapist as:

"...just a little villain. An old-fashioned craftsman making crimes one-off. The really unforgivable acts are committed by calm men in beautiful green-silk rooms who deal death wholesale, by the shipload, without lust or anger or desire or any redeeming emotion to excuse them but cold fear of some pretended future. But the crimes they hope to prevent in that future are imaginary. The ones they commit in the present, they are real."

In this time of Brexit, we need reminders that the now is real and the future just an imagined thing we ask others to sacrifice themselves to protect.

 

In this time of Trump, this quote resonated with me:

"A Caligula or a Yuri Vorbarra can rule a long time while the best men hesitate to do what is necessary to stop him and the worst ones take advantage."

In another lesson that seems more relevant than ever today, we are shown how we create false but appealing narratives to feed our own desires. At one point, her own people hail Cordelia as a hero and attribute actions and attributes to her that she knows to be false. I was fascinated by the explanation of Cordelia's inability to get the truth across. Again it seems relevant to today's politics. Cordelia, being carried on the shoulders of an excited crowd says:

"It's not true. Stop this."

 

It was like trying to turn back the tide with a teacup. The story had too much innate appeal to the battered prisoners, too much wish-fulfilment come to life. They took it in like balm for their wounded spirits and made it their own vicarious revenge. The story was passed around elaborated, built up, sea changed, until within twenty-four hours it was as rich and unkillable as legend. After a few days, she gave up trying. The truth was too complicated and ambiguous to appeal to them..."


To my mild embarrassment, as someone who has been an avid reader of Science fiction for nearly fifty years, I failed to notice Lois McMaster Bujold until 2017 when a number of people recommended her to me and her "Vorkosigan Saga" won a Hugo for Best Series.

 

I bought "Shards of Honour", the first book in the series, and then let it sit on my TBR pile for seventeen months. I've only picked up now because I set myself a"Thirty Firsts TBR Challenge". Now that I've finally read it, I'm kicking myself for my inattention.

 

Lois McMaster Bujold is now on my "read everything she's ever written" list. I'll start with the rest of the Vorkosigan Saga and go from there.

currently reading

Progress: 14%
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