Saturday, 21 January 2023

What I Read in 2022

I found that 2022 was a good reading year. Not necessarily as good as 2020 with the new non-fiction and huge re-reads I did, but still a banner year for reading. I re-explored some of my favorite fiction, while also jumping into a pair of exciting new series and exploring a lot of wonderful science fiction! I read 68 books; some pleasurably for the first time and a few pleasurably once again! Here's a brief overview of what caught my attention in 2022!

Starting the year I read the phenomenal non-fiction work Revolution in Rojava which is an accounting of the political revolution which took place in northern Syria during the Syrian Civil War and up to the present. It is an older work (2015) that doesn't take into account many updates, but is still a fantastic look at one of the most revolutionary and democratic experiments in the 21st century in the last place you would expect! 

In the first months of the year I also read Stoic Wisdom by Nancy Sherman, which was an excellent modern reading on the great stoic tradition which I aspire to conform to. I also read Michael Coren's The Rebel Christ which is a must read for modern Christians and a truly compassionate look at the revolutionary message Christ espoused.

As for fiction, well that didn't disappoint! I read the exciting new alternate history The Romanov Rescue and Sarah J. Maas's new installment in the Crescent City series House of Breath and Sky which expanded on that exciting new world. I also continued on with a reread of the Honor Harrington series, which rarely fails to inspire joy in the military science fiction reader. I also sat down and read Cory Doctorow's Walkaway which is a radical story of a new society and some amazingly interesting ideas. One of my big recommends from 2022! A fantasy counterpoint would be A Country of Ghosts by writer and podcaster Margaret Killjoy, which is an equally exciting work for its storytelling and ideas!

Another good read was The Word for the World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin, an author I only really got into over the last two years. It, like all of her work, did not disappoint! Really an interesting look into her ideas on violence, pacifism, and the ill effects of colonialism! Very cleverly done, and written at the time of the Vietnam War, which she was of course adamantly opposed to. Interestingly enough, there were comparison's to James Cameron's Avatar film, ones which she amusingly shot down.

One of my big new jumps in 2022 was to get into Ian Douglas's Star Carrier series, where I read the first four books. Expect a full review of that series this year! I was also very lucky to get into David Weber and Timothy Zahn's Manticore Ascendant series which is all the best of Honor Harrington, but without Honor Harrington!

For other fiction, I read Christopher Nutall's Coup D'etat which is a near future thriller and one I sincerely enjoyed. Also, the late, great Eric Flint's alternate history story 1812 Rivers of War which was a work I learned about years ago, and having read, sincerely think it sets the standard for excellent alternate history, but had feared we would never see more! It's sequel was also republished last year, and I'll be reading it this year as well, while sincerely looking forward to more!

In a similar vein to the nonfiction that started the year, I read George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia which, let me just say, if you ever thought Orwell leaned to the right of the political spectrum let his own words in here cheerfully disabuse you! Secondly, a book which paired well with my more utopian reading this year was Joel Wainright and Geoff Mann's Climate Leviathan which took a riveting look at the political theory that may emerge from the looming threat of climate change. Genuinely insightful book on how the world order could respond to this calamitous threat!

Among some of the best fantasy and science fiction I read this year though was Mickey7 by Edward Ashton, which is a short but endlessly funny, inventive and pulsepounding story of the life of a clone worker on a struggling colony and his rough life fitting in with not only his human colleagues, but the dangerous alien life that inhabits that world! Legends and Lattes was just a great low fantasy story that revolves around setting up a coffeeshop for a retiring adventurer, which was oh so fun, and relaxing, to read. There was also Richard Chismar's Chasing the Boogeyman which is a soft horror story where he tells the fictional tale of his hometown serial killer, which as not only a true crime aficionado but also horror reader, loved how he wove the story of his childhood years and home into a truly terrifying/creepy story of an imagined murder spree in the late 80s!

I also finished my reread of the Mistborn Era Two novels just in time for Brandon Sanderson's latest release, The Lost Metal which effectively and heartwarmingly ends the new era on Scadrial. I loved it and I hope all the other Sanderson fans out there enjoyed it too!

However, my big foray into fun reading was in anthologies. The year started with the news that the Expanse series would be releasing all its short fiction in a single collection Memory's Legion which alongside all the previous work, included one last tale from the author which tied up (sort of) a few loose ends and made just as many questions!

The big foray for me though was into some of the amazing anthologies that Baen has released over the years. I started with their recent release Robosoldiers which was a fantastic look at robots, drones, AI and all their myriad uses and abuses on the battlefield. Just a wonderful book.

Next I perused my way through The Founder Effect which is an ambitions project that tracks the founding of Cistercia and the stories of the effort to get the mission off the ground, the trip over, the first colonists and all their myriad struggles, and oh so much more! I sincerely hope there will be more released in that shared universe so I can get my hands on it!

Finally, the most recent release was the horror/scifi anthology Worlds Long Lost by Christopher Ruocchio and Sean Korsgaard who edited the whole compilation. It is, bar none, a collection of some of the best science fiction horror writing ever put together. With stories from old masters and new faces, the anthology was one of the best I read all year! I couldn't put it down, and it gave me some haunting visuals that are still sticking with me! Definitely check this one out! The paperback comes out this year with an all new story from writer/editor Korsgaard which I was priviledged to get a look at and let me tell you you don't want to miss it!

Rounding out the year, I read Origins of the Wheel of Time by Michael Livingston which is a beautiful work by a fan exploring the late Robert Jordan's epic masterpiece. It goes into his notes, what we can glean of his thought process, as well as a long look at all the history and mythology that inspired this modern fantasy epic! If your a Wheel of Time fan check this out!

All in all, a good reading year that I was quite happy with. Here's to a well read 2023!

The Republic of Patagonia

 From the Terran Coalition “Settled Planets and Interstellar Polity Database”

Vital Statistics:

Number of Planetary Bodies Governed: 2, Rocky body and satellite, numerous stations

Population: 48 Million 

System Astrography:

Stellar Body: Pacifica XII (G4V Class Star)

Planetary Bodies: In orbital order

Icarus – rocky world 0.3 AU

Patagonia – rocky world 1.1 AU

Illapa – gas giant 6.2 AU

Francesca – rocky world 6.9 AU

Isolde – rocky world 7.3 AU

Pinta – gas giant 19.7 AU


The Republic of Patagonia is a young star nation. Settled relatively recently in interstellar history, it has only established itself roughly four hundred years after the initial scouting by probes to the system. Claimed by a conglomerate of Earth and Perdican based explorers from the Terran and Perdicus systems, it was seen to be a viable endeavour with two largely equatorial continents, large icecaps and a single large, landmass in its southern hemisphere. Backers came primarily from the former United South American Nations and the Perdicus Governate, with a smattering of others. The system was properly colonized in 1309 SE and after one hundred and twelve years of atmospheric tweaking, the first unsuited humans set foot on the planet.

The First Colony Fleet was, by the standards of other ventures in the twelfth century, very small, with only 150,000 settlers in the first wave, and a further 100,000 settlers in the Second Fleet, making for an immediate colonial population (after accounting for natural growth in the interim between arrival and settlement) a mere 375,000.

While Patagonia had required only minimal planetary tweaking, the trade off was a planet very cold compared to earth standard, and a 30-degree axial tilt which caused shorter growing seasons. This gave the planet weather norms of 9-11 Degrees Celsius, and lows of -9 to -35 degrees, with temperatures lower in the higher latitudes. Consequently, anything above 15 is considered a heat wave. The weather patterns were broadly similar to the Earth region of Patagonia, something commented on by the colonial founders, which gave the planet its name proper. 

With .88g the planet was comfortable for human habitation and required no great genetic modification to the population. Coupled with a 19 hour day/night cycle and 232.3 day local year, most Terran and modified Perdican stock could thrive quite nicely. Thus, when the first proper settlements were set up in 1421 SE (or 1st Colony Year (CY) in the local calendar) the infant nation was well on its way to a comfortable existence.



Early History:

The first colonists founded the young republic on the largest central continent of Mariana. The two other continents were slowly colonized in the subsequent decades, with the other temperate continent of Valdiviana settled several years after the main colony was established, but the more Greenland like expanse of Florina near the southern pole was only inhabited one hundred and six years after the initial colonization.

However, in the early years a very real rift existed between the orbital and belt-based populations. The Belters had been the bedrock of the initial colonization efforts, as the earliest settlements hardly boasted anything beyond fifty thousand, while double that resided in space working to sustain themselves for the eventual settlement of the planet proper. A thriving system of mining, agricultural and economic centers grew up in orbit and then in the inner asteroid belt. When the planet was declared ready, over eighty percent of the initial population merely left these homes, shutting the whole system down. The twenty percent who remained dealt with a sudden, sharp economic depression.

In these early years there were very real threats of secession from these orbital groups. While not a wholly realistic goal, it did threaten the equilibrium of the delicate political balance which had been established. It was only thanks to the colonial administrator and first elected president, Dom Padros, that the nation was unified. The Constitution of CY 49 was a turning point, as it established generous subsidies for the orbital communities, guaranteed them an equal say in the established House of Representatives, and would ensure that the terrestrial based industry did not wholly eclipse the space-based industry.

While it worked for roughly a century, the Crisis of 166 CY brought matters to a head once more. By this point the colony had grown both through natural growth and a steady trickle of immigration from poorer neighboring systems, and the planetary population was at a comfortable ten million compared to an orbital/belter population of two million. By this point, the imbalance between competing interests in space and on the ground – where modern technology was making the exploitation of the planets’ resources far more practical – was creating another rift. The orbital populations were by and large self sufficient in production, largely relying on the planet for stable deliveries of foodstuffs and other goods like wood and synthetics. Meanwhile, the space-based population only provided more luxury goods and trade stuffs from other systems and Terra itself. While it was easier to obtain many rare metals and other goods in space, business interests and the more populous planetary governates had been shutting out these cheaper sources for a century.

In 166, the specter of secession loomed large once again. Tax strikes, economic hostility, and efforts to corrupt the algorithms used to process the needs of the planetary economy had become the norm in the early 60s, and now protests reached a fever pitch. The worst incident was the strike on Balboa Habitat, where the navy was required to deploy marines to quell violence against representatives of the planetary economy. 

The crisis ended in 167 with the 7th Amendment to the Colonial Constitution. It guaranteed any majority in the House must include a majority of Belter representatives, and that, beginning in 169, the economic algorithms would begin taking on preferences to ensure that the Belter economy did not stagnate and provided an adequate amount to the planet to meet their needs, including, as necessary, the right to stockpile foreign goods. While there were numerous accusations the 7th Amendment “created artificial scarcity” it was passed by a majority keen to ensure that the Belt and Patagonia did not schism formally.

The Pirate Problem

In the second century after the founding of the republic, the nation began experiencing an increasing series of incursions. The Patagonia System was peculiar in that it was located in a 15 light year region of space where the neighboring star systems were, on a galactic scale at least, very resource poor. While Patagonia itself had a rich circle of debris, slightly thinner than Sol, to draw upon, its neighbors suffered from having sparse, to no debris discs to use to boost their own economics beyond what could be obtained from local planetary bodies.

This had been, prior to 1509 SE, partially alleviated by closer systems choosing to mine the various asteroids in the system. The arrival of a new colonial venture, with the clout to back up its claim, put an end to this practice outright. In the shadows however, groups of freebooters would sneak into the system and create hasty mining operations. These were, gradually shut down as the Patagonian Navy grew, but they never stopped entirely. Matters were not helped by the privation the Belt economy found itself facing, and so high prices were established in shipments to neighboring polities. This caused resentment from the already resource poor neighbors who often tried in vain to negotiate better treaties. With the politics in Patagonia being what they were, the Belters were unlikely to side with any vote which would see a decrease in their economic activity.

In response, pirate fleets began organizing to both protect ad hoc mining operations, but also simply raid and steal ores or finished goods created or imported by the Belter population. As diplomatic attempts floundered against a wall of Belter intransience, piracy became the norm rather than the exception. Events escalated to the point where after roughly a century, acts of piracy could almost be counted by the day.

While the government in Bravos tried to deal with the problem diplomatically, it made a concentrated effort to expand the navy. The Republic had an indigenous ship building capacity, but not one which was well suited to the largescale construction of a navy. Even if it had, most terrestrial politicians were adverse to spending the billions necessary to expand the fleet or its bases. Inevitably, this was done, establishing Corchane Station as the largest refit and repair station outside the Orbital Command complex around Patagonia.

This effectively cut piracy by half but did not end it. The situation effectively went from critical to manageable. However, that still meant that roughly 2000+ Belters would lose their lives to pirate related incidents every year starting in 257 CY. This left naval matters as one of the premier political debates. Matters would come to a head in 285 CY when the largest incursion of pirates threatened to forcibly conquer a portion of the Belt from Patagonia.

A freebooter fleet consisting of mercenaries and unaccredited members of neighbouring star systems invaded with a powerful body of ships, forcibly occupying several stations in the Belt. The Patagonian Navy was caught off guard by such a powerful incursion, and initially, failed to respond. Martialling their strength, the navy under Admiral Graff Gonzales, took the battle to the freebooters at the asteroid designated P-79. In a hard-fought campaign, the bloodiest ever fought by Patagonia, the freebooter fleet was defeated, but at a heavy cost.

Though a victory, it had the odd effect of crystalizing the national political sentiment. The Belters saw it as proof that they were the most important economic asset of the system, while the planetary population were divided on whether it meant a more robust space based economic system was relevant or whether it meant that they should focus primarily on the planetary economy while writing off the more imperilled sections of the Belt economy as an economic loss. Both sides saw naval expansion as necessary, but political gridlock stopped much of the expansion proper.

However, the election of Dominic Irisarri in 292 CY and his historic budget proposals of CY 295 meant that it was decided a naval expansion was expedient. This has so far been contentious and remains a point of political controversy at time of writing.


Government:

The Republic of Patagonia is Parliamentary Republic with a bicameral system, with a democratically elected House of Representatives serving as the Congress with 608 seats, constitutionally 202 of those must represent the Belt. The upper house is the elected Senate, which has 150 members. The Congress and the Senate pass legislation but have a nebulous influence on the Executive in the form of the President and their Cabinet.

Both houses represent the various provinces on Patagonia proper, while the orbital and Belt populations are represented by districts which encompass different communities or collectives in the Belt. These are subject to the same redistricting laws as provinces on the planet which has been the source of some ire in the past.

The President is elected to a six year term and is the executive of the state. The President has broad powers, which include those over security, presiding over the selection of Supreme Court Justices, advising on the input of economic algorithms, the ability to grant pardons, grant pensions, and licenses. The President is also responsible for appointing the heads of various agencies and picking his cabinet, though party machinery plays a large role in its composition. The President also controls the setting and implementation of foreign policy.

Patagonia has a judiciary overseen by its Justice Department, whose Chief Officer is appointed by the President. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial body on Patagonia but meets exclusively in the capital at Bravos. Despite efforts to get a satellite location constructed in the Belt to ease the hearing of more far-flung cases, no effort has been made to implement such procedures.


Military:

Ever since the colony fleets arrived, a small military presence has existed in the Republic. The original military was established around six corvettes which accompanied the initial fleet and a constabulary force which had been created enroute to keep the peace on ships and then in the early settlements. This force expanded over the first century to include modern warships, a marine corps, and army. 

The navy was, originally, the highest priority of the government as the extent of the freebooter problem became clear. Within the first fifty years of the establishment of the Republic of Patagonia, the navy had expanded from the original six corvettes to a respectable force of six frigates, five destroyers and a pair of cruisers and a new series of corvettes which expanded the strike and patrol ability of the Republic within its own space. The Marine Corps was a natural outgrowth of the Navy, being used to secure stations, freebooter facilities, and police ships which were intercepted by the Navy.

The Army was a contentious establishment. The early pirate incursions convinced many that there was only the need for a navy and the Marines, and if any serious trouble ever made it to the planet, there would be no further point in resistance. The government, in light of the events of 166 CY, disagreed. Previously, all planetary defence needs were met by rotating one of four Marine regiments between different posts, backed up by special detachments of constabulary who trained in light infantry tactics. The only non marine regiment was the Presidential Guard which served as the security detail for the President and in securing important government sites around Bravos. A rapid expansion was undertaken in 175 CY, bringing the army up to a significant strength, outnumbering the Marines within a decade. Derided by some as a ‘toy force’ it was trained to repel landings and provide relief to civilian governments in emergencies. 

Considered the junior service, it has near parity in personnel size to the Marines and Navy combined, but is recruited almost exclusively from the planetary population, having less than 0.01 representation from the Belter population. 


Demographics:

The colonists were primarily of former USAN and Perdican extraction, broadly speaking one of the Four Major Settled Language Groups, with Spanish being the most common. As such, Spanish grew into the lingua franca of the colony but with Greek firm second and, peculiarly enough, a smattering of Welsh. Roughly 20,000 of the original colonists came from the Y Wladfa in South America and brought their language with them, seeing it thrive in the highlands of Valdiviana, and in some stations where the Welsh language lives on. The majority of the colonies major English-speaking populace as a third language resides in the Belt or on Mariana.

As of the last census (290 CY/1711 SE) 38,847,309 citizens of the Republic of Patagonia reside on Patagonia proper, with roughly 70% residing on the continent of Mariana, a further 21% residing on Valdiviana, and only 6% residing on the southern continent of Florina. Another 2% of the population lives on various bases and subterranean habitats on the moon orbiting Patagonia.

In the various stations and habitats of the Belt, there are 10,010,877 citizens of Patagonia. They reside on large asteroid bodies, free floating stations and habitats, and other bases around the system inhabiting a large halo of nebulously defined political blocs.

The population is 51.6% female, 49.4% male. The median age is 45, with the average lifespan being 109.

Wednesday, 28 December 2022

World's Long Lost

It is rare that two of my favorite ideas like science fiction and horror get combined so well, but the new anthology from Baen, edited by Christopher Ruocchio and fellow blogger and writer Sean Korsgaard titled World's Long Lost has really managed to scratch that itch! I had been looking forward to it for many months now, and it's fabulous to finally get to run through these pages! Korsgaard does the opening blurbs, and he builds the stories up quite well, while expounding on the central themes to the overarching anthology. The stories themselves are a fabulous mix of creepy, mysterious, and downright horrifying.

I will be endeavoring to write spoiler free reviews, so feel free to read on ahead, and I promise only minor spoilers if necessary!


To start out, we have The Wrong Shape to Fly by Adam Oyebanji, which starts out as an embarrassed collector of the artifacts of dead civilizations is divesting themselves of a piece misidentified as that belonging to a dead civilization which could not possibly have had the technology described. Academics were far too eager to identify a pet theory rather than look at the evidence. Now an art dealer is embarking on a journey to the edge of civilized space to ponder his own theory. It's not creepy in the way many in this story are, but the reveal at the end just blew my mind with the subtle hints and tensions Oyebanji was able to build on. A superbly strong opener!

Mother of Monsters by Ruocchio is a short story set in his own Sun Eater series. Ever battling against the forces who despise humanity like the Cielcin, the hapless soldier Valen discovers there are worse things than even those that eat human flesh. Things hide in the dark which can warp human minds, tangle with the laws of physics, and damage conscious itself. Told part by interrogation and part by flashback, it's a chilling look at alien intelligences and the ways they don't necessarily care about what our puny minds think of how the world is supposed to work. Genuinely chilling end, which makes me merely want more in that universe!

Next up is Rise of the Administrator a story by M.A. Rothman & D.J. Butler, which details the rise of the mysterious administrator. Set against the background of the discovery of incomprehensible ancient runes and sandstone of unusually indestructible properties, it also tells the tale of an extradimensional being which has risen beyond our plain of understanding. It's a sort of prequel to Time Trials, which details the machinations behind this alien administrator's decision to test humanity in such a way. The reasoning, and extremely destructive outcomes, are laid out in a sort of dispassionate bureaucratic manner which is both alien, and extremely terrifying in its mundanity. To learn more, you must go read Time Trials!

Coming from Les Johnson (of Saving Proxima fame) we have Mere Passers By which sees an exploratory vessel USSS Alligator stumble across what should, by all rights, be an impossibility. Planets held together in a way which defies our understanding of physics. Even more unsettling is the lack of any indications of a technological society in this system. This merely raises disturbing questions of, what kind of technology could do this? Would they even notice our existence? Do we even want to meet them? Unsettling in it's own way, the story really pulled me in and got me quite excited (if a little terrified) by the idea of what could be out there in the universe.

Erica Ciko writes perhaps one of the best pieces in the story with a clear Lovecraftian theme. Never Ending Ever-Growing sees the contractors of "Verdant Dreams" responding to a distress call on the planet Vaenmyr, where the thriving rich settlement has gone mysteriously quiet. The terraforming agency which sterilized the planet to standard for human colonization needs its' crown jewel up and running again, but the aliens they thought they wiped out might not be so dead after all. It's an amazing sweep of horror which catches you off guard and sucks you right in. One of the most unsettling and mesmerizing in the whole anthology!

They Only Dig at Night by Sean Patrick Hazlett is another short, but spooky, story that wouldn't look out of place as a piece from Tales from the Cryptkeeper or another TV horror serial like the X-Files. Ostensibly two old pals who work at the same company are sitting down to coffee and one is trying to get a transfer, but as the conversation goes on, much more disturbing things come to light. Is it a good idea to try and monetize something you don't understand?

Howlers in the Void by Brian Trent combines some of the best of Lovecraftian fiction with classic scifi. After a run in with alien pirates, Captain Shayne Dunsay discovers that he may have found the origins  of strange artifacts which can be found throughout space. The question is, does he want to know what made them? Marooned on an alien world, he and what remains of his crew must fight past increasingly strange encounters and hostile weather in order to stand any chance of making it out alive.

Gray Rinehart presents us with what I consider an amazing combination of Michael Creighton style adventure and exploration, and Stephen King or Lovecraftian style horror. The Building Will Continue chronicles the unravelling of a series of academic expeditions on a world whose inhabitants built fantastic artifacts, and then simply vanished. The engineer Leland has terrible nightmares, and the whole crew soon seems to be equally infected by them. As his team are slowly driven mad by whatever haunts these ruins, Leland finds himself questioning whether it could all be caused by innocuous seeming life forms which infest the area. But can he find the secret before he is consumed by his dreams?

re: something strange by Jessica Cain delivers horror at its best. In a series of increasingly strained, chaotic, and horrifying phone calls and texts, we see a seemingly insignificant discovery of an ancient statue devolve into a horror show. The story is made all the more tense by the fact the two people talking are jilted lovers who broke it off in questionable circumstances. The reader can wonder whether anything real is even happening, or whether this is all a desperate plea for attention. By the end, you'll really be wondering just what happened! A genuinely freaky story it really belongs in this anthology and was one of my favorites.

The Sleepers of Tartarus by David J. West sees the dying special operator Cormac on a one way ticket to a lonely asteroid which is now believed to be undergoing militarization by a hostile power. With a deadly cancer eating him away, he really doesn't care and only wants to complete one last mission. However, when he arrives, he winds up with more than he bargained for as the asteroid is not quite what it seems. A tale of adventure and mild cosmic confusion, this one really deserves your love as I can't say anything without some major spoilers! If you can, dive in and read it and I guarantee you won't be disappointed! West turns this one on its head!

Dark Eternity by Johnathon Edelstein is one which, I admit, I did find difficult to get into. It lays out its background and the world lovingly, with excellent attention to detail and world building, but I feel I lacked an overall context for it. The story was told well, and I genuinely enjoyed each little piece of information fed to me from the narrator Kalonde, but without a fuller understanding of his work, I don't think I appreciated the genius of the ending as much as I could have.

Patrick Chiles delivers a sense of mystery and wonder in his Rocking the Cradle where a little bit of geology and a lot of language class pays off after a crew investigates what appears to be an alien ruin in a far solar system. The way Chiles unpacks the mystery at the heart of this story is slow, deliberate, and not something you wouldn't expect outside a techno thriller. The revelations are disturbing to ponder on at least. You wonder about the longevity of human civilization, and whether we have a way forward from traps of our own devising. Chiles doesn't scare you with aliens, monsters, or impending black holes, but some mundane and fundamental questions about how we manage. A wonderful story!

Giving Up on the Piano is a prize inclusion by Orson Scott Card, which compared to much of the anthology is a more mundane delivery of a creepy factor. Not the most terrifying inclusion, but a good capture of what can go wrong in suburbia. It wasn't my favorite in the anthology, but it did provide perhaps a bit of relief from the heavy going of many of the other stories with its more domestic setting and almost tragicomedy presentation.

Finally, we have Retrospective by Griffin Barber. This one is haunting just as much for it's vagueness vs what we actually see. The story is told as an interrogation of a soldier who touched an unknown alien artifact during a firefight. However, the exact nature of the artifact, what it did, and fully what happened to said soldier is left vague as even those discussing it don't seem entirely sure of exactly what they're dealing with. The ending is just creepy enough with how little you know despite all this that your mind can fill in the blanks in unpleasant ways! A great end for the anthology and really helps capture the spirit of it all.

With science fiction and horror being among my favorite types of story, I was enthralled by how well this was put together. There are so many good stories it's impossible to choose just one to love. All were well crafted with skill and and a love for the genre. This is one you should absolutely pick up!

Friday, 25 November 2022

The Costs of Being Left Alone

Prompted by a recent tweet, I began to ruminate on the idea that certain people only want to be left alone. Now, that can seem extremely enticing, indeed for some even desirable. The problem is, many of the people who want to be left alone don't really want to leave you alone necessarily.


The tweet in question is provided by famous whistleblower and defector Edward Snowden. In it he compares being afraid of Libertarians politically to being afraid of cats. I do admit that, on some level, there is a bit of a point as the Libertarian Party of the United States is so whacky in its politics that the odds of them ever forming a stable government are damn near impossible. However, the ideas that they do hold are downright terrifying in what they could do to you.

Lest it sound like I'm just down on libertarians, I'm not really. Libertarian ideology actually has a few principles in personal liberty, property rights, freedom of speech, and various decriminalization ideas that I do admire. However, most of that was coopted from it's original libertarian socialists/anarchists of the late 20th century and bastardized into an extremely schizophrenic defense of laissez-faire capitalism, which means many of the good things about the ideology do come from a completely different place in the political spectrum. That one of the main ideas of libertarianism is that it wants to completely dismantle many existing government regulations on just about everything and let "the market" take over is really just an enormous problem. Essentially, while I like their take on personal liberty and rights, I find their look at trying to craft a society to be downright horrific.

I've written a bit before using fictional examples of how this is probably a bad idea, but I'd like to just make a quick summary of why that is. For reference, in the Libertarian Party's platform is a stated desire to allow employers to refuse to recognize a worker made union, effectively negating the leverage of collective bargaining or such protections. While it is not against unions, it does not offer any protection or inherit legitimacy, which is an enormous blow to the mere existence of labor organizing when one traces its history.

Secondly, it supports free market solutions to healthcare. The free market solutions in the United States as it already exists are so hideously expensive and inefficient in delivering care that it's near cartoonish, and this is with minimal government intervention in the healthcare system. Among wealthy nations it has the highest rate of hospitalizations from preventable causes, and the highest number of deaths from preventable causes. Quite simply, it spends an enormous amount of money on healthcare, while creating an enormous financial barrier to actually seeking that care (indeed, most bankruptcies in the US result from unexpected medical spending). Any objective analysis would conclude that the problem rests with the issue of making healthcare a commodity rather than a public service, but the Libertarian Party concludes the opposite.

Thirdly, it supports market based solutions to the environmental crisis. This is, put simply, almost so ludicrous that it barely rates a comment. However, it is an insidious idea that is in vogue that we can simply use the free market to get out of climate change, even though oil and gas companies spent decades running climate denial propaganda, and private corporations are notoriously unaccountable for the environmental damage they cause, while overselling their commitment to fighting it. But the market will solve all!

While these are just small examples of what is really wrong with the Libertarian platform and ideology, let me swing this back to Snowden's original message. He says "Sure, they're not in power now, but someday they might take over and... uh, leave you alone, I guess, since that's kind of their whole deal."

Let's look at this for a second; on one hand, he's saying that with a Libertarian government they will say "We can't tell you what to do," and well, sure, here's a question? What's the flip side of "we can't tell you what to do?" It's "You can't tell me what to do."

That's where the problem sets in. It's a similar problem I have with anarchism, where it depends very much on community norms and peer pressure to enforce conformity, but in libertarian ideology the extreme emphasis on individualism creates a Randian nightmare where what you want doesn't really matter if no one is going to bother to help you. With one ideal of libertarian ideology being a "night watchmen state" which merely enforces contracts through the judiciary and police, while enforcing the 'non-aggression principle' through the same and defending liberty with an army, the ability to do much beyond basic property rights becomes a bit complicated.

Broadly speaking this is a problem with both libertarianism and anarchism since both tend to look at the vacuum a loss of government function would create and assume utopia. As the old adage goes, nature abhors a vacuum and so something must fill it. In the libertarian world that's the market, which as I lay out in my longer essay, has no accountability to the public good. 

As an example, let's say for instance that a company builds a factory on a river. Since there is no regulation on what kind of waste they can dump into that river, they begin dumping harmful industrial byproducts into it. This causes the local environment to be poisoned, leading to the drinking water supply of a local town to be contaminated and people die. Naturally, some people will organize and try and sue the company that caused it. In the libertarian philosophy, case closed, but is it? Quite a lot depends on the people being able to afford a good legal team, and a company which has the capital to build that factory in the first place will almost overwhelmingly be able to afford a good legal team (or potentially SLAPP suit the problem away before it starts). The corporate legal team will almost inevitably win this, and the people who have lost loved ones or who are still living with a poisoned water supply will still have that problem. The overwhelming legal defense for the corporation might be "it was their individual responsibility to prepare for what might happen, no one stopped them from looking into living downriver from a factory might be like, it's their fault if they weren't prepared!"

If that seems like a ludicrous idea, projective personal responsibility onto the victim, allow me to refer you to the story of the MacDonald's Hot Coffee lawsuit. Despite becoming the poser child for a frivolous lawsuit, most of what you know about the case is actually wrong. The victim, Stella Liebeck, was a 79 year old woman who was in a parked car when she accidentally spilled coffee on herself, because the coffee was at 180–190 °F (82–88 °C) it caused third degree burns to her legs an genitals, nearly killing her, requiring extensive surgeries and skin grafts, costing 20,000$. Liebeck merely wanted her medical expenses covered, but MacDonald's framed this as a case of greed, among a litany of other crazy claims. Indeed, this was framed as a 'personal responsibility issue" and a concentrated effort was made to portray this as a "clumsy, greedy woman wanted money for her own mistake" rather than "company serves coffee capable of melting skin" to the public. That Liebeck won was astonishing.

Though let me give you another, more concretely libertarian example. In his book A Libertarian Walks into a Bear,  tells the story of personal liberty run amok in a New Hampshire town called Grafton. A weird mix of libertarian activists moved in and, effectively, took over the town government. They cut services to the bone, paring down police, fire, road maintenance, and even the public library to an absurd degree to the point where they almost existed in name only. The town's legal fees skyrocketed because it became an extremely litigation heavy region, the local police force was so handicapped by budget cuts that they could hardly ever put their single police cruiser on the increasingly pothole cratered roads for fear it was so unsafe, and the number of accidents and medical incidents practically overwhelmed what medical services were available.

The title comes from the fact that, by doing away with bylaws and many other ordinances that prevented big groups of people from living in the woods, trash began to be dumped everywhere. So bears showed up. With easy food, and some people even feeding them just because they enjoyed it, bears lost their fear of humans. That led to confrontations and bear attacks. When some frustrated people got mad at people who fed the bears, they were told that anything that happened wasn't really the bear feeders problem.

As I said, the flip side of "we can't tell you what to do" is "you can't tell me what to do" and as seen here, with the government pared down to nothing, life got immeasurably worse as no one bothered to take responsibility for anything. The book did show a fascinating divide among the libertarian ideology, and how many people had such broad ideas on what libertarianism is. The author treats most of the people sympathetically, and does an excellent job showcasing the slow motion collapse of a civil society. While he treats the people with sympathy (and occasional incredulity) I can say for certain that there was a lot of "fuck you, got mine" on display, which unfortunately tends to be a very common underlying theme in many proponents of libertarianism. 

These examples are, overall, just a few reasons why people are genuinely afraid of libertarianism politically. While the broad ideas of freedom and individual liberty are indeed admirable, they come attached to a series of poorly thought out other political ideas. From dismantling healthcare to effectively ceding economic primacy to unaccountable corporations, libertarian political emphasis on individual freedom does not make up for the broad structural damage it could introduce from a lack of protections or responsibility. 

Friday, 18 November 2022

Manticore Ascendant Series

Beginning in 1993, readers were introduced to the world of Honor Harrington and the cold war between the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the People's Republic of Haven by David Weber. We see Manticore as it is gearing up to fight one of the greatest conflicts in the Post Diaspora era in 1900 PD. However, it was not always so, and the Star Kingdom had a very rough beginning. This review will be as spoiler free as possible.


The Manticore Ascendant series coauthored with Timothy Zahn (and Thomas Pope) which brings us all the way back to 1529 PD, centuries before Honor Harrington was born, and well before the Royal Manticoran Navy ever reaches its prime. The Kingdom is beset by political troubles, the aftermath of a deadly plague, a navy which is merely occupied by career chasers, well meaning patriots, and dead weight looking for a paycheck. In short, not the well disciplined, elite force which people have come to know and love.

Enter Travis Uriah Long, a well meaning kid adrift in a family situation defined by indifference. After getting caught up with a bad crowd, he gets the chance to turn his life around in the Navy in A Call to Duty. Joining the navy however, Travis is seeking structure and comradery, and he finds that structure in the rules and regulations that all spacers are supposed to follow. Unfortunately, he finds himself instead mocked and disliked for his "Stickler" attitude to rules and the way they can be too binding at times.

This plays out poorly with his fellows, and leaves him on a fast track to being stuck at low ranks forever. However, when an effort to sell warships in the Secour system is highjacked by pirates, Travis plays an instrumental role in saving the day. However, he becomes embroiled in national politics as his brother Gavin, Baron Winterfall, is enmeshed with the schemes of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Earl Breakwater. This sets the stage for a political saga which will roil the Kingdom for years to come.

Meanwhile, an unseen enemy is plotting against the Kingdom, and in the sequel,  A Call to Arms, the Kingdom is on a slow roll to invasion that Travis must also fight against. It's a steady burn towards an absolutely momentous series of action packed battles which culminate in the first threat to the Star Kingdom in centuries.

From there, the series heads to A Call to Vengeance where the perpetrators of the attack are tracked by Manticore and her allies across numerous star systems in order to attempt to bring them to justice. From the Silesian Confederation to the outer edges of Haven space, Travis and his friends track the men responsible for the brutal assault on their homeworld. It combines the best aspect of space warfare with some clever diplomatic and spy thriller drama. 

I can't spoil the resolution, since it was genuinely surprising and fun for me, but I will say that it does an excellent job at fleshing out the larger Honorverse. Introducing more of the politics of the Andermani Empire, and the broader context of the Silesian Confederacy well before we saw it in Honor's time.

The most recent installment, A Call to Insurrection, picks up a few years after the last great engagement, and leads us directly into some of the fallout from the battles after the attack on Manticore. Here, we see that Gustav Anderman's new empire is, if not in turmoil, still not as secure as he made it out to be. Rebellion and rivalry still crop up at all levels, and many are worried that whoever inherits the Empire will not be able to fill his shoes. 

While not quite as action packed as the previous installments, it does deliver a finale to be proud of. I really enjoyed the wider look at the Honorverse, while also seeing how the characters were growing.

The series truly is a wonderful successor (precursor?) to the Honorverse main series. It shows us the rough edges of Manticoran politics, and the time before it was a power to be reckoned with on the galactic stage. From backbiting politics, the troubles of monarchs, and the rough and tumble nature of early space travel, we see a lot of what it took to create a modern, vibrant star nation.

Travis is our principle viewpoint character, but he's not the only one. His Academy friend, Charles "Chomps" Townsend, is our second most encountered character, and the way he deftly works through intrigue and the intricacies of various politics will leave you guessing as to his ultimate assignments, and his journey is one you really have to read to enjoy! Gavin Velacott is the next most used character as he keeps us up to date with the various trials the politics of Manticore are undergoing. The little "slice of life" moments for all of our characters really do flesh out the universe too.

Each book is rounded out by a larger supporting cast, and an equally colorful array of villains (and so far only one overarching antagonist) who interact and often plot against one another. These all tie together in a series of plots which, as yet, have yet to reach their full ramifications. It's going to be interesting to see how it all ties up!

Of course, it also delivers on prime space battle action, which if you're reading David Weber, isn't that what you're looking for? The exploration of early Honorverse warfare is perhaps one of my favorite matters. From early impeller rings, the logistics of using spinning habs to keep people from experiencing full weightlessness, and big radiators hanging off the side! It makes for a very different form of battle from what we see in later novels.

Readers who love good military science fiction will be enthralled by the stories told and the battles fought. The collaboration between two great authors in a familiar setting has produced some excellent results. I can't wait to see what they produce next, and you should definitely check out the series!

Friday, 19 August 2022

Prey

In 1719, a young Comanche woman trained as a healer seeks to become a hunter. In doing so she challenges the norms of her people, but finds that rather than the animals of the wild, the hunter may just become the hunted.

Prey is a new film in the Predator franchise which takes it away from the 20th and 21st centuries, and instead places it back in a much hinted past from scenes in both Predator 2 and Predators which were both very clever pieces of world building, and set us up for a very rich expanded universe. And Prey delivers quite well on that expansion.


Using the early 18th century Comanche on the Plains is a clever idea, and I felt that it was an excellent use of the concept. What was just as intriguing was that there was no attempt to hide the Predator in this film, and it was front and center the moment it showed up, instead being used as a known element to slowly build tension as the characters unravel the mystery that is confronting them.

We follow Naru (Amber Midthunder) as she navigates her desire to be more than a healer in her tribe. She is looked down on by the young warriors of her village and only her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) openly indulging and encouraging her. With her dog Sarii, she is found just as often practicing her hunting skills as her healing skills, though both do her well in the wild. While preparing for a hunt, she sees a Thunderbird in the sky – of course it’s actually a Predator ship dropping off a young hunter. This leads to our first tense scenes, early action, and some well shot lead up to the final confrontations.

The action in Prey is also gloriously violent. From short scenes of hunting and man vs wild action, to the head to head confrontations with the Predator itself, it is an excellent view of older technology being leveraged against a familiar enemy. Even more interesting is the Predator itself is being shown using much less sophisticated examples of the equipment we see in later films, suggesting a level of technological sophistication that their species is aiming for. Made for fun surprises that really kept me guessing.

Adding to the action are some excellent special effects which brought the setting alive. From well used CGI to very good practical effects I enjoyed everything I saw on screen. Honestly there was nothing to complain about, save finding some of the CGI animals a little wonky, but I’d rather wonky animals than harming real ones.

Overall the tone of the film is one of tense buildup and subtle dread, and then the action picks up. It’s well acted by our principle leads and the supporting cast, and all the work done on the Predator from the bodysuit to the CGI is simply fantastic. I loved the new setting, the fun female lead, and the shoutouts to other films in the franchise, which made for exciting watching. I am sincerely hoping for more from this universe. Though as a rule, it should either be set in the past, or the future. We’re well overdue for the Marines from Aliens fighting the Predator on the big screen, or some version thereof.

If you have yet to see Prey, go watch it. You will not be disappointed

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Coup D'etat

In the near future, the ruler of the Emirate of Kabat has died, and after having brutally murdering most of his sons, his final traumatized son shall inherit the throne. In bad news for his very skilled daughter, her brother has become a religious fanatic from his father’s awful treatment. If he enacts his mad plans that can only mean destruction for her country. She has no choice but to enact a coup d’├ętat.

Christopher Nuttall brings us another pulse pounding thriller through the eyes of the forces of Executive Solutions, a mercenary company hired for the task of overthrowing a sovereign government.


Though the unfortunate Princess Sultana is our eyes in the Palace, the main plot revolves around the leader of Executive Solutions, former British special forces soldier Malcolm Smith. He’s on what promises to be a life long vendetta against Islamic terrorists after a revenge squad targeted his family and killed his wife and child. When it was covered up by the government for security purposes, he dedicated himself to his own private war. In a way, he reminds me somewhat of George Taylor from Ralph Peters The War in 2020, but if he’d formed a mercenary company instead. Competent and full of blood lust, he has a cadre of loyal men and women around him, and will do his damned best to ensure they all make it home while inflicting maximum damage on the enemy.

The management for how exactly a small mercenary company is supposed to overthrow a sovereign state with a functional military is explored in depth. While much of Kabat’s armed forces are revealed to be embarrassingly inept, it does have a core Royal Guard of foreign mercenaries who are effective and aggressively adaptive. This, alongside their access to heavy weapons and air support, is one of the greatest problems to be overcome.

While looking at the logistics of a not strictly sanctioned coup, it also goes into major details on how mercenary recruiting in Britain tends to work, who often provides the manpower, and how hard it is for private armies to form because buying weapons beyond rifles and grenades is actually something many governments want to keep a lid on. That makes the unofficial help from the British government a godsend, but doesn’t get them everything they might wish they had!

The problems in many oil monarchies are also examined and ruminated on in depth. From the lazy elite, the use of what is tantamount to state bribery to placate people, the effects of gilded cages, and the effective slavery of many so-called guest workers is all showcased. This is a problem known to many Gulf monarchies, and the fictional Kabat is merely a patchwork of ideas from many smaller states like Yemen or the UAE with their history and economy. From old British imperialism to modern oil and economic wealth, its a system which breeds corruption and misery. The mercenaries are aware they may not be fighting for the most benign of states, but a terrorist harboring theocracy is much worse.

All of this insightful societal examination and the major plotting for the coup is what forms the lead up to the quite explosive third act. There’s plenty which goes well, and a lot that goes wrong. I was impressed by the detail used from the reconnaissance in earlier chapters which was directly incorporated into the way the action in the finale gets framed. It’s a very pulse pounding ride to the end, which leaves a lot of the ultimate outcome in doubt, both for the heroes and the villains of the story.

Nuttall delivers on the action in many visceral scenes with appropriate exchanges of gunfire and heavy ordinance, with commentary on the tactics (or lack there of) for terrorist fighters, and the skills of the mercenaries. One particularly enjoyable moment comes from them finding a pair of functional A-10 Warthogs, which make a grand slam appearance at a moment of crisis. Any work which uses them gets a positive nod from me.

Coup D’etat is an exciting near future thriller which incorporates some elements from the early 2010s, the War on Terror, and an unorthodox cast of characters who are fighting against some nicely unsympathetic villains. I managed to binge read this from start to finish and quite in enjoyed it the whole way through. For a well thought out thriller you really can’t go wrong with this one!