Books read in 2018

Published by marco on

American Gods (2002)

by Neil Gaiman

This is a fantasy novel about gods. It is less about the nature of faith and more about the gods themselves: on how they are called into being by the myriad flickers of belief of humans, gaining power as this belief hardens to nigh-fanaticism. All gods have power, but many have faded as their believers have faded.

There are the old gods of early man, the gods of the Native Americans, the all-but-forgotten gods of even their precursors, the Egyptian pantheon, more recent African gods, the Norse pantheon, the plethora of spirits and pixies (piskies) and kobolds and gremlins and leprechauns of Europe. Gaiman doesn’t once mention any Greek or Roman gods, oddly enough.

When people came over from Europe to America, they brought their gods with them. They nurtured the flame of belief in their minds, carrying a simulacrum from one shore to another. The original god remained in Europe or Africa or Asia and was aware of its copy in the new world. The copy flourished after a fashion, but soon discovered that America was poor soil for gods. Faith and belief guttered and the gods were forgotten in favor of new gods, like Mammon. The copies become shadows, imbued with power, but left to fend for themselves in whatever way they could, going along to get along.

The Gods of Egypt run a funeral home, ferrying the dead to their final destination, as they always have. Odin, the all-father, is a grifter, running one scheme/scam after another. Bathsheba is a prostitute, consuming her faithful to stay alive.

The story centers on Shadow. He is serving time in prison for a crime of violence. He is due to be out soon. He has improved himself. He is a giant of a man, a former physical trainer. He has learned the ancient philosophers. He has learned coin tricks. His mind is clean and his soul is more-or-less pure. He is a stoic. He yearns to return to his wife and start a fresh life.

He is allowed to leave a few days early for a horrible reason: his wife is dead. She was killed in a car accident with his best friend, who was also to be his future employer. Shadow’s dreams are truncated neatly. He has nowhere to go; nothing to do. He has only a funeral to attend and then nothing.

This is where Mr. Wednesday (named after his own day, HINT) swoops in to draw Shadow into his own plans. Shadow learns many things and meets many people (mostly gods) and learns that there is a war coming: between the old gods and the new.

The new gods are television, media, the Internet and so on. The new gods have the arrogance of youth, brash and powerful, feeling the power of the faith of millions coursing through their veins. They don’t see the undercurrents of rot in America; they don’t see that faith cannot take root in fallow soil. They don’t know, as many of the old gods do, that they are doomed. Perhaps some do and they fear their demise and, American to the core, they ignore what they know and plow ahead, heedless of the damage and harm they cause for a few more moments of fleeting power.

The land is represented by a buffalo and is the most powerful, but least felt or seen. He/she appears only in Shadow’s dreams. Whiskey Jack is also of the land, an odd bystander who exists outside of belief. The native gods are the ones most comfortable in this landscape, as is to be expected.

Wednesday schemes with ‘Low Key’ Lyesmith (guess who?) to bring the “war” to a head, a bloodbath of heretofore unheard-of proportions, all to fuel their power: Odin/Wotan’s because the battle would be dedicated to him and Loki’s because chaos is his milieu. Shadow foils this plan with his stoic self-sacrifice that ends up not killing him, but making him stronger. He tells the gods that they have been fooled into hating each other, into killing each other. They disperse, most going back to their meager existence on the edges of humanity. The status quo continues.

Gaiman weaves this tale around many side-narratives and fables of how various gods came to be, how they were carried over, how they survived. Recommended.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

The Stone Sky (2017)

by N. K. Jemisin

This is the third book of the Broken Earth series. The underground city of Castrima is no longer habitable after the epic battle at the end of the Obelisk Gate. Alabaster is gone, having been turned into a stone eater. Essun’s arm below the elbow is also stone, leading her on the same path as Alabaster. This means that she can no longer perform orogeny without sacrificing parts of her body to stone. She can choose, though, so after the first time, where she loses a hand and part of an arm, she funnels the damage to a breast instead. But it’s not really stone, is it? It’s solidified magic and she is growing ever more adept at manipulating the magic that underlies orogeny, that is it’s founding principle.

Jemisin weaves the massive myth ever larger, telling us of the deep history of mankind. How mankind built the obelisks to harness magic power, how humanity enslaved a race that was the master of deep magic, but not the master of technology. She tells of how this race was wiped out, but rebuilt in the form of several adepts who would become the original stone eaters (including Hoa). The ossification process Essun is undergoing—and which Alabaster completed—is the stone-eater’s form of reproduction, of getting new members of their ancient race.

The story tells of how mankind bored down to the core—through the core—to tap what it thought would be an unlimited supply of magic, how humanity sought to harness this power with the original stone-eaters from a moon base and using the massive obelisks to focus their power. She tells of how Father Earth exists—and that he’s pissed. He struck back, taking over some of the obelisks, thwarting the process, making humanity blow the moon out of orbit and starting the first of the Seasons that would plague the planet for dozens of Millennia.

The story of the Guardians is also fleshed-out: they are agents of Father Earth, imbued with magical power through a bit of the Earth’s core lodged in their sessapinae (in their brains). The technology and the world and the history and myth is a wonderfully imagined and woven tale, bringing together many elements of magic and science and also strongly reflecting our own history, predilections and prejudices.

The plot follows Nassun as she ends up in a colony in Antarctica with her father Jija—and under the tutelage of Schaffa, her mother’s former Guardian. Schaffa has changed, though, and is no longer fully under the control of Father Earth. He wants to help Nassun achieve her goal of burning everything to the ground—destroying the Earth and humanity that would produce such a blighted landscape and unending torture for her and her people (orogenes).

For this, she ventures to Corepoint, but first travels to an ancient city from which the attack on Father Earth was originally launched. Here, we learn more about its history, before she and Schaffa take an ancient monorail through the heart of the planet to Corepoint.

At the same time, Essun and the rest of Castrima adventure their way to Rennanis, the city that they defeated at the end of the second book. They establish themselves in this old and enormous city, but Essun knows she must move on. She must accompany Hoa, her stone-eater, to try to right what humanity broke many, many years ago. All of her friends come with her, traveling in a group through the center of the Earth, slipped through the strata by Hoa. They are attacked by other stone eaters along the way and there is attrition.

Essun seeks to recapture the Moon and put it back in orbit, to make peace with Father Earth and put an end to the seasons. She must fight Nassun on this—who wants to use the Obelisk Gate to plow the Moon into the Earth and kill everyone.

Having seen how the stone eaters live, Nassun changes her plan (she’s only 10 or 11) and decides to use the power of the Obelisk Gate to change all of humanity into stone eaters instead. Essun battles against her, but eventually gives up, expending her last power to let her daughter have her own way and turning to stone. Nassun takes pity and fulfills her mother’s plan instead, using the power of the Obelisk Gate to align the Moon back into its former orbit. Father Earth is pleased and agrees to a truce with mankind.

In the epilogue, Essun awakes as a stone eater and starts to pick up the pieces of an Earth that knows peace with Father Earth, that once again has a moon, with hopefully much-humbled humans and no more Seasons.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

The God of Small Things (1997)

by Arundhati Roy

This is a chronological jumble of images from the lives of a family in Kerala that languorously focuses to a story about India itself and its age-old problem with caste—with its inherent and deeply seated racism. The focus is on two time periods: the 50s and the 80s. In the 50s, a pair of odd twins (Rahel and Estha) are young and precocious. They eagerly await the arrival of another young girl (Sophie Mol) from England, with her mother. Her mother (Margaret) had divorced their uncle many years before.

Their uncle Chacko is a frustrated anglophile and faux-Communist. There are real communists (Comrade K. N. M. Pillai) in this story, there are untouchables. There are older generations whose story is told as well—of their upbringing in an even-more unforgiving world than the already-awful late 60s/early 70s in India. This is long after Partition, but still enemies are everywhere and anti-Communism rides high.

In the late 60s, the twins befriend and untouchable (Velutha) who is older than they. He is more their mother’s (Ammu) age—and those two become lovers. The family, deep-set in their racist ways, cannot abide this and punishes her. They send her away; she dies young. The children are scattered to the winds, only to return years later to the poisoned home, still run by the same inbred-thinking people who’d chased everyone away to protect themselves and their pitiful reputations (Baby Kochama and her erstwhile compatriot. Estha hasn’t spoken in years; Rahel drags around a lifetime of bad decisions, including a divorced husband in the States.

They all mostly live short, brutish lives of quiet desperation in a country that has no plan or pity for most of the people who live in it. Roy’s prose is beautiful at times, describing an India whose heart is decayed—and whose outward appearance becomes increasingly so.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017)

by Arundhati Roy

This is a story of Kashmir. It is a story of the downtrodden peoples of India, of the second-class quasi-citizens, of those at the edges of society who actually make up the large part of India’s population. It is a story of those left behind, those ignored, those who protest the status quo, the communists, the Marxists, the Maoists, who cry for justice for all.

It is a story of fiction that starts off in the poorest neighborhoods of Delhi where a young girl is born in a boy’s body. She has both parts and must decide which to keep. She names herself Anjum and moves into a community of fellow travelers, making a living in this community.

There is the starving professional, professorial protester, Dr. Azad Bharatiya. There is a man who named himself Saddam Hussein. There are four university friends who go their separate ways, crossing paths again and again throughout the dingy, evil history of India’s occupation of Kashmir.

S. Tilottama is a reclusive young architect who doesn’t work as an architect. Garson Hobart (Biplab Dasgupta) works in the Indian secret service, helping her out from time to time as well as being her landlord in latter years. Musa Yeswi drifts into the Kashmir conflict on the side of the militants, rising through the ranks—but only after his wife and daughter are killed by casual, careless Indian troops firing indiscriminately into a crowd out of fear at an exploding drinks container. His daughter is—or rather was—Miss Jebeen the first. And, finally, there is the rudderless and therefore successful “journalist” Nagaraj Hariharan, to whom Tilo is married for years, though her affair with Musa continues throughout. It’s complicated.

Garson tells the story retrospectively, having moved back into the apartment that he’d rented to Tilo after she’d left for Anjum’s compound built on a graveyard, where she finally finds peace and happiness in a community that includes her “daughter” Miss Jebeen the second. Garson goes through all of Tilo’s notes about Musa’s activities but, instead of using it against them all in his capacity as a high-level Indian secret-service operative, he becomes convinced of Kashmir’s side of the argument—that India should remove itself and leave the people free.

The story is told out of order (as was The God of Small Things) and most of the people lead very unorthodox lives. Roy is highly critical of the direction of Indian society, highly critical of the rulers-that-be, of the duplicitous middle class. The path that India has taken is similar to that taken by the US: the historical and cultural racism of the caste system has had—and continues to have—the same disastrous effect as the endemic racism in America.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

Alone on the Wall (2016)

by Alex Honnold with David Roberts

This is an autobiography by a man not yet 30 years old. It’s a bit presumptuous to write a biography so early, but that’s the way the world is now. I wouldn’t ordinarily read such a thing, but it was a gift from two very good friends, so I gave it a go.

Honnold is an excellent rock climber. He’s very skilled and seemingly very lucky. I’m convinced he can’t tell the difference, taking credit for luck and crediting skill to luck. Still, he’s done amazing things in the climbing world: he’s most famous for his free solos of giant climbing walls in Yosemite and environs. He’s most proud of what he calls his link-ups, multiple climbs in a single day, with logistics between them either by fast hiking/running or cycling.
 

Ten Days that Shook the World (1919)

by John Reed

This is a first-hand account of the ten days prior to and just after the Russian Revolution in November of 1917, John Reed was living in St. Petersburg as things got into full swing. He was a strongly left-leaning journalist with at least a partial grasp of the Russian language, though it’s unclear how well he could read it. It’s hard to believe that he didn’t understand any of it, considering how much of the book seems to have been transcribed from meetings or conversations in the street.

The book offers an enthusiastic and detailed account of the involvement of the myriad participants and factions. The book covers many of the intrigues between factions involved in the revolutions as well as the external pressures of the other nations of Europe—Finland, England, Germany and others. These were trying from the very beginning to extinguish the Bolshevik revolution that they saw as an infectious threat to all that they’d taken for themselves.

The Russian refusal to continue fighting alongside the other nations in WWI, throwing away its young men’s lives for the capitalists, was the final straw: they had to be eliminated before they were allowed to show that another way was possible. Internal forces—particularly in the person of Yussov Djugashvili-Stalin took care of the rest.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

The Forever War (1974)

by Joe Haldeman

The parallels between the Forever War and the Vietnam War are not coincidental. This book was written at the tail-end of the Vietnam war by a veteran. In the Forever War, the enemy is an alien race that no-one has ever seen. The war starts with an incident and escalates quickly. There are years between incidents, relativistic limits being what they are. The soldiers are chosen from the best and the brightest—the elite scientists and minds of the current generation.

The story touches on many topics that would be covered again and again in subsequent novels, but which were featured first in this book. The population of Earth turns to homosexuality as a form of population control, the soldiers sent off to war experience jarring shifts in the culture to which they return—just like Vietnam veterans did—but in the Forever War, it’s due to extreme time-dilation effects from their relativistic flights to their battlegrounds.

Haldeman conjectures that any given battle between humans and the Taurans could go either way because it was never clear which side was more advanced in any given confrontation. Because of relativistic travel times, it was possible for there to be nearly a century of additional scientific and military development between them.

Haldeman also likens what it would be like to return to Earth after many decades to the feeling of disjuncture experienced by any war veterans. What’s the point of fighting at all when the homeland can barely remember that there’s a war on at all? Why not run away when no-one can prove that you did? He discusses how language and culture shifts so much that returning soldiers need translators for both language and customs.

During the final battle, I was convinced that the Taurans didn’t actually exist and that humans had actually been fighting themselves all along—just separated across relativistic time. This turned out not to be the case—instead the Taurans and the humans of the future have more in common with each other than the human soldiers of the past. The humans of the future become a hive-mind—just like the Taurans were all along.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

The United States of Absurdity (2017)

by Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds

This is a simple and short book full of odd stories about American history. The two authors host The Dollop podcast, during which they’ve covered many of these stories already. Some of the older stories are interesting, less in how they’re told, but for pointing out how cruel American society always has been.

One story in particular stuck with me: the one about lobotomy, in which the self-nominated doctor toured the country with his self-invented procedure, popping holes into people’s heads over 3500 times during his career. Whatever one can say about the cruelty and stupidity of our age, we seem to be at least a few steps past letting confident people drill holes into our foreheads.

Adults in the Room: My Battle with the European and American Deep Establishment (2017)

by Yanis Varoufakis

As you can tell by the copious notes and citations I’ve made below, I loved this book. It is the story of how Europe is just as fundamentally broken as any other human construction. If it every meant anything greater, it no longer does. It is a construct of self-serving functionaries bent on consolidating their own political capital. Its main goal is to provide wealth to the financial sector. It does not care for its member nations, as such. It does not care for long-term sustainability. It is afflicted by the same blinkered, short-term thinking that poisons most other human endeavors. It continues mainly on inertia, in some sense unaware that it is already dead. The corpse can still pump blood, so the vampires continue to feed.

This is the story of the five months during which Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis tried to save Greece from continued debt bondage. Continued debt bondage was seen as the only way forward for the European troika. Varoufakis preferred a debt-restructuring that benefitted both parties and had the added benefit of being financially feasible. The only other alternative acknowledged by both sides was Grexit—Greece leaving the euro zone and reëstablishing the drachma.

Varoufakis threatened Grexit and vowed never to comply to continued debt bondage. His government was behind him in this, until…almost the very end. Despite reams of proposals and studies and endorsement from extremely knowledgable individuals showing that Varoufakis’s plans would be effective, the troika never seriously entertained them. Honestly, it’s hard to believe that they even read them. They just didn’t care. Their only goal was to arrange a new loan deal—because they were never interested in getting their money back.

How could this be? Because the money they were interested in getting back was loaned to Greece, immediately after which it was funneled right back to the true victims of Greece’s financial crisis—the French and German banks that had loaned money to Greece in the first place. These banks took no haircut on their risky loans. The EU made sure that they were paid back in full, but that the Greek government took the full blame for the profligacy.

The troika wasn’t interested in being paid back because, once the banks had recharged their coffers and learned the harsh lesson that they would not only not be allowed to fail, they would also not be allowed to not turn a profit, it was only the people of Europe who were left with outstanding debts.

And who cares about them when you and all of your friends have not only come out smelling like roses politically but also benefited handsomely financially? What could you do? It was those dirty, lazy Greeks who nearly ruined everything—thank God the troika came to the rescue to limit the losses and avoid true catastrophe.

Why did Varoufakis fail to save Greece from continued debt bondage? Because literally everyone was against him. They all hated him. It was obvious to the troika that he was never going to budge the way they wanted him to. They resented him for making them work that hard to get what they had always gotten much more easily.

They saw the result as inevitable; why bother struggling so hard and making everyone look bad? He was always going to look bad anyway, as the representative of a reprehensible land of swarthy, shiftless ingrates suckling at the teat of superior, northern, caucasian, European generosity.

His own side resented and grew to hate him because he was so much smarter and more organized and more well-informed than they were. He knew everything. He knew the history and the minutiae of everything that had happened in the EU in the last 20 years. He did not despair (at least not publicly). His ramrod discipline and dedication shamed his own leadership into continuing when they’d long-since capitulated in their hearts. His presence became a constant reminder to them of their own moral failing and their failure of the Greek people.

As for his enemies in the EU and the IMF and ECB and Euro Group? They were just stunned that he’d even dared to open his mouth at all—other than to pleasure them with it, as stipulated in their agreement with the previous government.

I imagine to them Varoufakis showed up like an escort whose pimp had extracted a very good price for someone who was accommodating and open to anything—only for her to show up and want to talk and cuddle and “get to know one another” so that they could “figure out how to both come to orgasm”.

The EU’s incredulity was like that of the john in such a situation—simply uncomprehending how someone could so completely fail to be on-script. After the initial confusion, the way forward was clear: punishment and humiliation and, of course, the f$%king. I apologize for the invective, but it is not just to spare the degree of criminality with which the EU behaved by employing a more diplomatic vernacular.

And the other nations that backed Germany unquestioningly in the Euro Group, like Latvia, were like the members of the pimp’s stable who had long since capitulated all honor—and were resentful of the uppity new broad who thought she was better than them. As Varoufakis points out, Latvia became the troika’s darling, an economic success story, by proving that a country could tighten its belt to improve its per-capita GDP—but only by shedding half of its working population through emigration.

When Varoufakis re-hired cleaning staff fired during a previous administration, he was reproached endlessly by the EU for not being sufficiently dedicated to cutting costs. The cost of 300 cleaners making a pittance per month was nothing compared to the salaries of several advisers from big banks and financial institutions that Yanis simultaneously let go, of course. But that’s not the point, is it? The troika were bent on punishing him for having fired its crony friends at Goldman Sachs (who’d earned millions per year). The initial firing of the cleaning staff was described as a “reform”, the rolling back of which indicates an abdication of adherence to fiduciary responsibility.

This was the modus operandi for the troika, always demanding more and more from an increasingly harried and chronically understaffed finance department. And if it took Yanis a long time to realize that his enemy truly was an enemy that was not at all interested in a compromise, it wasn’t his fault, really. In the heat of battle, and probably exhausted and sleep-deprived from having spent three straight days preparing a document they demanded and have now ignored, he failed to recognize their duplicitous nature.

He continued to give them the benefit of the doubt, assuming that they too saw the looming danger to everyone and were interested in working together to avoid the worst of it. They were not. Life had taught them all that they would be just fine, that they would continue to fail upward no matter what happened. I count nearly everyone he mentions in this book in this group—Lagarde, Poulson…everyone. Not a single one of them every did anything to actually help. No matter how much hand-wringing and soul-searching they play-acted behind closed doors, they always knew which side their bread was buttered on when it came to public pronouncements—and then they reverted to the most simplistic mantras that they all knew were ineffective and could not be implemented, but for which they could not be blamed for promoting.

They had all proved themselves liars and backstabbers, incapable of even a shred of honesty. Their paramount goal was to get everything they personally wanted while conceding nothing, on principle. He failed to notice that they considered it distasteful to deal with him at all. There was probably no small amount of disgust at the chutzpah of a filthy foreigner upstart daring to attend their institutions (he attended university in England in the 70s) and for daring to seem smarter and more reasonable than they, when it is they who wield the power and he who is to capitulate. Their fury was not at his proposals, but that he was wasting their time, making them pretend to do their jobs, while reminding them that they had always failed to do so. They punished him and Greece for daring to remove their mask of plausible deniability.

And when the time came to execute the only threat that Greece held over the troika, Yanis hesitated, convinced that his government had his back and that they would “take collective responsibility for the decision over the precise timing of [Greece’s] withdrawal from the negotiations.”

They did not. And that is his regret: that he did not take unilateral action at the solitary moment when he had the power to do so. He opted for democracy and was betrayed by his compatriots. I think he’s too hard on himself.

And his friends in the Greek government didn’t collapse all at once: no, the Troika had its agents embedded everywhere. Steter Tropfen hoehlt den Stein, as we say in German. They didn’t have to push too much—we’ve seen time and again how much human suffering a single person is willing to engender for what appears to be a ludicrously meager personal gain. How can you succeed when all your enemy need do is turn one functionary? And he probably sold out for a pittance? Even if it was blackmail, or the guy failed to grasp the import of his duplicity, he didn’t seem to care. An appeal to ego was probably sufficient.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

Industrial Society and its Future (1995)

by Theodore Kaczynski

The full text of this long essay/short book is available online at Unabomber Special Report (Washington Post). To the Post’s credit, it’s still online after over 20 years. There is very little that is particularly incendiary about this document (if you’ll pardon the phrase). Though his actions were mad—despite his railing against society’s deprivation of freedom, he saw fit to rob several people of their own freedom by killing them—his reasoning is not.

I wanted to see what the fuss was about and what the Unabomber’s actual demands were. His arguments are lucid, if not always convincing. I was expecting a bit more craziness, like in Dianetics, but Kaczynski was much smarter, apparently—he was certainly a better writer.

The essay is basically structured as follows:

  1. He rails against leftists for about 20% of the essay, discussing their psychology and “oversocialization”. As a university professor without a more rational and less strictly left-leaning tendency, he seems to have felt himself in a minority against which he needed to lash out. Some of the characteristics he pointed out are quite negative, but his inability to nail down who, exactly, he considers to be a leftist—or which modes of thought are the types of leftism to avoid—robs his argument of much of its power.
  2. He then discusses different types of work, including surrogate activities and a definition of the power process.
  3. He goes into detail in the Disruption of the Power Process in Modern Society chapter. Here he expands on an idea that the main goal of society is subjugation through disempowerment. He builds up the argument reasonably well, without too much bombast.
  4. He discusses freedom and the logical tension between freedom and technology/industrial society. Pre-industrial societies are by definition more free because the lack of long-distance communication and travel prevent the overarching, larger systems of control that are inevitably wrought by technology (and those who control it).
  5. He moves from mind control through propaganda to control via pharmaceuticals and genetic modification (even less far-fetched 20 years later).
  6. From there, he discusses how technology becomes a self-promulgating end in itself, inevitably leading to a place where humankind is so dependent on it that it no longer matters whether it is in charge because it took over or because the humans capitulated. The dependency implies the control.
  7. Next up are more predictions, many of which have unsurprisingly come true (or have been much more concretely realized than in the 90s). The world we have, dominated as it is by surveilling corporations and governments and a nearly useless media landscape is not far off from Kaczynski’s nightmare vision.
  8. Finally, there are concrete action plans and ideas for how to foment the required revolution to devolve society to pre-industry. He also acknowledges that it won’t be easy, regardless of how he’s proven its necessity if we are to survive as psychologically independent individuals with even a modicum of freedom (paraphrased from his ideas, by the way). There is a discussion of revolutionary techniques, how to build an intelligent core with rational argument and then bring the rabble on board with simpler reasoning (that is pitched to inspire the second group without alienating the first group). Any group that inspired such a devolution would necessarily be rejected for the loss in lifestyle that they’d engendered, after which the technological elite would quickly take the reins again.
  9. In the end, he manages to prove the inevitability of technology, the zero-sum game it has with individual freedom and the near impossibility of freedom winning out.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas (1973)

by Ursula K. LeGuin

This is a short story about Omelas, a city that is paradise on Earth. The story describes the perfection of the society—then gets to the one small detail that keeps the place so perfect. In order for everyone to be so happy, living in paradise, a child must be kept in perpetual misery, darkness and filth, trapped in a lightless dungeon and suffering immeasurably. As expected, almost everyone, upon learning of this situation, make their peace with it. The title refers to those who cannot accept paradise on those terms.

Rogues (2014)

edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

This is a collection of short stories and novellas edited by two of the titans of fantasy and science fiction. See the Wikipedia article for a list of all 21 stories. The stories all star a “rogue” of one type or other, with authors ranging from Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) to Joe Lansdale (Hap and Leonard) to Neil Gaiman to Patrick Rothfuss and, finally, to George R.R. Martin himself. A good collection of stories with something for everyone, I think.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

The Lathe of Heaven (1971)

by Ursula K. LeGuin

This is the story of George Orr, a man whose dreams change reality. He lives in a world where he’s required to visit a psychiatrist to address his affliction. Soon, though, the world no longer requires him to do so—because his psychiatrist is manipulating him into changing the world to the doctor’s benefit. Orr’s effective dreams are not without side-effects—anyone who lives through one ends up with multiple memories, remembering both the way the world was and also the way the world is (including the history leading up to the world in which they now live). Doctor Haber invents a machine called the Augmentor that focuses Orr’s power.

Orr’s dreams don’t change reality so much as shift himself and those around him into different timelines. Eventually, he chooses a timeline in which aliens invade the planet—ostensibly with the goal of finding him, the one capable of bending reality. The aliens don’t try to stop so much as try to get him to control himself, to get out from under Dr. Haber’s thumb. Orr is OK, but Haber is dangerous.

Philip K. Dick worked very much in this vein, where the line between observed and actual reality is blurred into nothingness. The story is a mix of various potential realities, composed of the dreams of Haber and Orr as well as strands of the original reality. Read the Wikipedia article for a more in-depth description of the plot.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

On the Beach (1957)

by Nevil Shute

A nuclear conflagration has engulfed the world. In the aftermath, it’s not clear who started it or who even fought on which side. Stories differ. There is the officially accepted truth—something to do with the Russians, the Chinese and the Americans. And then there are other theories that bubble up as we meet more people. All that is clear is that the entire northern hemisphere is gone. There is an inexorable radioactive cloud creeping southward at a predictable pace. Cities go dark, day by day.

The story takes place in Australia, centered on sailor Peter Holmes in the Australian navy, an entity that has all but ceased to exist. An American submarine lands on the shores of Melbourne. Peter befriends the caption of the vessel, Commander Towers. Although there are breaks with customs and morals, many of the people stick to their lives as they were. Until they’re not anymore. The end.

There is a fuel shortage (of course) and the scope of life contracts back to earlier times, humanity slowly fading into oblivion with barely a whimper. Many take their own lives with government-provided pills. The submarine goes on several missions, but discovers nothing on the entire planet. It’s all dead. There is no reprieve. There is no happy ending for humanity. The Earth has been boiled free of life—not instantly, but definitely.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

Dispatches (1977)

by Michael Herr

This is a journal about the Vietnam War, written by journalist Michael Herr, who spent two years there in the late 60s. The storytelling is visceral and well-written, describing soldiers and attacks and life in Vietnam under the occupation. The impression is surreal and the book doesn’t try to explain or clean up the ugliness of it all. It presents information, within a scaffolding of disapproval of the war, but at the same time acknowledging the seductiveness of it for reporters, for those involved in it, for those poisoned into not being able to live without it. An excellent book, probably the best thing I’ve ever read about one of America’s wars—or, indeed, any colonial occupation. It’s likely that this book describes them all adequately, not just Vietnam, but Iraq and Afghanistan or India and Africa for the European powers. A sobering look into the depths of human cruelty and stupidity. Herr has only one movie-writing credit: Apocalypse Now.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

Savage Season: A Hap and Leonard Novel (1990)

by Joe R. Lansdale

This is the story of Leonard, a gay, black veteran of Vietnam and his friend Hap, a guy with few prospects and a lot of baggage. This pair are tangled up in a heist—or, rather, picking up the lost treasure from a heist gone wrong—planned by people with differing motives and histories. That Hap’s ex is involved makes it hard for him to think straight. Leonard is aware that the situation is far from ideal, but knows that he and Hap need the money.

The story weaves bygone days of 60s and 70s idealism with naked ambition and greed. Everything goes spectacularly south in an abattoir of a finale that would do a Tarantino film justice.

“All I got to say is you can’t be a professional bleeding heart. Yeah, things are better for blacks and women and gays, but it was the blacks and women and gays that did it, not fuck-ups like this bunch. Whites and straights came along to give help, all right, after the blacks said ‘enough’ and got their heads busted, and it’s the same for the gays and the women. The whites and straights, they control things, and they could have changed it anytime.”
Location 839-843
Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews (2013)

by Marilyn Hagerty

This is a collection of restaurant reviews from restaurants all over North Dakota, but mostly from the metropolitan region (such as it is) in and around Grand Forks. A couple of the reviews are of top-flight restaurants in New York City, thrown in seemingly to point out that Ms. Hagerty isn’t just a country bumpkin.

Her book is refreshingly honest and simple, the reviews eminently useful, concentrating as they do on describing decor, menu and prices. She weaves stories of the proprietor’s lives into her reviews. Through these, we follow how the city of Grand Forks grew over the years. The reviews start in the 80s and continue into the first decade of the 21st century. We also see how expectations of price and quality grew over the years—and how some restaurants managed to remain focused on providing quality food for what seems like nearly impossible prices for the time.

There was a bit of monotony to the reviews, a bit of ritual, but not of boredom, necessarily. Almost like a book of zen koans, delivered by a woman seemingly without malice. Almost like listening to a song by a favorite band that sounds very much like all of the other songs that band has made—it’s nice to listen to, even though familiar.

I imagine that Marilyn’s reviews served over the years as a bulwark against ugly reality for many residents.

I discovered this book when Anthony Bourdain died: someone I read had mentioned that he’d written the foreword to Marilyn’s book. His foreword is nicely written and generous and reveals a man capable of appreciating the simpler things, just like Marilyn. Appropriately, it is overshadowed by the simple power of Ms. Hagerty’s reviews.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

Laurie (2018)

by Stephen King

This short story is available online and is characteristic of King’s writing of late: well-crafted but a bit staid and humdrum. It’s about an old man living in Florida, without his wife and with a complicated relationship with his complicated sister, who gives him a dog he doesn’t want. They meet an alligator. The end.

I thought this sentence describing the man’s sister was nice:

“She paused to look back at him. The harsh September light of Florida’s west coast fell on her face, showing the way her lipstick had bled into the little wrinkles around her mouth, and the way her lower lids had begun to sag away from her eyes, and the fragile clockspring of veins beating in the hollow of her temple. She would be seventy soon. His bouncing, opinionated, athletic, take-no-prisoners sister was old. So was he. They were proof that life was nothing but a short dream on a summer afternoon.”
The Night Watch (1998 – en/2006)

by Sergei Lukyanenko

This is the first novel in what would end up being a six-book series, set in the real world with the Twilight as a backdrop. The world is the same as the one we know, but some people are not humans, but Others. These others are divided (unevenly) into Dark and Light Ones. This book introduces characters that would be in all of the books, but focuses on the development of Anton Gorodetsky, a low-level Light Other who works in the Night Watch. The Night Watch works at night and keeps an eye on the Dark Others. The Day Watch works during the day and keeps an eye on the Light Others.

The Twilight is another layer of reality to which Others have access, but humans do not. It is from here that Others draw their power to perform magic. It’s a very interesting mythology, equal to the Harry Potter world, I think, with a bit more for adults than the earlier books in that series.

In this book, Lukyanenko develops Anton as well as Sveltana (a Great Enchantress) and Egor (a potential Mirror) and Maxim (an eventual Inquisitor) as well as introducing Boris Ignatievich, or Gesar, the oldest and most powerful of the Light Ones in the Moscow Night Watch.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

The Day Watch (2000 – en/2007)

by Sergei Lukyanenko

The second novel in the Twilight universe is again composed of three volumes, each of which tells another story that builds the mythos of the world further. In this one, we learn more about the witch Alisa Donnikova, who falls in love with a Light One named Igor. It ends in tragedy.

We also meet Vitaly Rogoza, a mysterious Ukrainian who is inexplicably amnesiac and growing continuously in power. It turns out that he is a Mirror, a pawn of the Twilight itself, drawn into existence in order to return balance between the Light and the Dark. He does this by drawing out Svetlana (the Great Enchantress, who is now Anton’s partner) and getting her to purge her immense power and giving the Dark some reprieve.

In the third volume, we meet Edgar, a Dark one who achieves an uneasy peace with Anton on a mission to investigate what the hell happened in the first two volumes. They are both in Prague for the Inquisition’s trial of Igor, who’d murdered Alisa in the first book. More and more facets of the mythology are introduced, filling in detail with delicious hints of deeper meaning.

The Twilight Watch (2003 – en/2007)

by Sergei Lukyanenko

These three volumes continue with Anton as the focus, but with many of the characters of the first two books. The first volume involves an undiscovered Other who turns out to be Gesar’s son. But it’s suspicious because he seems to have become an Other—something that should not be possible. Unless someone has discovered the Fuaran, a book written by a witch who discovered how to do exactly that. The knowledge was assumed to have been lost in the mists of time.

Instead, the second volume finds Anton on vacation, where he meets Arina, an ancient witch who breaks tradition and expectations in almost all ways. She is immensely powerful and doesn’t really stick the Dark/Light paradigm, which vexes Anton. She has a copy of the Fuaran. It is in this book that we discover that Others actually have less magic than humans. Humans emit magic regularly and Others feed on it. Anton is shocked to discover that there isn’t that much separating him from a Dark vampire, whose methods are just a bit cruder and most physical. We also learn of more and more levels of the twilight (in the first book, there was one, at most two; by now, we know of four, perhaps five).

The third volume expands on Kostya’s story (a (now)-Higher vampire who Anton has known since he was a youth). Kostya is intent on getting the Fuaran in order to turn everyone into an Other. This plan is doomed to failure—you can’t just have parasites; you also need hosts. Kostya’s plan fails. He tries to escape into space in order to be able to perform a spell on the entire world at once. In space, though, he is too far from the source of Power. He burns up on re-entry.

The Last Watch (2006 – en/2008)

by Sergei Lukyanenko

As a result of Kostya’s activity with the Fuaran in the previous book, Anton is now a Higher magician. Gesar sends him to Scotland to investigate a mysterious vampire killing. It turns out that there is a trio of Others—a Light One, a Dark One and an Inquisitor—trying to get at Merlin’s greatest creation. Merlin is/was a so-called zero-point magician—a magician who was zero natural magic and can absorb more Power from the environment than any Others and is therefore more powerful. The only other known such magician is Nadya, Anton and Svetlana’s daughter. In this volume, we learn that Merlin hid the Crown of All Things on the seventh level of the Twilight.

The second volume expands on this, sending Anton to Uzbekistan to find Rustam, an ancient wizard who used to ride with Gesar, back in the day. He was with Gesar when they called down the most terrible spell every used against Dark Ones—the White Mist. Instead of killing them, it froze them into statues without any sensory input, driving them mad over the ensuring millennia. Rustam is still punishing himself for having taken part in this travesty, whereas Gesar had made his peace with it. We discover that Edgar is the Inquisitor that is part of the trio trying to get Merlin’s secret.

In the third volume, more is revealed about Merlin’s spell as well as how the Twilight works and how many levels it actually has. Where is the Crown of All Things hidden? Anton eventually finds out and uses his Higher power to wield it in an unexpected way, freeing the age-old Dark Ones frozen in time to their final reward—as well as Merlin and thousands of Others from the Purgatory/Paradise of the sixth level of the Twilight.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

The New Watch (2011 – en/2012)

by Sergei Lukyanenko

The first volume deals with Prophets and Clairvoyants and how the Twilight deals with them. We learn that the Twilight has not just Mirrors, but Tigers. The Tiger is unstoppable and is there to prevent anyone from hearing a Prophet’s “main prophecy”. Anton is there, once again, this time with the help of his now ten-year–old daughter, Nadya (the zero-point enchantress). The young prophet is saved from the Tiger in the nick of time—but the Twilight doesn’t know about recording devices. And Kesha (the Prophet) was clutching a toy tape recorder when he emerged from the room into which he’d revealed his prophecy to (supposedly) no-one.

In the second volume, Anton travels once again to London to meet a former Prophet, a Dark One named Erasmus Darwin to find out what his prophecy was and to find out more about Tigers and how to stop them. Darwin had avoided dying for his prophecy in a similar way to Kesha—by yelling into into the bole of an oak tree. Anton returns from London with a cup made from the wood of that tree.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

The Sixth Watch (2012 – en/2013)

by Sergei Lukyanenko

This is final installment in the Watch Series. In this one, Anton’s daughter Nadya is threatened at her school, where two magicians sweep through with a power completely beyond what each has on his own. The prophets have foretold attacks of this sort and predict the end of the world in five days’ time.

We learn more about the ancient order of the vampires—the world’s supposed first children. The day and night watch of Moscow are basically working together, attending the high councils of the vampires and witches as they each seek to elect a member to be part of the Sixth Watch. There are also the form-takers and the Foundation. All representatives of the watch will likely die when the council convenes.

The watch is there to combat the Twilight itself, which is embodied in a human-like figure. In the end, it is Anton who thwarts the twilight and restores order and balance.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

Mucho Mojo (a Hap and Leonard Novel) (1994)

by Joe R. Lansdale

This is the second Hap and Leonard novel. This one picks up where the first one left off—with the two heroes down on their luck and back to working in the rose fields, for peanuts. Leonard gets a sort of windfall—his uncle Chester has died and left him with a sizable inheritance as well as his house.

The house is in a rough neighborhood and right next to a crack den. Leonard cannot let that stand, so he takes them on immediately. They’re a big problem, but they’re not the main problem. The main problem seems to be a case that the police refused to work on, but that Chester and his friend Moon had been working for years. Moon is missing as well.

Hap and Leonard discover this from strange clues that Chester left—and then discover a child’s skeleton under the house, wrapped in child pornography. They suspect Chester, of course, but Leonard is adamant that he couldn’t have done it.

I won’t ruin any more of the story, but it unfolds in a very interesting manner. The reverend and sheriff are involved, as is big ol’ TJ. Leonard and Hap stay true and stay on the trail to figure it all out in the end. To get a flavor for the style of writing, check out the citations.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

The Two-Bear Mambo (a Hap and Leonard Novel) (1995)

by Joe R. Lansdale

This is the third of the Hap and Leonard novels. Florida Grange has gone to Grovetown to represent a client, the son of a famous bluesman from the same town. The son thinks he’s found an old tape that could be worth a lot of money.

Chief Hanson, with whom Florida broke up before leaving, sends Hap to go look for her. Hap takes Leonard along. Grovetown does not approve. This town is so racist, it’s like an Enlightenment black hole. Chief Cantuck is not a great guy, but not the worst. Officer Reynolds is the worst. Even worse is the head of the local KKK—a group to which most of the town belongs.

Hap and Leonard go poking around and can’t help but stir up trouble, since Leonard is the wrong color. They end up getting beaten within and inch of their lives—they got in some shots, too, but were taking on most of the town—and slink back to Laborde with Officer Charlie.

They recover somewhat and regain their courage after a while, driving into the teeth of a rainstorm that will not quit to finish their investigation in Grovetown. After eliminating the obvious suspects, they finally figure out that it’s Florida’s disappearance and that of her client, was more about money than about racism. Cold comfort.

As with the second novel, I think the citations give a food flavor of the writing and sentiment.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

Ultimate Threshold: A Collection of the Finest in Soviet Science Fiction (1970)

translated and edited by Mirra Ginsburg

The stories are from the sixties and early seventies. The cover a range of topics from immortality, DNA and scientific discovery, as well as the morality of killing AIs. Basically, it’s really quite interesting silver-age science fiction as good as anything I’ve read from Great Britain or the States. You’d be hard-pressed to say which was which.

I’ve read and watched a lot of Soviet science fiction over the last couple of years, much it written by the Strugatsky brothers and directed by Tarkovsky. Just this year, I read a six-book series by Sergei Lukyanenko. It was fascinating to find this old book in my collection from my early, early years. I didn’t remember any of the stories from my first reading; I imagine I’d experienced it completely differently than this time around.

Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul (2014)

by Charles King

This book is a history of Istanbul from its very earliest days—before it was even Constantinople—up until the end of World War II. It’s a tremendous work, using the Pera Palace (a famous and much-frequented hotel) as a focal point in modern times.

It is fascinating to learn about the mix of cultures that led to Istanbul—and, indeed, to Turkey. The Greeks and Jews were an intrinsic part, right up until the end. There were purges and seizing of family wealth, with strong parallels to the overthrow of the Tsars in Russia. The ties went deeper after the revolution, when Trotzky lived there for years, in exile.

It’s the crossroads of Europe and Asia, providing rail access to Russia, hosting one of the terminuses of the Orient Express. The history covers the rise of Ataturk as well a slew of activists and contributors to Turkey’s rich, political history. As a neutral country during WWII, it hosted secret-service agencies from all countries, offering a sort of hallowed ground where they could meet, if need be.

Turkey joined WWII even later than the U.S. and had a complicated relationship to the Axis and Allied nations, especially as related to getting European refugees of all kinds out of Axis-occupied nations. Their neutrality looked like appeasement. The bureaucracy was maddening. Whereas tens of thousands of people made it through to Israel and the Middle East, just as many were rejected and sent back where they’d come from, into the teeth of the Nazi machine.

After that, Ararat’s secularist state was increasingly muslimized, with Jews and other denominations (e.g. Greek Orthodox) being increasingly culled. It’s a difficult history, though nothing to be especially ashamed of, as compared to other, actually colonial, fascist or imperial nations. It’s hard to summarize the whole book, so I leave you with the following, from near the end (I’ve included a longer version of the citation below):

“National history asks that we take the impossibly large variety of human experience, stacked up like a deck of playing cards, and pull out only the national one—the rare moments in time when people raise a flag and misremember a collective past—as the most worthy of our attention.”
Page 374

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

Bad Chili (a Hap and Leonard Novel) (1997)

by Joe R. Lansdale

Hap starts off the book with rabies. Leonard starts off the book as a suspect in the murder of a biker who was fooling around with Raul. Hap’s rabies leads him to meet Brett Sawyer, a dirty night nurse with whom he begins a torrid affair. Leonard and Hap investigate to clear Leonard’s name, all the while staying out of the reach of the law—except for Charlie, who’s almost certain that Leonard didn’t do it.

Things get more complicated as the biker turns out to have been not only an undercover cop, but also a dirty (different meaning than for Brett) undercover cop. In the mix is a local Chili King, who’s got a lot of markets cornered and is mixed up in some very sordid businesses. There’s also the matter of some videotapes that show gay guys getting thrashed for being gay. They team up with Jim-Bob Luke—a private investigator with a lot of luck and very loose ethics—to finally crack the case.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

The Jungle Book (1894)

by Rudyard Kipling

I was surprised to learn that the movie is based only on the first three of seven stories in this book. The first three are of a Mowgli who is considerably more adult than the films lead one to believe. He is a child at the very beginning, when he is, indeed, adopted by wolves. However, the story very quickly picks up from a point where he is more-or-less a man and is more than a match for most other creatures of the jungle or civilization.

The first story ends with Mowgli driving off Shere Khan (the tiger) with the “red flower”: fire. Akela (the lead wolf) stays in control of the pack. In the second part, he is kidnapped by the monkeys (the “Bandar-log”) and is rescued by Kaa (python), Baloo (bear) and Bagheera (black panther). The movie was relatively faithful here, as well, taking liberties only in inventing “King Louie”, king of the orangutans. The monkeys are not individualized and are not treated as co-equal jungle denizens by the other animals.

In the third part, Mowgli goes to live in the village with men. Shere Kahn continues to cause trouble and, with his acolytes, takes over the wolf pack. Mowgli is herding cows for the village. He hears from his animal friends that Shere Kahn is nearby and, that he just fed and will be slow and sleepy. Mowgli hatches a plan to drive his cattle through the canyon where Shere Kahn sleeps, trapping him and then trampling him. Akela and Gray brother wolf are instrumental in Shere Kahn’s demise. Despite his advanced age, Akela is restored as leader of the pack. Mowgli returns to the jungle,

The fourth story is of Kotick, a white-furred seal, son of the greatest fighter of all the seals. His father fights each year for a place for his family on the shores of an island shared with men. Men sneak into the rear lines and take many seals each year. Kotick does not understand why they return to that island. His father is powerful and is not in danger (other than the grievous wounds he suffers each year in defending his place). Kotick instead travels the world, growing powerful. Finally, he swims with seacows to discover a secluded cove/island, protected from the eyes of man. There is plenty of room for all—he returns to the original island to bring his tribe with him. They refuse, so he fights them all. His savagery and power awe everyone, including his father. Convinced, many of them go with him and discover that he was right all along. Men no longer plunder their tribe.

The fifth story is the also-famous one of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the mongoose who defended a family from cobras. The cobra couple Nag and Nagina plot to kill members of the family, but Rikki jumps in and kills Nag. Furious, Nagina swears revenge, but Rikki goes on the offensive, attacking her nest and destroying all but one egg. She takes the last egg back her nest, but Rikki plunges after her—although very few mongooses ever return from a cobra nest. The other animals in the yard wait with bated breath, until Rikki emerges victorious, bruised but not beaten. Nag and Nagina are dead and no eggs have survived.

The sixth story is of Toomai, the son of a mahout, master of the elephant Kala Nag. They are tasked with catching wild elephants. Toomai helps but is reprimanded for being in the elephant enclosure. The boss tells him he may only return once he has “seen elephants dance”. He thinks that he has banished the boy for good. Kala Nag takes the boy along on the next giant meeting of wild and domesticated elephants. On the night of the dance, they all break their chains and trample acres of forest. The boss cannot deny that they’d danced and that Toomai had seen it and welcomes him as a mahout.

The final story follows the conversations of the various animals employed by the British on a battle field in Afghanistan. The mules, camels, horses, bullocks and elephants detail their fears and tasks and how and why they serve. The animals that already serve the queen are there to convince the Afghan animals that they should obey, as well. I suppose there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.

Star Maker (1937)

by Olaf Stapledon

This book is the description of an astral journey. The author describes leaving his home to take a walk to a local hilltop and then going much, much further. He travels the remaining distance—in all four dimensions—in his mind. He starts off in the local solar system, but quickly ranges to other stars, flitting to and fro, without regard for the speed of light. At first, he talks of blue and red shifts, but he soon realizes he can travel free of physical constraint by attuning himself to an “affinity” for worlds that have intelligent life on them.

This all sounds absolutely bizarre, but the book was written in 1937, in the early Einstein era. It’s a remarkably sophisticated treatise and holds up reasonably well, even today. He posits the fast mode of travel in order to be able to describe what he experienced.

He is also capable of “landing” on planets and merging with the consciousness of individuals there. He spends a long time on a planet of quasi-human beings who experience the world more through scent than through visual apprehension. At the end of his sojourn, his host leaves with him and, together, they range across star systems.

The overarching theme is communal life and intelligence. He talks of ever-higher levels of intelligence, straining to a perfection, to being worthy of returning to the so-called Star Maker. Clan intelligences form nation intelligences, which form world intelligences, then star-system and, finally, galactic intelligences.

At this point, the story picks up temporal speed and they talk of visiting other galaxies. Each of these galaxies is in a different level of development toward a hive mind. Some of their powers are awesome: they can move planets and stars. There is talk of decay, where some civilizations fail. At one point, all of the stars begin exploding—at which point it is discovered that they, too, are intelligent. Their society is folded into the galactic ones. And so on, and so forth.

In the end, the author is part of the cosmic mind, the sum total of all galactic intelligences that sees through to the Star Maker and looks on his many works, of which this universe is but one. It is a sort-of ecclesiastic re-telling of the Big Bang, with some of the Star Maker’s creations collapsing back and others dispersing until a heat death.

The thought experiment folds back in on itself as the author subsides back into his body and returns to his wife and home, that which he now realizes is the most important, the seed of all that is to follow.

As noted in Wikipedia, prominent contemporaries like Jorge Luis Borges, H.G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, Brian Aldiss, Doris Lessing (recent Nobel Prize winner), Arthur C. Clarke and Stanislaw Lem held this book and its author in high esteem. Even Freeman Dyson credited his “Dyson Spheres” to Stapledon, since he’d already envisioned them in this book.

I’ve included notes, citations and errata in a separate post.