arkadi cloud

tech, teaching, and books

A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam

A slow, meandering journey towards death, literally. A Sri Lankan expat moves home. He gets back home life and spends time with his grandma. He reflects on his life, his past lovers, and the past of his country. A family friend of the grandma dies, and he is forced to go to the funeral far away in a village. His reflection on the life of his grandma, and his own life continues on the long train ride.

Now, there isn't anything wrong with this book. It is a literary type of book that explores many complex, and worthwhile issues. It really got me interested in Sri Lankan history. I shall do a deep-dive into Wikipedia right now to learn a bit about the war they keep referring to.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #102 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #AnukArudpragasam #Books #bookreview #SriLanka #funeral #war

Rimrunners by C.J. Cherryh

Company Wars #3

A story about a badass spacer separated from her ship. She's down on her luck and desperate to get off Thule station and onto a ship, any ship. No job means no money, and she struggles to survive anyway she can. A ship comes in and offers a chance at redemption, or maybe death?

Cherryh is all about the personal relationships of people. Everybody has their own agenda, and nothing is what it seems. This one was tense all the way through and the last part of the book was a real surprise.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #101 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #CJCherryh #scifi #books #UnionAlliance #CompanyWars

Merchanter's Luck by C.J. Cherryh

The Company Wars #2

Now this was a great novel. It's so short so some even consider this a novella. After the long, and sometimes a bit long-winded, introduction to the Earth Company – Alliance – Union universe, we get to go for a ride with some merchanter's who get caught up in things bigger than themselves.

The novel follows a spacer who owns his own ship but is barely scraping by. He is a thief, but one who just steals enough to survive, and tries to pay it back when he can. Of course, running a ship with one man is very difficult so he is always looking for other people to help him out. When looking for a crew member, he happens to meet a nice lady. Things escalate from there until they are both joined up with each other on a mission. The mission is not what it seems, but the crew of the ship learns a lot about themselves, and this new Alliance-Union world.

I love novels by Cherryh because she takes a big world, with huge political forces at play, and then zooms into a the lives of some people trying to survive in this world. In Heavytime, she looked at the lives of space pilots that work for the Earth company doing the mining. In this novel, she is focused on marginers. What would it be like to work as a trader in this world if you were just a little guy? Once she focuses on characters in her world, she can start delving into the details of their world – how does shipping work across stations? do you need papers? who gets cargo and why?

Come to think of it, almost all the books I've read so far have had character who have been in difficult situations. Station people who don't have the correct papers. Miners who find a dead body. Captains who don't have enough crew and money to survive. Spacers with no ship who are homeless and trying to get back on a ship. She really excels with these types of characters.

I've read many sci-fi novels which are all high level events. You never know about the little things, like where does the trash go? Do you need papers to show you own your ship? Cherryh thinks about these small details. It makes her worlds so rich, and vibrant.

Reading Downbelow Station isn't required before this one, but they do mention lots of characters and things from Downbelow Station. Your experience reading this book will be much richer if you start with Downbelow Station.

Psst...have you noticed that I'm on a Cherryh tear right now? I'm already reading Rimrunners!

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #100 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #CJCherryh #scifi #books #UnionAlliance #CompanyWars

Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War by Samuel Moyn

In our time, swords have not been beaten into plowshares. They have been melted down into drones.

Did you know that Barack Obama launched more drone kill strikes than President Bush? Neither did I. This book chronicles the fight against war from the 1800s to present day. It gives details on the people who pushed to abolish war. It looked at the ebb and flow of public support for war, and various wars. It shows us how over the years we have moved away from advocating for no war, and instead trying to curb the excesses of war (torture, property damage, rape, water boarding). This has changed the focus of starting a war being a criminal act, to rather just punishing those who go 'to far' during war, judged by the sensibilities of the time.

We fight war crimes but have forgotten the crime of war.

This book makes me really sad. Instead of making war illegal, we have just set the 'rules' of the game. Now countries feel they are 'following the law' as they wage war and kill people. We have made made war moral. This means that instead of less war, we actually have more war, and wars last long...almost forever. How many years have the soldiers been in Afghanistan? Yes, we aren't seeing the wholesale slaughter of people as we did during WW1, WW2, and the Taiping Rebellion (1850 to 1864, 20-80 million dead), but is the alternative any better?

We now live in an age when the US, primarily anyways, can drop a missile on anybody almost anywhere in the country without remorse or repercussions from other countries. Just imagine living in a country where you have to live in fear from death raining from above at any moment, or becoming 'collateral damage' because you are in the wrong place, at the wrong place beside a 'terrorist', as defined by the USA. They have abolished capturing bad guys, and now just obliterate them. There is no appeal once you are blown into a thousand pieces. You have no chance to defend yourself in a court. You are just dead.

“War is represented as an unfortunate obligation thrust upon the exceptional nation, the United States, by a dysfunctional world which the United States has a salvationist responsibility to mend, albeit by force of arms,” writes the anthropologist Hugh Gusteron.

Is the US the only country to blame? No, but they are the country with the most nuclear weapons, drones, soldiers, and bases around the world. They also are the ones who violate borders the most often to police the world with their Predator/Reaper drones and the special forces.

Humans need to stop humanizing war, and just abolish war. One of the arguments from some people is that we've made war so 'humane', and unbrutal compared to before, that countries think nothing of going on a little war. There is little cost in terms of human lives, as long as you have enough money and tech.

First Sea Lord John Arbuthnot Fischer: “The humanizing of War!” “You might as well talk about humanizing Hell”

Martin Luther King: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Martin Luther King: “violence never brings permanent peace”

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #99 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #SamuelMoyn #War #military #history #books #BookReview

Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels by Scott McCloud

This is an intense course on how to make comics, told in...graphic novel format! It is an incredible reference book for those that have ever thought of writing a comic or graphic novel. Even if you aren't interested in creating your own comics, understanding the artform and different practices helps you understand, and appreciate comics even more.

I was so smitten by this book, I have already bought McCloud's other famous work – Understanding Comics. This book is actually #3 in the McCloud's series about Comics.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #98 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #books #BookReview #ScottMcCloud #comics #NonFiction #art #GraphicNovel

Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh

The Company Wars #1

Everything you have heard about this book is true: epic, intricate, and very long. This was actually not the first book I read in the C. J. Cherryh's Union-Alliance series. I discovered Cherryh from reading the Heavy Time & Hellburner book. I actually picked up Heavy Time at a used bookstore because the cover art was spectacular.

Now what is this book about? Let me try to boil down the plot and why it is such an interesting book. It is about the Earth Company that has expanded the human civilization out into other space stations out there. Now, Earth Company's space stations are threatened by the Union. They seem to be people from Earth who now consider space their home. They also seem to be doing some crazy things like cloning soldiers. The third faction are the merchanter's which are the unaffiliated people on ships who are engaged in trade. Another aspect of this book are the Downers, alien race. The space station which is at the heart of this book is Pell station. They are near a planet referred to as downbelow. The Downers live on downbelow. Oh did I mention that Earth has a Fleet out there doing battle with the Union's fleet?

As with all of Cherryh's books, there is politics, war, bad ass women, and philosophical issues. I love the feel of the worlds she creates and this one is no exception. It's gritty. It's dark. It's focused on characters. This is not Iain M. Banks' The Culture. This feels closer the TV show, Firefly.

Now I don't think I actually enjoyed this book as much as Heavy Time and Hellburner, but I understand much more of Company Union-Alliance world. There were many references to things I didn't understand when I started reading other books in the series. It didn't really hinder my enjoyment of those novels, but now my understanding of the world is so much richer after reading this book.

Enough about this book, just go read it. It won a Hugo award in 1982!

Another thing you shouldn't miss out on is the music that was inspired by this series: NOTE: I wouldn't listen to this album until after you read it, as there are some subtle spoilers.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #97 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #books #BookReview #CJCherryh #CompanyWars #Pell #Downbelow #SciFi #ScienceFiction #SpaceOpera #military

The Empress and the Cake by Linda Stift

  • Jamie Bulloch (Translator)

This was a strange novel. It centers around an odd woman who has a weird relationship to food. I guess I should just say it, she has an eating disorder. Then she encounters an elderly lady that becomes her “friend”. She gets her into some trouble and seems to wrap her fingers around here.

There is graphic descriptions of binging and purging. If you are triggered by this sort of thing, stay far away.

It was such a weird novel that I kept reading it. I wanted to find out what is going on with the elderly lady and what craziness she will wrap around the main character. There was an odd parallel story as well. It was about the Austrian Empress, and I never was quite sure if the elderly character was the Empress, or was just very close to her in her life.

I wouldn't say it was a 'good' novel, but it was pretty warped, and kept me interested for the 172 pages.

This book is published by Peirene press which seems to publish some very eclectic works. I shall keep an eye on them in the future.

Rating: ★★★ Book #96 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #books #strange #LindaStift #PeirenePress #TranslatedFiction #eatingdisorder

The Mermaid from Jeju by Sumi Hahn

In the tradition of Yangsze Choo's Night Tiger and Min Jin Lee's Pachinko comes a magical saga that explores what it really means to love.

This should be a 5 star read for me: historical fiction, set in Korea, set in war-time. It just didn't put all the pieces together very well for me.

They compare the book to Pachinko which is not at all correct in my opinion. Pachinko is a layered, multi generational saga, with a rich description of the time period it is in, while The Mermaid from Jeju feels a bit flat. Hahn does not really set the scene very well of the time-period. She covers over this by including a timeline of events at the beginning of the story which is helpful, because if you don't keep that in mind, you might forget you are in post-WW2 Korea.

The characters were interesting in this novel. I liked Junja, the main character. She was well described and written. The male characters were OK. I didn't like how it kept jumping back and forth between the past and the present. It felt like a cheap trick. I didn't feel it was necessary or added much to the plot.

The whole book felt like it got bogged down once it got to the end where it picks up the story of two Nationalist soldiers who help Junja flee Jeju island. This is where the book started jumping back and forth between past and future and got confusing quick.

When I read historical fiction, I don't only read for the character development, but to learn about the time-period. It felt pretty bare bones in this one. The author is writing a book about Korea, but hasn't lived there extensively. It feels like she mostly relied on the oral history of her family members and others. It doesn't feel well researched, and that shows in the scanty time she pays to building up the setting.

It's a quick read, so I won't be too harsh on my rating. Just remember, this is not Pachinko, and shame on the editor who thought that was an apt comparison. Shame.

Rating: ★★★ Book #95 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #books #HistoricalFiction #SumiHahn #Jeju #SouthKorea

Extraordinary Insects by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson

A whirlwind look at the exciting world of bugs, the extraordinary ways they live, breed, eat, and die. It also explains why bugs are so important on this Earth. This is the perfect book for anybody who thinks bugs are just pests and should all be eliminated.

The chapters are short and concise. I almost wish the author went into more detail in every chapter, as they often feel too short. She gives us tantalizing morsels of data about a type of bug, and then she's off and telling us about another one. This isn't a genre of books I'm very familiar with but it seems I need to read more books about bug!

Also, you will want to keep your phone at hand as you read through this book and look up pictures of these incredible bugs she's talking about. You may fall down a rabbit hole of watching Youtube videos of the bugs – you have been warned!

Rating: ★★★★ Book #94 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #books #bugs #AnneSverdrupThygeson #NonFiction

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

“This is a female text, composed by folding someone else's clothes. My mind holds it close, and it grows, tender and slow, while my hands perform innumerable chores.

This book's exploration of a historical poem, Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire, (The Keen for Art O’Leary), sucked me in. The poem is about an Irish noblewoman who finds her husband murdered and composes a poem on the spot after drinking some of his blood. It's passed on from woman to woman for many years and eventually is written down. This book is also about the author, Dorieann Ni Ghriofa, and her lifelong obsession about with the author of the poem, and her life. This is part biography, part poetry, and part translation. It is truly a unique work, and difficult to describe.

The first part of the book focuses on the events in the life of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, up until her husband is murdered and she 'writes' her poem. The second portion of the book is more about Ghriofa's quest to learn more about Eibhlín, her life, and about her relations.

The first part of the book was amazing, but it sort of derailed a bit in the second portion for me. I don't regret reading this, it's such a lovely exploration of womanhood, and the connection between these two women who lived hundreds of years apart, but it was not exactly what I was expecting.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #93 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #DoireannNíGhríofa #Ireland #poetic #NonFiction #women #poetry #motherhood