Thursday, May 29, 2014

An atheist reads Ray Comfort



Steve Shives has a whole series of these. He'll read and comment on a book of Christian apologetics from his (and my) atheist perspective.

He's done The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig, The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren, and lots more. They've been very interesting.

But this time, he's reading Ray Comfort -  two separate books: You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can't Make Him Think, which is the book he's starting with here, and God Doesn't Believe in Atheists.

The funny thing is - as you might guess from those titles - Ray Comfort is so ignorant, so deceitful, and so incredibly boneheaded that there's just nothing there. Steve Shives is hilarious as he tries to keep it together, despite the inane stuff he's chosen to read.

I'm not saying those previous books were works of brilliance, certainly not. Christian apologetics isn't exactly rocket science, and logically, their arguments have all been full of holes big enough to drive the proverbial truck through. Often, they've been maddening - and frequently laughable.

But Ray Comfort sets a new low. Ray Comfort seems to be so dumb he doesn't even understand his own arguments, let alone those of atheists - certainly not in the first chapter, which is all Shives covers here. So the whole thing ends up just hilarious.

You won't learn anything new here, but it's funny as hell!

Boys will be boys


This is really sick, but it needs publicity.
Two teenage sisters in rural India were raped and killed by attackers who hung their bodies from a mango tree, which became the scene of a silent protest by villagers angry about alleged police inaction in the case. Two of the four men arrested so far are police officers.

Villagers found the girls' bodies hanging from the tree early Wednesday, hours after they disappeared from fields near their home in Katra village in Uttar Pradesh state, police Superintendent Atul Saxena said. The girls, who were 14 and 15, had gone into the fields because there was no toilet in their home.

Hundreds of angry villagers stayed next to the tree throughout Wednesday, silently protesting the police response. Indian TV footage showed the villagers sitting under the girls' bodies as they swung in the wind, and preventing authorities from taking them down until the suspects were arrested.

Police arrested two police officers and two men from the village later Wednesday and were searching for three more suspects. ...

The family belongs to the Dalit community, also called "untouchables" and considered the lowest rung in India's age-old caste system.

There's a lot to this, no doubt - caste and misogyny and a patriarchal mindset, certainly. The article goes on to talk about "an entrenched culture of tolerance for sexual violence" in India. These girls were only 14 and 15, and they weren't even safe from the police officers who were supposed to protect them!

Do you wonder why I post about rape, about misogyny, about angry self-pitying douchebags? But the people who piss me off the most are those who shrug off these issues. Yeah, you may not be raping and murdering any teenagers yourself, but you can't stand those feminists who keep making a big deal about nothing, right?
India tightened its anti-rape laws last year, making gang rape punishable by the death penalty, even when the victim survives. The new laws came after the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in New Delhi that triggered nationwide protests. ...

Last month, the head of Uttar Pradesh state's governing party, the regionally prominent Samajwadi Party, told an election rally that the party was opposed to the law calling for gang rapists to be executed.

"Boys will be boys," Mulayam Singh Yadav said. "They make mistakes."

Really, is this such a problem? Why are you always blaming men? After all, boys will be boys.

___
Edit: This gets more infuriating all the time:
Uttar Pradesh officials initially appeared caught off guard by the reaction to the attack on the two girls, and [Chief Minister Akhilesh] Yadav on Friday mocked journalists for asking about it.

"You're not facing any danger, are you?" he said in Lucknow, the state capital. "Then why are you worried? What's it to you?"

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The monster that we've created



I don't normally blog about these incidents of mass murder. They're just too depressing, and they tend to get all the wrong kinds of attention, anyway - ghoulish fascination, but with no will to actually change anything.

But I still thought that these two videos were worth posting - for completely different reasons. Laci Green focuses on misogyny and the violence that all too often results from that.

I'm not going to comment on her video, because... well, what else could I say? I certainly don't have any solutions. Just... watch it and think about what she says.

The father of one of the victims - as devastated as you might imagine - spoke out briefly, too. He blamed the NRA and the cowards in Congress who refuse to do anything to help prevent these recurring tragedies.

Fox 'News' cut out that part of his comments:



Note how I mentioned ghoulish fascination, with no will to actually do anything? The perfect example of that is this Fox 'News' clip showing security footage from within the store where the boy was murdered, but cutting everything specific from his father's heart-rending response.

Others in the right-wing bubble are actually attacking Martinez himself. How dare he mention guns! (Warning: Don't read the rest of this unless you have a strong stomach.)
So here's brave Todd Kincannon, chairman of the Election Commission of Simpsonville, South Carolina [and, formerly, executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party], stepping up in 140 characters, to defend his freedom against the onslaught of grieving parents. ...
No idea how my son will die, but I know it won't be cowering like a bitch at UC Santa Barbara. Any son of mine would have been shooting back.

Sick, isn't it? But we've created this monster - and monsters like Todd Kincannon, too. (Naturally, Kincannon is another Republican chickenhawk. He never served in the military when he actually had a chance to "shoot back." He's nothing but mouth.)

What makes it rape?

Here's a great post by Amanda Marcotte at TPM:
Having a glass of wine (or three) on a date and then retiring to the bedroom for some consensual sexing is not unknown in the liberal, feminist circles long-derided by the conservative media. So imagine my confusion when I read National Review writer and self-appointed expert on what “feminists” think, A.J. Delgado, argue that feminists “define rape as including any sexual activity in which the woman is not sober, claiming that consent is never truly given if one has had a few drinks.”

So sure is she of this assertion that she fails to cite any of the “prominent scholars and activists” that have offered this definition. I want to know who they are, so I can avoid drinking with them.

Nice start, huh? But she continues:
It is true that “radical feminists” such as the Department of Justice have argued that rapists often use drugs and alcohol to facilitate rape. Partially, they believe this because rapists themselves admit to it. Delgado seems to assume that there’s a lot of drunken sex that the man believes was consensual, but is later told that he’s being charged with rape. But researcher David Lisak found the opposite was true: Rapists deliberately seek out very drunk women or deliberately get women very drunk in order to rape them.

Surveying over 2,000 men on college campuses about their sexual history, Lisak found that about 1 in 16 of them admitted to raping someone (so long as you didn’t call it rape). Most of the admitted rapists said yes to this question: “Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated [on alcohol or drugs] to resist your sexual advances?” (Emphasis mine.)

In other words, it’s not the drugs or alcohol that made it rape. It’s the lack of consent. Women aren’t being brainwashed into thinking they were raped. They are being educated about the fact that the guy who forced himself on them while they were too drunk to fight back really meant it.

Delgado proudly explains that she is not an outsider to the world of either sex or alcohol, smugly writing, “I am fairly certain that a statistically significant amount of sex — including very enjoyable sex — happens under the influence of alcohol.” As a hands-on expert, then, she should know that there’s a big difference between having had a few and being too wasted to express yourself, fight back, or even understand what’s going on. (It’s not just rapists either. Other criminals, such as muggers, know drunk people make easy marks because they can’t fight back.)

Yes, it's not drugs or alcohol - or even violence - that makes it rape. It's the lack of consent. Furthermore, the woman doesn't have to say no. It's the not-saying-yes part that makes it rape.

Not long ago, I read about a teacher who discovered, to her astonishment, that her high school students didn't understand that. It wasn't just the boys, but the girls, too, who thought that it couldn't be rape if the woman was unconscious, because she couldn't say no.

Is that "No is No" campaign really so confusing? No is no, but no isn't required. It's yes that's required. It's the lack of consent which makes it rape, and you can't give your consent if you're unconscious or otherwise incapacitated.

That doesn't mean you have to be stone cold sober. Of course not! But you don't have to fight off an attacker. The onus isn't on you to stop someone else's advances. That's blaming the victim, and it's turning the whole thing around. It's the lack of consent that makes it rape.

The GOP dating game



I know I keep asking this, but how clueless can Republicans get? In an attempt to woo female voters, three Republican men hold a debate about "Women and Colorado's Future," where the moderator invites the "ladies" on stage because they're "ornamental," as they play the theme music from The Dating Game.

From ThinkProgress:
At the start of the “Women and Colorado’s Future” debate, the moderator explained that it would be like a dating game, where a panel of four women could interview the three “bachelors” — former Congressman Bob Beauprez, former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, and Secretary of State Scott Gessler. The fourth candidate, ex-congressman Tom Tancredo, did not attend.

The moderator invited the women to join the stage, saying, “It’s so much more ornamental if the four of you would be on the stage with the four of us.” Theme music from The Dating Game TV show played as the panelists took their seats.

Still, you have to give them credit for acknowledging women's issues even in this clumsy and clueless way, right? Hardly. Here's The Colorado Independent:
But the three candidates ... had no specific policy proposals regarding women’s issues and barely mentioned women, a voting bloc that has come to decide statewide elections over the years and one that increasingly has turned away from the Republican Party. ...

The event was titled “Women and Colorado’s Future.” But in the hour and a half the event ran — commercial breaks featured “swinging 1960s” theme music for the “Dating Game” television show — the candidates treated the debate as if there were no particular theme they were expected to address.

Moderator John Andrews, a former state senate president and the director of the university’s conservative Centennial Institute, and four conservative women panelists asked few of the kinds of questions that will dominate debate in the general election.

There was nothing of note said about the heated subject of women’s health — about efforts in Washington and state capitols around the country including in Denver to shutter reproductive health and abortion clinics, to defund Planned Parenthood, to restrict access to contraception at state clinics, about the hardline anti-abortion “personhood” proposal likely to land on Colorado voter ballots this year — nothing on domestic violence policies and protections, university campus sexual harassment and assault, equal opportunities at school and in the workplace, discriminatory insurance policies, affordable day care, or even in any depth gender disparities in pay — the subject this week of national headlines after the firing of New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson. ...

Asked who they would name as a women in history they most respected (“other than your wife or your mother”) the candidates’ answers fell flat.

Beauprez talked about one of his bank employees. Kopp talked about a woman who supports his campaign. And Gessler said he admired Helen Keller and Susan B. Anthony, which had the ring of a school-room response but from a student who may not have done all the homework. He said Helen Keller overcame hardship but never played the victim. He didn’t mention that the progressive-era American icon worked to win expanded voter rights, that she was an ardent socialist, a staunch supporter of worker rights, a fervent pacifist and a champion of birth control.

The answer suggested the ideological bind at work in the effort to court the women’s vote. The voting record in Colorado demonstrates that most women don’t take the position championed by Kafer at the debate. They embrace the role policymakers can play in bettering their lives in gender specific, even biologically inflected, ways. ...

In Hellen Keller’s day, women couldn’t vote. No amount of tax breaks or reduced fees on businesses would have granted them equal representation.

Republican candidates are trying to appeal to women for the same reason they're trying to appeal to racial minorities: to get elected. But in both cases, they're not willing to make their policies more appealing, so everything they do is just window-dressing.

And they seem to be so clueless about both groups that it's just laughable, isn't it? Is this really what Republicans think women would like?

Monday, May 26, 2014

The case for naturalism



This clip is from another debate, this one with Sean Carroll and Michael Shermer vs Dinesh D'Souza and Ian Hutchinson, which took place in 2012. (The full debate can be found here.)

This is Dr. Sean Carroll's opening statement. (He's a theoretical physicist at Cal Tech.)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

We need to challenge our beliefs



This is Lawrence Krauss replying to his Muslim debate opponent, Uthman Badar. (The full debate is here.) Great stuff, isn't it?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Republicans only want school lunches for rural kids

(TPM)

Sometimes, Republicans surprise even me. From TPM:
House Republicans are pushing to restrict a low-income food aid program to children in "rural" areas, a surprising move that has Democrats and nutrition advocates crying foul.

The proposal, included in the House agriculture budget approved by a subcommittee this week, scales back an anti-hunger school lunch demonstration program set up in 2010 to feed "children in urban and rural areas" during the summer months when they're on break.

As first reported by Politico's David Rogers, the GOP bill brings down the $85 million in funding to $27 million and limits the program to only rural kids in Appalachian counties. ...

But it isn't lost on Democrats that their constituents -- many of whom are struggling in poverty -- mostly reside in urban areas while rural areas tend to be packed with GOP voters. The Appalachian region is also more white (83.5 percent) than the United States overall (63.7 percent), according to the Appalachian Regional Commission -- and much more so than urban areas, which have a disproportionately high share of minorities.

Remember, "inner city"is one of the Republican code words for "black." Restricting this to not just rural kids, but rural Appalachian kids, is about as clear as saying "white kids only," wouldn't you say?

I mean, it's bad enough that Republicans are targeting school lunch programs for budget cuts (instead of, you know, subsidies to big oil and gas companies, for example). But I guess that no one is going to have a problem with this if it's just black kids who go hungry, huh?

There's more crazy stuff in that House ag budget than this, of course. Republicans continue to drag their feet when it comes to Wall Street regulation (obviously, the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression - on their watch - wouldn't get them to change their mind on that), and they're demanding that potatoes be considered a qualified vegetable in nutrition assistance (thanks to heavy lobbying from the potato industry).

But this school lunch stuff still surprises me. How crazy can they get?

Of course, they've been attacking school lunches for some time:
Before Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) fibbed and told a story at CPAC about free school lunches that turned out to be false, the meme had been long in the making as a conservative rallying cry about the evils of liberal ideology.

It was adopted in the Senate primaries by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), who suggested in December that school kids "maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria" if they want to avail of free lunches. (Kingston, who is struggling in a three-way race with two ultraconservative opponents, was later found to have expensed nearly $4,200 in meals to his congressional office.) ...

The National School Lunch Program, which provides federal assistance for public and private schools to offer lunch to children, has been around since 1946. It feeds 17.5 million kids with free or reduced-cost lunches every school day. The lunch is free if their household earns below 130 percent of the federal poverty line, and cheaper if it's between 130 and 185 percent of poverty. It aims to address a real problem: three out of five teachers report that kids in their classrooms regularly come to school hungry, and a majority says the problem is getting worse, according to a survey by the advocacy group No Kid Hungry. ...

A parallel story that is aggravating conservative sentiments is First Lady Michelle Obama's effort to make kids healthier by overhauling nutrition standards for school lunches. Not only has it prompted howls of outrage from radio host Rush Limbaugh, it has motivated three Republican congressmen to introduce legislation that requires the White House and U.S. Department of Agriculture to abide by the same nutrition standards. ...

It is a testament to the power of the idea among conservatives that Ryan's tale was not only second-hand from a state official in Wisconsin but also fictitious. He ended up apologizing for "failing to verify the original source of the story."

Well, I suppose this is how Republicans compromise, huh? They hate feeding poor kids, but they'll agree to do it, providing that we only feed the kids of white Republicans.

The Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier: Invincible & The Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier: Guardian

(cover image from Amazon.com)

I know, I know. I'm reading these books faster than I can write reviews of them. What can I say?

Well, I suppose I can say that I'm almost done now - not because I'm enjoying Jack Campbell's books any less, but because I'm running out of books which have already been published. (Luckily, there's still one in this series that was published just this month.)

The Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier: Invincible (2012) and The Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier: Guardian (2013) are the second and third volumes in Jack Campbell's second series about John "Black Jack" Geary, continuing the story from the first Lost Fleet series.

These are all one story. Indeed, as I say, the story in the original Lost Fleet series just continues in this one. However, there are natural stopping places, and oddly enough (since a fourth book has already been published), the end of Guardian is one of them. If I hadn't known better, I probably wouldn't  have expected another volume after that.

Anyway, this series started with The Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught, with Admiral Geary sent to investigate their mysterious alien enemies, without even much of a chance to rest or repair his worn-out fleet.

This is military science fiction, so there are lots of space battles, but there's also more than that. Now that the war is over, politics seems to be the biggest danger to the Alliance. As time goes on, it seems more and more likely that some people in the Alliance government sent them on this mission in the hope of getting rid of Geary and his fleet, both.

(Note that they weren't entirely foolish to worry about a legendary war hero and his devoted space navy. We readers know enough about John Geary to recognize that those fears aren't justified, in this particular case, but they wouldn't. Of course, there are different people with different motives involved in every decision. Not all of them are admirable.)

(cover image from Amazon.com)

At the end of Dreadnaught, Admiral Geary's fleet had gone entirely through the enigma race's territory, only to stumble upon an even more hostile alien race. Of course, it's no surprise to learn that they don't get trapped there. In fact, they discover yet a third alien species - this one, friendly.

The fleet makes it back home in Guardian - again, no surprise - but it turns out that the aliens want to go to Earth, now a neutral planet, demilitarized, rarely visited (and then just for ceremonial purposes).

In fact, they want to go to Kansas, which I have to say is poor taste on their part, especially when Nebraska is just one state north. :)

Frankly, I'm enjoying this series more than I thought I would. I wasn't sure how much more Jack Campbell would really have to say about the same characters and the same fleet we've seen since the start of The Lost Fleet: Dauntless.

And I'm still not sure how well the series will hang together as a series. If there's an overall plot here, I'm not seeing it. But I like the aliens - all three species - and I'm still enjoying each book.

___
Note: The rest of my book reviews, such as they are, are here.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

In defense of killing babies



This is Brian Keith Dalton of Mr. Deity fame.

And yes, Dennis Prager really did call the Noah myth "One of the Most Moral Stories Ever Told." Dalton hasn't exaggerated anything. Prager's argument is just as batshit crazy as he describes it.

But see, that's faith. Prager started with his conclusion, which he was raised from infancy to believe. After that, he had to think up some argument, no matter how dumb it might be, to make the story fit his beliefs.

"The Lost Stars: Perilous Shield" by Jack Campbell

(cover image by Amazon.com)

The Lost Stars: Perilous Shield (2013) is the second volume in Jack Campbell's third series of military science fiction/space opera.

My review of the first book in the series is here. As I said then, it was a brilliant move to switch the point of view to the Syndicate Worlds' - former Syndicate Worlds' - side. And we see things through the eyes of two co-equal characters here. Indeed, this series is as much space opera as it is military SF.

The previous book ended in a cliff-hanger. However, if you've been reading Campbell's second series about John "Black Jack" Geary and the 'Lost Fleet,' you'll already know how that turned out. That's not a problem, really, but just note that, whichever series you read first, there will be spoilers for the other one.

"Black Jack" Geary is very important even in this series, though we don't see very much of him. Don't worry, these are different people with their own concerns. But the two series - The Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier and The Lost Stars - do intersect. If I'd read the former series first, the cliffhanger in the first volume of this one wouldn't really have been a cliffhanger. :)

Just for the record, I would recommend reading all of these books in the order of initial publication. But as long as you get the order right within each series, I wouldn't worry too much about which series you read first. (But, obviously, read The Lost Fleet before you read The Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier.)

So what happens in this book? Well, Gwen Iceni and Artur Drakon are still struggling to keep their people alive, despite attacks by the Syndic and aliens alike. To do that, they need more ships and more trained people. (And they need to stay alive, themselves.)

Luckily, the Alliance - Admiral Geary, at least - has good reason to want them to succeed, but the Alliance has plenty enough problems of its own - and little reason to trust former Syndics.

For that matter, President Iceni and General Drakon continue to have trouble trusting each other, though that's getting easier for both of them. Unfortunately, their closest associates all seem to have schemes of their own.

If you've read The Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier: Invincible and Guardian, you'll know much of what happens in this book, but you'll see it from a different perspective - different perspectives, I should say. The details are new, as well, and it's still very entertaining.

I read this one first, and I can't say that it spoiled the other two books for me. It's not just the different perspective, but different characters and different concerns. I must say that I'm very impressed at how Campbell has kept things fresh.

Unfortunately, the next book in this series won't be published until the end of September. It's not going to be easy to wait.

___
Note: My other book reviews are here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Catholic Church response to irrational thinking


This isn't a joke, though it's certainly funny enough. But it's actually true:
Giuseppe Ferrari, from GRIS, a Catholic research group that organised the conference, said there was an ever growing need for priests to be trained to perform exorcisms because of the increasing number of lay people tempted to dabble in black magic, paganism and the occult.

“We live in a disenchanted society, a secularised world that thought it was being emancipated, but where religion is being thrown out, the window is being opened to superstition and irrationality,” said Mr Ferrari. ...

About 250 priests were trained as exorcists in Italy, but many more were needed, the conference organisers claimed.

And lest you think that Pope Fluffy,... er, Francis, actually plans to change the church:
Pope Francis has frequently alluded to the Devil in his homilies and addresses since being elected to succeed Benedict XVI last March.

In a homily this week, he said that the Devil was behind the persecution of early Christian martyrs, who were murdered for their faith. The “struggle between God and the Devil” was constant and ongoing, he said.

Maybe the Pope should check out The Myth of Persecution by Candida Moss. The stories of the early Christian martyrs were very popular in the Catholic Church - and still are, for some people. But for the most part, they're just stories - much like the rest of their religion.

Either way, people can persecute other people just fine without supernatural help - as the Catholic Church itself has demonstrated for centuries. There's absolutely no reason to postulate a magic man who's in some kind of "struggle" with another magic man.

This is very primitive thinking. The Catholic Church has done its best to polish the turd, to make it seem fit for the 21st Century, but there's only so much you can do to a turd. The only reason Pope Francis himself believes it is because he was raised from infancy to believe it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"The Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught" by Jack Campbell

(cover image from Amazon.com)

The Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught (2011) is the first book in Jack Campbell's second series about John "Black Jack" Geary, the legendary ship captain lost for a century in suspended animation, who returned to lead the Alliance to victory over the Syndicate Worlds.

It's only been a month since that victory, but Geary and the fleet are given no time to rest. Instead, they're sent to investigate the hostile aliens on the other side of Syndic space, in an apparent attempt to get rid of Geary and his loyal fleet of ships, both.

Of course, that's not going to happen. As in the first series, it seems pretty obvious that Admiral Geary will find a way not just to survive, but to return covered in even more glory than before. Yes, this is military SF, but it's intelligent military SF, and I greatly enjoyed it.

On the downside, it's pretty much the same characters and the same ships fighting similar battles to those we saw in the six volumes of the first series (similar battles, but always unique). Of course, that was a hugely entertaining series, but I wonder how long this can continue to entertain.

On the upside, though, the aliens are very weird. I don't know if we'll ever find out much about them, but I really hope so. So far, they don't make much sense. Yes, I know that they're alien, but I hope they eventually seem plausible. At any rate, that's certainly something new, with the potential to be really fascinating.

This book starts in Alliance space, and there's more politics than space battles, at least at first. But it's intelligent politics. True, their democracy doesn't seem to function as well as it appeared at first, and their politicians aren't all especially admirable. But they're not all corrupt, stupid, and/or vile, either. (And their military is far from perfect, too, of course.)

And there are also perceptive observations in this series, just as in the first:
"The government." Rione breathed a single, soft laugh though her expression didn't change. "You speak of 'the government' as if it were a single, monolithic beast of huge proportions, with countless hands but only a single brain controlling them. Turn that vision around, Admiral. Perhaps you should consider how things would be if the government was in fact a mammoth creature with a single tremendous hand but many brains trying to direct that hand in its powerful but clumsy efforts to do something, anything. You've seen the grand council at work. Which image seems more appropriate to you?"

Don't worry. Campbell doesn't get bogged down in politics, though it does take 140 pages before the fleet is on its way again. But then, that's not so bad, either. After all, we've seen plenty of space battles in earlier books. And the battles here - at least a couple with marine landings - aren't just copies of what we'd already seen previously.

I think I like the idea behind Campbell's third series better (see my review of The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight), because it's fresher, with all new characters in a new setting, and because it's not so much military SF as a combination of military SF and space opera.

But I can't complain about this series, either, not so far. I have to be careful when I pick these up, because once I start reading, I can't seem to stop.

___
Note: All of my other book reviews are available here.

"The Midnight Mayor" by Kate Griffin

(cover image from Amazon.com)

The Midnight Mayor (2010) by Kate Griffin is the second book in her fantasy series about Matthew Swift, urban sorcerer and host to the blue electric angels.

Like the first, this is a big book - 467 pages - and lush with descriptive language. It also begins in a somewhat similar fashion, with Swift badly injured and under attack, struggling to understand what has happened to him.

In fact, that's my only real problem with the book, that it's so much like the previous volume. The plot is different, though he's again fighting a terribly powerful foe, this time bent on the complete destruction of London. But even the minor characters are much the same.

Oh, I enjoyed it, and I'm sure I'll continue to read the series. But one of the reasons I liked the first book is because it was so imaginative. Well, this time we already know about Matthew Swift and the blue electric angels, and we already know about sorcerers in general. So it really doesn't have the same impact as the first.

In fact, I must admit that I just skimmed through some of the detailed descriptions this time. There's still a reason for such detail, I suppose - Swift is still a sorcerer, after all - but not such a good reason as last time, when he was recently resurrected and everything was brand-new to... them.

OK, I'm sure I sound much more negative than I feel. I enjoyed the book, and you will, too, I'm sure, if you enjoyed the first one. It's very similar.

___
Note: The rest of my book reviews are here.

The Lost Fleet: Relentless, Victorious

(cover image from Amazon.com)

The final two books in Jack Campbell's Lost Fleet series - Relentless (2009) and Victorious (2010) - finally arrived yesterday, and I immediately sat down and read them both. Yeah, I just couldn't resist.

Note that the series is all one story. Indeed, the story continues, even after this series ends, with The Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught (2011). But the story does come to a satisfying conclusion in this series.

As I explained in my review of the first Lost Fleet book, John "Black Jack" Geary has been in suspended animation for a century, one of the first victims of the war between the Alliance and the Syndicate Worlds.

When finally recovered, he learns that the Alliance has turned him into a legendary hero and that the war has been draining - and changing - both societies for the past century. Almost immediately, he's forced to take command of a starship fleet trapped behind enemy lines, horribly outnumbered, after a devastating defeat.

Of course, there's never any doubt that the fleet will make it home. This isn't a Greek tragedy, where everyone dies. Equally, there's never any doubt that some ships and some people won't make it home. To that extent, this is typical military science fiction (though far better than most).

What can I say that I haven't already said in previous reviews? Well, not much, I guess. Geary continues to handle the fleet superbly (not so much his personal life, though). Each battle is different enough to be entertaining, even after several volumes. And there's more going on than just space battles, with unexpected enemies both inside and outside the fleet.

(cover image from Amazon.com)

The fleet finally makes it home in the fifth volume of the series, Relentless (as I say, that's no spoiler, because it was obviously going to happen, right from the beginning), then heads back out to finish the war in Victorious. (Do you really have to be told how that turns out?)

I had a great time with it, and there's more to come. I already posted a review of The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight - the first in a new series which focuses on former Syndics, after the Syndicate Worlds empire begins to break up. I'm especially enthusiastic about that.

But John Geary continues, with pretty much the same fleet and the same people, in The Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught, too. I wonder a little more about that, since it seems so similar to the first series. But there are some pretty interesting aliens involved, so we'll just have to see.

I'm certainly very pleased to have discovered this author. If you like military science fiction, you don't want to miss The Lost Fleet. And even if you don't, you still might want to give it a try. It's done very well here.

___
Note: You can find all of my book reviews here.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Mike Adams, 'Health Ranger'

From the Genetic Literacy Project:
His name is Mike Adams, the self-proclaimed Health Ranger, and his central hub—what amounts to his personal blog and general store—is NaturalNews.com, which offers a potpourri of offbeat theories about politics, science and health.

Adams site is the cyberspace version of the water cooler gathering spot for crackpot conspiracy theorists of the far left and right. His byline: “never trust official stories”.

Adam’s latest crusade: the world’s governments are covering up the fact that the doomed Malaysian Airlines jetliner was pirated safely to a desert hideaway by Iranian hijackers, and is now being refitted into a stealth nuclear bomb.

In recent months, Adams has claimed that high-dose Vitamin C injections, which he conveniently sells, have been shown to “annihilate cancer” (doctors warn high doses of vitamin C can be dangerous); that measles and mumps are making a comeback because vaccines are “designed to fail” (he’s an anti-vaccine campaigner); and that fluoridated water causes mental disorders. He is also an AIDS denialist, a 9/11 truther, a Barack Obama citizenship ‘birther’ and a believer in ‘dangerous’ chemtrails.

But his most heated attacks—and the ones that generate the most traffic and business on his websites and what has made him a oft-cited hero of anti-GMOers—are directed at conventional agriculture, crop biotechnology in particular.

In a recent screaming but typical headline, Adams claimed that research at his Natural News Forensic Food Labs—another of his bizarre websites—has turned up unequivocal evidence that corporations are intentionally engineering “life-destroying toxins” into our food supply, with genetically modified corn as one of the chief ‘weapons against humanity.’ ...

Adams is quite open about his business model: play on fear to make as much money as possible. To dispel any doubts about his real motivations, in 2008, he bragged publicly in his self-published book, The 7 Principles of Mindful Wealth, that his operating philosophy was “Getting past self-imposed limits on wealth… Karma doesn’t pay the rent. Good karma isn’t the recognized currency in modern society: Dollars are!”

It's incredible that anyone would take this guy seriously, isn't it? But he's apparently making a mint off the gullibility of people.

Well, "Karma doesn't pay the rent." In other words, you can make a lot of money if you don't care how you make it. Quacks love the internet, for good reason. No one is going to protect you from this idiocy, if you're not smart enough and skeptical enough to think twice about bizarre claims by people with an axe to grind.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The case against Christianity



This is Matt Dillahunty's opening statement in his recent debate against Eric Lounsbery. (The full debate is here.)

Nice introduction, isn't it?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

History vs Alex Jones



Nice job, isn't it? Note that Number0neSon has a number of these 'History vs' videos. They're all carefully researched, all entertaining, all excellent.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

"The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight" by Jack Campbell

(cover image from Amazon.com)

The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight (2012) by Jack Campbell is the first book in a new series in his Lost Fleet universe. It begins just after the Lost Fleet series - and at the same time as the first book in his second series, The Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught - but the characters are from the Syndicate Worlds.

In many ways, this turns the first series on its head. The war is over, and the Syndics have lost. (Note that I have yet to read the last two books of The Lost Fleet series - this one arrived first :) - but that's not really a spoiler. There was never any doubt that the fleet would make it back home, and that 'Black Jack' Geary would kick Syndic butt on the way.)

But the Syndic systems are crumbling, often into civil war and anarchy. As the government loses its grip, Syndic CEOs Artur Drakon and Gwen Iceni take advantage of the opportunity to take over the Midway star system, proclaiming its independence. But they've got a real shortage of military ships to back that up - and an even greater shortage of trust.

The Lost Fleet series showed everything from John Geary's point of view. This book - and presumably this series - alternates between Drakon and Iceni. Both are products of the cynical, cut-throat, dictatorial Syndicate Worlds society. Both rose through the ranks in that society, though missteps left them stuck at Midway.

Neither trusts the other. Each expects an assassination attempt from the other, and each has plans to kill the other CEO first, if - when - that becomes necessary. But both characters are very sympathetic.

They're both better than they think they are, but they've never known another way of life. They recognize many of the failures of the Syndic system, but they've never known any other way of doing things. And imitating the Alliance is out, because the Alliance has been their worst enemy for a century (and an enemy which, during the long war, became just as atrocity-prone as the Syndics).

Drakon and Iceni both sneer at the idea of altruism. Even when they do something altruistic, themselves, they rationalize it as being to their own self-interest. They're cynical, because anyone who wasn't cynical simply wouldn't have survived in the Syndicate Worlds. But now what?

By and large, they are decent people, but they're people who grew up in a society which had no use for decent people. Now they're trying to work together - despite a complete lack of trust - to defend the Midway star system and create a new society there. But the only model they have is the Syndic system which has just failed so dramatically.

Honestly, so far, this is even better than The Lost Fleet series. The characters are fascinating, and so is the situation. (In a way, it reminds me of the computer games I play - like Civilization or Distant Worlds. If they can't defend their people, then nothing else matters. But survival, especially over the long term, takes a lot more than just military power.)

Drakon and Iceni struggle to find a new way, without a pattern. They can't trust each other, but they can't afford not to, either. They're ruthless, because that's all they know, and they're determined to stay in power. At one point, they agree not to conduct any government executions without notifying the other first. But each understands the loophole: that secret assassinations aren't, technically-speaking, government executions.

They're wary of allowing any democracy, even elections for local positions, because they don't want the people to get the idea that they've got any right to make decisions. But if they do allow some democracy - for tactical reasons - they're going to manipulate the results to make sure they stay in power.

What the reader understands, but they don't, is that they'd win any election in a landslide, anyway. But they have no experience with democracies. The only way they know to maintain power is through intimidation, a powerful military, and a secret police.

As I say, they're both decent people at heart, and they're even sympathetic. But their views were formed in a ruthlessly authoritarian society. Still, they're smart enough to consider new ways of thinking, even when it takes them by surprise:
"Do you believe that the justice system that we have inherited from the Syndicate Worlds needs to be fixed, Madam President?"

"Offhand, no," Iceni said. "It delivers punishment quickly and surely. The guilty do not escape. What would I fix?"

"The purpose of a justice system isn't to punish the guilty, Madam President. Punishment is easily administered. The reason a justice system exists is to protect the innocent."

Iceni stared at Marphissa in astonishment. "Where did you learn that?"

I really enjoyed The Lost Fleet - well, the first four books that I've read so far, at least. But - so far - this series is even better. (Tarnished Knight ends on a cliffhanger. It's not a standalone book, but the first of a series. Note that you don't have to read the Lost Fleet series first, though I'd still recommend that.)

The two main characters are great, and the situation really appeals to me. There are also some puzzles when it comes to other characters in the book. (Keep in mind that every character in the book was raised in the Syndicate Worlds society. Who can you trust, when no one trusts?)

This is space opera/military SF that will make you think. It's superbly entertaining, but thought-provoking, too. It's even better than The Lost Fleet,... so far.

Campbell has also followed his Lost Fleet series with a new Lost Fleet Beyond the Frontier series, which continues the story of John Geary. I'll be reading that, too. But changing characters in this series - changing sides, basically - was brilliant.

I just hope he can keep the quality this high in the rest of the series. (I've already got the next volume - The Lost Stars: Perilous Shield - on order, but the third won't be published until October.)

___
Note: The rest of my book reviews, including those of Jack Campbell's Lost Fleet series, are here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver



OK, speaking of YouTube ads, here's another good reason to keep them enabled. This was the latest advertisement I saw on YouTube - yes, this entire video clip was the advertisement that ran before another video clip. (You could skip it after 5 seconds, if you wanted.)

It caught my attention right from the start, at least partly because I thought John Oliver did such a great job taking over for Jon Stewart on the Daily Show last year. Well, it's a great video clip, isn't it?

And the fact is, I didn't even know that Last Week Tonight with John Oliver was a thing. I didn't know the show even existed. Now, I don't know if I'll have time to watch it regularly, but I did subscribe to the show's YouTube channel (not that I've really got the time to watch more videos, either).

So, it's rare, admittedly. But in this particular case, I was glad I hadn't blocked the ads. :)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

"Our Nebraska values"

I haven't been able to watch a YouTube video lately without suffering through a political advertisement for Ben Sasse, who's running in the Republican primary, here in Nebraska, for the U.S. Senate. (Yeah, we're the kind of red state where the primary is the big battle, since it's highly unlikely we'd elect any Democrat these days.)

Anyway, the ad promotes Sasse as the kind of candidate I wouldn't support in a million years, but that's not too surprising. However, it ends with, "And he'll stand for our Nebraska values. ... It's time to get Washington, D.C. out of Nebraska."

Guess who's paying for it? Yup, you guessed it. It's an outside group, a Washington, D.C.-based SuperPAC funded by out-of-state corporations and billionaires: FreedomWorks for America. (Yes, the Koch brothers apparently have their fingers in it, too. No surprise there, huh?)

"Our Nebraska values"? Heh, heh. Yeah, right. Of course, the other Republican candidates have their own corporate backers. This is how we've sold our country to the highest bidder.

But the brazenness of this ad is incredible, isn't it? How dumb do they think we are? Well, the sad thing is, they're probably right. We're a solidly red state, after all.

And they certainly don't have to worry about the news media pointing this out - not that I've seen, at least. Again, this is how we're destroying our democracy.

Freeciv


As I've indicated before, Civilization II might be my favorite game of all-time. I played it for years, over and over again.

The sequels were disappointing. Well, Civ IV was a pretty good game, I suppose. I suspect that I'd just played Civilization for too many years by then. Do you know how you can read a favorite book over and over and over again, until finally,... you've just had enough? I think it was probably like that with this game.

Civ V made some pretty big changes, which was a good idea,... in theory. But as I said in my post about the game, they removed what had been fun for me. After all, there are a million war games out there. That's not what I really liked about this series.

But there's always Freeciv. I hadn't tried this game before, though it's apparently been in development since 1995. It's a free, open-source strategy game, developed by fans of the Civilization series, and it's basically just... Civilization II, my favorite!

In fact, you can choose the original Civilization ruleset, the Civ II ruleset, or the default - which is Civ II with just a few very welcome additions. I went with the default, and the game is almost identical - I mean, identical - to Civ II. It's great!

So read my post about that game if you're not already familiar with it. As I say, there are a few minor changes - all very welcome. Instead of just settlers, you've got settlers and workers (as in the later Civ games). Settlers can do everything workers can, but they can also found cities. (Since they cost more to create and maintain, you do want to use workers for everything else. And yes, workers upgrade to engineers - my favorite unit! - later in the game.)

There are civilization borders (not just city borders) in Freeciv, too. First introduced in Civ III, they didn't work in that game, but they're still a great idea. But the one addition which just blew me away was something I'd always wanted in Civ II: the ability to change land terrain to ocean, and vice versa.

Freeciv lets you modify terrain the way Civ II used to. Once you get engineers, you can even whittle down mountain terrain into hills. It takes a long time, so it might not make sense, but it's still lots of fun. But now, you can go even further than that. Do you want to connect two nearby islands? Now, you can change ocean terrain to swamp (and then further change swamp to grassland, if you want).

That would mean you could run your railroad from one continent to another. And if you've got an interior city which you'd like to make a seaport? Well, now you can dig out a channel to the ocean, if you want.

Honestly, I just can't tell you how much I love that addition to the game! Admittedly, I haven't actually tried either of those things, since I haven't gotten the necessary technology yet. (I've only been playing Freeciv a few days.)  But assuming that it works as described, I'm just overjoyed at this.

Other positives? Well, there are a million different options which you can set before you start a game. (In fact, I recommend playing around with it for a bit - starting a few different games - just to get a feel for it.) You can play the kind of game you want to play.

Me? I'm a builder. I love building up a big, powerful, highly-advanced society. So I want a huge world with lots of room for each civilization. I left barbarians at the default (they start showing up at turn 60), but the AI players and I have a lot of room to grow before we start butting up against each other.

That's just the kind of game I like, and thanks to the options, I can set it up that way. You might feel differently, so you can set the options differently. I like that.

There are problems with the game. Like most fan-created games, the instructions and the interface could be better. It's not actually hard to play the game once you know what to do, but some things - just a few - are harder to figure out than they should be.

The graphics,... well, the graphics are what you should expect. In some ways, they're actually better than I expected. There aren't any video options, except for a full-screen/window toggle, and I wish we could zoom in with the mouse wheel. Some things are a bit hard to see - but not too many. And let's face it, you can't expect expensive video options in a free game.

The only other problem I've had - and it's not really a problem - is that map generation seems to favor smaller islands than I'd like. Yes, there are several different options for that, but even so. I used to play Civ II on very large, winding continents, and I didn't seem to be able to create that kind of world here.

Of course, the main reason I wanted those continents is so I could build a huge civilization connected by railroads. Now that I can change ocean squares into land, I can still do that. So, as I say, this isn't really a problem.

I don't actually know how the AI is, not yet. Since we're spread out on this world, I haven't yet gone to war with anyone. Playing on normal difficulty, my nation's 'score' is the highest in the game, but not that much higher than several of my competitors. And they have spread out more than I have, founding more cities, which will probably cause me problems later.

There are other free, open-source games based on classic MicroProse computer games. FreeCol is an imitation of Sid Meier's Colonization, and FreeOrion apparently attempts to remake Master of Orion (whether the original or the sequels, I don't know). But those aren't anywhere near as far along in development as Freeciv. (Volunteer-driven games, if they survive at all, take a long, long time to develop.)

They're still working on Freeciv - it's the nature of this kind of game that fans are always trying to improve it - but it plays like a finished game. Really, I've been quite impressed. (I did find one bug, where the game started two civilizations - one of them mine - at the same spot, but it was easy just to try again. I usually start over several times before I find a starting position I like, anyway.)

As I say, the game is free. It certainly won't appeal to everyone, but if it looks interesting, you might give it a try. I probably won't play it for too long, but only because I've played Civilization so very many times already - for years and years, in fact. But it's certainly been fun so far.

___
Note: My posts on other computer games are here.

"In the Company of Others" by Julie E. Czerneda

(cover image from Amazon.com)

Julie E. Czerneda is one of my favorite authors, and Amazon.com shows that I bought In the Company of Others in 2001, shortly after it was first published. But somehow, it must have gotten lost in the shuffle, because I never read it.

I noticed the book on my shelf the other day and thought it was odd that I couldn't remember it. Well, it turned out that I'd never read it. It's a big book (562 pages), like most of her science fiction, so maybe I just never mustered the ambition to start it, I don't know. Certainly, the story grabbed my attention right from the beginning when I did start to read it.

Mankind had succeeded in terraforming multiple planets, and had just started to open them up to the teeming hordes of Earth, when everyone on those planets dropped dead. It was the Quill, apparently - an alien lifeform used by spacers as little more than decoration.

Desperate to avoid contamination, Earth refused to let people return to the home planet. Shiploads of eager colonists were stuck on space stations never designed to support that many people. Most died. Those few stations which still supported life were horribly overcrowded - kept fed by the Earth, but barely, and only with a complete prohibition on reproduction (drugs in the food).

That's been the situation for two decades or more, when an Earth scientist arrives on Thromberg Station looking for one of the residents there. She wants to study the Quill and has an idea of how that might be done. (Any human landing on those planets immediately dies, but robotic probes find no trace of the Quill.)

But the space station is a power-keg already, and her arrival has the potential to light the fuse.

The really neat thing about this story is that there are no villains. It's funny, but even the people you might expect to be at least petty villains aren't. There's plenty of conflict, and even some violence, throughout the book, but every character in the story is a pretty decent person. It's just that the situation is impossible.

Hal Clement was famous for saying that he didn't usually have villains in his stories, because the universe made a "perfectly adequate villain." [He also said, "Speculation is perfectly all right, but if you stay there you've only founded a superstition. If you test it, you've started a science." That has nothing to do with this book, admittedly. It's just one of my favorite quotes. :) ]

Well, this is similar to that. It's hard to point fault, but the situation is still terribly dangerous. Everyone is doing his best, but people are still going to die. And when there's this much fear, it's almost impossible to trust people you don't know, because other people have different priorities than you do.

The other thing I loved about the book was the cultural differences among human beings stressed nearly to the breaking point. The aliens are almost an afterthought. Sure, they're the reason for everything, but for most of the book we know nothing about them. Indeed, that's why this research is so important.

But on the space station, things look very different. They're surviving, but barely, and not without cost. Again, the people are all pretty decent - surprisingly decent, you might say. (A lesser author would have gone with the cliches. Not Czerneda.) But there are reasons why they do things the way they do.

I loved this, and I really enjoyed the book as a whole. I must admit that I found the solution to the alien threat implausible. And the romance was rather implausible - certainly, too sudden - I thought, too. But those were minor issues. The strengths of this story far outweigh its weaknesses.

___
Note: My other book reviews are here.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The top ten skeptical arguments on global warming

This is a great article in The Guardian examining what are supposedly the top ten 'skeptical' arguments against global warming, as posted by a contrarian climate scientist, Roy Spencer:
As one of those rare contrarian climate experts, he's often asked to testify before US Congress and interviewed by media outlets that want to present a 'skeptical' or false balance climate narrative. He's also a rather controversial figure, having made remarks about "global warming Nazis" and said,
"I view my job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government."

In other words, he sees himself not as a scientist, but as a politician determined to "minimize the role of government."

But,... wait a minute, can you imagine the uproar if one of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists said that he saw his job as increasing the size of government? Heh, heh. Heads would explode!

So how is this any different? Science is science, reality is reality, whether you want to believe it or not.

Well, scientists are still human. You can find an individual scientist who'll believe almost anything. That's why the scientific consensus is so important. If a scientist can't convince his own peers that he's right, why should you believe him?

This is an excellent article, and the 'skeptical' arguments are pathetic. That's the best they can do? This is probably my favorite:
9) Do We Look that Stupid? How do scientists expect to be taken seriously when their "theory" is supported by both floods AND droughts? Too much snow AND too little snow?

This question is a bit like asking, "Do I look fat?". Do you want an honest answer?

The warming of the atmosphere, happening especially at high latitudes, reduces the temperature difference between higher and lower latitudes. This tends to make storms move more slowly. This results in storms dumping more precipitation in localized areas, which causes more flooding in those areas and droughts outside of them. Higher temperatures also increase evaporation, exacerbating droughts and adding more moisture to the air for stronger storms. A climate scientist should understand these concepts.

Here's the conclusion:
You may have noticed some patterns in these questions. Most are based on false premises and are trivially simple to answer. These 'top ten good skeptic arguments' are frankly not very good or challenging. They also reveal a very one-sided skepticism, although to his credit Spencer did also list 10 'skeptic' arguments that don't hold water. These are glaringly wrong arguments like 'there is no greenhouse effect' and 'CO2 cools the atmosphere,' that some contrarians nevertheless believe. Interestingly, Spencer discusses the science disproving the 10 bad arguments, but there's no scientific discussion supporting his 'good' arguments.

From reading and answering Spencer's questions, we learn that the basic science behind how we know humans are causing global warming and that it's a problem are quite well-established. There are some remaining uncertainties, like how much warming is being offset by aerosol cooling, but overall we have a very strong understanding of the big picture. For quite a while now we've understood the Earth's climate well enough to know that we can't continue on our current high-risk path.

When will we stop using these trivially wrong contrarian arguments as an excuse for climate inaction? Now that's a tough question to answer.

My answer? Probably as long as we continue to deny reality we don't like. Sadly, it's just human nature to believe what we want to believe. And if you're faith-based to begin with, rather than evidence-based, it's even easier.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Julia Sweeney - Letting go of God



This is another deconversion story, but it's absolutely hilarious, as well as being quite touching.

Yeah, it's more than two hours long! I never thought I'd listen to the whole thing. (It's a humorous monologue, audio only.) But I did. I just couldn't stop.

Honestly, this is really wonderful. Give it a try.

Losing God: Hell



This is the conclusion of a four-video series describing one guy's deconversion from Christianity. On YouTube, he describes himself as a "recent de-convert from Christianity who is still trying to make sense of the world without my old religious worldview."

I post a lot of these, because I find them fascinating. I really admire people who've had the courage to step away from their deepest beliefs - often risking their friends and family, at least to some extent - when they found that those beliefs were wrong.

It would be so much easier to ignore reality, wouldn't it? Certainly, most of the Christians I know don't even want to discuss this stuff, even if they think I'm going to Hell. I can tell that they're afraid of what they might discover. And when push comes to shove, many Christians who are eager to defend their religion - being more confident in what they believe - end up telling me that they don't care if their beliefs are true or not, they still want to believe them.

I never went through this. I was raised Christian - nominally, at least - but I never remember believing that stuff. Maybe I did at some age, I really can't say. But by the time we started going to church, I was at least old enough to reason. And for a number of reasons, I just never bought it.

But other people didn't have it that easy. Some really did believe. For some, their faith was a major part of their life. But they were still willing to change their mind. That's so admirable! It must have been terribly difficult, don't you think? But they did it, anyway.

So that's why I post these. Well, I only post the ones I enjoy (but I enjoy most of them, admittedly). This whole series is good - just four videos, as I say - but I thought I'd post the final one.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Lost Fleet: Fearless, Courageous, Valiant

(cover image from SFReviews.net)

I'm reviewing The Lost Fleet: Fearless (2007), Courageous (2008), and Valiant (2008) by Jack Campbell at the same time, because I read them at the same time. Unfortunately, I have a hard time putting down a book once it grabs me, and this is all one story.

I enjoyed the first book so much that I immediately ordered the next three, and once I started reading, I couldn't stop. Well, I did have enough willpower to save the last volume for the next day, but that was about it.

As I say, this is all one story - 6 volumes in total. (I've got the final two on order now.) In the first book, John "Black Jack" Geary takes command of a fleet of starships in desperate circumstances, after having been in suspended animation for a century. The rest of the story is pretty much one battle after another, as they try to make it back home through enemy territory, badly outnumbered.

If you like military science fiction, you'll like this series. But there's actually more to the plot than just space battles. I noted in my review of Dauntless that the book was thought-provoking. But as the series continues, it turns out that there's more to the plot, too.

They discover that it's not just the corporate dictatorship they're fighting which is behind the war. There's a third party involved which seems to pose a threat not just to their own Alliance, but to the entire human species.

Meanwhile - people being people - they're struggling to get along among themselves. Many of Geary's enemies in the fleet won't change their mind no matter what the evidence indicates. (Yeah, this series seems very relevant to today.) Others pretty well worship Geary as a hero sent by their dead ancestors (though that doesn't necessarily keep them from wanting to use him for their own purposes).

(cover image from Amazon.com)

And then there are the romantic entanglements, which apparently don't hurt any less when death appears likely. No, this isn't a romance, but the characters, though intelligent and dedicated, are fully human. Admittedly, as in the first book, we see people entirely through Geary's eyes, and he only gets to know a couple of them very well at all.

So I really have to wonder how this works in the rest of the fleet. You've got young men and women - in roughly equal numbers apparently (not to mention the openly gay) - who are expecting to die anytime. Many of them do die. Even under ordinary circumstances, they might struggle to keep things professional...

Well, as I say, we don't learn much about the rest of the people in the fleet - and then only from Geary's perspective. Of course, that's not the focus of the series, anyway.

You know the fleet is going to get home. That's obvious. But we don't know how many will make it. They lose ships and they lose people in every battle, even when they're overwhelmingly successful.

It's great stuff, at least if you like this kind of thing. Still, if it were just space battles, the series might get old after awhile. Luckily, as I say, there are other dangers - worse dangers - which they discover along the way (some opportunities, as well). And Geary continues to struggle with being the legendary hero come back to life, when he knows he's only human.

I can't wait for the final two volumes to get here. :)

(cover image from Amazon.com)

PS. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I must say that the cover art on these paperbacks is terrible - terribly misleading, at least. I assume that the person on the cover is supposed to be John Geary - who else could it be? - but if so, that's pretty ridiculous.

Geary is the acting fleet commander. He hasn't left the flagship, not once, in four books. He's never landed on a planet, and he's never even picked up a weapon. Well, why should he? He's not a marine. (There are marines in the fleet, but their colonel - and the only one we ever see - is a woman.)

I have a feeling that the misleading cover art was one of the reasons I hadn't tried this series previously. But maybe that's a good thing. I would have hated to wait for months between books to continue with the story. At least this way I can read the whole thing at once. (Although maybe that isn't such a good thing. LOL)

___
Note: My other book reviews are here.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

President Obama at the 2014 White House Correspondents' Dinner



President Obama always does a great job at these - I wonder who writes his jokes - but this was particularly funny, I thought. I mean, how can you not like this:
Noting that he had traveled to Asia recently, Obama said: "The lengths we have to go to get CNN coverage these days. I think they're still searching for their table."

The president saved his sharpest jabs for another cable news network. "The Koch brothers bought a table here tonight, but as usual they used a shadowy right-wing organization as a front. Hello, Fox News!"

He added: "Let's face it, Fox. You'll miss me when I'm gone. It will be harder to convince the American people that Hillary was born in Kenya."

Joel McHale was the headliner, and he had a few funny jokes, but Obama was better. Well, see for yourself.

Oh, and Obama's cartoon about the conservative bromance for Vladimir Putin? That was also hilarious. David Horsey had a similar one, so maybe that's where they got it?