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Ilium (Book Review)

Ilium by Dan Simmons is a tome of a book that mixes sci-fi with Greek mythology. Although I have some basic understanding of that period, I think I lacked some background to enjoy some of the subtleties. Besides that I also found it to be too long (description of traveling or other such things) for the content. And of course, it stops right before a climactic fight which will be the start of Olympos (part 2 of duology).

“The Trojan War rages at the foot of Olympos Mons on Mars—observed and influenced from on high by Zeus and his immortal family—and twenty-first-century professor Thomas Hockenberry is there to play a role in the insidious private wars of vengeful gods and goddesses. On Earth, a small band of the few remaining humans pursues a lost past and devastating truth—as four sentient machines depart from Jovian space to investigate, perhaps terminate, the potentially catastrophic emissions emanating from a mountaintop miles above the terraformed surface of the Red Planet.”

The novel centers on three character groups: that of Hockenberry (a resurrected twentieth-century Homeric scholar whose duty is to compare the events of the Iliad to the reenacted events of the Trojan War), Greek and Trojan warriors, and Greek gods from the Iliad; Daeman, Harman, Ada, and other humans of an Earth thousands of years after the twentieth century; and the “moravec” robots (named for scientist and futurist Hans Moravec) Mahnmut the Europan and Orphu of Io, also thousands of years in the future, but originating in the Jovian system. The novel is written in first-person, present-tense when centered on Hockenberry’s character, but features third-person, past-tense narrative in all other instances. Much like Simmons’ Hyperion, where the actual events serve as a frame, the three groups of characters’ stories are told over the course of the novel and begin to converge as the climax nears.”

Broken Stars (Book Review)

Broken Stars is an anthology of short stories by different Chinese writers. They are collected by Ken Liu (an awesome writer in his own right). I can’t say that I enjoyed every story as much, but there are some really innovative ones in there.

I don’t have the best mental map of Chinese history (but do know some things), so a lot of the subtle hints when using historic rulers/periods do get lost on me.

And I think I like sci-fi that plays with concepts (e.g. time) more than those that incorporate too much historic or today’s concepts.

The stories are:

  • Goodnight, Melancholy (Turing is featured heavily, makes me think of Machines Like Me)
  • Moonlight
  • Broken Stars
  • Submarines
  • Salinger and the Koreans
  • Under a Dangling Sky
  • What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear (heavy, good)
  • The New Year Train (good moral/end-note)*
  • The Robot Who Liked to Tell Tall Tales (interesting, very good sci-fi and medieval mix)
  • The Snow of Jingyang
  • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe: Laba Porridge
  • The First Emperor’s Games
  • Reflection (good idea about seeing time flow backward)
  • The Brain Box
  • Coming of the Light
  • A History of Future Illnesses

*”I’ts simple when you put it like that right? What doesn’t make sense to me is this: lots of times, when the starting point and the destination are fixed – say, birth and death – why do most people rush towards the end?

Network Effect (Book Review)

Network Effect by Martha Wells is the fifth installment in the Murderbot Diaries series. It was a bit longer than probably necessary and I wasn’t totally focussed, so it wasn’t as engaging as with the earlier editions.

See a fuller review here.

To Fathom Hell or Soar Angelic (Book Review)

This review was first published on Blossom Analysis.

To Fathom Hell or Soar Angelic is a fictional book about starting a psychedelics research project/revolution, written by Ben Sessa.

Is there hope in psychedelic medicine? Can we dream bigger than just numbing patients (and doctors)? That is the underlying question in this fictional book by Dr. Ben Sessa. After reading the book you may take home some hope, some tingling of the possibility that MDMA, LSD, psilocybin, and other psychedelics could help people become whole again. But if nothing else, you will get to know two, somewhat broken, men (the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) who start a psychedelic revolution.

Review

To fathom hell or soar angelic just take a pinch of psychedelic” – Humphry Osmond

Using a fictional book to describe a brave new world where psychedelics make a new introduction is an unique way of exploring this possibility. The book hovers between the esoteric and science-driven, between dream catchers and psychotherapy.

The world that is sketched could be best positioned at around the turn of the century, a moment in time where very little research had been done on psychedelics (since shutting it all down at the end of the 60’s). The way it’s revived, in a barn and with plenty of reference to The Psychedelic Experience by Timothy Leary et al., was quite interesting.

The book, and the research mentioned, may best be seen as a proof of concept, an introduction to psychedelic therapy (it features several sessions with MDMA, LSD, psilocybin). The double-blind, placebo-controlled experiments are left for a future moment to transpire.

The critique of the ‘normal’ system is evident in Sessa’s description of current psychotherapy. He paints it as a system in which patients come back for years, don’t solve their underlying problems, and get dosed with SSRIs that don’t do much if anything. Oh, and the protagonist is fantasizing about killing his patients (don’t worry, it doesn’t turn into Hannibal). The alternative, psychedelic (psycho)therapy, is offered as a way out of this loop.

From my perspective, the alternative is presented without enough evidence and rigor (the double-blind studies that are left for the reader to imagine happening sometime in the future). After seeing positive results, the two psychiatrists are heralded as heroes in a presentation for their colleagues. It’s a fantasy that many in the psychedelics field may have, but unfortunately many have been burned too much before to have that level of hope (although it is likely to be justified in this case).

At the end of the book, things get turned up to 11. The second psychiatrist (Joseph Langley) is dying and in a flurry of science-y sounding words, they run tests and strange things happen. One is left to ponder what this means or why it’s related to psychedelic science, but I was none the wiser.

Other Works by Ben Sessa

Ben Sessa has also written The Psychedelics Renaissance, summarizing where we stand with research and sticking much more to facts this time.

Wall of Storms (Book Review)

Wall of Storms by Ken Liu is the second installment in the dandelion trilogy (preceded by The Grace of Kings). It’s another epic story that entices emotions, uncovers plots, and keeps on surprising with the large level of creative innovation.

In this mini-review I wanted to touch upon two aspects. The characters, which are very well done. And the story structure according to the 8 steps of the hero’s journey.

The Characters

The main protagonist is Kuni Garu, you get to know him as a kid in the first book, and experience him as Emperor Ragin (people get new names sometimes, which is somewhat confusing) in the second book.

The great thing is that the characters all have their own personality, shaped by the earlier history in the book. Their strengths also show their weaknesses and most of them are strategic thinkers with great theory of mind. They think about what others think about them (many times over).

This not only includes thinking about what the person directly in front of you thinks, but also what the others there think, or what the general population will think (in the long term).

The book is highly political, but then more in a Game of Thrones-way then in a left/right party politics way. All I can say is that I was really captured by the considerations that all the characters had, the flaws that you got to see, and outcomes of their actions on the world.

Story arch

  1. A character is in a zone of comfort,
    1. Kuni Garu and the gang are in peace, they rule the country
    2. Luan Zyu is a noble without titles
  2. But they want something.
    1. Succession needs to be planned far ahead / want to keep the piece
    2. Wants to do the most interesting thing
  3. They enter an unfamiliar situation,
    1. Intrigues, world outside of Wall of Storms
    2. Teaches Zomi and/or ventures outside the Wall of Storms
  4. Adapt to it,
    1. Squash rebellion? And/or teaching kids to grow up
    2. Survives, is at other island
  5. Get what they wanted,
    1. Things are in balance/united
    2. Finds new people
  6. Pay a heavy price for it,
    1. Has to give own life in the end, deaths/temporary peace from others
    2. Dead, guides other people to Dara
  7. Then return to their familiar situation,
    1. But family wins partly, people are united, daughter is (temporarily) empress
    2. Student had learned much (Komi, could also do her arch someday!)
  8. Having changed.
    1. New situation with other people, learned to innovate quickly
    2. Zomi is more wise now

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories (Book Review)

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu is another great collection of stories by this awesome writer and translator.

Previously I’ve written about The Paper Menagerie and also liked many of the stories in that one.

Here the stories are more focussed on sci-fi, but there is still a lot of fantasy topics in there too.

Lots of great characters and stories. I can recommend it.

See a very good review on Goodreads (with spoilers)

All These Worlds (Book Review)

A good conclusion to the Bobiverse trilogy. Listened to the series in beginning 2019 and 2020 (two times total). Looking forward to more books and maybe even to write some fanfiction.

The storylines almost all conclude and the Bobs win against the Others. There are more than 500 of them, so more than enough to make new stories with and explore the Bobiverse.

The Grace of Kings (Book Review)

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu is an amazing book in a genre that I normally don’t read. It’s a fantasy book that is set on some islands and represents technology as in the 16th age of China (or at least so I imagine).

The story is long, intriguing and very moving. It features love, politics, warfare, honour, betrayal, and more.

It features complex characters, situations that you can see from different perspectives, and highlights the difficulty of working together in this world.

I definitely can recommend it.

The Redemption of Time (Book Review)

The Redemption of Time by Baoshu (translated by Ken Liu) was an awesome end to the Three-Body series. I really loved how he (another writer) brought everything together and closed many loops in the original books.

Reviews online seem divided a bit more, and focus on how the story is told. I think I just really loved how things from far earlier came back and were used again.