Eagle's Path

Passion and dispassion. Choose two.

Larry Wall

2015-08-30: Review: Through Struggle, The Stars

Review: Through Struggle, The Stars, by John J. Lumpkin

Series Human Reach #1
Publisher John J. Lumpkin
Copyright July 2011
ISBN 1-4611-9544-6
Format Kindle
Pages 429

Never let it be said that I don't read military SF. However, it can be said that I read books and then get hellishly busy and don't review them for months. So we'll see if I can remember this well enough to review it properly.

In Lumpkin's future world, mankind has spread to the stars using gate technology, colonizing multiple worlds. However, unlike most science fiction futures of this type, it's not all about the United States, or even the United States and Russia. The great human powers are China and Japan, with the United States relegated to a distant third. The US mostly maintains its independence from either, and joins the other lesser nations and UN coalitions to try to pick up a few colonies of its own. That's the context in which Neil and Rand join the armed services: the former as a pilot in training, and the latter as an army grunt.

This is military SF, so of course a war breaks out. But it's a war between Japan and China: improved starship technology and the most sophisticated manufacturing in the world against a much larger economy with more resources and a larger starting military. For reasons that are not immediately clear, and become a plot point later on, the United States president immediately takes an aggressive tone towards China and pushes the country towards joining the war on the side of Japan.

Most of this book is told from Neil's perspective, following his military career during the outbreak of war. His plans to become a pilot get derailed as he gets entangled with US intelligence agents (and a bad supervisor). The US forces are not in a good place against China, struggling when they get into ship-to-ship combat, and Neil's ship goes on a covert mission to attempt to complicate the war with political factors. Meanwhile, Rand tries to help fight off a Chinese invasion of one of the rare US colony worlds.

Through Struggle, The Stars does not move quickly. It's over 400 pages, and it's a bit surprising how little happens. What it does instead is focus on how the military world and the war feels to Neil: the psychological experience of wanting to serve your country but questioning its decisions, the struggle of working with people who aren't always competent but who you can't just make go away, the complexities of choosing a career path when all the choices are fraught with politics that you didn't expect to be involved in, and the sheer amount of luck and random events involved in the progression of one's career. I found this surprisingly engrossing despite the slow pace, mostly because of how true to life it feels. War is not a never-ending set of battles. Life in a military ship has moments when everything is happening far too quickly, but other moments when not much happens for a long time. Lumpkin does a great job of reflecting that.

Unfortunately, I thought there were two significant flaws, one of which means I probably won't seek out further books in this series.

First, one middle portion of the book switches away from Neil to follow Rand instead. The first part of that involves the details of fighting orbiting ships with ground-based lasers, which was moderately interesting. (All the technological details of space combat are interesting and thoughtfully handled, although I'm not the sort of reader who will notice more subtle flaws. But David Weber this isn't, thankfully.) But then it turns into a fairly generic armed resistance story, which I found rather boring.

It also ties into the second and more serious flaw: the villain. The overall story is constructed such that it doesn't need a personal villain. It's about the intersection of the military and politics, and a war that may be ill-conceived but that is being fought anyway. That's plenty of conflict for the story, at least in my opinion. But Lumpkin chose to introduce a specific, named Chinese character in the villain role, and the characterization is... well.

After he's humiliated early in the story by the protagonists, Li Xiao develops an obsession with killing them, for his honor, and then pursues them throughout the book in ways that are sometimes destructive to the Chinese war efforts. It's badly unrealistic compared to the tone of realism taken by the rest of the story. Even if someone did become this deranged, it's bizarre that a professional military (and China's forces are otherwise portrayed as fairly professional) would allow this. Li reads like pure caricature, and despite being moderately competent apart from his inexplicable (but constantly repeated) obsession, is cast in a mustache-twirling role of personal villainy. This is weirdly out of place in the novel, and started irritating me enough that it took me out of the story.

Through Struggle, The Stars is the first book of a series, and does not resolve much by the end of the novel. That plus its length makes the story somewhat unsatisfying. I liked Neil's development, and liked him as a character, and those who like the details of combat mixed with front-lines speculation about politics may enjoy this. But a badly-simplified mustache-twirling victim and some extended, uninteresting bits mar the book enough that I probably won't seek out the sequels.

Followed by The Desert of Stars.

Rating: 6 out of 10

2015-08-29: Review: Pound Foolish

Review: Pound Foolish, by Helaine Olen

Publisher Penguin
Copyright 2012, 2013
Printing 2013
ISBN 1-59184-679-X
Format Trade paperback
Pages 241

For at least the last six years, it's not been surprising news that the relationship between the average person and the US financial system is tense at best, and downright exploitative at worst. The collapse of the housing bubble revealed a morass of predatory lending practices, spectacularly poor (or spectacularly cynical) investment decisions, and out-of-control personal debt coupled with erosion of bankruptcy law. Despite this, there's always a second story in all discussions of the finances of the US population: the problem isn't with financial structures and products, but with us. We're too stupid, or naive, or emotional, or uninformed, or greedy, or unprincipled, or impatient. Finances are complicated, yes, but that just means we have to be more thoughtful. All of these complex financial products could have been used properly.

Helaine Olen's Pound Foolish is a systemtic, biting, well-researched, and pointed counter to that second story. The short summary of this book is that it's not us. We're being set up for failure, and there is a large and lucrative industry profiting off of that failure. And many (although not all) people in that industry know exactly what they're doing.

Pound Foolish is one of my favorite forms of non-fiction: long-form journalism. This is an investigative essay into the personal finance and investment industry, developed to book length. Readers of Michael Lewis will feel right at home. Olen doesn't have Lewis's skill with characterization and biography, but she makes up for it in big-picture clarity. She takes a wealth of individual facts about who is involved in personal finance, how they make money, what they recommend, and who profits, and develops it into a clear and coherent overview.

If you have paid any attention to US financial issues, you'll know some of this already. Frontline has done a great job of covering administrative fees in mutual funds. Lots of people have warned about annuities. The spectacular collapse of the home mortgage is old news now. But Olen does a great job of finding the connections between these elements and adding some less familiar ones, including an insightful and damning analysis of financial literacy campaigns and the widespread belief that these problems are caused by lack of consumer understanding. I've read and watched a lot of related material, including several full-book treatments of the mortgage crisis, so I think it's telling that I never got bored in the middle of Olen's treatment.

I find the deep US belief in the power of personal improvement fascinating. It feels like one of the defining characteristics of US culture, for both good and for ill. We're very good at writing compelling narratives of personal improvement, and sometimes act on them. We believe that everyone can and should improve themselves. But that comes coupled to a dislike and distrust of expertise, even when it is legitimate and earned (Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in American Life develops this idea at length). And I believe we significantly overestimate the ability of individuals to act despite systems that are stacked against us, and significantly overestimate our responsibility for the inevitable results.

This was the main message I took from Pound Foolish: we desperately want to believe in the myth of personal control. We want to believe that our financial troubles are something we can fix through personal education, more will power, better decisions, or just the right investment. And so, we turn to gurus like Suze Orman and buy their mix of muddled financial advice and "tough love" that completely ignores broader social factors. We're easy marks for psychologically-trained investment sellers who mix fear, pressure, and a fantasy of inside knowledge and personal control. We're fooled by a narrative of empowerment and stand by while a working retirement system (guaranteed benefit pensions) is undermined and destroyed in favor of much riskier investment schemes... riskier for us, at least, but loaded with guaranteed profits for the people who "advise" us. And we cling to financial literacy campaigns that are funded by exactly the same credit card companies who fight tooth and nail against regulations that would require they provide simple, comprehensible descriptions of loan terms. One wonders if they support them precisely because they know they don't work.

Olen mentions, in passing, the Stanford marshmallow experiment, which is often used as a foundation for arguments about personal responsibility for financial outcomes, but she doesn't do a detailed critique. I wish she had, since I think it's such a good example of the theme of this book.

The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a psychological experiment from the late 1960s and early 1970s in delayed gratification. Children were put in a room in front of some treat (marshmallows, cookies, pretzels) and told that they could eat it if they wished. But if they didn't eat the treat before the monitor came back, they would get two of the treat instead. Long-term follow-up studies found that the children who refrained from eating the treat and got the reward had better life outcomes along multiple metrics: SAT scores, educational attainment, and others.

On the surface, this seems to support everything US culture loves to believe about the power of self-control, self-improvement, and the Protestant work ethic. People who can delay gratification and save for a future reward do better in the world. (The darker interpretation, also common since the experiment was performed on children, is that the ability to delay gratification has a genetic component, and some people are just doomed to make poor decisions due to their inability to exercise self-control.)

However, I can call the traditional interpretation into question with one simple question that the experimenters appeared not to ask: under what circumstances would taking the treat immediately be the rational and best choice?

One answer, of course, is when one does not trust the adult to produce the promised reward. If the adult might come back, take the treat away, and not give any treat, it's to the child's advantage to take the treat immediately. Even if the adult left the treat but wouldn't actually double it, it's to the child's advantage to take the treat immediately. The traditional interpretation assumes the child trusts the adults performing the experiment — a logical assumption for those of us whose childhood experience was that adults could generally be trusted and that promised rewards would materialize. If the child instead came from a chaotic family where adults weren't reliable, or just one where frequent unexpected money problems meant that promised treats often didn't materialize, the most logical assumption may be much different. One has to ask if such a background may have more to do with the measured long-term life outcomes than the child's unwillingness to trust in a future reward.

And this is one of the major themes of this book. Problems the personal finance industry attributes to our personal shortcomings (which they're happy to take our money to remedy) are often systematic, or at least largely outside of our control. We may already be making the most logical choices given our personal situations. We're in worse financial shape because we're making less money. Our retirements are in danger because our retirement systems were dismantled and replaced with risky and expensive alternatives. And where problems are attributed to our poor choices, one can find entire industries that focus on undermining our ability to make good choices: scaring us, confusing us, hiding vital information, and exploiting known weaknesses of human psychology to route our money to them.

These are not problems that can be solved by watching Suze Orman yell at us to stop buying things. These are systematic social problems that demand a sweeping discussion about regulation, automatic savings systems, and social insurance programs to spread risk and minimize the weaknesses of human psychology. Exactly the kind of discussion that the personal finance industry doesn't want us to have.

Those who are well-read in these topics probably won't find a lot new here. Those who aren't in the US will shake their heads at some of the ways that the US fails its citizens, although many of Olen's points apply even to countries with stronger social safety nets. But if you're interested in solid long-form journalism on this topic, backed by lots of data on just how badly a focus on personal accountability is working for us, I recommend Pound Foolish.

Rating: 8 out of 10

2015-08-18: krb5-sync 3.1

Another relatively minor release, this of a software package that I've technically orphaned. But, well, it needed a fix, and it only took a few hours. krb5-sync is a system for synchronizing passwords from a Kerberos KDC to an Active Directory realm (which I no longer personally use).

The primary change in this release is some tweaks to the silent mode of krb5-sync-backend to keep it from spamming output about transient errors if accounts are slow to materialize on the Active Directory side. It also incorporates changes from the Debian packaging to relax the timing on some tests.

You can get the latest version from the krb5-sync distribution page.

2015-08-18: rra-c-util 5.8

Another collection of random bug fixes in my general C utility library. Fixes a missing va_end, a segfault in buffer_find_string with new buffers, and how relative paths are computed in Test::RRA::Automake. Also adds a portability layer for the MIT Kerberos kadm5_init_krb5_context function.

You can get the latest release from the rra-c-util distribution page.

2015-08-18: C TAP Harness 3.4

Nothing particularly exciting in this release of my C testing framework, but aherbert on Github found a segfault in the runtests driver with test lists that had only blank lines and comments. Since I'm releasing some other software anyway, that seemed to be worth a release.

While preparing the release, I found that the test for spelling errors in the POD documentation had some bad assumptions about how to canonicalize paths, so you may want to grab a new copy of that if you're using it in your projects.

You can get the latest release from the C TAP Harness distribution page.

2015-08-16: backport 1.32

Yet another relatively minor update.

What with all the other stuff that's been going on in my life in the past year, I never updated my backport script to support backports to jessie or to reflect the new stable release. This release does that, at some email prompting (thank you!).

It also adds a new -A or --architecture flag to specify which build architecture to pass to pdebuild. I have no idea if this works, but it at least should in theory.

You can get the latest version of my backport script from my scripts page.

2015-08-16: git-pbuilder 1.35

Today is the day for minor software releases. It's amazing how much more free time I have when I'm not unpacking boxes.

Osamu Aoki submitted a bug report a while back asing for --update, --create, and --login to be supported as options to git-pbuilder, in addition to the versions without leading hyphens, since pbuilder and cowbuilder require the hyphens and people are used to typing them. I've finally merged his patch and released git-pbuilder 1.35 with that change. It will probably show up in git-buildpackage shortly.

(Still need to rewrite this script in Python one of these days so that it can be properly and fully merged with git-buildpackage.)

You can get the latest version of git-pbuilder from my scripts page.

2015-08-16: Net::Duo 1.01

Net::Duo is a Perl implementation of the Duo API that's a bit more comprehensive and sophisticated than the sample code provided by Duo Security. This release is a compatibility bug fix that adjusts for a change in JSON::XS 3.0 that broke automatic mapping of boolean values in some JSON generation. It should hopefully continue to work with older versions of JSON::XS as well.

You can get the latest versiom from the Net::Duo distribution page.

2015-07-31: Review: The Pyramid Waltz

Review: The Pyramid Waltz, by Barbara Ann Wright

Series Katya and Starbride #1
Publisher Bold Strokes
Copyright September 2012
ISBN 1-60282-792-3
Format Kindle
Pages 264

Princess Katya Nar Umbriel is publicly a bored, womanizing, and difficult daughter to the rulers of Farraday. It's all an act, though, with the full knowledge of her parents. As the second child, she's the leader of the Order of Vestra: the equivalent of the Secret Service, devoted to protecting the royal family and, by extension, the kingdom, particularly against magical attacks.

Starbride is new to court and entirely out of place. From a northern neighboring country, and far more comfortable in practical clothing than the frilled court dresses that her mother wants her to wear, she has been sent to court to make contacts. Her people are getting the bad side of various trade contracts and desperately need some political maneuvering space of their own. Starbride's best hope for this is to study law in the palace library when she can manage to avoid the other courtiers. But then she and Katya stumble across each other, outside of the roles they're playing, and might have an opportunity for a deeper connection. One that neither of them want to entangle in their personal worries.

This is the last of a set of books I picked up while looking for lesbian romance with fantasy or science fiction elements. On the romance front, it's one of the better entries in that set. Both Katya and Starbride are likeable, in large part due to their mutual exasperation with the trappings of the court. (Making the protagonists more serious, thoughtful, and intelligent than the surrounding characters is an old trick, but it works.) Wright has a good ear for banter, particularly the kind when two people of good will are carefully feeling each other out. And despite Katya's need to keep a deep secret from Starbride for some of the book, The Pyramid Waltz mostly avoids irritating communication failures as a plot driver.

The fantasy portion and the plot drivers, alas, are weaker. The world building is not exactly bad, but it's just not that interesting. There are a couple of moderately good ideas, in the form of pyramid magic and secret (and dangerous) magical powers that run in the royal family, but they're not well-developed. Pyramid magic turns out to look much like any other generic fantasy magic system, with training scenes that could have come from a Valdemar or Wheel of Time novel (and without as much dramatic tension). And the royal family's secret, while better-developed and integral to the plot, still felt rather generic and one-sided.

Maybe that's something Wright develops better in future novels in this series, but that was another problem: the ending of The Pyramid Waltz was rather weak. Partly, I think, this is because the cast is too large and not well-developed. I cared about Katya and Starbird, and to a lesser extent their servants and one of the Order members. (Wright has a moderately interesting bit of worldbuilding about how servants work in Starbride's culture, which I wish we'd seen more of.) But there are a bunch of other Order of Vesta members, Katya's family, and various other bits of history and hinted world views, none of which seemed to get much depth. The ending climax involved a lot of revelations and twists that primarily concerned characters I didn't care about. It lost something in the process.

This book is clearly set up for a sequel. There is an ending, but it's not entirely satisfying. Unfortunately, despite liking Katya and Starbird a lot, the rest of the story wasn't compelling enough to make me want to buy it, particularly since the series apparently goes through another three books before reaching a real ending.

I enjoyed parts of this book, particularly Katya and Starbird feeling each other out and discovering similarities in their outlook. Katya teasing Starbird, and Starbird teasing herself, over her mother's choice of her clothing was probably the best part. It's not bad for what it's trying to do, but I think it's a bit too generic and not satisfying enough to really recommend.

Followed by For Want of a Fiend.

Rating: 6 out of 10

2015-07-06: INN 2.6.0 release candidate

In more INN-related news (and catching up on my substantial backlog), a second release candidate for the INN 2.6.0 release is now available. (The first one was only circulated on the inn-workers mailing list.)

INN 2.6.0 is the next major release of INN, with lots of improvements to the build system, protocol support, and the test suite, among many other things. Changes have been accumulating slowly for quite some time.

There are a lot of changes, so I won't go into all the details here. If you're curious, take a look at the NEWS file. You can get the release candidate from ftp.isc.org. (Note that this link will be removed once INN 2.6.0 is released.)

As always, thanks to Julien ÉLIE for preparing this release and doing most of the maintenance work on INN!

For more information about INN, see the official ISC download page or from my personal INN pages. The latter also has links to the full changelog and the other INN documentation.

2015-07-05: INN 2.5.5

(This release has actually been ready for a while, but there were a few technical difficulties with getting it copied up to the right places, and then I got very distracted by various life stuff.)

This is the first new release of INN in about a year, and hopefully the last in the 2.5.x series. A beta release of INN 2.6.0 will be announced shortly (probably tomorrow).

As is typical for bug-fix releases, this release rolls up a bunch of small bug fixes that have been made over the past year. The most notable changes include new inn.conf parameters to fine-tune the SSL/TLS configuration for nnrpd (generally to tighten it over the OpenSSL defaults), a few new flags to various utilities, multiple improvements to pullnews, and support for properly stopping cnfsstat and innwatch if INN is started and then quickly stopped.

As always, thanks to Julien ÉLIE for preparing this release and doing most of the maintenance work on INN!

You can get the latest version from the official ISC download page or from my personal INN pages. The latter also has links to the full changelog and the other INN documentation.

2015-06-07: Review: Late Eclipses

Review: Late Eclipses, by Seanan McGuire

Series October Daye #4
Publisher DAW
Copyright March 2011
ISBN 1-101-50253-3
Format Kindle
Pages 372

Late Eclipses is the fourth book the October Daye series, and relies heavily on characters introduced in the previous books. I recommend reading this series from the start; jumping into the middle would miss a lot of nuance. Thankfully, though, enough is explained that you don't have to have read the previous books recently. (I wish more series would do that.)

Unsurprisingly, the book opens with Toby's life getting more complicated. Also unsurprisingly, that means getting more entangled in the affairs of the fae court, as Toby gets pushed farther out of her comfort zone. But that quickly takes a back seat to much worse news: Toby's close friend Lily is deathly ill. That isn't supposed to be possible for an undine. And Lily isn't the last person to get deathly ill in this book.

I should note up-front that this book contains one of my least favorite tropes in fiction of this sort: a protagonist who falls under the influence of something mind-altering and has to keep second-guessing her own perceptions. I have this problem with most books about drugs or some equivalent. There was enough of that here to irritate me, but this is just a personal quirk and I'm used to other people liking those books better, so you may need to adjust my rating accordingly.

That said, I liked Late Eclipses better than An Artificial Night, even with that drawback. It's less dark, less bleak, and returns to some of the mystery feel of the first two books of the series. A lot of urban fantasy mixes in a bit of a detective element, usually from the noir tradition, and I think that provides a useful plot driver. There's a lot at stake in this story, but Toby also gets a lot of agency. She's out doing things, making guesses and following up on them, rather than trying to endure vast horror. And she has more trust in her instincts and abilities, and is gathering more allies and respect. There was a bit too much of "abuse the protagonist" for my tastes, but some of the court maneuvering is quite satisfying.

There's always a risk with power curves taking away the risk in stories like this, or of having to constantly invent a bigger bad than the previous one, but McGuire is doing a good job keeping control of that. Toby is getting stronger, and it's obvious that she's more than she appears or realizes. Coming to terms with the edges of that is part of this story. But the dangers in these stories have been very different in kind rather than escalating degree. The complex political machinations of the fae court help here considerably, creating problems that Toby has to navigate through with allies and careful thought.

One of my favorite parts of this series continues to be the supporting cast. We don't get as much of the Luidaeg here, but we get lots of May (who is becoming one of my favorite characters of the series) and several other excellent supporting characters. It's rare that I like the supporting cast of an urban fantasy series this well without feeling like they're overshadowing the protagonist.

Some parts of this story bugged me for idiosyncratic reasons, but I still thought it was a step up from the previous installment. McGuire's world doesn't seem to be running out of steam. I'll definitely keep reading.

Followed by One Salt Sea.

Rating: 7 out of 10

2015-05-31: Review: Hild

Review: Hild, by Nicola Griffith

Series Hild #1
Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Copyright 2013
ISBN 0-374-28087-8
Format Hardcover
Pages 539

Hild was born in seventh-century Britain, daughter of Hereric (would-be king of Daria) and Breguswith. Born, her mother said, to be a light to the land. This much is documented by the Venerable Bede, in The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, along with Hild's later rise to become one of the most powerful abbesses in British history. But nearly all of Hild's early life is a cipher.

Hild fills in some of that gap with fiction. Specifically, it takes Hild from a child of three, learning her father has been killed, to a young woman, an advisor of Edwin king. It's a coming of age story in part, following her maturation both physically and mentally, her training in when to speak and how, and the dangers of being close to royalty in a fractious, political, and war-torn land. It's also the story of endless maneuvering and care, initially by her mother Breguswith and then by Hild herself — sometimes in opposition to her mother, sometimes in alliance — as her mother attempts to make a safe place for her daughter and herself in a treacherous court of shifting dangers.

But Hild is also a story about Britain. It's a novel about how it felt and how it sounded. How it was organized, primarily among the high-born but with snippets of perspective from the lower classes. And it's a story about women: about weaving, about medicine, about friendships and partnerships and alliances among women, about the politics of marriage and childbirth, but also about the places women held and made in a time when surviving official history is all about the men. Hild is a painstakingly-researched, sprawling, lush, and sensual immersion in a part of history that gets little formal attention: after the Romans, before what we think of as medieval, before England as a country.

I've been waiting for a new Nicola Griffith novel for quite a while, since Always in 2007. Hild doesn't disappoint, but it's also different than Griffith's previous writing. It has less of the strong narrative drive and clarity of either her SF or Aud Torvingen stories. Instead, the goal of Hild is to immerse and transport you, to help you feel the shape of Hild's world, to understand her days and tasks, her dreams and dangers.

Like all of Griffith's work, it's beautifully written. Griffith puts description at the fore, in the sharp eyes of an observant girl who loves the outdoors, and who has been taught to watch for signs of weather and tools of healing. From early on, Hild's mother sets her up as a seer and prophetess as a way of establishing her value to war leaders and kings, and while some of it is drama and cryptic words, so much of it is careful observation, networks of information-gathering, and sharp deduction about the motives and politics of surrounding kings. Hild is very good at what she does because she has a sharp, quick mind that has been carefully trained, and because she has the aid of her mother's networks and then aid in building her own. Griffith does a wonderful job showing the reader what Hild sees, how she appreciates the world both for its own beauty and for the information she can gather from it, and how to build influence by navigating tense and dangerous moments: waiting for just the right moment and the right word, and taking sudden, impulsive risks and accepting their consequences.

Unfortunately for me, this setting is also rich in complex politics and numerous actors, with older and unfamiliar names, and I got lost. Constantly. That's the drawback to immersion: Griffith doesn't hold the reader's hand. We get Hild's thoughts and analysis, and the reader has to keep up. Sometimes I did; sometimes I didn't. There's a dizzying flurry of names here, both personal and place, and while there is a map and a single family tree, neither helped me as much as I wanted them to. At several points, I found myself skimming through the latest shift in the balance between various petty kings because, while I knew I'd seen all the names before, they had come adrift from their context in the story.

That was my major frustration with this book. It was all interesting enough that I would have kept thumbing back to a detailed dramatis personae, and indeed I kept checking the family tree, but there just wasn't enough detail there. Even better would have been a brief factual history of the political and military conflicts Hild was living through, keyed by chapter. Hild is startlingly intelligent, leaping from insight to insight, which is wonderful for building character, but which occasionally leaves the reader scrambling to catch up with the connections between her thoughts. I felt like, had I the broader context, I could have understood her insight more readily. All this information is likely available, since Griffith is playing off of documented history, but I'm not the sort of reader who likes doing Internet research while engrossed in a book.

So, that's the downside, at least for me. But this book has many strengths, even if you're lost much of the time. Hild as written by Griffith is a fascinating character, full of sharp edges and difficult moods and a powerful belief in what she feels is right. Griffith is at the height of her writing ability when describing Hild making hard choices and taking on burdens that seem too large for her to bear. There are two sections of the book, where Hild is forced by circumstances to lead men in violence, that I think are two of the best bits of writing Griffith has ever published — not just because of those scenes themselves, but because of the aftermath, the lingering echos, the way that they shape and inform everything Hild does afterwards. The mingling of reward and loss, maturation and trauma, the sense that the world has shifted both inside and out and it's nearly impossible to say whether the change is for the better or worse.

Griffith also knows when not to say too much, and while I found that frustrating for the politics, it does wonders for the characters. Hild's complex and fraught relationship with Gwaldus is the best example. We never know exactly what Gwaldus is thinking; Hild can only guess, and at times one is fairly sure that she guesses wrong. But that doesn't lead to sudden revelations, where the characters finally understand each other. Instead, they both adjust, they maneuver around each other, they find space and understanding where they can, and sometimes they just close off. This book is full of relationships like this: loves that are too complicated for words, bonds that are too dangerous to acknowledge, and characters who can't relax even though they wish the best for each other. At times, it's exhausting reading, but it gives Hild a tension that one wouldn't expect from a sprawling novel full of description and scene-building.

Hild is clearly the first book of a series, and leaves quite a lot unresolved. If you want closure in relationships and in politics, there's a lot here that you may find frustrating. And if, like me, you struggle to keep names and politics straight, you're probably going to get lost. But it's well worth the effort for the description, for Hild's thought processes, and for a few haunting scenes that I will be replaying in my head for a very long time. Expect to take your time with this, and wait until you're in the mood for immersion and puzzling out context as you go, but recommended. I suspect it would be even better on a second reading.

Rating: 8 out of 10

2015-05-24: Catch-up haul

As always, even though I've not been posting much, I'm still buying books. This is a catch-up post listing a variety of random purchases.

Katherine Addison — The Goblin Emperor (sff)
Milton Davis — From Here to Timbuktu (sff)
Mark Forster — How to Make Your Dreams Come True (non-fiction)
Angela Highland — Valor of the Healer (sff)
Marko Kloos — Terms of Enlistment (sff)
Angela Korra'ti — Faerie Blood (sff)
Cixin Liu — The Three-Body Problem (sff)
Emily St. John Mandel — Station Eleven (sff)
Sydney Padua — The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage (graphic novel)
Melissa Scott & Jo Graham — The Order of the Air Omnibus (sff)
Andy Weir — The Martian (sff)

Huh, for some reason I thought I'd bought more than that.

I picked up the rest of the Hugo nominees that aren't part of a slate, and as it happens have already read all the non-slate nominees at the time of this writing (although I'm horribly behind on reviews). I also picked up the first book of Marko Kloos's series, since he did the right thing and withdrew from the Hugos once it became clear what nonsense was going on this year.

The rest is a pretty random variety of on-line recommendations, books by people who made sense on the Internet, and books by authors I like.

2015-05-23: git-pbuilder 1.34

Long time without a blog post. My time got eaten by work and travel and work-related travel. Hopefully more content soon.

This is just a quick note about the release of version 1.34 of the git-pbuilder script (which at some point really should just be rewritten in Python and incorporated entirely into the git-buildpackage package). Guido Günther added support for creating chroots for LTS distributions.

You can get the latest version from my scripts page.

Last modified and spun 2015-08-31