Eagle's Path

Passion and dispassion. Choose two.

Larry Wall

2021-11-28: Fall haul

It's been a while since I've posted one of these, and I also may have had a few moments of deciding to support authors by buying their books even if I'm not going to get a chance to read them soon. There's also a bit of work reading in here.

Ryka Aoki — Light from Uncommon Stars (sff)
Frederick R. Chromey — To Measure the Sky (non-fiction)
Neil Gaiman, et al. — Sandman: Overture (graphic novel)
Alix E. Harrow — A Spindle Splintered (sff)
Jordan Ifueko — Raybearer (sff)
Jordan Ifueko — Redemptor (sff)
T. Kingfisher — Paladin's Hope (sff)
TJ Klune — Under the Whispering Door (sff)
Kiese Laymon — How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America (non-fiction)
Yuna Lee — Fox You (romance)
Tim Mak — Misfire (non-fiction)
Naomi Novik — The Last Graduate (sff)
Shelley Parker-Chan — She Who Became the Sun (sff)
Gareth L. Powell — Embers of War (sff)
Justin Richer & Antonio Sanso — OAuth 2 in Action (non-fiction)
Dean Spade — Mutual Aid (non-fiction)
Lana Swartz — New Money (non-fiction)
Adam Tooze — Shutdown (non-fiction)
Bill Watterson — The Essential Calvin and Hobbes (strip collection)
Bill Willingham, et al. — Fables: Storybook Love (graphic novel)
David Wong — Real-World Cryptography (non-fiction)
Neon Yang — The Black Tides of Heaven (sff)
Neon Yang — The Red Threads of Fortune (sff)
Neon Yang — The Descent of Monsters (sff)
Neon Yang — The Ascent to Godhood (sff)
Xiran Jay Zhao — Iron Widow (sff)

2021-11-27: Review: Soul Music

Review: Soul Music, by Terry Pratchett

Series Discworld #16
Publisher Harper
Copyright January 1995
Printing November 2013
ISBN 0-06-223741-1
Format Mass market
Pages 420

Soul Music is the sixteenth Discworld novel and something of a plot sequel to Reaper Man (although more of a sequel to the earlier Mort). I would not start reading the Discworld books here.

Susan is a student in the Quirm College for Young Ladies with an uncanny habit of turning invisible. Well, not invisible exactly; rather, people tend to forget that she's there, even when they're in the middle of talking to her. It's disconcerting for the teachers, but convenient when one is uninterested in Literature and would rather read a book.

She listened with half an ear to what the rest of the class was doing.

It was a poem about daffodils.

Apparently the poet had liked them very much.

Susan was quite stoic about this. It was a free country. People could like daffodils if they wanted to. They just should not, in Susan's very definite opinion, be allowed to take up more than a page to say so.

She got on with her education. In her opinion, school kept on trying to interfere with it.

Around her, the poet's vision was being taken apart with inexpert tools.

Susan's determinedly practical education is interrupted by the Death of Rats, with the help of a talking raven and Binky the horse, and without a lot of help from Susan, who is decidedly uninterested in being the sort of girl who goes on adventures. Adventures have a different opinion, since Susan's grandfather is Death. And Death has wandered off again.

Meanwhile, the bard Imp y Celyn, after an enormous row with his father, has gone to Ankh-Morpork. This is not going well; among other things, the Guild of Musicians and their monopoly and membership dues came as a surprise. But he does meet a dwarf and a troll in the waiting room of the Guild, and then buys an unusual music instrument in the sort of mysterious shop that everyone knows has been in that location forever, but which no one has seen before.

I'm not sure there is such a thing as a bad Discworld novel, but there is such a thing as an average Discworld novel. At least for me, Soul Music is one of those. There are some humorous bits, a few good jokes, one great character, and some nice bits of philosophy, but I found the plot forgettable and occasionally annoying. Susan is great. Imp is... not, which is made worse by the fact the reader is eventually expected to believe Susan cares enough about Imp to drive the plot.

Discworld has always been a mix of parody and Pratchett's own original creation, and I have always liked the original creation substantially more than the parody. Soul Music is a parody of rock music, complete with Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler as an unethical music promoter. The troll Imp meets makes music by beating rocks together, so they decide to call their genre "music with rocks in it." The magical instrument Imp buys has twelve strings and a solid body. Imp y Celyn means "bud of the holly." You know, like Buddy Holly. Get it?

Pratchett's reference density is often on the edge of overwhelming the book, but for some reason the parody references in this one felt unusually forced and obvious to me. I did laugh occasionally, but by the end of the story the rock music plot had worn out its welcome. This is not helped by the ending being a mostly incoherent muddle of another parody (admittedly featuring an excellent motorcycle scene). Unlike Moving Pictures, which is a similar parody of Hollywood, Pratchett didn't seem to have much insightful to say about music. Maybe this will be more your thing if you like constant Blues Brothers references.

Susan, on the other hand, is wonderful, and for me is the reason to read this book. She is a delightfully atypical protagonist, and her interactions with the teachers and other students at the girl's school are thoroughly enjoyable. I would have happily read a whole book about her, and more broadly about Death and his family and new-found curiosity about the world. The Death of Rats was also fun, although more so in combination with the raven to translate. I wish this part of her story had a more coherent ending, but I'm looking forward to seeing her in future books.

Despite my complaints, the parody part of this book wasn't bad. It just wasn't as good as the rest of the book. I wanted a better platform for Susan's introduction than a lot of music and band references. If you really like Pratchett's parodies, your mileage may vary. For me, this book was fun but forgettable.

Followed, in publication order, by Interesting Times. The next Death book is Hogfather.

Rating: 7 out of 10

2021-11-26: Review: A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Review: A Psalm for the Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers

Series Monk & Robot #1
Publisher Tordotcom
Copyright July 2021
ISBN 1-250-23622-3
Format Kindle
Pages 160

At the start of the story, Sibling Dex is a monk in a monastery in Panga's only City. They have spent their entire life there, love the buildings, know the hidden corners of the parks, and find the architecture beautiful. They're also heartily sick of it and desperate for the sound of crickets.

Sometimes, a person reaches a point in their life when it becomes absolutely essential to get the fuck out of the city.

Sibling Dex therefore decides to upend their life and travel the outlying villages doing tea service. And they do. They commission an ox-bike wagon, throw themselves into learning cultivation and herbs, experiment with different teas, and practice. It's a lot to learn, and they don't get it right from the start, but Sibling Dex is the sort of person who puts in the work to do something well. Before long, they have a new life as a traveling tea monk.

It's better than living in the City. But it still isn't enough.

We don't find out much about the moon of Panga in this story. Humans live there and it has a human-friendly biosphere with recognizable species, but it is clearly not Earth. The story does not reveal how humans came to live there. Dex's civilization is quite advanced and appears to be at least partly post-scarcity: people work and have professions, but money is rarely mentioned, poverty doesn't appear to be a problem, and Dex, despite being a monk with no obvious source of income, is able to commission the construction of a wagon home without any difficulty. They follow a religion that has no obvious Earth analogue.

The most fascinating thing about Panga is an event in its history. It previously had an economy based on robot factories, but the robots became sentient. Since this is a Becky Chambers story, the humans reaction was to ask the robots what they wanted to do and respect their decision. The robots, not very happy about having their whole existence limited to human design, decided to leave, walking off into the wild. Humans respected their agreement, rebuilt their infrastructure without using robots or artificial intelligence, and left the robots alone. Nothing has been heard from them in centuries.

As you might expect, Sibling Dex meets a robot. Its name is Mosscap, and it was selected to check in with humans. Their attempts to understand each other is much of the story. The rest is Dex's attempt to find what still seems to be missing from life, starting with an attempt to reach a ruined monastery out in the wild.

As with Chambers's other books, A Psalm for the Wild-Built contains a lot of earnest and well-meaning people having thoughtful conversations. Unlike her other books, there is almost no plot apart from those conversations of self-discovery and a profile of Sibling Dex as a character. That plus the earnestness of two naturally introspective characters who want to put their thoughts into words gave this story an oddly didactic tone for me. There are moments that felt like the moral of a Saturday morning cartoon show (I am probably dating myself), although the morals are more sophisticated and conditional. Saying I disliked the tone would be going too far, but it didn't flow as well for me as Chambers's other novels.

I liked the handling of religion, and I loved Sibling Dex's efforts to describe or act on an almost impossible to describe sense that their life isn't quite what they want. There are some lovely bits of description, including the abandoned monastery. The role of a tea monk in this imagined society is a neat, if small, bit of world-building: a bit like a counselor and a bit like a priest, but not truly like either because of the different focus on acceptance, listening, and a hot cup of tea. And Dex's interaction with Mosscap over offering and accepting food is a beautiful bit of characterization.

That said, the story as a whole didn't entirely gel for me, partly because of the didactic tone and partly because I didn't find Mosscap or the described culture of the robots as interesting as I was hoping that I would. But I'm still invested enough that I would read the sequel.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built feels like a prelude or character introduction more than a complete story. When we leave the characters, they're just getting started. You know more about the robots (and Sibling Dex) at the end than you did at the beginning, but don't expect much in the way of resolution.

Followed by A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, scheduled for 2022.

Rating: 7 out of 10

2021-11-13: Review: The Last Graduate

Review: The Last Graduate, by Naomi Novik

Series The Scholomance #2
Publisher Del Rey
Copyright 2021
ISBN 0-593-12887-7
Format Kindle
Pages 388

This is a direct sequel to A Deadly Education, by which I mean it starts in the same minute at which A Deadly Education ends (and let me say how grateful I am for a sequel that doesn't drop days, months, or years between books). You do not want to read this series out of order.

This book is also very difficult to review without spoiling either it or the previous book, so please bear with me if I'm elliptical in my ravings. Because The Last Graduate is so good. So good, not only as a piece of writing, but as a combination of two of my favorite tropes in fiction, one of which I can't talk about because of spoilers. I adored this book in a way that is not entirely rational.

I will attempt a review below anyway, but if you liked the first book, just stop reading here and go read the second one. It's more of everything I loved in the first book except even better, it did some things I was expecting and some things I didn't expect at all, and it's just so ridiculously good. Just be aware that it has another final-line cliffhanger. The third book is coming in (hopefully) 2022.

Novik handles the cliffhanger at the end of the previous book beautifully, which is worth noting because there were so many ways in which it could have gone poorly. One of the best things about this series is Novik's skill at writing El's relationship with her mother, even though her mother has not appeared in the series so far. El argues with her mother's voice in her head, tells stories about her, wonders what her mother would think of her classmates (or in some cases knows exactly what her mother would think of her classmates), and sometimes makes the explicit decision to not be her mother. The relationship has the sort of messy complexity, shared history, and underlying respect that many people experience in life but that I've rarely seen portrayed this well in a fantasy novel.

Novik's presentation of that relationship works because El's voice is so strong. Within fifteen minutes of starting The Last Graduate, I was already muttering "I love this book" to myself, mostly because of how much I enjoy El's sarcastic, self-deprecating internal commentary. Novik strikes a balance between self-awareness, snark, humor, and real character growth that rivals Murderbot in its effectiveness of first-person perspective. It carries the story over a few weak points, such as a romance that didn't do much for me. Even when I didn't care about part of the plot, I cared about El's opinion of the plot and what it said about El's growing understanding of how to navigate the world.

A Deadly Education was scene and character establishment. El insisted on being herself and following her own morals and social rules, and through that found some allies. The Last Graduate gives El enough breathing space to make more nuanced decisions. This is the part of growing up where one realizes the limitations of one's knee-jerk reactions and innate moral judgment. It's also when it becomes hard to trust success that is entirely outside of one's previous experience. El was not a kid who had friends, so she doesn't know what to do with them now that she has them. She's barely able to convince herself that they are friends.

This is one of the two fictional tropes I mentioned, the one that I can talk about (at least briefly) without major spoilers. I have such a soft spot for stubborn, sarcastic, principled characters who refuse to play by the social rules that they think are required to make friends and who then find friends who like them for themselves. The moment when they start realizing this has happened and have no idea how to deal with it or how to be a person who has friends is one I will happily read over and over again. I enjoyed this book from the beginning, but there were two points when it grabbed my heart and I was all in. The first one is a huge spoiler that I can't talk about. The second was this paragraph:

[She] came round to me and put her arm around my waist and said under her breath, "Hey, she can be taught," with a tease in her voice that wobbled a little, and when I looked at her, her eyes were bright and wet, and I put my arm around her shoulders and hugged her.

You'll know it when you get there.

The Last Graduate also gives the characters other than El and Orion more room, which is part of how it handles the chosen one trope. It's been obvious since early in the first book that Orion is a sort of chosen one, and it becomes obvious to the reader that El may be as well. But Novik doesn't let the plot focus only on them; instead, she uses that trope to look at how alliances and collective action happen, and how no one can carry the weight by themselves. As El learns more and gains power, she also becomes less central to the plot resolution and has to learn how to be less self-reliant. This is not a book where one character is trained to save the world. It's a book where she manages to enlist the support of a kick-ass project manager and becomes part of a team.

Middle books of a trilogy are notoriously challenging. Often they're travel books: the first book sets up a problem, the second book moves the characters both physically and emotionally into a position to solve the problem, and the third book is the payoff. Travel books often sag. They can feel obligatory but somewhat boring, like a chore on the way to the third-book climax. The Last Graduate is not a travel book; it is, instead, a pivot book, which is my favorite form of trilogy. It's a book that rewrites the problem the first book set up, both resolving it and expanding the scope beyond what the reader had expected. This is immensely satisfying when done well, and Novik does it extremely well.

This is not a flawless book. There are some pacing hiccups, there is a romance angle that didn't work for me (although it does arrive at some character insights that I thought were spot on), and although I think Novik is doing something interesting with the trope, there is a lot of chosen one power escalation happening here. It's not the sort of book that I can claim is perfectly written. Instead, it's the sort of book that uses some of my favorite plot elements and emotional beats in such an effective way and with such a memorable character that I do not have it in me to care about any of the flaws. Your mileage may therefore vary, but I would be happy to read books like this until the end of time.

As mentioned above, The Last Graduate ends on another cliffhanger. This time I was worried that Novik might have ended the series there, since there's enough of an internal climax that I could imagine some literary fiction (which often seems allergic to endings) would have stopped here. Thankfully, Novik's web site says this is not the case. The next year is going to be a difficult wait.

The third book of this series is going to be incredibly difficult to write, and I hope Novik is up to the challenge she's made for herself. But she handled the transition between the first and second book so well, and this book is so good that I have a lot of hope. If the third book is half as good as I'm hoping, this is going to be one of my favorite fantasy series of all time.

Followed by an as-yet-untitled third book.

Rating: 10 out of 10

2021-11-07: Modifying the Debian resolution process

I have been working on a draft GR to modify the process used by the Technical Committee and for General Resolutions to prepare a ballot for vote, with a goal of fixing several issues that were uncovered by recent votes. My plan is to propose this formally as a GR on November 13th.

For those reading my journal who are Debian Developers or who are interested in Debian process, you may want to read the draft resolution and the previous discussion. Constitutional changes require a 3:1 majority, so my goal is to reach as broad of a consensus in the project on these changes as possible. All feedback welcome, and also let me know if there is a reason to postpone making this a formal GR and thus starting the discussion period clock.

The most recent draft is at:

https://lists.debian.org/debian-vote/2021/11/msg00034.html

Previous drafts and resulting discussion are at:

https://lists.debian.org/debian-vote/2021/10/msg00002.html
https://lists.debian.org/debian-vote/2021/09/msg00010.html

and also see the discussion thread starting here:

https://lists.debian.org/debian-vote/2021/10/msg00019.html

2021-10-30: Review: Shadow Scale

Review: Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman

Series Seraphina #2
Publisher Ember
Copyright 2015
ISBN 0-375-89659-7
Format Kindle
Pages 458

Shadow Scale, despite confusing publisher marketing that calls it a "companion" to Seraphina, is a direct sequel. It picks up shortly after Seraphina and resolves most of the loose ends of the previous book.

This is a book for which my completionist tendencies did me no favors. The book I was intending to read, when I started on Hartman's work, is Tess of the Road, but I hate starting series in the middle and it was clear that Tess was set after Seraphina. (I have been repeatedly assured that this doesn't matter and that one can start with Tess. Such reassurances rarely work on me; do as I say, not as I do.) For Seraphina itself, this turned out fine; I'm mildly surprised by the book's Andre Norton award nomination, but it was enjoyable enough and I liked the first-person protagonist.

Shadow Scale I approached with a bit more trepidation. I hadn't heard much about it and the few reviews I saw were lukewarm. Unfortunately, there's a reason for that.

Seraphina left obvious room for a sequel, including a brewing war, significant unresolved interpersonal relationships, and Seraphina's own newfound understanding of the nature of her internal menagerie. Alas, the start of the book uses the war primarily as plot device (and introduces a brand-new bit of magic that I never found interesting), largely ignores the relationship, and focuses on that third plot element. And by focuses, I mean Seraphina is sent out of the country of Goredd on a journey of map exploration to collect plot coupons.

The best description I have for the middle of this book is tedious and depressing. Like a lot of novels, it has a U-shaped plot: things get worse and worse until a crisis, and then start getting better. This plot can work, but the reader has to have a good reason to stick through the depressing bits. One of the better reasons is if the plot allows the main character some small triumphs, maintaining their agency throughout even if larger events are spiraling out of control. This is not one of those books. After some early successes tracking down some objects of her search, Seraphina encounters an antagonist from her own past (barely hinted at in the first book) who can systematically corrupt everything she is trying to do. She spends most of the book feeling like what she's doing is futile, or hoping for things the reader knows aren't going to happen. Given that this is happening during plodding map exploration fantasy through largely indistinguishable faux-medieval countries, or (later) somewhat more interesting but obviously irrelevant local politics in a remote trading city, it's hard to avoid sharing that sense of futility.

The other structural problem with Shadow Scale is that the plot coupons are people, which means this book has an excessive cast size problem. Seraphina collects too many people for me to even keep straight, let alone care about. Critical developments (usually for the worst) in the lives of one of these characters were frequently met with reader mutterings like, "Now which one was Brasidas again, was he the plague doctor?" This tends to undermine the emotional impact. It didn't help that the plot was enough of a slog that I kept putting the book aside for a few days.

This does get better, but not enough better to redeem the middle of the book, and one has to put up with a lot of helpless despair to get there. Shadow Scale is one of those stories where the protagonist has the innate power to resolve the plot, is told cryptically by various people that this is the case, but has absolutely no idea how to use it and her supposed mentors are essentially useless. The result is that she feels both hopeless and guilty, which was not the reading experience I wanted. I did enjoy the moment when she finally figures it out, and I thought Hartman's idea was reasonably clever, but it would have been better if that had happened faster. Like, 200 pages faster. At least.

The major world-building in Seraphina was the dragons. The dragons also show up in this book (and feel less like autism spectrum archetypes, which I appreciated), and in theory are central to the plot, but I'm not entirely sure why? It was an odd reading experience. I think Hartman was attempting to set up dual villains posing different threats, but the dragon one is off-screen for nearly the entire book and never developed, so it feels perfunctory. Near the end of the book, Hartman abruptly picks up the dragons again, but that whole section felt oddly disconnected from the rest of the plot and is only barely relevant to the resolution. At least for me, the plot structure didn't cohere.

Shadow Scale does go up a whole point in rating for me because of the romance plot and how Hartman resolves it, which I will not spoil but which I loved. The process of getting there is immensely frustrating because it feels like Hartman is forcing the characters into a corner where only stupid resolutions are possible, but in this case the U-shaped emotional structure worked on me. The ending is completely true to the characters in a way that I thought Hartman had made impossible (and which does a lovely bit of undermining of traditional roles), so full credit there. It helped that the relationship is put on ice for most of the book and only appears at the end (which is also the best part of the book), so it didn't drag on like the other parts of the plot.

Overall, though, I tentatively agree with the general advice to skip this one, and suspect that advice will become less tentative once I read Tess of the Road. It's a largely unpleasant slog. There are some mildly interesting world-building revelations that fill in the background of Seraphina, the ending was reasonably good, and the relationships were much better than I was expecting through most of the book, but the amount of time and patience required to get there was not a good trade-off for me.

Followed (in the sense that it's set in the same universe but is not a sequel and I suspect does not depend heavily on this plot) by Tess of the Road.

Rating: 4 out of 10

2021-10-17: rra-c-util 10.0

It's been a while since I pushed out a release of my collection of utility libraries and test suite programs, so I've accumulated quite a lot of chanages. Here's a summary; for more, see the NEWS file.

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

2021-10-17: pam-krb5 4.11

The primary change in this release of my Kerberos PAM module is support for calling pam_end with PAM_DATA_SILENT. I had not known that the intent of this flag was to signal that only process resources were being cleaned up and external resources should not be (in part because an older version of the man page doesn't make this clear).

This flag is used when a proces forks with an open PAM library handle and wants to clean it up in the child process. In previous versions, this would delete the user's ticket cache, which is not the desired behavior. This version correctly leaves the ticket cache alone.

The implementation required some improvements to the PAM testing framework to support this case as well.

The other significant change in this release is that the build system no longer attempts to guess the correct PAM module installation path and instead documents that to install the module in a Linux system PAM module path, you will probably need to set --libdir explicitly. The logic used to decide between Debian and Red Hat multiarch paths broke in the presence of Debian usrmerge systems and was incredibly fragile even before that, so I've now dropped it completely.

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

2021-09-26: Review: The Problem with Work

Review: The Problem with Work, by Kathi Weeks

Publisher Duke University Press
Copyright 2011
ISBN 0-8223-5112-9
Format Kindle
Pages 304

One of the assumptions baked deeply into US society (and many others) is that people are largely defined by the work they do, and that work is the primary focus of life. Even in Marxist analysis, which is otherwise critical of how work is economically organized, work itself reigns supreme. This has been part of the feminist critique of both capitalism and Marxism, namely that both devalue domestic labor that has traditionally been unpaid, but even that criticism is normally framed as expanding the definition of work to include more of human activity. A few exceptions aside, we shy away from fundamentally rethinking the centrality of work to human experience.

The Problem with Work begins as a critical analysis of that centrality of work and a history of some less-well-known movements against it. But, more valuably for me, it becomes a discussion of the types and merits of utopian thinking, including why convincing other people is not the only purpose for making a political demand.

The largest problem with this book will be obvious early on: the writing style ranges from unnecessarily complex to nearly unreadable. Here's an excerpt from the first chapter:

The lack of interest in representing the daily grind of work routines in various forms of popular culture is perhaps understandable, as is the tendency among cultural critics to focus on the animation and meaningfulness of commodities rather than the eclipse of laboring activity that Marx identifies as the source of their fetishization (Marx 1976, 164-65). The preference for a level of abstraction that tends not to register either the qualitative dimensions or the hierarchical relations of work can also account for its relative neglect in the field of mainstream economics. But the lack of attention to the lived experiences and political textures of work within political theory would seem to be another matter. Indeed, political theorists tend to be more interested in our lives as citizens and noncitizens, legal subjects and bearers of rights, consumers and spectators, religious devotees and family members, than in our daily lives as workers.

This is only a quarter of a paragraph, and the entire book is written like this.

I don't mind the occasional use of longer words for their precise meanings ("qualitative," "hierarchical") and can tolerate the academic habit of inserting mostly unnecessary citations. I have less patience with the meandering and complex sentences, excessive hedge words ("perhaps," "seem to be," "tend to be"), unnecessarily indirect phrasing ("can also account for" instead of "explains"), or obscure terms that are unnecessary to the sentence (what is "animation of commodities"?). And please have mercy and throw a reader some paragraph breaks.

The writing style means substantial unnecessary effort for the reader, which is why it took me six months to read this book. It stalled all of my non-work non-fiction reading and I'm not sure it was worth the effort. That's unfortunate, because there were several important ideas in here that were new to me.

The first was the overview of the "wages for housework" movement, which I had not previously heard of. It started from the common feminist position that traditional "women's work" is undervalued and advocated taking the next logical step of giving it equality with paid work by making it paid work. This was not successful, obviously, although the increasing prevalence of day care and cleaning services has made it partly true within certain economic classes in an odd and more capitalist way. While I, like Weeks, am dubious this was the right remedy, the observation that household work is essential to support capitalist activity but is unmeasured by GDP and often uncompensated both economically and socially has only become more accurate since the 1970s.

Weeks argues that the usefulness of this movement should not be judged by its lack of success in achieving its demands, which leads to the second interesting point: the role of utopian demands in reframing and expanding a discussion. I normally judge a political demand on its effectiveness at convincing others to grant that demand, by which standard many activist campaigns (such as wages for housework) are unsuccessful. Weeks points out that making a utopian demand changes the way the person making the demand perceives the world, and this can have value even if the demand will never be granted. For example, to demand wages for housework requires rethinking how work is defined, what activities are compensated by the economic system, how such wages would be paid, and the implications for domestic social structures, among other things. That, in turn, helps in questioning assumptions and understanding more about how existing society sustains itself.

Similarly, even if a utopian demand is never granted by society at large, forcing it to be rebutted can produce the same movement in thinking in others. In order to rebut a demand, one has to take it seriously and mount a defense of the premises that would allow one to rebut it. That can open a path to discussing and questioning those premises, which can have long-term persuasive power apart from the specific utopian demand. It's a similar concept as the Overton Window, but with more nuance: the idea isn't solely to move the perceived range of accepted discussion, but to force society to examine its assumptions and premises well enough to defend them, or possibly discover they're harder to defend than one might have thought.

Weeks applies this principle to universal basic income, as a utopian demand that questions the premise that work should be central to personal identity. I kept thinking of the Black Lives Matter movement and the demand to abolish the police, which (at least in popular discussion) is a more recent example than this book but follows many of the same principles. The demand itself is unlikely to be met, but to rebut it requires defending the existence and nature of the police. That in turn leads to questions about the effectiveness of policing, such as clearance rates (which are far lower than one might have assumed). Many more examples came to mind. I've had that experience of discovering problems with my assumptions I'd never considered when debating others, but had not previously linked it with the merits of making demands that may be politically infeasible.

The book closes with an interesting discussion of the types of utopias, starting from the closed utopia in the style of Thomas More in which the author sets up an ideal society. Weeks points out that this sort of utopia tends to collapse with the first impossibility or inconsistency the reader notices. The next step is utopias that acknowledge their own limitations and problems, which are more engaging (she cites Le Guin's The Dispossessed). More conditional than that is the utopian manifesto, which only addresses part of society. The least comprehensive and the most open is the utopian demand, such as wages for housework or universal basic income, which asks for a specific piece of utopia while intentionally leaving unspecified the rest of the society that could achieve it. The demand leaves room to maneuver; one can discuss possible improvements to society that would approach that utopian goal without committing to a single approach.

I wish this book were better-written and easier to read, since as it stands I can't recommend it. There were large sections that I read but didn't have the mental energy to fully decipher or retain, such as the extended discussion of Ernst Bloch and Friedrich Nietzsche in the context of utopias. But that way of thinking about utopian demands and their merits for both the people making them and for those rebutting them, even if they're not politically feasible, will stick with me.

Rating: 5 out of 10

2021-09-12: DocKnot 5.00

This release is the culmination of a project that I've been wanting to do for two years, but nearly all the work was done in the past week. That experience made me rethink some of my skepticism, but I'll get to that part of the story later.

In March of 1999, I got tired of writing HTML by hand and wrote a small program called spin that implemented a macro language that translated into HTML. This makes it one of the oldest programs for which I have a continuous development history, predating podlators by three months. I think only News::Gateway (now very dormant) and Term::ANSIColor (still under active development but very stable) are older, as long as I'm not counting orphaned packages like newsyslog.

I've used spin continuously ever since. It's grown features and an ecosystem of somewhat hackish scripts to do web publishing things I've wanted over the years: journal entries like this one, book reviews, a simple gallery (with some now-unfortunate decisions about maximum image size), RSS feeds, and translation of lots of different input files into HTML. But the core program itself, in all those years, has been one single Perl script written mostly in my Perl coding style from the early 2000s before I read Perl Best Practices.

My web site is long overdue for an overhaul. Just to name a couple of obvious problems, it looks like trash on mobile browsers, and I'm using URL syntax from the early days of the web that, while it prompts some nostalgia for tildes, means all the URLs are annoyingly long and embed useless information such as the fact each page is written in HTML. Its internals also use a lot of ad hoc microformats (a bit of RFC 2822 here, a text-based format with significant indentation there, a weird space-separated database) and are supported by programs that extract meaning from human-written pages and perform automated updates to them rather than having a clear separation between structure and data.

This will be a very large project, but it's the sort of quixotic personal project that I enjoy. Maintaining my own idiosyncratic static site generator is almost certainly not an efficient use of my time compared to, say, converting everything to Hugo. But I have 3,428 pages (currently) written in the thread macro language, plus numerous customizations that cater to my personal taste and interests, and, most importantly, I like having a highly customized system that I know exactly how to automate.

The blocker has been that I didn't want to work on spin as it existed. It badly needed a structural overhaul and modernization, and even more badly needed a test suite since every release involved tedious manual testing by pouring over diffs between generations of the web site. And that was enough work to be intimidating, so I kept putting it off.

I've separately been vaguely aware that I have been spending too much time reading Twitter (specifically) and the news (in general). It would be one thing if I were taking in that information to do something productive about it, but I haven't been. It's just doomscrolling. I've been thinking about taking a break for a while but it kept not sticking, so I decided to make a concerted effort this week.

It took about four days to stop wanting to check Twitter and forcing myself to go do something else productive or at least play a game instead. Then I managed to get started on my giant refactoring project, and holy shit, Twitter has been bad for my attention span! I haven't been able to sustain this level of concentration for hours at a time in years. Twitter's not the only thing to blame (there are a few other stressers that I've fixed in the past couple of years), but it's obviously a huge part.

Anyway, this long personal ramble is prelude to the first release of DocKnot that includes my static site generator. This is not yet the full tooling from my old web tools page; specifically, it's missing faq2html, cl2xhtml, and cvs2xhtml. (faq2html will get similar modernization treatment, cvs2xhtml will probably be rewritten in Perl since I have some old, obsolete scripts that may live in CVS forever, and I may retire cl2xhtml since I've stopped using the GNU ChangeLog format entirely.) But DocKnot now contains the core of my site generation system, including the thread macro language, POD conversion (by way of Pod::Thread), and RSS feeds.

Will anyone else ever use this? I have no idea; realistically, probably not. If you were starting from scratch, I'm sure you'd be better off with one of the larger and more mature static site generators that's not the idiosyncratic personal project of one individual. It is packaged for Debian because it's part of the tool chain for generating files (specifically README.md) that are included in every package I maintain, and thus is part of the transitive closure of Debian main, but I'm not sure anyone will install it from there for any other purpose. But for once making something for someone else isn't the point. This is my quirky, individual way to maintain web sites that originated in an older era of the web and that I plan to keep up-to-date (I'm long overdue to figure out what they did to HTML after abandoning the XHTML approach) because it brings me joy to do things this way.

In addition to adding the static site generator, this release also has the regular sorts of bug fixes and minor improvements: better formatting of software pages for software that's packaged for Debian, not assuming every package has a TODO file, and ignoring Autoconf 2.71 backup files when generating distribution tarballs.

You can get the latest version of DocKnot from CPAN as App-DocKnot, or from its distribution page. I know I haven't yet updated my web tools page to reflect this move, or changed the URL in the footer of all of my pages. This transition will be a process over the next few months and will probably prompt several more minor releases.

2021-09-11: Pod::Thread 3.00

This Perl module converts POD documents to thread, the macro language I use for my static site builder (about which, more in another software release coming up shortly). This release fixes a whole ton of long-standing problems.

In brief, a lot of the POD implementation was previously done by chasing bugs rather than testing comprehensively, as reflected by the 65% code coverage in the previous release. The test suite now achieves about 95% code coverage (most of the rest is obscure error handling around encoding) and cleans up a bunch of long-standing problems with internal links.

I had previously punted entirely on section links containing markup, and as a result the section links shown in the navigation bar or table of contents were missing the markup and headings containing thread metacharacters were mangled beyond recognition. That was because I was trying to handle resolving links using regexes (after I got rid of the original two-pass approach that required a driver script). This release uses Text::Balanced instead, the same parsing module used by my static site generator, to solve the problem (mostly) correctly. (I think there may still be a few very obscure edge cases, but I probably won't encounter them.)

The net result should hopefully be better conversion of my software documentation, including INN documentation, when I regenerate my site (which will be coming soon).

You can get the latest release from CPAN or from the Pod::Thread distribution page.

2021-08-30: kstart 4.3

kstart provides the programs k5start and krenew, which are similar to the Kerberos kinit program with some extra support for running programs with separate credentials and running as a daemon.

This is the first full release in nearly six years. The major change is new support for the Linux kafs module, which is a native Linux implementation of the AFS protocol that David Howells and others have been working on for years. It has an entirely different way of thinking about tokens and credential isolation built on Linux keyrings rather than the AFS token concept (which sometimes uses keyrings, but in a different way, and sometimes uses other hacks).

k5start and krenew, when run with the -t option to get AFS tokens, would fail if AFS was not available. That meant -t would fail with kafs even if the AKLOG environment variable were set properly to aklog-kafs. This release fixes that. The programs also optionally link with libkeyutils and use it when used to run a command to isolate the AFS credentials from the calling process. This is done by creating a new session keyring and linking it to the user keyring before running the aklog program.

Thanks to Bill MacAllister, David Howells, and Jeffrey Altman for the help with this feature. I'm not sure that I have it right, so please let me know if it doesn't work for you.

Also in this release is a fix from Aasif Versi to use a smarter exit status if k5start or krenew is running another program and that program is killed with a signal. Previously, that would cause k5start or krenew to exit with a status of 0, which was not helpful. Now it exits with a status formed by adding 128 to the signal number, which matches the behavior of bash.

Since this is the first release in a while, it also contains some other minor fixes and portability updates.

You can get the latest release from the kstart distribution page.

2021-08-18: Review: The Past is Red

Review: The Past is Red, by Catherynne M. Valente

Publisher Tordotcom
Copyright 2021
ISBN 1-250-30112-2
Format Kindle
Pages 151

Tetley is nineteen and is the most hated person in Garbagetown. That's kind of horrible, but life is otherwise great. As she puts it:

I'm awfully lucky when you think about it. Garbagetown is the most wonderful place anybody has ever lived in the history of the world, even if you count the Pyramids and New York City and Camelot. I have Grape Crush and Big Bargains and my hibiscus flower, and I can fish like I've got bait for a heart so I hardly ever go hungry, and once I found a ruby ring and a New Mexico license plate inside a bluefin tuna. Everyone says they only hate me because I annihilated hope and butchered our future, but I know better, and anyway, it's a lie. Some people are just born to be despised. The Loathing of Tetley began small and grew bigger and bigger, like the Thames, until it swallowed me whole.

Garbagetown is a giant floating pile of garbage in the middle of the ocean, and it is, so far as anyone knows, the only "land" left in the world. Global warming has flooded everything until the remaining Fuckwits (as their future descendants call everyone who was alive at the time) took to the Misery Boats and searched hopelessly for land. Eventually they realized they could live on top of the now-massive Pacific Garbage Patch and began the Great Sorting, which is fifty years into Tetley's past. All of the types of garbage were moved into their own areas, allowing small micronations of scavengers to form and giving each area its own character.

Candle Hole is the most beautiful place in Garbagetown, which is the most beautiful place in the world. All of the stubs of candles the Fuckwits threw out piled up into hills and mountains and caverns and dells, votive candles and taper candles and tea lights and birthday candles and big fat colorful pillar candles, stacked and somewhat melted into a great crumbling gorgeous warren of wicks and wax. All the houses are cozy little honeycombs melted into hillside, with smooth round windows and low golden ceilings. At night, from far away, Candle Hole looks like a firefly palace. When the wind blows, it smells like cinnamon, and freesia, and cranberries, and lavender, and Fresh Linen Scent, and New Car Smell.

Two things should be obvious from this introduction. First, do not read this book looking for an accurate, technical projection of our environmental future. Or, for that matter, physical realism of any kind. That's not the book that Valente is writing and you'll just frustrate yourself. This is science fiction as concretized metaphor rather than prediction or scientific exploration. We Fuckwits have drowned the world with our greed and left our descendants living in piles of our garbage; you have to suspend disbelief and go with the premise.

The second thing is that either you will like Tetley's storytelling style or you will not like this book. I find Valente very hit-and-miss, but this time it worked for me. The language is a bit less over-the-top than Space Opera, and it fits Tetley's insistent, aggressive optimism so well that it carries much of the weight of characterization. Mileage will definitely vary; this is probably a love-it-or-hate-it book.

The Past is Red is divided into two parts. The first part is the short story "The Future is Blue," previously published in Clarkesworld and in Valente's short story collection of the same name. It tells the story of Tetley's early life, how she got her name, and how she became the most hated person in Garbagetown. The second part is much longer and features an older, quieter, more thoughtful, and somewhat more cynical Tetley, more life philosophy, and a bit of more-traditional puzzle science fiction. It lacks some of the bubbly energy of "The Future is Blue" but also features less violence and abuse. The overall work is a long novella or very short novel.

This book has a lot of feelings about the environment, capitalism, greed, and the desire to let other people solve your problems for you, and it is not subtle about any of them. It's satisfying in the way that a good rant is satisfying, not in the way that a coherent political strategy is satisfying. What saves it from being too didactic or self-righteous is Tetley, who is happy to record her own emotions and her moments of wonder and is mostly uninterested in telling other people what to do. The setting sounds darkly depressing, and there are moments where it feels that way in the book, but the core of the story and of Tetley's life philosophy is a type of personal resilience: find the things that make you happy, put one foot in front of the other, and enjoy the world for what it is rather than what it could be or what other people want to convince you it might be. It's also surprisingly funny, particularly if you see the humor in bizarrely-specific piles of the detritus of civilization.

The one place where I will argue with Valente a bit is that The Past is Red thoroughly embraces an environmental philosophy of personal responsibility. The devastating critique aimed at the Fuckwits is universal and undistinguished except slightly by class. Tetley and the other inhabitants of Garbagetown make no distinction between types of Fuckits or attempt to apportion blame in any way more granular than entire generations and eras.

This is probably realistic. I understand why, by Tetley's time, no one is interested in the fine points of history. But the story was written today, for readers in our time, and this type of responsibility collapse is intentionally and carefully constructed by the largest polluters and the people with the most power. Collective and undifferentiated responsibility means that we're using up our energy fretting about whether we took two showers, which partly deflects attention from the companies, industries, and individuals that are directly responsible for the vast majority of environmental damage. We don't live in a world full of fuckwits; we live in a world run by fuckwits and full of the demoralized, harried, conned, manipulated, overwhelmed, and apathetic, which is a small but important difference. This book is not the right venue to explore that difference, but I wish the vitriol had not been applied quite so indiscriminately.

The rest, though, worked for me. Valente tends to describe things by piling clauses on top of adjectives, which objectively isn't the best writing but it fits everything about Tetley's personality so well that I think this is the book where it works. I found her strange mix of optimism, practicality, and unbreakable inner ethics oddly endearing. "The Future is Blue" is available for free on-line, so if in doubt, read some or all of it, and that should tell you whether you're interested in the expansion. I'm glad I picked it up.

Content warning for physical and sexual abuse of the first-person protagonist, mostly in the first section.

Rating: 7 out of 10

2021-08-16: Review: Black Sun

Review: Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse

Series Between Earth and Sky #1
Publisher Saga Press
Copyright October 2020
ISBN 1-5344-3769-X
Format Kindle
Pages 454

Serapio has been crafted and trained to be the vessel for a god. He grew up in Obregi land, far from his ancestral home, but he will return to Tova at the appropriate time and carry the hopes of the Carrion Crow clan with him.

Xiala is a ship captain, a woman, and a Teek. That means she's a target. Teek have magic, which makes them uncanny and dangerous. They're also said to carry that magic in their bones, which makes them valuable in ways that are not pleasant for the Teek. Running afoul of the moral codes of Cuecola is therefore even more dangerous to her than it would be to others, which is why she accepts a bargain to run errands for a local lord for twelve years, paid at the end of that time with ownership of a ship and crew. The first task: ferry a strange man to the city of Tova.

Meanwhile, in Tova, the priestess Naranpa has clawed her way to the top of the Sky Made hierarchy from an inauspicious beginning in the poor district of Coyote's Maw. She's ruthlessly separated herself from her despised beginnings and focused her attention on calming Tova in advance of the convergence, a rare astronomical alignment at the same time as the winter solstice. But Carrion Crow holds a deep-seated grudge at their slaughter by the priesthood during the Night of Knives, and Naranpa's position atop the religious order that partly rules Tova's fractious politics is more precarious than she thinks.

I am delighted that more fantasy is drawing on mythologies and histories other than the genre default of western European. It's long overdue for numerous reasons and a trend to be rewarded. But do authors writing fantasy in English who reach for Mesoamerican cultures have to gleefully embrace the excuse to add more torture? I'm developing an aversion to this setting (which I do not want to do!) because every book seems to feature human sacrifice, dismemberment, or some other horror show.

Roanhorse at least does not fill the book with that (there's lingering child abuse but nothing as sickening as the first chapter), but that makes the authorial choice to make the torture one's first impression of this book even odder. Our introduction to Serapio is a scene that I would have preferred to have never read, and I don't think it even adds much to the plot. Huge warnings for people who don't want to read about a mother torturing her son, or about eyes in that context.

Once past that introduction, Black Sun settles into a two-thread fantasy, one following Xiala and Serapio's sea voyage and the other following Naranpa and the political machinations in Tova. Both the magic systems and the political systems are different enough to be refreshing, and there are a few bits of world-building I enjoyed (a city built on top of rocks separated by deep canyons and connected with bridges, giant intelligent riding crows, everything about the Teek). My problem was that I didn't care what happened to any of the characters. Naranpa spends most of the book dithering and whining despite a backstory that should have promised more dynamic and decisive responses. The other character from Tova introduced somewhat later in the book is clearly "character whose story will appear in the next volume"; here, he's just station-keeping and representing the status quo. And while it's realistic given the plot that Serapio is an abused sociopath, that didn't mean I enjoyed reading his viewpoint or his childhood abuse.

Xiala is the best character in the book by far and I was warming to the careful work she has to do to win over an unknown crew, but apparently Roanhorse was not interested in that. Instead, the focus of Xiala's characterization turns to a bad-boy romance that did absolutely nothing for me. This will be a matter of personal taste; I know this is a plot feature for many readers. But it had me rolling my eyes and turning the pages to get to something more interesting (which, sadly, was not forthcoming). It also plays heavily on magical disabled person cliches, like the blind man being the best fighter anyone has met.

I did not enjoy this book very much, but there were some neat bits of world-building and I could see why other people might disagree. What pushed me into actively recommending against it (at least for now) is the publishing structure.

This is the first book of a trilogy, so one can expect the major plot to not be resolved by the end of the book. But part of the contract with the reader when publishing a book series is that each volume should reach some sense of closure and catharsis. There will be cliffhangers and unanswered questions, but there should also be enough plot lines that are satisfactorily resolved to warrant publishing a book as a separate novel.

There is none of that here. This is the first half (or third) of a novel. It introduces a bunch of plot lines, pulls them together, describes an intermediate crisis, and then simply stops. Not a single plot line is resolved. This is made worse by the fact this series (presumably, as I have only seen the first book) has a U-shaped plot: everything gets worse and worse until some point of crisis, and then presumably the protagonists will get their shit together and things will start to improve. I have soured on U-shaped plots since the first half of the story often feels like a tedious grind (eat your vegetables and then you can have dessert), but it's made much worse by cutting the book off at the bottom of the U. You get a volume, like Black Sun, that's all setup and horror and collapse, with no payoff or optimism.

After two tries, I have concluded that Roanhorse is not for me. This is clearly a me problem rather than a Roanhorse problem, given how many other people love both Black Sun and her Sixth World series, but this is the second book of hers where I mildly enjoyed the world building but didn't care about any of the characters. Ah well, tastes will differ. Even if you get along with Roanhorse, though, I recommend against starting this book until the second half of it is published (currently scheduled for 2022). As it stands, it's a wholly unsatisfying reading experience.

Followed by the not-yet-published Fevered Star.

Rating: 4 out of 10

2021-08-15: Review: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within

Review: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, by Becky Chambers

Series Wayfarers #4
Publisher Harper Voyager
Copyright April 2021
ISBN 0-06-293605-0
Format Kindle
Pages 325

The name of the planet Gora is the Hanto word for useless. It's a bone-dry, resource-poor planet with nothing to recommend it except that it happened to be conveniently located between five other busy systems and had well-established interspacial tunnels. Gora is therefore a transit hub: a place lots of people visit for about half a day while waiting for a departure time, but where very few people stay. It is the interstellar equivalent of an airport.

Ouloo is a Laru, a species physically somewhat similar to a giant dog. She is the owner of the Five-Hop One-Stop in a habitat dome on Gora, where she lives with her child (who is not yet old enough to choose a gender). On the day when this novel begins, she's expecting three ships to dock: one Aeluon, one Quelin, and, to Ouloo's significant surprise and moderate discomfort, an Akarak. But apart from that, it's a normal day.

A normal day, that is, until maintenance work on the solar satellite array leads to a Kessler syndrome collision cascade that destroys most of the communication satellites and makes it unsafe to leave the surface of the planet. Ouloo and her guests are stuck with each other for longer than they expected.

In a typical SF novel, you would expect the characters to have to fix the satellite cascade, or for it to be a sign of something more nefarious. That is not the case here; the problem is handled by the Goran authorities, the characters have no special expertise, and there is no larger significance to the accident. Instead, the accident functions as storm in a very old story-telling frame: three travelers and their host and her child, trapped together by circumstance and forced to entertain each other until they can go on their way.

Breaking from the formula, they do not do that primarily by telling stories to each other, although the close third-person narration that moves between the characters reveals their backgrounds over the course of the book. Instead, a lot of this book is conversation, sometimes prompted by Ouloo's kid Tupo (who I thought was a wonderfully-written tween, complete with swings between curiosity and shyness, random interests, occasionally poor impulse control, and intense but unpredictable learning interest). That leads to some conflict (and some emergencies), but, similar to Record of a Spaceborn Few, this is more of a character study book than a things-happen book.

An interesting question, then, is why is this story science fiction? A similar story could be written (and has been, many times) with human travelers in a mundane inn or boarding house in a storm. None of the aliens are all that alien; despite having different body shapes and senses, you could get more variation from a group of university students. And even more than with Chambers's other books, the advanced technology is not the point and is described only enough to provide some background color and a bit of characterization.

The answer, for me, is that the cognitive estrangement of non-human characters relieves my brain of the baggage that I bring to human characters and makes it easier for me to empathize with the characters as individuals rather than representatives of human archetypes. With human characters, I would be fitting them into my knowledge of history and politics, and my reaction to each decision the characters make would be influenced by the assumptions prompted by that background. I enjoy the distraction of invented worlds and invented histories in part because they're simplified compared to human histories and therefore feel more knowable and less subtle. I'm not trying to understand the political angle from which the author is writing or wondering if I'm missing a reference that's important to the story.

In other words, the science fiction setting gives the narrator more power. The story tells me the important details of the background; there isn't some true history lurking beneath that I'm trying to ferret out. When that's combined with interesting physical differences, I find myself imagining what it would be like to be the various aliens, trying to insert myself into their worlds, rather than placing them in a historical or political context. That puts me in a curious and empathetic mindset, and that, in turn, is the best perspective from which to enjoy Chambers's stories.

The characters in this story don't solve any large-scale problems. They do make life decisions, some quite significant, but only on a personal scale. They also don't resolve all of their suspicions and disagreements. This won't be to everyone's taste, but it's one of the things I most enjoyed about the book: it shows a small part of the lives of a collection of average individuals, none of whom are close to the levers of power and none of whom are responsible for fixing their species or galactic politics. They are responsible for their own choices, and for how their lives touch the lives of others. They can make the people they encounter happier or sadder, they can chose how to be true to their own principles, and they can make hard choices without right answers.

When I describe a mainstream fiction book that way, I often find it depressing, but I came away from The Galaxy, and the Ground Within feeling better about the world and more open-hearted towards other people. I'm not sure what Chambers does to produce that reaction, so I'm not sure if it will have the same effect on other people. Perhaps part of it is that while there is some drama, her characters do not seek drama for its own sake, none of the characters are villains, and she has a way of writing sincerity that clicks with my brain.

There is a scene, about two-thirds of the way through the book, where the characters get into a heated argument about politics, and for me this is the moment where you will either love this book or it will not work for you. The argument doesn't resolve anything, and yet it's one of the most perceptive, accurate, and satisfying portrayals of a political argument among normal people that I've seen in fiction. It's the sort of air-clearing conversation in which every character is blunt with both their opinion and their emotions rather than shading them for politeness. Those positions are not necessarily sophisticated or deeply philosophical, but they are deeply honest.

"And you know what? I truly don't care which of them is right so long as it fixes everything. I don't have an... an ideology. I don't know the right terms to discuss these things. I don't know the science behind any of it. I'm sure I sound silly right now. But I just want everyone to get along, and to be well taken care of. That's it. I want everybody to be happy and I do not care how we get there." She exhaled, her broad nostrils flaring. "That's how I feel about it."

I am not Ouloo, but I think she represents far more people than fiction normally realizes, and I found something deeply satisfying and revealing in seeing that position presented so clearly in the midst of a heated argument.

If you like what Chambers does, I think you will like this book. If it's not for you, this is probably not the book that will change your mind, although there is a bit less hand-wavy technology to distract the people whom that distracts. The Galaxy, and the Ground Within didn't have the emotional resonance that Record of a Spaceborn Few had for me, or the emotional gut punch of A Closed and Common Orbit. But I loved every moment of reading it.

This will apparently be the last novel in the Wayfarers universe, at least for the time being. Chambers will be moving on to other settings (starting with A Psalm for the Wild-Built).

Rating: 8 out of 10

Last spun 2021-11-29 from thread modified 2008-08-13