Superfluous Matter
Books -- The Last Few Years...

Between the pandemic, work, having a baby, and buying a house I've been a bit busy and blogging has been seriously deprioritized. However I am still reading, and here's what I've read since my last post.

  • The Waking Fire, by Anthony Ryan
  • The Quantum Thief, by Hannu Rajaniemi
  • Dawnshard, by Brandon Sanderson
  • Mort, by Terry Pratchett
  • Feet of Clay, by Terry Pratchett
  • Jingo, by Terry Pratchett
  • Rhythm of War, by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Fractal Prince, by Hannu Rajaniemi
  • Mediocre, by Ijeoma Oluo
  • The Causal Angel, by Hannu Rajaniemi
  • If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo
  • Harrow the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir
  • The Burning God, by R. F. Kuang
  • Network Effect, by Martha Wells
  • Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins
  • The Ministry for the Future, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • A Little Devil in America, by Hanif Abdurraqib
  • 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Relentless Moon, by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • The Fifth Elephant, by Terry Pratchett
  • Father Figure, by Jordan Shapiro
  • The New Childhood, by Jordan Shapiro
  • Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke
  • The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Harvey Karp
  • Cribsheet, by Emily Oster
  • Dark Disciple, by Christie Golden
  • Termination Shock, by Neal Stephenson
  • Bluebird, by Ciel Pierlot
  • The Kaiju Preservation Society, by John Scalzi
  • Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
  • Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett
  • Thud!, by Terry Pratchett
  • Making Money, by Terry Pratchett
  • Raising Steam, by Terry Pratchett
  • Hunt, Gather, Parent, by Michaeleen Doucleff
  • Snuff, by Terry Pratchett
  • A Half-Built Garden, by Ruthanna Emrys
  • Reaper Man, by Terry Pratchett
  • The Animals in That Country, by Laura Jean McKay
  • The Truth, by Terry Pratchett
  • The World We Make, by N. K. Jemisin
  • How Civil Wars Start, by Barbara F. Walter
  • Soul Music, by Terry Pratchett
  • The Once and Future Sex, by Eleanor Janega
  • Radical Candor, by Kim Scott
  • Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin
  • Responding to the Right, by Nathan J. Robinson
  • The Wonder Weeks, by Hetty van de Rijt and Frans X. Plooij
  • Babel, by R. F. Kuang
  • Heir to the Empire, by Timothy Zahn
  • A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik
  • The Golden Enclaves, by Naomi Novik
  • The Last Command, by Timothy Zahn
  • Red Team Blues, by Cory Doctorow
  • The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle
  • Hopeland, by Ian McDonald
  • Fairy Tale, by Stephen King
  • Wired for Love, by Stephanie Cacioppo
  • The Comfort Crisis, by Michael Easter
  • The High Sierra, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Lost Cause, by Cory Doctorow
  • System Collapse, by Martha Wells
  • Starter Villain, by John Scalzi
  • The Future, by Naomi Alderman
  • The Bezzle, by Cory Doctorow
  • Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind, by Molly McGhee
  • Light of the Jedi, by Charles Soule
  • A Test of Courage, by Justina Ireland
  • Into the Dark, by Claudia Gray
  • How Infrastructure Works, by Deb Chachra

Many of these were quite good. In particular I enjoyed catching up on years of Terry Pratchett and reading more of Kim Stanley Robinson's back catalog. I also read a number of parenting books which have been of varying value in real life.

I've also read a number of recent books from Cory Doctorow who seems to have spent the pandemic writing a ton of fiction on top of his usual multiple-long-form-non-fiction-essays per week schedule. I think essays are his true strength -- his fiction is fine, very readable, but never quite moves me in a literary sense. I think he uses it as a vehicle to present many of the ideas from his essays in a format that may be more accessible to a wider audience. As an example, in his latest book "The Bezzle" there is this absolute gut punch of an aside which is more or less lifted straight from several of his non-fiction writings:

Let me give you a little life tip. If you are ever tempted to hold out hope that life will get better for America's prisoners, in even the tiniest ways, avoid that temptation.

America will never make life better for the millions of souls it has imprisoned. Never. It is not in our character. To be an American is to live with the festering background knowledge that you are in a land that imprisons more of its people than any country in the history of the world--a land with more prisoners than Stalin's USSR or Hu Jintao's China or P. W. Botha's Apartheid South Africa.

With so many in prison, either you have to believe that you are living in the midst of a great many secret criminals, or you have to confront the fact that you live in a place where the only thing standing between you and decades in a prison (running at two or three times its nominal capacity) is luck ... and connections.

Most Americans don't have connections and luck is an inconstant companion, and so we have mostly decided that the truth is that a legion of secret criminals lurk among our neighbors and that our overstuffed prisons are so full only because so many of us deserve to grow old as caged animals.

To extend even the tiniest bit of mercy (or even empathy) to our incarcerated brothers and sisters is to admit the possibility that they don't belong there. If they don't belong there, then we are a nation that imprisons people who should be free. If that is true, than you or I or anyone else might end up in prison.

The belief in prisoners' just desserts is an emotional defense mechanism, as is the racism it depends on, because anyone who pays even a scintilla of attention to prisoners will know that the carceral state is not an equal-opportunity predator. It has an insatiable appetite for brown and Black flesh.

When I read this in the novel I had to put it down and stop for a while because it just so accurately boils down such a huge problem in this nation. In the last few years I've become a US citizen on top of everything else, and more than anything else here (and there are so many things) this particular issue is the one I find most haunting. I can at least vote now, but it doesn't feel like that is enough here and it is hard to reconcile all of this with continued residency in the country. Not that I'm planning to leave, but this is the thing that keeps me up when I think about longer term life plans.

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