Superfluous Matter Matthew Lausch's Blog http://matter.sawkmonkey.com Books - Thrawn, by Timonthy Zahn Sat, 17 June 2017 11:17:00 PDT Timothy Zahn is best known for his "Heir to the Empire" trilogy of books that served as the official sequel trilogy to the original three Star Wars movies until Lucasfilm "de-canonized" them. The books are still near-and-dear to the hearts of many fans as well as to many members of the Lucasfilm story group. This is evident in the resurrection in recent "canon" works of the main villain of the books, Grand Admiral Thrawn.

That resurrection is completed with this book, which brings Zahn back to write an official, canon, origin story for this amazing character.

I liked the book, but it's not exactly high literature. I'm pretty sure that anyone who might enjoy it already plans to read it and doesn't need to read my recommendation.

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Books - The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, by Peter Temin Sun, 11 June 2017 22:16:00 PDT I can't remember what pointed me to this book, but the concept intrigued me so I bought the e-version. Peter Temin is an economist at MIT and argues that America has regressed to a dual economy situation closely resembling that of many nations in the developing world. In such a situation a minority of the population has access to advanced education, health care, housing, and employment while the majority suffers with substantially worse versions of these necessities of life.

Temin further argues that not only does a minority of America's citizens have access to the "good life" but that that same minority (especially the upper 1%) actively work to prevent the advancement of the underclass majority through control of the political system.

Each section and chapter rigorously cites other studies and focuses on pointing out facts rather than drawing concrete conclusions. However the presentation leaves little doubt to the reader what such conclusions would be. Not only is America severely broken, but the breakage was intentional and motivated by a combination of racism and blind greed. It's hard to disagree with the mountain of statistics, studies, and anecdotes. The discussion of education vs. incarceration was particularly horrifying.

It's been a while since a book left me so cold and horrified.

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Working Trip to Europe Sun, 11 June 2017 21:27:00 PDT Earlier this Spring Sarah had to go to Amsterdam and London on business and so I tagged along, spending some time working out of the ILM London offices. It was a great combination of personal and professional adventure! Read more here.

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Books - American War, by Omar El Akkad Wed, 24 May 2017 21:21:00 PDT Omar El Akkad is an Egyptian-Canadian journalist who has covered various terrorism-triggered conflicts around the world, as well as the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo. He clearly brings that experience to his debut novel, a story about a hypothetical second US Civil War, occurring towards the end of the 21st century.

In this plausible future the coastal areas of the country have been ravaged by rising oceans (Florida is gone and the nation's capital has been moved to Columbus, Ohio) and attempts to curtail fossil fuel usage have triggered the secession of several of the southern states. States that bristle at any infringement on freedoms despite the disproportionate effects of climate change on their territories. Secession escalates to a twenty year civil war. Drone strikes are common and terrifying, and foreign governments attempt to influence the course of the war for geopolitical advantage.

The story follows Sarat, a girl from the south born into poverty, forced into refugee camps, and ultimately recruited into service in the fight against the north. The evolution and radicalization of her character is well detailed by the author. It's interesting but also deeply disturbing because her thoughts and views are believable and understandable.

Summarized, this all sounds like a too conveniently plotted turn-of-the-tables for the United States with regard to its historical foreign policies, but it actually flows well in the story. The events successfully remind one that the distance between the supposedly "civilized" western world and the war-torn countries of the Middle East and Africa is much smaller than we'd like to think.

The book is quite gripping but definitely not spirit-lifting. Given the current political climate it hits a little too close to home. But I guess that is what makes it so good.

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Books - Y: The Last Man Vol. 1-60, by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra Sun, 21 May 2017 16:31:00 PDT I've enjoyed Saga so far so I thought I'd check out another highly-rated graphic novel by Vaughan, the complete "Y: The Last Man" (I love when series are already finished). This one follows the exploits of Yorick Brown, the last man left on the planet after a mysterious plague instantly and simultaneously wipes out every mammal with a Y chromosome -- except him and his pet monkey Ampersand.

The books follow his journey with some badass women as they try to figure out what happened to all the men and how they can possibly save humanity. Yorick also spends a lot of time trying to reunite with his fiancée who was in Australia at the time of the incident.

The ultimate moral of the story is not exactly clear (at least to me), but I found the world (re)building interesting. In the early volumes chaos and violence are everywhere. Vaughan does not presume that a world without men would be a peaceful utopia. As the years pass the chaos subsides slowly as the women still alive work to bring back some semblance of civilization. The new world is different, but still has many of the same problems of the old. The worse aspects of humanity (greed, jealousy, nationalism, etc.) remain to greater and lesser degrees in the survivors.

I read the entire series in eBook format (borrowed from the SF library). This worked well for me, especially since I read most of it while traveling in Europe. Overall I enjoyed the series, but I think I maybe like Saga better.

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Books - Company Town, by Madeline Ashby Tue, 09 May 2017 19:31:00 PDT This is the first book I've ever read in "eBook" format. No, I'm not a luddite, why do you ask? I read it on my phone, which was fine from a technical and readability point of view, but I think it damaged the sense of immersion I normally get from reading. A dedicated e-reader might have been better for that. Holding my phone to read constantly poked the bits of my brain that engage with all the other things my phone does, never allowing me to fully engage with the story.

So I'm not sure if my impressions of this book are fair. I enjoyed the setting and the concept and I definitely wanted to find out what happened next, but I found the actual writing and story structure to be somewhat lacking. I was regularly confused on key points or feeling like I had missed something. Again, perhaps reading on my phone messed with my brain, but I'm not sure.

The book is a speculative fiction piece set on an oil rig in eastern Canada where almost everyone has some level of cybernetic enhancement. However the main character, Hwa, is a "pure organic" and as such is seen as an asset for the job of bodyguard for the teenage boy who will inherit the ownership of the rig from his father. Because Hwa has no implants she can't be hacked or monitored by malicious actors. Then the author adds some time-travel and the book gets weird. It's all really interesting from a conceptual point of view though, and the commentary on what it means to be un-augmented in an augmented world seems particularly relevant for the future of the real world.

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Books - Dust, by Hugh Howey Tue, 09 May 2017 19:12:00 PDT I finished the last book of the "Silo Trilogy" quickly, using up the book faster than was optimal given that I was stuck on an airplane for 10 hours. It was a satisfying end to the series though and I'm pleased to have read it. I won't say any more to avoid spoilers for those who may be interested.

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Books - Shift, by Hugh Howey Fri, 14 April 2017 20:31:00 PDT I read and enjoyed the first book of the Silo Trilogy almost two years ago. Now I've finally read the second book (Shift) and I'm about to start the third (Dust). The most I can say about "Shift" without spoiling the story is that it is a prequel explaining how the world came to destruction and how the major characters of "Wool" reached the positions they have in that book. Again I was impressed with the careful planning and construction that Howey has put into the story and I'm eager to polish off the series.

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Books - Wolverine: Old Man Logan, by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven Sun, 02 April 2017 18:08:00 PDT I saw Logan, possibly the best X-Men movie to date, on opening night. Later I picked up a used copy of the graphic novel on which it was (loosely) based and read it in an evening. It was also good, but almost nothing like the movie.

Instead of mysteriously disappearing like in the movie, almost all of the mutants were wiped out by the coordinated effort of all of the super-villains. Those villains then divided up America for themselves, resulting in a post-apocalyptic wasteland in which Wolverine (Logan) is simply trying to live with his family in peace. The Hulk family rules the part of the world he lives in, and when Logan can't make the rent he's forced accompany a very old and very blind Hawkeye as a mercenary on a quest across the country to make a quick buck.

The journey is mostly an excuse to show off the fate of all the characters in the Marvel universe in this alternate, dystopian timeline. It's bonkers and a lot of fun.

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Books - Purity, by Jonathan Franzen Sun, 02 April 2017 17:58:00 PDT Some people find Franzen's writing intolerable and hacky, others call him one of the best contemporary American writers. I'm not sure I can pass judgment either way, but I enjoy his stories.

I can't quite say what Purity, his latest novel, is about but it definitely entertained me. The characters are interesting and provide convenient excuses to explore a variety of times and places: cold-war-era East Berlin and Pennsylvania; the rain forests of Bolivia; present-day Oakland, Denver, and the Santa Cruz Mountains. One of the major themes is the ability of the Internet to increase the transparency of governments and corporations via Wikileaks-like organizations, and how that compares to "legitimate journalism." But more important is the book's slow reveal of the connections between a disparate collection of people and how it affects them.

If you're interested in Franzen check out his best, "The Corrections," first and if you like it then come back to this one.

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