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NewsGarden Compost: Index



Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga

by alllie

When was the Golden Age of Science Fiction? The late 1930s to the 1950s, when science fiction became widely popular and many classic science fiction stories were published. The joke answer is that the Golden age of Science Fiction is 14, the age when many readers first become science fiction fans. I know I read my first scifi when I was 13 or 14 so maybe they are right.

Lately scifi fandom, in which I include not just the fans but writers, podcasters and publishers, want to catch the next generation of fans and have been pushing Young Adult Science Fiction, scifi for kids in their teens and maybe early twenties. I’m not immune to this campaign so I’ve been reading some of it myself. First, I got Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy. It was light but okay. Then I got Twilight, the first of Meyer's books about a clumsy girl and the vampire who loves her.

My first impression of the book was that it was BIG. It was a thick book. Once I opened it I realized it was big inside. Big font. Big line spacing. It reminded me that what publishers are basically selling is a paper product. The more paper they sell, the thicker the book, the more they can charge. The actual arrangement of ink on the page is usually the cheapest part of their product. Twilight is a big book. It might be classified as Young Adult Speculative Fiction but it was great as Old People Going Blind Fiction as well. As an old person going blind I found the font and the line spacing made it a lot easier for me to read than the tiny fonts in real books. I didn’t have to put on my special adjustable glasses and put it down a lot because my eyes were freaking. BIG FONTS. It was easy to read.

It was a little slow to start. I didn’t really find the girl, Bella, interesting. She seemed rather ordinary. There’s a vagueness to her that reminds me of superhero comic books. They leave the faces of the superheroes sketchy so the reader can imagine themselves in that role. In the same way Bella is vague so the reader can imagine herself as Bella. It’s not even clear if Bella is particularly pretty (except to Edward) but when the vampires appear, going to high school to give themselves a paper trail and a backstory that will allow them to live among humans, there are pages devoted to their beauty. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful vampires. Beautiful and irresistible so their prey cannot resist them. But this family of vampires is vegetarian. They don’t eat people but Bella’s vampire Edward can barely restrain himself from taking her. The descriptions of the teen vampires are very much how girls, how I, viewed many boys when I was that age. They did seem just as beautiful to me as Edward seems to Bella. I used to sit in class and covertly watch them. Edward’s hard flesh mirrors the hardness of young male flesh as hormones turn teenaged boys, almost overnight, into something different, something alien. I hit my teenaged brother a couple of times (he deserved it) and it was like hitting a log. I hurt my hands more than I hurt him. And teenaged boys, beautiful as many are, are often monsters. So the entire metaphor of vampire = teenaged boy = monster = object-of-desire works.

Like Shakespeare has multiple layers and can be read for the plots, for the characterizations, for the sex and violence, for the dirty jokes, for the philosophy, for the language, Twilight, as simple as it is, has several layers. Meyer doesn’t have, say, Tanith Lee’s genius for the English language but the entire Bella/Edward relationship is a metaphor for the relationship between teenaged girls and boys as they fight their instinct to have sex, sex that might destroy them. Maybe it’s not like that today with birth control and abortion but when I grew up the struggle between guys and girls was to not have sex. The girl was supposed to be in charge of that but the better guys shared the responsibility, fought against their desire to have sex and maybe ruin the life of the girl who gave in. In the same way Edward fights against giving into his instincts and taking Bella, consuming her. As much as he is driven he fights against his desire. He also fights against her desire to become like him, to become a vampire, to let him lead her into damnation. He believes that he lost his soul when he was transformed and he doesn’t want to be the weapon that deprives Bella of her own soul. The whole thing is a metaphor for sex, at least sex as seen by a Mormon housewife, which was what Meyer was 5 years ago.

Meyer has linked various works to each book in the series. Pride and Prejudice to Twilight. Romeo and Juliet to New Moon. Wuthering Heights to Eclipse. A Midsummer Night's Dream to Breaking Dawn. This adds another layer to each of the stories. In Twilight Edward, at first, seems cold and withdrawn, like Mr. Darcy, but that is because, like Mr. Darcy, he is trying to control and conceal his growing desire for an unsuitable girl. I'm gonna pass over New Moon because I think telling the Romeo and Juliet elements in it would be too spoilery. In Eclipse, there are two guys in love with the same girl, in a relationship very much like Cathy, Heathcliff, and Edgar Linton in Wuthering Heights. And in the final book, Breaking Dawn, first you have two men magically in love with the same girl then two immortal families struggling over a magical child like in A Midsummer Night's Dream. All of the connections are pretty weak but it adds a nice additional layer to the books and that lets you run the similarities and differences over in your mind.

The Twilight Saga, like Austen’s novels, the Bronte sisters’ works and even Romeo and Juliet, are pretty much girl books, the text version of chick flicks. Meyer is writing about love and romance at its most melodramatic extreme. I don’t know that a male could tolerate them. Well, unless he got off on the idea of being the superhero protecting an accident-prone, trouble-magnet girlfriend or secretly hanging out in her bedroom, watching her as she sleeps.(Edward takes stalking to a whole other level.) Like Austen’s novels, the Twilight novels, especially the first one, have a strong Cinderella element. Most of Austen’s heroines are ordinary girls, usually without much money, who get the best, richest, most good-looking guy in the novel. Like Cinderella they get the prince. Just so Twilight is the story of how Bella, the ordinary girl, gets the superhero vampire.

So there are at least three layers to the Twilight Saga. That makes the series better and gives the reader an additional layer despite how preposterous the story is.

Of course, I loved all four books, though I am kinda disgusted with myself for it. Teenaged love, the vampire and the virgin. God, how ridiculous is that? Yet as soon as I finish one of Meyer's books I start rereading the parts I like best then reread the whole thing. After six days I’m almost through my third reading of Breaking Dawn. I don’t know why her books ring my bells. They make me feel kinda manipulated but still I find them addictive.

This summer Meyer also released the scifi book Host which I recommend. It is pretty straight forward scifi about an alien parasite living in the brain of a human and being changed by it. The parasite finds herself loving the people that her host loved and driven to be with them. In a sense it's a rewrite of I Married a Monster From Outer Space but without the sex. No sex before marriage in books by Mormon housewives! I’ve already read it three times too. I try to blame that on the nice big font!

Well, at least it’s over. It will be a while before Meyer can get another book out and until then I can pretend I have better taste than this. Though I’m not embarrassed about liking Host. That one was okay.


© Alllie 2008

Distribution: This article is copyrighted by Alllie, but permission is granted for reprint in print, email, or web media so long as this link is attached, http://newsgarden.info/chatters/homepages/alllie/alllieblog/


Woken Furies by Richard K. Morgan

by alllie

Spoiler Warning: I discuss most of the important plot points so stop now if you want to be surprised.

In his third Takeshi Kovacs novel, Richard K. Morgan brings Kovacs back to his home planet, Harlan's world, a world ruled by an hereditary plutocracy. Centuries before this plutocracy was almost deposed in a revolution led by a woman calling herself Quellcrist Fallconer. After Quell's death they granted many concessions in order to quell that revolution. Our own plutocracy did something similar with the New Deal and Great Society programs, programs used to placate the American public and forestall a communist revolution. No longer afraid of such a revolution the plutocracy sees no reason they should allow those programs to continue. So too the first families of Harlan's world are taking it all back, driving the population into greater and greater poverty, just as Quell warned. (This enemy you cannot kill. You can only drive it back damaged to the depths and teach your children to watch the waves for its return.)

Kovacs lives in a universe where an individual's personality and experiences are continually downloaded into a "stack" which is sort of a hard drive implanted at birth . When a person in this universe dies his stack can be removed, implanted into a new sleeve (body) and then he/she will live again.

Kovacs is a former "envoy" turned criminal, criminal being one of the few careers open to an ex-envoy. While making an illegal living Kovacs is also on a quest for personal vengeance against the religious sect that tortured his ex-girlfriend to death and dropped her and her daughter's stacks into the ocean so that neither could be resurrected.

In all the Takeshi Kovacs novels the subtext is revolution, at least for me, and the principal character is writer/poet/revolutionary Quellcrist Falconer. Her words are peppered through each book even though she never appears, not until Woken Furies.

Escaping from a sticky situation embeds Kovacs with a group of mercenary soldiers cleaning up self-evolving machines left over from Quell's revolution centuries before. The command hardware implanted in the brain of one of these soldiers seems to have been contaminated with a different personality and this personality seems to be Quell's. At least maybe.

When I finished Woken Furies I found myself dissatisfied. Like all of Morgan's books it's a good read. The universe and characters he describes are well developed and interesting. His portraits of the physical environment are amazing but in the end it was like expecting a meal of heart-killing fried chicken and then getting some low-fat gourmet chicken breast. Good but not what I had a taste for.

I wanted Quellcrist Falconer. That was what I had a taste for. From the previous Kovacs books, I had developed certain ideas about Quell. I thought she would be like the whirlwind, sweeping everything from her path. I expected her to be like Lady Dewinter in The Three Musketeers, except political. Remember when they changed De Winter's guards merely because she'd spoken to them and thus might have persuaded them to help her. I expected Quell to be like that. A force of nature. Castro a la Rospierre. But this Quell could not even convince Kovacs of the rightness of her cause and Kovacs wanted to be convinced, wanted to believe.

In the end I decided this resurrected Quell was only a sketch of Quell, not the real thing, not the full personality.

I did like Morgan's idea of a revolutionary force that blends back into the population to live their lives, then, when the conditions are right, ripe, when revolution is possible, like the plant Quellcrist, they emerge and grow within weeks.

I was also disappointed at the ending. We were given a Quell who could win a revolution not because the people supported it but because she had gotten control of the lethal orbital defense systems left by a previous alien race. Sort of Deus ex machine. Not a revolution. A coup. Revolutions grow from the people. Coups are forced on them. This revolution, if it succeeded, would have been a technological success, not a human one.

That is what I thought the first time I read Woken Furies.

Then I thought about it off and on for a year. Then I read it again. This time I decided the book wasn't about Quellcrist Fallconer even though I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be about Quellcrist telling us how to wage a successful revolution against a hereditary plutocracy. But just because I wanted it to be about that didn't mean it was. Woken Furies doesn't tell us that secret except in the sense of the Quellcrist weed, that a revolutionary must blend into the population but, when conditions are right, emerge and fight again.

Perhaps Quell wasn't the whirlwind. Maybe no successful revolutionary is. In Peter A. DeCaro's Rhetoric of Revolt: Ho Chi Minh's Discourse for Revolution, Ho seems a gentle man who worked for his country's freedom for decades, for his whole life. Like Tom Paine, the person who made the American Revolution, Ho was primarily a poet and writer trying to inspire his countrymen to support the struggle for freedom. He also seemed to be a man who impressed everyone with his goodness, sort of like Nelson Mandela. So the Vietnamese revolution, when it came in 1945, was successful with barely a shot fired. Then, like the American Revolution, there was a fight for independence, but the revolution part, that was all but nonviolent. Maybe Quell was supposed to be like that. Maybe her iconic status was due not to the force of her personality but the result of a lifetime of work. That aside, Woken Furies is not about Quell. Not even about Revolution.

What Woken Furies is really about is Kovacs and about his having been an Envoy. Envoys are what John Perkins called "jackals" in his book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman. When progressive movements arise, when leaders try to work for their people, when they won't be bribed or blackmailed, when they will not allow the global plutocracy to rape their country, the jackals are sent in. Jackals are covert ops/CIA/intelligence operatives, sent in to assassinate, to organize riots, coups, civil wars, to stop progressive movements, progressive revolutions, to stop anything that would take power and wealth from the local and global plutocracy. The plutocracy uses envoys to pummel the population into submission so the greedy can take their resource wealth and exploit their labor. That was what Kovacs did when he was an "envoy."

Now I understand why I was dissatisfied the first time I read Woken Furies. I wanted something from it, something Richard Morgan didn't or couldn't provide: The secret of how to make a successful revolution against a cruel, exploitive, entrenched plutocracy. That is what Quell did. Or nearly did. How did she motivate people to support a struggle to end their own subjugation? Apparently Morgan doesn't know the answer to that question. Or doesn't say.

But that was my fault because in the end Woken Furies isn't about Quell or revolution. It's about Takeshi Kovacs, the ex-Envoy/covert-ops/jackal trying to get justice even if he has to make it himself, make it personally.

This brings me to a hope, a fantasy, that some of America's jackals, the people who really know what is going on, what orders the plutocracy gives, that one or more of these people might become disgusted with what they have done, been ordered to do, and begin to fight against their masters, might testify before Congress or work more covertly against the plutocracy. Is that possible?

We live in hope. Or make it ourselves.

Quotes from Woken Furies:

"Everything the Quellists squeezed out of the original Harlan regime, those guys have been chipping away at ever since it happened." [like the GOP is chipping away at the New Deal and Great Society programs.]

This enemy you cannot kill. You can only drive it back damaged to the depths and teach your children to watch the waves for its return. [Quell's warning about the return of the predatory plutocracy]

The Occasional Revolution, in which she argues that modern revolutionaries must when deprived of nourishment by oppressive forces blow away across the land like Quellcrist dust, ubiquitous and traceless but bearing within them the power of revolutionary regeneration where and whenever fresh nourishment may arise. Quellcrist Falconer

Quellcrist, also Qualgrist, native Harlan's World amphibious weed…remarkable only for its unusual lifecycle. If and when stranded in waterless conditions for long periods of time, the plant's pods dry out to a black powder which can be carried by the wind over hundreds of kilometres. The remainder of the plant dies and decays, but the Quellcrist powder, upon coming into contact with water once more, reconstitutes into microfronds from which a whole plant may grow in a matter of weeks.

…the Quellcrist powder that Konrad Harlan's self-described harrowing storm of justice had blown far and wide in the aftermath of the Quellist defeat now spouted new resistance in a dozen different places.

The Quellist meanwhile slipped away, disappeared, abandoned the struggle and got on with living their lives as Nadia Makita [Quellcrist's original name] had always argued they should be prepared to do...And twenty-five years later, back they came, careers built, families formed, children raised, back to fight again, not so much aged but seasoned, wiser, tougher, stronger and fed at the core by the whisper that persisted at the heart of each individual uprising that Quellcrist Falconer herself was back.

Kovacs to a female believer in New Revelation: "..I'm calling you a gutless betrayer of your sex. I can see your husband's angle, he's a man, he's got everything to gain from this crapshit. But you? You've thrown away centuries of political struggle and scientific advance so you can sit in the dark and mutter your superstitions of unworth to yourself. You'll let your life, the most precious thing you have, be stolen from you hour by hour and day by day as long as you can eke out the existence your males will let you have. And then, when you finally die, and I hope it's soon, sister, I really do, then at the last you'll spite your own potential and shirk the final power we've won for ourselves to come back and try again. You'll do all of this because of your fucking faith, and if that child in your belly is female, then you'll condemn her to the same fucking thing" [This is how I feel about any woman who adopts Islam or even Christian fundamentalism.]

There is thought and there is action. Do not confuse the two. When the time comes to act, your thought must already be complete. There will be no room for it when the action begins. Quellcrist.

…he'd seen them all prove their ability to adopt Quell's maxim and get on with living a full life when armed struggle was inappropriate.

Rage at injustice is a forest fire - it jumps all divides, even those between generations.

Classic poverty dynamic, people clutch at anything. And if the choice is religion or revolution, the government's quite happy to stand back and let the priests get on with it….Kovacs

"You think this war ever stopped? You think just because we clawed some concessions from them three hundred years ago, these people ever stopped looking for ways to fuck us back into … poverty again. This isn't an enemy that goes away."

"The oligarchs aren't an outside factor… A cancer, if you want to switch analogies. They are programmed to feed off the rest of the body at no matter what cost to the system in general, and to kill off anything that competes. That's why you have to take them down first."
"Yeah, I think I've head this speech. Smash the ruling class and then everything'll be fine, right."
"No, but it's a necessary first step."

"It'll be so good," said Andrea, "To have someone again who knows what to do." [this is why I don't think this is Quell. This sketch of Quell doesn't know what to do.]

An Envoy to Kovacs: "You remember the drill: minimize local disruption, maintain a seamless authority front with the protectorate, hang onto data for future leverage."

"And that's what we're supposed to accept as a model of governance, is it? Corrupt oligarchic overlordship backed up with overwhelming military force?"



Market Forces by Richard K. Morgan

by alllie

Richard Morgan's Market Forces is a combination of John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hitman and a demolition derby. It is set in a future where there are still highways but little gas so only a few corporate masters still drive and they participate in Road Warrior duels to resolve corporate rivalries. Two candidates for a job, decide it on the road. Come back with blood on your wheels or don't come back at all.

I didn't like it as well as Morgan's two previous books, Altered Carbon and Broken Angels, mostly because, in the end, I didn't find any redeeming value in his major characters. Chris Faulkner is a killer, killer on the road and in the office. The fact that he has some liberal tendencies doesn't make up for his willingness to kill bad guys and rivals in the most brutal ways possible. True, the people he kills need killing. But so does he. He's one of them.

"So. I earn a fortune. 'S not like the fucking army, you know. I get well paid for murdering people."

Chris Faulker is a specialist in conflict investments, i.e., making money off wars, revolutions, conflicts, by selling the participants toys of war and repression and then manipulating outcomes so the side that will yield the most profit wins.

"Fuel and ammunition, medical supplies, helicopter gunships, countersubversion trainers, interrogation technology. All at knockdown prices, and for more than twenty years it's all paid off big time. Quiescent population, low-wages economy, export-oriented. Standard neo-liberal dream."

It wasn't rocket science, after all. Slash public health and education spending, open to foreign capital flows, dynamite local blockages in the legal and labor sectors. Lie about the results, and get the local military to crush inconvenient protest. A trained ape could do it. You could get the paper qualifications by distance learning inside ten weeks. Then all it took was a suit and a driver's license.

Yes, this is the world of the future. Except this is a standard manipulation in the present, the "structural readjustment" insisted on by the IMF so leaders can be lent big money, thus allowing control of a country by deliberately putting it into massive debt. Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hitman explains how it works today. Sickening today and sickening tomorrow.

The book is saved only by Morgan's ability to write. His action scenes are riveting. His violence is pornographic. As is the sex.

But what Chris Faulker does for a living is too close to contemporary reality. Only the road warrior stuff is science fiction.

Rating: (No heroes, no hope)


Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan

by alllie

Spoiler Warning: Not much. I only reveal the setup

Broken Angels is Richard Morgan's second book and like his first, Altered Carbon, features super-soldier Takeshi Kovacs. In Broken Angels we find Kovacs 30 years on from Altered Carbon, now a hired mercenary fighting to defeat a war of rebellion on a foreign planet. There are alien artifacts, nanobots, corporate culture, sex, and lots of fighting. We see more of how immortality is something only a lucky (or very unlucky) few get to enjoy. Broken Angels was better than Altered Carbon in many ways. It was sharp, no wasted text, everything in service to the story. It had a sense of suspense that kept me turning the pages. I had to know what would happen next. Broken Angels is a very exciting work but in the end not as satisfying as Altered Carbon because there was less substance. Broken Angels was really only about soldiers fighting, killing and dying. Paid soldiers, bred to fight, bred to viciousness and loyalty. Broken Angels had no underlying sense of hope, something Altered Carbon had once the quotes from Quellcrist Falconer showed up. While Broken Angels had more Quell quotes, there was no longer a sense that they came from a brilliant leader fighting against a universal corporatism, from a leader pointing the way out. Broken Angels didn't show the corporations and the plutocracy as more than a minor and distant enemy and the rebel Kemp was painted as just as evil as those he was fighting. There seemed to be no real enemy except human nature. Everyone was evil. As humans fight to claim, sell and exploit alien artifacts even the long dead aliens are found to have been mired in wars.

But still, it was a good book. I enjoyed reading it and I intend to keep reading anything Richard Morgan writes.

But I want …hope. Even from a scifi novel set 500 years in the future. I want a story that shows a way someone; anyone, can beat these bastards down and free us from them.

That's the thing about capitalism. It's a system without hope. It's law of the jungle. There's no utopia at the end of the rainbow. Just more struggle and competition till the day you lose and die. Even if you allow yourself to be exploited the most you get is a temporary safety but once you are no longer useful to your masters, you will be cast aside, allowed to die or even be killed. You have no value beyond your value to the greedy goals of some corporate structure or some rich individual or to the plutocracy in general. We are fodder to them. We are their prey.

The nilism of capitalism is why capitalists ally themselves with Christianity, Christianity with its perfect passivity, with its turn-the-other-cheek, with its when-a-man-takes-your-cloak-give-him-your-coat-too. Christianity with its promise of rewards only after you are dead. Thus the herd is steered into an ideology that keeps them weak and helpless, that keeps them from fighting against exploitation, and that keeps them mired in the hope of an illusionary afterlife. Opiate of the masses. Pie in the sky by and by. The afterlife: when the rich will burn for their evil and the poor be rewarded for their suffering. Which pretty much leaves the rich and powerful to pillage unopposed in this life.

There has to be some way out of this trap.
Even in a science fiction story. The quotes from Quellcrist Falconer in Altered Carbon gave some hope. Not so much in Broken Angels.

More quotes:

A preoccupation with the next world pretty clearly signals an inability to cope credibly with this on…Quell

In any agenda, political or otherwise, there is a cost to be borne. Always ask what it is, and who will be paying. If you don't, then the agenda makers will pick up the perfume of your silence like swamp panthers on the scent of blood, and the next thing you know, the person expected to bear the cost will be you. And you may not have what it takes to pay…
Quellcrist Fallconer, Things I Should Have Learned by Now, Volume II

The essential evil of massed humanity…Quell

I thought that was what religion was. Simplification for the hard of thinking… Kovacs

[the relation of the corporate Protectorate to the new colonies]- The skeletal grip of a corpse's hand around an egg trying to hatch. ..Quell

I have no excuses, least of all for God. Like all tyrants, he is not worthy of the spit you would waste on negotiations. The deal we have is infinitely simpler--I don't call him to account, and he extends me the same courtesy…Quellcrist Fallconer, Campaign Diaries

You're going to be involved, you might as well have the big guns… Quell

Rating: (not enough Quell and not enough hope)


Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

by alllie

Spoiler Warning: Not much. I only reveal the opening.
Acknowledgement: To Jala & KathH for their beta help.

Altered Carbon is a murder mystery with a hard-boiled detective in the mode of Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade or Lew Archer, but it's a murder mystery set 500 years in the future. Murder, real death, is a hard trick in the 25th century because at birth everyone has a "stack" implanted in their brain. A stack seems to be something like a hard drive. An individual's very consciousness is stored in his stack along with his memories, his beliefs, and his personality. I'm not quite sure what a brain implanted with a stack does on its own. At any rate, when a person dies, his stack is removed, and, if he has the money or insurance or the people who love him do, he can be put into another body, called a sleeve.Unless he is Catholic a person only really dies when his stack is destroyed. The Catholic Church has forbidden its believers from being resurrected in this fashion. As a result, for most people there is no "real death," although without a new body they might end up permanently in storage.

The very rich get around the danger of stack destruction by backing up their stacks like you would back up a hard drive on your computer. Thus, if their stacks are destroyed they might lose a day of their memories, but that would be all. They also grow clones so they can be placed into a new body of their choosing. The very old, very rich are called meths, short for Methuselah.

One of these meths, Laurens Bancroft, has his head blown off and his stack vaporized. It would have been real death except that he had a backup and is alive again in a new body, just missing a day or two of his memories. The police say "suicide." Bancroft refuses to accept that he killed himself and leases a criminal named Takeshi Kovacs to investigate his death. Kovacs had been an "envoy" which seems to be some kind of supersoldier/space marine, but he had left that life behind and turned to crime as a less harmful pursuit. His envoy training gave him an increased ability to assimilate information and an enhanced awareness of patterns so he was hired by Bancroft to find out who killed him.

The futuristic world Morgan draws for us is fascinating in and of itself, but there's also a raft of interesting characters in addition to Kovacs. Halfway through the book it got even more interesting, at least to me, because a political subtext became apparent. Kovacs was from a planet called Harlan's World which had been a police state until a rebellion led by a woman named Quellcrist Falconer, a rebellion against the rich and powerful. The book begins to quote Quellcrist and I could see that even 500 years from now our true enemy is still a rich and powerful elite. They use people like us impersonally, but as Quell says, we should take it personally:

The personal, as everyone's so fucking fond of saying, is political. So if some idiot politician, some power player, tries to execute policies that harm you or those you care about, take it personally. Get angry. The Machinery of Justice will not serve you here - it is slow and cold, and it is theirs. Only the little people suffer at the hands of Justice; the creatures of power slide out from under with a wink and a grin. If you want justice, you will have to claw it from them. Make it personal. Do as much damage as you can. Get your message across. That way you stand a far better chance of being taken seriously next time. Of being considered dangerous. And make no mistake about this: being taken seriously, being considered dangerous, marks the difference - the only difference in their eyes- between players and little people. Players they will make deals with. Little people they liquidate. And time and again they cream your liquidation, your displacement, your torture and brutal execution with the ultimate insult that it's just business, it's politics, it's the way of the world, it's a tough life, and that it's nothing personal. Well, fuck them. Make it personal.
Quellcrist Falconer, Things You Should Have Learned by Now. Volume II

This quote comes right before Kovacs takes something very personally. The book begins to quote Quellcrist and as the story took on this new demension I went from interested to fascinated.

Is it a wolf I hear,
Howling his lonely communion
With the unpiloted stars,
Or merely the self-importance and servitude
In the bark of a dog?

How many millennia did it take,
Twisting and torturing
The pride from the one
To make a tool,
The other?

And how do we measure the distance from spirit to spirit?
And who do we find to blame?

Quellcrist Falconer, Poems and Other Prevarications

Since I think the human race is being turned into dogs worshipping the rich masters who kick them, I found that poem very telling.

What Quell said about lackeys: Kill them along the way, but count your bullets, for there are more worthy targets.

There are some arenas so corrupt that the only clean acts possible are nihilistic. Quell

When they ask how I died. Tell them: Still Angry. Quell

More and more I began to wish this book was about Quellcrist Falconer.

But what was most telling is a statement by an old, rich and powerful meth:

"Human life has no value. Haven't you learned that yet, Takeshi, with all you've seen? It has no value, intrinsic to itself. Machines cost money to build. Raw materials cost money to extract. But people? You can always get some more people. They reproduce like cancer cells, whether you want them to or not. They are abundant, Takeshi. Why should they be valuable? Do you know that it cost us less to recruit and use up a real snuff whore than it does to set up and run a virtual equivalent format? Real human flesh is cheaper than a machine. It's the axiomatic truth of our times."

Yes, that is what the rich think. That human life, our human lives, have no value. And we have no Quell to help us fight them.

Rating: (not enough Quell)


I sent author Richard K. Morgan the following email:

I just finished Altered Carbon and ordered Broken Angels and Market Forces. I will order Woken Furies as soon as it comes out.

But I wanted to say that the character I found most interesting was the one that doesn't appear in Altered Carbon, Quellcrist Falconer. I've saved every quote from her and am passing them around.

It's Quell I really want to read about.
I hope you will write a book on her someday soon.

and got the following response:

Yeah, she's fascinating, isn't she. (And therefore exceedingly hard to write well about) Never fear, you've got a lot more quotes coming in Broken Angels, and a major surprise treat in Woken Furies.




Harry Potter comes of age

by RiRi

In this, the darkest of the Potter series, we find Harry Potter shedding the last vestiges of innocence and naiveté as he comes to terms with the costs of the battle he has chosen.

Peopled with the muggles and wizards and witches and elves we have come to know, Rowling comforts us with the familiar while setting out a winding path that leads to unexpected surprises that sometimes make us gasp. The characters we have known as evil are revealed to be a bit less so, the characters we have considered good are revealed as flawed and the characters we thought infallible turn out to be, well, humanlike. Rowling's genius lies as much in making the ordinary seem extraordinary as it does in making the extraordinary ordinary.

Harry learns about love, mystery, honor, revenge, anger and limits in this, the next to last of the Potter saga, if we are to believe J.K. Rowling. I am deliberately not revealing details of the story; I would not be that cruel to those who have not as yet enjoyed the suspenseful and satisfying experience of reading this.

Rowling is poised to take her place among those few writers who have made each book of a series a jewel…forming a chain with no weak links. Tolkien, Herbert and very few others make up this group. J.K. Rowling is well positioned to take her place among these greats. I am sure that the final battle between Harry and He Who Must Not Be Named will cement her place alongside these giants, in addition to being the final adornment in the unique niche of greatness she has already carved out for herself.



The Fountain at the Center of the World by Robert Newman

Reviewed by Alllie

This is one of those books that before you are a few pages in, you know it's gonna be great. By the time I had read 20 pages I was going online and recommending it. It's one of those books you start reading and you can hardly put it down till you finish. It's very Dickensonian, in the very best sense, making real the lives of the poor, the global poor, as well as the WTO rich. It follows the lives of two brothers, Chano, a poor Mexican activist, and Evan, adopted by a rich British family, one of the World Trade Organization's movers and shakers. There's a Prince and the Pauper touch as well when the poor brother replaces the rich to speak to those in power, who, of course, hear only what they want to hear. There's also the story of Chano seeking his lost son Daniel who always seems to be flittering just out of his reach. I believe, as humans, that we like our lessons wrapped in stories, that stories makes it easier for us to learn and to understand. The story of Chano and Evan and Daniel is wrapped around a lesson about globalization, about the World Trade Organization, NAFTA and the Mexican maquiladora plants near the border, plants that pollute the environment and poison their workers - because they can. The human stories make the global economic stories easier to understand. It's also wrapped around the Seattle protests against the WTO, making them mythic in an almost John Reed way. It makes you wanna be there, well, except for the beating and shooting and gassing….

The Fountain at the Center of the World is a book about global issues but also about personal issues and how the two intersect. That's something that's left out of books these days. People in most books seem to live in a vacuum, unaffected by global issues while, in reality, all are affected. The Fountain at the Center of the World shows us how we are affected, shows us in the stories of the dying Evan, the despairing Chano and the lost Daniel. Despite Evan's wealth, his intelligence, his support for and his knowledge about the system, he is isolated even in his death. Chano and Daniel are surrounded by friends and allies who help them survive and escape as they try to make the world a better place. As does this book.

Well worth the read!!

Rating: LOVED IT!


The X-President by by Philip Baruth

by alllie

This was a good book, a page turner set 60 years in the future when America is on the losing end of what are called the Tobacco Wars, wars that have their origins in two of Bill Clinton's minor actions while he was president, the expansion of NATO and the Anti-Tobacco Accords. The protagonist is Sal, the official biographer of the 109- year old Bill Clinton. Sal, along with three covert ops, is sent back in time to change the past and thus the future. She is drafted and forced to go because she knows more about Bill Clinton than anyone else in the world. Changing the past involves kidnapping the 16 year old Bill Clinton in 1963 and taking him to 1995 to convince his future self to avoid certain actions. It's a little scifi with the paradoxes of time travel but mostly it's a book for political junkies with much mention of the players and the scandals from the last dozen years. It's so well researched and written and includes so many facts that when it includes fictitious events I found myself assuming they were real. (There was no Anti-Tobacco accord propelling American Tobacco companies into foreign markets.)

The book is not really friendly to Bill Clinton, though not totally unfriendly either. It sees his flaws and his gifts. Despite it being such a political book I couldn't tell what side the author was on politically. I did learn two little conspiracy facts or fictions: 1) that Kurt Muse, who sounds like a CIA asset, was the real reason for the invasion of Panama and 2) that Timothy McVeigh had met both George Bush and General Schwarzkopf (couldn't find anything on that so it might not be true). It also uses the team's visit with the young Bill Clinton (aka, yBC) as the reason for Clinton's lifelong conviction that he was supposed to be president. Anyway, it was a fun book to read and can be enjoyed by both Clinton's supporters and detractors.

Rating: One thumb down for not treating Bill Clinton better.


I got the following email from author Philip Baruth

Dear Allie,

I just read your review on my new novel, THE X PRESIDENT.
I was glad that you liked it, but sorry that you thought
it didn't treat Clinton sympathetically . . . many reviewers
have come down on me (very hard) for being a "die-hard
Clinton loyalist" . . . so I guess if you saw it the other
way, I must be somewhere in the middle . . .

In any event, I appreciate the time you took, and how gentle
you were with my work. I've bookmarked your site, and will
check in from time to time for other titles . . .


Philip Baruth


Roosevelt's Secret War : FDR and World War II Espionage

Reviewed by CowTippa

This book by Joseph E. Persico (with forward by Colin Powell) is an interesting read in
light of all of the political shifting going on these days. I learned a lot about the
early days of the modern US intelligence services, more about J. Edgar Hoover's early
career, and also about the prominent intelligence roles given to rich and influential
friends of the president such as Vincent Astor who spied on things from his yacht. The
book gives a lot of insight into the communications between all of the different
countries at many different levels, from diplomacy to the military to intelligence. It
has some interesting analysis of the question of what FDR really knew about Pearl Harbor
before it happened, about the firebombing of Tokyo and of course about the development of
the atomic bomb. Check it out if you like history. Persico is also the coauthor of
General Colin Powell's autobiography, My American Journey.

Pub Date: November 2001
Price: $28.00
ISBN: 1-58836-124-1
official site at Random House:

Rating: - One thumb down for pulling punches a bit


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