Jan. 31st, 2017

defrog: (Default)
See? One month into 2017 and I only managed to get through three books.

I cut down my Goodreads Reading Challenge down to 42 books, and I’m already wondering if maybe that was too ambitious a target. Oh well.

Nigerians in SpaceNigerians in Space by Deji Bryce Olukotun

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Debut novel from Deji Bryce Olukotun that isn’t quite what it seems at first glance. I found this in the science-fiction section of the bookstore, and the blurb suggests that it’s a fictional story about Nigeria attempting to kick off a space-flight program. In reality, it’s more of an international thriller with a few scientific elements. The narrative hops back and forth between 1993 and present day, following lunar geologist Wale Olufunmi, who steals a moon sample from NASA as a sign of commitment to the planned program, only to find himself stranded when his recruiter fails to show up, after which he discovers that other recruits are being killed. There are also subplots involving a not-so-smart South African abalone smuggler and a Zimbabwe woman with an unusual skin condition who searches for the man who betrayed her father and left her stuck in a Paris orphanage. So it’s not really about space at all –it’s more about the collision between dreams, good-intentioned idealism, and the hard reality of African political power struggles and corruption. The narrative framework that serves as the vehicle for this gets a bit clunky by the end and doesn't provide much resolution, leaving several unanswered questions. But there was still enough going on to keep me interested throughout.

The Annihilation Score (Laundry Files, #6)The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the sixth installment of the excellent Laundry Files (i.e. British agents vs Lovecraftian horrors), and the first to shift the narrative focus from Bob Howard to his wife, Dr Dominique “Mo” O’Brien, another Laundry operative tasked with carrying an evil, possessed violin that serves as a weapon against occult enemies, but at the cost of her sanity and increasingly her marriage to Bob. This book explores another consequence of rising paranormal activity around the world – last time it was vampires, this time it's people discovering they have superpowers and doing ill-advised things with them. And Mo ends up in charge of creating a government superhero team for the Home Office. But it’s not a superhero tale so much as it is about how British govt bureaucracy would go about dealing with an outbreak of superpowers, as well as a story about Mo coping with a crumbling marriage, overwork and a mid-life crisis in general – and all that on top of having to carry a demonic violin that’s trying to take control of her life. Some fans have complained about this one – either because they don’t like superheroes, or the feelings stuff is boring, or because Mo complains a lot and why can’t she be nicer – but overall I liked it, and I like that Stross tried something different here. That said, working a superhero trope into the Laundry universe is a bit of a stretch, though he does pull it off.

The Man in the High CastleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is Philip K Dick’s classic alternative history that imagines what life in America would be like if the Axis had won WW2. I read this sometime in the early 90s, but while I remember liking it, I didn't remember much about the story, and with many people taking a sudden interest in it these days – partly because of the TV adaptation, and partly because some people are citing it as a preview of the Trump admin (which I already discussed here, if yr interested) – I thought this was a good time to re-read it. I’m glad I did – this is one of PKD’s most coherent works that also provides a reasonably believable vision of America occupied by both Nazi Germany and Japan, as seen from the viewpoint of various characters. This being a PKD book, there’s also a lot of duplicity (agents, disguised Jews, political backstabbing, etc) and realities within realities, including a popular book that imagines what would have happened if the Allies won (albeit not in the way they did in real life), while there are hints here and there that none of what these people are experiencing is real at all. It's a challenging book at times, especially the ending, but I found it quite rewarding – not just in terms of the alternate history bits, but also how the story stays focused on the characters and their specific situations, and doesn't spend lots of time on the various atrocities and evils of the Nazi regime. He doesn't ignore them, but he doesn't exploit them in the name of melodrama, either.

View all my reviews

Even the losers,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)
And so we’re one week into the Trump Dynasty and everyone is still basically freaking out.

Granted, Trump has given them a lot to freak out about. You can follow the action at FiveThirtyEight’s TrumpBeat, but a basic overview could be summed up thusly:

All that batshit stuff he promised to do that we were hoping was just campaign rhetoric to rally the rubes? Turns out he wasn’t kidding.

Anyway, his actions of the past week has created an awful lot of batshit across my social media newsfeeds about how Trump is literally Hitler and literally a dictator. Which he isn’t – not in the sense that Hitler was, anyway. To be that kind of dictator, you need a totalitarian government – and America is nowhere close to that point. Take it from me – I live a one-hour train ride from an honest-to-God totalitarian one-party state. If America was a dictatorship right now, those protesters wouldn’t be on the streets – they’d be in jail, a detention camp or a mass grave. And the press would uniformly be praising Trump’s actions and denouncing the protesters as traitors.

Meanwhile, this article on Medium is making the rounds, suggesting that Trump may be orchestrating an actual coup de tat of the US govt. The basic argument is this: Trump’s immigration order was stayed by a federal judge, but the DHS and CBP have apparently opted to ignore it and obey Trump’s order. Meanwhile, Trump has reportedly purged most of the State Department and is consolidating power within a tight inner circle that will tell the various departments what to do. And he put two loyalists on the National Security Council and promoted them above the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

Yonatan Zunger’s argument is that Team Trump is making a trial run for a coup, to see how far they can push the legal boundaries without breaking them. He’s vague on who might be responsible for this coup – maybe Trump, maybe Russia, who knows?

I don’t buy it. Here’s why:

1. First of all, on a semantic level this makes no sense. A coup is typically conducted by people who don't control the government and want to take over. Trump and the GOP already control all of it at the moment. But let’s go along with the terminology to smooth things along here.

2. I’ve heard this one before. Every POTUS from Clinton to Trump has been accused by fringe opponents and conspiracy theorists of planning a coup to take over America. It has never happened. It’s never even been attempted.

3. For the obvious response of “But Trump is different! We have EVIDENCE!” – well, no, we don’t, really. We mostly have a lot of unanswered questions (not least because of Trump’s lack of transparency in his business dealings, tax returns, etc) and suppositions. When you actually start trying to connect dots, it’s more suspicions and guesswork that actual smoking-gun evidence. These are questions we need answers to, but until we have them there’s no sense in panicking over what we don’t know.

4. I mention Russia because there’s a vague implication here that Russia is somehow connected with Trump in ways we don’t know about yet. That said, while it’s fairly certain Russia wants influence in how the US conducts its international affairs and isn’t above meddling in elections, I don’t know that Vlad Putin is interested in literally overthrowing the US govt. I’m sure he’d be happy to have a puppet installed, but I don’t think he’d want that puppet doing blatantly obvious stuff like turning the US into Russia.

5. Many of Trump’s actions can be explained as easily by gross incompetence and a failure to think things through rather than an actual plan for a coup.

6. On a related note, a coup of the kind this article suggests requires incredible attention to detail and relies on everything going exactly as planned and people responding exactly as planned. The more complex the plan, the more likely it is to fail. (And the more likely it is to leak to the media.) I seriously doubt Trump/Bannon/Giuliani/whoever et al have the intellectual chops to come up with such a plan, much less execute it. Team Putin might, but again, we have no solid evidence that Putin has anything to do with Trump’s actions.

7. As such, even if they WERE actually trying to plot a coup, odds are it will fail for the reasons given above. There’s just too many ways it could go wrong.

8. None of this means that a coup is impossible. Of course it is. The point is that it’s really, really hard to do in a country like the US, whether because of government structure, geography, ubiquitous media coverage (including social) and the simple fact that far too many people are invested in capitalism to see some yahoo billionaire come along and wreck it.

9. Also, none of this means Trump is not a bad president with bad ideas. He is. But I don’t see a coup – I see a doofus POTUS who lives in an alternate reality, has no idea what he’s doing or the consequences. He’s an authoritarian who seems to think he can run America the same way he runs his businesses – with a tightly controlled, loyal board of directors who will do whatever he says, and he can do anything he wants because he’s the CEO.

10. We had a POTUS like that once. His name was Richard Nixon. It didn’t work out so good for him in the end. I suspect Trump will meet a similar end if he keeps this up. If his admin is going to insist on defying the courts to enforce an order that is potentially illegal, sooner or later that’s going to backfire on him and he may just get himself impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. And if it comes to that, there are suggestions that the GOP establishment won’t lift a finger to help him because who do you think they’d rather have as POTUS – Trump or Mike Pence?

11. Having said all that, the bigger worry for me isn't Trump but his hardcore fan base who have decided that everyone who disagrees with them is an enemy of the state – they won't take a Trump impeachment well. Which is no reason not to do it, but the fact remains. Equally worrisome is the fact that this is happening on the other side of the political spectrum as well. My worry is that we are headed for a point where the two-party system will become an either-or proposition with zero compromise and intolerance of dissenting views to the point that we won’t argue with people we disagree with anymore, we’ll just punch them in the face until they shut the fuck up. Take that far enough, and many people would welcome a coup – so long as it’s in their favor.

So basically, at this stage I’m not worried about a Trump coup because (1) I don’t think he’s planning one, (2) I don’t think he’s smart enough to plan one that would actually work, and (3) if it did work, it would only be because enough people in America would welcome it, in which case America’s days as a democracy were already numbered anyway.

Again, I don’t think we’re at that point yet. But we are headed there.

Talk about yr hostile takeovers,

This is dF


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