Furry fiction additions to my reading list

It has been a couple of weeks since I finished reading my most recent two books. I figured I had better add them to my 2019 Book List before I couldn’t remember enough to properly describe them.

In A Dog’s World (2015) by Mary E. Lowd

COVER1This is a pretty simple romance story. If you’ve ever seen any young romance story where the main character is just arriving at college and has her eyes on an older student, then you probably know how this is going to go. It follows the basic idea without doing anything drastic but it really works for the story because it is just so enjoyable to go along with everything.

The book itself is not quite as simple. While the main story follows a fairly predictably plot, there are enough diversions to keep everything interesting. For one, it’s a world where humans have disappeared and now cats and dogs are the main inhabitants. The dynamics between the two species allow the story to explore issues such as racism and sexism in a gentle manner.

Simple and easy to read, it’s just a light-hearted romance with hidden depths. It makes a great palate cleanser of a book and I found it quite enjoyable.

The Time He Desires (2016) by Kyell Gold

COVER2This one is interesting because it’s a furry book that I first heard about through the mainstream media. There was an article on Slate which touted it as a way to resist the hatred of the Trump era. The book, as with many of Gold’s works, deals with homosexuality but the big difference here is that the story is from the perspective of a Muslim. While the book presents a more moderate form of Islam, I did see some irony in that I started reading it just days apart from Brunei enacting a form of Sharia law that punishes homosexuality with death.

The main character, a cheetah named Aziz, is having trouble with his marriage. He has grown apart from his wife and, a few years back, disowned his son for being gay. At the same time, property developers are trying to buy his and the neighbouring shops, to expand their shopping centre and apartment complex. Added to all of this, he becomes intrigued by a honeymoon tape of a gay couple, which one of the partner’s pawned but which the other is now searching for, and starts to consider other paths his life could have taken.

It’s a short, character-driven book as we see how Aziz handles the changes in his life and how they, in turn, change him. It’s interesting to see the motivations of a character from a religion that I have not experienced and in a situation which many people have to deal with in modern time. Although Gold is not Muslim himself, he was advised by a Muslim friend on the content of the book. As he describes it, he wanted to write about those who face problems with both Islamophobia and homophobia. It is certainly a good book to read to learn a bit about the two and to broaden one’s horizons.

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Books about fantasy and reality

Two new books, one dealing with fantasy and the other with reality, added to my 2019 Book List.

Cover1Black Leopard Red Wolf (2019) by Marlon James

I originally heard of Black Leopard Red Wolf from a list of books to read in 2019. It sounded pretty cool; a fantasy story with an African setting, magic, shape-shifting and all that good stuff. It delivered in some respects but not in others and there were many odd things about it. It’s the first book in a trilogy but I am still conflicted over whether I will read the later books or not.

The best part of the book is that it’s familiar enough as a fantasy to easily get into it but different enough that it’s always interesting. It draws a lot from various African mythologies and I recognise some of the influences but not others. There are neither elves nor dwarfs but weird creatures that I haven’t seen before; like the impundulu, an anthropomorphic, lightning-shooting, vampiric bird, and omoluzu, strange creatures which attack from the ceilings of buildings.

The most negative part of the book is the way that it is written. I assume it’s a stylistic choice but it’s not one that really works for me. There is little explanation of unfamiliar terms and coarse vulgarity, often for little reason. Beyond that, the grammar is broken in many instances and, more often than not, detracts from, rather than adds to, the narrative. While I can think of many reasons why one would write in such a way, few of them seem to apply here and it takes a lot of getting used to.

cover2The Four Horsemen: The Conversation That Started An Atheist Revolution (2019) by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris & Christopher Hitchens

Although published now in 2019, with a foreword by Stephan Fry and short introductory pieces by the remaining Horsemen, this is merely a transcript of the the only conversation that all four of these minds shared, which took place in 2007. There isn’t much more to it than that.

It is not as deep as any of their books but will at least serve as a reminder of the whole atheism debate and the questions it raised after the events of 11 September 2001 tragically reminded the world that religion could, and still continues, to inspire people to kill for their beliefs. In the conversation, The Horsemen cover questions such as how the universe was created, is there any value to faith, why is evidence important and are some religions simply worse than others.

Other than a reminder, there is little new to be gained here. However, I think it is a great addition to anyone’s library for its historical value. As Penn Jillette’s quote on the back of the book says, “This conversation is as good a place as any to mark the start of the Atheist revolution.” That said, I would recommend watching and listening to the conversation rather than reading it.

Traditional scientific publishers have repeatedly undermined moves towards open access

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The Sci-Hub logo.

I recently read a profile of Alexandra Elbakyan and her pirate library, Sci-Hub. Sci-Hub provides free access to a huge number of scientific papers which would otherwise be locked away behind paywalls and only available if you paid a huge fee. The traditional scientific publishers are not happy with that, have sued her several times and continually try to take down her site. I think, given the current realities in science, that Sci-Hub is necessary until the publication process can be reformed.

I have a colleague with whom I talk about publication practices in science and that sort of thing and, while we generally agree, we do differ on our attitudes to traditional publishers. He has often said that he doesn’t want to drive them out of business and would like to work together with them to solve the problems. I have generally maintained that they are antiquated relics from the print age who serve no real purpose, add little to no value to the scientific enterprise and oppose necessary reforms in science. So, it was interesting for me to see some of these issues come up in the profile of Elbakyan. Continue reading

The Sagrada Família and why we need beautiful buildings

One of the highlights of my Mediterranean cruise at the end of last year was visiting the Sagrada Família in Barcelona. It was something I wanted to see because it always looked like an absolutely beautiful building in pictures and, it turns out, it is even better in person. I thought I would just share a few pictures that I took and some thoughts.

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2019 Book List

A new year means a new set of books. As in 2017 and 2018, I am recording the books that I read; partly for my own record and partly that it might help someone else find a book that sounds interesting.

24/03/2019 Added Black Leopard Red Wolf and The Four Horsemen: The Conversation That Started An Atheist Revolution.

06/05/2019 Added In A Dog’s World and The Time He Desires.

21 Lessons For The 21st Century (2018) by Yuval Noah Harari

Book1I got this one for Christmas. It’s a collection of essays, written by an Israeli historian, covering various topics, including truth, religion, terrorism, equality, war and education. Nearly all of the essays are interesting and raise many questions worth pondering. It’s a lot shorter on answers than questions but it certainly stimulates the mind.

One of the major topics that bothers him is what will happen when big data/AI and biotech combine. He sees the merger of the fields as likely creating an inequality that can’t easily be overcome. He fears that the wealth concentrated in the hands of a few will allow them to modify their biology to be superior while AI and robots will mean that workers are unnecessary making the masses functionally and politically irrelevant. Aside from that there are many other great essays on important topics, such as how the current rise of nationalism is fundamentally incapable of tackling issues like climate change which affect many and require a widespread, co-ordinated response. Continue reading

Moving forward to freedom in the bedroom

Several years back, I wrote about the UK’s plan to block all pornography by default and, before that, mentioned their past treatment of BDSM activities. I can now say something positive about the UK as they have recently declared that several sexual acts, particularly BDSM related, are no longer classed as obscenity. This is a great step forward which resolves some oddities in UK law where certain sexual acts were fully legal to perform but illegal to show in pornography. It’s especially good as we should not be classing activities as illegal if they have no victim. It’s absurd to suggest that a legal activity becomes illegal once on film. Continue reading

Metal remains uncorrupted by Spotify

There was an interesting article by Dan Kopf on Quartz recently about how popular music is shrinking.

Popular music is shrinking. From 2013 to 2018, the average song on the Billboard Hot 100 fell from 3 minutes and 50 seconds to about 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Six percent of hit songs were 2 minutes 30 seconds or shorter in 2018, up from just 1% five years before.

He suggested that Spotify could be the cause. Apparently, Spotify pays the same fee to all songs that are streamed, meaning that, if the songs are shorter, more can be streamed and the artist makes more money. It makes sense and he shows a decrease in song length for several artists, including Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and J. Cole. While I recognise some of those names, I never listen to them and probably couldn’t name or identify a single one of their songs. So, I wondered if the results were relevant to the music I listen to.

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