Thursday, August 22, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky


Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky is the long-awaited sequel to the brilliant, award-winning Children of Time. Both books have several elements in common. For example, both books are centered on the development of non-human intelligences, the societies they form and tell the story of what happens when these intelligences interact with other extant intelligent life in the Universe. Time is another central element of both books, as the time scales on which the creatures evolve from being non-sentient beasts to full-fledged tool-using civilizations are quite long. Both technological advances and technological collapse also play significant roles in both books.

Children of Time was one of my favorite 5-star reads of the past few years so I was thrilled when I learned a sequel had been written. Although above I have spent a fair amount of time describing the many similarities the two books share, Children of Ruin is also different from its predecessor in multiple aspects. 

The sequel is more complex in many ways. Instead of a primary conflict between two species, Children of Ruin features multiple 2-way and 3-way conflicts between various species, primarily because we are introduced to not one but two new sentient alien species, although it takes awhile for the reader to realize that is what’s going on. As with Children of Time, one of the novel (and exciting) aspects of the books is that for wide swathes of the story, humans aren’t really one of the intelligences involved in the conflicts. Instead it is their “children” who have been guided/led/uplifted to sentience who are the primary characters in the story. That is not to say that humans, or as the book says, “Humans” (indicating the remnants of humanity who have somehow escaped the collapse of Earth civilization and are now coexisting in symbiosis with one of humanity’s uplifted “children”), are not integral participants in the plot, because they are.

Due to the multifaceted nature of the inter-species conflicts in the book, communication and especially translation, is a key component of the plot. This is obviously difficult, especially between alien species engaged in first contact meetings and the author depicts the challenges well. The part of the book which I found disappointing (I think because I doubted their verisimilitude, which I know is a crazy thing to say in a science fiction book which posits multiple non-human animal intelligences as space-faring beasts!) was the depiction of artificial intelligence and virtual reality/cyberspace. I’m not sure why this was the case since these events occur so far in the future that computer technology could/should be so advanced as to resemble magic but my mind balked at the depiction of computer-mediated spaces that seemed magical or unconstrained by rules. This is somewhat of a minor quibble because the vast majority of the story is about the multiple conflicts between the uplifted intelligent animals and the newly discovered alien intelligences. It must be said that those conflicts are riveting and the resolutions are suspenseful and the paths to their conclusion are twisty and surprising.

Overall, I would say that Children of Ruin is a worthy successor to Children of Time, with aspects that are both superior and inferior to the first book. Happily, there are more of the former than the latter. But since my overall view of Children of Time was that it was a near-perfect standalone science fiction first-contact, alien civilization novel, this makes my overall review for its sequel less enthusiastic in comparison. However, Children of Ruin is still a significantly strong science fiction space opera, about multi-species conflict and alien contact and one I hope gets a sequel!

Title: Children of Ruin (Children of Time, #2).
Author: 
Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Paperback: 608 pages.
Publisher:
 Orbit.
Date Published: May 14, 2019.
Date Read: August 5, 2019


GOODREADS RATING: 
★★★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

PLOT: A.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: A.
WRITING: A-.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

TENNIS TUESDAYY: Medevedev Beats Djokovic, Goffin to Win First Masters Shield; Keys Wins Biggest Title


Daniil Medvedev is the hottest player in tour this summer. He made his third consecutive final in a row in the U.S. Open series (l. Nick Kyrgios in Washington, DC; l. Rafael Nadal in Montreal). He won the Cincinnati Masters title by defeating David Goffin 7-6(3) 6-4. The 6-foot-6 Russian next generation player has the most wins on tour this year (44!) and jumped from #8 to #5 in the rankings, surpassing his countryman Karen Khachanov at #9. Medvedev beat World #1 Novak Djokovic for the second time this year, coming back from a set down to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the Cincy semifinals.

Madison Keys won her biggest title of her career by beating a resurgent Sveta Kuzetsova 7-5 7-6(5) in Cincinnati. Keys victory will power her back into the Top 10 for the first time since June 2018. Kuznetsova prevented Ash Barty from resuming the World #1 ranking by beating her in the Cincy semifinals, so defending champions Naomi Osaka will be ranked #1 at the 2019 US Open when it starts next Monday. Kuznetsovam returning from injury was languishing in the low 100s and was unable to defend her 2018 Citi Open title due to visa issues. Her finals appearance will get her direct entry into the 2019 US Open with a ranking of #62.

Monday, August 19, 2019

EYE CANDY: Chadoy Leon





Chadoy Leon has 700,000 followers on Instagram (@chadoyleon) and is making his first appearance as Eye Candy on the blog. According to BodySize.org, Chadoy is 27 years old, 5-foot-9 and 192 pounds. Clearly, he is a tattoo enthusiast.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: A Memory of Empire (Teixcalaan, #1) by Arkady Martine


A Memory Called Empire is the debut novel from Arkady Martine. It is a space opera, set on a planet called Teixcalaan which is at the heart of a large, multi-planet empire. The main character is Mahit Dzmare, the new Ambassador to Teixcalaan from Lsel, a small space station which is trying to maintain its independence  from the galactic powerhouse and survive its relative proximity to a colonizing force. As soon as Mahit arrives on Teixcalaan she discovers that the unfortunate, accidental death of her predecessor, Yskandr Aghavn, was probably not as "accidental" or "unfortunate" as it appeared at first sight.

The central tension in A Memory Called Empire is Mahit's unfamiliarity with and attraction to Teicxcalaani culture, language and society. She has two specific tools that are intended to assist her in becoming acculturated and successful in her ambassadorial tasks: a cultural liaison from the Ministry of Information named Three Seagrass and access to the memory/thoughts of the previous ambassador Yskandr via an implanted device in her head. Unfortunately, almost immediately after her arrival on Teixcalaan, her implant fails and she loses access to Yskandr and his years of experience and knowledge. So the book begins as a "fish out of water" story.

Mahit's sense of unease and unfamiliarity is mirrored by the reader, who is also being introduced to the entirely foreign world of Teixcalaan. However, Mahit has an advantage because she's been preparing for her ambassadorial posting for years, studying Teixcalaan and as a Lsel Station resident has been exposed to Teixcalaani cultural products her entire life. For the reader there are many aspects of Teixcalaan that are strikingly unusual, starting with their names, which typically have the form of "Number" combined with "Significant Noun." For example, the current Emperor is named Six Direction. It's appropriate that Ann Leckie has provided a rave blurb for this debut novel, because there are several ways that her Imperial Radhch novels resemble A Memory Called Empire. Teixcalaani names provide no information about the gender of the person they are denoting, and are so different from what we readers are used to that it can make distinguishing and identifying with the characters difficult. Teixcalaani culture is technologically advanced and its language is very different from ours; the use of poetry is central and ubiquitous. The culture is very hierarchical and highly ordered, with the Emperor being uniformly venerated but not worshiped. One of the key moments in the book involves Mahit and Three Seagrass (who is a highly skilled amateur poet herself, a prized ability in Teixcalaan) quickly forced to come up with a short poem that can be distributed widely to alert important observers (specifically a powerful frenemy named Nineteen Adze) the perilous and parlous status of our heroes as Teixcalaani society begins to fray at the edges.

Eventually Mahit (and the reader) becomes more familiar with Teixcalaan as the outlines of the plot (pun intended!) become clearer. There is an ongoing struggle to become the next Emperor (even though the current ailing one has publicly named three co-equal heirs Eight Loop, Eight Antidote and Thirty Larkspur) while the former and current Lesl ambassadors have important roles to play in resolving the situation. As one would expect, there is political instability which is sourced in the leadership struggle for control of the empire and Mahit is smack dab in the middle of it, along with her companions Three Seagrass and Twelve Azalea. The author resolves the conflict in a way that is quite surprising and rather satisfying.

Overall, I would say that A Memory Called Empire is a fantastic, intensely creative debut novel which science fiction enthusiasts who liked Leckie's Radhch and Herbert's Dune novels will almost certainly also enjoy. In my humble opinion, a bit too much of the "action" of the book is literally intertextual and involves subtle interpretations of things said (and not said) for me to connect viscerally with the novel in an entertaining or emotionally engaging way. However, I fully appreciate the difficulty of the accomplishment and applaud the author for its successful execution. This is the first book in a trilogy and I suspect I will read the rest of the books, because I want to find out what happens with Mahit Dzmare and spend more time on Teixcalaani space. So as a story, t A Memory Called Empire must be considered a success.

Title: A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan, #1).
Author: 
Arkady Martine.
Paperback: 462 pages.
Publisher:
 Tor Books.
Date Published: March 26, 2019.
Date Read: July 27, 2019.

GOODREADS RATING: 
★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: B+.
WRITING: A.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

2019 CANADA: Rafa Wins 35th Masters Title; Bianca Wins Canada As Serena Sobs


19-year-old Bianca Andreescu became the first Canadian woman in 50 years to win her country's Canadian Open tennis championship when Serena Williams retired down 1-3 in the championship match on Sunday. Williams said she had had back spasms the night before and that "she couldn't move" and started sobbing on the court. Later, she went to Cincinnati for the Western & Southern Financial Open tournament but withdrew from her match there. Presumably the next time we will see Serena will be at the 2019 S Open which starts August 26. Andreescu is now #14 in the rankings, achieving the amazing feat of having her ranking be less than her age in record fashion. he has won her first 7 matches against Top 10 opponents. Many expect her to be in the Top 10 soon herself, and she is considered (by some) to be "in the mix" for the US Open. Naomi Osaka (despite losing in straight sets to Serena) regained the World #1 ranking due to Karolina Pliskova's loss to Andreescu early in the tournament.

Rafael Nadal won his 5th Rogers Cup title in Montreal, demolishing Daniil Medvedev 6-3 6-0 in about 70 minutes. Amazingly, it was the first time in his career that Nadal had defended a hard-court (non-clay court) title, since he had won the 2018 Rogers Cup in Toronto last year. It's Nadal's 35th Masters series shield, increasing his lead over his rivals (Novak Djokovic has 33 and Roger Federer has 28). Nadal is the first player to win 2 Masters titles this year (having also won in Rome), while Federer won Miami and Djokovic won Madrid.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

2019 CANADA: Serena In 1st Non-Major Final In 2 Years; Faces Bibi Andreescu (19YO)


For the first time in nearly two years Serena Williams is in the final of a regular tour-level tournament after reaching 3 major finals (2018 Wimbledon, 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Wimbledon) in that period. She will face 19-year-old hometown heroine Bianca (Bibi) Andreescu who is playing in her 3rd final of 2019 in the Rogers Cup final in Toronto, Ontario.

Serena has been playing excellent tennis in Canada. In the quarterfinals she finally got her first win over Naomi Osaka (in straight sets!) on Friday 6-3 6-4. Defending champion Simona Halep retired against Marie Bouzkova after losing the first set, Serena was forced to win a 3-set semifinal 1-6 6-3 6-3 against the Czech qualifier.

Andreescu is the first Canadian woman in 50 years to reach the final of the Canadian Open. She has made incredible strides and will be in the Top 20 on Monday for the first time.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

08/08/19: Married 11 Years Today!





Although we have been boyfriends since 1991 and living together since 1994, domestic partners since 1999, and civilly united (in Vermont) since 2000, we were only married in California on August 8, 2008 (Roger Federer's 27th birthday!) before Proposition 8 passed and after the California Supreme Court legalized marriage equality in the Golden State with the In Re Marriage Cases decision and upheld my marriage (and 18,000 others!) in Strauss v. Horton.

The above pictures were taken on our latest vacation in Valencia, Spain in July 2019.

Happy anniversary, hubby!

BOOK REVIEW: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo


White Fragility is a short but affecting read; it is revelatory, informative and inspirational. The author provides insight into the myriad ways that white people respond to discussions about race and white supremacy. This excerpt (from page 2) basically encapsulates the primary thesis of the book:

Socialized into a deeply internalized sense of superiority that we are unaware of or can never admit to ourselves, we become highly fragile in conversations about race. We consider a challenge to our racial worldviews as a challenge to our very identities as good, moral people. Thus, we perceive any attempt to connect us to the system of racism as unsettling and unfair moral offense. The smallest amount of racial stress is intolerable--the mere suggestion that being white has meaning often triggers a range of defensive responses. These include emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt and behaviors such as withdrawal from the stress-inducing situation. These responses work to reinstate white equilibrium as they repel the challenge, return our racial comfort, and maintain our dominance within the racial hierarchy. I conceptualize this process as white fragility.
The author Robin Diangelo uses the words "we" and "ours" in this quote and throughout the book to be explicit and forthright about her positionality as a white woman discussing racism.

I imagine White Fragility would be very difficult for white people to read this book without experiencing some of the reactions that the author describes above. In fact, the author recognizes this and spends a significant amount of time in the book speaking directly to white readers of the text, to attempt to modulate and potentially forestall these reactions. I have to imagine how white readers will respond to reading about the ubiquity and resilience of white supremacy because I am not a white person. 

Despite this fact, the experience of reading White Fragility as a non-white person is an exciting experience. My primary feeling was one of admiration (at the thoughtfulness and precision of the language of the book and the cogent and contemporaneous nature of the ideas included) and amazement (at the sheer number of "secrets" revealed and taboos broken about discussing race, anti-blackness and white supremacy).

While it is well under 200 pages, White Fragility provides numerous resources for facilitating the process of getting white people to talk about racism, such as the pages of footnotes at the end of the book providing evidence for claims made in the text, as well as "Books, Articles and Blogs" for the reader to continue their education on the subject(s) of race, racism and white supremacy. Additionally, there are very useful lists included in the book which distill and highlight some of the key concepts. An example is this list of the functions of white fragility (found on page 122):
  • Maintain white solidarity
  • Close off self-reflection
  • Trivialize the reality of racism
  • Make white people the victims
  • Hijack the conversation
  • Protect a limited worldview
  • Take race off the table
  • Focus on the messenger, not the message
  • Rally more resources to white people
Another strong aspect of the book are the particular chapters devoted to "White Women's Tears," "Anti-Blackness," and "The Good/Bad Binary."

Overall, White Fragility is a tour de force explication of why it is so difficult to have conversations about racism and (therefore begin) the process of dismantling white supremacy. In the end, I found the book somewhat depressing because it makes the prospect for improved race relations in the United States appear to be unlikely by analyzing and enumerating what would be entailed in producing such a future. With that said, the problem is not with the book, which does a great service to us all by illuminating and elucidating ideas and actions about race and white supremacy, but with us, the reader(s).

RATING: FIVE STARS.

Title: White Fragility: Why It's So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism.
Author: 
Robin Diangelo.
Paperback: 462 pages.
Publisher:
 Tor Books.
Date Published: March 26, 2019.
Date Read: July 27, 2019.

GOODREADS RATING: 
★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: B+.
WRITING: A.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

UPDATE: Michael Johnson (Black, Gay ,HIV+ Man) Released From Prison Early!

Michael Johnson (left) with Dr. Steve Thrasher

There's an exciting update in the ongoing saga of Michael Johnson (also known as "Tiger Mandingo"), a Black gay man with HIV who at the age of 23 in 2015 was sentenced to 30-years in prison for knowingly exposing several gay men to HIV (some of whom subsequently tested positive for HIV later). Johnson's case was a textbook case of HIV stigma combined with racial animus leading to a problematic criminal justice result. Happily, this conviction was overturned in 2016 and last year Johnson agreed to a 10-year Alford plea deal with the last 3 years converted to parole.

One of the key journalists and activists who raised the media profile of the Johnson case was Steve Thrasher (@thrasherxy) (seen pictured with Johnson above the day he was released from prison on July 9, 2019).

A New York Times report on Johnson's release said:
In theory, H.I.V. exposure laws are meant to encourage H.I.V.-positive individuals to disclose their status before having sex, and to practice safer sex, with the ultimate goal of preventing the spread of the virus.
But there is no evidence that these laws have reduced risky behavior or encouraged disclosure, said Catherine Hanssens, the executive director of the Center for H.I.V. Law and Policy, which provided legal support for Mr. Johnson’s case.
In the eyes of the law, an H.I.V. diagnosis is conflated with malice, she added.
“These laws effectively treat an H.I.V. diagnosis itself as evidence that the person acted with bad intentions when sex or other types of physical contact are involved in a crime,” she said.
Congratulations to everyone who worked on this case. Johnson will be moving to and living in Indiana with a friend and says he plans to continue his education and would like to share his story as part of advocacy for HIV prevention and treatment,

Monday, August 05, 2019

EYE CANDY: Alan Valdez (4th time!)



Alan Valdez returns to Eye Candy after a long break! He has previous appeared here (April 30, 2012; April 4, 2011; and January 18, 2009). He doesn't appear to be on Instagram. (There is another model named Alán Valdez on Instagram with over 220k followers but I don't think it's the same guy because he has lots of tattoos?) Then again it has been awhile since I last posted pictures of Mr. Valdez so it is very possible they are the same person.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal


The Calculating Stars is the (Nebula and Locus) award-winning book by Mary Robinette Kowal about the 1950s space race but set in an alternate time line where a meteor hits the Earth near Chesapeake Bay, decimates the Eastern Seaboard and catalyzes the greenhouse effect, endangering human survival on Earth. The main character of The Calculating Stars is Elma York, a former WASP pilot and mathematical genius who ends up working as a “computer” for the International Aerospace Coalition, the space agency responsible for managing the race to the stars. The impetus behind the space race in this timeline is not a US-Russia proxy war but a race to get to space in order to save humanity before Earth becomes inhabitable due to the runaway global warming caused by the long range after-effects of the asteroid collision.

One shorthand view of the book is that it is a version of “The Right Stuff” and "Hidden Figures" told from the perspective of a Jewish white woman who is obsessed with going into space but has to combat social conservatism and sexist mores in order to achieve her dream.

Elma is a fun character and it was fun to spend time with her. She has a pretty severe undiagnosed anxiety disorder; during episodes where this manifests as panic attacks  she tries to get through by doing mathematics. For example, she will mentally recite the beginning of the list of prime numbers or the Fibonacci series or do 4-digit arithmetic operations in her head. Her husband, who is also Jewish, an engineer and eventually becomes her boss at the IAC, helps to distract/calm her down at times of stress (such as facing a room full of reporters). Elma becomes internationally known as “the Lady Astronaut” through her advocacy in the media of the idea that women should join the space program. This is an interesting SFnal twist because in real life no one but white men were considered by NASA to become astronauts in the equivalent time period (1950s to 1970s).

Although I like Elma I’m not as enamored with the book as a whole. Of course, as a black gay mathematics professor I’m in favor of the author’s depiction of the regimented/stilted mores of the 1950s and the spotlight she puts on the senselessness of the discrimination based on gender (and race) that occur(red) in such an important science/engineering enterprise. I also love the fact the story is infused with a love of mathematics and science/engineering and was intrigued that  it is told from the perspective of a white Jewish woman. But for me there was a spark missing which prevented me from emotionally connecting with the story. I think this may be because ultimately the stakes are too low. Since this is an alternate timeline (caused by a very unlikely event) the overarching idea that the space race needs to be successful earlier in time in order to save humanity is not that compelling. And even though I want Elma to succeed at breaking barriers, she will/would be fine even if she didn’t go into space. So although I enjoyed spending time with Elma and love the centering of math and science in the rare context of a SFnal book which pays close attention to identity and positionality of its characters,  I ended somewhat unmoved by  The Calculating Stars. I admire it more than I adore it. However, I will most likely read the sequels in the trilogy because I am curious about how the story ends, and when that occurs with any first book, it must be considered a success. There's a reason why it is very likely to win the 2019 Hugo award for Best Novel in addition to its other accolades.

Title: The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, #1).
Author: 
Mary Robinette Kowal.
Paperback: 432 pages.
Publisher:
 Tor Books.
Date Published: July 3, 2018.
Date Read: July 20, 2019.

GOODREADS RATING: 
★★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.83/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: A.
WRITING: A.

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