Wednesday, November 30, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: The Shattered Skies (The Cruel Stars, #2) by John Birmingham

The Shattered Skies by John Birmingham is the second book in the space opera science fiction trilogy called the Cruel Stars. Birmingham has summarized the Cruel Stars trilogy as “Space Nazis invade and try to ruin everything, everywhere, all over the galaxy.” I quite enjoyed reading the first book in the series The Cruel Stars earlier this year and as soon as I finished it I wanted to read the next one in the series and was quite happy to see that it was available. Sadly, the third book in the series is not scheduled to come out until next year. Middle books in trilogies have a reputation for disappointing the reader but in this case The Shattered Skies bucks the trend and continues the story begun in The Cruel Stars in a way that is as exciting, entertaining and engrossing as the first book.
In addition to the five main characters from The Cruel Stars, Lucinda Chase, Frazer McLennan, Sephina L’trel, Princess Alessia and Booker, The Shattered Skies introduces two new POV characters in Captain Anders Revell, an aide-de-camp of a high-ranking Sturm military leader who is investigating the surprising defeat that befell the Sturm in the first book, and Sub-commandant Domi Surprarto, a underling suddenly promoted to captain of the Javan Navy ship Makassar after the Sturm malware turns the top brass into mindless zombies.
The Shattered Skies has the same frenetic action, snarky humor, political intrigue and social commentary of  The Cruel Stars. Additionally, the author uses the addition of the new characters to provide a more nuanced view about the two warring sides in the Sturm-Volume war. In the first book, we are basically introduced to the Sturm as galaxy-invading ideological zealots who want to kill everyone who is not a “pure human” if they have had any technological or genetic modifications. And so our assumption is that the people opposing the Sturm are the good guys. However, by giving us Revell’s POV we see that he is quite passionate about his belief that he’s fighting for the “good” side and we see that the Sturm are providing aid and comfort to people (like Lucinda’s father) who have been abused and exploited in a debtors prison planet that they liberated. The fact that the "good guys" support a system where debtors prisons are a real thing begins to raise niggling doubts about the righteousness of their cause. Also, by getting Suprarto’s POV we see that some of the “Allies” on the good guys’ team (like the Javan Army and the Yulin-Irawaddy Collective) have problematic characteristics (they’re extremely hierarchical, rife with corruption and selfish and self-centered). This makes for a more interesting read because as the stakes of the military conflicts go up, the reader starts to more seriously question who they want to win this battle. Which vision for civilization do we really want to prevail? The Sturm's neo-Luddite view of unaltered "natural" humanity? Or the competing corporate capitalist view where single families can own entire planets and control the lives of every sentient being on their "property"? How should the choice be decided? That the Cruel Stars books even raises these questions puts it above most other books in the military sci-fi/space opera genre.
Overall, The Shattered Skies is an excellent space opera, with interesting characters, well-depicted action sequences, neat technology and an exciting plot. Hopefully, the story will all be resolved in the third and final book of the trilogy, expected in summer 2023 (currently I have seen two proposed titles on the internet, The Forever Dead and The Empty Heavens). Whatever it’s called, this book will be on my must-read list!

Title: The Shattered Skies (The Cruel Stars, #2).
John Birmingham.
Format: Kindle.
Length: 432 pages.
Publisher: Del Rey Books.
Date Published: January 11, 2022.
Date Read: October 24, 2022.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


Wednesday, November 23, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: The Cruel Star (The Cruel Stars, #1) by John Birmingham

The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham is the first book in a space opera science fiction trilogy with the same name. Birmingham has summarized the Cruel Stars trilogy as “Space Nazis invade and try to ruin everything, everywhere, all over the galaxy.” This is the first book by this author I have read; I did so because a machine learning algorithm recommended The Cruel Stars to me because I have either read, bought or borrowed related/similar books (like The Expanse books by James S.A. Corey and The Final Architecture trilogy by Adrian Tchaikovsky) that led the computer program to extrapolate that I would also enjoy this one. And you know what, the code was right, people, because I completely loved reading The Cruel Stars!
The structure of the book will be quite familiar to regular readers of fantasy and science fiction. The story is told via chapters from the perspective of different characters, similar to the structure of George R.R. Martin’s The Song of Ice and Fire and James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse. The five main characters of the The Cruel Stars are Lucinda Chase, a newly minted war hero who gets a field promotion to captain of her ship when the enemy’s sneak attack decapitates the senior leadership of the entire Armadalen military; Frazer McLennan, a foul-mouthed military genius from Scotland turned archaeologist who killed millions of Earth citizens in order to save billions by almost entirely wiping out an invading  army over 700 years ago and by miraculous advances in medicine is still alive (but decrepit); Sephina L’trel, a foul-mouthed lesbian space pirate who leads a small team of violent mercenaries burning to get revenge on the people who killed their loved ones; Princess Alessia Szu Suri sur Montanblanc ul Haq, the 12-year-old scion of an incredibly rich and powerful family who owns and rules the entire planet of Montrachet as well as a galaxy-spanning financial empire; and Corporal Booker3-212162-930-Infantry, a human being who has downloaded his mind into software as a member of a belief system called The Source. 
Each of these characters gets their own POV chapters as the story progresses, demonstrating their importance to the plot. However my favorite character in The Cruel Stars is not one of these previously mentioned POV characters, it’s Herodotus, who is an “Armada-level Intellect,” which means he is a sentient artificial intelligence with technological powers that are near god-like (such as the ability to teleport or “fold space” at will and near-infinite data processing capacity and speed) along with an incredibly snarky attitude. (Come for the god-like computer, stay for the snark!)
In The Cruel Stars we discover that the Sturm, also known as The Human Republic, the group that McLennan defeated hundreds of years ago (and has not been heard of since) has returned to continue their genocidal war against all humans who have modified their bodies with either technological or genetic enhancements. In the beginning of the book we discover that The Sturm has launched a devastating first strike in the form of a successful malware attack that turns any humans with technological implants who were accessing the galactic equivalent of the Internet at the time into brain-devouring zombies. 
The return of The Sturm has life-altering consequences for all of our main characters. Lucinda becomes the captain of her ship, the Defiant, because all the higher ranked officers are struck down by the Sturm malware. Alessia becomes the sole living representative of her family, as the few remaining relatives who were not affected by the initial attack were killed in a grisly execution broadcast galaxy wide. McLennan is captured by the Sturm while conducting an archaeological dig at a site the Human Republic considers sacred but is rescued by Herodotus after only some mild torture has occurred. Sephina has a lucrative heist interrupted and then watches the love of her life slaughtered by Sturm weapons hours after the initial attack. The only person who is positively impacted by the return of the Sturm is Booker, who is in prison sentenced to be permanently deleted at the vey moment the malware attack strikes his penal colony. The warden makes a deal to allow Booker to escape and promises to put in a good word with future authorities if Booker uses his military expertise to fight back and save lives on the prison habitat. Booker agrees to the deal, keeps his end of the bargain and escapes into space implanted in the operating system of a huge security robot.
Overall, The Cruel Stars is a fantastically entertaining space opera with lots of action, humor and violence. The characters are compelling and world-building intriguing. It’s reminiscent of the very best work of Peter F. Hamilton; fans of Hamilton should also read (and I am confident will enjoy!) The Cruel Stars.

Title: The Cruel Stars.
John Birmingham.
Format: Kindle.
Length: 416 pages.
Publisher: Del Rey.
Date Published: August 20, 2019.
Date Read: October 17, 2022.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


Sunday, November 13, 2022

CA Now Has Two Black LGBT State Supreme Court Justices!

Martin Jenkins

Kelli Evans

LGBT History was made this week with the retention election of California State Supreme Court justice Martin Jenkins on November 8 and the approval of Kelli Evans to join the state's highest court by the Committee on Judicial Appointments on November 10. Jenkins, 69, was nominated to the California Supreme Court in October 2020 by Governor Gavin Newsom. Evans, 54, was nominated to the court by Newson in August 2022. The California State Supreme Court now has seven members and is amazingly diverse:
  • Carol Corrigan, 74, white female
  • Kelli Evans, 54, African-American lesbian woman
  • Joshua Groban, 49, white mam
  • Patricia Guerrero, 50 Latina/Hispanic woman
  • Martin Jenkins, 69, African-American gay man
  • Leondra Kruger, 46, African-American woman
  • Goodwin Liu, 52, Chinese-American man
The court is majority women, majority people of color (one-third Black) and two-sevenths LGBT!
Guerrero is the brand-new Chief Justice of the State of California. Guerrero, Jenkins, Groban and Liu were all successfully retained in the November 8 election.

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

MadProfessah Voting Guide: November 2022


Here are MadProfessah's positions on how I  have voted in the November 8 2022 California General Elections. This post will contain  endorsements information from other organizations like the Los Angeles Times,  California Democratic PartyEast Area Progressive Democrats and the Los Angeles County Democratic Party

The 2022 General Election Ballot is quite long. Here are my endorsements (how I have voted) along with information about how others are encouraging you to vote. This link will take you to a printable two page version of this voting guideNames with an asterisk * are openly LGBTQ+ candidates.

The information here is accurate to the best of my knowledge. YMMV.
LAist also has a very helpful voterguide here:



COUNTY JUDGES (Superior Court)



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