An Audio-Book Review: Deus Ex Machina and By Real Machines

Robots and Empire

By Isaac Asimov

Published by Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Read by Pam Ward

 

The Book:

Most lists of Isaac Asimov’s works call this one the fourth of the Robot Novels and if you think of the others as stories about robots, I suppose it is. To me, however, the first three, The Caves of Steel, Then Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn are a trilogy of SF-murder mysteries in which the main character is hard-boiled detective Elijah (Lije) Bailey. In them his faithful assistant/sidekick is R. Daneel Olivaw, a robot, but it is Bailey who solves the cases. This time Lije Bailey only has cameo appearances in a few flashbacks and the real protagonists are R. Daneel and the semi-telepathic robot R. Giskard both of whom are now owned by Gladia, who we previously saw as the damsel in distress in both The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn. However, the book definitely does not stand alone comfortably and it really would be best to read the earlier stories.

A lot about this book bothers me although it’s basically a good story. I just think it might have been better had Dr. Asimov not been trying so hard to pull all the threads of his Human Galactic Empire/Foundation future history together. To me, at least, I think he worked so hard that one sees the climax coming no later than about one third into the story although it is uncertain how it will come to be until the final quarter or so of the book.

Of course, it would only be obvious to long-time fans of Asimov. If you have read his earlier novels of the first Galactic Empire (especially The Stars Like Dust, The Currents of Space and Pebble in the Sky) you will know that Earth exists in that future as a world with a mostly radioactive crust and that humans can only live in relative safety in a few isolated or else well-shielded places. By then, also, very few humans remember that Earth was the original home-world for all mankind and when confronted with it, most scientists and historians doubt it since how could humans evolve under such conditions and a world so radioactive that it literally glows in the dark outside the habitable areas.

How Earth became radio-active was always kept vague in the earlier books. Usually, if I recall correctly, it is assumed the radioactivity is the legacy of an atomic war, a vast nuclear accident or else Earth was just naturally that way. Since it is not radioactive in the time of Lije Bailey a reader would have either had to assume that either it happened later or else the robot novels were not related to the Empire/Foundation novels until Dr. Asimov started formally tying them all up in a nice and sometimes neat bundle. Even then I always had a strong feeling that there was a lot of retroactive continuity (or retcon) going on. Retcon is much like a cat that attempts to jump from one piece of furniture to another and, after missing, pauses to lick itself for a few seconds as if to say, “I meant to do that.” Sometimes the retcon makes the leap successfully and sometimes the trip is a bit rocky. Conditions on the trip this time vary… a lot.

I won’t go on, because to demonstrate that would be to drop more spoilers than I like, but while a heavy-handed retcon, it could be a lot worse and helps to explain why Earth’s radioactivity seems to get progressively worse in the books that happen later. MY main complaint, however is that Giskard is constantly using his telepathic powers to change the minds of humans in order to pave the way for his and Daneel’s plans, which follow Daneel’s personal extension of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics (I’ll explain that below). And while, perhaps, it is realistic that he might have to do so in a wide variety of situations, there are far too many cases in which Daneel asks him, “Did you change his (or her) mind just then?” to which Giskard usually says, “Yes, just a bit.” Just once or twice it might have been nice had he responded, “Actually not that time. That human was already firmly ready to assist us and it only took your request,” but, no, somehow everything forces Giskard to act telepathically, so by the time you reach the end it seems that nothing would happen if not for those meddling kids… uh, I mean robots.

For those unacquainted with the vast number of robots stories Dr. Asimov wrote over the years, I think most will still have heard of his Laws of Robotics because they are often referred to (sometimes incorrectly) in popular TV and movies, some of which are not even science fiction, but just in case, here they are;

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

These laws were good enough for nearly all his robot stories and some other authors as well, although even he modified or found exceptions to the laws for the sake of a story. There are conflicting stories as to whether Asimov came up with the laws or if it was John W. Campbell, but it was Randall Garrett’s explanation that they both came up with them together that might be the closest to the truth.

In this story, Daneel postulates an over-riding law which he calls the “Zeroth Law” (btw, that name for it grates on my nerves, but…) which is “A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.” There are problems with that but the discussion could fill books. Some of the problems do come up in this book, such as the definition of human, and humanity for that matter, such as when they encounter robots whose definition of human only includes humans who speak the right dialect. A lot of that went against previous assertions that the three laws were so hard-coded into the basic positronic brain, that it was virtually impossible to give them such major modifications. Still that was said by a roboticist in one book and this is being done by different roboticists in a later one.

I was far more annoyed that, at the end, Giskard, who must sacrifice himself to save humanity, first makes sure Daneel can read minds so that Daneel can go on to influence the future of mankind. Oy! I was even more annoyed by later appearances by Daneel that prove he went on to meddle (with the help of other secret robots – by then there are no working robots known to humans left) in the course of man’s future for thousands of years. To me this felt like, “Humans are too stupid to keep from killing themselves off if they don’t have keepers.” Looking at current-day politics that might be partially believable, but I like to have a more positive outlook than that.

The most annoying feature of the book, however, is the ending. It just stops. There is no denouement or epilogue. We don’t really know what happens to Gladia and Deegee (a descendant of Lije Bailey) other than they plan to stay together. Giskard dies… or stops functioning, and leaves Daneel to protect the Galaxy. It all happens very suddenly and I cannot help but think Asimov had at least one or two more stories in mind that he just did not write, because this one ended far too abruptly. The next story in this Chronology is The Stars Like Dust which takes place thousands of years later during the period before the formation of the Galactic Empire. Other authors have attempted to fill in stories about the end of the Empire and the start of the Foundation, which I’ll admit I have not read, but to me having a robot or a bunch of robots directing from in secret (as occurs in at least some of them) does not make for a satisfying story to me. This one, however, is better than most even for all the annoyances.

 

The Audiobook:

I had not listened to anything read by Pam Ward before and my first reaction was a bit flat, neither greatly favorable nor unfavorable, but as I listened she grew on me. Many readers go out of their way to delineate characters and sometimes go too far using funny and/or annoying voices. Others try too hard to put their own mark on the story somehow verbally reminding us at all times that it is they who are reading the story as though this performance is more important than the fact that a talented author wrote it first and, I think that without that author they would not have had a performance to give. It takes a really good reader to use funny voices effectively or to make a truly unique performance that does not distract from the story. I can only think of a small handful of readers who have accomplished that in all the audiobooks I have listened to.

Ms. Ward does none of that. She never attempts to overshadow the story itself with her reading but she does manage to subtly delineate the characters in a comfortable and natural manner that once I stopped listening to her as a reader and instead merely heard the story as she read it (the difference being that is I hear the reader it is a distraction from the story and a good reader never distracts from the story) I was able to just sit back and enjoy the journey and any annoyances were due to the story, not the reader, which, I think is all anyone should ask of a reader.

I did notice that the tracks I listened to were uneven in regard to sound quality. Some were harshly treble or else had the bass turned up. I doubt that was due to the reader or to the publisher. A lot of the books I listen to come from friends (I honestly cannot afford to buy all the books I have reviewed so I borrow frequently) and just where they get them from I cannot always say. This particular audiobook (I learned on looking it up) originally came on cassette tapes. My copy was digital so sometime in the past, someone transferred the tacks from tape to disk and probably were not overly careful about keeping audio quality consistent. It’s also possible this was a compilation of tracks from several copies. I am certain that Ms. Ward only recorded it once since she had far too many other recorded books in her resume to have gone back and redone this one.

So, all told, if you are a fan of Asimov and his robot stories, this one is one to check off the bucket list, but if you have not yet had the pleasure I recommend starting with The Caves of Steel, since too much in this book relies on situations that are set up in the previous three. And if you want to listen, I think you can do much worse than Pam Ward’s recording. In fact, I look forward to listening to her read again.

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An Audio-Book Review: A Bad Case of Hiccups

How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel

How to Train Your Dragon Book 10

Written by Cressida Cowell

Published by Hachette Audio

Read by David Tenant

 

The Book:

Well, our hero, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, is at it again. Following his exile as an outcast with the “Slave mark” at the end of Book 9, How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword, he has grown in the intervening year as he has tried to find out what has happened to his father, Stoic the Vast and his best friend, Fishlegs. To do this he must manage not to be caught either by those Vikings loyal to Alvin the Treacherous or the members of the Dragon Rebellion.

When he finds his father, he and most of the rest of his old tribe have been enslaved, along with anyone else who has dared stand up to Alvin, and forced to look for the Dragon’s Jewel with which not only can all dragons be destroyed forever, but which Alvin needs in order to truly be the king of the Vikings, Naturally, Hiccup wants to find it to save the dragons even though many of them are bent on killing him.

This series began as a light children’s tale with much humor and satire, but as Hiccup has grown up, so too has the nature of the story so much like the later Harry Potter books., this is a much darker story than that it was in the beginning. Hiccup has grown and so has the nature of his problems.

Interestingly, in many ways the upbeat end of the story takes place two or three chapters or so before the end of the book, and even the narrator suggests that would be a good place to stop reading. Everything is going well and Hiccup and his friends are triumphant… and then it all falls apart which a lead=in to the next book, How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero.

So far, I still enjoy the story very much. Like any good children’s books, they do not feel as though written down to kids’ levels and, if I am a representative example, can be enjoyed just as much by adults. So, adults, stop trying to be so grown up and sophisticated and just relax and enjoy these stories!

 

The Audiobook:

What more can I say about David Tennant’s narration skills. He did an excellent job of reading the first nine books of the series and continues to do so this time as well. Fans of Doctor Who will, of course, remember him, as the Tenth Doctor, and, as such, played the part with a fine mixture of adventure, drama and whimsy. That is how he reads these books as well.

So, my recommendation is to just sit back and listen. It’s a fun, if dark, story and it’s being read to us by “The Doctor” or one of them in any case. Enjoy!

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An Audio-Book Review: Yo Ho Ho and a Half-Pound of Yams!

The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty

By Caroline Alexander

Published by Penguin Audio

Read by Michael York

 

The Book:

Not sure why I picked up this book. I did read the classic Nordhoff and Hall The Bounty Trilogy back when I was in junior high school and watched at least one of the films. Until encountering this book I had not realized what a distortion of the facts those versions were. Oh I expected that Fletcher Christian was romanticized to some extent and that Bligh was vilified, possibly if only to heighten the drama, but I honestly had not realized just how badly the facts had been twisted until black was white and right was wrong until I read Caroline Alexander’s book.

I did know that William Bligh had served a long and distinguished career before and after the infamous Bounty incident, including his stint as the Governor of New South Wales and was eventually promoted to Rear Admiral, and I knew he had earlier served with Captain James Cook on his third and fatal voyage into the Pacific, but I had not known that he had commanded a ship at the Battle of Copenhagen from which one could see both Admiral Nelson’s signal to fight and Admiral Parker’s signal to retreat. This is the famous battle in which Nelson held a spyglass to his blind eye and declared he saw no signal. Bligh was the captain in a position in his battle group to see both signals and chose to follow Nelson. Had he echoed the retreat signal, the battle may likely have been a disaster for England.

The author expended an extraordinary effort of academic research to find contemporary documents, such as Bligh’s log of the Bounty voyage and the descriptions by various crewmen, both loyalists and mutineers as well as similar documents from the time and it painted a far different picture of Bligh and conditions on the Bounty. Most versions of the Bounty story paint William Bligh as a cruel taskmaster who put his crew on starvation rations and flogged them frequently. The truth may well be that Bligh was actually less harsh than most men in command of British ships of that day. We must keep in mind that Sailors in the 18th Century expected corporal punishment for certain crimes and wrong doings while on board their ships. Bligh’s log and some testimony clearly shows that he was averse to corporal punishment and on several occasions lectured guilty men rather than putting them to the lash. However, he does seem to have had a temper and a very sharp tongue.  I suppose it’s possible those tough men of the sea of old were more easily bruised by a tongue lashing than at the hand of a cat o’ nine tails.

As for starving them, Bligh, having learned from Cook, prided himself on being able to feed his crew by foraging from or trading with various islands along the way. He felt that scurvy was a sign of his own neglect of the crew and had a shipboard doctor to see to the health of the men on board, and to treat them for venereal disease, which apparently quite a few picked up while on Tahiti. There were on short rations on leaving Tahiti, that much is true, which was why they had acquired a large pile of coconuts on one of the islands.  The coconut pile stood as high as the rail of the ship when stacked up, but when, the next morning, the pile was much lower, Bligh became angry and accused Christian for their loss, since he was the officer-on-deck at the time.

I seriously doubt the matter of the coconuts were anything but an excuse for the mutiny. It seems more likely that after six months of light work collecting breadfruits on Tahiti and living a by-and-large hedonistic life, many of the men were unwilling to go back to the rigors of life at sea. Christian’s claim that he was “in Hell” due to the way Bligh treated him begins to sound more like the complaints of an overly-entitled twit who could not stand to be berated inform of the crew and, earlier, the islanders of Tahiti. Indeed, he comes off as rather childish, so why is he the great romantic hero of most versions of the Bounty story?

This as Ms. Alexander shows us was due to the actions of the well-connected families of two of the mutineers. These were the distantly related families of Peter Heywood and Fletcher Christian. Heywood, it should be noted was found guilty of mutiny, but was pardoned, supposedly due to his young age (he was 17 at the time) but it should be noted he had been serving since he was 14. He sounds all the more treacherous when you learn that Bligh took him on as a special favor and even served as his host while waiting for the ship to be readied. Christian was another veteran of the sea by the time Bounty had sailed, and had served on three of the same ships Bligh had. Following the mutiny trials to exonerate Heywood (who was eventually allowed to serve in the navy again and even rose to command) and to attempt to remove the stain from the Christian name, the stories began to change.

Charles Christian, brother of Fletcher, put together his own inquiry into the mutiny, leading a committee composed mostly of abolitionists who would not look kindly on Bligh who had sailed in the sugar trade and whose Breadfruit mission was conceived to bring cheap, nutritious food to the West Indies to further the keeping of slaves. (I’d like to note here that even after Bligh brought breadfruit to the Indies in his second attempt, it turns out that the slaves refused to eat it although today it is a popular ingredient in Puerto Rican cuisine). Men who had testified on Bligh’s behalf in the courts martial regarding the Bounty suddenly started telling darker tales, ones that more closely fit what you see in the movies. Even so it becomes clear that in order to salvage their own reputations, the Christians turned Fletcher into the first “Romantic Hero,” an image that remains today.

This twisting of the facts haunted Bligh for the rest of his career, for even while he received multiple promotions, there was always the cloud over him and his reputation for cruel words and a bad temper.

The story of what really happened was further obscured, by the inconsistent stories told on Pitcairn Island by the last remaining mutineer, John Adams (who it turns out had sailed under the alias, Alexander Smith, while on Bounty. Why? I don’t know, but maybe he was hiding something too? In any case his accounts of what happened tended to vary from telling to telling so it is uncertain how accurate his accounts might be. By the time one gets to the end of the book, however the reader will have been exposed to many different versions of Bligh and the Bounty mutiny

All told, Alexander’s book was a fascinating and edifying account of what was, probably, the most well-known mutiny of all time.

 

The Audiobook:

I would not expect Michael York to read at any level below excellent and he does not disappoint this time. If someone had told me he managed to read this book dramatically I would either have shuddered in horror at the notion of a dramatic reading of what is a history book, or else have simply not believed them. However, he is never over the top and the bits of dramatic reading are actually nice accents that kept me interested throughout.

There was something wrong with my copy of the audiobook and the tracks were badly out of order. Strangely enough, after listening to some autobiographies lately that bounced back and forth between times and places, this was not as annoying as I might have expected and even out of order it was easy to follow the historical narration and the time line it represented. The fact that there was a fair amount of repetition as each different version of the story was presented might actually have helped there.

So, this is a really interesting telling of the Bounty Mutiny and the events that followed and presented in a manner that will hold the reader from beginning to end and if you like listening to books, Michael York is a great reader to listen to.

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An Audio-Book Review: The Witch Who Is NOT the Witches’ Leader

The Shepherd’s Crown

By Terry Pratchett

Published by Harper Audio

Read by Stephen Briggs

 

The Book:

This was Terry Pratchett’s final published novel. Even more sadly it is the last of the Discworld stories. The Discworld truly is a flat world that is perched on the top of four giant elephants who, in turn, stand on the back of an even greater space-going turtle. He left behind notes on more stories, but at his request they were destroyed, which might be just as well. I doubt anyone could have written them as well as he could have, and if they could, they would also have the creativity and expertise to write their own without needing his notes. I know I have tried writing in a style approximating his; I could only keep it up for a chapter or two and I was never quite satisfied with it, so learned the lesson that each writer must find his or her own style.

Other authors might be compare to Pratchett, but only he had his specific talent of being able to twist words around in a most amusing manner to throw clichés and common sayings back in the face of the reader. He did not do so in an aggressive manner. I always felt he was letting me (and his many other readers) in on the joke. His humor was inclusive, not exclusive. The fact that he could write a darned good story regardless of the humor made the corpus of his work a life-long masterpiece.

The Shepherd’s Crown is also the final novel featuring Tiffany Aching, witch, who we first met as a young, potentially talented girl in The Wee Free Men. Throughout the series we saw her as a witch-in-training, facing increasingly greater challenges all along the way. I think I would have been satisfied had the fourth book of the series, I Shall Wear Midnight been the last of the series. In it, Tiffany truly comes into her own, but I think I would have been wrong for this story was a far better culmination even if it was not finished to Pratchett’s own satisfaction. Yes it was rough in places, written but not fully polished, but the a story is a strong one and, in my opinion, makes up for the spots where it might have been improved had Sit Terry had the time to edit it as he normally would have.

MINOR SPOILER ALERT:

 

It is apparent that the author realized this would be his final book because the story really begins with the death of one of the Discworld’s longest running characters, Granny Weatherwax. Witches do not have leaders and Granny Weatherwax was the leader they did not have. Granny, however, as the Nac Mac Feegles called her, was the Hag of Hags and one got the feeling that even Death himself was honored to finally have escorted her to her final destination. It was a poignant and heart-breaking scene – one I never expected to read – but it represents the passing of an age and also the continuity of community as Granny Weatherwax has chosen to appoint her own successor by leaving everything to Tiffany by the cat, “You.” As it happens You has chosen Tiffany as well and there begins the adventure as Tiffany must once more turn back an invasion of elves from “Fairy Land” this time not as the newest apprentice witch, but as the leader that witches do not have.

 

So, thank you, Terry Pratchett, for all the wonderful stories you have shared with us over the course of your life. I am saddened there will be no more, but… I can always read them again!

 

The Audiobook:

Like the other Tiffany Aching books, this one was read by Stephen Briggs who has also read many (and written some) of the other Discworld books, including the supplemental volumes such as “The Streets of Ankh Morpork” and “Turtle Recall: The Discworld Companion… So Far” and so forth. He is a multi-talented gentleman and one of the best readers of Pratchett’s works and this time is no exception. I have reviewed his readings before and what I have said before still holds; he reads well and engages the listener from start to finish.

So, the book is a bittersweet conclusion to the tale of Tiffany Aching and also serves passing well to wrap up the Discworld mega-series of which it is part, for while we might not have had cameo appearances from all our favorite characters, there were enough who showed up here and there to have a chance to bid them all a fond farewell in the knowledge that whatever might happen on the Discworld from here on in, everything might change, but it would still be a wonderful place to visit even if we could no longer do so ourselves. Having Stephen Briggs usher out this final chapter was fitting as well.

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An Audio-Book Review: Live Long and Prosper, but Not Monetarily

Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek

By Manu Saadia

Published by Audible Studios

Read by Oliver Wyman

 

The Book:

 

Before I start, I want to say that this book has received a lot of positive reviews and by and large I tend to agree with them, but I did have some problems as I listened to it. So, let’s start with the positive.

Manu Saadia put one heck of a lot of thought and work into this book and he came out with a lot of well-reasoned arguments about how the economics of the Star Trek universe in which the Federation no longer uses money in any way would work although at times I was confused as to whether he was arguing it was possible or not. For the most part, he makes statements of how it all works and makes it sound fairly reasonable, but then we get a throw-away line that made me doubt he believed it.

Okay, I get it, we are dealing with theoretical economics here. The zone in which you really cannot separate economics from philosophy because it really is philosophy, just philosophy with a veneer of mathematics. I’ll admit that sort of theory usually leaves me yawning (although not this time and I did find the book interesting) but I have read and listened to enough of it to know that many of the statements made as facts to back up the proofs of concepts in this book are argued vociferously by economists all the time. Is it theory – an idea with proof behind it? Yes, absolutely. Are there other theories that do not agree? Yeah, that too, but we don’t hear about the other side of the arguments, which I might have expected in order prove that the theory Manu Saadia holds to is more right than the others. No, the book barely crosses that ground at all.  All statements are made as though incontrovertible. That’s not unusual, however. A lot of writers do this, but to me it always feel like ignoring the data that does not fit your model. However, Saadia’s theories are all well accepted within  the field of economics, even if they are debated on various points.

Of course, I did not pick up this book in order to listen to dry economics theory. I really was more interested in what the author had to say about economics in the Star Trek universe and in that I was mostly satisfied. Where I was left at a loss was any explanation of how the other sentient races in that future history based their economies on, except for the Ferengi, who, in spite of looking like gremlins from the edges of artwork by Hieronymus Bosch, are really thinly disguised Twentieth and Twenty-first Century humans. What about the economics of the Klingons? The Romulans? The Cardassians? And all the rest? I felt there was some implication they would all eventually be absorbed into the Federation’s non-monetary economic empire, much like the Borg, which Saadia states rally is just like the Federation – economically, he may be correct.

Resistance is futile? I don’t know. I can see and accept how the Federation might have progressed to the state it is shown to us in, but nothing actually follows that others would join in. In fact, I believe one could argue that the differences in economic bases between the Federation and the Romulan Empire (for example) might well be the root cause for the antagonism between them. Similar arguments could be made for the Klingons, Cardassians and even the shape-shifting Founders. Without a economic basis for trade, is there any need for peaceful coexistence? Well, for the Federation, there is, but what’s in it for the rest of the Galaxy. Well, except for the Borg, except that they don’t trade. They merely assimilate – the view through a mirror darkly for Captain Picard and his colleagues.

And how does trade with the Ferengi even work? They have a fully monetary system built up based on a fictional substance known as Gold-pressed Latinum. Latinum, we learn eventually is a liquid of some sort that cannot be reproduced in the miraculous replicators of the Federation and therefore has value to the Ferengi since they cannot just make more of it. The liquid is kept in slips, strips, bricks and maybe some other units of gold so that it is easier to count and keep track of, I guess, although one character turned out to be keeping his hoard of latinum in his stomach… TMI. Anyway, the Ferengi trade is based on the transfer of gold-pressed latinum. With no money, how do Federation citizens acquire any of that in order to deal with the Ferengi? This is only dealt with in a most superficial manner.

That brings me to the replicators. Manu Saadia hails the “Replicator” as the ultimate machine that can replicate absolutely anything (well… except latinum), but he glosses over the fact that it cannot, or rather does not produce variety. The replicator has to be programmed and can only produce stuff that it has been programmed to produce. Saadia even brings up a case in which when discussing a dish of chicken curry (I think) one character says something along the lines of “This might be chicken, but all I taste is replicated animal protein.” I remember that episode. My take on that comment was not that all replicated animal protein was alike, but that any dish of chicken curry was going to taste like every other dish of chicken curry. The programmers had not programmed in thousands of variants so that each dish was a little different. They probably just scanned in one plate of Tikka Marsala (or Vindaloo or Korma, or whatever) and that is the same plate that comes out every time. I would not be surprised if food varied from one ship to the next where clever engineers would bring or create their own varieties, but even so, how many different plates of curry does the computer have room to store the programing for when some crew members might be more in the mood for fish and chips or “Tea, Earl Grey, hot?” I am sure only the very best foods were programmed into the replicators (why bother for anything less?) but after a while even the best starts to become ordinary.

In any case, Saadia makes the argument that with the replicator, there is no scarcity of anything (except latinum, which apparently makes you go bald if you keep it in a second stomach for decades) and in such a post-scarcity society, naturally there would be no money. Yeah, okay. One problem, however which Saadia glossed over although he presented the evidence. There were no replicators during the Original Series (the one with Kirk, Spock, McCoy, the Millionaire, the Movie Star and the rest). They had a galley deck where the food was still prepared more or less the way we do today (less, I think, but still not replicated). The replicators were invented some time during the seventy-five years between TOS and The Next Generation. However, according to the 4th Trek Movie (The Voyage Home) there is no money in Kirk’s time. So, it becomes obvious that the replicator is a symptom or a result, not the cause of the money-less society. Something else besides a lack of scarcity drove the Federation into the non-monetary economy it enjoys. The replicators merely reinforced it. Too bad, because the invention of something like the replicator really could have produced a non-monetary economy after a while.

He does go one at times about real-world economics and theory, which at times had only a tenuous connection to the main subject of the book, but I came to the conclusion that like most theoretical studies, economic theory has 20-20 hindsight on the past but is less than perfect on predictions. We see that in most sciences and scientific disciplines since the more we learn the better the chance we will find cases that, even if they do not disprove a theory, will make it clear that the theory was not general enough to include everything within its intended scope.

Even Saadia admits, however, that the Star Trek Universe did not spring fully grown from the head of Gene Roddenberry. It grew and developed and a lot of the facets of that universe that exist were cut through retroactive continuity (aka “Retcon” in SF parlance) that coalesced as the years went by. So naturally there are going to be exceptions, errors, confusions and discrepancies. That’s what happens when you set a dozen chefs to creating one pot of soup between them.

However, in spite of my arguments (and antipathy to the art of economic theory as philosophy mixed with poetry – uh, no, Saadia does not quote poetry. I’m being sarcastic.) This is a pretty good book so if you are into both Star Trek and economics, you probably will have a fun time with it.

Late Update: I just caught up with the latest episodes of Star Trek: Discovery (I have a ton of nits to pick with this the series, but overall it is a good and powerful story so far) and have noted that instead of the galley deck from TOS, the crew eats food created by synthesizers. Since that food includes fresh blueberries and breakfast burritos with the option of regular and roasted tomato salsa, I really do not see the difference between that and the replicators from TNG, some 85 years later save that, perhaps, I could not order  a bucket of irradiated cadmium nuts and bolts from lunch, but then again, why would I want too? It throws some wrenches into Saadia’s theorizing and pushes the economic and social timeline he proposes, but then as a friend pointed out, each new prequel series and reboot of Star Trek is a study in botched retcons.

 

The Audiobook:

I have one major complaint with Oliver Wyman’s reading – He really should have watched the various Star Trek shows at one point or other so that he would not mispronounce the names of characters. Or perhaps someone in the recording studio should have so they could have corrected him and had him do another take. This is pop culture, folks and while not everyone is a fan, it really might have been nice if someone on the project was conversant enough to catch pronunciation errors. I was particularly jarred by the way he mangled Garak’s name. Garak was the former(?) Cardassian spy who worked as a tailor in Deep Space Nine since he was likely to be killed almost anywhere else in the universe. He was a fairly interesting character who was pushed to the forefront in several pivotal episodes of Deep Space Nine. He stared out as a flat caricature of a person, but over the years of the series he got gradually deeper.  Well, if you have not watched the show, pleased take my word for it that his name is not accented on the second syllable nor is it spelled Gahrahhk.

That kind of ruined the reading for me, but to be fair, most of the time Garak does not intrude and Wyman’s reading is pretty good.

So, you need to be into Trek, you ought to have at least a passing interest in economic models and you have to excuse an occasional mispronounced name, but if that is you, I think you’ll love this book.

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An Audio-Book Review: She Knows What He Did Last Summer

What Happened

Written and read by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Published by Simon and Schuster Audio

 

The Book

I think it is obvious that the acceptance or rejection of this book and its contents will pretty much split down the same lines as the last election although I would not be surprised if the book itself received more electoral votes than either of the two major candidates. For the most part, if you supported Hillary Clinton you will like this book and agree with what she says within it and if you were part of the forty-seven percent of a “landslide” that voted for the… >sigh!< other guy you will probably say that she is whining and blaming everyone but herself for how the election went. In the latter case, you probably have not read the book either, relying on the negative reviews to support your feelings.

I make no secret of the fact that when it comes to social issues I generally stand somewhere to the left of Beta Lyrae and when it comes to financial issues, I think the whole lot of Congressmen and Women and Senators ought to be forced to pay back all the money they have wasted over the years. I also have problems with anyone who perverts personal freedom into a justification for bias and bigotry against others, but I’m climbing up on to my high-horse a bit too readily (said high-horse all too obligingly stoops to give me easier access most of the time). However, I have some observations I would like to share about this book none the less.

I would like to take issue with the majority of reviewers who got to this book ahead of me. After having listened to it I can state with complete assurance that most of them did not read or listen to the whole thing. In fact, it is obvious the majority did not see any more than the snippets that were released to the news media ahead of the official publication date – most of which were from the authors’ foreword. And given some of the almost word-for-word repetition of what other reviewers said I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two just plagiarized each other’s commentary on the Foreword. Now that is truly pathetic.

I have promised that I would review no audiobook without listening to the whole thing. If I can’t finish it, it gets no review. That’s the only way to be fair, in my mind, but I cannot say that for some of the other reviewers especially the ones who had undisguised political axes to grind. Many of them probably could have written their reviews without having read a word. And as for “He who must not be named”… oh, the heck with it… Mister Trump (NB: readers experienced with my reviews may have noticed that I most often use the honorifics when I am struggling to be polite), well, he had a lot to say about this book in 140 character bites, but it is obvious he never even read the bits that were released in advance since all his commentary was directly in response to Hillary’s tour of the chat show circuit and not the content of the book itself. Then again, the only book we have a report of Mister Trump ever reading is the second memoire of Adolph Hitler and even then, only that he kept it on his bed stand – possibly he didn’t read that either and expected to absorb it by osmosis.

In any case, does Hillary Clinton really blame everyone but herself?  Emphatically not. She blames herself more frequently within the book that anyone else although James Comey does come in second and justifiably so. Jeff Session said Comey was fired for his mishandling of the Clinton emails insincerely in front of the Senate just yesterday. I seriously doubt that was why he was fired since I am sure Trump danced off two or three pounds when the investigation was publicly reopened just eleven days before Election Day, but the action on James Comey’s part was so reprehensible that Trump and his lackeys have attempted to use it as their reason (although careful observers will notice that these same people have floated other excuses that conflict). Mister Comey himself has said he feels “mildly nauseous” at the thought he might have influenced the election, but, really, he should be feeling a permanent and terminal case of indigestion. Any long-time political bureaucrat like Mister Comey has to have known exactly what he was doing and what the probable consequences would be. (Ooops, that darned high-horse again).

Who else does Hillary blame? Well she does blame Bernie Sanders once (maybe twice), but mostly for starting a movement that he not only had little control over but provided divisive arguments against Hillary’s platform to so that the chance of their every fully reconciling at or after the convention was slim. Bernie encouraged people to vote anti-establishment Democrat. By itself, I do not entirely disagree, but he ignited a fire he could not extinguish so that rather than be drawn in after the convention, so many of them looked toward third-party candidates. It is possible that they might have voted third party even had Bernie not run, but this time they were more activist about it Is that Bernie Sanders’ fault? Darned if I know. I’m not sure any normal Democrat could have brought those votes in, but the perception of Hillary as a long-time political insider prevented her from doing so.

Does she blame Trump? Doesn’t everybody??? Face it. Whether you like or loathe the guy, Hillary losing the election IS his fault. He’s the guy who won more electoral votes. Remember all his whining about how the election was rigged? Remember how he claimed millions of illegal aliens voted for Hillary? Remember his claim that thousands of people were bused from Massachusetts to New Hampshire to vote for Hillary? Actually, I’d like to briefly address that claim.

Thousands were bused from Massachusetts to New Hampshire? Seriously? And no one saw the hundreds of buses that suddenly crossed the border on that one day? I think it might have been noticed, assuming anyone could have rounded up that many Greyhounds for a one-day charter. Not sure how much that would have cost, but I’m sure there has to have been a monetary paper trail if it happened and one even a blind tracker could follow the smell of. And if you can’t find the record of hundreds of buses being chartered on election day, just subpoena the record of liquor sales in the highway-side stores in New Hampshire.

If you have never driven through New Hampshire you might not be aware of it, but the state has placed liquor stores in the rest areas closest to their borders. You can drive a few miles across the border, load up on wine and whiskey (because New Hampshire has not sales tax this can be a big savings) and then drive home – incidentally bootlegging hooch across state lines. But in fairness you will also be reminded in small, but polite signs as you leave the rest area to “Please do not drink while driving.”  My point being that if you cannot find a record of upticks in either bus charters to New Hampshire or upticks in their liquor sales, the chance of an extra few thousand day-trippers from Massachusetts is nil.

Hillary reads her own book which I enjoyed listening to., Then again, I had no problem listening to her speeches on the campaign trail either. I guess it’s a matter of whether you like listening to her talk.

In all I think the book opened a window on Hillary Clinton’s inner thoughts and feelings that may have come out a bit too late. More of that might (or might not) have made a difference. The only thing I can say for certain is that for the first time in my life I find myself waking up most mornings thinking I have somehow fallen into an improbable alternate reality because even a year ago (just before Mister Comey reopened his investigation for a few days) the possibility of Trump as president seemed unlikely. For that matter even now, the idea of a president who routinely alienates all his allies, picks fights with all his enemies in the hope of nuclear war and yet kisses up to Russia for no obvious gain, the idea of a president who boasts of sexually assaulting women, who rushes storm relief to states that voted for him but has only done a half-assed job in territories that do not have the right to vote for a president, who dodged the draft on multiple student deferments and “temporary“ bone spurs in his feet, a person who refers to the KKK and assorted other NeoNazis and white nationalists as “fine people,” that a person like that can be elected president really seems unlikely in any rational universe. So, no wonder I occasionally look around for the portal back into the real world where Hillary Clinton has been president for several months and where, I have no doubt, I would be criticizing everything she has accomplished as well.

However, I promise that when the Trumpster writes his account (or farms it out to a ghostwriter, more likely) of how his victory was the biggest, most beautiful ever in all of history, I’ll review that one too. I want to be fair after all.

I will be fair with extreme prejudice…

Wait. What?

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An Audio-Book Review: 1066 Is Not All That?

The Politically Incorrect Guide to the British Empire

By H. W. Crocker III

Published by Blackstone Audio

Read by Ray Porter

 

The Book

Well, here’s a book that was not what I expected. With that title, I expected a humorous and irreverent discussion of British history. I’m not even sure I can call it a history although I suppose that’s the section of your local bookstore that it might be found in (assuming you still have a local bookstore. If not, try a library. What this feels most like is a Cliff Notes summary of a real history book. Most of the descriptions are a bit shallow and there is not a lot of detail, even in chapters that supposedly give more details on stuff in previous ones. The whole discussion is just so cursory, even though I will admit that some of it was new to me.

Basically, Crocker introduces us to the concept of the British Empire and then goes on to describe how it existed in various parts of the world and some of the personalities that made it was it was. But if any poor high school student stumbles across this and tries to use it as source material is likely to get sent back to the library to redo their term paper from scratch.

Is it scholarly? Well, Crocker appears to have read a lot of books o0nt he subject, apparently most of them were written in the 1990’s although a few came out of the 1970’s and 80’s. How do I know? Because every time he quoted an historic personality he attributed the book in which he found it. Strangely, what he does not bother to attribute those quotes to are the circumstances in which they were made; on the field? In an interview? In personal memoires? Who knows? What it all means is he could not be bothered to do and primary research but, instead has relied on what other authors, who may or may not have worked with primary materials themselves, have said about the subject. Now that’s lazy research!

I also know which books he bothered to read because every so often he lists “Books that anti-colonialists (or anti-imperialists) don’t want you to read. He’s very wrong on that, of course. Anti-colonialists (his code for “Liberals”) do want you to read them. It is only through reading through all possible material on a subject that you can make an informed decision for yourself.

“So why is this “Politically Incorrect?” Well, possibly because he has a series of titles that start with “The Politically Incorrect…” but more likely this is because in “Conservative” code and “Politically Incorrect” means “Something those stupid and ill-informed Liberals will not understand and will disagree with because they are always wrong but we are always right.” It’s a bit arrogant, but arrogance is not really a political trait; you can find it in Conservatives and Liberals in equal proportions.

So, in all, the book is an argument in favor of Imperialism. In fact, Crocker repeatedly tells us that the American founding fathers all though building an empire was a good thing and show how many American attitudes actually came from Great Britain. Then again, I think Crocker is American so he repeatedly forgets this is supposed to be a book about British Imperialism. Perhaps it would have been better had Crocker been British too because he is either seriously uninformed on his subject or else couldn’t care less about the facts and just cherry-picked out the parts that supported his own beliefs.

Now to try being fair, there were sections that I learned from. I certainly had not heard of all the personages Crocker shoes to give whole chapters to, but the book is not chronologically organized by a long shot and skips and jumps all up and down the time line. Instead he had attempted to discuss his subject based on geographic location but by doing so the text become repetitious at times (frequently word-for-word) as people who might have been influential in India turn up in Africa or the Middle East. Several times I found myself wondering if I had a bad copy because I would think, ‘Wait. Didn’t he say the same thing a chapter or two ago?”

So, if you’re a pro-imperialist conservative, you might like this book because it will affirm your beliefs. That is, unless you are also the sort of conservative who actually thinks and make decision for him or herself, in which case you will likely think, “Well, I agree with him, but, damn! I could have said that better.” He is right that liberals will not like it. Those who parrot the party line just won’t like it because they disagree with what is said and those, who like the thoughtful conservative, are capable of evaluating the facts for themselves will cringe at the poor scholarship and poorly thought out arguments.

This would have been much better had “Politically Incorrect” meant It’s a parody. Sadly, if this is a parody, it was not an intentional one.

 

The Audiobook:

 

For the most part Ray Porter reads the book well, but he had a really bad habit of slipping into a bad Hollywood version of a Victorian gentleman’s accent when reading the quotes… except for when he reads something Winston Churchill said. In that case it’s a bad impersonation of Churchill. It’s kind of a shame because, except for those annoying lapses, he really does not read badly at all. A history probably should not be read dramatically as this was, but then and I said at the start; this was not really a history. Read or listen to at your own peril.

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