Review: Borrowing Books

I Read this Blog Post which makes the case against borrowing/lending books. I understand completely the stress of lending. I let someone borrow Mistborn, didn’t write down and who and now…. I have a hole in my collection. I will probably end up spending the $5 at a used book store to replace it, but I know I lent it to a “friend” and that “friend” never returned it. Thankfully, I also can’t remember which friend so I can’t be annoyed with them. I’ll still lend in the future, I’ll just try to remember to write down who borrowed so I can get my book(s) back!

And the part about disliking libraries…. I have a confession to make: I haven’t had a library card since college. And that was for my college library. I disagree with the word “tease” that writer chose, but the pain of knowing I have to work ten-times harder if I want to re-read (which I do. Regularly) a new favorite book… I’d rather save my pennies and buy the book.

But those aside, the part I really want to address is the first part: having a friend lend me a book. I too go through phases. After reading The Twentieth Wife, I went on kick for anything from non-european/WASPish cultures. Still working it through my system, but when I had a friend tell me I needed to read The School for Good and Evil, I set aside my current obsession and reached for it.  Recently my husband asked me to read a book online being written by a friend of his. I’ve started it – again in spite of a kick on sci-fi/women writers (more the former than the latter, but definite strong preferences especially for Kristine Kathryn Rusch).

I think my biggest problem with libraries is convenience and laziness. Scridb, Google Play, and Amazon have spoiled me. I don’t want to have to go get a book when I want to read IT. I want it now. (I know, the total of a 10 minute drive!) But even worse, libraries aren’t like bookstores: I have rarely successfully “browsed” in a library.  Because bookstores are ordered by genre/type: if I’m in the mood for a bad romance I can find it. Or a sci-fi or a ficto-biography (The Other Boleyn Girl, Imperial Woman, or The Twentieth Wife would fall in this category). Ok, so the historical fiction stuff isn’t usually its own section, but they are easier to seek out in a bookstore than a library. When I don’t know exactly what I want the library is too much: too scattered; too varied.

A perfect example was last weekend when I wanted “something” to read while doing housework. I didn’t have a specific book in mind: I just wanted something new. Sci-fi sounded good so I went through Audible. Meh… nothing I want to re-read.  Ok, so this is exactly why I like my Scribd subscription. Took me maybe 20 minutes of browsing (which includes going and reading reviews of some of the books and then discarding them) before I settled on Valor’s Choice. I doubt I would have found that so easily in a library and I don’t blame the library, but… there is a weakness there (in my opinion). I don’t work in a library, so I won’t tell them it’s a fatal flaw (I try never to judge another cook’s kitchen!) but the current setup/methodology doesn’t encourage me to borrow books much.

Review: Valor’s Choice (Tanya Huff)

I needed to do some work this weekend and didn’t feel like listening to “just” music, so I went to Scribd and found Valor’s Choice (it actually recommended a later one in the series and I went and dug for the first) and listened to this audiobook…

Overall: 7.75/10

Firstly, let me say I thoroughly enjoyed this story of soldiers/aliens and their journey through both diplomacy and danger. One of the reasons I can’t give it a full 8/10 is the quality of the narration: one of my huge challenges was in the Point of View. It would change main character perspective (third person, but still) without always denoting that I was in a different location paying attention to different characters easily.  This is a problem with the audio version that I don’t think would exist in print: but definitely something I (a) noticed and (b) plan to keep in mind in my own writing.

There was also a bit of an issue with some very similar names/places/species that sometimes blurred a bit.  Again, in print I don’t think this would have presented the same challenge – but I didn’t consume in print so I can’t say for sure and I think it’s notable for a review!

Characters: the “main” characters is Staff Sergeant Tonir Kerr (I think that’s her name order). She is usually called “Staff” but in narration Tonir. Occasionally, a character called her Staff Sergeant Kerr – so I’m thinking Kerr is her surname – but I don’t remember her ever having all this put together in a single way. A few characters ran into this issue of having a few names applied depending on POV – and when there is a cast of 10-15 characters to remember, multiplying names gets a little confusing.

All that said, I got attached to characters. Huff did an excellent job of creating a true cast. One of the difficulties I’ve seen in many “military” novels is that the majority of soldiers are cut-and-paste grunts. There is arguably some merit to this (pretty sure that is the goal of boot camp(s) after all!) but I thought Huff did a better-than-average job of creating variations to individualize beyond merely species. She also did a great job of including the species to build character instead of using it as the discerning differentiation.

I am not going to try to say whether these were “realistic” marines: however, I will say from MY pov, they were believable. Check with a real marine for whether that’s true.

Setting: Huff does a great job of making me (the reader) to feel like I’m with marines, but I didn’t always feel like I was on a space ship or an alien world. Oh, there were a few instances where it was brought out, but this was (in my opinion) the weakest element in the novel: I didn’t see any space ships. I could see how the alien world was… well alien. It wasn’t bad because it wasn’t the novel’s focus. These weren’t explorers, the soldiers weren’t curious about seeing the world and their interests guided mine: but it was enough that there was an occasional spot where I wished for a little more world-description.

World-Building: The society-building on the other hand was first rate. I think this is why I wasn’t  especially bothered by the lack of setting. The social interactions was a huge driver here: seeing how alien societies integrated and their differences in values and expectations. How does one person respond to their other – especially when species’ value and expectations clash spectacularly. I could make the argument there are also questions of the right-and-wrongness of “big questions” like the importance of honor, whether the cost of war is worth it, and the diplomacy of vastly different “values” trying to find common ground in the face of great(er) threats.

Plot: This is the part I had the hardest time deciding how to review. I enjoyed this book thoroughly, but I actually can’t tell you that it is because of plot. I don’t think anything really  surprised me.  So here is my conundrum in my review: this was a very character-driven story, I didn’t feel the need for surprises or twists. However, the critic in my wants to rail about predictable plot – it’s bad, right? Is it ok to be predictable when it’s about how these people deal with the scenario? I don’t know! I wasn’t surprised during the “plot” but I didn’t mind it.

This isn’t to say I could have told you “this is what is going to happen” every step of the way, it was more a case of: nothing that happened made me go “Wow! Didn’t see that coming!” There were surprises in a “oh, they came from that side. Ok.” way: how the soldiers deal with boredom. How diplomats deal with emergency. How the enemy actually attacked.

Summary: this was a perfect weekend read while I did housework (and finished while playing video games). I didn’t want to put it down: I wanted to see how it ended without stopping – and it wasn’t complicated to make me need to stop and “chew” on it.  I would have liked more visual description, but I like visual description and it wasn’t Huff’s style. The lack of visualization in some ways could be argued to be a plot device. These were “old” soldiers who were walking through a universe they accepted as it was: of course they “saw” less than I.

Politics: Innocent until proven guilty

There was a really interesting piece on NPR about Hillary Clinton’s email server.  There were a few things I found fascinating, but one that stuck out is “innocent and ‘not guilty’ are not the same thing.” – and this is just such an important subtlety of our justice system that I don’t think you should be allowed to vote unless you can manage this concept. S

Let’s start with the historical perspective of guilt.  The phrase “innocent until proven guilty” is quite new in the western legal world (assuming ~2500 years when you go back the legalism of Greece & Rome – and I limited to “western” because I can’t speak on Imperial Chinese or Japanese legalisms…) – it was part of the great American Experiment. A perfect example of how legalism worked pre-revolution is the Salem Witch Trials. IF a case made it to court, it was presumed the accused stood guilty. The burden of proof was then on the accused to prove innocence. Oh, and they didn’t get a lawyer. This is part of what made the Salem witch trials a mess – the accused people had neither the training nor the emotional fortitude (I expect I wouldn’t either!) to represent themselves well, much less how to prove themselves innocent of “she made me feel bad” and “I saw her walking around at night” accusations.

So, the founding fathers, in their bout with insanity from all prior systems, made the phrase “innocent until proven guilty” part of our world. And yes, “reasonable doubt” is a thing that is super important in criminal court! So, I will be mentioning a few times a thought-process on writing laws, but this is not going to be a piece on why/how/when we should change the laws. We’re going to work with the laws as they are written today because the point of this post is “innocence” or “guilt” when going to court. Now Let’s discuss something which is not Clinton’s [stupid] emails: rape.


Ok. Let’s get to the difficult stuff.

I think rape is one of those horrible, difficult topics that really does illustrate the “innocent until proven guilty” phrase. There is a lot of conversation about believing rape victims. There is a lot about justice.  But the very first one I put my heels in and say “no. Absolutely not.” is the conversation which I’ve seen recently where people are saying a man should have to prove the woman said yes. Socially – sure, we can hold  up this standard. Legally, I will fight it with every fiber of my being. Legally, a [man] is innocent until proven guilty.  Now, where this becomes (to me) kind of fascinating is this: that legal definition of innocence is determined by how the law is written.

The Georgia Code defining rape is both very specific and very vague:

A person commits the offense of rape when he has carnal knowledge of
(1) A female forcibly and against her will; or
(2) A female who is less than ten years of age.

Anyone else see problems with this? I do. Several. According to this law, you could make an argument that it is impossible for a woman to rape a man. Now, some of that is a “pronoun problem” – they start with “a person” (non-gendered) but then “he” and “female” which are gendered. And 10. Really? An 11 year old…. eew. So much wrong with the way this… so very, very much… (ok, to be clear GA has a separate law dealing with statutory rape of anyone under 16. Still… it only makes this “under 10 thing” weirder in my world)

…I’m going to leave that little diatribe there because it illustrates how even I, untrained in the law, can immediately begin to pick something apart just because of the language used.  It make writing laws damn hard. Without getting too side-tracked, rape has a pretty odd definition under the law.

This does mean that when a prosecutor is bringing someone (We’ll use hypothetical accused-rapist “Tanner”) to trial, they have to prove that Tanner (a) had carnal knowledge and (b) used forced to do so.

Now, I don’t know the precedence for how we define “force” – but I do know there have been a multitude of arguments around it. Does “force” mean the woman must feel her life is in jeopardy or can he threaten her reputation or even just “withholding affection” – does that constitute mental force? So, proving force and proving it then is rape… it’s difficult.

So – legally finding someone guilty… it is hard. Now, when someone is found guilty beyond doubt…. well then I think they deserve all the punishments which the justice system and society can enact to prevent the guilty party from ever doing it again. That is a different blog post.

Where we go:

This is where we [Americans] really have to buckle down into our seats and fight for our beliefs hard: how do we honor, tend & believe the victims of rape while still holding “innocent until proven guilty” as a truth?  I don’t have an answer for this – I really wish I did because I struggle with it. A Lot. There is definitely something to be said for re-evaluating our definition of rape (how does a woman commit rape in Georgia?) and fighting to make changes to definitions of “force” and such.  That isn’t something I’m prepared to tackle (beyond voting for people smarter than myself).

But I think if someone can’t at least articulate the importance that we don’t assume guilt then they shouldn’t be voting – I’m not sure they understand the difficulty involved in selecting someone to represent everyone (not just themselves). Before this concept, it wasn’t uncommon for the cry of “witch” to be used as a weapon. Since the woman had to prove she wasn’t a witch (which btw was basically impossible…) it was a great way for the powerful to remove “inconveniences” like a stubborn woman or a man who owns lands they wanted.  I will fight with every breath in my body for this concept because it defends those for whom their assumed innocence is most valuable: the poor, the minority, the naive – and the powerless.

Do you know why false accusations are rare? Because rapists aren’t witches who have to prove their innocence. They are innocent until they are proven guilty. And it sucks when a slimy piece of filth can escape criminal justice, but that is also where they can receive social censure: just look at a certain lying Olympic swimmer. It’s hard to be an American.

Life Memory: Star Trek 50th

Today is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek’s premier on TV. I think it is a perfect day for some self-reflection and future-focused thought.

Who do I want to be in 50 years? Or 500 (I mean, obviously, who do I want to be remembered as in 500 years since there is no current method confirmed for living forever)?

Star Trek showed a universe of people trying to live in a utopia of acceptance, understanding, & morality. The original show really tackled some very difficult issues through the lens of aliens – sometimes with the aliens being “wrong” and sometimes showing how humans might still need improvements ourselves. TNG continued this theme, talking about ethical issues as well as social – personal responsibility and loyalty. I grew up with these questions. I love Star Trek because it helped me create a safe place to always go and explore issues that might be too scary or painful to explore in my own life: bullies, ethical quandaries, racial bias…

I find great irony that we are looking at 50 years since Star Trek first challenged gender, racial & social constructs we assumed and the election we are facing this year. Star Trek taught me that just because someone does something differently, it doesn’t make them wrong. It’s why I’m terrible at debate. I am too empathetic at internalizing my opponents’ point of view (I argue it’s what makes me better as a writer – I empathize with my villains’ POV). It also makes politics very painful to me because I don’t understand when people take the “the other side is always 100% WRONG.” 

Who do we want to be for our grandchildren? How do we want American school children to learn about this era of history in the 23rd century? Will they learn how we continued to seek out ideas, try things and learn about the strengths of other views? Or will they see us slip into a new age of ignorance and fear? Will we invest in our children’s creativity or will we drive towards an ideology of obedience?

I firmly believe we need to ask some very scary questions about who we want to become. As a country. As a society. How do we see ourselves interacting with other peoples – and who would an alien see if they arrived at earth today? Tomorrow? Who will we want remembered and who would we want those aliens never to hear about? What is that really matters and what are we doing to accomplish it?