Reading List 2016

I was so busy in 2016 that the number of books I read in their entirety declined from 63 to 52. Of the books I read last year, the one I enjoyed most was South of the Border, West of the Sun, a novel about a jazz club owner by Haruki Murakami. The novel I most enjoyed was Nick Cole’s Ctrl-Alt-Revolt!, I find it hard to imagine the game designer or serious gamer who would not enjoy it. Dance Dance Dance was very good, but Murakami did not quite bring his A-game in that one.

The worst books I read this year were Simon Hawke’s clumsy attempts to turn Shakespeare into a detective, a fictional trend that I despise, and although he is a pop-SF writer with a historical bent whom I normally enjoy reading, I gave up on the Shakespeare & Smythe series after reading the first three books in it. They weren’t horrible, though, and I did not read a single book I considered to be a one-star book this year.

On the non-fiction side, I read a number of truly excellent books from Hallpike, Oman, Huntington and Turchin. We managed to acquire the Hallpike for Castalia House, we tried and failed to do the same with the Turchin books. One for three isn’t bad. The best non-fiction book was Underground, Haruki Murakami’s fascinating and incredibly in-depth investigation into the perpetrators and the survivors of Aum Shinrikyo’s sarin attack on the Tokyo subway.

Keep in mind these ratings are not necessarily statements about a book’s significance or its literary quality, they are merely casual observations of my personal tastes and how much I happened to enjoy reading the book at the time. A five-star book is one that I recommend without any reservations, while any three-star or above is likely going to be worth your while. As always, I have read parts of more books than are on this list, but I only rate books that I have read cover to cover.


FIVE STARS

Underground, Haruki Murakami
South of the Border, West of the Sun, Haruki Murakami
Do We Need God to be Good, C.R. Hallpike
CTRL ALT Revolt!, Nick Cole
A History of the Peninsular War, Vol. I, Charles Oman
The Clash of Civilizations, Sam Huntington
Ages of Discord, Peter Turchin

FOUR STARS

Belief or Nonbelief: A Confrontation, Umberto Eco
Dance Dance Dance, Haruki Murakami
Iron Chamber of Memory, John C. Wright
There Will Be War Vol. IX, Jerry Pournelle
Red Rising, Pierce Brown
Golden Sun, Pierce Brown
Morning Star, Pierce Brown
Son of the Black Sword, Larry Correia
Kokoro, Natsume Soseki
The Charterhouse of Parma, Stendahl
Why We Read the Classics, Italo Calvino
The End of the World as We Knew It, Nick Cole
The Origins of Political Order, Vol. 1, Francis Fukuyama
Clio & Me: An Intellectual Biography, Martin van Creveld
The God of Atheists, Stefan Molyneux
An Equation of Almost Infinite Complexity, J. Mulrooney

THREE STARS

The Majipoor Chronicles, Robert Silverberg
Agent of the Imperium, Marc Miller
The Red and the Black, Stendahl
War to the Knife, Peter Grant
Forge a New Blade, Peter Grant
Inventing the Enemy, Umberto Eco
Five Moral Pieces, Umberto Eco
Free Speech Isn’t Free, RooshV
The Old Man and the Wasteland, Nick Cole
The Eden Plague, David VanDyke
Reaper’s Run, David VanDyke
Skull’s Shadows, David VanDyke
Penric’s Demon, Lois McMaster Bujold
The Castle of Crossed Destinies, Italo Calvino
Soda Pop Soldier, Nick Cole
Valentine Pontifex, Robert Silverberg
Sorcerers of Majipoor, Robert Silverberg
Ultrasociety, Peter Turchin
The Savage Boy, Nick Cole
The Road is a River, Nick Cole
Stoke the Flames Higher, Peter Grant

TWO STARS

The Aeronaut’s Windlass, Jim Butcher
Fight the Rooster, Nick Cole
A Mystery of Errors, Simon Hawke
The Slaying of the Shrew, Simon Hawke
Much Ado About Murder, Simon Hawke
The Khyber Connection, Simon Hawke
The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller
Uprooted, Naomi Novik


BOOK REVIEW: The Collapsing Empire

An established author who wishes to remain anonymous became interested in Scalzi’s latest as a result of the various shenanigans surrounding it and sent me his review of the book for posting here. His opinion of it is modestly more positive than mine, but I post it here, unedited, for the record. I also sent him a copy of Corrosion, so it will be interesting to see his perspective on that if he happens to read and review it.

The Collapsing Empire started its career as a published book with a major disadvantage – it had a great deal of hype.  Depending on who you believe, The Collapsing Empire is either the greatest space opera since Dune and Foundation or a millstone around Tor Books’ collective neck.  John Scalzi, known for Old Man’s War and Redshirts, has the problem that his latest novel will be judged against the hype, instead of being judged on its own merits.  In writing this review, I have done my best to ignore both sides of the ongoing culture wars and judge the book by its own merits.  You can judge for yourself if I have succeeded.

In the far future, interstellar travel is only possible through the Flow – an alternate dimension that allows FTL travel between colonised star systems.  (The science explanation is highly dubious, but I wouldn’t hold that against anyone.)  Humanity is united by the Interdependency, a network of colonies that are (mostly) dependent on each other to survive, and ruled by the Houses, led by the ‘Emperox.’  Unfortunately for the inhabitants of this universe, the Flow is actually changing – it’s either shifting routes (what the bad guys believe) or collapsing completely (what the good guys fear).  Either way, humanity is going to be in for some pretty rough times.  The Interdependency is so interdependent that only one world is habitable without massive tech support.

This sounds like the basis for a great space opera.  Humanity can – humanity must – find a way to survive when the Flow vanishes and all of its scattered star systems suddenly find themselves on their own.  (The tech base described in the book should certainly be up to the task.)  A lone star system can work to survive when the Interdependency vanishes.  Or humanity can find a way to travel FTL without using the Flow, or find a way to bend the Flow to humanity’s will.  Or …

These don’t happen.  Maybe they will in the sequel (the book ends on a cliff-hanger) but they don’t in The Collapsing Empire.  Instead, we get a mixture of local politics, interstellar shipping concerns and interstellar politics.  Some of these blend seamlessly into the story line, others don’t quite make sense.  I think it’s fairly safe to say that the most exciting part of the story is the mutiny in the prologue, which honestly doesn’t make sense (the mutineers are taking a terrible risk) and is completely unnecessary.  I’m happy to enjoy a Game of Thrones-style story about mighty aristocracies battling for supremacy, but that wasn’t what I was promised when I downloaded this book.

The book flows well – I read it in an hour – but it was oddly choppy.  There are aspects that really needed an editor’s touch – the mutiny in the prologue stops long enough for the author to lecture us on his universe, which isn’t necessary as all the main points are covered in CH4 – and others that needed more consideration.  I had problems following the flow – hah – of time within the universe; we are told, on one hand, that it takes months to move from Hub to end, yet Marce leaves Hub (after a largely pointless escape sequence) and in the very next section he’s on Hub.

Cardenia Wu-Patrick is probably the most likable character in the story, although she takes pointless risks and is generally ill-prepared to assume the post of ‘Emperox.’  (Her aide quips that nice people don’t get power, which misses the point that Cardenia inherited her power – she didn’t earn it.)  Marce Claremont is young and overshadowed by his sister, who I felt would have made a more interesting POV character.  And Kiva Lagos is – put bluntly – a potty-mouthed bully and a sexual predator.  Her good aspects are overshadowed by her bad points.

I admit it – I cringed when I read the first section, where it is clear that Kiva has pulled a very junior member of her ship’s crew into sexual congress.  Consent is dubious at the very least – there isn’t even a sense that he’s using her as she’s using him.  And then, she comes on to Marce later in the book in a manner that, if she were a man, would be considered borderline rape.  To call her ‘problematic’ is to understate the case.  This might not be a problem if she was the villain – or the text even acknowledged the issues – but it does not.

There are other issues, deeper issues, that offend my inner critic.  On one hand, Count Claremont – the physicist who first realised that something was wrong with the Flow – makes snarky remarks about the lack of peer review, yet his own work has the same problem.  While this is acknowledged, it makes no sense.  Modern-day governments have no problem finding qualified scientists and putting them to work on secret government projects.  Why can’t the Interdependency do the same?  And on the other, the bad guys – who have also realised that there is something wrong with the Flow – have a plan to take advantage of the crisis, but don’t seem to realise the potential of their own technology.  It suggests, very strongly, that no one takes the crisis completely seriously.

And yet, it is made clear that the Flow has shifted before.  Humanity has lost contact with Earth – in the distant past – and a relatively small colony world in the more recent past – but this does not appear to alarm anyone.  Is Earth really that insignificant?  One may draw a comparison between the Flow’s slow collapse and global warming, but the loss of two entire worlds is a little more significant than anything we’ve seen on Earth.  I would have expected a serious effort to reduce the degree of interdependency since that disaster.  If nothing else, shipping foodstuffs and suchlike between star systems must be an economic nightmare.  (And the ‘lie’ that binds the Interdependency together is obvious from the setting.)

To be honest, the text tries to balance humour with story and fails.  The fact that there is a legal way to mutiny – which no one bothers to follow – make me smile and roll my eyes at the mixture of humour and absurdity.  There are moments of banter that are oddly misplaced or unintentionally ironic.  The ship names sound as though they have come out of Iain M. Banks – Kiva’s ship is called the ‘Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby’ – but they have a very definite air of absurdity.  Banks made it work because the names suited the Culture – they don’t work so well in The Collapsing Empire.  And the very first line in the book is stolen directly from Scooby Doo.

In the end, The Collapsing Empire left me feeling oddly disappointed.  It’s shorter than I expected, given the price, and very little is resolved in the first book – the bad guys have taken a few blows, but the good guys haven’t even started to come to grips with the real problem.  I know that most books are set up as either trilogies or open-ended series these days, but there should be at least some resolution.  (If only because the second book might be delayed, increasing reader frustration.)  Off Armageddon Reef and The Final Empire, both also published by Tor, show how this can be done.

The Collapsing Empire is not the best SF novel of the decade, nor is it the worst.  It has high ideals and grand ambitions, but it doesn’t live up to them (nor the hype).  I probably won’t be picking up the sequel.


The media reviews of Tor books

Are by Tor-published authors. Apparently Ars Technica doesn’t quite grasp the concept of “conflict of interest”:

The Collapsing Empire is a hilarious tale of humanity’s impending doom
John Scalzi’s latest novel is a thought experiment about the fall of civilization.
ANNALEE NEWITZ – 3/28/2017, 1:30 PM

Annalee Newitz is the Tech Culture Editor at Ars Technica. She is the author of Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, and her first novel, Autonomous, comes out in September 2017.

Yeah, so, about that first novel.

AUTONOMOUS
Annalee Newitz
Tor Books
Tor/Forge
09/19/2017
ISBN: 9780765392077
304 Pages

Tor has been doing this for a while now. The contributor at the Guardian who wrote at least one puff piece about Scalzi was a Tor author too.


How to write a negative review

Now THIS is a proper negative review, of such quality that even the professional reviewer can only salute and applaud. An actual scientist provides the fake reviewers of Corrosion with an exemplary masterpiece of devastation in his review of John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire, which he took the innovative approach of actually reading in order to criticize it more effectively:

A Slipshod, Incompetent Disaster

I gave this book a fair shake. While I disagree with John Scalzi on sociopolitical issues, that doesn’t mean he can’t be a good, or even great author. After all, I disagree vehemently with Margaret Atwood and Stephen King, but I consider them brilliant scribes whose works I adore. Unfortunately, “The Collapsing Empire” is a mess so wretched that I can’t see how even Scalzi’s biggest fans can defend it.

A major problem is the lack of logical sense to the proceedings. This goes beyond mere plot holes, although there are no lack of those. For instance, the Prologue features a ship mutiny. One in which the ship’s chief engineer is murdered and there are plans to do the same with the captain and her supporters. Risky business, no? Not only do the mutineers face the prospect of armed resistance, putting their lives on the line, but they have committed a serious criminal act. Who is to say they won’t be found out by an investigator? Or one of the many fellow mutineers won’t blackmail them or squeal later on the others?

In other words, they need a damn compelling reason to mutiny. The one provided by Scalzi is that the executive officer leading the mutiny will receive a 30% premium on their weapons cargo by selling to the rebels of the planet instead of the government. Yes, you read that correctly. 30 percent, not 30 times.

This is absurdly stupid, the equivalent of burning down one’s house because one spotted a spider in the bathroom.

There are other problems with the mutiny. Inexplicably, the ship has all the weapons stored in one and only one cabinet in the entire ship. Which is conveniently taken over by the mutineers. This is of course preposterous, and shows again that Scalzi has no clue about the military science fiction he writes about.

Oh, and neither the captain nor any of her loyal officers is armed beyond a single futuristic weapon that works inside of three feet.

With the mutiny proceeding poorly, Scalzi interjects with some long exposition. In the middle of the tense life-and-death stand-off, we suddenly get multiple paragraphs explaining the pseudo-science behind “The Flow”. This completely shatters a reader’s immersion into the story, and is done so poorly a fan fiction writer would wince. Scalzi even breaks the fourth wall, explaining to us about how things function in “this universe”.

Moreover, this exposition exposes Scalzi as being as clueless about science as he is on military matters. Now, “The Flow” itself seems to be a rip-off of similar teleportation concepts from older, classic science fiction works like “The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman. But whereas Haldeman has a degree in physics and astronomy and writes credibly on the topic, Scalzi, a philosophy major, is hopelessly lost.

He tries to mask this confusion with meaningless mumbo-jumbo. “Topographically complex” is not a term, but word salad to impress laypeople with. And just what the hell is “metacosmological structure”?! Hilariously, Scalzi then throws up his hands and admits defeat;

“And even that was a crap way of describing it, because human languages are crap at describing things more complex than assembling a tree house. The accurate way of describing the Flow involved the sort of high-order math probably only a couple hundred human beings across the billions of the Interdependency could understand, much less themselves use to describe it meaningfully. You likely would not be one of them.”

In that case, why not delete the previous section entirely? There are other absurd passages. For instance, the crew is told of the speed (a scalar) of Scalzi’s teleportation mumbo-jumbo, but not its direction (a vector) or its acceleration. A high school freshman taking physics for the first time would be embarrassed for the writer.

Now, while I’m a scientist for a living who enjoys hard science fiction, there is nothing wrong with a science fiction author having a poor grasp of science, provided he excels in other areas. Harry Harrison is a favorite of mine, and the less said about his understanding of physics and mathematics, the better. However, Harrison avoided this problem by very rarely bothering with these subjects at all. Scalzi, meanwhile, engages with them and looks like an absolute fool in the process.

Even when it comes to basic human interaction, the mutiny is a failure. In this tense, life-and-death situation, the characters react with…snark. Consider this exchange;


“Eva Fanochi probably could have answered that for you,” Gineos said. “If you hadn’t murdered her, that is.”


“Now’s not a great time for that discussion, Captain.”

This doesn’t exactly inspire a reader to care about what the hell ends up happening to the characters. After all, they themselves don’t. Oh, and the captain wins by a bluff that makes no sense. She says that if she dies, her hand on a control panel will “blow every airlock the ship has into the bubble”? Sounds convincing, but what is it supposed to mean? And why would the mutineers, all experienced crewmen, fall for it when it’s revealed to be absolute rubbish a moment later? Wouldn’t they know the ship and its capabilities?

The following chapters I read, while not as error-laden, are still inauthentic and boring, when they’re not vile and outrageous.

Other reviewers have noted the introduction to Kiva Lagos, a powerful noble who is busy either raping or sexually coercing a lowly male subordinate through her vastly superior rank. He begs her to stop. She doesn’t let him. Lagos also swears and insults others constantly. One might think she is a main villain, but instead Lagos is a primary protagonist. Scalzi even called her one of his favorite characters ever. Apparently, behavior that would be considered sickening and abhorrent even in an unrepentant male antagonist is considered admirable and empowering so long as the gender is switched to female.

Scalzi tries to write cool, even female cool (which is harder), but it comes off as sophomoric and laughable when it’s not vulgar and repulsive. We are also told that Lagos was pursuing (stalking?) this junior purser for six whole weeks. Men pursue women for that long, but women don’t. Once her mind is made up, a confident woman would express her feelings long before that, and the man would either reject or accept her. Add “sexual dynamics” to the list of subjects Scalzi is ignorant of.

We are told the “emperox” Cardenia has to marry a member of a merchant guild. Why is she compelled to do so, when she is the most powerful person in the universe? Surely, it’s lesser individuals and families that have to scheme and marry to accrue more power rather than the top potentate? I’m not saying there aren’t circumstances where doing so wouldn’t make sense. However, it has to be EXPLAINED. Instead, Scalzi, in murky fashion, notes it would be advantageous for dealing with the merchant guilds (why?), with nothing further.

Speaking of lack of explanations, that dovetails with the most startling weakness of the book. The complete and total lack of any description. We are told nothing, absolutely nothing about the physical characteristics of any character, including main protagonists Emperox Cardenia Wu-Patrick, Kiva Lagos, and Captain Gineos. Naturally, there is no description of any buildings, rooms, objects, or spaceships, either.

While I generally dislike voluminous, multi-page descriptions, favoring sparser brush strokes, one still expects SOMETHING. With nothing offered at all, these characters, and the story as a whole, become little more than an amorphous blob. It adds to the feeling that this is lazy, bad fan fiction…. Avoid this, even if you’re a die-hard Scalzi fan.

While the book review is borderline sadistic in its heartless attention to detail, it is certainly informative for prospective readers, particularly when one compares it with a negative “review” of similar length, which is chiefly notable for the fact that the reviewer is as unfamiliar with Isaac Asimov and Foundation as he is with Johan Kalsi and Corrosion.

Ceterum censeo Tor Books esse delendam


So laughing, so NOT AT ALL butthurt

One cannot help but reflect upon the truth of the Third Law of SJW when presented with this emotionally incontinent confessional that passes for a “book review” by one Jon Milne. Note that we are told this is not the first time Mr. Milne has felt the need to “review” a book by Castalia House, even though there are no other reviews listed by anyone of that name.

It’s fascinating to see that SJWs are so confident that the relevant authority will prove amenable, or at least indifferent, that they are willing to so openly admit their violations of the review guidelines as well as their intentions of attempting to manipulate Community Content.

A massive inferiority and insecurity complex dooms this book to failure from the start
By Jon Milne on March 28, 2017

Much like with my review for “SJWs Always Lie” – inexplicably not subtitled “My Inability To Somehow Not Notice Two Chapter 5s During My Awesome Editing Skills” – I am delighted to admit I did not read “The Corroding Empire”. I did not need to. It was not the cover itself that convinced me of giving it a 1 star review, but rather the attitude and motivations the publisher had in creating the cover that provides all the justification I need.

Consider an alternate scenario: Castalia House releases this book, with the real name of the author (Harry Seldon) on the cover, as well as not having the identical artwork, fonts, and positioning of the words as an other considerably higher selling book. In other words, the book by Mr Seldon would be allowed to stand on it’s own two feet and attract judgment purely for it’s literary merits, or lack thereof, and then attract those who want to read it into buying and scoring the publisher some bucks. It stands to reason that if the book was of high quality, then people would buy it, and the would not need to rely on any cheap publicity stunts based on trying to score political points.

And yet it is precisely this desperation on the part of Vox Day – a guy who seriously holds the hilariously stupid view of “White Genocide” that mixed race babies will totally cause the destruction of Earth – that leaves a permanent black mark on this book and completely strips it of whatever credibility it might have as a literary work. Because no matter what Mr Beale may insist about how totally awesome he thinks this book is, it’s quite evident that he was clearly not confident in the ability of this literary work to sell without saddling it with a spectacularly lame gimmick as part of a great big amount of bitterness he has in relation to the success of John Scalzi.

It’s truly amazing how much sour grapes old Theodore is full of that Mr Scalzi has a highly lucrative book deal worth millions of dollars, something which Beale is nowhere close to ever achieving. Other “highlights” of Beale’s obsession with Scalzi include the Hugo Awards of 2015 and 2016, wherein Beale thought-policed his mindless drones, uh, I mean, followers into voting specific works dictated by a slate onto the ballots, all for the self-entitled purpose of winning awards they somehow feel entitled to, and to stick it to the so-called “SJWs” and “CHORFs” who are totally working behind the scenes to steal the whole science fiction genre from “TrueFans(tm) like Voxy and his Dread Milk minions. I mean, they never exactly elaborate how this conspiracy actually works, but still…

This is the mindset behind the “Corroding Empire’s” publication. Not one motivated purely by a desire to please fans and for the love of writing, but by petty squabbles fuelled by inferiority and insecurity complexes on Theodore Beale’s part, as well as a ridiculous obsession with needing vindication from awards. Perhaps Beale should research some of the most highly regarded movies of all time, many of which did not ever win or even get nominated for Oscars, and do the same for music albums and TV shows and video games etc and their equivalent awards which they never won, and then he could maybe reach a much-needed epiphany about whatever “vindication” he so desperately craves.

In closing, I present a contrast of an author who used and still uses a pseudonym for her writing with far more dignity and grace, even if her real name ended up getting leaked. I talk of course of the highly successful J.K. Rowling, currently writing as Robert Galbraith for the Cormoron Strike series of crime novels, all of them highly rated and highly selling. And of course, one can’t forget that according to TheRabidPuppiesDotCom, Hugo Award Nominee and perhaps the world’s greatest author Chuck Tingle has a counter going for how each book is doing: Scalzi’s “Collapsing Empire” has an Amazon Best-seller’s Rank of #235, where as “Corroding Empire” by Harry Telson is ranked #1671. Add another notch of failure to Castalia House’s marketing strategy.

Now comes the part where I get an outraged phone call from Castalia House decrying me for my “WrongThink”. I could definitely use a laugh.

I’m sure Tor Books is ever so relieved that the first book in its big bet on John Scalzi has managed to outsell an ebook from an independent publisher. No doubt that was their metric for success. As for my supposed sour grapes, I note I signed my first million-dollar contract was when I was 27 and it was not the most recent one. I very much doubt that anyone who has read a reasonable portion of both our collected works would believe for a second that I would ever wish to trade my bibliography for his. And, quite to the contrary of SJW assumptions, I sincerely wish Scalzi’s contract had been ten times bigger in monetary terms; Tor delenda est is the point, after all, as Scalzi is little more than Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s creation. Even Scalzi’s first unprovoked attack on me in 2005 was inspired by PNH, the corrupt, beating heart of all that is wormwood and rotten in science fiction.

As for the “failure” of Corrosion, those reviewers who have, unlike Mr. Milne, troubled to actually read the novel, have almost uniformly been pleasantly surprised to discover that it is actually a solid science fiction novel in its own right. Castalia House does not publish Tor-like trash, not even when we are gleefully sowing chaos and havoc. From the latest reviews of the first book of The Corroding Empire:

  • Did not know what to expect. Was very pleasantly surprised to discover a first rate SciFy novel. An involved tale of what can go wrong when dimly understood digital algorithms developed by aware AI machine intelligences tightly control the galaxy. Until they don’t. Then, the fun starts.
  • I was reading very late at night. I finished an intense chapter detailing a farmer in a life and death fight with systemic wide algo-decay, and went to sleep.  A few hours later I was awakened by the sound of our electricity going off, I drowsily thought to myself, ‘oh, drat, more algo-decay.’ and then woke up more fully into my own world.  Kind of cool when a book does world building that well, isn’t it?
  • I read “Foundation” and it’s sequel 50+ years ago and remember them as about a 4 star duo. Enjoyed the Main character, a robot who goes through many changes. The idea of “corrosion” due to basic algorithms over centuries is good. The science ideas are fascinating,, so I enjoyed the book.
  • I remember Foundation as having a general optimistic tone, where the viewpoint characters overcome the challenges of their day guided by the all-knowing ghost of Hari Seldon. There was a sense of inevitability that was only punctured in later books. Corrosion takes an almost opposite track, illustrating a decaying galaxy where chaos reigns and even the far-sighted seer dedicated to restoration is stymied by events and very human reactions. Without going into spoilers, the world of the Corroding Empire is a darker place than the world of Foundation. Yet this darker world also makes the bright spots of the story all the more hopeful and rewarding.
  • I know this book is based on Asimov’s Foundation, which is a book I found amusing but not terribly compelling. I actually found this book to be much more interesting, not least because A) the premise was comparatively much more novel and B) it actually had characters I cared about. If you are too dim or humorless to get the obvious joke, this really says a lot more about you than the author or seller. I find it incredibly impressive that this was written essentially on a dare and turned out as well as it did.

The simple fact is that Book One of The Corroding Empire: Corrosion, by Johan Kalsi, was an absolutely smashing success in the eyes of everyone involved, as the fake review by Mr. Milne so beautifully demonstrates. It was a fantastic performance by the highly efficient Castalia House team, wonderfully supported by the ever-loyal Castalia House readers, and after a bit of confusion at the start, even our new friends at Amazon came through in the end.

Seriously, though, why do SJWs always pretend they are laughing, even when you can see they are shaking with rage?

They’re big science fiction fans too. In addition to not reading the books they review, SF-SJWs aren’t even familiar with the classic SF canon:

EDIT: My bad on the “Harry Seldon” thing. An honest mistake. I’ve never read any Asimov novels, the closest exposure I’ve had being the “I, Robot” movie released in the mid-2000s, which I remember liking. Nothing a trip to my local library can’t fix. Duly changed those references in my review anyway.

In fairness, I very much doubt John Scalzi has read very many Asimov novels either. I doubt he’s even finished the original Foundation trilogy.


Crazy SJW lies and libels

Robert L Hood, aka Rev. Bob of File 770 is now publicly libeling me on Amazon under his fake Customer Review.


“Theodore Beale, aka Vox Day, has placed himself on the record as approving of people calling one-star reviewers and falsely representing themselves as Castalia House employees under the guise of “customer service.””

This is not true and Robert L Hood, aka Rev. Bob knows it. I will certainly admit to being amused by a fake Customer expressing fake Customer dissatisfaction in a fake Customer Review being contacted by a fake Customer Service representative. It tends to strike me as fitting. But I do not approve of anyone falsely representing themselves as Castalia House employees for any purpose, I have never authorized anyone to do so, nor have I ever issued retroactive authorization to anyone who did so.

As for people calling fake reviewers, my position on fake reviews has been clear since I was a professional nationally syndicated reviewer for Chronicle Features in the early 1990s: I approve of presidential drone strikes on fake reviewers.

Now, what could explain Mr. Hood’s false and inappropriate accusations? Oh, right, he’s crazy, even by SJW standards:

As someone who’s been on brain meds for over two decades, can I speak up to say how offensive I find it when people equate “crazy, insane, psycho” with all mental illnesses?

Being depressed doesn’t make you insane.
Having a bad memory doesn’t make you crazy.
Feeling suicidal doesn’t make you a psycho.

We have contacted Amazon Customer Support and asked them to review all reviews by unverified purchasers, including Mr. Hood’s. They have confirmed that they will do so, and I expect their eventual response will be illuminating concerning what is, and what is not, considered to be in violation of their Community Guidelines.


Portrait of the Dark Lord

Now, this is the exact opposite of the fake reviews with which SJWs are littering Amazon. Daniel F. reviews The Collected Columns Vol. 1, Innocence & Intellect, 2001-2005, now available in a 764-page hardcover edition.



PORTRAIT OF THE DARK LORD AS A YOUNG MAN

Vox Day is a prolific author who, over the course of two decades, has covered an impressive range of topics and genres. He has been a video game reviewer, a syndicated columnist, a science fiction and fantasy novelist, the author of major works on religious and economic matters, and of course, a prominent blogger.

Over the past two years, he has also firmly established himself as perhaps the most important analyst, taxonomist, synthesizer and theorist of political philosophy writing today. Consider: In the span of little more than a year, Vox wrote and published:

SJWs Always Lie”, an indispensable analysis of, and handbook for dealing with, the totalitarian thought-police who comprise the most dangerous current of Leftism today;

Cuckservative” (co-authored with John Red Eagle), an even more valuable polemical case against modern day American conservatism that exposed Conservative Inc. as feckless enablers of progressivism; and

The 16 Points of the Alternative Right”, a taxonomy and description of what is undoubtedly the most salient political current today, and the only movement that can resist the anti-civilizational tendencies and consequences of all mainstream political thought, left and “right”.

With all of these works, Vox was ahead of the curve, both anticipating and shaping many of the nascent trends playing out today. Vox coined, or gave greater currency to, a number of concepts and terms that are crucial for understanding and discussing contemporary politics: SJW, cuckservative, Alt Right, entryism, convergence, Magic Dirt, churchian.

With the collection under review, we are now asked to reflect upon Vox’s judgment and analysis in columns he penned a decade and a half ago. There are at least three reasons why someone would want to read this collection: (1) to understand the intellectual development and evolution of an important thinker; (2) to reflect on events starting from 9/11 and see how one writer’s contemporaneous reactions stand up over time; and (3) for the philosophical and literary value inherent in the writing itself.

(1) In one of the columns collected here, Vox described himself as “a radical pro-life Austrian-school neo-capitalist Jacksonian techno-libertarian Southern Baptist Christian”. It is against that definition that we can see how his thinking has evolved over the years. For this reader, the changes in Vox’s worldview make sense in light of events and the learning he has done. To quote one of Vox’s economic nemeses, John Maynard Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

I was struck by how _little_ Vox has needed to change his mind: he remains consistent on a number of key issues, which prefigure his thinking in SJWAL, Cuckservative and the 16 Points:

On the thought police: “The solution for successfully defeating them is not to retreat and apologize, but to confront them and turn up the heat instead.”

On mainstream politics: “An analysis of the near-identical governing practices of the two parties in our two-party system would require a book—not a column—but it would show that the two are, for all practical purposes, effectively one.”

On mainstream conservatism: “Conservative proponents of government, unfortunately, have increasingly tended to mutate into the pale echoes of their socialist (liberal) counterparts.”

On globalism: “If humanity’s past record is a reasonable guide, globalism may represent the single deadliest threat to mankind in our long, murderous history.”

On Churchians: “Once a church makes the fatal decision to befriend the world and seek its approval instead of that of the God whom it is called to serve, its fate is sealed.”

In what ways, then, has Vox’s thought developed and changed? From the laundry list description of himself quoted above, the two major points of evolution relate to Austrian / capitalist economics and libertarian politics. Those philosophies are both elegant systems that value and, theoretically, promote human flourishing, and are seductive to many an intelligent, thoughtful person. Vox’s understanding of the political spectrum in these columns was based purely upon individualism versus collectivism. “There is the collective and the individual and there is totalitarianism and libertarianism—that is the true spectrum.” There are a number of interesting columns evaluating communism and Fascism and other political philosophies on these terms that are quite persuasive. His column illustrating that Nazism was essentially Communism plus anti-Semitism is both humorous and effective as political rhetoric. There are also a number of very stimulating columns on the compatibility of libertarian politics with Christianity that merit deep consideration.

Today, Vox no longer considers himself a libertarian. He grants greater weight to “irrational” phenomena and realities such as biological and tribal identity. I would argue that Carlyle’s view of Left and Right as being distinguished by chaos, leveling and egalitarianism versus order, hierarchy and anti-egalitarianism must be taken into account in understanding the political spectrum. Even if the _ideal_ society would be a libertarian or anarchist one, it may well be that the one most conducive to human flourishing, the one that best prevents conflict and war, is in fact one that values the collective, values the group and does not view the world solely in terms of atomized individuals. As Steve Sailer has written elsewhere “Libertarianism in one country!!”

On economics, the devastating effects of “free trade” agreements and Ricardian free trade theory generally have led Vox away from purely capitalist / Austrian economics. Even in these columns, he recognized that part of the problem with “free trade” is that it was anything but free: “The irony of mutations like phone book-sized tomes such as NAFTA is that a real free-trade agreement only has to be about a sentence long: Congress shall pass no laws with regards to trade with (fill in the blank here).” This was a trenchant critique of “free trade” from a libertarian perspective, although Vox today no longer defends free trade even in the abstract.

What led Vox’s thought to evolve on these points? The facts have changed, and he has had to adjust his thinking rather than deny reality. “ Let reason be silent where experience gainsays its conclusions.” Libertarianism and pure classical liberal economics are elegant and seductive systems; but they did not stand up to the test of empirical evidence. So Vox has changed his mind. Vox has always been a critic of Plato and a disciple of Aristotle, so it is unsurprising that the changes in his thought with regards to economics and politics over the past 15 years could be summarized as less Platonic, more Aristotelian.

(2) As far as the strength of his judgments of events at the time, these columns stand up very well. To take one example, from his very earliest columns following 9/11, Vox correctly identified both the major threat and the major error in our response to 9/11: The threat was the use of war to justify encroachment upon our domestic liberties: “War corrodes a society by allowing centralist forces within government to excuse actions they would never be allowed to take in more peaceful times.” The major error was to fail to name the enemy and, thus, to ignore the Huntingtonian, civilizational conflict that was at the root of the problem. “Terror is a tactic, not an enemy, and the current phraseology only serves to obscure the fact that America has real enemies committed to her destruction.”

(3) While it may be fun to look back at old columns as an exercise in evaluating and revisiting old issues and judgments, a book should be read on its own merits. Samuel Johnson memorably described the duties of an author as being “to instruct and to entertain.” (Although Samuel Johnson is not a name I have ever seen Vox Day refer to, there are more than a few parallels and similarities between these two fascinating and important figures.) So, how does Vox’s writing itself hold up as instruction and entertainment?

I came away from this collection with a renewed respect for the man as a writer. The tone is generally that of the Happy Warrior, with a somewhat ironically elevated and detached manner appropriate to the columnist. Vox’s intelligence, good judgment and analytical ability, along with humor and wit, shine through. There is a great deal of wisdom and good sense throughout his writing. “Bon mots” abound in these columns on a myriad of topics:

On globalism: “The U.N. is not a debating society, it is an embryotic world government.”

On hypergamy: “The root of the problem is that the kind of man she wants is precisely the man who is smart enough to stay away from her.”

On parenthood: “Life is not only about happiness, it is about many things, sacrifice being one of them. And being a parent requires the greatest sacrifice of all, to live one’s life for the love of another.”

On capitalism: “Global corporations and free-market capitalism have about as much to do with one another as chipmunks and integrated circuit design.”

On Hillary (back in the early 2000s): “She proved to be as painfully inadequate in exercising power as she is ruthless in pursuing it.”

On American Empire: “I enjoyed reading Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I’m not, however, taking much pleasure in watching the sequel unfold before my eyes.”

On entryism: “The slippery slope is not a paranoid straw man, it is the primary way in which a weak, but determined minority exerts its will on a more powerful, but less disciplined majority.”

On government: “There is no criminal gang or collection of scam artists who perpetrate even a small fraction of the crimes that the federal government commits and abets.”

On atheism: “Without God, there is only the left-hand path of the philosopher. It leads invariably to Hell, by way of the guillotine, the gulag and the gas chamber. The atheist is irrational because he has no other choice—because the rational consequences of his non-belief are simply too terrible to bear.”

For those familiar only with Vox’s more recent work, there are a number of topics in these columns that will be new to you or that are expounded on at greater length. These include: morality vs. law; jury nullification; marital relations and parenting; critiques of pragmatism and utilitarianism; Christianity; straight-up economic analysis.

I will end this review with one more quote, taken from Vox’s column of October 27, 2003. The personal nature of the column was unusual for the collection as a whole. Yet I believe this excerpt provides an accurate glimpse into the heart and soul of the Dark Lord then, and the Dark Lord today:

“The shadow is an illusion. It is like the pleasure—it passes, it waxes and wanes with time. Only that which you consider to be fairytales is the reality, it is that hope that is the truth, and only through that blinding light can the shadow be entirely banished. And if you feel that you must give in, that you are no longer strong enough to stand on your own, then surrender to the light, not to the darkness.”


Here come the fake reviews!

Like clockwork…. SJWs are nothing if not predictable.

Meanwhile, in a classic SJW Narrative spiral, iO9 has picked up the fake news from File 770. This is a beautiful example of how the SJW Narrative spiral works to create fake history in line with the Narrative:

  1. File 770 publishes fake news
  2. SJWs run with the fake news and offer various false theories and rumors
  3. Larger SJW-converged media sites pick up the fake news and spread it
  4. Wikipedia cites these “reliable sources” and enshrines the fake news as false facts.

We’re already at point 3, obviously. Note that both iO9 and File 770 have conveniently omitted to mention the fact that John Scalzi was proudly involved with Alexandra Erin’s parody of my #1 Political Philosophy bestseller, SJWs Always Lie, two years ago. Scalzi narrated the audiobook. SJWs are always so mystified that people don’t respond better to them crying “no fair, he hit me back!”

UPDATE: And we’re up again. Also, Chapter One of SJWADD just wrote itself.

UPDATE: I discuss the latest Corrosion-related developments on tonight’s Darkstream.

UPDATE: Corrosion is no longer inappropriately excluded from the Amazon Associates program.



Mailvox: WAR

This is not a book review by me, but rather, by an author who prefers to remain anonymous.

WAR by Janne Teller

If you want a relationship to last, one of the most important pieces of advice I can give you is this: never use emotional blackmail.  Saying ‘if you love me, you’ll do [whatever]’ is not a sweet romantic gesture, but an attempt to use someone’s emotions as a weapon.  Used repeatedly, it convinces the victim that you only care about his emotions insofar as you can manipulate him to get what you want.  In the end, it causes pushback – the victim decides that he doesn’t care what you think or feel any longer.

On the larger scale, emotional blackmail has been replaced by ‘weaponised empathy.’  This is probably best described as an attempt to wring the public’s heartstrings to get them to support a policy that is almost certainly unwise.  (The proof it is unwise lies in the failure to put forward a coherent argument that doesn’t rely on de facto emotional blackmail.)  Those who choose to oppose the policy are blasted as heartless monsters, causing others who might agree with them to shut up in a hurry.  Again, it causes pushback – in many ways, growing resistance to weaponised empathy helped fuel the rise of Donald Trump.

War is a piece of emotional blackmail that, in the end, is an unconvincing read.

It follows the story of a British refugee who has to leave his country and take up residence in the Middle East, following the collapse of British society.  One of the minor annoyances in this book is the lack of a coherent rational for either the collapse or war with Denmark – Denmark!  Doesn’t anyone know Britain’s historical enemies are the French? So far, so good – the author does a good job of making us feel for him and his family.  But, like so many other pieces of weaponised empathy, it only works by removing nuance from the equation.  The refugees are painted in a saintly light.  Cold experience tells us that this isn’t true.

Yes, it is easy to feel sorry for people who are forced to flee their homes.  But that does not excuse bad behaviour in the host countries.  The author barely nods to this – she admits the existence of inter-refugee scrabbles, but not the epidemic of thief, assaults, rape and outright murder that has plagued Europe since the refugee crisis began.  It is easy to understand, even in the author’s limited presentation, why the local Egyptians might begin to tire of the British presence, perhaps even want them driven back to Britain.  And who could possibly blame them?

The author could, of course.  She is, like so many others of her ilk, safe and protected – to use Peggy Noonan’s term – from the realities of the world.  When they meet the ‘Other’ – if I can borrow an SJW term – they meet someone educated, someone polished in the way of the world – someone cosmopolitan in the truest possible sense.  They do not meet people with medieval ideas on women, people who believe that a woman who wears a short skirt is a whore who’s just asking for it.  Even with the best will in the world – and that is lacking – the cultural clash alone would cause far too much disruption.

The blunt truth is that sympathy has its limits.  It tends to fade – and vanish altogether – when someone feelings exploited.  Imagine, for the sake of argument, that you give your friend a loan to help him get back on his feet after a personal crisis.  How pleased are you going to be when you discover he’s wasting the money on booze, hookers and drugs?  And are you going to give him more money when he comes crawling back to you?

So-called ‘refugees’ – economic migrants would be a better term – in Europe have behaved badly, very badly.  If you happen to be dependent on someone, it is sheer insanity to alienate them.  And yet, they have managed to alienate vast numbers of the host population.   Just because someone got the short end of the stick, as SM Stirling put it, doesn’t mean they’re automatically the good guys.

If I had to flee my country – God forbid – and go to a refugee camp, desperate to avoid returning home until it was safe, I like to believe that I would find a way to be useful.  I would hate the idea of doing menial work, but I would do it because I wouldn’t have a choice.  The idea of just sitting around – or turning into a criminal – is absurd.  I have lived in a couple of very different countries to my own.  It isn’t that hard to avoid making myself unwelcome.

Why, then, should bad behaviour be tolerated?

The current problem now is that vast numbers of Europeans believe – and they might not be wrong – that a significant fraction of the migrants are moochers, looters, rapists, terrorists or generally unpleasant scumbags.  This alone would be bad enough.  But even worse, they have also become convinced that the governments are either unable or unwilling to address the crisis, when they’re not causing it.  Virtue-signaling by multi-millionaires like JK Rowling does not convince them they’re wrong.  They know that such millionaires are protected from the world.

BREXIT and Donald Trump – and the rise of nationalism across Europe – is a direct response to weaponised empathy.  No one feels sorry for refugees any longer.

In short, War is a piece of propaganda.  And a bad one.