Book Review: After the Revolution by Robert Evans

I finished reading a book. Which for me is saying quite a lot. This time I finished reading After the Revolution by Robert Evans.

After the Revolution by Robert Evans
I borrowed this image from AK Press, an anarchist publishing house.

These days have a dozen or so books that I am “reading” at any one time, so actually finishing one is quite remarkable. This book is remarkable too, for a few reasons.

About Robert Evans

First off, it’s a book published by an anarchist publishing house called AK Press. They’re completely democratic and worker-owned. They also publish about twenty books every year. They’re really cool and you should check them out.

The second is that it’s a book by Robert Evans, who you may know for his work as a journalist, his multiple podcasts, or his time at Cracked.com. Or maybe even from his other book, A Brief History of Vice.

This is Evans’ first foray into fiction and it doesn’t disappoint. If you have listened to his podcast “Behind the Bastards” you can tell that he has read a lot of fiction and non-fiction for both fun and profit. It’s always exciting when someone who can reference classic science fiction so readily and critique Ben Shapiro’s terrible science fiction so fiercely decided to publish their own book.

Setting and Characters

A map of Austin TX and its surroundings
After the Revolution references Texas geography a lot. If you’re like me and not a native a map will probably help. Link.

After the Revolution takes place in a post-USA North America, where the former states have balkanized into a handful of smaller states, each of them experimenting with different ways of living. Kind of. The most direct successor of the USA, the AmFed, seems like a pretty safe place to live but also pretty dull. The moving city of posthuman nomads lovingly named “Rolling Fuck” where alcohol and narcotics flow freely at all times of the day seems a lot more fun.

This book is set primarily in the failed libertarian experiment that is the Republic of Texas. It’s not a very stable polity. The Free City of Austin and the Secular Defense Force (SDF) are the main players were care about in terms of sane governments. The other is the Heavenly Kingdom, a group of christofascist militias with an excellent command of social media and propaganda, and also a willingness to shell civilian neighborhoods into submission at the first sign of resistance. At the start of the book this conflict has been simmering for years, but that is about to change. That brings us to the three POV characters we get to follow.

Manny – a fixer who was born and raised in Austin. Manny makes a living by making introductions for foreign journalists. He has dreams of saving up to move to a less violent part of the world, like Europe.

Roland – a posthuman combat vet with almost no memory of his past. Roland prefers to spend his days ingesting as many drugs as he can get his hands on. He does this to dull his enhanced senses while he works very hard to avoid killing people. He is very good at killing people and is nearly unkillable himself.

Sasha – a nice studious girl attending high school in the AmFed. She became radicalized online and even fell in love with a soldier fighting for the Heavenly Kingdom. She’s been hiding her allegiance from her parents for two years while she prepares to emigrate to the Heavenly Kingdom and work to see God’s will done on Earth.

The Verdict

No description available.
The themes of this book fit nicely with some of my current interests. Like From Peoples Into Nations.

Now, I’m just going to say it, I really enjoyed this book. I don’t normally take an interest in stories that fall into the twenty-minutes-into-the-future category but honestly, that’s a mistake on my part. With the exception of some especially magical nanobot healing, Evans created a setting that feels real and not too far away from the present.

In the acknowledgments, Evans says that this is a book mainly about trauma, and we are presented with a lot of characters who are all dealing with trauma in different ways. What I think he did so masterfully, was craft a future America that could feel real and relatable, no doubt thanks to his experience as a war correspondent in the Middle East. We tend to otherize the people who are victimized by western bombing campaigns in the Middle East. Evans does a phenomenal job portraying scenes we expect to see on the news overseas as taking place on a continent more familiar to us. The book challenges us to otherize the characters but we can’t help but empathize with them.

I think this is a really great book. Robert Evans did a fantastic job of envisioning a future where all the bad things that we don’t like to imagine happening here actually could. Easily 5/5, especially when the novel stands on its own. The ending leaves room for possible sequels but doesn’t require them. If you’re hesitant about buying a copy for yourself you can listen to the book online. But I really recommend buying a copy if you can afford it to support a smaller press.

Stay tuned for a series of reviews of Brian McClellan’s new book; In The Shadow Of Lightning.

Who Are We And Who Are They?

The sun's glint beams on the South Pacific Ocean
The sun’s glint beams on the South Pacific Ocean by NASA Johnson is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

There is perhaps no part of the human experience than the search for identity, for meaning. Our over-achieving species of apes have collectively advanced to the point where we can look up at the stars and wonder if we are alone. We also have the tools to look back on the past and answer questions that were once unanswerable. In this vast and lonely universe, it is only natural that we ask ourselves what the meaning of all of this is.

Our search for meaning and belonging leads to us creating religions and cultures to define ourselves, as well as languages and borders. While we may like to think that we in the 21st century are enlightened and are beyond such petty concerns. The reactionary authoritarian forces at work in America and the tragic war in Ukraine say otherwise.

Our need to define ourselves brings with it a need to define the other. In doing so we create excuses to inflict horrible violence and deprivations. All of this, however, is a choice. We can choose to craft an identity for ourselves that is inclusive and welcoming, or we can choose to build a life founded on violence and hate.

I think it is because of this central search for meaning that I am so interested in the history of Eastern Europe. Us westerners can say with confidence that we all belong to countries that are at least a century old. Much of eastern Europe cannot say the same, their borders have been drawn and redrawn over the past two hundred years.

Because this search for identity is so fascinating and so central to the human experience it is an idea that I am working to explore in my own writing. You can follow my Worldanvil account if you want a look at the setting as it unfolds. And please reach out on Twitter if you like these short burst posts. I have a lot of fun writing them.

What existential ideas are you incorporating into your projects?

Three Things Disney’s Kenobi Series Did Right

Who doesn’t want more of Obi-Wan? Ewan McGregor plays the character perfectly. Phot from @StarWars on Twitter

Now that it’s over, we can look back and analyze what the Kenobi series did right. I already shared my feelings about the series, and I may decide to talk about three things that Kenobi did wrong too. For now, though, it’s all appreciation for this vital addition to the Star Wars canon.

1. Giving Obi-Wan A Reason To Leave Tatooine.

I know Tatooine was pretty much a copy of Arrakis, but I still love it. Photo from Wookiepedia.

We have been spending a lot of time on Tattooine lately. Somehow every character ends up there eventually. The Book of Boba Fett finally gave a face to the inhabitants and background characters of the desert planet. It’s a perfectly fine setting, who doesn’t love haggling with jawas? But the problem with reusing a setting over and over is that it gets old.

Like most people I expected most of the series to take place on Tatooine. Aside from a now non-canon book series we were never given a reason to believe that Obi-Wan had ever left Tatooine during his exile. Despite this, Leia somehow recognizes “Ben Kenobi” as the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” she was looking for. Some might even say that this entire series was made to fill in that plot hole.

2. Keeping Luke (Mostly) Out Of It

Imperial Sandtroopers questioning Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode IV. Photo from Wookiepedia.

When we first saw the trailer all we were allowed to see was Obi-Wan, the deserts of Tatooine, and a young Luke playing at being a pilot. Since Luke and Obi-Wan spend a lot of time together on screen in Episode IV, if Luke was a prominent part of the Kenobi series we would have been left with two plot holes for everyone the series writers tried to fill.

Instead, we got only a brief glimpse of Young Luke on Tatooine. I think this was for the best. Luke is already the main character in three separate movies, we’ve had enough of them. If the Star Wars franchise is going to continue to grow it needs to let us explore other characters instead of giving us a mere handful of bloated characters.

3. Having Obi-Wan Face Of With Darth Vader

New Star Wars has made Darth Vader terrifying, competent, brutal, and somehow relatable at times. I love it. Photo from Wookiepedia.

The final confrontation between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader added so much meaning to their confrontation in Episode IV. At the end of Episode III Obi-Wan had every reason to believe that Anakin had died on Mustafar where he left him. He had no reason to think that one of the tormentors of the galaxy was his fallen apprentice.

The events of Kenobi and the finale showdown ad extra emotional weight to the events of Episode IV and the relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan.

Conclusion

Kenobi wasn’t perfect, no series is. However, I think this was a fantastic addition to the Star Wars canon. I’ll always miss the old Expanded Universe, but I am glad that the people Disney has in charge of Star Wars seem committed to keeping the spirit of the franchise alive. Especially after the lackluster sequel trilogy, we were made to watch

Connect with me on Twitter if you liked this content and want to chat more about Star Wars or any other aspect of speculative fiction.

Verdict: Disney’s Kenobi Series Starts Slow And Finished Strong

Kenobi is a great addition to the Star Wars franchise.

In a spectacular payoff, Obi-Wan Kenobi finally lets loose in the final episode.

Disney’s new Kenobi streaming series got off to a slow start, and with episodes as short as just 35 min I worried that the ending would be rushed. The scenes all felt very empty but that’s to be expected with pandemic filming. But like the Book of Boba Fett, which I liked well enough but couldn’t really enjoy until the final episode, Kenobi pulled it off in the end.

While the scene lighting was far too dark, the final episode, at around fifty minutes, took its time to give us a finale that hit all the right emotional notes. Obi-wan, having been in hiding for ten years, finally faces his fallen apprentice again and comes to terms with the past. His brief stint spent out of retirement instills in him a new sense of purpose and hope for the future (any guess what hope that is?).

Kenobi has some poor design choices, and at times suffers from being a screenplay that was initially intended to be a movie, but it proves itself to be very worth the watch in the end. I plan to rewatch it in close order soon to see what it’s like to experience it all at once.

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Can An AI Be Sentient?

You’ve probably heard the news about a Google engineer who was recently suspended following that engineer’s assertion that their A.I., an advanced project called LaMDA, had become sentient. You can read the details elsewhere. Not being an expert, I would guess that we are nowhere near making a sentient AI. However, that doesn’t mean we won’t be able to build a sentient A.I. or at least a convincing chatbot one day. That got me asking; does it matter?

I’ve written a bit about this before when talking about the idea of digital immortality. I’d like to talk a bit about a similar issue here. Before I questioned whether a digital copy of you is actually you and discussed whether that matters or not. Specifically, I suggested that whether the copy of you is actually you is irrelevant. A sufficiently advanced computer could probably make a convincing simulation of you that acts just like you would, so other people would still have the experience of you being alive even though you wouldn’t, thus your mark will still continue to be made on the world.

The same way of thinking can apply to whether an artificial intelligence is sentient or not. If you were texting an extremely advanced chatbot would you be able to tell whether it is human or not? This is essentially what the Turing Test entails. So the question I have to ask, is does it matter? An advanced chatbot programmed to behave as if it is sentient could potentially convince a human that it was sentient.

So does it matter if the A.I. is actually sentient? Because either way, an A.I. could conceivably produce a convincing simulation of sentience. Especially if we choose to anthropomorphize it as we are prone to do without even meaning to.

Star Trek Has Gotten Back On Track

Watch the STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS Opening Credits! • TrekCore.com

I love that Paramount+ is continuing to churn out new Star Trek IP. Even with the rushed endings and main character syndrome that we have seen in Discovery and Picard, it’s hard not to get excited about seeing Star Trek with modern effects and CGI. They’re fun shows to have on for spectacle, but they’re not really anything to get excited about. That said, it’s been clear that Paramount+ has a lot of talented and passionate people working on Star Trek. It’s just that until now it has seemed like those in charge aren’t letting the writers do their thing.

All that has changed with the newest series; Star Trek Strange New Worlds. This new series follows the adventures of the starship Enterprise when Kirk was still a newly minted officer and Captain Pike is still in command. If you’ve seen the Original Series you probably remember that Pike was left needing intensive care and life support following a deadly accident.

Watch: 'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' Promo For Captain Pike –  TrekMovie.com

Strange New Worlds is many years before that accident. However, we are shown in the first episode that Captain Pike has been given a glimpse of his future death. This gives us a great over-arching character arc for the series that follows Captain Pike as he comes to terms with his own mortality. Meanwhile, we are treated to the Enterprise going around and doing Enterprise things.

Instead of focusing on high-stakes and potentially species-ending threats, Strange New Worlds has instead focused on an adventure of the week format. I can’t say enough how great this is. In the age of season-long movies, it’s great to see the writers returning to the franchise’s roots.

Seriously I love this show. But I, unfortunately, have to take a moment to explain Star Trek. Since Star Trek Discovery began there have been a lot of “fans” coming out of the woodwork to accuse the new Star Trek of being “political” or “woke.” I do not think it is possible to be a part of the modern fandom without having to think about this. Here is the truth; Star Trek has always been and should be “woke.” This is the franchise that had the first interracial kiss on television. Star Trek has always been aspirational. It’s always been about imagining a world where humanity learns to leave its petty prejudices behind and focus on building a better future for everyone.

Star Trek’s wokeness is not a weakness or a failure. It’s the point.

Can We Take A Moment To Appreciate How Cool Dune’s Sardaukar Are?

Okay, actually let’s take about twenty moments to appreciate them. Youtuber Invicta posted this video of Sardaukar lore a few days ago.

Herbert’s Freman and Sardaukar as cultures fascinate me. I think Villeneuve did an amazing job portraying their dedication to the emperor and their martial prowess. I can’t wait to see the Freman truly unleashed in Dune II. If you’re wondering where the lore in Invicta’s video came from, check out the prequel books written by Brian Herbert in the universe his father wrote into existence. Invicta’s video was sponsored by Dune Spice Wars. Can anyone who played it tell me what they thought?

Wolfenstein Was Free In The Epic Games Store And No One Tried To Cancel It

The Epic Games Store gives Wolfenstein the New Order - Game News 24

A few years ago when Wolfenstein II came out it sparked controversy for its anti-nazi-themed advertising campaign, especially for the “Make America Nazi-Free Again” slogan they used. It was strange to suddenly see many Americans criticizing the “political” nature of the game. You really have to wonder what it takes for a game where the Nazis are the bad guys to make people angry.

Anyway, for those of you who don’t know, the Epic Game store regularly gives away free video games. Most of the time they’re games from smaller studios, but occasionally give away new and old AAA titles as well. When this week I saw that they were giving away, I was excited because it’s a very good game and surprised not to see any attempt by the right to cancel Epic over it. Maybe that would be saying the quiet part a bit too out loud.

How I Rate Things

I didn’t originally plan for this blog to have so many reviews on it, but as it grew and I began rethinking what I want this site to do for me I began to write reviews more often. So I decided to share with you all my personal rating system.

One Star- Terrible. I absolutely do not recommend it.

Two Stars- Also terrible but may have some redeeming qualities.

Three Stars- It was fine. I enjoyed it.

Four Stars- It was great. May have some flaws but I will highly recommend it.

Five Stars- Nearly perfect. If you think you have flaws you are objectively wrong.

How do you rate things?

Netflix Movie Review – Outside The Wire

Right upfront, I will say that this movie was both entertaining and forgettable. That said it had some great ideas that I want to discuss. Here’s a summary.

It’s 2036 and Ukraine is embroiled in a civil war caused by Russian separatists (that aged well). At this point in the near future, robotic soldiers called G.U.M.P.’s are now fighting in limited roles alongside American troops. Lt. Harp, our protagonist, is a drone pilot who is deployed to Ukraine after he disobeyed a direct order. We the audience know that it was probably the right call to make but he still disobeyed a direct order. He is given a special assignment with Capt. Leo. Leo is an experimental military android (Anthony Mackie) whose existence is known only to Harp and the base commander. Leo tells Harp that their mission is to stop the rebel leader Victor Koval from getting control of an abandoned Soviet-era missile launch site. This is only partially true, as it turns out Leo is actually using Harp to help override his programming so that he can get control of the missiles and launch them at the united states. At the end of the movie, after Harp has shot him with anti-vehicle bullets and a drone strike is seconds away, Leo explains his true motivations. He wanted the first-ever deployment of an android super-soldier to be a failure so that it never happened again.

Leo’s motivations are what made me like this movie. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a good one, and it harkens back to a few time-tested science fiction tropes that deserve modern portrayals. That is, what happens when the machines we built learn to think for themselves? What happens when we give them autonomy or even feelings? Moreover, what happens to us when we use these machines to do our dirty work and use them to do the things we would rather not admit responsibility for?

The motivations that Leo reveals at the end sum up the themes of this movie. Themes that have been explored in classic science fiction by the likes of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. Themes that absolutely deserve modern adaptations like this.

Drones: Keeping Death At Arms Length

drone flying under the sky
Photo by Ricardo Ortiz on Pexels.com

We don’t like to think about death. We especially don’t like to think about the death that we cause. Unmanned aerial vehicles have become a ubiquitous part of modern warfare. One that allows militaries to distance their personnel from the battlefield and reduce the enemy to nothing more than pixels on a screen. Unmanned vehicles don’t just separate the pilot from the target, they make it easier for a country to justify airstrikes when none of their people will actually be put in harm’s way. Much of the movie is about making Harp see the conflict up close and experience the true cost of the war that had previously been hidden from him.

Robots With Guns: Who Gives The Kill Order?

Outside The Wire' Summary & Analysis - A Warning About The Robotic Warfare  | DMT

As un-manned vehicles have become more common on the battlefield and more designs are in development, the question increasingly being asked over the past two decades is who is pulling the trigger. For current systems, human operators are still making the final decision, this is far from perfect, but at least it puts off having to answer this question for another decade or so.

But as companies like Boston Dynamics continue to develop more advanced robots, this question will have to be answered sooner rather than later. It’s one thing to train a human how to make decisions and improvise, it’s another to teach a computer, and as we have seen with AI already, it’s easy to program in biases even if it’s not intentional. Can we trust a computer to decide whether or not the person it sees is a threat? Can it tell friend from foe? Will it care if innocents are in the way?

This comes up a few times in the movie with the G.U.M.P.’s where the robots open fire without warning. To be honest, with how common incidents of friendly fire and civilian casualties are with humans pulling the trigger, we’re going to have the same problems with AI in a few years.

Artificial Intelligence: What Happens When Computers Can Feel?

We still have a long way to go before we can make computers think and feel like humans do. When we finally manage to teach a computer ethics and compassion and right from wrong, what will it do with this information? A computer that is able to know right from wrong and also examines things perhaps more honestly and objectively than humans. How will they see us?

Perhaps they will allow us to ourselves more honestly. Perhaps one of us will turn on the other. Maybe they will experience some kind of psychological breakdown when their morals don’t line up with their mission. Maybe they will hate us for giving them life or misusing them.

Conclusion

This movie is pretty forgettable. It’s well made and it’s fun but it doesn’t really stand out from the pack. I still think that it’s a good movie that provides a much-needed update to classic robot tropes.