Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Like many, my first introduction to Altered Carbon was through the Netflix adaptation.

Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs Novels Book 1) by [Richard K. Morgan]

We’re all used to the adaptation being worse than the book, but aside from Eragon and Wanted I can’t think of a worse movie adaptation than Netflix’s adaptation of Altered Carbon.

The Altered Carbon of Richard K. Morgan’s imagination shows an amazing cyberpunk world where some of the secrets of the universe were unlocked by alien ruins on Mars. Where minds are cheaper to transport than bodies and the military trains psychopaths to inhabit premade bodies on remote worlds to brutally suppress insurrections. Where those same psychopaths have to come to grips with what they have done once they reenter the civilian world.

The adaptation did none of this. It combined huge chunks of Takeshi Kovac’s backstory into just a few bullet points. It took a soul tortured by his experiences as a cog in the machine and turned him into a lackluster failed freedom fighter. Now that I’ve read the source material I’m a little insulted by the Netflix version.

The Takeshi Kovacs of the book is a deeply flawed character with a deeply flawed past. He still does a lot of terrible things, but he has something of a conscience and he manages to find some kind of purpose in the process. The Takeshi Kovacs of Netflix however, was a starry-eyed idealist who got burned and as a result, he’s angsty…I guess?

I wish that studios wouldn’t do this. They get handed the rights to an amazing story and they decide to mutilate it. Unfortunately, it seems to be rare for the people adapting the source material to actually understand the source material.

A Declaration Of The Rights Of Magicians by H. G. Parry

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians: A Novel (The Shadow Histories Book 1) by [H. G. Parry]

If you’re like me and you spend a lot of time therapy shopping in book stores you’ve probably come across more than a few books on the shelf that you keep stopping to consider but keep walking away. This was one of those for me. Over the past few years, it’s become harder and harder for me to get invested in SFF books despite my love of the genre. So lately I’ve made a rule for myself if I keep stopping to consider a book two or three times I’m going to give it a try.

“A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians” was one of those books for me. In a word, it’s fantastic, 5/5. It’s the first in a series called The Shadow Histories and the second book, “A Radical Act Of Free Magic,” just came out. Which for me is always a plus, I love it when I can get excited about a new series or author and immediately have another book to dive into.

From the title of both the book and the series, I think you can probably guess what it’s about. It’s a magical alternative history of our world that takes place during the French Revolution and follows the characters of William Pit, Robespierre, and others. The progression of events, so far, seems to closely mirror the events of our own history with some exceptions. The main difference is that there are millions of people all over the world who have some kind of inherited magical ability.

How is society not radically changed? Simple. A few centuries before we dive in, the Templar Church fought a war to eliminate Europe’s vampire rulers. Magic, after this was heavily restricted in most countries and commoners, were forbidden from using magic. Only the aristocracy was allowed to use their powers and an old agreement called The Concord forbids the use of magic in warfare.

But this is an age of revolution and the common folk of Europe of tired of not having their voices heard. With talk of freedom and liberty comes also freedom of magic. And there are forces fighting in the background, manipulating events as they happen. This leads to one of our protagonists, Prime Minister William Pitt, working to not only lead his nation through the horrors of the Napoleonic War but also to fight a smaller and more personal conflict in the background.

Like I said. 5/5, 10/10, A+. Go give it a read! You can purchase the book in physical format or on kindle through this affiliate link.

Holiday Gifts For Writers

What do you get for the person who has to a to-be-read pile a mile high? For the person who clicks and clacks away on their keyboard all day? Clearly not more books. What are they going to do with those? Stack them higher? The answer is actually to get them a collector’s edition of their favorite book. But what if you don’t want to get them that? I’ve got the answers for you.

A Great Notebook

woman holding book with blank pages
Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Every creative knows the torment of having more ideas than they know what to do with. This can actually be a real problem because with every new idea that jumps into a person’s head it becomes that much harder to focus on their current project.

I’ve dealt with this problem by keeping a commonplace book, or a journal if you prefer to call it that. This book is for any idea that occurs to me or for anything I want to remember. Everything from meeting notes to random thoughts to outlines of entire novels. If I have an idea I want to remember I write it down in this book.

It’s done wonders for my productivity. It helps me to stay focused on my current projects, helps me plan out future ones, and make sure I remember anything else that pops into my head that seems important.

You might be wondering, why a notebook? Why not the notes app on your phone? Phones work, but I feel that writing in a notebook has a certain joy to it that can’t be replicated. Plus imagine how much smarter a person looks in a coffee shop with a notebook instead of a phone.

Anyway, what notebook should you get? Personally, I love Rhodia’s Rhodiarama softcover dot grid notebooks. The dot grid is a great compromise for someone who wants to write and diagram at the same time. Another great option is Leuchtturm1917.

Now let’s imagine that they already have a notebook or you want to get them something else besides the fantastic notebook you just got them. That brings us to our next topic.

A Great Pen (Or Pencil)

classic close up draw expensive
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Writing implements are like guitars. Any old one will do, but once you’re hooked you just want more and more and more. Just like guitars, writing implements come in a lot of flavors. So I’ll only focus on a handful.

Fountain pens might seem antiquated or mysterious but they are anything but. Nothing beats the feeling of how a good fountain pen glides across the page. A great and commonly recommended fountain pen is the pilot metropolitan. At about $20 it packs a lot of value and can accommodate a variety of refills.

If your gift recipient prefers pencils one of my favorites is the Kaweco Special S. It has all the benefits of a modern mechanical pencil and all the charms of their wooden ancestors. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not also mention just about everything from Rotring, a company that is famous for the quality of its drafting pens and pencils.

Finally, what if you want to get them a more conventional writing implement? A ballpoint or rollerball perhaps? The good news about high-end pens is that they tend to be refillable. If you don’t like what it comes with you are free to try something else. And in that area, you simply can’t beat a Parker Jotter or Parker Jotter XL. These iconic pens are so iconic that the industry refers to the cartridges they take as “parker style.” Parker has made so many unique takes on this design that it’s nearly impossible not to find the perfect jotter.

But what if that special person needs a break from creating content? I’ve got that covered too.

Kindle Paperwhite

I know, I know. Nothing will ever replace the feel of a paper book. But the fact is that our homes have a finite amount of space in them and that space can all be taken up by books (or can it?). I resisted ebooks for a long time but they are invaluable for consuming content. They save space, they often go on sale, and they allow me to immediately get the next book in a series.

I recommend the Kindle Paperwhite myself. It doesn’t quite match the experience of reading a traditional book, but it comes extremely close. Kindle Unlimited is a great option too for all those voracious readers out there.

Audible

More best sellers, more podcasts, more Originals

I used to be one of those people who didn’t think that audiobooks were really books. I was a purist and I was wrong. Audiobooks are a fantastic way to catch up on reading and to expand your horizons. I especially like the Great Courses on Audible. I find that good non-fiction can provide the best inspiration for some great fiction.

I really can’t undersell the value that Audible provides for just $15 per month. There is of course the 1 credit per month that can be spent on any book. But Audible plus now comes with an entire library of free books. It’s a great chance to catch up on the classics.

An Audible subscription is free to try for a month and comes with a free book. But you can also make your own account and send audiobooks to whoever you want. It’s a gift that they probably don’t know they want but will be extremely grateful for.

Conclusion

It’s hard to find a gift for that special someone or that someone who seems to have it all. I can’t imagine having all the answers, but if you’re still in need of some check out my page of recommended products. If you are a creator who has products to sell for the holidays please link them in the comments below.

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

Revelation Space (The Inhibitor Trilogy Book 1) by [Alastair Reynolds]
Book One of the Inhibitor Trilogy

Lately, I have been listening to a lot of audiobooks. It’s helped to make tedious tasks more enjoyable, and it has helped me cross A LOT of books off of my to-be-read list. A few of these books have been Alastair Reynolds’ Inhibitor Trilogy. These books have me obsessed.

For those who don’t know, Alastair Reynolds is a prolific science fiction author who studied astrophysics with the European Space Agency. He holds a doctorate in astronomy and his experience shines through in his writing.

He has an incredibly engaging style that he peppers with just the right amount of scientific jargon to make his settings convincing. He also does an amazing job of bringing seemingly disparate story threads together at the end in ways so obvious in retrospect.

I could go on and on about why I like these books. Instead, I want to talk about one thing that Reynolds does very well. Conflict. Or should I call it fluff? You know those fight scenes that drag on too long or the infiltrations that seem a little too contrived? I know I can’t be the only one, which is why I was so happy when Reynolds chose to fade to black for those scenes that another author might instead drag along for a chapter or two.

That’s not to say that these books don’t have fight scenes or are free of violence, but Reynolds seems to know exactly how much of the fight we need to be shown, and much of the violence in the series takes place between starships. Starships so far apart that a commander will not know if their attack was successful for several hours. In a book like this, conflict is best shown through the thoughts and worries of the commanders rather than the minutia that many authors get stuck in.

Fantastic books. 5/5. Go read.

The Anatomy of Fascism by Robert O. Paxton

I picked up this audiobook on a whim after I heard it mentioned on a podcast. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into at first, but the narration and subject quickly drew me in.

Paxton asks a simple question with a complicated answer: What is fascism?

Many authoritarians of the last century have been referred to as fascist, but according to Paxton few of these dictators fit the mold. This is because fascism is not merely defined by it’s tools and imagery but also by its origins. Fascism is fascism because of how it takes root and how it behaves once in power. Fascism is a mutable beast capable of changing its appearance to match its surroundings and for that reason it is also hard to identify until it is too late.

Paxton explains that this is because fascism adopts new images and icons in each iteration. This differentiates it from isms that emerged in the nineteenth century; capitalism, liberalism, and socialism. Fascism is a rejection of democratic ideas and even education in favor of action and emotion. It fees on perceived victimhood, intense nationalism, fear of the other, and the glorification of violence. In order to take advantage of these feelings, fascists must adopt local symbols and customs for their own use.

He argues that fascism develops in stages. In the early stages a nascent fascist party is composed of what are essentially hooligans, street fighters, and outcasts. Taking advantage of their followers’ willingness to participate in mass demonstrations and do violence, they begin to assert themselves in democratic elections. Finally, once allowed into government they work to dismantle the same democratic structures that got them into power in the first place.1

For most of the book, Paxton focuses on Nazi Germany2 and Fascist Italy.3 He explores what makes them similar and different. Part of this examination explores the differences between what fascists said and what they did. Once in power, fascists stray from their previous ideological purity in order to satisfy the corporate and conservative interests that help them attain power.

In my view, based on the information Paxton presents, there is little pressure for the actions and words of fascists to have anything in common. Once a personality cult has been constructed it doesn’t really matter what the fascists do as long as their leader maintains their image.

Finally, Paxton looks at whether fascism could happen again in other places, and there are some who have argued that fascism was limited to the particular circumstances of its time. Paxton argues that the characteristics of the leader are less important than the perceptions the public attaches to them and that early-stage fascists are relatively common. Successful fascists, if they arise, will learn to moderate what they say and do and how they present themselves in order to make themselves palatable to a wider audience. For example, an American fascist movement would more likely clothe itself in religious imagery rather than swastikas.

The book’s prescience and the clear parallels between the past and present make for a fascinating and terrifying combination. The book was written in 2004, and Paxton remarked that there were dangerous trends in the years after 9/11. He predicted that an American fascist movement would involve a great deal of religious imagery, anti-immigrant sentiment, anti-Islamic sentiment, and probably a lot of imagery focusing on the flag or the confederate battle flag. We’ve seen many of these things rise to prominence in the Republican Party.

It is not hard to see similarities in Trump’s presidency, QAnon followers, and the Proud Boys. What is more frightening is the GOP’s general acceptance of them in order to garner more votes. Hinting that our new American fascist movement may have already progressed through its initial stages.

Perhaps most importantly, we see today the same toleration of civil violence that was seen in Nazi Germany. Many people are fine with violence as long as it is not directed at them. Excuses made for attacks on protesters by police and proud boys this past year come to mind. I try to remain optimistic about the future, but it is hard not to see the warning signs around us today.

Overall, I can’t find any faults with the book. It’s a fascinating look at one of the most important and destructive political forces of the 20th century and one that forces the reader to reconsider what the word fascist really means. If you can, I also recommend listening to the audiobook. It helped me get through the book quickly by listening to it during my commute and the narration was perfectly suited to the book’s topic and tone.

If this topic interests you, you may want to consider listening to It Could Happen Here by Robert Evans. Evans is the host of the podcast Behind the Bastards (the podcast where I heard about this book) and wrote several op-eds after the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Notes

  1. Trump’s efforts to discredit the recent election results come to mind.
  2. Recently, many conservatives have claimed that the Nazi’s were actually socialist. This is not true. Modern conservatives do this to draw attention away from their more radical allies. The words “socialist” and “workers” were added to broaden the party’s appeal and have little to do Nazi ideology. Timeghost has a great writeup about this and also about the myth of Nazi economic success.
  3. Fascism first emerged in Italy after WWI. Which is funny, because Mussolini was the original fascist and Hitler came later, yet Hitler became the “star” of the Axis Powers. The word fascist derives from the the word “fascio” which means ” a bundle of sticks.” Use of this symbol, which dates back to ancient Rome, was meant to convey an image of strength through unity.