May 082022
 

I’m moving to SubStack.

I’ll continue posting all posts here as well as there for at least the rest of this month. Maybe next month too. This site will stay up as an archive for as long as I can afford the yearly fee.

I was convinced by Bryan Caplan’s post Who Should Switch to Substack? He’s a pretty convincing fellow.

I not planning to charge for any posts. It’ll be the same thing as always, just in a more central location, and with easy email subscription.

 

May 192022
 

Rich Man’s Sky, by Wil McCarthy
and
Poor Man’s Sky, by Wil McCarthy

Synopsis:  In the near future, humanity takes the first steps to creating off-Earth colonies. In Rich Man’s Sky, government agents are sent to infiltrate (and possibly capture) a rapidly-expanding solar-harvesting factory at L1. In Poor Man’s Sky, a detective (and ex-Navy Seal) is sent to the toe-hold Lunar Station to investigate the first off-Earth murder.

Books Review: This is a single review because these novels aren’t just stories, they are a thorough exploration of how, actually literally in real life, we might get off this planet. They take place in the very near future (RMS opens in 2051, less than 30 years from now). All the tech used is either already available, already in prototype, or a single-step extrapolation of such and realistically possible. Wil McCarthy is an actual rocket scientist, formerly from Lockheed Martin.

The primary movers in Rich Man’s Sky are mega-wealthy entrepenuers. There is an obvious Elon Musk stand-in, having taken the SpaceX stand-in to its final form. There’s a Richard Branson equivalent, trying to keep up but aging out. There’s a ruthless Russian oligarch that controls the off-world Helium-3 trade, who I’m sure has a current-day analog that I would recognize if I knew anything about IRL Russian oligarchs. I, too, think the most likely way we’ll get humans living off-planet is via private actors.

The political ramifications of these expansions into space are a major source of narrative conflict. The governments of the world are pissed off, but they don’t have the ability to do much expanding of their own. They do, however, have the power to really bring the hammer down planet-side, and to send elite agents into space. This also seems like an extremely plausible forecast.

Interestingly, the Catholic Church has a stake in a small Lunar station/monestary. The really fascinating part is how convincingly McCarthy portrays the Church’s motivations for doing this, and how they’d execute on it. A nice touch!

The first book (Rich Man’s Sky) has a main plot line of spy-thriller espionage. The second book (Poor Man’s Sky) is a murder-mystery. They share quite a few characters in common, but each one can be read completely stand alone without needing to read the other. They are fully self-contained stories. In this way, they remind me a lot of the early MCU, when each movie stood on its own merits and didn’t assume any outside knowledge from the viewer, but which all existed in a single internally-consistent universe which grew richer with each addition. I really like this model. Come to think of it, it reminds me of Discworld as well, in that structure.

While both of the books have strong primary plots, and likable protagonists with real depth, they have a quirk to their structure. Probably over a third of the page count of both these novels isn’t really focused on the primary plot or protagonist. This is because they aren’t just novels telling a story… they really are thorough explorations of how we might get off this planet. This means there are many short side-chapters that focus on how current tech could mature to make space travel feasible. Or the social impacts these advancements bring. Or how the economy of off-world energy trade finds an equilibrium, and then how it reacts to sudden supply shocks. Or how the most powerful people in the world interact with menial laborors when they live next door to each other.

For me, and for people like me who are really excited into seeing a possible road to off-world colonization actually being fully thought through and put on paper, this is absolutely fantastic. It answers “OK, but how the hell do we get to Star Trek from here? How can I see myself personally, or my friends and neighbors, actually doing this?” It’s wonderful and inspiring, and I love it. But for anyone who isn’t into all that stuff, this will be a drag. It’ll probably be very boring for them, and feel like meaningless world-building that doesn’t advance the plot or develop character. These books are probably not for people like them, and so I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who thinks this sounds lame.

For myself, and people like me, though — Highly Recommended!

Book Club Review? n/a. This was not read in book club, I was reading it in my spare time. Please see Conflict of Interest, below.

Potential Conflict of Interest: I know Wil McCarthy personally. I think he’s a great guy. He’s also in my monthly Writer’s Workshop group, which is why I have already read Poor Man’s Sky — I was a beta reader for it. PMS isn’t in print yet, and you can’t buy it at the time of this publication. I know that this colors my reading of his books, it would be impossible for it not to, and I would laugh at anyone who claimed otherwise.

That being said, I really do think these are very good novels, and people who are also excited about current tech advances and about getting us off this rock would really like them as well. I do still have some ability to see bad writing, even when it comes from my friends, and in those cases I don’t write blog posts saying otherwise. I do value my reputation a little. :) Also I can’t be too terribly off track, because Rich Man’s Sky is a finalist for the 2022 Prometheus Award For Best Novel. So there.


I’m moving to SubStack! Eventually this blog will no longer be updated, so switch on over.

May 172022
 

In some regions of some states, gender reassignment is over-prescribed, both by self-assessment and by affirming clinics. In those places, at this time, it is a solution that is jumped to over-eagerly, because we know how to treat gender dysphoria. That makes the mental health problems of the dysphoric tractable. Gender dysphoria has overlapping symptoms with depression, and other mental maladies. We’re very fortunate that gender can be changed! Living in an unjust world with non pater non mater nihil supernum, where millions suffer for no reason, our bodies suck, love is terrifying, and we’re all gonna die… that’s a lot harder to treat. Anti-depresants only do so much.


I’m moving to SubStack! Eventually this blog will no longer be updated, so switch on over.

May 092022
 

There are people who think abortion (outside of specific exceptions for rape/incest/medical necessity) is morally impermissible. One of their defenses is that one can just not get pregnant.

This is a bad argument.

First, using protection is incredibly important, and everyone should do it, and anyone who doesn’t is being an idiot.

Most people’s sex drive is comparable to their food drive. It’s not something you can just ignore. If it’s not met, it starts to overwhelm your entire life. You won’t die from not having sex, but constant, consuming hunger is a horrible way to live. Even if you aren’t hungry often, there are times when hunger can be inflamed and magnified.

I have a lot of sympathy for people who got pregnant accidentally. Being very horny, and being seduced by someone, is as mind-altering as being drunk. Even when totally sober, while under the influence of those hormones it’s like being intoxicated. Normal decision-making processes are short-circuited. I’m pretty sure this is by design (damn you Azathoth!).

It doesn’t even have to be an intentional seduction. Two people attracted to each other can spiral into a deep mind-deranging lust if they follow natural incentives without extraordinary strictness of control.

So telling someone “Your brain and decision making was compromised, to the point that being on drugs can be less deranging, and this is because your body is designed to betray you at exactly this time in this way, but we’re gonna pretend you intentionally sat down and signed a contract while in a reasonable state of mind, so get fucked” is absolute bullshit. Every discussion about abortion rights should be done under direct acknowledgement that the participants were literally not in their right minds. Trying to treat them as if they were is straight-up fraud.

There are other possible arguments for/against abortion rights. But “people who don’t want to carry a child can just not get pregnant” is a terrible one.


I’m moving to SubStack! Eventually this blog will no longer be updated, so switch on over.

May 062022
 

I. The Trope-Namer

The original blood libel was the claim that Jews killed Christian babies to use their blood in rituals. It was spread to incite pogroms and ethnic cleansings.

Nowadays you see the same sort of claims taking place both in social media and on news networks, where people will stoke hatred and outrage at a target demographic. Sometimes they do this for political reasons, sometimes it’s just for popularity/ratings. But the primary effect, the intended effect, is always to inflame hatred of a group by spreading the belief that all members of the group are vile monsters without conscience, who are a danger to everyone else.

The current defense for such actions is that “Every single thing I’m saying is true, every single example I give is real.”

 

II. TERFs

To repeat an example I’ve used before, this is why TERF communities are awful places that should be avoided.

If you ever visit a racist internet forum or user group or whatever, you’ll notice that they do the same thing. They talk about every single gruesome crime committed by a black person or an immigrant or a Muslim, anywhere in the world. They seek these out, and they find them, because there are millions of people in these groups and in any group of millions of people you can find something gruesome and horrible. They make a sensationalist post about it, and they pass it around. If you spend any time on the forum, you will be bombarded with hundreds, maybe thousands, of posts about horrible crimes committed by black people and Muslims and immigrants.

This is, of course, really clever. Even if you know that a group of millions of people will have some bad ones, hearing in detail about the bad ones all the time will slowly rewire your intuitions. You’ll start to expect, when you see a member of the group, bad things, because your brain has thousands of examples of bad things. You can try to consciously correct for this, but in my experience it’s actually nearly impossible to consciously correct enough; when you’re getting tons of “data” your intuitions will be shaped by it, even when it’s a lie and you know it.

I categorically reject any group of people which does this. If a group does this, I block them all and leave and never come back. It is a fundamentally wrong thing to do. It can be done against any target; it does not teach truth; all it does is rewire your brain towards suspicion and hatred, and it works just as well whether the targeted group has a higher rate of violence of various types or not. I strongly encourage anyone who recognizes this pattern in groups they’re part of to leave those groups, because this is a horrid tactic.

TERF communities do this constantly. When I’ve tried reading TERF blogs, a large share of the content is – yep – circulating gruesome, horrifying, and detailed accounts of random crimes or acts of bullying committed by specific trans people. You recommended a specific radical feminist blogger in your followup ask. I read through the most recent two pages of posts on her blog, and six of them were either screenshots of a random trans person saying something objectionable or, the classic, breathlessly reported and incredibly detailed account of a single violent crime committed by a trans person.

This is straight-up blood libel, using only true examples that actually happened.

 

III. Libs of TikTok & Weak-Man Jews

This can happen in a less blatant but still mentally-deranging way, especially when used as humor. Libs of TikTok is  prime example.

It primarily just retweets videos that actual people have posted in seriousness. Some of them are perfectly fine videos that LoTT doesn’t realize are unobjectionable, but many of them really are crazy people acting in bizarre ways. They use this to say that all liberals are deranged and must be stopped.

One can claim that LoTT isn’t doing anything wrong, since they’re just retweeting things that real liberals have posted. But LoTT is a hate account. The whole point of the account is amplifying objectionable stuff. It’s like an account that just retweets every violent crime committed by a trans person. Or every violent crime committed by a Jew…

imagining yourself in the shoes of a Jew in czarist Russia. The big news story is about a Jewish man who killed a Christian child. As far as you can tell the story is true. It’s just disappointing that everyone who tells it is describing it as “A Jew killed a Christian kid today”. You don’t want to make a big deal over this, because no one is saying anything objectionable like “And so all Jews are evil”. Besides you’d hate to inject identity politics into this obvious tragedy. It just sort of makes you uncomfortable.

The next day you hear that the local priest is giving a sermon on how the Jews killed Christ. This statement seems historically plausible, and it’s part of the Christian religion, and no one is implying it says anything about the Jews today. You’d hate to be the guy who barges in and tries to tell the Christians what Biblical facts they can and can’t include in their sermons just because they offend you. It would make you an annoying busybody. So again you just get uncomfortable.

The next day you hear people complain about the greedy Jewish bankers who are ruining the world economy. And really a disproportionate number of bankers are Jewish, and bankers really do seem to be the source of a lot of economic problems. It seems kind of pedantic to interrupt every conversation with “But also some bankers are Christian, or Muslim, and even though a disproportionate number of bankers are Jewish that doesn’t mean the Jewish bankers are disproportionately active in ruining the world economy compared to their numbers.” So again you stay uncomfortable.

Then the next day you hear people complain about Israeli atrocities in Palestine (what, you thought this was past czarist Russia? This is future czarist Russia, after Putin finally gets the guts to crown himself). You understand that the Israelis really do commit some terrible acts. On the other hand, when people start talking about “Jewish atrocities” and “the need to protect Gentiles from Jewish rapacity” and “laws to stop all this horrible stuff the Jews are doing”, you just feel worried, even though you personally are not doing any horrible stuff and maybe they even have good reasons for phrasing it that way.

Then the next day you get in a business dispute with your neighbor. Maybe you loaned him some money and he doesn’t feel like paying you back. He tells you you’d better just give up, admit he is in the right, and apologize to him – because if the conflict escalated everyone would take his side because he is a Christian and you are a Jew. And everyone knows that Jews victimize Christians and are basically child-murdering Christ-killing economy-ruining atrocity-committing scum.

You have been boxed in by a serious of individually harmless but collectively dangerous statements. None of them individually referred to you – you weren’t murdering children or killing Christ or owning a bank. But they ended up getting you in the end anyway.

 

IV. Vaush

I haven’t bothered with Vaush for ages, because he is a piece of shit that loves doing this sort of thing. But someone who knows how strongly I feel about abortion linked me a Vaush video recently, so I had his crap in my eyeballs again for a few seconds, and now I’m here writing this.

The title says they want you to suffer. The title card has “They hate you” across the top. This is blatant blood libel. It’s as bad a Libs of TikTok, it’s as bad as the TERF anti-trans blood libel.

Don’t watch Vaush’s stuff. Don’t watch anything that says a large group of people want you to suffer, or want to murder babies, or want to rape children. It’s designed to derange you. It’s eliminationist rhetoric. If you see your parents watching this sort of thing, speak up. If you see your friends sharing this sort of thing, speak up.

We’re stuck in a Culture War right now. But even culture wars have culture War Crimes, and I prefer to stay aware of them and avoid them. Accounts that do nothing but stoke hate by amplifying worst-actors are in that category. One can do war-reporting without going to that extreme.

May 052022
 

She Who Became The Sun, by Shelley Parker-Chan

Synopsis:  A novelization of the rise of the Ming Dynasty, but the founding emperor is reimagined as a woman living in secret as a man.

Book Review: A fascinating read that focuses on the Will To Power, and sexual dynamics in a pre-modern society. The POV alternates between Zhu (the rising emperor) and Ouyang (a eunuch slave-turned-general with intense self-loathing issues).

1 – The Will To Power. The novel is a great dramatization of the kind of mindset that is required to do something as history-altering as becoming the founding emperor of a world power. There is never anything in Zhu’s mind that rivals the driving importance of securing her rise to greatness. The sheer, burning desire is overwhelming and awesome to behold. It is self-justifying, and it leads her to commit ever-increasing atrocities and sacrifice ever-greater parts of herself to this ambition. It does a great job of making one realize that the vast majority of us would never want to be the kind of person who could take over the world. That level of commitment and mono-focus is just too breaking.

Ouyang has a similar drive, although his Will To Power is in the pursuit of revenge. Watching his dedication is perhaps even more astounding than Zhu’s. His final sacrifice to achieve it is either absolutely inspiring or absolutely chilling, and I’m still not sure which. If someone were to seek revenge for my death, I think I’d want them to be like Ouyang — it’s crazy romantic in its tragedy. Goth turned up to 11, TBH. :)

2 – Sexual Dynamics. I love how many different angles this is attacked from. Most obviously, Zhu is a woman pretending to be a man, because a woman would never be allowed to be at the head of an army, and Zhu wants Power above all else. The vulnerability this creates — where a simple, irrelevant fact about you could be used to cripple you if your enemies knew it — really drives home how fucking stupid it is that this vulnerability exists at all. It is a vulnerability imposed entirely by social convention, and it’s a vulnerability that would cripple your own side, because it deprives your side of their best general and only your own side can enforce it! Madness!

But it doesn’t stop there.
The eunuch general is likewise fettered because he isn’t man enough (due to the castration, you see).
The straight, cis, younger brother of the Mongol Prince is even less of a man than the eunuch, due to focusing on “womanly” responsibilities like administration rather than war! Being a straight cis male is no defense in a patriarchy, you have to be an aggro warrior or it doesn’t count.
A very powerful woman is the defacto ruler of a wealthy province, everyone knows it and deals with her as basically an equal, but she has no formal power. She rules only because she picked a husband who is useless and doesn’t care to rule as long as he gets pussy and wine on tap. So while one can be great as a woman, one can only do so in specific unusual circumstances, and only if one has the personality that can tolerate a life with that sort of spouse. This is no way to run a government!

In contrast to all this is Mongol Prince.  He’s charismatic, attractive, a great warrior, kind, caring – basically a good-natured jock. He’s the epitome of positive masculinity, and he never realizes all the bullshit that all the non-jocks suffer through. Unfortunately as a kind-hearted doofus, he is exploited like hell by those who aren’t so naïve.

The past really sucked, guys.

On it’s face, this novel looks like it should be an absolute home-run with me. It explores a lot of fantastic themes, in a depressing world, filled with conflicted characters, and the writing is excellent! But somehow, it doesn’t really work. What happened?

First, it kinda cheated by calling itself a Fantasy novel. This is historical fiction. There is basically no Fantasy in it. The two brief intrusions of Fantasy aspects have no relevance and can be interpreted as delusion and/or removed entirely without changing the story. That’s OK I guess, I don’t mind historical fiction. I just feel like I was lied to, and I’m not sure why. Does historical fiction not sell well, or something? I think this would have been just as popular if it was labeled correctly.

But that’s a very minor gripe. Far more importantly — there is very little emotion in the novel. There is some great desperation at the beginning. The further into the novel we go, the more emotion drains out of it. There isn’t any emotional arc that any character goes through. Zhu keeps hitting us with desperation and will to power over and over, and it gets old. Ouyang keeps hitting us with self-loathing and resentment over and over, and it gets old. A good novel takes the reader on an emotional journey, IMO. This novel, while being historically fascinating, doesn’t have much else.

I kept having to remind myself “Hey, this is grimdark, these people are destroying themselves in pursuit of lost purposes, it’s exactly the kind of story I love!”, until eventually I wasn’t able to convince myself any longer. In a good grimdark/goth tale, we are allowed to ruminate on the darker emotions, and process them, and watch them transmogrify into other emotions. That’s Good Brooding! The plot elements that allow for Good Brooding are all here, but there is never any emotional payoff. There is never deeper twistings of the soul, or radical shifts, or whatever.

I think one of the most important functions of fiction is to allow an audience to feel emotions they don’t get enough of IRL. While exceptions exist, generally if a work of fiction doesn’t make me feel emotions, it’s failing it’s primary purpose. Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: There’s a fair bit to talk about here. All the themes I mentioned above provide good fodder for conversation. Furthermore, we felt the victory of New Insight Gained after spending a bit of time trying to figure out why, on paper, this looks awesome, but in practice none of us really liked it and we didn’t know why! Figuring out something like that feels good. It was also a heckin’ neat history lesson. And, as a Hugo nominee, it gets a bit of a bump for being of current interest. Recommended.

May 042022
 

Without DALL-E, this is the best I can do for a “waterfall of constitutions” image.

Roe v Wade was always a stop-gap. I’m glad we had it for as long as we did, it provided proof that abortion rights do no harm to a country, and actually make it stronger. But it is there to cover for the lack of abortion protections in the constitution. That grace period will soon be over.

Abortion rights should be protected by the law. These protections should be in the Constitution, to make them as durable as possible. They should, in fact, be in every country’s constitution, just like Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion should be.

Putting these protections into law for every person on Earth is both important, and currently impossible. It is an effort of generations. Putting these protections into law for American citizens is easier, maybe only a matter of years. But it is also difficult. Just like there are tens of millions of people in Iran who would literally take up arms to kill someone who tried to grant them freedom of religion, there are millions of people in Texas that will pay tremendous costs to stop someone trying to grant them abortion rights.

Fortunately, every state has its own constitution. California doesn’t need to invade Texas to protect its own citizens. Texas doesn’t need to invade California to ban abortions over there. Once Californians amend their constitution they will be safe within their own state, and will be free to begin (or continue) the work of slowly lifting anti-abortion communities out of their dark ages. We start with the fortresses we have, and we work outward from them.

It is possible there will always be a state or two with abortion bans, which the truely obstinate will retreat to. Much like it’s possible there will always be a few nations of theological absolutism, that the zealots can flock to and live in joyful misery. That’s a problem for a future day.

Today’s challenge is to secure abortion rights in your state. Get them in the constitution. Worry about other states after that.

Once that is done, help make others safe. Pre Civil War, some of the most meaningful good that a private citizen could do is helping slaves escape to free states. There is a similar importance in helping people escape to pro-abortion states. Per @yashkaf – “the best thing blue state democrats can do for abortion access is get rid of NIMBY zoning and occupational licensing so that poorer women can actually find jobs and move to blue states.”

If you live in a blue state, start removing obstacles to dense housing and employment.

May 022022
 

Unsurprisingly, it looks like the Supreme Court will strike down Roe v Wade.

The stop-gap Roe v Wade ruling was necessary for decades, as the US Congress got its shit together enough to realize how important and vital this right is to the existence of Western Civilization. Anyone who doesn’t want to cede our future to commies, religious fundamentalists, fascists, and authoritarians of all stripes, recognizes the primacy of full reproductive control all humans should have over their own geneline.

Abortion must be an option protected by the full force of the law, which any pregnant woman can choose at any point without question or pause.

We can no longer rely on the whims of the courts, or the executive, or congress. We must pass a Constitutional Amendment that enshrines the inalienable right to abortion for everyone within America’s borders. It is as vital a right for the continuation of Western Democracy as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and the right to bear arms.

The time is now. Don’t rest until it is done.

Apr 242022
 

I.

“How can you be good if you don’t have God?”

As a survivor of the Atheism Wars, I saw many minds ensnared by this. It was perhaps the most frequent common-sense objection to atheism. Religion had spent centuries entangling the concepts of “moral goodness” with “religion,” and it protected them like a nest of razorwire. To get anywhere, New Atheists first had to disentangle these two ideas, so that people could see they were separate things. This took emotionally-potent examples of Good Atheists, and of Evil Religionists, and logical demonstration of why this entanglement was invalid.

II.

The Regressive Right is snapping right back into Crush Free Speech mode as soon as it benefits them.

To quote Grossman: “A state changing business regulations for the explicit purpose of harming a specific company that made political expressions the Governor doesn’t like, with the Lt. Gov. promising to restore the regs if the company adjusts its speech, should have every 1A defender’s hair on fire.”

And yes, this is straight-up government censorship. From the link “In 1996 the Supreme Court decided a case called O’Hare Truck Service v. City of Northlake that is deeply instructive in the present moment […] If the government could deny a benefit to a person because of his constitutionally protected speech or associations, his exercise of those freedoms would in effect be penalized and inhibited.”

III.

For the past decade, the right wing in America has been painting itself as pro-free-speech. It is very easy for a group to pretend to be pro-free speech while it protects them. It’s entirely possible that the concepts of Freedom of Speech and Right Wing became entangled for some people. This sort of thing happened to me as well, although in my case it was the Left.

It can be a painful realization. A group fighting for something Good becomes equated with goodness in one’s worldview. When you find yourself opposed by that group, there is a deep confusion about what’s happened, and a fear that you are on the side of Evil. It can be a long and laborious process to figure out where the true value lies. Is virtue loved by God because it is good, or is virtue good because it is loved by God? Is Free Speech good because the Good Guys support it, or are these Guys good because they support Free Speech?

It is only after one has disentangled the principle one cares about (Free Speech) and identified is as the good thing, that one can judge whether a group is doing a good thing or not (by defending it, or suppressing it). At that point, you no longer need to know if a group is Good or Bad! You simply fight along side them when they are supporting a good thing, and fight against them when they are attacking the good thing.

Don’t be fooled into thinking a particular group are your allies just because you are both fighting on the same side of a particular battle. Your only true allies are those who care as much about what you are defending as you do.

IV.

I hate Disney as much as any other creative worker does. In large part due to how they’ve helped corrupt US copyright law. Nonetheless, the censorious attack by the Florida Republican party is a bad thing that should be opposed, even though it is targeting Disney. This doesn’t put me “on the side of Disney” any more than it puts me “on the side of Democrats.” I am on the side of Liberalism, as I always have been.

Apr 222022
 

Worth The Candle, by Alexander Wales

Synopsis:  A D&D nerd is warped into an RPG video game (maybe?) where he has to survive, level up, and figure out what the heck is going on.

Book Review: This is one of my favorite books ever.

I put off reading this for a long time, because it was Lit-RPG, and I thought Lit-RPG was embarrassing and self-indulgent and couldn’t be taken seriously. I eventually realized I was being a tremendous elitist prick, and I really hate elitist pricks, and I love everything else Alexander Wales has written, so I should at least give it a shot. I then did little else with my free time for the next few months as I read this non-stop, because I fell in love right away.

To start with, the protagonist is emotionally damaged from page 1 in a way that I love my protagonists to be. I like seeing people on the edge of falling apart. He’s also a total nerd, and the portrayal of nerdom here is authentic and perfect. He talks the way my people talk, and thinks the way they think. He is immersed in late 20-teens culture. He immediately recognizes the tropes of modern story telling and modern gaming. He uses the fact that he’s in a video game, and he knows it, to manipulate the world to good effect. He’s sarcastic, enthusiastic, jaded, and funny, in exactly the right proportions.

Wales himself, of course, continues to be a master of storytelling, making it impossible to stop turning pages.

But the thing that really draws me in, the thing that cements this as a book I’ll never forget, and which has prompted me to create a 100+ hour podcast about it, is that this story is extremely meta. Joon was a DM for his friends’ RPG group back on Earth. He knows a lot about storytelling, and the conventions of storytelling. When he realizes he’s within a video game, that comes with the knowledge that RPGs are story-driven video games. Worth The Candle is a story about a storyteller trapped inside someone else’s story, who knows that this is what’s happening. Between all the killing of zombies and daring escapes through sewers and rescuing of princesses, there is also a continuous commentary on the nature of story telling. What it means to be inside a story, and how this can be used to your advantage if you are the main character. What the purpose of a story is, and how that is reflected in the monsters/challenges he is being faced with.

And of course hanging over all this is the knowledge that we ourselves are reading a novel, and all such commentary reflects on the text we are reading as well. It’s not just exhilarating and funny, it’s also intellectual and meta as hell. Highly Recommended.

Book Club Review: Turns out, not everyone can relate to being an emotionally damaged teenage male nerd. I had assumed that the shared nerd culture of all the SF/F geeks in our book club would be enough, and that the intense meta-commentary aspects of the work would win over any stragglers. This was not the case. The protagonist can be rather unlikable at first. He has issues, and he’s not the outgoing, charismatic hero type. He’s the depressed, anxious teen that’s isolated himself by lashing out type. That, combined with the fact that Lit-RPG is actually still looked at with some prejudice, meant that half our book club didn’t like this at all, and didn’t stick it out through all 613 pages.

I think this is a shame, but it did serve as a check on my hubris. Just because I think something is great, doesn’t mean even half the SF-reading world will agree. So, a caveat with this one. If your book club has a bunch of people into internet pop culture, that are well-versed with gaming conventions and tropes, and doesn’t mind a broody teenager getting super-powers by Authorial Fait because that sounds cool, Definitely Recommended! But the online culture and gaming culture are strong requirements to enjoyment — if your group doesn’t have a decent chunk of that, Not Recommended.