embrodski

May 282022
 

It seems there is confusion as to what “woke” means.

 

I. What Woke Isn’t

It was said to me “No other movement made efforts to understand the danger of being out as queer or trans, or the discomfort of being racialized; no other movement made any effort to make spaces safer or more comfortable for us.”

I was asked to consider “if something needs to be built to replace it in order to further egalitarian human flourishing”

Initially I assumed that these comments came from a very young person in a very regressive country (or area of the US), who literally did not know about the civil rights movements that existed prior to 2012-ish. Upon further consideration, though, it is plausible that such a belief could come from the idea that wokeism is just another term for the liberal civil rights movement. It would be a much better world if this was true, but sadly we need the word “woke” to differentiate a new movement from the liberal civil rights movement.

The liberal civil rights movement is predicated on the idea that all people should be treated without discrimination or prejudice based on immutable characteristics. People should be treated as individuals, and judged on what they actually do. Not treated as instantiations of a group’s stereotypes. “Content of our character rather than color of our skin” kinda stuff. This is the movement that not only understood the dangers of being gay/non-white, but actually created the changes in the world that made the US significantly safer and fairer for such people.

Also, they’re still around, so unless one is living in a benighted country, there are already institutions dedicated to further egalitarian human flourishing that aren’t burdened by the rot of wokeness.

 

II. What Woke Is

I try to keep my definition of “Woke” as simple as possible, to avoid distractions. To me, Wokeness is the ideology that teaches that:

1. All humans have recognizable immutable characteristics – things like sex, race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity.

2. These characteristics are the most important defining facts about most people.

3. People should be treated differently based on these characteristics. Specifically, women are to be accommodated over and protected from men, racial & ethnic minorities from majorities, gays from straights, and trans from cis.

 

III. Differences from Liberalism

This interacts with liberalism in some interesting ways. First of all, #1 is simply a physical reality. Can’t nobody argue with that.

And #3 is basically the traditional Liberal Civil Rights agenda (which may be the cause of the confusion).

The difference is in #2. The liberal civil rights movement holds that the immutable characteristics identified in #1 are basically meaningless noise. Knowing those characteristics about someone gives you almost no information about that person*. They should be ignored and treated as non-issues in all but the most extreme cases. The civil rights movement recognized that many official policies (as well as personal opinions) did NOT treat these characteristics as value-neutral. Therefore, they advocated for policy that would protect people with minority characteristics from the prejudice of others. They were often successful in this, and mostly this improved the world.

Wokeness takes the opposite view. They believe a person’s immutale characteristics are extremely important. Crucially, they allow you to rank people on a scale from Oppressed to Oppressor. Official policy should be to punish the Oppressors and recompence the Oppressed. To strive to eliminate bias and prejudice is actually a bad thing, because that would leave the Oppressors un-punished, and the Oppressed un-avenged.

 

IV. Ramifications

In the end, wokeness is mostly just people’s natural tendency to hate an outgroup and enrich thier ingroup finding a new outlet. Some humans will always have this need, and it was clever of them to hide it under an aegis of righteousness. Unfortunately, this is having some massive fallout for liberal society.

The majority of both liberals and conservatives are moderate, and yet believe that most people of the opposite persuasion are extremists. It is a disaster that liberals in the United States are being represented by a very vocal extremist fringe. Everyone not belonging to this fringe can see that it is rife with bigotry, even if they can’t say that out loud, and they are moving away from it. Some of them are leaving the Democratic party entirely.

This results in the Right Wing of American politics gaining more power relative to the Left Wing. Having fewer people on the left wing means the right increases as a percentage in a system where only two parties have any significant power.

This is already causing harm to the groups traditionally defended by liberals. Enough institutions have been captured by wokeism that turning this around is going to take a lot of effort and at least a few years.

There is a significant cohort that seeks to slow the growing renunciations by accusing anyone who leaves the extremist left of being “racists” and “rightists” and even “Nazis.” (Despite the fact that the liberals are leaving because of the wokes’ bigotry). They can see that the right is gaining power, and blame those who are leaving their ranks with the “If you aren’t with me, I will treat you as my enemy” tactic. The primary result of this is to push everyone who isn’t in the extreme-left even further away.

(The insane overreach by the Right wing in response is the only thing that’s keeping the Left from crumbling entirely)

 

V. But…. Religion?

Oh, yeah, I compared wokeism to religion, that’s what started all this. That’s a deeper kettle of fish, due to the specific way wokeism has played out in the US. I first wanted to get out my core objection to wokeism, since it seemed there was a basic confusion as to what was even being discussed. Wokeism as a para-religious memeplex coming up in the next few days.


*  –  This is actually wrong, but it’s an order of magnitude less wrong than the woke position that they are of overriding importance.

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

May 272022
 

For those following along, Lackey posted an “apology” which was basically not an apology. It also quoted Delany (the author she refered to as “colored”) replying to the kerfuffle saying he was cool with the word. I applaud her decision to pretend to apologize without actually doing so. :)

Also, I am aware that she claimed cancel culture doesn’t exist a few years ago. I still feel sympathy for her. It can be very hard to keep up as you get older. You lose touch with the zeitgeist, your faculties slow, and it’s easy to get confused. When the people you trust are lying to you and creating a false world for you to inhabit, I don’t feel you can be held entirely responsible for repeating what they’ve told you. The main reason I consider what SFWA has done to be so shameful is because she IS old and declining. :(

In addition, when the epistemic enviroment is hostile (as it is in America) and the elites you used to trust are earnestly repeating lies (which they are), it can take a while to realize this is happening. I was woke for many years myself. I, too, mocked the unenlightened. It wasn’t until I saw just a bit too much stupidity and cruelty, started pushing back against it, and then found myself cancelled for this heresy, that I realized the anti-SJWs (the term “woke” wasn’t popular at the time) had been on to something. You often don’t realize they’re gunning for you until you’re starting down the barrel of the gun (metaphorically).

So, sure, it feels good to say “Hey, if you lie with wolves, don’t be surprised when they turn on you.” But it’s not uncommon for people to not realize that the mob around them are the wolves. They make very convincing sheep noises, after all.

 


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

May 242022
 

SFWA cancelling Mercedes Lackey is disgusting and shameful. But I had assumed Lackey wouldn’t be notably harmed personally. She’s established and has her fan base, after all.

Turns out I was wrong. I forgot not everyone is jaded internet denizens like ourselves. Some people are old and vulnerable and don’t understand that the internet is a hive of scum and villainy that doesn’t really matter 🙁

The whole thread is devestating


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

May 222022
 

Mercedes Lackey is a grand dame of Fantasy fiction. She’s published over 140 novels, and might be one of the most prolific professional SF/F authors of all time. She’s of an older generation of writers as well. Born in 1950, she’s over 70 years old at the time of this publishing.

SFWA is the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. They are the trade organization that represents authors interests in the publishing industry. They host an annual conference, and at that conference also give out one of the most prestigous annual SF/F writing awards. They have also succumed to woke capture, several years back.

Yesterday, at the annual SFWA conference, Lackey was on a virtual panel. The panel was “Romancing Sci-Fi & Fantasy.” Lackey praised Samuel R. Delany, a revered grandmaster of SF/F. She refered to him as “colored.” The panel continued without incident.

Afterwards, SFWA removed the panel from the internet. They censured Lackey, kicked her out of the conference, and removed her from all the other panels she was scheduled for. They are having further discussions as to what to do next, including possibly re-running the full panel without Lackey.

Lackey obviously meant no harm. She is older, and likely was confused by the changing lingo, and mixed up the “colored” of her youth with the “of color” that is the standard now.

This confusion is intentional. Woke is the new cool. The whole point of rapidly changing language is to make sure that the old and out-of-touch can’t keep up. That’s how you can tell who’s cool. It would certainly be a travisty if Lackey was still cool.

But it’s spiteful and ugly to expel and shame someone for not being cool. Especially when that someone is a revered elder of your tribe. SFWA has done a disgusting thing here, and they likely won’t acknowledge it for several years (if ever).

Lackey will probably be asked to grovel and beg forgiveness, and won’t be readmitted into the cool kids club even if she does so. Meanwhile, the grieving and shaking cool kids continue to claim that Lackey’s misstep is “illustrative of the power differentials at play in SFF,” bemoaning how powerful Lackey is, and how oppressed they are. Despite the fact that they had one of the most powerful SF/F organizations in the country excommunicate a famous author in a matter of hours for a trivial mistake.

At least I can take solace in the fact that cancel culture isn’t real.


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

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 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.

(note: This is a pinned post. There’s newer posts below it.)

 

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.