Review (Non-Fiction): In Sheep’s Clothing

BookDepository.com - In Sheep's Clothing by George K Simon

Kinda wierd reason for reading this book – in various lockdown impulse buys I’d picked up a few books about manipulation and many of them referenced this book, so I figured one last read on the topic!

In my opinion, In Sheep’s Clothing started off kinda poorly with a little too much focus on categorization of personality disorders, which can be important but mostly just creating too many confusing categories that ultimately did not add anything to the later 2/3 of the book.

That said the following sections which included case studies, specific examples and a conclusion with useful advice for responding to and managing manipulation – was really useful and insightful. What I particularly appreciated was not a focus on winning or beating other people but actually managing challenges in a respectful self-protective way.

Being a relatively short book – it is actually an overall pretty useful read in terms of insights, and possible story ideas if looking for character inspiration too?

Review: Midnight Library

The Midnight Library by Haig, Matt (9781786892737) | BrownsBfS

I jumped into Midnight Library as a book club recommendation with zero expectations – and I must say I really was quite happy with the experience of reading this book.

At first I confess the opening pages did not seem as uplifting as promised, however needn’t have worried! The story is challenging, and at times deeply sad, but ultimately will not destroy anyone’s sanity (I hope)

What I think I like best about Midnight Library is the premise is presented as somewhat fantasical, and could very easily fall off the rails of believability, yet somehow Haig manages to pen quite a grounded story around a far out idea. It’s often the hallmark of brilliant writing when you pick up a book and immediately feel you are where the character(s) are.

MILD SPOILERS

I did have a couple of wierd thoughts about the story the book. As Nora explores parrallell universes I couldn’t help but recall some psychology studies that show that people do tend to be specific in their regrets, in that after an adverse event we’ll often ruminate on tiny changes close to the event that could have changed it, we often don’t ‘go wide’ e.g. after a fender-bender we fantasize about tapping the breaks a little earlier, not something like leaving home earlier that day which would have definitely avoided the accident. But the point is the story of Midnight Library kind of catches that thinking as Nora explores further and further into different lives.

Another odd thought is I was reminded a litte of Rick and Morty which is obviously not grounded, but I did have a moment where I wondered if Nora woudl stumble on a more bizzaro parrellel universe.

One final thought – and this is very much a commentary NOT a criticism, but I did find that I am probably a key audience member of Midnight library being the same age as Nora and finding her at times gloomy/nihilisitc thinking relatable. But I did consider that there is an element of entitlement or priviledge to the story of Midnight Library. I couldn’t help but imagine a similar tale but for someone more disadvantaged or whose struggles were more inflicted upon them rather than having a book of regrets. As said I don’t say this as criticism, and obviously the story is specifically about the nature of regret not a literal journey through parrallel universes, it was just a thought I had while reading.

All in all, Midnight Library is a great read – bit of a mid-life crisis type book which is OK. 5 stars

(Discworld Reread) Equal Rites

The Annotated Pratchett File v9.0 - Equal Rites

Actually finished this a month or two ago but its taken a while for me to get off my butt to review it…

Equal Rites is an interesting one – being the 3rd book of the Discworld and the introduction of Nanny Ogg, one of the more standout characters of the Discworld. I’d only read this book once before embarking on my re-read-thru.

The first thing that strikes about Equal Rites is the that the story is much more ‘grounded’ than Colour of Magic and Light Fantastic, or more specifically has a narrower focus on the main characters, and while having a bit of a journey there really are just two settings of note, and (hopefully obliviously) the social commentary is much more pointed.

In Equal Rites you can really see the refinement of Prachett’s ability to write phenomanal fantasy, while still not dropping the humour. There are scenes where you could almost forget that you’re reading a form of satire and are actually in the middle of a classic fantasy novel.

Couple of quibbles. Equal Rites is strangely short. I’m not sure if there is a specific reason for this, such as a publisher demand, or a creative decision to keep the story streamlined. It does feel a little like a let-down in that there is an amazing build-up of both magical and socialogical tension and the 3rd act is relatively rushed and resolved faster than the more elaborate novels to come.

Just a note on the message of Equal Rites – for those unaware its basically about a girl destined to be a wizard in a world where girls = witches and boys = wizards. Pratchett is a master of tangling and untangling the issues into a non-preachy story, this is done through a cunning use of character to communicate prejudice and change. Rather than having a polemic type setup where characters tend towards a black-and-white opinion about equal rights, the characters of the book are varied and conflicted even within themselves. No-one preaches (well not much) and no-one is perfect, all the characters struggle and the issue is addressed through this conflict.

Strangely enough I think this book is still pretty relevant today as the fantasy genre continues to have controversy and discussion attached (e.g. see the Will Smith Netflix Movie: Shine) and Pratchett provides a master class in how to address the world through fiction with humour and power.

Review: Scary Smart, Mo Gawdat

Scary Smart

I literally just put this book down, and honestly I usually let both fiction and non-fiction percolate for a while before pushing my review out. However, for Scary Smart I find myself already typing away to make sense of this crazy/insightful piece immediately.

First of, I think the book was a little different to expectations. I guess I expected a more technical book, a review of AI and practical issues relating to them. Gawdat provides us with something quite different, a radical and philosophical take on AI which is just as much about us and society as it is about computers.

In some respects the overall thesis is quite simple – the AI that we create will reflect the society that creates them, so we better stick to some decent values, be loving and kind and generally not be a garbage fire.

That said the complexities of the thesis are quite hard to digest – I did have to laugh there are elements of of this book that feel a lot like that meme/joke from a while back “I for one welcome our robot overlords” as Gawdat talks about the future (or current) AIs that are reading the book, and making sure that we tell our programmes we love them.

Bear in mind this thesis is built up to after a fair dose of caution, in fact the majority of the book si the “Scary” part where Gawdat explains the concerns and worries of AI pointing out where we can go drastically wrong, and explaining some inevitable dystopias. (to be honest my main gripe of the book is that I would have enjoyed much more material on the potential dark futures of AI then was presented)

As mentioned Scary Smart isn’t particularly technical, but there is a surprising amount of detailed information tucked into the book so someone looking for knowledge wouldn’t be disappointed (it’s not all a thesis on lurve), although I confess now I’m hankering for more AI books and Scart Smart does provide ample references.

Overall I suspect that Scary Smart might be a bit much for some – not so much in the scary but in the philosophizing, however in terms of reading something a little different, that challenges one to do and be better and providing unique perspectives you couldn’t go better.

(to be 100% honest AI is an area of interest for my writing and this book was totally aweomse in providing inspiration and insight so I really couldn’t fault it one bit)

Spoilerly Review: Midnight Mass

I seriously need to get back into writing something so figured I’d do a piece on Midnight Mass:

Midnight Mass is awesome and thoughtful and terrifying ...

So just in case the rock you’re living under doesn’t have Netflix – Midnight Mass is the latest from a popular horror creator Mike Flanagan. The story is almost exclusively set on Crockett(?) a severely isolated island somewhere in the US, well designed to be simultaeously modern and isolated and somewhat backwater too.

The overall feel is very much Stephen King’s Salem Lot, in fact there are more than a few parrallells (main characters with a driving charge, gossipy small town, flames) however the odd twist is that the vampire is (willfully) misinterpretted as an angel and we see the bizarre effect of essentially cult formation alongside the spreading supernatural infection.

In the beginning the show does start a little slow but this is used well to weave character themes of guilt and forgiveness throughout the tale rather than making it purely a bloody slaughter fest. Some of the best parts of the show are small character moments where deserving characters get redeemed or shamed as appropriate, its quite a weird juxtaposition to have reasonably deep character moments among mass supernatural violence. Also for all the horror shows I’ve seen Midnight Mass might be the only one that actually kind of addressing ‘realistic’ responses to a supernatural situation, in the sense that there is a wide range of the populations reactions, some people are traumatized, others radicalized, others resistant or conflicted.

There were a couple of gripes, the chief vamp was as little inconsistent, I enjoyed how they added a plot point that it was kinda oblivious to injury to the point it ignored attack but it was kinda written both as evil mastermind and instinctual animal at once.

Anywho defo a much watch for horror fans, and a decent one at that!