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The Books I Read: March – April 2021

Somebody’s Gotta Do It: Because Civilization Won’t Save Itself and Other Truths about Democracy I Learned by Winning a Lowly Local Office by Adrienne Martini

I was honestly scared to read this because it talks so much about the dark times of 2016. That confident optimism (“oh, we’ll get our first woman president. No one will vote for this reality show clown who’s gone bankrupt three times.”) then shock is what provokes this book. Which is exactly why I wanted to read it. I get so frustrated reading tweet after tweet about the bad guys getting away with it, sowing discord and doubt, all to keep power and money, their secrets and sins.

We all have an opinion, but very few of us take action to accomplish it. Maybe because the only actions you can do at a citizen level are “donate money” and “spread awareness” and “contact your representatives”. Spreading awareness is worthless because it’s too easy–pressing a button to Tweet or Instagram or Tik-Tok involves no effort. And there’s only so much money I can donate. If I gave to all the charities and foundations and causes that ask for it, that say “giving money is the best thing you can do for us”, I’d have nothing left (coupled with the fact that if you give once, they bug you even more). And do you think Mitch McConnell reads a single letter he gets? He doesn’t give a shit about his people, only his party.

So the only way to make change is to get the power to make change. That means being in an elected position. I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t think about running for an office. But everyone does. Everyone thinks everything would be perfect if only they were in charge. I’ve discussed some politics and political science on this blog before, like the Bill and Bob billboards and other posts. So I read this to learn what running for local office in a basic suburb is like. Would it give me the kick in the pants I need? Would I be turned off from all the horrible ethics violations that happen even at low-level politics?

This book confirmed that I don’t have the personality for it. For one thing, you have to schmooze. Do a lot of door-to-door knocking and cold-calling. I’m cold, independent, used charisma as my dump stat, bad at talking off the cuff/improv, and I look funny. My brains are suitable for office, but I don’t have the personality to lead. I’d be better as an official’s assistant or speechwriter. I know that sounds egotistical, but that’s how I feel.

Anyway, none of this tells you about the book itself, except to say that it accomplishes what it sets out to do–tells you what it’s like to run for a community office in a small town. It’s not that hard, but also not that easy. This is about the way systems work, both the election process and the council chambers. The book is split into those two parts, with the second half going to great lengths to explain the limits on their power due to A) the way the system is set up (like that coroners are elected–you can’t fire an incompetent elected coroner) and B) the abilities and budget are determined by those in higher office than them.

But the author of this book is a good person who lays it out on the line. I was hoping for more stories of life after caucus. More stories and anecdotes, instead of dry explanations of what A, B, and C means. But I wish she was on my town council. I think, as far as local politics, the fact that you care enough to attempt to unseat an incumbent is enough to get my vote. The best politics happens when old dried blood is removed and fresh blood moves in. (That wasn’t meant to sound so vampiric.)

The Keep by F. Paul Wilson

A horror novel from the 1980s that’s not Stephen King. I didn’t think such a thing existed.

The introduction isn’t enticing, and it’s a product of its time. We start with a prologue containing characters that don’t show up again until the 33% mark. Every character, every building gets a physical description, especially when they don’t need one. They’re all 1940’s German — everyone’s going to look the same.

It’s okay. In the middle, it starts delivering the promise of the premise. The author avoids a sludgy middle by introducing new characters and some plot twists, as opposed to keeping the mystery boxes locked and stringing the reader along. It would make a pretty good movie–I love seeing Nazis killed in horrific ways by a monster, especially when most times the Nazis are the monster (Overlord, Dead Snow, Puppet Master, Hellboy).

Rule of Cool – Know Your Roll by Matthew Siege

After failing with Warlock: Reign of Blood, I was hoping this LitRPG would redeem the fledgling genre. I wanted it to succeed. Felicia Day was promoting it. It had a fun cover, fun goblins.

But boy is it overwritten. The content is fine. Entertaining. There’s just so much of it. I read for an hour and still wasn’t at any semblance of a goal or a problem to overcome. It takes place in a video game world, like Warlock: Reign of Blood, but either no one knows they’re in a video game or they accept it as normal. I can’t tell.

The irritating thing is the narrative or character thoughts that constantly interrupt the dialoge. There’s a tag or an action on every line, like an over-directed, over-produced Disney Channel Original Movie. Imagine if the camera held on every line so the actor could shift their eyebrows or purse their lips or make some snarky expression. Slows the pacing, doesn’t it? Overlengthens the content, doesn’t it? Ruins the flow, doesn’t it? There’s so much that I forgot what the point of the conversation was.

I ended up stopping at fifty percent. I tried, I really tried with this one. I wanted to like it, but every time I opened it up, I hated it and I hated myself. Life is too short for bad books.

The sad thing is this isn’t a bad book. The characters are great. The humor is great. But it suffers from two big flaws. One is that I have no idea what the stakes are. Something about a Smash and a Rift and a Raid and other Important Capitalized Things and it’s never made clear what the heroes are doing or why they’re doing it. The main character just falls into it, and her desire to be a hero with free will and powers is lukewarm at best. She makes quippy remarks and goes along the ride. If I don’t understand the protagonist’s problem, I can’t empathize. And if the protagonist doesn’t care about their own problem, I certainly won’t.

The second is these dice rolls. Certain interactions with objects or people are determined by Random Number Generators (that they can see?) that dictate whether something is accomplished or not, and how successfully it’s completed. This was in the other LitRPG book I read and I don’t understand the point of it. A) The author can engineer the roll to direct the story. Not like I can audit his work. B) The only narrative reason for a dice roll to determine fate is if you’re not in control of your body. And I’m pretty sure the characters in the book are, unless this is some genius metafictional post-literary intertextual approach that’s going over my head, but I doubt it.

In Dungeons and Dragons, the function of dice rolls is to add randomness to the narrative. This makes it exciting because it’s in the moment. No one knows if you’ll succeed or fail that desperate hit on a troll or convince the bad guy you’re just another guard or make that jump over the pit. That means quick change, improvisation, changing plans. That’s fun and exciting. But a book is prepared and preplanned. It’s linear and set in stone. So what’s the point? Success or failure is based on the character’s actions, not random chance. The author didn’t start writing, roll some dice, then go “uh oh, got a critical fail. Better think of something else.” Can you imagine if Captain Ahab threw a spear at Moby Dick and got a nat 20? Well, the book would be a lot shorter, so maybe it’s not all bad.

In the Woods by Tana French

It has a good introduction, creative imagery. The text is clever, smart. It’s all-around a five star book.

It’s going to sound weird, but what made me fall in love with the book was the sentences. They’re fantastic. Each one is well-constructed, but they always communicate new ideas. Things I hadn’t thought of before. There’re no attempts at trying to be The Dutch House or Where the Crawdads Sing.

My usual problem with “whydunits” is that the detectives don’t change. It would be wrong to say they are not character-based, but their fatal flaw is also why they’re such a good detective. Good whydunits have a dark turn, where the hero has to break their integrity/personal code/innocence to solve the case. The desire for justice is so strong, the detective has to decide how much they pay of themselves. And sometimes the detective can overpay and ruin the whole thing.

Anyway, my point is mysteries don’t have typical story protagonists. They are the same person from the beginning of the story to the end. This is why there are so many mystery series–the story changes but the main character doesn’t. He/she doesn’t get fixed, doesn’t learn anything. He/she already has all the tools to solve the problem (which is really someone else’s problem).

They are single solid archetypes–Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Sam Spade, Jessica Fletcher, Shawn Spencer, even the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Encyclopedia Brown is same person in book 1 as he is in book 237. Columbo is still a trenchcoated grumpy old man. Sherlock Holmes is still an asshole.

This is not that story. This is a story about a character. A character who wants something, who has a problem, and a need to learn a life lesson. In other words, not your typical mystery. Read it.

Mr. Sulu Grabbed My Ass, and Other Highlights from a Life in Comics, Novels, Television, Films and Video Games by Peter David

As wonderful and funny as anything written by Peter David, who is one of my famous authors. Unlike all my other favorite authors who are mainstream, Peter David is a name most don’t recognize in usual company. He’s written comic books, novels, and TV shows.

This is definitely a memoir, not a biography. It jumps around from memory to memory, telling stories, mostly of comics. I know David of novels and only a few comic trade paperbacks. He also tends not to name years, so it’s hard to tell the context of certain stories, when he’s writing The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, etc. and knowing the historical context of these events (cause it’s hard to gauge things pre Spider-verse or MCU). It’s best intended for fans of Marvel comics, conventions, and the science fiction fandom. There won’t be much about his writing style or creative process.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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