Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Review: Alphabet Squadron

Alphabet Squadron (Star Wars)Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found the book a little tough to get into at first. There were several story lines that one knew would ultimately connect, but the way the author moved between them made it harder to get a feel for the story and characters. It took a long time to get a sense of these characters, and even by the end of the book, the connection I felt for them was not as deep as it should have been. But as the book progress, the storylines come together and the overall story gets tighter and more engaging.

This is a war story; it is about what war does to the people fighting it. Wars are messy, and it messes people, even good people, up. All the characters struggle with the effects of the war, and do so in different ways. This makes it a very different kind of Star Wars story. There’s no Luke Skywalker saving the day. This has pros and cons: it can be much richer of a tale, but it also can veer towards a kind of moral grayness. Alphabet Squadron doesn’t go that far: the good guys and bad guys are still distinguishable. Yes, the good guys have warts and the bad guys are not completely monstrous, but there is no question that the Emperor was evil, the deeds of the Empire were often monstrous, and the rebellion for all its faults was still a force for good. What allows the book to avoid falling into the bankrupt trap of moral grayness is that the people make choices and end up where they (and who they are) because of their choices and values.

Seeing Hera Syndulla again is a treat; though I think they could have done more with her (and maybe the trilogy will). I don’t mind the Force not being central, but I do think Star Wars needs the Force to play some role. And that was missing here. Maybe the full trilogy will bring it in.

I am looking forward to seeing where the trilogy goes.



View all my reviews

Monday, February 08, 2021

Review: The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch

The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to WatchThe Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch by Jonathan Gottschall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a really interesting and engaging book. Gottschall intertwines his personal journal into and through amateur MMA with research on evolutional psychology, anthropology, sociology, and history. He explores the history of fighting and violence in human societies and in animals and develops some intriguing theories about why people continue to fight and are drawn to fighting.

The book obviously treads into some contentious (and these days dangerous) waters about gender and culture. I think the author handles these issues relatively well. He presents his reasons and evidence for this take and how he sees his interpretation of these issues connecting with the discussion of violence and fighting. If you disagree with his interpretations (and there are definitely things to take issue with), you won’t likely agree with his conclusions, but even so there is still a lot to learn about from the book. The storytelling itself is engaging: Gottschall’s own experiences as both confirmation and disconfirmation of things he is hard learned from the research is compelling. You can see that he had certain ideas about fighting and violence, that were challenged by the research and his experiences and that he comes through experience with new or modified ideas.

His broadest take is that the violence we see in things like MMA, but across the board in sports and life, are often linked to some deep, evolutionary need for duels: ritualized fighting and experience of danger. There are psychological needs met by these experience of preparing one’s self for violence but also in engaging in the violence. He argues you can see this across human cultures, but deep into the animal kingdom as well. He also argues that this is much more tied to the males of species; though not exclusively.

The argument for these claims, ultimately, needs to be a lot better and tighter than what is presented here. In a sweeping way, there are many interesting connections he identifies and shares; and I think there is general sense in which Gottschall is capturing a good chunk of the picture. Yet, the devil is in the details, as the clich├ęd saying goes, and there isn’t a lot on the details here (which is fine—since this is not scientific treatise on the subject. It’s memoir of Gottschall’s experiences and connection to his research on these issues).

As a philosopher of sport, the sections specifically focused on sport were interesting to me. There isn’t, unfortunately, any engagement with the work on dangerous and violent sport in the philosophy of sport, and that was disappointing. I think Gottschall and the book could have benefited from that work.

I listened to the book, and the narrator, Quincy Dunn Baker, was excellent. He played no small part in my enjoyment of the book. Overall, the book is worth a look and offers a lot to think about.


View all my reviews