Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Review: Star Wars: Visions - Ronin

Star Wars: Visions - RoninStar Wars: Visions - Ronin by Emma Mieko Candon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sadly, this book was a disappointment. I love the anime short it was based on, "The Duel". It was my favorite of the Star Wars: Visions shorts. And the idea of a more full-throated re-imagining of Star Wars in the context of a Japanese influenced tropes, images, and mythos was exciting. Star Wars itself was influenced by these and the idea of returning the favor was an excellent idea. I was really excited for this book. However, the execution falls short. There are interesting characters and settings, but the flow of the plot and the development of the characters and their motivations was not what it needed to be. I found myself rereading sections several times because I wasn't sure what was going on or why something was happening: it frequently felt like I missed some important piece of action. The individuals character were each compelling on their own, but their motivations for what they were doing and why they were doing it together was never clear enough. And I still don't quite understand the ending.

The way Candon handles the force, the Jedi, the Sith has a lot of potential; but it ended up being more confusing than insightful. The author's use of the singular they/them for the non-binary character could be confusing. There were several times I had to reread the paragraph because it wasn't clear if the pronoun's antecedent was the non-binary character or the group.

There was a lot of potential; lots of good ideas worth exploring and developing, but unfortunately it just didn't come together.

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Saturday, March 18, 2023

Review: The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

The Swerve: How the World Became ModernThe Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Greenblatt’s The Swerve purports to explain how Epicureanism, in the form of Lucretius’ great poem, De Rerum Natura, created the modern world. This overstates, however, both the impact that Lucretius’ rediscover probably had as well as what Greenblatt actually shows. Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful book.

It is far more about the intellectual and theological world of the 15th and 16th centuries than it is about anything else. This is not the book to turn to in order to learn Epicurean philosophy, though Greenblatt provides a adequate sketch. The claims made about Epicurean influence on the early modern thinkers are interesting and provoking, but all together to thin. Lucretius’ work obviously had an influence and was important in helping to shape the thought of this period; but the extent of it is less clear. That is, Greenblatt is not able to make the counterfactual claim that had Poggio Bracciolini not found the manuscript in the early 15th century, the course of history would have been all that different. That said, it was discovered and did influence thinkers such as Giordano Bruno, Galilee, and Jefferson, among many others.

What makes this book so wonderful, though, is the tale Greenblatt weaves. His narrative explains how the ancient works found their ways into monasteries, how and why they were copied, and how they were lost. And then, of course, how they were rediscovered by likes of Bracciolini and other humanists. Greenblatt ends the book with discussions of how the Church responded to the growing influence of the work. As Greenblatt tells it, the Church saw Epicureanism as a particularly threat, in a way it didn’t see the other ancient others. The physics of Epicureanism as presented in Lucretius’ beautiful lines of poetry seemed to them utterly incompatible with Church dogma and thus merited special attention. So, while Aristotle, Plato, and the Stoics could all be made to fit in some way, Lucretius’ poem was stubbornly indigestible by Christian theology. Greenblatt doesn’t come right and out and say it, but I think he sees this utter inconsonance with Christianity as why it is the set of ideas so central to the making of the modern world.

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Monday, March 13, 2023

Review: Infinite Baseball: Notes from a Philosopher at the Ballpark

Infinite Baseball: Notes from a Philosopher at the BallparkInfinite Baseball: Notes from a Philosopher at the Ballpark by Alva Noƫ
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On one hand, I really rather enjoyed this book. The chapters are short and pithy. Noe’s musings about baseball are thought-provoking; and his love of baseball shines through out. His idea that baseball is all about deciding who’s responsible for what, left me thinking about baseball from a new perspective. The relation of baseball to language and linguistics was intriguing. Anyone interested in baseball will find the book charming.

On the other hand, I found myself annoyed and disappointed at times with the book. Clearly aware of the philosophy of sport literature, the author makes almost no mention or reference to it. So many of the topics he dives into he treats as novel and original, as if he’s the first to consider these topics philosophically, when they are well-trodden in the literature. Noe has some interesting insights, but these too could have been better had he engaged with the writings by philosophers of sport.

Noe is explicit that he’s not trying to write a philosophy of sport book; that his is more the musings of a philosopher obsessed with baseball. And there is much in the book that fits this vein. But much of the book is also engaged in philosophical analysis of arguments about topics central to sport. As such, it is, necessarily, a work in philosophy of sport. And on that front, one has to grade it down a bit because it doesn’t enter the dialogue where those conversations are taking place. To strain the metaphor, he’s swinging the bat, but not stepping into the batter’s box to face the pitcher.

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Friday, March 03, 2023

Review: The Closers

The Closers (Harry Bosch, #11; Harry Bosch Universe, #14)The Closers by Michael Connelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gripping and engaging as always. Bosch is back on the job, working cold cases now. I like he and Kiz together as partners. Connelly's plotting is superb.

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