The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against The United States: A terrifying science fiction novel by an expert in nuclear nonproliferation, the 2020 Commission Report creates a vivid picture of a world where misunderstandings and recklessness result in the death of millions of people in a nuclear war. The format is very interesting: it’s written as a commission report similar to the 9/11 commission report, in which experts are told by Congress to figure out exactly what went wrong to make the nuclear war happen. The format creates suspense and allows for a lot of otherwise tedious infodumps. Up-to-the-minute news (several stories from 2018 are mentioned) creates a sense of realism. For the best effect, I recommend reading this one soon, before real life proves it wrong (one hopes).
Building the Benedict Option: In many ways, I am not the target audience for this book. If anything, I’m exactly the antitheist, queer, sex-positive social justice warrior that the Benedict Option is meant to separate itself from. As such, there’s a lot in here I disagree with. For example, while I agree with Libresco about the importance of alloparenting, many people who are not aunts and uncles can alloparent and many aunts and uncles have no interest in the task. As such, I find her claim that we should all have lots of children so that our children will have more alloparents baffling.
However, the death of community and the isolation of the nuclear family are things that I’m concerned about, and as such I’m interested in potential solutions. Building the Benedict Option is at its best when it’s gently encouraging the reader to practice the virtue of hospitality, making it feel attainable to invite friends over to a dinner party or take cookies to your neighbors. That is something we can all support.
Also, I liked the shoutouts to my friends. (Ray Arnold, you’re in a book!)
Starved for Science: I purchased this book before realizing it was published in 2008 and therefore is sadly out of date; however, I’m not sure how to get more up-to-date information about GMOs in Africa. Be aware that all information in this review is a decade out of date.
Starved for Science makes the case that agricultural science, particularly but not solely GMOs, is under-utilized in Africa, resulting in more famines and malnourishment than would otherwise occur. In developed countries, many people are skeptical of GMOs, in part because we are generally well-fed and most people hardly notice the few cents’ drop in price that results from the use of GMOs. (Notably, people in the developed world are fine with genetically modified drugs, because they do notice and care about a longer and healthier life.) If citizens of developed countries prefer to pay more money for food that they feel is more natural, even though it isn’t actually any healthier, that’s fine– people are allowed to care about dumb things.
Unfortunately, the fear of GMOs has also been exported to Africa, which desperately needs GMOs, for several reasons. African countries export to Europe, which is hysterical about GMOs, and are afraid that adoption of GMO technology would hurt their trade. Africa relies heavily on foreign aid, which at the time the book was written tended to underfund agricultural science and not to fund GMOs at all. Certain nonprofit groups have campaigned for strict regulations on GMOs in Africa and have misled African governments about the dangers of GMOs. Under pressure from developed countries, the UN has promoted very cautious regulatory schemes for GMOs, which have an outsize effect on African countries because they didn’t have any GMO regulatory scheme to begin with.
Women and Girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Autism in adults is underresearched, and autism in girls is underresearched, so combined it means that a lot of this book is like “here’s some anecdotes, we really hope that at some point someone is going to do some research on them.” (I continue to be confused about where that huge research budget for autism is going. They can’t be spending that much money on trying to give flies developmental disabilities.) Still, I think it’s worth attending to the fact that autism in women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB people) presents differently than autism in cis men.
Most of all, this book feels shallow to me. A chapter might say that autistic women and AFAB people are particularly likely to be LGBTQ, or that autistic mothers have a hard time with the expectation that they intuitively understand and feel strong emotions about their children, or that autistic women and AFAB people are likely to have “socially acceptable” special interests like boy band members or popular book series, or that autistic women often marry autistic men even if one or both is undiagnosed. But it rarely draws out the implications of these facts, explains what it is like to be an autistic woman/AFAB person, or provides advice either for the autistic female and AFAB readers or their loved ones.
While the book acknowledges the high rate of gender dysphoria among autistic people assigned female at birth, it repeatedly insists on referring to them as women, often in spite of their explicit self-identification.
Beating Back the Devil: I genuinely don’t understand why the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service isn’t a TV show. It would be amazing. It’s half cop show, half medical show. We follow a quirky team of surprisingly attractive epidemiologists as they investigate ripped-from-the-headlines epidemics and public health crises. Epidemiologists attached to a public health department actually do a bunch of different stuff, so you could totally realistically have them investigate West Nile spread by organ transfusions one week and track down which vegetables are making people sick the enxt. (There is generally one EIS officer per public health department, not a quirky and surprisingly attractive team, but we’d have to make concessions for television.) Once a season they’d investigate a terrorist attack. It would be great and then lots of people would want to become epidemiologists. Seriously, guys. I bet it would improve the world’s pandemic preparedness so much.
Anyway, this was a great book and I highly recommend it for people who want to read a suspenseful book about brave and hardworking epidemiologists investigating things.
These Beautiful Bones: A book about nonsexual implications of the Catholic theology of the body, which has as its primary thesis the idea that God wants you to act like an upper-middle-class person.
Consider the chapter on clothing. Of course, These Beautiful Bones opposes dressing in a sexualized fashion. (The author offers the opinion that wearing Daisy Dukes says that you have such low self-esteem that you see yourself as an object and want other people to see you as an object too. Personally, I think if you can’t be sexually attracted to someone and not see them as an object for your sexual gratification, that sounds like a personal problem.) To their credit, however, the author mostly discusses nonsexual ethics of clothing. To their detriment, the author’s primary opinion is that these overly casual modernists should dress up nicely for church and stop wearing blue jeans to work.
The moral issue of spending too much money on clothes is never addressed. Indeed, the author implies it is virtuous to spend more money on clothes, since nice clothes are expensive and it costs more to have clothes for several different levels of formality. Nowhere does the author mention not showing off one’s wealth, despite the fact that this is literally the only modesty issue ever addressed in the Bible (1 Timothy 2:9). Being anti-consumerist is briefly mentioned, but the author definitely leaves open the interpretation that it’s okay to spend a bunch of money on clothes as long as you don’t have labels all over the place.
The whole book is like this.
(To be clear, I think that buying nice clothes can be a moral thing to do: dressing unprofessionally and losing your job is not exactly helping anyone. I think people should donate a sustainable percentage of their income, and part of sustainability is having an entertainment budget. Choosing to spend your entertainment budget on clothes is okay, just like spending it on movie tickets or restaurant meals or a vacation is okay. I am strongly opposed to the idea that wearing nice clothes in general is more ethical than wearing cheap clothes in general. I am also strongly opposed to bad Biblical interpretation, and I think the clear and consistent message of the Bible is that you should sell all you have and give it to the poor.)
[The next three reviews are of porn books.]
Show Yourself to Me: Queer Kink Erotica: Some of the stories are very hot, particularly if you’re interested in trans people, knives, Daddy/boy play, or boots/feet. I’m three out of four, so I enjoyed it a lot. Unfortunately, I kept being thrown out of the stories by the author’s conspicuous social justice politics. I don’t want to hear about how the thing that Alice found really attractive about Bob was his commitment to constant affirmative consent, nor am I particularly interested in being told that the characters all accommodate each other’s disabilities. Show, don’t tell, Jesus.
In addition, many of the stories are far too short for my taste. Just when I’m getting into the swing of things the story ends.
The Slave: The Marketplace series is a BDSM porn series focused on a subculture in which wealthy people actually buy and sell slaves, all of whom are people who have enthusiastically consented to being bought and sold. Each book focuses on a few slave or slaves as they go through the process of being trained and sold. If it sounds like your thing, it probably is.
Characterization is the strongest point of the series. Each slave has a unique personality, strengths, and weaknesses, and their training is customized for them as an individual; you find yourself rooting for the slaves to succeed at their training and even skipping past sex scenes so you can find out whether they end up okay. Robin, the protagonist of The Slave, is no exception.
The Slave is probably an ideal entry point for heterosexual male readers, because Robin is female and present in all the sex scenes, and all the other books have a lot of gay male sex along with the straight and lesbian sex.
Chris Parker, the slave trainer and series protagonist, is probably my single favorite pornographic representation of a trans man. The author clearly put significant thought into how his gender dysphoria affects his sex life, creating a realistic and very sexy depiction of transmasculine sexuality.
The bonus short story at the end is one of my favorite Marketplace pieces: Robin is dressed as a boy in order to serve as a bootblack at a gay male orgy, and winds up getting fucked while still in drag.
The Trainer: By far my least favorite book in the Marketplace series. The author makes the puzzling decision to have the viewpoint character be a slave trainer who thinks slavery is all about sex and who orders a bunch of domestic slaves he’s supposed to be training to have sex with him. Naturally, this means I spend every sex scene for the first four-fifths of the book dying of secondhand embarrassment. Secondhand embarrassment is not hot.
Only worth reading if The Slave made you a hardcore Robin/Chris shipper, as there is some excellent Robin/Chris content.