and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself-The Lesson of the Moth, Don Marquis
Written by Kevin Dutton, a research psychologist at the University of Cambridge, The Widsom of Psychopaths sports an interesting premise.
For the most part, we tend to think of psychopaths as ruthless killers from whom we will do better to abstain engaging with; however, Kevin proposes a different perspective, perhaps there are some keys characteristics described as 'psychopathic tendencies' that, went present in the right amounts in someone's personality, can actually prove beneficial to their success in society.
The book doesn't shy away from citing plenty of studies, and at times getting technical in order to make its arguments. It delves into topis such as how Psychopaths detect weakness in others, how they process emotions and how they might affect or not their decision making, how the react under extreme pressure circumstances.
Comparing psychopaths to Saints, or monks, is not something that I had thought about before, seeing how they fare in terms of similarities is amusing to say the least, as the book argues that a Saint is more along the lines of a functional psychopath rather than the complete opposite of one. The Stoic philosophy also makes a short appearance when discussing this topic.
Dutton likes to make us of moral dilemmas, and many fascinating anecdotes to point out how the reasoning of psychopath might differ from the one of a regular person (You can find an example of the kind of dilemmas used in the subscriber section).
That being said, some paragraphs feel longer than they should be, and I found myself losing track of the reading at times, the book definitely could have made use of further editing before being released. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if some readers find the book a bit too gruesome, specially in regards to the descriptions of crimes committed by infamous psychopaths which, although included sparingly, do need to come up when discussing psychopathy.
Overall, The Wisdom of Psychopaths does a good job of presenting interesting facts about psychopathy and highlighting how some psychopathic qualities could be be useful if present in controlled amounts. If you would like to read more books on this subject, I suggest you give The Psychopath Inside by James Fallon a check.
You can find the rest of my reviews here. Coil subscribers can continue reading for some noteworthy quotes from the book.
The reason you're reading this book is that I did a dangerous thing for a man in my position: I decided to tell the truth.
I bought this book on a whim a few weeks back, when the world was a nice place and I didn't have to spend 99% of my time inside my apartment, don't get me wrong, I still spent 99% of my time inside my apartment then, but I didn't have to. The upside is that I have had more time to catch up on my reading since this quarantine started.
Permanent Record by Edward Snowden is a pretty good memoir, one that doesn't have any new information regarding the surveillance system that was put in place, and which Edward Snowden helped to reveal. Instead, you get to know him as a person, hearing recollections from his childhood, the ranking up at his jobs in the US government, what these institutions were working on while he was there, and how he ended up in Russia during the aftermath of his acts.
The stories that Snowden shares in this book really help put into perspective how Information Security and surveillance tactics have evolved the past few years. More importantly, you get a deeper insight into his moral code, the reason why he decided to raise his voice and denounce what was happening even if it meant going into exile and, most likely, living the rest of his days as a traitor.
Overall Permanent Record is an easy read, specially for the subjects at hand, and provides a fascinating account of the inner workings of the CIA. It also serves as a good reminder of the importance of safeguarding our privacy. This last point is actually one of the main reasons I'm excited about a monetization scheme like Coil's where you get to support the sites that you use without them having to rely on exploiting your data.
You can find the rest of my reviews here. As usual, Coil subscribers get a little extra
You believe someone not because you have no doubts about them. Belief is not the absence of doubt. You believe someone because you don’t have enough doubts about them.
Talking to Strangers by Malcom Gladwell took me a bit by surprise, it delved into a lot of topics that I wasn't expecting it to touch. Just to be clear, this is not a book that will teach you how to talk with people you don't know, instead this book is about the mistakes we make when trying to judge character and honesty in strangers, and equally important, to show us the effect this mistakes can have in our lives.
The example chosen by Gladwell are pretty successful in drawing you in, from the spies used by Cuba to infiltrate the USA, Hitler's charm, police brutality, to recent sexual abuse scandals that shocked the world. Some people may find the skepticism used while narrating the events a bit distasteful but it usually does a good job of illustrating Malcolm's point without deviating too much from the narrative.
One of the key takeaways from the book is our tendency to what Malcolm calls 'default to truth', meaning, we tend to start by believing others, and only stop after our doubts reach up to a point where they can no longer be explained away.
While I don't agree with all the interpretations provided in this book (something I expect to be true for most people who read it), I think they do a good job of providing different perspectives, showing our general lack of skill while judging strangers, and opening debate on difficult topics.
You can find the rest of my reviews here. Coil subscribers can continue reading for some interesting quotes from the book:
The Handmaid's Tale is an acclaimed dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood. Now, I had been looking for a good dystopian novel for quite some time before landing on this book. I was looking for something to match the greatness of 1984, A Brave New World or perhaps Blindness by Saramago. Having stumbled upon it in several 'Best Dystopian Books' lists I decided to give it a try... Turns out that wasn't such a great idea.
Fair warning, there are several spoilers for the book below. I have no idea how the book relates to the Hulu Series, but it is best to assume it includes spoilers for that one too.
You see, the novel deals with a society taken over by religious fundamentalists, where women are demoted to second class citizens, whose only function is to serve the needs of the men. We follow the life of Offred, whose role is that of a Handmaid, which means she is one of the few women left that is capable of childbearing, her job being to give birth to child(s) for the high-level Commanders.
It is an interesting premise to say the least, one that holds promise for a great novel and If I may quote the back cover of the book:
“Atwood takes many trends which exist today and stretches them to their logical and chilling conclusions”
Except that there's nothing logical on how the whole plot is brought about. It feels like the author wanted a certain political climate on her novel in order to make her points heard, but had no idea on how to bring it to fruition and decided to go with lazy half-assed explanations. From a fertility crisis that's not really explained, we only know that it is present, to the rise of our new tyrannical overlords.
As an example, we are given glimpses of Offred's life previous to this catastrophe, during these flashbacks she's a young mother to a small child, living a relatively normal life with her husband Luke. Until suddenly she isn't. Out of nowhere the President and the US Congress are taken out after a mass shooting and some religious fundamentalists (not being intentionally vague here, the only thing we know about them is that they read the bible) take over the government, outlaw the women from working and freeze their bank accounts. This all seems to happen without any sort of backlash from the population, neither from the men nor the women. The assimilation of the new social structure happens way too fast for it to be believable. One also has to wonder whether the society that took over makes sense considering the kind of religious fundamentalists one is to expect in the US.
I found it hard to care about the characters, most fall under a pretty clear pattern of being a victim or an oppressor, none of them experience any real growth, and there's not much happening in the terms of the actual story. In short, it is a world where all the men are out there to victimize the women.
As for the writing itself, Atwood decides to go without quotation marks for most parts of the books, which can be a bit frustrating for some, but frankly I do not mind it (Be prepared for a lot of this if you decided to read Blindness, which I do recommend). There are, however, some passages that seem to hit you out of nowhere, making you doubt whether you are going mad or if that is what she actually wrote.
My only explanation for the praise that this book gets is that people find themselves too aligned with the ideas pushed forward by Atwood that they are afraid to give the book any actual criticism. Sure, it has ideas worth exploring; furthermore, we can all agree that the oppression of women is bad, but that doesn't mean the book should get a free pass for its defects. Distance yourself a bit and it is clear that the plot makes no sense.
You can find the rest of my reviews here. Coil subscribers can continue reading for some interesting quotes.
Screwtape Proposes a Toast is the first book I actually read this year, and while overall I liked the contents of the book, I can't help but feel a bit disappointed by it. Although to be fair, I believe that most of my issues with this book lie with the particular edition that I read and not the original work itself.
You see, I try to read books in their original language, and when that's not possible I usually spend some time researching for the best available translation. However, this book was a gift I received during the holidays and as such I didn't had a say on the edition I got.
Let's just say that the translator didn't have much of an idea of what he was doing, the language felt pretty forced and at some point he even invented and old proverb due to his misunderstanding of the original text.
Regarding the book itself, it consists of a few short essays in which Lewis explains his positions on democracy, faith, science, among other important topics.
Screwtape Proposes a Toast is a sort of continuation to his previous work The Screwtape Letters and was, by far, the most engaging of the essays in my opinion. It shows how 'democracy' and the idea of 'equality' can be warped into the extremes, destroying our sense of individuality. This is all explained to us through the viewpoint of a demon, making for a fun but thought-provoking read, which feels like it could have been written the past year.
Other notable essays from this collection are The Inner Ring and Good Work and Good Works. The rest of them can be a bit on the dull end, specially if you do not have a high interest on religion.
Coil Subscribers can continue reading for some interesting quotes and a little extra
Each year I set myself the goal of reading 30 books and while this particular year I felt 3 books short for the first time in about 5 years, I was still able to find some absolute gems which I would like to share with you.
So here is my list for the best books I read this 2019:
1.– The Gulag Archipelago (Abridged) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Often ranked as one of the most influential books of our time, in it Solzhenitsyn narrates the horrors from the Soviet Gulags, from the moment one was arrested, the stages of torture, until one was eventually transported into a forced labor camp.
2.– Letters from a Stoic by Seneca: A collection of letters that Seneca sent to his friend Lucilus. Each dealing with an important topic for those that want to live a meaningful life. There are plenty of lessons to be learned from these letters.
3.– Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: A fascinating book and certainly worth of its label as a classic. Dostoyevski shows his mastery over story-telling and understanding of human nature. You should really check out The Brothers Karamazov and The Idiot after you're done with this one.
4.– Meditations by Marcus Aurelius: This was one was actually a re-read, the 4th one for this book if I recall correctly. Marcus Aurelius's Meditations provide us with wisdom to walk through our lives as best as possible, all while being a great introduction into Stoic philosophy.
5.– In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu: A fantastic collection of Gothic tales, including vampires and other creatures. All of the stories are part of the public domain, you can follow the link into the review to download them.
For those that entered the giveaway I created on r/CoilCommunity, I will be drafting the winner the following Monday, 2020-01-06, at 11:00 am PST. For anyone that wants to pick up their reading and would like some help with it, please continue to the subscriber only section.
I have been a writer since 1949. I am self-taught. I have no theories about writing that might help others. When I write, I simply become what I seemingly must become. I am six feet two and weigh nearly two hundred pounds and am badly coordinated, except when I swim. All that borrowed meat does the writing.
Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut is a collection of 25 short stories all written between the 50s and 60s. Vonnegut is well known for his mastery of satire and black humor which his displays in his novels mostly in the Sci-Fi genre. It is easy to find the same humor here, however, it is present on a wide range of stories, from simple fiction to love stories.
Each short story is around 10 pages long, and the book is best suited to be read in small amounts. I can say that I enjoyed most of the stories present in it, with a few rare exceptions, but there are some of them that, in my opinion, really stand out as hidden gems.
The best known short story in the collection is Harrison Bergeron, which I have talked about in this post, and it is one that you really should read. Other than that, here are what I consider to be the best 5 short stories from the book:
A Long Walk to Forever: a simply written romantic short story about Vonnegut and his future wife. Not really what I was expecting from this book, but it was a pleasant surprise.
The Euphio Question: A scientist discovers how to access instant happiness, the results are not what he was expecting. I really liked the ending of these one.
The Manned Missiles: The fathers of two recently deceased astronauts write letters to each other to discuss the nature of their dead.
Tom Edison's Shaggy Dog: Here is what you should do when a stranger just keeps talking to you in a public place.
All The King's Horses: A Colonel has to risk the life of his soldiers and family in a game of chess that requires him to make a great sacrifice.
If you haven't read any of Vonnegut's novels before, I believe this book can be a good introduction into his works. You can find the rest of my reviews here. Coil subscribers can find some of my favorite quotes below:
After a long break due to moving towns, sickness and overall laziness, I'm finally back. I'm currently working on the next installment of the Algorithms Series and reading a book by Kurt Vonnegut for my next review, but I wanted to get some writing out today, and what better topic to choose than Netflix's new show The Witcher?
Fair Warning, This post contains spoilers for Netflix's The Witcher and the Book Series, you have been warned.
The Witcher is one of my favorite book series, and I highly recommend it to any fan of the Fantasy genre. I first came into contact with it by playing The Witcher: Wild Hunt and after beating the game I went ahead and started reading through all the books.
So when Netflix announced they would be adapting the books into a show I was pretty thrilled, and, frankly, a bit scared for the original material.
The show's first episode draws from the story 'The Lesser Evil' from the first book in the Series and from the Massacre of Cintra, an event that takes place long after in the Witcher Universe.
While this episode is a faithful adaptation of the source material, I think it should have highlighted this timeline difference a bit more clearly, If I recall correctly there was only one reference to it, being the first battle won by Calanthe.
Cavill makes for a believable Geralt with all his grunting, battle skills, and desire not to meddle in others affairs until his more humane, justice loving side forces him to intervene. Which is exactly what happens when Renfri threatens the town safety.
“Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I'm not a pious hermit, I haven't done only good in my life. But if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.”
The production quality of the show left nothing to be desired, as expected for a high profile show run by Netflix. Having good effects for the monsters and interesting battle sequences, the latter being one of the strong suits from the books.
I think my biggest problem with this first episode is the stories they choose to portray, I would have liked for it to be a bit more focused on Geralt, before introducing Ciri and the whole 'Destiny' plotline that gives raise to the novels. Or, if they really wanted to go with that route from the beginning, they could have chosen the short story 'A Question of Price' from the same first book, which explains how Ciri ended up being tied to Geralt without going into the different timelines issue.
Overall I really liked the first episode and I am looking forward to watching the next ones, although I think it could be a bit confusing for someone that's not familiar with the Witcher Universe.
In case you haven't heard about it, I am running a giveaway for Coil Creators on r/CoilCommunity. You can find all the details here. Coil subscribers can find some of my favorite quotes from The Last Wish, the first book in the series, below:
This week we will focus on The Specialist's Hat by Kelly Link. At first, I really did not think that this short story would make the Weekly Reading Series, it is a bit of a weird one, specially if you first encountered it translated as I did; and being considerably more recent than previous entries, I highly doubted that it would be readily available for free reading. Turns out I was wrong, as the author posted the story on her own website.
Kelly Link is an American Writer that runs her own publishing firm Small Beer Press alongside her husband. Most of her stories fall under what is known as Magic Realism, a combination of fantasy, science fiction, horror and realism. Kelly has been honored with an Hugo award, three Nebula awards and a World Fantasy Award for her works on fiction. She was also the recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant in 2018.
The Specialist's hat follows the lives of 10 year old twins Claire and Samantha, whom seem to behave as pretty normal children, except for the fact that they like to play being 'Dead'. This game started shortly after their mother's dead, most likely as a way to cope withe issue. They live in a big house in the woods, in which they are free to roam, having access to the full house except for the attic. They are under the care of a servant, as their father tends to ignore them to focus on his writing, trying to uncover the history of the house and its previous owner, a somewhat famous but really bad poet that, legend says, poisoned his own wife before disappearing with his daughter. Due to this ,the house and the woods in general, are regarded as being haunted, but surely this is just the stuff of legends and nothing to worry about, right?
Kelly has an interesting way of relating the story, sometimes jumping from one topic to another completely unrelated, at times it makes you wonder if this story was part of a much bigger one that she didn't know how to finish. One thing is for certain, the ambiguous way it is told, and the manner in which Kelly plays with numbers throughout the story, have helped it establish its name in the fantasy world.
You can find the full short story here. Coil Subscribers can continue reading for some more inputs on the story. Fair warning, spoilers may follow so I recommend you read the story and give the events some thought first.
I decided to take a few days off after finishing The Blitz to regain my sanity. As we all knew from the beginning, the Blue team ended up winning the contest (Ironically that's a red team post). So there you have it, the good guys won.
With that out of the way, let us get back to our review.
In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu, whom we have already featured in our weekly reading series, consists of five Horror stories, purported to be cases by Dr. Hesselius, a 'metaphysical' Doctor, the forerunner of the modern psychiatrist, who is willing to consider ghosts both as real and as hallucinatory obsessions.
I decided to buy this book after having read Carmilla and I can say that the book did not disappoint. The stories are told brilliantly, mixing elements from the Gothic tradition and Irish folklore. You can easily see why Le Fanu has established himself as one of the classic writers of Gothic works. I suppose you would like to see a small synopsis for the short stories, so here it goes:
Green Tea: An English clergyman is being haunted by an evil spirit in the form of a monkey which only he can see. He consults with Dr Hesselius in order to find a cure, all while the monkey grows more aggressive towards its victim.
The Familiar: A Former sea captain is stalked by a dwarf that identifies himself as 'The Watcher', being a constant reminder of an atrocity he committed in the past. The Captain will go through great lengths to try and get himself rid of this unwelcomed creature.
Mr Justice Harbottle: A judge finds himself on the receiving end of a terrible vengeance by one man he condemned. But are these real events taking place or just part of the judge's imagination?
The Room in the Dragon Volant: This one is a bit tricky, it follows a naive, really naive, Englishman who has found himself the inheritor of a large fortune. While traveling he falls in love with a beautiful unhappily married countess that wishes to be saved from her horrible husband. The following quote describes the story pretty well:
“What a fool I was! and yet, in the sight of angels, are we any wiser as we grow older? It seems to me, only, that our illusions change as we go on; but, still, we are madmen all the same.”
Carmilla: The story follows a young woman, Laura, who becomes the prey of the female vampire Carmilla, whom is introduced into our protagonist's home as a guest after a freak accident. Laura quickly befriends Carmilla, giving place to an interesting dynamic between the two, all the while in the villages nearby, young women start to die of an unknown disease. You can find more about it here.
If I had to rank them I would put Carmilla on 1st place, Green Tea and The Room in the Dragon Valet being close contenders for 2nd place, and with The Familiar and Mr Justice Harbottle in 4th and 5th place, respectively. That being said I found the 5 of them to be really enjoyable.
The works are now part of the public domain, and you can find them on gutenberg divided in three volumes. Volume 1 includes the first three stories. Volume 2 spans the first part of the 4th story. Volume 3 covers the second part of the 4th story along with Carmilla.
You can find the rest of my reviews here. As usual Coil subscriber can find some of my favorite quotes below: