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Thursday, November 21, 2019

'Political Poneronlogy': An intriguing yet ultimately disappointing read

I sought out Political Ponerology after seeing a mention in an article in Psychology Today. The author, a therapist who lived through the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Poland, argues that large-scale political evil is best understood as the result of pathological persons dominating the society of normal people. It’s an intriguing notion, but proof is lacking as is any real way of getting rid of these movements and regimes when they arise.
On top of that, this ebook edition was republished by a paranoid leftist who believes the September 2001 terrorist attacks in America were staged by the U.S. government. It is ironic to say the least that such a person would republish what is largely an analysis of Soviet-style Communism as a pathological system, and moreover the author himself explicitly discusses political paranoia as one of his pathological types! It also must be said that he expresses antisemitic views in three instances that I counted, which is hardly surprising in a Pole of his generation but is deeply disappointing and damaging in what is meant to be an analysis and “treatment plan” for political evil.

Friday, October 11, 2019

What Is Strength, and Who Is Strong?

Reflections is a stunning YA fantasy novel that will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about the hidden wellsprings of strength among those who feel they are victims at the mercy of a cruel world, and the hidden weaknesses of those who appear powerful and self-confident. It will also make you ponder the meaning of the current pop cultural obsessions with "superpowers"-in this novel, shapeshifting. The protagonist, a teenage girl named Rama, is an outsider, a member of a close, loving Indian family who run a restaurant in a small West Virginia town. As the novel opens, she is hiding a terrible secret: she was raped and is too terrified and ashamed to tell anybody. She is also contending with grief and fear as girls her age who are her friends and classmates are being murdered by a serial killer. Then she encounters a band of shapeshifters out in the forest, and everything will change for her.

Shapeshifting is of course a wonderful metaphor for the identity shifts that come with adolescence, and you will cheer Rama on every step of the way as she learns to change who she appears to be... and also learns who she really is.

Five "Phoboses"

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

A Profound Work of Speculative Fiction

Famous Men Who Never Lived is one of the profoundest works of speculative fiction I have ever read. As an author and devoted reader of "parallel world" and "alternate history" fiction, in which we imagine how everything would be different if certain historical events had turned out differently, trust me when I say this is among the best such novels you will ever encounter. It takes the philosophical and humanistic implications of this whole subgenre of speculative fiction to places it has never been before.
The best fiction is at once of its moment and timeless. Chess conjures a stream of refugees from a "parallel" America devastated by nuclear war. Coming to our own America, they face both legal and de facto discrimination, on top of the utter and irreversible loss of everything and everyone they have known. Chess portrays the resulting devastation sensitively, with obvious echoes of the horrible politics of our real-life historical moment.
Yet this is far more than a topical allegory. By labeling the other-world refugees "Universally Displaced Persons," Chess raises the profoundest existential questions. As we age and the people and places we used to know vanish forever, we all become Universally Displaced Persons, trapped in an alien world. And on an even deeper level, aren't we all born into a strange universe we never asked for, one we never quite feel at home in? What can we do, what must we do, in this condition of universal alienation? Chess answers with an inspiring tale of infinite sadness and faith in the redemptive power of art.
Chess's characters are fully realized. Helen "Hel" Nash was a surgeon back home in the world she has lost, but devastated by her permanent separation from her son, who she figures is probably dead in the irradiated America she left, she is adrift until she finds her calling: planning a museum of her home world. But this plan is sidetracked almost immediately when she gives someone she thinks can help her the only copy of a famous work of science fiction from her own timeline, a book with something like the status of 1984 by an author who died as a child in our world. And the book didn't even belong to her--it was the property of her boyfriend Vikram, another Universally Displaced Person who was an academic back home. How will they each cope with this irrecoverable loss?
Do yourself a solid and add Famous Men Who Never Lived to your collection immediately!

Five "Phoboses"