Essay Collection · Nonfiction

Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies – John Scalzi

4.5 stars

In a departure from what I generally review here at Alex Can Read, I had the opportunity to review Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies, a collection of essays from John Scalzi’s Whatever blog. It is political, thoughtful, funny and searing. Scalzi impresses me with his introspection and self-awareness.

“‘Virtue signaling’ is a phrase the dim and bigoted use when they want to discount 41828591.jpgother people expressing the idea that it would be nice if we could all be essentially and fundamentally decent to each other.” — John Scalzi

For twenty years now—yes, twenty—John Scalzi has been writing on his blog Whatever, writing about, well, whatever: Politics, writing, cats, the internet and the great social and cultural events of our times. In that time he’s gone from being just another crank online to being a bestselling, award-winning crank, i.e., the very best kind of crank there is.

With Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies, Scalzi looks back on the years 2013 through 2018. In this volume, Scalzi delves through the final term of Obama and the ushering in of the Trump years, surveys the increasingly-hostile online landscape, goes to the movies, and talks on subject ranging from #MeToo to the teachers who shaped him growing up. Through it all, Scalzi’s distinct voice—funny, sarcastic, passionate, sometimes angry, and honed by two decades of daily writing served up to hundreds of thousands of readers monthly—is on full display.

Virtue Signaling: A chronicle of a turbulent, momentous moment in time, from one of the most acclaimed science fiction authors of his time.

Limited: 1000 signed numbered hardcover copies

If you’re like me, and find reflecting on the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath painful, you’ll also find that parts of Virtue Signaling are very painful to read. There are essays from before the election where Scalzi exclaims that a Donald Trump presidency Cannot and Will Not be. There are essays ranking the Republican nominees and essays making the case for Hillary Clinton. How wrong he was, and how painful it is to revisit that hope.

That being said, there are really thoughtful and provocative essays about male privilege, sexism, allyship and being a good parent and partner. Scalzi recognizes that he’s been dealt a really great hand in life and that he played his cards well. He also acknowledges that his understanding of the world and his privilege is imperfect and that he has room to improve. These essays are where the gold of this collection are mined.

It’s absolutely worth your time to read this collection of essays.

Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies is sold-out in hardback, but the ebook is available now from Subterranean Press.

Thank you to Subterranean Press for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

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Fantasy

The Obelisk Gate – N.K. Jemisin

5 stars

This review is very late, and I apologize for that. I’ve been sitting on it for about two months now, because I’m struggling to encompass how impressed I am.

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Cover from Goodreads

THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.

The season of endings grows darker as civilization fades into the long cold night. Alabaster Tenring – madman, world-crusher, savior – has returned with a mission: to train his successor, Essun, and thus seal the fate of the Stillness forever.

It continues with a lost daughter, found by the enemy.

It continues with the obelisks, and an ancient mystery converging on answers at last.

The Stillness is the wall which stands against the flow of tradition, the spark of hope long buried under the thickening ashfall. And it will not be broken.

In The Obelisk Gate we continue to see familiar faces from The Fifth SeasonAlabaster and Essun and follow along as the end of the world draws near. There’s so much wrapped up in this series.

This is where the series starts to get weird – and I mean that in a good way. Exactly like The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate is told from the perspective of an unseen narrator, speaking to Essun, in the past tense, though we don’t know why. This narrator tells us Essun’s story, Alabaster’s story, Nassun’s story. The narrator jumps from perspective to perspective, and interestingly, guiding us through how we’re supposed to feel.

I find it an incredibly interesting way to experience a story. “You’re angry. You’re angry because it’s not fair, and because she’s your daughter and should be with you.” That’s not a direct quote, but it captures what I mean. Jemisin chooses to be explicit with the readers about how characters feel, their inner thoughts and motivations, their reactions. It’s incredibly immersive and once I got used to it, I found that I loved it. It’s such a complex way of telling the story, and I felt so connected to the characters.

And, oh, what characters they are. Each character has a rich backstory, so thoroughly imagined. Jemisin is a master at her art.

The Obelisk Gate is a middle book, starting where The Fifth Season left off, and setting up for The Stone Sky but it doesn’t feel unfinished. There are so many threads left hanging, but Jemisin has told the story so masterfully that I felt confident that The Stone Sky would pick them up, weave them together and finish the tapestry of the story as if there had never been a break.

The Obelisk Gate deserves all of the accolades and awards that have been heaped upon it.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by the incredible Robin Miles. Miles’s narration adds an amazing layer to the already wonderful story. Her use of tone and pauses and pacing enhances the experience to such an extent that I recommend the audiobooks over the print book any day.

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