Book Review: Unfollow (2019)

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Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope by Megan Phelps-Roper

… that open discourse and dialectic is the most effective enabler of the evolution of individuals and societies. That the answer to bad ideas is to publicly reason against them. To advocate for and propagate better ones. And that it is dangerous to vest any central authority with broad powers to limit the bounds of acceptable discussion. Because these powers lend themselves to authoritarian abuse, the creation of echo chambers, and the marginalisation of ideas that are true but unpopular. In short, the principles underlying the freedom of speech recognise that all of us are susceptible to cognitive deficiencies and groupthink.

I first heard about the Westboro Baptist Church when the documentary by Louis Theroux first aired: BBC’s The Most Hated Family in America. The group is probably most famous for picketing funerals of soldiers and their homophobic signs. Megan’s story follows her mounting disillusionment with the group, questions she had as a child that went unanswered, and her growing role in the church even as she wondered about the rights and wrongs of it all. Eventually she becomes the most well-known spokesperson for the group and runs the online social media platforms. It’s there that she starts to engage with others’ perspectives and eventually changes her own. She starts to see the damage hatred and unkindness can do.

It is disconcerting – shamefully, unimaginably so – to look back and accept that my fellow church members and I were collectively engaging in the most egregious display of logical blindness that I have ever witnessed.

I have great sympathy for those born into cults. It’s utterly heartbreaking. Her memories about the abuse she and her siblings suffered is gut-wrenching. More than once I cried listening to her story. Little moments really stand out: she admits that she didn’t know what her signs meant when she first held them; the letter she signed and sent to a newspaper as a child was actually written by her aunt.

That she broke free at all is commendable, but to see how far she’s come is just brilliant. Also, her Twitter pic now reads GOD LOVES GAYS. What a wonderful, wonderful turn around. :’)

Mini Book Reviews: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1964) & How to Train Your Dragon (2003)

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming

Okay, this was super cute. I saw the film as a kid (and somehow didn’t realise that the movie was co-written by Roald Dahl???) and I knew it was based on a book (and somehow didn’t know it was by James Bond‘s writer! I’m a loser, honestly) but I never got around to it. So glad I finally have. I think it’s lovely that this was written for Ian Fleming’s son. Reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ dedication to his goddaughter: But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.

SUPER. CUTE.

And the fact that David Tennant narrated the audiobook just solidifies its awesomeness. His voices are PERFECTION.

 

How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell 

And that, my friends, that is the hard way to become a hero.

THIS WAS SO BLOODY CUTE. The names are adorable. It’s all adorable. TOTES ADORBS. Definitely recommend for anyone who wants a cute little book about a boy and his dragon.

The Wonderful World of Sci-Fi Shorts

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I have fallen in love with sci-fi short stories. There’s something quite fun about a short, to the point story with a punchy setting. Sometimes it’s hard to find the time to sit down with a big ol’ book of sci-fi even when you’re in the mood, so the short ones are really good for giving you something fun to read that you can finish in under an hour. I started the year with The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin and The Butcher of Anderson Station by James S.A. Corey, and then I was directed to Tor by a friend of mine a month or so ago, and have since I’ve found so many wonderful short stories. I also don’t know why it’s taken me so long to discover the awesomeness that are online science fiction magazines! I feel so behind, honestly. 

Some of my favourites from Tor have been A Kiss With Teeth by Max Gladstone, Skinner Box by Carole Johnstone, The Eighth-Grade History Class Visits the Hebrew Home for the Aging by Harry Turtledove, Into the Gray by Margaret Killjoy, These Deathless Bones by Cassandra Khaw, The City Born Great by N.K. Jemisin, and His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light by Mimi Mondal. They’re all available online and I definitely recommend checking them out. 

After Tor, I found Uncanny Magazine. They often offer audible versions of the stories, too! I haven’t had the chance to read loads, but I really, really liked And All the Trees of the Forest Shall Clap Their Hands by Sharon Hsu and The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander. I’m going to dive more into the stories soon. I can’t wait!

There’s also Clarkesworld Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, and Asimov’s Science Fiction. I just listened to the audible version of Her Appetite, His Heart by Dominica Phetteplace. Lots of free stories, lots of audible versions. It’s just a plethora of sci-fi/fantasy goodness. Additionally, a kind-hearted soul on Goodreads created lists for Tor shorts, Lightspeed Magazine shorts, and Clarkesworld Magazine shorts that are really helpful if you want to go back to the beginning. 😉

Does anyone have any short stories magazines they love? Share them with me! I’m on a roll.

Mini Review Roundup

Mini Review Roundup:

Skinner Box by Carole Johnstone | available for free here. | science fiction, short story, romance, horror

Can a cognitive neuroscientist be fooled? Can an expert in the field of deep learning and AI evolution be unknowingly coerced? Can a genius be corrupted? Can a manipulator be manipulated?

Wow. This started out one kind of intense and then turned into a whole other kind of intense and I’m fairly darn impressed. Be sure to mind the warnings at the top, but I definitely recommend this! A very dark, riveting sci-fi short.

All Around the Watchtower by Ben Haskett | science fiction, short story

As soon as we awoke to those alarms, I just wanted to go back into the pod.

What a great sci-fi short!

And All the Trees of the Forest Shall Clap Their Hands in Uncanny Magazine by Sharon Hsu | available for free here. | fantasy, short story

War, it turns out, is the easiest thing of all to make anywhere.

This was utterly gutting, but so beautifully written.

Heartstopper by Alice Oseman | available for free here. | lgbt, graphic novel, romance

This is super cute and the art is wonderful. ^____^

 

Mini Reviews Roundup

 

The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander

Now, the King’s subjects knew all about this particular forest, and avoided it like the plague, and if the Prince had thought to ask them they could have easily told him why this was so. If you know a blessed thing about royalty, however, you’ll have already guessed that he had bothered doing no such thing.

What an absolute delight this was! This is a humorous short story about three raptors and a princess against an awful prince.

An Angry Earth by Michael Poeltl

A world like ours is alive. We share it with the plants, animals, fish and insects. We share it. Every living thing is important to sustaining life as we know it …

I’d liken this story to The Wump World, which is one of my all time favourite books, and the one that made me an environmentalist before I could even spell the word. Impressing upon everyone the fragility of our world and the damage that’s being wrought by thoughtless greed is so, so important.

Bonus points for the use of the library in the story. Everyone should be encouraged to go and dig through their tomes to find information. The drawings, too, were very well done.

Definitely recommend.

Ponies by Kij Johnson

This one honestly broke my heart and really horrified me. I mean, I think that was the point. And if you like horror stories that are trying to teach a lesson, this one might be for you, but it’s certainly not for the faint of heart.

Mini Review Round Up: Tor Shorts

Cold Wind by Nicola Griffith: It was one of the most pernicious fallacies, common the world over: old ways are best. But old ways can outlast their usefulness. Old ways can live on pointlessly in worlds that have no room for them.

A good dark fantasy tale about predator and prey.

These Deathless Bones by Cassandra Khaw: Bones do not lie.

Well, that disturbed me on EVERY. POSSIBLE. LEVEL.

A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong: If I could knit you a crown of potential futures like the daisies you braided together for me when we were young, I would.

This had a really interesting premise and the prose was lovely, though I do wish there was a bit more detail.

Worth Her Weight in Gold by Sarah Gailey: Winslow Remington Houndstooth, creator of the best and rarest breed of hippo in the United States of America, notorious outlaw, handsomest heartbreaker in the American South.

I liked the hippo, but I wish there was a bit more to the story.

Into the Gray by Margaret Killjoy: I only led the foul men with filth on their tongues, the rich men who contrived to rule other men. I only led the men with hatred in their hearts and iron in their hands.

A quick, engrossing story about a thief, the mermaid she’s in love with, and the men they lure to the water’s edge.

A Forest, or a Tree by Tegan Moore: There was something awful, May thought, awful in the original sense of the word, about looking up.

The cover totally caught my eye, but I felt like the story itself needed more.

The Eighth-Grade History Class Visits the Hebrew Home for the Aging by Harry Turtledove: “We had to wear yellow stars on our clothes, with Jood on them. That’s Jew in Dutch,” Anne said. “We couldn’t use trams. We had to give up our bicycles. We weren’t allowed to ride in cars. We had to shop late in the afternoon, when there was next to nothing left to buy. We couldn’t even visit Christians in their houses or apartments. We couldn’t go out at all from eight at night to six in the morning. We had to go to only Jewish schools and Jewish barbers and Jewish beauty parlors. We couldn’t use public swimming pools or tennis courts or sports fields or—well, anything.”

This story is an alternate WWII history tale that hit me like a punch. It’s such an important read. Let us never forget the past. Let us never forget what was done to innocent people who deserved life. But this story does something beautiful – rather than painting a grim future, this gives us such a lovely change to the past. In the best, most heartbreaking way. It follows an elderly woman recounting to school kids about how she and her family survived. And the twist will make you cry. I know I did.

This is one of those stories you really wish was real (and perhaps a heartbreaking side-effect of alternative history – all the things that should have been). You know that feeling of joy you get when you reach the end of Inglourious Basterds and just start cheering? It’s that sort of closure.

Selfies by Lavie Tidhar: In some cultures they believe that every photo takes away a little bit of your soul.

I wish there’d been a bit more in terms of detail and explanation, but overall I liked it.

A Kiss With Teeth by Max Gladstone: He wants to be her monster.

I really liked the way this story played out.

The Girlfriend’s Guide to Gods by Maria Dahvana Headley: You stand at the mouth of your own cave, looking out over your own kingdom. You step off the cliff when you feel like it, and you spread your wings and soar.

This was just awesome.

Lullaby for a Lost World by Aliette de Bodard: You do not rest. You cannot forgive. You are not safe—you never were.

This really reminded me of The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. The overall tone is quite depressing, though the writing was good. It’s really, really bleak though. 😦

The City Born Great by N.K. Jemisin: What good does it do to be valuable, if nobody values you?

Well, that was just badass.

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**I really recommend Tor’s original fiction section. There are some truly good ones there!**