(The Consuming Fire, by John Scalzi. Tor, 2018, 316 pp., $26.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

 

The Consuming Fire is the second book in Scalzi’s Interdependency series, following 2017’s The Collapsing Empire. Both books seem purely commercial, lowest-common-denominator fantasy that’s set in space to give them a sci-fi gloss. There’s nothing new in either book. There’s a standard medieval political/social set-up, and the sci-fi elements are all well worn: computer simulations of the dead; “the flow,” a path between stars that somehow allows faster than light travel; and . . . well, there isn’t much else.

Worse, this second book in the series is dull. There’s nothing of political or social interest in it, and it revolves entirely around personal conflicts and political maneuvering among the nobility. (Those entertained by such things would do well to stick with Game of Thrones.) One of the reasons that this maneuvering is so uninteresting is that the characters are unconvincing: the good guys are unrelievedly pure of heart, and the villains are unrelievedly evil. In other words, they’re cardboard characters, and it’s difficult for a reader to care about such characters.

One might also mention that Scalzi appears to have had historical and political amnesia when he wrote Consuming Fire, because the “emperox,” the primary character, appears entirely uncorrupted by being the most powerful person alive. In Scalzi’s Interdependency universe, power doesn’t corrupt and absolute power doesn’t corrupt at all.

Even worse, the story is largely built upon exposition rather than narrative (telling rather than showing), the amount of dialogue is ungodly, often page after page of it — Chapter 5, for instance, is eleven pages long, and eight of those pages are devoted to dialogue — and the purpose of the dialogue is primarily expository. One odd aspect of the dialogue is that Scalzi throws in quite a bit of swearing. The end result is that Consuming Fire reads like a tedious YA novel the author has attempted to spice up with gratuitous cursing.

As well, due to the moderately distant third-person narration, there’s essentially no interior monologue — Scalzi tells you what his characters are thinking and feeling rather than allowing his characters to do it themselves — and there are also remarkably few descriptive passages, none remotely memorable.

Given Scalzi’s previous achievements, especially the vivid “Old Man’s War” military sci-fi series and his fine comic sci-fi novels, Agent to the Stars, Fuzzy Nation, and Redshirts, The Consuming Fire is shockingly bad.

Very much not recommended.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel, a Spanish-English translation on Venezuelan anarchist history, a nonfiction book on the seamier sides of Christianity, two compilations, and an unrelated sci-fi novel.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover

 


graphic by J.R. Swanson

“A rising tide lifts all yachts.”

–Anonymous (wrongly attributed to JFK)


Well, it’s finally happened. My favorite Mexican restaurant, El Torero, closed tonight and won’t reopen. By happenstance, I dropped in for some typically great Mexican chow and some beers with a few friends tonight, had one of the final meals El Torero served, and got to talking with the owner (and chef). He’s been threatening to close the place for a good five years, to which my attitude has always been, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ll believe it when I see it.” Tonight, I believe it.

El Torero is a South Tucson institution, and has been around as a family place for over 60 years.

(South Tucson incorporated as a 100% Mexican, one-square-mile city in 1939 as a self-defense measure against the virulent racism in the City of Tucson. Things really didn’t begin to change here until the 1970s, and Tucson proper is now the most integrated city of over a million in the country, and the population within the city limits is currently close to 50% Mexican. Racism persists, but it’s a shadow of its former self; Tucson is at times referred to, with some justification [the arts and music scenes], as a “mini-Austin”; and the City of South Tucson [now entirely encircled by the City of Tucson, but still over 90% Mexican] persists as a poverty-stricken monument to resistance to racism.)

Enough with the history lesson.

El Torero is gloriously tacky with formica tables, a chewed-up linoleum floor, flame-throwing salsa, and a stuffed (or fiberglass) swordfish on one wall outlined with Christmas lights. It’s the only restaurant I know in Tucson where during slack periods the owner will sit down uninvited to shoot the shit with you, and during really slack periods the on-duty cook will come out of the kitchen and likewise sit down uninvited to shoot the shit. I love it.

As homey as it is, the food is (or was) great — every bit as good and a bit cheaper than the ultra-trendy Mi Nidito three blocks down the street (the food there is good and reasonably priced), which is the place to go for trendoids who don’t mind waiting an hour to be seated while there’s no waiting at El Torero. (Rigo’s, The Crossroads, Michas, and Guillermo’s are all at least close in quality and equivalent in price, within about a mile, and there’s never a wait at any of them. Mi Nidito became the place to go after Bill Clinton visited the place maybe 25 years ago, did his best impression of a human rotorooter, and consumed mass quantities.)

Anyway, El Torero is gone. When I spoke with him tonight, the owner (in the center in the photo at left) told me, “Just go to Lerua’s” (about two miles away on Broadway) — owned by the same family, with the same recipes. That’s good advice while it applies. Lerua’s will likely be axed when the Broadway “improvement” project kicks in sometime within the next few years.

Damn! but I’ll miss El Torero.

(P.S. For anyone in the area, my blues duo, Cholla Buds, will be playing two jobs downtown tomorrow, Dec. 1: from 1:00 to 4:00 at Crooked Tooth Brewery on 6th Street at Arizona Avenue, and from 5:30 to 6:00 or 6:15 at The Hut on 4th Avenue and 8th Street. Both shows are free. Please come on down and have some free fun.)

Still another musician joke

Posted: November 25, 2018 in Humor, Jokes, Music

Two musicians on a way to a gig got in a head-on crash and died horrible deaths, mangled.

They’re standing in front of St. Peter, who says, “You’re good to go. Come on in.”

One of them stops and asks, “What about hell? Is it much worse than this? This sounds boring.”

St. Peter pauses and says, “You don’t want to know. It’s horrendous, horrible. Eternal pain, torture, screaming, Loose bowels, roasting flesh. Forever.”

The musicians look at one other, and the first one asks, “Do you know who books it?”

–and, yes, for once, I know who wrote this joke: Mick Berry

 


My cousin has been in and out of the hospital for the last year. She’s 75, not in good shape, and I have medical power of attorney (as the only nearby relative). It’s been wearing on me — a lot. I’ve been worrying about where she’ll go and what will happen to her after she runs out of money.

In contrast, and worse, what in hell happens to people who are under Medicare age? A very good friend of mine was tortured by cancer for the last decade (including — do not ever under any circumstances do this; it just ain’t worth it, and it doesn’t extend life — prostatectomy), and he and his wife spent probably half their life savings on experimental treatments before he died two months ago.

It was awful to watch.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief tonight when I (rather, the placement agent) found a good place for my cousin.

She’s on Medicare, has enough bucks for a few years, and is going to a place that won’t kick her out (will take Medicare) after her money runs out if she survives that long.

So, “socialized medicine,” Medicare, saved her ass.

For people under 65, it’s still a horror show — albeit a very profitable horror show. There are over one million personal bankruptcies annually due to medical bills in the U.S. In other words, over a million middle-class Americans lose everything they’ve got every year due to medical bills, and the insurance industry and big pharma reap the benefits.

And it gets worse. After giving away a fortune to the 1%, close to $2 trillion, in Trump’s tax scam, it’s virtually certain that the GOP will plead “fiscal responsibility” and try to kneecap both Medicare and Medicaid, driving up our costs, if not eliminating Medicare and Medicaid entirely.

This is all you really need to ask yourself when considering the GOP/corporado mantra justifying horrendous health costs (USA is by far the highest) and being at or near the bottom of health outcomes for industrialized countries):

They warn you against “nameless, faceless bureaucrats making your health decisions for you.”

But what in hell do they think is going on now? Nameless, faceless insurance-industry, profit-driven ‘bureaucrats making your healthcare decisions for you? For their corporate, profit-driven masters rather than you?

How could anything possibly be worse for you than nameless, faceless corporate bureaucrats searching for reasons to deny your claim, and doing their best to maximize profits by providing the minimum amount of healthcare they can possibly get away with? Think about it.

Forgive me, but somehow I’ll trust that non-interested government bureaucrat rather than an insurance company tool.

Count me in for “socialized medicine.”


Image  —  Posted: November 23, 2018 in Humor, Jokes


THANKSGIVING, n. 1) A day on which thanks are given that one’s bloated, python-digesting-a-deer feeling will soon pass, and that the day will not recur for another year; 2) A five-course family feast consisting of tension, boredom, anger, recrimination, and guilt, held under the pretense of picking over the carcass of a murdered bird.

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— from The American Heretic’s Dictionary (revised & expanded), the 21st-century successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary. (The link goes to 50 sample definitions and illustrations.)

American Heretic's Dictionary revised and expanded by Chaz Bufe, front cover