Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Necessity by Jo Walton

Necessity is the final volume of Jo Walton's Thessaly trilogy. After finishing The Just City (more on it here) and The Philosopher Kings (more on it here), I picked up Necessity from the local library.
There's a gap of a few decades between the end of The Philosopher Kings and the beginning of Necessity. The cities have adjusted to their new planet (called Plato, unsurprisingly) and a new generation has grown up there. They've met two different alien races, and within the first few chapters receive communication from other humans, the first since leaving Earth. That re-contact is the subject of a lot of discussion, but isn't the primary subject of the book.

Much of Necessity is about exactly that - necessity, in the sense that the gods are bound by necessity to certain courses of action. There's a lot more about the nature of the gods, the flow of time, and the universe at large in this book than either of the others. Apollo, Athene, and an alien god are central figures in this book, taking a direct hand in much of the story.

The viewpoint characters in Necessity are almost entirely new. Other than Apollo, none of them were the narrators in the prior books. I particularly liked that Walton used Crocus, one of the sentient machine Workers, as a viewpoint character in several chapters of this book. It was also nice to see the viewpoint of Jason, who is a "silver" citizen (practical work rather than the philosophy and leadership of the "gold" citizens) on Plato. The majority of the prior two books were written from the perspective of "gold" citizens, so that perspective was a bit different.

Unlike the first two books, Necessity doesn't end with a major shakeup affecting the Platonic cities. Appropriate for the final book in the series, but I'll admit that it felt a bit anti-climatic. After the way The Just City and The Philosopher Kings ended, I kept expecting some kind of bombshell in the last few chapters of this book. We do see the that aforementioned re-contact with other humans, which is certainly important, but it's not in the same class as the splitting of the city or relocation to a new planet.

The Thessaly trilogy won't be for everyone, but for those who enjoyed the first book, finishing out the series is well worth the read.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Joe Buck's Memoir "Lucky Bastard"

Joe Buck has been a fixture in sports broadcasting for most of my adult life. I heard about Lucky Bastard from various sports media and via Buck's guest appearance on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me.
The full title of the book is Lucky Bastard: My Life, My Dad, and the Things I'm Not Allowed to Say on TV. That's a pretty good sample of the writing style: slightly profane and irreverent, but honest. Within the first chapter he's explained that using the word "bastard" is technically true as well as being an eye-catching title - he was conceived well before his parents married - and shared a slew of his own embarrassing life moments. It feels very real and open to me, and the same is true when he moves on to talking about other people.

I'm a sports fan, particularly baseball, so I found plenty of interest in the many stories and descriptions of the people that Buck has met and events he's worked. As the son of a Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck, Joe has even more of those stories than most life-long sports personalities. He literally grew up in baseball stadiums, and has been part of big events like the World Series for years. I enjoyed his perspective on the people and events that I remember following as I've grown up.

Even more than the sports stories, though, I thought that Lucky Bastard is excellent for its portrayal of Buck's personal life story. The father-son relationship between Jack and Joe is a large part of that story, and I thought the love there was very evident. Buck isn't afraid to admit that he's made plenty of mistakes, either, both at the personal and professional level. His descriptions of both the good and bad times feel very real to me.

I have no reservations recommending Lucky Bastard to any sports fan, certainly, but I think even those with only a general knowledge of the last few decades of sports events would enjoy it. Buck has an engaging writing style and an interesting life story to tell.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Doctor Strange (2016)

I caught the latest Marvel superhero movie today, Doctor Strange, at the local AMC theater.
I was pretty surprised to be charged exactly $5.19 for my ticket. I'd heard that some theaters were doing flexible pricing these days, but this was the first time I'd seen it in action. The 11:30 AM Wednesday show (not in 3D) was apparently pretty low on the demand scale. As someone who almost never goes to a theater during peak hours, I approve heartily. I also approve of the recliner-style seating that this particular theater was equipped with, took full advantage of that.

Doctor Strange is an origin story, like most of the other MCU productions featuring a character for the first time. Like most comic book nerds, I knew the basic story already: egotistical surgeon gets into an accident, loses his ability to perform surgery, goes searching for help and finds a mystical world where he becomes a hero. The movie does a fine job going through that origin, even if it feels a bit rushed as Strange goes from inept neonate to battle-sorcerer.

The movie is almost entirely about developing Strange's character, and there's not a whole lot of room for others. The renegade-sorcerer villain is a single-minded, one-dimensional character intent on his path of destruction. The supporting cast of other doctors and magicians mostly just seem to emphasize one aspect of Strange's transition: his old love and professional lives, the mentors leading him into magical domains, the previous master falling to make room for him. I don't think this is a bad thing, since the whole idea is to tell Strange's origin, but it's worth mentioning.

There are a whole lot of special effects in this movie, and they sure seemed well-executed to me. All the MCU films have plenty of CGI muscle behind them, and this one is near the top of the list in sheer amount of visual effects. In several places the entire screen is full of shifting landscapes - even if you haven't seen the movie yet, you've probably seen it in all the commercials - while various characters bounce around, fighting each other and dodging the scenery. A bit overdone, perhaps, but it's certainly impressive.

As with most MCU films, this one has some small tie-ins to the larger universe. Avengers Tower shows up in the New York cityscape, there's mention of an Infinity Stone, and if you stay past the first bit of the closing credits a certain Avenger makes Strange's acquaintance. I'm looking forward to seeing Strange mixed in with the rest of the MCU.

Given the prevalence of sweeping special effects, I'm glad I saw Doctor Strange in the theater. I'm sure it'll look fine on a small screen too, but those kind of visuals have a bigger impact on the big screen. Especially for $5.19.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Back to Netflix

Netflix is so needy. Leave it alone for a year or so, and it just comes crawling back. "Please, take me back, here's a free month!" Well, who am I to say no to a plea like that?
I tend to cycle through streaming services: a few months of Netflix, then some Crunchyroll, maybe some Amazon Prime Video, a bit of HBO Go. I can't watch enough different shows to make it worth while to have more than one at a time anyway, so why bother paying for more than one? It does mean that I rarely get to watch anything when it's first released, but that doesn't bother me much.

The latest Netflix free month has been an excuse to catch up on various stuff that has come out since the last time I had an active subscription. So far that's been Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, both of which are excellent. I've never actually read any of the Marvel Comics on which the characters are based, but I'm familiar with them from video games like Marvel Heroes. Luke in particular is one of my favorites, and I love what they did with his series. Jessica Jones was actually a bit better in terms of story, I thought, but I still enjoyed Luke Cage just as much.

I had a friend over the other night, and we were talking about old favorite shows, and it turns out that she'd never seen Firefly. Well, that's just wrong, and it happens that Netflix has the whole series online. So we watched the first couple of episodes, and now I can't stop myself from going back through the whole thing. For some odd reason, the Serenity movie isn't available to stream, but when I get there I'll rent it somewhere.

For the most part, my Amazon Fire TV works perfectly with Netflix. The navigation within the app is pretty terrible, but one thing it does well is show the list of shows that you saved to "My List" on the Netflix site. So I just find whatever I'm interested in on my PC and add it to that list. No need to wade through the masses of recommendations or use the terrible search function on the media center.

With the weather finally turning colder and baseball season over, I've got plenty of time and inclination to sit in front of a screen and vegetate. Perfect time to take Netflix back for a while.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Mr. Robot (USA)

I've heard good things over the last year or so about USA's Mr. Robot, and thanks to a combination of Amazon Prime Video and Playstation Vue I have easy access to all the episodes of the two seasons released at this point.
Part of what attracted me to this show is the hacker theme, which seems well-executed to me. Several of the characters, including the protagonist Elliot, are heavily into hacker culture. They spend a lot of time gathering information on people via social media, going after corporate networks, and occasionally even helping to catch criminals. Unlike a lot of popular media, this show tries to keep their technical segments realistic, or at least within shouting distance of realism. I particularly like how almost all their activities involve a human (aka "social engineering"), which is majorly under-represented in most "hacker" storylines. Why break in through technology barriers when you can get someone to let you in?

In the first few episodes, Mr. Robot is almost entirely about the characters using their hacking skills to set up a major breach against "E Corp" (always referred to as "Evil Corp"). The idea is to wipe out all of the corporate data, thus freeing people from their debts. My gut reaction on hearing that was "oh, the writers saw Fight Club" and that parallel certainly is accurate, even more so once you get around the end of the first season.

It's not long before the major conflict shifts from the external hack-the-evil-corporation to Elliot's internal struggles. He's an addict, with lots of social anxiety and some major personality issues. His inability to remain in control and recognize reality versus fantasy causes some fairly major problems for himself and his friends. His mental issues take up a lot of the show, especially in the second season. A good portion of the time, the viewer isn't sure if what we see is reality or not. Frankly, I felt like about half of the "Elliot's struggles" scenes could have been cut out and the viewer would still have gotten the idea.

There's a significant anti-establishment theme to Mr. Robot, more than just what you get with the "a bunch of hackers" main character group. No opportunity is missed to paint government and big corporations as thoroughly evil in the first season. This is mitigated a bit in the second season when we see things from the viewpoint of an FBI agent, but the overall tone is clear. I'm fairly sympathetic to those ideas; nonetheless, it seems overly preachy to me. The show is heavy on "establishment bad" and light on how average people are hurt when that establishment crumbles. That starts to change a bit toward the end of the second season; it'll be interesting to see how it continues to develop in the third.

Unfortunately, Mr. Robot also adds in a hefty dose of psychopathy in the form of Tyrell and Joanna Wellick. He's an "Evil Corp" executive that beats up on bums, sleeps with other executives' assistants to steal information, and eventually commits murder. She's a master manipulator of her husband and just about everyone else, and a masochist. I felt that pretty much all the nasty stuff they do was completely unnecessary, useful only as shock value. Their paths do cross with that of Elliot and friends, so it's not like they're useless characters, but I think the plot points could have been handled without all the "50 Shades of Grey" moments.

I like the concept behind Mr. Robot, and enjoyed the mystery feel while trying to figure out the various inter-personal intrigues and what's going on in Elliot's head. I just wish it was a bit more focused, eliminating some of the over-the-top psychopath moments and repetition of similar scenes.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton

After reading The Just City, I was interested enough to continue the trilogy. Book two, The Philosopher Kings, was easily obtained from the local library.
The Philosopher Kings doesn't start immediately after the end of The Just City, but rather more than a decade later. There's no longer a single city on their island, but five different settlements that were established after the events that ended the first book. The reader learns what happened in the intervening time as the characters discuss or remember it. They also discover what happened to the group that left the island entirely.

Most of the viewpoint characters remain the same, with one major exception. Simmea dies (not really a spoiler since it happens at the very beginning) and her place is taken by Arete, Simmea's daughter by Apollo. I thought that Walton did an especially good job with Apollo's reactions to Simmea's death, through grief and revenge and acceptance. As a god, he's not used to that kind of loss, but is forced to deal with it in his incarnate form.

The Philosopher Kings feels more active than The Just City. The first book took place almost entirely within the one city, while the second deals with the divided island as well as a fairly extensive sea voyage. Until the very end of The Just City, there was very little large-scale conflict (though plenty between individuals). That's not the case in The Philosopher Kings, which starts with "art raid" battles between cities on the island, and continues with both physical and political altercations with those from outside.

Religion plays a larger part in this book than the first. With multiple cities, there's a wider variety of ideas of all kinds. For example, a form of Christianity takes root in some places, despite being in a time before Christ. Some people try to tie everything together into a single belief system, others permit free exercise to all faiths, while others establish state religions and persecute heretics. I personally find it discouraging that some people feel it necessary to establish exclusive beliefs and force them on everyone else, but a quick look around the world makes it pretty clear that's the reality of human nature. I think this is a pretty realistic outcome of the scenario that Walton has established.

Like the first book, the power of the gods plays a major role in The Philosopher Kings. This shows up mostly in the form of Apollo's children, who find that they are "heroes" with various kinds of supernatural abilities thanks to their heritage. The process is explained in a logical manner that I thought made the idea pretty easy to accept. There's very little overt exercise of godly power until the very end, when concern over the impact of the time travelers on history results in very major changes for the entire population.

Anyone who enjoyed The Just City should certainly read The Philosopher Kings, and I am definitely planning to finish out the trilogy.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Election Postmortem

2016, the year that British voters did something incredibly stupid, and then the United States electorate went and topped it. Brexit may end up being only the second-worst thing to happen in politics this year. You're welcome, Great Britain.
In January, there's going to be a President Trump. I'm unhappy for all the reasons I stated back in March, but nonetheless I have it pretty good. As a white, male, straight, Christian, upper-middle-class US citizen, most of what Trump has been saying he'll do won't negatively affect me (at least not directly). The unhappiness comes from caring about what happens to people who don't share those same attributes.

I checked the election results as posted on Michigan Radio and the Kent County website. Not counting the unopposed races, all but one person that I voted for lost their race. (That one was Lisa Posthumus Lyons, for County Clerk. I know she has lots of government experience since she was my state representative until recently, which I'd rather have than ideological agreement when it comes to a Clerk position.) The presidential result was a surprise since Michigan almost always votes Democrat in state-wide races, but everything else was pretty much as I expected.

Nevertheless, after each election it's a good idea to be optimistic, no matter who won. So, some good things about yesterday's results:

  • Both houses of Congress and the President will be controlled by the same party for the first time since 2010. While I'm not naive enough to think that will end Congressional gridlock (especially since Republicans don't have 60 Senate seats), I do have hope that at least it'll be easier to get something done.
  • We'll get a ninth Supreme Court Justice again. I know, that would have happened no matter who won, but I think it's worth mentioning. Being in a sort of judicial limbo while the Senate refused to even consider a new justice isn't sustainable. I can practically guarantee that I won't agree with whoever President Trump nominates, but at least the system will be moving again.
  • Mike Pence is likely to have more power than many vice presidents, perhaps even to the level of Dick Cheney. Donald Trump likes to promise big things, and be the face of his organization, but then let his staff do the work to deliver. Now, I don't agree with many of Pence's positions, but I do think that he knows how to do the job of a chief executive, as he did in Indiana. I think it's likely that Pence will keep the executive-branch machine running even if President Trump tosses a lot of wrenches into the works.
  • We're probably going to see the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. I've supported the ACA because it was better than doing nothing for the uninsured, but that doesn't make it good. What we really need is a health care system that minimizes the profit motive, and the ACA did nothing on that front. That won't happen with the Republicans in power, I know, but the failure of the ACA is a first step. I'm hopeful that it will lead to a better chance for real change the next time health care reform is attempted, instead of just trying to build on the broken system.
  • I'm glad Justin Amash was re-elected as my representative in the House of Representatives, even if I didn't actually vote for him. We don't share a lot in the way of policy positions, but I respect the way he executes his position.
  • At the local level, both the John Ball Zoo and the Kent County 9-1-1 system upgrade proposals passed. Good news for local safety and culture.
Yeah, I know, that's not exactly a lot of positives, but I'll take what I can get. Yesterday I said that I was voting for Clinton in hopes that she would "not do any major damage to international relations or the economy." Now I'll have to hope that Congress slows down President Trump's crazier ideas to limit the damage.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Finally! Election Day Tomorrow

It's about time. Just one more day of ridiculous numbers of ads, yard signs, flyers in the mail, and media coverage of every little thing any candidate says or does. (OK, that last one isn't going away, but it should at least slow down.)
I'll do both, thanks.
Everyone and his dog is talking about the presidential election, of course. I'm voting for Clinton, for reasons stated months ago. Nothing has changed, no matter what the frantic media coverage wants you to believe. I'm not particularly happy about it, though voting for the (hopefully) first female President is kinda cool. Mostly, I'm voting in the hope that she can keep US politics from getting any worse for now, and not do any major damage to international relations or the economy. All the other candidates (including the third party folks) are practically promising to do their best to inflict major damage to one or both of those areas.

Enough about that, what about everything else on the ballot? My district has one other federal race, for US Representative, which is a shoo-in for Justin Amash. I agree with him on practically nothing in terms of policy, but I do like the way he conducts his business. Still, I'll probably vote for the Democrat, though it doesn't really matter how I vote. Due to the way my district is drawn, Amash is going to win regardless.

We also have a State Representative race, with no incumbent due to term limits. I plan to vote for Lynn Mason, although I'd be shocked if she won. Again, the district is drawn to be very safe for Republicans.

The rest of the state-level races are about education, and to be honest I know very little about any of the people running. I did some quick looks around their websites and Internet searches, but for the most part they all say much the same things about putting the students first, supporting teachers, etc. The few differences break almost exactly along party lines. Examples: the Republicans support increased local control and more charter schools, the Democrats want the state setting standards and focusing on improving public schools, and the third parties seem to mostly want to abolish large parts of the system. I'm going to end up voting straight Democratic, I think, simply because I believe that as a general rule the Democratic positions on education lead to more equitable availability of education to all citizens.

Then we get to the local level, with 10 different county and township races, many of which have only one name listed on the ballot. (Republican, of course.) Very little information about any of these people beyond the basic "I support community and families" stuff that every politician says. Where there is a choice, I'm going to vote for whichever name I have not seen on any yard signs or in my mailbox, on the general principle that the names plastered all over the place are more annoying. I expect that 99% of the responsibilities in these jobs could be executed by any competent human that actually qualified to be on the ballot, so it's not going to matter a whole lot either way.

After this, there are 10 "non-partisan" races, which is a bald-faced lie. I've been seeing ads for the Michigan Supreme Court races, for instance, featuring the two Republican candidates. The party affiliation may not be listed on the ballot, but it's certainly still part of the races. Several of these races also have only one choice listed. I would much rather not vote for judges at all - the federal appointment system seems much smarter - but it's on the ballot. Finding information that actually distinguishes one candidate from another is nigh impossible for a layman like me - they all seem to have experience, and all claim to support the law/community/etc. I think I'll go with the same "vote for whoever annoyed me the least with constant ads" method as mentioned above.

Finally, we have two proposals. The first is an increase in property tax to support the John Ball Zoo, both the primary campus and educational outreach programs, which I will absolutely support. (Despite the fact that the zoo has their own set of annoying ads around town. Not the fault of the animals or school kids.) The second is for an enhanced 9-1-1 service, paid for with an extra charge on "communication service suppliers' billings" (basically, phone bills). I'll support that one, too, on the general principle that skimping on things like emergency services tends to come back to bite you later on.

I signed up to get my flu shot tomorrow, so I can take care of two necessary but mildly painful things in one trip. Doctor's office, then the polling station, then home to read or play video games or stream some TV show...anything but watch election coverage.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

World Run Day at Pretty Lake Camp

Thanks to the folks at Gazelle Sports, I discovered that Pretty Lake Camp near Kalamazoo was hosting a World Run Day event on November 6. I signed up for the 10k trail run.
It's a decent drive down to the camp, about an hour. (Even had to go through Texas!) Long drives aren't ideal before or after runs, but this wasn't too bad. Got there early enough to stretch out after sitting in the car, and stayed around for a little while afterward to cool down a bit before the ride home.

Pretty Lake Camp doesn't have a particularly imaginative name, but it is an accurate one. You can see the lake from the area near the main buildings, and there are some nice views of the water from the trails also. Proceeds from the race went to support the camp, which among other things provides free camp experiences to low-income youth from Kalamazoo County.
The run itself is almost entirely through a wooded area, on dirt trails (and occasionally some sandy areas). We were fortunate that the weather was beautiful, upper 50s with no rain. There's a lot of fairly steep hills along the trail, but the footing was decent and I didn't have much trouble with balance (unlike when I did the Hard Cider Run). Making sure I didn't trip over a root or step in a hole still slowed me down a bit more than running on pavement, but not too much.

The event was fairly small - I'd guess around 200 runners. A few dozen of us ran the 10k, which started first, then the rest did 5k. Which was still enough to make the trail feel crowded at the beginning, but after the first mile or so there was plenty of room. The trail was well marked, which I appreciated - no fun getting lost in the woods! I had to get around some of the slower 5k folks since the 10k route looped around the same trails twice, but everyone was nice about giving room on the trail.
According to Runkeeper on my phone, I finished in 57:26, which is about what I'm used to for 10k on my regular runs. It also said the trail was only 9.45 kilometers, though. Given all the up and down on the hills, maybe the organizers included some elevation change in the distance when they laid out the course. In any event, I felt pretty good about the run, hills and all.

I'm glad I went down for this event, although it's a bit further afield than I usually go. If there's not a World Run Day event in the Grand Rapids area next year, I may do it again.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

What a Series

Holy Cow.
I've seen a lot of baseball games. The best ones don't always come in the biggest moments. But this season's World Series is certainly going to be hard to top.

Cleveland's run through the post-season has been all about great pitching. The games they won in this series followed that script. A total of two runs given up across all three. You expect better-than-average pitching from a team that makes it to the post-season and through multiple playoff rounds, but even by that standard the Indians pitching was spectacular. But in a long seven-game series, good hitters have a chance to adjust as they see the same pitching repeatedly. The Cubs' bats came alive as the series went on, particularly in the last two games.

The Chicago pitching was plenty good during the post-season, too. I was particularly impressed with Kyle Hendricks, and not just because of his performance in game 7. This is a guy who came into the season as the 5th starter on the Cubs staff, and all he did was lead the National League in ERA and win 16 games over 190 innings. By the time the post-season rolled around, Hendricks was third in the rotation and manager Joe Maddon felt comfortable lining up his starters to put him in game 7. And he did the job, giving up only 1 earned run over 4.2 innings.

When Jon Lester took over on the mound in the fifth, that also brought David Ross into the lineup. And 39-year-old "Grandpa Ross" (as his younger teammates call him) promptly hit a home run, making him the oldest player ever to go deep in a World Series game 7. This whole year has been full of great moments for Ross, who had announced that he'd retire after this season. Can't finish off a career much better!

Aroldis Chapman has been great closing games since he came to Chicago, but in game 7 he couldn't get the job done. Maybe that's because of all the work he's been doing recently, including pitching in game 6 even though the Cubs were up by 5. I can't say I agree with Maddon's pitching change decisions through this series, but getting the win in the end is what counts, even if that happened more due to the bats than the pitching in the final game. It's fitting that Mike Montgomery ended up with the game 7 save, considering all the good pitching he's done in the post-season out of the bullpen.

For Cleveland fans, I'm sure it's tempting to write off a season as a failure when your team loses. You can't get much closer than being down to a single game for the championship, though. Especially in baseball, where a single game is such a toss-up, and particularly when it goes to extra innings! Even great teams tend to lose around a third of the time. There's disappointment in losing the seventh game of a World Series, but no shame.

For Major League Baseball overall, I'm not sure this year's World Series could have gone much better. Usually, the conventional wisdom says that you want two teams from big markets to draw in the most viewers. Chicago is big enough, but usually you want to see at least one coastal team. This year, though, the fact that neither team had won the championship in so long made it compelling viewing for sports fans from all over. Also, it's always best for the popularity of the sport when the drama is high, and this series didn't disappoint. From a tense 1-0 Indians win in game 3, to two Cubs wins in elimination games 5 and 6, to the winner-take-all game 7 that goes into extra innings - hard to draw it up any better to keep maximum interest from the fan base.

I always miss baseball over the winter, but this will be a much happier off-season than usual. It may take me until spring to get used to hearing "World Champion Chicago Cubs!"

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Just City by Jo Walton

I picked up The Just City by Jo Walton when Tor gave it away as their free eBook of the Month in August. I'm not sure I'd have read it otherwise, as the idea of implementing Plato's Republic doesn't sound particularly interesting, but now I'm glad I did.
The premise of The Just City is that gods are real, and two of them - Apollo and Athene - have decided to pull people from all across history to found a city based on Plato's Republic. Most come from before the present day, but some from the future. These "masters" set up the city with the help of worker automatons brought from our future. (Between the gods, time travel, and how the workers' nature plays a large role in the story, I have a hard time categorizing this book as either science fiction or fantasy. I think it's some of both.) Then they purchase slave children from across history to populate the city and raise them as the first generation of citizens.

About the gods: Walton is careful to point out that the gods of many religions are real in the world of The Just City. Apollo and Athene are from the Greek pantheon, but he specifically describes others such as Jesus as being real also. There's a single all-powerful Father that is above them all, who is a mystery as much to the gods as to humans. It's an interesting way of using gods as characters while mostly removing religion from consideration.

I vaguely remember discussing Plato's Republic in school many years ago, as one among many philosophical works. The details are hazy, though, so I'm glad Walton generally explains what is being attempted, rather than assuming you know the source material. I'm sure there are some subtleties that I missed by not knowing the Republic in great detail, but the book is certainly accessible with only a vague understanding of what Plato wrote.

The Just City documents what happens when you try to implement a thought experiment in reality. Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of compromise involved, and some parts don't work as well as one might hope. The masters are all believers in the Platonic ideal at first - they were chosen specifically for their desire to be in such a city - but as time passes some of that certainty fades. The children are raised in the city and for the most part accept it as natural, but over time it becomes clear that human nature just doesn't line up with some facets of the ideal. Most notably, the elimination of marriage in favor of a randomized "festival" to pair up the "best" parents causes serious discord.

From a character standpoint, I thought Walton did a fine job in giving the reader relatable individuals to follow. The majority of the book follows three: Apollo, who has taken the form of one of the children; Maia, one of the masters; and Simmea, a child brought to the city from her former life as a slave. Each of these is well developed and understandable, and many other characters make extensive appearances. Chief among those others is Sokrates, who was brought to the city by Athene to teach rhetoric and debate. His constant questioning and argument is a major factor in the eventual fate of the experiment.

There's not a lot of physical action or conflict in The Just City, but plenty of philosophical discussion and struggle with how to reconcile reality with ideals. Equality of the sexes is a basic tenet of the Republic, but is still a struggle (particularly among the masters from older historical periods), both socially and in terms of physical assault. The nature of the gods as powerful but flawed, especially when it comes to taking into account the will of anyone else, is a key theme. Slavery is generally considered unjust and undesirable, but still used as a tool on some occasions. These and other themes, along with interest in the viewpoint characters, kept my attention throughout the story.

Even if the ancient philosophy represented by Plato's Republic isn't particularly appealing, The Just City has plenty to offer. The interactions between the characters and the process of building the city have plenty of entertainment value. I think most readers will find the philosophical discussions interesting as well, as they fit nicely into the flow of the book.