The Time Bender, by Keith Laumer

I'm sure Laumer spent more time thinking about the outfits that Retief wears than just about anything in this story. Even the publisher couldn't bother to have cover art with anything to do with the story:

Nevertheless, there are some cute scenes here and there, all in Laumer's typical light style.

A guy from our Earth dreams his way into a fantasy world and gets involved in some intrigues. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that it seems to slightly presage some of Zelazny's Amber -- the ability of certain special people to alter the world. The basis is not at all like Zelazny's, but like I said, it rings familiar.

Notes on a Foreign Country | Think Tank

Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World by Suzy Hansen

Hansen moved to Turkey as a young journalist and immersed herself in the local politics and culture, and wound up learning a lot about the US and its involvement/meddling in foreign countries, and how the people of those countries subsequently view the US. I have a hard time assessing my feeling about the book. Some of it may be generational. For me Vietnam was history, but it certainly loomed large, and the 80s was all about US meddling in the Americas, and the aftermath of our previous meddling in Iran.

It's hard for me to not imagine our disastrous meddling in Iraq and Afghanistan not inspiring similar cynical feelings in millennials, but Hansen seems to have sprung from a more conservative family. Anyway, half of my reaction to the book is, "How could she ever have been so naïve?"

And then the second half of my reaction to the book is, "How can she be so credulous?" Just because she's getting information about the US from critics in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Greece and elsewhere is hardly a guarantee of trustworthiness. So sometimes the kneejerk anti-Americanism rankled.

She's pretty down on Ataturk, deriding his modern day secularist Turkish followers as Western-style hedonist educated elites working towards some alien 'modernity' that is not-Turkish. I mean, that's probably accurate to a certain extent, but it's weird seeing her spend a fair amount of the book being something of an apologist for Erdogan and his Islamist tendencies, only to be suddenly shocked by them a bit further on.

I also have some doubts she understood some of the things she was hearing about. She spends some time on the problems in Greece.

“Did you ever take side money from your patients?” Everybody was listening. “Yes.” “Are you still taking money on the side?” “Not anymore.” “Why?” “Because now, the way things are, I’d be lynched.” The fact that cracking down on doctors counted as a positive development in Greece was a sign of just how troubled Greek society had become.

Greeks aren't upset about doctors performing healthcare. The crucial piece there is 'side money'. One of the huge problems in Greece is tax evasion. Greece can't perform services for its citizens (or pay back loans to international banks) if people are hiding income under the table.


Think Tank: Forty Neuroscientists Explore the Biological Roots of Human Experience, edited by David J. Linden

A neat idea. Ask 40 experts in neuroscience what one thing they'd most like to tell an interested layman about how the brain works. 40 different topics, 40 different takes, 40 different writing styles. Obviously, some wind up being more interesting than others, but the essays are short enough that you'll find something interesting pretty soon. Here's how Linden describes the book:

Scientists are trained to be meticulous when they speak about their work. That’s why I like getting my neuroscience colleagues tipsy. For years, after plying them with spirits or cannabis, I’ve been asking brain researchers the same simple question: “What idea about brain function would you most like to explain to the world?” I’ve been delighted with their responses. They don’t delve into the minutiae of their latest experiments or lapse into nerd speak. They sit up a little straighter, open their eyes a little wider, and give clear, insightful, and often unpredictable or counterintuitive answers. This book is the result of those conversations.

And now just some other snippets that interested me:

After three months of practice, the volunteers could juggle for an entire minute without mistakes—and there were distinct changes in their brains. Structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI),10 used here to examine the anatomical structure of the brain, revealed a selective expansion in the gray matter of the mid-temporal area, the part of the brain that processes the speed and direction of moving objects. There was also an enlargement of the brain region for perceptual motor coordination and visual attention, all components of the skills needed to become a proficient juggler. Three months later, after a break from practicing, most volunteers could no longer juggle, and the corresponding brain expansions had reversed. In just six months, this experiment showed that training causes transient, but very real, structural changes in the brain!

Might there be functional consequences for this reorganization of limited cortical resources? Let’s return to the London taxi drivers. What we have yet to mention is that the taxi drivers’ expansion of the posterior hippocampus comes at the cost of the anterior hippocampus.17 The overall volume of the hippocampus is the same between drivers and controls; it’s just the regional volumes that differ. The posterior hippocampus is thought to store spatial representation of the environment, such that an expansion here could allow for a more detailed mental map. In contrast, the corresponding reduction in anterior hippocampus might explain some of the functional deficits seen in taxi drivers. Most broadly, they’re worse than nondrivers at forming new visual and spatial memories. For example, when given a complex line drawing to copy, they’re worse at redrawing the figure in a later memory test; this task tests the ability to remember how visual elements are spatially arranged.


Another interesting paradox is demonstrated with use of the thermal grill. This device consists of alternating warm and cool metal bars. Not surprisingly, if you place your hand on the grill when the warm and cool bars are activated separately, you will experience warm and cool sensations respectively. However, when the warm and cool bars are turned on together, most individuals will feel intense, burning pain. And they will reflexively quickly withdraw their hands. With the thermal grill, there is pain in the absence of “painful” stimuli; it is an illusion of pain.


Then, in 2005, Edvard and May-Britt Moser and colleagues reported that cells in the entorhinal cortex, one synapse upstream of the hippocampus, respond in a hexagonal grid pattern in space—that is, according to a distinct pattern that is spatially periodic in two dimensions. These “grid cell” responses are strikingly unrelated to the behavioral trajectories of the animals, rather reflecting an internally organized structure imposed on experienced space, sometimes likened to graph paper. O’Keefe and the Mosers received the Nobel Prize in 2014 for these discoveries.


Why does the brain need to predict sensory events that might happen in the future? To answer this question, let us try an experiment. Take a book and place it in your left hand, and then ask a friend to pick up the book from your hand. You will notice that as the book is lifted off your hand, your hand does not stay perfectly still but shifts upward. Now place the book back in your left hand and use your right hand to pick up the book. Something remarkable happens: the left hand that was holding the book remains perfectly still.


Most recently, a set of genes has been described that controls language in both humans and African grey parrots, despite anatomical differences in brain organization between humans and birds and the absence of a common ancestor that shares the language trait.


Fascinating experiment where they showed monkeys paired images of major brand logos with... sexy and unsexy pictures of monkeys. Over time, the monkeys associated the brand logos with sex and status. Haha, stupid monkeys!

Our advertising campaign was remarkably effective. Monkeys developed preferences for brands associated with sex and status. Both males and females preferred brands paired with sexual cues and the faces of high-status monkeys. These findings endorse the hypothesis that the brain mechanisms that prioritize information about sex and status shape consumer behavior today, to the advantage of marketers and, perhaps, our own dissatisfaction.


People were shown faces that were either beautiful or neutral and statements or pictures that depicted morally good or neutral acts. Parts of the brain that respond to rewards in the orbitofrontal cortex also respond to both facial beauty and moral correctness, suggesting that the reward experienced for beauty and goodness is similar in the brain.

This similar experiment on humans is interesting as well. I've often made the comparison that moral judgments are subjective judgments, just as aesthetic judgments are. Here's some evidence that they are treated similarly by the brain, at least in this limited context.




Farnham's Freehold, by Robert A Heinlein

Oh my, where to begin?

I would very much like Paul Verhoeven to make a film of this in much the same vein as his excellent take on Heinlein's Starship Troopers, because some deep-level parody is the only way to fully enjoy this tale.

1950s American Engineer Man builds a bomb shelter when the Big Whoops arrives. Inside are AEM, his fat alcoholic wife, his feckless son whom he's putting through law school, his plucky daughter, her plucky friend from school, and a Negro servant. AEM is large and in charge and will shoot anyone who dares disobey him. They're all alive due to his forethought despite this terrible catastrophe. But, when you think about it, is it really all that bad?

AEM: "Well it's hard to take the long view when you are crouching in a shelter and wondering how long ou can hold out. But Barbara [plucky school chum -- I'm not sure this is before or after AEM has had post-atomic war coitus with her] I've been worried for years about our country. It seems to me that we have been breeding slaves -- and I believe in freedom. This war may have turned the tide. This may be the first war in history which kills the stupid rather than the bright and able...

the boys in service are as safe or safer than civilians. And of civilians those who used their heads and made preparations stand a far better chance. Not every case, but on the average, and that will improve the breed. When it's over, things will be tough, and that will improve the breed still more. For years the surest way of surviving has been to be utterly worthless and breed a lot of worthless kids. All that will change."
Barbara: I suppose you're right. No, I know you're right. ... Killing the poorest third is just good genetics...


Ultimately they leave the shelter [I'm not sure whether this is before or after AEM's daughter tell him that of the three men present, she would most like to have sex with him.] and they've been blasted into the future, which is fortunate since it's not too radioactive. So AEM makes a few more orders and organizes civilization, until they are improbably picked up by the people of the future. With the Northern Hemisphere wiped out by the Whoops, the earth is now ruled by dark-skinned people with white-skinned slaves [I'm not sure whether this is before or after half the case has used the n-word]. Further twaddle ensues. I'll give it this -- it's reasonably engaging and as each section of plot kind of plays itself out, Heinlein comes up with something else interesting to happen. But the whole thing feels.... well, let me just quote a bit more.

[AEM] concentrated on being glad that Barbara was a woman who never chattered when her man wanted her to be quiet.

yellowstone Falls

Duplex, by Kathryn Davis

Although subtitled "A Novel", I felt a little cheated to discover that Duplex is really more of interconnected short stories set in a block somewhere in mid-to-late 20th century Everytown, USA. Kind of a Martian Chronicles pushed further into the surreal.

The blurbs promise quite the fireworks, and it's hard to miss with a block populated by robots, sorcerers, and children on their way to growing up. But while I admire some of the askew descriptions Davis provides, and the dream-like and daydream-like departures from pedestrian fiction, ultimately some of these departures go too far into obscurity or opacity. The characters are drawn with a good feel for internal mental detail, despite their absurd world, but most of their preoccupations are almost numbingly mundane.

And since it is an assemblage of short stories or vignettes, the whole never becomes any more that the sum of its parts (and as a reader, I missed some of the parts wandering off stage never to reappear again.)

Paper Dragons, By James P Blaylock & The Sinking City

 As usual, I'm behind the times. The World Fantasy Convention just ended in Los Angeles, and the World Fantasy Awards for 2019 have been announced.

And here I am catching up with "Paper Dragons," which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story in 1986. Originally published in Imaginary Lands, I have the standalone version from Axolotl Press with the intro by Blaylock's pal Tim Powers.

The story has a lovely dream-y feel of Northern California with a lot of what makes Blaylock Blaylock. Animals behaving strangely. People behaving strangely. And the petty foibles of human society -- like tossing tomato worms into a neighbor's yard. Not much of a story, but more a prose poem on the possibility of the magical being just around the bend, or behind a passing cloud.


The Sinking City is a Lovecraftian videogame. Lovecraft doesn't translate well to films or videogames, where most people just add tentacles to make it 'Lovecraftian'. But the Sinking City does a pretty fine job of capturing more of the spirit, so on that level it's successful. Your hard-boiled, ex-Navy diver investigator finds his way around a decrepit town beset by a flood (yes and the occasional tentacled monster). He's been told he can find the answers to his nightmares and visions, and various people around town are happy to pay him to solve their own particular problems.

Perhaps the most novel and 'Lovecraftian' gimmick is the Mind Palace, which provides a concrete game mechanic that corresponds to a mind  'correlating its contents'. Clues that you find on a case can be matched together two-by-two to form deductions that get you closer to the ultimate solution of the case.

Not very novel is a SAN meter that when it gets low results in additional visions and hallucinations. Sometimes, it's handled pretty ham-fistedly, but other times it creates some pretty vistas. I consciously avoided getting the sanity upgrades because I enjoyed the phantasmagoria. 

Drawbacks are long load times and some glitchiness, and some extreme logic gates. You the player can have figured out where to go next, but unless your character has schlepped over to the newspaper morgue to confirm the location, the clues won't be there. They only magically appear once they've been unlocked by the schlepping. Sometimes you have to look at this clue before you look at that clue, or it won't give up all its secrets.

The combat system is not very good. If you're looking for combat as the point of a game, this is not it. But if you want some moody investigating, it has something going for it. Probably a C+/B- for a gamer, but an B+/A- for me.


We the Corporations, by Adam Winkler

 A UCLA law prof traces the history of corporate rights in America.

The book starts a little slow, but gains steam as we move away from antiquated entities like the Bank of the United States and closer to Citizens United and Hobby Lobby.

Not that I'm a great legal scholar, but I have no problem with a corporation being a fictitious 'person' for legal purposes. But it seems clear that certain rights should be reserved to people people. The overall history is one of corporations getting more and more rights -- and possibly too much at the present time. There were two major threads that I saw:

#1: The extent to which the law should 'pierce the veil' and treat the rights of the corporation as the same as the rights of the people that make it up. While the arrow drifted back and forth over time, it seems that the current situation is where the people behind the corporations get the best of both worlds. If it comes to liability, the people are protected and only the corporation can be sued. If it comes to rights, suddenly the people can exert them (as the owners of Hobby Lobby assert their company itself has religious beliefs and religious rights that correspond to their own beliefs and rights.

In some cases, this ambiguity is not necessarily automatically evil. In one case a corporation composed of black investors was allowed to rent a segregated space because the corporation was not black. In another, the NAACP was black enough to sue for racial discrimination.

#2: What sort of rights corporations have, as opposed to people people. For a long time there was a distinction (wrong, I think) that corporations had property rights, but no liberty rights. I don't see how 'freedom of the press' can only be an individual right. Maybe it was different when newspapers were just Ben Franklin personally setting ink to paper, but nowadays all newspapers are corporations. How could they not have access to freedom of the press? And so it was ruled in cases involving Huey Long and Louisiana newspapers. But from this necessary (in my view) extension of liberty rights to corporations, it has been a slide toward giving corporations the whole farm. So much so that now they can use their deep pockets to express 'speech' in the form of superPAC donations.

A point that Winkler makes is that we often hear about the women's rights struggle, or civil rights struggle, but no one talks about the corporate rights struggle. But to be sure there was one, and it leaned on these other struggles a great deal.

Between 1868, when the amendment was ratified, and 1912, when a scholar set out to identify every Fourteenth Amendment case heard by the Supreme Court, the justices decided 28 cases dealing with the rights of African Americans—and an astonishing 312 cases dealing with the rights of corporations. At the same time the court was upholding Jim Crow laws in infamous cases like Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the justices were invalidating minimum-wage laws, curtailing collective bargaining efforts, voiding manufacturing restrictions, and even overturning a law regulating the weight of commercial loaves of bread. The Fourteenth Amendment, adopted to shield the former slaves from discrimination, had been transformed into a sword used by corporations to strike at unwanted regulation.

A little snippet of California history:

On the justice’s next trip to California, Field and his bodyguard, Deputy Marshal David Neagle, were having breakfast at a train stop in Lathrop, about 70 miles due east of San Francisco, when Terry snuck up behind the justice and struck him. Neagle jumped up and shot Terry twice, once in the head and once in the heart, killing the former judge instantly. It was then discovered, however, that Terry was unarmed, and California authorities arrested both Neagle and Field for murder. To this day, Field remains the only justice ever arrested while serving on the Supreme Court, much less for a crime as serious as murder.

Another reminder of how the Republican Party has changed since the days of Lincoln (or even McKinley). immigrant voter reachout efforts:

Although state committees had traditionally managed the local campaigns, even for presidential candidates, Hanna centralized them all under his authority in order to be “the general staff of the whole army.” He reorganized the RNC’s executive offices and introduced an improved system of bookkeeping. He opened a branch headquarters in Chicago, closer to the midwestern voters whose support McKinley would need. He created the first nationwide advertising campaign to market a presidential candidate and produced over 100 million pieces of campaign literature printed in German, Spanish, French, Italian, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Hebrew to appeal to immigrants.

School fighting for the right to be integrated:
...Berea College in Kentucky had moral [reasons to go to court]. At the time, the college, which was organized as a corporation like one of the earliest corporate rights litigants, Dartmouth College, was the only racially integrated school in the South. After Roosevelt’s fateful dinner with Booker T. Washington at the White House, Kentucky lawmakers hardened their segregationist resolve and passed a law prohibiting any school from having a racially integrated student body. The college challenged the law on various grounds, including interference with its right to choose its own students. It was unconstitutional, the college argued, to prohibit “the voluntary association of persons of different races” absent compelling reasons.

Justices had somewhat more 'political' lives in the past:
Hughes had to resign from the Supreme Court to run [for President!]. For all his intellectual and prosecutorial gifts, however, Hughes was a poor campaigner and, in an upset, lost by only a few thousand votes to the incumbent Wilson. The lesson of his failed candidacy—that the judicial temperament is ill-suited to the rigors of the type of modern, commercial-style campaign first envisioned by Mark Hanna—would discourage future Supreme Court justices from running for national executive office. (William O. Douglas came closest in 1940 and 1944 when he was considered for vice president by Franklin Roosevelt.) Losing the presidency and a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court within months of each other, however, did not seem to faze the gifted Hughes. Like a cat with nine lives, he would go on to serve as secretary of state to two presidents and, in 1930, would be appointed again to the Supreme Court of the United States, this time as chief justice.

This case was about proselytizing in a 'company town', but obviously has some application (I think) to current companies that want to exclude certain sorts.
Although Black recognized that private property owners usually have the right to exclude whomever they want from their property, the “more an owner, for his advantage, opens up his property for use by the public in general,” the more the owner has to respect the constitutional rights of the public. Here, Chickasaw’s business block was “accessible to and freely used by the public in general.” Because Chickasaw was a town—even if it was really a company town—it could not silence religious minorities.

The world could use more Congressional committees humiliating people interfering with witnesses:
In 1966, Gillen sent out agents to look into [Ralph] Nader’s personal life, to see if the crusader was into “women, boys, etc.,” and to determine if he liked “drinking, dope” or anything else scandalous.11 When Morton Mintz of the Washington Post reported that Nader was being tailed, Senator Abraham Ribicoff, the chairman of the Senate subcommittee, was outraged at the apparent harassment of a congressional witness. He demanded GM president James Roche appear before the Senate, where the humiliated car executive was forced to apologize repeatedly.

Of the many things one could blame Rehnquist for, annoying pharmaceutical commercials are not among them.
“The logical consequences of the court’s decision in this case are far-reaching indeed,” warned Rehnquist. Not only would the court’s ruling inevitably “extend to lawyers, doctors, and all other professions,” it would also lead to “active promotion of prescription drugs, liquor, cigarettes, and other products.” In a prescient passage, Rehnquist predicted that pharmaceutical companies would soon be hawking their drugs directly to consumers: “Don’t spend another sleepless night,” he predicted the ads might say. “Ask your doctor to prescribe Seconal without delay.”

atheist teacher

Frederick Douglass, by William S McFeely

 I heard he's doing great things these days, so I thought I'd pick up this biography.

It's a good one, but it helps to have great source material. I think the most surprising thing about the early chapters was how different slavery was from my conception. Though this is no doubt due to Douglass being in Maryland within throwing distance of the Mason Dixon line, rather than in the Deep South. Rather than working for years in the same field, he moved around quite a lot, both with the family that owned him, but also being 'rented out' to other families who needed labor. Later on, he learned a trade in caulking for shipbuilding and essentially lived on his own, paying for his own food and lodging, while sending the majority of his pay back to his owner.

Ultimately, of course, he escaped, becoming a major figure in the abolitionist movement, and renowned for his oratory. One of the great details is that one of the books he used to learn to read was a book of famous speeches, and he apparently absorbed it, cover to cover. Some of the ancient Roman speeches regarding slavery inspired his own abolitionist thinking.

While occasionally bogged down in petty rivalries within the abolitionist movement, Douglass also had a broad scope and was one of the many people involved in both abolition and women's suffrage. This was a two-way door and many (white) women were also supportive of abolition. This didn't always go down well, or be reported fairly:

"the tenth-anniversary meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society was moved after being barred from the Broadway Tabernacle), reporters took salacious note of what they chose to see as the 'semi-flirtations' in a meeting 'chiefly composed of members of the fair sex,' but attended as well by 'sable-complexioned sons of Africa'"
"On August 26, 1842, when [Abby] Kelley began her address to an antislavery convention in Rochester, in the Third Presbyterian Church, the minister was so appalled that a woman was speaking publicaly, and ordered the small gathering out of the building."

In 1860, after Lincoln's election, things were clearly pretty hot. This Winslow Homer print gives an idea of the brawl that occurred when a commemoration of John Brown was gatecrashed by members of the Constitutional Union Party. They were against secession, but not anti-slavery.

After the war, Douglass was far too optimistic about how ex-slaves and black people would just enter society. He seemed to think abolition and the vote would cure everything. I don't know that he had much experience of the Deep South, but that slowly dawned on him as lynching became common. Also, I think he may have underestimated his own genius and success. There is a whiff of that Bill Cosby tone of, if you all just got off your lazy butts, you'd be as successful as I am. I think he should have learned faster from the varied fortunes of his children, who with many advantages and riding his coattails, were always something of a disappointment to him.

Another poor choice was getting involved in the Freedman's Bank, which failed not long after he joined its board and lent his popularity to it. "Some scholars claim that the failure of the Freedman's Bank and the loss of their savings led to a distrust of all banking institutions for several generations among the black community."

Getting back to being out of touch. "Those with their eyes open to the oppression of black laborers in Mississippi and Louisiana in 1879 saw Douglass as simply wrong when he claimed that "the conditions … in the Southern States are steadily improving." His prediction "that the colored man there will ultimately realize the fullest measure of liberty and equality" was cold comfort in 1879."

His ambassadorship to Haiti was also somewhat mixed, although he seems to have done well when faced with some autocratic rulers and undiplomatic US military, who wanted a naval base there. Later he helped put on the Haitian pavilion at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Though there was kind of a shameful scene when the expo held a Colored People's Day and stocked up on watermelon. Many blacks boycotted it, but Douglass apparently took the opportunity to give a corker of a speech.

"The introductions over, Douglass rose once more, put on his glasses and began somberly reading a paper, "THe Race Problem in America." Suddenly he was interrupted by 'jeers and catcalls' from white men in the rear of the crowd. In the August heat, the old man tried to go on, but the mocking persisted; his hand shook. Painfully, Dunbar witnessed his idol's persecution; the great orator's voice 'faltered.' Then, to the young poet's surprise and delight, the old abolitionist threw his papers down, parked his glasses on them, and eyes flashing, pushed his hand through his great mane of white hair. Then he spoke: 'Full, rich and deep came the sonorous tones, compelling attention, drowning out the catcalls as an organ would a penny whistle.' 'Men talk of the Negro Problem,' Douglass roared. 'There is no Negro Problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own Constitution.'"


mr. Gruff

Giles Goat-Boy, by John Barth

This novel is like a strange artifact that fell out of a parallel universe. The overall conceit is something of an allegory, where the university represents the universe (well or at least the world). And, having been written in the mid 60s, it's also an allegory of the Cold War. So there is a West Campus and an East Campus.

And the entire history of the campus bears analogues to our world history, but with all the names changed. So Germans are Siegfrieders (our enemies in the Second Campus Riot), Jesus is Enos, Socrates is Maios, and so on. Like A Clockwork Orange, you slowly soak in this weirdness and start to comprehend bits of this alternate reality.

The story, such as it is, is the journey of the titular goat-boy, who follows the path of the hero. So it's also interesting to see parallels to Star Wars (as another derivative of Campbell's work on the hero myth). Some of the episodes are loose retellings of Greek myth or the New Testament. In addition to the heroic journey, the goat-boy also goes on a moral journey, advancing from the animal morality of the goat-pen to seeing metaphorical readings of the prophecies as a way to get to the truer truth.

At right about the midpoint of the novel, there is a bonkers performance/interpolation of the play Oedipus Rex, transformed into Taliped Decanus, written ingeniously and wittily in the style of this university world. 

Sadly, afterwards, the novel starts to take its symbols and allegorical figures too seriously, and things bog down.

Days Gone - Heavy Rain - Detroit: Become Human

 Perhaps unwisely, I picked two of my thickest books on my to-read shelf, so... instead let's do videogames.

Days Gone let's you be a biker after the zombie apocalypse, chasing down clues to what happened to your wife, shooting zombies of various sorts, scrounging for spare parts, and making friends and enemies of the locals. Game play is a bit like Far Cry, but distinct enough. Good clean fun.

I remember downloading a demo of Heavy Rain and finding the controls so annoying that I gave up. But now it returned along with Detroit (both products of Quantic Dream) as free PS downloads. So I tried again. The controls are STILL annoying, but I persevered and it's a clever sadistic-mass-murder mystery distributed across several main characters. The game-play is sort of choose-your-own adventure style, and there are multiple outcomes and endings. I didn't feel the need to try it over, but liked it.

Detroit is a refined version of the distributed choose your own adventure, with a much better control configuration. Three androids separately see different aspects of a future world where androids are virtual slaves, but have suddenly been running amok. Like Heavy Rain, the narratives railroad you into extreme situations, with extreme choices to make. Enjoyed this enough that I'm playing a second time to see some of the outcomes I missed. But I doubt I'll need to become a completist.

Relatives, by George Alex Effinger

Effinger's second novel, from 1973, explores a nihilistic triple view of the world, interweaving three stories with related(?) main characters, all named Ern(e)st Wein(t)raub.

One lives in a future where world government has been centralized under a small cabal of Representatives, who wield absolute power. They announce that the world is coming to an end, and only some people will be awarded tokens to be allowed into the shelters. Our hero sets out into NYC to obtain a token for himself (and maybe his wife). It's interesting to compare this section with Super Sad True Love Story, which also features a troubled love story in an altered NYC under threat.

Another is in the Communist underground in a post-WWI America that is under German dominance (the Allies having lost). He's been sent by the Communist Party to undermine American values, as part of a long-term strategy to foment Revolution.

The last features a expat poet drinking his life away at a bar somewhere in the middle of the Sahara -- something of a preview of the Marid Audran setting, but not in the future.

Despite/Because of its bleak outlook on humanity, I think it's a great little work.