How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates

This is a book that I have been curious about for a while, and also one I was a little cynical about. After all, you don’t really expect to get environmental messages from the world’s billionaires – especially as they’re the ones who are largely responsible for the extent of the crisis as it is. Having said that, I was very impressed by the book, and though he took the matter completely seriously, he did it with a level of optimism that you don’t often see when it comes to the climate crisis, which was refreshing.

However, though Bill Gates is optimistic, he is under no illusion that the changes needed are going to be easy to implement, or that there won’t be serious consequences if we fail to get to net zero carbon. He also acknowledges that it is people like him who have a greater responsibility to find and implement solutions, because they themselves played a much larger role in causing it. At the same time, he emphasises that everybody can play their part in solving the problem, even if it’s just in carefully thinking about how they vote in elections, or buying products which have been more ethically sourced.

Speaking of which, one aspect of the book that I found particularly interesting was when he talked about vegetarian and vegan diets being part of the solution. Methane from cows is a large contributor to worldwide carbon emissions, and he explains that transitioning to vegan alternatives, or even lab-grown meat, will be a good way of reducing some of the carbon. He explains that he is somebody who always enjoyed meat, and has been historically sceptical of fake meats, but that in recent times he has grown a lot fonder of them due to their increased quality. He does also stress, however, that while vegan options have the potential to be better for the environment, there are also times where they’re made unethically and in such cases can even be just as bad.

He goes over all of the different areas that contribute to the carbon in our atmosphere, and suggests how each and every one of them could be reduced, and what technologies and alternative fuels are available to replace them. He says a big part of them problem is that it is currently incredibly cheap to use oil, and explains that the reason for this is that so many governments have historically put systems in place to make it as affordable as possible. Originally, this was because it helped to improve quality of life for as many people as possible, but now that that is no longer the case, and even risks doing the exact opposite in the long run. Meanwhile, if steps were taken to charge a price for fossil fuels which accurately reflects the toll that they take, it would de-incentivise their use, especially among large businesses.

Outside of this, he also talks about drastic measures which can be taken to protect the human race in the event that climate change begins to accelerate a point beyond our control. One of which was releasing chemicals to create clouds which repel the suns rays and reduce the effects of global warming. It’s both comforting to think that there are plans for even the worst case scenarios, and also kind of bleak to think that such measures might have to be taken.

Overall, his message is that we need to invest more in alternative fuels and green technologies, discourage the use of fossil fuels as much as possible, and aim for zero carbon, not just a reduction. He admits, depressingly, that one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome is actually getting politicians to act in favour of the people, but as he is an expert on the subject, it is reassuring to read his very grounded solutions to the problems we are facing as a species – he admits he doesn’t have all the answers, but he sets forth some very agreeable ideas.

Rating: 9/10

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Assassination Classroom, Volume 13 by Yusei Matsui

Another volume of my favourite manga! Moving through, I sometimes wonder if volume by volume reviews are the right way to approach manga, because I don’t always feel like I have so much to say. Nonetheless, this was another fantastic instalment, and a step up from the 12th volume, I think (which was great anyway).

Starting out, it gives us a conclusion to the Grim Reaper storyline. As always, I’m not going to spoil what happens, but it’s good, high-stakes drama that gives fantastic moments for Karasuma, Jelavich, and Koro-Sensei. While the island storyline is probably my favourite part of the manga so far, this arc comes very close.

After all that more Shonen-esque drama, you also get a storyline about Nagisa’s mother trying to take him out of school. I like that the assassination-hijinks are contrasted against the much more down-to-Earth drama of Nagisa’s family life. His mother is a little over the top, but I thought this was a really good addition to his character, giving an explanation for why he behaves in certain ways.

In this volume, you also get a sense of things starting to come to a close – like the noose is slowly tightening around Koro-Sensei’s neck. The government are growing unhappy with the fact that Koro-Sensei is still at large, and so starts to consider more drastic measures. Though it ends with a more chilled out storyline about a school festival, it leaves a general sense of foreboding at the end of the volume – which, of course, left me hungry for more.

Rating: 9.3/10

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Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune is, of course, one of the best-selling sci-fi novels ever written, and considered by many to be one of the best ever written. I was, however, a little dubious about starting it, the reason being that I knew a few people who had read it, and they described it as a very dry and boring read. Of course, I couldn’t stay away from such a renowned novel as this, and now finally having read it, I can say that I didn’t find it too dry or boring at all – but I also don’t think that it quite lived up to its reputation.

The story follows a boy named Paul (of House Atreides) who moves to the planet Arrakis along with his family, which is a planet renowned as the source of “spice” a highly sought-after drug that generates enormous amounts of money – unfortunately, this move comes as the result of some political meddling from powerful forces, and his father worries that they’re in store for some rocky times – sure enough, they are.

This is one of those novels where you can tell that the author spent a great deal of time developing the setting. From the super intelligent and logical Mentats, to the history of the world(s), and it’s religions and politics, and even the iconic giant worms, it’s a setting I enjoyed reading about, and as soon as I started the book I thought “I’m interested by this universe and want to learn more.”

As the novel went on, I realised that Frank Herbert wasn’t so good at doing his world-building organically. There are certain chapters where he’s pretty much directly telling us about a lot of the minutia of his world. Like, it is all interesting, but some of the chapters, particularly those with a slightly more scientific focus, had me thinking “Can we just get on with the story, please?”

The other pitfall was that it really scrimps on the human-angle. I don’t mean that this is a novel that doesn’t feature many human beings (it has plenty of them), but it never really delves into anybody’s emotional responses to the things that happens. This is true for Paul in particular – he goes through some really horrific experiences, things which would take a lot of time to process and come to terms with… but which are brushed off with only a few lines about how he feels about it. The same goes for his mother (who was a pretty interesting character). She goes through so much, but it’s written more like a history book with a completely detached perspective, and that was kind of disappointing.

Dune is also guilty of using a number of cliched tropes. I can give it a bit of slack, because it’s quite an old piece of sci-fi, and these things might not have felt as noticeable back then. For me, the biggest thing was the fact that Paul’s story is very much along the lines of “He’s the chosen one, destined for greatness, who’ll change the world” and then that’s exactly what he does… it’s a pretty bland idea for something so central to the novel.

Nonetheless, reading Dune was definitely a positive experience for me. It’s a book that, perhaps, hasn’t aged so well, but it is set within a fascinating world. Arrakis is a world with almost no water, and I really enjoyed reading about the kind of culture that would grow around such a dry world. There are lots of interesting ideas and concepts, but they’re tied together with a fairly bland storyline, and it lacks much in the way of human emotion.

Rating: 6.3/10

Buy it here.

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The Cost of Sexism by Linda Scott

This is probably the best feminist book I’ve ever read. Essentially, what Linda Scott does in it is look at sexism (or really misogyny) that’s happening all over the world, and then explain how it is that that negatively effects everyone. Of course, it’s obvious that misogynistic behaviours will be bad for women, but she looks at how they harm men too, and how everybody suffers because of it.

She gave a perfect example of something she had observed in African countries. In poorer families, the men would be put first and they’d have the lion’s share of the food. They’d always have enough to eat, while the women would have comparatively less. Because of this, the women don’t actually get enough, and are often malnourished. This even happens while they are pregnant, and then the unborn babies suffer in the womb, and are born prone to illnesses. With hundreds of cased of this happening, there’s a whole generation in poorer health.

She also talked about it being considered taboo for women to work in certain countries, where employers often wouldn’t even seriously consider female applicants for roles. She explains that if the attitude were to change, at large, these countries would essentially be able to double the size of their economies. The workforce would be twice as big, because there’d be twice as many people with their own income to spend on things, and twice as much money then going back into the economy. I’d never even considered this before, but it’s an amazing (if sad) perspective.

Meanwhile, speaking about the US and the UK, she talked about how men occupy many of the highest pay jobs, and the ones which have the largest impact on the way society is organised. She explained that many of these types of role (e.g. with economists) are built on highly misogynistic cultures rooted in the past. Women are frequently driven out by the awful behaviour of people working in these fields, and the overall perspectives are so deeply rooted in the past that new thoughts and ideas in general are not welcomed – this means that sexist ideals continue to play a huge role in decision-making progresses and often end up being seen as more valuable than they really are.

Ultimately, she makes the point that many problems would be solved if women were, A) given equal opportunities and pay in the workplace (especially in higher up, influential jobs), B) if childcare were free and available to everyone, C) if women across the world are given free and easy access to menstrual care. These are the main points, but Linda Scott has a lot to say, and I learned a lot from it (even as someone who tries to be aware of these types of social issues). I recommend everybody give this book a try.

Rating: 9.4/10

Buy it here.

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Penguin Classics: The Amazing Spider-Man

First of all, I absolutely love the fact that the Penguin Classics range now includes classic comics. The Amazing Spider-Man is one of three Marvel comics to receive a collected volume in a Penguin Classic – I hope that there will be many more of these in future, and not just for Marvel comics. Comics are a form of literature and I am glad that Penguin are acknowledging them as just as important as classic novels and poetry.

As for the comics themselves – I was really impressed by them. I’ve read classic comics before and usually I enjoy them for the fact that they have such strange and unusual storylines, or for the vintage art styles in them. I’ve never really been very emotionally invested in them, but that wasn’t the case for The Amazing Spider-Man at all.

Peter Parker is a really great character, and I enjoyed reading about his struggles to balance his life as a regular teenager with his life as a superhero. He faces money problems, family issues, and stresses with school/work – it made me feel invested in him in a way that I never really had with another superhero and it helped him seem much more human. I never really felt that way with Batman, for example, who is much further removed from real people.

Before reading this, I, like a lot of people probably do, already had a fair understanding of the story of Spider-Man. I’d seen some of the films and just generally been exposed to the character through his huge presence in popular culture. Because of this, it felt really cool to see the origins of lots of the characters. Obviously, there’s Spider-Man himself, but this also included the first appearances of The Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, The Sandman, and countless other iconic Spider-Man villains. While they were often a little bit two-dimensional, I still really enjoyed their stories.

What wasn’t two-dimensional though were Peter Parker’s own struggles. You might expect that an older comic like this would have the main character “win” every time, but that’s not the case for Spider-Man. There’s a story that sees him torn between serious personal commitments and the responsibilities of being a hero – he makes a decision that he thinks his best, which actually ends up being the worst of both worlds, with another hero having to come in and save the day, and people getting mad at him in his personal life. I didn’t expect stories with anywhere near that level of nuance, but I loved it.

This collection also gives a glimpse of the very early days of the Marvel universe. Even at this stage, they were working to create a shared world populated with the characters of various different comics. You’ll see The Human Torch and The Incredible Hulk popping up among other characters (in ways where you don’t really need to know much about that) and that delighted me. I love shared universes.

I hadn’t read many Marvel comics before this, and if you’ve never read anything of them, I recommend this as a fantastic starting point. Reading this left me eager to read more, and it was filled with historic information to give additional context and make sense of anything that might have seemed confusing. The only downside was that as a collection of comics which told an ongoing story, there is no end point that they could have cut it off at, so the story just stops at the end of this volume – a shame, but an unavoidable problem. I loved what I read and I’ll definitely be trying more Spider-Man comics.

Rating: 9.2/10

Buy it here.

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Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen by Terrance Dicks

Revenge of the Cybermen is not one of my favourite Doctor Who stories. It has its charms, but I think it’s quite bland, and it makes the Cybermen just feel like generic enemy aliens. It might seem odd that I wanted to read the novelisation after that, but I just happened to see that the audiobook was available on the BorrowBox library app, so I borrowed it on a whim. As it happened, I really quite enjoyed it.

It’s hard to explain exactly why, but I think I enjoyed this story more as a novel than I did as a TV adventure. One of the biggest improvements for me, is the Cybermen themselves – in the TV story, they don’t feel like Cybermen to me, not really. Their voices are weird, and they don’t even really seem to behave like the creepy logical monsters of their earlier appearances. Here, partly due to a nice introduction which ties all the Cyberman stories together, it feels much more like a part of their history. The audiob00k takes it even further with Nicholas Briggs reading the Cyberman dialogue through the usual voice modulator.

I think Revenge of the Cybermen is also a story that looks pretty cheap (despite the odd on-location cave scene) and overall it comes off as generic, not that good Doctor Who. However, in book form, all of these things are glossed over. The characters all feel much more substantial – it even gives a deeper look into the mind of Sarah Jane Smith than you’d ever really get on TV.

Terrance Dicks is probably the most prolific Doctor Who noveliser, and I think this is a classic example of a Target Book that enhances the original story. The ending even creates a cliff-hanger that ties into the next TV episode (and funnily enough, when I read it, I had a false memory of watching it in the episode). Some of the novelisations don’t add much to the source material, but this is one that’s worth checking out.

Rating: 7.7/10

Buy it here.

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Doctor Who: Empire of the Wolf by Jody Houser

I bought this graphic novel knowing nothing about it other than that the front cover looked cool. Based on that piece of art, I thought it was about Rose Tyler becoming corrupted by the power of the Bad Wolf and then the Doctors having to team up to stop her. That wasn’t the case at all, and in fact, I was slightly disappointed because the warlord version of Rose seen here comes from a previous Doctor Who comic, and her origins aren’t really explored in much detail. I recommend reading the comic Alternating Current (also by Jody Houser) first, so that you can go in properly informed (unlike me).

Anyway, that niggle aside (which I suppose is on me for not doing enough research), this was a delightful comic adventure which was very satisfying to me as a fan for various reasons. First of all, this has the Eighth Doctor meeting Rose Tyler. I love the Eighth Doctor, but his existence seems so far removed from Rose, so it’s cool to see these two strands of the Doctor Who universe come together – of course, he won’t remember it afterwards, but it’s technically the first meeting between the Doctor and Rose. On the flip side, it also shows the Eleventh Doctor meeting Rose, which is (for now) the last time the Doctor ever sees her, which is nicely bittersweet, and I enjoyed the dynamic between them. Last of all, though it’s only small, it also shows us the Meta-Crisis Doctor living with Rose in the parallel world

I think this type of Doctor Who story, which is based around bringing characters who had never met together, can go one of two ways – it can either come across as “Oh look, it’s that character you remember and that other character you remember too” or it can be a fannish treat that also does something significant with the character’s emotional journey (like Twice Upon a Time). This is definitely in the second category, and while you might want to read some of the other comics first, this is a lot of fun even if you don’t.

The story essentially has two versions of Rose becoming displaced across the multiverse and then needing to figure out how to get back to their proper place. Nothing too complex, but it sets up a fantastic character piece (and also has Sontarans, which is a nice bonus). It’s exactly the kind of story I like Doctor Who comics to tell. (Also, I never know how to insert this into reviews, but Roberta Ingranata did a great job on the art too).

Rating: 8.5/10

Buy it here.

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Top 10 New Experiences from my trip to Portugal

As I mentioned recently, last month I went on my first trip overseas and visited Portugal for five days. It was a delightful time, full of new experiences. My friend Neus (who was responsible for me going altogether, for which I am very grateful) suggested that I make a list of my top ten new experiences on the trip, so I am now going to do exactly that.

10. Flying over the sea – the very act of flying over the ocean itself was pretty exciting for me – I didn’t actually have a window seat, but the whole flight experience puts every other type of public transport to shame… well, except one of course.

9. Riding on a ferry – technically, I’ve been on a ferry before, but I was just a child and I barely remember it, and that was a giant ferry with cars in it. This was a little ferry and I got to ride in a seat by the waves as they splashed against me. One particular ferry ride was the basis of my last blog post about the trip and probably the absolutely best moment of the whole thing.

8. Having a walk, but instead of walking on land, walking on sea – not Jesus-style, of course, but walking in a large body of warm(ish), clean, still open water is one of the nicest things I got to do while I was there. Gosh, that was a relaxing experience.

7. Putting rubbing alcohol on a cut – I was having such a good time, that even the less pleasant memories are fond ones. The sensation is rubbing alcohol on a cut is quite an interesting one, I couldn’t help but laugh at the pain – and of course, the concern shown for me by my friends Rory and Malena was very touching too.

6. Eating dinner on a roof – normally I eat dinner inside buildings, not on top of them, so that was exciting. It was especially nice because it was late at night, and everybody was there. The food was extra delicious too. Thanks, Isabelle.

5. Wearing shorts as an adult – I thought they’d be uncomfortable, but they were okay actually. I can see myself wearing them again in a hot country. Stylish, comfortable, breezy.

4. Swimming in the sea as an adult – gosh, that was amazing – doing handstands like I’m a physically fit person, enjoying the salty tingle in my eyes, getting thrown around by the waves, losing my glasses, I loved it all. One of the highlights for sure.

3. Cunnilingus – that’s what I call eating fresh and delicious watermelon on a hot night. You can call me Starry Hyles.

2. Pasteis de Nata – have you ever heard of a religious experience? Well, this was a delicious experience, which is better, because instead of a revelation about life and the nature of the universe, I had a revelation about how delicious bakery fresh cakes can be, and that’s so much more valuable to me.

1. New friends – this wasn’t my first time making friends, of course, but it was my first time making these friends, I don’t think anything will ever be more valuable to me than the consolidation of a new friendship.

Of course, there are probably countless other things I could list, but those are ten of the absolute best things. Really, I think I’m quite lucky to have made my first international trip at age 30, because I was old enough to truly take it all in and be very excited by everything that happened, whereas if I were a child, I’d probably have taken it for granted a bit more.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

This is probably one of the best known Shakespeare plays, with most people thinking of it as “the one where a man has a donkey’s head” and, to be honest, other than knowing that it was one of the more fantastical plays in general, that was about the extent of my knowledge before reading too.

Of all the Shakespeare I’ve read, I think this has definitely been the most light-hearted and whimsical one so far. I quite liked that, as it made for a refreshing change from the usual, more edgy stuff that you get from him. Here you’ve got nonsense like people mixing up love potions so that the wrong people fall in love with each other and hilarity ensues.

The main story is about a wedding between Theseus and Hippolyta – but while humans are getting involved in there usual squabbles, there are also a bunch of goings on with the fairy folk. In the midst of it all, you’ve got a group of performers who are trying to put on a play to mark the occasion of the wedding, which adds an entertaining meta-layer to everything.

Something I appreciated about A Midsummer’s Night Dream was the addition of all the fairy people – most notably, Titania the queen of the fairies, and her mischievous underling, Puck. Although both of these characters were created by Shakespeare himself, they’ve left such an impact that they’ve kind of been retroactively absorbed into the folklore. They’re both fun characters, and it’s great to see their origins here.

Though there are still quite a few that I haven’t read, this is definitely my favourite of the Shakespeare comedies, and if you’re looking for one to try, I would definitely recommend this as one of the ones you won’t want to miss.

Rating: 7.5/10

Buy it here.

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The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan

This is the fourth book in The Wheel of Time series, and also the longest one so far for me (and according to Wikipedia, overall). Unfortunately, I felt that the series started to lose a bit of steam here too – overall, it was still a book that I enjoyed, but it felt like it dragged at times.

One of the things that kind of annoyed me about this book, and which was much less of a problem in the earlier ones, was that Robert Jordan seems to find any excuse he can to have the female characters get naked. There’s no gratuitous descriptions or anything (he’s not George R. R. Martin), but it just starts to feel quite infantile. It happens so often, and the men almost never get naked, so it seems like there’s only one reason he’s doing it… which is disappointing because I originally thought that he was pretty good at writing female characters.

On the other hand, this novel also gives you a little more backstory on the history of the world and the people within it. In particular, it gives a few chapters which details the history of the Aiel. This was genuinely interesting to me, though I also felt that it was much longer than necessary. The actual revelations in these chapters are pretty cool, but they’re also pretty lengthy and don’t feature any of the characters I care about.

One last criticism to get out before I get to the good stuff: the budding romance between Perrin and Faile gets a lot of attention here and, gosh, did it make my eyes roll. So much of “Oh, the reason they are awful to each other is because they love each other!” but why do they love each other when they’re always awful to one another? It’s such a rubbish relationship, and it was very hard to feel anything for them, when they were both always so mean. I’ve read a lot of books over the years, and so have read through a lot of literary romances, and though they are not the absolute worst (Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele), they’re definitely one of the worst. You know the saying “Still a better love story than Twilight?” Well, this isn’t.

Still, now that I’ve gotten all the bad stuff out of the way, there is still a lot to be admired about this book. First of all, I enjoyed getting to see Matt and Rand interact a little more this time, after being apart a lot in the previous books. There’s quite a contrast between the characters, with Rand now fully embracing his role as The Dragon Reborn, and Matt mostly just trying to lead a regular (if sleazy) life – and yet they still care about each other, so that’s cool. Speaking of Matt, he also gets to meet some creepy, alien-like being in a sequence which I imagine gets explained in more detail later on, but either way, I liked it a lot here.

This was also the novel where I really started to like Siuan Sanche, the Amyriln Seat (leader of the Aes Sedai) – while she’s not a direct focus of a lot of chapters, she is involved in some of the most interesting developments in the book. Speaking of Aes Sedai, once again, hats off to Moiraine for being the best character in the series (even if she does have to be naked loads of times, but she does it in a cool, completely un-phased kind of way). Aviendha really comes into her own as a character too (she’s becoming one of my favourites) and outside of his awful romance story, I really liked Perrin’s storyline too.

So as much as this was the weakest book in the series so far, it’s at the point where I am quite invested in the characters and the setting, so it’s easy enough to keep going. Even in a boring chapter, the character carry it for me – but I certainly hope it will get a little better in the next one.

Rating: 6.1/10

Buy it here.

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