Saturday, April 30, 2022

The Practicing Stoic by Ward Farnsworth

I'll admit that I've a love-hate relationship with philosophy. Some of it makes sense, but sheesh, there's some truly higher-grade stuff out there that makes my brain implode. And it's such a broad subject spanning thousands of years. Where does one even start. Some of my friends have been talking about Stoicism in recent years, and how it's often a misunderstood school of thought, so I decided to give The Practicing Stoic by Ward Farnsworth a shot, as it was available as part of my Audible subscription. 

I'm happy to say that my brain did not implode. And I loved Farnsworth's accessible style. I wouldn't exactly call this one Philosophy for Dummies 101, but then again, Stoicism, so far as I can figure it out from this book is concerned with matters that affect us every day – how to live a good life, coming to terms with grief, dealing with anger, and so on. Much of what is discussed has real-world, practical applications – which is why I think Stoicism really appeals to me.

It's not so much about being, well, unemotional and horribly stoic, but rather being able to step back from a situation, where necessary, and not allowing your emotions to ride roughshod over you. So, that's what I mostly got out of the book. Farnsworth doesn't do a deep dive with this book. That's not what it's for. But, rather, it's intended to bring together the basic thoughts of the great Stoics in one volume, which is especially useful for people like me who get intimidated pretty quickly by overly complex, abstract thinking. 

If anything, I feel I have a better idea, and now have a better context for such thinkers as the likes of Seneca and my favourite Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Farnsworth's writing is wonderfully narrated by John Lescault, and I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a good introduction to the topic. I certainly feel more confident now about plunging into the primary texts that this book draws from.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Stuarts' Field Guide to National Parks & Game Reserves - Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia & Malawi by Chris Stuart, Mathilde Stuart

Not so long ago I was given the opportunity to get a peek at Stuarts' Field Guide to National Parks & Game Reserves of Namibia | Botswana | Zimbabwe | Zambia | Malawi, which I reviewed for FMR. This handy guide was written by Chris and Mathilde Stuart, who clearly have a great passion for our continent's wild places.

The guide is brimful of detailed maps and content that show how many wonderful parks and conservation areas these countries have, and will prove useful to anyone planning a trip. Many diverse, contrasting environments are to be found here, from coastlines to desert, and river deltas to savanna grasslands. Great pictures too, to give a teaser of what sorts of wildlife and vegetation you can expect. Many well-known areas such as Etosha, Chobe, Mana Pools, Victoria Falls, and more are featured. 

This guide highlights the fact that conservation walks a tightrope between land usage – we must consider that people have been using natural resources for thousands of years – and also touches on how we need to mitigate the damage we cause now, with poaching being a very serious issue, as well as illegal timber harvesting, overgrazing and encroachment of human habitation – all these can have devastating, long-term effects on the environment. It's tricky to balance consumption with conservation – and these are challenges of land usage that will always need to be addressed. 

The book is divided into two sections: one part dealing with the natural history, and the second providing an image gallery of some of the commonly occurring wildlife and vegetation – which is great for a quick identification. This latter part is divided into mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and trees. Handy sidebars in the first part of the guide offer tips and further commentary, and also warn if the reserve you wish to visit falls within a malaria or tsetse fly area or whether rabies might even be an issue. Warnings are also for the lack of cellphone reception in remote areas – connectivity often being something we city dwellers take for granted. 

The wilds of Africa are offer a harsh, unforgiving landscape, yet one also filled with incredible, awe-inspiring beauty. Here be lions, quite literally – so if you wish to explore truly wild areas, it's best to be prepared and be aware of what's going on around you at all times. I found the natural history information particularly fascinating, and feel it will most certainly inform travellers, especially when it comes to selecting routes and deciding on which accommodation options will be suitable – whether you wish to tough it out or rather stay in a luxury tented camp. 

The authors also give an indication of some of the plants and wildlife you'll most commonly see in particular areas. Equally important is information and advice about the road conditions, but also to take note when the dry or rainy seasons are, as these may also affect your mobility in whichever destination you visit. What I loved the best about this book is that it gives an introduction to parts of southern Africa that I don't know well, and I most certainly wish to visit before I shuffle off this mortal coil. With such a wealth of natural beauty, it's very tempting to forego overseas travel entirely and stay local – there's far too much to see and do in a single lifetime.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Aeterna by Kim Bannerman

I've become incredibly picky about which vampire novels I'll read these days, but staying with my current jam of post-apocalyptic treats, Aeterna by Kim Bannerman ticked all the boxes for me. The premise is simple: the vampire bloodlines have finally banded together to overthrow the human race. Their underground city of Aeterna has everything the vampires need, and humans are reduced to mindless blood-factors in the – ahem – same way the Machines treat humans in The Matrix. So I'm drawing that parallel, and I'll leave it there.

We follow the doings of Marcus, the scion of the ruling family, and the last vampire to be made before humanity's downfall, and then Bo, a human who has been genetically engineered for a special hunt event that will determine which vampire bloodline will rule the city for the next hundred years.

But both Marcus and Bo are special: Marcus cannot remember his mortal life at all, and his boundless curiosity sees him breaking the rigid protocols that bind vampiric society, while Bo is aware and is not some mindless, jelly-brained clone. She remembers what she shouldn't – how to string together words, how to think. 

Aeterna has been built to last for ever, but in doing so, it has become trapped in stasis – a natural state for vampires that Marcus kicks against. I won't spoil to say how the hunt goes, but Marcus and Bo are thrown together by a twist of fate that sees the very foundations of this eternal tremble. 

Overall, Bannerman's writing is solid, fast-paced and engaging, and I found myself immersed in the setting and more than happy to ride this one through to its cataclysmic end. My inner editor had a few nits to pick, but nothing to make me too twitchy. If you, like me, were ever a fan of the White Wolf Vampire: The Masquerade RPGs back in the late 1990s, then this one will more than likely push all the right buttons. 

Sunday, April 17, 2022

The Meek (Unbound Trilogy #1) by JD Palmer

I've been quite a long-time fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, and whether the human race goes bye-bye courtesy of aliens, zombies, nuclear war or rapture, the results are almost always the same for the survivors who desperately try to rebuild or cling to the vestiges of the world they once knew. In JD Palmer's The Meek, we meet Harlan, who's your average, garden-variety nice guy who somehow doesn't pop his clogs when a virulent virus wipes out 99 percent of the human race.

I've had this one in my TBR pile awhile now, and I had to go check the release date just to be sure, but book one did come out in 2017, so it was, ahem, almost oddly prescient about things to come. Granted, The Thing I Won't Mention By Name didn't quite go as far as the disease in Palmer's novel.

I'll start by saying that if exploring the darker side of human nature, and all that entails, isn't quite your jam, then this is possibly not *quite* the novel you're looking for – the start of the novel is quite triggering for those struggle to read stories where women are abused. So, insert trigger warning here – maybe step away if this freaks you out. I found Harlan quite a sympathetic character, even if he starts out quite passive. He goes through an almost literal hell, and watching him grow in himself to stand up against every obstacle that this new world of horrors can throw at him is rather satisfying. 

Kudos also to the support cast. I really love the friendships that develop slowly as the pages turn. I'm not going to go into too much detail as I don't want to spoil. I'm also going to do the awful thing by drawing parallels between The Meek and the kind of social dynamics we encounter in series such as The Walking Dead, merely because it's going to be easier to paint the correspondence with broad brush strokes. Of course there are no zombies here, and the true monsters walk on two legs and look just like you and me.

While on the outside, this is a pure survivalist fantasy, set in a post-pandemic wasteland, I feel that Palmer does dig into the essential humanness of his characters, which is why I kept reading and why I'll eventually go onto book two once I have the opportunity. This is a story about the connections forged within states of great adversity, to move beyond the savagery that lies just beneath the skin, that often needs very little excuse to come out. What would you do if you had a chance to rebuild human society? How do you overcome the power play of those who do not suffer pangs of conscience? 

I'll admit freely that I'm a huge sucker for stories that are based on a 'hard reboot' of civilisation, and Palmer delivers this sort of setting in spadefuls, and then some.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Diep Spoor deur Jeanette Stals

Suid-Afrika se geskiedenis is propvol stories waar die menigte kulture van hierdie land met mekaar bots. Op skool het ek geleer van die Voortrekkers, maar Jeanette Stals het die stryd vir oorlewing gedetailleerd uitgebeeld in haar roman Diep Spoor. En 'n baie beter moeite gedoen as die onnies op skool wie ons basies aan die slaap verveel het.

Diep Spoor
is op die oog af die verhaal van drie vrouens wie deur omstandighede buite hulle kontrole bymekaar kom. Katrien is oorspronklik gelukkig getroud met haar man Gerrit op Stellenbosch, maar 'n ongeluk sien haar vroeg 'n weduwee. Maar haar getroue slavin Dina staan haar by. Die twee het saam grootgeword op Katrien se ouers se plaas, en is meer susters as eienaar en slaaf. Altwee is dromers. As her lewe anders was, so Katrien graag 'n kunstenaar wees, maar haar kosbare waterwerfkussie word meestal ver weg gepak. Dina droom van 'n lewe waar daar romantiese liefde vir haar is, maar haar opsies as 'n slavin is maar skraal op die werf. Heel aan die ander kant van die land is Thabisa, 'n amaZulu meisie wie van jonk af meegesleur word deur die geweld tussen haar mense. Sy verloor omtrent haar hele familie behalwe haar broer. Sy is kwesbaar, en die hele tyd sukkel sy om aanvaar te word. 

Ek gaan nou nie die hele storie verspil nie, behalwe om te sê dat Stals het 'n uitdagende verhaal aangepak wat goed illustreer who ingewikkeld ons land se geskiedenis is. Konsepte van grondbesit was toe heel anders, en die botsing tussen bevolkingsgroepe wat met veeboerdery doenig is, is maar 'n resep vir groot ramp. Wat Stals goed doen is om die menslikheid van haar karakters voor te bring, sodat lesers meegevoel kan hê vir Katrien, Dina, en Thabisa.

Ek het gevoel dat Thabisa se storie 'n bietjie lig om die broek was, asook Dina s'n, en daar was tye terwyl ek gelees het dat ek gevoel het dat daar beter motivering kon wees vir hulle gedrag. Maar dit het nie van die storie te veel weggeneem nie. Al het ek min of meer geweet wat gaan gebeur daar anderkant die Drakensberg. Hierdie verhaal is soms verskriklik hartverskeurend maar hy bring ook hoop vir die algemene menslikheid wat kan groei tussen die wat van verskillende agtergronde onstaan.