Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data increases inequality and threatens democracy
I read about this book in an article about algorithms (specifically how algorithms develop mental health problems). It sounded interesting and it really was, even though it’s a few years old now and very much situated in the US context. Some of the scenarios she writes about don’t apply here in Australia, however, I can see that they might be used in coming years if we’re not vigilant. O’Neil begins by establishing her background and what drove her out of that industry (recognising the central role math without ethics played in the GFC and how there have been no real changes to ensure it doesn’t happen again). She then outlines her criteria for what constitutes a weapon of math destruction: essentially an algorithm that is opaque, can impact on people’s lives in mass scale and that is not improved and refined through feedback. The examples she gives through a range of areas of life (medical insurance, hiring practices, teacher evaluations, college admission, prison sentencing, etc) are pretty chilling. It was a slow read but I’m glad I stuck with it because it is very good to be aware of this stuff!
Wow this was so good. The premise, the pacing, the characters. The writing style was simplistic but I was cool with that as it just kept the focus on the story. The way Malerman used the timelines to build suspense was brilliant: even though I knew something had happened, I didn’t know what, and I didn’t know what the full impact was going to be. I was on the edge of my seat and even though our main character Malorie was difficult to really empathise with (she’s quite detached but I could rationalise it as a trauma response), I was emotionally invested in the characters and the outcomes. Very very very good, highly recommend.
Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach
Genre: Science fiction
This is such a cool little story (it’s a novella) with some really excellent characters and world-building and ideas. The ending did let it down: it was a short story ending and I felt extremely dissatisfied by it BUT I would say it’s definitely worth reading anyway for everything that comes before.
A Song for Summer
Genre: Historical romance?
Hmmm. This was so not what I was expecting. I was actually expecting something Narnia-esque with a romantic subplot but no. There is no fantasy in this, be warned. Our main character is a perfect traditional woman, even though her mother and aunties are suffragettes. She likes nothing more than to care for other people, cook, bake and clean. She gets a job as a house mother in a boarding school in Austria and sets about fixing all of the problems. This is set against the looming spectre of Hitler and Nazism. The mysterious gardener ends up being Someone Important and she falls in love with him and he with her but I’m not sure how or why as they barely seem to spend any time with each other. Anyway, I guess I’m not the target audience for books like these. I found the historical stuff quite interesting and it is well written but the characters were kind of tropey and I really disliked the undercurrent of “feminists are actually unhappy and miserable and to be truly happy women must embrace traditional gender roles” because um fuck that shit.
Paper Girls #1
Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang
Genre: Science fiction graphic novel
My local library had #1 and it had been recommended by a fellow librarian so I decided to check it out to see if I want to buy the deluxe. It’s pretty weird and I suspect just reading the first one isn’t enough to suck me in. There’s some kind of weird shit going down in this suburb and there are time travellers who have Apple devices and it feels like the Apocalypse in a religious sense except it’s clearly not and we’re following 4 girls who are trying to do their paper route. I have no real idea what’s going on. But it’s fun? So I may read on for a bit longer and see if it sucks me in.
The Yellow House
Genre: Serious literature
AKA this was really depressing. I’d say it’s a slow creeping horror written in literary style. I had lots of complicated thoughts at the end at the difference between slow build horror with no fantastical elements and this depressing literary genre. I think the latter focuses more on character, but I wasn’t really buying the characters in The Yellow House. In particular, Cassie’s character arc made no sense to me. Perhaps filtered through Cub’s eyes I missed something, but even taken from several angles it still didn’t work. I mean, I think the book makes some really interesting commentary about crime and its ripple effects and how families implode and how communities fail but I was head-desking so much at the characters. Also, Cub. She felt like the invisible witness and her character arc was almost flat. I did pick up on her rejection of her life’s trajectory but that ending almost smothered me in its disempowerment. While the writing was really good I just had a hard time actually getting invested in the story and didn’t enjoy getting to know the characters. Maybe they were too believable? But their actions unbelievable. Maybe the core of the problem I had with it. Still not sure.