March 5th, 2014

_Captain Vorpatril's Alliance_, Lois McMaster Bujold (kindle)

I used to adore the Vorkosiganverse. I'd reread the whole series whenever a new one was about to come out. I don't even really know why I stopped, altho possibly because there were long breaks in between and I lost track.

In any event, I think I still haven't read _Cryoburn_ or _Diplomatic Immunity_, and my recollection of many of the later books has dimmed. And while I really enjoyed Ivan, and this is a fun romp, the usual warnings apply. This is late in a very long series/universe and thus not a great entry point, for example.

But there are bigger problems. When the series was new, the Betans and their ideas about human sexuality seemed refreshingly open -- now, I mostly notice that the terminology is unfortunate (use of "hermaphrodite", the mockery associated with a trans or gender fluid relative of By's) and many of the ideas handled with little nuance, almost mechanical (Illyan's visit to the orb and the Betan's method for making sure they provide an appropriate level of surveillance/support for visitors).

If I let that pass (hey, I've already ordered _Cryoburn_, so on some level, I have), I'm still up against the idea that House Cordonah seems populated by a bunch of fools. Successful people in the Vorkosiganverse have a tendency to make it all work using forward momentum -- few people succeed by dint of anticipating and accounting for Bad Breaks. But House Cordonah is _so_ foolish that they cease early on to be plausible and they just become more cartoonish as the book goes along. Are there successful, powerful people who are this risible? Probably. But meh.

Good luck -- this is always a risk with a long series.

_Uncommon Passion_, Anne Calhoun (kindle) SPOILERS RUN IN FEAR AAAAUUUUGH

There were a couple of shorter stories related to this full length novel. It is contemporary romance/erotica set in Galveston. The protagonist, Ben, appeared in the earlier stories. He is a cop, with a twin brother, estranged from the rest of his family and Ben's disavowed need to reconnect with that family constitutes the core obstacle to the romance. He is also a bouncer at a raunchy night club called No Limits, that figures more significantly in the earlier stories than in this one. There are some internal indications that there may be further stories/novels involving minor characters.

The other protagonist, Rachel, has relatively recently (some months back) cut ties with her father (only remaining immediate family) and the religious community in which she was raised and home schooled. The first major problem I had with the book was the idea of an extremely Christian religious community being named Elysian Fields. I sort of didn't believe it, but I'm willing to listen to justification/rationalization/explanation.

The second major problem I had with the book was how Rachel got out. She was homeschooled, and access to the internet was apparently available to a limited degree in the community but it was supposedly highly controlled. It's unclear to me how she put together any kind of escape plan and hers was clearly _really effective_ the first time, as she connected with social workers, a shelter, and they helped her (this is in the backstory, and communicated with admirable concision) get documentation in order to survive in the world outside. I also sort of didn't buy the idea that you could be as stable as Rachel appeared to be, with as little communication/close friendships as she had/has at the time the story takes place. On the one hand, she's super with the non-verbals, and that counts for a lot. But still.

I utterly believed the idea that Rachel would immediately identify Ben as a good person to unload her virginity with. He had I-will-avoid-all-commitment written all over him, and that's what she was looking for. And, not unexpectedly, that desire on her part, paired with her stunning ability to generate meaningful human connection from remarkably little verbal communication, caused him to want to come back for more. Rachel's developing sexuality is handled in a nuanced and creative way (I would expect no less of this author), as is Ben's slow-motion but nevertheless total psychological collapse.

If you're prepared to believe the premise (hey, I read books about werewolves and vampires and Fae and wtf; believing someone is preternaturally emotionally self-contained AND stable shouldn't bug me that much, amirite?), then this is a fantastic book, perhaps Calhoun's best.

Alas, while I wasn't home schooled, and I didn't have the degree of agrarian isolation that Rachel had, I grew up in a very socially isolated way, and I similarly plotted my escape. I'm not necessarily as stable or self-contained as Rachel (the self-contained part I find particularly unbelievable -- humans don't really work that way), but even if I were, the difficulties presented by the transition she experienced are more destabilizing than they were presented. So park me in the I Can't Accept That Premise column, along with many other readers.

This in no way prevents me from loving Calhoun's work, and being fully prepared to come back for more.

Parents who refuse to pay for college

I'm not talking about _can't_; I'm talking about _won't_.

There's a current court case with some juicy details in which an 18 year old is suing her married parents for college tuition (and private high school tuition, but that's neither here nor there).

I'm inclined to think that if the parents have capacity to pay for college, they probably should be compelled, altho only on a case by case basis -- along the lines of family court child support decisions. That's how it sometimes work in cases of divorce already. If you read this, I think you can better understand why I think that way; the short form is that need-based aid all presumes that parents with the capacity pay will pay, and there isn't really any provision for how to help the student when the family refuses. I'm proposing that family court could participate in this -- or financial aid could be radically redesigned, with implications for taxpayers in general.

But my thinking on this is still very fluid, and I'm interested in alternative perspectives.

I'm not proposing to completely soak parents. I'm more thinking along the lines of, there was a college fund in existence, but because of current rancor they are refusing to disburse. I'm also not proposing that anyone be required to pay for the most expensive schools; child support payment formulas aren't famous for being overly generous and I'm imagining something along the same lines.

Another component of my thinking is that college (including various vocational tracks such as cosmetology or apprenticing in one of the construction trades) is more or less mandatory AND widely accepted as a social good at this point. We don't approve of parents who meet evolving standards of neglect (inadequate clothing, food, housing, etc.); adding this to the list seems at least possible, as long as we recognize that many parents lack the capacity to pay anything (but then they should be compelled to provide relevant information for the FAFSA).

I've had a couple of ponies in this race. My parents were reluctant to participate in paying tuition for me because of JW rules about college (which had not been in play when my older sister went to college, and didn't apply to my other sister's vocational education), and had a bunch of squirrely ideas about filling out the FAFSA. I didn't much care for what I had to do to make ends meet, and I sure met other people who couldn't. Fast forward a couple decades, and I ran into younger people similarly meeting parental resistance to filling out the FAFSA -- and to paying for college.

Either the federal aid rules need to change, or we need to start compelling the putative adults involved to comply.