Monthly Archives: May 2013
Profile: Non-Fiction, Technology, International Studies, Cultural Studies
After Action Report:
This is going to be a very atypical review. In reading The Net Delusion and Click Here, I was attempting to develop a cohesive personal position on the problems of internet advocacy. There is a lot of literature and scholarly articles on the benefits of using the internet in the cause of advocacy, either as a method of raising awareness or as a means to a fundraising end, but there is very little in the way of criticism outside of the shallow critique of ‘Slacktivism.’ Morozov’s books offered a more cutting look at my subject area, but failed, by and large, to dig deeper or offer a cohesive alternative. This is broadly true of both books, but is more apparent in Click Here.
Because both books failed to meet my personal metric for usefulness, it is difficult for me to recommend them. Even ignoring that, both books left me with a bad taste in my mouth, not because Morozov’s ideas are wrong or uninteresting, but because he is such a hostile author. That hostility, directed against politicians, pundits, academics, and above all else the Techno-Literati of Silicon Valley, is an enormous barrier-to-entry for readers who haven’t already bought into Morozov’s aggressive architecture. Again, Click Here is the worst offender, with The Net Delusion appearing relatively calm and reasoned. But let’s go ahead and get into the books.
Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera
Summary: Adapted from Goodreads.com, “One hundred and fifty years from now, in a world where Africa is the dominant technological and economic power, and where crime, war, disease and poverty have been banished to history, Geoffrey Akinya wants only one thing: to be left in peace, so that he can continue his studies into the elephants of the Amboseli basin. But Geoffrey’s family, the vast Akinya business empire, has other plans. After the death of Eunice, Geoffrey’s grandmother, erstwhile space explorer and entrepreneur, something awkward has come to light on the Moon, and Geoffrey is tasked – well, blackmailed, really – to go up there and make sure the family’s name stays suitably unblemished. But little does Geoffrey realise – or anyone else in the family, for that matter – what he’s about to unravel.
Eunice’s ashes have already have been scattered in sight of Kilimanjaro. But the secrets she died with are about to come back out into the open, and they could change everything. Or shatter this near-utopia into shards…”
After Action Report:
I’ve mentioned this before, but Alastair Reynolds’ novels leave me a little bewildered. The scope of his settings are daunting and even Blue Remembered Earth, a book that starts and finishes within our own solar system and a scant 150 years in the future, promises to have gotten just as big by the time we get to the end of the Poseidon’s Children series. Reynolds packs a lot of interesting ideas into this opening novel, but the plot seems to get pushed aside to make room for it all.
Not that Blue Remembered Earth is bad. It feels like its setting up for something really interesting and, like a lot of setup stories, it doesn’t quite stand on its own. Reynolds’ attention to detail draws a compelling map to the stars and the future of humanity, but the reason we keep turning pages has nothing to do with Geoffrey Akinya or his sister, Sunday.
My friend Crystal over at Geek Outsider was kind enough to ask for my thoughts on the recent media coverage of Star Trek’s progressive legacy. So I whipped up this little Op-Ed (basically just an excuse for me to be exceedingly contrarian) that ended up being equal parts criticism and justification. Here’s a quick look…
This week’s Star Trek hype started me thinking. How does a series that we in the Geek community so singularly associate with progressiveness become what it is today? It’s shockingly easy to criticize later iterations of Trek for their failure to live up to the original’s legacy of equality. But maybe we’re coming at this from the wrong direction. Maybe it isn’t about what Star Trek became. Maybe the question should be, ‘what was Star Trek in the first place?’ And to answer that, we need a little context.
For starters, what does ‘progressive’ mean anyway? Is it just being politically liberal? Does it have to do with technological progress? Is it about being ‘edgy?’ What made The Original Series (TOS) progressive? There isn’t a quick and easy answer to any of these questions, but they lie at the core of what TOS was and why it remains iconic today. These are also questions that have very different responses today than they did in the 1960s. And that is my argument in a nutshell.
Now don’t get me wrong. My argument isn’t that TOS isn’t progressive, just that it was progressive in the context of the 1960s. It’s not that the ideals of TOS aren’t progressive anymore; it’s that the forefront of being progressive has changed. So when The Next Generation (TNG) tried to capitalize on the progressive success of TOS by featuring, among others, a blind, black helmsman and a female chief of security, it didn’t manage to resonate the same way that Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura or George Takei’s Sulu did.
You can read the rest of the article over at Geek Outsider. It’s also a pretty great place for getting some alternative perspectives on SF, fantasy and comic culture.
Profile: Modern Fantasy, Religion
Summary: From the dust jacket, “The Unseen:1: anonymity, a space or state of being occupied in order to commit mischief; 2: That which cannot be perceived by human eyes; 3: an unimaginable new dimension of power waiting for someone to grasp it…
In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients–dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups–from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif–the first letter of the Arabic alphabet. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his compter has just been breached by the state’s electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line.
It turns out that his lover’s new fiancé is the “Hand of God,” as they call the head of state security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen.
After Action Report:
Alif the Unseen is honestly one of the best novels I’ve read in recent memory. It practically sparkles with fresh ideas and invigorating prose. Like Throne of the Crescent Moon, I picked up Alif on the recommendation of io9.com’s best speculative fiction of 2012 list, and out of a desire to read more non-Eurocentric fantasy. But the two books shouldn’t even be compared. Alif is on a completely different level of fiction, the same level occupied by giants like China Miéville’s Kraken and Neil Gaimen’s American Gods, or perhaps more saliently, his Anansi Boys.
The novel is also a triumph of multiculturalism. The author, G. Willow Wilson, an American journalist who converted to Islam and moved to Cairo where she wrote for a number of magazines and newspapers, has written a magnificent window into contemporary Middle Eastern culture, and one that stand surprisingly accessible to readers who might not know anything about the history or culture of this incredibly interesting and diverse region. Where Saladin Ahmed utterly failed to connect with the richness of Arabian and Islamic mythology in his Crescent Moon, Wilson has succeeded in stunning fashion.
Profile: Science Fiction, Time Travel
Summary: From the back cover,
“Vanishing from Earth on February 30, 2162, while working on a problem of quantum theory, research chronologist Sam Magruder is thrown back 80 million years in time. Endowed with the intelligence of a twenty-second-century man, Magruder struggles to survive, feeding on scrambled turtle eggs and diligently recording his observations on a stone-slap diary, even as menacing tyrannosaurs try to gnaw off his limbs.
Filled with magnificent descriptions of the dinosaurs as only Simpson himself could render them, The Dechronization of Sam Magruder is not only a classic time-travel tale, but a philosophical work that astutely ponders the complexities of human existence and achievement.”
After Action Report:
The Dechronization of Sam Magruder is a strange little novella that is equal parts time travel story, homage to H.G. Wells and paleontological argument. The author, George Gaylord Simpson, was one of the most influential and prolific evolutionists and paleontologists of the 20th century, if not all time. More curiously, he wasn’t a fiction writer. Of the 15 books he wrote or contributed to, only the posthumously published Dechronization approached the genre of science fiction and even then from the perspective of an academic.
Before I get into the review itself, I would like to mention that I would be much less conversant on the matter of 1940s paleontology were it not for the substantial introduction by Arthur C. Clarke included in my slim paperback edition. Clarke discusses the sometimes unpopular opinions of Simpson that were eventually borne out by new discoveries, but also reminds the reader that this book was being written in the mid-1900s and some of what we knew then has since been proven wrong. Most importantly, he emphasizes the science fiction nature of the novella, drawing the attention back to the setting which makes some unusual assumptions about the shape of the future that might not be so far off reality.