Moments of Permanence

About Recent Entries

Conclusion Sep. 24th, 2013 @ 04:25 pm
I think I am going to declare reading list bankruptcy. Four months is just not feasible to catch up on. This means that all of you are new and exciting to me in certain ways.

I'm reading a lot of GK Chesterton at the moment. It's interesting and fun and lovely, but also fascinating in a way I hadn't expected: the racism.

More to the point, the part where most of the time, it's the lack of racism, given the era in which he wrote. (Note: This is not flawless, unless you're taking into account quite a bit of nuance in the writing, at certain points, and if your familiarity with a century-old dialect of English is imperfect, some of that nuance is going to burn. Plus, though it's never attributed as any kind of worthy sentiment, very occasionally certain words and phrases occur which some would deservedly find offensive and painful. The fact that Chesterton uses certain vile epithets in an ironic, "are you noticing how stupid these people are, here" sort of way doesn't mean it won't retain the capacity to hurt.)

Possibly slightly incoherent, definitely mildly spoilery, might as well cut. )

Father Brown is also the first fictional quasi-detective I've found in fiction since Lord Peter who is actually, genuinely likable. He's not smug or superior about things, and he's not out to be right or to get into other people's business for his own sake; he cares about people, and is often called in to their personal business by reason of his being a priest.

And he's not too perfect, even in his general tendency to be nice to people and try to think the best of them and be friendly. You get lines like: "But Father Brown had to tell himself sharply that one should be in charity even with those who wax their pointed beards, who have small gloved hands, and who speak with perfectly modulated voices." Just a little reminder that thinking kindly of people is not necessarily purely a native gift, so much as an attitude one can hold deliberately.

Oh, actually, there's also the lack of sexism, in curious ways. For example, in one of the first stories I read, there's a male character who is compared, at a number of points, to an old maid, and aspects of his behaviour and personality are referred to in terms of being "feminine"...

... and these are positive attributes, of a man who, in the story, is a VC and an unquestionable, absolute hero. He's just not a glory-seeking hero. His is the heroism of: "Someone needs to do this dangerous and frightening thing. I guess that someone should be me."

He even ends up marrying the beautiful woman who features in the story.

Most of the significant characters in the stories are still men, but in an odd way, it tends to seem like the women aren't involved as much as they might be because they're not silly enough for such foolishness.

Resolution Sep. 23rd, 2013 @ 11:16 am
So I haven't posted or read DW in a few months. This saddens me a little, but more of a problem is that I've started wanting to post again, but I keep not doing it because I'm all, "But I haven't posted in months! I can't just post now!"

This is silly.

So this is me posting.

Rough updates:

- Going to America for October. Fortunately, our planned accommodations for the first few days didn't burn down. (Being that they're in the vicinity of Yosemite, this was a concern.)

- I bought an eReader the other day. For this reason I'm back to haunting Project Gutenberg, because now I have a non-annoying way to read eBooks, so I want to catch up on a bunch of classics and such that I have long wished to have read, and I don't see why I should pay money for them when they're available free (and legal).

They currently host a review, by the webmaster, of the new Kindle Fire, which can be summarised as "don't get one". His alternative recommendations include the phrase, "If you can live with an e-ink screen."

I had to look up what the Kindle Fire was, that it didn't have one. Turns out it's a tablet. I made a face, I think. I don't want a tablet, I don't like tablets... and e-ink is the best thing ever.

Not just because it's so readable (but it is SO READABLE you guys, SO READABLE), but also because it provides for a battery life that borders on the sarcastic. I have intercontinental flights ahead of me; I take joy in a device that will last the whole time, while containing multiple books - more than enough for the whole flight, with options to account for variations in mood - despite weighing less than one.

Anyway. Hi, everyone. I missed you. I'm sort of back, but it's going to take me a while to catch up on things, I suspect.

Snap Reviews: Discount Armageddon, by Seanan McGuire Mar. 23rd, 2012 @ 08:31 am
Category: Books
Title: Discount Armageddon
Author: Seanan McGuire
Genre: Urban Fantasy

So, I became aware of this book due to the early release of print editions/personal abuse of the author by horrible people kerfuffle. While I regret the misery and pain endured by Seanan McGuire, I'm really rather glad I was prompted to buy the book out of sympathy, because the book is awesome.

Laugh-out-loud funny, in places. Not comedy, just contains wit that cracked me up on more than one occasion, and I am not an easy person to make laugh aloud via fiction. I have read every book Terry Pratchett has published - including the Carpet People, you understand, I'm not citing Strata for my "comparitively obscure, non-Discworld" books here, although obvs I've read that too - and laughed out loud maybe twice. I still enjoy the books, a lot, and appreciate the humour, but generally reading something funny, to myself, doesn't push me far enough from my locked-on-book state to laugh. This did.

It's also a ripping good story with a truly fascinating world setup, one that catches and drags at the imagination. I am in love with the world it presents. I want more of it. (Downside of getting into something at the point where the first book in a series is published: more not yet available.)

I recommend it completely and utterly.

Grade: A+

note: possibly, but I'm not certain, the first A+ in Snap Reviews history.

History is in the connectedness of things. Dec. 1st, 2011 @ 09:19 am
A few weeks ago, I was talking with friends, and was reminded of a book I had once yearned to own.

I read part of it in the course of researching an essay for a History class. It was The Collapse of the Third Republic, by William L. Shirer, about the decline and implosion of the French Third Republic - a fascinating period in history, I assure you. I had an interesting discussion about the book with my lecturer at the time. Shirer also wrote The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which was, naturally, about the Nazi regime.

Now, Shirer had lived in both - he was an American journalist working in Europe, and spent a significant chunk of the 30s in Berlin, but made frequent trips to Paris.

My lecturer thought that Shirer's chronicle of the Third Reich was excellent, but his work on the Third Republic was terrible - largely because, he felt, Shirer utterly loathed the Nazis, but loved the France of the Third Republic.

I don't disagree with that assessment of Shirer's feelings, but I don't think The Collapse of the Third Republic suffers for it as much as my lecturer did.

In any case, I'd read part of the book as part of my research, and I wanted to read the rest. However, I was hampered in this not least because at the time, the book in question was in demand for current courses, and had therefore been placed in the Reference section of the library, wherefrom books may not be borrowed.

I thought of buying my own copy, but found it was prohibitively expensive. (I don't recall what the price was then, but now, for example, a new copy would be 45 pounds from Amazon UK. This is quite a lot.)

However, when I was reminded of it a few weeks ago, I also thought of AbeBooks, that remarkable site that connects used booksellers all over the world to one search engine.

Sure enough, I found a copy of the book I desired at a price I could afford. A first edition, no less, because when it still comes out to less than $10 Australian including shipping, why not? (It helps that the Australian dollar is strong, right now - better than parity with the US dollar, which is pretty much unheard-of in my lifetime until now.)

All of which is preamble, more or less, to this:

With it, I ordered a couple of other books that looked interesting. One was a book called How Do You Like New York?, by Eva T. McAdoo. It's an ex-library copy, which made it very cheap.

As it turns out, it's also quite a fascinating historical artifact in itself.

The inside cover has a library plate for Tyler Junior College Library, recording that it was Presented By Hampson Gary.

On the flyleaf, there is this inscription:

Mr. Hampson Gary
with the compliments of
the Waldorf-Astoria
and of the author
Eva T. McAdoo

"About the City" Bureau
August 8th, 1939

I was intrigued.

Here is a book, signed by the author, apparently at the behest of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel - then eventually donated to the Tyler Junior College Library. Surely, I thought, this must have meant he was someone important... but in some way attached to Tyler Junior College.

Well. According to the US State Department, he was for a while a diplomat:
         1. Agent/Consul General (Egypt)
            Appointed: October 2, 1917
            Presentation of Credentials: February 7, 1918
            Termination of Mission: Left post December 7, 1919
                o Received by the Sultan on Feb 7, 1918.
         2. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary (Switzerland)
            Appointed: April 7, 1920
            Presentation of Credentials: June 3, 1920
            Termination of Mission: Left post about March 4, 1921

According to the Texas State Handbook, well. Here are some highlights:

- Born in Tyler, Texas, in 1873, where he later practiced law for a while.

- Served in the Spanish-American War, and the Texas National Guard.

- Was a member of the Texas House of Representatives and the University of Texas board of regents.

- Quoting directly: In 1914 he was appointed special counsel to the State Department to assist in matters arising out of the war situation in Europe. In 1915 he was appointed assistant solicitor in the State Department. In 1917 he was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson as diplomatic agent and consul general to Egypt in charge of American interests in Palestine, Syria, and Arabia, where he formed a close friendship with Field Marshal Viscount Allenby, who commanded British forces in the Near East. In 1919 Gary was called to Paris to assist the American Commission to Negotiate Peace, and on April 1, 1920, he was appointed minister to Switzerland by President Wilson. Gary attended the First Assembly of the League of Nations in Geneva as an observer for the United States.

He then resigned from diplomatic service, and practiced law for a few years, until:

- A staunch Democrat and friend of President Franklin Roosevelt, he was appointed a member of the first Federal Communications Commission in 1934 and later served as its general counsel, 1935–38. He was appointed solicitor of the United States Export-Import Bank in Washington, D.C., 1938–46.

So, at the point when he was given this book, he was the solicitor of the United States Export-Import Bank, which is a thread I have yet to follow, so I have no idea why this presentation - it was clearly not one to which he had a personal sentimental attachment, since it ended up in the possession of a Junior College library. (Where it was borrowed three times, the last time in 1967, before at some point being removed from circulation.)

But this is the fascination of history - how things tie in to other things. From this old, somewhat battered used book, I found the name of a man of whose existence I had not previously been aware in any way whatsoever, but who, it turns out, was linked to momentous events. So much in that mini-biography hints at so much more.

History is cool.
Tags: ,

Sentiment Jul. 26th, 2011 @ 08:56 am
I had two packages arrive yesterday - both deliveries of books, both ordered from the UK.

One came from Amazon UK, containing some Sarah Vowell books. (She's an American writer of American history, but Amazon UK ships free to Australia and Amazon US doesn't.) The other came from a bookshop in a tiny village in Lincolnshire I'd never heard of (and would never have visited in person, because I can't imagine why I'd be visiting Lincolnshire). That was an order via AbeBooks, the website anyone who wants access to second-hand books needs to know about.

I'm currently reading Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation, which is interesting and entertaining. This morning, I was interrupted reading it by Dean, who was about to leave for work, hugging me goodbye; I all-but tossed the book aside, putting it down upended, so that it rested on the tops of the pages with my drink bottle holding it open at the page I was reading.

All the books I just bought are, of course, queued on my reading list. However, there's an odd contrast to point out. If, say, I next pick up the copy I bought of Charmione: A Tale of the Great Athenian Revolution, by Edward Leatham, things will be quite different.

My copy of Charmione was, I think, published in 1859; that's the date on the publisher's mark. It's a handsome copy, with gilt-edged pages that came pre-cut and everything (one of the other books I bought still has its pages uncut after page 350), and may have been a presentation gift. The inside cover has a worn label from the Royal College, Lancaster's midsummer examination in 1874; it is inscribed to or by Eduardo Ackroyd. (It's hard to tell because the handwriting is, in Dean's words, a bit "medical", and the inscription is in Latin.) The inscription is dated to 1875.

I have no idea who Edward Ackroyd was, but I sort of want to find out.

In any case, the odd thing about sentimentality is this:

Charmione was actually cheaper, in 2011 Australian dollars, than was Assassination Vacation.

Despite this, I will treat it with infinitely more care. The Sarah Vowell books are modern paperbacks (well, one hardback), and I give them sufficient care to avoid outright damage of any significance, but... well, I was reading A.V. while I ate my cereal this morning, and I managed somehow to splash a tiny drop of milk on one of the pages. I wiped it off and... that was that.

In contrast, the odds that I will be eating splashable food while reading a book that was printed in the 19th century are pretty much zero. Similarly, I will probably take Sarah Vowell with me to read when the baby's napping when I babysit, putting the books in my backpack for transit and tossing them aside on the table when he's awake; the books I bought that are a century old or more, not so much.

It's not about price, it's about value, and value to me.

Books! May. 12th, 2011 @ 01:42 pm
So, a couple of days ago, I got a package in the post from Angry Robot Books. I was mystified. I opened it, and there was a slip reading, "With Compliments."

And then I remembered: Matthew Hughes offered copies of the book to the first 25 people to e-mail him, promising him they'd blog about it in return. I did just that, and apparently I was one of the first 25, because I got one - and the book doesn't even get released until the end of this month.

Somehow I'd forgotten all about it until the book arrived. Still, I did promise to blog about it - and I will. This is not that blog entry because I haven't finished reading it yet, although I am a chunk of the way into it. (You can read the first 10,000 words at Mr Hughes' webpage. I'm a bit further in than that, but it's enough for you to get a solid idea of what it's like, I think.)

It's been a long time since I read a new novel - I'm quite a rereader of fiction, and an extensive devourer of new non-fiction. I'd forgotten, therefore, the feeling I hate that is part of why I so rarely do read new novels: the twisting, anxious feeling that I don't know what's going to happen, and yet there's this complicated situation the characters are in, and - aaaahhh!

Plus novels are so long, something I don't care about once I start reading them, but which seems daunting at the outset. (For the same reason, I hardly ever watch movies.)

Anyway, based on my impressions so far, if I were to condense my forthcoming review of this book into one of those, "If you like X, you'll love Y," statements, I'd put it this way: If you liked Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, you'll probably enjoy The Damned Busters. It's not quite so apocalyptic - since, at least in part one of this trilogy, it's not so far actually about the Apocalypse - but it's the same kind of interestingly pretty-much-accurate-yet-unusual approach to theology and myth combined with wit and humour.

I like it, but I suspect I won't love it until I'm rereading it, and can appreciate it, engaging story and clever writing alike, without that anguished tension of not knowing what's going to happen.

I have to say, given I essentially have a review copy of this book and an obligation to review it since I promised to blog about it, I'm somewhat relieved that it's actually good.

I have some other books, too, but I actually paid money for them. I ordered some books from Amazon UK all of two days ago, taking advantage of the free shipping that now and for the time being extends to Australia, and they arrived today.

I have:

The Wonderful Future That Never Was, by Gregory Benford and the editors of Popular Mechanics: visions of what the future would be like, from the first fifty-odd years of the magazine Popular Mechanics. Because that kind of thing is the kind of thing I utterly adore.

The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists & Secret Agents, by Alex Butterworth. Radical politics circa the turn of the last century, written as a sort of non-fiction novel.

Molotov's Magic Lanter: Uncovering Russia's Secret History, by Rachel Polonsky. Begun when the author was given access to Molotov's private library.

Red Plenty, by Francis Spufforth. "Industry! Progress! Abundance! Inside the Fifties' Soviet Dream."

Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957-1962, by Megan Prelinger. I'm fascinated by the advertising of past eras - commercial or propaganda, but especially, really, propaganda, or propaganda-adjacent activities.

If I ever do get around to doing postgraduate work in history, one of my nominal thesis concepts is: How Vera Lynn Defeated Hitler: The Home Front of the Second World War, and it will be about the frequently-disregarded issue of how and why British civilians, especially the women who shouldered a burden that was almost without precedent, held it together and in doing so brought down the Wehrmacht.

And I think to myself... what a wonderful world. Oct. 29th, 2010 @ 02:00 am
This is a thing of beauty.

So Machine of Death is an anthology of short stories, by a range of people, based on the concept of a machine that will tell you, cryptically but accurately, how you will die.

It's based off a Dinosaur Comic.

Yes, really.

And because it was rejected by published and so was entirely an indie project, their big marketing gambit was to try and get people to buy it on the 26th of October from Amazon, so that, just for a day, it would be Amazon's #1 bestseller.

It worked. For that alone I am proud that I am one of the people who ordered it that day - in fact, I ordered two, but the second one is housemate.Dave's. (Why order separately when you live in the same house, etc.)

But the best part?

Glenn Beck is really bitter.

Because, as it turns out, his latest book was released on Tuesday, and apparently his books always debut at #1, except this time, it came THIRD. Behind Keith Richards's autobiography and Machine of Death.

This ABC news piece notes that while the book had dropped places, it was still ahead of the Grisham that debuted that day.

Truly. The world is not bereft of joy.

Meanwhile, in video games: Fallout: New Vegas is lots of fun and Super Scribblenauts is causing me to receive e-mails that say only CARNIVOROUS ROBOT ZOMBIE HAMSTER, which is maintaining the awesomeness of, well, everything.

Stupidity is eternal... Oct. 26th, 2010 @ 09:40 pm
I'm reading a book. I bought it this morning, in part because I found myself in town with an unexpected hour and a half to kill. (I ended up browsing the book section at the ABC Shop, you see...)

It's called Ghost Colonies, and it's about failed colonies.

The ones I've been reading so far are mostly about the Americas, and there's quite a few common themes to them.

Someone should have put out a pamphlet.

Guide To Forming A Colony In The Americas That Might Actually Have A Chance Of Success

1) Take farmers.

The soil may be bountiful, but if you've only got a bunch of fortune-seekers and soldiers who think farming is beneath them, you're going to struggle. Either you'll be dependent on supply ships from home, which is a really long way away and might get embroiled in wars, civil or external, or you'll be dependent on the natives for food, and even the really friendly ones eventually get sick of you being parasites, especially if you don't...

2) Pick a side.

So, the natives are friendly and welcoming! Awesome. Bear in mind that they do not actually think that it is somehow your natural right to colonise their homeland, and if they're welcoming you to their land, and even supplying you with food and suchlike, they probably expect something in return.

Accordingly, when you've made friends with a tribe, be loyal to them. Don't let anyone start selling them into slavery (this particularly goes for those of you whose justification for moving in includes "saving the natives from the Portuguese"). And don't start trading and making friends with their sworn enemies. Their enemies don't think much of you - you're friends with their enemies. This will only alienate your allies.

3) Keep your clergy in check.

Clergy are a serious problem for the would-be colonist. Either they're fomenting sectarian discord within your own group, or they're pissing off the natives with attempted conversions. Don't let them. Maybe don't bring any.

4) Either bring no women, or lots.

Bringing several hundred men, many of them religious zealots, and four women was just a bad, bad idea.

5) Especially if the natives don't wear clothes and are very casual and open about sex. If your men are sexually frustrated, harangued by religious fanatics, and in frequent contact with naked babes who would totally do them if they wanted, but they're not allowed because of the religious fanatics? They will get cranky.

6) Seriously. Bring farmers. When you've made friends with some locals, recognise that they, like you, don't make political allegiances without a reason. If the local women want to bang your men, let your men say yes if they want to. And try not to let Catholicism or Calvinism destroy everything.


I'm not actually saying colonialism was a good thing, or anything, it's just... so much stupid.
Tags: ,

Guitar, The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, racism, etc Jul. 6th, 2009 @ 02:01 am
Feeling rather sadface at the moment, for various reasons - a list which includes "still feeling sick and exhausted despite sleeping all evening" - so shall talk about some awesome things, and should-be-awesome things. I want to put something about Barack Obama on that, but I suspect that I won't feel right posting about Barack Obama until I can devote the time and energy to explaining why I'm quite frustrated about him as well as still pleased by some things about him, too.

Earlier this evening I took on the guitar tab for Black Sabbath's Iron Man, mostly just the opening riffs - not only are they pretty awesome, but it's also good practice for learning to do hammer-ons and bends. I love my Vox Valvetronic AD50VT amplifier - it has a lot of settings that emulate a range of amp styles etc, so by adjusting a few knobs, I can get it to sound just right for different music styles. (For Black Sabbath: UK 80s amp style, crank the gain a bit, throw in some reverb, and go.)

The guitar practice is a good lesson in patience, actually. I'm enjoying it, and I know I'm getting better - I'm much, much better than I was when I started, and I'm gradually improving over time. But I want to be good at this already, I want to play awesomely, and I can't. I try to believe that I will be able to, but it's going to take a long time.

Usually it's hard for me to sustain interest in something like this - I think it helps that playing guitar is consistently fun, and errors don't persist. I don't practice guitar for a few minutes, then look at what I've done and sigh at how much it sucks. One day I'll probably work on recording music I play, and so I will then have something that persists after I put the guitar down, but right now, it's just the memory of enjoyment.

I find myself reluctant to watch the first few episodes of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, despite having heard good reviews of it. I'm wary of it, I think, because the same people who recommend the series are often people who recommend the books, and I have some trouble with the books. Alexander McCall Smith always seems to write a little condescendingly to me - even when he's dealing with very adult subjects, his African-native characters, up to and including the intelligent and resourceful Precious Ramotswe, seem to be written like children's book characters. Up to a point, they're written like children. It bugs me a lot, and I read the first book, but beyond that, I just couldn't bring myself to get into it.

It weirds me out that so many people give the series such outstanding reviews. I find myself doubting my perceptions of the book - I mean, so many people say it's so wonderful, so am I the one who's wrong when I find the writing so problematic? Am I judging too harshly because I know that the author of this series of books about a black woman in Botswana is a white man?

And yet, the reviewers are generally white non-Africans, and even the non-white reviewers who praise it whose responses I've read have been American, and y'know, not that I want to bag on Americans or anything, but Americans of all races have a tendency to be a tad reductionist in their assumptions about African people, especially African natives from rural areas. (As do people from Europe and Australia and quite a lot of Asia.)

I'm in kind of an awkward position, really, in terms of speaking on this one. On the one hand, I am, in some respects, African, and I care quite a lot about the peoples of southern Africa.

On the other hand, I'm white, and I'm also Australian. I don't have major Authenticity credentials for critiquing the depictions of Botswanan native women.

On the gripping hand, no, really, it read like a children's book, even when the subject matter was adult, and Precious Ramotswe is written like the characters of kids' adventure books. I wanted to love it, and I couldn't bring myself to do so.
Tags: , ,

Reminder: Classic science fiction is not entirely made of fail May. 22nd, 2009 @ 10:00 am
So, this post by Avalon's Willow reminded me of certain things that are totally awesome about Starship Troopers. Which I obviously now need to fangirl publically, as well as including a couple of points that intrigue me as a writing-technique demonstration.

1) Girls In Space

It will elude no-one who's read any that a lot of classic sf is really kind of sexist. Robert Heinlein is, in fact, guilty of one of the most egregious examples of this I've ever read: his juvenile-audience novel Space Cadet is a study in No Girls Allowed. The female characters are seen for mere moments, in which they are stupid and emotional and incapable of understanding anything about maths or physics or space. The rest of the time, no-one even thinks about the absence of anything or anyone female in their lives. When I read it, I was a girl who loved space and was really, really good at maths (this was, you understand, not long before I had a severe head injury with intracranial bleeding that, among other things, caused me to lose the ability to do anything beyond basic arithmetic - and before that I was already very good at algebra and was poking at basic calculus). I liked the story, but I hated that aspect of it.

Whereas in Starship Troopers, it's accepted as a given that all the best space pilots are women. Piloting isn't a job for men - it just isn't, they can't do it as well as women can. Men do other things. Fighting on the front lines is a job for men and not women, because Heinlein always was clear that even if a woman can fight - and in his later books, he was firmly convinced that they could - it is a man's job to try and see that she doesn't have to, because women are the bearers of children and therefore are essential to the continuation of the species. A woman defending her children will be fiercer than a man could ever be, too, but that shouldn't happen.

I can get on board with a view that sees men and women as different, but neither one as lesser - I do, in fact, think there are some fundamental, inherent differences between men and women on average. e.g. Men, on average, are stronger - but that doesn't mean all men are stronger than all women. That's patently untrue. But the average is there. Which is why I still believe that all things should be decided on individual merit, because what's true on average isn't really the point, on an individual basis. But I digress.

The female character who gets the most "screen" time (not much, it's true) is Carmen Ibanez, a friend of Johnnie's who's also a hotshot pilot-in-training, brilliant as well as beautiful and a seriously nice person. Carmen is awesome.

Where this becomes an interesting point of writerly technique: Heinlein clearly wanted to bust some stereotypes in this book. Which means his few female characters had to have room to include being really really brilliant - but that, does it not, risks the problem of a character seeming all too perfect.

He gets around this really neatly, because the book is from Johnnie's perspective. And Johnnie's perspective on Carmen is that she's his friend, and he loves her, and he thinks she's brilliant and also lovely, in character and looks. That is what's clear to the reader. It's not that she doesn't have her own life, it's not that she's flawless - it's just that Johnnie is the one who's telling us about her, and why would he be taking time out from the story he's telling, his own story, just to make a point of telling you the bad points about his friend, his friend he loves and respects and admires? Carmen isn't perfect, she's just good, and the narrator has no reason to say anything bad about her, so he doesn't.

Similarly, other pilots and ship's captains he meets, the things he tells us about them are positive, because these are women he believes merit his respect, and in some cases outright admiration, so he isn't saying bad things about them because he has no call to do so. You get the sense that they're people - but his interactions with them are professional. So what we hear about Yvette Deladrier, say, is that she's a brilliant pilot and an excellent ship's captain. It's what we should hear - exactly the same things that Johnnie would tell us about any other military officer with whom he has interacted on a strictly professional basis.

You don't have to make a character visibily flawed to make them realistic - so long as their unalloyed brilliance is appropriate to the narration.

2) The Whole World Is Not White America

There's a distinct thread of Americanisms in the book, but I find that largely okay, what with the thing where Hollywood took over the world anyway. But throughout the book, the characters are multi-ethnic. Note that I said ethnic, not just racial. You have a couple of recruits who are German, and one of them doesn't speak "Standard" yet. You have a Japanese recruit - who's an expert in karate, which seems less stereotyped, somehow, when Sergeant Zim queries whether he's any relation to the karate master who taught him when he was in army training, and it turns out that he's the kid's father. And besides, along the way, they also learn savate - a recognition that martial arts aren't some mysterious Asian thing, there are martial arts that came from other places too.

For most of the book, cultures of origin are less important for almost every character than the fact that what they are now is M.I. But their names come from a wide range of cultures. They're the army of Earth, not of any one country.

And then, near the very end, in this book in which you're very much meant to identify with the narrating protagonist, this 1959 book aimed at the white male-dominated audience of science fiction readers... it turns out that Johnnie's native language is Tagalog.

He's Filipino.

The character with whom the reader is supposed to identify isn't white.

Sure, we already knew, technically, that his real name was Juan Rico. But everyone calls him Johnnie, and anyway, we also knew well before we found that out that he grew up rich and privileged. It'd be easy for someone who wanted to to think of him as Spanish-descended, or something - still basically white.

But he isn't. He speaks Tagalog, a language that does not belong to Europe or the Americas at all.

3) The King of the Straw Men, But Still

It's also an extended political essay. Yes, a lot of it is wrong, and yes, he sets up straw men and predicates his reformed society on the assumption that the society he was critiquing had already collapsed completely. It's still interesting and thought-provoking.

4) Plus, It's A Really Cool Story

If you haven't read it, do so. But don't watch the movie.

Seriously, if anyone spoils me in the next two hours I will cut them May. 19th, 2009 @ 04:35 pm
There are several things I want to post about, I think, but I have brain ferrets this afternoon and I'm saving all the spoons I can to go see Star Trek tonight (yay! including for not having to dodge spoilers any more, especially since I got one in a medical science-related blogpost from a dude who issued a spoiler and then said "don't worry, I won't give away anything more about the movie - TOO LATE, JERK), so a vaguely rambly reflection I would really rather NOT see linked in Mammothfail contexts because bringing new authors into this is only going to make things messier, seriously, but it's what I'm thinking about right now, so I'm still posting about it.

One of the things with Race/Mammothfail, for me, is realising:

1) That I have lost touch with sf/F quite thoroughly. I think the most recent writer I've developed a love for is Connie Willis.

2) That I didn't really engage with print fandom before, either.

Most of the names that have come up in recent discussions are just completely unfamiliar to me, or familiar in it-turns-out inaccurate ways. I thought Scalzi was just a blogger; I had some vague inclination that he was a novelist too, but from his comments on his blog I'd decided that, for my tastes, he was likely to be a very bad one, and dismissed him out of hand. I'd never heard of Elizabeth Bear, although it turned out at least one of my friends had read at least one of her books. I don't think I know anyone who's read anything by Shetterly, but on the other hand, based on the things he writes online... I don't think anyone I know would actually want to.

However, some names are familiar to me, and I've been learning things I never considered about them before. Steven Barnes is black, apparently. The only stuff of his I've read was co-written with Larry Niven; I'm not sure how, or if, that fact alters my perception of those stories. (The biggest role he seems to play in co-writing with Larry Niven is giving characters emotional depth. Niven spins a good concept, but his characters are rather two-dimensional. Barnes improves that a lot. Of course, the one I remember is the one that Niven drafted, couldn't make 'work', and gave up on, then gave to Steven Barnes to see if he could fix it; Niven himself acknowledges that what it turned out the story needed was heart.)

I've always been turned off reading Steven Barnes-alone stuff because, well, it always seems to be novels. Or novellas, or just really long stories, in anthologies. I have a tendency to look through the index for the stories that are ten pages or less. I've since been diagnosed with ADHD - I suspect there is a connection.

According to the Internet, Samuel R. Delaney is both black and gay. I think I vaguely knew the black part; I was surprised by the gay part. And yet, he's a dude I've read mention of for as long as I can remember.

An odd sidenote: Most of what I know of both of them, as individuals, comes from reading Larry Niven's various commentaries in some of his short story anthologies. Niven never mentions the race of either of them, that I recall, but speaks in admiring tones of both of them.

Which suggests that Niven thinks of them as talented sf-dudes, in theory.

Except that this is Larry Niven, who is, as a white, heterosexual American male who has been wealthy all his life, about as soaked in privilege as it is possible to get, and who not-that-long-ago made some hideously, horrifically problematic comments as part of the Homeland Security-attached panel of science fiction authors (no, really; the idea is that they are supposed to be good at thinking about creative solutions to problems).
Niven said a good way to help hospitals stem financial losses is to spread rumors in Spanish within the Latino community that emergency rooms are killing patients in order to harvest their organs for transplants.

"The problem [of hospitals going broke] is hugely exaggerated by illegal aliens who aren't going to pay for anything anyway," Niven said.

"Do you know how politically incorrect you are?" Pournelle asked.

"I know it may not be possible to use this solution, but it does work," Niven replied.
You know, I desperately want Niven to have been taking the piss here. For this to have been some kind of bitchy meta-commentary on something, taken out of context.

But it's hard to make that case, without a hell of a lot of context, because that statement, from the rich-from-birth descendant of oil tycoons and the like, from someone as privilege-sodden as Niven? It's terrible.

Which is why I understand the pain of people seeing favourite authors fail, because if I had to name a favourite science fiction author of my own (in terms of authors I read for the science fiction factor), it would probably be him.

(Overall favourite: probably Anne McCaffrey. If anyone has any instances to cite of Anne being a horrible person, I don't right now want to know, because she's always seemed to be one of those people who's not perfect, but tries to be inclusive, and to fail better next time when she does screw up, and Pern novels were my great escape from a really, really shitty childhood, please don't take that away from me. Seriously. My childhood was horrible, and Pern made me happy. I don't think I could handle losing that right now.)

Ahem. Anyway, yes. Niven's Known Space series, especially, was just cool. There were a wide range of varied cultures, there was genuine science, there were stories based on interesting corners of the known universe. There Is A Tide, and Neutron Star - his stories are based on ideas, and here and there an overt attempt to mess with assumptions about melanin levels.

One of his major Known Space characters is an albino - they're fairly common on the planet he comes from. Various historical factors meant that that particular genetic variation crops up pretty often amongst the people of his world. However, he takes melanin tablets, and spends most of his time being very dark-skinned, because it's more convenient; skin colour is largely a cosmetic choice, in his Known Space series, and since there's a rich diversity of cultures, and he has aliens who aren't actually funny-looking humans, I kind of loved his world, and didn't notice the major gap that now I can't help but think of:

There are no Hispanic/Latino/what-have-you people that I can think of. Black characters, both by choice and by nature? Yes. Including having the cultural aspect of not-being-white be relevant and meaningful, for black-and-from-Earth characters. Asians? Well, there's Louis Wu, but it's hard to make a cultural case for him - thinking about it, there's an element of Earth = America in Niven's work, which... ew. But Louis Wu is very much himself, because he's too old (multiple centuries), too well-travelled (all over Known Space), to fit quite in with any Earth cultural category. He's spent too much time alone, or with aliens, and he's kind of an entity unto himself.

Mostly, though, skin colour is black and white and other - which can be anything, because cosmetic skin colour choices are serious business - and culture is American or alien or colony-world.

I haven't read any of these in many years, mind you - I might not be remembering that well, and it could be better or worse than I get from my recollection of the standout, memorable parts. But it's kind of a gaping hole now that I do think about it.

I still think he's written some damn good stories, both his sf and his fantasy - the Warlock stories, with his mechanic for magic, are really kind of brilliant - but I fear, now, that beneath his genial demeanour, in his comments on his field, he may in fact have a very, very ugly bias.

Current Mood: depressed
Tags: ,

Hell or glory, I don't want anything in between... Mar. 14th, 2009 @ 12:27 pm
A first: My history research has become obscure enough that right here, in the highly-trafficked Reid Library at the University of Western Australia, I pulled a couple of books in a row off a shelf and had to blow dust off them. (The scatter of dust that leaps into the air as you tug them off the shelf sparkles in the light, and warns you that seriously, blow those puppies off or you will be choosing between reading and breathing.)

Today's books I want to go through:

Basil Williams, The Whig Supremacy 1714-1760

Coupland, The American Revolution and the British Empire

Denis Gwynn, The Struggle for Catholic Emancipation 1750-1829

C. Robertson, England Under the Hanoverians

The problem is, there just isn't time enough in all the world to do as much reading as I want to for this essay, so a lot of the reading I'm doing now is kind of a skim-for-key-chapters thing. But I need to start keeping a bibliography, because if I've used them for my essay, they have to go in...

Speaking of reading, I keep seeing people mentioning [ profile] 50books_poc. It seems like an interesting and edifying concept, something I'd like to try (after all, I do like being exposed to cultural perspectives not native to me), but I'm totally not going to.

(Because I'm clearly a racist. Because I don't read fiction, really, right now. At all. I have mountainous piles of reading to do for history, Linguistics to keep up with, and when I'm resting my mind from history I tend to do things which engage my brain on only the most superficial levels, like watch Japanese kids' shows or play Civ4 or World of Warcraft. And those times are also generally after my ADHD meds have worn off, which means reading any work of fiction longer than about ten pages is beyond me. With sufficient will/incentive, I'm capable of reading novels, but the focus-spoons that requires are currently being devoted to history.)

Just, take it as read that I'm aware of it, so you don't need to tell me and encourage me to take part.

Meanwhile, I am still reading RaceFail09 stuff occasionally. One of the things I've taken from it? I clearly need to return to working on [Kentish and Jude], the story I started writing after doing History in Fantasy/Fantasy in History. Inspired by that course, it's a novel that's deliberately aware of the way ideology underwrites speculative fiction; I've put together a socio-historical background in my head, and each chapter opens with an excerpt from a fictional history book, about the history of that universe. I kind of love it, I just got distracted. (RaceFail brought it to mind, along with [ profile] verb_noire, because of people talking about the dearth of non-white heroes; the two central characters of the story are Kentish, who is black, and Jude, who is a lesbian, although neither of these points is explicit until a couple of chapters in. Which one is the main protagonist, and which one is, in real terms, the Hero? Highly arguable, if I do my job right, because the nature of heroism is also something which I am intentionally letting be a little questionable in this story. Argh, need more time for working on this stuff.)

Current Location: Reid Library
Current Music: Cold Fairyland - Mula-shabel War

And the sign said the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls... Mar. 2nd, 2009 @ 10:39 pm
It's amazing how much my posting rate goes up when I have interesting-to-me non-angst-based things to write about.

Today's Odd Thing that I forgot to mention earlier: In the Arts block women's toilets, end left stall, there is a sticker. Someone has, at some point, tried to remove this sticker, but it shredded, leaving glued-on paper residue.

On this paper, three words are written.

In my handwriting.

They've been there about nine years now.

Other graffiti has come and gone - in the long tradition of university toilets, scurrilous toilet humour regularly shares space with grand ideological battles and simple exclamations of raw emotion on the toilet walls. (My current favourite: Reid Library, first floor, women's toilets, right-hand stall: Fuck comp.sci deadlines and segfaults.) Periodically the walls are scrubbed blank, and then the conversations start anew. (Another favourite: a warning against toilet vampires having been seen in the area.)

Somehow, those three words - a remnant of an ideological fervour I outgrew not long afterwards - have remained.

I am not sure what to draw from this, really.

Meanwhile, for vague reference, today's book tally:


History course reader (well, ordered; they'd sold out)
Dear Fatty, by Dawn French

Borrowed (Reid Library):

A History of European Socialism (Lindemann, 1983)
Scottish Harbors (Morris, 1983)
The History and Archaeology of Ports (Jackson, 1983)

I'm not sure why they're all from 1983.

The three borrowed books are vague pre-reading, trying angles in search of a topic for the 4,500 word research essay I have to write by the 20th of May. Perhaps something on the ideological movements of the Industrial Revolution, perhaps something on the effects on and of trade both domestic and overseas... Perhaps nothing related to any of this, but I live with the belief that no knowledge gained is worthless.

Current Mood: nemui
Current Location: Destiny; kitchen table
Current Music: Chas on the phone

Because DVDs wanna be free, yo Feb. 13th, 2009 @ 01:12 pm
Another happy thing that happened yesterday was my package from amazon UK arrived. Complete Jonathan Creek, seasons A, B and C of QI, and copies of How to Stop Worrying and Start Living and How to Win Friends and Influence People, both by Dale Carnegie. Don't judge me. The anti-worrying book was my psychologist's recommendation, and so far it's streets better than any other self-help book I've glanced through (in other cases, in rising disgust).

Sub-aside: Anyone ever look through Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray? It's horrendous. It's the most sexist tripe I've ever looked at, disgustingly insulting to both men and women - and most of his little anecdotes about his growth as a husband etc reveal only that he's a self-centred prick. [end sub-aside]

This was one good thing, followed by awesome last night when I found a freeware program to let my laptop play DVDs regardless of region. (The previous discovery of a program to do this cost something like 210 euros. Which, what the hell, and while I acknowledge that it had other functionality, it was functionality I neither wanted nor needed.) This one, DVD43, does exactly what I need it to do and no more.

I approve of this.

Current Location: Destiny; kitchen table
Current Music: QI (C series)
Current Mood: calm

Top of Page Powered by Dreamwidth Studios