So, we got to Rome today despite the snow, but it wasn’t quite as easy as usual. Seven of us went, mostly the group that was already feeling stir-crazy about having to spend another day inside, and we had to do a bit of finagling to get to town. Nonetheless, we made it.
I assumed that I wouldn’t want to hang with them, but I did, and enjoyed it. Every student group brings its own strengths and weaknesses, and this group was witty as heck and wanted to dive in full-stop, which they did. According to one of them we went church-hopping, which is really accurate and something I hadn’t thought about…
Other quick bits:
- I felt the immersion come back, and my love for this city, especially as I suggested that rather than just jump on the subway we start walking down Via Nazionale. They were happy to do so, and after a church stop and a purchased warmer coat (during which the purchaser got the full benefit of Roman customer service), we found ourselves at Vittoria Emmanuelle. The cameras came out, and the smiles started. We found ourselves drinking cappucino, eating clif bars and pizza, and walking until my glutes ached. #firstworldproblems
- We also got to the Isla Travere, which I had never been to before. This happened because I went too far south on Teatro dei Marcello, but the mistake was a beautiful one, as one of the group has a mild St. Bartholomew fetish which he was able to indulge.
- On the island we got a cappucino (they got gelato) at a cool little bar, with two beautiful people behind the wood and glass counter. The woman was a spectacular-in-that-Roman way thirty-something, and the guy was slightly older, and just as gorgeous. She was half-dancing behind the bar to some suave Italian pop, while he smiled indulgently as she sashayed past him, with his perfect Italian haircut not moving an inch.
- He’d either been behind that counter since the Roman Republic or belong there only as an in-between gig while otherwise playing the serious friend in a sophisticated dramatic-yet-ultimately-sardonically-comic euro tragic love story.
- The cold was definitely a thing today, it felt March in Ohio fierce, not the bitter, lung-searing, freeze the snot in your nostrils cold, but enough to help me remember that I was outside all day, and that I would have to actually seek shelter to get completely warm.
- Fiume Tevere was a cool color, one I associate with glacial silt run-off, not the slow-moving Tiber…and there was at least one serious class III on it…not that I noticed.
A quick thought or two on What Remains of Edith Finch:
- Perhaps the most interesting and subversive part of the game is the fact that moving to the USA does *not* remove the curse. The setup is there for a yay-for-the-USA game, but instead it returns to a time of economic anxiety and global disruption, with pressure to leave Europe before the shit goes down, and then has them get to the shores of the USA and wreck.
- I’m also very curious about the ways in which the Finches try to deal with the curse. Barbara thinks celebrity will save her, the twins decide to live their lives as if it didn’t exist, Walter tries to ignore it, and yet none of that works. Only Edith decides to leave her remains (see what I did there) for the next generation, mostly, as she says, to understand for her unborn son.
- A curse, especially one invoked in a magically realist world that deals directly iwth the uncanny, should have no implications in the USA…and yet…
- Finally, the language that reinforces the spoken narrative and that flashes briefly on the screen reminds me of the fetishization among certain communities of signals and code…how they’re received, how they’re written, what subtexts they hint at, and what they mean for the move from analog to digital culture…
In addition to the deep diving I’m doing for my second read of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, I read the second novel in the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer, Authority. I’m enjoying this series a lot…and, as always, thoughts:
- The gradual dissolution of government authority, with the increased anxiety felt by Control, is a nice subversion of the scientists losing control of the project trope that often runs through science fiction. There is no control, at all, and the fact that the government tries to impose it even though the scientists there (who are trying to be team players) are telling them that there is no such thing neatly tweaks a tired theme.
- I’m glad to see the biologist back, and particularly glad that she escaped. Here’s hoping that the dive into the portal at the end is as cool as it sounds.
- The idea that an ecological disaster is underplayed by authority fits the standard sort of pr by crisis approach, I think. It’s the sort of vague, tepid, ultimately ridiculous response that stands in for our own response to climate change. When our kids are underwater we will probably grow very concerned and write stern letters to the people in charge.
John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War pays homage to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers while also tweaking its basic premises. Because of some of the features of the novel I think that Scalzi is trying to make Heinlein safe for those who might have liked the premise but hated the fascism. Thoughts below:
- The surprise Scalzi’s characters feel at the body-swap felt a bit disingenuous, and I get a bit weary of the constant “all-people-are-smart-asses.” That being said, it’s an interesting take on finding foot soldiers for colonial wars, especially ones that are said to be absolutely necessary to fight (as Scalzi does in this novel)…
- He’s directly speaking to Starship Troopers, of course, but I think that he’s taking a science-based, almost liberal (in the U.S. sense) view, like a liberal hawk – the universe is a dangerous place, we need to fight wars, but our diversity is our strength, yadayadayadayada…
- In that sense then he returns to what feels like a WWII, Ernie Pyle-style GI stories. Scalzi’s combatants are cynical and hard-bitten, but always ready to make a joke even as they die (and uber-competent despite the casualty rates). They fit all the characteristics that folks wanted desperately to apply to American soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen during WWII. By incorporating this persona, I think, Scalzi wants to invoke the spirit of the good war that many think WWII was.
- This war is Darwinian in a lot of ways – it occurs in a world in which races compete unless they have a direct reason not to, i.e., they do not need the same resources to survive. He doesn’t make the enemy evil, necessarily, and in fact humans come the closest to committing what we might think of as war crimes, but the feel is that survival-of-the-fittest trope that dominated early economic interpretations of Darwin. In that sense, the inevitability of the expansion of folks leads to constant war – if we humans don’t take these planets then other species will. Sounds more than vaguely capitalist.
- It also posits one line for technological development – there is a curve of known science/technology research, and species fit on it at some point. The balance is upset when one species gets knowledge it should not have yet, according to the laws of the inevitability of tech development I guess.
- In some ways this is the most frustrating part of this novel – rather than think about different ways in which tech can develop (there are dozens of examples, but the Expanse series is what comes to mind first), Scalzi simply has all of us moving in the same lines.
- I was also frustrated with the obvious characterizations – the loudmouth braggart dies immediately, the former senator who think that the Colonial Defense Force hasn’t tried diplomacy dies horribly while trying diplomacy, etc. Lots of folks die, actually, and we still get just one viewpoint, that of the protagonist, who affects that world-weary, cynical, I-do-this-not-because-I-have-to-but-from-a-sense-of-duty narrator.
- I kept thinking that some plot or characterization would tweak this novel’s direction, but the big twist (the ghost brigade) was just more of the same…
- I didn’t realize that there was such a market for throw-back 60s sci-fi novels with covers that featured humans eye-rolling at outlandish alien hijinks…
- Finally, the religion that Scalzi creates in the species that most directly competes with humans implied the sort of overwhelmingly anthropocentric view of the world that I think Scalzi is trying not to portray. He wants humans to be the good guys, but these folks aren’t evil (as I mentioned) – they think they’re doing us a favor by ‘redeeming’ us and helping us reincarnate as them. In my mind the connections to Western, Christian imperialism and colonialism are too close…
- I really wish this novel had been in conversation with Forever War and Battlestar Galactica as well as Starship Troopers. Scalzi approaches questions of identity in ways that could be interesting, but he ends them with simple declarations that despite enhancements all of these old men and women (in new, corporate-developed bodies) are actually, deeply human. Even the ghost brigades are human, so human in fact that the regrown DNA-imprinted soldier who our narrator runs into falls in love with him just like his wife (whose DNA it has used) did back on earth.
- The corporate control elements are interesting as well, and perhaps the rest of the series interrogates them…