I watched Altered Carbon before I even knew about the books, and I enjoyed the series (so much that I blogged about it here). The book was even more interesting, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.
- For me it was hard to read this without recalling Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, and at least the first book in the series compares favorably. The AI-hotel that defended itself and its clients was actually better done in the teevee show, but the concept is still pretty cool, and the generic expectations of cyberpunk are built upon neatly, without too much rehashing.
- In particular I thought that this novel caught the tone of exhaustion and desperation that permeates Gibson’s work. Kovacs (the detective who has been resleeved, and who might or might not be a war criminal and/or rebel) seems to be constantly on the verge of figuring out just what *this-all-means*, but if that knowledge is possible to attain he doesn’t get there, and the frustration is palpable.
- I thought the novel’s ending was far better than the way that the show ended, but its complexity would have been hard to capture in a visual medium.
- The most interesting idea of course is the immortality that the rich have gained. Morgan very clearly makes the case that the rich alone have the power to keep endless quantities of sleeves available, and they use that power to accumulate fabulous amounts of wealth.
- They also have to find increasingly exotic ways to become sexually excited, leading to the murders that drive the plot narrative.
- I hope that Morgan explores the identity issues more thoroughly as the series proceeds.
- On the one hand, Morgan’s comments on the results of immortality are fairly straightforward – people become increasingly horrible, and the accumulation of wealth by the 1 percent becomes increasingly striated.
- On the other hand, though, the identity questions become tangled, and Morgan doesn’t hesitate to bring God into all of this (there is a constant movement of Catholics against the resleeving of people throughout the novel). Making those questions of identity transparent leads beyond questions of good and evil, capitalist vs. communist.
- Instead, the implications of having these godlike powers become a meditation on the path to get there, given the many options that humans have already taken (and the environmental destruction that has led the rich to live on Mars, and leave Earth to those who can’t afford to leave).
- Kovacs himself has a relationship with some sort of cult movement, as he often remembers his home planet and its much stricter cultural mores. It’s also clearly the home of at best a founding father of sort, since it’s called Hansen’s World (or something like that).
Millennial Mythmaking is a series of essays on what the editors consider to be contemporary mythology, with subjects ranging from Harry Potter to anime to Ghost in the Shell to del Toro (at least as far as Pan’s Labyrinth takes us). The essays were interesting and referenced all the right source material, and my guess is that several will serve as the type of building block work that cultural studies needs done.
- I found the intro essay and the two on Pan’s Labyrinth and Ghost in the Shell to be the most interesting. The intro essay makes the case for studying these kinds of texts as representations of contemporary mythology, while the other two make the case for the two artifacts as ways that current texts incorporate what we think of as myth in order to create the stories we tell ourselves now.
- I would have appreciated a better definition of the mechanism by which this progress work.
- For instance, how does the invocation of ancient myths in these contemporary stories work? Is it a bricolage of sort? A deconstruction?
- I’m also curious what the resonance is – none of the authors in here accuse their audiences of not knowing history, so is the assumption that modern audiences understand these connections based on their own cultural knowledge? Are these features something that we’re hard-wired with, as long as the texts hit the right notes?
- I also felt that a bit of an explanation of the actual mechanism they see the monomyth working through (now at least) would have been useful.
I was directed to Schweitzer’s collection of reviews, essays, and presentations while researching an article on the Malazan world and just war theory, and I thought I’d talk about it below:
- At times this collection was frustrating. He writes off any sort of literary theory that comes after the New Critics, and he dismisses it in what I always find the laziest way – it’s too hard, it’s not well-written, it eliminates the author, and so on. There are many reasons to find fault with the deconstructionists, Foucauldians, and the rest who revolutionized the way that literary criticism works, but these are not the ways to do so.
- He also diminishes a lot of the underlying issues of race and gender that mark these texts, in ways that seem very Gernsbackian.
- Even then, however, the reasons why I think I enjoyed this become clear, as one of the essays in this collection directly critiques Gernsback’s contributions to the field because of Gernsback’s well-known multiple faults…and he does this compellingly and disruptively (critiquing Gernsback can still draw fire from true scifi fanatics).
- Those critiques aside, I plowed through this and enjoyed a lot of it. I understand, I think, that he’s a writer who is too busy writing stories, etc, a publisher who is keeping generic short fiction alive, an editor who works with and encourages a lot of other writers, an agent who makes sure that we still have access to older texts, and a collector who wears out estate sales in order to find hidden gems that need to be preserved to spend a lot of time digesting contemporary theory.
- Taking the time to work through the potential benefits these theories offer by providing different types of lenses probably isn’t in the cards…
- His memory is amazing, nearly wikipedian in its breadth *and* depth. The number of texts that he refers to is mind-boggling, and I’m saying that as someone who spends way too much time reading myself.
- I’m also fascinated by the patterns he draws – he not only reads pulp and/or genre fiction, but he digests it, sees patterns between both stories by the same author and between that author and others.
- Finally, he’s definitely not only interested in texts from the genre. He casually mentions Marquez, Kafka, and McCarthy, drawing interesting parallels, and he has clearly read a lot of the high canon and thought seriously about it…
I’m not sure how many times I’ve read Ecotopia, but every time I do I want to go live there…
- Bad stuff out of the way first – this is written in the mid-70s, and has all the systemic racism and sexism one would expect from the hippies, who were perhaps not as enlightened as they imagined themselves to be. It’s also very hetero, with sort of an implicit belief that being gay will not be a thing once we figure out the problems we have caused with the natural world.
- All of these are definitely problems, and they fit Callenbach’s hippieish, Jerry Rubin style “revolution.”
- That said, it’s also a non-stop look at possible ways to work ourselves out of the looming ecological disaster that we find ourselves facing. It creates a very Jeffersonian view of the ways we interact with the world – small farms and craftsmen, decentralized towns rather than large cities, and family units that are more flexible and larger and in which people take care of themselves.
- By non-stop I mean that Callenbach doesn’t spend much time developing characters. The reporter from the US who goes back to Ecotopia is a barely fleshed-out amalgam of all the hard-bitten reporter stereotypes, and his love interests – even the Ecotopia one – are not all that developed.
- Instead, Callenbach uses Weston (the reporter) as an excuse to wander around the nation of Ecotopia, finding out all of the ways that its citizens have addressed the environmental challenges they face (spoiler alert: there are a lot). We see solar power systems, water saving, careful selection and planning of tree harvests, and harmonious production of food. He doesn’t leave much out.
- Callenbach centers Ecotopia on the stable-state system, one which as the argument goes is obsessed with balance rather than competition. This theory has evolved since 1976, but Callenbach used it as a founding principle of Ecotopia, one that guided all decisions in the culture.
- Two examples stand out. In the first, Callenbach portrays Ecotopia as a place in which scientific research is conducted solely outside of huge government- and corporation-funded research labs. Instead, scientists form small bands determined to solve immediate problems, in essence blurring the line I think between what we call technology and science.
- His argument is that this type of scientific research is far more conducive to solving social problems than making a profit or being turned to military use (not that there’s no military in Ecotopia – they constantly fear invasion by the US). Stable-state science means that problems are addressed with both a more immediate focus and a long-term awareness of the potential problems that solutions might bring.
- The other example is taxes. Callenbach argues that for capitalism to function as part of a stable state organizations and businesses must be properly taxed, and those who are taxed must believe that the money will be used for purposes that have clear benefits. Both taxes and government expenditures are completely transparent in this culture.
- The cultural conditioning that he foresees also feels very Oregonian (or Pacific NW-based perhaps). The games that folks play, the ways in which they freely disagree with each other, the emotional intensity of their relationships – all of these are very non-midwestern (at the least) and would require a lot of education and training (and re-training).
- There’s lots more of course, some of which I don’t agree with. But the intentionality of living in Ecotopia, the focus on relationship building, seems to me to be a far better way of creating an equitable society than our current material possession obsessed culture.
So much to read, and so little time – I finally got to Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber (2000), and I wish I’d read it earlier…
- Part of the reason that I wish I had read this earlier is because I’m now wondering what some of the mainstream fantasy writers – Martin in particular – are/were reading, and if they’ve read this. Martin’s efforts to locate ASOIAF outside of Europe (and England) might be spurred by someone like Hopkinson.
- As for the text itself, MR blends Caribbean folk tales with sci-fi in ways that even as I think back on the reading felt both dislocating (in the best possible way) and intensely familiar. She moves the diaspora to the stars, and in doing so somehow manages in one novel to discuss race, colonialism, labor, our relationship with the natural world, and the impetus behind technological development. Yep, sci-fi ftw!
- She is also not afraid to tackle big subjects. The protagonist, Tan-Tan (who becomes the Midnight Robber, a thief in the tradition of Robin Hood and I’m sure a Caribbean antecedent that I’m too dumb to know about) is raped repeatedly by her father, at the ages of fifteen and sixteen. Hopkinson allows us see Tan-Tan’s thoughts as she struggles with her feelings for her father and her feelings for the baby who is the result of these rapes. Part of what drives her is a desire for justice for other people, and the Midnight Robber becomes far more than someone who steals from the rich and gives to the poor – she rights social wrongs at a micro-level, and those wrongs including bullying and an unequal distribution of resources within individual communities.
- The implications of technology invoked here are Feenbergian. This novel is sci-fi – it happens on other planets, and includes a nanny state AI that essentially keeps order (infants are given an implant that grows connections in the brain that make it part of the adult’s anatomy) and gravity wells to other planets. But like sci-fi that matters (fuck you Star Wars!) it looks intensely at what our relationship with technology means to our daily lives *and* our larger relationships, looking for places where we can reconfigure that relationship.
- It doesn’t do so however in a global, interplanetary war sort of way. Tan-Tan wants to save the world, but as the Midnight Robber she doesn’t involve herself in ideological conflicts – she does what she thinks is right, and even though she makes some mistakes along the way she constantly looks for places where she can make daily life more humane and less degrading, including ways to keep human in the face of our technology.
- The idea that technology degrades us is sorta hipppiesh, but my guess is that Hopkinson has enough trippiness in her that she wouldn’t turn away from that…
- Finally, I wish Hopkinson had delved more into the labor issues that she raises. There is a sub-culture on Tan-Tan’s home world that rejects the AI and chooses to do labor (that labor takes the main form of operating pedicabs, which are taken by the rich as a signifier of status). The sub-culture fits into the plot of the novel (barely), but its possibilities in a tech-rich world are pretty interesting.
- The need for physical labor as an essential quality of what it means to be human is invoked in the world that Tan-Tan and her father flee to, but its presence in that world is strictly by necessity. Perhaps her other novels (which are now on my must-read list) will take on these issues…
I read this in reverse order, as I should have read Tales from the Loop first, but oh well…
- I assumed upon reading about it that this text fit as a dystopia, but it’s more a nostalgic alternative history. It takes place in the 90s, after the Loop from the earlier book has been shutdown, and a mysterious flood has made the island on which all this takes place even swampier.
- The machines are intersecting with the environment in ways that are not so much sentient as they are organic. The chemicals the Swedish and Russian military-industrial complex has used to make and maintain them has interacted with living elements in odd ways, and the results are sort of ickky and sort of amazing.
- The narrator is a young boy who is growing up on the island and who participates with his fellow islanders in what feels like a a grand observation of what is happening to them.
- It’s also set in the past, so we as readers see this through the lens of nostalgia. Unlike Stranger Things, this is nostalgia experienced directly by the narrator, as he reminiscences about his first kiss, some of the friends who come and go, and his own new-found popularity due to growing up and becoming one of the ones who instead of being frightened is interested by the flood.
Pop culture fascinates me (even if I can’t stand auto-tune and often think green screens should be burned). Every once in a while a nugget from it explodes with meaning in ways that I would have never guessed.
Such a moment occurred last week, as I was walking through downtown Canton. I sat down at a coffee shop, enjoying a green tea and reading a book (I am clearly a party animal), when four young people started singing along with a song.
It was one I knew, the one I’ve embedded here. And it reminded me of battles and lost lives and found friends and transformations.
I’ll leave the interpretations up to you, but in addition to the very specific marginalized group that adopted the song in the early aughts I always think of friends who died in the first, scary moments of killer diseases ravaging a very specific population, and the ways that that community fought back, to take care of itself and to confront the ugliness that others often directed at it with grace, anger, wit, and beauty.
Somehow, in one of those perfect pop moments, Train captured the essence of what it meant to grow up different, so different that others were so threatened by you that they denied you your own dignity. The cosmic quality of the lyrics remind me of those Heavy Metal stories that had a schooner sailing the stars, with no inconvenient spacesuits needed (illustrations borrowed by dozens of other series including Final Fantasy and ), and probably bringing back those drops of Jupiter.
Why not sail the stars and get a chance to dance along the light of day and fall for a shooting star and feel the light of the milky way?