“We are all part machine, Kaaro. Your phone is a polymer under the skin of your hand. You have a locator chip in your head.”
—Tade Thompson, Rosewater
by Tade Thompson
A Goodreads friend said this about “Rosewater”:
“This book is one of those discoveries that not only is enjoyable for itself; it’s good enough to make me feel overall cheerily optimistic about the future of science fiction writing. Of course, this is not to be confused with ‘feeling cheery about the future;’ the effect here is quite the opposite, in fact.”
With an endorsement like that, I had to read it. It was everything she said, and more. As I read, I found myself as excited as I had been, decades ago, when I first read “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” by an up & comer named Gene Wolfe, or later, when I discovered the work of William Gibson.
“Rosewater” tells a hell of a story. Thompson says his science fiction stories are “about people, with incidental science,” but neither the people nor the science is incidental in “Rosewater.” Both are central to his complex first contact/alien invasion novel.
I particularly liked the main character Kaaro’s flashbacks to 2055 and his first encounters with the super-secret S45, the xenosphere, Femi, Wormwood, and Bicycle Girl. As other readers reported doing, I occasionally paged back to chapter heads to remind myself which timeline I was in, 2055 or 2066, but it was not bothersome: in fact, the very minor effort this entailed drew me even more into the story and enhanced my understanding of the world Thompson built.
Thompson is a master of introducing shocking plot elements through throwaway one-liners: when you run across one like “When America went dark,” your hair wants to stand on end. I suspect most Western readers will know enough of present-day Nigeria to be somewhat frightened of it; for sure I have heard of “necklacing,” and was perversely happy Thomas didn’t paint a prettier picture of the future Nigeria. Nigeria, along with the cast of characters who inhabit Lagos and Rosewater, is gritty and entirely believable.
There’s not a hint of the didactic in “Rosewater.” Thompson is a master of showing, of putting you in the story. “Rosewater” is brilliant, and I agree with my friend: the future of SF is assured.
In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1)
by Tana French
“In the Woods” is my first Tana French novel. I bought the ebook version after reading a glowing review in The New Yorker. I started it in November, then put it aside to read two Lee Child Jack Reacher paperbacks. The contrast between man of action Jack Reacher and the brooding and complex detective Rob Ryan could not have been more stark, and I had to cool down before I could start reading “In the Woods” again. Which is to say that after Jack Reacher, I had little patience for Rob Ryan’s tentativeness, self-doubt, and unmanly fears.
But the weeks went by and eventually I picked up “In the Woods” again. To my surprise, Rob (the Dublin Murder Squad detective), in addition to becoming even more tentative, self-doubting, and fearful, revealed himself to be a major asshole as well, losing any claim he might have had on my sympathy. I was surprised the novel went in that direction. That’s the problem with reading Jack Reacher thrillers. You expect characters to stay the same and for mysteries to be resolved. Which of course is not at all how things actually work, as Tana French clearly understands.
I’m dangerously close to spoiler territory. The Dublin Murder Squad solves a particularly nasty crime. Rob Ryan falls far short of resolving an earlier and possibly related crime, and screws up professional relationships and friendships along the way. Real life sucks. I may need a third dose of Jack Reacher to clear out my baffles.
I must say, though, Tana French is a very gifted writer. Although I didn’t like the lead character in this novel, I will definitely read more of her fiction.
Tripwire (Jack Reacher #3)
by Lee Child
Jack Reacher thrillers are, three books in, much of a muchness. Addictive and fun to read, but I have nothing to add to my review of the first Jack Reacher novel, which I’ll repeat here:
“I read a long article about Lee Child and the Jack Reacher series in a recent New Yorker. Since the same magazine had previously introduced me such brilliant writers as Patrick O’Brian and Tana French, I decided to read a Jack Reacher book.
“Reader, I inhaled it. That’s not to say Lee Child is a brilliant writer. He is what most of us would call a hack. But how refreshing it is, once in a while, to read a first-person, reasonably well-plotted and action-filled thriller where the bad guys get what’s coming to them and justice prevails.
“I was reminded of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels, which I inhaled in the 1980s. You’ll get hard-boiled detective tropes, not a little Sherlock Holmes, plenty of Hulk. You can criticize the plot for being contrived and unlikely, but you can say the same thing about most action-hero thrillers. I like Lee Child’s plain language and direct writing style. The pages turn almost of themselves.”
Jane Carver of Waar (Jane Carver #1)
by Nathan Long
As a kid I shunned Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series of Martian adventure books. They struck me as mere swashbuckling fantasy, not science fiction, and I was a bit of a snob about science fiction. I guess I still am, but boy, was “Jane Carver of Waar” a fun read!
Which, I guess, means one doesn’t have to have a grounding in Burroughs’ John Carter books to appreciate what Nathan Long is doing with Jane Carver. She’s a gas, very like some biker chicks I know in real life, and I’d want her at my side in a Hells Angels bar.
If you’re ready for a break from serious reading but don’t want your intelligence insulted (i.e., if you’re also between Jack Reacher novels), you could do worse. And who knows, a visit to Waar might help you keep your sanity in the Trump era.
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging
by Sebastian Junger
A longish essay/short book on what binds men together in societies. I say “men” because Junger here writes mostly of men and war. My heart is with him when it comes to the military experience, but I don’t think it’s as binding an experience as he does: I want to believe young men and women leave the military better than they were, having shared tough conditions and common goals with people from different cultures, races, sexes, etc … but then I look at some of the KKK/white militia types coming out of today’s military (and the great racial tensions our military experienced during the Vietnam War) and I think, hey, wait a minute there Junger, do you believe this to be true, or, like me, do you wish it to be true?
One of the problems with not footnoting your work (Junger does not, but instead lists sources at the back of the book) is that it can be hard to know when the author is blowing smoke or presenting fact. Junger goes deep into woo territory with tales of white settlers running away to join Indian tribes in the early days of this country. Yes, it happened, but Junger oversells his point, presenting these defections almost as everyday occurrences, undermining his credibility.
Still, he’s on to something: times of war and hardship do unify people, and there is little to unify Americans today. This tallies with my own observations. I also related to Junger’s conservative streak, which comes out strongly in his discussion of “disabled” vets milking the VA system for higher disability ratings and pay: something I saw up close and personal during the two years I worked for the VA Hospital in Tucson. Perhaps if the military was better integrated with society as a whole, there’d be less of this … but then again, thanks to the draft the military was far more integrated with society during the Vietnam War than it is now, and yet Vietnam vets had just as hard a time reintegrating into society as soldiers do today.
Overall: interesting reading from a damn good war correspondent, but his premises and conclusions are debatable.
Ocean of Storms
by Christopher Mari, Jeremy K. Brown
An interesting story, half science fiction and half thriller, but overall skimpily told: weak characterization, sketchy (and sometimes inaccurate) science, call-it-in plotting, no followup on intriguing threads.
But first, let’s have a drink. Sorry, that’s a spoiler.
Fans of serious science fiction will find this novel laughable. Newcomers to the genre will enjoy it more. Young adult readers may find it appealing. But if you grew up on science fiction, as I did, you’ll find yourself wondering if “Ocean of Storms” is worth the bother.
And that’s a good question: why did I bother to finish it? Because its one redeeming quality, apart from the interesting central idea, is its Perils of Pauline format, with a cliff-hanger at the end of every short chapter. As Don Draper would say, you can’t eat just one.
Books I did not finish …
The Mandibles: A Family, 2029–2047
by Lionel Shriver
After two chapters I grew weary of the author’s heavy hand. I did not like the omniscient narrator point of view; I did not like the unrealistic dialog, I did not like being lectured to about economics. There are echoes of Christopher Buckley’s equally heavy-handed satirical novels, only without the humor. The book did not grip; I did not care about the Mandibles or their fates.
The Lost Time Accidents
by John Wray
There’s a promising science fiction time travel idea here, but the narration was too fussily baroque for my taste, and the plot promised to be overly complex. Will you hate me if I say it reminded me of BBC’s “Sherlock” (the Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman one), a series which got so wrapped up in itself it lost its way? I gave up after three chapters.
For the second time in two months, my debit card’s been compromised. Donna picked it up right away: four small charges from Angeles City in the Philippines. I always examine card readers on gas pumps and ATMs and am pretty sure I haven’t fallen victim to a skimmer. Well, who knows? This time I had to make a crime report to the police and give the bank a case number.
I thought briefly about going old school, living off cash the way we all did not that many years ago, but boy does that seem like it would be a major inconvenience today. So inconvenient, in fact, I didn’t think about it for more than a minute. I wonder how long it’ll be before the new card’s hacked. Seems like a problem a lot of us are dealing with these days, if comments on Facebook are any indication.
When I checked Google News early this morning, the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was dead after “falling ill” at the airport in Kuala Lumpur. I figured right away he’d been poisoned. Sure enough, an hour later an updated news report said an unidentified woman at the airport sprayed his face with something just before he croaked.
The dead guy is Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s older brother. Kim Jong-il, the father, had been grooming him to be his successor, but in 2003 Kim Jong-nam tried to get into Japan on a false passport and has been living in exile ever since. The mastermind behind the whole thing—the secret visit to Tokyo Disneyland, the exile, today’s assassination—was probably Kim Jong-un. Gangnam of Thrones, anyone?
Our elderly friend from Las Vegas paid us another visit this weekend. He’s home now and we’re recovering. His visits are tough on us. Tough on him too, because he’s too feeble to travel, but I suspect the anticipation of coming to see his friends in Tucson keeps him going, and we don’t have the heart to close our house to him. We’ll be there ourselves sooner or later.
In honor of today’s Hallmark holiday I’m cooking dinner, and Donna gets to choose what to watch on TV tonight. It’s the least I can do after she cleaned up the mess our guest left behind.
Every day we lurch closer to a Mike Pence presidency, and I wonder if we’ll be sorry Trump was too incompetent to hold onto his ill-gained office. I suspect we will be. They say everyone’s reading Orwell’s “1984” and Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” in an effort to understand the current regime. I think that’s off the mark. We should be watching the Coen Brothers’ movie “Burn After Reading” instead, plus re-runs of the “I Love Lucy” chocolate factory episode. And of course Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here.”
Sorry for the short post. The kitchen awaits.
You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.
10,000 unwanted books overtake the streets of Melbourne
Many Americans these days are engaged in protest. Reading in public, especially the reading of banned or challenged books, can also be an act of protest.
Related: Using Banned Books to Teach Resistance.
Not banning by any means, but worrisome: public libraries using automated book-culling software to purge shelves of unpopular titles. I’ve noticed the difference myself at my local library. Yes, you can still request titles, and libraries will still seek them out for you, but what does it say about a public library that a science fiction fan can’t find a single title by William Gibson or Philip K. Dick on the shelves, or a detective thriller by the immortal John D. MacDonald?
Related: Library Closures and Defunding Concerns in 2017
In my last YCRT! post I mentioned the banning and reinstatement of literary classics at public schools in Accomack County, Virginia. Subsequent to that, a bill was introduced in the Virginia legislature to “red-flag” books with sexual content. This has come up before in other states. The most worrisome aspects of book labeling, to me, are who gets to decide what is sexual content, and the chilling effect putting a “sexually-explicit” label on, say, “The Diary of Anne Frank” or “Brave New World” would have on teachers who want to assign the books. Bullet dodged for now: the Virginia State Board of Education has rejected the proposal.
Another follow-on from a previously-mentioned story:
Resident Rick Ligthart came with a prepared statement of changes he wanted in the district’s policy.
“Regardless of the books, I’m recommending to the board that no literature whatsoever be inclusive of literal metaphorical, figurative or allegorical words for male or female genitals,” he said. Identifying himself as a former tenured school teacher he said, other than exceptions for state-mandated sex ed, “English classes should not be involved in sexuality in literature for our kids. It shouldn’t be in any books. No books.”
“We can’t have 18-year-olds reading about masturbation or sexual issues, regardless of the literature. I don’t care if it’s from Dickens or who else,” he said, in summary.
So who is this “resident” and “former tenured school teacher”? This guy, a professional Biblical exegete (Koine Greek), hermeneutics and apologetic Hamartiology (sin) consultant.
It’s nice to know that once in a while, parents will rise up in defense of challenged books and the teachers who assign them to students. In this case, the book is Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” mysteriously dropped from the eighth-grade reading list in Stonington, Connecticut.
From a YCRT! reader:
I was searching for some articles about accessing blocked websites and i came across your page. I noticed that you linked to one of my favorite pages on the this subject: 5 Ways to Bypass Internet Censorship and Filtering.
I just wanted to give you a heads up that I created a guide on accessing blocked websites. It`s like Hongkiat Lim’s article on blocked sites but a bit more up-to-date and packed with more information.
YCRT! Banned Book Review
The Confessions of Nat Turner
Thomas R. Gray*
This is the original “Confessions of Nat Turner,” not the 1967 William Styron novel but a 24-page summary of an interview with the actual Nat Turner, written by Thomas R. Gray, a lawyer seeking to cash in on the sensation surrounding one of the few slave revolts to occur in the American South.
Starting with six accomplices, Nat Turner led a short-lived uprising in the Virginia countryside in August, 1831. Starting in the dark of night, Turner and his group went house to house, murdering white farmers and slave owners, many in their sleep. As more slaves joined along the way, Turner’s army grew to 60 men. In 36 hours, they killed 10 men, 14 women, and 31 infants and children. By noon of Tuesday, August 23, white militias ended the revolt, killing, capturing, and dispersing Turner’s army. Turner himself evaded capture for several weeks. Once caught, he was quickly tried, convicted, and hanged. Gray, who represented Turner at his trial, conducted his interview with Turner in jail and then published his pamphlet.
Gray claims he quotes Nat Turner extensively, but it’s hard to tell whether the words we read are his or Turner’s: Gray didn’t use quotation marks, and sentences that are clearly judgments on the part of Gray are mixed together with sentences purportedly uttered by Turner. It’s no fun to read: Turner, an educated slave who could read and write, a minister to fellow slaves, had been odd since childhood and thought his revolution was directed by God. The revolution amounted to little more than a killing spree, depressingly squalid and cruel, and there really is no message in Turner’s confession. There was no plan; no hope of success.
My interest in “The Confessions of Nat Turner” was piqued by references to its banning in the South. After Turner’s uprising, several Southern states passed laws making it illegal to teach slaves to read and write. Turner’s failed revolt ended hopes of abolition in the South while spurring abolition movements in the North. “The Confessions of Nat Turner” was one of many elements in the polarization between North and South, ultimately leading to the Civil War. In this context, it is easy to see why authorities in the South would want to suppress the book. No doubt, as always, banning led to runaway sales, padding the pockets of Thomas R. Gray.
*Reference sites list the author of “The Confessions of Nat Turner” as Nat Turner, but if you read it I’m confident you’ll agree the author is plainly Thomas R. Gray.
Dear President* Trump: here’s a bag of dicks. I picked ’em myself.
You know, I’m starting to think the smarter course would be to forget about impeachment and just let Trump play the big boss, relying on the courts to clean up his messes and protect institutions and rights. That guy Pence, standing and smirking behind Trump in every Oval Office photo we’ve seen to date? He’s the scary one. He’s the champion of Christian dominionists. He’s smart and disciplined enough to do permanent damage, damage the courts can’t easily undo. And if somehow both Trump and Pence are impeached and removed from office, guess who’s next in line? Paul Ryan, the glassy-eyed granny starver.
Even though every Democrat voted against her, Betsy DeVos has been confirmed as Secretary of Education. Who ever would have thought both Orwell and Huxley would turn out to be wrong, and Mike Judge … the writer, producer, and director of Idiocracy … would turn out to be the prescient one? Not me, even at my most cynical. For once I’m glad I came up in the Baby Boom generation, back when a decent education was available to almost anyone who wanted one. Come to think of it, though, Trump and DeVos are boomers too. How’d they manage to get out of the civics, history, and English classes the rest of us had to take?
Speaking of Idiocracy, check this out.
It really does come down to the smarts versus the stupids, doesn’t it? God help us.
On the personal front, I saw my friend Paul this morning. Paul’s a fellow Goldwing rider and a barber too, and I drop by his shop whenever I start to feel scruffy. After a haircut I feel as frisky as a freshly-bathed dog. Here’s this morning’s before and after:
Where the wimmin at?
An old friend is staying with us this weekend, and other friends are coming for dinner Sunday. I stopped at the butcher shop after my haircut to see what looked good and came home with a big brisket of beef and some of their brats. I’ll dry-rub the brisket Friday and put it back in the fridge to cure. Sunday morning, after the brisket’s in the smoker, I’ll boil the brats in beer, then finish them off in the smoker as well. Hickory, to be sure.
Donna cleaned out the bedroom closets yesterday. Our dogs don’t go in the closets, but our old cat Chewie, who died a few months ago, must have spent a lot of time in them, judging by the clumps of matted fur, dessicated hairballs, and miscellaneous filth she left behind. We miss her, but are not likely to get another cat now that she’s gone.
Writing this post has kept me away from the news for a couple of hours. I dread checking in again. Every time I do, it’s like “What’s he done now?” Hope he likes his bag of dicks.
*So-called, that is.
Saturday I rode the Goldwing south to the resort town of Tubac for the annual car show. Of the three car shows I regularly attend, my favorites are the ones in Tubac and at the St. Gregory School in Tucson. That’s because they’re held outdoors: Tubac on a golf course and St. Gregory on an athletic field. The third show, of course, is the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, where cars are displayed inside tents. There are thousands of cars to see at Barrett-Jackson and only a few hundred at Tubac and St. Gregory, but the crowds at Barrett-Jackson, squeezed into narrow walkways between rows of cars, are too much for me. There’s plenty of breathing room at Tubac and St. Gregory.
One thing I especially like about the Tubac show is the motorcycle parking. People who drive down have to park some distance away from the car show. Bikers get to ride right onto the greens and park next to the first row of show cars. High school student volunteers hand out 6″ X 6″ squares of wood to put under kickstands so they don’t punch holes in the ground. Visitors’ motorcycles become part of the show, judging by the number of spectators who wander among them, snapping photos.
But hey, you’re here for the photos, so here are a few (click on them to see the full size originals on Flickr). There are more photos, 84 in all, on my Tubac 2017 Flickr album.
1968 Honda CL450
1961 Jaguar XK150
1947 Willys Jeep
1931 Franklin air-cooled engine
1968 Citroen DS 21
Here you have a schoolyard bully backing a smaller kid into a corner, demanding he hand over his lunch money. Here you have an American president threatening the president of another country with sanctions or penalties if he doesn’t hand over money for a wall he doesn’t want.
The only difference I can see is that the schoolyard bully doesn’t have half the other schoolkids cheering him on.
I knew this was coming: a headline in the Washington Post: What is the ‘Emoluments Clause’? Does it apply to President Trump?*
For months we’ve heard lawyers and political experts tell us about the Emoluments Clause and how it specifically applies to the president of the United States. For months it’s been obvious Trump’s going to ignore it. So I guess it’s inevitable a respected national newspaper would run a headline calling the whole issue into question.
Look, I don’t care if the article emphatically says yes, the Emoluments Clause does apply to President Trump—the goddamned headline normalizes, even confers legitimacy upon, Trump’s flouting of the Constitution.
Fuck the media. And fuck the Democrats in Congress for confirming Trump’s cabinet. Oh, don’t get me started with the fucks. I have way too many to hand out.
I posted this to Twitter Wednesday, three days after weekend tornados wreaked havoc in Mississippi and Georgia:
As I said in my tweet, I didn’t want to believe the federal government was ignoring the disasters in those two states, but apparently up to that point it had been. Has it responded since then? According to FEMA, the president declared disasters in both states and released money for relief. That happened sometime Wednesday, presumably after the Snopes story was published. Whew.
But then there’s this, an article published less than a day ago by a Georgia paper, describing private and volunteer relief efforts. It doesn’t mention the president. It doesn’t mention FEMA. So I don’t know what’s up. I did notice Snopes updated its story to mention Trump’s disaster declaration, so let’s hope the federal government is still functioning normally in the face of emergencies. It’s a hell of a thing that basic stuff like this should even be in question, though.
And then Mary Tyler Moore ups and dies on us. Who didn’t love her? A squadron mate once told me he went to college with her son. I don’t know why I remembered that (yes, I do … I’m thinking about her because unlike most actors and public figures she has a place in my heart). The story’s probably bullshit, though.
Another car show tomorrow, this one on a golf course in the resort town of Tubac, just north of The Wall (the one we already paid for). In the evening, a party. Sunday, bicycling with friends. I’m looking forward to a bully-free weekend.
I’m always tinkering with the blog. Last week I added a new feature to the sidebar. Can you find it?
*And what is with those single quotation marks, Washington Post? Are we British now?