New to the Stacks: More Hamilton and Mythology

Earth by David Brin
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Alexander Hamilton & the Persistence of Myth by Stephen F. Knott
The Transparent Society by David Brin
Early Irish Myths and Saga

Earth by David Brin
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Alexander Hamilton & the Persistence of Myth by Stephen F. Knott
The Transparent Society by David Brin
Early Irish Myths and Sagas

What’s Auntie Reading Now?: Boom! Voices of the Sixties

Boom! Voices of the Sixties by Tom Brokaw

Boom! Voices of the Sixties by Tom Brokaw – DNF

Truth be told, I have too much other work to be doing than reading Brokaw’s somehow bland recounting of some of the pivotal moments and people in the Sixties.  There are undoubtedly better books to read about this time period.

Review: The Sprawl Trilogy

Neuromancer by William Gibson
Count Zero by William Gibson
Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson

Title: The Sprawl Trilogy

Neuromancer
Author: William Gibson
Published: 1984
ISBN: 0441569595
Publisher: Ace
Publisher’s Blurb:  Before the Internet was commonplace, William Gibson showed us the Matrix—a world within the world, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace. Henry Dorsett Case was the sharpest data-thief in the Matrix, until an ex-employer crippled his nervous system. Now a new employer has recruited him for a last-chance run against an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence. With a mirror-eyed girl street-samurai riding shotgun, he’s ready for the silicon-quick, bleakly prophetic adventure that upped the ante on an entire genre of fiction.

Count Zero
Author: William Gibson
Published: 1986
ISBN: 0441117732
Publisher: Ace
Publisher’s Blurb:  A corporate mercenary wakes in a reconstructed body, a beautiful woman by his side. Then Hosaka Corporation reactivates him, for a mission more dangerous than the one he’s recovering from: to get a defecting chief of R&D—and the biochip he’s perfected—out intact. But this proves to be of supreme interest to certain other parties—some of whom aren’t remotely human…

Mona Lisa Overdrive
Author: William Gibson
Published: 1986
ISBN: 0553281747
Publisher: Bantam
Publisher’s Blurb:   Enter Gibson’s unique world—lyric and mechanical, sensual and violent, sobering and exciting—where multinational corporations and high tech outlaws vie for power, traveling into the computer-generated universe known as cyberspace.  Into this world comes Mona, a young girl with a murky past and an uncertain future whose life is on a collision course with internationally famous Sense/Net star Angie Mitchell.  Since childhood, Angie has been able to tap into cyberspace without a computer.  Now, from inside cyberspace, a kidnapping plot is masterminded by a phantom entity who has plans for Mona, Angie, and all humanity, plans that cannot be controlled . . . or even known.  And behind the intrigue lurks the shadowy Yazuka, the powerful Japanese underworld, whose leaders ruthlessly manipulate people and events to suit their own purposes . . . or so they think.

“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts. … A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.” (Neuromancer, p. 51)

This from a man who sat down at a typewriter and wrote what’s considered the seminal work of cyberpunk. On a typewriter. Gibson didn’t own a computer at the time, but he had this idea, which he almost gave up on after seeing Blade Runner.

Even in 2019, when cyberspace is a part of everyday vocabulary, and most have a general idea of what it means, none of us knows what it looks like.  Gibson got there first, hypothesizing what cyberspace would look, and feel, like and how humans might interact with it.

“[Case] jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix.” (Neuromancer, p. 6) Emotionally, it was “bodiless exultation,” (ibid, p. 7). “Nonspace of the matrix, the interior of a given data construct possessed unlimited subjective dimension.” (ibid, p. 63)

Disembodied, nonspace, grey, blob, or blotch.  All descriptors for that which cannot be described.  The books in this trilogy are filled with non-descriptive descriptions of what cyberspace looks like, and feels like. A “cowboy” jacks in by plugging a cable from the computer into a jack/port in their neck.  It made complete sense to me while I was reading.  Trying to describe it in my own words is difficult and stultifying.  How do you describe a banana to someone who’s never seen one?

Gibson’s writing is dense and often difficult to follow, which makes sense if you’re trying to describe something undescribable.  He only succeeds because he has a larger canvas to work with.

In Neuromancer,  AIs in search of their other half involve complex human machinations and architectural wonders which only work in space.  The AI Wintermute sets things in motion, leading Case and Molly on a merry search for its other half, the AI Neuromancer.  Wintermute is manipulative, pushing humans to do its bidding.  The reader’s mind isn’t the only one blown.

Two years later, in Count Zero, Gibson still grapples with describing the indescribable.  We bump against a more terrestrial landscape to set the stage, but are no closer to understanding what cyberspace is.

Vodou gods appear in cyberspace so as to interface with the humans inside the matrix.   It’s rumored the superconsciousness is losing bits, explaining the multiple gods encountered.  Or maybe it’s another AI shoving its non-existent weight around.

Again, Gibson uses vague notions to describe what it’s like, “…a flickering, nonlinear flood of fact and sensory data, a kind of narrative conveyed in surreal jump cuts and juxtapositions. … [changing direction randomly] with each pulse of nothingness. The data had never been intended for human input.” (Count Zero, pp.23-24)

And yet, humans keep trying to be a part of the landscape.  Building better and bigger tools to get inside, navigate, and stay inside.   Bobby Newman, aka Count Zero from Count Zero is comatose and jacked into an infinitely large cyberdrive called an aleph, a mathematical concept I cannot even begin to wrap my brain around.  It’s not infinity, it’s something else.  Theoretically, the aleph has uploaded the Count’s personality leaving enough room to evolve with access to all data in the known universe.

Gibson’s idea of cyberspace involves direction (up and downs), grids, and definitively shaped objects. More than that though, he uses nothingness, everythingness, all-at-once-ness.

So how does one explain the unexplainable, the invisible, the not physically there presence?  Gibson’s struggle continues to be technology’s struggle.  VR and AI are upon us, and engineers have to develop vocabularies to go along with it.  When all else fails, we fall upon what has gone before.

William Gibson wrote the framework, extrapolating to an existence which has yet to come.  Twenty years ago, the Wachowski siblings gave us The Matrix trilogy which carried the idea of machine overlords enslaving humanity in virtual reality as an energy supply.

Here too, there’s a struggle with vocabulary, although visual media has the ability to present a form of cyberspace which can be seen and, therefore, believed.  The Wachowskis and their matrix came 15 years after Neuromancer.  Gibson was at the forefront, and is given credit for coining the term and pushing us to think about a computer network’s relationship with humans.  The Wachowskis gave us one version of what that relationship might be.  There are many other versions, and we can’t possibly know which one is “right,” or “wrong,” because we’re still trying to describe the invisible undescribable space between bits of data.

Review: Binti Trilogy

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Binti: Home by Nnedi Okarafor
Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okarfor

Title:  Binti, Binti:  Home & Binti:  Night Masquerade
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Published: 2015, 2017 & 2017
ISBN-13: 9780765385253, 9780765393111, & 9780765393135
Publisher: Tor
Twitter:  @Nnedi
Publisher’s Blurb:  Binti is a story about a brilliant young woman, and the responsibilities she bears: to her society, her family, and to herself. While travelling through space for the first time in her life, Binti must survive and adapt to an encounter with fascinating and deadly aliens.

“We Himba don’t travel.  We stay put.  Our ancestral land is life; move away from it and you diminish.  We even cover our bodies with it.  Otijize is red land.”  (p. 13)

There’s no way anyone could prepare themselves for the times their self-identity bumps up against bigotry.  This is one of the things I admire most about Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti Trilogy.  In choosing the incidents which would populate Binti’s life, Okorafor chose to include the prejudices her traveler would encounter, both from outside and within herself.

It’s hard to write about this without cliches.  Pain of all types makes us stronger, we hate when people say that to us, but there it is.  The most incredible part of reading these books was the honesty with which Okorafor writes; of war, prejudice, outright hatred, ignorance, and fear.  And that she managed to wrap it all up in 462 pages, while flinging us through the stars and back again is amazing to me.

I think what I want to say is no one is safe from prejudice or bigotry.  It’s a part of the very fabric of being sentient (human). We are all different, we are all insecure about something and we all compare ourselves to others hoping to make ourselves feel better.  This comparing and contrasting can make us even harder on ourselves for not having the life we imagine someone else has.

Binti is brilliant, and as self-aware as she can be at the age of 16.  It’s frequently difficult to remember she is still a teenager, and lacks the maturity that only experience can proffer.

Along the way, she literally becomes a part of unlikely families.  Some, like the Meduse, are another species altogether.  Others, like the Desert People, turn out to have been family all along.  They all play a part in her evolution, taking her on a journey which is more than just a university education.  What she is taught along the way is she must be careful of her own prejudices, making sure they don’t keep her blind to the work she is destined for.

The story is almost magical, and nearly breathless, in some places.  Nnedi Okorafor’s tight writing tells a big story which deals with complex issues.  The character Binti studies the lessons we should all study.  Learn to accept yourself, and others, as they are.  Don’t force your set of rules onto someone else.  Hesitate before you say or do something you’ll regret.

Most importantly, I think, is the lesson to face our fears and look deeply into the hard truths we don’t want to know.  That way lies the harmony we all struggle to find.

This slender trilogy is a big story about an adolescent Himba girl who learns to stay grounded, fly among the rings of Saturn, fall in love, and forgive herself for the imagined pain she’s caused herself.  Okorafor’s writing is splendid, and I’m looking forward to exploring her other books.

 

 

Review: They

They: A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders by Janet Mason

Title: They:  A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders
Author: Janet Mason
Published: 2018
ISBN: 9780999516430
Publisher: Adelaide Books
Publisher’s Blurb: In this novel we met Tamar from the Hebrew Bible. Tamar lives as a hermit in the desert, is content with her life and is happily barren. She is attached to her pet camel. Her aversion to goat sacrifices becomes so strong that it prompts her to become a vegetarian. Tamar has a twin sister Tabitha who becomes pregnant after seducing a young muscular shepherd. Tamar plots with Tabitha to trick Judah (a patriarch from the Bible) into believing that the baby is his so that she can have status in society rather than being burnt at the stake. Tabitha gives birth to twins. Tamar becomes attached to the children (born intersex), who call her auntie, and follows their line of intersex twins.  

They has a promising premise, a long line of intersex twins come from the fictional twin sister of biblical Tamar.  Tweaking Judeo- Christian mores is one of my favorite topics, and the thought of secret genders in the Bible pleased me.

Janet Mason has a unique spin on many of the familiar Old and New Testament stories.  While fictional Tabitha is the one who has children with Judah by deceiving him, her twin sister Tamar is the character with the most interesting discussions about the “old tales.”

My favorite is Tamar telling her sister’s twins about Adam and Eve and the Snake in the Garden of Eden.  She asks questions I’ve always had.  Why spend centuries blaming Eve when Adam was the one who could have, but didn’t, say, “No.”  Which is the root of a lot of the sexist and misogynistic bullshit we experience today.

Then there’s the interesting, if difficult to take serious, story about Tamar reincarnating in Mary’s belly as Jesus’ twin, both of whom are born intersex.  And both whom have different fathers.

Structurally They has problems.  There’s a lot of telling, not showing.  The showdown between Tabitha and Judah is told to a gathering of women instead of shown.  The same goes for Joseph leaving the house every time David arrives to visit Mary.  Her trying to explain why the twins have different fathers and how she’s not going marry either of them would have been so much more interesting.

Another problem is chapters which end abruptly, the next picking up years later with little or no connective tissues.

For instance, Tamar and Judith  gossip about the news from Egypt where Joseph (Judah’s brother) has saved Pharaoh from starvation with his dream interpretations.  The baby they made and Judith gave birth to cries …. end of chapter.  The next chapter is set 20 years in the future and Tamar is dying.  No explanation for what’s happened in that time or how Tamar is dying.

The very last chapter uses the preferred pronouns for intersex people, ze, hir, zir.  At no time before in this book, have these been used.  The change is jolting and disruptive, drawing attention away from the journey Yeshua and his family take away from Jerusalem.

I wanted to love Tree, I really did.  There are many interesting twists and stories that give a different interpretation to the stories I grew up on.  Some parts of Tree nearly glow.  But the parts that don’t glow bring the entirety to a medium well done novel.

As far as I can tell, this was Mason’s first published book (she has since published another, which I have not read).  It is my hope that with practice and dedication her writing will become more consistent and structurally sound.  There’s a lot of good ideas in They, but the execution just isn’t strong enough to bear the weight.

 

 

New to the Stacks: Shadow Ops, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Other Goodness

They: A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders by Janet Mason

They by Janet Mason – Read
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner ~ #LitCrit
Darkness Visible by William Styron
The Annotated Alice – annotated by Martin Gardner
Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
Darkness Visible by William Styron
Annotated Alice in Wonderland
Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Published: 1986
ISBN: 0395404258
Publisher: Houghton-Mifflin
Twitter: @MargaretAtwood
Publisher’s Blurb: The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its image and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States and is now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The Handmaid’s Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and a tour de force.

“This is one of the most bizarre things that’s happened to me ever.”  (p. 144)

“Gilead society was Byzantine to the extreme …” (p. 311)

This is my second time reading The Handmaid’s Tale, and it’s more terrifying to read in 2018 when basic reproductive rights are threatened by government.  The juxtaposition of what is against what could be should send chills down every reader’s spines and give pause.

When democracies fail, totalitarianism fills the vacuum.  The Republic of Gilead is formed as a “Christian” society based on the Old Testament.  But, as in all things human, is hypocritical in this endeavor.

All citizens must convert to this warped government’s rule, or suffer the consequences.  Neither Baptist nor Quakers are considered Christian enough.  Jews are considered the “Sons of Jacob,” and allowed the choice to convert or move to Israel.

The most dangerous policy in Gilead is the treatment of women, especially those of child-bearing age who are used as proxies by the elite for childless married women.

The justification for this is quoted before the book even starts.  The epigraph quotes Genesis 30: 1-3, the story of barren Rachel who tells her husband, Jacob, to go to her handmaid, Bilhah, and get children on her.  This is the bedrock for the use of handmaids to repopulate Gilead.

In the Red Center, where handmaids are trained, Aunts are charged with indoctrination.  Concepts from the New Testament like “Blessed are the meek,” from the Beatitudes, women covering their hair, and “worthy vessel” are repeated as doctrine.

And here, we read the basic hypocrisy of Gilead, supposedly based on the Old Testament but free to pick from the New Testament as well.  Same as those in our world who cherry-pick the bible to prove their actions are sound.

And what of the misattributions?  If intoned properly with authority, those too can be made to sound biblical.  One of the Aunts tells the Handmaids, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  This is the last line of Milton’s “Sonnet 19,”  a reflection on what Milton thinks God may want from him by making Milton blind.

And this from Karl Marx, “From each according to her ability, to each according to his needs.”  Scholars disagree over the origin of this phrase, some believing it has a basis in the Acts of Paul in the New Testament.   It’s my contention that the Marx version is the most well known, and therefore used to illustrate how policy is set by what’s most convenient to prove a point.

The darker motives of the elite can be found in Offred’s Commander’s wife, Serena Joy, obliquely suggesting there are other ways to get pregnant if the proscribed Ceremony isn’t working.  A wink and a nod to excusing a Commander’s lack of viability and still providing the Wife with a child.

The Commanders provide themselves with relief from the child-bearing proscriptions of government with visits to the illicit club Jezebel‘s.  Ironic because of the possessive, as if there was one Jezebel to whom the club belonged, not the elite men who make sure it operates.

Part Playboy Club, all underground brothel, Handmaids who don’t make the grade are given the choice to work at Jezebel’s or go to the Colonies where a painful death awaits them cleaning up toxic waste.  While not widely advertised among the patrons of the club, it’s a relatively safe space for lesbians.

There is no biblical justification for the presence of Jezebel’s, or Jezebels, in Gilead but it is winked off by Offred’s Commander who, in essence, says “boys will be boys.”  Only the elite men are allowed to blow off a little steam.  Women are not allowed such a diversion.  Neither are lower level men afforded this dispensation.  Not even the single men have a legal outlet for their frustrations.

All this to say, duplicity is the name of the game in such dictatorial societies.  It only matters when people get caught, as Offred does by the Commander’s Wife.  It is occasions like these when the Eyes are called upon to remove the offenders from sight.

The ever present spies, who depend on the citizenry to catch, and report, all transgressions.  Punishment to be doled out in such savage rituals as the Salvagings when the Handmaids and their pent up emotions are allowed to rage and put to death the wrong-doers.  Dictatorships don’t need a balanced justice system, just a lot of angry citizens who need an outlet.  Let the mob sort it out.

Rigidity leads to rebellion.  Gilead is no different.  A nascent underground moves women to some form of safety.  The “femaleground” can also be justified as scriptural in the Exodus story of Moses, who rescued Jewish slaves from the Egyptian pharaoh.  “Let my people go,” is a rallying cry for all who would work to see injustice righted.

For all who wince at the possibilities of Gilead becoming a reality, let it be a reminder that scripture, biblical or otherwise, can be twisted to justify everything under the sun.  Margaret Atwood says she doesn’t consider her book SF/F dystopian because everything in the book has already happened in human history.  That should terrify us all.