As I’m sure others here have been doing, I’ve been keeping up with Glenn Greenwald’s coverage of Snowden’s leaks about the NSA. I’ve been kind of disgusted by the fact that this stuff appears to be legal even though it’s terrible. And that so many politicians have lied about the procedures, though that surprises me not a huge amount. I’m also not fool enough to believe this kind of surveillance doesn’t affect those of us north of the 49th.
But it seems like this weekend the progression of that story got much worse. It seems to me that holding the partner of a journalist under anti-terror laws for his role in supporting journalism is pretty heinous to those of us who believe in intellectual freedom.
It also seems that the UK government going to a news organization’s headquarters and making them destroy hard drives containing information they disapprove of is also fucking terrible.
These are laws created in a democracy designed for one thing being used to attempt to intimidate people who want to get information about our various democracies out there. This is legal but abusive. Gah. Fuck. More cussing.
To me this is clearly an intellectual freedom issue. This is the government telling someone what they are and are not allowed to talk about. This is bullshit.
As a librarian it might not be hitting where I live… yet. I mean, our government isn’t telling librarians what we are and aren’t allowed to have in our libraries, so maybe this isn’t our fight? But the fact that journalists are being disallowed from publishing certain stories is a big problem, and one that will spread. As librarians we can celebrate how we deal with cook challenges in various Bible Belts, but I think we should be doing more.
I would like to suggest that this year when Banned Books Week comes around, us librarians reach a bit further. I’d like to see us celebrating wikileaks cables and articles about Snowden in our libraries instead of merely pointing at the challenged books we have in our collections in a collective fit of smugness.
Books are fine. I love books, but I think celebrating our victories over past challenges is just another way to celebrate the status quo when there’s more we can do. Although, as a friend of mine said today, the baseline in libraries is a bit better:
If the status quo still includes intellectual freedom, mitigating income inequality, etc…sign me up.
Consider this a co-sign.
White Fever: A Journey to the Frozen Heart of Siberia isn’t exactly the travelogue I expected from reading the back blurb. It’s about a Polish journalist, Jacek Hugo-Bader, who travels through Siberia in a truck in the middle of winter, but that aspect of the trip only appears in the first and last chapters of the book. The rest is arranged more topically about the people he interviews in these Siberian communities.
Once the realization that this wasn’t going to be a wacky journey tale set in, I quite enjoyed the book. Hugo-Bader talks to AIDS patients, hip-hop wannabes, shamans, religious communities and alcoholics. His european perspective on the Siberian aboriginal people gives those sections quite a different tone from the way you’d write about them in North America. Not better, but it was different enough to make me notice and try to analyze why it felt so foreign. Would it have felt more natural if I was a white Canadian forty years ago? Maybe, but maybe that’s just me thinking these Eastern Europeans are a bunch of assholes.
Anyway, problematic aboriginal discussions aside, I liked the book for its alternative perspective on the parts of Russia that don’t make the news. I’ll talk to my Russologist friends about how accurate this Polish journalist was, but for a non-expert it was an interesting read.
Dingers is an anthology of short stories and poems about baseball. It’s also a Canadian anthology which is kind of neat. There were stories about the Expos and a leprechaun-assisted pitcher for the Vancouver Canadians. Dave Bidini had a story in it, and his was the only name I recognized.
The story of the author who had to pitch for a library visit was kind of memorable, as was the aforementioned leprechaun story, but as a whole the book didn’t set me on fire or anything. I think the reason might be because of how much baseball journalism I read, which twisted my notion of what this anthology would try to do.
It seems fitting to review the second third and fourth books in Charles Stross’ Merchant Princes series together because the flaws they have as stand-alone books make sense if you look at them as chapters in a longer story.
At the end of book 1 in the series we were up to date with Miriam Beckstein, tech journalist who is also a countess in an alternate universe where the geography is shared with Earth but technology and society has spun off on a very different track. Miriam and her clan are people who can hop between that world and our own (it’s set in the early 00′s U.S. homeland security paranoia).
In The Hidden Family Miriam has learned about a third world which is where there are more world walkers who are trying to destabilize the Clan’s power base in the medieval world. This third world is kind of steampunkish and hugely politically repressive. Miriam is trying to create a new economic base for her extended family in that new world.
In The Clan Corporate basically nothing happens. It’s an intensely frustrating book, to Miriam as well, because she’s basically just locked up while her family figures out how to sell her to the royal family to squirt out worldwalking babies. We also meet a DEA agent who’s dealing with the aftermath of one of the medieval spies turning on the Clan’s drug smuggling operation.
By The Merchants’ War the Clan is plunged into civil war and Miriam is on the run in the steampunky world and we’re learning just how genre distinctions between Science Fiction and Fantasy are kind of dumb.
I really like the story this series is telling. People are clever and behave like real clever people might. I just hate how it’s broken down into these separate volumes so you need to have recap time and setup time before the grand climax of the book, which in books 3 and 4 don’t even really happen. It’s the kind of series that’s crying out for a one-volume edition with some of the redundant bits edited out, since nothing is standing at all on its own. (You may remember that I had the same issue with Dance With Dragons. Too much like catching up with the characters and not enough story-structure for my taste.) But I’m looking forward to finishing the series because Stross writes great, thought-provoking stuff and the fact that it’s getting less and less like Zelazny and more like, well, Stross makes me very happy.
The Family Trade is the first book in The Merchant Princes series by Charles Stross. It’s the story of Miriam Beckstein who’s a just-fired tech journalist. In the aftermath of the story that was too big to let her keep her job she discovers she’s a countess as part of a feudal clan in an alternate Earth that she has the rare ability to travel back and forth between.
While that sounds like it could be the basis of a pretty simple fish-out-of-water tale, this is Charlie Stross, so of course Miriam sets out to deal with the world, and change it. The riches of her clan on the other side are based on basically being drug mules on our side. While this is lucrative it’s also vulnerable to market fluctuations (if the war on drugs in the US ended, there would go their wealth and power).
Stross writes characters that are competent and resilient and generally deal with things so you can get to the next idea. It keeps the plot moving when you don’t have to wait ages for a character to figure out some problem the reader saw the answer to as soon as it was proposed. The grander idea of “how will Miriam reshape her clan’s economy” is an idea you want to puzzle over, and the main reason I’m going to be resolutely avoiding spoilers from here on out. I’ve read the background on how this series got split into volumes kind of weirdly and yeah, it’s pretty noticeable, since this book ends kind of right in the middle of things happening.
Good light, fast-moving stuff. I’m looking forward to the next book.
So DMZ is done. The Five Nations of New York closes out the story of Matty Roth and the civil war that defined his life. It’s interesting when a story like this ends, because it’s the story of how Matty stopped being an entitled journalism punk who picked up a gun and got into politics, but it’s a story of how he tells a story, and how he fucks up telling the story.
By the end of this book he’s taking the blame for things he didn’t legally need to, and [SPOILER ALERT] goes to jail for life. Which isn’t an altogether unhappy ending. I mean, I can see how it’s not. Because what is Matty going to do now that the war is over? The character we got to know through these 12 volumes can’t really exist outside the DMZ, and parlay his six years into punditry and all the rest. Anything he’d become would be so different from who we know. Prison gets to seal Matty Roth in lucite, having learned something about life, having his only opinion that matters, and then he’s gone from the stage. This isn’t the model for a life, but it’s a good way to seal off a story.
As far as long-form comics go, DMZ ranks right up there with Transmetropolitan for me, but then I would love science fiction journalism comics, wouldn’t I?.
Brooke Gladstone and Josh Neufeld made The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media which is a comic about how the media works. It talks about bias and how objectivity doesn’t really work, but also about the history of democracy and media consolidation. The book is drawn really well, clear and effective in conveying its information. Comics like this are so good at doing introductions to complicated topics.
I started the book really enthused about it, but as it went on I realized it was never going to get beyond the introductory stuff. It was still good, but since the media is something I read about a lot in non-book form I was a little underwhelmed by the content. But as an introduction, it was pretty good.
Astronauts in Trouble: Live From the Moon could have been exactly the kind of thing I’d love. It’s a comic about journalism and space colonization (and had an introduction by Warren Ellis). But something about it never really clicked for me.
I had issues with telling the similar looking characters apart. The plot itself had some gaps that left me confused. The journalists fending off nukes with a jury-rigged camera wasn’t quite as wacky as it sounds so it was just kind of odd. The trusted onscreen personality talks about himself as growing up in the shadow of Generation X, though he was born in 1977, which seems all sorts of weird to me (though it was written in 1999, which might explain that a bit).
I did like how orbital dynamics were addressed when they launched prematurely though. I just think the book needed to open up the throttle a bit more and decide if it was being more of an adventure or a serious speculation. It kind of waffled around without melding the two.
This is the volume where Matty Roth deals with the aftermath of getting involved in politics and where he makes the decision to get back to what he originally went into NYC to do: journalism. I’m not feeling bad for all of his poor choices any more, because he’s trying to set things right. When he talked about that kind of stuff in Collective Punishment I didn’t have the background of this new decision and it all felt weak. Of course, the people he’s dealing with in that book didn’t get to see all the stuff that happened in this one either, so maybe I had a more authentic DMZ-inhabitant experience when I read it with this hole in my knowledge.
Before that redemption-filled part of the story, there are a great bunch of supershort vignettes with different artists.
Collective Punishment is Volume 10 in Brian Wood’s sf series about a near-future civil war in New York City. This volume is a collection of shorter bits mostly about some secondary characters as the city gets the shit bombed out of it. It’s following the aftermath of what Matty Roth hath wrought in his time in the DMZ. I love this series, but so much of my love is based on a lot of identification with Matty Roth, it’s hard reading these books after he’s fucked up badly, especially since I don’t know how it ends yet. I care about this version of New York and the people in it, and it sucks what’s happened in the story. You know, the way war does.