Photo Credit: Mars, once by kevin dooley, on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/4410885928/ shared under a cc-by-2.0 license
I’m one of those people who loves a good frontier story. The idea of going somewhere new and pushing the edges of what the people you know have seen appeals to me. I’ve also heard that idea being described as a Western-centric colonialist/racist perspective so yeah, there are problematic issues there. But the beauty of science fiction is getting to do some of that bold infinitive splitting in places where there are not cultures to feel superior to. Which brings us to Mars.
I love a good Mars story. Ian McDonald’s Desolation Road, and Kage Baker’s The Empress of Mars are the two I can see on my shelves, but I’ve got my own Douglas Quaid thing going. Which makes it weird I’d never read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy. I have now begun.
The first novel, Red Mars, begins with a murder once a colony on Mars has been established, then it jumps back in time to show us the trip from Earth and the training the First Hundred went through, then the work of starting a colony and the politics of science. Eventually the story takes us past the opening murder into greater politics and dust-storms and mysticism. The whole book spans decades (they also develop longevity treatments on Mars, while Earth is tearing itself down in overpopulated war).
We read about these decades through the perspectives of a bunch of the first settlers, and their perspectives are all very different. What I really liked about the book was that the political choices were real and taken seriously and not very much was solved easily. Getting into these characters’ heads made a difference and it was very clear how few villains there were, just people trying to make life work in a cold harsh place.
One of the things I found disorienting was some of the 1990sishness of it. There was still an assumption that in the 2040s the important nations would be the Americans and the Russians. There’s literally one Asian person in the first 100 colonists, and she becomes a mystic orgy saint pretty quickly. Hm. Maybe that’s not such a typical ’90s thing. There’s definitely a bunch of otherization going on with the Sufis and Bedouin that feature in parts of the story, which does get in the way of some of my pure enjoyment (this is a problem that Ian McDonald’s Mars books don’t have, FYI).
The science in the book was intriguing. Robinson really delved into what it would take to make Mars habitable and how that changes the unspoiled nature of a lifeless rock. That geology (sorry, areology) has purpose beyond being fit for people and commercial interests.
Very good book, though I’ll wait a while to read the next ones. I like to make this kind of story last.
I enjoy stories of Russia’s history, especially when they’re about the Russian soul, which always seems so different from mine. Petrograd, by Philip Gelatt and Tyler Crook, is about a British spy in Petrograd during the Great War (hence the interstitial name between St. Petersburg and Leningrad). The British want to make sure the Russians and Germans don’t come to a separate peace so they push their Petrograd office into making sure that doesn’t happen, by killing Rasputin.
Cleary is one of the spies. He’s in bed with revolutionaries, feeding information to his masters and the tsarist secret police, and hobnobs with princes (for more information). When Cleary is pushed into plotting assassination he’s clearly out of his depth and the book focuses on what kind of a man he is trying to be.
It’s a great book, done in a bigger hardcover than a lot of Oni Press’ stuff. The art is detailed and brushy (reminded this untutored eye of Craig Thompson’s work, but with more traditional page layouts) with faded orange washes throughout. It’s a great non-gamourous spy story with violence and repercussions and talk of “Russifying one’s soul.”
Alek and Deryn/Dylan begin the story en route to Istanbul where the scientist/spy granddaughter of Charles Darwin has eggs to present to the Sultan to sway the Ottoman Empire from supporting the Clankers. Remember that in this alternate history, the world is divided into Clankers – cultures using mechanical power and walking tanks and the like – and the Darwinists – cultures who bioengineer their tools. Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire are Clankers. Britain and Russia are Darwinist. America is an odd hybrid that no one really wants involved in Europe’s conflict.
The story has exciting air battles, spy/sabotage escapades, gender-swapped shenanigans (Alek and almost everyone else is unaware that Dylan is a girl posing as a boy to be able to be in the Air Service), revolutionaries, unconventional weaponry, Tesla lightning cannons and of course a giant sea monstrosity that might be able to keep the Ottomans out of the war.
This series is something I’d highly recommend.
Rick Geary’s biography of Trotsky isn’t terrible. Trotsky: A Graphic Biography lays out the facts about Trotsky’s life and politics in a mostly coherent way. It just didn’t really need to be a comic. The images tended not to really add anything or show anything that wasn’t going on in the essay dwelling in the captions.
This isn’t to say I didn’t learn anything from it. It was a good Coles Notes kind of document, but it’s nowhere near as good as Logicomix or Suspended in Language which made much better use of the comix form.
I wrote a post about creating stakes to fight apathy on Librarianautica.
Using social media as a way of creating a space for people to have a stake in their culture is hugely important. That’s how you fight apathy and how you a human is alive. The notion of people asking Why Wasn’t I Consulted? more in the internet age compared to the TV age is huge.
“Politics, as constructed by the news, becomes a spectator sport, something we watch but do not do” (Jenkins 2008: 10).
That is a terrible thing. If there’s going to be a revolution it can’t be televised because everyone needs to participate in it.
This is an issue that affects librarians even beyond the actual serving of our patrons, but in keeping our jobs. A bit on library student apathy from Magpie Librarian:
We’ve been thinking of who our next advocates might be. I thought I was pretty damn brilliant to think of trying to tap into the MLS student population. I figured that a) they’re already passionate about libraries and b) they have a vested interested in wanting library jobs to open up. I went to speak at a NY library school that I will leave unnamed. They well-publicized my event during curriculum space (a time when there would be no classes). I spoke in the student lounge to a group of students glued to their textbooks. I talked about library closures, layoffs, the future of libraries. I didn’t get much of a response, other than an uncomfortable wall of silence. One of my fellow Urban Librarianites called out, “Do any of you care about advocacy? You know, the apathy is what’s going to kill us.” A girl looks up from her textbook, “I have a lot of reading to do.” I silently handed out some advocacy tips and got the hell out of dodge.
R. David Lankes’ states in his Atlas of New Librarianship:
The MISSION of LIBRARIANS is to IMPROVE SOCIETY through FACILITATING KNOWLEDGE CREATION in their COMMUNITIES.
I love the concept of librarians being agents of change, and how it requires more than simply lurking. There has to be creation going on, not just talking, but creating a space for people to participate in creation is one of the most important things a library can do.
China Mieville writes awesome books. Embassytown is his latest, and I think it’s his best. I’ve been going on about it on Twitter for the last several days. My girlfriend is sick of hearing about it (till she gets the chance to read it).
It takes place (mostly) on a planet where there is a small settlement of humans who live in an enclave of the alien city. The aliens, known as Hosts, have a very strange language. If humans want to be understood by Hosts they need two humans with great empathic understanding of each other speaking Language at the same time. The Hosts don’t understand the noises humans make. They don’t even recognize recorded Language. They need someone to speak to them.
In Embassytown the people who can speak Language are the Ambassadors. They are human pairs bred and brought up to think and speak as one mind in two bodies. CalVin is two bodies (doppels) but one person. Asking which body is Cal and which Vin is unconscionably rude. They are one being. They undertake ablutions every morning to eliminate any minor differences that might have crept in over the previous day.
The aliens are way weirder.
Avice is the protagonist of the tale, and she’s not an ambassador (or even half of one). She was trained to go travelling through the Immer, which is the stuff that lets worlds connect, regardless of their universal location (something similar is used in the RPG Diaspora). She left and came back and this is her story. She’s also a simile in Language.
What makes Mieville so fucking good is how he makes you twist your brain into understanding these concepts, setting up this world and making it understandable, and then smashes the whole thing to pieces. Thinking back on it, this might be why Kraken was good but not Holy Shit good. He’s at his best when he’s not a conservative creator. His characters aren’t about protecting the status quo. Not just characters change in his stories, the world has to change.
This book is about colonialism and the capacity to change the way you think through language. I don’t think it’s as much of a mindfuck as The City & The City in terms of how the reader has to think to understand the world, but I think he’s telling a story that’s more compelling. It feels more universal as it buzzes your brain.
Five stars. Great book. Should win awards.