I went through most of my life not knowing that The Moon is Down even existed. I haven't been the most fervent fan of John Steinbeck, so that could beI went through most of my life not knowing that The Moon is Down even existed. I haven't been the most fervent fan of John Steinbeck, so that could be the explanation, but in all the classes I've been in, in all the discussions of Steinbeck's work or dicussions of stories of WWII, I've never heard of this book.
When I stumbled upon it in my local used book shop I couldn't help wondering why it was new to me. I figured it must just be a terrible book, unworthy of attention, a rare Steinbeck failure, but I went ahead and bought it anyway (it was only a buck and a quarter). Then it sat on my shelf for a couple of years.
I dragged it along with me to the Caribbean (where we're staying for 2014-2015), determined to give it a crack on the beach sometime. That time was over the Christmas break, and within about twenty pages I was trying to figure out the real reason for my ignorance of this book because it isn't a failure on the part of Steinbeck.
The Moon is Down is sparing, as are all of Steinbeck's novellas, and there is a beauty in his chosen simplicity. The cast of scantily drawn characters seems to be a deliberate part of that simplicity. It is as though Steinbeck wants us to find ourselves in any or all of the men and women who inhabit this little world of Conquerors and (Un-)Conquered, Vanquished and (Un-)Vanquished, so he spares us too much detail that could get in the way of our ability to relate. And herein may lie the reason why The Moon is Down has been pushed to the fringes of Steinbeck's work, because the characters (at least two thirds of them) that Steinbeck wants us to relate to are Nazis inhabiting a town in the midst of WWII.
We all know the discomfort that comes with being able to empathize with or relate to Nazi characters, but that discomfort can only be intensified by the fact that Steinbeck himself never gives his occupiers the name Nazi. The only place the word Nazi appears on my book, in fact, is on the back cover. I imagine anyone reading this book when it was released, or even folks who might read the book now without a back cover-spoiler, would be angered when they realized that the Nazis of Steinbeck's novella are not so different from they themselves or from their troops that might this very second be occupying another place somewhere in the world. Occupiers as hated by the Occupied as Steinbeck's Nazis in The Moon is Down.
I'd be willing to wager a pay cheque (don't get excited, that's practically nothing these days), that Steinbeck's book has been quietly set aside because of that very discomfort, which is a shame because it is telling an important story that I am better for having read. ...more
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wrote their Martin Beck series in the sixties and seventies. They wrote ten novels in ten years. They wrote about a time wi Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wrote their Martin Beck series in the sixties and seventies. They wrote ten novels in ten years. They wrote about a time without computers and modern gadgets, but apart from those conveniences themselves, the books could have been written yesterday.
These books are about everything that continues to be wrong in our societies. They are about carceration, misplaced conceptions of justice and the omnipresence of injustice. They are about the militarization of police forces and police culpability in the crimes they are expressly formed to fight. They are about an environment under siege by our way of living. They are about our fears of sexuality and society's role in controlling our desires. They are about rape culture and the fight of women to control their bodies and own their sexuality. They are about the disaffection of our children and young adults. They are about failing economies, people without work, the haves having more and the have-nots having so little that they turn to crime in despair. They are about the need for forgiveness. They are about guilt and conscience and ethics. And they show that not a damn thing has changed (at least in the Canada of today, the country I live in, it hasn't. Canada right now is the Sweden of the seventies and that is fucking depressing).
Into all of these issues, spanning nine years a this point, are thrust Martin Beck and Lennart Kollberg. They solve murders for the National Police Squad. They are men of conscience, actively struggling everyday with the issues Sjöwall & Wahlöö drop in their path. By the close of the book, one of them resigns from the force he once loved and now disdains. The other goes wearily on. People die over the course of Cop Killer, even a cop (though the "actual" cop killer is rather surprising). The wrong man is railroaded into prison to await trial for a crime he didn't commit simply because it is the path of least resistance. Other men are hunted and ear-marked for death because of coincidence. A girl is bitten repeatedly in the groin by an attack dog because she helped some friends (though she'd already surrendered when the dog attacked). A cop and a man he helped convict of murder (now free after serving his sentence) sit down over a seltzer water and an aquavit to share their guilt over the people they've killed. And one cop looks forward to eating a meal with the woman he loves. It's all here in this marvellous book.
Make no mistake, these books are not to be taken lightly; they are literature. They should be the canon of police procedurals. If you love detective stories and you've not read the Martin Beck books you need to get started. You'll see why.
p.s. If you decide to read this series take my advice and reread Roseanna just before you read this for the first time. I did quite by accident and a happy accident it was....more
Hainish Wars: Episode VI Return of the Anthropologist*
67 EXT. FOREST CLEARING – TOWN OF ENDTOR - LJUBOV'S CRASH SITE 67
A strange little green furry facHainish Wars: Episode VI Return of the Anthropologist*
67 EXT. FOREST CLEARING – TOWN OF ENDTOR - LJUBOV'S CRASH SITE 67
A strange little green furry face with huge black eyes comes slowly into view. The creature is an ATHSHEAN, by the name of SELVER. He seems somewhat puzzled, and prods LJUBOV with the butt end of a spear. The anthropologist groans; this frightens the stubby ball of green fuzz and SELVER prods him again. LJUBOV sits up and stares at the three-foot-high Athshean. He tries to figure out where he is and what has happened. His clothes are torn; he's bruised and dishevelled.
The Athshean jumps up and holds the four-foot-long spear in a defensive position. LJUBOV watches him as he circles warily and begins poking him with the butt of the spear.
LJUBOV Cut it out!
He stands up, and the Athshean quickly backs away.
LJUBOV I'm not gonna hurt you, Selver. I came to help.
LJUBOV looks around at the dense forest, and at the charred remains of his hopper, then sits down, with a sigh, on a fallen log.
LJUBOV Well, looks like I'm stuck here. Trouble is, I don't know where here is.
He puts his head in his hands to rub away some of the soreness from his crash. He looks over at the watchful little Athshean and pats the log beside him.
LJUBOV Well, maybe you can help me. Come on, sit down.
SELVER holds his spear up warily and growls at him like a puppy.
LJUBOV pats the log again.
LJUBOV I promise I won't hurt you. Now come here.
More chirps and squeaks from the little green creature.
LJUBOV All right. You want something to eat?
He takes a scrap of food out of his pocket and offers it to him.
SELVER takes a step backward, then cocks his head and moves cautiously toward LJUBOV, chattering in his sing-song Athshean language.
LJUBOV That's right. Come on. Hmmm?
Sniffing the food curiously, the Athshean comes toward LJUBOV and sits on the log beside him. He takes off his helmet, and the little creature jumps back, startled again. He runs along the log, pointing his spear and chattering a blue streak. LJUBOV holds out the helmet to him.
LJUBOV Look, it's a hat. It's not gonna hurt you. Look. You're a jittery little thing, aren't you?
Reassured, SELVER lowers his spear and climbs back on the log, coming to investigate the helmet. Suddenly his ears perk up and he begins to sniff the air. He looks around warily, whispering some warning to LJUBOV.
LJUBOV What is it?
Suddenly a bullet slams into a log next to LJUBOV. LJUBOV and SELVER both roll backwards off the log, hiding behind it. LJUBOV holds his own pistol ready, while SELVER disappears underneath the log. Another shot, and still no sight of anyone in the forest. Then LJUBOV senses something and turns to find CAPTAIN DAVIDSON standing over him with his weapon pointed at his head. He reaches out his hand for LJUBOV’s weapon.
DAVIDSON Freeze! Come on, get up, LJUBOV!
He hands the weapon over as a second man emerges from the foliage in front of the log.
DAVIDSON Go get your ride and take him back to base.
MAN #2 Yes, sir.
The second man starts toward his hopper, as SELVER, crouched under the log, extends his spear and hits DAVIDSON on the leg.
DAVIDSON jumps and lets out an epithet, and looks down at SELVER, puzzled. LJUBOV grabs a branch and knocks him out. He dives for his pistol, and the second man, now climbing into his hopper tries to close the hatch. LJUBOV fires away and hits the hopper’s gasline causing it to explode.
The forest is quiet once more.
SELVER pokes his fuzzy head up from behind the log and regards LJUBOV with a confused expression. He mumbles something in Athshean. LJUBOV hurries over, looking around all the time, and motions the fuzzy little creature into the dense foliage.
LJUBOV Come on, let's get outta here.
As they move into the foliage, SELVER takes the lead. He sings and tugs at LJUBOV to follow him.
**freely adapted from scene 67 of Return of the Jedi, with a surprising minimum of alterations. Lucas must have had this book in mind when he created the Ewoks. The similarities, which go far beyond this imagined scene (and include such things as a town called "Endtor" on a forest planet), are too numerous to be coincedence....more
That was me, that is your humble commentator, sitting down to pass my glazzies over a book eemyaed A Clockwork Orange'What's it going to be then, eh?'
That was me, that is your humble commentator, sitting down to pass my glazzies over a book eemyaed A Clockwork Orange I'd sobirated from the biblio. I was ready to be tolchocked in my litso, to have my mozg pried out of my gulliver, to feel that sickening drop in the yarbles when falling from a great tower block; I expected to be preached to by that nadmenny veck A. Burgess in all his high goloss; I expected to loathe Alex and all his malenky malchick droogs. But by Bog or God I got something much more horrorshow.
I actually enjoyed A. Burgess's nadsat burble. I found veshches -- like all the ultra violence and razrezzing and oobivatting and twisted radosty -- to be oomily delivered. I ponied where little Alex was coming from and raged against the millicents and infintmins and prestoopniks and bolnoy sophistos that were arrayed against him. I actually guffed and smecked at like many veshches. But I nearly platched at how malenky little Alex saw the error of his ways and looked forward to a life of chai and a zheena and malenky vecks of his own.
But once I viddied the story like once I wanted rookerfuls, and I've returned again and again, both to A. Burgess's book and S. Kubrick's sinny.
A Clockwork Orange is one of the five or six true greats ever govoreeted. The nadsat isn't at all gimmicky. The lomticks of philosophy are compelling and grow in relevance with the passing of raz. And I for one, oh my brothers, will always "remember the little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal."
Now he was a chelloveck of malevolently heroic proportions....more
Admittedly, my reading of The President of Good and Evil is a touch belated, but in many ways I am glad it is because I was able to appreciate Peter SAdmittedly, my reading of The President of Good and Evil is a touch belated, but in many ways I am glad it is because I was able to appreciate Peter Singer's work more for what it does than who it is was written about.
Singer's discussion of the failure of Bush's ethics came as no surprise to me. Indeed, there was very little in Singer's argument that I hadn't already considered. The hypocrisy, the lies, the fundamentalism, the arrogance, the vengeance, the stupidity, it is all covered in well argued and scholarly detail.
And Singer's conclusions speak for themselves:
"When Bush speaks about his ethics, he is either sincere or he is insincere. If he is insincere, he stands condemned for that alone. I have started with the opposite, more generous assumption: that Bush is sincere, and that we should take his ethic seriously, assessing it on its own terms, and asking how well he has done by his own standards. Even if that assumption should be false, the task has been worth undertaking, for we no know that, sincerely held or not, Bush's ethic is woefully inadequate."
Singer proves that Bush was a failure, and his presidency was an unethical mess. But that's not what makes The President of Good and Evil such a fascinating book.
The most compelling aspect of The President of Good and Evil is what it reveals about the importance of thinking and arguing critically. Singer takes all of Bush's statements about ethics and morals and applies them to Bush's actions, moving logically through every misstep to illuminate how those missteps prove Bush's ethical failure, regardless of whether Bush's ethics are individual, utilitarian, Christian or intuitive. It is an impressive critical analysis of Bush's first term as President (the book was written before the 2004 election) and an impressive survey of ethics in action.
Moreover, it provides a convincing argument that all of our leaders should, at the barest minimum, be capable of critical analysis themselves (and, really, so should we all). Bush was incapable of any analysis, critical or otherwise. Perhaps his inability was derived from his faith, perhaps it was merely from his inborn stupidity, but the fact that he was and is incapable of critical analysis was thoroughly proven by Peter Singer.
I would love to see Singer apply this sort of analysis to every American presidency. Jefferson, Lincoln, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Obama -- just to name a few -- could all use a deconstruction of their ethics.
But all that aside, I think I will use The President of Good and Evil as a required text the next time I teach "The Principles of Literary Analysis" -- Singer has provided the perfect model of how to think critically.