If you're thinking of going to graduate school, read this first. If you are or have been a graduate student, adjunct or tenured professor experiencingIf you're thinking of going to graduate school, read this first. If you are or have been a graduate student, adjunct or tenured professor experiencing the neoliberalization of higher education, this novel is funny, annoying and devastatingly real. Schummacher uses the epistolary device to good effect, slowly revealing a professor's pathetic resistance, crushing marginalization, and loss of hope. This is more fun than it sounds....more
I finally read Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower but I was underwhelmed. The book is a decent coming of age story framed through a heroine’s jI finally read Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower but I was underwhelmed. The book is a decent coming of age story framed through a heroine’s journey told in unremarkable prose. I liked the premise of a near-future California dystopia as the consequence of current policies of cutting social services and regulations to the point that people need to fend for themselves in a nightmarish society of privately armed garrisons, water shortages, violent gangs and nimble adaptation to life’s unpredictability. But glaring inconsistencies detracted from this picture: where did the electricity come from in the isolated community? How was the university still operating in the midst of anarchy? I got it that apocalypse can come gradually rather than by cataclysm but Butler’s scenario did not hold together for me. Earthseed, the religion developed by the protagonist Lauren Olamina, was underdeveloped and often platitudinous. I eventually found myself skipping over the fragments of preachy, hackneyed scripture. The notion of a righteous community finding a way to survive, to await becoming “earthseed” to extraterrestrial worlds seemed to gesture not only to Christianity (or cargo cults) in a metaphorical sense but specifically to the Afro-futurist visions of Sun-Ra and George Clinton yet with little elaboration that could have made it rich and compelling. Another missed opportunity was that the protagonist’s interlocutors expressed so little interest in her adolescent philosophy when they could have argued from their own ethical or spiritual positions. All of their responses seem to boil down to: “I don’t know about all your beliefs but I agree we need to work together to survive.” Earthseed as a utopian manifesto solves few problems and the fact that the book ends before even a modest implementation can take place greatly weakens the book’s utopian side which remains almost completely hypothetical. That violent competition could result from a withering of the state is a plausible (if Hobbesian and fatalistic) conclusion but Butler provided no clues as to why racial politics had returned to those of the 1950s. If the assumption was that, without state intervention, people revert to a supposed natural state of racial antagonism, the book betrays a bleak assessment of human nature and a naive social analysis that ignores the historical ways that powerful interests have orchestrated racial antipathies to divide and rule. The condition of hyperempathy that afflicts Lauren and others adds a level of tension to the action but for me it broke the spell of an otherwise plausible real future. It could have been a great device in a space opera but detracted from this near-future scenario. Finally, the drug culture of “pyro,” possibly modeled on the crack epidemic, was intriguing but descriptively impoverished. The users appear as mindless menaces but we never learn about their lives, either the circumstances that drive them to drug abuse, or the experience of the drug itself that could have been provided through a first person account (the protagonist herself could have been dosed by another character for example.). I fail to see this as a great novel when measured against other writers who have tackled utopia and dystopia, race and gender, religion and drugs to far greater effect.
While I am a fan of LeGuin's in general and enjoy the ethnographic bent of her fiction (she is Alfred Kroeber's daughter), in this case, the conceit oWhile I am a fan of LeGuin's in general and enjoy the ethnographic bent of her fiction (she is Alfred Kroeber's daughter), in this case, the conceit of an invented cultural study distracts from the emergence of a compelling narrative arc. ...more