This is a review for the whole series. It's hard to argue with a realist novel-length graphic novel about humans in space, but... I will. There's justThis is a review for the whole series. It's hard to argue with a realist novel-length graphic novel about humans in space, but... I will. There's just not much to these characters beyond some familiar tropes, and there's not enough exploration of the technology or the politics of the era to make up for it. seveneves covers a lot of the same what-if territory and was a lot more satisfying for me. I mean, how do they pay for constant flights between Earth and LEO? That can't be cheap! Do we have space elevators? Fusion rockets? How can Fee maintain her marriage when she's in space most of the time? What the hell does Yuri do with his time other than be at peace with everything? How did a war in space just sort of happen in the background?
I mean, whatever, there were space ships. I'll take what I can get....more
Continuing a trend in Image lines that look real pretty but are mostly hollow. This mishmash of manga tropes didn't quite have enough story or charactContinuing a trend in Image lines that look real pretty but are mostly hollow. This mishmash of manga tropes didn't quite have enough story or character to keep me from falling asleep for several consecutive nights, but it was diverting enough for me to keep trying. The art is luscious, but the action was kind of hard to follow in parts. It does feature a nearly all-female cast and was made by two women, all of which are great, but winning the Bechdel Olympics is really just a good start. And yes, I mostly just bought this for the Neil Gaiman blurb. Weirdly, there's also a Cosmo blurb. Cosmo?!
Totally unrelated: while I was perusing this at my local comic book shop, the guy at the counter received an unmarked package of monkfish from a friend. He was quite pleased, and I was quite pleased that he was quite pleased....more
**spoiler alert** After moving in with my partner a year ago I've becoming increasingly disconnected from the rest of my friends and, if anything, eve**spoiler alert** After moving in with my partner a year ago I've becoming increasingly disconnected from the rest of my friends and, if anything, even more of a reclusive homebody than I was before, which, for those of you without firsthand knowledge of my prior levels of homeboditude, is approaching pathological levels of reclusivity. A recent discussion with said partner revealed that she is, without a doubt, 100% not ok with this, and, to the extent that she is willing to make demands of any person, demanded I amend this situation and, you know, text someone else.
This overly-revealing microvignette is, yes, perhaps a little cathartic, but also sets the stage for my interpretation of this book, which, natch, features two pathologically reclusive people so adamantly dedicated to their interior reality that even a house fire and a dead uncle don't significantly perturb the plastic snow flakes coating the bottom of their glass bulb. There are, of course, a lot of ways to read this situation (the townsfolk are vile, myopic, gossiping philistines who don't understand the value of love and family; the Blackwoods are elitist, paranoid, bluebloods so deluded they can't acknowledge and address the poisoning of more than half their own family, etc.), but of course what stuck in my craw was not the elitism or the denial but the insane insularity of Blackwoods and how Jackson seems to sanction it. Merikat is the protagonist here. Murdering her family is totally understandable in the context of this book, because hey, they were awful, and denying the townsfolk is also ok because hey, they are also awful. It really didn't feel like a neutral dissection of human failings, more like indulging in fantasies of complete withdrawal, no matter how violent the side effects. I can see how that might be fun, but given my prologue, I hope you'll understand why I didn't find this reading experience quite as exultant as most people seem to....more
Hit a story about the planet of the evil gay people and had to stop. Sometimes I can imbibe mid-century bigotry with adequate emotional removal and soHit a story about the planet of the evil gay people and had to stop. Sometimes I can imbibe mid-century bigotry with adequate emotional removal and sometimes I cannot. Had to chase it with some Aubrey-Maturin....more
Adequate for what it is, perhaps, but disappointingly introductory for me. I wanted more about the actual chemical interactions that connect rocks toAdequate for what it is, perhaps, but disappointingly introductory for me. I wanted more about the actual chemical interactions that connect rocks to soils to plants, but that constituted a few paragraphs....more
Truly an outstanding book that every Californian, certainly everyone in the Bay Area, should read. Cunningham's rich drawings and paintings evoke pre-Truly an outstanding book that every Californian, certainly everyone in the Bay Area, should read. Cunningham's rich drawings and paintings evoke pre-contact California in a way that I've never seen before, largely because I've never seen anyone try! Most historical ecology is strictly prose (a form Cunningham also handles with elegance and precision), but to *see* our familiar landscapes denuded of houses and replete with bears is another thing entirely. There may not be another person alive who combines Cunningham's scientific and scholarly sensibilities with genuine artistry and a deep understanding of California natural history borne of direct experience.
Some random reflections:
Did you know there were 30+ ft long sea cows in our kelp forests 30,000 years ago? That's the length of a city bus. Imagine finishing a dive with a safety stop next to a bus-sized sea cow.
Cunningham disputes the claim that contact-era animal abundances encountered by Europeans were the result of advanced waves of diseases that had killed off the top predators in those ecosystems, i.e. indigenous people. I first encountered this idea reading Charles Mann, and I admit I'd sort of assumed it was the accepted explanation. There are definitely underlying philosophical agendas at play, since if you prefer to believe that Europeans are horrible and screwed everything up you probably prefer the view that America was a bountiful utopia of plants and animals before Europeans ruined it all, whether that abundance was cultivated by indigenous peoples or not, and if you prefer to believe that all humans exert similar ecological influences you'd probably prefer it if Indians were keeping down animal populations through hunting. Merits some further reading, I imagine. Cunningham claims a lot of the evidence used to support the predator release theory is pretty scant.
I had this wonderful "a-ha!" moment after reading the section on fire. Cunningham writes that Californian Indians would burn grasslands and oak woodlands to (among other things) promote the growth of wild food crops, which I kind of knew in theory. Days after I read that this spring I went for a hike in a part of Lake County that burned last fall, and the insane density of wildflowers really brought home how effective fire would have been in promoting a crop you could really harvest and eat a lot of. The Ithuriel's spear was particularly dense, and the USDA claims that several tribes ate the bulbs: http://www.plants.usda.gov/plantguide....
One of the things I appreciate most about this book is its frank approach to our ignorance. Cunningham does not shy away from pointing out what we don't know about the past, in many cases what we can't know, and while she does theorize and extrapolate, it's always clear when she's doing so....more
**spoiler alert** Sam Delaney once said in an interview that when you read a phrase like "and then her world exploded" in conventional fiction, you're**spoiler alert** Sam Delaney once said in an interview that when you read a phrase like "and then her world exploded" in conventional fiction, you're forced to assume it's a metaphor, but in science fiction, "you have to retain the possibility that it might actually mean that a planet belonging to a woman blew up," and thus, "there are alternate meanings in science-fiction that are allowed in." I remember hearing that on the radio and thinking, "That's silly. People read science fiction because worlds exploding are more interesting than relationships failing, not because of an increased degree of linguistic freedom." The City & the City offers abundant proof of how very wrong I was, perhaps not in the sense of linguistics, but in the larger sense of the expanded possible meanings in genre fiction and how the eventual collapse of that space of possibility can actually make a realist novel the strangest kind of fantasy.
Which is not to say The City & the City is realism, exactly. For me, I started out suspecting this was a fantasy about two cities in sort of parallel realities, i.e. not physically adjacent but supernaturally so, and it really took me quite a bit of time to understand that no, they're really just right next to each other, but effectively separated by this practice of unseeing. About that: the denizens of each city share some of the same streets and even some of the same buildings, but they completely ignore each other. If they accidentally glance at someone from the other city, or even an inanimate object from that city, they assiduously "unsee" it: ignore it, forget it, pretend that the glance never happened. The magical thing for me is how this utterly mundane practice creates this bizarre world. I say mundane because unseeing is something every urbanite has mastered, and I'm not just talking about how we see the homeless or painfully earnest petition-wielding young people: to live in a city is to unsee almost everyone, all the time! If you didn't, if you actually granted everyone the kind of existential affirmation that you yourself crave by saying "hello" or even just smiling at everyone, you'd be stuck helloing and smiling for hours, and everyone would think you were insane and instantly unsee you with even more determination.
What Mieville's done here is push that instinct just a little bit further, and then wrap it up in a murder mystery, to great effect. Working toward the realization that this was not, really, fantasy, was the best part for me, but between this, Perdido Street Station, and Embassytown, this was the most focused Mieville novel I've read to date, with none (or almost none) of the extraneous zany ideas that littered Embassytown and totally smothered Perdido. The murder mystery is pretty conventional, and I'm sure many people will find the lack of ultimate explanations kind of disappointing (how did these cities get this way, China?!), but wrapping my head around the central weirdness was enough to keep me happy....more
Really excellent overview of Bay Area geology. I feel like I have a better high-level understanding of where the Franciscan, Salinan, and Great ValleyReally excellent overview of Bay Area geology. I feel like I have a better high-level understanding of where the Franciscan, Salinan, and Great Valley rocks come from and where to expect them, which is definitely an improvement on my prior state of knowledge. What's lacking is any help in field recognition of different rocks. The guides to specific locales are very helpful, but I still don't still like I can look at a rock outcrop and say too much about it unless it's obviously serptinite or packed with fossils or something. Regardless, maybe that's for another book to tackle. This one is great at what it does....more
Earlier this year I visited a colleague's home in Texas. This guy is about my age and also a naturalist, but otherwise pretty much my exact opposite:Earlier this year I visited a colleague's home in Texas. This guy is about my age and also a naturalist, but otherwise pretty much my exact opposite: big, talkative, persistent, Texas accent, Texas cowboy boots, raises chickens, hunts deer, *serious* birder (I am a birder, but a lackadaisical one, who could not pick a Pectoral Sandpiper out of a flock of Least Sandpipers, which, to some birders, is like not being a birder at all). So, I was flabbergasted when, seconds after inviting me in, he said, "I was looking at your Facebook profile the other day and noticed you were into Elfquest," and proceeded to point toward a full run of EQ graphic novels displayed prominently on his shelf, including this one. He said that Elfquest had played a crucial role in making him a conservationist as a kid, which was also my experience, and the experience of at least one other naturalist I know.
I relay this both because I thought it was pleasantly shocking, but also to emphasize how much this series means to a lot of people like me, i.e. quite a bit. That said, I think for a lot of us, Elfquest was over by book 4, or maybe by book 8, and everything since has been revisiting the old themes with less and less vigor and style. So before even picking up this book, my expectations were low, though my need to catch up with my Wolfrider friends was great.
Wendy's pencils are as unrivaled as they ever were in this book: exquisite line work throughout, expressive and unique faces, kinetic but clear layouts. She is a master. Color and general use of digital technologies are another story. In my opinion there is just way too much unsubtle use of gradients, blurs, and clumsy resizing in this book. There are numerous pages where it's really obvious Wendy drew several panels at the same scale and they were enlarged or shrunk to fit, with no attempt to make the line weights match up. This probably bothers me more than most people, but I think it makes some pages look like a bit of a hack job, which is maddening when the pencils being hacked up are, as I mentioned, masterpieces.
Narratively, I think there are just too many characters and too many disparate plot lines for this book to cohere very well. When did Nightshade and Strongbow have a kid and by Timmorn's blood how did anyone allow her name to be "Freetouch"?! The deepening rift between the mortal Wolfriders and the immortal elf races is compelling, though, even if it is a well worn path on the World of Two Moons, and I hope future books in the series will coalesce around this theme. In my opinion, Cutter needs to die, and perhaps all the Wolfriders need to die, for the value of mortality this series has expressed from the beginning to achieve its ultimate expression. We'll see if the Pinis are willing to go that far....more
New X-Files, new Twin Peaks, new Sandman. While this particular instance of 90s nostalgia is pretty good, let's be clear: Sandman is over, and this isNew X-Files, new Twin Peaks, new Sandman. While this particular instance of 90s nostalgia is pretty good, let's be clear: Sandman is over, and this is just an ancillary tale like Endless Nights. As such, it suffers from many of the failings one would expect from rehash: the slavish commitment to include as many of the old characters as possible, the attempt to awkwardly fit a new story into an already rich and crowded narrative universe, and ultimately, the drama-deflating certainty in the readers that we know where this ends.
It's a perfectly adequate Sandman story, and the writing is pretty much as good as I remember it ever being. JH Wiliiams' art is sumptuously zany, and Stewart's colors are if anything zanier. When I picked it up I first remarked on how refreshingly diverse the layouts were (I don't think there's a single 6- or 9-panel page in the book), but as I was reading I definitely lost track of the flow multiple times. That can work on occasion, especially when the authors are trying to make a point about non-linearity, but usually it's distracting.
Mostly, much like David Mitchell's Bone Clocks and Neal Stephenson Seveneves, Sandman Overture reads like (and is) the expression of an idea the author has had for a long time, and great success has finally granted him license to supersede his editorial instincts and publish it despite it not meeting the standards of the works upon which his success was built. Granted, Gaiman has had that kind of success for some time, but that's still the way it felt to me. In that way, it's much like a work in Lucien's great library of dreamed but unwritten books. Perhaps some of them are better left in the Dreaming....more
I guess a lot of people made a big deal out of this when it came out a few years ago? That's cool, I guess. Here are some things I found interesting:
II guess a lot of people made a big deal out of this when it came out a few years ago? That's cool, I guess. Here are some things I found interesting:
Income inequality is a natural outcome of mechanical advantage and technological innovation: the more technology replaces labor, the more wealth accrues to those who control technology, and the less to former human laborers
This is basic Marxism, right? I am not an economist (clearly) so I have no idea how true that is, and I'm not convinced they really proved it in the book, but it's an interesting counterargument to the usual "rich people are assholes" line of reasoning, which, of course, is not a mutually exclusive hypothesis.
Universal basic income is not going to work
I think I actually found out about this book while reading an article about UBI, everyone's favorite idea of late. UBI is kind of an awesome fantasy, but I think I side with the authors (and Matthew B. Crawford, and Wendell Berry) in thinking that the non-monetary value of work is too high to dispose of, as well as the corollary notion that most people will not create value for society or the world (or themselves) based purely on self- or social motivation. I was frankly kind of amazed how down they were on the idea! I felt like the entire book was leading up to a painfully predictable UBI finale. Got me!
Stop complaining about free trade because globalized job displacement won't last. When machines replace workers, *all* those jobs will be gone, not displaced
What is the populist counterargument to this? Smash the looms? Here's one: the human labor rarely really goes away, it just gets hidden and compensated less. If we could keep manual labor within national boundaries and subject to equitable labor standards, at least they'd be good jobs instead if Mechanical Turk-like jobs.
There were also some *fairly* problematic bits, starting at the beginning with their godawful "most of history was boring" bit, where the boring parts were when humans weren't pillaging the environment, reproducing like bacteria, or killing each other on ever grander scales. Peace, balance, satisfaction: totally boring. No reason to read Ian Morris, apparently.
They also laud the sharing economy as a wonderful new source of jobs, where jobs are basically ways to keep people busy, glossing over the whole issue of reduced income and more importantly reduced security (gigs are unreliable, no gig platform gives you insurance). The thrust of the book as a whole is to temper the techno-optimism (income inequality is real and will kill us if we don't address it, no matter how fancy our tech), but this seemed like a pretty glaring oversight for 2014.
Their long-term recommendations for surviving our robotic future are... kind of dumb. The first third of the book is all about how machines are starting to do the things we thought were uniquely human, so if that's true, why turn around and recommend that we'll all be ok focusing on what remains in the human domain? In the short term, sure, learn to complement machine powers with your meaty wit and discretion, but what about 100 years out when our phones will, in fact, be both funnier and wiser than we are?
And while this is mostly a book about technology and the economy, it seemed myopic that they failed to address the many "externalities" that could torpedo all of their analyses. What about climate change? What about reactionary political movements? What about the real physical limits of our planet like potable water and the gravity well?
On the whole, while I was often pleasantly provoked while reading, and I really did appreciate the middle bits where they picked apart the strong technological optimism of their peers, the authors' dogged commitment to a sunny outlook probably hamstrung their efforts to make predictions. I mean, no one can make real predictions about the future, but it would have been nice to hear more about the downsides of these "brilliant" technologies. Inspiration is great, but so are contingency plans.
If you've suffered through this entire "review," allow me to recommend these two others, both infinitely more cogent and insightful than anything I've written here:
Humboldt: not just a Californian county shrouded in cannabinoid haze! Turns out, he was also a dude. It's hard to read the works of 19th century naturHumboldt: not just a Californian county shrouded in cannabinoid haze! Turns out, he was also a dude. It's hard to read the works of 19th century naturalists without picking up on the Humboldt name-dropping, but this welcome biography definitely provided me with a fuller understanding of what he was all about. And what he was all about was pretty much everything, from geology to salps to flowers to race relations to income inequality. Also talking a lot. I suspect I, like Darwin, would have idolized Humboldt from afar but been deeply annoyed with him in person. Such is life.
This book is a pretty straightforward chronology of Humboldt's times, with the primary purpose of reintroducing this critical 18th and 19th century scientist to English-speaking audiences who have largely forgotten him, possibly due to the anti-German backlash following World War II, as Wulf suggests. It is also a scholarly, thoroughly-cited and well-researched work based on sources spanning several languages. If you want to learn more about this fascinating figure, this is a great starting point.
That said, I found Wulf's habit of quoting people in tiny fragments to be deeply annoying, and perhaps representative of a larger inclination to cherry-pick portions of Humboldt's life that fit Wulf's depiction of him as one of the first syncretic ecologists and a modern humanist. The tiny quotes thing just made me feel like I wasn't getting a taste for Humboldt in his own words, which made me wonder if I should just be reading his own books instead of a biography. I'd prefer a biographer allow their subject to speak a little more.
The larger issue of selection was most glaring to me in Wulf's attempts to describe Humboldt as a man with modern ethics regarding race and social justice. "Unlike most Europeans," she writes, "Humboldt did not regard the indigenous people as barbaric, but instead was captivated by their culture, beliefs and languages" (p. 71). No doubt he was closer to our modern ideals than his contemporaries, but it's never that tidy when you dig a bit deeper (with people of the 18th century or people of today). Here's an excerpt that complicates:
The assemblage of Indians at Pararuma again excited in us that interest, which everywhere attaches man in a cultivated state to the study of man in a savage condition, and the successive development of his intellectual faculties. How difficult to recognize in this infancy of society, in this assemblage of dull, silent, inanimate Indians, the primitive character of our species! Human nature does not here manifest those features of artless simplicity, of which poets in every language have drawn such enchanting pictures. The savage of the Orinoco appeared to us to be as hideous as the savage of the Mississippi, described by that philosophical traveller Volney, who so well knew how to paint man in different climates. We are eager to persuade ourselves that these natives, crouching before the fire, or seated on large turtle-shells, their bodies covered with earth and grease, their eyes stupidly fixed for whole hours on the beverage they are preparing, far from being the primitive type of our species, are a degenerate race, the feeble remains of nations who, after having been long dispersed in the forests, are replunged into barbarism.
Reading Voyage of the Beagle is largely the same: Darwin often lamented the injustice and violence inflicted by Europeans on everyone else, but even he couldn't find empathy for the native peoples of Tierra del Fuego.
Regarding Humboldt as a kind of father of ecology, again, he seems to have been a critical force, though not the only player. Such is nature of biography I guess. I did appreciate Wulf's emphasis on his holism, which encompassed not just different scientific disciplines, but also the arts. Her excerpt from Wordsworth's The Excursion (p. 171) regarding the meanness of reductionism is brilliant:
Inquire of ancient Wisdom; go, demand Of mighty Nature, if 'twas ever meant That we should pry far off yet be unraised; That we should pore, and dwindle as we pore, Viewing all objects unremittingly In disconnection dead and spiritless; And still dividing, and dividing still, Break down all grandeur, still unsatisfied With the perverse attempt, while littleness May yet become more little; waging thus An impious warfare with the very life Of our own souls!
Wulf describes Humboldt's many close male friendships, and seems to fall just short of suggesting he was gay given the strength of these friendships and his disinterest in women (pp. 82-83), but she leaves it at that. I guess we can't know he was gay, but Wulf seems convinced of it, and it seems probable given the evidence she presents. Part of me feels her unwillingness to investigate his sexuality is appropriate since, in theory, that has little bearing on his life as a scientist, but on the other hand, if Humboldt was gay and closeted, surely that had enormous impact on his science and every other aspect of his life, whether or not he would choose to admit it. His male parters were very often fellow scientists, intellectual as well as emotional companions, so these relationships were clearly scientifically important. If Humboldt had not been gay would he have married, and how would that have affected his career? If Humboldt was gay, shouldn't we be celebrating him as such?
Also, how amazing is it that Goethe, Humboldt, Darwin, Jefferson, Babbage, and countless other thinkers with huge influence on our times were both contemporaries and correspondents! The part where Humboldt drops by the US and hangs out with Jefferson was incredible, particularly the fact that Jefferson was capable of conversation about science. Like, when Neil deGrasse Tyson drops by the White House, do he and Obama actually talk about cosmology? I doubt it. Not sure if this is a consequence of the complication of science, where no one person could speak intelligently about anything other than a tiny slice of it, or the reductionist bent of our age, where you can be a politician or a scientists but not both, and certainly not at the same time.
Jefferson, like all humans, is problematic in his own right, but here's something for the religious right to keep in mind next time they try to claim him:
History, I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. this marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.
And, for liberal humanists hoping to do the same, from the same letter:
You know, my friend, the benevolent plan we were pursuing here for the happiness of the Aboriginal inhabitants in our vicinities. we spared nothing to keep them at peace with one another, to teach them agriculture and the rudiments of the most necessary arts, and to encourage industry by establishing among them separate property.
"The only thing in heaven or Earth that M. Humboldt does not understand is business." (p. 181, attributed to Helen Maria Williams, who translated some of AH's works into English).
"I loathe, I abhor the sea, & all ships which sail on it." 27-year-old Darwin in a letter to his sister Susan, toward the end of his voyage on the Beagle, 1836, quoted by AW on p. 227.
"I am grown the dullest old owl in Christendom." George Perkins Marsh to Spencer Fullerton Baird, 26 August 1869. http://cdi.uvm.edu/collections/item/g.... "Dullest owl in Christendom" is either going to be the name of my band or my epitaph. Quoted by AW on p. 283....more
**spoiler alert** As with every Stephenson book, I feel the need to point out that this is Neal Stephenson, people. Stop complaining about infodumping**spoiler alert** As with every Stephenson book, I feel the need to point out that this is Neal Stephenson, people. Stop complaining about infodumping, over-explaining, and general nerding out at the expense of character development and plotting. If you want insane technical detail AND lovable characters, try Patrick O'Brian. If you don't care about space ships and orbital mechanics and just wish people would talk about their feelings and have adventures, go read practically any other novel ever. No one is judging anyone. This just isn't that kind of book.
If you're still with me, this is pretty classic Stephenson, except in space. If you've ever geeked out about actual human spaceflight, the first 2/3 of this book will probably tickle your fancy. Lots and lots of crazy detail about getting to space and surviving there. A lot of the high drama in this portion was super exciting for me, especially the bits where they're reigning in Ymir. I could have done without Jeff Bezos and Neil deGrasse Tyson being in the book in all but name, but again, the characters are not the point. Some people seemed to have disliked the last third of the book set far in the future. It basically goes nowhere and proves nothing about human nature, but I thought it was just the extended denouement I wanted after Dinah threw her explosive charge into space.
All that being said, two issues:
CAN I GET SOME BIOLOGY?
To say this book is all about scientific plausibility is to have an extremely narrow, physics-only view of science. There are some very serious biological problems that get glossed over with the kind of infuriating scientific hubris that you might expect from atomic-age scifi. Yes yes, I know Stephenson is all about optimism in scifi and whatnot, but come on, don't we bionerds deserve as much optimism as the rocket nerds? How exactly do you make a Y-chromosome from scratch? How do you recreate an organism from just it's genome when so much of what goes into making an organism is not actually written in the genome? How did they solve bone and muscle loss while living in zero g? How do you make an ecosystem from nothing in only a few hundred years when you've theoretically only preserve a tiny fraction of the biodiversity of Old Earth? These are serious problems with rebooting humanity in space, every bit as important as figuring out how to dodge bolides and get enough water to fuel the ship.
I'm not saying any of the biological problems are insurmountable and therefore nothing here is plausible. I'm just lamenting the lack of attention dedicated to biology. Those are interesting problems too!
After humanity has been reduced to seven fertile women who must propagate the species, we are asked to believe that their descendants do not interbreed. Leaving aside how utterly preposterous that is in a situation where inbreeding is a serious problem (what's easier, genetically modifying embryos or selective outbreeding?), we are also asked to believe that the seven races spawned by the Seven Eves continue to propagate and intentionally enhance the personality traits their progenitors engineered into their genomes. I think that's also radically unlikely, since only one or maybe two of the Eves chose traits that might encourage conformity, but whatever, I can suspend. What I have trouble suspending is the assumption that this is somehow considered ethical, both by the characters and, by its lack of investigation, by the author and the reader. This is a society where it's ok to assume the Asian-looking people are calculating and cerebral, because that's how they were designed. WASPy people are heroic, because that's how they were designed. Middle Eastern-looking people are servile and passive, because that's how they were designed.
For a culture obsessed with carrying the flame of humanity circa right now, particularly the secular, scientific, humanist flavor of humanity that made it into space, this seems like an outcome they would have worked really, really hard to avoid, and it's at least a little unsettling that Stephenson spends only about two pages inquiring into this awkward situation before dismissing it as just the way things worked out. Doubly unsettling because it's not because Stephenson is uninterested in how culture evolved over 5000 years of existence in orbit. He is, and seems to take some satisfaction in emphasizing the recapitulation of our Manichean political inclinations. So why not investigate the future of racism, or instead depict a more genetically mixed future, which seems both more practical in terms of population viability and more moral in terms of humanist beliefs? ...more