The genre's counterpoint to Starship Troopers. Though I sympathize with the anti-war politics more than what appears to be on parade in Heinlein, this...moreThe genre's counterpoint to Starship Troopers. Though I sympathize with the anti-war politics more than what appears to be on parade in Heinlein, this is probably the weaker novel of the two.
Heinlein presents what is essentially a freikorps utopia, which I read as an unintentional dystopia. Haldeman runs the other way, presenting a progressive society negatively from the perspective of a jaded soldier returning after a tour of duty, which, due to special relativity, places him hundreds of years down the road from the society that he originally left. The world up and got leftwing in the meanwhile: hunger & homelessness abolished, sexuality liberated, crime controlled through rehabilitation rather than retribution, limitations on private property, many billions liberated from work in order to pursue artistic and creative endeavors (98-100). For the narrator, all that is solid has melted into air, and he disagrees with how the world has unfolded--it therefore, contrasted to Heinlein again, comes across as unintentional utopia. As in Clarke's Chilhood's End, it's a vision of the future with which some leftists flatter themselves. We know that the narrator is unambiguously opposed to the unfolding of the setting: "Marygay and I were each other's only link to real life, the Earth of the 1980s and 90s. Not the perverse grotesquerie we are supposedly fighting to preserve" (138-39).
Bonus points for reference to Toffler's future shock arguments (87), which is simply an arriere garde postmodernist's reading of the basic marxist idea that all that is solid melts into air.
One of the great bits in this is that space combat occurs at distances such as "five hundred million kilometers" (76)--which makes quite a bit more sense than the insistence in Star Trek & Star Wars that space combat occurs basically face-to-face: if we have ICBMs and cruise missiles in the 20th century, Star Wars and Star Trek are revealed as science fiction that has adopted not 20th century, but rather 19th century doctrine.
Amusing that the war is caused by a failure to communicate properly (214) and was resolved when humanity evolved a collective consciousness that as able to speak with the collective consciousness of the enemy.
Recommended for those compliant and promiscuous by military law, persons working to erase hate-conditioning, and ones who have the desire to impose their ideas but not their will on others.(less)
A great example of how a well-conceived setting does not guarantee a well-developed story. Love the setting here (about time we get a dystopian vision...moreA great example of how a well-conceived setting does not guarantee a well-developed story. Love the setting here (about time we get a dystopian vision of liberatarianism--there's room for more), but the story itself is not memorable.
That said, it's a generic defect of the dystopia that the story often involves the Good Individual trying to self-emancipate from the Evil Society, with the only variation as whether the failure to self-emancipate is total or partial. It gets a bit old hat after a while. So, it's not exactly the fault of this novel that it follows the well-worn dystopian path.
Recommended for good setting & good politics.(less)
A dystopian presentation, but with zombies and ninja magic, of Reagan's United States.
Follows a group of '60s new leftists and their antagonists, thro...moreA dystopian presentation, but with zombies and ninja magic, of Reagan's United States.
Follows a group of '60s new leftists and their antagonists, through use of translucent digressions, elliptical flashbacks, and abrupt changes of perspective, back and forth through several decades.
It might read as a mess at first, and therefore likely requires labor-intensive rereadings. That said, there're plenty of brilliant turns of phrase, descriptions, and scenes. Much comedy, satire, parody. Likely in the same genre as Mieville's Iron Council, even though it's not obvious if there's any direct influence.
The novel opens with a plot-related distinction between defenestration and transfenestration (15). For my second reading, I will assume that this is the basic structure of the presentation and be on the lookout accordingly.
Some interesting incidentals, illustrative rather than exhaustive, as it is pregnant writing:
We are told that a mobster's library included a copy of Delueze & Guatarri's Italian Wedding Cake Book (97), which is a slick little joke.
Ninja magic, should sound familiar: "She learned how to give people heart attacks without even touching them, how to get them to fall from high places, how through the Clouds of Guilt technique to make them commit seppuku and think it was their idea - plus a grab bag of strategies excluded from the Kumi-Uchi, or official ninja combat system, such as the Enraged Sparrow, the Hidden Foot, the Nosepicking of Death, and the truly unspeakable Gojira no Chimpira" (127). In learning a "system of heresies about the human body" (128), our communist ninja also learns "the Vibrating Palm or Ninja Death Touch" (131). So, yeah, it's kickass. (There's also a way to undo the vibrating palm, as it happens.)
Engaged gender politics, such as the presentation of Sedgewick's homosociality thesis, as when the novel's obscure object of desire is told by her fascist lover that she is "the medium [leftist lover] and [fascist lover] use to communicate, that's all, this set of holes, pleasantly framed, this little femme scampering back and forth with scented messages tucked in her little secret places" (214). There's quite a bit of feminist erudition on display in this one.
We are reminded on numerous occasions, implicitly, of the "metaphor of movie camera as weapon" (197).
Nifty correspondence of cause with Zizek's Sublime Object of Ideology, wherein stalinism requires that "the Communists are 'men of iron will,' somehow excluded from the everyday cycle of ordinary human passions and weakness. It is as if they are 'the living dead', still alive but already excluded from the ordinary cycle of natural forces - as if, that is, they possess another body, the sublime body beyond the ordinary physical body" (Zizek 162-63). Similarly, Pynchon presents a leftist involved with "progressive abstinence, in which you began by giving up acid and pot, then tobacco, alcohol, sweets - you kept cutting down on sleep, doing with less, you broke up with lovers, avoided sex, after a while even gave up masturbating - as the enemy's attention grew more concetrated, you gave up your privacy, freedom of movement, access to money, with the looming promise always of jail and the final forms of abstinence from any life at all free of pain" (230). Add in the zombies, which are weird, possibly superfluous, and genuinely very polite, and it all comes together (or maybe not quite together, but rather not completely disentangled) as a riff on Slovene marxism.
Recommended for those who wish to at least appear more clitorally ladylike, male motorcyclists who for tax purposes reconstitute themselves as a group of nuns, and nomads in the sky's desert.(less)
Cool presentation simultaneously of a post-apocalyptic setting and a geocentric aliens narrative. The aliens aren't quite right, but they're not caric...moreCool presentation simultaneously of a post-apocalyptic setting and a geocentric aliens narrative. The aliens aren't quite right, but they're not caricatures of the genocidal maniacs from Wells, either--they conceive of themselves as "traders," mostly in genetic material, and they appear to be pure democratic-commies, too, making decisions by consensus.
The "trading" stuff means mating between human persons and alien persons, which could be a kinda gross exercise in tentacle porn, but just ends up being some weird neurological manipulation along with genetic engineering & in vitro fertilization. It's all complicated by the fact that the aliens have three sexes, and much of the narrative involves exploring the third sex, which is not a neuter, but has an active role in reproduction. The complication results in hybrid children having two human parents and three alien parents.
Novels also very reasonably have a limited northern hempsiphere cast because the US & USSR destroyed the northerners in nuclear war. A bit gender essentialist with regard to humans and aliens at times. Also, annoyingly represents humans as suffering from a fundamental genetic contradiction between intelligence and hierarchical behavior: humans naturally destroy themselves. Not my belief, but there it is.
Much of the narrative involves the problem of post-apocalyptic human fertility--we've been rendered sterile and can only reproduce in conjunction with aliens (lotsa G-rated tentacle porn, really). Some folks dig that, but others resist it. In the context of this conflict, then, one of the hybrid alien persons essentially becomes the attorney for the humans who resist commingling with aliens.
Recommended for all speculative fiction readers.(less)
The entire exercise is a bait and switch: Chapterhouse ends famously with Marty & Daniel reflecting:
"'That would've been funny. They have such a...moreThe entire exercise is a bait and switch: Chapterhouse ends famously with Marty & Daniel reflecting:
"'That would've been funny. They have such a hard time accepting that Face Dancers can be independent of them.' 'I don't see why. It's a natural consequence. They gave us the power to absorb the memories and experiences of other people. Gather enough of those and...' 'It's personas we take, Marty.' 'Whatever. The Masters should've known we would gather enough of them one day to make our own decisions about our own future.'"
That and lesser passages tend to suggest that the pair are Evil Shapechangers.
Not so fast, however--this new installment doesn't bother to revise that langauge, but simply ignores it in making Marty & Daniel into Evil Robots from the authors' prequels. It's actually extremely annoying. Sure, the Evil Shapechangers are still there, but it's not quite the same.
The text at times reads almost like YA, to the extent that too much is explained. Consider the first example from my marginalia: we know that the Chapterhouse no-ship is the Ithaca, and yet we are told what Ithaca is geographically and mythologically, and then: "Similarly, Duncan and his companions needed a place to call home, a safe haven. These people were on their own great odyssey, and without so much as a map or a star chart" (25). Okay, yeah? Numerous other examples might be cited, rapidly moving from merely tedious to somewhat insulting
The real problem is revealed in the selection of narrators. A number of narrators are deployed once or twice, and then die, seemingly for no purpose. The Ithaca ends up with eight perspectives, all major persons in the setting, but virtually no intrigue. It is merely cumulation of narrators for its own sake, or perhaps also for the sake of "Cool! Bashar Teg!!!" Sure, there's factional debates among the passengers, but it's undeveloped.
We also get a new Lost Tleilaxu perspective, not on the no-ship, who functions as a breeder until he gets fed to the sligs (and whose chapter is thereafter narrated from the perspective of a deliberately indifferent slig farmer--reckless POV discipline, that). There was no need for this breeder's perspective, as we already had a rogue Evil Shapechanger perspective who interacted closely with the Tleilaxu guy and who actually advances the narrative; the Lost Tleilaxu is merely a set of eyes to let the audience know about developments in the setting (usually redundant) and in the action away from the main part of the story--developments that presumably are important for the finale, but not obviously here.
Events certainly happen--genocides, battles, transactions, alliances, betrayals, tortures, sex, drugs, haughty speech, candid introspections, mentat projections, eugenics, worms eating the shit out of idiot characters, weirdnesses, beauty, subversive ethical dilemmas, hypertechnology simultaneous to swordfighting, &c.--it's a friggin' Dune novel, so the normal roster of inventory is present--but the theology, the philosophy, the macro-ecology are not manifest, except as caricature. This is accordingly a platform to bring back all of the original characters as gholas, merge them with the existing post-Leto II cast, and then introduce a new group of power players (including the extremely silly "Oracle of Time").
There are definitely some good bits. Some of the chapter epigraphs are more than competent (unevenly so, however), and there's a great scene where some characters are reading about the life of Paul Atreides, which is described as the "stuff of legend" (327). Very plainly, those readers are reading the same books that we had read already, the original novels of Frank Herbert, which are referred to as epic, genius, fabled, saga, and so on in the Acknowledgments (7) and the Author's Note (9-11), which explains how this installment is based on a secret outline found in a safety deposit box after the father's decease--like Leto II's secret writings, kinda, I guess--stolen by his descendent, Siona, and used by her to assassinate him.
The revelation about the identity of the Honored Matres is definitely kickass--one can certainly see how that concept grows directly out of the fifth and sixth novels of the father. And there's certainly something nifty going on with the copying of persons in this volume.
Another annoying bit, though I may be dead wrong, is that the interstellar travel is expressly described numerous times as folding space, which requires spice to accomplish, unless we have fancy & forbidden Ixian machinery or stuff from Beyond the Scattering. IIRC, however, Dune did not deploy folding space at all, but rather explained that the the navigators needed the spice for the purpose of developing sufficiently prescient awareness that they might pilot the Guild ships at FTL speeds. It's an irritating revision that essentially adopts David Lynch's ultra vires film.
Recommended only for deliberately indifferent slig farmers, ambulatory axlotl tanks, and cherubic boys with an amazing repertoire of scatological talents.(less)
a good book to read in a public café, wherein meatheads of any gender might discern the title and proclaim, as happened to me, that "y'all don't need...morea good book to read in a public café, wherein meatheads of any gender might discern the title and proclaim, as happened to me, that "y'all don't need no books for that because I can teachy'all." I can affirm that, whereas a picture is worth a thousand words, a meathead is worth a thousand books.(less)
It's pleasant to read on occasion a book with virtually no editorial paratext, and this one includes solely the nartratives of the five most well-know...moreIt's pleasant to read on occasion a book with virtually no editorial paratext, and this one includes solely the nartratives of the five most well-known Wells tales, all of which are very good in themselves, and hold up well, despite the passage of over 100 years (except maybe *The First Men in the Moon*, which, while fun, is perhaps hopelessly overcome by events).
All of them are bizarre first person narrations--typically, a first person narrator who recounts the exploits without any understanding of the pertinent science. This is a slick technique that allows Wells to develop his "scientific romance" without actually presenting a bunch of Star Trekky scibabble.
All five of the narratives are memorable, and to some extent embody archetypes of speculative fiction.
Definitely recommended for readers into nerdly stuff, the Victorian period, and leftwing politics (Wells' own socialist preferences are evident for an attentive reader--but never tendentious: e.g., the Martian heat ray is described as "an invisble hand, as it were," and the "monsters manufactured" of *The Island of Doctor Moreau* seem a likely influence on Mieville.)(less)
Though I agree with other reviewers that Davis is at his best when discussing India, the sections on Brazil, China, and numerous other places (to whic...moreThough I agree with other reviewers that Davis is at his best when discussing India, the sections on Brazil, China, and numerous other places (to which he pays insufficient attention, truly) are generally informative. Perhaps it's fair to say that he establishes his argument on the basis of the British genocides in India, and then produces schematic outlines of varying depths for the imperial genocides in China, Brazil, Egypt, the Sudan, Ethiopia, the Philippines, and so on. That slight flaw noted, this text has very high quality--fine documentation and a well reasoned, committed perspective. Overall, this text is probably the first step in rationally countering the trash that is *The Black Book of Communism*--call this chapter one of *The Black Book of Capitalism* (perhaps Blum's *Killing Hope* can be chapter 2--and, yes, there is in fact a *Black Book of Capitalism* in German, which is actually about capitalism; I am unaware of any translation yet to English--no surprise there!)
Some reviewers have pooh-poohed the text on the basis that it sets up typical marxist hierarchies of villainy in its attempt to define famines as political events. This complaint is of course a straw man: though proper marxists will point out that there is a politics to everything--including the weather--it is unlikely that marxism traditionally attempts to blame someone for everything.
Some have also carped against the text for suggesting simply that some deadly virus of capitalism infected China, resulting in the famines there. In fact, Davis' reading of the Manchu Qing dynasty and its policies is much more nuanced than that, and considers a host of issues--including ENSO, the Taiping and other rebellions, surely the Opium Wars, the catastrophic shift of the Yellow River in 1855, and numerous others--including indigenous Chinese corruption, and, yes, some of the more familiar brutalities of the capitalist system.
Critics tend likewise to have a dismissive attitude toward Davis' thesis regarding the integration of India, China, and Brazil into the world capitalist system--not a useful intellectual response to a serious historical debate. I for one would appreciate an actual refutation, by means of proofs that the genocides indeed were not caused, exacerbated, or otherwise enabled by British capitalism & imperialism. Instead, for the moment, all the rightwing offers is "two cheers for colonialism," like a pack of dirtbag fascists.
Critics have otherwise attempted to critique Davis on the basis of a perceived turn in his analysis of the big 20th century famines, under Stalin and Mao, which are said to be unrelated to ENSO, both in fact and in Davis. Such statements are fairly dishonest and perplexing. Davis does in fact make a case for such developments continuing into the 20th century--and he does in fact furthermore consider, briefly albeit, both the Ukranian and Chinese famines mentioned above. Though his treatment overall of Russia is one of the most schematic in the text, he does note that the Volga basin seems to feature a correlation of ENSO to drought/famine, and moreover records the 1930 El Nino as correlated to the 1931 drought crisis (269). This undoubtedly does not explain the fullness of the Ukranian famine, but it certainly will contribute to an explanation that otherwise focuses on Stalinist criminality and commie bungling. The same goes for the Maoist case, where Davis correlates the famines associated with the Great Leap Forward very specifically to ENSO, an argument certainly to be ignored by unreconstructed Cold Warriors and crypto-mccarthyites (248-251).
One of the most assinine criticism of the text from the rightwing regards Davis' thesis that the maoist famine was attributable to the inability of the countryside to communicate effectively with the bureaucracy, the purported lack of socialist democracy, which is summarily dismissed as a fantasy. It is incredibly obtusely dishonest to make this kind of criticism. Davis does attempt to explain the Chinese famine as a result of a complex of factors, including human decisions, meteorology, and the weight of the aggregate of history (the suggestion that Chiang, a victorious Japanese invasion, or an outright US occupation of China would've performed better is quite simply laughable, given the circumstances).
Also, critics respond to Davis by heaping adoration on Robert Conquest and western Cold War Sovietologists; these folks would have us believe that, say, Stalin killed 50 million people in the USSR, but still managed to defeat the Nazis, losing 20 million more in the process-such claims make little sense--indeed, the only people who accept Conquest's exaggerations are pathological anti-communists who don't need any evidence at all for anything.
The anti-communist will further criticize Davis by suggesting that the lack of "socialist democracy" in China is axiomatic, sniping that socialist democracy has never existed. This more or less vapid point is both puerile and a red herring, evading Davis' thesis--which was that the lack of two way communication between Beijing and the Chinese peasant allowed for the true extent of the famine to remain releatively unknown to the state planners. (The rightwing response is of course that the maoists wanted the peasants to die off--which is about as plausible as Bush wanting to blow up Manhattan--but, what the hell, they're evil commies!)
It is likewise disingenuous, as any attempts to pair a socialist economy with a political democracy have been destroyed by the Western powers--consider the destruction of Allende's regime in Chile (1973), to take the most famous example, the sabotage of the Vietnamese general elections in 1955, the low intensity warfare carried out against any number of regimes in Latin America or Africa (Nicaragua? Angola?), resulting in their degeneration and destruction, and the crushing of dozens of movements that struggled against autocratic capitalist regimes all over the world (El Salvador? South Africa? Philippines? Indonesia? everywhere in the Middle East?)--all crimes committed by the US precisely to destroy any potential "socialist democracy" from coming into existence and thereby providing a model of development that counters western militarism and economic hegemony, i.e., the friendly fascism of the US and its allies.
Very highly recommended. Would be perfect if the rigor of the Indian sections were carried through to the rest (including the 20th century items aforesaid).(less)
I guess this is the standard one-volume history of the war. ends up as a schematic presentation, it seems. great opening section about the various pla...moreI guess this is the standard one-volume history of the war. ends up as a schematic presentation, it seems. great opening section about the various plans that belligerent states had developed for the purpose of invading each other.(less)
whiney mccarthyists given access to secret archives. decent narrative of soviet espionage efforts, including assassinations of monarchists and then Tr...morewhiney mccarthyists given access to secret archives. decent narrative of soviet espionage efforts, including assassinations of monarchists and then Trotskyists. this volume doesn't cover operations such as overthrowing foreign governments, which is the meat of the second volume's allegations.(less)
One needn't agree with Chomsky in order to find that this volume relies primarily on strawpersons, red herrings, argumentum ad hominem, and other irra...moreOne needn't agree with Chomsky in order to find that this volume relies primarily on strawpersons, red herrings, argumentum ad hominem, and other irrationalisms. In addition to being scurrilous and manifestly erroneous, for instance, the suggestion that Chomsky is anti-semitic and supportive of any dictator just because the US dislikes same does not make Chomsky's arguments wrong.
Such accusations indicate an inability to read. A similar reading comprehension problem arises in what may be the signature challenge to Chomsky, regarding his writings about Cambodia. Chomsky's actual argument has some subtlety to it, but that argument is typically ignored, and Chomsky is turned into an apologist for the policies of the Khmer Rouge, which is demonstrably false.
The final chapter, regarding Chomsky's linguistics, is comical, indicating an attempt to refute Chomsky at all levels, a challenge ontologically, Chomsky sous rature. I suppose the next edition will attempt to demonstrate that his birth certificate is faked--a locus of debate appropriate for the jingo-simian proto-teabaggery herein.(less)
one of the weaker "people's history" entries out there. presents what is a fairly standard establishment perspective and fairly standard establishment...moreone of the weaker "people's history" entries out there. presents what is a fairly standard establishment perspective and fairly standard establishment narratives. it is somewhat leftwing because it regards the developments as positive, whereas misanthropic teabaggers no doubt understand (if that is the correct term) this history to be a parade of horribles.(less)