Makes me miss Breq's narrative. There's nothing in this short - which yesterday was numbered 2.5 in the series, today 0.5 - that means it can't be reaMakes me miss Breq's narrative. There's nothing in this short - which yesterday was numbered 2.5 in the series, today 0.5 - that means it can't be read before Sword, as it's quite unconnected. A story about a sacred ball-game match in a society more traditionally-minded than the Radchaai; medieval European/Cretan/Aztec influence. Contains a theme typical of the author (view spoiler)[rooting out corruption in high places (hide spoiler)]. Some suspense, wasn't enthralled. Setting had potential for cheesy erotica/romance, but obviously it didn't go there.["br"]>["br"]>...more
PART I This is a book with some amazingly refreshing ideas in its general chapters, but weaknesses in the sections about specific themes. The ideas maPART I This is a book with some amazingly refreshing ideas in its general chapters, but weaknesses in the sections about specific themes. The ideas may not be so novel to a recent sociology graduate as they are to me, but they - and the approachable, non-aggressive tone of writing - are a hugely welcome change from the blog and online newspaper dichotomy of SJW identity-politics-by-numbers v. right-wing reactionaries.
Whilst conscious of a post a few months ago by a GR friend who found a sociology book too jargonised, it's hard for me to say how others might find this book. I've used sociology theory in other subjects, but never formally studied it, and found this an easy read but obviously not popular non-fiction. At any rate, Ben Pitcher is no Judith Butler - and unlike a Paul Gilroy book I've had for a while and never got more than 5 pages into, this was something I could pick up casually (I could have read it in 2 or 3 days but didn't as I knew I'd want to write lots about it... I figured I'd write a two-post review one day, but still didn't expect it to be this.)
I'm not sure this book could have come from anywhere but London. This year I've read a handful of British books related to multiculturalism, written mostly 2000-2010, and the consensus between them is that nowhere is great at multiculturalism, but Britain is probably better at it than any other Western country; grade C perhaps, at least for some cities. The author mentions he got the ideas for this book whilst looking after his kids at playgrounds in South London - he's perhaps too embedded to realise how unusual it is, to describe what the location means for his writing: this is the intense melting pot of Zadie Smith novels, Attack the Block, the Peter Grant series, majority mixed-race schools. When Wikipedia says "half of all British African-Caribbean men in a relationship have partners of a different ethnic background, as do one-third of all British African-Caribbean women," this is where a lot of those families live. This is a world away from those American blogs that advocate a kind of activist separatism. There are things in this book to which it's easy to imagine one of those US commenters, or someone from a more divided area of the UK saying, “But we’re far from post-racial yet”. There are a few occasions when Pitcher perhaps isn’t sensitive enough to those different places and experiences, to a Britain, never mind an international context, that’s multi-speed.
Main ideas: - "Race" is used in this book in lieu of a better term, to mean things that we might also classify as ethnicity, culture (the word I'm in the habit of using), international region or nationality and how they are reflected in cultural and consumer products. It's noted that "race" is a highly charged word, and that "ethnicity" is coming to be used as "race" once was - it was supposed to be a non-essentialist term based on culture, not biology but has ended up being used on forms where people tick things like Black African, British Asian, Chinese, White British - and of course the word "ethnics" can now be used in a snide manner.
- Race in this sense, whilst socially constructed, is about a lot more than racism and shouldn't have to be a pejorative. The essence of it is that people have historically divided themselves into groups and created cultures and sets of characteristics. Pitcher opens with the point that "race isn't going away"; which pithily makes an interesting point I'd been thinking about; at various times I've been that kind of 'Imagine' liberal who on some level feels and hopes it will. But even without racism people would define themselves by cultures. There isn't a whole lot of racism here about the Spanish or Italians, say, but they have distinct histories, art, attributes, and are happy with that, and most other people wouldn't want those cultures to be lost.
-'Race' / culture is everybody's business and whilst it's good to be aware of the backgrounds we are bringing to a discussion, people shouldn't feel forbidden - as they sometimes do in left-wing and academic circles - from discussing something which isn't their own culture (cf the author's discussion of representations of African American characters in The Wire at the end of the book).
- A controversial one: we can't escape the idea of stereotypes. Although stereotypes themselves can change. (Including to become less harmful.) Stereotypes are a kind of mental shorthand, in the same way as we have mental pictures of everyone's appearances as a sort of caricature; it's a matter of information storage. It's such a relief to hear some common sense on this. You can spend a few months in a town and conclude from your experiences, for example, these people are loud and cheeky - it doesn't mean all of them are, but you expect more banter in the street than in some other place. It's daft when some book from abroad shows contemporary Scots wearing kilts all the time, but if you've got any kind of sense of humour, you can see that's not a harmful stereotype. The main thing is not to assume that any one individual is going to conform to any stereotype.
- The book is all about how aspects of race/culture/nationality are reflected in consumer and cultural products, and what they mean to the consumers. (A lot of critical material concentrates on the production side.) But it's consumers as theorised, generalised groups, rather than via field interviews - a notable weakness. I've always had a fascination with the behind the scenes business of marketing and segmentation, even whilst I can't be bothered with ads as a viewer, so I enjoyed this guilty-pleasure focus on consumption. I don't approve of it as much as the author, even though I enjoy hearing about it. Some potential readers may find its fairly uncritical focus on the products of capitalism depressing or annoying.
-Pitcher is not anti-capitalist; I'd guess more of a liberal social democrat. Whilst in favour of critical engagements with consumer culture, he doesn't believe that consumer products inevitably debase or devalue a culture, and are instead one of the contemporary ways of expressing and learning about it. He references the work of J&J Comaroff [personally not read]. It tallies with the idea that in Millenial pop culture there's no longer such a thing as 'selling out'. He just really likes modernity, and is critical of the idea of trying to find an earlier version of something, because of the naive assumption that it's 'purer'. I doubt he's someone who loves history for it's own sake.
It's hard to communicate the complexity and balance of this book without quoting entire pages – I can see a lot of people missing its nuances and subtleties, and I still don't think I've conveyed them adequately here. ...more
[3.5] I wasn't quite sure why I felt compelled to continue straight on with the series despite having reservations about Ancillary Justice. I think it[3.5] I wasn't quite sure why I felt compelled to continue straight on with the series despite having reservations about Ancillary Justice. I think it's because of Breq. I love the way her narrative voice is so detached, but not entirely unemotional, aware and self-aware. It's rather Buddhist, but without feeling the need to make herself like everyone. She cares - by doing stuff that matters rather than by being gushy and over-solicitous - but isn't entirely apart from her world as she doesn't question certain things (like the re-education system). It is a great thing - and too unusual - to be authoritative, rational and this understanding. There are times when she's more like a superhero than merely a great boss. Her love of songs from all the civilisations she's encountered is incredibly likeable, and makes her seem more like a gifted human. Though Leckie can't write lyrics - the songs always sound like mediocre translations and one has to take the narrative's word about their merits.
For whatever reason - I suspect familiarity with Red Dwarf and Donna Haraway's cyborg theory - it's never seemed strange or difficult to have a fictional character who used to be a space station AI with multiple bodies attached, and who now has the same consciousness in only one human body. It's simply interesting and welcome. (I feel more could be made of the sense of loss of ability, and especially increased physical vulnerability, inherent in this, not only of loneliness. But there was a wonderful section about now being unable to rest this body whilst others with the same mind and understanding - but fresh - took over tasks and looked after it. Without, of course, having to explain anything or be concerned about errors, as one would with another entity. It conceptualised and brought to the surface something I often feel.)
There has also been a mystery element to both novels which may explain why I felt the same addiction as if this were a crime series.
It's interesting also that the stations are inherently benevolent and care about all their inhabitants. I think the sense of being watched by them in this way owes more to a benign image of the Christian god than to modern concerns about surveillance. They chimes with a background sense I've always had that on some abstract cosmic level, truth is known about things we remain unable to verify with science (a feeling which must have some origin in religion).
During the first half of the book, a line from another GR review, that the characters didn't behave like soldiers, stuck in my mind. It rang true before I concluded that this was because Breq and the AIs who are still stations have - and articulate - such minute awareness of fluctuations of physical and mental state in those around them. This kind of explicit comment on emotional shifts is closer to discussion on a counselling course than to anything I've ever seen in off-duty scenes in war-related fiction or films, which are predominantly about physical actions with the odd bit of grumbling - it says things that, in a practical environment, usually stay under the surface.
I've tagged this book with 'politics', intentionally. There is a lot of material here intended to make particular points, and not subtly. To a comical extent, it's as if many scenes had been specifically constructed to illustrate arguments in current internet 'social justice' and representation discussions. There are lines of conversation which could have been lifted straight from blogs. I don't think I've encountered a single other book which summarises these things in one volume, with all the most mid-2010s concerns. Which makes it useful in a way. I liked the general trajectory of the plot - but it didn't have to be carved out with a sledgehammer. If I didn't enjoy other aspects of the novel, which are well-crafted, I'd want to say it was barely even art, so poorly were certain things disguised. The relevant quotes and plot points will be in a spoiler tag: (view spoiler)[ TO BE FINISHED LATER (hide spoiler)] The Nook lost a lot of them - will find a few again later - though several are already in the GR quotes section for the book.
Ancillary Sword doesn't have the action of the second half of book 1, other than a similarly big showdown - it's about domestic life aboard space stations (including crockery), diplomatic politics, how to deal with destructive staff who are working their way up the ladder, and living with looming international threats - as well as lots about imperialism and oppression. And a crime element adds to the structure and tension. There was quite a bit to enjoy here, even if I'm now imagining Leckie as part of the American tradition of 'improving books', Alcott, Pollyanna etc.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Very much liked that this short had plenty about the history, and local characteristics of the space environment in the same universe as the RadchaaiVery much liked that this short had plenty about the history, and local characteristics of the space environment in the same universe as the Radchaai - gave more of the context that felt missing from Ancillary Justice. The Crawl anomaly is a fascinating idea, and I loved the paragraphs about the way the journey through it feels over months.
But there's something soporific about Leckie's writing style. Even though I'm interested in the content, I drop off more easily and more often than when I read most other stuff, even on the same day. The boringness of the style is more apparent in a short, somehow.
The plot here was a bit predictable, and the class-bound social organisation sounded too similar to the Radchaii, but I appreciated the extra details about these other civilizations, and liked the characters.
Hooray for Laura Kipnis who still has something interesting to say (last read her c.2007) - and has an excellent critique of current internet feministHooray for Laura Kipnis who still has something interesting to say (last read her c.2007) - and has an excellent critique of current internet feminist trends here: http://www.slate.com/articles/double_...
There have been rather a lot of versions of fairytales purporting to be original and unbowdlerised, so I'm not sure just how different this book is.
Regardless, I thought Zipes intro & notes for Peter Pan were excellent, not going for the boringly obvious. Suspect Marina W. might still be better on how fairytales reflect social history, as she's got whole books on that....more