"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Sunday, November 29, 2009

No Logo by Naomi Klein (book review)

Well, here's a nice coincidence. I'd just found and posted some comments on William Gibson's fine science fiction novel Pattern Recognition (below), whose heroine suffers from a severe psychic allergy to corporate logos, and now I turn on C-Span TV and find an interview* with none other than Naomi Klein, the Nation columnist and author of No Logo, another book I reviewed for SLJ, when it came out. That was in 1999 or 2000; now it's being brought out again in a ten year anniversary edition, with a new intro by Klein.

On her website, Klein writes,
"In the last decade, No Logo has become a cultural manifesto for the critics of unfettered capitalism worldwide. As the world faces a second economic depression, No Logo's analysis of our corporate and branded world is as timely and powerful as ever."

The title and concept have become a rallying cry for a lot of people and organizations. A quick search shows a number of videos, and apparently a documentary was also made though I haven't seen it.

Anyway, I strongly recommended the first edition when the book came out. (Note: the reference to "street demonstrations recently in the news," in the last sentence of the review, was to the WTO-Seattle events):

No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Name Bullies  by Naomi Klein (1999/2000):

In this examination of the style and substance of "branded life," a young Canadian journalist presents her thesis in a highly entertaining style. In chapters such as "Alt.everything: The Youth Market and the Marketing of Cool," Klein shows how advertising exploits teens (17 is the optimum age) and points out marketing tactics and trends.

As the advertising industry has evolved to become a major shaper of culture, a sea change in corporate culture has transformed companies from producers of products to purveyors of image and dreams. Brand names such as Gap, Nike, or Tommy Hilfiger have come to have "talismanic power" for many young people in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. However, the author reveals the disturbing economic realities underlying the production of these magic products-often through the stories of the young people who work in the most appalling conditions to produce them.

The final chapters describe individual and community activities in the arts, politics, and courts in the pursuit of human rights and other values. For readers who want to know more about what lies behind street demonstrations recently in the news, or for those who are ready to rise above being manipulated, this title provides an excellent model of how to think critically about contemporary culture.

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*The interview was annoying, at least for the first interminable section, because the interviewer harassed Klein about her family's political background (they were blacklisted in the fifties, like so many of our best citizens, and can boast of additional distinctions such as resisting the VietNam war, like so many of us), until she pointed out that this would perhaps be relevant if she were a memoirist but it had nothing to do with her writing career, which is journalistic, and that the interview was beginning to feel more like a HUAC interrogation than anything else (something I was thinking myself as I watched it; my family history is similar so I have reliable radar for spotting this nasty strain of human psychology and American culture).

After which he still persisted until he'd exhausted his supply of prepared slides of quotes about her parents and family, and then he asked her (in the most irritating tradition of journalists going after a story that isn't there, by phrasing it in every possible way he could think of) about her dual citizenship, as if that hid some deeply subversive "anti-American" secret (the simplicity of the situation failed to get through to him in his labored attempt to find complexity: anyone born of American parents anywhere in the world is American; anyone born on Canadian soil is Canadian; this kind of dual citizenship has been legally defined as such for a long time).

But anyway, notwithstanding all that, it's an interesting interview once he gives Klein a chance to talk. And C-Span is one of the few TV sources where you'd even get a chance to see someone like Naomi Klein speak in more than sound bites (and in those, on other networks she would usually be inaudible because some idiotic network commentator would be telling you what she was saying, only it wouldn't be anything like what she was actually saying, which you would only know if you had a chance to hear it, which they wouldn't give you). End of rant. I just have a thing about bad journalism, not to mention witch hunting.

Years of Rice and Salt (book review)

The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson (2002)
If you're like me and constantly trying to make sense of history and human nature, here's a nifty allegorical (or perhaps literal) way to do that: karma and reincarnation in different times and cultures. I like Jo Walton's retrospective review quoted in Wikipedia: "It’s probably the book of his I’ve re-read most frequently, because I keep trying to decide what I think of it." I'm kind of the same way. It's a brain-full of book, but I basically loved it for its vast perspective and wisdom, and often over the years find myself reminded of it by this or that big issue or event. The following review is adapted from the short one I wrote for SLJ:

In this alternative version of the history of the modern world, the bubonic plague kills almost all of the Europeans in the fourteenth century, and the West never recovers. The major world powers thereafter are Islam and China, and the major religions are Islam (in various forms) and Buddhism. Many other peoples, including Hindus, Sikhs, Japanese, and Yingzhou (from the New World) also play significant parts.

Robinson's alternate history encompasses familiar parallels to our own: the discovery of the Americas, religious strife and cultural breakthroughs, political tyranny and devastating world war, scientific renaissance, technological wonders, and the pursuit of happiness. But as these developments are seen through the lens of different cultures, the reader is given a new perspective on what we take for granted about the world we think we know.

Though Robinson's alternate world is vast and complex, its history is experienced by readers on a human scale, through the colorful and vivid tales of individual people. In interlinked stories, through the centuries, they live and die in startlingly different ways, yet there is an underlying structure. And the characters remain familiar to the reader because they are the same group of souls, reincarnated in different places and times.

After death, and before rebirth, the characters meet in the Bardo, where they are judged (I had the hardest time with this part; I didn't quite "get" where the demons fit in with the otherwise very clearheaded view of reality, but maybe I'll catch what that's about in my next reading...), and then they are off on other adventures--again struggling to make progress in their "years of rice and salt" on Earth. This is an addictive, surprising, and suspenseful novel about characters and a world whose fate came to matter considerably to this reader.

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As always -- one of many things I really love about this writer -- Robinson shows great empathy for humanity, yet clearly examines and articulates the chronic and often appalling mistakes our species is prone to make.

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (book review)

Here's a book that has held up well. "Pattern recognition" was still a fresh concept for me to get my head around at the time this novel came out, but since then I've seen it pop up all over the place.

Meanwhile, I revisited the book via an audio version a year or so, and found that the novel is still a great science fiction read, suspenseful and challenging. I'd also reread some of Gibson's early novels in the meantime, and when I heard the audio of Pattern Recognition, was reminded of his references to characters in those earlier books.

What an interesting body of work Gibson's produced. The earlier books still feel fresh to me, even though you'd think they'd be dated (since the plots and mise en scene are all about the latest cyber technologies and trends, which are so quickly overtaken by new ones, in these times); but they still make good stories decades later, because the characters are great, the tales are well plotted, and what might seem dated now comes across, instead, as alternate and highly stylized worlds. And, well, some things are just universal.

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (2005)

Cayce Pollard is a well-paid professional marketer. She and her friends-filmmakers, dealers in electronic esoterica, designers, and hackers-live on the cutting edge of a highly technological, "post-geographic" world, where the manipulation of cultural trends can bring great power.

When she is employed to discover the source of "the Footage," a mysterious film that has been appearing in bits and pieces on the Web and gathering a worldwide underground following, her survival is at stake. In her search for the auteur, she outwits corporate spies, terrorists, and mobsters in London, Tokyo, Moscow, and New York; struggles with ethical issues; and even delves into the mystery of her father's disappearance on September 11, 2001.

Some readers might feel that this novel demands too much of them-the prose is witty, each page challenges with provocative observations, and there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle. But those who enjoyed Gibson's earlier work, or the writing of Neal Stephenson or Bruce Sterling, should relish this headlong race through an unsettling but recognizable world to a surprisingly humane conclusion.

(originally reviewed for SLJ)

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PS here's a recent think piece on pattern recognition

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Head Wraps and Good Hair (book review/movie review)

Recently saw Good Hair, Chris Rock's Michael Moore-style expose of the African-American hair culture, at a benefit screening for the Ashland Independent Film Festival. Highly recommend it. It raises so many questions and provides so much information on what were to (little old European-American) me little-known or even unknown areas of black culture that I won't even try to summarize it here. My only reservation is an unfair one - that I wish the filmmakers had delved into some issues they obviously chose not to, such as the environmental effects of all that poison; what's behind the lack of health regulation (racism, obviously); or the parallel between black women straightening their hair, and the obsession with body fat in the white female population (in other words, it's part of a universal feminist issue as well as the racial one it focuses on). But any movie that raises or inspires so many issues, and is entertaining and enlightening, is a must-see.

I really like the moral Chris Rock makes: he tells his daughters that it's what's inside their heads that really matters. The women in my group (all white, though of varying ethnicities) who saw it couldn't help drawing a parallel with ways in our own lives in which we were made to feel inadequate - and our eventual understanding that (to put it in my own terms; others not so radically feminist would probably put it differently, but make the same point) whether the issue was "good" hair, weight, breasts, legs, lips, nose, or any other outwardly observable aspect of our physical selves, it was really about the patriarchy brainwashing women into believing that no matter how we were made, we could not possibly measure up (to some impossible standard) - and encouraging us to put our energies into changing things about our image rather than into learning the truth of the world, loving each other, or changing the culture that oppresses us. Here's a link to the movie's site, with a trailer to view:
http://www.goodhairmovie.net/site/

The movie reminded me of a book I reviewed a while back about head wraps. It was written by a NYTimes fashion editor, and it too introduced me to something that was for me a totally new subject at the time. When I saw Good Hair, I wondered why (unless I missed something) Chris Rock made no mention of that fashion, since it is such a healthy, aesthetically pleasing, creative, self-expressive alternative to the awful industries of chemical straighteners (LYE????) and weaves using hair from women in India (given as sacrifices to temples)... I hope my review helped steer at least a few teenagers toward that better alternative. And that head wraps, which probably remained a largely urban fashion in the US, will make a big comeback here soon and liberate anyone who doesn't like her hair from a dependence on harmful chemicals. Here's the review, from SLJ:


Head Wraps: A Global Journey, by Georgia Scott (2003)
Adult/High School–When the author noticed "towering, exotic headwraps" worn by African-American women in New York, she began to conduct interviews with those who wore these "architectural creations" and found that they did so in celebration of their African heritage. Scott also spoke with West African immigrants who told her more about the origins and cultural significance of the garment. Further research made her aware that every continent has a rich and varied tradition of headwraps or scarves. Eventually, she went on to document current and historical styles worn by men and women. The resulting book is a whirlwind tour of 32 countries in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the South Pacific, the Americas, and the Caribbean. Scott sweeps readers along with her through setbacks, surprises, and serendipities in her journey off the beaten track. On any page, readers will find excellent color photos of Scott's many new friends in their headgear, or archival photos and artistic renderings. Illustrations and text mesh seamlessly to reveal an amazing variety of textiles and methods of tying. Scott touches on the history and cultural significance of each style, but in this broad survey and fast-paced travel narrative, understandably the focus is usually more aesthetic than analytical. Teens will be charmed by this visually stunning, ebullient book; the discussions sparked are likely to range well beyond matters of fashion.–Christine C. Menefee

Here's a good article and some more pictures from the book: http://www.theglobalist.com/StoryId.aspx?StoryId=4125

Monday, November 23, 2009

Robert Zubrin: versatile, passionate, and fascinating writer on Mars and other compelling subjects (book reviews)

Update: check out the Great Space Debate - Moon, Mars or Beyond for a wide-ranging look at the challenges confronting space exploration now, by several top people in the field including Robert Zubrin. Took place March 15 2010.

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I'll admit it - I'm a fan of Robert Zubrin. Founder of the Mars Society, passionate advocate for science and space exploration, he doesn't just do science and engineering, and he's not just a visionary when it comes to the future of the human race, he's also a gifted satirist, historian, and social critic - all this, and a novelist and playwright. And did I mention humor and wit? Oh, and he almost singlehandedly saved the Hubble Telescope from being scuttled, during W's tenure as usurper-in-chief. As Carl Sagan once said of Zubrin and his Mars advocacy, "Bob Zubrin really, nearly alone, changed our thinking on this issue." Enough gushing - can't help it! - so here are several of his titles, all fabulous:

Mars on Earth: The Adventures of Space Pioneers in the High Arctic by Robert Zubrin... this is my personal favorite Zubrin title. Nonfiction, true, incredible story! The suspense and excitement of fiction, the fascination of amazing true events. Here's my review from SLJ: - and the experiments still go on! Want to be a Mars explorer? You can do it now. Go to the Mars Society website and sign up. http://www.marssociety.org/portal Or just follow the blogs posted there by the people doing the work! It's amazing how easy it is to get caught up in a sense of exploration, reading the scientists' blogs. (Note: I did give a copy of this book to a friend who can't understand the value of the space program, no matter how many good reasons she hears, and she wasn't swayed by this book either - but I should think it would get the point across to most people who are smart enough to read it and process the information with an open mind, and who are susceptible, as most people are, to the allure of an inspiring story of people getting together to beat the odds.) But back to the book review...

Adult/High School-If the space program had not been aborted after the Moon landings, we could have gone to Mars as early as 1981. In this inspiring account of human ingenuity and determination, "children and grandchildren of Apollo" set out to put humans back on the path to space-not through political action, but by "[launching] a science project."

Zubrin shares the inside story of the formation of the Mars Society and the pursuit of its ambitious goal. His passion for the project creates a sense of immediacy and draws readers in as he relates how the group chose Earth locations to serve as Mars analogs, built habitats there, and carried out experiments that tested the performance of equipment and people in Mars-like conditions. These "sims" yielded many unexpected and often fascinating insights into mission technologies, exploration tactics, and "human-factors design," preparing the way for actual missions.

Zubrin explains the science and describes the people with humor and enthusiasm, revealing warts, setbacks, and successes. Diagrams and excellent color photographs help readers to visualize key individuals, equipment, and events. After the Arctic station was established, two more independently funded Mars analog stations were created, in the Utah desert and in Iceland, where volunteers continue to explore "Mars on Earth"; students can follow their adventures on the Web. Those still asking, "Isn't a Mars expedition too expensive/dangerous/irrelevant?" or "Why do we need to look for life/do this when we have problems at home/send people when we can send robots instead?" will find stimulating and compelling answers here.
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Animal Talk (book review)

Animal Talk: Breaking the Codes of Animal Language by Tim Friend (review for School Library Journal)
Adult/High School–A science reporter shows how a "new generation of scientists" has been "contributing to an increasingly rich appreciation for the intelligence and emotions that lie behind… animal eyes." Though it seems obvious now that life-forms evolving together on the same planet could be expected to have much in common, Western culture has denied human kinship with animals. Friend outlines the origins and fallacies behind the old beliefs; he also draws a distinction between anthropomorphizing and figuring out what people have in common with other species.

A growing school of thought asserts that there is "one language with few words, and all species, including humans, continue to use it every day." Friend says that the sole topics of conversation, "regardless of race or species, [are] sex, real estate, who's boss, and what's for dinner." He illustrates his thesis with clear explanations of the science behind fascinating and far-ranging discoveries throughout the world and among many species. Much of the new knowledge has been made possible by new technology that allows us to detect, record, and analyze signals that were formerly beyond our perception, such as electrical signals or inaudible sounds.

The information is organized into chapters such as "The Chemistry of Love," "Songs and Shouts," and "Flash and Dance," and the pages containing unexpurgated information about randy dolphin behavior, same-sex relationships in many species, wild elephant parties, and human pheromones will appeal to teens.

(from SLJ review)

The WomanSpirit Index (updated 5/11 and 6/11)

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WomanSpirit Index: Your Comprehensive Guide to the Decade of Women's Spirituality. Index to the ten year run of WomanSpirit , 1974-1984 (1989)
 http://openlibrary.org/b/OL1599956M/WomanSpirit_index

This index was a project of mine. Most of what I know about collaborative work I learned from WomanSpirit Magazine, though I only came to realize that later in life. A vital cultural Happening, manifesting as a publication, WomanSpirit was published for ten years by Jean and Ruth Mountaingrove, along with a collective of women to make it all happen, out of Rootworks, women's land in Wolf Creek, Oregon. The whole story of this unusual magazine would justify an extended essay or book and someone ought to write it. Someone who was there.

Arriving in my mailbox (on the other side of the continent) quarterly, at equinoxes and solstices, WomanSpirit accompanied my inner and outer journey through several years of my life -- and I even got over my shyness enough to contribute a small article or two in the last issues. Jean, with the great generosity of spirit she's famous for, kept in touch with me over the years, as she did with many women who had expressed to her a special spiritual connection with WomanSpirit, and I finally did find my way to Rootworks to see the fabled place, and meet Jean in person. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

The magazine WomanSpirit was a reflection of the women's community then inventing itself; inclusivity was one of the basic principles in the culture, with the result that famous names are found on its pages side by side with newcomers in an egalitarian mix reflecting the active re-creation of culture. It was an exciting time, and the best part is that it lives on. You won't find it recognized in the mainstream, but it's there in our culture if you know how to see it.

When Jean and Ruth decided ten years of coordinating, producing, and distributing a magazine had been enough, they gracefully brought the project to a close and when Jean suggested that someone might produce an index of the entire run, I volunteered. This was before the Internet as we know it now. So it was all done by mail -- snail mail. In the mid-eighties, few nontechnical types owned their own computers yet, and I had to drive across town to borrow a word processor when it was available. This and other things slowed progress on the Index and it took several years to finish the project. It felt like forever at the time, but I did it. (!) The work included coordinating a wonderful crew of volunteers from several parts of the country (by snail mail, remember) as well as doing a lot of indexing myself, and then reworking any indexing done by others so that it was all as consistent as I could make it.

One of the challenges in doing the index was keeping track of, and figuring out how to consolidate, the different names women made themselves known by at different points in the ten-year run. As I'd learned in other jobs tracking down the availability of work by women authors, even changing a single name to a married name creates an alias situation that can make a woman's identity invisible to scholars. On top of that, in women's culture, other new names come into being as vision quests provide them and life takes new turns. As an indexer I had an additional challenge here, too: in the spirit of the magazine, I had to follow certain conventions that reflected the values of the culture, such as indexing on first names rather than last (Tee Corinne, for example, will be found under "T", not "C").

Through correspondence Jean oversaw the whole project, wrote a beautiful introduction, and I added a Foreword. It had a small print run and is ephemeral, but the Index shows up from time to time in searches when copies become available, and Jean says she occasionally hears from scholars that they find it useful in researching women's history and the history of the feminist movement. Perhaps it's time to digitize it, if nobody has done that yet.

Linda Long, goddess bless her
The University of Oregon has now a special collection dedicated to lesbian history in Southern Oregon. Here's a great interview with the collection's Manuscripts Librarian, Linda Long. (originally from Lambda Book Report and on the Web at http://www.scribd.com/doc/30877835/A-Lesbian-Archivist-Discovers-a-Hidden-Literary-Treasure-in-Southern-Oregon )  In the interview she recognizes the importance of WomanSpirit: "It was the first feminist/lesbian periodical solely dedicated to the topic of feminism and spirituality, and it struck a chord with thousands of women across the country....[The publication] dovetailed nicely with the rise of the alternative feminist press network that flourished during the 1970s and 1980s in the United States, so WomanSpirit was able to reach a large audience of women."

Another favorite publication - Heresies
I was a big fan of many of those publications; they probably saved my life. They showed me the way back to myself when I was a very lost and badly broken young person; taught me I could throw off destructive habits, grow in strength and health, be resilient, hope in the future, dream impossible but beautiful dreams, defend myself in street fighting, swim long distances, support myself financially, rediscover the strength of my own mind and judgment, and (in short) become who I really was. Feminist separatism, in the context of the women's spirituality movement, was the key to all this, in my inner journey.

I tried to buy all the feminist magazines, either by mail-order or at Mary Farmer's wonderful Lammas Women's Books and Music shop in Washington, DC, and I devoured and held onto most of the them, lugging them across the country with me to Oregon years later and eventually adding mine to the many that Rootworks donated to the University archives. I suspect most of these titles are very rare now; none could have had large publishing runs at the time. Many of the ones at Rootworks--some possibly the only remaining copies--were received as exchange copies by WomanSpirit and future scholars are fortunate that they were lovingly kept by Jean until this wonderful librarian, Linda Long, came along, to see their value.


Fortunately, this history--which belongs to and honors all women, not just lesbians; in those days, many of us who were woman-identified and separatist found a place in the culture--is now honored and preserved in the Special Collections and University Archives at the University. The collection also houses the Tee Corinne Papers.
(http://libweb.uoregon.edu/speccoll/mss/tee.html )

And here's something about Rootworks, the home of WomanSpirit, a place now becoming recognized for its historical significance. The land trust is still there, enjoying new life; the women's movement might seem to have skipped a generation of two, but younger woman are now rediscovering the roots of women's spirituality through sustainability and other Earth-centered justice movements. At least I think so, and I hope so.

Thanks to Jean Mountaingrove's pack rat inclinations, and the fact that there was room in The Barn (Natalie Barney) to store boxes of back issues indefinitely, original printings of back issues of WomanSpirit are once more available, while they last, and if you're interested in women's history and culture, this is an artifact worth holding in your hands and exploring anew. Looking at the magazine now, it's part time travel and part rediscovery -- and as inspiring and lovely (and loving) as ever.

Here's a gallery of the beautiful covers, and where you can still order back issues:


http://womanspirit.ws/images/Gallery/index.html 

Enjoy!


The Index itself is sold out now, but as I say, copies sometimes become available. And surely it's time to make it available again. Probably, some special collections own it. Certainly any special collection covering the subject of feminism, or spiritualty, ought to own it.

To bring this story up to date, Jean and WomanSpirit were always lodestars for me. For 25 years, living on the East Coast, I carried a little map to Rootworks in my car, just in case. WomanSpirit certainly helped determine my choice to move back West, to a location in Oregon nearby, after I retired. And in my new life here, I was able finally (25 years later) to meet many of the wonderful writers and artists who had contributed to the magazine, and still live in this part of the country, some on women's land trusts. At one gathering, a birthday party for Jean that happened soon after I moved here, I heard several other women express the same feeling, saying, "This is like meeting rock stars!"

Jean in 2009
The women who have been here since the 70s (some even longer) are amazing people -- with wonderful senses of humor -- and their writers group, which I am able to attend sometimes, is a high point in my life here and now, helping shape my life as a writer just as WomanSpirit helped me shape my character when I was beginning to become myself. Living the women's land trust life was not the path I followed, but it was always an ideal in my imagination , a meta-home, that (along with various imaginary friends such as Xena, the Warrior Princess) somehow helped me find my way in alien lands. For me, meeting these women now is like coming full circle. And they -- they ARE the circle.

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PS: I finally made it to Rootworks: my camping spot, 2009
Perched on the edge of the known world - my camping spot at Rootworks, 2009

Where did all those ephemeral publications go? Decades of them - on Googlebooks!

Here's something I thought was pretty neat. From time to time I look up my father's name (Selden Menefee) online to see if any reference is made to his writing, or if I can pick up a copy of something long out of print. Like the study of migrant workers he did in the 1930's, one of the first (perhaps the first) of its kind (cover at left). He wrote books, studies, magazine and newspaper articles from the 1930's through the 1990's. Most were long forgotten, or so I thought, until the Internet came along and provided a window to view the life a good writer's efforts can have, long after publication.

Did you know you can find all kinds of obscure references on googlebooks? When I looked Selden up, I found this:
http://www.google.com/books?q=Selden+Menefee&btnG=Search+Books
It gives references to places where his books are quoted in footnotes; magazine articles; etc. All from university collections, probably. There's even a full text online of Assignment: USA (1943), his book of wartime homefront journalism. Pages and pages of references to instances in which his work is noted and used even today, and sometimes by major historians. It's interesting to see how a writer's work DOES continue to be out there in the culture, used by other writers and on and on. This is how the "cultural commons" works and not just songwriters, but scholars, build on each other's work. That's reassuring in a case like Selden's because he was a fine, principled journalist... but not so good when you think of all the poor journalism out there and how inaccuracies and fabrications are being perpetuated ad infinitum... but wait, I'm trying to be optimistic. Smiley face here.
Above and left, the cover of an oral history collection Selden put together as a project of his small town weekly newspaper in Fair Oaks, California, to collect the stories of the old-timers in the community. "The Way It Was." (Was "oral history" even a term, then?) Funny to think that I'm one of those old-timers now, and if someone were to ask for my memories of 1950s Fair Oaks, they would evoke a place just as alien to people now as the Fair Oaks of the early days did to the child I was in the 1950s.  
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here's a later post on fanzines, another kind of ephemeral publishing.

Seven Seasons of Buffy (book review)

Seven Seasons of Buffy: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Discuss Their Favorite Television Show (Smart Pop series)

In the foreword to this collection of 22 essays, scriptwriter Drew Goddard asks, "Why do we care so much about Buffy?" After some false but mercifully brief starts, the book hits its stride with a succession of passionate, articulate, entertaining, informative, and sometimes-humorous pieces by professional writers who have no inhibitions about explaining what they love about the show--and what they hate.

Varying widely in attitude and style, chapters analyze the show's literary qualities from a number of perspectives; delve into its "meaning" through its themes of love and growth; look closely at the dark side of the "Buffyverse" and the complexity of its moral structure; and argue the relative merits of its characters and episodes.

Kevin Andrew Murphy's fittingly titled "Unseen Horrors and Shadowy Manipulations" documents instances of censorship and the attempts of network and advertisers to reshape Buffy to suit their purposes.

In "Where's the Religion in Willow's Wicca?" Christie Golden provides a much-needed corrective to the mistake the writers made when they called Willow's fantasy sorcery "Wicca" (a real religion).

In the final essay, "Slayers of the Last Arc," Nancy Holder shows why some are so affected by the story when she argues that, seen in retrospect, Buffy clearly fits the template of Joseph Campbell's "hero's journey."

This outstanding and diverse collection will entertain, challenge, and enlighten anyone familiar with the Buffyverse.

(review from School Library Journal)

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Joss Whedon has done some outstanding and highly original work. I just viewed (or revisited) the first episodes of another series of his, Angel (a Buffy spinoff), on hulu.com, and it seemed as fresh and surprising as the first time I saw it. His work ages amazingly well; few other television shows, especially ones that are notably hip when first aired, would hold up this way.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Welcome, friends

Hi friends. I've been experimenting with blogs here on Google and decided to begin a "real" one that's public. I'm hoping this will be a good way to gather together the disparate elements of my inner life in some reasonably coherent manner. Comments, feedback, and additions are most welcome - or just check in from time to time to see what I've been up to. I'm also hoping this may be a way to be more available to people at a distance and have you more in my life. Next up - Skype? Do any of you have Skype?

This is just the beginning (I hope) so there's not much here yet. Just look it over - and if you come back later for more, there probably will be (more). And I certainly I hope to learn some better ways to organize the material. There's something kind of reassuring about doing this - makes one feel that all one's efforts are not forever lost (the moving finger having writ moves on and all that) - I mean, we humans like to feel that if we've built something, it will be there for at least a little while.

I'm still trying to figure out how to do a lot of stuff here that I can do on Ning - so I might migrate the effort over to a Ning page, if it turns out to be too limited. This Blogspot is pretty easy to use, and it's lovely that it's free, but there might be something better out there. Let me know if you have (or start) a blog of your own.

Chris

Learning the World (book review)... a blog of the future

Learning the World by Ken MacLeod (2005)

Adult/High School-A colony ship full of genetically enhanced posthumans - having travelled for generations - reaches its destination only to discover that the planet is populated by batlike people at a primitive stage of technology just short of an electronic age. After millennia of expansion throughout the galaxy without having encountered another intelligent race, humans had come to think it impossible. And as for the bat people, they've always thought that space aliens could exist only in "engineering tales."

The novel unfolds over several years through the alternating stories of two young people. On the ship, Alternate Discourse Gale is a feisty posthuman; she is just now leaving home to join her teen cohort of colonizers ("Learning the World" is the title of her blog). Meanwhile, on the planet, Darvin is a graduate bat-student enrolled in the "Impractical Science" of astronomy; he discovers the approaching colony ship while mapping the heavens from a mountaintop.

The story moves rapidly, with many twists and surprises. Through action and character, the author masterfully creates an authentic sense of both alien worlds in all their complexity. Of the far-future humans and the bat people, the latter are the ones closer to humans as we are now, and the interplay of the two worlds, each with its numerous cultural and political rivalries, is engaging, rich in social commentary, and often moving, yet also playful and often humorous. Thought-provoking and entertaining, this highly original first-contact story should please any science fiction reader.

(original review in SLJ; revised and expanded)

Book Reviews - still struggling with Blogger!

Well, I still haven't been able to figure out how to organize my book reviews the nifty way that Jabberwock does it, in a section for Book Reviews on the right, and within that, a listing of titles you can then click on to see the reviews. He does that for other things too, like his essays on movies. But I guess that at least all these individual reviews will be archived eventually and then they won't take up the whole main page the way they're doing now. Meanwhile, you can go straight to the whole mess of them by clicking on "book reviews" in the Labels section in the left hand column of this page.

Darn it, I wish I could just find clear instructions in the Help section. I've tried looking up several things there and not once found what I was looking for. Argh!

Help, anybody?

Jumping over Fire (book review)

RACHLIN, Nahid. Jumping over Fire (2006)

When Muslim extremists outlaw the Persian tradition of bonfires in celebration of Norooz (New Year), the children in Nora and Jahan’s neighborhood build their own small fires in the street, jumping and playing until police chase them back into their houses. This is just one of many gemlike memories that, strung together like a series of Persian miniatures, relate Nora’s story of her life in a world fragmented by irreconcilable forces

As children, the privileged daughter and son of an American mother and an Iranian father create a magical world of their own within a larger doll’s house, the housing compound of the Iranian-American Oil Company. As they enter adolescence, they discover that Jahan was adopted, and their love takes an erotic and ambiguously incestuous turn. When political unrest forces the family to escape to America, they must build new lives; there, and finally in Iran, the now-mostly-American Nora (who pursues a law degree to help liberate women) and the now-mostly-Persian Jahan (who is drawn back into an Islamic fundamentalism his own parents never taught) ultimately free themselves of their secret pasts and find very different paths to adulthood.

Complexities of Iranian culture, recent history, and current events create a vivid background for a moving and suspenseful story. A deeply flawed family, and the people of many nationalities who touch their lives, is seen with a clear but forgiving eye; the heavy toll of intolerance is shown with an unsparing one. A discussion guide is provided, though it seems unlikely most groups would need one to spark a lively interchange of ideas inspired by this wise and timely novel.

(review adapted from one I wrote for SLJ, recommending the book to Adults and High School readers)

Daughter of the Ganges: A Memoir (book review)

MIRÓ, Asha. Daughter of the Ganges: A Memoir tr. from Spanish by Jamal Mahjoub. (2006.) 
(originally reviewed in Adult/High School column, SLJ)

Born in India, the author was adopted in 1974 at age six by a Catalan couple. She grew up as a Spaniard and became a professional musician like them, but longed to know more about India and her past.

Part One describes her return there 20 years later, to a “work camp” of an NGO, assisting the Bombay poor. Miró experienced a new culture there, and struggled to reconcile her Indian and European selves while she searched for facts about her first six years. Forming a counterpoint to this often-troubled quest are excerpts from a diary, lovingly written by her adoptive mother, about her early years in Spain with her new parents, and that adjustment.

At the orphanage where she had been adopted, Miró found a nun who remembered her, but of her birth parents the nun would only say that she was a “Daughter of the Ganges.” Though a spiritually gratifying concept (the sacred waters of the Ganges gave birth to India), rather than accepting a closed door the author pressed on in decidedly Western fashion, locating official records of her birth -- but finally reaching a dead end.

After this first essay had become famous in Europe, published independently, the author returned with a documentary film crew to retrace the steps she had taken in her first trip. In Part Two, she describes this second trip and how she delved deeper and did find success, this time, in locating her extended Indian birth family. This journey is marked by suspense, dangers, surprises, and revelations.

This complex, nuanced, and thought-provoking personal journey is told in deceptively simple prose. Some readers might wish for a map, but Google can help there, and at least the black-and-white photos are well chosen and revealing. This is a unique memoir that should have wide appeal to readers anywhere in the world.

The Locus Awards: Thirty Years of the Best in Science Fiction and Fantasy (book review)

The Locus Awards: Thirty Years of the Best in Science Fiction and Fantasy.
(adapted from my review in SLJ)

This outstanding anthology presents "the best of the best," culled from 30 years of awards. It includes many of the now-classic stories that have become emblematic of major developments in the genre, such as James Tiptree, Jr.'s "The Only Neat Thing to Do" (still a must-read for any serious teenage science-fiction reader) and Terry Bisson's remarkable "Bears Discover Fire."

The most recent awards present the brilliant new writer Ted Chiang and the popular and critically acclaimed Neil Gaiman. Other masters of science fiction and fantasy short fiction represented here: Gene Wolf, Ursula K. LeGuin, Harlan Ellison, John Varley, George R.R. Martin, Joanna Russ, Octavia E. Butler, Pat Murphy, Lucius Shepard, Connie Willis, John Kessel, John Crowley, Bruce Sterling, and Greg Egan.

A brief introduction to the author's career precedes each story. Whether readers are catching up on legendary science fiction and fantasy, becoming reacquainted with old favorites, or grazing the field in hopes of discovering new ones, this anthology delivers some of the finest science fiction and fantasy ever written.

Note: Locus magazine is a wonderful read, every time. It was one of the bright spots in my job with a public library system that I got to see it, looking for possible books to purchase for our library. After I retired I subscribed. The editor, Charles Brown, died recently. I never met him but he did an amazing job with the magazine. It deserved every award it got, and more. I hope his successors can keep it going in these tough times.

Blood Song: A Silent Ballad (book review)

Blood Song: A Silent Ballad (now in a second edition) by Eric Drooker and Joe Sacco
(adapted from review for SLJ, recommending to adults and teens)

This remarkable book induces in readers the powerful emotional truth of a folktale or myth. Told entirely through art, the narrative is simple: Driven from their rural home by war in Southeast Asia, a young woman and her dog survive a sea crossing and find themselves in an industrial city in the West where they encounter love and another sort of war.

Varying his images from spreads to multi-panel sequences, Drooker is a master of pace and mood. His perspectives veer in a visionary fashion from galactic to intimate. He movingly portrays a striking range of emotional states from calm tranquillity to loving sex to panicked flight. His scratchboard-and-watercolor art is monochromatic and expressionistic, with visual echoes of traditions as varied as the lyrical watercolors of Southeast Asia and the muscular woodblocks of socialist realism. When color does make a rare appearance, it has a powerful narrative effect.

Readers are likely to be drawn, like the protagonist, into the maelstrom, and to find themselves thinking important thoughts.

Hi Friends

I've written a new "welcome" post so it will be at the top again, after adding a bunch of new stuff here! The more I do here, the more organizational puzzles I run into. But it's still fun...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Evil Genes: making sense of our evil species (book review)

I'm just finishing a great book, Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend by Barbara Oakley. I sent for this after seeing the author on C-span Book TV a while back and it's taken me a while to absorb it (reading in pieces) but it's wonderfully encouraging to see that science is finally starting to get an understanding of evil human behavior. Highly readable, entertaining, yet full of good information on genetics and psychology. Can't recommend this one highly enough!

I've been trying to figure out this stuff for a very long time (looking for scientific studies of evil starting in the eighties, when I was scapegoated at work - and there was almost nothing to be found) and when I get around to it I'll add some other books to this blog but if you haven't already read stuff like Nasty People, People of the Lie, Charles Pellegrino (who brings up the subject in more than one book - a highly moral guy he is), or Tyranny of Malice, you can skip straight to this one as Oakley updates it all and pulls it all together.

I love how her title shows the fractal nature of evil behaviors because one of her main points is that these people are in every level of society from great to intimate, and many of us have been victimized by them in our families, our workplaces, our churches, or wherever societal structures exist. I certainly have. She also shows how isolated we "victims" (harmless people) usually are, because other people simply can't believe it of the bad ones.

Oh, lots and lots of other good, sane-making information. Alas, there's no single gene that we can go after, because she also shows how complicated it all is. And that we're all on the spectrum somewhere, with very few unmitigated evildoers at one end or total innocents at the other. And that there are gradations from sociopathy to psychopathy and the profession that deals with psychology is in no way in one mind about how to view it all. Which is NOT to say that we have to tolerate evil behavior. And to say that it is becoming increasingly possible to understand it, through new imaging techniques and genetic discoveries.

Here's Oakley's website- I think I'll be following her career, and I'm very grateful for her work! And here's a video of Oakley talking about her book, on C-Span:
http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/EvilG

Thursday, November 12, 2009

new blogger struggling to figure it out

Okay, so I like Jabberwock's and some other bloggers on this site and want to do something like that. I'd like to bring together my unrelated writing in various media and keep them in one place and make them available:
book reviews
articles
drafts
postings from other places

I'd also like to pursue some subjects as I go along, and have those organized. In other words, bring some order the chaos of my work so far. And my intellectual life.

And I'd like to keep in this one place my best finds in websites and things like that. Social networking sites (I like Ning best). Forums.

Oh, and movie reviews.

And Mountain Meadows news, if it's publishable.

In other words, Life as I know it. Or at least whatever bits and pieces whose signatures get caught and registered here as they fly by.

We'll see. Maybe it's too much for one blog site.