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2020 50 Book Challenge

FlyingMonkey

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27. The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin is probably the single most successful and talented fantasy writer out there at the moment, and this is the first in what she promises is a new sequence, the Great Cities Trilogy. In some ways, it's very different from all her earlier novels because this is not set in a fantasy world, but our own, or at least New York, which as any New Yorker will tell you (at great length) might as well be the world. This is a love story to New York, every bit as devoted as the Beastie Boys' 'To The Five Boroughs'. This is its strength but also its weakness. I wouldn't say it is parochial but if you're not a New Yorker or someone who knows New York well, its celebration of what often seems to outsiders to be well, a bit crap, can seem as self-involved as that famous New Yorker cartoon of the view from Manhattan across the Hudson. What opens the book up, and promises more from future volumes is two things. The first is the whole set-up, which is basically that at some point in their lifespan, cities are fully 'born' and generate an avatar that will speak for them to other cities, but that this transformation causes a rupture in the smoothness of the multiverse, a rupture that powerful, incomprehensible and seemingly malevolent Lovecraftian entities hate and want to close. This is good, but there have been lots of revisionings of Lovecraft (and more generally of American race-horror) of late from Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country to Hari Hunzru's White Tears, so what does Jemisin add here? Well, the second element, which is the characters. Jemisin is very strong generator of memorable characters, relationships and emotions, and while her protagonists have to (by their nature) be avatars, personifications of place, they remain distinct individual people, all different components of the melting pot of New York immigration. In this book, the only criticism I have, perhaps, is that we don't really get much beyond the sketch stage with some of the characters. One hopes that they will be developed in the next book. Overall, there is a lot of potential here but this didn't move me like her early novels, or amaze me like her most recent multi-award wining work. I guess we will have to wait and see how it develops...
 

Geoffrey Firmin

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17.The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa.

The Professor of the tale is a mathematical genius who sadly after a car accident has a memory span of 80 minutes.

The Housekeeper is a single mum agency worker with a latch door son.

The novel navigates and narrates their relationship via mathematics or God’s Notebook, baseball, memory and the developing bond between the characters.

As a pre sleep novel I found it engaging and enjoyable.
 

Geoffrey Firmin

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18.Capital is dead...is this something worse? by McKenzie Wark

God is dead Marx is dead and I’m not feeling well myself. Well actually i feel fine its just that i have been commodified to ninth degree and my every action online is a source of information which translates into data which is then translated into money by some libertarian pirate who is getting richer by the moment.

Amongst all of this Wark asks is Marxism still relevant? And what type of Marxism for that matter. I was educated by a Cultural/Intellectual/Creative/
NonSexist form of post 70’s Marxism at a University in the 90’s. Mind you I think one particular lecturer would take umbrage at Wark‘s ideological assignment of their species, seeing he is still a practicing member of the Academy himself.

But if West does not engage in traditional production and information is the new currency, what next? What then? Well what difference does it make if the State (fill in various national governments here) totally ignores the Climate Emergency or seeks to enslave future generations to debt as the current massive global government spending may well do (and on this point their is debate if this action will stave off a Depression) without an adjustment to economic policy and a crackdown on tax avoidance by corporate elites.

So is there a way to change it. Well going by what i have just read and the jacket blurb “offers the theoretical tools to analyze this grave new world but to change it.” Analyze it? Maybe. Change it? NO.

But either way an interesting walt through the world of Post Post Marxist theory by an erudite articulate thinker.
 
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FlyingMonkey

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18.Capital is dead...is this something worse? by McKenzie Wark
Ken is great - very generous with their time and a genuinely enthusiastic and widely-read thinker. I read this when it came out but I don't generally write about my work reading (or talk about my work) here though... nice to see that other people are reading this kind of thing.
 

Geoffrey Firmin

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Ken is great - very generous with their time and a genuinely enthusiastic and widely-read thinker. I read this when it came out but I don't generally write about my work reading (or talk about my work) here though... nice to see that other people are reading this kind of thing.
Democratic Socialism or Barbarism!
 

Journeyman

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18.Capital is dead...is this something worse? by McKenzie Wark
I might have to see if I can get hold of a copy.

I read Wark's "A Hacker Manifesto" years ago and enjoyed it and found it very interesting. There's been a lot more discussion of intellectual property rights in the years since, particularly given Disney's influence and success in lobbying to extend IP protection.
 

Geoffrey Firmin

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@Journeyman I get all my progressive food for thought at verso books. The Guardian long reads has an interesting piece on The Mighty Mouse.
 

Geoffrey Firmin

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19.The Good Man Jesus snd The Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman.

The greatest story ever told? Well numerous writers have taken this on and given it a good spin. The Last Temptation is one of my favourites but the weirdest twist belongs to Michael Morcock‘s Behold the Man which I originally read in a sci-fi comic adaption then later read the novel.

Pullman does an interesting number on the story with Mary giving birth to twins. Add an angelic presence whose role is the formation of the church and the propagation of the truth of Jesus Christ. However miracles and message aside IMHo Pullman sadly telegraphs the end a touch too soon.

Overall a quick read which plays with familiar tropes and leaves me wondering what was the point of this. Come Sunday its back for resurrection on the exchange table at the local bookstore.
 
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samtalkstyle

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15. Guide to Perfumes - Luca Turin / Tania Sanchez

I didn't read this cover to cover because most of it largely consisted of reviews of a variety of perfumes. I read those regarding fragrances I'm interested in (maybe half of them), and the book also contained 60-70 pages worth of collected essays and other discussions on topics which were quite interesting.
 

California Dreamer

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15. Guide to Perfumes - Luca Turin / Tania Sanchez

I didn't read this cover to cover because most of it largely consisted of reviews of a variety of perfumes. I read those regarding fragrances I'm interested in (maybe half of them), and the book also contained 60-70 pages worth of collected essays and other discussions on topics which were quite interesting.
Was wondering when that one was coming. :)
 

FlyingMonkey

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@Journeyman I get all my progressive food for thought at verso books. The Guardian long reads has an interesting piece on The Mighty Mouse.
And they have perpetual sales, so you can get some of their books at 50% most of the time, including Wark's right now. And you always get the e-book free if you buy the paper copy.
 

FlyingMonkey

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28. A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock

Anne Charnock won the Arthur C. Clarke award for her third novel, Dreams Before the Start of Time, which I didn't rate as highly as everyone else. She also has a very interesting looking new dystopia out, Bridge 108, which is on my reading list. But this one is her second novel, and it's really very strong indeed, and stands up to comparisons with Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, with which it shares thematic preoccupations with the future of humanity, and speciation via technology. However, where Never Let Me Go is about the creation of a second class of humanity to grow organs for the privileged, A Calculated Life concerns the splitting of humanity into three types of people: the un-augmented (but still genetically-tweaked) originals, the augmented 'bionics', and then the specially engineered (and it seems accelerated and vat-grown) 'simulants'.

Our protagonist, Jayna, is a simulant, engineered to be essentially a human computer able to see patterns in data and make connections that neither other humans or computers can make. Her character traits are somewhat autistic, and it's clear that this non-neurotypicity is the basis for the 'type', aided by the fact that she and all her fellow simulants have had no childhood or growing process from which they can learn to be human. Simulants are employed in government and (wealthy) businesses, with Jayna working in some kind of investment consultancy, making millions for other people, while living in barrack-like dorm accommodation with others of her kind.

As with many stories of this type, this novel is about Jayna's awakening, with her own analytical mind realising that, as so many of her fellows are 'recalled' to be 'reset' (i.e. have their memories wiped), something about herself also does not compute, and that her life might be more than calculated. However, also as with many stories of this type, even as her world begins to expand, you can see the tragedy coming, while wishing it would be otherwise. I found myself recalling Daniel Keyes' novel, Flowers for Algenon at this point. Still, there is hope, and more than that, I cannot say without spoiling the enjoyment of those who haven't read it - which you really should.
 
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