Friday, December 31, 2010

Stinson Beach, December 2010

For about 15 minutes, this sunset brightened rather than dimmed. Hat tip to LMK for the photo.

Christmas dinner blogging

The first course was baked squash soup with five different winter squashes. People seemed to like it!

Happy Reading for the New Year!

John le Carré's Our Kind of Traitor is probably his best post-Cold War novel. Which is to say it is obligatory reading for people who like this kind of book... and that should be everyone! Laura gave it to me for Christmas, and of course I mowed through it in a couple days. It is efficient, suspenseful, and beautifully written. As usual, almost nothing happens; a large chunk of the story consists of people talking to each other and fretting. But still the tension mounts and the pace quickens.

The bad guys are bankers and their government toadies; our man le Carré is more Chomsky than Chomsky, and his heavy-handed politics have weighed down more than one of his recent novels. But here it all works. Maybe the financial meltdown has primed us for vilifying the lords of finance. But more likely it has to do with a fantastic cast of characters, including the man who knew too much, Perry Makepiece, a quintessential le Carré tragic working stiff spy, Luke Weaver, and most especially, Perry's girlfriend Gail Perkins, perhaps the most fully formed and appealing female character the novelist has ever created. Together they try to bring a spy in from the cold, although in this case it is not a spy but a Russian money-launderer with a guilty conscience, and his rather complex blended family. And all's well that ends well? Yeah right, it's le Carré.

The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi's first novel, is a fast-paced post-climate change dystopia set in a not-too distant future Bangkok. Genetic engineering has gone a bit awry, and either draconian carbon pricing or old-school resource exhaustion has left much of the world energy-starved. Machinery is driven by bio-engineered springs that are wound by beasts of burden-- gigantic genetically modified elephants, in fact.

As for the sci-fi, I found some of it plausible, including the notion that unscrupulous agribusiness firms might genetically engineer devastating plant and human diseases for the sake of creating a market for resistant strains, as well as the rising sea levels and the resulting strategic importance of dikes protecting the low-lying city. The energy crisis was less convincing: where's the nuclear, the solar, the tidal? These guys can produce amazing energy storage devices in vats of algae, but they can't charge a battery?

What really counts in cyberpunk, however, are character development and the shifting complexities of politics in a world where states, corporations, ideologies, and ethnic minorities connive and compete. All of that is here in abundance, and all of it revolving around the compelling story of the title character Emiko, a genetically engineered geisha, born and bred to serve and to please men. We follow her journey of self-discovery, and her biggest discovery is that there are limits to what she is willing to take; and there are also surprisingly few limits to what she is capable of. I'll follow her anywhere, one hopes right into a sequel to this excellent entertainment.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Good news, for a change

DADT repealed. Thanks to eight thoughtful Senate Republicans. Maybe they will come to their senses on some other matters, such as climate change? Tax policy? It's Christmas-time, a boy can dream, can't he?
Addendum: I guess he can't... Dream Act killed in the Senate.