Books+: October 2021
Recently, I've been thinking more about technology and the unfurling climate and political apocalypses (apocali?). What is technology? Is the tech we're depending on for a Hail Mary save from a hell-like existence likely to succeed given our country's history? Are there are other kinds of technologies, including cultural practices, that are more likely to sustain human life on this planet? This is no original thought, of course, but it continues to become more pressing and impossible to ignore. Besides, why live in the present when you can also live simultaneously in the past and future?
Dunbar-Ortiz's book has gotten remarkably little attention, even though the narrative could not be more relevant right now as our country stares down its imminent dissolution. In a deft and relatively brief overview of centuries of history, Dunbar-Ortiz tells the United States about ourselves in a way that is absolutely essential to understand. In calm and matter-of-fact prose backed by copious original sources, she turns our national origin story inside out to reveal some very hard truths; truths that still underlie the political and cultural dynamics of our country, from local city planning commission spats to the high rate of white male suicide by gun in certain parts of the country. I especially appreciate the way she connects our country's history with other moments in European history that we are generally taught are separate from our exceptional narrative; quarantined potatoes and gravy to our steak, if you will. It's a life's work to wrap our heads around all the links and implications.
Note: there is also a young person's version of this book. I had my son read it last year as a fifth grader with an obsession with our former president, and this was his take away, in case you're wondering if your kid is ready to grapple with this hard history.
I've written about the Octavia's Parables podcast before, when Reagon and Brown were working through Octavia E. Butler's Earthseed books. The podcast became my go to companion for pandemic walks thanks to Reagon and Brown's timely questions and self-reflection practice; plus, yeah, I love Butler's books. Reagon and Brown have now moved on to a discussion of Octavia E. Butler's Wild Seed, which is part of the Pattermaster series. I grinned when they announced the new season a few months ago, because I both love the sweeping and incisive arc of Wild Seed--was there ever any hope for the world once Doro became? Is Anyanwu ever free once she meets Doro?--and the thoughtful discussion on this podcast. I didn't grow up with much in the way of internal self-reflection skills; worrying about living up to external expectations, yes. I'm trying to know myself, and the world, at a deeper level and Reagon and Brown's questions are a welcome part of that work.
Future Tense Fiction is a provocative collection of short stories by well-known speculative fiction authors. The collection starts with a story by Nnedi Okorafor about a woman and her sentient house that felt--whoo!--right around the corner and a little close for comfort. The stories following her opener also had really resonant premises, including one about a cannibalistic futures market based on the talent/lifetime earning potential of young students. May that one be read early and often in Palo Alto, Westchester and well beyond; as a warning, not a business idea, my fellow parents. Unfortunately, the last few stories in the collection fall short of the power of the earlier stories, but whatever. This book is a feast of imaginative fun.
Novik's second installment of young adult The Scholomance series is pure fun, just like the first. Teen dark sorceress El is a senior at the murderous magical school now, and has to decide how to go out: look out for herself and ensure she survives the deadly graduation ritual or protect everyone in the school and end the whole thing. I remain trepidatiously hopeful of someday meeting Novik. I'd like to meet someone who lives so fully in the minutae of her intense, intense imagination. Her stories are never generic or unconsidered, and the result is transportive fun for every molecule of your earthly body. Can someone please turn this book into a (dark) theme park?