Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, February 2016
Attention conservation notice: I have no taste.
- Douglas A. Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II
- The story told here is just as appalling as the sub-title promises.
Blackmon focuses on Alabama, but makes it clear that stuff like this happened
all over the South. Since this is popular rather than professional history,
there is a bit more of you-are-there detail than I am completely comfortable
with, and I wish there had been more about things like the Great Migration and
the impact of agricultural mechanization. But it's still very well written,
and the story it tells deserves to be much better known.
- Two comparatively minor points:
- There were actually cases under Theodore Roosevelt of white men in the
south being brought to court for holding black men as slaves. (The legal
defense was that while amendments to the Constitution had banned slavery, there
were no actual laws against it, so no crime.) This has all the
elements which a big strand of our popular mythology looks for: a courtroom
drama in which a fearless prosecutor and dedicated investigators, with the
support of a reforming president, uncover a vast criminal enterprise, persuade
reluctant witnesses to testify, bring the case before the public eye and an
honest judge — and the whole thing failed to do the slightest bit of
good. I think Blackmon has to be aware of how this part of his narrative
fits with these motifs, but fails to have the expected ending; it's
probably all the more effective for his not being explicit about it.
- It is probably irrational to feel more of a shameful connection to these
injustices because U.S. Steel (and so Andrew Carnegie, and so Carnegie Tech)
was one of the beneficiaries Blackmon highlights, but I do.
- Matt Ruff, Lovecraft Country
- Victor LaValle, The Ballad of Black Tom
- Mind candy. Ruff's book follows the mis-adventures of an African-American
family of science fiction fans in 1950s Chicago, in a world where it's not
clear whether eldritch abominations or ordinary life is more soul-destroying.
It's a bit episodic, but still well done. LaValle's novella is a re-imagining
of one of Lovecraft's most racist stories, "The Horror at Red Hook", from the
perspective of a black Harlemite who would have been, at best, a nameless
minion in the original. It's an interesting choice of a work to re-imagine,
because even drawing a veil over the bigotry,
one of Lovecraft's better stories.
to an ugly piece of bad fiction from almost a century ago? The only good
reason is that there is, underneath all the purple prose and the
all-too-transparent fears, something of real imaginative power and value in
Lovecraft's work, and that value should be even to those whom he cast
as monsters. The fact that LaValle is much better at cosmic horror
than Lovecraft was in "Red Hook" is just icing on the cake.
- If this is intriguing, it's worth reading LaValle and Ruff in conversation.
- (Previously for
Ruff; previously for LaValle.)
- Jo Walton, The Just City
- This is, obviously, exactly what would happen if Athena and Apollo
conspired to realize The
Republic with a population of time-traveling Platonists, 10,800
child slaves bought in antiquity, and robots. Exactly what would
happen, down to Socrates trolling everyone so hard that, well --- read it.
- Genre note: I thought the chapters from Simmea's viewpoint did a very good
job of both sounding plausible, and playing off the now-well-worn
conventions of young adult dystopias. Because, of course, from a certain angle
that's what the the Republic would be.
- (Shoved to the top of the pile by the
Timber symposium on this book and its sequel [which is on its way to me].)
- Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Blades
- Mind-candy fantasy, sequel
to City of
Stairs, continuing the story of how the first technological power in
a fantasy world deals with the consequences of having killed all the gods. It
is as awesome as its predecessor, though I should perhaps say that Bennett is
quite prepared to deal brutally with sympathetic characters. (There was a
moment near the end where I thought he was going to reprise the cyclical
of Mr. Shivers,
but fortunately I was wrong.)
- J. H. Conway, Regular Algebra and Finite Machines
- I liked the first half or so. In particular, the notion of the derivative
of one regular event with respect to another is neat in itself, and the
corresponding Taylor series gives a very direct way of translating a regular
expression into a finite machine. But then Conway zoomed off into the
algebraic stratosphere, and if there was any tether connecting him back to
actual problems with formal languages or automata, I completely lost track of
it, and didn't see the point.
- (This is formally self-contained as far as automata and language theory
goes, but definitely presumes a strong grasp of abstract algebra. Its full
appreciation also evidently presumes more mathematical maturity than I
Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur;
Scientifiction and Fantastica;
Tales of Our Ancestors;
Writing for Antiquity;
The Beloved Republic;
Automata and Mechanical Amusements;
Posted at February 29, 2016 23:59 | permanent link