October 31, 2019

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, October 2019

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste, and no qualifications to opine on the sociology of identity group boundaries, climate change, or the history of historical myths.

Rogers Brubaker, Trans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities [JSTOR]
Admirably summarized by a long paper, though the book has further details, amplifications, etc. §
Gilbert M. Gaul, The Geography of Risk: Epic Storms, Risings Seas, and the Cost of America's Coasts
Orrin H. Pilkey and Keith C. Pilkey, Sea Level Rise: A Slow Tsunami on America's Shores
I'll be reviewing these together for American Scientist, so no spoilers.
Update: well, that didn't happen. (My fault.) To sum up: the Pilkey and Pilkey book has some interesting information, but is very sloppily written, to the point where I found it unpleasant to slog through. (Also, the whole metaphor of a slow tsunami just doesn't work --- at least not in their hands.) Gaul's, on the other hand, is really good; he manages to combine good journalism about particular places and their histories with good explanations of the larger processes those stories illustrate. Gaul is particularly good at the perverse incentives which keep us building, and re-building ever more expensively, in coastal areas and on islands which a more rational economy would simply abandon. §
Alex Beer, The Second Rider (translated by Tim Mohr)
Mind candy mystery. At its core, it's The Third Man fanfic, but set in Vienna after the first world war. §
M. R. Carey, The Girl with All the Gifts
Mind candy, zombie-apocalypse horror; or, rather, a zombie genesis myth. (Carey knows very well what "Pandora" means.) §
Tim Pratt, The Wrong Stars
Mind candy science fiction. I wanted to like Lovecraftian space opera, but the characters all just talked and acted far, far too much like early-21st-century Americans of a certain class (namely, mine) for me to believe that they were from a few centuries from now. (Of course, the Singularity lies in our past, so a certain slow-down in the pace of cultural change I can accept, but not such stasis.) In other words, I could swallow Pratt's alien monstrosities, but not his people. §
Cynthia Eller, Gentlemen and Amazons: The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory, 1861--1900 [JSTOR]
Eller is a historian who some time ago wrote an excellent critical work, The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Will Not Give Women a Future (which among other virtues does an admirable job of summarizing its argument in its title). That book debunked the idea that there was a matriarchal, Goddess-worshiping stage to prehistory. (This is of course different from debunking the idea that goddesses have been worshiped in particular times and places, often wretchedly patriarchal ones.) This book is more explanatory and less critical, and examines where that idea came from. The answer, to summarize, is that it was dreamt up by a Swiss professor of Roman law in the 1860s, on the basis of no real evidence at all. But there are a lot of twists and turns, and it got picked up in surprising ways and taken in odd directions (not least when it was adopted by Engels, and so became part of the Marxist canon). This is a well-written book with a lot of interesting facts and interpretations to offer anyone interested in the history of all sorts of modern ideas --- about pre-history, of course, but also the ideas of anthropology and social evolution, of feminism and socialism, of religion, etc. I strongly recommend it, and hope Eller will someday write a sequel about the 20th century career of the myth. §
Walter Jon Williams, The Accidental War
Williams's Dread Empire's Fall series is really good space opera. This is the first book of a planned sequel trilogy, and a very natural continuation of the story, without being a re-tread of the first trilogy. I am well-pleased and want more. §
Kat Rosenfield, A Trick of Light
Mind candy SF for teens. Well-written enough that I will try Rosenfield's mysteries for adults. (I can understand why she'd want to get the hell out of YA.) §
Donald S. Lopez, Jr., The Scientific Buddha: His Short and Happy Life [JSTOR]
A brisk history, which is also a debunking, of the surprisingly wide-spread 19th/20th century idea that pure Buddhism, or what the Buddha actually taught, is a really scientific doctrine about mental health, without supernatural elements. §

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Scientifiction and Fantastica; Commit a Social Science; Writing for Antiquity; Pleases of Detection, Portraits of Crime; Tales of Our Ancestors; Cthulhiana; The Continuing Crises; Psychoceramica

Posted at October 31, 2019 23:59 | permanent link

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