Sometimes when you're least ready to pull links together, a whole series of them come fortuitously together. Above, tweets about the wonders of the world we live in. Below, more thoughts about the stories we tell about the world we inhabit.
First, Kate Schapira's Climate Anxiety Counseling continues, and among other things she's poking at notions of ownership. Also interconnectedness, which prompted me to go look back at an older piece she wrote for The Toast. But here's a bit about ownership and backyards.
He has a backyard, at the moment, that he can say “his” about. If he’s honest, it belongs also to the bees, to the rhododendron, to the grass; to the native trees that the rhododendron and grass replaced, to the Native people that his ancestors displaced, to the slaves that cleared the land of trees the first time; to the bugs that thread through the grass and the worms and grubs that tunnel through the dirt; to the microfauna in their guts and the fungal hyphae laced around them. All those whose speech is in their operation. The living and the dead. There’s enough backyard for all of them, if he does it right.
Meanwhile Tobias Buckell is connecting dots about villages that are collapsing while refugees try to cross borders. And of course nothing is ever quite so simple and neat, but it does make me wonder what's complicated because things are complicated, and what's complicated because of the stories we're telling. Somehow the story of the refugee crisis in Europe seems more to be a repeat of those we've told before than one where (to borrow a phrase from Children of Time, a Clarke Award nominee I just finished) "empathy - the sheer inability to see those around them as anything other than people too - conquers all, in the end."
I have a reading dilemma. Here are two glowing reviews of Ada Palmer's Too Like the Lightning. One praises the style and discursive narrator, which I find delightful (at least in concept). I'll point you to the oddball Fitzpatrick's War which I enjoyed.
I confess that some of the dialogue in this scene is invented, reader, for I did not see this scene, and have only incomplete testimony, but I know both of them well enough to impersonate.
Meanwhile, at Crooked Timber, there's a review pointing out how Too Like The Lightning is reinterpreting the enlightenment, an era ripe for reinterpretation.
Her imagined society misremembers and misinterprets the Enlightenment as does ours; it puts Enlightenment ideas to its own uses. These twin acts of misinterpretation are what create the bridge between the reader and a 25th century that is thoroughly unlike her own – it is the radically different uses of the Enlightenment that both make this future seem comprehensible and make it seem so dazzlingly strange.
I'm interested, and excited. And yet ...
I've seen a few comments about style, about handling of gender roles, enough to make me nervous. Last year I took a risk on some mixed reviews and read Traitor Baru Cormorant which was good-but-not-great, so I'm a little gun shy on taking a risk on Too Like the Lightning. We'll see. Suggestions? Let me know on the Twitters.
On another note, here's an essay on the latest episode of Game of Thrones, which I haven't been watching, but find both interesting & worth arguing with.
Why, to take a recent instance, did Benjen Stark show up exactly when Meera was collapsing in exhaustion (which also happened to be the very moment the wights found them)? The answer is no answer at all. The answer is Phlebotinum. The answer is: "magic".
That reliance on magic has blunted the show's longtime interest in people's ugly but idiosyncratic motivations. There was a time when the familial relationships and dysfunction didn't just advance the story, they were the story.
It's worth a full read, and I think is a good specific critique of the show as well as a more general point about the traps fantasy can fall into. Magic is fun (and sometime I'd like to come up with a better description than that). Destiny (or even more unforgivably coincidence), unless being specifically interrogated, when paired with magic, is a dangerous combination. To return to the notions of how our real-world and storytelling intersect:
As any journalist covering climate change can confirm, processes we don't understand will bore us into denial if they don't first make us credulous and fond of conspiracies.
Finally, Adam Roberts has uncovered a 19th century survey of manned flight, and it is delightful.