Shane finds belonging among the adrift and addicted of the crumbling town,but he also finds bigotry and hatred. Accompanied by gorgeous illustrations and an introduction, notations, and translation done by one of my favorite translators, Heinz Insu Fenkl. Marie Myung-Ok. In , her short story collectionabout the lives and loves of black Americans in the s, Whatever Happened toInterracial Love?
Inaddition to autobiographical material, the book includes fiction, plays,excerpts from an unfinished novel, and the screenplay of Losing Ground, withextensive directorial notes. A Weekend in New York by Benjamin Markovits: Markovits is aversatile writer, his work ranging from a fictional trilogy about Lord Byron toan autobiographical novel about basketball.
Essinger may be alone on the court, but he hasplenty of company at his Manhattan home when his parents visit during thetournament. Petersburg, Russia to the United States, leaving behindthe mother who had abandoned her. It closes with her resolve to find herestranged mother again. Zuleikha by Guzel Yakhina translated by Lisa C. Among thevictims is a young Tatar family: the husband murdered, the wife exiled toSiberia. This is her story of survival and eventual triumph.
Laskar has changed how we will all write about state-sanctioned terror in thisnation. She isalso working at the top-secret Hanford Research Center in the s, where theseeds of atomic weapons are sown and where her visions are growing morehorrifying—and going ignored at best, punished at worst. The novel becomes a frenetic attempt for his sons to honor this wish and reachAnabiya. Aerialists by Mark Mayer. For those gutted by the news ofRingling Bros.
The storiesfeature circus-inspired characters—most terrifyingly a murderous clown-cum-realestate agent—in surrealist situations. LaValle and Adams sought stories that imagine a derailed future—tales that take our fractured present and make the ruptures even further. Editor LaValle, an accomplished speculative fiction writer himself most recently The Changeling , and my personal favorite, the hilarious and booming Big Machine , is the perfect writer to corral these stories. Doten started writingthe novel in , when our current predicament, I mean, president, was a mereand unfathomable possibility.
The result? Nothing but the Night by John Williams: The John Williams of Stoner fame revival continues with the reissue of his first novel by NYRB,first published in , a story dealing with mental illness and trauma withechoes of Greek tragedy. And what happens if you treat error not as something to avoid but as the very basis for human creativity and community? With a superhero in it. Back in the s, a mysterious and inhumanlystrong man known as the Kingfisher watched over the streets, until hismutilated body was recovered from the river.
In his absence, crime once againbegan to rise. But did the Kingfisher really die? Or did he fake his own death? Either way,the book suggests, we cannot wait for a new superhero, or for the return of theold one. We must save ourselves. Lot by Bryan Washington: Washington is a talentedessayist—his writing on Houston for Catapult and elsewhere are must-reads—andLot is a glowing fiction debut. Imbued with the flesh of fiction, Lot is aliterary song for Houston. Theywere full Mexican. That made us superior. Butlerhas already proven herself a master of writing about work and its discontents,the absurdity of cubicle life and office work in all of its dead ends.
Like everyone else in the21st century, Larry decides the solution lies online, and he makes awebsite, kaddish. What follows is a satirical take on God, family, and the Internet thathas been compared to early Philip Roth. One of the smartest, most moving, most unexpected books I have read in a very long time. Throughout, I was struck by the depth of feeling, not once compromised by the brevity of the form. Little Boy by Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Ostensibly a memoir. Yet the idea of a Beat poet rhapsodizing, eulogizing or—God help us—memorizing his life as a Beat would be a defeat difficult to recover from.
As the disturbing visions mount, a natural disaster looms and threatens their town. But under the surface was a wild instability. A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum: Isra, a year-old Palestinian girl in , prefers reading to suitors, but after her family marries her to an American deli owner she finds herself living in Brooklyn, trapped in a losing struggle against his oppressive mother, Fareeda.
Svoboda examines the excavations that we perform on ourselves and on the land, with her stories ranging from the ancient North American Clovis people, to a science fiction description of a massive pink pyramid arising from the prairies far into the future. Author of Swamplandia! The novel follows Corvus, a woman that can imagine her way out of any situation—until she experiences a grief so profound that she cannot escape through fantasy.
It shows how pain can simultaneously destroy and preserve a person. Most of all, it is just goddamn beautiful writing. Instructions for a Funeral is therefore a return to the short story form, 14 pieces, previously published in the New Yorker, Harpers, The Paris Review, and VICE, that display the intelligence and questing range for which Means is known. From a fistfight in Sacramento to a s FBI stakeout in the midwest, Instructions for a Funeral invites readers on a literary journey with a master of the modern short story. From the author of this vivid take on Santa Claus and his elves in the age of Amazon.
Last year, in The Monk of Mokha , he profiled a Yemeni American who dreams of reconstituting the ancient art of Yemeni coffee. A couple years before that, he wrote a novel, Heroes of the Frontier , about an American dentist road-tripping around Alaska with her kids. In his latest novel, two Western contractors, one named Four, the other named Five, travel to an unnamed country to build a new road intended to mark the end of a ruinous civil war. Coetzee to Philip K. A novelist of a certain age, known as S. The discovery allows S. Weaving the discovered texts with S. At the opening of this highly anticipated new novel, Morroccan immigrant Driss Guerraoui is killed by a speeding car on a California highway.
The book then follows a number of characters connected to and affected by his death, including his jazz composer daughter, his wife, and an undocumented immigrant who witnessed the accident. White Elephant by Julie Langsdorf: When a huge, garish home called the White Elephant infiltrates Willard Park, a quiet suburb, the neighborhood falls into utter comedic chaos. In the shadow of the home, neighbors begin to fight, lives are upended, and their once-peaceful town becomes anything but.
The Promise of Elsewhere by Brad Leithauser: The intellectually peripatetic Brad Leithauser—poet, novelist, editor, translator and MacArthur fellow whose interests range from Iceland to insects, American music and ghosts—has produced a sharp comic novel about a monster of a mid-life crisis. Bipolar Louie sets off on a tour of great world architecture, but he has stopped taking his lithium though not all psychotropic substances , so he can get erratic. He can also be very funny—and very touching on those great American taboos, shame and failure. Working by Robert A.
Caro: Widely known—and celebrated—for his monumental biographies of LBJ and Robert Moses, Caro steps out from behind his subjects in Working, a collection of personal writings about, well, working. After her sixth novel, All My Puny Sorrows , became an international sensation, the timely and urgent Women Talking is set to do the same. After repeated attacks, a group of women are told they are lying about the violence or being punished by Satan.
The narrative unfolds as they meet to decide what they will do: forgive, fight, or run. This is a family of runaway bandits and conspiring matriarchs, where uncles swagger around with pistols, illegitimate children emerge at every turn, family heirlooms. The Ash Family by Molly Dektar: A story about a young woman who is lured to an intentional community in the North Carolina mountains by an enigmatic man, only to find out that her community members are disappearing one by one.
Full of desire, fury, strength, and wavering faith, Naamah becomes the bedrock on which the Earth is rebuilt upon. Miracle Creek by Angie Kim: This debut has it all—a novel of the Korean immigrant experience, a courtroom thriller, an exploration of controversies over autism therapies specifically here, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, HBOT. In this new novel, veteran John Frazier returns shaken from the Vietnam War to witness a dispute between his family and their former neighbors, a Japanese-American family that was displaced during World War II and sent to an internment camp.
This is a great book. But in a second segment, set 12 years later, a change in narrative viewpoint calls into question everything the reader has understood to have happened before. Early reviews are highly polarized. Normal People by Sally Rooney: Rooney, the Irish author known for the acclaimed Conversations with Friends , has written a second novel about the lives of young people in modern Ireland. The protagonists of Normal People are teenagers named Connell and Marianne, who develop a strange friendship that both are determined to hide. Years pass, and as the two get older, their relationship grows steadily more complicated.
The Gulf by Belle Boggs: The author of a trenchant inquiry into fertility and maternity in America, Belle Boggs turns to satire in her debut novel, a divinely witty look at the writing industry and religion. When a former New England boarding school student named Ben looks back on his childhood, he starts to questions the motives of his superstar teacher. Later on, his teacher gets in contact, and Ben has to grapple with his legacy. Premchand is a doctor. His wife Urmila imports artisanal African crafts. Their son Sunil is studying for a doctorate in philosophy at Harvard.
But for all their outward success, theirs is a family riven with secrets, and when the family is forced to return to Nairobi, where Premchand and Urmila were born, Sunil reveals an explosive secret of his own: his Jewish girlfriend, who has accompanied the family on the trip, is already his wife. It sounds like whatever the literary opposite of On Chesil Beach is, with lots of sex, gin, and intrigue. That following the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird , Lee spent a year living in the Alabama backwoods to report it, and many more years in research, but ultimately never completed the work?
The characters in the 12 stories vary from an immigrant family living in a cramped apartment on Mott Street who tries very hard to fit in, to a couple of divers at the Beijing Olympics who reach for their success. Wang conveys a promising message through her mind-boggling stories that whoever they are and wherever they are from, they have their rights to live extraordinary lives. This follow-up gives readers all the experimental typography and poignant insight they might expect—with a twist of gut-wrenching suspense thrown in.
Lanny is a mischievous young boy who moves to a small village outside of London, where he attracts the attention of a menacing force. Porter has done it again. Tears of the Trufflepig by Fernando A. The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin: A Taiwanese family of six struggles to make a go of it in far-flung Anchorage, Alaska, but tragedy strikes like a stone in a still pond, rippling out to affect each family member differently.
The Farm by Joanne Ramos: This debut novel takes us to Golden Oaks Farm, where the super-rich begin life in utero with the best of everything, including balanced organic diets in young, cortisol-optimized wombs. The surrogate Hosts offer their wombs in exchange for a big payday that can transform their marginal lives. But as the Hosts learn, nine months locked inside the Farm can be a very long time. The story roams from the idyllic Hudson Valley to plush Fifth Avenue to a dormitory in Queens crowded with immigrant service workers.
Riots I Have Known by Ryan Chapman: In a New York penitentiary, a doorman-turned-inmate has barricaded himself inside the computer lab while a prison riot rages like hell. Alone, the inmate confesses, recounting the twists of fate that landed him in this predicament, and pondering the many—often hysterically funny—questions he has about it all. A dystopian satire where the dystopia is today, and an exploration of totalitarianism in China. Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips: Fulbright alumna Phillips has written a literary mystery about two sisters who go missing on the Kamchatka peninsula, an isolated spot and one of the easternmost points of Russia.
Drawing on research and personal experiences, the book creatively blends nonfiction and fiction. Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn: In her much anticipated second novel, the author of the acclaimed Here Comes the Sun —a Young Lions, Center for Fiction, and John Leonard National Book Critics Circle finalist, and Lambda Literary Award winner, among other honors—Dennis-Benn plumbs the wrenching, too-real inner and outer conflict that women face when self-fulfillment is pitted against nurturing loved ones.
What else could you ask for? Eliot Prize for his collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds , returns with his highly anticipated debut novel. However, things turn weird when work enrolls him in a productivity program and Alice returns, but changed. Is she a clone? A hologram? Though grieving, she steps up to manage the business while her family unravels around her.
Is this love? Ninety-five-year-old Vivian Morris looks back on her wild youth as a Vassar College dropout who is sent to live with her Aunt Peg, the owner of a decrepit, flamboyant, Midtown theater, called the Lily Playhouse. There, Vivian falls in love with the theater—and also meets the love of her life. Among the Lost by Emiliano Monge translated by Frank Wynne : A perverse love story about two victims of traffickers in an unnamed country who become traffickers themselves, by the renowned novelist from Mexico.
The Travelers by Regina Porter: A debut novel-in-stories with a large cast of characters from two American families, one white, one black, flung across the world—in America, France, Vietnam, and Germany—from points in time ranging from to the early s. Shapes of Native Nonfiction edited by Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton: A new collection of essays by Native writers using the art of basket-weaving as a formal organizing principle for the essays and collection.
Described as speculative fiction, but also sort of just what life is like now, Oval depicts life in the Anthropocene, but a little worse. For fans of Gary Shteyngart and Nell Zink. I live in the U. But it feels to me like the great fever of rage-mourning prompted by the election has now settled down into a less intense, more pervasive atmosphere of snark and slights, subtweets and sarcasm.
SNL spoofs rapists. Twitter memes hate crimes. Plus, intense emotions like love and hate can get you killed. To mock hateful things like racism, misogyny, and elitism lets us think about them with some distance, without getting caught up in self-seriousness, fury, or despair. If nothing else, it makes them survivable. Most professors are just perennial students: We teach the courses we wish we could take. So I mocked up a syllabus. It was a petty move over a set of novels that are themselves often considered trifling—the fast food of fiction.
And so, given my usual reading habits, and the black sci-fi class that I taught again last year, this was My Year of Reading Genre Fiction. Genre is all the rage—this is especially clear in television and film—though it sometimes feels less like a key ingredient and more like a spice that contemporary artists have started shaking over their works to say nothing of the disavowals. The question of how and what we ought to read is political for me in this sense: If we believe in democracy and equality, why are our aesthetic priorities shaped by an elite minority?
That is to say, they are metafictional—they are self-aware about these genre categories we use to dismiss them. Let me give you three examples:. James M. It shook me up…. To hell with the subconscious! The novel seems to me to spoof the narrative questions familiar to us from Journalism with characters like Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. In this way, the novel offers a metafictional meditation on the use of the objective correlative—using the setting to convey emotion—in the high literary novel. The amnesiac protagonist is a blank slate—who happens to have the default unmarked identity of a straight, white male—trying to figure out who he is.
But he never really does and neither do we. This page-turner suggests the fascinating possibility that character—and perhaps identity itself—might be a matter of interchangeability. So what happens if we take this truth to be self-evident: that all genres are created equal? My own fiction writing has become increasingly informed by this sensibility.
Regardless of how my publishers and reviewers see it, for me, genre is a lens—a mode of seeing the world—not a label. I read two books this year that fit this description. Twelve hours later, I closed it, cheeks streaked with tears, throat sore from laughter. This is clearly dragging fantasy and its fans, but LaValle has mad love for the genre, too.
Pettiness is not just a trifling game, it can be immensely generative. More from A Year in Reading Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come.
Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. But what exactly is it about the Trump administration that makes us reach for such specific literary terminology? Is it the sudden resurgence of white supremacy and fascist sympathies in the American heartland, providing a speculative path toward American authoritarianism? Perhaps, but neither racism nor fascism are requirements of the genre. If so, the relevant literary genre would be apocalyptic, not necessarily dystopian. That might be better described as surreal, or absurd.
Are we alarmed by the hard pivot away from professionalism, decency, and decorum? Issues like these are more at home in the novel of manners, such as Pride and Prejudice. Or are we simply dismayed and alarmed by the convergence of an outrageous, semi-competent administration and a general mood of anti-intellectualism? That would be a job for satire. Trump himself—bumbling, bombastic, egoic, unaware, unpredictable, unread—would be more at home as the quixotic protagonist of a picaresque, or as a delusional child king in a fairy tale.
Dystopia is a rich, heterogeneous, and dynamic category of film and literature. However, when we look at the most successful, enduring works of this genre, we find the same institution caught in the crosshairs of various fictional totalitarian regimes, again and again: the independent and autonomous nuclear family. Theoretically, a fruitful Eden was almost within reach. Yes, dystopia is commonly described as the opposite of utopia, but this obscures a common trope in which dystopic future societies are presented as the aftermath or consequence of failed attempts to bring about an actual utopia.
First, if given the opportunity to submit to rational prescriptions for a better life, people would rather be free to suffer. Second, idealism—when taken too seriously—tends to breed dissociation, distortion, and interpersonal alienation. Today we associate a handful of qualities with the concept of dystopia: governmental overreach, unnatural social configurations, paranoia, state-driven propaganda, digitally panoptic surveillance, and other alienating technologies.
Dystopia is such a diverse and mutable canon overall that there are no essential commonalities—with one possible exception: a significant distortion of family relations. This is observed from the outset in the seminal dystopian novel We , by Yevgeny Zamyatin, published in Russia in Set in the walled-off, hyper-rational future society One State, in which sexual liaisons are overseen by the government, the conflict in We is precipitated by a moment of illicit flirtation, and the principal transgression upon which the plot later hangs is an unlicensed pregnancy.
Breaking up families is not simply a systematic and normalized aspect of state control; it is a requirement to maintain the system itself. The world has more than enough space for people who abstain from family-making. Nor does this observation require us to attempt to define what a family is. What is important is to note that our most successful, compelling, and enduring literary dystopias consistently present antagonists to the nuclear family dynamic.
They create rigid legal frameworks around everything from sexual union to rearing of children. Whether you were raised by biological or adoptive parents, older siblings, or more distant relatives—or by a foster parent, or some other surrogate or legal guardian—what you share with the vast majority of humans is that you were once the object of a small, imperfect social unit responsible for your protection and care. This is the primary social contract, based not on law or philosophy, but on love and trust.
For better and worse, our bonds to our families pre-exist and preponderate the accident of our nationality. Accepting this truth may be the first test of a legitimate state. It is the illegitimate, insecure regime that seeks to disrupt and broadly supersede the imperfect moral authority of reasonable, well-intended parents—in all of their many forms and situations. In separating migrant families seeking amnesty, President Trump brought us into dystopia at last. It is a small comfort that he clearly knew from the outset that this action was morally untenable. In reality, neither Barack Obama nor George W.
Bush separated migrant children from their parents as a standard practice. In fact, the DHS had already published guidelines explaining the system of family separation and admitted to detaining approximately 2, migrant children. The truth was that the institution of a heartless, zero-tolerance border policy was a calculated effort led by administration strategist Stephen Miller, who was also a key architect of the travel ban in Even Ivanka Trump, who has yet to be accused of hypersensitivity, allegedly asked her father to change course on family separations at the border.
Condemnation also came from both houses of Congress, with Senate Republicans vowing to end family separations if Trump did not. On June 20, after repeatedly claiming that only Congress could end family separations at the border, Trump reversed course , signing an executive order that would ostensibly keep migrant families together during future detentions. Technically, this order allowed family separations to continue as a discretionary practice, until the ACLU brought a lawsuit before Judge Dana Sabraw of the Federal District Court in San Diego, who issued an injunction that temporarily halted family separations and required all separated migrant children be reunited with their parents within 30 days—a requirement that was not met.
Nearly 3, migrant children were traumatically separated from their parents, with some flown across the country. In Texas, children were routed to a detention facility in a converted Walmart Supercenter in Brownsville and a tent-city detention center near the border station in Tornillo—where summertime temperatures regularly approach F. Some migrant children and babies were kept in cages —a term the administration resisted but could not deny, just as the smiling image of Donald Trump in the converted Walmart cannot be reasonably considered anything other than gloating propaganda.
For many migrants, significant emotional and psychological damage has already been done. Recently, dozens of female migrants in a Seattle-area detention facility were separated from their children, having to endure hearing them crying through the walls. One such detainee informed U. This would transfer the authority to strip citizenship from the court system to law enforcement agencies, such as DHS, or ICE, who would presumably go looking for naturalized Americans who may have misrepresented themselves in some way during their application for citizenship.
This situation would subject naturalized citizens to the paranoia and potential exploitation of an East German-like police state, in which they are under warrantless surveillance, threatened by informants, and potentially expugnable for nothing more heinous than a paperwork error.
Simultaneously, conservatives such as Tucker Carlson have argued for a referendum on birthright citizenship, the foundation of the equality Americans purport to enjoy. This, too, conforms to the genre of dystopia: the existence of a large and oppressed underclass living adjacent to privileged elites, who are sometimes floored to learn that not everyone perceives the status quo as the next-best thing to a true utopia. If given even tacit approval, policies like separating families at the border will lead to an open season on immigrants—legal residents and undocumented migrants alike—as well as millions of other natural and naturalized citizens who are not both white and perfectly fluent in English.
We will see an emboldened expansion of unconstitutional checkpoints at places like airports and bus depots. We will see the normalization of racial profiling. Our children will see their friends taken out of school without warning. They will be disappeared. To a degree, we are insulated. We can understand this moment in history, and how comforting it must feel to curl up inside the illusory sense of security offered by an impenetrable border, or a leader who boldly intones our weaker ideas and more shameful suspicions, or some fatuous, utopian aphorism about making a nation great again.
We will remind ourselves and each other what is at stake. We will remember that the only thing we need to know about utopia is that nobody actually lives there. The truth is I will never know what happened, exactly. None of it will ever be resolved. Only he could. I was passed out. It was the fall of my senior year of college. I was crushed and caught off guard, and my incredibly intelligent way of responding to this was to rebound, or at least try to. The weekend came. If he heard about it later, all the better. That was the point. When the two guys started talking to me at the party, I was drunk.
Even so, some lizard part of my brain knew that when they asked me to leave with them, the right answer was nope. They were DJs, they said, and they were going to a late-night rave. I should come, too. They could get me in. No thanks, I said, and stumbled off to the tiny guest room my friend had promised to me. The bed was narrow with some antique, almost Dickensian frame. I remember pulling the blankets over me and staring at the wall a minute, feeling disappointed and lonely and, even before anything else happened, just incredibly ashamed of myself.
Then I closed my eyes. Flash forward, 14 years later. A dark joke, our list is long but hardly comprehensive: Humbert Humbert, Oblonsky, Mr. Rochester, Steven Rojack. In his era, of course, Amis was a near-ubiquitous man of letters who wrote novels as well as movie and restaurant reviews, poetry and criticism. A lost classic. Jenny Bunn meets Patrick Standish. Time went by in the same queer speedless way as before. Then Patrick was with her. He had been there for some minutes or hours when she first realized he was, and again was in bed with her without seeming to have got there.
What he did was off by himself and nothing to do with her. All the same, she wanted him to stop, but her movements were all the wrong ones for that and he was kissing her too much for her to try to tell him. She thought he would stop anyway as soon as he realized how much off on his own he was. But he did not, and did not stop, so she put her arms around him and tried to be with him, only there was no way of doing it and nothing to feel. Then there was another interval, after which he told her he loved her and would never leave her now.
She said she loved him too, and asked him if it had been nice. He said it had been wonderful, and went on to talk about France. Their host comes into the room, realizes what Patrick has done, and kicks him out of the house. In my case, I just woke up the next morning, with no interval of awareness.
I helped my friend clean up, drank a cup of coffee, drove home. One of those guys got in bed with you, she told me. I thanked her for doing that and hung up the phone. I was sitting on my bedroom floor by this point, because my legs had given out for the first time in my life.
The movie adaptation, starring Hayley Mills as Jenny Bunn, portrayed the story as a kind of sexual slapstick, changing the ending so that Jenny chooses to sleep with another character. Cue a breezy theme song by The Foundations, roll credits. The next morning, she wakes up puking, hungover: Jenny decided reading would be too much for her. She smoked a cigarette until her insides felt as if they were getting as far away from the middle of her as they could. Then she put it out.
But even with that big hollow in her interior she was recovering enough to start getting the first edge of thought. For it to have gone like that, almost without her noticing. At that she rebuked herself, sitting up straight in her chair. What was so special about her that it should have happened the way she imagined it, alone with a man in a country cottage surrounded by beautiful scenery, with the owls suddenly waking her up in the early hours and him putting his arms around her and soothing her, and then in the morning the birds singing and the horses neighing, and her frying eggs and bacon and spreading a wholemeal loaf with thick farm butter?
A lot of sentimental rubbish, that was—she would be asking for roses and violins next. Much better be sensible, think herself lucky it had not gone for her as it did for some, sordid and frightening and painful and with someone you hated or hardly knew. That was happening every day. In fact she is almost pathetically grateful that she has had it no worse. The Lolita comparison is, yes, a little ironic because Amis hated Lolita and hated Nabokov. I read the novel swearing under my breath. Kingsley Amis nailed it. In his lifetime, most especially in his later career, Amis was notorious for his misogyny.
As the biographies reveal, he was himself a prolific womanizer who sometimes felt guilty about it and often wrote about that guilt, not least of all in Take a Girl Like You. The evidence is mixed; you can neither dismiss him as a misogynist nor declare his misogyny merely supposed and perceived, as Paul Fussell did in his book on Amis, The Anti-Egotist. They can lie and cheat and destroy with the best of them. In some of the novels, the women do nothing but lie, cheat and destroy while the men struggle vainly to run the world in spite of this ongoing assault.
Is that still satire? Here the satire, if it still is satire, is as sour, unrelieved, and unrelenting as anything Amis ever wrote. In the U. Still, that convention—holding out the work from the person who made it—is flimsy to begin with. It presents a false choice. We get both. As Christopher Hitchens wrote of H. I love his work. My copies of his books are dog-eared and misshapen from repeated drops in the bath.
About the time I was at risk of rape at that party in , I was working my way through everything Amis ever wrote, because my college library had every title. That Amis remains a complex figure is fitting, full stop. To dismiss Amis as a misogynist would be an attempt to resolve the sort of frustrated justice he himself depicted over and over again.
Great works, flawed people. The facts do not really compute. I never saw that guy, the one who got in bed with me, ever again. I got up off the floor and moved on with my life because it did not occur to me that there was a choice.
I did not consider calling the police, not for a second. I was very drunk. I was wearing this napkin of a dress. Dear God. Even now. The breakup hurt me much worse, and for longer. Why make a fuss, and open myself to judgement and blame? Jenny not only moves on with her life; she makes up with Patrick. The question that MeToo is answering is, in part: What do we do with these experiences? How do we describe them and how do we integrate them into our lives, and why have we tried to integrate them?
How have we been encouraged to erase them? What exact behavior becomes legible here, and who benefits when we keep our mouths shut? Amis was there in The range of the novels, the humor and precision in the poems. All that lively, fun, cutting intellectual energy put to such wonderful use—most of the time. Bina Shah was introduced to me via Facebook by a mutual friend who is a fine short story writer. She contacted me directly about her first novel, which I published. Going by the advice of my then-agent, I began to write tighter narratives, at the center of which was a mystery that needed to be solved.
We spoke about our books via email. Was that your intention? Did you consciously write with a thriller audience in mind? What I am doing when I write is not quite to tell myself the story, a la Stephen King, but to get it down. Any working writer knows what I mean by that phrase: capturing the story, rather than inventing the story.
And sure enough, all the early reviewers are likening your book to hers. But when I returned to Pakistan and lived there 20 years among some of the worst conditions for women, I was able to see them. Only the cultural and religious contexts were different; the patriarchy, the misogyny, the control over women and their lives was the same. JO: It seems to me that Before She Sleeps is a timely novel in the sense that it tells a story about women taken advantage of and kept in check by men, rebelling and triumphing when they find a higher, more secure ground where they can live more freely.
As you know the MeToo movement began with a kind of rebellion and caught fire. Can you try and relate this new movement to what has gone on in Pakistan, where women have traditionally been subjugated to men? BS: In talking about Before She Sleeps, I feel the need to make the point somewhat repeatedly that feminism, rebellion and resistance look different in different parts of the world. When you live in a part of the world where honor killings exist, where a girl or a woman can be killed for marrying the partner of her choice, then even falling in love with someone is an act of resistance to that patriarchal system.
Also, Pakistani women have traditionally been subjugated to men and the patriarchal tribal systems that operate in my country. They have resisted both directly and indirectly. They find a way to go around obstacles rather than straight through them. We always thought of finding our rebellions within the patriarchy, and this is exactly what Before She Sleeps portrays: a subversion of the system, not destruction outright, because that seems impossible given the scope of the power and control against the women.
It may look like a compromise to more Western eyes, or it may look like women reacting with courage and elegance to an impossible situation. Were you aware of the change in genres, and how did it affect your writing? A novelist needs to discover what they can and cannot do. If they are unable to make this distinction, then their output will be wildly inconsistent. So Black Diamond Fall, while a mystery of sorts, is semi-autobiographical in the sense that its central relationship, its deepest chords resonate with a relationship I had, a relationship that stirred me up in all the right ways for fiction.
I spun around that a tale of disappearance and vandalism, both of which were based in fact: A student disappeared from the Middlebury College campus in , and shortly thereafter the Robert Frost homestead which is open to the public was vandalized. In this sense you might say I was broadening my craft, whereas writing literary fiction is solely about creating a balanced sphere of a world—and sometimes fine literary novels do not take the audience into consideration and can be hard-going. BS: On that last note, on taking the audience into consideration, is the writer really obligated to keep the audience in mind when writing?
JO: Every serious writer has to try and take a step back periodically and ask themselves if a reader can objectively relate to what is on the page. By the time one has written and published a book or two, this process should be pretty rote. But the first and foremost concern is the integrity of book itself, and as I was beginning to say in the last answer, a book is like a sphere, a whole world with a balanced ecosystem, and the writer is the godlike force creating that world. Once the world itself has literary integrity, it should be inhabitable by all different sorts of people.
It should be universal. And the reader should be able to recognize this universality and in so doing, find comfort in reading. I am the editor of your novel. But in my opinion what distinguishes your novel is the fact that you are deeply familiar with the cultures of North America and West Asia and this is brought to bear in Before She Sleeps, a novel that, though located deeply in your native culture, feels American in many ways. Now here is a delicate discussion that I think readers of The Millions will be interested in: the editorial process itself.
As an author of several books, can you give a sense of what it was like to go through this intense process? As you know I spent the first five years of my life in the U. Before She Sleeps was, for me, an ambitious novel. I welcomed the idea of my editor as collaborator, someone who would read with a fresh pair of eyes and be able to see what was wrong in terms of structure, pacing, ideas, and so on. I found your role as editor tremendously supportive; whatever you suggested for the novel was done in the spirit of making the book as strong as it could be before it went to publication.
You also brought a different perspective to my work, as a male, as an American, and as someone who is experienced and confident as a writer. I appreciated that perspective; it gave a richness and depth to the novel that expanded its scope and its power. You infused it with an energy and spirit that is very characteristic of you as a person, too, and in you I found an affinity for dramatic tension and a fast pace that served the novel very well.
Together, they disappear into a community of immigrants that remains hidden to most Americans. In a time when immigration policy has returned to the center of our national politics, Bay Area author Vanessa Hua delivers a book that explores the motivations, fears, and aspirations that drive people to migrate. My adjectives: disarming and wonderfully encouraging. A welcome reminder of how love drives out fear and also a worthy Man Booker International winner for Though a historical drama, its concerns—including mental illness and refugee life—could not be more timely.
Fifteen years later, Abeo is freed and must learn how to heal and live again. The search for answers sends Clare on a surreal journey; the distinctions between reality and fantasy blur. She joins a group, led by IT guru Bob, in search of the Facility, where they can start society anew. The novel follows Judas Stammers, an eloquently foul-mouthed and compulsively horny heir to a Southern mining fortune, and his mother Dixie, a reclusive artist famous for making technically perfect pots.
Cherry by Nico Walker: A medic in the Iraq War returns home to America to his wife, residual trauma, and a burgeoning drug addiction. The novel was written while the author was doing time in federal prison for armed robbery. The Fifth Woman by Nona Caspers: A novel in stories following the aftermath of a death of a woman named Michelle in a bike accident. The results are not pleasant. In a near future, war and disease have wiped out the women of what is currently Pakistan and Iran, and those who survived are now the forced breeders of a dystopian society.
In this erotic coming-of-age story, Lisa Locascio explores the female body, politics, and desire. This is a story of many important layers, but one of the many reasons it remains distinct in my mind is because of its honesty about our complicated, yearning physical selves.
For her part, Amma has had about enough of the tight-laced life in London that her parents want for her and begins to balk at the strictures of British life. But when she is brought to London to provide a proper in-house example for willful Amma, sensible Belinda begins to experience a cultural dissociation that threatens her sense of self as nothing before ever had. Kingsley Amis is best remembered today as the author of comic novels—perhaps even the pre-eminent writer in that genre during the second half of the 20th century. But you would hardly guess it if you looked just at his output from the late s to the mids.
Most comedians have a secret hankering for tragedy. But not Kingsley Amis. He was now determined to aim low, not high. His new plan involved a full-fledged assault on genre fiction in every one of its manifestations. In The Anti-Death League he embraced science fiction, and in The Green Man he delivered a horror story about ghosts haunting a country inn. The Riverside Villas Murder is an old-school British detective story, while The Alteration is an alternative history about England in a world that had never experienced the Reformation. Amis was trying to make a new start with second wife Elizabeth Jane Howard, a marriage also destined for acrimony and eventual divorce.
He was under severe financial pressure and gaining weight during this period—while also gaining a reputation as a very heavy drinker. So instead he turned to James Bond. Agent was truly the right hero for the right author, a stylish gent who could save the world, meet a deadline, and still not miss cocktail hour. This must have seemed like a huge opportunity at the time.
Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, had died in at the very moment when the franchise was taking off. Amis only needed to hold on to this installed base of James Bond fans to ensure a life of wealth and luxury. But Amis also ardently defended the move on its purely literary merits.
And he defended his decision in even more crass terms than did Amis. How could you have written this drivel? Could Kingsley Amis really follow in the footsteps of an author with such an untutored technique? Could the droll humorist behind Lucky Jim and One Fat Englishman —and one of the most pleasing prose stylists of the post-WWII literary world—really match the snap, flash, and slapdash approach of Ian Fleming, a man who learned how to write by drafting memorandums for British Naval Intelligence?
Certainly Amis pared down his writing style for this project. He makes no attempt to draw on his nonpareil skill in comic fiction—a strange decision, given the successful moments of dark humor starting to show up in the successful James Bond movies around this same time. Amis, in other words, took great pains to imitate the Bond formula, or at least is superficial trappings. But in many other respects, the James Bond in these pages is unrecognizable. In the first big fight scene, Bond actually runs away from his attackers.
In two other key confrontations, Bond comes up a duffer, incapable of effective action and forced to rely on his amateur associates to save him from sure death. In other regards, Amis actually manages to surpass Fleming. His James Bond savors his booze like a connoisseur and never settles for a boring martini, shaken, not stirred. The psychological aspects of the story are deft and convincing, and they reveal a protagonist with a high degree of poise and self-awareness. In other words, James Bond, in these pages, bears a striking resemblance to Kingsley Amis.
Or at least to a somewhat improved Mr. Amis, as he might have preferred to see himself in his 40s. Yes, genre fiction is a kind of wish fulfillment. Alas, this was not the formula that James Bond fans were looking for back in Colonel Sun sold reasonably well but not at the level of an Ian Fleming book. The great oddity is that Kingsley Amis was perfectly well-equipped to bring those ingredients into the story.
His mistake was to base his approach on the Ian Fleming novels rather than the even more successful Sean Connery movies that might have nudged him into a different direction. Instead, Amis came up with a protagonist as dry as those famous shaken martinis. But there was one silver lining to this clouded outcome. Amis gave up spy fiction and soon returned to his forte, the comic novel. By this point, Amis had settled into the role of the irritable and beloved curmudgeon.
Putting together our semi-annual Previews is a blessing and a curse. A blessing to be able to look six months into the future and see the avalanche of vital creative work coming our way; a curse because no one list can hope to be comprehensive, and no one person can hope to read all these damn books.
The year has been bad, but the books will be good. As a thank you for their generosity, our members now get a monthly email newsletter brimming with book recommendations from our illustrious staffers. Kwon: In her debut novel, Kwon investigates faith and identity as well as love and loss.
In dazzlingly acrobatic prose, R. Kwon explores the lines between faith and fanaticism, passion and violence, the rational and the unknowable. Eventually, her drug use leads to a spate of bad side effects, which kick off a spiral of increasingly dysfunctional behavior. Bay Area author Ingrid Rojas Contreras brings us this excellent and timely debut novel about the particular pressures that war exerts on the women caught up in its wake.
Gems here include an elegy written nearly 22 years after the death of his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon. This book is a fitting final gift. Their previous city and country have transformed as much as themselves, as have their counterparts in China. Frank and Polly, a young couple, are learning to live in their new world—until Frank gets sick. In order to save his life, Polly travels to the future for TimeRaiser—a company set on rebuilding the world—with a plan to meet Frank there. When something in their plan goes wrong, the two try to find each other across decades.
How to Love a Jamaican, her first book, includes that story along with several others, two of which were published originally in Vice and Granta. Her genre might be described as the female friendship thriller, and her latest is about two high school friends who later become rivals in the scientific academic community. The book will linger…in your head for a good long time. The Marvellous Equations of the Dread by Marcia Douglas: In this massively creative work of musical magical realism, Bob Marley has been reincarnated as Fall-down and haunts a clocktower built on the site of a hanging tree in Kingston.
Brother by David Chariandy: A tightly constructed and powerful novel that tells the story of two brothers in a housing complex in a Toronto suburb during the simmering summer of Michael and Francis balance hope against the danger of having it as they struggle against prejudice and low expectations. This is set against the tense events of a fateful night. A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen: Familial devotion, academic glory, and the need for some space to think have combined to send Andrei back to Moscow some 20 years after his family had emigrated to America.
The trip should stir up some academic fodder for his ailing career, and besides, his aging baba Seva could really use the help. A magic laptop. These pure products are meant to solve everything. They almost always fail, but they satisfy the giver. To the recipients, the things have no context, no relationship to their ideas of themselves or their possibilities. A great salesman can spark a dialogue with you; in a matter of minutes, you come to make your own sense of his product, fitting it into your imagination, your life.
You lead, the salesman follows. Whereas a pure product presents itself as a complete solution; a product built to serve the needs of the needy assumes the needy have measured themselves exactly as the product has measured them. When free American maize turned up in Kenyan schools in , thanks to Bob Geldof and USA for Africa, it arrived in gunny bags and presented itself at school dining tables: steaming yellow, not white like the maize-flour we knew as a staple.
We had heard that this food was coming. We had heard that people were starving to death — only a few miles away from us, in fact, over the border. We were singing these songs, as well — thrilled that we, too, could feel mushy about people in Africa. We saw the sacks unloaded.
But they were silent. So we started to speculate. I must confess that I hated school food, anyway, and that yellow maize porridge tasted not that much worse than everything else we were forced to eat. But our speculation was powerful. It is American animal feed. And it started tasting a bit too earthy. It has been treated with contraceptive chemicals. And it started to taste metallic. It was sent to us because it has gone bad already.
And it started to smell funny. Soon, in the Njoro High School dining hall, vast amounts of yellow porridge went directly into the bins. Our teachers, normally violent fascists in matters of discipline, looked the other way. It is a good and caring way to acquire political power without a gun or greedtalk or anything that would undermine the idea of yourself as good and caring.
I am sure the One Laptop per Child initiative will bring glory to its architects. The IMF will smile. Negroponte will win a prize or two or ten. There will be key successes in Rwanda; in a village in Cambodia; in a small, groundbreaking initiative in Palestine, where Israeli children and Palestinian children will come together to play minesweeper. And there will be many laptops in the homes of home-schooling, goat-tending parents in North Dakota who wear hemp another wonder-product for the developing world.
Me, I would love to buy one. I would carry it with me on trips to remote Kenyan places, where I seek to find myself and live a simpler, earthier life, for two weeks a year. He drives endlessly by night, exhausted but excited, ruminating about future technological innovations.
In his sessions, he casually tossed in the air the seeds of many soon-to-come revolutionary inventions and new forms of user-inter-faces. To find effective ways to help nurture the budding romance between man and machine, both desperately in love with each other but too shy and too slow to make a move, was his goal. In one of the tapes, he conducts a bizarre dialogue with a girlfriend about the darkest of sexual fantasies. At that time, all boxes will be opened, all files retrieved, digitized, carefully studied, categorized, and rearranged.
With this raw data, we might be able to recreate the soul of a late-twentieth-century man and put it on museum display, a species under glass. According to his vision, licenses could be sold. But only by migrating into space. This will be cheap, because there will be people wanting to stay down here, purchasing Earth licenses at a price that will amply cover the price of the lift to orbit for the seller.
The value of this uncompromising, austere, and highly impractical science, practiced by someone who voluntarily dropped out of the academic world, lies in the images it offers, rather than in any concrete options. However, his lifelong project can never be more than an attempt, a metaphor, a quixotic effort to conquer death and shift the boundaries of human perception.
Mindless Observation | Mindless or Meaningless?
Post-script: Erkki Kurenniemi is a pioneer in the history of electronic music. Alongside media art, happenings and short films of his own, Kurenniemi has designed a number of electronic instruments. Perhaps the most ambitious of his projects was a series of digital synthesizers, called DIMI, which he designed in the early s. DIMI-O converted any movements recorded by the video camera into real-time sounds and music.
Unlike more traditional online communities, where users represent themselves to one another using text, photographs, and profile pages, Second Life 2L for short is more of a sprawling videogame, its two million-plus registered users or residents, as they call themselves pursuing various forms of self-realization via high-resolution avatars.
Residents walk, swim, or fly like digital superpeople over a world of oceans, landmasses, and archipelagos, the smaller islands of which are available for rent from Linden and developable using a variety of architectural coding languages, commerce and media engines, and other tools of display, beautification, and interaction. Over the past year, the sound of journalists, futurists, and businesses clamoring to get in on the new new thing has become deafening. Conceptual artists have released artworks there, wire services have set up 2L bureaus, and film festivals have held screenings, showing films in virtual theaters.
You can either watch your avatar watch the film, or you can stream the film directly to your screen. Outside, in the virtual lobby, stars and directors update the old internet gambit of the chatroom meet-and-greet by appearing, live in Second Life via mingling avatar. Some of that money flows downward to the usual plethora of quasi-licit hustles — escort services, for example, where players pay to engage in naughty chat with pneumatic avatars. How sad for Sweden that the first political entity to set up virtual shop in 2L was not a forward looking Scandinavian nation but the Youth Wing of the French National Front.
The December arrival of the French racists associated with Jean-Marie Le Pen, far from calling into question the foundations of consensus reality, followed a trajectory familiar to anyone who has ever participated in that oldest of virtual interactions, the email flame war. Second Life blogger James Wagner Au offered the following testimony:. Consider this description of life in virtual worlds by futurist Howard Rheingold from his book, The Virtual Community :.
Similar to the way previous media dissolved social boundaries related to time and space, the latest computer-mediated communications media seem to dissolve boundaries of identity as well… I know a respectable computer scientist who spends hours as an imaginary ensign aboard a virtual starship full of other real people around the world who pretend they are characters in a Star Trek adventure.
I have three or four personae myself, in different virtual communities around the Net. These words could easily have come from any contemporary 2L enthusiast, but they were actually written by Rheingold ten years ago hat-tip: Clay Shirky , this in reference to online experiences that were even then paltry in comparison to those readily available on a Nintendo or Playstation, like the early Final Fantasy games. Primitive and devoted primarily to grim business, the net nevertheless functioned admirably.
Scattered throughout the net were islands, remote hideouts where ships could be watered and provisioned, booty traded for luxuries and necessities. As is my usual practice when creating such an intervention, I am a neutral visitor as I do not participate in the proscribed mayhem. Rather, I stand in position and type until I am killed. Upon being reincarnated in the next round, I continue the cycle. Demolishing a virtual headquarters is, by contrast, a crime against intellectual property and maybe commerce. Instead of leading us deeper into the pixilated hearts of networked men and women, the battle for Porcupine Island leads us back to courtrooms and position papers, into ongoing debates about copyright, graffiti, hacking, and so on, which will follow their own appointed trajectories with or without Second Life.
If Second Life is a kind of romper room, where is the future actually being lived? The intuition of the s cyberpunk novel was that the virtual world spoke Japanese. Mostly that virtual nation seems largely interested in playing and profiting from games. As the number of subscribers approached the million mark, users began exchanging QQs to pay off debts or transact person-to-person purchases, while online gambling companies soon started accepting bets and making payouts in QQs. Needless to say, it has long been possible to purchase cybersex in QQs.
Consider this sequence of virtual, perhaps apocryphal, events found on a Chinese blog:. These are the sorts of scenarios that keep men and women, each for their own reasons, up late into the night wrestling with their own private possibilities and nightmares. Imagine what Chinese government officials must make of such events. The scandal made great copy. The culprit, as it happened, was no ideologue with an agenda or insider with a vendetta; he was an evening manager at a Tennessee delivery company playing a prank on a coworker. The whole episode seemed to capture everything dubious about an encyclopedia that dispenses with credentialed authority in favor of anonymous, unprofessional, unpaid collaborative work.
In an age when cynicism about elite sources of information and opinion — the New York Times comes to mind — is at a high point, elite opinion turned with some relish to a story about the contamination of knowledge by the great unwashed. Something of this was in the air when, in early December, the elegant Siegenthaler appeared on CNN alongside the embattled-looking founder of Wikipedia, Jimbo Wales, for a joint interview by Kyra Phillips. Wikipedia and the midterm elections were indeed on a collision course, but while Siegenthaler wrung his hands over the specter of defamation, members of Congress were rubbing theirs over the opportunities for spin.
Hoax edits, after all, are quickly weeded out, while propaganda sinks into the groundwater. One newly registered editor participating in the debate was suspected of being a Burns plant, which the editor vociferously denied. And what if he was? Wikipedia tries to some extent to regulate the role-playing.
Since Wikipedia is ruled by consensus, sockpuppets can be useful, but keeping one is as delicate and dangerous as keeping a mistress. Take the case of University of Michigan academic Juan Cole, whose entry for months now has been an editorial battlefield. Also unsurprisingly, perhaps, the pro-Israel side is slightly better organized.
Amid the scores of single-issue edit-warriors with screen names like PalestineRemembered, HumusSapiens, and G-Dett, two Wikipedians stand out for their tenacity and influence, and for the resourcefulness of their wikilawyering: Jayjg and SlimVirgin. Both Jay and Slim are administrators with the power to block other users; Jay has also served on the Arbitration Committee with the power to resolve issues with binding resolutions when mediation fails and is one of a handful of Wikipedians who can check the IP addresses of registered users.
Slim is said to have once made continual edits to Wikipedia for a thirty-six-hour stretch. All regular editors develop a personality and a reputation, but Slim and Jay have become legends, both within Wikipedia and outside of it. Members of both groups were, in many cases, kicked out of Wikipedia after clashing with Slim. SlimVirgin, Brandt says, is Linda Mack, a gray-eyed American beauty who became an undercover MI5 agent after her Cambridge lover was killed in the Lockerbie bombing, and who, after losing her job at ABC when it was discovered she was a spy, changed her name to Sarah McEwan and moved to Canada.
Before she was outed as an agent, the story goes, ABC had Mack on the journalistic trail of Lockerbie, traveling to Syria and Libya and interviewing the likes of Abu Nidal. And what better place to blend in: at Wikipedia, after all, everyone is undercover. Such imaginings, however, are merely the funhouse-mirror version of a more ordinary cynicism settling around the edges of Wikipedia.
As this article goes to press, reports are emerging that Microsoft has hired a tech blogger to begin editing Wikipedia. Others see something worse in store. These were soon enough corrected. A higher-up just as quickly reversed her decision, an uncharacteristic rebuff. The first administrator was SlimVirgin; her rebuke came from none other than Jimbo Wales. These days, Dutch identity is oddly rooted in ideas about sexual liberty and sexual equality. Integration is no longer perceived simply as a desirable consequence of a prolonged stay in the country; it has now become a preliminary requirement, not just for naturalization, but for immigration itself.
How are potential immigrants to acquire the basics of Dutchness before moving to the Netherlands? They may purchase an examination package care of the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service — the centerpiece of which is a film, available on DVD or videotape in a variety of languages, including English and French and, more crucially, Standard and Moroccan Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish, and the like.
You will also be told a bit about the history of the Netherlands. And so the education begins. The discussion of work also touches on sexual equality. This applies to women with children, too. Sexual democracy becomes central — even more than religious freedom — when discussing the Dutch vision of democracy. Women have the same rights as men. Women and men are equal. They each make their own choices, and both are allowed to express their own opinions.
Women and men have the right to live with, or marry, the partner of their own choice. That generally covers the norms; what of laws? Here the guide is more ominous. She flees, but he finds her and kills her. Honor killing, he says; murder, says the Dutch judge. Punishable by law. In the visual format of the DVD, sexual democracy is most prominently expressed as sexual liberation. This was evident in the relaxed interaction between men and women known as the sexual revolution.
The immigration authorities solicitously provide two versions of the film; in the edited version, licentious images have been deleted no hint is given as to whether the purchasing of this sexless version might be targeted by immigration services as a telltale sign of fundamentalism. But this begs the question, if applicants, especially from Islamic countries, are expected to get accustomed to bare breasts and gay kisses, how will an edited video prepare them for life in the democratic West?
Today, Western democracy claims sexual liberty and equality between the sexes as one of its primary attributes and distinctions. Sexual democracy has become a litmus test for potential immigrants. One wonders whether copies of the friendly, unedited, educational Dutch DVD might not help our brethren in Vatican City, should they one day decide to embrace democracy, Western-style.
In late August of , one trial offered Paris a striking spectacle: the defendants, who obliquely referred to themselves as the Saint-Simonians, entered a crowded court room wearing brightly colored costumes and chanting hymns of brotherhood and love. While in prison, Enfantin dreamt of the East. Joining Orient with Occident, man with woman, rich with poor, he laid out his vision of utopia. And for Enfantin the road to that blissful future led directly to the Suez Canal, of all places. Suez is the center of our life of labor; there, we will make the act that the world awaits, the confession that we are Men.
The Saint-Simonians would attract hundreds, if not thousands, of followers and spectators during their escapades. There they would perform their rituals, complete with costumes, marches, chants, and feasts, before crowds of curious onlookers. They took to wearing collarless shirts, flowing red scarves, and long blue coats that buttoned on the back to foster a sense of dependency on their brethren, in dressing as in other aspects of life.
A beard was de rigeur. Incongruous though it may seem, this strange mystical sect also pioneered rather modern-sounding ideas of globalization and technological progress. The Saint-Simonians had emerged from post-Revolutionary Paris to proclaim a new philosophy of humanity: a religion of brotherhood ruled by a new technocratic class, the spiritual leaders of a global future that would merge industry, banking, and technology.
They helped finance and build railways and canals, constructed global communications and financial networks, and contributed crucially to the growing nineteenth century fascination with technological progress. And, as we shall see, they offer those who look to history a lesson in the unexpected consequences of technological utopianism.
Disease and the failure to find his female messiah led Enfantin back to Paris in , after just three years. Their example equally inspired Mehmet Ali, the Albanian-born viceroy of Egypt under the Ottomans often considered the founder of modern Egypt ; he eventually constructed large-scale public works and generated a body of newly educated technocrats to man the extraordinary modernization of the state. The Saint-Simonians had had high hopes for their collaboration with Mehmet Ali, whom they termed the Pacha industriel.
Yet they failed to convince him of the viability or virtues of their pet project — a canal at Suez. Mehmet Ali had been much more concerned with constructing a system of barrages along the Nile, a task several Saint-Simonian engineers began in Others went on to found various schools and polytechnics, including an infantry school in Damiette, an artillery school in Thoura, and a cavalry school in Giza. Enfantin returned to Paris in They conducted scientific and geographical expeditions, aided in the financing of railroads, and oversaw a number of public works, including hospitals and schools.
A few years later Enfantin was invited to join the Scientific Commission for the Colonization of Algeria and left for Algiers in December of He continued to hold on to his earlier vision of the bridging of East and West. Indeed, although de Lesseps never publicly acknowledged his indebtedness to them, his schemes for Suez were much inspired by the Saint-Simonians. He even used their calculations. Indeed while the Saint-Simonians had been almost entirely optimistic in their vision of the power of good inherent in technological progress, in a post-Cold War and atomic world, this optimism has become more than a little tarnished.
The mids in Egypt was a time when the hangover of the rapid and sometimes violent changes of the heady 70s started truly settling in. The state had finally managed to completely defang all forms of popular organized politics with, of course, the one notable exception of militant radical Islam, whose influence and power were steadily increasing. Gulf money was pouring back in the form of remittances from Egyptian workers lending their expertise acquired in the free universities built by the nominally socialist state of the 60s to cities and societies rising in the middle of the desert, and Saudi influence over media whether through direct buyouts of both people and institutions or a more pervasive subtle infiltration of how specific values were promoted was occurring on a large scale.
Dr Mahmoud, who, it was strongly rumored, had been both a Marxist and an atheist in those long-gone days of the 60s, was at the helm of the program. The program also managed to attract large swaths of the uneducated due to the ineffable personality of its central character. It was the good doctor who first allowed countless groups of people to sit and discuss religion through the prism of science and technology in over-decorated living rooms. In the opening sequence of Knowledge and Faith , a solitary nay played at length while the credits floated over spectacular natural views.
The music was infused with sentimentality and pathos and brought to mind thoughts of retribution and a return to the path of God, more than it did images of cold and clinical scientific research. The film that followed usually consisted of a series of enchanting enigmatic images accompanied by the deep voice of Dr Mahmoud commenting on certain details, warning us of moral dangers we might face, answering questions that we would have liked to ask, calling our attention to a specific issue — taking our hands and gently leading us on through the scenes of the film.
At other moments, he would be silent, to allow us, the viewers, to consume the images with full concentration. But even at those moments, we could still hear the faint hiss of his breathing or the sound of him softly swallowing. His presence was pervasive whether silent or speaking, whether on camera or as a disembodied voice commenting on what was happening on the screen. Watching Knowledge and Faith was an intimate experience wherein the wondrous was made tame, the distant made familiar. The structure of a typical episode was simple: after the solemn opening credits, Dr Mahmoud would provide a short synopsis of the scientific theories related to the topic under discussion, omitting any details that might prove tedious.
Then a European or American scientific documentary was shown, accompanied by live commentary. Finally, Dr Mahmoud brought the episode to an end by summing up the main themes and providing a concluding statement. The persona Dr Mahmoud projected through his program was as important as the footage he showed and the commentary he provided.
That persona became the mark of a figure the viewer could relate to and build a relationship with. The public seemed equally infatuated with the way the largely eccentric man pronounced certain words and the mild discomfort he seemed to be in most of the time, as much as with the actual content he transmitted. The argument went something like this: the West might have discovered it, but we understand what it really means. In an episode discussing the topical issue of AIDS, Dr Mahmoud made the claim that the morality of the East had proven its superiority against the decadence of the West.
He provided us with the pathological background of the disease, and possible preventive provisions, while emphasizing that the only solution was abstinence. The episode screened at a time when the dissemination of strange theories and contradictory ideas about the disease were legion. AIDS was used to propagate stereotypical ideas about the opposing sides. It is as if a sheikh who comes from the land of the foreigners is speaking!
A performed identity was being constructed, its roots laid down deep into the ground. The documentaries shown on his program became scientific proof of divine will. This shift, the move from discovery to retrieval, marked the 80s and onwards, where all spaces were Islamicized and made part of a new empire of meaning whose formative period saw such parallel developments as the rise of Islamic banking and an increase in the number of women taking to the veil. If in the 60s the state had gone to great lengths to introduce the accoutrements of developments from dams to nuclear reactors, from missiles to locally produced cars as a national right, the 80s saw all fields of knowledge being defined as part of the domain of Allah, functioning under the enigmatic sign of a moral system.
The episodes of the program proved it was possible to reuse a product within another context and make it fit perfectly. To preserve the original text, whether dubbed into classical Arabic or subtitled, would have alienated many viewers. By promoting a selfhood constructed within the parameters of faith and belief rather than inquiry and discovery, the program encouraged its audience to receive scientific information passively.
Scientific knowledge was seen as something always there, a historic and essential, latent within our consciousness, something we had only to learn how to access. Appropriately enough, religious discourse provided the framework in which this knowledge became comprehensible. And this had the effect of convincing people that the form through which this latent knowledge became accessible an episode on knowledge and faith and the language with which it was described religious hyperbole that linked causality to the essence of faith and divine will therefore had to be absolutely true.
It was immediately apparent to the audience that the films were not locally produced but rather imports from another place. Moreover, they were products of a culture associated in the minds of the average viewer with a history of miscommunication, conflict, and exploitation. Yet the inimitable voice of Dr Mahmoud reconfigured the alien elements, allowing them to slip smoothly into a new context. An amusing contradiction — it is as if the golden chariot that takes believers on joyrides on the divine highway of faith is one that has been imported from the land of the infidels.
A shiny little green laptop. It is orange, occasionally. Its biggest supporters, evangelical in their enthusiasm, offer that it stands to revolutionize education in the developing world. It is true that in some circles, it has become fashionable to bash this curious toy-like computer. Either way, few technological innovations of recent years have been the subject of as much hype as the One Laptop per Child project OLPC for short.
Thanks in part to its super-charismatic founder, Nicholas Negroponte also the founder of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology , OLPC is ambitious in scale, hardly modest in ambition. But it has had its share of setbacks, too. India, for example, has rejected the laptop proposal, arguing that the money involved could be better used in tending to the fundamentals of primary and secondary education.
It uses two watts of energy most regular laptops use between thirty and forty , will be powered by a foot pedal or hand pulley an initial proposal for a crank has since been thrown out , and will operate with the open-source Linux operating system an alternative to Windows. The computer will come with a camera, a stripped-down web browser with email, and a simple word processor. Bidoun , curious as everyone else about these extraordinary little laptops, engaged four persons from different backgrounds and continents to engage in a moderated conversation about the project-to-be. Over the course of a couple of weeks, we could only begin to get some of the most relevant issues out on the table.
Here it is, then: a beginning, for there are many more questions to be posed. I teach courses in engineering design and ethics, and in the history and philosophy of science. My writings focus on theoretical issues of epistemology in science and the agency of technology. As I understand it, I am to moderate a discussion or at least a collection of assertions with regard to the OLPC project. I am happy to do so. Perhaps you could send me your first round of takes on the project. My first project, which looked at genomics and post-genomics drug development marketplaces in the US and India, has been recently published Biocapital: The Constitution of Postgenomic Life.
I am currently researching the outsourcing of clinical trials to India, and capacity and infrastructure building for clinical research there in anticipation of these outsourced trials. I have been building and studying creative online communities since , most recently as an active Wikipedian and as a contributor to community projects at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.
My day job involves using information and communication technologies for development in the slums and rural communities in Egypt and occasionally participating with groups such as the Association for Progressive Communication and Tactical Technology Collective in other places in Africa. Locals provide a better distribution and support model than OLPC. Specifically, I focus on two broad areas: infrastructure, and the use of information and communications technologies in education.
I think the OLPC is a great idea and will benefit a lot of people. Unfortunately, that lot does not include students in poor underdeveloped economies such as India. I think that some very clever people have misunderstood the nature of the problem. It is as if someone recommends casting spells to fix a broken car. Psychological methods cannot address mechanical problems. I look forward to hearing his response from the trenches, as it were, about what kinds of linkages are possible or have been forged. I hope that Atanu does write at more length about his ideas. OLPC is an education project, not a technology project, though we are providing tools for learning and collaboration.
Alan Kay likes to say technology is anything invented after you were born. In the context of learning, these laptops are toolkits for creativity — and for reading, listening, researching, playing, communicating, working with others, calculating, recording, archiving, and publishing. So, too, were materials for writing, drawing, and making music. I would frame the discussion a different way, starting with a discussion of what is relevant in the context of students in underdeveloped regions and what new tools and learning environments can provide — how they can change the interest of students and teachers in education, their capacity to learn from and teach one another, their ability to study and discover new things, their ability to review what they have learned.
And how many could be made? Have you had a chance to use one of the prototypes? Is the ability to work with computers seen as a marketable ability? How is technology inside or outside of quotes use gendered? Does that matter in an educational context? SJ, since you asked, here is a little bit of how I see the problem of education in India. Around ninety-four percent drop out by grade twelve. Only six percent go to college, and of those who graduate college, only about a quarter are employable.
Why is the Indian education system in the pits? Primarily for the same reasons that the Indian economy is in the pits: government control, indeed governmental stranglehold. It is instructive to see that wherever, for whatever reasons, the government has let go of the stranglehold or was not involved to start off with , that sector has flourished, and how!
For example, consider telecommunications. In five decades of governmental monopoly the telecommunications sector had a base of twenty million users; now that the monopoly is released, we add twenty million users in three months. Sure, technical progress cellular technology is a factor.
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But it is not the major factor. I could go on for a long while demonstrating why government intervention in the Indian economy explains why the Indian economy performs miserably. This background information is relevant in understanding whether OLPC makes sense in the Indian context.
Indian education suffers from government intervention and lack of resources. Resource constraints are both financial and relate to human capital. Furthermore, the limited resources are leaked away through bureaucratic and political corruption and ineptitude.
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The major barriers are not technological and therefore a technological solution is not going to alter the situation. Electronics is neither necessary nor sufficient for education. Merely providing laptops is not going to solve the problem. I will offer that the so-called digital divide is at best a misguided notion and at worst a device used by self-serving money grubbing powerful vested interests to milk the poor for all they are worth. And I think the refurbished Pentium IIIs built by local entrepreneurs are much more robust and capable of running a wider range of software.
Most of [the computers] are locally assembled white boxes. My main worry is about the central role of governments in OLPC, and I know OLPC has answers to some of these concerns by building a machine that looks like a toy, we reduce its black market value, etc. Ten thousand is good enough for me. I have no doubt most of the kids will find very good uses for these laptops and will learn a lot from them. But if we expect the laptops to help in achieving conventional educational goals the stuff supposedly covered by subjects like math, science, language, geography, history, etc , then [it] will require access to content and tools specifically designed for this.
But for younger students, you need to worry about more. One million laptops has an opportunity cost. This money could be spent locally and provide jobs and have the usual economic multiplier effect. Government involvement is the problem. And OLPC actually would increase government involvement. The countries that can afford to buy laptops in numbers comparable to their student population will not face the problems of equity and distribution.
OLPC is a costly device for poor countries. Generally, all critiques of technology aside, I think having technology is a good thing. In a country such as India, which has pockets of extreme technological development, it is very important to democratize technological use. One way to do that is to expand access to technology, and one way to do that is through initiatives like OLPC.
The market rarely has the incentive to do so except in the interests of charity or philanthropy, and those are double-edged swords, too , and at the end of the day, in a basically functioning representative democracy such as India, the state is the institution that is most accountable to the public, however imperfect such accountability might be in practice. My worries and concerns, then, are three-fold. Expertise — The intentions of OLPC may be good, but whose expertise gets to count as credible expertise?
Western institutional expertise? Where does the expertise in OLPC come from? Is it expertise from afar, or are more local forms of expertise seriously recruited and listened to? Unless standardized developments in vernacular computing happen, a basic structural divide that is at the heart of many Indian inequalities — the fact that those who speak English have far greater opportunity to prosper than those who do not — will only get perpetuated. Institution building — In India, good things often happen with individual entrepreneurial zeal combined with political will on the part of the state; but almost all of these things tend to get driven by the vision and energy of particular individuals, and traditionally institutional structures that can transcend individual zeal have been much harder to build.
OLPC as a singular initiative is all very well — but how is it being located within larger structures that actually contribute to institutional development that can address issues of technology access that go beyond singular initiatives? The problem I see in OLPC is the fact that the project is designed to work exclusively with governments making purchases in the millions.
While there are many good arguments for this all relating to economies of scale , by making government the only possible player, you totally screw things up. The laptops are distributed slowly through a process of favoritism to district, school, and even student. The laptops are distributed to schools but not to students, used as classroom equipment that the kids use for thirty minutes per week only. Regarding vernacular computing: localization is key here, I agree, and since the laptop is a queer machine, not like anything else in the market, it requires special software, and someone has to sit down and write this special software.
The philosophy is that the kids will know what to do with their laptops and when they say learning I think they mean the self-exploration and self-expression type of learning. An independent commercial channel, Strike TV transmits one single image, in real time, all the time. The image is of a young, flirtatious female presenter shot on a bluescreen background. Strike TV presents itself as a place that exists nowhere in particular. The channel consciously avoids any cultural references or visual clues that would reveal which country the transmission is broadcast from.
There are also no clues to cultural identity in the displayed electronic text. But although these obvious signs of origin are omitted, Strike ceases to be culturally neutral the moment the language or accent of its presenter is noticed by the viewer. The presenter answers calls from Arabs around the world, while maintaining a certain neutrality. The subject is placed in a virtual time and space that is disconnected from everyday reality.
From the accent and physical gestures of the presenter, the viewer recognizes a familiar urban situation, namely that of the city of Cairo. More specifically, certain urban commercial hubs, like the high streets of Gamaeat el Dowal in the Mohandeseen district or Abass el Akkad in Nasr City. The cacophony of traffic from a Thursday night on the town, the sounds of human yelling over the shuffling of celebrative trebly pop, the flashing phosphoric neon advertising, the cheap and colorful street-wear all come to mind, even if only subconsciously, as the presenter flirts, taunts, hustles, repels, seduces, condescends to, flirts with and challenges us the viewer.
On Strike TV, the participant is exposed to the pressures of an urban encounter. The extensive portrayals and behavioral stereotyping of female seduction in popular culture have ossified into a set of nearly fixed theatrical gestures. The unreality, or out-of-this-world quality, of these performative patterns also exists within Strike and invite the viewer into an interactive role-play.
The motivation of the caller is subtly shifted from the desire to attain fast wealth to the most basic of human instincts. This shift from one desire to another validates the latter with exactly the same urgency and importance as the former. If it is okay to want fast money, then it is equally fine to desire a sexual encounter. What is advertised as wealth is actually nothing but an excuse for communicating sexual desire.
The masking of such desire helps the viewer mentally reconstruct, or even fantasize, the next level of an imaginary sexual experience. The presenter is a tool in the interface and at times, becomes the interface itself. The interface is less real than, less like, our everyday selves: a suspended domain in space and time accessible only through our will and choice.
Such indirect association with sexuality and pornography makes Strike a producer of signs and gestures directing the viewer into a private urban situation that might or might not include sex — as opposed to more obvious sexual simulation interfaces like cyberor phone-sex.
These signs and gestures are designed to awaken an egotistical invincibility and a light sexual gratification in the form of promise, not delivery. Is an anonymous woman flirting in public with a complete stranger always read as unreal, the stuff of dreams? If so, then Strike will always succeed in being a simulation or expression of a cerebral realm that can contain such unrealistic desire. When desire is limited to the intangibility of imagination, its separation from reality becomes more distinct, locked in a place that is internal and hidden from others. The only way to be certain that hydrocarbons can be found at a given location is to find them.
The easy source depleted, man searched for clues in topographical features, indicating where more oil could be found if one would only dig. As the depths where oil could be found increased, man drilled holes with toothed drill bits on the ends of pipes. When it became harder and harder to read the rises and dips in the land, man stomped on the ground with massive hydraulic pistons and listened with sensitive electronic ears for echoes of the oil buried below.
When oil is located, a rig is brought in. A nozzled drill bit is stabbed into the ground and a high volume and pressure of water is pumped through a pipe, jetting out of the nozzles, breaking the ground around the bit, and causing great turbulence. Weight is then borne down on top of the bit, pushing it in and forcing it deeper into the ground. Extracting oil involves distending nature from its common state.
Things are compressed, wound, stretched, heated, stacked, bolted, cooled, and raised. Nature is manipulated and defied. Engineering leverages attributes of certain natural laws to defeat others. The result is nature put into tension, through the workings of machinery in tension, controlled by tense men. Once the process begins, these tensions feed back into one another, as nature, machine, and man each acts, reacts, and acts again. The effort of man is focused on control of the tension.
Accidental release of that control can spell disaster. Being on the rig is hard; the pace can be relentless, the tasks required of you vital. This can fray the nerves and push most rig hands to stress levels that are hard to sustain. Added to this are the isolation and the distance from home that can leave you melancholic and even self-loathing. But being on the rig is a choice, one that is made freely; and the rig hand knows not to complain or vocalize despair. Every rig hand knows except the green hand, but he soon learns that expressing these emotions only exacerbates them for everyone.
The expression of feeling is useless, since the days are what they are and what they must be. To each his own method of private release. I escaped in song, in the privacy of ambient noise, at the top of my lungs; I would defy awe and be awed no more, since I was man — thoughtful, insightful, composing, singing. Rock anthems of power and sustainability; soulful ballads of pining and death; fringe chants of absurd jazz and ethnic rumblings; all these were suitable to my purpose, while romantic sops of popular culture never worked. Romantic pop songs were too sweet to counter the hardness and edginess of the location.
Everything that happens on the rig, must. Things must happen in a certain way exactly, in order for other things to happen; all is interconnected in a complex web of activity to facilitate advancement down the critical path. The first thing that can go wrong is loss of time. Time is money. A rig day-rental can cost half a million dollars; thus an hour spent is roughly twenty thousand dollars and a minute three hundred and fifty, whether used productively or not.
Piss-poor planning can cause damage to equipment and even loss of the well. Loss of containment can damage the environment through spillage, while human loss, whether of limb or of life, is the ultimate price paid on a rig site. These risks invigorate the crew, though; eagerness and enthusiasm can help to diffuse tension.
When things go badly, the weight of the world is on the crew, and death descends on the rig. But even then, there is fortitude. Potential losses — whether emotional, financial, ecological, or human — can easily reach horrific scales. The simplest tasks are tasks that are as vitally required as the most complex.
Bobby was a true son of the rig. As company rep, Bobby was boss of the rig. Bobby was so experienced, he needed only to be on the rig for things to go well. It was a famous gesture of his. The drill bit at the end of meters of pipe had gotten stuck down a meter hole. We had tried everything — pumping up, pumping down, pulling the maximum over-pull, setting down all the weight, when word suddenly came over the clear call that Bobby was coming up to the rig floor. Ten minutes later, Bobby emerged from the accommodations on the main deck — a smudge, lost in his coveralls, hardhat, and rig gear, slowly shuffling across the main deck.
In his last climb up the steep stairs that connect the pipe deck to the drill floor, Bobby appeared in increments. Finally Bobby was on the floor, son of the rig, ready for action. With Bobby at the break, we crowded behind him, peering over his shoulder at the gauges as best we could and then glancing over to the middle of the rig floor where the pipe itself was alternatively being pulled, compressed, and twisted.
As Bobby worked the pipe, he started cursing, or maybe praying under his breath. We apprehensively watched Bobby get rough with the pipe. As the over-pull needle climbed to the red, the pipe stretched, pressuring up the whole world a notch.
The sun flattened out in the rarefied atmosphere punctured by pops and clicks from the taut cables. Something gave. As I turned to run, I found that the others were already on the move to the pseudo-safety of the doghouse. I tripped over something on the floor and fell on my hands, as the driller crashed past me — I expected the worst at any moment. Such is panic.
Bobby was standing with one hand on the break gently moving up and down, the pipe freed, the other hand waving about him as he looked back at us, then at the pipe, then back at us again. Drilling works a lot with the language of coupling. The drilling string the bit and drill pipe is run into the hole and pulled out again. A good hole is firm and easy to pull through or run into.
Ledges are bad; so are cavings, swellings, and wash-outs in the hole. Any such hole instability can lead to tight hole, when running in and pulling out becomes troublesome. With sticky hole or ratty hole, the pipe is washed in or washed out, and in very tight hole, the pipe may need reaming in or reaming out. In the worst case, when the pipe gets stuck in the hole, lubricant is spotted around the stuck point and the pipe is worked through the restriction.
The close presence, scale, and heaviness of the machinery and equipment augments the machismo related to the function of the drilling process. The irony is just how feminine men on an oil rig, in the absence of women, can be. Prima donnas are detrimental to teamwork, and so vanity is individually suppressed as much as possible within the group. Being on an oil rig crewed with men is like being stuck in the midst of a bunch of housewives.
This is probably because in the limited space of a rig, the loss of privacy leaves men unable to uphold macho values and appearances over prolonged periods, especially when the most effective foil for a man — a woman — is absent. I call it the space of space because in that room of glass walls, we had a panoramic view of the sea. It was so complete that an optical illusion was created if you stood in the center of the room and turned about; it seemed an equidistant ring of mountains encircled a sea whose center we were in. All was good. Nothing needed to happen. His hands pushed down into his groin.
I had to admit, the sound of her was invigorating, especially for not using radio slang or correct procedure, her voice of the city, not of the sea. Realizing the jack tech was going to call out to the sex-pot radio voice, I quickly leaned forward and pulled the mic-jack out of the radio. I was asked one day by an assistant driller why I never spent time at the main camp watching movies or playing pool. The assistant driller was loud in welcoming me and asked me to sit next to him. Finally, the driller came in, and made some gruff joking remarks to some of his crew.
He was king of everyone in the TV room except the mud logger and me. It was interesting to see the crew organically intact, not on the rig floor working like one, but kicking back and hanging out with the team structure holding up and the same relationships playing out. When everyone had settled down, it started, and it went something like this: first there were two women fornicating with a big black dog; then the film cut to a stable, where a horse was receiving sexual favors from a naked masked woman. I looked over to the AD to find him smiling at me and gently nodding his head.
I visited the on-duty radio operator who used to be a floor hand till he broke his face on the rig floor. We were getting deeper and hotter and more pressured, looking for the sweet spot, the prize. We were all very excited, but also among the crew there was the taste of the apprehension of going deeper than anybody had gone. The tension that arises from human manipulation of material is stored as energy brought under control.
There is no way to make a pact with nature in this game. It scares us and is never scared by us. This responsibility ranges from not blowing up the rig by mistake to not showing up at an abandon-ship drill in flip flops, since these get caught in the small space high over the sea between the rig and the hanging life boat, right at the door to the lifeboat, slowing the abandon time and leaving people behind on a rig about to, potentially, explode.
A driver was taking us out to exploration country west of nowhere, where rigs were sparse. Since there were two of us going to different rigs, and riding with my companion and the driver beyond the forward operating base would have added at least ten hours to my already very long journey, I decided to get off at the base and hitch a direct ride to my rig with the next water truck. From the base onward, the ground, as flat as it seemed and as boring and gray as it was, was unforgivably hard.
After two hours of daylight driving, and after a ghostly interlude of long shadows trailing in the half-light before dark, the sun quickly set. It appeared at first as a halo in the night sky, at a distance that seemed either some kilometers or a few hundred meters; it was impossible to tell.
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Sometimes the halo was in the sky to our right or left as we rattled, crept, bumped, and sloshed in the dark, seeming to pass it by. Finally, the rig itself appeared, a stack of points of white light with a red and blinking light beckoning from the top of the derrick. As close as we kept getting to the rig, it felt we would never attain it. But eventually we could discern movement, then see our way by the light of the rig, until, finally, we could hear the steel and noise. The rig was alive when we got there, with men working in bright lighting, the machines humming and the forklift incessantly moving, as if it were any time of day.
Raga rubs up against dub, Celtic folk, and bhangra. The great septuagenarian novelist Alasdair Gray reads aloud anti-war verse. Reggae versions of Scottish ballads are sung. But the country has hosted migrants since the turn of the twentieth century, including garment peddlers from India. When I was a kid in the 70s, I used to help out at his Sunday Market stall, selling body-warmers, flares, pin-striped jeans. It was a more sociable way of selling things.
The environment was full of banter and of talking to people. Future Pilot AKA is a celebration of that infinity. Scotland is changing. Despite devolution, its population is shrinking. Among the most prominent of these is Luke Sutherland, the Afro-Scottish writer. His latest novel, Venus As a Boy , is set in Orkney, the remote, ruin-filled islands north of Scotland where he grew up with his adoptive white parents.
Sutherland is a musician, as well; recent releases as Music AM have married his weakly gendered, hyperliterate musings to pleasing German beats, though he first came to indie fame as the leader of Long Fin Killie, an art-rock band who welded folk to dub and jazz in the mids. Instead of seeking mainstream success, Dade has stayed loyal to the independent music sector. He got his start as the bassist for the indie-pop quartet The Soup Dragons. He often collaborates with other left-field Asian outfits, including Cornershop, White Town, Black Star Liner — ferociously maverick talents who have at least as much in common with Morrissey as with Jay-Z or Talvin Singh.