Read: Visitor, by C.J. Cherryh

Book no. 17 in the Foreigner series. You’d think it would slow down, or peter out, or, well, just plain diminish in quality. Thankfully for us who follow the adventures of Bren and his aishid the opposite is true: Visitor is not only a good addition to the series but a very good one.

The Visitor picks up the thread just as the kyo – mysterious and secretive space-faring, and, in general terms, neighbours; neighbours who are engaged in war with another neighbour, as yet unseen – are approaching Alpha station. Bren spends his time worrying over his ability to communicate with the kyo, much the same way we all every now and then worry ourselves senseless at living up to expectations, and suddenly the Other are over the doorstep, pursuing an agenda no one knows about and everyone suspects… I’ll not delve on specifics; the spoilers would be too great. Suffice to say that one of the “what if’s” that I have been entertaining actually came true, and the resulting drama is simultaneously forthright and subtle, if such a thing is possible. But I really want to save that particular surprise for anyone who have yet to read the book.

Instead I will talk about the general.

The Foreigner series balances between sitcom and drama, in written form. At times it touches on interpersonal relations, political intrigue, personal feelings and insecurities… all the ordinary stuff. But looking not at one part at a time but at the over-all story you can see broader themes, such as the interplay between language and culture, or the debilitating effects of fear of the foreign.

In many ways the series offers a looking glass through which we can observe ourselves through the Other, from the outside; a means of analysing the cultural constructs and societally predicated behavioural norms that in/forms our everyday interactions. That can be a very uncomfortable place to be but Cherryh manages to masquerade it behind a screen of ordinariness, making it look like suspense rather than societal critique (which I’m not even sure she’s consciously offering – it’s in the eye of the beholder).

To me both aspects are enjoyable but it also means that you the reader has to analyse and interpret on your own. There’s no large writings on the wall telling you how to think. The many layers lets you chose what layer of the story that captures your personal interest.

Not everyone is up for that.

I, however, can’t wait for the next instalment, or for, well, anything from Cherryh’s pen and imagination!

 

Read: The Peripheral, by William Gibson

In some ways The Peripheral is William Gibson in good old form. Imaginative, and written in a tight prose (unlike some of the unsuccessful, abandoned and un-reviewed reads that have littered my path recently /Victorian authors, however famous and successful, may you rest in forgotten peace…/).

The story run in two parallel and partly connected tracks. I say partly, because one of them is in the past of the other while at the same time running in tandem. As soon as the future starts messing with the past the connect disintegrates while – and here’s the paradox – both past and future continue to exist, but now independently of each other… while still being in contact… Confusing? The standard premise of the time travel story is to say that if you go back to the past and kill a grandparent your future self will too cease to exist. It teaches us not to look backwards but ahead. Not so in this one.

In this particular story the aimless son of a ruling clan, heir to a future with immense technological means but almost devoid of real people, entertains himself and his friend by meddling with the past, employing people who live on the edges of what might be described as a lawless mob economy to unknowingly run security for the rich. In the future. Making the people of the past believe they are doing test runs of a game of some kind.

By chance one of them witnesses a murder, and from there on the entanglement of the two realities only grow more complex. By the end the past is infused with future tech, a president whose murder preceded the catastrophe that wiped out most of the population is still alive, and I am left wondering what this all was about, really. Kind of like when you listen to a charismatic speaker, greatly enjoying the performance, but trying to tell someone afterwards what it was all about you find out that really it was just smoke and magic – nothing of consequence was ever said.

That said I did enjoy the read immensely and while I might not reread The Peripheral I would not hesitate to recommend it to someone in need of a passing diversion, of entertainment. And I will definitely buy and read his next book too, whatever it may be.

Läst: 179 år av ensamhet – Tio röster från en manlig bastion, red. Jenny Lantz & Linda Portnoff

Efter tjugofem år som kvinna i en mansdominerad bransch – den sk. IT-branschen – har jag inte bara lärt mig var mina gränser går utan också vad priset blir när jag inte är lyhörd för min egen magkänsla.

Redan någon gång i mitten av 90-talet tittade jag på mig själv och vem jag var och bestämde mig för att a) inte kompromissa med det som är viktigt för mig – jag vill kunna se mig själv i spegeln både på morgonen och på kvällen – och b) att alltid dela äran med de andra som deltagit i  eller haft påverkan på arbetet.

Att leva efter det har inte alltid varit lätt och såhär långt kan jag väl ärligt säga att jag fortfarande misslyckas ibland. Vi är alla människor och vi har alla dåliga dagar, fattar alla ibland mindre bra beslut. Som senior har jag alltid sett det som en del av min uppgift att hjälpa mer juniora kollegor att känna att de har rätt att ha det utrymmet – att ha en “bad hair day” utan att världen rasar samman (även om jag själv alltid får ångest när saker inte blev som jag hade tänkt).

Jag har också försökt förmedla en strategi som egentligen var ett råd som jag plockat från en tidningsintervju med någon kvinna i ledande ställning, för så många år sedan att jag tyvärr inte minns vem hon var. Hon underströk att som kvinna fick man ALDRIG NÅGONSIN använda uttrycket “jag känner…”. Män kunde använda det utan urskiljning men som kvinna placerade det en i någon slags subjektivt känsloträsk där man inte behövde tas på allvar.

Insikten hon förmedlade var att män får känna hur mycket de vill, deras känslor är nämligen objektiva och därmed normativa, medan kvinnor som “känner” ses som om de är rov för hormonsvängningar och vad vet jag – kristallers inverkan, eller något.

För mig var strategin framgångsrik. För faktum är att “jag känner” egentligen används för att uttrycka det jag istället har valt att säga, nämligen “min erfarenhet är…”. “Min erfarenhet” väger enormt mycket tyngre än “jag känner”, och som kvinna behöver man all hjälp man kan få när man ska förmå andra att ta en på allvar. För trots “min erfarenhet” så väger jag som kvinna lätt mot munlädersmorda självbespeglande yngre män som utan att tveka och utan att ge kredd till någon annan än sig själv och sitt posse kidnappar min (och andra kvinnors – män ges alltid källhänvisning) kunskap, min under hårt arbete systematiserade erfarenhet, mina angreppssätt på problemet, och gör den till sin.

Antologin 179 år av ensamhet – Tio röster från en manlig bastion sätter ljuset på detta fenomen. Det är en samling på tio texter skrivna av tio kvinnor som alla har det gemensamt att de har bedrivit forskning inom ramen för Handelshögskolans verksamhet.

Handelshögskolan är allmänt känd, i alla fall i mina kretsar, som ett ställe där redan privilegierade män alltid har företräde. Därför föreställde jag mig att det som kvinnorna som kommer till tals i boken skulle berätta om skulle vara som en slags skräckhistorier. Visst kan man inte undgå de misogyna strukturerna men jag kände nog att jag både har bra kvinnligt nätverk och fungerande egna strategier. Och det kanske jag har. Mina har i alla fall, för mig, fungerat bättre än somliga av de strategier kvinnorna i boken berättar om har fungerat för dem, medan andra har varit till förvillelse lika. För liksom många av kvinnorna i boken är jag ofta den enda kvinnan i rummet och jag analyserar så gott som alltid maktfördelning/makttilldelning och spelet som sker i en grupp innan jag väljer strategi. Det är liksom bäst så – jag kan aldrig förutsätta att de jag träffar faktiskt respekterar mig och den kompetens jag står för och behöver därför veta hur jag ska gå tillväga för att få gehör. Om det ens är möjligt.

179 år av ensamhet visar med all tydlighet något som jag visserligen redan visste, nämligen att dessa mina erfarenheter inte är unika utan är en del av en struktur. Alla kvinnor behöver alltid tänka efter extra, alla kvinnor behöver vara extra hårdhudade. Sverige är ett samhälle där mannen ses som norm och där mannen har företräde, av tradition. Kommer många kvinnor in i en sektor sänks automatiskt sektorns status, i omvärldens ögon.

Jag hade hoppats att sånt som beskrivs i boken, exempelvis synen att som kvinna kan man alltid välja att bli försörjd av en man = du hade egentligen inte behövt vara här så du får faktiskt tåla att ta skit, eller att kvinnor inte gör karriär därför att de saknar kompetens (och underförstått förmåga), skulle vara helt passé. Men nej. Dessa forskare, docenter och professorer bedöms och poängsätts i kursutvärdering efter kursvärdering efter hur de klädde sig och ser ut – inte efter kvaliteten på deras undervisning eller forskning. De drabbas systematiskt av att deras studenter men även överordnade tilltalar dem med en “men lilla vännen, då”-attityd, som om deras rigoröst genomförda och kvalitetsgranskade forskning bara var deras egna privata fantasier. De drabbas systematiskt av att studenter och andra forskare tror att de är assistenter och sekreterare, inte huvudföreläsare och kursansvariga. Även andra kvinnor behandlar dem så. Kanske för att de vill framstå i god dager hos de män som kan påverka deras framtid, kanske för att de faktiskt tycker att sakernas tillstånd är i sin ordning.

Och det är ett av bokens bestående värden. Var och en av de händelser som beskrivs kan ses som engångsföreteelser och det är det de oftast betraktas som – en gammalmodig person, eller han var berusad (alltid godtagbar ursäkt för en man, aldrig för en kvinna), eller han skämtade bara, lite får man tåla. Men lagda bredvid varandra ser man ett mönster, en struktur, ett implicit regelverk, en kultur. En kultur som omhuldas och bevaras just i dess negligerande.

Väldigt få skolor har som uppgift att skapa förändring. Väldigt lite forskning bedrivs för att förändring ska kunna uppnås. Forskning finns för att svara på frågan om hur saker fungerar. Förändring baserad på nyvunnen kunskap är en bieffekt, inte huvudmålet. Och skolor, dom är till för att genom återförande av utvald kunskap, utvalda mönster och kulturer, bygga ett stabilt samhälle.

179 år av ensamhet visar med all tydlighet på vilket samhällsmönster som av somliga inflytelserika personer med mycket makt anses vara värt att bevara. Ett monokulturellt samhälle som med maktmetoder annihilerar alla som är oliktänkande. Har vi hört det förut? Känns det bekant?

Läs, fundera, och ställ dig själv frågan om det är det samhälle du vill ha, som du tror på, och vilket ditt ansvar är, som hon, han, den eller det, för vilken riktningen blir.

Read: Valerian – Volume 1, by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières

I first met Linda and Valentin, as they are named in Sweden, back in 1979. At the time I spent much of my time awake devouring anything that was vaguely readable, in any form, and I had already chewed through most of what the local library branch had to offer to a young teen. But the French spatio-temporal agents were a new kind of acquaintance. I was familiar with kids’ comics, of course, and with Tintin, DC Comics and the like. Linda and Valentin proved to be something altogether else. Idealistic, philosophical, visually stunning, both gritty/ugly and opulent, and break-neck daring. Of course I loved them!

It helped that Linda/Laureline every now and then had to bail Valentin out of his own messes – strong women was not par for the course back then, whatever history will have you believe.

Last year Scandinavian publishing house Cobolt issued the three first volumes of the collected works, and I held and thumbed volume 1, on several occasions, without opening up my wallet. Prime reason is that my personal collection already has about half of the albums previously published in Sweden.

Last Saturday I made things right, and let’s be clear – I am not sorry.

My 70’s and 80’s glue-backed soft-cover editions are brittle, pages threatening to fall out. Also, the original Swedish run was published out of order. These omnibuses sets thing right and I can finally enjoy the series in the order it was originally written.

This first volume starts with the very first story, previously unpublished in album form in Sweden. It’s a bit rough but clearly shows promise, and it tells how Linda and Valerian/Valentin became companions. The second story is The City of Shifting Waters, unabridged and with original cover from the Pilote magazine that featured it. That in itself is worth the money, in my opinion. Third and last is The Empire of a Thousand Planets. That story is, together with Birds of the Master and Ambassador of the Shadows, the one that I know the best, and I must admit that here the new translation chafes a bit, with new names or word constructs. But still thoroughly enjoyable.

It must be remembered, though, that these three stories were the start of something that would grow up to be great, but that at this point was trying out its costume, its format. Keeping that in mind I definitely enjoyed reading this volume. And if anything I’m looking at my purse, trying to justify purchases of volumes 2 to 4.

Read: Tracker, by C.J. Cherryh

I often think to myself that C.J. Cherryh must be one of the must under-appreciated authors of our time and surely the reason for this is that she writes in the SF genre, and that inside the genre neither conforms to archetypes or is part of the mainly libertarian stream that finds its roots with the now old cyberpunk cadre (many of whom I read and enjoy, even as I often don’t agree with their politics).

A running theme (and I’m not sure she’d agree with me in this but once a story has left the author the reader is free to interpret it in her own way) in all Cherryh’s writings is how macro-politics affect the everyday people. Her style – commonly described as “tight third person”, means we often get to experience things as we, figuratively speaking, sit on the shoulder of the protagonist – from the sidelines, but so close as to depriving us of knowledge of goings-on affecting but not known to the protagonist.

Bren Cameron, former paidhi, a minor official and one-person diplomatic corps, now Lord and sometime mediator for all and sundry, and a force in himself, is one such person. In this sixteenth book, first in the sixth three-book story arc, we find him on the last of his handful of days off. His near-future plans includes negotiating the finer points of the East – Marid treaty, among other things, and it may look like we’ll be treated to one more arc of downworld politics. Instead he finds himself faced with the delicate dilemma of an insular and entirely unreasonable Mospehiran stationmaster, up above, confounding the situation with 5000 unwanted refugees, co-inhabiting already crammed areas. And as this situation grows increasingly volatile a foreign spaceship suddenly makes itself known, days from reaching Alpha Station and the planet…

Reading Tracker without first having read the previous fifteen books might be possible, as in anything is possible, but all characters (except the Mospehiran stationmaster), all back story, and all interpersonal and interculture interactions and conflicts are long since established so appreciation of this book rests on pre-existing knowledge. That might, at this point, feel like too huge a commitment. I’d never the less encourage giving the Foreigner books a try.

Me, I’m looking forward to the next instalment, due in April 2016. Too far in the future for comfort, and looked at it that way coming late is a good thing – if you haven’t read these books before you have a year to catch up with the backlog before the next volume is due!

Read: Peacemaker, by C.J. Cherryh

Peacemaker is the 15th novel in Cherryh’s Foreigner series, and the last one in this 5th 3-book story arch… and even as I write these words I want to go back and say that this arc really started with book #7 – Destroyer. Which means this specific part of the tale spans no less than nine individual books. It has been a fun ride but with lots of loose ends left dangling.

Peacemaker is the book that FINALLY un-dangled (most of) them. At last.

In Peacemaker we at last settle the Coup. At last our protagonists have found the real cause behind the Troubles. At last they manage to amend it.

At last these people can move on, from on-world politics and into… well, that is an issue for books to come, surely, as Cherryh apparently is working on a yet unnamed Foreigner novel, but just as Bren don’t automatically adjusts to a life were he’s not allowed to meddle with Guild business it feels odd to look back at fifteen full length novels and feel that I’d be satisfied if the ride ended here.

That said Peacemaker is the best Foreigner novel in a long time, even despite some editing errors, one of which feels like a continuity error; I guess the scene was moved on the timeline necessitating a few minor adjustments that never got submitted? However which way the story starts in classic Cherryh mode, with a longish reiteration or build-up basically consisting of a lot of “telling”. But as the story shifts into instantaneous time the tempo picks up and the switches between Bren’s versus Caijeri’s viewpoints are tight, moving the story forward at a fast pace and with tension growing but ultimately ending with a satisfactory conclusion.

In my personal opinion anyone interested in interaction between different cultures, in the workings of different societies, in language usage and culture, in intricate politics and social structures should read something by Cherryh. Because even when the editing, as it sometimes is in the later books, is lacking the story as such, and the way she tells it, is often uniquely good.

If the sheer volume of the Foreigner series feels daunting there are many others to chose from, some of which are reviewed by me. Just click the “Cherryh” tag in the right-hand tag cloud and you can see what I thought of them.

Because you need support a living author who deserves a readership :)

Read: A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet is, of course, the first of Doyle’s classic stories featuring what must by now be the most famous detective throughout history – Sherlock Holmes. However, reading the original stories makes one realise that it is the various adaptations of Sherlock that has made his fame – not the written source material.

The story is divided into two parts.

The first part is where Watson makes a new acquaintance, moving in with Mr Holmes. We get to read about his reactions to this Sherlock fellow but we also get an earful about the doctor himself – he returns to England very weak after almost having died from his wound and spends most of his time indoors and in bed. But then one morning, when he is up earlier than usual, he ends up visiting his first crime scene – a murder, in an empty or perhaps abandoned house.

So far so good. But suddenly part one ends and part two abruptly catapults the reader across the ocean, to the US, and to the founding of Salt Lake City. Initially this change of scenes make no sense but then names we heard in part one re-appear and suddenly the motive behind the not one but two murders perpetrated in part one is uncovered; and the reader gets to understand that neither of these evil deeds would had happened if Mormonism had been a more generous and open-minded creed.

As I wanted to read A Study in Scarlet as a crime/detective story I found the first part promising but the second part slow and uninteresting, even as I felt Doyle poured more heart in it, and it didn’t get better, either – the last handful of pages is pure info-dumping, with Mr Holmes telling Dr Watson about the clues everyone had missed: how he saw them, and how he interpreted them. Which makes me wonder if Doyle’s underlying reason for writing this story was to expose what he felt was the errors of the LDS/Mormons, and with the invention of Sherlock pure collateral; originally intended as nothing more than a tool for telling this tale. A tool which then took on a life of it’s own.

Obviously.

A Study in Scarlet has its place in the history of the crime novel genre, and as the point were a legend got started. But as reading material for the 21st century it doesn’t measure up. In my humble opinion.