Re: Uni form

I really don’t do uniforms. Get me right, here; uniforms when used as part of work I have no issues with. Military. Police. Security. Rangers. Official staff, like people who work at pharmacies, grocery stores. I can even see the value of them in schools, even if they’re not part of the Swedish school system.

What I do not do, in any from, is political uniforms, or de facto uniforms – standard expected clothing, in a cultural and societal context. Conformity.

I grew up in an aggressively mono-cultural society. Maybe most Swedes my age has forgotten all about it but once upon a time there was ONE way, and one way only, that you were expected to dress. Skirt length, trouser style, shoes, shirts or tops, materials, colour schemes – uniform. I you didn’t conform you were relentlessly punished. In school, you got bullied and ostracised, and the adults behaved like it was OK. After all, you had not adhered to norm, you were an aberrant. It was like they hoped it wasn’t contagious.

At the same time we got bombarded by WWII documentaries on TV, and lesson after lesson during class on the WWII atrocities, with a strong focus on the Holocaust. We learned of Kristallnacht, of the burning of books, of Entartete Kunst. We got taught what aggressive mobs could do.

Those two things together taught me one thing: to expect all and everyone to be alike leads to bad things. You cannot wholly erase individuality and so you force people into duplicity: one outer, public, persona, acceptable, within expected parameters, and an inner, hidden, persona. That is a scared and insincere society, were you live in fear of exposure, fear of being outed as Other. It is not the society that I want. Travelling pre-Glasnost Eastern Europe did a lot to cement that view.

When I see groups of people, dressed the same, or with dress items signifying a special belonging or opinion. When I see sports fans dressed in team colours, when I hear them chant: I think of the Nuremberg Rallies, of boots marching, of people sent to their deaths for being Other. It is a physical reaction – I shiver, in aversion. I feel fear. Regardless of if I agree with the cause or not.

This is of course not a popular opinion. You know, wearing (or at least owning for Facebook display) a pussy hat is more or less mandatory, these days. But I just cannot. For me, it is the Nazis, the Fascists, Stalin’s Gulags, all over again. Even if I do understand that it, in this case, is meant as a gesture of solidarity it is also an enforced dress code, a  sign of tribal belonging – or not. Black or white, in or out, no discussions needed.

And there you have it. A group, any group, enforcing a certain dress code, or you’re not believed to be serious. If you want to belong, to not look out of  place, not have to take “debates” with people who don’t want to have a serious analytical talk but to convert you, you better conform, even if it’s only a veneer.

Hear the chants. Hear the sound of boots, trampling everyone down.

Even if your intentions was otherwise.

Because democracy cannot rest on peer pressure. Even if you’re justified (in your anger).

Watched: Rouge One: A Star Wars Story

As a kid I loved Star Wars. My dad took me to the cinema to watch the original Star Wars movie, later to be renamed and renumbered into “Star Wars IV, A New Hope”, when it came to Sweden, and I loved it.

As I grew older I also grew more ambivalent to it. Like the Lord of the Rings books Star Wars was important to me during my formative years, in the late 70’s/early 80’s. But back then watching films again and again wasn’t something one could do easily, and so Star Wars floated to the back.

In the late 90’s I bought the VHS box set of the revised original trilogy, and I still own it, despite no longer having easy access to a VHS player. By that time I had become part of the Trek crowd, though, and while I still watched the films every now and again I felt the story to be shallow, and not very honest. I never was interested in watching the prequels at the cinema and I have to admit – while I have later endured Phantom Menace I never got through Attack of the Clones… and that’s it.

Since then our son became an avid Star Wars fan. He jokingly says that he’s a master of Starwarsology. Well before he could read we watched the films off my special edition VHS box set together, with me reading the dialogue/subtitles for him. As a consequence I know the original revised films down to the inflection of the Emperor. I have played Lego Star Wars with him for more hours than I care to remember. I have, however, drawn the line at Star Wars Battlefront because honestly I suck at the PS hand controls (I’m fairly good at Wii, though, and am mean with a keyboard).

I did enjoy The Force Awakens, even though I recognised several of Abrams’ mannerisms and despite the less than stellar acting. And Trek is still my Universe.

Watching Rouge One: A Star Wars Story I am finally able to put in words what’s chafing.

The movie was, as a film experience, acceptable. It balanced drama, humour and action, and while the acting was part good, part stiff (especially on behalf of the actors that were chosen for likeness to original characters rather than for their acting skills: I honestly thought that Tarkin was computer generated – the droid K-2SO was more believable), I was never bored. I might even watch it again, as a diversion, if I get a cold and a fever and has to stay in bed.

So, to get back to what chafes: Leaving the theatre I couldn’t stop thinking that the authors, and Disney, has to be exceedingly out of touch with world politics to present this film to the world.

Rogue One is the logical prologue to what used to be the first Star Wars movie. It is also an ongoing manifestation of the naivety of originator George Lucas. His simple swine herd in space story has snowballed into something bigger than even Lucas’ could ever have imagined, and Disney hasn’t exactly sat down and examined the actual content of what they bought and so instead of reining it in they have allowed it to run amok.

At first it was a story about Good versus Evil. It worked well as a one off.  But as so many before me has pointed out the presumably Good Jedi and their rebellion friends aren’t particularly good.  They manipulate, use terror instead of legal or democratic routes to achieve their goals, and they deceive to get people on their side. Of course, in real life nothing is entirely clear-cut, so why should a movie be?

The big difference is the script. Real life isn’t scripted. We stumble through, doing as well as we can. Some people have an astute moral compass but most of us has unintentionally caused harm and hurt to other people along the way.

A script, on the other hand, is a way of telling a story. Stories can be of varying kinds. They can be used to disseminate human relationships, like the endless mother-daughter, father-son dramas that litter popular culture.  They can be historical dramas, they can be adventurous and exploring. They can be used as a means to present us to different ways to handle various situations, and they can try to present optimistic or pessimistic visions of the future of humankind. They can be used to analyse and disseminate present day events, systems, and cultural norms.

Star Wars has always cared less than zero about collateral damage. In Star Wars it is acceptable to kill and maim or set people up, as long as it gets you were you think you need to be.

As the first Death Star blows up presumable hundreds of thousands of people who only do their paid jobs, as cleaners, cooks, mechanics, gets killed. At that point, back in 1977, we all believed that this was justified, for the greater good. I wasn’t old enough to analyse it, I just thought it was cool. But the pattern continues and in film after film, in series after series, violence is presented as the best way to solve a conflict, and damn the innocent. No introspection. No questioning of means and objectives and relative costs, or of the conflicts between what you say you want and how you endeavour to get there.

No thought on what story you are really telling, what morals and methods you are endorsing.

With Rouge One Disney had a chance to change that pattern. But instead what they do is to present some kind of justification for the likes of the Brussels bombers. Rouge One tells you, the audience, that democracy is nothing and that militias are justified. At one point the protagonists could had chosen to not go with outright violence and certain death for most, if not all, in the party. They could had connived a covert plot to get the schematics. They could had been smart.

Instead they used brute force, and everyone died. Even the cooks and the cleaners and the kids that we don’t get to see. And all glory to the ones who willingly sacrifices their lives for the Cause.

The rebellion did get the schematics, death was justified, and the rebellion is just as Evil as the Empire. It chafes.

And to think that Rouge One is seen as valid entertainment while films like V for Vendetta gets blasted for being too political, too anti-establishment. But that is what happens when one is openly political while the other is more a result of no one stopping to analyse what it is that they really are doing. Or so I guess.

To be honest I don’t think it is intentional. At least I don’t hope so.

But it still chafes. And I’m still ambivalent.

Considering: Some science fiction and fantasy books that made my brain

Two years ago I came across the request “Which Science fiction or Fantasy book will make anyone smarter“, and as I considered what people had added to the list so far I found myself nodding – and sometimes shaking my head in disbelief, but hey, we’re all different – starting to think how some of these books had affected me.

As the list went on I also started to mentally add to it. And as I am rather bad at censoring myself the few ideas soon became a list of its own, and that list then became the backbone of this post.

Then it went into hibernation, courtesy of fatal illness and more in my immediate family. Then today, as Bob Dylan was announced as recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2016, I again – and not for the first time – thought about important books and authors.

So, finally, here it is – my list of SF/F books that made me the person I am. It is impossible to grade them – some would probably not even make it to a “best books read”-list – so instead I chose “order in which I first read them” –

Lord of the Rings, J.R.R Tolkien
If memory serves me right my father started to read The Fellowship of the Ring aloud for me when I was eight years old. Getting to the end took a mighty long time but it all ended with me reading LoTR, again and again, until I was about eleven or twelve.
However, that was not the only book that I read. And as I raided the local library of anything remotely readable I soon ran out of options, remembering a box of books in the cellar. It turned out to be my dad’s 50’s imported pulp paperback SF, and I realised that I had to start to read in English.
So, at 13 I borrowed the library’s original language edition (I can still remember the librarian warning me off – she thought it would be too difficult for me), thinking that if I read a book that I knew intimately I could focus on language instead of on story: my personal learning strategy (I was quite bad at English in school).
Definitely a monumental decision, at that time, as I had probably not proceeded to read the rest of the books mentioned here if not for this.

Space Cadet, Robert Heinlein
I first met with Heinlein’s YA fiction with the help of the municipality’s head librarian. I remember being highly suspicious of the book but I was running out of options at the library, plus he was class mate’s dad, which was a bit intimidating, so when he suggested it to me I grudgingly brought it home rather than saying no. I was already a kind of space freak, I had loved watching Space 1999 when it aired on Swedish television, and spent a lot of time watching the moon and the winter skies through my dad’s binoculars. All the SF that I had read that far had adult protagonists so while the kids in this one were older than me suddenly space was within my reach. And so the story became more engaging, on a personal level.
I went on to read almost all of Heinlein’s books, some of which I will admit went straight over my head back then. And later on I realised I have many objections to his way of depicting society (and maybe more importantly – gender). But – Space Cadet made space achievable for me, even if in my head only.

Childhood’s End, Arthur C Clarke
Of all Clarke’s book this is the one that stands out. As a kid I loved the quirkiness of The Sands of Mars (which I found among my dad’s boxed up books), or the seriousness of Fountains of Paradise (hunted down by inter-library loan), or his short story collections, but Childhood’s End is, in my personal opinion, his masterpiece. At a time when most SF that I had encountered could be considered space opera and optimistic about the what lay ahead of humankind this novel challenged not only my preconceptions of the future but of the place of humanity in the universe as a whole. Mind-bending.
After having read Childhood’s End I found the Rama books… insipid. Even as a young’un.

The Earthsea Trilogy, Ursula K Le Guin
As I remember it I first encountered Sparrowhawk in an anthology used at school – I think I might have been 14 or so – and I immediately got hold of the whole trilogy at the library. What I love about the trilogy has changed with the years, however.
Originally it was the goat herd turned Archmage story that got to me, and then the idea that a way with words might make you powerful. But as I grew older still what stayed with me was the message that we can’t win by running from what we fear; the only way to conquer what hunts you is to turn around, to face it, or you’ll have to run, afraid, for the rest of our life.
As I struggled with the experienced mismatch between who I was and what society thought a girl or young woman should be or not be I found great strength in Ged’s story – to be brave and face the fear and to grow into myself.
Later yet I returned to the idea of words and language as a key to power. So – seemingly an innocuous story of youthful adventure but in reality a tale of great impact.

Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin
Used as I was to stories that challenged society as we know it I never caught on to how provocative the concept of gender Le Guin presented in this tightly written tale about friendship, alienation, and power. Only when I lent my copy to a co-worker, and he returned it, slightly disgusted (this was in the early 90’s, and a truly techie-engineering white-male environment), did I realise that the fluid gender identities depicted could be perceived as threatening. But, while this book didn’t have a big impact on my own analytical models or on my world-view it certainly reinforced my personal values and I still think it is one of the most important SF books written. Ever.
Also, she’s one if the most important authors, ever, if I get a word in. Starting with LHoD it is possible to read almost all her works, long or short (even though I personally recommend the three short story collections Worlds of Exile and Illusion, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, and The Birthday of the World).

Neuromancer, William Gibson
The moment I stumbled over Neuromancer, finding the cyberpunk movement, was defining. Here was someone who didn’t depict a swash-buckling future ensconced in present-time ideals or ideas but the believable real life apocalypse of the present system. It is hard to remember this, it was such a long time ago, but this book, and its sequels, added a new dimension to the way SF was told, challenging what the collective do with the power that we have. Or not.
For me personally it started a long run of leaving all the traditional SF that I had read behind, breaking roads into new ways to understand and interpret society and the humans (or not?) that it’s made of.

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
At the eve of the internet revolution, of the modern networked world, Snow Crash entered my life. The virtual, the power of meme’s – no one had seen Facebook yet, far in the future, or the power of the ever-changing plethora of social media. This was the first book that I was able to discuss with co-workers – a sign perhaps of where the world was headed, even if we were all in the incipient IT/web-business, just ahead of the boom. Those discussions led the way to more books, mainly factual ones retelling the history of computing, of the internet, and of gaming.
It was truly educational as well as inspirational, and all of it because a book of fiction.
Oh behold the power of words!

Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson
It is possible to have many objections against Stephenson and his writing. Among other things he is in dire need of an editor. Another valid objection is against his apparent interest in ideas and likewise disinterest in individuals. Those two combined leads to several of his books to have badly conceived endings, and long-winded discourses on matters only tangential to the story. The latter I first encountered in this book, which was the first book in recorded history which I actually just skipped a (large) number of pages. I still enjoyed it, very much so – the way it weaved an intertwined story, mixing timelines, revealing interconnection at the end. The impact was not so much the book in itself, though, as the interest it sparked: first, some reading up on the science of cryptography and crypt-analysis, and then, after having gifted my dad with a copy and getting pointers from him on were Stephenson had actually used real life events in his story, reading up on WWII history, on Enigma, and more. Again, educational – and I live to learn :-)

Cyteen, C.J Cherryh
I have no real memory of which of C.J’s books that I read first but I do think that it might have been Cyteen – it was either this, or Foreigner books 1-8, and then I got onto Cyteen while waiting for more Foreigner books (as they are written in 3-book arcs I wanted to have #9 in paperback, just as the previous – from #10 and on they’re first edition hardbacks). Either way it is a grand epic in societal design bleeding into engineering human(oid)s, viewed from the perspective of the individual/s, all the while questioning ethics, loyalties, and responsibility, not to mention cause and effect. The book wasn’t just good in and of itself, though. It opened up to the rest of her Alliance-Union Universe, with all its insightful stories depicting the impact of big politics on us small humans and our behaviour and the conditions under which we are forced to live our lives, many of them very different from each other and each offering a different perspective, from a different viewpoint, sometimes on the same events, and thus questioning “truth” as a definite concept.
The book – or books, I got on to read rather the lot of them – also signifies my move into the realm of internet friendship, in some ways. It was, together with a lot of books that came after, and both books next on this list, suggested to me by friends that I had never met but with whom I forged a connection none-the-less. In a real life were many looked with disdain and a raised eyebrow on my choice in reading material, thinking it childish and anti-intellectual (oh! those are probably the ones falling over themselves in sudden praise of Svenska Akademin’s choice of Bob Dylan: behold the hypocrisy!) that was worth the world. Many thanks to the Green Dragon crowd on LibraryThing, and the Shejidani, of the Cherryh fan-site Shejidan for that.

The Lions of Al-Rassan, Guy G Kay
There aren’t many works in the fantasy genre on any list I’ll ever conceive but thanks to a Green Dragon group read many years ago Kay’s Al-Rassan epic story about power, belief, and humaneness will always be up there. Kay’s language is exact and his prose stylistically self-conscious, almost verging on being purple – it is his skill that makes any of his books fly. Or not. Because he is also father to several books that I find barely endurable (such as Last Light of the Sun). This specific story, though, set in a fictional twin to the Iberian peninsula during the end of Moorish power, managed to capture my interest, and then some.
Even before reading this tale I had an interest in the Moors, in the impact the Moors has had on the formation of modern Europe, and thus having visited many of the key sites in Al-Andalus/modern Andalucía. Reading Lions got me searching for even more, looking deeper into historical detail than in the sweeping picture, deepening my understanding of the long-term effects of the Reconquista, and making me think. Which is a good thing.

Use of Weapons, Ian M Banks
It is not the Culture book that I love the most – that badge goes to Surface Detail; nor it is the best – that honour goes to Player of Games. And many of his books are gorier than this one, or weirder. But Use of Weapons is an utterly disturbing tale that, in retrospect, has made me think and rethink on how I judge and perceive the good or the bad, and how the perceived bad can, or not, redeem themselves – in their own eyes and in the eyes of the beholder.
At the heart of many of Banks’ Culture novels (I have not read his crime stories) resides the eternal question of what is human, of what features define humanity and what defines in/un/non humanity. Can a machine be more human than a two-legged carbon-based civilization-building entity from Tellus? Or not? Why? Is it even important?
Given the present-day seemingly world-wide chasm between people who want to feel more worthy and valuable than the rest and to achieve that build constructs of identity and race the question has actuality still. And probably up until and beyond humankind manages to implode on itself. Or not.

Until then, tales and stories that challenges set concepts and views, that inspires the seeking of knowledge, that interprets the world, is worth pursuing.

In hope of many more such tales, and in knowledge that many worthy works could had been included in this list.

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: 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.

Considering: Star Trek

During the past year I, as already mentioned, didn’t manage much reading. I did, however, manage to watch the latest addition to the Star Trek universe – Star Trek: Into Darkness – at its theatrical première here in Stockholm back in May.

The film as such is what it is – a modern remake and retake, shifted into the new alternative universe of J.J. Abrams‘ Trek. Some people doesn’t care about Star Trek at all but of those who do a significant part is irked by the new version, variously for it being untrue to canon, the fake physics of the new basic premise, or for just being… you know – not the Original.

My personal take on the changes Star Trek has gone through over time is that I accept them.

I am a bit too young to have experienced the Original Series in real time. Born in 1966 I was too young, had it aired on Swedish television back then… which it didn’t. When (some) of my classmates started talking about Spock et company during the mid-70’s I was hooked on Space 1999, and besides – reading, not watching, was my thing, and my torch was my best friend (for under cover reading at night).

No, my real love for Trek started with The Next Generation, at which point I started to seek out both TOS and the films. This was back in 1994, when Swedish television started to air TNG, and by that time TOS had started to look much like at least early TNG look today – a bit… cheap. The special effects development, the art of prop making, and, later on, HD TV and big screens at home, has conspired to make made-for-TV stuff look exactly as mass-produced as it was. The effect was as detectable in the 28 years that had passed between 1966 and 1994 as it is in the 26 that now has passed since 1987.

Of course, the real appeal of Trek is not in the special effects but in the message: the possibility of a brand new future, a future of hope, of a humankind who have managed to grab itself by its lapels and drag the collective out of the slums and poverty, out of war and hate. Saying no to fear and bigotry and yes to rational thought, to science and curiosity and respect. Saying yes to dialogue as the only valid way to solve a conflict. And proposing an area were there still was things to discover.

It is my belief that those were the core values that made Star Trek what it was.

Later versions of Trek, such as Deep Space 9 and Voyager, stepped down from those ideas and values. Dilemmas was more often solved by general ingenuity than by speaking to people, and plots centred on making an issue of what might happen when idealism meets greed for money and power.

Hollywood seldom invents or goes into the breach – what it produces reflects the sentiments, norms and dilemmas of the time. It so follows that the subsequent versions of Trek reflect the way society changes. Star Trek has survived over 47 years. That in itself is an amazing feat, testament to the appeal of the original vision. But the spirit of the mid-60’s, or even the late 80’s to mid-90’s, is not the spirit of the present century. And much as I’d love a slow-moving dialogue-driven show championing values such as equal rights, respect for the other, and rational thinking, in the post-9/11 world that has been almost impossible. Post-9/11 Trek stumbled, just as human rights such as freedom of speech, thought and expression took a serious tumble. Discussing moral dilemmas wasn’t on. The world became black and white, no grey zones, no zones for intermingling and exploration.

The last instalment set in the original universe – Enterprise – descended into territory already claimed by so many others, territory brilliantly owned by, for example Babylon 5 (another show that I followed religiously when it aired), and thus was lost.

Was the Trek enterprise failing? Yes, I’d definitely say so. At least it didn’t attract new followers. Enter Abrams and the New Trek.

A lot has been made about the improbability of the time travel plot device that shifted this incarnation into an Alternate Universe. But really. Warp speed, anyone? All kinds of faster than light travel are highly improbable, which sets almost all science fiction well into the realm of the impossible. Which to me makes the objection in itself laughable if not bigoted. Either you accept the basic concept or you don’t. Either reject FTL or embrace it, with all its plot-side consequences. Or – what about the growth-spurt the Genesis device incited in both Wrath of Kahn and Search for Spock? What about the time travel of Voyage Home?

But beyond the fake physics New Trek also depends on lots of special effects, lots of action, and slap stick-like drama. What about that? Wasn’t that anathema to Trek?

No. It wasn’t. Core to Trek was the moral dilemmas and how to approach them. Teaching methods for managing conflicts of interest, and to accept them as conflicts of interest and not as good versus bad, right(eousness) versus wrong. But it’s also about adventure and hopefulness.

I do like both Star Trek The Movie and Star Trek Into Darkness. Is it Trek? Well, if DS9 and Voyager was, then I think these should count, too. The Movie conspicuously lack in the moral dilemma department (the “message” in that one would perhaps be to bring hope to juvenile delinquents, lol) but Darkness has some – violation of the Prime Directive is a classic, the needs of the many versus the need of a friend, and even a “bad” guy can have valid motives behind his choices. Then, of course, the bad guy turns out to be singularly self-interested, and quite vicious about it, too. This is nothing new, this happens in quite a few episodes in at least TNG  and the movies prior to Darkness. So even if I personally would like to see the bad guy turn out to be someone you can talk to this didn’t happen often historically and likewise will not happen often now or in the future.

Darkness also sets the famous Five Year Mission going, much thanks to Spock’s insistence on Federation law and principle – had Kirk gone in and nuked Kahn they would had had a war on their hands; instead now they have conflict and death but ultimately reason prevails, and peace.

Maybe the story is told in a way uncommon to Trek. But ultimately Trek has to exist in this world; the expense of making it must be justified or it won’t get made. For many perhaps form is more important than the survival of Enterprise. But if this new incarnation can continue to provoke insights in its followers I have no problems with the form.

Because let’s face it – it’s a series of TV shows and movies. In a world of vicious egocentricity anything that shows success through collaboration and through utilisation of each other’s differences is a good counter-balance.

Even if it’s made by a black-and-white Star Wars fan-boy. And even if I am reviled by the aggressive commercialism surrounding present-day Trek.

Watching telly

Insanely having decided to not start another book until I had finished Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and not being able to connect to the story or the characters, I have spent January, and now a great deal of February, watching TV instead.

Part of the reason is I finally succumbed to Netflix, and upon doing so realised they had some series on that I hadn’t been able to catch previously but had wanted to watch, so it’s not solely Mr Stoker’s fault. But I want a scapegoat and this would never have happened if not his vampire classic hadn’t turned out to be so… boring.

So, what did I watch?

Firefly has been on top of my list for a long time. Never aired on Swedish television I couldn’t justify getting a DVD set, and the TV media never have been important enough for me to make use of illegal services. So, I started out with Firefly. Quite fun, and imaginative, utilising clichés in an inventive way. Somehow this is Space Western for real, the Wagon Train to the Stars Gene Roddenberry never made and never could had made, and I can see how it has acquired a following. Watching an episode now and then has been fun. Still some to go before I’ve watched them all I take them as mood arrives.

Meanwhile the rest of my family dove head first into Netflix – January really has been an orgy in television, except I had had other things to do. Work-related stuff.

Then one Saturday evening when none of us wanted to watch the same things – husband likes series such as Klovn and Shameless while I absolutely hate watching people making asses of themselves – we compromised and watched Black Books. We both laughed hysterically, so now we sit down and watch an episode whenever boredom threatens. Not the most inventive show ever it is at least European angst-humour, not the eternal same-same blandness of the US sitcom. And I do love that it takes place in a bookshop :)

One such night, a Friday I guess, I suggested we’d watch Sherlock. It aired on Swedish public TV about a year ago but none of us manages to catch scheduled TV – the time is just not there. We both like a good crime series, so agreed to try it.

About three and a half hours later we had watched the two first episodes, back to back. Husband, of course, is a whodunnit master, so always knew ahead what was coming, but I loved the visuals, the pacing, the inventive use of text overlays, and the apparent chemistry between the two main characters. So the next evening we sat down to watch the third episode. Then we wanted to watch the first episode of the second season, and realised it wasn’t on Netflix.

Watching back I think that is when I lost it. Because instead of sitting back and accepting the facts I went out and got the second season DVD. And the first season too, just to be sure.

Season two showed to be less whodunnit and more like fanfiction.  The mysteries and crimes are important but the characters is even more so, and some of the plotting is …obtuse, for lack of a better word. Husband lost interest sometime during the Irene Adler episode so the two last ones I watched alone. Which allowed my obsessive streak to emerge.

This is nothing new. As a pre-teen and in my early teens I read and reread Lord of the Rings almost on a daily basis. Since then monomania has reared its head every now and then – most recently the first time I read Cherryh’s Foreigner series, for example, or her Chanur books, or… – but there’s many more examples of this happening. It is like some stories or some character portraits just click with my brain chemistry.

As when I ended up watching the original Star Wars trilogy checking the set design.

(I know. I’m a geek. There’s no denying it.)

With Sherlock I ended up watching all episodes several times, every time finding something new, something which I had previously missed, growing increasingly irritated with the world for the main cast to be engaged in fickle projects like The Hobbit, denying the audience a third season. (As a Trekkie I do make exceptions for Into Darkness. May 17 can’t be here soon enough.) It’s not that I deny them their success. It’s just that Sherlock is so much more interesting than those other things and I do worry a bit that simple TV productions will be a beneath them now when they have both hit the mother lode, economically speaking.

So. Now I need to get back to Dracula. Only 60 pages to go it shouldn’t feel like an impossible task. But I just can’t get my heart into it. There’s a stack of books I’d rather read, waiting for me, but NOT finishing it feels equally impossible.

Meanwhile I wonder if real British people live with the kinds of wallpapers featuring so extensively in Sherlock or if it is just me that thinks them fascinatingly ugly? Which leads me to a stay in Berlin were I learned something about cultural differences in interior decoration.

But that, surely, is another story.