Read: Binti – Home, and Binti – The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor

Like the first instalment in the trilogy Home is a fast read. We follow Binti as she in a try to find her identity decides to reconnect with her family, tribe, and culture. She finds way more than she expected, learning that a neighbouring tribe that she grew up to regard as savages in some ways have evolved beyond Binti’s Himba tribe; that she is related to the savages, and that they have plans to bring her into their folds.

Her bringing her alien friend Okwu, a Meduse, with her to see her parents does not make her homecoming easier: the Meduse are at war with the Koush people who shares a planet with Binti’s people, and suspicion is rife.

The last part – The Night Masquerade – is not as easy to read. Where the first book were like a wisp of an idea, a whimsical flower, and the second fleshing it out, giving back story and context, with The Night Masquerade the idea turns into a heavy fruit. As we reconnect with Binti she is on the road back to her home village, returning from the desert. Trying out the powers that she inherited from her mysterious relatives she finds out that perhaps her family has perished.

In a vision she saw how they were under attack from the Koush people, and she is certain that they have all died during a siege, all because the Koush wants to find her; her and Okwu. As a result she decides to try to end the war between the Koush and the Meduse – a war that does not concern the Himba but affects them, as it is fought by space faring creatures down on the planet on which the Himba lives.

Binti is not easy to like. When she is afraid or feel threatened she gets arrogant, dismissing her friends and allies; people who might help her decides to not trust her; promises are broken.

Her native tribe is afraid of her, she has become an alien to them, and I want to sympathise with her for that, but if you behave the way she does in my native Sweden you will soon find yourself out of friends, out of people who will tolerate you.

In the end she does learn a thing or two about why she will not find peace of mind and a centred identity at home, but she still shies away from who she really is.

I do enjoy Okorafor’s voice, but something that I can’t put a finger on stops me from embracing the story. It’s not bad, it’s just that it doesn’t resonate with me.

Still, I do think it is worth reading, if for nothing else for the uniqueness of the perspective that Okorafor brings. And in all honesty – these three slim volumes will not take you a lot of time to read, so why not?

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Read: Provenance, by Ann Leckie

I really had intended to shave some books of off the more ancient layers of the To Be Read pile, but after a couple of weeks of picking up and putting down without much progress I decided to start Ann Leckie‘s Provenance instead.

It proved to be a good choice. The backbone tale is quite formulaic and centres around a young woman and her efforts to win the favours of her adoptive mum: a classic mother-daughter tale, and a classic theme in mainstream novels. Around this basic premise Leckie manages to weave a tale that makes the impression of being anything but formulaic repetition.

Through the experiences of Ingray – the daughter – and her interactions with those around her Leckie explores power structures and power balances, both on a personal scale and a societal one. As we first makes Ingray’s acquaintance she is in the middle of a transaction central to her plan to unsettle her main competitor – her brother – and to bring disgrace to their mother’s main political enemy.

The society Ingray is born into is one were personal prestige and personal image is central for those who aim to be part of the political power. When “election season” is coming up it gets important for the contenders to look good. As in all such cases looking good doesn’t inherently mean being good, and Ingray has learned from a young age to behave in a way that will further her mother Netano’s political career. She herself feel that her only value is in furthering her mother’s career.

Through the individuals that we encounter during the run of the story we get to see the impact of power and power structures: Ingray and Garal/Pahlad and their struggles with family, birthright, inheritance and privilege; military chain of command and futility, through Commander Hatqueban and Excellency Chenns and others. Or the Radch Ambassador to the Geck – Tibanvori, a victim of political infighting.

Sometimes we just get small glimpses, though enough to make the world believable, but most of all the characters themselves feel true: they are real within their respective contexts, and act in consistence with how they are brought up to see the world.

And as always that world is not so different from our own, even as we don’t share clothing styles or pronouns: because it is not what we wear that makes us human, but who we are.

Not as profound as the Imperial Radch trilogy but still a rewarding read. And I have now added Leckie to the list of authors that I keep track of.

While this is a standalone story reading the Imperial Radch books, starting with Ancillary Justice, first adds depth to this tale.

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.

Reread: Tripoint, by C.J Cherryh

Are you happy? Do you think life is just amazing? Think any change would be to the worse?

Tom seems an ordinary guy, for a Family merchanter. But you know when C.J. Cherryh starts out writing contentedness all over the first handful of pages that things will change, and in Tripoint, the next to last of the Company War books, it sure does.

Because this Tom, he isn’t the ordinary merchant Family cousin. Unlike many others he do know who his father is – no one will let him forget, least of all his mother; he has gotten the story of how is mother was raped fed to him since his earliest years – his mother is obsessed with it, and he strives to achieve her love. Forever in vain, and he know it. Still strives.

One such attempt ends up with him being abducted by the very ship whose Captain is his father… and bit by bit we get to see another side of the story.

That Other ship, Corinthian, is known as suspect of being a go-between for the Mazianni, the renegade Earth Company Fleet. And here the text becomes almost Marxist in its choice of tale. The core of Marxism is, whatever mythology has to say about it, that economics is the over-ruling principle of human society. When choices are made, look to where the money is – you need to keep you and yours alive in this world, and you take the deal you are offered, to make odd ends meet. Idealism only feeds so many mouths.

And if the surface story is that about a boy and his heritage, and about everyone’s need to have a place and a mode of respect, the other story is about how chance had Corinthian run the errands that they do – others may look down at them but at least they are making a living. And as Tom discovers – for many of the crew it is the only decent place in a world dominated by Families that have no place for the odd relative, or for the unconnected nobody. Pro or con the Mazianni? Not everyone can afford to make that choice.

And in the end Tom discovers something about himself, besides that of an unexpected family.

As is clear by my recent bout of Company War rereads these are books that ought to be read.

What are you waiting for?!?! :-)

Considering: Life as an Instagram

It is the middle of the Swedish summer vacation period and my Facebook feed is overflowing with instagrammed photos. Every single one shows archetypal vacation imagery – kids in swimwear, strawberry cakes, red lilac-framed cabins basking in sun, plates with pickled herring, sour cream an potatoes, endless glasses of wine, sunsets, verandahs, barbecues… – and almost everyone imitates the faded colours of childhood prints.

Why is this so?

In my mind these instagrammed  moments of life inhabits the same niche as frilled curtains – an conscious or unconscious longing for the simple and therefore happy life, free from worries over money, health, environment, and governmental idiocies. Using artefacts – furniture, curtains, cushions, a vacation experience, the kids – to build an image of happiness hoped to come true through sheer force of stubbornness. It is a proclamation to life – “look how happy I am with my clever beautiful friends/family”.

It is a powerful self-deception and in times of economic recession and political chaos an understandable one. People want to feel like they are successful because just being content with life is not enough – looking good on Facebook is just as important.

And I would have no issues with it if it wasn’t for the consequences. Because we are building a virtual world conforming to a fantasy, far from the real world of flesh, bones, and money. We project an image were our kids are always well-behaved, where food materializes without someone having to do the cooking. The lawn never needs mowing, the water is always warm enough for a bath and chores are unheard of.

It should be no surprise that some people actually panics when they think only their kids are grumpy; that they are the only ones who drown under the ultimate chore of creating the perfect image; that they are alone in not being in possession of a cabin, not having money enough for all those fantastic vacations abroad (not to mention the frustration of seemingly being the only person hating waiting at airports, jetlagged as hell). And of course all restaurants are value for money, and it never rains…

No wonder people are frustrated.

Next time you are posting something consider if you post to project an image or to actually report/share from everyday life.

And if you find that you are in the process of projecting an image, think about how your behaviour affects the world. Do you want to build the fantasy, or do you want to build a society were people can feel like being just who you are is good enough?

Do you prefer tolerance, or do you champion perfection?

Me, I always strive for perfection but I value tolerance. Waking up with a headache is human, and I want a culture and a society where being human – and having the occasional headache – is OK.

How about you?

Review: Persepolis (complete), by Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi‘s biographical graphic novel Persepolis is, in all its nakedness and despite its heavy themes, a fast and delightful read.

Satrapi doesn’t shy away from the things that she did that are less than glorious and this is one of the things that makes Persepolis such a good read – she has a keen eye for the events that both move the story ahead and shows why things turned out the way they did.

Another thing is the way it shows that humans are humans, everywhere, whatever the propaganda says, and that no nation is homogeneous. The latter is obvious if we think about the place where we ourselves live but looking at other countries most humans tend to generalise, to think everyone is the same as long as they’re born within the same national borders.

Alone none of these are reasons to read the book. The first would only be of interest if she was a famous person before she published the work – the latter border on billboard politics and as such is uninteresting. No, what makes the book worth reading is that the core of her story hits straight home on the central themes and angsts of growing up (as a girl). Picking up the sentiments of ones parents and making a caricature of them when interpreting them too literal for adult society. Anxiousness over not fitting in. Trying to live up to what you think is expected of you.

That she do these things under circumstances very different from what western kids expect out of everyday only emphasises the universality of the experiences, and to me this is the real value, the real reason to read this book.

Highly recommended.

Review: Serpent’s Reach, by C.J. Cherryh

In our galaxy, in a future far far away humans have happened upon a strange race, a hive mind. Only one Family is accepted, out of the trading families plying the heavens with their barges, but once accepted the human Alliance puts the whole area under quarantine. Thus isolated humanity develops in a carefully balanced symbiosis with their hosts. When we enter the story 700 years later the social and economic inter-species contracts are just about to crack…

Signature Cherryh, if I may say so, and even if it is an old one (first published in 1980) it is suitably disturbing in its challenge of what, really, is humanness, and what do happen when you isolate a group – deprive it of outside contact, of outside impulses; put humanity in a Petri dish, set aside for X time, and see what happens… and as usual with Cherryh the result she imagines is highly probable. Which makes it even the more uncomfortable.

Seen from a 2012 perspective Serpent’s Reach bear likeness enough to Forty Thousand in Gehenna (first published in 1983) to be  a preliminary sketch, a study in preparation for a more elaborate – and much scarier – tale but despite that it stands well in its own right.

I would not recommend Serpent’s Reach as an entry point to the Alliance-Union books – my personal favourites remain the Company Wars books, and Cyteen. All those tell enough to make some of the implicit background add an extra layer to the other books set in that Universe.

Still, a good read and definitely on I’d recommend.