Read: Convergence, by C.J. Cherryh

Eagerly anticipated Convergence is the 18th instalment in the Foreigner series, and while Cherryh has run out of -er words imagination has not.

Convergence is two parallel stories but bot starting with Bren, the dowager and Cajeiri as they return to the atevi earth after the kyo encounter. One story is Bren’s, the other Cajeiri’s, and Bren’s is, in some ways, rather in the background.

Circumstances has Bren and his aishid going to Mospheira, to present the human population and their representatives with both the kyo agreement and with Tabini’s demands on removal of the Reunion group from Alpha station. This story is not centre of interest for the book, though: that honour goes to Cajeiri and his solo trip to Tirnamardi – a gesture to show that the aiji still stands with the Atageini, despite a rather unfortunate turn of events in the search for a new Ajuri clan lord.

Convergence sees a upping of the tempo, but also a more concise prose. Some books back (Deceiver, Betrayer, and thereabouts) each of these two stories could well had taken up several books, and now they are both packed into this unusually short text.

This is not a bad thing, all in all. We get to see how the heir has grown up, despite his still young age, and how he comes to understand his role and responsibilities, and maybe, just maybe, a shift in focus from Bren, who is now a rather established personality whose journey is coming to an end, developmentally speaking, while Cajeiri is just taking off.

My only complaint is that the book is too short, not to mention the cliffhanger ending. As no. 18 it is the concluding book in the 6th 3-book Foreigner story arch but it leaves off at a place were you expect to turn the page and find out what’s next… and next up is another year in the future.

I think I need to pick up some other Foreigner book, in the interim, to ameliorate the abstinence.

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: 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!

Reread: Merchanter’s Luck, by C.J. Cherryh

100% paranoia. And then some. That is the essence of the second (publishing order) Company War novel Merchanter’s Luck. It is set immediately after the Battle of Pell (Downbelow Station) and no one trusts anybody. Or anything.

For seventeen years Sandor has lived a life hiding in the margins, using forged papers and false names, and carrying whatever cargo he can find, to pay his living.  To survive he has become something of a con artist, but in the process fellow merchanters starts suspect he might be a pirate. Because how else can such a marginal ship survive, if not from black market trading, deep in space, far from stations and customs control?

He is running out of ports and is starting to despair, about life itself and the value of living it, when he is hit by the apparition of one Allison Reilly, off the huge and famous merchanter Dublin Again. A Name, as they say, whereas he has nothing. That night both his life and hers will change. Forever.

He has nothing, not even food enough, and hides his Name, not to put a bad light on the honour of the ship that once was. Still is, but now under false flag.

She has everything, but nothing too, in a different way. Dublin Again is affluent and its seniors can afford rejuv. They easily live for 130+ years. More are born than will ever be needed to run the ship and Allison has chosen the hardest track of all – that of Helm, which leads to Captaincy. The only problem is that as Helm 21 barring a grievous accident she will die without ever getting posted.

Allison get herself and her command – the three cousins in her team – onto Sandor’s ship, as crew. It is their one chance at command, at really doing what they have trained for.

Sandor, he has run the ship alone, guided by recorded messages put there by one of the three who survived the Mazianni raid on the ship all those seventeen years ago, when he was ten years old; and he starts to get afraid of the changes. He won’t accept to lose the voices he has lived with for all these years. As a result he starts acting suspicious. And Allison’s team aren’t slow to respond, adding their own suspicions to the pot.

What if there wasn’t any raid, what if the relics of a previous family they find in the cold and empty cabins really are traces of people Sandor hired and got rid of, in the dark corners of space?

Enter Alliance Force, the newfangled militia, led by ex-Fleet Mallory, with Mallory herself taking an interest in the small ship. Can she be trusted? What if she still is Fleet? Yet, their small ship has to accept what is offered – it is that or nothing…

Terse and claustrophobic prose that stabs straight at the heart… and then twists some. And some more.

If it was up to me the Company War books + Cyteen should be compulsory reading in school. Not as part of literature studies but as a way to discuss history, politics, economy, and the world we presently live in.

Go ahead!

Reread: Finity’s End, by C.J. Cherryh

Finity’s End. An Alliance legend. A name and a ship that features all over the tapestry that is the Company War books. Appropriate, thus, that the last book in the suite bear that name.

The story doesn’t start there, though. It starts with a boy named Fletcher, a nobody and someone who have had to fight to get to where he is – in a graduate program on Downbelow, the planet around which Pell Station circles and one of the main reasons that Earth has lost its dominion in the Beyond.

He think that he is happy, and he think that he has achieved some degree of control over his life. A fair trek from the lonely five-year old boy whose mother died OD’ing on trank – the drug spacers take to endure jump space; when a ship leaves normal time-space and skips over the continuum; light-year dives beyond body and mind can handle.

Going out in space is the very last thing he want to do. What do his voice matter when the Powers That Be decides it is time to gather all loose strings? Fletcher, he is just collateral… His mother belonged to Finity’s End, she was a Neihart, the Finity Family, and she got left on Pell when the ship had to make a break for it. They promised her to be back in a year, but one year became two, became three… and finally she could not stand it, and left. In all respects. Now Finity is back, again, and this time to claim the War is over, and to pick up one of its stray children. Fletcher. Who doesn’t want to go. Who try desperately not to be caught. Who still ends up on Finity’s End.

On Finity he meets his real family, what is left of it. During a period he have thought of as Peace Finity’s End has been out hunting the jump points, hunting Mazianni pirates, taking heavy casualties. Some died in battle, as the ship took hits. Others just faded away when life during endless guerilla raids felt too filled with horrors, too void of future. There are no small children left, and only precious few teens, and those have all grown up with war as a normal state of things. And their sensibilities are deeply offended when the Old Man, legendary Captain James Robert Neihart, decides to leave pirate-hunting and return to life as a merchanter. Their hair-trigger reflexes can’t get high on making deals in the market and they secretly suspects the Captain of getting doddery.

Little do they understand of the political side of what their Captain is doing – trying to put and end to the black market that feeds the pirates…

The book can get a bit dense, trying to pack so many aspects into one single story – a bit like a scientific paper where the footnotes are 70% of the volume. The result is worth every effort, though, as Finity’s End – both book and ship – puts the finishing sentence to the story about how the Beyond broke free from Earth dominion; the Company Wars, and their afterbirth, and the people affected by it.

A must read, If I were to chose.

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: Darwin’s Sacred Cause, by Adrian Desmond & James Moore

Darwin’s Sacred Cause distinguishes itself as being the first biography that I find readable, and the reason for this is probably that it is not a biography in the purest sense. Instead of chronicling the details of Darwin’s life it tell about how his two famous books Origin of Species and Descent of Man came to be.

To do this the authors has had to explain the political, economical and ideological climate of Darwin’s time and because of this the book interweaves history of the 19th century British Empire, slavery and abolition, political discourse, economic and political change, and history of science.

On reading the book my mind set off on various tangents, exploring ideas and making new connections with pieces of knowledge laying strewn about the floor and desk of my brain –

– We who grew up in the wake of WWII are, at least in Sweden, saturated with images from those wars; public service TV, which was the only TV we had, showed lots and lots of WWII documentaries. The atrocities of the concentration camps and the siege of Stalingrad was standard fare.

Until I read Darwin’s Sacred Cause I had not fully understood how intrinsic stratification and racism is to our culture, to the very social fabric holding western society together. Growing up during a period when outrage over the possibility of places like Auschwitz and Dachau was mandatory I had no real concept of a society were treating humans as less valuable than a good work-horse or a car was acceptable.

Mind you, I was well aware that the racism of the Nazis wasn’t conceived out of thin air. Intellectually I knew they were children of their time. And economic stratification is one of the most important mechanisms of capitalism. But reading this biography I got the instruments to understand how ingrained both stratification and racism is to our culture, as is now aptly demonstrated by the revival of nationalist movements across Europe. It makes the post-WWII part of the 20th century look like a parenthesis when shame forced us to at least pay lip service to the idea that every human had equal value.

Darwin, of course, did not think every human had equal value. Very few of his contemporaries did. And I did say this was tangential to the book. But as the book touches on the American Civil War, on slavery and abolition, and on the birth of anthropology and ethnography in all its colonial splendour, I could not ignore that my train of thought ran off towards personal experiences of for example LA’s South Central or downtown New Orleans, as experienced in the late 1990’s, or by segregated suburbia in present-day Stockholm.

Much as we want to be upset over the way plantation slaves were treated and much as we want to put distance between ourselves and the attitudes of Darwin’s contemporaries and their colonial mindset we – humanity as a whole – need to ask ourselves if these changes we perceive are just superficial, veneer, difference in dressing rather than context.

Much as we want to distance ourselves from the atrocities of the concentration camps we as humans have not yet managed to face why these things happen. We want those things to be the result of aberrant behaviour in individuals. We want those things to be the result of skewed minds manipulating the well-meaning and innocent.

They aren’t. They are the fruits of our blind spots, were we don’t see – don’t want to see – what consequences our theories about individual freedom as sacrosanct for the successful have on the exploited; an exploitation necessitated by our demand for more. We don’t want our well-deserved vacation to a tropical island to be possible because children labour to produce our iPhones and our Nikes.

Neither did Darwin, despite his same blindness. And this biography of his set me thinking, and that is a value in and of itself.

Easily one of the best non-fiction books that I have read in a long long time.

Highly recommended.

Some prior knowledge of the history of science makes the text easier to parse, though, because there’s lots and lots and LOTS of names and it is easy to lose track of who had what opinion.

 (…and by coincidence a friend posted a link to this New Inquiry essay the other day – related, in my view, to my musings above.)