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Maria

The Great Resignation

by Maria on November 27, 2021

I love the various screengrabs that go around Twitter of an American working in the service industry being treated like crap by their manager who just doesn’t get that labour shortages mean power has shifted, and end with the worker quitting. They’re so popular I can only guess some are fake to hoover up extra likes, but the sentiment is real and the data seems to back it up. The Great Resignation is real, probably driven by deaths from covid, caring responsibilities and, it seems, older people leaving the workforce. In the UK, about a million Europeans have left the country, 700,000 of them from London by the first covid summer. Not that you’d know it from most newspapers. You have to infer it from the calls by government ministers for students to pick rotting vegetables and mothers to put in a shift in an abattoir after they drop the kids to school.

I used to always think having suddenly fewer of a certain essential group gave that group more power. Then I read sometime in the late nineties about China’s ‘one child’ policy, how it drove termination of pregnancies with girls, and how scarcity drove kidnapping and general mistreatment of the surviving girls and women as they grew up. Employers and governments have two choices; adapt the labour market to accommodate workers’ greater choices in the new reality, or punitively try and force them to continue behaving as in the old one. Or in the UK, complain about ungrateful (insert minority category)s, do corruption to personally buy yourself out of the broken system, and rail against reality while throwing dead cat after dead cat on the table. In this way, the ‘great resignation’ can mean both people resigning from shitty jobs and conditions, but also becoming fatally resigned to them.
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Contingency, or some other thing

by Maria on November 8, 2021

I’ve been thinking about how so many stories touch on the idea that another life or even world is almost perceivable but impossibly far away, under normal conditions, but the heroine can see different versions of the future or choose different paths, etc. Or the whole ‘sliding doors’ thing, where a critical moment splits a life in two. Those stories are delicious, not just because we get to explore versions of what might have happened, but because they satisfy a deeper intuition that our sister-lives are almost touchable. (I will only ever recommend Jo Walton’s ‘My Real Children’ as the best, most profoundly compassionate and practically wise branched narrative any of us is likely to encounter.)

When my husband Ed was deployed to Afghanistan, I wrote him letter after letter, not quite able to believe that the blue envelope could exist both in a military quarter in Scotland and, soon after, a base in Helmand. (Letters! The original time travel machine, and the best.) Or that he might have walked out the door five months before for what we couldn’t yet know was be the last time. (It wasn’t.) We often spin contingency around tragic or life-altering events, the ‘if only’s’ about humdrum decisions that set in train outcomes we so desperately wish hadn’t happened, and whose precipitating actions seem so trivial, so mundane, there must surely be a way to take them back. Even stuff like taking the stairs and not the lift at the airport, and just missing that flight. You feel like you can almost reach back and grab yourself of just a few minutes ago.

When I was a university student, my father was involved in a serious car accident. At home looking after my younger siblings, I heard his deeply familiar footsteps come down the hall. In the moment the door handle turned, I both knew it must be him and that it couldn’t be. Both seemed equally true, and until the person came into the room, my father was just as much walking into the kitchen as he was lying in an ICU. (The steps were my older brother Henry’s. I just hadn’t realised they then had the same gait and also source of shoes, i.e. my mother…)

Of course, a lifetime of reading Borges and SFF and popular science about quantum physics is inevitably going to create a fractally abundant way of thinking and feeling about what is only ever plain old contingency. Or just provide more metaphors that dissolve on contact with the inability to express how weird it is that time moves inexorably forward when we, surely, can just. not. Or could sidestep it beautifully in defiance of the expected rhythms, if we, too, had Dune’s choreographer Benjamin Millepied (he of Black Swan/Natalie Portman fame) teaching us how to move.

(By the by, I’ve not seen anything about how very, very French the sensibilities of that film are, from its director to its male lead to Charlotte Rampling’s perfectly ‘learning nothing and forgetting nothing’ Bene Gesserit abbess, to its very slightly orthogonal aesthetic relation to imperialism in the Arab world. Also the music, though I may be wrong about that.)

Anyway, I was just wondering if other people have that ‘can almost reach out and touch it’ feeling about branched lives, or other forms of intuitive disbelief about continuity, causality and contingency, or perhaps I’m calling it the wrong name entirely. How one moment leading straight to the next, and one thing inexorably causing another just seems unlikely, at very large and very small scales. I’m not entirely convinced about the middle one, either.

Does this mode of appeal to other possibilities predate late twentieth century literature and physics, or do we just use new models and metaphors to describe something people have always felt? Or was there – oh no! – a complete fracture in how we conceive of this, or perhaps just the mental model of how we make peace with it, and now there’s no going back? Perhaps what I’m calling contingency, which seems also to contain the idea of its own unsteadiness, is just a secular form of disbelief in the primacy of the present. Was it always thus?

Hierarchy of the Grift

by Maria on October 6, 2021

Recently I was trapped in a room with a beautician trying to upsell me ‘treatments’. She handed me a glossy brochure for a process that involved lying down on a bed with a large inflatable bag secured around the waist, and having carbon dioxide pumped into the bag. This would, I was assured, cause my lower half to become thinner and less lumpy. It would cost several hundred pounds. I nodded, smiled, refused all offers, and left at the earliest appropriate moment, feeling quite grumpy about the utter crap marketed to women to stoke and then assuage our insecurities. There’s no point saying ‘No thanks, that’s bullshit pseudoscience and frankly insulting,’ because that would be rude. The only market signal permitted is ‘No thanks’.

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Space

by Maria on September 14, 2021

ONE

I used to think novels were these telos-fuelled trams you hop onto, not like the trams of a normal European city with lines forming meshes that tent-pole at exchange points to condense traffic and the importance of certain neighbourhoods, imposing a new behavioural topology on top of whatever geography was already there, but more like the Luas in Dublin which has just two lines that are only thematically north-south and east-west, were built at the same time but did not interconnect either physically or fare-wise, despite multiple people and agencies pointing out the rank stupidity of this, and so force you to travel in a single dimension, along one obtusely pre-determined line. You get on and off the tram, or put the book down and pick it up again, but you can only ever travel forward to the end or back to the beginning, the way novels retroactively unravel their meaning as the conclusions reframes all that went before. Though, the way numbers are going, long-form fiction seems less city trams than heritage railways tended by hobbyists and devotees, going nowhere much at all.

This was my way of thinking, anyway, before I got really into audiobooks and learnt that some special few stories are not journeys but places. Those places are both a subset of reality and bigger than it, and evert into us as we immerse into them.
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What is Ours is Only Ours to Give

by Maria on May 4, 2021

Kim Stanley Robinson’s books are how I think about the future. I’m not exaggerating when I say they’re how I manage to think about it at all. They provide much of the temporal and political context in which I do my work, which is to say, they educate me and let me know I’m not alone. Future uses of data and networks are a tiny part of The Ministry for the Future (TMFTF), just as tech policy only counts, now, insofar as it serves our species-wide effort to survive and perhaps flourish. TMFTF does some thinking on how network and information technology – specifically, social media and blockchain – can do the genuinely liberatory work they’ve long been hailed as making possible. I’ve worked in tech policy since the late nineties and will talk mostly in this piece about ways that might work sooner and better to get us to a desirable tech future, and one that gets less in the way of dealing with climate crisis. (I use ‘climate crisis’ as shorthand for the cluster of anthropogenic extinction events described in TMFTF.) [click to continue…]

The last time I

by Maria on February 18, 2021

The one-year anniversary of the last time I met a friend in a café is coming up. I’m glad it was such a good one. I met the marvellous Francis Spufford, occasionally of this parish, for a coffee in the British Library. I had a flat white and a kind of cake/biscuit hybrid that came in a plastic wrapper, and was energetically reassured by the person at the till that there was no mistake in my bill of almost eight pounds. (A café scene in Fleabag comes to mind, when Phoebe Waller Bridge charges twenty-five pounds for a plain tomato sandwich and the exasperated customer just says “London!”) Astonishing to think of now, but we sat at a table in the atrium – inside, no less – surrounded by other tables of people, near the main entrance, with people walking past, breathing, every moment. We talked about the pandemic from China then ravaging Italy, and how people in the UK and elsewhere didn’t seem to believe it was coming for us. There was a stillness and strangeness in having our eyes turned, horrified, to the east in that weeks-long moment when so many, and all the UK’s leaders, put their fingers in their ears and sang ‘la la la’ to the storm that irresistibly propelled them into a future to which their backs were turned. (My apologies to the angel of history.) But even then we knew the fascinated horror was all for naught. We agreed that a lifetime of reading science fiction, especially my favourite sub-genre, post-apocalypse, gave us at most a two-week head start on everyone else in understanding the gravity of what was about to happen.
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Remembrance – Excerpt from The Law of Kindness

by Maria on November 11, 2020

I posted this a few days ago and took it down, but I’m giving it another go because it’s 11/11 and nonfiction doesn’t really get at my feelings about Remembrance and what it’s used for. Below is an excerpt from my novel in progress, The Law of Kindness.

It’s about an Irish woman who’s married a British army officer and can also write letters back through time to her younger selves. She’s probably a bit cattier than I am about the whole thing, and she’s writing this diary entry while ill and sometimes confused, but it gets at some of the complexity of feeling about Remembrance and its uses that people may feel when they have particular and very recent soldiers in mind who ‘shall not grow old’.

Wiltshire, November 2011

Robert’s back three weeks from Afghanistan and he can still hardly look at me. It’s all ‘babes’ and soft touches on the back of the hand, but will he look me in the eye or kiss me on the lips? He will not.

Christ, it’s all death around here all the time. Remembrance Sunday. I’d forgotten how brutal they are. Or is it like mercury. It builds up over time till you’re poisoned for life? We’d a nice few years of just hanging around, squashed into a pen within range of the Cenotaph and chatting to whoever was nearby, waiting for Robert to go past. When he’d find us afterwards, he’d be pink-cheeked with cold and glowing with this odd swirl of pride and the sweeter kinds of sorrow. He’d quickly squeeze the baby, give me one of those kisses that’s more like a question and peel off for an afternoon drinking with the boys. Back when we were in London, semi-detached from the army. And last year we were here, but pre- not post-tour, so I didn’t know any of this battalion’s injured or dead, and the bereaved parents only come for the first year or two, after. And with all my appointments and tests and all the rest of it, I barely paid attention, anyway.

But this one. Fuck me but it nearly did for us. Only a week after the post-tour medals parade. Whose idea was that? The wheelchair parade, more like. What a wretched, wretched tour. I’d kept up with the deaths, just a couple, thank God, but I’d no idea there’d been so many life-changing injuries. I don’t know why Robert barely mentioned them, or Angela. At least I had a chair and a blanket for the first parade, the medals one. Angela and me, sitting up like queens. And Camilla even came, so that made three. She sent her attendant off twice to refill my hot water bottle. God be with the days of having three nervous wees before meeting her and phoning Dad to tell him and tease his can’t-help-himself pride. Irish people and the royal family. Honest to God. Angela and me giggling as we go over the cleaning lady’s work in the CO’s downstairs loo, then seal it off three days before Camilla comes because royalty can’t possibly relieve themselves where we mortals have recently been. But she couldn’t do enough for the families during this tour and she was lovely to me at medals parade, commanding mugs of tea and asking was it the proper Irish one. Builder’s tea, she says, like it’s an ironic joke. I’d to tell her to stop being so nice or she’d make me cry.

And no one face-planted, no guardsman’s jaw. The usual only half-joking remarks there should be a wives’ medal. General on a mission to talk for five minutes to each of the injured. Two and a half hours. Six degrees Celsius. Children keening with boredom and cold, but the littlest ones in the warmth of the welfare at least, looked after by the 2 Fusiliers wives. Cake after, and fizz in the Mess, not that I could touch it. Robert wanted me to skip medals parade altogether. He was afraid I’d get pneumonia. Weird how ‘you’ll get pneumonia’ goes being a mad thing people say when it’s cold to something that could actually happen. ‘It’s an invitation, not a summons’. Sounds like something he read. But people will feel sorry for him in a not-good way if he doesn’t have a wife in a smart coat looking admiring then oblivious as the men mess up an overly complicated drill, never a strong point, forget about post-tour, a couple of stragglers losing the run of it, then a whole section gone the wrong way altogether, the RSM’s voice cracking into a strangled squeak as he sorts them out and us three queens in our big leather chairs brought out from the mess, trying to lighten the moment but not giggle too obviously. But I said that already. [click to continue…]

Sister Ben / Margaret MacCurtain / Peig

by Maria on October 7, 2020

“They always bring up the toilets as an impediment to women. It’s always the toilets.”

In a seminar room in University College Dublin, some time in the spring of 1994, the historian and campaigning Dominican nun lectured final year students on twentieth century women’s history. I don’t remember if the examples Margaret MacCurtain gave us were from her own research – she was a copious and generous supporter and sharer of other scholars’ work – but her quotes from Irish politicians from the 1920s through the 1940s were bizarre and hilarious. Several generations of men had dutifully conveyed the sad but apparently insurmountable fact that women could not participate fully in public life because sports facilities and the buildings of state did not have women’s toilets. Margaret MacCurtain would rock with laughter, letting the ignorant men’s words speak to their own ridiculousness, and then barrel straight into a detailed and sympathetic analysis of why so many post-Civil War Irish women politicians were radically discomfiting. (Short answer; many were the widows and sisters of men shot by first the British and then by the Free Staters.) That was her to a ‘t’ – pulling together the cultural, the structural, the individual and the contingent practicalities that make history thick, urgent and real.

Ireland’s bravest and most beloved historian died on Monday night. Margaret MacCurtain, known to UCD students of the nineteen-sixties as Sister Ben (short for her assigned religious name, Benvenuta), was a Dominican sister and social activist who pioneered feminist history in a country (and a university department) that insisted there was simply no such thing. With other scholars, Sister Ben painstakingly established both a new area of research and the importance of women in the long struggle for Irish independence both before and after the foundation of the state. Working with Maureen Murphy of Hofstra University, New York, she established a channel of exchange between Irish and Irish-American historians whose scholarship first challenged then supplanted many complacent narratives of power with an almost infinitely diverse flora of ‘up from below’ reclamation any annaliste would be proud of. [click to continue…]

Story ate the world. I’m biting back.

by Maria on September 23, 2020

A piece I wrote elsewhere in March is doing the rounds again. ‘The Prodigal Tech Bro’ is about the privileged place in professional interactions and public discourse given to men who used to work in senior positions for tech platforms and are now surprised and disturbed by what those companies do. It points out how the ex-tech executives’ “I’m was lost, now I’m found; please come to my TED talk” redemption arc misses out a key part of the narrative groove they use to slide back into our good graces. It’s the bit in the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son where he hits rock bottom in a pigsty and decides to go home and beg to be taken on as one of his father’s servants. Ultimately, he’s forgiven, much to the chagrin of the brother who stayed home and did the work, but the original Prodigal Son understands where he went wrong, and more importantly who he has wronged, and believes all the long walk home that he will never regain his former status and comfort.

A new documentary on Netflix, The Social Dilemma, is about the harms of social media. It centres the wide-eyed gradualism of a former tech executive named in my piece, amongst others whose careers have followed a similar trajectory from poacher to … someone who thinks we should maybe sometime think about hiring some more gamekeepers, if that’s ok, though obviously not the radical gamekeepers, and definitely not gamekeepers who think their job is something more than game-keeping the herd so ‘we’ can conveniently shoot or farm it.

The film repeats the same failing of the former tech execs – it assumes that the privileged people who made the mess we’re all in should be at the centre of the conversation on how to clean their shit up, crowding out once again those who have suffered because of their shit, or who’ve wrecked their careers by speaking loudly about the existence of this shit, and – crucially – limiting our thinking about what we do now to the homeopathic solutionism of the slurry-drenched insider who is already defined by his insistence that what looks, smells and acts like shit is not, in fact, shit. [click to continue…]

Fatherland

by Maria on May 26, 2020

What grinds my gears the most about the Dominic Cummings affair (Cumgate, oh how we laughed) is his insistence that a routine childcare problem was a circumstance so exceptional it required him to decide, as the Man of the Household, to flout the rules everyone else has endured. But this piece is not about childcare. It is not about the extreme lengths to which elite men will go to avoid looking after their own goddamn kids. It is about male violence.

The exceptional circumstance which Cummings claimed as his excuse to flee London while contagious with a deadly virus was a hard-won exception, fought for by activists and experts in the face of initial government indifference and then belated, patronising acquiescence. But let me put into words the bit about the “exceptional circumstance” we assume doesn’t need saying because it’s as obvious as air; this exception is to deal with men’s violence against the women and children of their household.

When lockdown started and required everyone who wasn’t a key-worker to stay at home, women’s shelters around the UK pointed out at first calmly – assuming it was just an oversight by the Prime Minister’s all-male inner team – and then increasingly loudly, the obvious truth our society thinks too normal to plan for or even mention; that violent men routinely injure, rape and kill the women and children locked into their households. Lockdown meant lock-in for the women and children shut in with angry, confined and – as consumption patterns quickly showed – drunk men.

Do you remember the half news cycle back at the start of lockdown, the violent deaths of a whole family for which the police were not seeking a suspect? Probably not. Two women a week, dead. It’s just normal. The operation and ultimate outcome of male authority and rage in the confines of the family home is so normal it’s not news, it’s not exceptional, it’s not even worrying or problematic. It’s just a one-off tragedy, every single time. Twice a week. Every week. So you see, after a while, don’t you, that it is effectively government policy.

Which is why activists had to strain every muscle and shout as loud as they could to get the exception introduced into lockdown that women and children may still flee violent men. Even if the government had long since shut most of the shelters they could flee to.

So for the architect of lockdown, the “brains” behind the policy that didn’t for a moment consider it significant or worrying that more women and children would be murdered, to use this hard-won, life-saving exception as the justification for fleeing London because he couldn’t find a babysitter, is disgusting. I write for my living and I don’t have a better way to describe how grotesque that is. [click to continue…]

Indefinitely Ill – Post-Covid Fatigue

by Maria on May 18, 2020

What to do when your body forgets how to be well

OK well this is going to be tricky to write because I’m not a doctor and it’s not medical advice, and the more I read around in the displacement activity I often do ahead of a difficult task, the more it becomes plain that striking the balance between speaking anecdotally from, in fairness, somewhat bitter experience, paying due heed to current but still unbelievably partial and fragmentary research, and employing the observational/confessional mode in an attempt to paint myself as a useful cautionary tale suddenly seems so much more complicated than it really needs to be.

Because I really only want to say one thing; if you have had Covid-19 (tested or not), and are getting to a month or two on and still feel like you’ve been hit by a bus, please, for the love of God, rest.

CONVALESCE.

Stop what you are trying to do and listen to your body as it tells you it needs to be quiet now. You will not ‘fight’ your way out of this. It is not a test of your character or your will. You need to stop and listen to the only body you will ever have.

Print out a fact-sheet from the Internet and press it into the hands of your loved ones whose patience with your infirmity is beginning to ebb – perhaps they are beginning to talk about it being ‘just stress’ or how ‘we’re all TIRED’ – and withdraw in whatever ways you can to slowly, vitally heal.

If you can remotely afford it, and even if you can’t really, take the time off work and school, church or party or volunteering of all kinds, withdraw indefinitely from every not-essential-to-life activity and commit an uncapped amount of time to your recovery. Maybe you can’t quite afford to, or maybe you really, really don’t want to ask for whatever financial help and longer timelines you need, but try and take the fatigue, brain-fog, sore throat, ringing in the ears, swollen glands, weird headaches, all-over body-ache and all manner of covid symptoms still lingering long after the blood-work says your body has cleared it and – and I’m sorry this is scary, but it may help – try to imagine still feeling like this a year from now, or five years or even twenty, and think about the finances of that.

Now calmly regard that fear and ask what it demands. See how this re-orders your priorities. Now thank your fear and put it away.

Think of post-viral fatigue as climate change for the human body. It’s here but not here; you acknowledge the immediate effects but haven’t really got your head around their implications. You need to invest heavily up-front and in the face of widespread disbelief to avoid medium and long-term catastrophe. Understand the threat is both insidious and in your face. Some symptoms are obvious and acute, but others you’re too mired in to even fully see. As you’re dealing with the thing itself, you’re also enmeshed in a struggle of knowing, trying to figure out what is real. Understand that recognising and dealing with this illness with the urgency and seriousness it demands may give you the best chance of coming out strong and whole. Understand that whether this happens is not entirely in your hands. [click to continue…]

Choctaw-Ireland solidarity

by Maria on May 4, 2020

A couple of years ago I wrote in a series for Medium about how the solidarity between the Choctaw Nation and the Irish people two hundred years ago is how we can resist the power vertical today. In 1847, Choctaw survivors of the Trail of Tears sent a couple of hundred dollars, a fortune to them, to Irish Famine relief. Those with the least gave proportionately the most. To this day, there is a friendship that goes deeper than the official sculptures and exchange visits that mark it. I’ve long planned to include this story in a longer project about how we can use stories to imagine better futures (partly) by finding unlikely common cause and building movements.

I never imagined there would be another chapter to the story. In the last day or so, the call went out amongst Irish for donations to support the Navajo and Hopi nations in Utah who have lost many elders to covid-19 and were already living in a food desert. Their GoFundMe page has message after message of gratitude and solidarity from Irish people (amongst many other generous donors), honouring our debt. It really is something beautiful.

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His Dark Materials Trans-Atlantic Book Club

by Maria on April 17, 2020

So, I (presumably) got the thing but of course there is no testing in the UK for people who need it, let alone assorted members of the general public like myself who’d just like to know if they’re through the worst. Then I was great for a couple of days, then really, really not so great, and that not-so-greatness has lingered. Net result; cancelling and foregoing various paid work things, letting people down, and not doing my central ‘life’s work’ things. Which is trying, but I am nonetheless going boing boing boing on middle class lockdown bingo. Growing tomatoes. Returning to piano-playing. Complaining about joggers. Starting and not finishing a potential longread about Parfit, past and future selves and why we ignored the letters from our future that China and Italy were kind enough to despatch. Also, tweeting too goddamn much. Eating too goddamn much. (now the food shortages have eased and I can also leave the house to buy some – I quarantined for 2 weeks, but the UK guidance seems to be only 7 days after first symptoms. In something that lasts a lot longer, that seems wrong?) Also comfort-reading.

I was 1/3 through Anna Burns’ Milkman when we went into lockdown about a week before the UK’s official lockdown. Found almost immediately I couldn’t manage it any more. Then tried Tim Maugham’s near-future post-apocalyptic Infinite Detail. Ha! past self who thought you could still read something like that for general interest! you were so so wrong. I don’t remember why exactly, but my thoughts turned to Northern Lights; specifically the Everyman edition of the His Dark Materials trilogy I bought for Ed to bring on his last tour and which he left at home. (His interest piqued to see me reading ‘his’ book, and read the dedication to him, he then said it was just the book he should have brought but only not having done so does he now understand his former self and how he has changed and really should have?)

Then, out on a neighbourhood walk a couple of weeks ago, I knocked on the door of a friend and retreated back to the footpath. Grey area activity, this, but the conversation was short and no sunbathing took place. My friend and her two children came out and Milo whinnied through the gate to be let in to raid their cat bowl. We ignored him and got quickly to book-chat, HDM, and made a plan for a HDM book club online the following night. Invitations went out. (I am that person who’s refused to use whatsapp since the day facebook bought it, but for work reasons have used zoom for years. there is no security or privacy logic to this.) 7pm the next night, those two kids, my two Washington nephews, two of my sisters, Ed and me all got on zoom for a proper conversation that was Not Work and also not ‘well, nothing much happened today, let me tell you about our new composting methodology’. Best online conversation I have ever, no really ever, been part of.

The kids are alright. They are so incredibly, togetherly alright it’s almost funny. We did it again this week, though connectivity problems meant two of my sisters couldn’t join. But I learnt so much from these people who were born when I was already in my thirties – about gender, race, class, story structure, you name it. It is just such a joy and in a moment where I can’t work, can’t read, can’t write, can just about cook and put up a pea-frame thing in the garden with bamboo and string let’s see if it lasts, this hour a week is an oasis of an almost lost sense of being through not very taxing but nonetheless incredibly nourishing doing. [click to continue…]

The Prodigal Tech Bro

by Maria on March 6, 2020

FYI I have a new piece up on The Conversationalist about that second most fungible resource; privilege.

“The Prodigal Tech Bro is a story about tech executives who experience a sort of religious awakening. They suddenly see their former employers as toxic, and reinvent themselves as experts on taming the tech giants. They were lost and are now found. They are warmly welcomed home to the center of our discourse with invitations to write opeds for major newspapers, for think tank funding, book deals and TED talks. These guys – and yes, they are all guys – are generally thoughtful and well-meaning, and I wish them well. But I question why they seize so much attention and are awarded scarce resources, and why they’re given not just a second chance, but also the mantle of moral and expert authority.”

World Book Day – January round-up

by Maria on March 5, 2020

OK it’s World Book Day and as it’s too depressing to work today because – freelance life – God knows when I’ll get paid for anything anyway, and it’s been raining for years, and I frankly have no idea what sort of blog-posts I’m supposed to or able to write these days (but word to the wise, all sarcastic, shitty, trolly or otherwise unpredictably dislikable comments that I won’t define but I know one when I see it will get zapped and their posters banned from here on in because I am DONE with this and I hope some of our lovely women commenters can come back but I completely understand if you, too, are DONE with this), I am going to do a round-up of books I read in January because that may be remotely of interest to some, and no, I will not be pressing the edit button, back button, etc. so this really, really just is what it is.

There are a lot of books because 1) post-Christmas reading days and 2) a holiday I took to beat the winter blues which clearly was worth every penny spent on it.

Rosewater, Tade Thompson, first of a trilogy
Aliens in near-future Nigeria, a new city and its politics built around them, psychic powers, traffic jams, necklacing, biological imperialism and a very good dog. Everyone in SF-world raved about this trilogy and I now see why. It’s fascinating, exciting, much of human life jammed in, funny, clear-eyed, terrific world-building and does so much with and to a well-worn premise that it is completely re-defined – kind of like the first time I heard Radiohead’s Pablo Honey I thrilled to each jewel in its treasure chest of influence, but the second time and ever after, all I heard was the band itself, almost sui generis. A sentence from Rosewater about the alien presence, Wormwood: “When Wormwood surges into awareness, we are unimpressed, even in our knowledge that it is the most significant event in Earth’s history. We’ve seen colonisers before, and they are similar, whether intercontinental or interplanetary.” Read it.
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