Review: The Gold Coast by Kim Stanley Robinson

Cover courtesy of Orbit Books

The Gold Coast is the second book in the Three Californias Triptych, written by Kim Stanley Robinson. The triptych portrays three visions of a future Orange County: the first, The Wild Shore, post-apocalyptic; the second, The Gold Coast, dystopian; and the third, Pacific Edge, utopian. I’m simplifying, but that’s the basic idea. For the most part, characters don’t carry over from one book to the next—you could pick this book up by itself no problem. I’ll talk more about the effect of reading it together with the others later, but suffice it to say it makes an excellent stand-alone novel.

The two major plotlines of the book follow Jim McPherson and his father Dennis McPherson. Dennis is an engineer working for Laguna Space Research, a defense contractor. It’s 2027 but the Cold War never ended. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has set their clock “one second to midnight man, set there for twenty years.” Jim is a part-time English teacher at a junior college, making ends meet by doing some clerical work at a real estate office too. He’s enchanted by the history of Orange County, the orange groves long ago torn out to make room for condos and freeways, which have so devoured the landscape recently that he and his friends refer to the county as “autopia,” and it’s residential areas as “condomundo.” He’s dissatisfied with the state of the world and the state of his own life, but doesn’t know what to do about either. So the two major plot-lines are 1. Dennis McPherson’s efforts to land a contract for a new missile defense system, and the hell of bureaucracy and inter-departmental rivalries which get in his way; and 2. Jim McPherson’s growing involvement in efforts to sabotage defense contractors in Orange County. These two plotlines will of course have to converge at some point.

That said, this isn’t a book driven by plotlines, and the two I just described aren’t exactly the focus. Where other novels direct their energy forward in chains of causal events, Gold Coast directs its energy outwards. More than anything characters drive the novel, representing a broad section of the young people of Orange County. Steadily, steadily, the world reveals itself through their different viewpoints, through the maneuvers of their daily lives. Jim is a prototypical lost young man, but the pitfalls of this trope (e.g. telling a story ostensibly about social issues by centering a middle class straight cis white man, most protected from the consequences of those issues) are avoided by the fact that the book takes on so many different viewpoints. Each chapter follows a specific character, and Jim’s chapters are just one tributary of the novel’s expansive river basin. The book almost feels like a sitcom at times, especially since so many of the viewpoint characters are part of the same friend group. So Jim’s aimlessness isn’t valorized or held up as some universal experience, it’s just one life cast among the lives of drug dealers, ambulance drivers, surfers, revolutionaries, art teachers. The one glaring failure is the lack of women. Sure, they’re around, but only one of them is given her own chapters. Oddly enough, it’s Jim’s mother. So while Robinson is admirable for including chapters following her life, which is indeed an expansive and realized life entirely separate from her son or her husband, he’s worth criticizing for otherwise showing Orange County entirely through male inhabitants.

Read More »

In Lieu of an Afterword

A month ago I published The Same Story Told, a pastoral post-apocalyptic fantasy retold six times in a row. I didn’t include an afterword at the end of the book, because I didn’t want to distract from the formal strangeness of the novel. The book already has six layers of overlapping, diverging narratives, plus a frame story, and I didn’t want to toss a totally non-diegetic commentary on top of all that. So this post is in lieu of an afterword. As with the afterwords for my short fiction and plays, I’ll talk about the origins of the book, and the process of writing it. If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry, there’s no spoilers! You can’t spoil a book that delivers the entire plot in the first thirty pages and then repeats it five more times! 🙂

That said, I dunno how interesting or intelligible this will be to someone who hasn’t read the book. Proceed at your own discretion, and if you do want to read the book, you can buy it on Smashwords, or read an excerpt of it here.

The initial idea for TSST was not fantasy, but sci-fi, though the core concept was the same. A spaceship crash lands on a distant planet. There’s only enough oxygen and food for a few people, so some are put into cryo-sleep, alternating throughout the years as they struggle to gather enough resources to repair their ship. Or something, I don’t really know—I brainstormed a lot of different possible scenarios, but pretty quickly gravitated towards a fantasy setting, with a world struck by plague instead of a distant lifeless planet.

Right from the start, I had the basic structure of the different character’s stories—one person asleep for all of it, providing a sort of historical perspective; one person awake for all of it; one person continuously awake at the beginning and end, but with a big gap in the middle; and two people alternating each year. I drew out graphs to visualize how each of these characters would age over time, the dynamics of older and younger shifting.

Read More »

New Publication: The Same Story Told

TSST-c-9The time is now! My novel, The Same Story Told, is now available on Smashwords and Amazon! Pick it up, or read an excerpt here. Here’s the synopsis:

Whistlers normally draw power for their incantations from the microbial sappers that infect their own bodies, but an incantation to infect others with sappers has been discovered, and the resulting plague has devastated the world. The only immunization against this plague is to be infected by a Whistler with a little more control over the bacterial life they create. Of the survivors gathered at the Academy of Sibilant Arts, Klobs is the youngest Whistler. At 14, she’s been entrusted with infecting just four people—her older brother Binlev, her mentor Daltob, and two friends from another academy, Hakleen and Boos.

These five are sent to reclaim a farming township, but soon a hostile group of Whistlers raids their food stores. Without enough food to make it to the harvest, Klobs uses her sappers to place Daltob and Hakleen in deep sleeps. Working in year-long shifts and year-long sleeps the five can conserve food, but each member of the group experiences a unique fragment of the same struggle, deviating, merging, echoing.

The Same Story Told tells each fragment one after the other, as well as the apocryphal legend that has arisen about the “Lost Expedition,” changing format and style to portray the same post-apocalyptic pastoral fantasy six times in a row.

Review: Familiar Face by Michael DeForge

familiar face
Cover courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly.

Michael DeForge’s characteristically busy panels full of simple, abstracted forms fit the world of Familiar Face, his latest comic, perfectly.  This is a world in unending flux. Every day there are updates, patches, optimizations, altering everything from the subway map of the city to people’s physical bodies. The changes are sometimes drastic and always immediate—no gradualism. One day the narrator character wakes up and finds her body has shrunk, another day the layout of her apartment building has totally shifted, and she’s surrounded by new, unknown neighbors. All these changes are for the benefit of the inhabitants of this world, supposedly, though from the outside they seem totally arbitrary.

As I said, DeForge’s art style is a perfect match. It doesn’t let your eyes sit still, and rarely explains itself. The narrator has a … cat? dog? A very angular spindly little creature which shows up in some panels depicting her apartment, never mentioned in the narrating text which runs over most of the graphic novel. That narrative text keeps the reader on track, helping them identify certain things (e.g. this text description of subway tracks is paired with a drawing of these veiny tubules, so those must be subway tracks), but on other matters the reader is left to strain at comprehension on their own. Is this squiggly blue bit here a car? A person? A dog? You’re as bewildered as the narrator, as anyone in this world, and often the panels are crammed full of this visual information, all in vibrant colors. Now, lots of what I’ve said here could be applied to other works by DeForge, but Familiar Face goes a step further by frequently changing the design of the main character. The one concession to the reader is that characters retain their color scheme, but that’s it—the changes go unremarked by the narrator, forcing the reader to keep pace. I remember at one point reading along and stopping short when I realized that the little four-legged creature I’d been following for a couple pages was, in fact, the narrator!Read More »

The Same Story Told: Excerpt

TSST-c-9So I haven’t actually announced this on the blog, but I will be publishing The Same Story Told, a novel(!), in just a couple weeks! The Same Story Told is a post-apocalyptic pastoral fantasy told six times in a row. After a gale of sappers has devastated the world, a group of five friends attempts to rebuild a farming town. When their stores of food are raided, the Whistler of the group must place some of them in a magically induced deep sleep to conserve resources, alternating in year-long shifts. Each member of the group experiences unique fragments of the same struggle to create a sustainable source of food, deviating, echoing, altering format and style. You can read a bit more about it and preorder it on Smashwords or Amazon.

The book is divided into five sections, one for each of the characters, and a sixth section for the apocryphal legend that has risen about “The Lost Expedition.” This sixth section is actually the first in the book, so to give you a look inside the book I’m posting it here in full:

The Lost Expedition

In the year 1,240, the same year that yits lit all the streets of Opasis, the same year the harvests overfilled the storehouses of Nesten, in the year 1,240 Bellengrew gripped the Seedlings with a rigid claw, then fell, and cracked, and desolated the world. The infectious sappers that had brought prosperity and advancement to the other city-states, Bellengrew used to raise enormous fanged animates and roll bombs five feet in diameter. The incantation for infectious sappers, a guarded secret entrusted only to the most sage scholars, the most loyal civil whistlers, was passed around loosely between the power-hungry commanders and captains of Bellengrew, until finally a spark caught within that overstuffed tinderbox, and burned across all the Breath.Read More »

New Publication: Yellowknife

“Yellowknife” is now available at Amazon and Smashwords! (And because I’m participating in Smashwords’s Authors Give Back sale, for the next couple days you can get it free from Smashwords!) For anyone who’s read my story “The Wisdom Goddess Star,” this novelette is set in the same world, though with a different group of characters.

yellowknife-c-1Inspector Naval is not that sort of inspector. He examines safety code violations, claims of mismanaged funds, workplace accidents. He is not a private eye, he is not a detective, he is not a genius of deductive reasoning. But Mars has scarcely any law enforcement, so when Margaret Hoehn turns up dead at an International Martian Program facility, Inspector Naval is the best the IMP can send.

Margaret Hoehn died at Yellowknife, an isolated research base mainly dedicated to studying the extraterrestrial bacteria found there. It was in the room containing this very bacteria that Hoehn was found dead from CO2 poisoning. In such a small facility, with constant surveillance footage ruling out most suspects, there’s a narrow pool of people who could’ve killed her—or maybe it was suicide, or just an accident. Regardless, Naval is still out of his depth, and he’ll have to adjust to the peculiar rhythms of life at the small, insular colony if he’s ever going to find out what really happened.

In addition to the novelette, this publication also includes an afterword by the author about how a mystery fiction class and research on Antarctica influenced the writing of the story.

New Publication: Classic Cage in some scripts Issue 3

some scripts issue 3My one act play Classic Cage is available in issue 3 of some scripts, their climate change-themed issue! The issue is available to read free for the next month, until June 11th, here. Here’s the synopsis:

Tara Cage is struggling to sell her next book. Publishers on Mars want another of her cheerful, optimistic Earth travelogues, the ones that made her so popular, but things have been getting bad on Earth. Climate change and economic upheaval have made Tara a lot more cynical, and sick of selling Mars a whitewashed version of her home planet. Her sister and literary agent, Michaela Cage, tries to grease the wheels with a potential publisher by getting a realtime FTL video connection between them on Mars and Tara on Earth. Unfortunately Tara’s internet connection has been screwy, making the video chat’s predictive AI patch over moments of lag with an AI version of Tara, compiled from calls made by Tara the last time she used it—which was twenty years ago. Between the upbeat, cheerful robo-Tara, and the true, jaded, bitter Tara, the publisher is getting mixed messages—though the AI seems to be making a better impression than Tara herself.

New Publication: Red, Her Hand

Wow it’s been a while since one of these, but here we go, “Red, Her Hand” is now available at Amazon and Smashwords! (And because I’m participating in Smashwords’s Authors Give Back sale, you can currently get it free from Smashwords!)

RHH-c-1“Now the real power isn’t predicting the future. The real power is predicting the prophecy.”

Gailee is a poor girl living in the Predestined Empire, where prophecies, written centuries ago by cloistered prophets, dictate all law and governance. Gailee provides for her family by working as a transcriber in one of the courts that interprets these prophecies, and as a straw dealer to noble kids. Tuuqoi, one of her buyers, is a young noble fated to become a prophet soon, whose most daring transgression in life is steaming straw with Gailee. His life takes a turn for the roguish when Gailee, overcome by a sense of calling, enlists his help to fulfill her destiny and become a prophet herself.

In addition to this novelette, this publication also includes an afterword by the author about the inspirations that mixed together to make this story.

All My Ebooks Are Free on Smashwords from Now Through May 31, and So Is My Comic

EDIT: This post previously said the sale would last through April 20. The sale has now been extended to last through May 31.

As part of Smashwords’ Authors Give Back sale, all my ebooks on Smashwords are free from now through May 31. For catharsis, might I recommend “Beneath Them,” a short story about a devastating alien invasion and an apartment with a roach problem. For pure escapism, “The War on Hormones” is an angsty novelette about pharmaceutically asexual high schoolers at a performing arts school.

Also Last Year Comic Chronicle is free on Itchio, also through May 31.

If you aren’t already, listen to medical professionals and public health institutions. If you’ve got money to spare, there’s a lot of emergency funds that could use it right now. This is not the first global crisis we’ve faced and it won’t be the last, so let’s do our best and look out for each other!

Review: Dead Astronauts by Jeff VandeMeer

91bh9jVbRZL-1
Cover courtesy of Macmillan.

If a cataclysmic shattering world could write a novel, this would be it. The organizing principle of Dead Astronauts is not chronology, nor non-linear chronology (a book told out of order still postures itself against a fixed, correct order which the  reader can construct in their mind.) The organizing principle is ecology, iteration, echoes. I had a dream recently where someone told me they “experience things cumulatively,” which I find to be an oddly apt description of this novel. You experience this book cumulatively. The book takes place in the world of Borne, but it may as well not, because aside from the familiar post-apocalyptic landscape and the similarly surreal lifeforms that populate it, the way the world behaves is just totally different, starting with the timeline-hopping Dead Astronauts.

The second chapter of the book, and also the longest, follows these titular characters, “the three.” If not for this section, the book wouldn’t have anything close to a main plot, just lots of small stories filling in the histories of different places, the backstories of different characters. So, what is the narrative? “The three,” Grayson, Chen, and Moss, are on a seemingly futile mission to reclaim the City from the Company, a mission they’ve repeatedly undertaken across multiple alternate timelines, facing different variations of the same archetypal characters each time, often (always?) ending in failure.

But … why? This chapter was probably my least favorite—the parts of it that I liked most were the parts delving into the astronauts’ pasts, while the actual narrative through-line, this mission, just wasn’t all that compelling. What are they reclaiming the city for? What would they do once its reclaimed? The thing Grayson Chen and Moss seem to care about most is each other, not the City. Grayson and Moss may have personal reasons to want to exact vengeance on the Company, but … enh, that’s more my own speculation than anything the text explores. And unlike in the Area X trilogy, the hollowness of the mission isn’t developed and spotlighted as a theme, it just feels like flat writing.

Once the title characters get out of the way, other chapters shine a lot brighter, like that of Charlie X, a scientist at the Company with a fast deteriorating memory, or the chapter for the Dark Bird, a deadly, tortured creation of the Company. These chapters are much less narrative-focused, more non-linear and experimental (granted, even the Dead Astronauts section is far more experimental than something like, say, Borne—it’s a testament to how wild this book is that that chapter seems conventional in contrast to everything else.) Probably my favorite chapter was “Can’t Forget,” a vigorous, hateful 60 pages narrated by the Blue Fox, describing an ancestral memory of humankind’s assault on foxes, through fur-trapping and climate change up to the Company’s experiments on and exploitation of the Blue Fox as a biological reconnaissance tool. I could write a post about that chapter in itself—the use of huge walls of repeated text, the effect of actually reading through it, the defiant and truly inhuman voice VanderMeer achieves. There are a few single sentences in the chapter that floored me, simple phrases that land with explosive impact because of how the text builds up to them.

Truly, VanderMeer’s prose is great throughout the whole book, it’s as inventive as the novel’s overall structure. He gives lots of focus to the materiality of words, their sound, their weight when repeated over and over, with less emphasis on strict semantic meaning. Characters stutter out series of rhyming words, text appears in blocks with big vacuums of white space in between. Just as this world is full of characters whose striking, mythological stature transcends a more realist, psychological approach, the language often strives for force, vitality, in order to transcend the mere conveyance of information.

If a cataclysmic shattering world could write a novel, this would be it. And because of its non-linear nature, because the narrative is more a decentralized history than a single plot, it beckons to be reread, reread in pieces, in sections, out of order or over and over again. If you like VanderMeer’s more experimental stuff, definitely check this out. There is little out there like it.

Public Domain Day 2020

Wow! More formerly copyrighted works released to the public domain! This year I don’t really have much of a post like I’ve done in previous years—I ended up being pretty busy these past couple months, and couldn’t put anything together in time for today. In lieu of my own blabbing, I recommend you read the Duke CSPD’s post on Public Domain Day 2020, if you’re interested in what works are newly public domain, and what works could’ve become public domain today if copyright law weren’t so draconian.

channelcon30-14That said, I am still releasing one of my own works to the public domain, as I have in years past. This year, that work is “ChannelCon ’30,” a novelette about “curators” who put together livestreams of public domain movies. Lindsey Xong and Amber Smith, two such curators, form the highly popular channel Amber Linz. Just like any popular curators, they go to ChannelCon, but quickly find the fans there divided into two sides engaged in an intense feud. As the Con falls into chaos, the two factions drive a wedge between Amber and Lindsey, and finding out who is behind the sabotage becomes crucial.

The original publication included an afterword, which I am also releasing to the public domain. You can download “ChannelCon ’30” in the following formats: PDF — Epub — Mobi — Docx. Read it, steal it, break it, put your name on it, whatever, happy Public Domain Day!!!

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XLI, The Final Resolution (1876). — The Pilcomayo Line and Arbitration. — Nabuco and Peace.

This is the last chapter! Wow! Eventually I will put out an edited version, with all the footnotes translated, for purchase. However, this version of The War of Paraguay as it exists here on the blog will remain free to read in perpetuity.

On 25 June 1875, Rio Branco, tired of his long ministry, left the government to the Duke of Caxias. Caxias tasked Cotegipe, who came to be the soul and political director of the cabinet, with the post of Foreign Affairs. The Argentine issue had lasted too long and lost its force. Cotegipe was left with the labor of dealing with Irigoyen (1), Avellaneda’s new minister, to discuss an end to the situation created in 1872, and finalizing negotiations between Asunción and Buenos Aires on the foundation of arbitration, offered by Tejedor, a foundation that, although with some modifications, Tejedor himself made impossible to adopt when he negotiated directly with Sosa.

841px-President_Rutherford_Hayes_1870_-_1880_Restored
Photo of President Rutherford B. Hayes, ca. 1880

Our government found Irigoyen quite favorably disposed. With negotiations between the Paraguayan envoy and the Minister of Foreign Affairs resumed in Buenos Aires, Baron Aguiar d’Andrade attends them as representative of Brazil; finally, a satisfactory result is reached, and the treaty is signed on 3 February 1876. The republic gains the line of Pilcomayo, the island of Cerrito, and resorts to submitting possession of Villa Occidental and its territory up to Río Verde to arbitration. A few months later Brazil withdraws its troops from Asunción and evacuates the island of Cerrito. The final result of the dispute is known: in 1878, President Hayes (2) rules in favor of Paraguay, and that republic takes back possession of Villa Occidental.

So peace had been made, granting the Argentine Republic those borders that Pimenta Bueno, Uruguay, and Jequitinhonha had recognized as lawfully Argentine on 7 December 1865; borders that, for another thing, were what Brazil agreed to, and what Mitre, signing the May 1st treaty, believed sufficient to satisfy the needs of his country; the same borders also, probably, which Varela thought of when condemning the right of conquest—only wanting, it may be supposed, to obtain some important Brazilian concession to Paraguay itself, in exchange for that condemnation.

Without Brazilian diplomacy—and without Paraguayan resistance consequently ceasing to exist—no Argentine diplomat would have dared to renounce possession of the right shore of the Paraguay, guaranteed by the alliance treaty. In this sense, one can say that Brazilian diplomacy lent a great service to the true Argentine interests, and to the realization of the aspirations of the most illustrious statesmen of the Plata, namely that the republic not come out of the war enriched with the territorial spoils of the defeated nation.

Unfortunately, the sincerity which should preside when dealing with matters of this stature did not always exist between the allies, and if they did not fall into a new war over the Paraguayan Chaco, it is owing to the painful experience they acquired in the previous campaign, and to fatigue. It is lamentable that, after existing for five years in such perfect harmony on the battlefields, both countries would arrive at such a state of public opinion; but one cannot doubt that for Argentina to launch a war after Cotegipe’s separate treaties, or Brazil after Tejedor’s withdrawal, only a little more popular enthusiasm was needed.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XL, New Danger of War. — Tejedor’s Mission in Rio de Janeiro (1875). — Its Outcome.

However, peace will still not be altered this time, despite the fact that the year 1874 begins full of peril. Caballero (1) again invades Paraguay, to whose capital our troops and ships lend protection. In Brazil they attribute this revolution to Argentine machinations.

El Nacional, of Buenos Aires, uses the same language as always: “On the day following the declaration of war there will not be a single Mitrist, Alsinist, nor Avellanedist (2). There will be only Argentines.”

In turn, the Jornal do Commercio, almost always pacifist and prudent, seems inclined to war. “The United States of the South,” it says in an annual review, “are, in their schemes, more audacious and ambitious than the United States of the North, without respect to any foreign right nor care for self-responsibility. Yesterday they robbed the weak and defenseless Eastern State of Martín García Island, key to the navigation of the rivers Paraná, Uruguay, and Paraguay; today they take control of another position no less important on these rivers, the island of Cerrito; and not satisfied with that, they wish to conquer all of Paraguay with our indirect support. Tomorrow they will not be content with these major annexations, and the victim chosen will be the Republic of Uruguay. Refusing, intentionally up to now, to set its borders with the empire, and considering themselves to be much stronger the more we are acquiescent and tolerant, they will aspire later to have claim to Mato Grosso, Rio Grande do Sul, and perhaps Santa Catarina, because at one point Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca disembarked on this island … We have been the most ardent apostles of peace, but we are beginning to feel the conviction that in the end it will be incompatible with dignity, having a neighbor who stirs up alliances against the empire, and who, despite its disorganization, does not cease to provoke conflicts over border disputes of American powers, which it calls dear brothers, such as Chile, Bolivia, and poor Paraguay. It seems to us that in South America one sees the Franco-Prussian drama reproduced. Brazil, which demolished Humaitá close to three hundred leagues from the mouth of the Río de la Plata to ensure the free navigation of its rivers, and to have free access to its province of Mato Grosso, sacrificing a hundred thousand of its sons in the inhospitable fields of Paraguay and jeopardizing the public fortune, should it see with indifference that, as rearguard, only 50 leagues from that delta, other threatening fortifications are raised on Martín García?”

tmb1_815337_201908141925080000001
Portrait of Nicolás Avellaneda by Egidio Querciola.

But the presidential election must take place in this year. It will not end, as such, with a Brazilian war, but rather a civil war. Alsinists and Avellanedists join together against Mitre. Mitre rises up, armed against them, and is defeated at La Verde and Santa Rosa by the new federal Remingtons. In JunĂ­n, Mitre, the commander-in-chief of the allied armies, surrenders to an official still obscure, beginning his career, Commander Arias.

Mitre’s defeat left Brazil’s enemies in Argentina as owners of the field; but a revolution made at the cost of sacrificing the country’s greatest man always suffers a great weakening of force internally, and a weakening of prestige externally. Avellaneda’s election meant the vanquishing of the old Porteño party, that is, the conquest of Buenos Aires by the province. The resistance by the aristocracy, by the great capital’s culture, against the invasion of provincial elements began. In such conditions, it did not matter that Alsina was Minister of War and that Tejedor continued in his post. The new government could give a great boost to the national life, undertake and realize the “Conquest of the Desert”, complete, through emigration, the foundations of the new United States, which Sarmiento began to outline in the schools; but the very first condition of this work was to withdraw itself from foreign affairs, in the way of the United States of America. In times of activity, expansion, and internal reconstruction, the policy of foreign relations comes to be secondary. As well, the political crisis of Buenos Aires’s dominance brought with it an economic and financial crisis.

Following the first impression produced by Mitre’s fall and the national government’s transformation, Tejedor and Rio Branco returned to their negotiations on the Chaco. When Tejedor believed the terrain sufficiently prepared, he came to Rio de Janeiro in person.Read More »

Review: So Much for that Winter by Dorthe Nors, translated by Misha Hoekstra

9781555977429
Cover courtesy of Graywolf press

So Much for that Winter is a collection of two novellas by Dorthe Nors, “Minna Needs Rehearsal Space” and “Days.” Both are about break-ups to varying extents, and both take highly lineated forms. Every sentence in “Minna Needs Rehearsal Space” get its own line, with scarce use of pronouns or compound sentences, meaning most of the novella looks like this:

Minna introduces herself.
Minna is on Facebook.
Minna isn’t a day over forty.
Minna is a composer.

“Days”, on the other hand, often breaks sentences across multiple lines. It is made up of numbered lists, with each list composing one day, so it looks like this:

1. So much for that winter,
2. I thought, looking at the last crocuses of spring;
3. they lay down on the ground
4. and I was in doubt.

As I said, both novellas are about break-ups, but “Minna Needs Rehearsal Space” is a little more explicitly about a break-up. Minna is a composer who is in love with Lars, and a few pages into the novella Lars dumps her via text. Also, Minna needs rehearsal space, and she was supposed to get a space through a friend of Lars’s, but that’s a no-go now. So Minna tries to go about her life, tries to get over Lars, tries to keep composing, and eventually goes on a vacation to Bornholm which takes up the last third or so of the story.

“Minna” is a very humorous novella, reveling in awkward encounters and embarrassing moments. It honestly reads a bit like chick lit, just in an unusual form—a form which does, in fact, accentuate its dry, pithy humor at times, while also allowing some more poignant, meditative moments at others. Overall I quite enjoyed it, but I didn’t feel a very strong connection to the main character. Maybe it’s the form, making even the most sincere moments seem a bit flip in their delivery. Or maybe it’s the pacing, the constant release of tension from each line break, each period, preventing total immersion. Or maybe I just don’t care that much about break-ups? I also found it strange (and this is kind of a problem with “Days” as well) that the main character appears to have no job. Is she really making a living off of her “paper sonatas”? It’s a touch odd, in a book focused on everyday life, that monetary concerns/financial anxiety basically never come up. Maybe that’s just how people are in Denmark, IDK.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXXIX, Mitre Sent to Paraguay. — Proposal of Arbitration. — Brazil’s Position.

Meanwhile, General Mitre was going to Paraguay to negotiate peace, and Brazil was being represented in these negotiations by the Baron, later Viscount, of Araguaya (1). The Argentine government did not approve of Mitre’s conciliatory approach, Mitre being content with the line of Pilcomayo and Isla del Cerrito, for which reason that general left the capital of Paraguay at the beginning of September, without having obtained anything. The Buenos Aires government’s final proposal was this: the line of Pilcomayo with Isla del Atajo (Cerrito) and arbitration regarding the Chaco, including Villa Occidental, with the status quo maintained until the verdict; or Pilcomayo and Villa Occidental, with the Argentine Republic desisting from the rest of the Chaco. But Paraguay only accepted arbitration for all of the Chaco, including from the Pilcomayo down to the Bermejo. In October of 1873, when Mitre’s negotiation was interrupted, or ruined, war between the allies was believed to be inevitable; in Argentine newspapers, the campaign which appeared at the beginning of 1872 was reborn. Brazil and Argentina armed themselves, made grand orders of Remingtons, ironclads, Krupp canons, and torpedoes. The Alsinist (2) newspapers attacked Mitre, showing him entitled to the Brazilian crown and representing him, in caricature, making a monkey dance—the monkey being the symbol for Brazil in the Argentine Republic.

Such is the situation we see reflected in the following summons for the Foreign Affairs Section of the Council of State, for which summons Nabuco was speaker (20 November 1872):

“By the 4th article of the agreement of December 19 of last year, published in December of the same year, the imperial government is obligated to effectively collaborate with its moral force towards the goal of bringing the Argentine Republic and Uruguay to a friendly arrangement with Paraguay, respecting their definitive peace treaties.

“By virtue of that commitment, the extraordinary envoy and minister plenipotentiary of H.M. the Emperor in Buenos Aires, senhor Baron of Araguaya, received instructions and powers to be transferred to Asunción, and there aid señor General Mitre, entrusted with the Argentine mission. The Argentine government seemed very satisfied with the selection of the Brazilian plenipotentiary and Brazil’s rapid cooperation.

“Señor General Mitre initiated negotiations with the Paraguayan government, without requesting Brazil’s direct involvement, and without even discovering Brazil’s thoughts on the conditions that Argentina would accept, maintaining this caution at the same time that it maintained the most courteous and agreeable relations with senhor Baron of Araguaya.

“As can be seen in the protocol of said negotiation, signed by the Argentine and Paraguayan plenipotentiaries, the Baron proposed, and so it was agreed, that before anything else they would occupy themselves with the border treaty, as this was the only issue that could present difficulties.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXXVIII, General Mitre’s Mission in Brazil. — Mitre-SĂŁo Vicente Accord (1872).

There was no reason for serious misunderstanding, however, since the fundamental spirit moving the Argentine government, despite the state of national furor which both parties created, was one of making concessions to Paraguay, of contenting itself, as last resort, with the line of Pilcomayo, and of accepting arbitration on the issue of Villa Occidental. Because of this, the bellicose agitation at the beginning of 1872 calmed down when Mitre’s mission was met in Rio de Janeiro.

Sending Mitre to Brazil in that role was a skillful political maneuver, because if he failed or if he ceded too much to the empire’s demands, he would be ruined for the future presidential election. Cotegipe contributed to his appointment, telling Tejedor that his goal had not been to break the alliance; that the Argentine government could do what he himself had done, with the guarantees the alliance granted to all the allies. The first difficulty lay in the notes exchanged from government to government. Mitre arrived in Rio de Janeiro in early July (1872) and spent three months in resolving this difficulty, because of the meticulous approach which Rio Branco, and, one can say, the emperor himself, offended by the Porteño press’s language against the empire, took in wanting to clarify the allusions Tejedor made. But on November 19th, Mitre and the Marquis of São Vicente, Brazilian plenipotentiary, sign the accord reestablishing the alliance just as it was before Cotegipe’s treaties, leaving those treaties intact, and obliging Brazil to help its ally in the negotiations it would initiate in turn. The familiarity Rio Branco had with Mitre’s ideas probably contributed to the renewal of the treaty, Mitre also being designated to represent Argentina in the Asunción negotiations.

The Mitre-São Vicente accord did not oppose the policy of separate treaties, but it stripped this policy of all its gravity, reestablishing good harmony between the allies. If Cotegipe’s blow didn’t simply signify abandoning Paraguay to its fate, it did create a difficult situation for Brazil, imposing on it the role of mediator, or, if not recognized as mediator, protector of the defeated party against the former ally. What was Cotegipe’s thinking concerning Paraguay when signing these treaties—to abandon it, or defend it? If he wished to defend it, was he not making Brazil’s intervention more difficult from the very moment in which the alliance broke, or appeared to break? If he wished to abandon it, would this sudden movement not take on the character of pure farce? Would it not be considered a snare set for Paraguay?

Whatever Cotegipe’s idea was at its root, Rio Branco did not want the opportunity it offered to escape him. Without waiting for the situation Cotegipe created to reach a breakdown of relations, he harnessed his skill and perseverance for the protection of Paraguay and the conservation of the territories of the Chaco, a skill and perseverance which in the end granted him his triumph.

Tejedor did not take advantage of Cotegipe’s blow, and as such the Argentine Republic did not obtain a single advantage from the precedent set, not from being able to negotiate with Paraguay separately, nor from being left alone in the field, untethered, against the common enemy.

In view of the capital importance that Rio Branco assigned this issue, it can be said that few diplomats have had reason for such legitimate pride for a triumph obtained as Rio Branco had for having saved the Chaco for Paraguay, perhaps equal to the satisfaction that, years later, his son the Baron of Rio Branco experiences, saving for Brazil the disputed territory of Palmas, which the Argentines considered an extension of Misiones.

But it must be said, in truth, that the Viscount of Rio Branco would have achieved nothing without two factors: 1st. The impartiality of Argentine politics, which, though at times it suffered eclipses, manifested itself in Varela’s attitude and later in Mitre’s concessions, and which never would have let the Chaco dispute come to a war between the allies; 2nd. The position the Liberal opposition sustained in the Senate, and especially in the Council of State, rejecting the right of conquest and rejecting besides any possibility of a break-up.

Review: Death’s End by Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu

91MfIt8mhaL
Cover courtesy of Tor Books.

Death’s End is the conclusion to the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. Spoilers for the first two books, which I reviewed here. Death’s End more or less picks up where The Dark Forest left off, with Trisolaris in an uneasy cold war with the Earth, and Luo Ji sitting with his finger on the button. I say “more or less” because the book actually does take some time to go back to the “Crisis Era,” describing a failed espionage project, and introducing us to the book’s main character, Cheng Xin. This brief episode at the beginning, where we see a human brain sent out to the Trisolaran fleet, is the last bit of set-up Liu needs—after a book and a half of waiting for the fleet to arrive, we finally have a book where, start-to-finish, humanity is dealing with immediate existential threats, or suffering immediate damages. With the exception of these few chapters of anticipation at the beginning, the whole book is falling dominoes.

And the scope of the book is truly phenomenal, full of so many historical episodes across different eras of human existence. I say “historical” because that’s really the only way to describe it, even though it’s a history of the future. Cheng Xin is the main character, as she lives through many different epochs by undergoing “hibernation” for long periods of time, but human civilization is the protagonist. It is humanity that is at stake, humanity that must act, humanity broken and humanity triumphant. And so many of these episodes are captivating little stories in themselves—a war crimes trial of the survivors of the Doomsday Battle, the horror of mass-resettlement to Australia, and three intriguing and cryptically coded fairytales which form a strange, imagistic core to the book much in the way the game Three-Body did to the first novel. This serial nature is also similar to the first novel, but here, each episode has two previous books’ worth of material to build on, bringing all that unstoppable momentum crashing forward on and on. It makes for a solid read.

I also greatly enjoyed the book on a thematic level. It covers a lot of ground, and a lot of different sci-fi concepts, but above all it is a profoundly sorrowful book, a book about death—of people, of civilizations, of the universe. It is pre-apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and intra-apocalyptic all at once. It also manages to leverage some basic observations about the universe, along with some of Liu’s own postulations, to reach terrifying conclusions about the fate of all things, similar to the ominous overtones of the first book. The idea of the “Dark Forest” is already harrowing enough, but Death’s End promises even more terrifying ideas about the nature of space and cosmic intelligence, about the utter insignificance of our place in existence, and it delivers on those promises in spades.

If you enjoyed the first two books, definitely read this one. If you enjoyed the first one but not so much the second, I’d still highly recommend Death’s End. While it’s a lot longer, not nearly as compact as The Three-Body Problem, it still feels like a return to form, in the ways I’ve mentioned above. And if you haven’t read any of the trilogy, I highly recommend all of it. As a whole, it present a dark and captivating vision of galactic civilizations, and humanity’s future among the stars.

Some blog housekeeping: No more “What I’ve Been Reading” posts! Only individual reviews from now on! Basically, the “What I’ve Been Reading” posts made sense when I first started doing them because the reviews were quite short, and they were a quick way to throw in a bunch of reviews in the middle of some other series of blog posts. However, now I tend to write longer reviews, and if I feel like I can only write a paragraph about a book, I just don’t write anything. Also, for the foreseeable future book reviews and other kinds of reviews will be the only thing going up on this site, so I have no need to condense them and make way for other posts. Also, no more “Recommendation Dump” posts. Just gonna atomize everything.

I mean, probably. Maybe I’ll still bundle reviews together from time to time. Who knows. But that’s why this review is its own post, even though its not super long, and that’s how it’ll be from now on.

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXXVII, Cotegipe’s Coup D’éclat (1872)

The grueling campaign fought in Parliament for the emancipation of slaves absorbed all of Rio Branco’s activity in 1871. But in August of that year, when, with the challenges facing that project defeated, the government believed itself certain to get the emancipating law off the ground without delay, the question of peace with Paraguay once again took priority over all others, the Baron of Cotegipe being then appointed to continue the negotiations interrupted in January, departing in September, bound for the Río de la Plata.

Manuel_Quintana_en_el_campo,_1905
Doctor Manuel Quintana, 1905.

Talks began in AsunciĂłn on November 3rd. Doctor Quintana represented the Argentine government, and Doctor Adolfo Rodriguez the Uruguayan government, just as he had during negotiations between Paranhos and Varela. From the first moments, the tone was one of misunderstanding. Cotegipe and Quintana each have their policy. It is a match that must be abandoned halfway through by the player who feels weaker from the Paraguayan side and also from the Uruguayan side.

 

The diplomat Cotegipe met in AsunciĂłn was precisely the one who could best provide him the opportunity he needed to develop the vast plan he had in his mind. To oppose Cotegipe, Argentina needed a negotiator whose spirit was either slow or quick, smooth or rough, but cool, flexible, unaffected if you will; one who would at no point abandon the field of negotiations. Instead of this kind of adversary, who would have made signing peace almost impossible for our minister, the Argentina Republic was represented by a man similar to Cotegipe, anxious like him to triumph and write to his government a veni, vidi, vici; imbued with the same precaution against the Empire of Brazil as Cotegipe had against the Argentine Republic, but not managing to conceal it as Cotegipe did; chivalrous, haughty, but deceived as far as his adversary’s intentions, a capital mistake in diplomacy. That mistake would lead him to retreat to separate negotiation, believing that his rival would not dare to do as much.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXXVI, Rio Branco’s New Mission in the RĂ­o de la Plata (1870-1871). — Change of Roles. — Tejedor.

On 29 September 1870 the SĂŁo Vicente ministry was formed. Paranhos, granted the title of Viscount of Rio Branco upon his return from Paraguay, was sent again on special mission to the Plata to negotiate the peace treaty and the rest of the agreements we had to complete with Paraguay. He would find the Argentine legation animated by a new spirit. Mariano Varela had been replaced by Doctor Carlos Tejedor, who resolved to demand the border clause in the treaty be fulfilled, a clause almost abandoned in the protocol of 20 June 1870, in the note regarding the Villa Occidental occupation, and in the debates of May 1869. The new adversary that Rio Branco would now find was not a spirit imbued with idealism, like the Varelas of the world, full of humanitarian sentiment, inspired by grand phrases, people who, in order to guard a principle or compose a beautiful sentence, would potentially abandon a territory. Tejedor was a fanatical, bellicose politician, whose notes arrived in the hands of the negotiating diplomats still red-hot; a patriot inspired by ambition, pride, and irritability more than reason, generosity, and impartiality; a burgrave of the pen who all by himself produced a code and a diplomatic style which, although at times it excused him from obligations imposed on everyone else, later forced him to make explanations that others knew well to spare.

One cannot read a page of the memoir (1) Tejedor presented to the Argentine Congress without seeing in it the reflection of a polemic, fighting, libelous spirit; but at the same time it is clear that his diplomacy lacks solidity, a fixity of purpose and cunning to match the energy, the audacity, the fearlessness on display; a diplomacy that wastes, in time and terrain, what its aggressiveness and gallantry seem to gain; put another way, not a diplomacy of results, but of effects.

Tejedor’s Brazilian antagonist in these negotiations and this doctrine is Cotegipe. In this fight, the preferred weapon of both is the sword; but the sword of Alexander which would hope to cut the Gordian knot without having first triumphed at Granicus. Both show the same impatience, the same inability to conceal the same anxious desire to unleash, on their own and at their own risk, a well-aimed blow (which only seems well-aimed to them.) The difference lies in that Cotegipe combined his aggressiveness with a certain transactional spirit and an approachable, jovial spirit, while Tejedor took everything serious, lacked humor, and was by nature intransigent.

There came a moment in which the efficient and imperious Cotegipe went to meet with Tejedor, and from the clash between these two diplomats, of equal liveliness and vigor, the unexpected coup d’état of AsunciĂłn resulted, a kind of Herculean blow with which Cotegipe split Tejedor’s policy from top to bottom, and the treaty of May 1st along with it. Mitre, SĂŁo Vicente, Rio Branco, and Tejedor himself had the greatest difficulty soldering the rupture Cotegipe made back together; until Tejedor returned to open it in Rio de Janeiro, paying back Cotegipe’s slash with another to equal it.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XXXV, The Right of Conquest. — Speech by Nabuco.  

Behind this apparent agreement was the hidden intention of, in the long term, disrupting the political purpose that each of the allies suspected in the others. Paranhos, satisfied with obtaining this first result, and with reconstituting the Republic of Paraguay, which he would spend two years working on, returned to Rio de Janeiro to take part in legislative affairs, once again occupying his role as Minister of Foreign Affairs (September 1870). Such was the status of Paraguay and the allies when, on July 12th, Nabuco delivered his speech against the right of conquest. Referring to a memoir published in Colombia in 1869 by Quijano Otero, national librarian, and analyzing the basis of the complaints which neighboring peoples formulated against the empire, he maintains the thesis that our policy should not be inspired by absolute principles, but rather by transaction:

“In the memoir about which I have told you, I see, as a synthesis of the complaints against Brazil, the following: the republics wish to have their treaties based on uti possidetis, which they consider legal—that is, based on treaties between the crowns of Spain and Portugal—while Brazil sets uti possidetis de facto as the essential basis of its pacts—that is, based on occupation. Senhores, in this matter one cannot strictly adhere to a principle, because all principles should change in accordance with the circumstances of each state. And if we want to stick to a principle, we must transform our entire approach, because it will be useless to think of treaties.

“Senhores, in diplomacy or in politics, an absolute principle is a fatal thing. See how happy England is. It owes this to the fact that its patriotism is not locked within a principle, neither in politics nor diplomacy: logic is the enemy of one and the other, because both are debatable. The absolute principle of legitimacy which Talleyrand maintained at the Congress of Vienna, because he was committed to Saxony’s cause and the dethroning of Murat, King of Naples, endangered the interests of other nations, and of France especially.

“I believe, then, that we should not lock ourselves into an absolute principle in order to negotiate treaties with our neighbors. I desire an open doctrine, without absolute principles, with a transactional spirit.

“We possess such vast territories that surely we can cede unpopulated terrains, swampy and uncultivated, which do not serve us at all, but which can service our neighbors.

“There lies in this, senhores, a great idea: that of inspiring trust in the peoples that surround us and denying before the world the ambitions of conquest which they attribute to us. The disgrace of slavery is enough without adding others.”Read More »