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Dawn by Octavia Butler (Exenogenesis Trilogy #1)

Summary: A Woman wakes up to discover the Earth as she knows it is no longer, and the only hope of survival is an alien species that has questionable motives.

Dawn is the first book that I have finished reading from KindleUnlimited’s library.  I actually already owned the kindle edition, but the audiobook is included in KindleUnlimited so I moved it to the top of my list.

Octavia Butler is known for her strong African American female leads, unusual in the science fiction world. Butler’s first real hit, Kindred, was semi-fantasy. A time travel book that takes a 1970s African American woman back to her 1820s era slave owning ancestor.  Kindred is an excellent book, one that I highly recommend and the best of Butler’s books that I have read so far.

The other of Butler’s books that I have read is Butler’s last book that she wrote before she died, Fledgling, a vampire book that was written about the time of the Twilight vampire craze.

So Dawn, as an Alien abduction novel, is yet again completely different.  Butler does a great job building suspense, letting you know what the main character is feeling and making the aliens, alien. It is one of the common thoughts of science fiction writers that if we do find aliens, that they will be so alien that we will have a hard time relating to them or even understanding why we don’t understand them.

Fledgling by Octavia Butler

Fledgling: A NovelSummary: A very different vampire story than the recent Twilight/True Blood variety.

Do you get tired of me saying, “This is an author that I have been wanting to read for a while”?  Because I am a bit tired of writing it.  But it is true.  Butler was a unique writer. She was an African American female science fiction/fantasy author. She wrote African American characters into Science Fiction and Fantasy.  She was also the first (only?) science fiction author to receive a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.

Fledgling was Octavia Butler’s last book.  Butler died at the age of 58 in 2006 (of a stroke), a year after this book was published.

Fledgling is a vampire book.  Not like Twilight or True Blood, but still very much vampire.

In this world of vampires, you do not become a vampire.  You are born a vampire.  Vampires, (they call themselves Ina), are a different species from humans.

The Ina need humans for blood and form a symbiotic relationship.  The humans willingly form a community around a particular Ina and in exchange the Ina venom helps humans heal and live longer.  A human ‘symbiant’, can live to 200 or so years old.  While the Ina often live to 500-600 years old.

Various Topical Book Recommendations in areas related to Race

I have read fairly widely around various issues of race, but certainly, there are far more books that I have not read than that I have read. So a book not listed here is likely not here because I have not read it or haven’t written about them. I fully realize that this is an overwhelming list. Don’t think of it as something to be completed, but as a resource to find books that particularly interest you.

Background
I strongly believe that books and topically reading should be personalized. Everyone has different interests and different backgrounds. Because of that, no list of books should be assumed to be universal.

I also am biased toward reading books by Black, Brown, Indigenous, or other people of color on issues of race, not exclusively, but primarily.

I am also biased toward history and biography more than ‘self-help’ styled books. It is not that books that are oriented toward psychology or sociology or in other modes trying to explain racial issues are not important, they are, but without a background in the actual history, there is often missing information that impacts the conversation.

I am also primarily putting this list together for White people to read about race.

Links below are to my posts on the various books.

Various Starting Points and Categories

Survey History: The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby – This is a book oriented toward US history and framed for Christians, talking primarily about Protestant history. It is a good overview, just over 200 pages, and designed as a starting place. There is also a video curriculum if you want to use that instead of the book.

Primer to Talking about Race: So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo – Oluo writes like a blogger with short chapters, lots of stories and illustrations, and clear definitions. I think this book handles concepts of privilege, intersectionality, and microaggressions as well as any introductory book I have read. This quote gives a good sense of the book “A lot of people want to skip ahead to the finish line of racial harmony. Past all this unpleasantness to a place where all wounds are healed and the past is laid to rest.” An alternative would be How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi.

Racial Identity: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race By Beverly Tatum – The 20th Anniversary version of this book has a 70-page introduction covering the racial history of the 20 years from the original publication and it is a great addition to the book. This is a wide-ranging book, but where it shines is descriptions of racial identity acquisition, education, and youth issues around racial identity and good discussion about cross-racial dialogue. An alternative from a memoir orientation is Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin Curtice which is about a Potawatomi woman trying to grapple with her Native American heritage and identity.

White Authored Book on Race: Good White Racist?: Confront Confronting Your Role in Racial Injustice by Kerry Connelly. This is a no-nonsense book, not intended to make White people feel good about race, but to particularly focus on why so often, White people want to be perceived as ‘one of the good ones’. The message of the book is “the very first rule in antiracism work: stay in the room, even when it gets hard and uncomfortable.” Good White Racist is a Christian book. Other examples that I also would recommend as alternatives are White Awake by Daniel Hill or America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis or if you are looking for a secular author White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.

Building Relationships Across Racial Lines: Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation by Latasha Morrison – Story matters a lot to the way that many understand racial issues. This is part memoir, part organizational mission, part ‘how to reach across racial lines’. It is hard to separate Latasha Morrison’s story from the work of Be The Bridge and her passion is the mission of the organization and that mission has a clear method. An alternative book in a similar vein is Black and White: Disrupting Racism One Friendship at a Time by Teesha Hadra and John Hambrick.

Bible Study: Who is the Holy Spirit? A Walk With the Apostles by Amos Yong – It has been nearly a decade since I first read this commentary on Acts. It is not particular about race, but it does pay attention to how Acts is situated around crossing boundaries, ethnicity, gender, class, and other lines. Yong’s commentary is a great example of how White Americans can misread the bible and so I suggest pairing the commentary with Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien. Misreading Scripture again is not about race, but about culture and the issues of culture do matter. Two more supplementary books that are helpful would be One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal? and Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible by Willie James Jennings.

Graphic Novel Formatted History:  March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell – This is a trilogy of graphic novels that tells the civil rights era through the story of John Lewis. He was a central figure and the format of the graphic novel works very well, not just for young adults, but also for adults. The same artist did The Silence of Our Friends, which is historical fiction based on the father on one of the authors. And a graphic novel version of Kindred, which I don’t think is quite as good as the full novel but still worth reading. Kindred is a novel about a Black woman in the 1970s that is sent back in time to save her White slave-owning ancestor and who is enslaved in the process. There is also a short book on John Brown.

Theology: The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie James Jennings – If you are interested in a more theological book, this is where I would start once you have some of the basic ideas and concepts of racism. This is a theological exploration of the origins of race similar to Stamped from the Beginning but tracing the theological history. An alternative that I recommend just as highly is The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H Cone. I find it hard to recommend Cone if you do not read his memoirs because if you do not understand his life and motivations, it can be hard to fully understand his theology. If you are going to read one memoir, read his last Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody but if you have time to read both, read My Soul Looks Back first.

Some Recommended Books Around the Topic of Race

I have read fairly widely around various issues of race, but certainly, there are far more books that I have not read than that I have read. So a book not listed here is likely not here because I have not read it or haven’t written about them. I fully realize that this is an overwhelming list. Don’t think of it as something to be completed, but as a resource to find books that particularly interest you.

Background
I strongly believe that books and topically reading should be personalized. Everyone has different interests and different backgrounds. Because of that, no list of books should be assumed to be universal.

I also am biased toward reading books by Black, Brown, Indigenous, or other people of color on issues of race, not exclusively, but primarily.

I am also biased toward history and biography more than ‘self-help’ styled books. It is not that books that are oriented toward psychology or sociology or in other modes trying to explain racial issues are not important, they are, but without a background in the actual history, there is often missing information that impacts the conversation.

I am also primarily putting this list together for White people to read about race.

Links below are to my posts on the various books.

Various Starting Points and Categories

Survey History: The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby – This is a book oriented toward US history and framed for Christians, talking primarily about Protestant history. It is a good overview, just over 200 pages, and designed as a starting place. There is also a video curriculum if you want to use that instead of the book.

Primer to Talking about Race: So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo – Oluo writes like a blogger with short chapters, lots of stories and illustrations, and clear definitions. I think this book handles concepts of privilege, intersectionality, and microaggressions as well as any introductory book I have read. This quote gives a good sense of the book “A lot of people want to skip ahead to the finish line of racial harmony. Past all this unpleasantness to a place where all wounds are healed and the past is laid to rest.” An alternative would be How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi.

Racial Identity: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race By Beverly Tatum – The 20th Anniversary version of this book has a 70-page introduction covering the racial history of the 20 years from the original publication and it is a great addition to the book. This is a wide-ranging book, but where it shines is descriptions of racial identity acquisition, education, and youth issues around racial identity and good discussion about cross-racial dialogue. An alternative from a memoir orientation is Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin Curtice which is about a Potawatomi woman trying to grapple with her Native American heritage and identity.

White Authored Book on Race: Good White Racist?: Confront Confronting Your Role in Racial Injustice by Kerry Connelly. This is a no-nonsense book, not intended to make White people feel good about race, but to particularly focus on why so often, White people want to be perceived as ‘one of the good ones’. The message of the book is “the very first rule in antiracism work: stay in the room, even when it gets hard and uncomfortable.” Good White Racist is a Christian book. Other examples that I also would recommend as alternatives are White Awake by Daniel Hill or America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis or if you are looking for a secular author White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.

Building Relationships Across Racial Lines: Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation by Latasha Morrison – Story matters a lot to the way that many understand racial issues. This is part memoir, part organizational mission, part ‘how to reach across racial lines’. It is hard to separate Latasha Morrison’s story from the work of Be The Bridge and her passion is the mission of the organization and that mission has a clear method. An alternative book in a similar vein is Black and White: Disrupting Racism One Friendship at a Time by Teesha Hadra and John Hambrick.

Bible Study: Who is the Holy Spirit? A Walk With the Apostles by Amos Yong – It has been nearly a decade since I first read this commentary on Acts. It is not particular about race, but it does pay attention to how Acts is situated around crossing boundaries, ethnicity, gender, class, and other lines. Yong’s commentary is a great example of how White Americans can misread the bible and so I suggest pairing the commentary with Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien. Misreading Scripture again is not about race, but about culture and the issues of culture do matter. Two more supplementary books that are helpful would be One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal? and Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible by Willie James Jennings.

Graphic Novel Formatted History:  March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell – This is a trilogy of graphic novels that tells the civil rights era through the story of John Lewis. He was a central figure and the format of the graphic novel works very well, not just for young adults, but also for adults. The same artist did The Silence of Our Friends, which is historical fiction based on the father on one of the authors. And a graphic novel version of Kindred, which I don’t think is quite as good as the full novel but still worth reading. Kindred is a novel about a Black woman in the 1970s that is sent back in time to save her White slave-owning ancestor and who is enslaved in the process. There is also a short book on John Brown.

Theology: The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie James Jennings – If you are interested in a more theological book, this is where I would start once you have some of the basic ideas and concepts of racism. This is a theological exploration of the origins of race similar to Stamped from the Beginning but tracing the theological history. An alternative that I recommend just as highly is The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H Cone. I find it hard to recommend Cone if you do not read his memoirs because if you do not understand his life and motivations, it can be hard to fully understand his theology. If you are going to read one memoir, read his last Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody but if you have time to read both, read My Soul Looks Back first.

2018 Reading Report

Every year I create reading goals and mostly fail at them. My goals are rough guidelines, more than hard goals.

This year I accomplished some of them. I had a goal to finish the fiction of three authors. I finished all of Marilynne Robinson and Flannery O’Connor’s fiction. But I still have one more Octavia Butler fiction book. I also had a goal to read at least three books by both Madeleine L’Engle and James Baldwin. I read three books by L’Engle and one biography. But I only read one book by Baldwin and two books about him. (I am aware that the two authors I didn’t complete my goal were Black and the ones I did were White, including O’Connor who has some very questionable writing about race.)

I had a goal to read more about beauty, and did not pick up a single book on beauty.

Race and Gender of Authors

Sometime around April, I sat down and figured out the race and gender of the authors I read in 2017 and early 2018. At the time I was reading roughly 2/3 non-fiction and 1/3 fiction. I realized that I was roughly even between men and women authors in fiction, but my non-fiction was disproportionally male.

My real hole was reading non-fiction by non-White women. That is still a pretty big deficit, but I went from 1% in 2017 to 4% in 2018. I also am not reading hardly anything by authors that are Asian, Native American or Hispanic. As far as I can tell, I read no books by Native Americans or Hispanic authors and only six books by an Asian author in the last two years.

This chart is the percent, by category, with each year equalling 100% and the sections (non-fiction and fiction also equaling 100%). In 2017, 50% of the books I read were non-fiction books by male authors and 35% of the books I read in 2017 were non-fiction by white male authors. I read nearly twice as much fiction by women as men in 2018, and that holds true for both Black and White authors. But I read just over three times as much fiction by White authors as Black authors.

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I actually increased the percentage of White non-fiction authors this year from 46% to 51% because I was reading more White women non-fiction, without reducing the amount of White male non-fiction authors. One of the parts I did not foresee was that while I have been reading a number of books about race, history and theology around race, a number of those books were written by White authors grappling with race from their place as Whites. Of the 23 books I read this year around race, 10 of them were by White authors. None of them were bad books. But that is actually an increase from 2017 when I read 21 books roughly about race and only 6 of them were by White authors.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

SWho Fears Death by Nnedi Okoraforummary: The child of a violent rape in a post-apocalyptic future Africa is named Onyesonwu, or Who Fears Death.

Who Fears Death seems to be Nnedi Okorafor’s best know book. But that may be surpassed with her recent Binti trilogy. This is the fifth of Okorafor’s books I have read in the last 18 months or so. The books are not the same story, but there are elements where I can see her style and perspective carrying through. I cannot help but compare her to Octavia Butler because I am two books away from reading all of Butler’s fiction. Both Butler and Okorafor write strong Black women as their protagonists. All of Okorafor’s settings are future Africa, but there is a mix of fantasy and science fiction elements as well as Magical Realism.

I am not sure how I fully feel about Magical Realism. There are times when it appears that the magical realism is science that can be controlled. But other times when it is magic that based on cultic beings or maybe elemental structures that are not quite scientific. And still others times the magical realism feels more like a method of describing religious beliefs or beings.

Who Fears Death is not my favorite of the Okorafor novels, but it is a solid novel that was worth reading. One of the reasons I have continued to try to be intentional about reading diverse authors is that the diversity of perspectives and backgrounds means that I am exposed to different methods of story telling and assumptions. I cannot really describe Who Fears Death as Dystopian YA in the sense that Hunger Games, Divergent, the Giver or Maze Runner are Dystopian YA. I am not even sure if it is really YA, although it is the story of Onye, focusing primarily on her life from 16 to 21.

The culture and assumptions are foreign to me. Veils, ritual genital mutilation, caste systems and different senses of shame and independence from community help me to see how much my own western cultural assumptions are a lens that I make normative and how much I need to decenter my own perspectives to work on empowering others.

A Recounting of 2017 Reading and Plans for 2018

I am ambivalent about posting a best of 2017 list. My books are not, for the most part books that were published in 2017. And what is best, or most important for me, is unlikely to be the best for anyone else. So this is a recounting of what is important, but not really what was ‘best’. I would probably come up with a slightly different list on a different day. Overall I read 101 books in 2017, roughly two-thirds were non-fiction.

Two rough themes emerge as I looked back on the year. One is an exploration of race and history in the United States and the other is a seeking out of wisdom in memoirs.

The memoirs are far easier to look at. Madeleine L’Engle, over a 20 year period wrote four memoirs that are together called the Crosswick Journals. They will be books that I read again in the future. I have appreciated L’Engle as a great young adult author, but I had not really explored the range of her writing. Many of her books have been out of print and over the past year have been reissued in ebook versions. It is because of these new editions that I stumbled across the Crosswick Journals.

They start with A Circle of Quiet, which is roughly about creativity, writing, family, and seeking wisdom from life. The second, The Summer of the Great Grandmother, is her memories of her life that are brought about by the dying of her mother. The third, The Irrational Season, is a riff off of the liturgical year and what that structure has brought to her life. The last, Two Part Invention, is about her husband and their life together as he grew sick and eventually passed away. I also read three of her fiction books. The best of which I think was A Live Coal in the Sea, but none of which I think were among her best books.

The other two memoirs that were worth reading are Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering by Makoto Fujimura, which yes, was on last year’s list of most important books. But I read it again and then read his Culture Care, which is also worth reading. Fujimura’s focus on what art and culture bring to life and faith are important. And it is largely because of his work that I want to read more about the concept of beauty this next year.

The other memoir that was worth reading is Stanley Hauerwas’ Hannah’s Child. Part of what is important in this memoir is the reminder that as much as a person may be doing important things or thinking great thoughts, they are still human and still likely have regular human failings and problems. Hauerwas’ long marriage to a severely mentally ill wife had an impact on this theology and work in both positive and negative ways. But without a memoir or some other writing by him about it, only gossip or maybe a future biography would prompt me to remember how much brokenness is part of our life as Christians in the same way. (This is still on sale for $1.99 on kindle.)

The exploration of race and history is a much harder picture to paint. Race matters today and it matters today in large part because of the history of our country. What I never did write up, but it part of my history this year is a David Blight’s Yale history course on the Civil War and Reconstruction. Listening to the 20+ hours of lectures on the civil war and reconstruction in combination with Eric Foner’s history of Reconstruction and Edward Baptist’s exploration of slavery and the development of the American Economy and Amar’s biography of the Constitution and the fictional Underground Railroad gave some historical context to the problems of race in the United States.

On the modern side, Intervarsity has been publishing a number of books about race that are worth reading. The Myth of Equality and White Awake are good primers for Whites to explore how race matters to our current day. Both are written by white men, which is part of the discussion. But also we need others voices. So I read James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son and Fire Next Time for some mid 20th century context. And then a trio of books by Michael Eric Dyson, The Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, The Black Presidency (which is more about what is means to be Black in the US than about Obama) and the not quite as good, but still interesting April 4, 1968.

Ta’Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power fit well with the previous books, but it is a series of essays that I had mostly previously read. So it was the introductions to those essays about why they were important and why he wrote them that were more interesting to me.

Coates is clearly an atheist and is famously not particularly hopeful about racial issues in the US. It is an interesting pairing to have read Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman, who was a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr and who did a lot of the background theology that gave rise to the Civil Rights era. I have picked up Thurman’s memoir and I will read that this year. Thurman’s books also was an interesting pairing with James H Cone’s memoir My Soul Looks Back. Cone and Thurman are in quite different places theologically, but have quite a bit of overlap in the diagnosis of the problem. The black authors I read this year were born in 1899 (Thurman), 1924 (Baldwin), 1936 (Cone), 1944 (Alice Walker), 1945 (John Perkins), 1957 (James McBride), 1958 (Dyson), 1969 (Colson Whitehead) and 1975 (Coates). That 76 year spread is interesting because of what seems to be similar and what changed.

Part of what I know is important is to keep listing to different voices. No one person can be the voice of a race. I did not read a lot of minority women (Color Purple and Christena Cleveland’s Disunity in Christ I think were the only books I read by minority women this year.) I also did not read much by non-black voices about racial issues. Although Aliens in the Promise Land as a book of essays was excellent about including a range of voices beyond the standard Black minority voice. And Still Evangelical, which won’t be published until later this month also had several Asian voices talking about racial issues within the Evangelical church world.

The two books that I haven’t yet mentioned but I think need to be at least quickly referenced are: How to Survive the Apocalypse, which was an excellent book about theology and philosophy using pop culture as a teaching tool. And Richard Beck’s Reviving Old Scratch about the need for the theological left to embrace the concept of Satan was well worth reading. Both of these books talked about Charles Taylor a good bit and at some point I will get around to reading Taylor.

I didn’t read much fiction this year that I was blown away with. Color Purple was very well written and very difficult to read. I thought Underground Railroad was worth reading in context of my other reading but I thought was too much of a concept book that didn’t quite live up to its hype. The latest of the Inspector Gamache books, Glass Houses, is among the best of the series, which is impressive for a series that has 14 books. The two Binti books, the novella Binti and the longer novel Home were refreshingly original. And I look forward to reading the conclusion of the trilogy that comes out in a couple weeks.

2018 Reading Goals

I am not much of a goal setter. My reading is usually focused on whatever happens to catch my eye right now. But I have tended to set some rough goals most years. I have four goals this year. I am a bit over half way through Subversive Gospel about Flannery O’Connor. And because of that and the biography of her I read a couple weeks ago I want to read the two novels and the rest of the short stories that I have not previously read.

My second goal is to work toward finishing a couple of author’s books. There are two novels of Octavia Butler that I have not yet read. I am not sure I will ever read all of Madeleine L’Engle’s books, but I want to read at least three more L’Engle books and at least three more of James Baldwin’s books. I have not yet read any of his fiction. So at least two of those I want to be fiction.

My third goals is to continue to explore racial issues and history and expand my reading to include more women and additional voices that I have not yet read.

The final goal is to read some formal books on the concept of Beauty in Christian theology. If anyone has some suggestions in that area I would love to hear them.

I have a goal every year of reading more fiction. But I tend to not read as much fiction as I want to because I get lost in the information. But fiction, in part because of its ability to communicate beauty is important and I hope I will move closer to even ratio of fiction to non-fiction this year.

We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates

We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi CoatesSummary: A reflection on eight years of Atlantic Essays during the time of Obama.

When I first heard about We Were Eight Years in Power, I was excited for a book from Ta-Nehisi Coates about the Obama years. Coates both is a serious critic of Obama and someone that has strongly defended him. I am going to continue to look for a book like that in the future.

We Were Eight Years in Power is not really that. Instead it is a repackaging of a number of essays by Coates from the Atlantic. Coates first essay for the Atlantic was about Bill Cosby and his conservative lectures to the black community to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. That initial essay eventually led to Coates becoming a staff writer for the Atlantic and a number of cover stories that many will have already read.

The three most famous are his Reparations article, his article on Mass Incarceration and his essay earlier this year on Trump as the first consciously White (post Obama) president.

Previously to reading We Were Eight Years in Power, I had read most of the essays. It was still worth re-reading the essays. But what I found most interesting was Coates introductions to each essay. These were sometimes biographical or historical, telling the reader about his life or the country when he originally published the essay. Almost all of them included an evaluation of the content, usually pointing out weaknesses in his approach or places where he wishes he had expanded the analysis or where he got part of the essay wrong.

That analysis was helpful both to give context to why he wrote the individual essay, but also to give context to his larger project and how, for good and ill, racial issues were important during the Obama years.

Coates talks quite candidly about his discomfort with being the main or only writer on race issues that many Whites have read. He has a clear perspective. One that is famously not particularly hopeful. But it is realistic to the current age and to the data as he sees it.

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Aurora by Kim Stanley RobinsonSummary: A multi-generational starship is attempting to build a human colony on another world.

One of the reasons that science fiction has been historically popular is that it in general a hopeful genre. Science fiction dreams of new worlds being discovered, the expansion of humanity across the galaxy, technological progress. Or at least that has been a strong part of the world of science fiction.

More recently science fiction has been more concerned with dystopian worlds. There is often still a thread of hopefulness, at least some people will survive the destruction of most of humanity. Space exploration is no longer a significant theme of science fiction. There are occasional books about exploring or creating world. But even the few that are out there are likely to be like John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series that views humanity as a bit players in galactic politics.

Aurora is the story of an enormous starship. It can travel 10% of light speed, but that means it will take approximately 150 years to reach the planet Aurora (around Tau Ceti). The ship is an ark. It contains about 2000 people and as many different climate sections and animals and plants as can be squeezed onto the ship.

The books opens as they are in the last generation before the come into their new home. The ship is continually in need of maintenance and interventions. The interventions almost always have unintended consequence. But they are making it.

And that is about as happy as the book gets. The writing is well done, but this is ‘anti-science fiction’ (as one very spoiler filled review on Amazon put it.) The main theme of the book is why space colonies will never work. And tragedy and bad luck are continually present.

All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthySummary: Beautifully written tragic story of desire for what cannot be.

Cormac McCarthy is a spare writer. Lots of detail and almost poetic language. But this is an introvert’s book.  The characters talk, but there is no extra meandering dialogue. Dialogue has purpose.

McCarthy seems ideally suited to write about the idealized lone western male. His characters are self-sufficient, hard, tragic, honest to a fault, do not expect anyone to help them, but want to help others if they can.

In All the Pretty Horses (I have not seen the movie, so I do not know how it compares), John Grady Cole leaves home at 16 with his best friend. After his parent’s divorce, his mother wants nothing to do with ranch life and his father is left without a ranch (or anything else). He can give John nothing that he wants or needs. John and Rawlins (17) head to Mexico to see if they can find the rancher’s life that they seek.

Along the way, Jimmy Blevins, a 13 or 14 year old run away and troublemaker, joins up with them. Cole as the leader of the group allows Blevins to join them because it is clear that Blevins can not care for himself. Cole knows he will regret the decision and the theme is set with the Cole’s wise word:

“Every dumb thing I ever done in my life there was a decision I made before that got me into it. It was never the dumb thing. It was always the choice I made before it.”