Thursday, July 31, 2014

A woman's world, but faute de mieux: God's War by Kameron Hurley

God's War is one of those debut novels with enough novelty that it can't fail to entertain you. The corollary of this, however, is that not all of the new ideas find room to breathe, and that the one serious misstep undercuts what is otherwise a highly promising piece of work.

Taxonomically speaking, God's War is a grimdark twist on that old recurring sub-genre: desert planetary romance

On the distant, isolated desert colony of Umayma, war rages between nations controlled by different spin-offs from the Abrahamic religions. Its inhabitants are cynical, ruthless and prone to betrayal, murder and torture. Our POV character, bounty-hunter Nyx, exemplifies most of these traits, as she and her band track down a lucrative target. She isn't likeable, but she is compelling; it's her forward momentum that drives God's War onwards.

Umayma's technology is mainly biological, based on the adaptation of insects into organic machinery. Cars, radios, recorders, limb replacements, security cameras - all powered by bugs manipulated by pheromone-slinging 'magicians'.This is a great idea, executed in an eye-catching if rather hand-wavy fashion, but has at least one tentative foot in science fact, like the remote control beetles of today's labs.

In God's War Hurley also presents a convincing model of an authoritarian, religious but matriarchal society. With men from Nasheen, one of the warring states, sent to the front to die in early adulthood, women like Nyx have a near-monopoly of other roles - administrators, rulers, merchants, scientists and generals as well as mothers. It's a woman's world, but one faute de mieux, not a utopia.

Throw in on top of all this world-building a dollop of political intrigue, off-world diplomats, fringe sects, shape-shifting and gladiatorial boxing matches - and you can see that the novel has a lot to offer. But it's also no wonder it sometimes strains under all it has to carry, especially as the main plot doesn't kick in until a third of the way in. Consequenty, while I could overlook the occasional overly convenient plot twist, there were enough of them that I noticed. 

Yet my main reservation about God's War is that it has a lot to say about war, but virtually nothing about God. It lacks a convincing portrayal of beliefs with psychological depth and subjective meaning that could account for the centuries-long conflict of the title. This reader (a Unitarian) has no problem with a critique of organised religion as a social control mechanism. But whether intentionally or not Hurley's portrayal of faith in this novel veers towards the one-dimensional, which effects both the critique and the world-building.

In turn, this plays into Adam Roberts' comment - in an otherwise very complimentary review - of the inherent problems of presenting a pseudo-Middle Eastern future lost in religious obscurantism and ultra-violence. This is not to traduce Hurley's own political convictions, merely to point out that even a liberal or a feminist can find themselves inadvertently conjuring orientalist stereotypes when writing the future. Especially when there's so much going on in one book. 

These issues aside, God's War is still a highly enjoyable read, with ideas, momentum, and an exhilarating disdain for genre convention. It comfortably passes the 'will I read the sequel?' test, and along with Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice and China Mieville's Embassytown forms part of a series of books reconciling me to far future SF again.

Friday, July 25, 2014

How not to fight your way through an open door

Every profession, every vocation, has its intellectual traps, and campaigning is not immune from them. 

Saying yes, yes, yes to campaigning - especially if you don't have enough of a hinterland of other ties and passions to balance it out - is also saying no, no, no to other possibilities. And too much campaigning - like too much of anything - petrifies thought and habit.

For campaigning is not always the appropriate response to every situation. Scepticism, a refusal to back down, a iron faith in your own correctness, the simplification of for and against: these tools and others may be useful or not depending on the matter at hand.

At our best. I've witnessed campaigners take a seemingly helpless situation and carry all before them. At our worst, I've seen us turn an amicable discussion into a squabble, undermine our own stated desire for a win-win situation; all because we couldn't switch off the instinct that has served us so well at other times.

This is one of the reasons why I think mindfulness should be a core part of our training as campaigners and organisers. We throw ourselves into the cause all too often without a moment's hesitation, before even considering how and whether the battle needs to be fought.

Somewhere in the hardening of the instincts the fight can be lost before we've even opened our mouths.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Amazing Austen small person's playset

And they have a whole range of books as well [swoons]

NB - yes, I have just decried the gendering of Kinder toy marketing in another post this week, and on the face of it Austen is as bad. What makes the comparison irrelevant? Genius, historical context, and the fact that Austen's characters are both often full of agency and always prone to subversive readings.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

We remember Kraftwerk

Pat of Birmingham,  we salute you for this surreal pranking of the Metro earlier this year.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Pollen Beatty is.... Rick Wakedrone

And has a concept for a rock opera he'd like to share with you.

With thanks to my sister for the miniature self-assembly synthesizer.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Time to join The Cake Squad for peer support?

We're trialing an private (you know it's there but only members can read it) Facebook group for peer support among Friends of the Earth local groups and other friendly volunteer groups, working together on growing numbers and involvement, and on ensuring groups are sustainable long-term

Here, you can share your ideas, progress and challenges, and help and encourage other people on the same journey as you.

An idea we're keen to explore in particular is that quality of experience really does matter for activists old and new, and that a focus on teamwork and individual needs can improve the quality of our campaigning as well as our numbers.

For now, we've given it the working title "Cake Squad"

Picture of Cake by Rama made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 France license.

Why? Well, it started with a twitter conversation about why providing cake at meetings matters

It then evolved into the idea of cake as a stand-in for whatever people want to get out of being involved in a campaign group. And making sure that - together - we can meet it.

So, if you think this is a conversation you'd like to be involved in, go join the group and let's get started!