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Journal of No. 118


February 18th, 2018

Eight Years in Power; Ex-Libris; The Explorers @ 08:52 am


 Not doing so hot in my book choices.

We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, collects 8 of his essays from the Atlantic (all linked in the Wikipedia article for your reading pleasure) along with illuminating introductions that provide a little more background for where his headspace was and where the country was when they were written.

Coates does an insightful job of explaining and inhabiting the zeitgeist of the advent of the Obama administration in the first few essays. He himself was a virtual nobody, and it's interesting that he suggests his own current prominence is largely due to Obama -- that outlets like the Atlantic needed some black writers to help interpret what an Obama administration means.

But the later essays turn from capturing the moment to making arguments to push an agenda -- and I don't think Coates is very good at making an argument. And even by Atlantic standards, the essays get unwieldy and long... I get the feeling he's plugging away to add more words, hoping to stumble on an argument.

Ex-Libris, by Ross King, seems calculated to punch my buttons. Antiquarian booksellers & occult mysteries? I'm in. Set in the 17th century, our bookseller gets called in by the daughter of a somewhat mysterious lord (more than a little reminiscent of John Dee) to track down his lost library, which has been dispersed. Chapters alternate between the bookseller's quest, and the father's escape from Prague with part of Rudolf II's library.

The problem is that both stories are quite dull. Even some injections of derring do and murder can't quite lift the spirits of this into an adventure. Although I appreciate the historical accuracies and details, there is certainly a bit too much here, and is a distraction to, rather than in service of, the story.

And then there is the noir twist that shows most of this nonsense was all for nothing. Boo! 

As an experiment, it would be interesting to see a mash-up of this with Jason's A Broken Instrument.

The Explorers is the first collection of stories by Cyril Kornbluth. Probably best known for "The Marching Morons" (a prototype for Idiocracy), Kornbluth was a SF writer of the 40s and 50s (I see from his Wikipedia page that he died at 34).

Just like Ray Bradbury's Mars seems like the Midwest, and PKD's Mars is a mix of McCarthyism and exotic drugs, Kornbluth stories often find their way back to being about advertising or some other business activity. It can get a little tiresome all in a bunch, though some of the stories are certainly prophetic about how automation is changing or eliminating jobs for humans, even including a sculptor, finding his work being replaced by machine vision hooked up to what amounts to a 3D printer ("With These Hands", probably the best of the bunch).
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Journal of No. 118