Monthly Archives: May, 2019

Red Moon

Unknown.jpegAs a rule, I am excited about new Kim Stanley Robinson. I mostly enjoyed Aurora, and utterly adored New York 2140 and 2312. I know that not everyone loved those last two as much as I did… and I think a lot of people enjoyed Aurora more than me. Which tells you that Robinson meets different readers in different places, and that’s ok.

For me, Red Moon is closer to being like Aurora. I mostly enjoyed it, and it’s certainly exploring some interesting ideas, but I did not get giddy with joy in reading it. I have no hesitation in recommending it to other people who enjoy near-future SF, and for those who got bored by 2312 etc then this is likely to be more up their alley. Which is great! Cater to a range of preferences!

It’s also a bit hilarious to me that I read this so soon after finishing Ian McDonald’s Luna trilogy, given a few similarities but mostly differences.

Red Moon is set three decades into the future. Our moon has a lot of people living on it, mostly Chinese. Which, given the current state of the Chinese space programme and their lunar intentions, is not ridiculous. Other nations are represented there, too, but the bulk of the mining and such are being undertaken at a Chinese installation at the southern pole. The book is largely focused on Chinese characters, too, so it’s important to point out right now that I’m Anglo-Australian, and have no sense of whether Robinson has made any cultural missteps. It doesn’t feel like he has, to me, but it’s entirely possible that I’ve missed some offensive things. There are a couple of points where one of the main characters rails against some Chinese stereotypes, which gives me hope that Robinson is really aware of what he’s doing; but there’s also a point at which he says black swans are more rare than rhinos, and… images.jpeg(from here, of all places)

Yeh, we have a lot of black swans in Australia.

Anyway. Fred goes to the moon to deliver a quantum phone, and the person he is to meet dies when they meet. It’s clear to the reader that Fred isn’t responsible, but not to everyone around him. Fred then basically ends up being shuttled around the place, and sometimes used a political football. He ends up, through odd circumstances, traveling with Chan Qi: a young woman, daughter of a very senior politician in the Chinese Communist Party, vocal in a social change movement, and herself being sought by a variety of groups for their own political purposes. While Fred often seems to have little volition, and is tossed by the vagaries of those around him, and isn’t sure what to do in those circumstances, Qi rails against the structures around her – even when she too is able to do little about the problems that beset her. Qi definitely seems to be be the more active, in all ways, of the two; their companionship is an interesting comparison. Also interesting therefore is that while Fred is frequently a narrator throughout the novel, we rarely get any insight into Qi’s mindset.

Along with the novel being about Fred’s attempts to not get done for a murder he didn’t commit, Robinson is exploring a bunch of other ideas. China seems to be in a place ready for political turmoil, which Qi is contributing to; Robinson explores some of the reasons that might create this situation – most of which exist today – and some possible solutions. So it’s political, and social, and economic commentary; I’d be fascinated to know what Americans think, since it doesn’t paint the US in the best of capitalist lights; China also isn’t a utopia, but it’s also not a nightmarish dystopia.

And then there’s an AI, learning to learn and utilising surveillance systems, and the analyst enabling that; and Ta Shu, celebrity traveller and documentary maker, who gets dragged into the Fred/Qi mess, who is much older than them and has greater historical context and spends a lot of time reflecting on his own and China’s history. Also, an American Secret Service agent (female) on the moon, with a very annoying superior.

There’s a lot going on in this novel, and as a way of thinking about how people might live on the moon and struggle with the social changes of the coming decades, and what China might achieve as an increasingly dominant superpower, and how individuals act when constrained – it’s a very good way of exploring issues. As with Aurora, my main issue is actually with the ending. It was unexpected, and while I think I understand the reason for it, I found it unsatisfying. However, your mileage may vary! I still have no hesitation in recommending it.

Invisible Women

Unknown.jpegThis book should be read by anyone making policy, collecting data, or using data, about humans. Politicians, business people, public servants, medical researchers: all of them.

This book made me angry. That’s important to know. It’s also important to know that it was, mostly, good angry: it was appropriate and it makes me want to do something, although I’m not sure what.

I came across this book thanks to two Galactic Suburbia listeners, which is hilarious all by itself – that they both thought this book should be brought to our attention, and acted on that. It is, of course, exactly up our alley, and so I bought it.

The subtitle to the book is “Exposing data bias in a world designed for men,” and together with the title this does tell you exactly what the book is about. It’s about showing both how women are invisible – if data is not sex-disaggregated, if only men are tested or questioned or used – and data bias: men are assumed to be representative of humanity, men’s opinions are assumed to be representative (because they’re not thought of as men’s opinions), and so on.

The results are devastating.

The results in the book itself are devastating, for me – the extent to which women’s experiences are ignored, sex differences are ignored where they do actually matter (eg medication – the typical fat/muscle ratio in men and women is different, which means differences in how medications affect them), and so on. The results in real life are also devastating: only using male crash-test dummies in cars means cars aren’t safety tested for women, and cars aren’t safety designed for women (smaller on average, different bodies, etc); safety vests not fitting over boobs; building relief housing after disasters with no kitchens.

So, yes, I got angry.

I also got angry when Perez pointed out the areas where the data does exist, but it’s been ignored: mandating paid parental leave is good for the economy; how about anatomy diagrams that only show male bodies? And the areas where, because it’s a female-only issue (like PMS, or endometriosis) the research just hasn’t been done.

Perez, I imagine, also got angry when she was doing the exhaustive research needed for this book. There’s a lot of data, and a lot of footnotes. She’s also making firm, reasonable, and clear demands for change, and pointing out some ways that those changes could happen. Many of the changes will be hard: can you imagine what it would take to mandate political parties having genuine female representation? However, her data on what happens in countries that have increased female political representation is, to my mind, compelling; increased expenditure on education, for instance, and – unsurprisingly – issues that specifically affect women more than men: family planning, for instance, and policies around care. And anyone who thinks that these issues don’t need to be political ones, when they affect 50% of the population, needs to have a good hard think about whether they’re a misogynist. Perez also suggests some ways in which more, better, and new data can be collected… but it’s going to be a long hard slog to make the necessary changes, in the vast areas of data collection that exist now, before those changes are fully realised.

This is a brilliant book.

The Missing Ingredient

images.jpegI don’t remember how I came across this book – could have been through Gastropod? – but I thought it sounded like just my thing. Time as an ingredient makes a lot of sense, when you consider it! And overall, Linford does look at some interesting points in connecting food with time; I learned a few things and was encouraged in my love of cooking and food.

However, this book turned out to be not quite what I expected. On reflection, I think I was expecting something more like Michael Pollan’s Cooked, where he meditates on particular ways in which fire or air or whatever have an impact on cooking and food at length. This is not that. Instead, this is a long series of vignettes. Some of them do go over pages – there’s a good few pages on pickles, and on smoking, and the wonders of freezing., among others. But in general each topic within each timeframe (seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years) is relatively short, addressing the connection between the topic and time – the seconds between different stages of caramel, the time it takes to make true traditional Modena balsamic vinegar – and usually not going into the depth that my heart really wanted. (And sometimes the topics chosen in each chapter seem to be tangential to the concept of time as an ingredient, but maybe I missed the point.)

If what you’re interested in is a series of short stories about time and cooking, that you can easily dip into and out of, that are sometimes amusing and sometimes poignant and that remind you that cooking and good food are good things, then you will probably enjoy this book.