All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Oh my. Oh my goodness. Ann Leckie loved it, and I can see why. I am so very glad that there are three more on the way this year. The protagonist is a human/droid construct who calls itself Murderbot. I don’t love Murderbot quite as much as I love Breq (of Ann Leckie’s novels), but it comes very close.

The first sequel doesn’t drop until tomorrow, so today I started another of her series. (The Cloud Roads: The Books of the Raksura Book 1)

Ways to moderate Facebook’s influence in your life

Well, for starters, of course, you can just not use it. But if it’s a useful online watering hole/neighborhood pub/back fence, here are some ideas. I’m not an expert, but some of these are actually based on experience.

  • Do your writing on a blog and post the links on Facebook instead of writing in the posts. You can either customize or automate an excerpt or teaser to get people (hopefully) to go to your blog to read it.
  • And speaking of that blog, if you aren’t paying a webhost for it, that means there’s probably advertising on your blog that you may or may not have any control over, and which the blog host is using to make money off of you and your visitors.
  • Join some other social networks and do the same thing there (post links to your own hosted content).
  • Get your news from a news organization. If it is online, be prepared to pay for it.
  • If you see great information or entertainment (on Facebook or elsewhere), take the time to go to the original source and share that link on Facebook. If you are not already familiar with the source and confident in its veracity, try to confirm the facts first (or, you know, just don’t share it).
  • Don’t use Facebook to log in to anything that gives you an alternative.
  • Don’t imagine that Instagram is where you will go: it is owned by Facebook.
  • Google Plus is at least in the business of using your personal information for its own benefit, but don’t depend on it not  selling your information to others.
  • Always remember that if you are not paying for it, you are the product, not the customer. Keep asking who benefits and where the money is going.
  • Recognize your own role in whatever you think is a problem. Learn how to set your privacy settings; be skeptical; unfollow or unfriend people and pages liberally; remove the app from your phone. (If you can’t stop checking Facebook, that’s not Facebook’s fault, that’s something you need to figure out a way to deal with. /end cranky old man mode)
  • Don’t engage on Facebook with things you don’t want promoted. Facebook does. not. care. if you think something is funny, untrue, outrageous, or awful. If you respond in any way, it just increases the likelihood that your friends (who might never otherwise have seen it) will see it. If you share it, even to ridicule or debunk it, you are just helping to spread it around.
  • Look for other, niche social networks that will meet some of your needs. I am on a very quirky, obscure platform called Plurk (seemingly popular with teenage Korean girls), which is an outpost for groups of people from Second Life. One of the original attractions was that it didn’t police identity or names.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

I finished this a while ago, at the beginning of a recent trip and have neglected blogging about it. For some reason, I remembered The Dispossessed as a long, difficult, not particularly enjoyable read. It was not! I liked it! And there were many details I had no recollection of. With more experience and less idealism than when I first read it in my twenties, the ambiguity of the situation appealed to me this time.

It’s interesting, however, that from the distance of just a couple of weeks, I once again don’t remember many of the details.  In that sense, my original response stands, that this is very much a novel of ideas for me, and much less so about character or plot.

Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Light is the left hand of darkness,
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.

Ursula Le Guin’s recent death has set me on a rereading journey (and a reading journey: there’s still plenty of her work I’ve never read). I decided to start with Left Hand of Darkness, and it was fascinating to reread it. It stands up to the passage of time, and yet has not aged well. It is still a suspenseful tale, and it proposes thought experiments that are still relevant today. But the gender norms that the terran diplomat Genly Ai expresses (written in 1969 and projected into some unstated but future time) are already out of date. Conceptions not only of roles but also of gender identity have changed in major ways that make parts of the narrative distracting.

This reread made me wonder why movies and television shows are routinely rebooted or redone but books rarely are (with the exception of parodies or pastiches that combine classic books with wildly different genre tropes). I’d really love to see a progressive, visionary, feminist author retell this story today.

My perspective on the two main characters has shifted since I first read the novel. The protagonist Genly Ai so struck me previously that I’ve used the name “Genly” in several online locations when I needed a handle. On this reading, however, perhaps because I’m now middle‐aged and was then more Genly Ai’s contemporary in age, I identified with Therem Harth rem ir Estraven. Estraven is the moral center: restrained, patient, mature, visionary, committed to a greater good, capable of intentional self‐sacrifice. Ai is no less fascinating as a character (indeed, flaws are often the most fascinating things about characters); it’s just that I’ve gained a fuller appreciation for Estraven.

Reunited with an old friend

For years, I have fondly remembered a novel I read when I was a kid. It was an adult novel, not a children’s book, and it was about people who moved from a city to the country to start a goat farm. I thought the title was Star Hill, and looked off and on over the years with no success. (Bear in mind I was reading a library book of unknown age in either the late sixties or early seventies.)

Well, recently I was made aware of Internet Archive’s book program, and took another try at search algorithms—and I found it! Turns out the title is Thunder Hill, and it is by Elizabeth Nicholds, published by Doubleday in 1953. I found a copy for sale online and am having a lovely time dipping into it.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Having spent a lot of time in Second Life over the past eleven years, parts of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash are downright quaint: the ways in which he needs to explain avatars, or virtual spaces, or the word “metaverse.” And there are things he describes that have been implemented almost word‐for‐word in Second Life, which is kind of creepy.

I enjoyed the story itself (and much more than Neuromancer, with which Snow Crash is often paired as precursors to parts of the internet and virtual reality). I’ve only read a few of Stephenson’s novels, but I rather enjoy the way they meander and take side trips.

Huun Huur Tu

Throat singers from Tuva, who have been touring for several decades now, performed at the Rockwell to a sold‐out crowd (produced by World Music/Crash Arts, which added a second concert on the 16th). Quite amazing to watch singers produce these amazing sounds. More than most concerts, I found myself most interested in watching the musicians.

The Rockwell is a small basement venue in Davis Square with a small stage in an alcove. There are definitely seats with bad sight‐lines. It was my third new‐to‐me venue in three concerts this week.

Tyminski

Advertised as “an evening with Tyminski,” I didn’t know quite what to expect.  Tyminski is fronted by Dan Tyminski, famous for bluegrass band Alison Kraus and Union Station and for the hit “Man of Constant Sorrow” from the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Tyminski performed almost entirely music from his new solo album, Southern Gothic, which was pretty straightforward country rock. They did do “Man of Constant Sorrow” as their penultimate number.

City Winery is a new venue in Boston (open for two months, a server said), and it’s a nice space. The tables in the back are high‐tops, so even there the view would be fine.