August 01, 2010

Reinventing Collapse, Dmitri Orlov

You could read Orlov's blog if you'd rather; it contains much (all?) of this book and more besides; but the book form is a succinct, logically laid out, concisely illustrated argument. This should be enjoyed even if you disagree with his conclusion.

Loosely, Orlov says that the US can't maintain dominance any more than the USSR could, but that the people of the ex-USSR were able to survive its collapse because it had actually collapsed slowly long ago, giving them time to adapt. Those of us in the US, he thinks, are too dependent on the many effective parts of our techno-hegemony to survive its inevitable overshoot and failure. Also, we're too acculturated to optimism to prepare for troubles that are already here. It would be a jeremeiad, but it's as much in sorrow and astonishment as in anger.

The descriptions of how the Soviet Union worked, and then didn't, are interesting even if you want to skip the comparisons to the US:

In the Soviet Union, very little could be obtained for money. [...] It was important that everyone [among friends] had some, not that one had more than the others. With the arrival of market economics, this cultural trait disappeared, but it persisted long enough to help people survive the transition.
Most people in the United States cannot survive very long without an income. This may sound curious to some people in the US: how can anyone, anywhere survive without an income? Well, in post-collapse Russia, if you didn't pay rent or utilities (because no one else was paying them either), and if you grew or gathered a bit of your own food, and you had some friends and relatives to help you out, then an income was not a prerequisite for survival.

That makes Perfect Rigor, Masha Gessen's biography of Grigori Perelman, more understandable. His whole mathematical world had traded worldly reward for the freedom to tell their truths, and Perelman, having found one of the great proofs, was uninterested in fame and disgusted at the thought of monetary reward.

Find in a Library: Reinventing Collapse

Perfect Rigor

Posted by clew at 05:32 PM

This Book is Overdue!, Marilyn Johnson

Subtitle: How Librarians and Cybrarians can Save Us All.

I thought this was okay at outlining the cultural problems and contradictions librarians face, but not better than the many librarian blogs; and I found no over-arching narrative or idea, which would have justified the book form. Nice if you like books more than blogs, but not necessary.

Find in a Library: This Book is Overdue!

Posted by clew at 05:11 PM

Chenda and the Airship Brofman, Emilie P. Bush

I did not like this. The plot is costumey, somewhat Ruritanian, and the plot and characterization are rote--pre-War roles played by modern people. I speak as one who rather liked Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and also the Tomb Raider movies. If you mix those randomly with Girl Genius and The Moonstone, you might get this. My tastes are low, but this is incoherent.

I quit reading properly at page 38, with the heroine (rich young brilliant widow with a duty to save the Rebellion) enjoying her new costume. Flipped through later bits -- she does something important by having magic jewels, and gains accidental power over the weather. All gods are one god. There are a lot of exclamation points and italics and even ALL CAPS! Minor characters with funny names speak in broad dialect ("Dat Verdu is so da trickster! Dat dumb guard take de bait.")

However, Chenda's eyes are brown, not violet.

Find in a Library: Chenda and the Airship Brofman

Posted by clew at 05:03 PM

Germinal, Emile Zola

The difficulty I have with realist fiction is that it's so depressing. Here we are in the coal country of France, among the miners who starve under the new regime as well as under the old; with horses who live in the mine, never seeing daylight, and families that live and die there. The bourgeois are not producing anything lovely with the excess capital, the land is bitter with coal-dust, family relations break down under starvation, and neither the plotting revolutionaries nor the final outraged mob improve anything much.

Lots of great detail, though. I was happy to learn what the 'white sand and red sand' that used to be sold in the streets was for; after scrubbing down a (mostly stone) house, one threw sand everywhere and swept it out to dry the house.

The strike of the Montsou colliers, born of the industrial crisis which had been growing worse for two years, had increased it and precipitated the downfall. To the other causes of suffering--the stoppage of orders from America, and hte engorgement of invested capital in excessive production--was now added the unforeseen lack of coal for the few furnaces which were still kept up; and this was the supreme agony, this engine bread which the pits no longer furnished.

Find in a Library: Germinal. (My copy was translated by Havelock Ellis, known between the wars for his attention to the gritty sexual side of life.)

Posted by clew at 04:33 PM
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