Reading August 2013

Has been a juicy range of thought provoking stuff this month.

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Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master Speaks

Lee Kuan Yew led Singapore for 31 years, during which time it went from being a third world country to a first world country. He is seemingly the most respected and smartest statesman alive. This book, arranged out of interviews with him, addresses his thoughts on the issues facing the modern world and its future: the US, China, US-China relations, India, Fundamentalist Islam, Globalisation, etc. Lots of exceptionally sharp insight, very highly recommended if you are interested in what is going on in the world.

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism – Ha Joon Chang

Some pretty interesting stuff. Most striking was the claim that the internet has changed the world less than the washing machine. The washing machine freed up masses of work hours, allowed women to enter the workforce, and eliminated an entire class of domestic servants, whereas the internet is just a different delivery mechanism for many of the same things. Also, there is no such thing as a free market; rather, we accept the legitimacy of certain regulations so totally that we don’t see them. And also, wages in rich countries are determined more by immigration control than anything else – obvious when pointed out, but not obvious until then.

The Driver – Mandasue Heller

Hard to explain how I came to read this. British crime thriller set on a council estate among unemployed stoners. Easy to read but pretty empty, like bad TV or a bad movie, though with some reasonably astute character observation.

Quintessence – David Walton

Whimsical SF/F set in an alternate Elizabethan age. The Protestant Reformation is about to happen, and a ship returns from the Western edge of a flat Earth, with reports of a wondrous island. Very inventive creatures, lots of fun, light entertainment.

Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet – Julian Assange, Jacob Applebaum, Andy Muller-Maguhn, Jeremie Zimmerman

Highly relevant punchy call to arms dealing with online surveillance, privacy, freedom, and infrastructure; a conversation between Assange and some fairly clued up hackers. One notable quote, in light of the GCSB bill:

Intercepting all metadata means you have to build a system that physically intercepts all data and then throws everything but the metadata away. But such a system cannot be trusted. There’s no way to determine whether it is in fact intercepting and storing all data without having highly skilled engineers with authorization to go in and check out precisely what is going on, and there’s no political will to grant access.

Gets pretty techy but still lots for the casual interested reader.

Sex at Dawn: the Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality – Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha

Highly entertaining, delivers some well-needed shit-kicking-out-of to evolutionary psychology. Essential thesis is that agriculture changed everything, and that for the millions of years before that, humanity more likely lived in egalitarian hunter gatherer bands who would have shared everything, including sex, such that most adults would have had multiple sexual relationships at any one time.

The Resurrectionist – E B Hudspeth

What an odd book. A brief faux-biography of a turn of the century doctor with some weird theories, combined with a reprint of his purported masterwork, extensive anatomical (skeletons, muscles, etc) cross sections of mythical creatures.

 

currently on: Stealing Fire From The Gods – James Bonnet. Which is one of those sort of “here is the archetypal secret underlying storytelling books”. Interesting so far.

 

Still looking to get back to The God Problem.

Billy goes to the movies

Or, film fest 2013 review.

Blancanieves

Spanish update of Snow White, recreated as a very stylish black and white period silent film. Snow White becomes a bullfighter but somehow this makes sense. Looked great but felt very long.

The Act of Killing

Absolutely incredible documentary. In Indonesia in the 60s they killed 2.5 million communists. They don’t view this as a bad thing, and the death squads of the time are now made men in society. The doco follows some of them as they make a movie re-enacting (and celebrating) those times. It is bizarre and surreal and terrifying – much of it is incidental in purely how insane and corrupt Indonesia seems to be – but yeah, incredible to see the re-enacting, and their reflection on what they have done (killing a thousand people by hand!)… the film is long, amazingly well crafted, with so many moments of jaw-dropping speechlessness… and the ending is out of this world. Not fun in any conventional sense, but incredibly worthwhile.

The East

Brit Marling’s latest film is another very smart, very well done alt-SF feeling film. This time more of a straight thriller about an agent going undercover with a principled but extreme eco-terrorist group whom she is both sympathetic to and at odds with. Smart, relevant, excellent. Shows up exactly how shit and irrelevant the average Hollywood thriller is.

Utu Redux

Had never seen this NZ classic. Opening is very brutal, the slaughter of a Maori village by English soldiers, but it loses the edge of that beginning, and meanders into its transposed Western form. Fascinating, bemusing on occasion (particularly Bruno Lawrence), holds up with little to induce cringing, and a couple of excellent performances. Nice restoration, worth catching on the big screen as presumably it will get a general rerelease.

Post Tenebras Lux

Won Best Director at Cannes in 2012. No idea how to describe this. Lush, fragmentary, non-linear, bizarre, powerful; with some extraordinary images. Mostly about the life of a young family in rural Mexico; on the meta level seemed to be about relationships, between humans, and humans and the environment, and how these relationships shape us. One for film afficianados rather than casual viewers.

Only Lovers Left Alive

Jim Jarmusch’s latest is a vampire film. While very stylish and enjoyable – his jaded aesthete vampires are charming and sane, and using their perspective on humanity (“zombies”) leads to some sharp observations – ultimately it is maybe a bit pointless. Good music throughout.

reading July 2013

Well, this is almost embarrassing. Only finished one book this month. In fairness though, it was a thousand pages long, and I have been crazy busy.

The Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss

Second in what is going to be the benchmark heroic fantasy series for a good long time to come. Beautifully written, lots of fun, very smart. Did feel a wee bit long once he started shagging everything in sight. But yeah. If you ever liked fantasy, this series has internalised everything you liked, and delivers it all grown up and better.

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Other than that, am about halfway through The God Problem – Howard Bloom. Which, so far, is Bloom’s masterwork, in which he knocks shit seriously out of the park. Given this is the author of the staggering Lucifer Principle and Global Brain, that is saying something. Maybe the best science book I have ever read. Massively recommended. Will get a detailed review when I finish.

And have been reading through most of The Walking Dead comics, which are surprisingly decent. I have almost zero interest in zombies, but the series is more about people in extreme circumstances. I am guessing that the TV show is very different from the comics.

And I skimmed a bunch of stuff. I think I read a certain class of nonfiction books the way other people read magazines.