Currently reading: Diaspora by Greg Egan

Why hasn’t everybody been badgering me to read Greg Egan before? I’m only part way in and I’ve already been treated to a clever and humane description of a mind adapting itself to self-awareness and neat proof of why adding extra dimensions or topological transformations can’t make a sphere’s geometry be like Euclidean geometry.

Charming and clever so far.

Yeah, but we aren’t Americans, what can we do?

Back in December, then President-elect Donald Trump established a forum “composed of some of America’s most highly respected and successful business leaders”

The members of the Forum include:

  • Stephen A. Schwarzman (Forum Chairman), Chairman, CEO, and Co-Founder of Blackstone; [Gateway One Macquarie Place, Suite 3901 Sydney NSW 2000, Australia]
  • Paul Atkins, CEO, Patomak Global Partners, LLC, Former Commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission; [not in AU]
  • Mary Barra, Chairman and CEO, General Motors; [Holden Ltd: PO Box 1714, Melbourne, Victoria, 3001]
  • Toby Cosgrove, CEO, Cleveland Clinic; [not in AU]
  • Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO, JPMorgan Chase & Co; [ Sydney, Australia: +612 9003 8888]
  • Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO, BlackRock; [37, Chifley Tower, 2 Chifley Square, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia +61 2 9272 2200]
  • Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Company;
  • Rich Lesser, President and CEO, Boston Consulting Group; [Level 41, 161 Castlereagh Street  Sydney, NSW 2000 Australia +61 2 9323 5600 ]
  • Doug McMillon, President and CEO, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.; [not in AU]
  • Jim McNerney, Former Chairman, President, and CEO, Boeing; [Boeing – Australia & South Pacific Boeing Australia Level 10, Exchange House 10 Bridge St Sydney NSW 2000 AUSTRALIA Tel: +61-2-9086 3300 ]
  • Adebayo “Bayo” Ogunlesi, Chairman and Managing Partner, Global Infrastructure Partners; [Global Infrastructure Management Australia Pty Limited (affiliate), Level 30, Deutsche Bank Place, 126 Phillip Street, Sydney, NSW 2000 Phone: +61 2 8259 4229 ]
  • Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President, and CEO, IBM; [Australian Head Office
    IBM Australia Ltd  Level 13 IBM Centre 601 Pacific Highway St Leonards NSW 2065]
  • Kevin Warsh, Shepard Family Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Economics, Hoover Institute, Former Member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System;
  • Mark Weinberger, Global Chairman and CEO, Ernst & Young EY; [EY The EY Centre Level 34 200 George Street 2000 Sydney phone: +61 2 9248 5555 fax: +61 2 9248 5959]
  • Jack Welch, Former Chairman and CEO, General Electric; [Multiple separate businesses in Australia]
  • Daniel Yergin, Pulitzer Prize-winner, Vice Chairman of IHS Markit; [not in AU?]
  • Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber (joined Dec 14)
  • Elon Musk, CEO Space X, Tesla (joined Dec 14)

Of those, Elon Musk has now spoken out against Trump’s attack on the US constitution & rule of law using his ban on people from selected middle east countries.

  • Investment bank, Goldman Sachs is not represented on the forum but Trump’s administration is replete with ex-Goldman Sachs employees, including Steve Bannon Treasury Secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin, National Economic Council Chairman-appointee Gary Cohn and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman nominee Jay Clayton. [Goldman Sachs Australia Pty Ltd Level 46 Governor Phillip Tower 1 Farrer Place Sydney NSW 2000 Australia +612 9321 8777 ]

Many of those companies operate in multiple nations. Those companies have twitter accounts, some of them (e.g. Disney, Uber) market directly to ordinary people. We can challenge what they are doing. Sure, there is an argument that they are trying to engage with Trump for better outcomes for everybody – but if they can’t speak out against gross attacks on basic principles common to all democratic societies then they aren’t ‘engaging’ they are collaborating with hatred.

Review: Divine Cities 1 & 2 (City of Stairs, City of Blades)

I did some clambering up mount-to-be-read and read Robert Jackson Bennet’s City of Stairs and then City of Blades back to back.

Neither book has the same depth as N.K.Jemisin’s Broken Earth books (Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate) but they share an interest in building a secondary world fantasy that is inhabited by people from societies best described as ‘modern’. By ‘modern’ I don’t mean contemporary to our own but rather societies that are urban, governed (for good and bad), and having a scientific/material/technological outlook.

Having said they lack the same depth that doesn’t mean that either book lacks depth. Bennet creates a complex and plausible (given the required suspension of disbelief around the fantasy elements) set of societies and a history that looks at colonisation and cultural hegemony.

Also, there are some excellent giant monster fighting sequences in both books – so if the term ‘cultural hegemony’ is disturbing you then note the Dolph Lungerenesque nordic barbarian warrior fighting a tentacled eldritch city-eating eldritch horror in City of Stairs and the can-we-kill-a-magic-sword-wielding-divine-warrior-with-a-Gatling-gun sequence in City of Blades.

At the start of City of Stairs we are introduced to what may seem like a familiar situation. An ancient city occupied by a modern empire that is ruthlessly suppressing all traces of the traditional religion. But as we progress quickly into the book we learn the suppression is not just an empire exerting control (although it is that as well) but also that the colonisers were once the colonised and the religions that were suppressed were once very, very real. While in 19th century colonial Europe Nietzche wrote about the death of God, the people of Saypuri literally rose up and waged war on the gods of the continent.

The death of the reality altering divines is the backdrop to the trilogy (the third novel, City of Miracles, is not yet released). The existence of these divine beings acts rather like a Cthulu mythos for a secondary world fantasy or not wholly unlike a backstory for an urban fantasy. The world the central characters live in is late 19th-century industrial (trains, firearms) but also one in which magic has not entirely gone from the world.

Bennet does an excellent job of making these tensions between nations complex and multi-faceted. The Saypuri occupation of the continent is shown to be brutal and insensitive but, at the same time part of a long history of violence and exploitation between nations.

The plot structures for both books head off in yet another direction – murder mysteries slash spy thrillers with a noir-ish compliment of morally ambiguous protagonists: the ambitious, cynical and yet humanistic spy Shara Komayd, her extraordinarily violent bodyguard Sigurd and the war-weary military officer Turyin Mulaghesh (a woman haunted by her actions as a young Saypuri soldier during the wars on the continent).

Violent, and intriguing the books avoid simple heroes but still centre on heroics. Thoroughly enjoyed both and look forward to City of Miracles.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day January 27

There are many Holocaust remembrance days. Poland, for example, commemorates the anniversary of the   Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19. Jewish communities and Isreal mark Yom HaShoah on the 27th of Nisan (which falls in April or May) as a day to remember both those who were murdered by the Nazis but also the Jewish resistance to the Nazis.

Many nations (and since 2006, the UN) remember the Holocaust on January 27 – the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army in 1945. The Auschwitz, Birkenau, Monowitz was the largest complex of its kind, combining labour camps (e.g. for IG Farben) and death camps in which people were slaughtered en-masse. One in six of the Jewish people killed in Nazi camps died in the Auschwitz camps.

An estimated 1.3 million people were sent to the camp, of whom at least 1.1 million died. Around 90 percent of those killed were Jewish; approximately 1 in 6 Jews killed in the Holocaust died at the camp.[1][2] Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Romani and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses, and tens of thousands of others of diverse nationalities, including an unknown number of homosexuals.[3] Many of those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.

The great Italian writer (and occasional science fiction writer) Primo Levi was one of those who was liberated on that day. In If This Is a Man, (also titled “Survival at Auschwitz”) Levi tells of his arrest in Italy as a member of the anti-fascist resistance and his imprisonment in Auschwitz. In it he says:

A country is considered the more civilised the more the wisdom and efficiency of its laws hinder a weak man from becoming too weak and a powerful one too powerful.

In The Periodic Table, Levi managed to combine his literary powers with his fascination in chemistry (his other profession) and to find poetry and meaning in humble states of matter:

[Nitrogen:] The trade of chemist (fortified, in my case, by the experience of Auschwitz), teaches you to overcome, indeed to ignore, certain revulsions that are neither necessary or congenital: matter is matter, neither noble nor vile, infinitely transformable, and its proximate origin is of no importance whatsoever. Nitrogen is nitrogen, it passes miraculously from the air into plants, from these into animals, and from animals into us; when its function in our body is exhausted, we eliminate it, but it still remains nitrogen, aseptic, innocent.

This contrast between the extraordinary capacity for fascism to both degrade people and find disgust in humanity, versus his own need to see things as they are runs through his work. Periodic Table again:

[Zinc:] In order for the wheel to turn, for life to be lived, impurities are needed, and the impurities of impurities in the soil, too, as is known, if it is to be fertile. Dissension, diversity, the grain of salt and mustard are needed: Fascism does not want them, forbids them, and that’s why you’re not a Fascist; it wants everybody to be the same, and you are not. But immaculate virtue does not exist either, or if it exists it is detestable.

I’ll finish with Levi’s poem from the start of If This Is a Man which is a demand to remember, to meditate that this came about, and finishes with a curse on those who forget.

You who live safe
In your warm houses
You who fin returning in the evening
Hot food and friendly faces
Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud
Who does not know peace
Who fights for a scrap of bread
Who dies because of a yes or a no
Consider if this is a woman
Without hair and without name
With no more strength to remember
Her eyes empty and her womb cold
Like a frog in winter
Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to you
Carve them in your hearts
At home, in the street
Going to bed, rising
Repeat them to your children
Or may your house fall apart
May illness impede you
May your children turn their faces from you


Meanwhile in Emails

I was told by some conservatives who were at least somewhat unhappy with the idea of Trump, that Hillary’s unsecure email issue absolutely made her unfit for office.

Oddly the email crowd seems to have gone rather quiet in the wake of revelations that senior Whitehouse staff are themselves using a private RNC server for emails. On top of that Trump is using an unsecured Android phone and the POTUS Twitter is apparently linked to an unsecured Gmail account. Finally to top it all, press secretary Sean Spicer appears to be accidently tweeting passwords:

Anyway here are the loud howls of protest about this situation from those same conservatives:



Oh look, a blank space.




Unfeasible Tales of Social Justice Fantasy Science! – Donnie and the Aos Sí

[I was going to write something about Australia Day but this came out of my head instead which has nothing to do with Australia (it’s on the same planet). It started silly then got weird and dark. The ending isn’t intended to be aspirational just where the story ended up. It goes on a bit and there is some bad language. As always – first draft and uncorrected]

It was green everywhere but the sky. Donnie had always been dismissive of that colour, it made him think of sickness, he preferred his signature triad of colours: red for his virility, blue for his strength and, of course, gold for his wealth.

Continue reading “Unfeasible Tales of Social Justice Fantasy Science! – Donnie and the Aos Sí”

Review: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers has more than proven herself to be a writer to watch out for but I really only enjoyed 50% of this book.

The story moves tangentially from the previous book, A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. Leaving the crew of the Wayfarer behind, the ship’s AI Lovey has illegally embodied herself in a synthetic body (for reasons explained in ALWTASAP) and is going to live planetside with Pepper – an incidental character in the previous book. It is an interesting set-up for a story about an AI both hiding their nature and learning how to be a person.

Pepper reveals that part of her motivation for helping Lovey (who takes on a new name ‘Sidra’) is that Pepper herself had been raised by an AI and here the story takes a turn.

The novel splits into two alternating accounts. Firstly the story of Lovey/Sidra learning to live in a human/alien society but also a flashback account of Pepper’s childhood as a cloned worker (called Jane just like her numerous siblings) in an industrial scrap heap.

Jane’s story of survival is compelling. It has tension, pathos, adventure and is well paced throughout. Sidra’s contemporary story?

Sidra’s contemporary story? Hmmmm, I found it too dull for my tastes. Well executed but primarily about fitting in. Yes, there was some tension from the fact that in this otherwise hyper-tolerant society AI’s are not recognised as people, and Sidra’s kit body is highly illegal but…well that never really rings true mainly because everybody we meet is so very nice. Well thought out alien cultures abound but this, in turn, creates character interactions that tend towards infodumps.

Very quickly, I found myself trying to get through the Sidra chapters to get to the next instalment of Jane’s attempts to escape her plight. I suppose that then made me take even less interest in Sidra’s quest to find a way to reconcile her former disembodied existence with her new life in a complex society.

Definitely an interesting novel and like A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet it has a focus on personal relationships and personal journey’s of self-discovery amid a complex universe with aliens that are more than just humans-but-different. Maybe not a story for me though.