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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Good Example of Science Fantasy


 I enjoy both fantasy and science fiction.  I tend to like well written books that combine aspects of both genres.  So I was pleased to review The Lodestone Trilogy for The Bookplex.

                                            

I agree with those who have called this book science fantasy. I define this sub-genre as science fiction for people who prefer fantasy.  It feels like fantasy. This is a quest narrative which is a fantasy trope.  There are numerous parallels to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings which include a fellowship of individuals from several different species pursuing the quest. There are also some noticeable similarities to the Darkover science fantasy series created by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Like the planet of Darkover, the world where this trilogy takes place has evolved a technology that sets it apart.  On Darkover it’s called matrix technology.  In The Lodestone Trilogy, the technology is built on lodestone.  There are explanations for how these technologies work, but they don’t exist in our real world.  So it’s fictional extrapolation rather than actual science.  There is a long tradition of science fiction extrapolation, and it’s perfectly legitimate within the genre. I personally don’t have a problem with Mark Whiteway’s extrapolation because the supporting explanations are internally consistent.  This means that his work is conceptually solid.
                                                                                                     
The first and third books in the trilogy are very action-oriented, but the middle book is more character driven.  We delve into the central characters and get to know them better.  Since I like in depth characterization, I was glad to find it in this trilogy.  The character development from the second book carried me into the third feeling more invested in the protagonists.  I consider this a narrative strategy that made The Lodestone Trilogy more compelling.

I didn’t care for the abrupt ending.  No doubt this was an attempt to insure that there would be interest in the sequel.  I prefer fiction that’s more self-contained.  I feel that the quality of The Lodestone Trilogy is sufficient that readers would be eager for more without the obvious tactic of leaving the story unfinished.

 About Science Fantasy

"Science fantasy" has been very subjectively defined and there are a number of different perspectives on what it means. So I thought I would give you a sampling of these perspectives.

Here is an amusing essay by Randy Henderson that appeared in Fantasy magazine:
Is It Science Fiction or Science Fantasy?

Here is a guest blog article by science fiction romance author, Heather Massey:
An Ode To Science Fantasy

Here is an article from About.com which attempts to define where Star Wars belongs in the genre landscape:
To What Genre Does Star Wars Belong?

At the end of the day, whether you enjoyed the book is probably more important for a reader than what genre box you put it in, but many people really like to classify.  I am one of them.  I draw genre lines my own way.  Other readers are also welcome to do so.  Have fun with it.

                                                           




Monday, June 25, 2012

Generational History or Novel?


 There are times when the description that I receive from The Bookplex gives me an impression of the book that differs considerably from the book's actuality.  When I requested The Duke Don't Dance, I thought it was non-fiction.  If it had been a generational history as I originally expected, I might have had more positive reaction provided that the author had clarified his subject matter.

                                              


I found this author’s conceptualization of “the Silent Generation” to be rather muddled.  If these are Americans born in the time frame of 1925-1942, there were those among them who became young adults in the 1950’s, and another set of people within this group who became young adults in the 1960’s like the protagonists in this novel.  The ethos of the 1950’s is diametrically opposed to the ethos of the 1960’s.  It seems to me that the older members of this group are true representatives of “the Silent Generation”.  If you have ever encountered an individual who is stuck in the 1950’s, then you know who they are.  My opinion is that the characters in The Duke Don’t Dance are in the first wave of the Boomers.  These characters are too dynamic to be considered “Silent Generation”.  Frank and Francesca began by appearing to be the best examples of the 1950’s mindset, but they both ended up surprising me more than any of the others.
                                                                                         
Characters that are successfully drawn should be individuals with contradictory facets and complex motivations rather than exemplars of a generational pattern.  Richard G. Sharp should be congratulated for the diversity of the personalities in his novel.  Defining characters too rigidly stifles their growth. Fortunately, Sharp’s characters escaped their limitations. I guess that I don’t understand the author’s purpose in constructing this straw concept of a “Silent Generation” in order to demolish it so completely.

There was a great deal of didacticism in The Duke Don’t Dance that I considered inappropriate.  I think that readers of fiction should be given the freedom to interpret the meaning of a novel’s context for themselves.  It bothers me when an author interferes in this process by endlessly editorializing, as Sharp did, about the Boomers.   As a Boomer myself, I found this very irritating.  Although stereotypes may seem valid, they are really overly broad generalizations.  There is as much variation among Boomers as there was among Sharp’s alleged “Silent Generation” characters. 

 If the confining generational framework and associated sermonizing were stripped away, the unencumbered narrative would emerge and take its place as the true focal point of this book.  I sincerely believe that the result would be a much better novel.

                                               ****************************

 Research Sidelight:  RIP 1961 U.S. Figure Skating Team

As a fan of figure skating, I noted the memorialization of the February 15, 1961 crash of the U.S. figure skating team in Chapter 3 of  the novel reviewed above. This is an event that should be remembered more. I do have a minor correction.  This was a team bound for the World Figure Skating Championships in Prague.  It was not an Olympic team as was stated in The Duke Don't Dance.

Here are some resources for those who want to find out more:

a page from History.com

a more detailed documentation of these athletes including several photos

There are two books about this tragedy:

Frozen in Time by Nikki Nichols This is link to the book's page on Google Books.

Indelible Tracings by Patricia Shelley Bushman This is a link to a review that appeared in International Figure Skating magazine.

There is also a movie devoted to this event:

Rise   Available on DVD and Blueray.  A portion of the proceeds goes to help skaters that need funding to pursue their dreams.

                                                  












Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Murder in 19th Century Sicily


I had very high expectations for No More Brothers, the second in a series by Susan Russo Anderson.  The description provided by The Bookplex was intriguing.  I pounced on it as soon as I received the e-book.

                                                  

This mystery has a great deal of potential.   I was certain that I would love a novel in which a 19th century Sicilian midwife solves a murder.  The background of the period with riots and peasant uprisings makes it sound fascinating.  I hoped that the author would weave a colorful and complex tapestry that would include these dramatic events.  Unfortunately, Susan Russo Anderson would have needed more space to truly immerse us in the period.  No More Brothers is only a novella.  This made it a quick read, but it seemed superficial.

I did like Serafina Florio, the central character.  I also appreciated the fact that the author lets us know what sort of relationship she has with characters as they are introduced, and a bit about her history with them.  This allowed me to read the book without confusion even though it is the second in the series. Yet characters and relationships are not portrayed in depth.  I think I would have been interested in seeing more of Rosa, the former madam, who is Serafina’s friend. Characterization is another aspect that suffers at novella length.

The mystery itself seemed rather ordinary.  The resolution was rushed and the motivation of the perpetrator was given short shrift.  This book really needed to be a novel in order to maximize its impact.

                                                     ********************

                                                         Sicily in a State of Chaos

There were references to a great deal of social ferment which was relegated to the background in  No More Brothers.  I conducted some searches in order to find out more.

I consulted a Wikipedia article on The History of Sicily which stated that the city of Palermo revolted in 1866 the year before the events of this book.   The Making of Italy 1856-1870 by Patrick Keyes O'Clery contains a chapter on this revolt.  It can be downloaded for free on Google Books for those who want to pursue this topic further.  There were many issues involved in all the unrest.  One issue that caught my attention is that Sicilian peasants who fought for Italian unification expected that the land would be re-distributed to them rather than remaining in the hands of wealthy landowners. Sicilians in that period were also upset about high taxes and high prices. 

I still want to gain more of an understanding of what was happening in 19th century Sicily.

                                                

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Japan's Minorities: Not Enough Respect

My original reason for reading Japan's Minorities edited by Michael Weiner was to find out more about the Ainu who I had read about in Harukor by Honda Katsuichi.  Yet I made unexpected discoveries about other populations in Japan.

                                                         

"Creating a Transnational Community: Chinese Newcomers in Japan" by Gracia Liu-Farrer is primarily concerned with the current Chinese population in Japan.  Chinese are coming to Japan for education and jobs. Yet this essay also  revealed still another aspect of Japanese war crimes in WWII.  They abducted thousands of Chinese for forced labor in Japan. 17% of them died due to malnutrition, disease or being killed during uprisings.  I found an article about Chinese survivors of forced labor suing for wages that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2003. It can be found at Chinese Forced Laborers Sue .  One of the uprisings was known as the Hanaoka Incident.  I found an article in The Japan Times about it here: Commemoration of Hanaoka Incident . 400 Chinese forced laborers were killed in the Hanaoka Incident.

Even more tragic were the thousands of Korean forced laborers who were victims of the nuclear bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This revelation appeared in the essay "Zainichi Koreans in History and Memory" by Michael Weiner and David Chapman.  There was an official apology from the Japanese government to the survivors in 1990, and the Mayor of Nagasaki went to South Korea to tell survivors that they could receive radiation treatment in Japan.  There was a token sum issued to assist survivors.  It was all too little, too late. A 1988 New York Times article documents the story of these Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors at Korean Hiroshima and Nagasaki Victims

In "Multi-Ethnic Japan and Nihonjin" I learned that the half-Japanese children born in Japan of mixed race marriages were not legally allowed to become citizens of Japan until 1984.  This reminded me of the U.S. prohibition on naturalization for Asian immigrants, a policy which ended almost twenty years earlier in 1965.

The most surprising immigrant minority in Japan are the Japanese-Brazilians who are the subject of the article "Japanese-Brazilian Ethnic Return Migration and the Making of Japan's Newest Immigrant Minority" by Takeyuki Tsuda.  These are the descendants of Japanese who went to Brazil.  Because they appear Japanese, it was thought they would integrate with Japanese society more easily.  This didn't happen because they are Portuguese speakers who are culturally Brazilian.  Japanese prejudice labels them with the stigma of having been double "failures". Their ancestors are considered failures since they left Japan because they couldn't find adequate employment, and they themselves are viewed as failures because they left Brazil to find better paying jobs in Japan.  They are given temporary jobs, yet they are criticized for lacking company loyalty.  Perhaps a company that was willing to trust Japanese-Brazilians with permanent positions would earn their loyalty.

 Since I am interested in Umbanda, an African diasporic religion in Brazil, I wondered about Japanese-Brazilians practicing Umbanda in Japan.  I found nothing about Umbanda in Japan.  I did locate an article that partly dealt with an Okinawan woman who became an Umbanda spirit medium in Brazil.  It can be found at Okinawan Spirit Medium in Brazil. It seems to me that if there are Japanese-Brazilians practicing Umbanda in Brazil, they probably have brought the religion to Japan. It would be intriguing to find out whether Japanese-Brazilian Umbanda practitioners can find commonality with native Japanese mediumistic traditions that I read about in Harukor .

It seemed clear to me that Japan doesn't respect their minorities enough--whether they are native to Japan like the Ainu, or whether they are immigrants like the Chinese or the Japanese-Brazilians. 

                                    










                           

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Halfway Through The Around The World Challenge

Celebration!

I  never thought I would get this far in the Around the World challenge.  It involves reading books from 52 different countries by the end of 2012.  I thought that might be an impossible goal for me.   Yet here it is June and I'm at the halfway point.  That's exactly where I should be.

Here's the Travellerspoint map that shows my route through 26 countries:


                            
Here's the updated list of countries and historical periods:

1)Ireland--  670 A.D.
2)Japan-- 19th century
3)Mongolia-- 12th century
4)Laos--1978
5)Israel--1977
6)Mexico--16th century
7)Greece--5th century B.C.
8)Egypt--The Present
9)Haiti--late 18th to early 19th century
10)Sri Lanka--1990's
11)France--15th century
12)Canada--1940's
13)Scotland--1950's
14)England--16th century
15)Iran--17th century
16)Bhutan--earlier in the 21st century
17)Australia--18th century
18)China--The Present
19)South Africa--The Present
20)Niger--1970's
21)Poland--1940's-1990's
22)Angola--1860's
23)Germany--1939
24)Finland--The Present
25)Cambodia--1970's
26)Ghana--The Present        

My Australia book, Strandloper by Alan Garner (reviewed in February on this blog) and my Mexico book, Five Dances With Death: Dance One by Austin Briggs are on my list of  top ten books for the first half of 2012.  Since I read Austin Briggs' novel before this blog existed, I  have decided to feature it in this post.

                                                      
        
        
 Here's the review I posted on Goodreads:

The protagonist, Angry Wasp, is in some ways like most men. He tells another warrior that women aren't important. Yet his sorceress wife is not only more powerful than Angry Wasp but his actions show that he cares deeply about her even though he doesn't express it. I found him a very believable character.

Angry Wasp can also be unexpectedly insightful. His shamanistic abilities which he acquired through his wife's teaching assist him in this area.

I very much appreciated the spiritual aspect of this book. Other novels I've read dealing with the peoples of Mexico during this period make a travesty of their religious practices. It's as if their spirituality were all about bloodletting. Austin Briggs provides us with a deeper view of these complex cultures.

This was the first book that I read on my new Kindle. I was impressed.  I'm looking forward to Five Dances With Death: Dance Two.

                                                                                      

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Is There A Place For Afro-Natives?

Liminality has always fascinated me.  It's an anthropological term for the state of being caught betwixt and between.  See What is Liminality?  Liminal individuals are perpetual outsiders. Yet it's also possible for a group to be liminal if they are not accepted by others outside the group.

I have recently encountered an anthology of essays called Crossing Waters, Crossing Worlds published by Duke University Press that relates to the theme of liminality.  It deals with intersections between Native Americans and African Americans.


                                                  
                                                  

A number of  these essays focus on the history of  how various Native American peoples treated those of mixed African and Native descent.

 I learned from David Chang's "Where Will The Nation Be At Home?" that after the American Civil War, the Creeks decided to give the Blacks among them the same status as emancipated slaves even if they were born free.  This is a way of legally defining them as not Creek, and therefore not entitled to land or Federal benefits.  Yet at the same time African Americans moved to Oklahoma in the post Civil War era to establish independent communities. They considered the Creek Freedmen to be Indians.  This means that they are tragically liminal.  They have no status among Creeks or African Americans.  Some Creek freedmen chose to identify as Africans and moved to Liberia.  This is a very current issue.  Creek Freedmen are still fighting for recognition as members of the Creek nation in court.  See messages about the  Creek Freedmen Lawsuit on the African-Native American Genealogy Forum.

Barbara Krauthamer revealed in her essay, "In Their Native Country", that the Choctaw and Chicasaws forced their former slaves that had been freed by law after the Civil War, to work as sharecroppers or be arrested for vagrancy.  This is a shameful replication of slavery.  It only ceased after the Choctaw and Chicasaws officially lost their sovereignty in 1897.

It's also disillusioning to discover that the Seminoles took away the voting rights of  Seminole Freedmen in 2000 which is discussed in "Blood and Money" by Melinda Micco. I had been taught in school that the Seminoles were an abolitionist people who helped runaway slaves to become free.  The U.S. District Court ruled in 2001 that elections which did not include the Seminole Freedmen would be considered invalid.  So the Seminoles restored their citizenship status, but not until 2003. Micco blames the Bureau of Indian Affairs for restricting official membership of all native peoples after the Civil War. Only those who could prove that they been members in 1823 would be entitled to benefits.  In the case of the Seminole Freedmen, there is a very well sourced Wikipedia article called Black Seminoles which states that there were independent villages of freed African slaves on Seminole territory seventy years before the American Revolution.  Unfortunately, they had no paperwork.  There was no way to prove that there had been Seminole Freedmen before the United States existed.

Racial conflict over mixed blood members has not been confined to slaveholding peoples or to those whose lands are located in the Southeastern U.S.  In "Playing Indian" Celia E. Naylor discusses the controversy over Radmilla Cody being crowned as Miss Navajo in 1997.  Ms. Cody had been brought up on the Navajo reservation, but her father is African American. Some Navajo objected in the Navajo Times that she could not truly represent the Navajo people.  They believed that the Miss Navajo title should be for full blooded Navajos alone. Actually, Radmilla Cody's only culture was Navajo. She had originally lived with her Navajo grandmother. She never even met an African American until she went to stay with her mother in Flagstaff , Arizona when she was a junior in high school. There is a documentary film about Radmilla Cody's life experiences called Hearing Radmilla.  Go to http://www.hearingradmilla.net/home.html to watch the trailer and find out more about the film. Today she is known as a professional singer.  She has recorded five albums for Canyon Records.  Many of the songs she sings are in Navajo. See Radmilla Cody's Music.  I have spent a pleasant time watching her music videos on You Tube.  Links to her videos can be found at
Radmilla Cody on You Tube.  I think she is quite an ambassador for her people.  What about the African  side of  her heritage? You can read about her trip to Kenya at Radmilla Cody's Trip to Kenya.

Another mixed blood artist represented in this anthology is the painter Tamara Buffalo who wrote "Knowing All My Names". This essay deals with how she was kept from knowing about her Afro-Ojibwe heritage by her Caucasian adoptive parents.  Tamara Buffalo has no website.  I couldn't locate any information about her online, but I did find a web page about 19th century Afro-Ojibwe sculptor Edmonia Lewis at The Life of Edmonia Lewis.  I note that she was subjected to charges of theft and murder without any basis except racism.

This book's window into the experience of mixed blood Natives is very thought provoking.  I was also grateful to find a book on the bibliography that will allow me to pursue the topic further, When Brer Rabbit Meets Coyote.  It's a collection about Afro-Native literature edited by Jonathan Brennan.  Cool!
 

                                                






Monday, June 4, 2012

Discrimination Against The Deaf--Then and Now

                  
Fairlyden  by Gwen Kirkwood is the first book in a multi-generation family saga that takes place on a farm in Scotland. Set in the 1850's,  it begins by focusing on Mattie Cameron who'd been deaf since she was a child. She originally lived at Nethertannoch where her father leased the land as a tenant farmer.  Mattie had learned to read, write and figure with the help of the minister's wife.  She'd left the village school due to mistreatment by the teacher who was convinced that Mattie could not be taught.  When Mattie's father, Matthew Cameron, lay on his deathbed, Alexander Logan had given him his word that he would  protect Mattie.  Yet once her father passed away, the legal say over fifteen year old Mattie's fate was in the hands of the laird who was the actual owner of Nethertannoch.   The laird was determined to wed Mattie to Tam Reevil who was known to be an "idiot".  He considered this entirely appropriate since it seemed to him that Mattie must also have very limited mental faculties.  The village teacher had assured the laird that this was the case.  Mattie refused this destiny and left Nethertannoch with the help of Alexander Logan.  For the rest of her life, there continued to be those who didn't respect Mattie. They were unable to believe that Mattie was a skilled and capable woman.

You would think that there has been progress since the 1850's, but in the 21st century there are still communities throughout the world where girls are coerced into arranged marriages.  The attitudes of many people toward the deaf also haven't changed.  Tara Chevrestt's memoir, Deaf Isn't Dumb testifies to a continuing pattern of prejudice.

                                                 

The school bullying and name calling that Tara experienced is rather horrendous, but so is the way Tara was treated in the work world.  It was particularly unfair that she was charged with being dangerous when she had done her job well for a number of years. 

There were also incidents where she didn't get proper service because employees didn't speak clearly.  This is of key importance to a lip reader like Tara. When people who serve the public mumble and mutter, it  isn't discrimination, but it's certainly inconsiderate.  Hearing people may also have difficulties with deciphering sloppy diction.  It also reflects poorly on the employer when employees sound unprofessional. 

I would also like to address Tara's "Open Letter To The Deaf Community" which was included in the book as an addendum.  Tara has come under criticism for not having attended deaf schools and for lip reading. Tara is not alone.  Heather Whitestone, the first deaf Miss America (crowned in 1995) was subject to similar criticism for being a lip reader.  See Heather Whitestone on Wikipedia .  Still,  if I were Tara I might feel saddened, hurt and angry in reaction to such comments.  Yet I do recognize that there is a historical context for them.

There was a period of more than a century when lip reading was imposed on the deaf  by non-deaf educators who thought they knew what was best for their deaf students.  According to History of deaf education on Wikipedia, signing was actively suppressed in deaf schools from the 1860's until the 1970's.  In the 19th century, prominent individuals such as Alexander Graham Bell and Horace Mann were opposed to the deaf having their own system of communication.  They believed that the deaf should be integrated into hearing society as much as possible.  In the 1970's an approach called Total Communication combined ASL and lip reading.  I also learned from an illuminating timeline by Wendy Shaner American Deaf Culture Historical Timeline  that in 1988 the highly respected deaf college, Gallaudet University, published a report called "Unlocking the Curriculum" which proposed that signing be the primary mode of deaf education.  So there has been tremendous conflict in the 19th and 20th century over lip reading vs. signing in deaf education.  It seems to me that the legacy of  deaf students being prevented from signing during this period has caused some ASL (American Sign Language) advocates to lash out against successful lip readers.

I feel that deaf individuals have the right to choose their mode of communication, and that they should not be judged for their choices. 

On the other hand,  it is true that lip readers who have never studied ASL are shut out of  ASL based deaf culture.   As a non-deaf person who considers minority cultures fascinating, I have followed developments in deaf culture.  I am particularly intrigued by fusions of  ASL and dance.  Here's an example on You Tube:ASL Inspired Hip Hop by Universal Vibes.  There are dance traditions in India and Hawaii that incorporate gestural signs.  This brings an additional layer of complexity to dance, so that it can communicate on more than one level.

All the same, I don't agree that everyone who identifies as deaf should be moving lock-step in the same direction.  It's inspiring that Tara Chevrestt could become an airplane mechanic, just as it's inspiring that other deaf individuals are doing creative projects with ASL.   Positive achievements should be celebrated, and so should cultural diversity.

Postscript on Audism  6/30/12

I have never believed that any minority should have to educate the general population about their issues, so I am always in an ongoing process of educating myself about them.  That is how I recently came across the term "audism".  In context it appeared to mean a chauvinistic belief that hearing people are superior, that all deaf people should  integrate themselves  into hearing culture by lip reading and communicating verbally, and that they should want to be cured of deafness.

 I wanted to know something of the history of how audism came into use. So I went to Gallaudet University's website for assistance.  I found Gallaudet University Library Audism FAQ.  I discovered that audism was coined by Tom Humphries in his 1977 doctoral dissertion. I also learned that since then audism has been broadened to include institutional discrimination against the deaf, and that The Mask of Benevolence by Harlan Lane is an important book on this subject.

I believe that institutions dealing with the deaf don't have to be infected with audism.  They can acknowledge their limitations, educate themselves and then decide to work with deaf individuals as equals who have a right to make their own decisions about their lives.  Unfortunately, that is not the world that we currently live in. I hope that hearing people like me who write about audism can make a difference.