The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin

The Broken Earth book series was recommended by a close friend. It is an amazing read. Afrofuturism in general is always amazingly insightful, and I find that’s especially true when it’s distant-future Afrofuturism.

The Broken Earth

These books paint a picture of a post-apocalyptic world, but it’s a world that has passed so many apocalypses that the landscape is dotted with relics of ancient civilizations which are in today’s distant future. The worldbuilding is really great.

Also the world is full of functionalist institutions, and the story centers on those who reject their assigned functions. It’s a deeply queer post-structuralist discourse and a critique of caste structures and  adherence to our socialized roles in society. It’s also an admonition to actively reject and usurp those roles and institutions. I highly recommend this book to any fan of Queer Theory, Quare Theory (Racially-situated post-structuralism), post-structuralism, or Afrofuturism.

 

Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good (Thrawn 10)

This is the second book of the third Thrawn trilogy.

Thrawn Ascendancy Greater Good by Timothy ZahnI really liked it. It was a great next step. I see a lot of really interesting attempts at explaining the background that allowed him to accomplish his later feats which featured in earlier stories.

It was cool to see the way that other characters viewed the asymmetric advantages conferred by cultural blind spots. This is the first time I’ve seen a character other than Thrawn do this in Star Wars.

It’s interesting to see the way Thrawn vs Haplif played out.

I liked the character of Jixtus. I was sort of bored by past individuals from his species so this was cool to see a better developed character from them.

It was also interesting to see the way Haplif pitted the families against each other, and how Thrawn circumvented that whole gambit by playing the fool. I thought that was a nice bit of poetry.

I thought the idea of the three families just pretending nothing happened was kind of a lazy way to tie those threads off.

Very excited for the next book!

All Tomorrow’s Parties by William Gibson

This is the third book of The Bridge, a newer trilogy by Gibson which reintroduces many of his earlier ideas within the context of the new technologies that had come out since the Sprawl Trilogy.

All Tomorrow's Parties by William Gibson

This book starts to tie everything together. I liked the way he portrayed Laney and I initially liked Konrad. It was cool to see the AI manipulating people in the real world — just like in The Sprawl — but the Idoru ending was so predictable. I thought that was how the last book would end.

I did really like all the connections to interstitial and existential sociology. That was really cool to see explored so thoroughly.

And then the rest of the ending was just as bad as the Idoru. Most of the characters go unresolved and just randomly disappear without ever being explained. The B-story about Harwood goes totally unexplained, as does his relationship with the ostensibly central character of Konrad who is at first described as “the key to everything” but then it’s never explained how he is key to anything.

Also the quiet kid who can’t talk except sometimes he can. And somehow he is able to hack all computers but doesn’t actually know how to do anything on computers.

Overall this book was terrible, and especially the way it ended. I’m glad he reintroduced his ideas with more modern concepts, but I just don’t understand how the ending became such an unsatisfying mess.

Idoru by William Gibson

This is the second book of The Bridge, a newer trilogy by Gibson which reintroduces many of his earlier ideas within the context of the new technologies that had come out since the Sprawl Trilogy.

Idoru by William GibsonOne of my favorite pieces of this story is the concept of “nodal points,” “emergent systems of history,” “the shapes from which history emerges,” in “vast floes of undifferentiated data”; “he palps nodes of potentiality, strung along lines that are histories of the happened becoming the not-yet.”

Laney’s node-spotter function [from Idoru] is some sort of metaphor for whatever it is that I actually do. There are bits of the literal future right here, right now, if you know how to look for them. Although I can’t tell you how; it’s a non-rational process. — William Gibson, August 1999

Another cool idea is the idea that when artificial intelligence does evolve, it may happen in a way that is not intentional and not clear right away.

I also liked the way Gibson described the system which inadvertently gave rise to AI,

-the result of an array of elaborate constructs that we refer to as ‘desiring machines.” … “Not in any literal sense,” Kuwayama continued, “but please envision aggregates of subjective desire. It was decided that the modular array would ideally constitute an architecture of articulated longing

Of course the titular character was also fascinating. There are of course now nearly identical entities in the real world, particularly in Japan as Gibson predicted.

Lastly, the idea of the walled city strikes me as in many ways identical to things like distributed organizations, distributed finance, cryptocurrencies more broadly, etc.

And they were out of his room, fast-forward through the maze of Hak Nam, up twisted stairwells and through corridors, the strange, compacted world flickering past. “What is this place? A communal site, right? But what are you so worried about? Why’s it all a secret?” “Walled City is of the net, but not on it. There are no laws here, only agreements.” “You can’t be on the net and not be on the net,” Chia said, as they shot up a final flight of stairs. “Distributed processing,” he said. “Interstitial, It began with a shared killfile-“

Virtual Light by William Gibson

This is the first book of The Bridge, a newer trilogy by Gibson which reintroduces many of his earlier ideas within the context of the new technologies that had come out since the Sprawl Trilogy.

Virtual Light by William GibsonIn this first book, he ties together the ideas of existential and interstitial sociology and introduces a concept he calls “nodal points.”

It was interesting to see how he updated his idea of “the matrix” or “cyberspace” (both terms which he invented for The Sprawl Trilogy).

Rather than plugging your brain into the network, you use VR. This reflects the way technology actually evolved after he wrote the Sprawl Trilogy. But the title of this book refers to a new technology predicted by Gibson; Virtual Light is basically the same as VR, only the images you see are generated in the brain electromagnetically rather than being viewed on screens in the goggles.

Ready Player Two by Earnest Klein

This book was really bad. It manages to somehow be worse than the first one. Honestly I wish I had never read either of them.

It’s basically just exactly the same story as the first book but somehow also a rip-off of Neuromancer without any of the good parts. 0/10. Do not recommend.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

This was a great read. I read it for a class on Race, Gender, and Science Fiction as part of my degrees in Queer Ethnic Studies and Racial Resistance.

Afro-futurism is a super interesting literary space with very different perspectives from mainstream science fiction.

This story was also adapted into a graphic novel. I read both.

The story follows a character who lives in a very Snow-Crash-style walled suburb amid a vast dystopian landscape. The streets outside the enclave are a lawless chaos of resource conflict and drug addiction where violent drug-fueled mobs murder people on sight to steal any resources they have.

Water and food are scarce and most people go hungry or die of thirst or contamination.

The arc of the main character is the development of her philosophy of building secure and remote communities which can grow food, manage their resources, and protect themselves from the outside world while focusing on building an internal education system to focus on rebuilding some kind of society at least locally.

I see these ideas as very closely aligned with the evolution of my own personal philosophy of futurism over the last few years. We are not far from a future like this. Unless we act now to start planning to survive it, we won’t.

Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn (Thrawn 0)

How to describe how this book fits into the story of Thrawn? So this was the first Thrawn book which was published. I became aware of it after I finished the first Thrawn trilogy. So I’m ironically reading it last, but probably it should come first. There is a special sadness knowing this is the end until more books are published, but it’s a consonant note to end on.

Outbound Flight

In terms of the story, this book takes place after book nine and before book six. It’s all out of order and that’s part of the magic. I don’t think there is any correct order to read these books in. Honestly you could shuffle them all into any order and they would be great.

The whole story is super interconnected and tangled and not linear in any normal way.

This story ties a lot of loose threads together and fills in a few blanks between many of the storylines and characters from the other books. Particularly C’baoth, Ar’alani, Doriana, and Cardas.

Spoilers and Theories

I really don’t know what to make of Ar’alani’s role in this story particularly given Thrass’ role. It low-key seems like Thrawn and Ar’alani are playing Thrass against the syndicure but also it high-key seems like maybe that was not thought out at this point so it will probably be retconned later or something.

I also found it interesting to see the emphasis on Cardas. He had a very brief role in the third series but like a super lot of back story which tied in with Yoda, so it seems like that will eventually be developed further. I wonder if he will get his own spin-off, though I’d rather see one about Karrde first.

The whole Doriana/Thrawn thing answers a question I had from book six when Thrawn meets Sidious and Sidious asks him some questions and then he’s like “IT IS YOU!” Like obviously they knew about each other somehow but this explains that.

Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising (Thrawn 9)

First of all, having now finished the ninth book in this series, I can’t tell whether Zahn loves communism or hates it.

On the surface, I am offended by Zahn’s unfiltered contempt for syndicalism and admiration for imperialism. But is that really the point? I find myself agreeing with his every critique of ancom as someone who lives it every day, and wondering if he’s trying to make a deeper point…

Thrawn Ascendancy Chaos RisingWow that’s a lot of titles, let’s break it down. It’s a Star Wars book. The title of this trilogy is Thrawn Ascendancy which is the fourth book series about Thrawn the character. The title of the book is Chaos Rising.

The overall arc of this quadruple-series forms a compendium of loosely related books focusing on a single eponymous character. The first series begins with Heir to the Empire and tells the story of the end of his life. The second series starts with Specter of The Past and tells the story just after his death. The third series starts with Thrawn and tells the story of his early Imperial career. The fourth series in the series of serieses starts with this book, Ascendancy and tells the story of his career in The Ascendancy’s Expansionary Defense Fleet before he joins The Empire. I suspect the Ascendancy series will end with him somehow orchestrating the events of the Thrawn series. All the books kind of jump all over the place in time. This one is split between his memories of childhood with Ar’alani and their time together in The Expansionary Defense Fleet.

This enormous number of books is primarily focused on one character and his semi-disingenuous service to a fascist empire. In reality it always seems like his real loyalties are to his original career with The Ascendancy, a syndicate which has become deeply corrupt and oligarchic over a long period of time.

This high-key resonates with me as someone who works at a global ancom ngo and suffers daily through the tumults of a committee life, replete with unofficial oligarchs representing obscure semi-secret power blocks who constantly use the overall mission as a means of scoring points towards irrelevant competing social interests rather than advancing the actual mission of the organization.

One of my favorite lines in the whole series comes during the previous book, Treason when Eli Vanto explains that he has no idea what the third-part of Chiss names means (Chiss have a three part name), but it seems to have some connection to some social concept that he doesn’t understand. This is exactly how Thrawn  feels about literally everything, and I can 100% relate to that. In this book, Ar’alani defends Thrawn from a political attacks while explaining to her subordinate that the people attacking Thrawn don’t care that he was right; they just hate him in general because he isn’t like them or because they can’t understand him; they are missing some sense of solidarity with him precisely because his tactical brilliance makes him an unpredictable factor in their mental calculations.

Thrawn knows that this is a weakness for him, a blind spot as he would say. He commits to trying to explore and understand politics as an important realm of tactics. This is a challenge which Ar’alani says he will never overcome even if he tries. She compares it to someone trying to learn music but just being tone-deaf. She talks about her hope that she or someone like her will always be there to defend him.

Part of this story which is really interesting is the way Zahn starts by showing us Thrawn as a member of a racial minority group in a fascist state who seizes power through tactical brilliance by defeating those who have power over him. At every point, his efforts are two-fold. He is trying to ascend in the ranks while also trying to understand both the opponents he is facing and the opponents he will eventually face. It’s very interesting to see the evolution of the character through the books to an earlier time in his life when he faces similar challenges within his own racial group on the basis of class.

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Throughout Chaos Rising, we see nine ruling families in the syndicure which constitute “official” power-blocks. They leverage every possible thing that happens throughout the universe as an excuse to get one over on one another. They do this in the name of leading The Ascendancy. Many people see their own personal short-term interests as the same as the interests of the overall group, without any real regard for the real needs of the overall group or the overall mission of the organization. This 100% resonates with my experience in the queer nonprofit world; most people in leadership give zero fucks about the purpose of the organization, they are only interested in scoring points against one another in the eyes of their power-blocks. I suspect this is a deeper truth about humanity and its inherent flaws and limitations, especially with regard to the inherent and inevitable chaos that comes from the effects of small-group tribalism within large groups. This seems to be what Zahn is trying to touch on in this book.

These nine official power-blocks in the story are made up of countless unofficial power-blocks which are all spending all their time and energy on infighting while there are serious existential threats coming at them from every direction, going unacknowledged and unchallenged. In many cases, political infighting leads to the leaders actively suppressing the truth of the existential threats facing the larger community in exchange for politically expedient short-term victories over one another. This is the most germane thing I have read in a long fucking time. This is the modern world in a nutshell.

Thrawn is set apart from the rest of his people by his devotion to focusing on directly confronting existential threats and real mission goals rather than wasting time and energy on infighting and scoring political points within The Ascendancy. I can not underline this enough. This alone is the reason I have read nine books on this and why I will continue to read however many more Zahn decides to write.

Thrawn: Treason by Timothy Zahn (Thrawn 8)

Thrawn: TreasonI had assumed this book would be about Thrawn’s exodus. In fact,as you may expect, there is a twist.

Just as I was about halfway through this book and dreading the end of the Thrawn series, I head the news that a new Thrawn book has just been released and that it’s the beginning of a new series! I’ve become quite a Thrawn fan. These books have given me a lot to think about and convinced me to focus more on the tactics of long-term strategy and less on politics.

A long time ago I read Atlas Shrugged and reflected at the time that the character of Francisco was unrealistically ideal in every way, a perfect Nietzschean ubermencsh. He was an ideal constructed as an impossible goal to which people should aspire. I can’t help thinking the same thing about Thrawn in this series. His tactical brilliance is based on his identity as an alien; he has some kind of magical superpower. His accomplishments are not something that would really be possible for people to do. In a way the two are similar, and yet I can’t help contrasting Thrawn with Francisco. Aspiring to be like Thrawn seems far better than aspiring to be Francisco.

Taking a tactical perspective on accomplishing feasible long-term goals seems just objectively virtuous, whereas pursuing those Nietzschean ideals of being the all-around perfect person is not only impossible but also bad as an incremental process. Taking a step towards being more like Thrawn would make most people better at whatever they are trying to do; taking a step towards being more like Francisco would not.

10/10 for this whole series. Would absolutely recommend.