Stephen's blog

A Review of The Wind-up Girl

Science Fiction set in non-Western cultures can be very interesting, and lately I’ve been lucky to find two that are very immersive, The Wind-Up Girl and Three Body problem. This review will focus on the former.

The Wind-Up Girl (by Paolo Bacigalupi) take place in post-apocalyptic Bangkok. The story is about cultural and character clashes, even among those work towards the same goals. Ths story has been called eco-punk, as it looks at (among other things) the effects of genetically hacked plants, animals and people.

The story involves a power struggle between the Thai government and foreign interests as well as within the government as two ministries vie for power and influence. However, none of the point of view characters are powerful figures in the Thai government, giving that internal struggle less prominence until much later in the story.  READ MORE

The Hubris of the Echo Chamber

Like many, I was not only surprised, but shocked by the recent US elections. Michael Moore warned us back in July, but he was ignored. Nate Silver told us, and was ridiculed for that.

Many academicians have been warning people that more and more we live in echo chambers, self-reinforcing patterns and opinions, because we aren’t made aware of the alternatives. Google will show you different results than it will your co-worker, in each case trying to appease whatever expectations Google assumes you each have. Likewise, Facebook learns what you want to hear and who you want to hear it from, and dutifully refuses to challenge your preconceptions. This reinforces the idea that you are well grounded in reality.

Tuesday’s election should be a wake up call against the echo chamber effect. Read on

Crossing Porous Borders

I grew up in Canada with the firm belief that borders were sacrosanct. You couldn’t treat them lightly. Then I moved to Africa… Namibia, specifically. My teaching post was about 10 kilometres south of the Angolan border.

The first friday that I was there, I got taken out drinking by my co-workers. We went to a shebeen (bar) in the middle of a forest, about halfway between our school and the Angolan border. There we met up with a larger group, including one very friendly giant of a man (I’ve lost his name now, sorry). On his arm was a scar from a recent cut of some kind, a very long and thin cut, as if from a knife.

He offered to smuggle me into Angola to see where his friend had been killed by Angolan police -- right then. The border between Angola and Namibia isn't open at night, and even if it was, my passport was safely locked away somewhere else.

He wasn't going to listen to my objections, telling me not to worry. READ ON

How One Death Can Change History

Given the topic of how a singular death can change history, people usually jump to Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, which precipitated what eventually became known as World War I. But any historian I’ve spoken to has said that the war was inevitable and that Ferdinand’s death merely escalated the timeline by a few months.

Let’s look at a much more modern situation, one that could have consequences in our lifetimes. Joe Biden’s son’s death may be seen in hindsight as one that changed the course of history. UPDATED

Writers I’ve Known and Their Books

William Kamkwamba is probably the best selling author I’ve known. He was a student at African Leadership Academy back when I was the Communications Manager. He made my live very interesting. His memoir, The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind became a big hit in 2009, leading him to make appearances on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Good Morning America, appearances with Mitch Albom and Tavis Smiley, and many other news programs. Since he was a student at our school, I managed his time vis-a-vis his publicity and his school work, acting as the gatekeeper, often having to refuse requests (sorry, Sky News. One day you’ll forgive me like CNN did.). I don’t know that I learned a lot about the publishing industry from this experience, but I certainly saw the hustle that an author goes through to promote a book, especially a bestseller.

TBR - To Be Read

To Be ReadThis my “TBR” pile - my books waiting To Be Read, although after I took the photo, I found two more. Every writer has one. Writing is also about reading, about continually both being engaged creatively and seeing how others’ writing styles might influence yours.

Beyond the obvious science fiction, my current list includes fantasy (Sailing to Sarantium), magical realism (All the Birds in the Sky, and possibly Cloud Atlas? That one’s hard to characterize), historical revisionism (1434, the sequel to 1421) and a Malcolm Gladwell screed. Like most writers, I read outside of my genre, even more so than this pile would suggest.

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