Network Effect: A Murderbot Novel by Martha Wells published by Tor 2020
Yes, Martha Wells has published the fifth book in the Murderbot Diaries, and she hit the word count to be a full-length novel while doing so, which is a big WIN for all of us Murderbot fans! More Murderbot to love!
First: if you haven’t read all four of the novellas, you really must do so: not only because they are awesome, but because they are part of one story, and you need to read those to understand the characters and events that appear here.
Okay: the novel is fantastic. It is fun! It combines the heavy action, emotional angst, sincere affection for certain humans, profane internal monologue, gender-neutral grammar, and inter-robot-friendship you have come to know and love. Adventure! Drama! Alien artifacts! Wells’ writing continues to be delightful, concise, and fantastic. The greater page length delivers more of the same joy the novellas did, in the same style.
This book made my day. Murderbot fans can rejoice in this novel, and look forward to more.
Olafur Eliasson In Real Life edited by Mark Godfrey published by Tate Enterprises, Ltd. 2019
Olafur Eliasson In Real Life isn’t a conventional art show catalog, if you can’t already tell that from my other two or three notes about this book here. Yes, it does include photographs from the remarkable exhibition of the same name at the Tate Modern, which had adults saying “WOAH!” out loud while walking blindly through bright rooms, staring at mirrors and lenses and wave machines, and playing in colored lights like happy children. A conventional catalog would describe what we would have seen and experienced if we’d visited the exhibit in person, with some essays to understand the work better in retrospect. This book is instead is a supplement (and according to the artist, part of the exhibit itself) that pulls together interviews with scientists, artists, chefs, musicians, designers, and others to discuss a broad range of approaches to human engagement with the world.
Yes, the pictures are PRETTY, but that’s just to lure you in to thinking about the world more broadly. 🙂
Studio Olafur Eliasson isn’t just one person or particular pieces of art: it’s a large team of people with a range of specialties who are exploring all sorts of ways to engage with the world, from eating (yes, the studio has a vegetarian restaurant to feed the team; they’ve published a cookbook AND ran a cafe at the Tate Modern during the exhibit), to coloring rivers to raise your awareness of them (and what they should look like when they aren’t harmlessly-but-vividly-colored), to being aware of light (those yellow rooms are really more interesting in altering perception than you would guess), to producing solar products, to displaying remarkable rooms of geometric models that form the various presentations of the Model Room(which remind me of something one would make at SF’s own interactive science museum The Exploratorium), and include many great works by the late Einar Thorsteinn…
This book packs in a lot of concepts, extensive discussions about the role of culture, the false split between culture and nature, some disturbing descriptions from a chef about duck brains (Scandinavian food has never sounded more alarming), that amazing Fab 5 Freddy interview that delighted and amused me (and inspired me to watch some of F5F’s film, Wild Style, on YouTube), ideas that sent me off to order books and read up on random topics…
This book is an engaging work/collection in its own right even when separated from the exhibit, and supplements the gorgeous visuals and experiences of the show with lots of in-depth research. I feel my mind has been enriched by having spent time with it.
Anni Albers edited by Ann Coxon, Briony Fer, and Maria Müller-Schareck published by Yale University Press 2018
Anni Albers, a gorgeously printed exhibition catalog and book of essays, shows off the work of phenomenal modernist Anni Albers, and her work in design, weaving, painting, and printmaking.
Those of us who have been fans of the pre-war Bauhaus school in Germany may know her work from compilations of the school’s many famous graduates and teachers; we may also know that women were sent off into the weaving department regardless of their design interests to an extent that raises questions about the motivations of the male staff. Albers really took to it, produced some fantastic, ultra-modernist work, and raised the profile of textile design at a time when it was profoundly under-appreciated.
The hair on the back of your neck may rise up a bit when you read about the punch cards that were used to set the patterns for jacquard looms… The Bauhaus operated in a time where mass production seemed like an opportunity to democratize access to basic goods, like shoes and housewares, and that good design could directly improve day-to-day life. (Yes, of course the Nazis shut them down.)
The details of Alber’s work are beautifully reproduced in remarkably color plates, often showing both the entire work (ranging widely in scale) plus details that allow you to appreciate the craft.
And there is more to her work! As an aspiring pattern designer, I love seeing how she worked out some of her designs on grid paper. As a textile lover, the reproductions thrill me. And as a print-maker – HEY, she does those really well, too!
She even has some typewriter art, which makes me think of Mira Schendel (different continent, later time), and of how my fellow geeks should really appreciate where the roots of ASCII art came from. (Geek joy!)
So much of her work is understated in that she uses muted colors, or relatively few colors – it never shouts. Which means it might have a hard time getting attention in our current, loud, shiny, sequined art world – but the design is BOLD. And the quality! The detail! The attention to everything! The essays follow her career from Germany to the US; from teaching at colleges and universities; from the loom to the press. It shows evidence of her processes (which were key to the experience for her, as an artist and as a teacher), of the interests in Central/South American textiles and collecting, and of her design approaches. (There is a white-on-white printed plate that I just ADORE…) This woman had RANGE.
This is one of those, HOW COULD SHE NOT BE BETTER KNOWN, TAUGHT IN SCHOOLS, AND SHOUTED ABOUT IN CAFÉS kind of revelatory books. Albers herself was a bit frustrated that she could earn so many paid commissions, design textiles for Knoll (ooooooh!), and yet people would only get excited when she worked on paper – when she created art that could not possibly have any utilitarian application. Fabric had been seen as TOO USEFUL, even though it is a brilliant technology – its association with women goes back to ancient times (see another favorite book of mine: Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years by Barber), and that seems to have held textile art back. Wrongly. SO WRONGLY.
The book – essays, production, binding, range of work included – is of the highest quality. The exhibition must have been phenomenal!
Set here on earth, Woman World tells the story of how a mysterious biological problem in humans means that all new babies are born female. Natural disasters destroy much of so-called civilization; years pass, and we find ourselves in a village where the children have never seen a human man, and the women are dreaming, falling in love, managing anxiety, being baffled by male-centric artifacts from the past, and making a new community under a Beyonce-loving banner.
It is also laid out very beautifully. The full pages are thoughtfully done; the spreads are used for optimal effect. A lot of thought went into the design, and the more I think about it, the more I am impressed at how each layout is used for best effect.
Did I mention adorable? ADORABLE. And witty. I laughed out loud repeatedly, and it brought joy to my heart.
As part of my ongoing efforts to support my ICONIC local non-profit movie theater, The Roxie, I paid an indie ticket price through this link, so the money is split 50-50 with my local theater. How nice is that?
This is a documentary film about the rare booksellers of New York City, who are themselves becoming rare.
The film allows you to see their shops, their warehouses, and a completely over-the-top private library as you learn about the rare book business, and how difficult it is (and in some ways, always has been, Internet notwithstanding).
The Book of Books: 500 Years of Graphic Innovation edited by Mathieu Lommen published by Thames & Hudson 2012
I hand-sew and bind books, I read books, I buy books, I have books printed, I fill blank books, I collect books, I study books, I LOVE BOOKS! So it feels inevitable that I would find this book, which is about the printing technologies, fonts, and design of books, with an emphasis on Europe and/or printing that uses European alphabets.
This is a MASSIVE tome, and has reproductions of MANY books, with remarkable examples of everything from bibles to scientific texts to art books to books on how to break into castles. Which was apparently a really big thing. A thing that was important enough to buy books about. (My gift subscription to Castle Raider Monthly must have expired: I’ve been missing out.) If the term “siege engine” immediately came to mind, you win 500 Geek Points.
The fonts are GORGEOUS. GORGEOUS! I would use some of them today! HOW DID WE EVER STOP USING SOME OF THESE!!! GAAAAAH! Sorry. I’ll pull myself together now. But really – such beauty! The folks who set this type, and who designed it – I hope they were lauded in their day!
Illustrated books and printing technologies are also discussed, and printing of this sort – etching and hand coloring and tipping in scientific illustrations – was once the key way to study sciences and the natural world in a time of limited travel opportunities. Books as a way to transmit key knowledge, not just as entertainment – that is so exciting!
After seeing remarkable samples of so many older works (going back to the late 1400s), thanks to the editor’s access to special collections in the Netherlands, I was beyond delighted that he extended all the way into the 2010s, and included the work of Emigre Fonts , an SF Bay Area-Local font foundry that arose with the Apple Macintosh back in 1984. The work of founders Rudy VanderLans and Zuzana Licko has always been impressive and presented brilliantly (in their magazines, catalogs, and in active use), so I was thrilled to see their inclusion here.
I’ve spent some quality time with this book, and there is so much in it, I need to return to it repeatedly to process all that I’ve seen. It’s quite a work!
(Yes, I also have the Parr & Badger Photobook history, all the volumes, since photo books are their own design challenge…)
Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells published by Tor 2018
Book 4 in this delightful series of novellas about a cyborg-ish Security Unit who has been through some very bad situations, has liberated itself from human control, has some natural-feeling human-saving habits continues!
This volume has everything you’ve come to love Murderbot for, from its amusement at silly humans, its irrepressible desire to hack systems, relationships with differently-abled bots, a bit of time to enjoy new entertainment media, and…. okay, there was some unexpected shopping, which was brief, and didn’t appear to be habit-forming. But all the stuff you really want to know about Murderbot’s fondness for some special humans from the first book I’m going to withhold, so you can enjoy finding out what happens on your own.
I enjoyed it, and now I’m ready for the full length novel!
(Yes, you need to start reading the stories from the first novella, silly human. Go do that.)
Rogue Protocol (the Murderbot Diaries) by Nancy Wells published by Tor 2018
As you know by now, I love me some Murderbot. Martha Wells’ stories about an unauthorized / independent, telenovela-addicted android-cyborg security unit trying to understand its situation and cope with fragile humans who put themselves into dangerous situations are delightful, and this is the third novella in the set. There is a full length book that was released THIS WEEK, and so of course I am changing my strategy from doling the novellas out to myself slowly to catching up quickly.
In this exciting episode, Murderbot has a suspicion that its favorite human could use some evidence against the corporation that tried to kill her and her team. So, being a very direct kind of SecUnit, it goes to the scene of a potential crime.
There are bots! Drones! Weapons! Heavy equipment! Various combinations of nice and dastardly humans! The story maintains an engaging pace, is well-written, and… is it just me, or is Murderbot developing a soft spot for people? No, I don’t mean where it was shot or caught all that shrapnel, I mean… oh, I can’t spoil it for you.
The Power by Naomi Alderman published by Back Bay Books (Little, Brown and Company) 2016
What would happen to the structure of society if women had the physical power to defend themselves, or even routinely overpower men?
In this engrossing novel, women develop the ability to generate electricity. Humans already have a lot of electrical wiring internally, but in the book, a scientific intervention intended for one purpose may have inadvertently given rise to the ability for women to generate and control electricity, an have the ability to taze at will from puberty onward.
This changes the world.
The story follows several women, both privileged and disadvantaged, comfortable and abused, in the spotlight and sidelined, who find different ways of utilizing this development to influence the direction their societies evolve in. The story of an intrepid male reporter from Lagos also provides a sympathetic (and at times, alarmed) point of view.
Alderman does a remarkable job of showing the RANGE of impacts that could arise, from fiercely patriarchal societies harming or killing women to maintain control, to government leaders militarizing this new ability; from women who use moderation in utilizing their new powers in societies that have included them, to women who wreak vengeance upon their captors and oppressors in societies were they functionally enslaved.
The way the book ends… just be sure to read what looks like an appendix, but is a key part of the story.
Yes, I’m sure Margaret Atwood is DELIGHTED that she got to make such a concise review-and-play-on-words about this book ON THE FRONT COVER.
As someone who has daydreamed of subtly engineering women to be stronger to decrease abuses, do I think that power struggles could play out as they do in this book? Yes, and perhaps Alderman is more realistic than I am, considering history. When have the powerful ever shared power willingly and peacefully? When have enslaved people ever received justice? When have oppressors ever willingly made amends? My own dark futures in fiction are dark DIFFERENTLY, but yes, I think we agree on the backlash. Because: humans.
Also note: read the acknowledgements. No, really.
Summary: a page-turner of a book with a thoughtful story arc for the characters, thoughtful (and very dramatic) implications across the wide range of conditions, and a dark view which is entirely fair, considering the state of the world. I’m glad I read it.