Thursday, June 30, 2016

I don't understand technology

Two recent books (which I largely enjoyed) required some basic grasp of technology (at least "technology" as a sci-fi or thriller trope) and I feel bad admitting that I just don't really understand a lot of it. 

Particularly cryptography. I picked up The Girl in the Spider's Web because it seemed like something one is obliged to do during the summer (yes, I know Stieg Larsssssson is dead and frankly, I hoped that that would mean slightly less over-the-top sexual violence in this continuation). It was ... exactly as expected. This offering had to do with the NSA, prime number factoring, the development and feared theft of artificial intelligence, but really it was just about that damn Millennium magazine getting a scoop and returning prestige, glory and cash to hard-hitting journalism, along with superhuman hacking and toughing-out of bullet wounds. Walk it off, Salander! 

AI was a much more essential part of Central Station, by Lavie Tidhar, but again, sadly I just don't really grasp it. Like, this Singularity thing? Either it immediately ends the world, via SkyNet or the Matrix, or it allows our amazing consciousnesses to be uploaded and survive forever ... I guess? There was a lot of love in Central Station, of which I approve. Love between men, love between women and ancient robot-soldiers, love (or at least endless memories) between generations of families, and then a kind of love between humans and Others, the freed AIs that "escaped" on to the Internet and then could join back with humans by invitation and a golden thumb ... I think a lot of this was lost on me. 
But the robot love, I can dig.

Community and betrayal

Summer break provides both the opportunity and the crushing responsibility to read many more books than I get to during the school year, which can lead to some interesting juxtapositions. In the past few weeks, I've read (among others) Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman; Missoula: Rape and the Justice System, by Jon Krakauer; and All-American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. 

In OITNB (if you aren't a netflixer, as I am not), pretty white Piper gets busted on drug charges and spends a year in prison; in AAB, a high school is divided over a brtual police beating of an innocent black teenager, and in Missoula -- well, Missoula is harrowing non-fiction about campus rape and its consequences.The only obvious link between these three is the presence of law enforcement, but in reading all three in rapid success, it made me think about how essential community trust is for all people. 

In the first book, Piper makes her way through prison by making herself a part of the community, both through her contributions but also through just reading the room right (it seems SO GREAT for people dropped into uncomfortable, potentially dangerous situations to be socially adept extroverts -- sure hope I never have to go to prison!). When she's removed from her trusted community of fellow felons, she's much less stable and more adrift, even though she has an ENORMOUS support network outside the prison walls too. When her scene is contrasted with some of the other women's situations, it's utterly clear why people re-offend -- a scary stable community is better than none at all. All-American Boys struggles with the same issue, where community shifts based on geography, race, family, etc. and conflicting loyalties make it so that doing what's "right" in one community is the most wrong thing you can do in another. The police violence and its aftermath break down some communities and create others.


And then, ugh, Missoula. This book was so hard to read in its graphic descriptions of a number of different campus acquaintance rapes, maybe the most damaging human betrayal possible, and then its tragic repercussions for (almost) everyone involved. No one escapes unscathed, with the victim at the center of the pool of suffering. I can't decide if every teenager I know should read this before going to college, or if the many many failures of the college community to address it is too dispiriting. Certainly everyone who is appalled at the Stanford rape verdict needs to read this right now ... and maybe the takeaway for teens is as simple as: don't drink yourself to unconsciousness, ever. Ever.

Back to book-blogging

So, in the half-decade since I used to keep this blog (or its predecessors, more accurately) updated, I've discovered that writing about books solidifies them in my mind, BUT that I'm not terribly good at or interested in traditional book reviews. Since my superpower is strongly held (and unsolicited) opinions, this should be great!
All my archives from the old days are here.