More Recent Readings

Since Accelerando, I’ve been reading, but not as much as I would like. However, I have finished the following books, and will provide short capsule-reviews of them. I’m trying to get away from longish reviews, because, hey, I have mostly better things to do with my time than review books for what is, after all, a very small number of people within the audience of this site who actually are interested in what I think about the books I read. But, at least for the purposes of tracking what I’ve read, I’m going to log my readings here anyway.

  • The Comfort Women: Japan’s Brutal Regime of Enforced Prostitution in the Second World War, by George L. Hicks.Fascinating, depressing book on one of those issues that, up until recently, I’d only heard a narrow range of opinions on. (Most of them either vehemently anti-Japanese, or vehemently critical of what they feel is popular Korean opinion on the subject.

    Hicks is fascinating because, as a Western outsider who manages to be pretty critical of everyone involved, including the American army, he presents a lot of the things I’ve never heard Koreans themselves mention. Such as that there have been, and still are, feminist groups in Japan that have strong issues with Japan’s historical use of military sex enslavement. Or that as far back as the 1960s, a Japanese reporter was the one who broke the story of there having been Korean comfort women… before any Koreans were even acknowledging that such had ever existed. He also goes into some depth about the apparent motivation and reasoning behind the establishment of the comfort stations, and how they were run and administrated, which is interesting and important information on the subject.

    While he is above all sympathetic to the victims, meaning not just Korean women but also a smaller, but significant, number of women from other countries such as China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, and even the Netherlands, Hicks is additionally much less reticent to acknowledge the role of local collaborators than I’ve seen elsewhere. While many of the reports in Sangmie Choi Schellstede’s Comfort Women Speak (which only discussed Korean comfort women, by the way) actually included a fair number of accounts which, to me, looked pretty damning in terms of Korean collaboration–almost every firsthand report suggested that Koreans were routinely involved in the terrible recruitment of comfort women–Schellestede’s text was pretty invested in leveling well-deserved blame on Japan, to the point of including long translations of documents from the legal proceedings in which Korean ex-comfort women sued the Japanese government… but it was curiously absolutely bereft of any consideration as to why, almost fifty years after the end of the war, these women remained in destitute poverty, shunned by Korean society, and essentially alone. Schellestede, in other words, seemed interested in blaming Japan for everything, when I think a pretty damning case can be made on the grounds that the sexism underlying Japan’s wartime exploitation of Korean women had effects that were facilitated by, and after the war compounded by, a shared sexism in those exploited women’s homeland.

    Hicks, less fettered by nationalist motivations (or so it seemed to me), not only outright acknowledged the role of Korean collaborators, which included local officials and police officers, businesspeople, and even sometimes family members, but he also pointed out that this fact probably provided some of the motivation for the mass amnesia that set in throughout Korea on this subject, after the war. This, despite the fact that many Koreans in Japan (and even in Korea) had an inkling that Comfort Station-like institutions existed and that many young Korean females were being consigned to them. (It was, apparently, far from a secret among Koreans in Japan, yet it seems to have taken until the 90s before anyone seemed to be willing to get angry about it.)

    Hicks’ verdict seems to be that, although racism and imperialism were undeniable parts of the comfort womens’ victimization, that on a deeper and more fundamental level–a level that transcends political squabbles–the victimization of women is a fundamental part of war, and that these women were, quite simply, victimized by sexism: sexism from the Japanese who raped them repeatedly en masse, sexism on the part of American troops, some of whom continued to exploit them after the war, and sexism among their fellow Koreans, who ignored their victimization for many years after independence from Japan was achieved, and who, even now, censor and censure those comfort women who stray from the official, expedient party line that their fate is all, one-hundred-percent, to be blamed on Japan.

  • Sleeping With Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety, by Wendy Kaminer.This book wasn’t outstanding in its presentation of anything new–I was familiar with most of the issues and arguments in it–but I did enjoy reading it, mostly for the way Kaminer puts things together, argues her points, and is utterly non-partisan in her criticism of irrationalism in [North?] American society. I think she drops the ball a little it in her second-to-last chapter, in which she seems to try to criticize the Internet and net-culture in ways similar to how she criticizes religious fundamentalism or the blathering of snake-oil merchants like Deepak Chopra. Every website is not the Drudge Report, and while the net is full of crap, so is every other medium. Her attack on the internet seems to me to be more, well, fashionable, and somehow technoluddite… some of her claims, such as that the Net causes shorter attention spans, for example, are as unfounded as claims she herself criticizes (like the putative link between TV violence and the real thing). Still, every other chapter is pretty much solid, and her conclusion, discussing how feasible it is to actually build a secular society, and how, is quite interesting if, perhaps, a little too brief. I
  • Tatja Grimm’s World by Vernor VingeThis is pretty obviously an “early novel” that, in fact, was originally a couple of linked shorter works stitched together, with a beginning section added many years later.

    Does that sound like the beginning of a negative review? Because it isn’t. The book isn’t what I’d call dreadfully necessary, mind… I wouldn’t put it on any SF absolutely-required-reading lists, like I would, say, Bester’s The Stars My Destination–though I would put some of Vinge’s other work on several such lists–but the book definitely paid off on my expectations. What expectations? Check out the copy on the back cover:

    As a mud-spattered youngster, Tatja quickly realized she was different from the stone-age primitives with whom she grew up. Her insatiable curiosity and thirst for knowledge could not be quenched among them; she had to explore and learn more about the strange world she lived on.

    She finds the bastion of all culture, arts, entertainment and history for the entire planet, the seven-hundred-year-old science fiction magazine “Fantasie,” which is produced entirely aboard a gargantuan floating vessel the size of a small city. But despite the printing presses, sail-powered vessels, and mind-expanding technology, Tatja is still dissatisfied. Rising through the ranks, she finds that the people on the enormous barge are just as unintelligent as the primitives she grew up with. But others have come to the planet who not only challenge her intelligence, but offer her a tantalizing opportunity to uncover answers to mysteries that have long plagued her.

    But with opportunity comes risk. And if she acts unwisely, she could bring doom to the only world she knows.

    A seven-hundred year old SF magazine, the bastion of all arts, science, and culture in the world? A teenaged girl genius trapped on a planet of dull-minded primitives? I came to this book expecting fun, and fun I got. It’s been an absurdly quick read, and very entertaining. I haven’t read many novels that made me snicker, that let me anticipate what was coming and then surprised me with even more of what I expected, that played with such very simple, basic ideas in a way that shimmered with so much panache. Sure, if Vinge’d only ever written in this vein, I might not have the reverence for him that I do, but this book, it was damned fun. I don’t think there’s much merit in the negative reviews up at Amazon, but one does need to come to this book not expecting anything like A Fire Upon the Deep or A Deepness in the Sky. If you can do that, then like me, you’ll probably have a good time with this brief, charming little book. You’ll probably see the ending coming a mile away, but you know, this is one of those books where that didn’t really bug me. It was fun, that’s all, fun.

    I also found it interesting that sections of it were published in anthologies, and the first part was published in Analog. This didn’t really strike me as Analog material, which is interesting, I think.

Books now on the go, or planned for the near future:

  • Midnight Robber, by Nalo Hopkinson (the book is currently perched right beside my pillow, and I’m half done at the moment!)
  • The Sandman: The Doll’s House, by Gaiman/Dringenberg/Jones
  • Black Like You: Blackface, Whiteface, Insult & Imitation in American Popular Culture by John Strausbaugh
  • A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram (which is one of those “two-chapters a month” kinds of books)
  • A Case of Conscience by James Blish
  • Mothers and Other Monsters by Maureen McHugh
  • A Case of Conscience by James Blish
  • River of Gods by Ian McDonald
  • A stack of issues of F&SF, plus a few old (and more recent) issues of Analog, Asimov’, On-Spec, Neo-Opsis, and a few other genre mags.

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