Alternative history: Strangelove, 1962

Strangelove, 1962mrblo

1945: During post-war efforts to bring scientists who worked for the Third Reich into the United States, the US War Department obeys President Truman’s order to exclude scientists who supported Nazism, rather than rewriting candidates’ files to conceal the evidence. The United States and the Soviet Union divide the German scientists with more equality. In particular, the Soviet Union acquires Arthur Rudolf, former operations director of the Mittelwerk factory at the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camps.

 

January, 1946: Rather than anticipating a post-war crisis of overproduction in the USA, Soviet economists predict that the United States will try to avoid the crisis by maintaining its wartime military industry and trying to open the new Europe and Asia to free trade. Based on their advice, Stalin now views the United States as the chief threat to the Soviet Union, instead of the reemergence of Germany or Japan. Continue reading

Behold the Deluge as the Levees Break

The Water Knife
Paolo Bacigalupi
Science Fiction
Hachette
June 2015
Paperback

the_water_knifeFor someone who quite enjoys science fiction movies, I sure don’t like thinking about the future. It’s scary, it’s worrying, and in order to live my life without being cripplingly depressed I do have to become one of those head-in-sand people about some things. This is especially the case when it comes to near future climate change fiction, a genre I pointedly avoid. But it’s not just earth futures; it’s space as well, that unfathomably huge universe. Nothing against space personally, I just don’t need an existential crisis right now. Thanks.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife, then, was a book I took up hesitantly for fear it would just upset me. Set in water-starved Arizona in a future where the United States has all but dissolved and swathes of people are fleeing death by dehydration, it is a grim view of the future indeed. The powers of Nevada, California and Arizona vie for drips of the Colorado river. Ruthless Angel, employed by Nevada, arrives in Arizona to chase up rumours that a new water source has been found. Lucy, a journalist, is chasing similar leads in her quest to uncover the truth behind Phoenix’s ever-increasing bodycount. Maria, a Texan refugee, tries to eke out a living selling water, fighting to survive Phoenix’s dangerous underworld. The plots of these three characters intertwine as they are all embroiled in the desparation and violence of a city in its death throes.

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They Smoke Cigarettes and Play with Bombs

THE TRAGEDY OF FIDEL CASTRO
João Cerqueira, trans. Karen Bennett and Chris Mingay
River Grove Books
2015

the-tragedy-of-fidel-castro_joc3a3o-cerqueira1The Tragedy of Fidel Castro is an entertaining jaunt into political and religious irreverence.  Communism, capitalism and Catholicism all get a heart lashing as God intervenes, at the beck of Fàtima, in a war between Fidel Castro and JFK.  In the meanwhile, the nature of politics, humanity and religion are also given for the reader to consider.

I’m sad to confess that I did not really get a lot of the humour in the book.  I’m not sure if this is because the nature of humour I enjoy is just different to that present in this book; whether it’s a difference in Portuguese and Spanish humour as compared to humour in the Anglosphere.  Or perhaps it’s just a few of the references I miss, with my relative ignorance of matters concerning post-Bay of Bigs relations between Cuba and the United States.

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Grendel’s Mum

BEOWULFbeo

J. R. R. and Christopher Tolkien

Mariner Books, August 2015

 

A thousand years on, the sharpness of Beowulf‘s images still strikes us. Longships cruise amid icy spray. A king stares with fear amid the riches of his hall. Then comes the fiend Grendel stalking across the moors. Tolkien’s translation weds to these visions the rhythm and grandeur of language that rumbles even as it exults, which rolls like the swells of the sea. Continue reading

Only a Shadow Remained of Him

BURNT SHADOWS
Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury, 2009) ISBN: 978 1 4088 0087 4 14

If you’d like to (I’m not your real mom, I can’t make you), this video I’ve attached seems thematically appropriate. The song, a cover of Wishful Thinking’s Hiroshima by German band Puhdys–though it is of course about the wrong city–ran through my head a number of times as I read Burnt Shadows. Because this book is, amongst other things, about a nuclear world, the Cold War, and the constant two minutes to midnight. I’ve provided an original, literal and probably poor translation of the German lyrics, which are themselves a more poetic translation of the original English lyrics, below the video.

Only a shadow remains of him*, in Hiroshima
Silent as fire
But nobody knows, in Hiroshima,
Stone becomes a scream.
And it cries, “Remember well,
Or you will bring the embers** like here.”

Fly, my song, to Hiroshima
Fly to the shadow stones
And promise the man in Hiroshima
That it will never happen again
Because the world remembers*** well —
Or they will bring embers like Hiroshima****.

*This may also be “it”, ie, “the bomb”, which is a feminine noun, but changes in its dative form.
**The original word, “Glut” has a number of possible appropriate meanings, including “blaze”, “glow” or “fervour” as well.
***It’s possible there’s an imperative attached to the word “remember” that I’ve missed.
****The delivery of this line suggests a pun on here/Hiroshima.

Burnt Shadows, by Kamila Shamsie is a story about the world’s unluckiest woman. Hiroko Tanaka is caught up in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. After recovering from her injuries and accepting her grief, she finds her way after the war to an India on the cusp of Independence and Partition. Later, as the blurb reveals–so no spoilers here–she spends some time in Pakistan before managing to be present in New York in time for September 11. Crikey. Yet she survives it all and, truth be told, the story is not at all as melodramatic or contrived as it might sound.

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      CREATING CAPABILITIES: THE HUMAN DEVELOPMENT APPROACH Martha C. Nussbaum (Belknap Harvard, 2011) ISBN: 9780674050549 I think I may have fallen in love with Martha C. Nussbaum.  Law professor, ethicist, feminist, philosopher, confident teacher and elegant writer, she is a source of inspiration, even if I don’t subscribe wholeheartedly to her political … Continue reading