Thursday, August 30, 2007

Summer reading, some are skimming

I started a lot of unusual books this summer which I expected to love, but wound up not finishing. The most well-known is World Without Us by Alan Weisman which examines what would happen to our artifacts and the natural world if humans disappeared. I take great pleasure in seeing plants forcing their way through human construction but this book is actually a mishmash of unrelated chapters, some of which actually cover the main topic. As a Bostonian, I especially enjoyed the chapter which describes the gradual collapse of New York City. Unfortunately, too much of the book actually deals with the present and past.

Another book begun but not yet finished is Endgame by Derrick Jensen. Jensen presents his anti-civilization view step by step with a lot of spur trails along the way, and then questions what we need to do to end the mess we've created. He even advocates what's misleadingly called ecoterrorism these days. I have no problem with that, it's just his rambling conversational writing style which makes it hard for me to finish his books even though I usually agree with all his points.

I also traveled some of Wild:An Elemental Journey by Jay Griffiths. This is a much more literary rant against modern civilization, a 21st century political feminist version of "In wildness is the preservation of the world." In the sections I read, the emphasis is on the wild human as she travels the world. She lives an unpampered lifestyle, takes drugs with the natives, and uses all the four letter words, not as insults or adjectives as commonly abused, but with the real meaning of the words. At another time I might love this book, but I found it a little too much about her for my interests on this reading.

Unlike all those eagerly anticipated but disappointing books, my favorite read of the summer is a few years old and I'd never heard of it until a few weeks ago. City of Pearl is the first of six books in a sci-fi series by Karen Traviss. The final book is due out in April 2008 so my timing has worked out well, if the series continues with the topics and quality of the first book. Here are some of my favorite highpoints from almost 300 years in the future as humans meet several species new to them:
  • A gene pool of the only remaining earth crops not owned by corporations.
  • An alien who wipes out a city to protect an endangered species. It's nice to have might on the right side for a change.
  • A colony of 1000 or so vegan humans who take their dead to be eaten by a native species rather than filling them with poisonous chemicals and locking them in a box.
  • A scientist executed for vivisection of the child of another species.
  • A cop who helps ecoterrorists and is haunted by her memory of a lab gorilla who kept repeating the same signs to her. Lied to by the lab worker, she later learns the true meaning of the communication: "Help me, please."
  • The philosopher Targassat: "The universe is not here for our convenience alone. If we assume it is simply our larder, we shall starve. If we think that damage we cannot see cannot cause harm, we shall be poisoned. Wess'har have a place in the universe, but we should take no more from it than we absolutely need. Being as strong as we are now, we can take everything from other beings. But we have a duty not to, because we have a choice. Those who have choices must make them. And the wider the choices one has, the more restrained one must be in making them."

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