This book has the potential to reshape the way you think about American justice. To start, some quick Latin: The U.S. Constitution contains the concept of habeas corpus. In short, it protects people from illegal detention, by allowing someone who’s imprisoned to bring the question of their imprisonment to a court. In other words, the Read more about Book Commentary: “Guantanamo Diary” by Mohamedou Ould Slahi[…]
In 2011, phrases like “we are the 99%” entered the popular vocabulary as Occupy Wall Street began in New York and inspired similar protests. Micah White was one of the co-creators of that movement; although, as he discusses in this book, one of the strengths of the movement was that it took an organic leadership Read more about Book Commentary: “The End of Protest” by Micah White[…]
Some may know Carrie Brownstein best from Portlandia, wherein she runs a feminist bookstore, buys things from Kumail Nanjiani, and earns the nickname “Pull Out King”. This book isn’t about any of that, though. “Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl” is instead about Carrie’s childhood and adventures in the life of her band Sleater-Kinney. For Read more about Book Commentary: “Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl” by Carrie Brownstein[…]
Back in my review for the classic sci-fi novel Solaris, I closed by admiring that book’s ability to show how hard it would really be to communicate with any extraterrestrials if/when we met them. That book is a beautifully tragic example of both humans and a non-humanoid alien trying their best, but not being able Read more about Book Review: “The Left Hand of Darkness”[…]
Some of you might be like me, and learned as a kid from a cartoon rabbit that “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Maybe a rule like this could help discourage your kid from making a judgmental comment, but for adults the rule needs an overhaul. Because the people who Read more about Book Review: Nonviolent Communication[…]
When trying to characterize America’s racial history from a zoomed-out level, describing it as full of “mistakes” or “complications” would be reductive, disingenuous, and incorrect. Trying to see “both sides” where there is really just one, or distributing guilt as if it were equally deserved or it were hard to determine, is a dishonest evasion Read more about Book Review: “Kindred” by Octavia Butler[…]
Everyone has to make the world a little smaller to make sense of it. We carve out mental shortcuts, mixing cues from experience, tradition, and research until the heuristics become strong and resilient.
The American racial experience is one of those difficult questions that can’t be mentally tackled all at once. But what if the currently-most-popular set of frames and assumptions about it, dubbed “color-blind racism” in Racism Without Racists by Dr. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva of Duke University, is a deeply flawed one that is creating a rift between mainstream discourse about race, and the unfortunate American racial reality?
The dominant science fiction narrative
The relationship between science fiction and racial identity has always been a tough one. At times, sci-fi can be the most adventurous and experimental of any genre. And yet, the most dominant narrative is essentially one that was written in 1912, John Carter of Mars.
1912! This was a time when scientists had only just barely started to give up on the idea that Mars was covered with canals dug by an intelligent civilization. Meanwhile, racism in the U.S. was at arguably its worst point after the American Civil War. Perhaps not the best time period from which to be drawing influences for imagined scientific and social futures.
A Probably Necessary Introduction
Before I dive into the actual content of the book, I probably have to do a quick little introduction to get everyone on the same page here.
This book was a recent bestseller and you may have heard of it, or maybe even have read it yourself. Or maybe you didn’t, but you can roughly guess what it’s about from the book’s full title: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.
Alif the Unseen reminded me quite a bit of American Gods, one of the modern classics of what’s often called “urban fantasy.” The idea behind American Gods is the coexistence of mythological gods in our own real world– so you might see Anubis, an Ancient Egyptian god, as an undertaker in Cairo, Illinois, or Odin the Norse god as a con man traveling the States. The end product is an entertaining look at all the myths carried to the U.S. by its waves of immigrants over the years.
Alif constructs a similar world, adapted for an unnamed “City” caught up in the Arab Spring. This time, the “gods among us” are djinn (aka “genies”), and the main character is a teenage boy hacktivist trying to expose the corrupt government (simply known as “the State”).