Tag Archive | wealth

Book review: A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

A Colony in a NationA Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clear-eyed analysis of the current state of racial tension in the United States. Chris Hayes is aware of his privilege as an educated, relatively affluent, white male, and uses that privilege to elucidate his premise that, for all its lip service to equality and justice for all, the US is a divided society — the Nation, generally composed of white people excessively concerned with public safety and “law and order;” and the Colony, constituted in the main by people of color who are increasingly the targets and victims of the “law and order” mindset of the Nation.

Hayes’ premise is easily confirmed by recent events in which people of color just going about their own business have had the cops called on them for what amounts to breathing while black. Not that the Philadelphia Starbucks incident or the Oakland barbecue incident are anything out of the ordinary for black folks in this country: we just hear about them now because of the ubiquity of smart phones and use of social media.

While Hayes doesn’t offer any solutions, that’s not the point of his book. The whole point here is to raise awareness. Look around. Take notice of the many ways the Nation oppresses the Colony. And, if you’re white, do your best to recognize your part in the oppression — because we all do it, despite our best intentions. Recognition leads to self-awareness leads to a change in behavior.

Because black lives matter.

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Book review: The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood

Three of five stars

On the way home after his shift at the care home where he worked as a nurse’s assistant, 20-year-old Oscar Lowe wandered into a chapel on the grounds of Cambridge University one day to listen to the organ music.  After the service, as young men often do, he began chatting with an attractive young woman, Iris Bellwether, whose brother Eden was the organist.  From such chance meetings do lives change.

Iris and Eden were products of privilege: boarding school, music lessons, prestigious university education, with neither a thought to money nor concept of cost.  Oscar’s life couldn’t have been more different.  But his and Iris’s mutual attraction transcended the difference in their social backgrounds, and they swiftly fell in love.  Iris’s and Eden’s small group of friends made room in their closed circle for Oscar.  Eden, on the other hand, remained aloof, disapproving, with a penchant for insults so subtle Oscar wasn’t sure he actually heard them, or if he was being overly sensitive.

Over time, Iris began to confide in Oscar her worries about Eden: the childhood mistreatments, the obsessive behavior, the sheer hubris of his belief that he can heal people through music.  Convinced he suffered from a severe psychological disorder, she wondered if there was someone who could help:  in secret, of course, because Eden would never willingly subject himself to therapy.  Together, she and Oscar came up with a plan to have Eden evaluated, thus setting in motion the beginning of the end, and the tragedy that opens and closes the book.

Benjamin Wood’s debut novel is beautifully written, and somewhat reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s A Secret History.  He captures the opulence and arrogance of the Bellwethers’ lifestyle as seen through Oscar’s eyes, with echoes of Fitzgerald’s “The rich are different” ringing through the prose.  The living room at the Bellwether family home had “…the conscious extravagance of a hotel lobby;” Iris’s parents “…spent more money on cognac than most people could retire on.”  Oscar enjoys the luxury of becoming part of this privileged circle, but he is not seduced by it, and in the end, may be the only person who survives relatively undamaged.

Many thanks to Goodreads’ First Reads program for the opportunity to read this book.

Book review: Heart of Gold by Sharon Shinn

Three of five stars

I read Sharon Shinn’s Samaria series many years ago (when it was still a trilogy), and thought it simply wonderful. Heart of Gold, while good, doesn’t measure up. And that’s disappointing, because there’s a lot of potential in its premise.

On an unnamed continent of an unnamed planet, three diverse races live in a state of unarmed truce. The Indigos, a blue-skinned matriarchal society, are the de facto rulers of the continent by virtue of their numbers and control of arable land. The Guldens, a gold-skinned patriarchal society, are more technologically innovative, but stifled by restricted access to land, wealth, and power. The third race, the Albinos, exist in meek servitude, primarily to the Indigos.

Nolan Adelpho, the scion of one of the High Hundred families, the Indigo elite, is a scientist in Biolab in the Central City. His family is waiting for him to get this notion of working for a living out of system and marry according to family arrangement. He is quietly rebelling: although he loves Leesa, his fiancee, he is resisting the pressure being put on him to come home, where all he will then be required to do is raise the children and take care of the house. He enjoys his work and has made several satisfactory discoveries in his field: antivirals and antibiotics.

Kitrini Candachi is the somewhat disreputable member of another High Hundred family: disreputable by virtue of her father’s youthful rebellion in leaving home and raising her among the Guldens. Much to her indomitable grandmother’s dismay, she does her reputation no good by being the mistress of Jex Zanlan, the son of the Gulden chief Chay Zanlan.

The Indigo and the Gulden have viewed each other with suspicion for generations. Long ago, the Indigo bullied the Gulden out of their native lands and pushed them toward the rocky coast. Non-aggression treaties were eventually signed, but lately the Indigo have been pushing into Gulden territory again. Terrorist attacks have taken place in retaliation, attacks laid at the feet of Jex Zanlan, now under arrest and awaiting trial in the Central City.

Shinn spends nearly half of the book introducing us to the various aspects and conflicts of Indigo and Gulden society, and then plunges us into the midst of a terrorist attack, a frantic escape from Central City, and a clandestine journey to Gulden territory in an effort to thwart a malicious plot. The slow build-up is necessary, especially due to the severe role reversal of Indigo society, where women have all the power, land, money, and prestige, and men are the virginal chattel bargained away in marriage. Even the action-packed second half progresses at a leisurely pace. For all its leisure, though, this is a fast read, easily consumed in a day or two.

All that being said, this book’s premise is one that could have easily been expanded to twice its length. Too much was left unexplored. What was the origin of the different skin tones? Did the Indigo come from some other planet or some other continent and take over the Gulden lands? If not, how did two such radically different societal structures evolve on the same continent? Was there some geologic feature which separated them that the Indigo eventually surmounted? Why did Shinn even include the Albino race since they played virtually no part in the story? What about the Guldens’ trading partners on other continents, mentioned only in passing? Were they Gulden as well? Albino? Or something else? So many questions, so little information. I guess that’s what comes from having a mind attuned to anthropology….

So. Bottom line. Enjoyable light SF/fantasy with a romantic bent, not too taxing on the brain. Could have been better, but not too shabby a way to spend a Sunday afternoon.