Feb 11 2011

Sic Semper Tyrannis

This has been a historic day for Egypt (and an excellent opportunity for a meandering post). The recently appointed (as of January 29th) Omar Suleiman, Vice President of Egypt, appeared on Egyptian television today and announced that Hosni Mubarak had resigned after 29 years of rule. Only yesterday, Mubarak himself had announced that he would wait until September to step down. The half-measure announcement angered protesters, more people poured onto the streets, and by today Mubarak “resigned” (he is thought to have fled to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, “The City of Peace”). His Vice President’s words were brief, but translated by NPR as:

“In these difficult circumstances that the country is passing through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the position of the presidency. He has commissioned the armed forces council to direct the issues of the state. God is our protector and succor.”

The protests leading up to Mubarak’s resignation were inspired by Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution of December and January. From January 25th until February 11th, the Egyptian masses demanded change… and today, it appears they have finally got their wish. What that change will be, is anyone’s guess, and a lot of people here are worried because we just don’t know what will come of this. Conservative fearmongers are claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood will sweep in and establish a Muslim state (90% of Egypt is Sunni) under Sharia Law, despite assurances from that society that they have no interest in promoting a candidate. Others are claiming that this is a diplomatic nightmare for the United States (and by proxy, Israel) who have lost a valuable ally in the Middle East. Personally, I’m not concerned. It’s more important to me that the country’s population is able to exercise some self-determination and develop a government that supports them and their rights, than worrying about how pro-West they will be.

I can’t help but think that this is exactly the way these things should happen. Lasting change only happens from within. The people of Egypt rose up against their government and with the exception of some military / police / pro-government responses (~300 dead, ~3000 injured), brought change without resorting to armed revolt. So what happens now? Suleiman’s announcement indicated that the army (i.e., Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) would fill the power vacuum until new elections could be held. While this is not ideal (i.e., martial law was one of the major items being protested), someone or something needs to get the county moving again. I just hope that if it is the will of the people, that the army is willing to step down as well. Time will tell.

With few exceptions, relinquishing power has never been easy…

“Having now finished the work assigned to me, I retire from the great theatre of Action; and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life.” – George Washington, Annapolis, 23 Dec 1783


Feb 10 2010

The Windup Girl

Today, I finished Paolo Bacigalupi’s 2009 sci-fi novel, “The Windup Girl“. Bacigalupi (who I’d never heard of before I picked-up this book) is an up and coming sci-fi author with a penchant for environmental issues. He’s been nominated four times for a Hugo award (not for this one… yet) and receives rave reviews on Amazon, LibraryThing, etc. I decided to give him a try and now that I have, I’m not really sure what all the buzz is about.

The book plods along for the first 300 pages, following half-a-dozen characters as they struggle with cultural, economical, and political intrigues in post-Expansion Thailand. As the story unfolds, the reader discovers that the world has been ravaged by rising sea levels, climate change, exhaustion of fossil fuels, and a number of pandemics stemming from agricultural genetic engineering. Most world governments have collapsed leaving power in the hands of the agri-corps, which hold the remaining population in thrall with the controlled supply of sterile gene-ripped crop strains. None of this is explained in the book; it’s up to the reader to infer these things from the conversations and thoughts of the book’s characters. Which brings me to my biggest problem with the book, the writing…

OMG is it dry! Everything is written in short clips of present tense. Maybe the book was supposed to be emotionless? I really don’t know. Maybe I’ve been reading too much 19th century writing to appreciate this style. It was hard to tap into the emotions of the characters, the unfolding conflict… The story itself is interesting enough, maybe even compelling to some degree (for the last 60 pages or so). I would have preferred that more be explained from the outset, so I could understand what was being said, characters’ motivations, &c. Instead, I was obliged to push through a number of story lines with I wasn’t particularly interested in, in order to figure out what was going on. I wasn’t even sure why the windup girl (see title) was anything but a secondary character until the story’s end. Maybe I should have read an earlier novelette of Bacigalupi’s (i.e., “The Calorie Man”) but there was no indication that this was a sequel. *sigh* Would it be so hard to have a short glossary (for all the Thai terms and phrases), perhaps a time line or prologue explaining some of the history leading to the present state of things? I guess so. Is that considered trite in serious science fiction? *shrug*

In the end, after pushing myself to finish it, I just didn’t care. I’m left with a story with some good ideas mired in a writing style that was simply frustrating.

“We are nature. Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving. We are what we are, and the world is ours. We are its gods. Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it.”

3 out of 5