March 30th, 2015


Links I found interesting for 30-03-2015


The Arthur C. Clarke Award submissions list...

...has now been officially announced and can be found here.

This is my listing of the books using numbers from Goodreads and Librarything, ranked by the geometric mean of ownership on both systems. The top quintile for ownership and user ratings is in bold. The figures may have changed a little in the last couple of days.

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The shortlist will be announced in early April.

The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

The classic anti-colonialist text, with foreword by Jean-Paul Sartre, explaining and legitimising violence against a colonial regime; the author was thinking particularly of Algeria to which he gave the last few years of his life, but also of the whole area dominated by European colonisation, particularly the rest of Africa. It's passionate and well-argued, and I can see why it has remained a key political text for the last half-century (and will endure much longer). He is particularly good on the psychological consequences of manipulation by unaccountable regimes for those governed by them.

However, I have several problems with Fanon's analysis. The biggest is that in justfying violence, he rather fetishises it - I've seen this with other commentators too, the assumption that a resort to violence is in itself evidence for the purity and legitimacy of its perpetrators. I'm not convinced by that. The IRA's supporters used to argue that violence was the natural outcome of the situation in Northern Ireland, and convinced a lot of people of the purity and legitimacy of their cause, before they settled for a deal which was essentially what had been on offer 25 years and hundreds of deaths earlier. Some politically motivated violence is really crime, even if perpetuated by the oppressed.

That's tactics, in a way; there's an error also of strategy, in that Fanon calls on internal differences in a country to be ironed out, or preferably just ignored, in favour of making common cause against the colonial oppressor. That's all very well; but it doesn't address the issue of sharing out power and other resources internally once the colonial oppressor has withdrawn (or even beforehand). Questions of regional autonomy, deals between ethnic and religious groups, and indeed emancipation of women, sexual minorities and other groups, can't simply be handwaved away by focussing on the national struggle. Privileging the national struggle above all else allows for discrimination against groups who are deemed insufficiently committed to the cause, and Fanon's arguments legitimise this.

He also gets wrong the economic and political trajectory of post-colonial states, though I don't think he can really be blamed for this as nobody else saw it coming either. And he rejects any connection between the Algerian war and the struggle for civil rights in the USA; which is one link that I'm quite happy to allow, given the parallels in power and wealth structures and the use of state coercion as a political tool.

Still, I'm glad I have now read it.

What is the best-known book set in Liechtenstein?

See note on methodology

I know a bit more about Liechtenstein than I do about some of these small states, because when I got my first job in Brussels in 1999, Prince Nikolaus of Liechtenstein worked downstairs in the same building; he was then his brother's ambassador to Belgium (whose then king was his wife's uncle) and Luxembourg (ruled by his father-in-law and then his brother-in-law). The Prince and I would often bump into each other in the lobby at the end of the working day, bantering about whose turn it was to lock up for the evening, and he was amused that I was the only person in the building who more or less shared his given name. We stayed in touch after I left that job in 2002, until he left Brussels in 2010.

His country has given me rather slim literary pickings. One of America's best-known romance writers has written a novel whose protagonist is Princess Christianna of Liechtenstein, but as far as I can tell most of the book is set either in California or in Africa. I should point out also that the Princes and Princesses of Liechtenstein are properly referred to as "His/Her Serene Highness", abbreviated to "HSH"; they are not technically royal, so the book has a mistake in its title. (In German one should address them as "Durchlaucht".) The misnamed book, published in 2006, and the 70th published by its author, is:

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Having disqualified that on my geographical criteria, I'm going to have to declare a rare tie between two books. Top on LibraryThing, but second on Goodreads, is a short 1955 book by a writer who is well known for his moving, heavily symbolic children's tales (and also one famous disaster story that became a famous movie). This particular book is about a cow whose ardent prayer is that she will be able to produce more milk than the other cows. It is:

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The other book, top on Goodreads but second on LibraryThing, is a 2005 non-fiction account of the Liechtenstein national team's campaign to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, in which they lost all 8 matches they played, conceding 23 goals (including 5-0 defeats by Bosnia and Spain). Obviously, half of those matches were played away from Liechtenstein, but from the sound of it there is easily enough of the book set in the country to qualify. It is:

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Manga fans may also want to note:

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