Blog – words & images

Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet

Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet coverZen and the Art of Saving the Planet

Thich Nhat Hanh

Rider, 2021

Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet is a very worthwhile book with a couple of odd aspects.

The general reader is likely to read it exactly as it is presented, as a book by Thich Nhat Hanh (“Thay” to his many followers) with commentaries from one of his senior students. As such, it is wise, gentle and encouraging, like everything else of his that I know.

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Black Swan – a Koorie Woman’s Life

Black Swan coverBlack Swan – a Koorie Woman’s Life

Eileen Harrison and Carolyn Landon

Allen & Unwin, 2011

All reviews say more about the reviewer than they pretend to, but this one is far more personal and autobiographical than most.

Black Swan came to me as a review copy when it was first released, but the newspaper I freelanced for wasn’t interested so I set it aside for myself. It has been on my shelf ever since. In the aftermath of thinking again about Singing the Coast, its time has finally come: its parallels and contrasts with that book and with my own life made it particularly relevant to me this year.

Eileen Harrison was born into a large, close-knit family on the Aboriginal Mission at Lake Tyers on the Gippsland Lakes. She grew up there, attending the mission school while I was attending the state school in Leongatha, 250 km away. I went on to secondary school; she was not allowed to. Rather, she and her family were uprooted by a new government policy and sent to the Western District, far from extended family.

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SF bookshelf

This is a collection of tiny reviews of science fiction and fantasy. They are books which I liked enough to recommend but haven’t reviewed at length (often because I couldn’t find time). The collection is structured like a blog, with the most recent additions at the top, and dates are the dates of my mini-reviews, not book publication. It began as a comment-string to an identically-titled post on Green Path which drifted away from its environmental theme and into general SF.


Every Version of YouThe ScarBabelThe Year of the JackpotChildren of MemoryFuturistic Violence and Fancy SuitsReconstructionThe Seven Moons of Maali AlmeidaThe AnomalyFlyawayFrom Here On, Monsters

Every Version of You

The idea of uploading ourselves to hardware has been a staple of SF for decades. In Grace Chan’s Every Version of You (2022), almost the whole human population uploads to the cloud in the 2080s, to live there in virtual-reality communities. Back in the real world, the global population drops to a few thousands while the necessary computing infrastructure is maintained and extended by androids. “Was this evolution or extinction?” one of the remaining real people asks, and, even more poignantly, “Are they [the uploaded] still us?”

Chan’s focus is identity rather than technology and Every Version of You explores that very well indeed. The issues are too big to treat briefly so I’m not going to try – I’m just going to recommend Every Version.

The Scar

The Scar (2002) is set in the world of Perdido Street Station, China Mieville’s breakthrough second novel. It’s a completely separate story, however, set mostly on a floating city. It resists categorisation but I will call it epic steampunk with magical elements. Whatever it is, it’s very good. Iron Council, the third of Mieville’s novels set in the same world looks good, too


Babel (2022) by R.F. Kuang is an alternate-history novel presented as fantasy. The fact that the novel’s central characters meet and bond as first-year students of magic makes Oxford in the 1830s look like a grownup version of Hogwarts: so far, so generic. Never mind; the fantasy aspects will attract readers who wouldn’t pick up a straight historical novel and that’s all to the good.

Kuang’s main concern is anti-colonialism. Babel eviscerates the British Empire through the protagonists’ political awakening. Its subtitle, on its title page but not on its cover, articulates its mood. In full, it is Babel, or the Necessity of Violence.

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Voluntary societies in crisis

A year ago I wrote (in Triple Whammy) about voluntary organisations in decline as members aged. Here I extend the analysis to other demographic inequalities and then look at their death spiral in more detail.

(1) Diversity and organisational health

There’s a tipping point in any group below which any minority begins to feel marginalised and above which they can feel comfortable, heard, accepted.

Let’s be clear: I’m saying only that being a member of a small minority, anywhere, usually makes life more difficult. (That shouldn’t be controversial.) What defines a person as a “minority” below is just being different enough that they don’t fit in socially. I’m not talking about active discrimination, but about mutual awkwardness or inability to relax.

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Triple whammy revisited

Here are three statements and a cluster of questions, all confirming and extending what I said in The triple whammy of an ageing boomer cohort and the need for generational change in voluntary societies, published here on this blog a year ago. The first has been edited from a local club newsletter (I have chosen not to identify the club) and the others were responses to my blog post.

Phil (Townsville) said…

In early 2010 I joined the committee of The Club as Vice President. Although asked about serving a higher office I believed it to be inappropriate for a Johnny-come-lately to do that: it might injure toes of longer-serving members of the Club. From the lofty role as our VP I moved to the role of Secretary in either 2012 or 2013. … Almost a year ago at our AGM I became the President. This has been an honour and a privilege…

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