Assembly by Natasha Brown – Book

From a Google Image Search –

Assembly by Natasha Brown – Book

This little book, Assembly by Natasha Brown, packs a big wallop. Our narrator is unnamed, but we get to be inside her head. She is a Black woman living in London, a British citizen who White Brits still see as an interloper, a colonial intruder, easy to focus on as a person of color who cannot hide in the whiteness that Britain feels is its historical identity.

Our brilliant and disciplined lady had worked her way up from the bottom at her bank to a corner office, although she has to share it with a White contender who management does not want to slight. What has our winner had to give up to get here? She repeats the word “assimilation,” not with approval. She lives in a world of White folks now and there is money, security, savings, a fine apartment, the White boyfriend, son of a wealthy and famous politician. Her boyfriend intends to follow in his father’s footsteps. He mentions Bill DeBlasio whose Black wife probably helped him get elected in NYC. She, his Black girlfriend will be an asset.

She has been invited to come for the weekend to the family pile and to attend a party. So many wins in her life, but she is empty – cannot help feeling that her choice doesn’t fit her, doesn’t feed her soul (although, there is no talk of souls).

 She is in hostile territory, judged by those who felt they deserved the win, that she was promoted only to help the bank appear diverse, a woman, a Black woman. She, on the other hand, feels no closeness, no warmth in her working life. Her coworkers at this level are mostly middle-aged White men with pallid skin and flabby bodies. 

Even her personal life seems bleak and lonely. When she arrives at her boyfriend’s house, she is greeted warmly, but in the morning, when the mother and daughter are at work in the kitchen helping the caterers, the mother doesn’t include her in the camaraderie of the kitchen or give her a little job to do, instead she sends her off on a walk.

She, our narrator, observes her life; she doesn’t inhabit it. Her description of her potential mother-in-law chewing a piece of toast is mechanical, anatomical, and extremely unflattering. It reveals her position as an outsider. This is not just a class phenomenon, it’s about race.

Women who move up the career chain can relate to the loneliness of succeeding in a male world, but they do not have the added set of negative cultural experiences that Black people, and especially Black women, share as a sad legacy of past White cultural crimes. Our narrator has another challenge and how she is planning to deal with it is possibly tied into her fear that the winning may, in fact, be losing – a dynamic she chose, without realizing how empty it would make her feel. Terrible to think that our culture cannot find a warm place even when a Black person succeeds on terms White people define.

The style and flow of the prose in Assembly, the lack of prose structure, is part of this little book’s power. We need your  voice, Natasha Brown, and your talent.

Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson – Book

From a Google Image Search

How does a well-adjusted Queen of the Netherlands meet a half Comanche mourning Texas father on the autism spectrum who spends his days hunting for the wild hog that snatched his baby and ate it, and who still manages to be one of the sanest people in any room? What is the Queen of the Netherlands doing in Texas? These two unlikely characters meet as the Neal Stephenson novel, Termination Shock begins with a crash.

Neal Stephenson has been a favorite author of mine since I read The Quicksilver Trilogy, also a tale with keys scenes in Dutch cities. Stephenson writes unique science fiction, often long and complex, teaching me things that ignite my mind and entertain me. He mixes the plausible and implausible, always making running commentary on the human condition, buried in all that complexity somewhere.

Perhaps after seeing Kim Stanley Robinson publish The Ministry of the Future and Bill Gates publish How to Avoid a Climate Disaster the time seemed right to weigh in with a plot Stephenson had already been working on.

TR Schmidt (one of several names), a wealthy Texan, is the real reason Frederika Mathilde Louisa Saskia, the Queen of the Netherlands (familiar name Saskia) is in Texas. She has been invited to a Conference/Demonstration/Extravaganza. Apparently, in this not-so-distant future, America is the laughingstock of the world, but a wealthy Texan who owns an enormous tract of land can do just about what he likes. It turns out that TR is tired of the world’s inaction on climate change. The world is getting hotter, the ice at the poles is melting faster and the seas are rising higher. TR’s land is outside Houston. What he has in common with the Queen of the Netherlands is that they both live in low places along coastlines, as is true of all the other leaders invited to the conference (Singapore, Venice, certain island nations in the South Pacific). 

TR is a man of action. This conference is not about forming a think tank. He already has a plan based on one summer when Mount Pinatubo erupted and the whole world cooled off. TR has a way to use that model to cool the earth for a few years while more permanent solutions can be put into effect. His Pina2bo structure is finished. These people are here to witness activation of the apparatus. 

One problem with his new process is that it is a geoengineering approach, opposed by those who favor green solutions. Another problem is that this process has certain “knock-on” effects that some nations won’t like – namely China and India, two very large and powerful nations. China and India are rivals. China is trying to swallow India at the Line of Actual Control one gulp at a time. This parallel story line of a young Sikh man named Laks who comes to be known as Big Fish connects with the TR and Queen Frederika story line eventually. TR is trying to cover countries that will be left out of his original cooling scheme because of things like prevailing winds, and is using isolated locations perfect for building and employing his apparatus. Internet rumors say that if Pina2bo continues to function the Punjab, the breadbasket of India, could lose its monsoons making farming impossible. No one on the internet is showing the maps that describe TR’s plans to cover all areas on the planet with cooler temperatures, thus slowing the melting of the ice caps and the rising seas. TR knows that if he stops now there will be an equal and opposite reaction called termination shock.

This is not a climate change textbook lesson, but, as usual, Stephenson teaches us many things, including some esoteric geography and some ancient martial arts. Kim Stanley Robinson talked about geoengineering. He mentioned but did not stress using particles in clouds to reflect more of the sun’s cooling back into space. Neal Stephenson concentrates almost entirely on geoengineering. Stephenson is a great describer and explainer. You will get the picture.