Books I read in August

I read the second and third books of Robert Sawyer’s WWW trilogy. Then I re-read his Neanderthal trilogy. Then I read a book that I picked up in Tobermory by a local Indigenous man.

WWW: Watch, by Robert Sawyer

This is the second time I have read this book and I enjoyed revisiting the characters and the setting. There was more game theory in the book than I recalled, and sometimes the science exposition is a bit clunky. However, I think he went some way towards fixing some of the issues with the first book, and the ideas are fascinating. I liked how he explained how to use game theory ethically, and how consciousness can override evolutionary impulses. The values of the book are sound. I also like the character of Hobo.

WWW: Wonder, by Robert Sawyer

This is the third and final book in the World Wide Web trilogy. It was written in 2011, during Obama’s presidency, before the rise of the new right and the far right. As a result, its cheerful optimism now seems naive— and yet, it was written in awareness of events like the Holocaust and other genocides.

The notion of a consciousness emerging from the complexity of the internet is not completely far-fetched; but if that is the case, why shouldn’t consciousness emerge from complex natural systems? The notion of consciousness arising from emergent complexity is the basis of my polytheism and animism, so I find this whole area of inquiry really interesting.

The Neanderthal trilogy, by Robert Sawyer

I always enjoy reading this trilogy; I think this is my third reading of it. I thought it was particularly appropriate to reread it while visiting Sudbury for the first time, where much of the action takes place. As well as being a gripping thriller, it’s an important reflection on how badly we as a species have screwed up the environment, and the philosophical and social reasons behind that. The construction of Neanderthal society in the other universe is fascinating too, and shows that a hunter-gatherer civilization is possible (and, as is pointed out in the second book, Indigenous Peoples developed their civilizations mostly on that basis). There’s only one howler in the book: a brief mention of Indigenous status cards being used to allocate resources fairly — er, I rather think they’re used to determine who is under the control of the Indian Act. Chelsea Vowel wrote an excellent article on both these aspects of the books.

I really appreciated the way that in Neanderthal society, everyone is bisexual and has both a male partner and a female partner. This being a book by Robert Sawyer, there’s plenty of reflection on the nature of religion and consciousness (though I’d like to have seen more about animism). And I really like the character of Ponter Boddit, the Neanderthal.

Not Wolf, nor Dog, by Wilmer Nadjiwon

A heartfelt account of the author’s life, including his dreadful experiences at residential school, including being raped repeatedly by one of the priests, which affected him for the rest of his life. He was unable to deal with authority of any kind, and had nightmares about it. He also witnessed the Indian Agent burning the records of land agreements of the Bruce Peninsula. Wilmer Nadjiwon become chief of the Cape Croker reserve (which is tiny and inadequate to sustain a nation) in the early 1960s, and tried to start a furniture business to help make the community self sufficient, but was thwarted by the Indian Agent and local politics. He was also an artist and a carver and a storyteller. This book is best read as a collection of stories rather than as a linear narrative. It illuminates the causes of the poverty on reserves and the way the government controls the minutiae of every aspect of Indigenous communities. It may not be great literature but it’s an important record of one man’s life amid the destruction of the Indigenous way of life by the loss of land, languages, cultures, and sovereignty.

The Devil’s Plantation by Nigel Pearson

This is an excellent compendium and exploration of the witchcraft, lore, and folk magic of East Anglia. Some of it is unique to East Anglia, and some of it is found elsewhere, but altogether, it is an expression of the land of East Anglia, which a palimpsest of the different cultures which have lived there. The section on herbs and stones is particularly good. The whole book is written in an engaging style, and the content is well-organized.