Review of Peter Hook’s Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division

 

Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division

Peer Hook

London: Simon and Schuster UK Ltd., 2016.

ISBN: 978-1-4711-4833-0

XVII + 343 pp

I never had the chance to watch Joy Division play, although I was present at one of the very earliest New Order gigs, where the band played Ceremony and songs from the Movement LP and the atmosphere was a bit fraught. This was, of course, shortly after the suicide of Ian Curtis, Joy Division’s singer, in what in those days seemed to be unknown or mysterious circumstances – this was 1980 and there was no internet or social media to provide details or immediate context, accurate or otherwise. Indeed, there was very little I knew about the people in the band other than some photos of the lads (this was before Gillian joined as New Order’s keyboard player) looking moody in dark rooms or slightly cold in outdoors locations in Lancashire. As a result, I rather assumed, listening to the records (I had them all, apart from the earliest release, An Ideal for Living, which was very rarely seen) that the musicians were as cool and artistic as the music sounded. In particular, Peter Hook, the bass player, must surely have been some kind of visionary to lead such a ground-breaking path with heavy and compelling bass riffs (with only Steve Hanley of The Fall for company in this regard). It comes as something of a shock, therefore, to discover in Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division that Hook is a completely different kind of person – robust, disrespectful, probably quite inarticulate and unreflecting as a young man, which is perhaps why he waited so long to come up with this memoir (there is a rather longer one, substance, about the New Order years available).

The book begins with the start of the relationship between Hook and Bernard or Barney Sumner, the guitarist who later took the role of vocalist after Ian’s death. In common with other parts of the book, it is stated that this relationship was problematic and subsequently has broken down completely. However, it is all a bit tell and not show so the reader is left to wonder how and why this might have happened. Based on his own recollections, it is possible to believe that Hook (pretty universally known as ‘Hooky’) was quite a difficult person to get on with but his account is that all the members and attendants were lads of the same stripe, more than willing to take part in practical jokes and horseplay of many types. In part, this might be the result of the way the book has been written, with some parts being lists of dates and gigs to which Hooky appends any comments that come to mind when confronted with them. No ghost writers or researchers appear to be mentioned anywhere but presumably must have been involved.

In due course, bassist and guitar player set up the band with middle class drummer Steve Morris and then the doomed singer Curtis. The band achieves a level of fame and success but, maintaining their status as independent labellists, this comes without money and a constant stream of gigs is necessary to keep everything going. Hooky is the only one able to drive, apparently and is lumbered with the job of loading and unloading the gear at different venues around the country using his own van, which remains perilously close to total collapse for a period of time. They are poor and cold and do not get enough to eat. On the other hand, the songs for which they have become famous do start to appear and are included in the various set lists – Transmission, She’s Lost Control, Atmosphere, Love Will Tear Us Apart – although the relatively short list of completed works is a reminder of how briefly the band were together, as well as an indication of what might have come in the future.

Perhaps unavoidably, as the book continues, it takes on a teleological feel as the death of Curtis approaches, which signifies the end of the band on the day before they were due to depart on a breakout tour of the USA. There is the consideration of the strain on the marriage to Deborah, whom he married very young and abandoned to attend gigs for which he was not well paid, there is the epilepsy, the relationship with the Belgian punk Annick, the fatigue and the fits during gigs, the self-harming and then the hanging. Hook tries to come to terms with this and his and others’ failures to note what was being done to Ian and why no one took seriously the suffering revealed in the poetry of his lyrics. However, he does not manage to articulate a meaningful response to this- which is rather the conclusion to the book. His company is fascinating and exuberant and gives a great sense of what it was like to live through it all but there is something missing still. Some of the more fascinating passages relate the production of the LPs Unknown Pleasures and Closer by the legendary Martin Hannell of Factory Records, but Hooky can tell us little about how this actually took place other than that his own opinions were continually rejected and that Hannett preferred to work in the absence of the musicians themselves. Hook may have been present but he does not always seem to have been there.

 

 

 

 

Impact of Good Governance on Performance of Cooperatives in Nepal

University of Craiova, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration

Management and Marketing Journal

Announcing: Puri, Drona Lal and John Walsh, “Impact of Good Governance on Performance of Cooperatives in Nepal,” Management and Marketing, Vol.16, No.2 (November, 2018), pp.206-22, available at: http://mnmk.ro/documents/2018_02/P206.pdf.

Abstract: This paper examines governance practices and their impact on the performance of selected Nepalese cooperatives. In order to address the objectives of the study, 400 sample members from eighteen primary cooperatives in provinces 3 and 6 of Nepal have been identified by stratified random sampling technique to collect primary data with a semi-structured questionnaire. The collected data have been analyzed using SPSS (version 23). Statistical tools like regression, correlation and chi-square tests were applied. The findings revealed that there is significant and positive relationship between professionalization; accountability and performance of cooperatives. Similarly, there are insignificant but positive relationships between participation; transparency and performance of cooperatives. However, there is an insignificant and negative relationship between legitimacy and performance of cooperatives. In conclusion, the performance of cooperatives depends on existence of factors of good governance such as legitimacy, participation, professionalization, accountability and transparency with honesty. On the basis of the study, it is concluded that good governance in cooperatives is the single most important panacea to uplift quality of life of members through economic, social, cultural and technological change in their practical lives. The paper contributes to the literature by identifying factors of good governance for performance of cooperatives from a developing country perspective.

Review of Runciman’s Politics

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Politics

David Runciman

London: Profile Books, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-78125-257-4

166 pp.

David Runciman, a Cambridge University professor of politics, is perhaps best known to the general public for his podcast Talking Politics, which offers a combination of penetrating near real time insights and deeper explorations of political issues which are worthy of greater consideration. It was while listening to one episode of this while walking to Central Eastville in Bangkok that I popped into the bookshop there and saw this one, which it seemed churlish to ignore. Politics is part of a series entitled Ideas in Profile, which has been accompanied by volumes on Art in History, The Ancient World, Geography and so forth. There have been several series such as this published in recent years, which offer consideration of important issues at a length which is not daunting (this one weighs in at 166 pages with plenty of white space and illustrations along the way) but offers greater space than is practical for popular media or the internet, where there are so many distractions to disrupt concentration over an extended period of time. Presumably this has been identified as an opportunity for publishers and a need for the public (it is notable that long-from journalism is also enjoying a resurgence of interest).

Runciman organizes the books into three main chapters with a brief, framing introductory section and an equally short conclusion. He uses the introduction to indicate the importance of politics to everyday life by comparing conditions in Syria and Denmark. Syria, as is well-known, was a fairly grim place to live for most people when the book was written and seems likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future. Denmark, on the other hand, is the land of Borgen, where political conflict is expressed through parliamentary debates, newspaper opinion pieces and backroom deals. Yet Denmark has a history of violence and conflict through many periods of history which was the equivalent of the worst in the world, while Syria has been at the very heart of civilisation and progressive discourse for the Mediterranean world. Runciman argues that: “The difference between Denmark and Syria is politics. Politics has helped make Denmark what it is. And politics has helped make Syria what it is (p.4).” The argument is not that politics causes all of these problems or, conversely, is responsible for all the good things that happen in different societies. Politics is important but not so central as this. Instead, it is the use of politics by the state and its institutions that has enabled the Danish society to move from violence to peace. The opposite has occurred in Syria. Consequently, it is important to understand how the relevant institutions can be used in positive ways and what must be done to protect them – the book was written before the advent of Trump and other political leaders with an apparently ambivalent attitude towards democracy to the extent that they are willing to attack and undermine those institutions which have been so instrumental in delivering peace and prosperity to so many people.

The first of the three main chapters concerns violence, the monopoly of the legitimate use of which is often considered to be the central part of the definition of a state. This allows him to introduce his hero Hobbes, who is often invoked during the podcasts and in Runciman’s other work. He points out the misrepresentation of Hobbes that has become so prevalent (i.e. the nasty, brutish and short characterisation of life) by demonstrating that this chaos only exists when the state is absent or has broken down. It is constituted when there exists a relationship between the sovereign, who speaks for the people on their behalf (and not for personal benefit) and the people acknowledge that their being spoken for in this way is legitimate: “… a state is what comes into existence when sovereign and subjects are locked up together in a relationship of representation (p.30).” This marks one of the transitions from the pre-modern to the modern world, in which the use of violence is possible but subject to the possibility that people can withdraw their recognition of the legitimacy of the state if they believe that violence is being wrongly or excessively used (which is the case in Syria). This then allows Runciman to describe some of the more problematic issues of the state in the contemporary world in which it is possible for states to wield unprecedented amounts of destructive force against people far away but in conditions in which it is likely that the truth will be revealed, sooner or later.

The other principal chapters concern technology and justice and follow the same rational and well-argued approach that the reader will have come to expect. This does not mean Runciman is unable or unwilling to take unusual or even controversial positions: for example, his argument that children have a right to vote which they might be able to exercise from the age of six (when they might be able to make some kinds of informed decisions by themselves) has provoked some debate once the initial shock was overcome. Particularly in a world facing catastrophic climate change seems set to destroy the future that those children might have been able to expect, it seems fair that they should have some say in the ways in which the state is organized to preserve their interests into the future.

The book, as mentioned, is quite a short one and it is copiously illustrated by cartoons and graphics that other people will perhaps enjoy more than I did. Nevertheless, this is an entertaining and enlightening introduction to actual issues in politics rather than in party politics and worth considering. As an ‘idea in profile,’ it more than meets its requirements.

Review of Leckie’s Ancillary Sword

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Ancillary Sword

Ann Leckie

New York, NY: Orbit Books, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-24665-1

391 pp.

In the first part of this trilogy, the award winning Ancillary Justice, we were introduced to the space-spanning empire of the Radch, who are humans dealing with a universe in which aliens exist. Radch technology enables artificial intelligences guiding the spaceships to use human corpses to be reanimated with a fraction of the ship’s vitality. These unfortunate beings are the ancillaries, who represent the foot soldiers of imperial domination. That book ended in a violent conflagration with ramifications which are to be explored in this novel and which will, without resorting to spoilers, extend further into the concluding part. The novel itself considers the need to deal with acts of violence in the years that follow them, in a universe without much of an apparent ideology of forgiveness.

The central figure, Breq, is an ancillary who was once an entire ship (and thousands of concurrent ancillaries). Her position is somewhat irregular and, in the chaos following the events of Ancillary Justice, she has secured the position of Fleet Captain in a fairly unimportant waystation system which links gates (i.e. faster than light teleportation devices) that have been temporarily closed. As one of the senior figures in the whole system, Breq takes the responsibility to determining whether Radchai civilisation was being properly enacted according to the guiding principles in which all citizens were schooled. This reveals the innate contradictions of imperial civilisation and their impact on all classes of society. She swiftly realises that not all is well and there are injustices to set right without too obviously appearing to be an overbearing outside official throwing her irregularly configured weight about the place. At the same time, she has the responsibility to atone for her own actions in the previous novel while also taking care of the junior and very young officers who are under her care. In the traditions of all empires in which power is expressed, with implicit if not explicit violence, through isolated ships or gunboats which underline the structural violence of the social systems enforced upon subjugated races. The British navy, of course, had ships on which social class relations were strictly enforced, with very young junior officers being required to establish themselves as leaders and representatives of the Empire while also dealing with the issues involved in being a teenager. Imagine, perhaps, Buffy or Harry Potter in jackboots ordering around the defeated, hungry minions of a burning city in which buildings were still collapsing.

Leckie poses an additional challenge to her characters in that the pronoun ‘she’ is used universally. In the previous book, people were (or could be) ‘e’ but in this different society gender relations are, presumably, slightly different since language usage reflects to some extent the actual ways in which people behave and relate to each other. Is it possible that they are all women? The Radch might be, since there are at least some examples of childbirth resulting from vat-grown clone work. However, it is less likely in the case of the subjugated races who do not have access to such technology and, indeed, do not even have access to sufficient food. It is noteworthy how poor all the people are, whether they are citizens of the empire or anyone else: meals are composed of a little fish, gruel and perhaps some fruit (and that is for the Fleet Captain), while the most important mundane luury is to be able to drink tea. This is quite distinct from, for example, the Culture novels of the much-missed Iain M. Banks, which depict a post-scarcity civilisation in which people can do pretty much anything they want. Here, Leckie depicts the fragility of imperial rule and, ultimately, the failure that is involved in the actual use of violence rather than its threat because, used once, it must be used with ever greater force in the future. It is a fascinating illustration of a possible future that mirrors actual examples in history.

It is not surprising that this series of books has propelled Ann Leckie into the forefront of science fiction writers, with bestselling sales figures accompanying the various awards and accolades received. Let us see how the trilogy is concluded.

Review of Jemisin’s The Fifth Season

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The Fifth Season, The Broken Earth: Book 1

N.K. Jemisin

New York, NY: Orbit Books, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-22929-6

498 pp.

This is a book I would have missed had it not been a prize-winner, including winning the 2016 Hugo Award. There are, after all, quite a few multi-series authors going around with big reputations and colourful book covers. I have enough books to read and enough authors whose new books I will generally buy whenever they appear. Yet, from time to time, I feel obliged to challenge myself as to whether there is as much diversity as I would like in the authors of contemporary fiction that I read and, thinking back on recent reviews, I recall several books by Stephen Baxter, Peter F. Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds, among other white, British men. So when my attention as drawn to the awards accorded to The Fifth Season by an American woman of colour, I decided I would give it a bash. I am certainly glad that I did because this is a terrific and skilful novel which introduces a new series of works that, it appears, will be equally compelling reads.

In the world created, humans occupy a post-apocalypse planet, in fact a planet still recovering from a number of different apocalypses, which is hostile to human life. This is true on a quite literal basis since instability in the earth’s mantle means people are suffering from a relentless series of dangerous and severe earthquakes. These quakes are sufficient to destroy any human settlements and bring about the next apocalypse. However, there is hope in the presence of Orogenes, who are people with a genetically-inspired disposition to sense the movements of the Earth and the ability to control them in various ways. Since an ill-intentioned Orogene could bring about the end of the world, it is perhaps not surprising that young people discovered to have this gift are subjected to a very fierce upbringing aimed at suppressing any rebellious tendencies through fear if not for love. There is also a reserve plan of genetically-modified Guardians who can thwart the abilities of the Orogenes. Clearly, this is a situation in which rigidly enforced hierarchies dominate social relations and strangers and outsiders of all sorts are likely to be treated with suspicion. Any situation of happiness or even peace will be fleeing and characters and personalities are shaped by these conditions.

Jemisin creates interesting characters who develop and change continually as they are obliged to interact with each other and the plot. There are other creatures around, some are monstrous animals and some are monstrous non-humans. People live in a world in which the remnants of Deadciv might suddenly obtrude and there are phenomena which we would recognise as perfectly normal but which are strange and alien in this world. This is somewhat reminiscent of the work of Gene Wolfe, where this disconnection between what the characters can see and what we would see is used to promote a fair amount of misleading narration. The fantasy elements are also a little similar to the work of China Miéville in the way that super-human forces are evoked and used by the protagonists but they retain a potency that can only be partially and temporarily quelled. These are recommendations that would affect my decision whether or not to read somebody new.

The Fifth Season is an excellent book and I can see why it has won the awards it has. The pace is solidly maintained and the characters surprise and engage with equal force. I am certainly looking forward to reading more of Jemisin’s work.

Review of Hamilton’s Salvation

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Salvation

Peter F. Hamilton

London: Macmillan, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4472-8132-0

532 pp.

Salvation is the first of Peter F. Hamilton’s new sequence of novels dealing with humanity’s struggle for survival against evil alien oppressors. New planets have been found which can support life, more or less, and the new economic geography made possible by the ability to ensnare and mine asteroids has made possible a resource rich future. As ever, especially in Hamilton’s work, most people seem to use this opportunity to live lives of slightly squalid ostentation and manipulate the system so as to ensure the status quo is not upset.

The world has been dramatically transformed by the discovery of quantum entanglement, which opens up portals between distant places on an instantaneous basis, which solves the problem of the need for faster than light travel that bedevils a good deal of space opera style science fiction. Hamilton is, as ever, keen to demonstrate how this can be organized to serve society as a whole, with numerous portals making a complex network which means that moving from anywhere on the world to anywhere else (and beyond earth options are also available) by half a dozen transits and a walk between them of only a couple of hundred yards. A ubiquitous downloadable app enables people to navigate the system without getting lost or clogging everything up by standing indecisively in groups in front of portals other people want to use (my experience of living in Thailand and elsewhere suggests that this might be a little optimistic). With this ability easily available, the rich can appropriate the benefits of living in all the best parts of the world by buying up portal apartments that have a bedroom in Hawaii, a living room in Paris, a study in the Andaman Islands and so forth. The relationship between those who benefit from this form of extreme gentrification and the disenfranchised masses whose labour supports it is touched upon quite nicely in one of the sub-plots, which centres on a series of murders committed as part of a gang war fought between a pair of urban desperadoes.

Meanwhile, aliens exist and are present in the solar system. An arkship of satisfyingly strange creatures has arrived and has exhausted its fuel so aims to replenish supplies by paying for them with Kcells – biological stem cell technologies which may be used to rebuild, repair or reinvigorate any organic creatures. Fuel is plentiful because portals can be placed inside stars and the resulting outrushing matter may be directed remotely – although it is best to stay out of the way. It is also possible to jettison unwanted, dangerous or irradiated material into distant space, since there is no longer any strong incentive to continue with recycling. These conditions make necessary a wide range of new specialists with unusual and interesting skills and people in these jobs are well-represented in the text.

Readers familiar with Hamilton’s work will have come to expect many of the tropes that are produced here: complex, overlapping sub-plots, often separated by significant distances in time and space but able to interact with each other; treachery in high places; high-tech ninja action; intimate relationships that never quite work out as anticipated and so forth. He has always been reasonably sensitive to identity issues as well as the deeper forces that govern social change and here he employs the pronoun pair hir/sie to indicates changes in gender relations  there are societies whose Kcell-augmented bodies cycle through masculinity and femininity on a regularly rotating basis, after all. As has come to be expected, the pace is very rapid and the story is propelled forward though its various sub-plots with a pleasing but not overwhelming sense of inevitability. The books ends with a startling revelation which sets up the next book in the sequence nicely, which I look forward to reading.

John Walsh, RMIT Vietnam

Review of Baxter’s Obelisk

Obelisk

Stephen Baxter

London: Gollancz, 2016

ISBN: 9-781473-212763

326 pp.

This collection of short stories by the prolific Stephen Baxter is related to his two novel sequence Proxima and Ultima. The blurb suggests that two of the stories are new but, in fact, they were all new to me. The premise of this series is, as the names suggest, the expansion of humanity to the stars in the wake of a world ruined by environmental collapse. The technology is largely of the steam punk style of advanced Victorian imagining, which means that people are able to travel in space but do not have the all-encompassing datasphere that so complicates human relationships, among other things. Baxter is rather a dab hand at this style of science fiction, as his various retellings of the work of H.G. Wells demonstrates. It also suits his preferred manner of dialogue, which is the slightly formal and slightly stilted mode that matches well with stiff upper lip Britishness but not so well with contemporary or future imagined forms of communication. There is also little recognition in the text of modern identity issues as expressed, for example, by gender relations. Sometimes women take leading roles and high-ranking jobs but it does not seem to make any difference to organizational behaviour or culture since they turn out generally to be decent chaps in skirts.

These stories are mostly set on planets rather than spaceships or more exotic locations and represent alternative histories and futures. There are towering Incas with superior technology; people brought back from the dead to meet specific needs or isolated geniuses able to work out the structure of the meta-universe through using a few laptops and the relentless collection of data reflected upon in more or less tranquillity. This has the effect of uniting some advanced and fascinating ideas (Baxter takes this stuff seriously and is capable of presenting ideas at peer-reviewed scientific conferences) with the mundane problems that derive from dealing with the aftermath of environmental disaster. Baxter gets to massacre billions of people again and again in a variety of ways while his protagonists go about their business despoiling the few resources the earth has left to offer. The better stories highlight these contradictions or, at least, contrasts. For example, Starfall, the concluding story, has the premise that a child has been given access to communication with an increasingly distant spaceship AI heading towards a potential new home for humanity but can only send a brief message every ten years. The child becomes a man while the world goes to hell in a handcart and his messages to the AI are just reflections on his own situation. Amusingly, the AI immediately converts any message into a situation report on its own progress. These are two disparate people, enormously far apart in almost every way and neither can see beyond its own nose.

There are other stories which reprise Baxter’s theme of transcendence, such as Vacuum Lad, which posits a new subspecies of people with a high tolerance to the vacuum of space. Indeed, the various themes that long-term readers have come across on various occasions make an appearance here in one way or another, although the hive mind wakening is only lightly explored. These are reliably enjoyable stories from a reliable author and I will be happy to read more of his books in the future. The combination of the reassuringly familiar and the very strange is one that I particularly enjoy.

John Walsh, RMIT Vietnam