Review of Lindqvist’s Handling the Undead

Handling the Undead

John Ajvide Lindqvist

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It is not, I think, necessary to explain in fiction exactly why everything is the way that it is. The motiveless malice of Iago or Volpone are the more terrifying for not being explained as the result of a dysfunctional childhood or an overbearing parent. This certainly appears to be the case for Sweden’s own john Ajvide Lindqvist, who in Handling the Undead again neglects to explain why what happens does happen. In his first book, Let the Right One In, which is probably the best of his that I have read, there is no reason why there should suddenly be vampires in the world (Anne Rice memorably tried to justify the existence of her own bloodsuckers by tracing their history back to a primordial demonic curse of some sort). In Harbour, there is no explanation of the provenance of the mysterious deep sea presences that help shape the action. Here, when a subset of the recently deceased come back to life in some parts of Sweden, there is neither explanation nor any systematic attempt to find out what the cause might be. The focus is not on scientists or law enforcement or any form of government agency but a selection of those people who had been recently bereaved and would welcome being reunited with their loved one, irrespective of the circumstances.

Stories about zombies and other forms of the undead are terrifying not just because of the visceral horror of dealing with animated corpses but because they force us to confront, on the one hand, people we once knew acting in a horrifying way which might represent their real, previously suppressed personality and, on the other hand, business with the dead which we might have wished to remain in the grave (incidentally, there is no sign of life or unlife from those who had recently been cremated, which might give us all reason to pause). So it is here since the dead are not very active and do not seem to have anything going on in their minds. They have a tendency to walk to a place or a room which is of particular significance to them and just sit there, vacantly not staring at anything. An abusive husband, having emerged unwanted from the grave, provides a constant sense of as yet unrealized threat. A young boy, cruelly snatched from his family, offers a reminder of what they have lost rather than a consolation for the future. Other characters are forced to consider their own mortality as they see friends and colleagues struggling to adapt to change.

This is a good and readable book that does not overstay its welcome. It has been unobtrusively translated into English by Ebba Segerberg and I had not even noticed it was not in the original. Once the premise is established, the characters go through their personal arcs as the ramifications of the underlying premise are worked through and, once that has been achieved, as much development as is necessary takes place to allow the story to come to a conclusion. There are some quite interesting characters and the background of Sweden is brought out to advantage now and again. It is not a very profound book but it does its job well and I enjoyed it.

Review of Gabaldon’s Outlander

Outlander: A Novel

Diana Gabaldon

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Just after the end of World War II, Claire Randall and her husband Frank are taking a restorative break in Scotland, which enables Frank to continue with his historical research as he resumes life as an academic. Claire had a long and grueling war as a nurse on the home front and, also, overseas. What she has seen and done has, as a result, made her resourceful, tough and, inevitably, rather distant from the bourgeois civilian life to which she, like so many other women, might be expected to return. The relationship between man and wife enters a period of convalescence and there is some hope for the future when, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, Claire disappears through a set of standing stones and finds herself 200 years in the past. It is soon made quite clear to her that the past is not only akin to a foreign country but is a seriously dangerous place.

As a woman and an Englishwoman at that, during a period in which the English were occupying Scotland by force and which, as we know now, is on the verge of committing a form of genocide. Claire is not much respected by local people and must rely on others to protect her. Fortunately, she is placed in the company and custody of a young man, Jamie Fraser, whose strength and courage in the face of considerable adversity, offer Claire a means for survival. The burgeoning relationship between the two is one half of the rest of the story, with their attempts to survive the machinations of rival clans and the malevolent presence of the English officer Black Jack Randall representing the other half. It is an exciting romp through Scottish history and all the relationship bits are not as tedious as they might have been and how describing them would make it seem. I was interested to find out whether there were books to read and was slightly daunted to note that that there are at least eight others, plus additional books relating to the recent television series. The author is, apparently, from the USA and this brings with it the inevitable question of the extent to which she is able to convince the reader that we are actually in a real-life place in a specific time and context.[1] The answer to this is, of course, to a certain extent. The pace of the plot prevents too much contemplation of the scenery along the way and the Claire-Jamie relationship functions as a proxy for the culture shock between 1745 and 1945. For the rest, we are given plausible names and the occasional plausible meal and celebration but never, really, convinced of the texture of historicity as expressed by details, by the discourse and references to cultural identifiers and so forth. However, this probably will not matter to most readers because actually being in such a place would be impossibly disorientating and difficult to understand, in my opinion at least. Better just to enjoy the story for what it is and not think too much about Claire’s apparently encyclopaedic knowledge of herbs and premodern medical techniques or Jamie’s plot-friendly but implausibly impeccable French (despite the alliance, there are no French people to parade on the stage).

This is a good example of popular historical fiction and I am not surprised by the success that the author has achieved. I would be interested to read the next instalment of the series if I happen to come across it, although I am not sure I would read eight more. That would, perhaps, depend on the development of the plot. It seems unlikely that many books could have plots sustained by post-clearances highlands and the main characters will presumably travel across mainland Europe or, more likely, North America sooner rather than later. Let us see how it all trainspires.

 

[1] I am not suggesting that American authors are more or less likely to be able to achieve this but merely point out that her research does not incorporate the detailed knowledge and understanding that comes from living as part of a culture.

Review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora

Aurora

Kim Stanley Robinson

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Although Kim Stanley Robinson has a very high and, indeed, burgeoning reputation, I had rather avoided his books since the first of the Red/Green/Blue Mars trilogy. That first book featured the rebellion of the Mars people against their being controlled by Earth agencies and the partial destruction of some of the painfully and expensively installed infrastructure. It seems unlikely that I will ever live on a world on which a serious attempt to colonise another world will take place (although I retain hope) and, even if I did, my role in that colonization would almost certainly be restricted to paying my taxes and wishing the efforts the best of luck. Consequently, reading about privileged and extremely fortunate people destroying what would have been the results of countless taxpayers denied their opportunities irritated me to the extent that I could not enjoy the book at all and, as mentioned, persuaded me not to buy any more of his books. However, I was in Taipei in a bookshop with a limited number of English language books and I wanted to support the shop so I bought Aurora. I am glad that I did so because this is an enjoyable book with a pleasingly wide theatre of action and one that is sufficiently thought-provoking.

The concept of the book (and presumably this is the first in a series of volumes) is that of a multi-generational spaceship transporting a crew of 2,000 people to a distant planet identified previously on Earth. Of course, identifying a habitable planet in the remoteness of space is not yet a fully developed skill even in the future when building such ships becomes feasible and, consequently, several options have been prepared against negative contingencies. The ship is able to move at about one tenth of the speed of light and, while fast enough to ensure that acceleration and deceleration are not processes to be entered into lightly, this means that people will have many years to get to know each other and, of course, discover that they did not really like each other. The crewmembers are initially divided into separate communities and that enables them to retain some cultural identifiers. However, isolation has led to some evolutionary missteps and the principal engineer, Devi, must constantly work to keep things going as well as possible despite unintended secondary effects resulting from previous fixes. This part of the story represents the first half of the book and it is perhaps the better part. The second half – and this is not really a spoiler as it is on the book cover – is less satisfactory as it recounts the adventures of that portion of the crew who decide to return to Earth after having faced planetfall that convinces them that life away from Earth is not going to be sustainable. This might well have been a rational decision in the circumstances but it does not really conform to the kind of heroic science fictions readers expect from books in excess of 500 pages. It is, perhaps, that sense of anti-climax that makes the characters seem fundamentally disappointing in nature and contributes to a sense of schadenfreude in their trials and tribulations.

Although the book is quite well-written, it would not be science fiction if at least some of the principal protagonists were more believable as plot devices rather than real life people. It is equally unlikely that any attempt to transfer the action to the screen would be successful without considerable attention being paid to the dialogue. However, these are minor quibbles since the story’s the thing and I will be interested in finding out what happens to the other half of the crew, who take the more heroic alternative and try to find a way to survive in space and who, I am assuming, will have their adventures described in the sequel to Aurora. Even if it turns out that they are unsuccessful and all are killed, this is likely to take place at length and in satisfying detail.

 

Challenges of Urbanization in East Asia

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Announcing: Palasak, Ratana and John Walsh, “Challenges of Urbanization in East Asia,” Pacific Business Review International, Vol.9, No.1 (July, 2016), pp.101-8, available at: http://pbr.co.in/july2016/13.pdf.

Abstract:

This paper addresses the issues surrounding urbanization in the East Asian region. The paper begins by considering the reasons for urbanization and, therefore, the nature and shape of that urbanization. It then goes on to consider the various impacts of the phenomenon as they have affected social and workplace relations, as a result of changes in lifestyles and environment. This leads to the consideration of the agglomeration effects of urbanization and the possibilities and prospects for networked cities in the region. It is concluded that numerous structural and systemic changes must be made by nearly every state in the region before the benefits of networked and smart cities can be harvested.

 

Collaborative Provision of Graduate Education in CLMV: Case of Thailand’s Private Universities

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Announcing: Sujarittanonta, Lavanchawee, kittichok Nithisathian and John Walsh, “Collaborative Provision of Graduate Education in CLMV: Case of Thailand’s Private Universities,” Journal of Educational and Vocational Research, Vol.7, No.2 (2016), pp.49-57, available at: http://ifrnd.org/journal/index.php/jevr/article/view/1340.

Abstract

Education entails investments in time and money from the students and, therefore, the choices of degree programs and university names are critical for students and their future careers. The demand for foreign education in the CLMV (i.e. Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam) market is fast expanding, especially for international graduate programs. Equipped with foreign degrees, the human resources of the host CLMV countries are ready for international jobs with international standards. This situation attracts investments by foreign universities to enter CLMV countries to offer degree programs, such as MBA, MPA and PhD. While Western universities are internationally recognized, the success of Asian universities operating within CLMV has not been studied. Consequently, this paper reports on research examining the success of Thai private universities that operate in CLMV countries, in particular Mynmar, which has only recently opened up to the world, as well as the developing prospects for Vietnam. Lao PDR and Cambodia. Data is collected through in-depth interviews of managers and students of international partner institutions of the host countries, through which Thai universities offer graduate degree programs. It is found that private Thai degree programs are welcomed in CLMV countries, while Thai degrees are favored over international Western degrees in terms of economic affordability and preferred over Chinese degree programs due to the socio-cultural perception that Chinese products are doubtful in quality. This is not surprising, considering that a 2014 study by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) reported that among middle-income countries of Asia, Thailand and Malaysia lead the region when it comes to providing graduate education.
Keywords: Education, CLMV, private universities, quality

The 9th International Conference on Management, Finance and Entrepreneurship and the 8th International Conference on Global Business Environment

The 9th International Conference on Management, Finance and Entrepreneurship and the 8th International Conference on Global Business Environment were held concurrently at Shinawatra University, Bangkok, Thailand on 23rd July, 2016 at the graduate campus at the BBD Building on Viphawadi-Rangsit Road. The event was successful and better attended than most previous conferences SIU has hosted. Nearly 50 academic papers were scheduled for presentation.
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Keynote speakers Hon. Prof. Dr. Charnvit Kotheeranurak and Dr. Somprasong Boonyachai (all photos by the author)

Two excellent keynote speeches helped to set the tone for the day. Hon. Prof. Dr. Charnvit Kotheeranurak spoke on the subject of Medicine 4.0, taking the theme of a new generation of medical treatments and conditions applying to the contemporary world and drew implications from that. Subsequently, Dr. Somprasong Boonyachai spoke on the subject of the digital economy, which is a subject on which he could speak authoritatively, given his extensive experience with AIS and now InTouch Holdings. The audience warmly appreciated both speakers. Ajarn Chanchai Bunchapattanasakda graciously agreed to open proceedings.
The remainder of the day was occupied by the technical sessions, in which academics from a number of different countries presented their research with the audience. Speakers represented, in addition to Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, South Africa, Ghana, Germany, the UK and Indonesia, among others.

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Dr. Petcharat Lovichakorntikul and Dr. Sirirat Ngamsang help to fly the flag for SIU.

Three of our SIU students from Myanmar were able to attend, two of whom – Ms Khin Kyin Zin and Daw Sandi Win – were presenting academic work for the first time, which is always a somewhat daunting task.
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Ms Khin Kyin Zin, Mr. Soe Myint Than and Daw Sandi Win presented their research conducted at the Mandalay campus of SIU.

The range of topics presented was wide, ranging from work-like balance among women in positions of management to healthcare company development, communication, business ethics, stock market analysis and marketing. As ever, we endeavoured to maintain a harmonious, friendly atmosphere in which academics and students could exchange knowledge and ideas and learn about one another’s work.

I am grateful to all those who attended, including Dr. Ijaz who was representing our partner the International Foundation for Research and Development (ifrnd.org) and our own conference team, led by Aj Ratana Palasak and Dr. Wilaiporn Lao-Hakosol. As usual, staunch support was received from the library team, especially Aj. Boonta Wisswaapaisal and K Suntirach Lerdmanee. Thanks are also due to the IT and domestic teams.

John Walsh, Shinawatra University