Review of Cixin Liu’s Death’s End

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Death’s End

Cixin Liu

London: Head of Zeus Ltd., 2016

ISBN: 9781784971649

604 pp.

Translated by Ken Liu

Death’s End is the final part of Cixin Liu’s extraordinary trilogy that began with The Three Body Problem and continued with The Dark Forest. There are some spoilers in this review of these earlier books.

Humanity was challenged by the Trisolarans, whose fleet of seemingly all-powerful spaceships are inexorably speeding through the night towards earth. Advanced technology meant that a Trisolaran presence already existed and it was able to prevent humanity making any new scientific breakthroughs. To keep the alien enemies at bay, those few individuals chosen to lead the defence of their people make public the desperate danger of the Dark Forest – any species that demonstrates the ability to travel in space and allows its location to be broadcast will be destroyed by unknown aliens. It may take some time for the final strike to be made and it may be possible to make some preparations but it does appear that resistance is, ultimately, futile.

This is the situation at the beginning of Death’s End – a tense stand-off with the Trisolarans over an enormous expanse of space. One person has been designated as the Swordholder and he is the one responsible for triggering the death of the enemy’s home planet if their ships stray beyond the agreed limits. However, the Swordholder is just one person and he cannot live forever – he spends his entire life staring at the wall on which the Trisolaran ships are portrayed being ready to pull the trigger at any moment and knowing that his every moment is under scrutiny from afar. Would the next Swordholder prove to be as steadfast?

It is in this way that Cixin Liu injects humanity into the larger philosophical issues in which he seems to be so interested. This involves the comparison between what appears to be required and what the individual can provide. Of course, some part of what constitutes the individual human character depends on the experiences that person has undergone and, hence, it is necessary to show some parts of that experience. This is a slightly roundabout way of saying that this is primarily a science fiction novel of ideas in which human characters are required to tell the story but who are, otherwise, not of much interest. Readers interested in character development, insightful dialogue and so forth are likely to be somewhat disappointed. To some extent, this might be an artefact of translating Chinese into English – Ken Liu does a fine job in providing a lucid, readable text but there are so many cultural and social intonations which are difficult to get across without intrusive footnotes or other explanations that some of that content has had to be omitted. This is something of a pity but it is the action that grips on the macro-level rather than what is going to happen to individuals on the micro-level.

In fact, the initial deadlock is quite quickly resolved and the book goes on in several subsequent sections to investigate additional phases of the story. It is not giving much away to say that the narrative graduates towards the far future and includes some startling observations about the universe – not the least is the source of all the dark matter and dark energy that constitutes the cosmos but what about which we know so little. Despite this, the sense of awe and wonder that readers might have does not fade. There are still plenty of mysteries to consider.

As a trilogy, these books represent an extraordinary journey from the initially fairly small-scale issue of the nature of a bizarre and somewhat threatening video game to the conclusion so far away. While the books do hold together in a sufficiently coherent way, it is tempting to think that the author worked on the series one step at a time and did not, necessarily, have the full vision in his mind as he wrote. If this is the case, then it does not really matter since people write in different ways and the best-laid plans gang aft agley, after all. Besides which, there are such things as editors to take care of any inconsistencies and infelicities. This is terrific stuff.

Review of Anne Rice’s Of Love and Evil

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Of Love and Evil: The Songs of the Seraphim

Anne Rice

London: Arrow Books, 2011

ISBN: 9780099556985

176 pp.

In the first book of this series, Angel Time, which I have not read but which seems to be perfectly well summarised in this one, Toby O’Dare has been plucked from his life of government assassin, a soulless terrorist, by a real life angel named Malchiah. The angel sees a better future for Toby, saving lives rather than taking them and things seem to have worked out pretty well for both of them. At the beginning of this book, Toby is in the presence of angels: “I felt love around me in this vast and seamless realm of sound and light. I felt intimately and completely known. I felt beloved and held and part of all I saw and heard. And yet I knew I deserved nothing of it, nothing. And something akin to sadness swept me up and mingled my very essence with the voices who sang, because the voices were singing of me (p.3).”

It is easy to have some sympathy with this point of view: why has Toby, of all people, been given this opportunity? Are there no more or less virtuous people who might have had the chance? Are there to be no punishments for vice and no rewards for virtue? The answer to this, I am going to suggest, is Zen or Vajrayana Buddhism. In this Buddhist tradition, enlightenment (i.e. the freeing of the self from attachments to the unlasting things of the universe) can arrive instantaneously as if by a lightning bolt for the mind that is ready to receive it. This is the reason why, in the various versions of the Ramayana, demons and monsters and all kinds of ne’er-do-wells are able to achieve enlightenment while the good guys remain chained to their appetites. Perhaps, then, Toby has the opportunity for a form of spiritual greatness that is beyond the ken of the rest of us, at least for the time being. Such an interpretation would appear to coincide with her vampire books, particularly the later ones. The first, Interview with a Vampire, was a jolly romp with vivid characters and occasional bouts of fast-paced action. Yet as the series continued (and I started to lose interest in it), the books increasingly became involved with the supposedly superior ability of some great souls to be able to suffer and love and suffer again. That Anne Rice then went on to write books about Jesus rather reinforced my idea that her authorial sensibility had disappeared somewhere the sun does not shine.

However, when I saw this little book available at a moment when I wanted to buy and read something quite like it, all misgivings disappeared and I was ready to give her another go. Thankfully, the being in the bosom of the angels thing soon disappears and Toby is dispatched to an Italy of the Renaissance period in which the presence of a dybbuk or golem is suspected. Toby’s task is to find out what is going on and make things better. He will receive some angelic assistance along the way but the angels are not God and so not omnipresent or, indeed, all-knowing. Fortunately, Toby is able to communicate with the local people and can soon get on with his job.

This is quite a nice set-up for a series of books that could be moved in various directories (and probably would transfer nicely to the screen) and do not require that much effort on behalf of the author – in a concluding note, she observes that she used Wikipedia for much of her research. I will be interested to see if any more of these come along or whether she has turned her attention elsewhere.

Review of Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm

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The Lair of the White Worm

Bram Stoker

London: Collins Classics, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-00-811050-5

VIII + 208 pp.

This is quite a difficult book for me to review – there is so much obvious racism and sexism that it seems extraordinary that it was published in the twentieth century. This is not just the prejudice of the age as it might be argued was the case for H.P. Lovecraft or T.S. Eliot, this is a spray of n-words used about a poor African chap who is associated with all kinds of stereotypical beliefs and attributes. The women, on the other hand, are either virtuous and demure (like Mimi, the young Burmese woman who seems to have been brought up in Siam) or else full of feminine wiles and probably somewhat Satanic with it, like Lady Arabella March, who does not have the decency to stay married and live in her castle like Lady Bountiful:

“… but being feminine, she will probably over-reach herself. Now, Adam, it strikes me that, as we have to protect ourselves and others against feminine nature, our strong game will be to play our masculine against her feminine. Perhaps we had better sleep on it. She is a thing of the night; and the night may give us some ideas (p.125).”

Other novels also published in 1910 include Clayhanger, Psmith in the City, Howards End and The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.

Well, the book continues to be published and to have, apparently, a favourable reception so what is the positive aspect? It is a work of gothic horror, set in Derbyshire. My experience of Derbyshire, limited though it is, is that the elevation is quite high, it was cold and rather windswept. It is quite possible to imagine, therefore, stone castles pointing like stiff little fingers into the sky and rooted in the rocky hills beneath. Small and remote cottages would dot the estate but be distant from each other and their denizens forced to become reliant on the castle owners. This is, indeed, the case here for the small list of characters have no opportunities to meet or interact with anyone else and there are no telephones or even telegrams to use to apply for help.

Into this somewhat bleak landscape (my advice is, given the choice, be born into the castle-owning class) comes Adam Salton, newly returned from Australia where, it is suggested, he has done great physical things on the ranch and in the outback (where, famously of course, there are no women to distract a man bent on physical dominance of the landscape). He has been summoned by his great-uncle, of whom he had previously been unaware, so as to be offered the position of son and only heir of Castra Regis, the Derbyshire estate. The only problem with this plan – the great-uncle immediately accepts Adam as his long-lost boy and no more need to be said about the arrangement – is the presence of the aforementioned Lady Arabella and her sinister associate, Edgar Caswall, who is perhaps a mesmerist or some kind of a magician able to have his wicked way with other people purely by the force of his personality. These two are utterly inimical to Adam and his household for no particular reason. The Lady – the front cover shows quite clearly her ophidian nature – is something of a prodigy. She is malignant and repugnant in a sort of quasi-modern way. Described as being very thin and customarily wearing a sheer white dress, she is the antithesis to the maternal or womanly ideal and is compared directly with the two orphans of empire, Lila and Mimi. Their skin colour is not mentioned and, indeed, they are described very little – perhaps imagination is all that is required in this case or perhaps coming to Britain has emphasized their imperial heritage. Clearly, there can be no peaceable settlement.

Despite its shortcomings, this is still an interesting book and it moves along rapidly. It is not surprising that versions have appeared on the screen, for the story is as much visual as verbal in nature. Which is to say, I suppose, that the language and particularly the dialogue used is not very interesting. I cannot, under the circumstances, really recommend the book but I am quite glad to have had the chance to read it.

The Virtuous Life of a Thai Buddhist Nun

Anouncing: Lovichakorntikul, Petcharat, Min Putthithanasombat and John Walsh, “The Virtuous Life of a Thai Buddhist Nun,” in Zayn R. Kassam, ed., Women and Asian Religions (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO LLC), pp.261-82.

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Abstract

Thai society continues to view women as the ‘rear legs of the elephant,’ who should follow and support their husbands who are the front legs. Yet this traditional lifestyle has been challenged by the spread of capitalism through globalization and has been transformed, particularly in urban areas. The expectations and aspirations of women have been significantly altered and their ability and willingness to work outside the house, which have had clear impacts upon their duties within families and households. This changing role for women is matched by the increased importance, particularly in Bangkok. In the meantime, Thai Buddhist society does not recognize Bhikkuni or female monk status, but does accept women becoming nuns and following the eight precepts. One woman who followed this route and founded the Phra Dhammakaya Temple, lived a long and virtuous life which in many ways parallels the changes in women’s status during this period. The life of Khun Yai Chand (or Grandmother Chand) Khonnokyoong (1909-2000) mirrors changes in the lives of Buddhist women in Thailand as the country entered the modern age. Born into a medium-class agricultural family and received no formal education according to Thai customs and tradition which did not support young girls’ schooling, she left and rejected familial claims to become a maid in a rich household in Bangkok in order to learn the supernormal meditative powers so as to ask for forgiveness from her passed-away father. Intentionally, she dedicated herself to meditation as a means of making merit for her father and family and ultimately she devoted her life to being a nun at the age of 29. So that, in 1970, with just $ 100 (at this present’s value which was equivalent to $ 160 at that time), she was able to establish her own temple that has become an extremely successful organization which is aimed at uniting the sentiments and ideas of the past with the present. Her career combines traditional values with the modern means of bringing them about, thereby indicating the role that technology has had in freeing women from domestic labor and enabling them to follow other pursuits. Within twenty years, her followers were spreading her teaching around the world and now there are some 200 temples or branches of the original Phra Dhammakaya Temple nationwide, and 60 temples or meditation centers around the world. She has instructed hundreds of thousands of people both Thai and foreign in her methods. Further, she focuses on spiritual development and the purification of the mind and body. More than 50,000 teenagers have joined programs to avoid drugs, alcohol, and gambling as well as volunteer for public service on regular basis because of her influence. Some 2,000 monks and 1,000 Ubasokas and Ubasikas (male and female laypeople) devote their lives to Buddhism working as a full time staff at her temple. On Buddhist holidays, as many as 50-100,000 people come together to meditate in silence and to attend the religious ceremonies. In common with the inspiration of Bodhisattvas, she provides a community of peace and obedience (without questioning), with new generations ready to build lives in the new world with the methods and traditions of the old.

 

Keywords: Buddhist Nun, Dhammakaya, Leadership, Self-development, Thailand

SIU Journal of Management, Vol.7, No.1 (June, 2017)

The full issue is available here: SIU JM 7.1

CONTENTS

Volume 7, Number 1, June, 2017
Editor’s Introduction (download 7.1.Editor.Introduction) 4

RESEARCH ARTICLES

1. Impact of Corporate Governance Attributes on Intellectual Capital Disclosure: Evidence from Listed Banking Companies in Bangladesh – Swadip Bhattacharjee, Shimul Chakraborty and Sumon Bhattacharjee (download Bhattacharjee)  7
2. Effect of Socio-Cognitive Technique on Tobacco Smoking Cessation Among Undergraduates in Selected Public Universities in South-West Nigeria – Aaron Akinloye, Olufemi Adegbesan and Mary Sam-Odutola (download Akinloye)  37
3. Physical Activity Intervention Effects on Tobacco Smoking Cessation among University Students – Aaron Olalekan Akinloye, Mary Sam-Odutola and Adetoun Akinwusi (download Olalekan)  53
4. The Adoption Intentions of Smartphones among Young Consumers: Diffusion of Innovation Theory Perspective – Suleman Anwar, Ayesha Ramzan Butt, Eliane Bragança de Matos and Muhammad Kashif (download Anwar)  69

CONFERENCE REPORTS

 International Conference on Recent Trends in Business Management

(ICRTBM, 2017)   (download 7.1.Conference)                                                                  93

BOOK REVIEWS

1. Chronicles on Our Troubled Times by Thomas Piketty – John Walsh (download Piketty)  96
2. Food Security in Post-Conflict Nepal: Challenges and Opportunities by Bishnu Raj Upreti, Sagar Raj Sharma and Suman Babu Paudel, eds. – John Walsh (download Upreti) 99
3.  Reclaiming Development: An Alternative Economic Policy Manual by Ha-Joon Chang and Ilene Grabel – John Walsh (download Chang)  103

CALL FOR PAPERS                                                                                                               108

AUTHOR’S GUIDELINES                                                                                                     110

ABOUT SHINAWATRA UNIVERSITY                                                                                113

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD                                                                                        115

Shinawatra University Ranks 7th in Thailand for Peer Reviewing

One important way to measure the academic quality of a university is through the willingness and ability of its faculty members to conduct anonymous peer reviews. Currently, Shinawatra University ranks 7th in Thailand in this regard (https://publons.com/institution/?country=126&order_by=total_merit).

The Publons website ranks universities according to a points system which shows a top ten of:

  1. Khon Kaen     1,390
  2. Chulalongkorn 1,204
  3. Mahidol          1,001
  4. Assumption    455
  5. Walailak          366
  6. Srinakhinwirot    265
  7. Shinawatra        195
  8. Kasetsart             157
  9. Chiang Mai         128
  10. Rangsit               126

No doubt other ranking systems exist but I’m going with this one.

 

Creative Industries and Industrial Policy in Korea and Southeast Asia

The paper I gave at the Bangkok University conference on creative arts policy has now been published in the proceedings online:

Walsh, John, “Creative Industries and Industrial Policy in Korea and Southeast Asia,” paper presented at the Bangkok University Communication Arts (BUCA) Creative Industries in Asia: Innovating within Constraints (Bangkok: July, 2016), available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Stephen_Poon3/publication/307331561_The_Functions_Behind_Hand-Drawn_Typography_In_Human_Gestural_Replication/links/57c5062f08aeb0491435839e/The-Functions-Behind-Hand-Drawn-Typography-In-Human-Gestural-Replication.pdf.

Abstract:

One of the most important means by which the Republic of Korea (ROK) was able to escape
from the Middle Income Trap was through the creation and implementation of the Hallyu,
which was a wave of inter-related forms of cultural production supported and promoted by
government. Hallyu was successful, at least in part, because of the freedom of expression
won by the Korean people in the struggle for democracy. Its various forms, including popular
music, television, dance, food, cosmetics and other consumer goods can be complementary in
nature and were supported by various incentives, subsidies and other forms of industrial
policy. Some of these policies have been recreated for application in other countries of East
and Southeast Asia, while others have yet to be evaluated or adopted. In other cases, policies
have been employed which have actively constrained creativity, sometimes for justifiable
state-level reasons and sometimes not. This paper outlines the different forms of industrial
policy that have been employed to affect creative industries, inspired by the Korean example
and using Southeast Asia as the primary area of investigation. Implications are drawn from
the analysis as to which kinds of policies are likely to be successful in which kinds of policy
regimes and political systems. Social, cultural and religious constraints to the expression of
the creative industries in the region are also discussed and possibilities of change considered.
Keywords: creative industries, hallyu, industrial policy, Korea, Southeast Asia