I read this last month for my history of science methods class. A lens onto the history of anthropology I was not very aware of and a really remarkable work of archival research!
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Was asked to write a review of this book (this is not the review, just me logging it). It's very weird to read a whole book about key commodities and supply chains that treats capitalism and colonialism as basically a tertiary angle of the narrative? There's a lot of well-meaning gee-whiz language here that I am maybe too cynical for. Some pretty good "how it works" type writing for complex industrial processes, though.
Fun and provocative, but this felt like it should have been a trilogy and unfortunately got squished into a single volume. Kim Stanley Robinson blurbed this and is thanked in the acknowledgments, so I don't feel totally dismissive of Newitz's efforts when noting that the influence of the Mars Trilogy is pretty apparent in this epic planetary narrative. But Newitz only gets like 350 pages to create their centuries-spanning world, compared to KSR's set of tomes, and it at times I felt a little rushed along. I wanted to have more time with some of the characters and the political economy.
I love that one of the central characters is a sentient organic flying train though, that's great. Also minor spoiler, the train fucks!
@jcalpickard I didn't mind it but it felt more like a decision made for narrative suspense than literary resonance. I think what you said in your review about how the King timeline feeling disconnected from Athena timeline is pretty right on.
Pretty good although I found the tech dystopia part a little simplistic and I kind of wanted more detail on Rao's apparent brilliance to make the meteoric rise seem less fable-ish--e.g. we're told he's really good at writing code and making new programming languages but we don't really get any insight into what coding is like for him or what's unique about his languages. If the idea is that he's kind of a Steve Jobs-ian charlatan who isn't actually that good at stuff and the lesson is the happenstance of capitalism, would also like more evidence to support that framing!