Monday, June 20, 2011

Tijuana Straits

Kem Nunn's 2004 book Tijuana Straits doesn't quite scale the heights I remember "Tapping The Source" and "The Dogs Of Winter" scaling a decade ago when I read them, but its still a worthy addition to the surf fiction genre.

Nunn does have a knack for building tension in his stories, with a grotesque gang of evil-doers enabling the redemption of another damaged surfer as he wrestles away the demons from his past in the strange borderlands between California and the polluted wastelands of Tijuana to the south.

Rick Kleffel at Trashotron has the best review out on the web :

On the border between California and Mexico, between land and sea, Kem Nunn finds Sam Fahey, a man who could have been a contender in the world of big-wave surfing, but was carried away by the white trash currents of his childhood on the border. In 'Tijuana Straits', Nunn brings readers his powerful novel to date, a compelling story of wasted potential and potential danger. The filth of our country runs down the rivers and slops into the streets of Tijuana, creating monsters of men. Nunn's powerful novel is blisteringly savage and painfully perceptive. We're poisoning ourselves. We may be dead and not even know it.

Long past his glory days as a young surfer, long past even his days as a drug runner and small-time criminal, Sam Fahey is now an older-than-his-age employee of the government who tends to the endangered species that manage to survive in Tijuana Straits, the small valley just north of the border. When he saves the beaten, bruised and almost insensible Magdalena from wild dogs roaming the sand dunes, he makes a spot decision to take her in. Magdalena is an activist from over the border, who is fighting the multi-national corporations that have created the toxic wastelands known as the maquilladoras. She's uncertain how or even why she arrived in Tijuana Straits. Both she and Sam are soon to find out.

Nunn keeps his story close and tight. His prose is evocative and lyrical but tough and to-the-point. He creates landscapes that are so intense as to be thoroughly immersive. The tiny ecosystem of Tijuana Straits, from the Outer Peak in the ocean where the Mystic Ridge breaks, to Garage-Door Tijuana, an intricate maze of trash and treasure comes meticulously to life in Nunn's prose. He also creates the hellish world of the maquilladoras in Tijuana proper. This bleak landscape of ruin, rust and toxic waste shambles to life and itself gives birth to monsters. Every terrorizing story about bad drugs and bad neighborhoods comes to fiery life as Nunn creates the compelling and ferocious Armando Santoya.

Santoya's stories -- and the stories of his comrades from the maquilladoras -- are intense, compelling stories of terror and horror. Nunn writes powerfully and passionately enough to evoke the supernatural dread within the natural world. He peels the skin off of an ugly reality and finds the deeper ugliness within, nestled next to a humanity so stepped-upon, so beat-down, so used that the terror is intimately mixed with sympathy. Nunn's monsters are ultimately human and ultimately frightening. And for readers, nothing is quite so bracingly enjoyable as glancing in the mirror and seeing your own scarred face, sheeted in the blood of others.

But Nunn's novel isn't merely a tale of terror. The horrific landscape of the maquilladoras borders on the beauty of the Pacific Ocean. And though Sam Fahey is damaged goods through and through, he's still a human being capable of greatness. Nunn's love of the huge, cryptic slab of ocean that washes upon our shores is borne out in passages that mine the power of nature, that excavate with a single man on a single board and find somewhere on the border a purity that evokes peace. It's the purity that brings redemption, that cleanses the filth from our veins and our lives.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

All watched over by machines of loving grace (part 2)

I watched the second episode of "All watched over by machines of loving grace" today and found it interesting but mildly annoying.

I'd noted the parallels in the first episode to Fred Turner's book "From Counterculture To Cyberculture", so I wasn't particularly surprised to see Turner make an appearance in this episode, along with Stewart Brand, and the tracing of these ideas back to Bucky Fuller.

What was new about this episode was the repeating of common misconceptions about "The Limits To Growth" and the strange line of reasoning that seemed to argue that the search for "equilibrium" (ie. a scenario where our overall impact on the environment is trimmed to the point where we don't end up having the population crash as we overwhelm the planet's carrying capacity) that "Limits" undertakes is really arguing for a form of political stasis where no radical change is to be contemplated.

While this may have been a goal of the Technocrats that preceded them, it doesn't ring true for the systems theorists.

Curtis even notes that Jay Forrester and the "Limits" crew explicitly said they weren't considering politics, but discounts this as a form of dishonesty rather than accepting that the book is just outlining scenarios around resource consumption, population and pollution rather than being a political manifesto (which would have been entirely counterproductive).

Where is does veer towards politics (in the section entitled "Transitions to a sustainable system", where it prescribes the changes required to make our global economy sustainable), the practices recommended are both positive and a change from the general status quo today - it doesn't read like a manual for perpetuating elite control and forbidding political change, with the non-technical recommendations including :

* poverty reduction
* nonviolent conflict resolution
* accurate/unbiased media
* “decentralisation of economic power, political influence and scientific expertise”
* “stable populations” and “low birth rates” by “individual choice”

Curtis' main point (like Turner's before him) - that the counterculture / hippie / cyberculture ideal of a world without politics is a fantasy - is valid, but he really goes off the rails trying to blame the systems theorists and ecologists for the problems of the world today.

The section about the colour revolutions in eastern europe, in particular, seemed wildly off base - he assumes that this genuinely was a case of leaderless uprising spontaneously organised via network culture - when instead they were orchestrated from the US to expand western influence at the expense of the Russians - and naturally enough faltered once the population realised that their interests weren't really being advanced at all by the changes (just as we'll most likely see with the current "Arab Spring" equivalent).

Cross posted from Peak Energy.