Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

30 Apr 2021, 16:36 p.m.

Recent Books I've Read

The Devil Comes Courting by Courtney Milan -- about people in 1870 falling in love while figuring out how to encode Chinese characters for transmission on the first worldwide telegraphic network. It's like a "Landsailor" view of the kind of infrastructure historical fiction that Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle did: postcolonial, nearly all the major characters are Black or Chinese, focusing on how we can use these advances to connect to and empower ourselves and each other. With interiority and smooching and so on.

Ammonite by Nicola Griffith. As I read it, I grew increasingly sure that this feminist scifi classic is in conversation with a bunch of feminist sf classics I have not read, by Suzy McKee Charnas and so on, which I think the author's note at the end confirms. Still a great story and legible to me regardless. An anthropologist involuntarily joins a couple of civilizations and has to actually face the thing in her that was stopping her from connecting with people. Arduous travel, figuring out how stuff works, people falling in love, super-powerful meditation -- lots of interesting and moving passages.

Nadia Eghbal's Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software: a book that is wrong in ways that accumulate page by page. This surprised me badly, especially since her Roads and Bridges report was so helpful. My copy of Working in Public has corrections and rejoinders from me in the margins of about every fourth page. I need to write a more thorough review but, in short, Eghbal's choices to ignore all projects that don't use GitHub, and all contribution types other than code commits, and all of the effects of venture capital on the economics of open source, and the roles governments can play in funding digital infrastructure, constrict the analysis and recommendations towards a disappointing conclusion that will not help most of the infrastructural open source projects (and their maintainers) I know and work with.

I'm partway through reading Nicola Griffith's Hild, a historical fiction novel about a real person, St. Hilda of Whitby. I am grateful that it starts off with Hild as an observant child trying to figure stuff out, because that's a key way Griffith gives me the necessary exposition to understand seventh-century Britain. And the book gets some form of indie-cred economy units because the only reason I've ever heard of St. Hilda is because of Hild, a bit like how the only reason I've ever heard of Dr. W. H. R. Rivers is because of Pat Barker's beloved World War I novel Regeneration. Neat to get to experience a world I've never known and learn about a person I didn't know. (This is perhaps where I should plug my MetaFilter post about Congressman Dalip Singh Saund, the first Asian American elected to the United States Congress, who in 1956 beat Jacqueline Cochran-Odlum -- a woman who'd flown fighter jets, known Amelia Earheart, and beat several men to get the Republican nomination -- to become Congressman from Burbank, California. I would please like a lush 10-episode prestige cable miniseries period drama about that election!)