We're pack, the science fiction literature podcast equivalent of tubing down a lazy river with a six-pack of beer!
This week we talk about Book 4 of The Years of Rice and Salt, "The Alchemist," where Khalid, Bahram, and Iwang discover the secrets of the universe while attempting to placate the venal khan and suss out the political machinations of his treasurer Nadir Divanbegi.
For a lot of readers, this is the chapter where the book really starts to click. As Hilary puts it, this is where she figured out the project of the book is really to tell the story of the emergence of modernity without a progress narrative and in the absence of Eurocentrism--because, of course, "Europe" doesn't exist!
This book is also where we see how scientific knowledge develops alongside a different set of ideologies, both religious and political. Here, Robinson dramatizes how scientific “discovery” exists within other forms of knowledge and inhabitation of the world. Science is historically contingent and situated among other ways of being in the world, incarnated in the character of Bahram and his Sufi-influenced conception of the world, wiht a heavy emphasis on love. The story about ideas is always a false story - scientific discovery is imbricated with power, specifically imperial power and violent state power. With Khalid, Iwang, and Bahram, as well as the old texts they consult (and frequently discard) discovery is shown to be a communal activity.
The speeds of sound and light, poison gas and WMD, ballistics and baseball, love and learning (love as a giving of attention, like in Aurora)--all these and more are discussed in this very man-heavy chapter where patriarchy is very much still the dominant force.
Tune in to our friends' podcast Better Read than Dead this coming week when special guest Hilary will lend her expertise on Ursula Le Guin's masterpiece, The Dispossessed!: https://anchor.fm/better-read7
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