Join Our Mailing List

Bookmark and Share

  Home > News > Additional Stories

Iconic Drummer Michelle Gonzales and the Xicana Resistance of Riot Grrrl

By Michelle Threadgould
February 29, 2016

“Kiss the freak, faggot,” spat Travis at my friend David and me. Travis was the ringleader of the jocks at my elementary school. Even in the fifth grade I fucking hated that word: faggot.

I didn’t like being a freak either, but I knew I was one. I was one of two Latinas in my grade. I was curvy and had reached puberty early. It was like my breasts offended everyone; boys and girls in my class would stare, men would catcall me in malls or on the street, and my teachers would pull me aside and tell me to “cover up” because of my cleavage. Who the fuck has cleavage at 11 years old? I was a freak.

But David was not. He was the only person in my class who was nice to me.

“Don’t call him that,” I said.

“Are you gonna have your girlfriend fight for you?” Travis asked.

“I’m not a faggot,” David said, as if to himself. He looked no one in the eye. He just wanted to disappear. So did I.

Travis and the other boys pushed David into me. Again. And again. There was no reason to push back — because there was no escape, it would just start over again the next day. To them, we had chosen to be freaks, and they were enacting our just punishment.

I just wanted to learn to be invisible.

When I found hardcore punk as a teenager in the Bay Area in the early 00s, I loved that I could be one of the guys without being sexualized. My favorite band was Fugazi, and they didn’t believe in merchandise or wearing band T-shirts, because if you were into the music, you bought the record. Being punk to me wasn’t about wearing a leather jacket and Doc Martens, it was about saying “fuck the system” with a group of people who understood what that meant.

I was learning the art of being invisible.

So I wore a different kind of punk uniform: boxy T-shirts, jeans, Converse sneakers, and bandanas. I did everything I could not to look like a girl, not to stand out. I thought I was saying fuck the system while really becoming a part of it. I acted like one of the guys, dressed like one of the guys, and forgot that I wasn’t one of the guys. I didn’t want to be a punk girl, I wanted to be punk.

I was learning the art of being invisible.

“Many of the riot grrrl bands, and not all of them, really used sexuality as a performance, and that made Spitboy [Rule] really uncomfortable. We were fairly asexual on stage, and that was by design, because 3 out of 4 of us had experienced some sort of sexual assault or sexual abuse as children, and we just did not want people looking at us like that. We did not want to be hypersexualized,” says Michelle Gonzales, drummer of 90s female hardcore punk band The Spitboy Rule. “I definitely internalized that many men would fetishize me, because of my dark skin, and because I was Latina, so that was one of the many reasons that I was uncomfortable with that, the use of sexuality as performance.”

Photo by Ace Morgan

Michelle Gonzales (front). Photo by Ace Morgan

“And even though it was the same message [as riot grrrl], you know, we were a hardcore band. So we weren’t doing this cutesy, bouncy, girl thing. Our music was not melodic and it did not have a bunch of harmonies. It was straightforward hardcore. And so, our performance onstage, unfortunately, was straightforward hardcore – you know, the way the guys did it.”

“If you want to prove your womanhood, shut up and spread your legs or play.”

When I met Gonzales in Oakland earlier this month, I saw so many of my own experiences reflected in her words. Though we came up in the Bay Area punk scene 10 years apart, we grew up with the same tension: a constant kind of code-switching between the women we were to our families, our friends, and to the public. So many fractured identities, unable to be whole at the same time. Meeting Gonzales wasn’t just meeting someone who got it, it was like looking into the punk mirror, at someone who knew all of my cultural references.

Spitboy was a force in the Bay Area punk scene, and in the scene at large. They shared a split record with one of the first American punk bands to sing in Spanish, Los Crudos, and toured with members of the Subhumans across Europe and Japan. When sifting through photographs of the band, you’ll come across pillars of the punk scene like Ian MacKaye of Fugazi, Aaron Elliott, the former drummer of Crimpshine, and the creator of the zine Cometbus, the ultimate chronicler of punk rock history.

Even though Spitboy was beloved and known in many punk circles, they were still told that as musicians, they “hit hard, for girls.” At one concert, when the band stopped their set because of violence erupting in the pit, a man called out, “Hey, if you want to prove your womanhood, shut up and spread your legs or play.” At the time, it was not uncommon for men in punk to tell women that they didn’t think of them as peers or even as people. It was not uncommon for women to be treated like they were good for just one thing.

Gonzales’ new music memoir The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band is as much about identity as it is about what it was like to grow up in a time where the language of intersectionality was absent and inaccessible. She captures what color blindness meant for people of color in the 90s, and how it translated into invisibility. Yet there was a double consciousness – a feeling that we existed in a colorblind society while we were expected to assimilate into mainstream whiteness.

Part of the richness of Gonzales’ book is her depiction of how these identities were prohibited from coexisting. When the band released the Mi Cuerpo Es Mío EP in the early 90s, a member of a riot grrrl group accused them of cultural appropriation.

Photo by Thang Nguyen

Photo by Thang Nguyen

“She objected to our use of Spanish for the title of our record and accused us of stealing from someone else’s culture, in particular the words ‘mi cuerpo es mío,’ which translates to ‘my body is mine.’ Apparently my body was invisible.”

Gonzales feels she didn’t have the vocabulary to communicate why these words felt like such a betrayal. She didn’t discuss why these words hurt her with her band. Instead, she metabolized and internalized them.

“In conforming to the nonconformist punk ways, adhering mostly to the punk uniform, I had lost something along the way, and I began to experience rumblings of discontent that I didn’t quite understand. I secretly listened to Linda Ronstadt’s Canciones de Mi Padre and sang along, holding long sad notes to words like that, like Ronstadt, [words] I only vaguely understood.”

I was 27 when I first heard Violeta Parra’s “Gracias a la Vida.” At the time, I would play it everywhere: at work, in my car, and at home while writing. I had somehow lived most of my adult life without it, though I don’t know how.

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto
Me ha dado la risa y me ha dado el llanto

Así yo distingo dicha de quebranto
Los dos materiales que forman mi canto
Y el canto de ustedes que es mi mismo canto
Y el canto de todos que es mi propio canto
Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto

To hear Violeta Parra is to accept the beautiful poetry and ugliness of double consciousness. It is to revisit moments when you felt happy, yet very alone. It is both a thank you and a fuck you to the richness of life. “Gracias a la Vida” reflected the complexity I was searching for.

In the songs of Violeta Parra, Facundo Cabral, and Chavela Vargas, I found the same spirit of resistance that attracted me to punk, but this time it was in my language – not just the language of Spanish, but the language of living in-between.

I grew up speaking broken Spanish, but later along in my life, I’d sing these old folk songs to myself and learn new ways to communicate. I’d finally found the words that were inclusive of my identity.

When Martin Sorrondeguy from Los Crudos described Spitboy Rule, he said, “What so many never truly understood was that all four women brought much more than playing instruments to the stage. Each member had stories, struggles, pain, and together they were searching for answers which brought them together as a band, so go ahead, talk your shit. Spitboy just handed you the fucking mic, now what do you have to say?”

“Spitboy just handed you the fucking mic, now what do you have to say?”

Michelle Gonzales and The Spitboy Rule challenged the notion of who gets to speak and whose stories are told. Whether they wrote about misogyny, sexual assault, or violence against women, the band confronted the idea that women in punk needed to shut up and spread their legs or play.

Gonzales’ memoir isn’t just for fans of punk music. It’s for everyone who ever knew they deserved better and fought to reclaim their identity. It’s about the experience of playing your fucking heart out as a woman and finding the language to finally tell your story.

The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band will be available for purchase this spring.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Michelle Cruz Gonzales’s Author Page 

These Racist Collectibles Will Make Your Skin Crawl

By Dave Gilson
Mother Jones Magazine
March/April 2016

And they’re still being made.

DAVID PILGRIM bought his first piece of racist memorabilia in the early 1970s, when he was a youngster in Mobile, Alabama. It was a set of salt and pepper shakers meant to caricature African Americans. "I purchased it and broke it" on purpose, recalls Pilgrim, who is black. Yet over the next few decades, he amassed a sizable collection of what he calls "contemptible collectibles"—once-common household objects and products that mock and stereotype black people.

David Pilgrim Ferris State University
PM Press

In 1996, Pilgrim transformed his 3,200-item collection into the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Michigan's Ferris State University, where he teaches sociology. He presents a selection of these appalling objects and images in his new book, Understanding Jim Crow: Using Racist Memorabilia to Teach Tolerance and Promote Social Justice. As the title implies, the book isn't merely an exercise in shock value. It lays out the philosophy behind Pilgrim's work as a scholar and an activist: that only by acknowledging these artifacts and their persistence in American culture can we honestly confront our not-so-distant past.

Mother Jones: What made you decide to turn your collection into a museum?

David Pilgrim: When I got to Michigan, someone mentioned that they knew this elderly black woman who was an antiques dealer. After many months, she agreed to let me see her personal collection. It was just objects floor to ceiling in a barnlike structure. I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume. It shook me! I thought I'd seen everything. What she had was a testimony to—this is going to sound weird—not just the creativity of racism, but the diversity in it. I remember that day thinking that I wanted to do what she'd done, but in a different way.

"All these millions, and I mean literally millions, of objects—were integral to maintaining Jim Crow."

MJ: How popular were these collectibles?

DP: They were everyday objects in a lot of people's homes, including African Americans'. [The antiques collector] had postcards, posters. She had records, 78s. She had ashtrays. She had a racist bell. I think she had the game called Chopped Up Niggers—it's a puzzle. She told me that she hadn't paid very much for many of those pieces because at the time people were throwing stuff away. Some people were ashamed.

"Nigger Milk," a 1916 magazine advertisement that Pilgrim bought in 1988 Courtesy of David Pilgrim/PM Press

MJ: Why own them in the first place?

DP: These toys, games, sheet music about "coons" and "darkies"—all these millions, and I mean literally millions, of objects—were integral to maintaining Jim Crow. Jim Crow could not work without violence, real violence, but also the threat of violence and the depiction of violence. There are a number of games in the museum where you throw things at black people: "hit the nigger" or "hit the Negro" games. If you had such a game, you were actually creating safe spaces to do that.

An early 1900s game that depicted an African American as a target Courtesy of David Pilgrim/PM Press

MJ: Do you also keep track of racist images and memorabilia online?

DP: Absolutely. With the power of the internet and social media, one person can do the damage that in the old days it took many to do. When you have a race-based incident—and I make it my business to look—within one week there are material objects that reflect that incident in a racist way: lunch boxes, posters, puzzles, T-shirts, pillows. President Obama has been an industry for racist objects. He has been portrayed as a witch doctor, a Rastus character from Cream of Wheat, as a Sambo, as an Uncle Tom—and also as gay, as transgender, as communist, as socialist, as a terrorist, as a Muslim. [Many of the] images that appear online are old. The images from the old "coon" songs from the late 1800s and early 1900s show up in memes, and people don't realize they're older images.

"President Obama has been an industry for racist objects."
A 1940s creamer or pitcher from Pilgrim's collection Courtesy of David Pilgrim/PM Press
1950s fishing lure Courtesy of David Pilgrim/PM Press

MJ: What sort of people collect this stuff?

DP: There are some who want to educate. I've met collectors who collect to destroy the pieces. But by far the biggest segment are speculators who know that a McCoy cookie jar was $3 and you can get several hundred dollars for it now.

MJ: Do you see a role for your collection in today's movement for racial equality?

DP: One of the questions I get often is why we're still having these conversations. And my answer is: The objects are still being made, they're still being sold and distributed. There's not an image in the museum that's not being reproduced in some way. Secondly, the reason we still have these discussions is because race still matters. But Americans don't often talk about it in places where their ideas are challenged. We want our museum to be safe but uncomfortable.

MJ: I found myself hiding your book from my kids. At what age do you think it's okay to expose children to this stuff?

DP: I believe that young people—8, 9, 10—should have discussions appropriate to their age about race. But no one under 12 can come into the museum by themselves, and we discourage parents from bringing them. Right in the center of the room is a lynching tree. Even though it's contextualized, it can be a house of horrors.

A ceramic figure from the 1950s Courtesy of David Pilgrim/PM Press
Pilgrim writes that historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. found this the most disturbing image in the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. It is from an unknown book. Courtesy of David Pilgrim/PM Press
Early 1900s postcard Courtesy of David Pilgrim/PM Press
"Be-Bop the Jivin Jigger" toy Courtesy of David Pilgrim/PM Press
1950s bar set Courtesy of David Pilgrim/PM Press


Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Dr. David Pilgrim's Author Page

Leon Rosselson’s Where are the Barricades reviewed in The Australian

By Mahir Ali
The Australian
February 6th, 2016

4 stars

It is entirely appropriate that Leon Rosselson’s final album should include several examples of what he does best. The title song, aptly prefaced with a blast from the past called Full Marks for Charlie (as in Marx, rather than Chaplin), is a response to the global financial crisis that was composed before the Occupy movement reared its head. “Robespierre is wagging his finger,” it begins, “Karl Marx is scratching his head / They ought to be shooting the bankers / But they’re giving them money instead.” Looters, meanwhile, relates the London riots of 2011 to the dismal history of the British Empire, concluding: “Looting, a great British pastime / The upper classes loot by stealth / Bankers, tycoons, City gamblers / Siphon off the nation’s wealth / Centuries of high-class looting / Payback time is overdue / Hyde Park, Kensington and Knightsbridge / Watch out! Next time it could be you.”

In his more than 50 years as a singer-songwriter who has impressed critics more than the record-buying public, provocation has been Rosselson’s forte, albeit not exclusively in the sphere of politics. One of his greatest accomplishments lies in giving voice to the hopes and dreams of the voiceless, often eccentrics and outcasts who prosper or wither at a tangent from society.

The song Benefits portrays someone who “cheats” what’s left of the welfare state by using his vegetable patch to grow flowers instead. I’m Going Where the Suits Will Shine My Shoes, delivered in three different voices, with long-time collaborators Janet Russell and Roy Bailey pitching in, encapsulates the wishful thinking of the dispossessed. Dispossession also surfaces as a regular theme in Rosselson’s reflections on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As someone who once saw himself as a socialist Zionist but eventually found himself philosophically estranged from the Israeli state, he has frequently focused on parallels between the persecution of European Jews in the 1930s and that of the Palestinians since 1948, and The Ballad of Rivka and Mohammed poignantly pinpoints his concerns. Over the decades, Rosselson has regularly been referred to by critics as an outstanding songwriter, and he has long been esteemed within the folk fraternity, with the likes of Martin Carthy and Frankie Armstrong serving as regular collaborators. The fact that fame and fortune have passed him by arguably testifies to his authenticity as an artist who took his cues from Georges Brassens and Jacques Brel rather than Ewan MacColl. It is not particularly surprising that someone with Rosselson’s wit, erudition and sense of history has troubled the charts only once, with Ballad of a Spycatcher, recorded with Billy Bragg and the Oyster Band, back in 1987, or that his The World Turned Upside Down is often misconstrued as a 17th-century folk song. At 81, Rosselson has every right to call it a day. But his singing and songwriting has always been a calling rather than a career, which would suggest this album may not be quite the end of the story.

Buy CD now  | Back to artist homepage

West of Eden reviewed in Slingshot Magazine

By A. Iwasa
Slingshot Magazine
January 2016

Coming out of what started as the Communes Project, a collaborative effort between the Institute of International Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and the Mendocino Institute in 2003, this book is a striking example of the radical potential to utilize the resources of academia when people make a point of making them accessible to the general public.

Communes are placed historically both in the broader sense of general Utopian history, and the more particular focus of the book revolving around the 1968 social upheavals.

Fantastic chapters on the Native American occupation of Alcatraz and communalism in the black Panther Party work to dispel the myth of communal living as a white people thing.

Prominent also are back to the land projects such as the Morning Star and Black Bear Ranches. First hand accounts abound, and sources are extremely well cited for those interested in following up. The ongoing legacies of the communes and the people involved are also addressed from the pot economy to high tech industry.

This book is a must read for anyone interested in communal living, especially those now who think our much smaller and tamer communal living movement, or lack there of, is The Revolution. We’ve got a long way to go to rebuild what was, and the lessons we can learn from past efforts should be studied in works like this.

I think virtually every commune dweller past and present could fill a book this size alone with great stories fun and sad, economic and historical.  All these sorts of details are very important, and the editors were great about never getting stuck on any of the specifics.

On a personal level, I was able to make it in the Bay Area from Slingshot 119 to 120′s editing largely because of a communal living situation I was able to get into on my credentials as a member of the Slingshot Collective doing research on the topic.  Almost every place I’ve lived since I moved out of my mother’s house For The Last Time back in 2003 has been some sort of collective, so the topic is very dear to my heart.

I made a specific point of getting our review copy at the Howard Zinn Book Fair from PM Press because of this, and even though it’s a little old, Ramsey didn’t hesitate to donate it to us.  It would be great to see more work like this, both about the 1960s and ’70s, and the time since then which has been fascinating in its own ways.

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Cal Winslow's Page | Back to Iain Boal's Page

No Gods, No Masters, No Peripheries in Antipode

by Adam J. Barker
Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography
February 2016

It is not an easy thing to make an old refrain ring anew–to take a well-worn and understood phrase, loaded with specific histories, tied up with particular traditions, and to add to it, straining to make a connection to new and more diverse discourses. That is precisely the task that Barry Maxwell and Raymond Craib, the editors of No Gods, No Masters, No Peripheries, undertake when they assert that the imperialist core-periphery divide that continues to haunt much anarchist theory and study must be deconstructed and deposed as firmly as anarchists have rejected gods and masters. Arranged around five thematic sections, and spanning from traditional archival histories of labour and anti-statist movements, through literary “interventions” into the connections between capitalism, genocide, and some particularly scary stories about vampires, to surrealist grappling with Nietzsche’s “mercenary” words, this is a wild, fun, and varied collection. How much it contributes to a breaking down of core-periphery tensions and inequalities is debatable, but it is certain to show new perspectives on anarchism to even the most radical reader.

The five thematic sections of the book divide up the chapters into different clusters based on interesting and important–if occasionally vague–criteria. Titled, respectively, “Learning From Indigenous Experience: Anarchism and Indigeneity”, “A Thousand Links: Transnational Lines in an Anarchist Age”, “The Horizon at the Centre: No Peripheries”, “The Black Mirror: Anarchism, Surrealism, and the Situationists” and “Black, Red, and Grey: Anarchism, Communism, and Political Theory”, these sections have in common only their commitment to conjoin anarchist discourses with those potentially parallel or intersecting strands of libertarian thought beyond the recognized anarchist milieu. Many of the chapters are standard scholarly essays, including some very rich archival explorations related to labour movements or thinkers and leaders important to particular causes, but not all. First, the book is shot through with illustrations and photos, some related directly to chapters in the book and others to larger discursive frameworks. Further, two “interventions” push the collection beyond the expected: the first, a reflection on May Day by historian Peter Linebaugh that winds through terrifying tales of vampires, through critiques of austerity and the ties between capital and colonization, to argue for a need to slay the “monsters” of the global economic crisis (p.80-113); the second, a photo essay by Egypt-based artist Bahia Shehab of her sustained activist campaign that involved spray-painting an evolving series of protest slogans and symbols such as “No to military rule” and “No to stealing the revolution” in a public space in Cairo (p.233-241).

In addition to these methodological departures, the sheer diversity of topics and research makes this collection a veritable carnival of interesting and surprising ideas, though like any carnival some of the prizes are easier to win than others: in some of the dense archival histories and the highly-conceptual engagements with surrealism or political theory, the level of detail and specific knowledge required to see exactly what the chapter is trying to do can be daunting to those (like myself) who do not regularly work in those registers.

Across the five thematic sections, there are several apparent cross-cutting subject matters. First, there are those historical works that seek to excavate or expand our understanding of the way that anarchism has been particularised in specific place-based struggles or cultural-national-ethnic contexts. The majority of these studies are rooted broadly in Latin America, which is unsurprising given the strong history of Leftist organising throughout that region. There is: an investigation into the importance of the mestizo identity of “libertarian ideologue” Luis Cusicanqui in Boliva (p.12-21); an examination of the relationship between Indigenous and socialist thought in the practices of the Zapatistas (p.22-43); a critical refutation of the myth of the “itinerant, stateless radical” exemplified through In some editions of the book (including mine), the pictures associated with the “Spraying No” intervention are misplaced, appearing in the middle of the previous chapter.

the persecution of Spanish-born Chilean organiser Casimiro Barrios Fernandez (p.158-179); an unearthing of the vibrant and powerful anarchist-syndicalist alliances among marine and river-front workers in Brazil during the early 20th century (p.180-214); an exploration of urban-rural solidarity behind anarchist movements at the same time in Peru (p.215-232); and a complex mapping of the “articulation” of anarchist praxis in Mexican political discourses (p.336-348). That accounts for nearly half of the 14 “academic essay” chapters in the book, establishing that, for lived examples of anarchist practices, scholars should not only look to the common examples of the Spanish Revolution and the Paris Commune, but at the century and a half of Leftist struggle throughout Latin America. These chapters, while not methodologically homogeneous, often rely on reading against the archival grain and paying close attention to the lives and words of activists and organisers to show how theories that are articulated in simple terms in the abstract can become both more powerful and also far more complex upon application.

Another cluster of works pursues an interrogation of anarchism itself, in an attempt to figure out how it can be used to find “meaning” across seemingly disparate struggles in the
global present. Many of these chapters are more theoretical or conceptual in nature, while still speaking to the quotidian, material realities of people and communities in struggle against the
state and capital. These include: an intense and necessarily partial recounting of the interactions between the IWW-inspired Chicago Surrealist group and French surrealists spanning about four decades (p.244-262); a re-reading of Bakunin through the works of
surrealist poet Will Alexander in the hope of receiving “signals from places of life that we can hardly imagine” (p.282); a challenging meeting-of-the-minds between one-time situationist Raoul Vaneigem and anarchist bugbear (or bad boy?) Friedrich Nietzsche (p.283-313); and Silvia Federici’s closing chapter that meditates on the importance of seeing global anarchism as both always already present and also dynamically shifting, as anarchism, Marxism, and feminism are articulated in increasingly complex relational formations (p.349-357). Perhaps also in this section we could place Adrienne Hurley’s chapter, which draws out transnational links between student-driven protests in Quebec, Canada, and Japan, through the lens of educational institutions as part of new regimes of securitisation and the policing of dissent (p.116-130). While not as specifically probing of “anarchism” as the other chapters discussed here, Hurley’s chapter is a challenge to many anarchists who fall into one of two broad camps–those who have been radicalised through student politics and exposure to radical scholarship who often overlook their own role in reproducing social hierarchies, and those grassroots activists who dismiss universities as inherently oppressive and in so doing may miss the vibrancy and potential of university-incubated student and youth activism.

The remaining chapters, while not unified by approach or content, mark some of the most intriguing contributions of the volume, thinking through anarchism not as a primary current or referent, but as something that can be appended to or provide fresh critical perspectives on existing struggles. As Craib makes clear in the Foreword to the book, these chapters are not “looking for anarchism” in existing struggles–a worthwhile pursuit, and a vibrant one within geography thanks to the popularity of works like Weapons of the Weak by James Scott (1985), and recent provocations by Simon Springer and colleagues (2012) in this journal and elsewhere, but also a pursuit that reveals only a limited part of the wider spectrum of libertarian and autonomous action. So it is that the 2004 insurrection in Kabylia, Algeria, is examined not to find anarchist tendencies within it, but rather to reveal horizontalist practices, successes, and failures that many anarchists will not be aware of, and will undoubtedly find useful in their organising and critique (p.131-155). Likewise, two concepts–“revolution”, a term close to many anarchist hearts, and “enlightenment”, a term usually rejected as associated with liberalism–are brought into conversation through the framework of the Arab Spring (p.316-335). Rather than recuperating an anarchistic version of liberal enlightenment, this chapter demonstrates how the dialectics of “revolution”–the interplay between social and scientific paradigm shifts–require us to think through liberal and totalitarian interpretations of “enlightenment thinking” which inform the imaginations even of people seeking radical breaks with (some) social and political traditions. Finally, in what is for me the stand-out chapter of the book, Maia Ramnath deftly weaves together anarchist and anticapitalist theory, with social and cultural histories of India and Brahmanism, frameworks of indigeneity and belonging, and a strong dose of critical analyses of race and colonialism, into an open-ended discussion of these intersecting, conflicting, complicating trajectories (p.44-79). This chapter, more than any other in the volume, challenges the “stale formalism” of many anarchist inquiries, raising questions of how religion, culture, caste, race, indigeneity, and capitalist development all complicate and shift the frame of liberatory and autonomous thought. After underlining nearly every sentence in the chapter, I am convinced–not of any particular argument, as the chapter makes few set claims, but of the need for the conversation to progress.

The book overall is not without flaws. While the Foreword and framing of the first thematic section make clear that addressing the existence, persistence, and revolutionary aspirations of Indigenous peoples in the Americas is both a priority for this book and should be for anarchism more generally, there seems to be an obvious gap or hole in the text around this issue. While the first thematic section opens with a quote from Mohawk scholar Taiaiake Alfred, whose 2005 book Wasasé sought to begin sketching a political philosophy of “anarchoindigenism”, and the acknowledgements note that Yellowknives Dene political theorist Glen Coulthard–whose 2014 book brings Marx and Fanon into sustained dialogue–participated in the original conference, the absence of articles or interventions from them or their contemporaries is noted. The tradition of “indigenous resurgence” that they, along with Audra Simpson (Mohawk), Leanne Simpson (Anishinaabe), and similar scholars, are articulating is to me one of the most important developments for anarchist thought generally.

In a different vein, while the volume is explicitly set as an exploration of the messy, mutable entanglements between anarchism and other forms of thought and modes of social mobilisation, it does occasionally stray towards the “looking for anarchism” tendency that the editors obviously hope to avoid. Especially in some of the detailed histories, and perhaps out
of necessity given that these often excavate little-understood moments of resistance and rebellion, anarchism and anarchists seem constantly thrust to centre stage. This is not always
a failing: for example, in Geoffroy de Laforcade’s engagement with anarchist and syndicalist organising among marine workers in Brazil, the sustained focus on anarchism allows for a clarification of the dynamic relationship between anarchism and other forces at work in the Brazilian labour movement, both those hostile to and supportive of labour autonomy. de Laforcade’s chapter brilliantly shows how many anarchist victories came through cooperation
with trade unions of various kinds and relied on tactics that many “purist” anarchists might reject out of hand (voting, negotiating with government officials, and so on). Perhaps, though,
what this demonstrates is that there still is a need to “look for” anarchism in diverse social movements, but that–as de Laforcade demonstrates–this should be because partnerships with other social movements often hold the key to making anarchist ambitions into realistic activist goals.

In sum, this is book that anyone interested in radical politics should read. Not all of the contributions will inspire the same levels of excitement–or outrage–but they are likely to provoke some manner of response. And that, I think, is the point of an edited volume such as this one: by adding the demand to reject peripheries along with gods and masters, Craib, Maxwell, and their contributors are saying that even the radical vision of the world presented
by “classical” anarchism may still need further radicalisation. The book does not collapse the core-periphery dialectic any more than it eliminates divine beings with the force of its logic–
but it does demand that we consider looking for the locus of radical struggles in new and very different places, and in fact, almost everywhere.

Alfred T (2005) Wasáse: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom. Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Coulthard G (2014) Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Scott J C (1985) Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press

Springer S, Ince A, Pickerill J, Brown G and Barker A J (2012) Reanimating anarchist geographies: A new burst of colour.

Antipode 44(5):1591-1604

Buy the book | Buy the e-Book | Check out Raymond Craib and Barry Maxwell Editor's Pages

One Chord Wonders in Scanner Zine

Scanner Zine
January 31st, 2016

Over the years there have been a number of tomes that have attempted to analyze, quantify, understand, justify, decry and simply observe the phenomena that was Punk Rock. Recent years have seen these books branch out into Hardcore and other sub-genres, but still the resounding bulk are those about the UK 1977 explosion (and implosion come to that!). So, does the world really need another succession of prose that over-analyze something that was as organic, uncontrived (in the most part), vitriolic and physical as Punk Rock - something which was born of its time - as a reaction against the depression and mediocrity of late 70s England?

In this case, the answer is a resounding YES! Y’see Scannerites, this book is a reprint of what was the first of its kind. Originally printed in 1985, this has been out of print for many years and represents the very first in-depth critique of the thing we call... The Punk Rock.

Taking up six chapters, Laing analyses Punk from its Formation and continues through Naming, Listening, Looking, Framing and the Aftermath before a Conclusion rounds the main book out. He uses what are considered to be the first of the UK Punk albums as templates (‘The Clash’, ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’, ‘Damned Damned Damned’, ‘Rattus Norvegicus IV’ and ‘Pure Mania’) along with a smattering of the early UK Punk singles and places them against what was happening in the charts of the era. All aspects of Punk are analysed in those chapters, from the bands that acted as precursors, through to the names of bands and individuals, the acts of Pogoing and gobbing, fashion, politics and lyrical origins, mainstream music press and fanzines, major labels and the advent of independents and the removal of the breakdown between band and audience. There is also a look at what was coming in the wake of ‘77 Punk with mentions of CRASS, PUBLIC IMAGE LTD, EXPLOITED, SOUTHERN DEATH CULT and AU PAIRS. It’s a well researched narrative and, while definitely written from a deeply analytical perspective, it rarely becomes ponderous, pretentious or overtly highbrow.

The books is filled out with a Foreword by TV SMITH, an Introduction from the original book and an updated Preface for this print. There is also a reprint of the original picture section and a bounty of Appendixes including a 1976-1980 Chronology, select discographies and a look at the 1976 charts and chart positions of the original brace of Punk releases.

It’s interesting to juxtapose this, the first of its kind, with the plethora of similar books that have been printed since. I’ve read a few lately that come on like some fucking University exercise written by ‘graduates’ who wanna get a high grade but retain a ‘cutting edge’ for a job - no doubt as some overly-educated, under-experienced music ‘journalist’. One Chord Wonders, and Laing’s narrative has no suggestion of that. This reads as a genuine study of what Punk was in the late 70s and born from a desire to discover what created the monster and not shy away from the monster’s failings and hypocrisies.

Let’s face it, 1976 was 40 years ago; a lot has changed. A lot has become eulogized, aggrandized, bastardized and mythologized. Given this was written in the early 1980s, it should be viewed as a first-hand account of one of the most inspiring times in UK culture and, if not a defining text on 70s Punk, then certainly one of the most unbiased and articulate of its kind.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Dave Laing's Author Page


In ancient Greek philosophy, kairos signifies the right time or the “moment of transition.” We believe that we live in such a transitional period. The most important task of social science in time of transformation is to transform itself into a force of liberation.

Kairos, an editorial imprint of the Anthropology and Social Change department housed in the California Institute of Integral Studies, publishes groundbreaking works in critical social sciences, including anthropology, sociology, geography, theory of education, political ecology, political theory, and history.

Series editor: Andrej Grubačić

1. Practical Utopia: Strategies for a Desirable Society by Michael Albert
2. In, Against, and Beyond Capitalism: The San Francisco Lectures by John Holloway
3. Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism edited by Jason W. Moore
4. Birth Work as Care Work: Stories from Activist Birth Communities by Alana Apfel
5. We Are the Crisis of Capital: A John Holloway Reader by John Holloway







Practical Utopia: Strategies for a Desirable Society
Author: Michael Albert • Preface: Noam Chomsky
Publisher: PM Press/Kairos
ISBN: 978-1-62963-381-7
Published: 08/2017
Format: Paperback
Size: 8x5
Page count: 288 pages
Subjects: Political Activism/Social Movements

Michael Albert’s latest work, Practical Utopia is a succinct and thoughtful discussion of ambitious goals and practical principles for creating a desirable society. It presents concepts and their connections to current society; visions of what can be in a preferred, participatory future; and an examination of the ends and means required for developing a just society. Neither shying away from the complexity of human issues, nor reeking of dogmatism, Practical Utopia presupposes only concern for humanity.

Part one offers conceptual tools for understanding society and history, for discerning the nature of the oppressions people suffer and the potentials they harbor. Part two promotes a vision for a better way of organizing economy, polity, kinship, culture, ecology, and international relations. It is not a blueprint, of course, but does address the key institutions needed if people are to be free to determine their own circumstances. Part three investigates the means of seeking change using a variety of tactics and programs.


Practical Utopia immediately struck me because it is written by a leftist who is interested in the people winning and defeating oppression. The book is an excellent jumping off point for debates on the framework to look at actually existing capitalism, strategy for change, and what we need to do about moving forward. It speaks to many of the questions faced by grassroots activists who want to get beyond demanding change but who, instead, want to create a dynamic movement that can bring a just world into existence. As someone who comes out of a different part of the Left than does Michael Albert, I was nevertheless excited by the challenges he threw in front of the readers of this book. Many a discussion will be sparked by the arguments of this work.”
—Bill Fletcher Jr., author of “They’re Bankrupting Us!” And 20 Other Myths about Unions

“Albert mulls over the better society that we may create after capitalism, provoking much thought and offering a generous, hopeful vision of the future. Albert’s prescriptions for action in the present are modest and wise, his suggestions for building the future are ambitious and humane.”
—Milan Rai

“Michael Albert is an important thinker who takes us beyond radical denunciations and pretentious ‘analysis’ to a thoughtful, profound meditation on what a good society can be like.”
—Howard Zinn

“With his combination of hard-edged logic and visionary hope, Michael Albert is one of the treasures of the Left.”
—Barbara Ehrenreich

Buy the book now | Buy the e-Book now | Michael Albert's Page


In, Against, and Beyond Capitalism: The San Francisco Lectures
Author: John Holloway • Preface by Andrej Grubačić
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-62963-109-7
Published: 03/2016
Format: Paperback
Size: 8x5
Page count: 112
Subjects: Politics-Radicalism

In, Against, and Beyond Capitalism is based on three recent lectures delivered by John Holloway at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. The lectures focus on what anticapitalist revolution can mean today—after the historic failure of the idea that the conquest of state power was the key to radical change—and offer a brilliant and engaging introduction to the central themes of Holloway’s work.

The lectures take as their central challenge the idea that “We Are the Crisis of Capital and Proud of It.” This runs counter to many leftist assumptions that the capitalists are to blame for the crisis, or that crisis is simply the expression of the bankruptcy of the system. The only way to see crisis as the possible threshold to a better world is to understand the failure of capitalism as the face of the push of our creative force. This poses a theoretical challenge. The first lecture focuses on the meaning of “We,” the second on the understanding of capital as a system of social cohesion that systematically frustrates our creative force, and the third on the proposal that we are the crisis of this system of cohesion.

“His Marxism is premised on another form of logic, one that affirms movement, instability, and struggle. This is a movement of thought that affirms the richness of life, particularity (non-identity) and ‘walking in the opposite direction’; walking, that is, away from exploitation, domination, and classification. Without contradictory thinking in, against, and beyond the capitalist society, capital once again becomes a reified object, a thing, and not a social relation that signifies transformation of a useful and creative activity (doing) into (abstract) labor. Only open dialectics, a right kind of thinking for the wrong kind of world, non-unitary thinking without guarantees, is able to assist us in our contradictory struggle for a world free of contradiction.” —Andrej Grubačić, from his Preface


“Holloway’s work is infectiously optimistic.”
—Steven Poole, Guardian (UK)

“Holloway’s thesis is indeed important and worthy of notice”
—Richard J.F. Day, Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | John Holloway's Page


Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism
Editor: Jason W. Moore
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-62963-148-6
Published: 04/01/2016
Format: Paperback
Size: 9x6
Page count: 304
Subjects: Political Theory/Nature-Environment

The Earth has reached a tipping point. Runaway climate change, the sixth great extinction of planetary life, the acidification of the oceans—all point toward an era of unprecedented turbulence in humanity’s relationship within the web of life. But just what is that relationship, and how do we make sense of this extraordinary transition?

Anthropocene or Capitalocene? offers answers to these questions from a dynamic group of leading critical scholars. They challenge the theory and history offered by the most significant environmental concept of our times: the Anthropocene. But are we living in the Anthropocene, literally the “Age of Man”? Is a different response more compelling, and better suited to the strange—and often terrifying—times in which we live? The contributors to this book diagnose the problems of Anthropocene thinking and propose an alternative: the global crises of the twenty-first century are rooted in the Capitalocene, the Age of Capital.

Anthropocene or Capitalocene? offers a series of provocative essays on nature and power, humanity, and capitalism. Including both well-established voices and younger scholars, the book challenges the conventional practice of dividing historical change and contemporary reality into “Nature” and “Society,” demonstrating the possibilities offered by a more nuanced and connective view of human environment-making, joined at every step with and within the biosphere. In distinct registers, the authors frame their discussions within a politics of hope that signal the possibilities for transcending capitalism, broadly understood as a “world-ecology” that joins nature, capital, and power as a historically evolving whole.

Contributors include Jason W. Moore, Eileen Crist, Donna J. Haraway, Justin McBrien, Elmar Altvater, Daniel Hartley, and Christian Parenti.


“We had best start thinking in revolutionary terms about the forces turning the world upside down if we are to put brakes on the madness. A good place to begin is this book, whose remarkable authors bring together history and theory, politics and ecology, economy and culture, to force a deep look at the origins of global transformation.”
—Richard Walker, professor emeritus of geography, UC Berkeley, and author of The Capitalist Imperative, The New Social Economy, The Conquest of Bread, and The Country in the City

“We live in the Capitalocene, the contributors to this volume argue, and the urgent, frightening and hopeful consequences of this reality-check become apparent in chapters that force the reader to think. In a time when there is generally no time or space to think . . . we need a book like this more than ever.”
—Bram Büscher, professor of sociology, Wageningen University, and author of Transforming the Frontier: Peace Parks and the Politics of Neoliberal Conservation in Southern Africa

“In this pioneering volume, leading critics call for a different conceptual framework, which places global change in a new, ecologically-oriented, history of capitalism—the Capitalocene. No scholar or activist interested in the debate about the Anthropocene will want to miss this volume.”
—Fredrik Albritton Jonsson, associate professor of history, University of Chicago, and author of Enlightenment’s Frontier: The Scottish Highlands and the Origins of Environmentalism

“Jason W. Moore’s scope is vast, and few could pull off so ambitious an analytical achievement. . . . There’s enough scholarship, wit and insight . . . for a lifetime.”
—Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved and The Value of Nothing

“Jason W. Moore’s radical and rigorous work is, and richly deserves to be, agenda-setting.”
—China Miéville, author of The City & the City

Buy the book | Download e-Book | Jason W. Moore's Page


Birth Work as Care Work: Stories from Activist Birth Communities
Author: Alana Apfel • Foreword: Loretta J. Ross • Preface: Victoria Law • Introduction: Silvia Federici
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-62963-151-6
Published: 05/01/2016
Format: Paperback
Size: 8x5
Page count: 128
Subjects: Health-Childbirth/Politics

Birth Work as Care Work presents a vibrant collection of stories and insights from the front lines of birth activist communities. The personal has once more become political, and birth workers, supporters, and doulas now find themselves at the fore of collective struggles for freedom and dignity.

The author, herself a scholar and birth justice organiser, provides a unique platform to explore the political dynamics of birth work; drawing connections between birth, reproductive labor, and the struggles of caregiving communities today. Articulating a politics of care work in and through the reproductive process, the book brings diverse voices into conversation to explore multiple possibilities and avenues for change.

At a moment when agency over our childbirth experiences is increasingly centralized in the hands of professional elites, Birth Work as Care Work presents creative new ways to reimagine the trajectory of our reproductive processes. Most importantly, the contributors present new ways of thinking about the entire life cycle, providing a unique and creative entry point into the essence of all human struggle—the struggle over the reproduction of life itself.


“I love this book, all of it. The polished essays and the interviews with birth workers dare to take on the deepest questions of human existence.”
—Carol Downer, cofounder of the Feminist Women’s Heath Centers of California and author of A Woman’s Book of Choices

“This volume provides theoretically rich, practical tools for birth and other care workers to collectively and effectively fight capitalism and the many intersecting processes of oppression that accompany it. Birth Work as Care Work forcefully and joyfully reminds us that the personal is political, a lesson we need now more than ever.”
—Adrienne Pine, author of Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras

“All we are doing in this world is living and dying, creating and destroying. We generate new life in our children and in our ideas. Becoming a birth supporter, getting to be an attendant to the miracle of childbirth, has transformed my social justice work. Our visions for justice are what we are birthing in this world. Learning to listen, learning to trust the body and the people, and learning to breath will transform our movement work. Birth Work as Care Work demonstrates these lessons through showing us ways we can learn together to support the birth of new worlds.”
—Adrienne Brown, coeditor of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements

“This book places the doula—as a caring birth activist—at the heart of reproductive care work in our modern society. Doula, a new name for an ancient traditional role, reappears today as women daring to reclaim their power through birthing and caring for their children.”
—Valérie Dupin cofounder and cochair of the Association Doulas de France

“Alana Apfel is an artist and a robust one. Weaving the logic behind birth, care, and reproduction together, Birth Work as Care Work documents how caregivers and communities are marginalised in society on a daily basis whilst working to sustain themselves and ironically, to sustain life itself. Her thesis seeks to put the human back into being.”
—Chitra Subramaniam, Editor-in Chief of The News Minute

Buy book now | Download e-Book nowAlana Apfel's Page


We Are the Crisis of Capital: A John Holloway Reader
Author: John Holloway
Publisher: PM Press/Kairos
ISBN: 978-1-62963-225-4
Published: 03/2017
Format: Paperback
Size: 9x6
Page count: 320
Subjects: Political Theory

We Are the Crisis of Capital collects articles and excerpts written by radical academic, theorist, and activist John Holloway over a period of forty years.

Different times, different places, and the same anguish persists throughout our societies. This collection asks, “Is there a way out?” How do we break capital, a form of social organisation that dehumanises us and threatens to annihilate us completely? How do we create a world based on the mutual recognition of human dignity?

Holloway’s work answers loudly, “By screaming NO!” By thinking from our own anger and from our own creativity. By trying to recover the “We” who are buried under the categories of capitalist thought. By opening the categories and discovering the antagonism they conceal, by discovering that behind the concepts of money, state, capital, crisis, and so on, there moves our resistance and rebellion.

An approach sometimes referred to as Open Marxism, it is an attempt to rethink Marxism as daily struggle. The articles move forward, influenced by the German state derivation debates of the seventies, by the CSE debates in Britain, and the group around the Edinburgh journal Common Sense, and then moving on to Mexico and the wonderful stimulus of the Zapatista uprising, and now the continuing whirl of discussion with colleagues and students in the Posgrado de Sociología of the Benemérita Universidad Autùnoma de Puebla.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now |  John Holloway's Page



Archive That, Comrade! Left Legacies and the Counter Culture of Remembrance
Author: Phil Cohen
Publisher: PM Press/Kairos
ISBN: 978-1-62963-506-4
Published: 07/01/2018
Format: Paperback
Size: 9x6
Page count: 192
Subjects: Archive Studies/Politics

The book explores issues of archival theory and practice that arise for any project aspiring to provide an open access platform for political dialogue and democratic debate. It is informed by the author’s experience of writing a memoir about his involvement in the London “underground” scene of the 1960s, the London street commune movement, and the occupation of 144 Piccadilly, an event that hit the world’s headlines for ten days in July 1969.

After a brief introduction that sets the contemporary scene of “archive fever,” the book considers the political legacy of 1960s counterculture for what it reveals about the process of commemoration. The argument then opens out to discuss the notion of historical legacy and its role in “the dialectic of generations.” How far can the archive serve as a platform for dialogue and debate between different generations of activists in a culture that fetishizes the evanescent present, practices a profound amnesia about its counterfactual past, and forecloses the sociological imagination of an alternative future? The following section looks at the emergence of a complex apparatus of public fame and celebrity around the spectacle of dissidence and considers how far the Left has subverted or merely mirrored the dominant forms of reputation making and public recognition. Can the Left establish its own autonomous model of commemoration?

The final section takes up the challenge of outlining a model for the democratic archive as a revisionary project, creating a resource for building collective capacity to sustain struggles of long duration amongst groups on the front lines of resistance to globalization. A postscript examines how archival strategies of the alt-right have intervened at this juncture to elaborate a politics of false memory.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Phil Cohen's Page

An Interview with Mark Van Steenwyk


Where did you get the idea for A Wolf at the Gate?

I’ve loved the legend of Saint Francis and the wolf for years. It is one of the stories about peacemaking I’ve told my son. Unfortunately, Jonas prefers violent stories. I wrote A Wolf at the Gate for him. I wanted to tell the most exciting story I could, but one that still subverted the old myth of redemptive violence.

Previously, you’ve written or contributed to works of non-fiction–particularly in areas of spirituality and radical politics. How did you decide to write a story for children?

We live in a dark world. Our nation has been at war for most of my life. Increasingly, folks are protesting economic injustice, environmental injustice, racial injustice…but we don’t seem much closer to justice.

Adults are often set in their ways, but children often have an imagination for a new world. In a way, I don’t see this book as very much of a departure from my earlier books. The big difference is my audience. I’m starting to write for children because I believe that our hopes for justice rest with them.

Have you been inspired by any authors in particular?

I’ve been reading Lloyd Alexander’s stuff my whole life. I love the Prydain Chronicles. He has a way of playing with folklore that keeps it timeless but fresh. I’m also a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and have been influenced by his willingness to let his children’s stories linger in darkness. And I’m indebted to Ursula Le Guin. She’s one of the greatest writers of the past 100 years. Her storytelling and prose are amazing, but the thing that sets her apart is her ability to explore social constructs in her work without being preachy.

Why is the wolf red?

There are a couple reasons for that. Firstly, it is a bit of a visual pun. The book presents what could be interpreted as a leftist economic vision. So, she is a red wolf both literally and figuratively. Secondly, the color red captures the violence of her character. But I also think it just works better aesthetically. It is a children’s book, after all. We don’t need to be bound by convention…and something about a bright red wolf captivates my imagination.

Do you have another project in the works? If so, what is it?

In terms of children’s literature, I’ve been working on a five-part epic about a post-apocalyptic squirrel that I’m calling the Hackberry Saga. It actually takes place within the same world as A Wolf at the Gate, but thousands of years in the future. The main character, Hackberry, lives in a world where certain animals have risen and human beings are almost entirely lost to legend.

Buy A Wolf at the Gate | Buy the e-Book of A Wolf at the Gate | Back to Mark Van Steenwyk's Author Page

Gypsy reviewed in Locus Magazine

by Paul Di Filippo

To examine the forty-year-long bibliography of Carter Scholz at ISFDB is to dream of alternate timelines. First, a continuum where, perhaps, circumstances—interior and exterior to the author—allowed Scholz to produce a far greater amount of fiction than the modestly substantial amount on display. But also we can imagine a timeline where this exact same CV in all its glory has drawn the notice of myriad critics and fans, and thus elevated Scholz to the stratosphere of literary acclaim due to his grace, sophistication, and unflinchingly bravura storytelling.

But, alas, our genre is full of unsung geniuses—at least, unsung in the mainstream world. R. A. Lafferty, David Bunch, Avram Davidson, Carol Emshwiller, where are your laurels? If Scholz is keeping company with these illustrious peers and forebears, he is already in as magnificent a legion as any writer could want.

Scholz’s new book—a short novel, two stories, an essay, and an interview—appears from PM Press, a publisher with a progressive slant who has been dipping a toe into science fiction under the auspices of curator Terry Bisson. They’ve published Le Guin, John Shirley, Eleanor Arnason, Rudy Rucker, Karen Joy Fowler, and the VanderMeers, among others, so Scholz shares eminent stablemates.

Gypsy is the tale of a meticulously rendered but kludgy slower-than-light starship fleeing a systems-crashing totalitarian Earth. As that synopsis might foreshadow, the tale is not a barrel of laughs. To cut to the chase, the starship mission fails. Or does it? Scholz gives us a devastating tale where an admirable, almost superhuman heroism does not result in a clear-cut victory—or any conventional victory at all—but rather in a spiritual or symbolical triumph amidst ashes, rendered all the more laudable by a kind of defiant, Battle of Thermopylae stubbornness and clarity of purpose.

We start out with a devastating portrait of our planet, ecological and cultural, circa the 2040s. All the harshest physical and sociopolitical trends we can see in 2015 have been accelerated and pushed to the max. Even the invention of clean practical fusion power has been subverted and denied. The Earth and human civilization seems to be circling the drain. “Its failures, its cruelties, its grandeurs, its aspirations—all extirpated to the root, in a fury of self-loathing  that fed on what it destroyed.”

Now, you can argue whether this is a likely future or not. But you cannot argue with the forcefulness and almost cyberpunkian ingenuity with which Scholz builds this future. In minute detail, he illustrates all our “poison poetry of ruin and catastrophe and longing.” Fittingly for a writer who came of age in the 1970s, he harks back to the great quartet of doomsday novels by John Brunner. But he layers on four additional decades of bad news and disappointments.

Having established this background, he foregrounds scientist Roger Fry and his sixteen compatriots. These are the core plotters who want to build, with stolen materials, and to launch, all in secret, the starship Gypsy to Alpha Centauri. (Shades of another Seventies icon, Jefferson Starship’s Blows Against the Empire.) Our point of view lies mainly onboard the failing ship as a succession of “stewards” are awakened from cold sleep during crisis points in the ship’s 80-year-plus journey. These travelers are particularized with an incredible depth of character seldom found in most science fiction. And despite plot-addicted naysayers among fandom, such deep persona-building is hardly wasted effort, as each starfarer’s nature determines how they handle each crisis. And we get similar treatment of Fry, who we learn early on has been captured by the authorities and left behind when Gypsy takes off.

Ultimately, in an unforeseen ending, the efforts of the Gypsy and crew are proven to amount to that of a beacon guttering into extinction while having done its job of both lighting the ship of Earth to safe harbor and also thumbing its nose at the dominant paradigm of greed and indifference and materialistic anhedonia that has wrought so much ill over the past several centuries. A “tiny splinter of human will forge through vast, uncaring space.”

Obviously, this book stands in dialogue with such recent novels as Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora and Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, and with Barry Malzberg’s classic Galaxies. But much starker and existential even than those, it is primarily an anti-space-opera, if you will, a charnel-ground meditation on what lies at the end of all efforts.

Following this knockout story, the shorter works agreeably extend our feel for Scholz’s talents without necessarily magnifying his scope.

“The Nine Billion Names of God” is an epistolary metatextual tale about an SF writer with a manic idea. It references Borges explicitly, and lives up to that high standard. “Bad Pennies” is told adroitly in the form a Congressional interrogation, and reads like the economic SF of Mack Reynolds as filtered through the modernist sensibilities of William Gaddis. This is a Good Thing.

The essay on “The United States of Impunity” offers a by-now-all-too-familiar chronicle of the major missteps taken by our government and corporate citizens since 9/11. Impassioned yet somewhat predictable at this late date, it would benefit from an extension that looked at matters, for good or ill, after 2008.

Finally, the happy, playful dialogue between Bisson and Scholz reveals a writer at ease with himself and the world, still casting about for new themes and topics and techniques after his masterly achievements.

This world of ours might not be the one where Scholz had his ideal career. But it is the one world we can be certain is lucky enough to have him around.

Paul Di Filippo has been writing professionally for over thirty years, and has published almost that number of books. He lives in Providence, RI, with his mate of an even greater number of years, Deborah Newton.

Buy Gypsy | Buy the e-Book of Gypsy | Back to Carter Scholtz's Author Page

Jewish Noir Reviewed in The Big Click

by RRS
The Big Click
January 2016

There’s been a glut of Jewish-themed books lately, especially in YA, ones that seem to wear Jewish-ness as a trapping, as much an accessory as the novel having the love interest be a vampire, neither conscious of nor caring for the very real and living culture and traditions. So when I saw Jewish Noir,my first thought was all right, what the hell have I got to complain about now?

As it turns out, nothing. It’s a solid collection from a wide range of writers, most more-or-less writing from a uniquely Jewish perspective. Crime? Yeah, there’s a lot of crime, a lot of hard time and short luck all thematically enmeshed into Jewish roots. The particular focus of the collection, which despite my initial skepticism, I enjoyed, never felt unnecessary, but provided a commonality between the wildly different voices that flowed well throughout. Like most anthologies, a couple of the stories towards the middle felt like filler, but several — perhaps most notably in the first story in the collection, R.S. Brenner’s “Devil for a Witch”— ended on neatly executed little screwturn gut-punches, which is the kind of feeling I look for in a noir.

Like the editor says, if you’re looking for the hardboiled, the rootless, the persecuted and the cornered, you don’t have to look much further than the Jews, so what better thematic match could there be?

Buy Jewish Noir | Buy the e-Book of Jewish Noir | Back to Ken Wishnia's Author Page


Quick Access to:



New Releases

Featured Releases

Collectives in the Spanish Revolution

Lago de Sangre: Un libro de misterio sobre Filomena Buscarsela