All posts by Hélène Wilkinson

I live half an hour South of Paris in France, with my gorgeous family of the husband and two children variety. My gene pool is made up of quite a lot of French and English, a bit less Polish and some Irish. I am a translator.

A view from 2179

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Extracts from Dawn of the Third Millennium, an analysis of the 1989-2053 period by Elena Ferris, published by Shandelgos University Press in 2179

Many of the people who lived in the 2010s and 2020s thought they were experiencing turbulent times and indeed the period is marked by a series of events that still divides historians today.

 

Some see the over-reaction to small-scale but exceedingly well publicised acts of terror in affluent countries as a blip in an otherwise remarkably long period of nations evolving and organising themselves peacefully – other analysts focus instead on the emergence of an entirely new dialectic in conflict management which occurred then, now often roughly summarised as “the Y2K culture clash”.

Noteworthy among these featured an upsurge of activity from a number of a wide range of extremist groups, claiming a legitimacy based on ideology and going by different (often tellingly aggressive) names. They generally operated in groups, guerrilla style, and also set the conditions for a number of similarly motivated individuals to act alone. Low budget low technology suicide bomb and knife attacks and vehicle ramming were all popular forms of terrorist activity.  Migrants were seen interchangeably as the perpetrators of terror or their victims. Indeed, “migration” was blamed for many things, even if those invoking it were generally in fact making reference to “cultural clashes.”

The intricate interplay of peoples, lands and cultures has always generated both tremendous creativity and wealth on the one hand and conflict on the other, often concurrently. The  violent events mentioned above brought to the fore deep, old and often painful racial and gender issues. At the start of the third millennium, humanity was still coping with these spectacularly incompetently. Progress in that field a few decades later did stabilise the situation somewhat, as evidenced for instance by new channels being created for the dissemination of science, trade and the arts; those were the fresh incarnations of the romantically named “silk route”, “caravans” and “silicon valley” of previous eras.

 

 

IMG_2437Other groups of historians single out the decision of one nation to remove itself from an international alliance it had joined 40 years previously as the most symbolic event of the period.

The Britons of 2016, who voted in a democratic referendum to arrive at that decision, certainly believed that this was the most critical issue of their time. Half the population (52%) hailed the fantastic new opportunity that this new found freedom would bring their country, enabling them to build on a glorious past and create an even brighter future; the other half (48%) insisted that this separation from a strong union of like-minded nations, which had a track record of improving the well-being and wealth of its members, was a grave mistake that Britain would repent at leisure. The prophets of doom were proved wrong: less than forty years later, in 2053, Britain (officially known until 2029 as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) re-entered the European Union, as a full member, whereas it had during its first period of membership refused to take part in several key measures such as a shared currency. In the meantime, the Union had consolidated its harmonisation programmes considerably and introduced some fairly revolutionary social policies.

 

Yet another kind of historian prefers to track the shadowy progress of a group of people who could be described as a type of illuminati : the environmentalists. Their story began practically as an underground movement way back in the 20th century and they gained steady momentum throughout the next century, spreading the gospel of environmental awareness and activism over the decades. Although they conspicuously failed to organise themselves as a political party, they did successfully introduce their agenda to mainstream political parties of varying creeds. This led to the achievement of a number of significant results in the safeguarding of planet Earth, to some extent minimising the impact of some of the worst depredations in previous centuries.

 

(…)

 

Today, as I transfer these words to you directly from my brain to yours via the communication interfaces located somewhere in the region of your left temple and mine, the events described in previous chapters can justifiably be described as ranging from the ludicrous to the criminal.

It seems barely possible that human beings, equipped with sophisticated sensory equipment and cognitive skills, should have been the ones to instigate these events. It seems incredible that the many worthies who had attained a remarkable level of scientific understanding and technological craftsmanship, took so long to turn the tide. It seems amazing that poets and thinkers had to struggle so much to acknowledge that  humans share planet Earth with one another and also with other species and organisms.

To get our brains round this, we need to remind ourselves of the following facts: at the start of the period we are considering, the human race found itself able to generate, store, process, retrieve and transfer hitherto unimaginable quantities of data of all kinds. This all happened in a very short space of time indeed.

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Engineers, technicians and computer scientists had barely started building machines and writing code and they were already startling their contemporaries with talk of internet, quantum computers, online social media, augmented reality, data science and artificial intelligence. They were forging ahead, ignoring the fact that most of the human activities they were serving and sometimes replacing were organised fundamentally differently. Industry, education, retail, healthcare, education and many other vital human activities had until then tended to rely on a combination of complete separation between specialisms, skills, disciplines, sectors, and so on, endless varieties of hierarchical structures and a strictly linear approach to change.

 

Underpinning all this was a critical difference in the communication method used by the different players: those who clung to human languages only, some even quaintly insisting on the maintenance of arcane spelling, grammar and pronunciation rules, and those who were also capable of communicating in code, binary or otherwise. Incredibly, communicologists only finally took over from linguists in the 2070s.

 

 

With this in mind, it is perhaps a little easier to understand how humans required the best part of a century to assimilate these new functionalities, as it were, and use them to address the old problems that seemed to be felt particularly acutely by our predecessors in the 2010s and 2020s. Here they were, facing the same historical cycles of problems and progress that generations before them had faced (a favourite pastime of erudite people was to quote texts from ancient Roman authors proving this), here they were with the tantalising possibilities offered by amazing achievements: a peaceful international collaboration existed in space! a computer had beaten a go master! electric driverless vehicles had revolutionised transport! The disappointment and frustration of not being able to solve old problems, despite all these wonderful new feats, grabbed attention for a number of years.

 

 

In the next chapter, we will explore how a comprehensive and systematic review of these and other issues, starting from the 2030s, paved the way for the Bionic Revolution that was to follow. Brief histories of space travel and ball games in that period will serve to illustrate this analysis.

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Photos: Richard Wilkinson

La Tresse de Laetitia Colombiani

C’est sans doute normal que mon blog présente plus souvent les livres que je j’ai dévorés que ceux qui m’ont moins plu. Après tout, j’ai davantage envie d’inciter les gens à lire ce que j’ai apprécié plutôt que de les dissuader de s’attaquer à quelque chose qui m’a paru affligeant, je trouve qu’on se fait plus d’amis comme ça …  Mais j’éprouve quand-même le besoin de parler de temps en temps d’un livre qui m’a déçue, histoire d’exercer ma plume en mode critique négative (que j’espère néanmoins être argumentée et pas trop désagréable) et pas seulement en mode dithyrambique.

 

la tresseLa tresse de Laetitia Colombani m’a déçue surtout parce le récit des trois femmes autour duquel s’articule cette tresse narrative me semble être autant de vignettes très superficielles. Une femme « intouchable » en Inde avec sa fille, une jeune femme en Italie, une avocate au Canada vont toutes trois être confrontées à de dures épreuves.

Certes, on peut trouver des histoires beaucoup moins bien écrites, mais les volets indien et canadien de l’intrigue m’ont paru particulièrement légers ; j’ai l’impression d’avoir lu deux reportages télévisés pas très creusés transposés directement sur ma liseuse sur : premièrement, la condition abominable de trop de personnes en Inde, deuxièmement, le surmenage ainsi qu’un sujet que je vais taire ici, en ce qui concerne notre avocate canadienne. Le récit italien, quoique peut-être plus rocambolesque que les deux autres, a davantage retenu mon attention ; les aventures de Giulia (vive l’Europe) me font nuancer mon propos pour un tiers de ce livre…

 

 

 

 

***Attention, le paragraphe ci-dessous révèle une partie de l’intrigue***

 

Plus fondamentalement, je n’ai pas pu partager le plaisir qu’ont apparemment éprouvé de nombreux lecteurs à la conclusion du roman. Des cheveux indiens vendus par des pauvres qui se retrouvent sur la tête d’une femme aisée canadienne parce que les italiens n’en veulent pas (apprend-on dans le livre), j’ai du mal à trouver cela porteur d’espoir et synonyme de magnifique solidarité féminine internationale. Rabat-joie, moi ? Pas du tout !

The Wardrobe Mistress by Natalie Meg Evans

A few weeks ago, I read The Wardrobe Mistress by Natalie Meg Evans, recommended this time by an Amazon algorithm rather than by a friend, and I enjoyed it.

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Using a Kindle diminishes the importance of a book jacket quite a lot, so I didn’t open the book in the anticipation that I was about to embark on  heart-warming romantic fiction, I just started reading a new book. I’ll get to its content in just a moment, please allow me a few more words on this ancillary point first.

 

I was simply checking the author’s name on her website and my eye fell on the covers of her various books (which reminded me I’d previously seen The Dress Thief mentioned, which means I’ll download the sample, which means the marketing does work, yes, I admit it.)  I noticed that they conformed to the typical romance marketing rules of the most enduring sort: a portrayal of The Girl, looking demure/alluring/sassy/sweet/heroic, wearing something simple/gorgeous/stunning/folksy/magnificent/domestic. Current jacket trends now also include swirly writing (distressingly often in purple or pink) and cartoon style illustrations, a bit like the brilliant Nick Sharratt gracing the covers of Jacqueline Wilson’s children’s novels, but for grown-ups. And in case my grumbles about covers gave the wrong impression, this is what I think of romances: I love the ones I love.

So, about the story – which is set in a theatre in post-war Britain, the heroine being The Wardrobe Mistress, yes, the clue was in the name – I found that I was hooked by it. Vanessa has Mum issues and Dad issues to deal with, on top of coping with post-war grimness and rationing, and all that’s in addition to her task of pairing up with The One. The settings are sketched, not too much, which is fine. The action also jogs along nicely, revealing plot details and personality traits at appropriate times. Characters include the cast of usual suspects: Mum, Dad, the friends, the more distant relatives and acquaintances, the less closely drawn nice ones (most of the theatre staff), and nasty ones (most of the theatre owners, relatives of the late founder). There was also a more unusual addition, with an endearing three-legged dog who is the theatre mascot. He too (I forget the dog’s name but he’s definitely a “he” not an “it”) has served in the war, which is the new manager’s principal criterion for hiring staff, Vanessa included of course.

 

Things happen, there are revelations and a couple of twists are presented then unravelled towards the end. All good stuff, in fact. To end on a slightly less flippant note, I would like to say that the almost-meeting between Vanessa and … is a very well executed and exploited ploy and shapes the novel very nicely.