Maybe I am wrong here, but I have a hard time thinking of other authors who can turn seemingly simple ideas into complex ideas with a burst of imagination that makes the simple idea seem unique and rare -- all without the alienating pretentiousness of the author who knows s/he is great. This ability makes Banks one of the most inviting writers I know, and I savour everything he has written over and over again.
If fact, as I write this, I realize that in the past decade he and China Mieville (perhaps the pretentious one of which I spoke?) are the only two authors I have spent any significant time rereading. The former to visit an old friend, the latter to savour language and be dazzled. I admire, Mieville, but it is definitely Banks I prefer to spend time with.
This time listening to The Player of Games was pure joy. It didn't matter that I knew the outcome of Jernau Morat Gurgeh's great Azad tournament, that I knew the deal with the drone, Mawhrin-Skel, that I knew the ending was going to leave me a little flat. This time I was able to luxuriate in Gurgeh's journey, focusing on the little things rather than the big picture of the plot, letting his sensuality in the games guide me, letting his desire for the perfect game move me like it hasn't before, letting his flaws deepen his attractiveness rather than being fooled into judging him. This time I was able to admire Mawhrin-Skel's arrogance, Special Circumstances manipulation and the Culture's quite brilliant defeat of a dangerous future foe. This time I was able to recognize Gurgeh's warning to the reader that the ending of a great game -- of Azad and The Player of Games -- must be anti-climactic. I recognized it, accepted it, and let the flat ending ease me out of the emotional high I hadn't realized I had been swept up in.
Like Gurgeh missed Azad, I miss Iain M. Banks, and I am going to miss him and The Player of Games until I open another book of his and meet with him again. Even when I run out of new words from Banks, it is nice to know that all his old words get better with each reading. I will never run out of Banks tales to read. And that is comforting. ...more
Third time through Red Mars, and I think I finally know why I love Kim Stanley Robinson's classic science-fiction book so much -- it reminds me who IThird time through Red Mars, and I think I finally know why I love Kim Stanley Robinson's classic science-fiction book so much -- it reminds me who I am whenever I need a reminder.
Who am I? Naah. That's not for this review. What's important is how Robinson captures the voices of his characters. His book begins with the first hundred people colonizing Mars, and though he adds multitudes to those first hundred, he really only focuses on a limited bunch of the first hundred. This approach sets Red Mars up for some criticism, however, because Robinson's approach borrows from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in that each narrative section takes the perspective of a different protagonist -- Frank Chalmers, Maya Toitovna, Nadia Chernyshevski, Michel Duval, John Boone, and Ann Clayborne. They are not telling stories about something else; they are, instead, having the story of the colonization of Mars told from their perspectives, which leads to more than a little archetyping in their characterizations, and let's face it, most of us have been trained to disdain archetyping in modern literature.
But in Red Mars this archetyping is the thing that allows me to look at myself and gain that much needed reminder of who I am. The thing is that Robinson's six major voices (and all those others who spin off from them) view their new, red world very differently, in ways so many of us would view Mars if we were there too. Now I don't think who I am matches any of the main six perfectly, but there are bits of me in all of them, and watching them act and interact is a literary mirror to my soul.
There is simplicity in archetypes, it's true, but there is also something revealing about archetypes, not about the archetypes themselves but about those of us who perceive them. The characters of Red Mars do that for me. ...more
The kindest thing I can say about Andy Weir's The Martian is that it is going to make an excellent Ridley Scott film. I will be thoroughly shocked ifThe kindest thing I can say about Andy Weir's The Martian is that it is going to make an excellent Ridley Scott film. I will be thoroughly shocked if the film is worse than the novel. I expect it to be much, much better on screen. This may sound like an insult, but I truly mean it as a compliment because from the beginning of the story until the end, I felt Andy Weir's fingers deliberately tapping out a tale for sale to Hollywood -- and good for him for succeeding so well.
The Martian is, essentially, a retelling of the real life Apollo 13 drama, but reset on Mars, with a botanist/engineer (oh what a happy and joyful confluence of skills) doing everything he can, both with and without help NASA, to survive.
The story glides gleefully all over the place, from the titular Martian's computer journal and his communications with Earth to some standard prose concerning what's going on at NASA, what's going on with the Martian's former crew mates, and what happens in the final, daring rescue mission.
It's a good story, and one of the more compelling audiobooks I've heard (in fact, it is the fastest I have ever blasted through an audiobook, a format I am not terribly fond of most of the time, but listen to through necessity), but by the end it feels much too happy. It is not a spoiler to say that the Martian is saved -- that is a foregone conclusion -- and if you are someone who actually thought he might not make it, then I'm guessing you didn't know the movie was coming soon or that you didn't recognize Andrew Weir's ultimate destination for the story. Hollywood wouldn't want a dead Martian.
I am looking forward to this in the theatre, although my greatest hope is that Ridley Scott and co. have given us something a little darker, a little less happy, a little more dangerous on the big screen. I doubt it, but it would be nice. ...more
What makes this comic fly is that it feels as though it is a genuine episode bridging the gap between Firefly and Serenity. I don't mean that it is meWhat makes this comic fly is that it feels as though it is a genuine episode bridging the gap between Firefly and Serenity. I don't mean that it is merely a story that bridges the gap between television series and film, which it is, but that it actually feels like its very own live action episode.
Now I imagine that I feel so strongly because I am a fan of Firefly / Serenity, but I am pretty sure that you're not reading Serenity Those Left Behind or my review unless you are a fan too (if you are reading this without having seen the shows, howeover, stop what you are doing right now, fire up your Netflix and start watching), so you probably get my drift.
Those Left Behind could be a three act episode or it could be the basis for a season we were never able to see. It was probably precisely what it is, though, a prelude to the movie, wrapping up loose ends, surprising us with things almost forgotten, and prepping us for the coolness that was to come on the big screen. Regardless, it is an excellent entry into the Firefly / Serenity canon for a full blown brownshirt, a newbie brownshirt or a brownshirt in the making.
I'd sure like to see more ... on the tv, on the screen or even in the comics. C'mon, Joss. Take a break from Marvel and head on back to the 'verse. You really can come home again. ...more
Never have I read such a marvelously plausible work of Science Fiction. There are many prophetic works, and plenty of works of farther distant futuresNever have I read such a marvelously plausible work of Science Fiction. There are many prophetic works, and plenty of works of farther distant futures that I can see being possible, but The Space Merchants is mostly here right now, and everything else (if you exchange Mars for Venus) is merely moments away. And that is a scary fucking proposition.
Pohl & Kornbluth's world is an overpopulated mess, where food and water are at a serious premium and the super-rich dominate the use of goods and services. And that world is ruled by the all-powerful ad agencies, who just happen to have overtaken every industry. There is a President who is no more than a useless figurehead. There is martial law that everyone happily accepts. There are Orwellian levels of thought control without any need for thought police because advertising and media do the job quite nicely. And there is the usual group of revolutionaries working clandestinely for the "good of all."
The Space Merchants has been on one of my must read lists for twenty years, and I've only now gotten around to it because I tracked down a two part radio play of it on Relic Radio's Sci-Fi podcast. I'll be giving it a listen tonight, but I am not sure how close to the book a sixties CBS radio play can be, especially considering the damning criticism of America's consumer culture, and its ambiguously depressing ending. I imagine it is going to end about halfway through Mitchell Courtenay's journey, when his capitalist dreams are complete. I'm kind of stoked, regardless.
One last thing, if you are looking for a classic work of Sci-Fi to turn into a mini-series SyFy, this is the the work for you. Mitchell Courtenay could easily be the Don Draper of Sci-Fi pop culture. And there's even a part for Peter Dinklage (and a damn good one).
Charles, you had it absolutely right. I am so glad I got around to this. ...more
Reaction #1 -- The brain exhaustion I feel right now must be the sensory exhaustion one would feel after an all encompassing hours long orgy at the diReaction #1 -- The brain exhaustion I feel right now must be the sensory exhaustion one would feel after an all encompassing hours long orgy at the dirtiest, grimiest, sexiest sex club in town. Artemis, you see, is an orgy in itself. It's an orgy of blood and guys and cyborg compartments and circuitry and magma genocide and black hole genocide and godlike being genocide and quantum death. It is an orgy of violence in every shape and form one can imagine and even shapes and forms I've never imagined and perhaps some shapes and forms no one but Philip Palmer has imagined. I am pretty sure there has never been a book with the body count of Artemis. It's disgusting. Really. Palmer should be ashamed of himself. I know I am of myself.
Reaction #2 -- What's not to love about Palmer's eponymous character, Dr. Artemis McIvor? Plenty, actually, but I imagine anyone who reads this book will be captivated by her strength and bad-assery and intelligence and honesty and cool powers and her determination and her individuality. And I imagine it would be hard not to see her as a strong female character, maybe even a great female character because of her strength. I certainly enjoyed reading her "thought diary and beaconspace blog," and I found her as compelling as the next psychopathic character. But I can't help being bothered by this too. Artemis is a character created by a man, after all, and her hyper-perfection at the classically male skills of genocide, murder, assault, and all forms of violence make me wonder if this is really, truly, what my mother's generation of feminists were hoping for. Was that what they wanted? To have characters (and people in the real world) whose power was the same sort of awful power that they knew was wrong and were fighting against, or was there another way they were striving for, a feminine way, that has been co-opted into a feminine masculinity that is just as nasty as the boys they were fighting against? I don't have the answer, but I am thinking of the questions, and this story has increased my discomfort about those questions.
Reaction #3 -- This would make a spectacular HBO or Showtime or Netflix series. An episodic retelling of this one 400 page Artemis tale, broken into four or five seasons would be magnificent. The action is breakneck, the violence is operatice, the terraformed planets and asteroid prisons could lower production costs, and the room left to jiggle and tweek and improve and expand upon fragmentary episodes within Palmer's narrative would make any head writer tremble with the delight of potential. We've plenty of kick ass fantasy out there. How about some nasty Sci-Fi? Bring it on, says I. ...more
I was going to give this five stars, then I thought, "It's too much fun for five stars," so I clicked on four stars, then I thought, "Fuck that! FiveI was going to give this five stars, then I thought, "It's too much fun for five stars," so I clicked on four stars, then I thought, "Fuck that! Five it is." And so it came to be.
New Novella --
I have been tossing around an idea I have about the shift in novella writing from a thing unto itself into a portion of "larger" works (I first started talking about it here), and it seems to me that John Scalzi's quite marvelous Redshirts is just such a work.
I would split it into two novellas: Redshirts itself, and the three Codas. Redshirts is, after all, a mere 200-ish pages that read very quickly. Its length is similar to many of the classic novellas (many of which, like Heart of Darkness are densely packed into their slim editions); it gets going, gets its story told and gets out.
The Codas, then, make up the second novella. Though they work as narrative additions to Redshirts proper, they also work on their own, stringing together three short stories (a novella in short stories?) that make one cohesive unit, and I think they could be read as one piece minus Redshirts and be quite excellent in their own right. Moreover, they offer up first, second and third person perspectives, respectively, binding themselves together as one unit with a mechanical throughline that weaves together the narrative threads into a piece.
You may not consider it two novellas, but the idea works for me in my brain, and next time I read this book I am going to read the Codas all by themselves to see how they work.
Fun & Funny--
Novella talk aside, this is one enteraining piece of fiction. It hits that special place in my liver where my Trekkie love rests, it hits that special place in my hypothalimus where my Firefly love rests, it hits that very special place in my testicles where BSG rests, it hits that special place in my joints where Deep Space Nine rests, etc., etc.. Scalzi knows all the pressure points (and of course he would being the nerd that he is and having worked on Stargate too), and he pokes at those points with joyful abandon. I haven't had so much fun reading in a year.
Fuck yeah! Anyone who is interested in Baudrillard or Eco or spends their time seeing the removes in everything they perceive with enjoy their time down the wormhole or ten.
A Yeti in the Jeffries' Tubes. Seriously fun.
I know I am missing some things I wanted to say when I finished reading last night, but those can wait until the next time I read Redshirts. It is sure to come. ...more
"Suspend your disbelief," said the little voice inside my head.
When I listened to that little voice I was able to enjoy The Ultimate Game, and there"Suspend your disbelief," said the little voice inside my head.
When I listened to that little voice I was able to enjoy The Ultimate Game, and there are elements of this book that truly deserve to be enjoyed. Unfortunately, that little voice wasn't always loud enough to make me suspend my disbelief, and the sound of that voice couldn't drown out the dissonance. Those moments couldn't be overlooked or enjoyed (not, at least, by me).
3 Things That Deserve to be Enjoyed --
The Cliffhanger-- I didn't look into what this book was about before I started reading it, so the cliffhanger at the end of the book, the set up for the sequel, was somewhat unexpected, although I could tell quite early on that another book or two had to be coming if Sean Austin was going to make his story approach completeness. It was good enough that I want to read the sequel.
Two Brothers -- I quite liked Reggie and Jeremy, despite the fact that I bought very little that came out of their mouths. They didn't act their ages, for instance. Still, my like for them existed, and it came down to their love for each other, their loyalty, and the way their emotions rang true. I believed the way they felt about each other and how that translated into the actions they were forced to take, so I cared what happened to them (which is probably the key to the cliffhanger and my desire to see where this story is going).
Echo-7 -- Badass super transformer, Echo-7, is a pretty convincing front-man villain (I suspect someone else is in Echo-7's driver's seat ). He cloaks, he transforms, he tortures, he swallows people whole, he does impersonations, he thinks, he ejects still living boys from his body in plastic bags, he has an army of taser-bots, and he wants to rule the world (perhaps). But wow do you need to roll with his presence (suspend, suspend, suspend) because if you don't you may as well read something else.
Things That Are Hard to Enjoy --
The Militarism -- All boys like guns and violence and military lingo and knives and military philosophies -- and that's okay. More than okay, actually (at least that's what it felt like this book was trying to sell me). It's just fine to fill a book with violence, apparently, and sell that violence to boys ... cause, hey, the US is a peaceful place, the most militarized peaceful place in Earth's history, and militarism's a good thing, a thing that keeps us safe, not something that endangers us, not something we should ever worry about, at least not as much as we should worry about sex and hormones.
The "Token" Girl -- Claire's gamer handle is "Claw," and she's as beautiful as a super-model, and she makes Reggie feel funny in his stomach and then in his heart. Reggie's fourteen. When I was fourteen there was another funny feeling that went along with the stomach and the heart, and that could be found, quite uncontrollably, in my pants. Nothing stirred for Reggie, however. Never even crossed his mind. Couple Reggie's hormonal impossibility with his puppiest of loves, and the fourteen year old he was supposed to be felt about eleven. There was no suspending disbelief here, and it was more frustrating still because Claire was actually an appealing character. She was wasted. Big time.
Violence vs. Hormones -- Couple the glorification of violence for young adults with the chastity of the piece, and the result was an unrealism I was came to despise. The willing ignorance of parents when it comes to their children's hormones, hormones that they once had, makes me despair.
(view spoiler)[Why Wasn't This Whole Thing A Total Recall Scenario? -- If all the gamers had awoken in AAARealityGames hooked up to virtual reality displays or something, and everything they'd experienced had been a BETA test of a new game, this book would have been terrific. But they didn't, and The Ultimate Game was only good. It's a shame. I was hoping for better. (hide spoiler)]*
The Cliffhanger -- I know I said this was one of the things to like about the book, but it has to reside here as well. Sean Austin set up expectations, he teased and hinted at something more, and he failed to deliver. Had he taken more care to avoid the tease, the ending would have been much more satisfying. But I still want to read what's next, so the cliffhanger can't be all bad. ...more
I've had this on a list of Sci-Fi books to read for quite a while, a list passed on to me by one of my favourite Profs, but it took a group read (thanI've had this on a list of Sci-Fi books to read for quite a while, a list passed on to me by one of my favourite Profs, but it took a group read (thanks, Kim) to finally make me pick up the old, water-stained copy that's been sitting on my shelf.
I imagine I knew what to expect once upon a time, but that time was long gone and When Gravity Fails was full of fun cyberpunky surprises. I loved the easy, full acceptance of the transgendered in the contained culture of the Budayeen, especially the acceptance of it by our protagonist, Marîd Audran. His acceptance made it seem normal, barely worth mentioning, and I loved the comfort this engendered (sorry ... couldn't control myself there). Moreover, I thought George Alec Effinger offered one of the best visions of cyberpunk body alterations that I have ever read. "Daddies" designed to boost one's skills -- mostly for language, but for all sorts of other physical and mental skills -- "mods" to give you other personalities and experiences, and plenty of plastic surgery to reassign one's gender, reshape one's look, reinvent oneself. None of it went too far. All of it made sense to me.
At the nuts and bolts level, the story was a readable one (despite its familiarity). A gritty, noirish, underground mystery where the hard loner who moves teflon-coated through the dirty streets is sucked into a murder investigation to protect himself and the place (and people) he loves. We've seen it a squillion times before (and it rarely tires me). I liked it just fine and was all set to give When Gravity Fails three stars. Don't get me wrong, it was better than okay for most of the read, but it never compelled me to pick it up and read voraciously to the last page. It was mostly just a comfortable read -- the kind I'd pick up when my brain needs a rest.
But then Audran found his killers, and When Gravity Falls did things with Audran (freshly modified despite years of remaining free of augmentations) that I didn't expect. What he becomes, beyond his control or not, is a tale-changer, and the way those around him react is precisely as it should be.
Sometimes bad endings can take something I love and make me hate it; it's nice to know that great endings can take something mediocre and make me love it too....more
I feel a failure now that I've finished The Fifth Head of Cerberus. It is good. Very good. I see that. But I can only muster mild "like" for the thingI feel a failure now that I've finished The Fifth Head of Cerberus. It is good. Very good. I see that. But I can only muster mild "like" for the thing, and I feel as though I must have missed something along the way in my insomnia reading haze. And I can't really see myself going back to redress the situation because I just don't feel connected to Gene Wolfe's work.
A subtle, ingenious, poetic and picturesque book; the uncertaintly principle embodied in brilliant fiction...
and I think, "Yep, but meh." And then I read what China Miéville says about the book,
[[author:Gene Wolfe]'s] tragico-Catholic perspective leads to a deeply unglamorized and unsanitized awareness of social reality. This book is a very sad and extremely dense, complex meditation on colonialism, identity and oppression.
and I think, "Mmmhmm, but still..." And I enjoy the three novella = novel structure, but the manufactured obscurity makes me cold. And I appreciate the struggles of the three protagonists, but I only ever flirt with investing myself in their conflicts. And I see Wolfe playing with the themes that people venerate this work for, but I can't quite put my finger on anything that I can personally take away.
So I walk away from the book unmoved and uninspired, yet I see its quality. I really do. So please don't avoid this book because of me. I probably missed something crucial. The fault for my lack of excitement is likely my own -- or my lack of sleep's. Whichever it is, though, I will never know. Sorry, Mr. Wolfe. I'll try to do better next time I read one of your books. ...more
I am a car in neutral with my wheels in a metal track, covered in the mud and salt and grime of the roads that scar Orbus, Planet Blue, Earth. I am drI am a car in neutral with my wheels in a metal track, covered in the mud and salt and grime of the roads that scar Orbus, Planet Blue, Earth. I am dragged into position; the chemicals hit my shell. Acidic, corrosive, an unsubtle back and forth to knock loose the corruption I've picked up in my travels. The wash cares not at all about delicacy. It shoots it fine mist of torture and hustles me into the frame. Once in that frame, that frame of hanging, dangling mitters, multi-coloured tassels, twin maypoles to conjure festival days of sometime and someplace, the thrumming beat of fabric begins. Up and over and down and beside. One way and back. Massaging me with circadian beat of my mother machines, soothing me into a belief that all can be okay. Then the water blasts me: shocking, hard, cleansing, a roar of pressure to slough off all that had been chemically burned and lovingly knocked loose on my metallic skin. Water poisoned to clean me, falling onto the pollution that is concrete, spilling down the pipes to soak into the groundwater somewhere. Clean me. Dirty everything. Now the ROAR of air. The rubber tires hitting my glass. The air firing like a jet against my shell. Water beads and blows away. A scream of anguish too loud for me to hear. Much too loud to make out what I am being told, but the air angles up and away from, and I am nudged off the rails and back into the road. I travel despite what I've learned. There's nothing for it but to roll on as hopeless as can be. ...more
I bought this during a holiday bookstore visit. I saw "Star Trek" -- I saw Leonard McCoy -- I saw John ByrneBloody fantastic! What a great surprise.
I bought this during a holiday bookstore visit. I saw "Star Trek" -- I saw Leonard McCoy -- I saw John Byrne -- and I thought, "I must have this." My whim needed to be fulfilled, so I fulfilled my whim.
I didn't expect much, though. I figured I'd be disappointed, but that would have been okay because the only reason I bought it was nostalgia. I could cope if it sucked. I mostly wanted to revisit John Byrne's art, and see what he could do with my favourite Star Trek character. I was wrong to have low expectations (mostly because of myself, though. I imagine the power of my personal nostalgia is a large part of this book's success with me).
Leonard McCoy Frontier Doctor takes place just before Star Trek The Motion Picture, and Bones McCoy is busy gallivanting around the Federation in pseudo-retirement, curing diseases, saving folks of myriad races, getting in adventures, reflecting on his career, repairing timelines, writing letters to Jim, and visiting old friends.
Those old friends were my favourite part. I expected to see Kirk (who was there) and Spock (who was not, which was a surprisingly nice ommission) and maybe even Scotty (who had his obligatory drink with Bones), but it was the unexpected cameos that gave me the greatest joy. I turned a page, for instance, and out of the corner of my eye, in a future panel, I saw a guy who looked familar, "Kooky," I thought, "That looks like Gary Seven." A page and a half later I found out it was Gary Seven. And Roberta was with him. Then the Admiral of the USS Yorktown looked like Majel Barrett, and it turned out it was her -- she was the former first officer of the Enterprise under Captain Pike. And on the same ship, who should be the Chief Medical Officer? Doctor Chapel, of course, looking like Majel Barrett with a different hair cut. Silly, I suppose, but it sure worked for me.
The stories themselves were light and fun and beautifully illustrated. The colour palette was perfectly Star Trek. Bones's beard was positively regal, and even the new characters, like Dr. Duncan and his hot Andorian lover, Theela, were a welcome addition.
I just wish Byrne had done more. Five issues in one graphic novel isn't nearly enough. ...more
My first reread of The City The City was an experience as convoluted as the grosstopography of Beszel and Ul Qoma. A chapter read, four chapters listeMy first reread of The City The City was an experience as convoluted as the grosstopography of Beszel and Ul Qoma. A chapter read, four chapters listened to; three chapters read, two chapters listened to; and on. Teaching this book in a town in a different province than the town I live in, across a straight, over a bridge (my adopted country's longest, the adopted country that plays such an important role in the piece, which is itself a nation sandwiched between nations in our always); a soccer game was played with four teams and two balls, simultaneously filling the same grosstopography, unseeing each other, unseeing the other game, but there was I in net, in perpetual Breach, defending one goal from two teams, and my fellows from Breach were busy removing those who Breached during play. And I found myself loving the mystery of the book then thinking it was too weak then loving it all over again when the twist I'd forgotten reminded me of Miéville's genius and why the mystery really does work. And I found myself loving and loving and loving the alterity of the spaces that Tyador and Corwi and Dhatt navigated with their unseeing, unhearing, unknowing senses as they were forced to see and hear and know. The City and the City is a masterpiece. One hundred years from now this book, and others of Miéville's ouevre will be canon. He's the first writer I've discovered, and long before others had, that I can say that about. And one of the few of the future canon with whom I am contemporary. I am lucky to be reading him now, in his pomp, the way little boys were lucky to see Wayne Gretzky play hockey live. I will never see Miéville's like again....more
For only the second time in my short spell as a reader of free e-Books (Prunty's The Sorrow King being the first), I've experienced pleasure while reaFor only the second time in my short spell as a reader of free e-Books (Prunty's The Sorrow King being the first), I've experienced pleasure while reading a downloaded story.
Munch Ado About Nothing lives up to its name. It is a frivolous little tale about a future boy with an invisible Martian monster called a Coddlewop who lives on Corn Flakes.
The friendly monster devours England's Corn Flakes, including the King's, and the boy's family is held accountable for the grievous transgression.
From there the story stays nice and cute and occassionally humourous, but it is never terribly deep, and I like a little depth with my Sci-Fi, especially the comic stuff.
It was a fun, silly, well-written tale, though, which goes some way to making me happy. Only two impulsive free eBooks to go. ...more
The original Planet of the Apes novel is a seriously clunky story. It is bookended by a kooky couple in space who find a message in a bottle (view spoThe original Planet of the Apes novel is a seriously clunky story. It is bookended by a kooky couple in space who find a message in a bottle (view spoiler)[psst ... they turn out to be Chimps (hide spoiler)], Ulysse Mérou stands in as a more pedantic Taylor who gets to knock up Nova before they with their child, and the Ape society is more developed, which makes it less effective in creating that Planet of the Apes vibe.
If it weren't for the movie with its killer Rod Serling script and the awesomeness of Charlton Heston (when he was the coolest Sci-Fi actor around), and all the sequels and TV shows and reboots that have followed, the original Planet of the Apes novel wouldn't deserve much in terms of goodreads stars. But all those movies did follow Pierre Boulle's book, and my unquenchable nostalgia for all things Ape will always elevate this in my estimation. That's just the kind of geek I am.
My Planet of the Apes loving credentials:
• own the box set of the original film series. • own Reality Bites just because of Ben Stiller's Planet of the Apes figures. • owned Planet of the Apes toys as a kid. • actively hunt down movie-tie-ins and any other Planet of the Apes books I can find. • have crappy old VHS tapes with about half of the TV episodes on them. • quote Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowell on a regular basis, seamlessly. • played Planet of the Apes with my friend Dwayne instead of playing at Soldiers, and now I get to do it with my son and daughter. • I teach the film version of Planet of the Apes regularly, and I've even mixed it up a bit with Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. • tried to convince Erika to name Milos, Taylor Cornelius • AND I named my dog Zira.
I'm probably forgetting some stuff, but that's a good list to start. I may add to my geek credentials as I remember them.
And check out the geek credentials on Terence if you get a chance. Just look at his icon for the love of Caesar!...more
Sometimes all a book needs to excel is the proper reading method. Although we all have our preferred way of reading, usually in our head as fast as weSometimes all a book needs to excel is the proper reading method. Although we all have our preferred way of reading, usually in our head as fast as we can, there are other ways to read.
I always loved The Old Man and the Sea, but when I first read it aloud to my baby girl, the morning after she was born, I discovered that the writing is even better when it can be heard in the world. The rhythms were the rhythms of real speech, poetic speech, and they need to be heard to be fully appreciated.
Just recently I started Jeff Vandermeer's Shriek for the third time, and the experience began as poorly as my first two attempts, but I stumbled upon a way to circumvent my issues. I started reading it in the shower one morning, shortly after my restart, and since I was only able to read a couple of pages, I would put the book away, let the misted pages dry, and wait for the next day. It became a morning ritual for six months of the year, and I found that I loved reading it that way. I lived with the book for a long time, as long (relatively) as I imagine the grey caps would plot the overthrow of Ambergris, and that long relationship, my days spent thinking about a very small, specific moment in the text, created a love for the book that is stronger than anyone else's I know.
I know Max Barry has turned Machine Man into a novel, but I'll have none of that. I bought my own serial feed, and I don't ever want to know what "happened" in the novelization. For me, this is the book the way it was meant to be, and reading it in serialized installments was part of its brilliance.
Much like my time spent with the Shrieks, my time spent with Dr. Charlie Neumann, Cassandra, Lola and Carl was richer for its methodical unfolding. It was conceived as a serial. It was meant to be read as a serial. I would have it no other way. Each development in the story was more intense for my day long, or weekend long wait. The nature of Barry's cliffhangers, over a hundred of them, kept me guessing and fully invested me in the story. I doubt I'd have felt the same way if I had read this as a standard novel.
I need more serial, true serials. I need to read more books (not have them read to me) that were meant to be read out loud. Perhaps it is time to break out Wordsworth's Preludes and do both. Thanks to you, Max, I may just do that. ...more
• This book won the Nebula in 1980! Pretty cool for it and the author, Gregory Benford. It would have been nice for Hilary Foister to shaThe Coolness—
• This book won the Nebula in 1980! Pretty cool for it and the author, Gregory Benford. It would have been nice for Hilary Foister to share in the credit, though, considering she supposedly co-wrote this with Benford.
• It deals with tachyons! (once in a while)
• It works well as a mild sedative.
• There are some cool bits of forward thinking in this book, although none of them are truly prophetic, and they needed to be if they were going to be better than average. Benford and Foister project some terrorism in New York (which is a bit like a Sci-Fi writer suggesting that someday the Boston Red Sox would once again win the World Series), some ecological disaster, some biological disaster, some poverty and some hunger. Wow! That's bravely walking the plank, isn't it?
• This book receives much praise for its “strong” characterization, but I’ve always felt that strong characterization requires more than just time spent with the characters; it also requires a thorough understanding of at least one character’s depths and shallows. We need to get inside a character and really experience the meat of him/her. Not so here. We meet quite a few characters, mostly men, spending a lot of time with Ian Peterson (a womanizing English “gentleman”), John Renfrew (a whiny physicist from England of the nineties), and Gordon Bernstein (a whiny physicist from the US of the sixties), but I never felt like I knew any of them well, nor did I want to get to know them any better. If this really is the strongest aspect of Timescape, it is a fine example of why this book deserves no accolades.
• There is no way in hell this book deserved the Nebula award in 1980 or any other time. How it beat books like Joan D Vinge’s The Snow Queen or Walter Tevis’ Mockingbird I will never understand. This book was barely Sci-Fi, and I think I would have appreciated it far more if the clever little time messaging business had been taken out completely. A novel about Scientific competition in the sixties would have been good enough for me, and it was the story Benford and Foister were telling anyway, and I wouldn't have spent the bulk of the novel hoping for the Sci-Fi elements that never came.
• Sadly, the cool bits of forward thinking were matched by some clangers. The authors imagined a late-20th century world where all the movie theatres were closing down out of disinterest, a world where photographic film was strictly rationed and no digital cameras were invented to pick up the slack (which wouldn’t have been a problem if it weren’t for the fact that the tachyon messenger was sending what amounted to digital images), a world where a woman being a housewife was expected by everyone everywhere, which leads me too ....
• The portrayal of women in this book annoyed me constantly. It wasn’t that Benford (not to mention his ghostly partner because he didn’t, after all) was misogynistic. I didn’t sense any hatred of women in his writing. What was clearly present, however, was the cloistered attitude of an academic in a field that – in the Eighties – kept women firmly out of its ranks. It is the writing of a man out of touch with the changing social conventions of his day, which translated into an inability to foresee the way social conventions would be formed seventeen years later. Benford’s downfall is a lazy acceptance of patriarchy and a lack of imagination for past, present, and future gender roles.
• The authors’ sickening defence of those three unassailable pillars of benevolence: England, the USA and the educated middle class. Puke, puke, puke.
• Racism towards the whole of South America, with special attention given to Brazil and Argentina. The bulk of the ecological blame falls to Brazil for their destruction of the rainforests, but there is no mention, anywhere in the book, of the worldwide market forces that must motivate such destruction.
• Page 413-414 of my copy – which I received as a bookmooch – are missing. It looks like someone took an Xacto knife to the page, and I am dying to know why and what the hell I am missing. If any of you have a copy of this book, I would appreciate a photocopy of the pages so I can read them and add them to my copy. I suppose it’s not a big deal, though, since the book was far from impressive.
• Finally ... JFK survives! And there was definitely only one shooter. Whew....more
Embassytown is about reality. Embassytown is about how we make reality. Embassytown is about how we speak reality. EmbassytownWhat is Embassytown about?
Embassytown is about reality. Embassytown is about how we make reality. Embassytown is about how we speak reality. Embassytown is reality. Embassytown is unreal. Embassytown is about religion. Embassytown is about the spirit. Embassytown is about being incorruptible. Embassytown is about corruption. Embassytown is corruption. Embassytown is about the opiated masses. Embassytown is about what opiates the masses. Embassytown is about any opiates for any masses. Embassytown is opiates. Embassytown is the masses. Embassytown is a mass. Embassytown is about Language. Embassytown is about language. Embassytown is Language/language. Embassytown is about simile. Embassytown is like a simile. Embassytown is metaphor. Metaphor is Embassytown. Metaphor is a lie. Metaphors lie. Embassytown is a lie. Embassytown is metaphor. Metaphor uncovers truth. Truth is a lie. Lying is truth. Embassytown is about us. We are Embassytown. We are metaphor. Metaphor. ...more
Time's improvement of Modesitt's writing is obvious. His prose in Haze is slicker and more polished, with far less waste (not that the waste in his first book was bad, only noticeable). But far more interesting is a quirky similarity between the books. Both novels contain protagonists seeking answers, surrounded by people who answer their questions with deflection, vagueness, or unexplained example. Or they refuse to answer their questions at all. In both cases, Modesitt provides us with fine justifications for the manner of answering (or the lack of answers), but the protagonists are consistently annoyed by their situation, and I found their annoyance transferring to me. Times the annoyance by two so close together, and the quirk makes for less than enjoyable reading the second time through.
The Preachy -- Too much preachiness in Haze for my taste. There were times when it felt like Modesitt was intruding on the pages of his story, that his soapbox would pop up in the corner of the page and he'd stand there with his little megaphone, kinda like the Mayor of Whoville, and scream his opinions in case we weren't already listening. He went about expressing the ecological, political and spiritual messages of Haze inelegantly, and it really disappointed me (despite agreeing with many of the ideas he put forth).
The Annoying -- There are red herrings galore in Haze, the most annoying of which is Hildegarde the Dachshund, and these misleading bits harm what would have been an otherwise exciting and fulfilling end. Plus, how many loose ends can one story leave? How many should it leave? Not as many as Modesitt left here.
The Cool -- There is some cool stuff in Haze, though, which made it worth my time. The Saints in the book, the far future of Mormonism, are a nice touch. The efficacy of train travel as the future of environmentally friendly transport is convincing. Roget's visit to the Manor Farm Cottages, Dubiety's home for the mentally and criminally ill, is the novel's finest moment (I wanted much more, actually). And there is the brave choice to make Roget a character without any relationships. I don't know if that choice worked all that well, but it was brave, and it raised Modesitt in my estimation despite my general disappointment in Haze....more
Hainish Wars: Episode VI Return of the Anthropologist*
67 EXT. FOREST CLEARING – TOWN OF ENDTOR - LJUBOV'S CRASH SITE 67
A strange little green furry facHainish Wars: Episode VI Return of the Anthropologist*
67 EXT. FOREST CLEARING – TOWN OF ENDTOR - LJUBOV'S CRASH SITE 67
A strange little green furry face with huge black eyes comes slowly into view. The creature is an ATHSHEAN, by the name of SELVER. He seems somewhat puzzled, and prods LJUBOV with the butt end of a spear. The anthropologist groans; this frightens the stubby ball of green fuzz and SELVER prods him again. LJUBOV sits up and stares at the three-foot-high Athshean. He tries to figure out where he is and what has happened. His clothes are torn; he's bruised and dishevelled.
The Athshean jumps up and holds the four-foot-long spear in a defensive position. LJUBOV watches him as he circles warily and begins poking him with the butt of the spear.
LJUBOV Cut it out!
He stands up, and the Athshean quickly backs away.
LJUBOV I'm not gonna hurt you, Selver. I came to help.
LJUBOV looks around at the dense forest, and at the charred remains of his hopper, then sits down, with a sigh, on a fallen log.
LJUBOV Well, looks like I'm stuck here. Trouble is, I don't know where here is.
He puts his head in his hands to rub away some of the soreness from his crash. He looks over at the watchful little Athshean and pats the log beside him.
LJUBOV Well, maybe you can help me. Come on, sit down.
SELVER holds his spear up warily and growls at him like a puppy.
LJUBOV pats the log again.
LJUBOV I promise I won't hurt you. Now come here.
More chirps and squeaks from the little green creature.
LJUBOV All right. You want something to eat?
He takes a scrap of food out of his pocket and offers it to him.
SELVER takes a step backward, then cocks his head and moves cautiously toward LJUBOV, chattering in his sing-song Athshean language.
LJUBOV That's right. Come on. Hmmm?
Sniffing the food curiously, the Athshean comes toward LJUBOV and sits on the log beside him. He takes off his helmet, and the little creature jumps back, startled again. He runs along the log, pointing his spear and chattering a blue streak. LJUBOV holds out the helmet to him.
LJUBOV Look, it's a hat. It's not gonna hurt you. Look. You're a jittery little thing, aren't you?
Reassured, SELVER lowers his spear and climbs back on the log, coming to investigate the helmet. Suddenly his ears perk up and he begins to sniff the air. He looks around warily, whispering some warning to LJUBOV.
LJUBOV What is it?
Suddenly a bullet slams into a log next to LJUBOV. LJUBOV and SELVER both roll backwards off the log, hiding behind it. LJUBOV holds his own pistol ready, while SELVER disappears underneath the log. Another shot, and still no sight of anyone in the forest. Then LJUBOV senses something and turns to find CAPTAIN DAVIDSON standing over him with his weapon pointed at his head. He reaches out his hand for LJUBOV’s weapon.
DAVIDSON Freeze! Come on, get up, LJUBOV!
He hands the weapon over as a second man emerges from the foliage in front of the log.
DAVIDSON Go get your ride and take him back to base.
MAN #2 Yes, sir.
The second man starts toward his hopper, as SELVER, crouched under the log, extends his spear and hits DAVIDSON on the leg.
DAVIDSON jumps and lets out an epithet, and looks down at SELVER, puzzled. LJUBOV grabs a branch and knocks him out. He dives for his pistol, and the second man, now climbing into his hopper tries to close the hatch. LJUBOV fires away and hits the hopper’s gasline causing it to explode.
The forest is quiet once more.
SELVER pokes his fuzzy head up from behind the log and regards LJUBOV with a confused expression. He mumbles something in Athshean. LJUBOV hurries over, looking around all the time, and motions the fuzzy little creature into the dense foliage.
LJUBOV Come on, let's get outta here.
As they move into the foliage, SELVER takes the lead. He sings and tugs at LJUBOV to follow him.
**freely adapted from scene 67 of Return of the Jedi, with a surprising minimum of alterations. Lucas must have had this book in mind when he created the Ewoks. The similarities, which go far beyond this imagined scene (and include such things as a town called "Endtor" on a forest planet), are too numerous to be coincedence....more
I must preface my review with my surprise. I just took a look at the responses to this book from my goodreads friends and the star ratings are only faI must preface my review with my surprise. I just took a look at the responses to this book from my goodreads friends and the star ratings are only fair to middling. It makes me wonder if my love for this book is, perhaps, a little misguided. Either that or I am a more discerning reader than everyone else. Yeah ... that's probably it ;) So here's my review:
Iain M. Banks' books are packed with big, way-out-there moments. Grandmas explode, people wake up in rooms full of shit, ships run intentionally aground, hermaphrodites apply to mechanized killing temples to help them make decisions. His work is big and brash and in your face, and extended subtlety is not something Banks often employs. But he can.
Inversions -- his non-Culture Culture novel -- is all subtlety. It is a delicate double tale unlike any other he's told. Two journals, two narratives run parallel in an unnamed world experiencing a sort of Renaissance. A doctor cares for her King. A bodyguard protects his country's Protector. They are two stories that intertwine in only the subtlest ways, providing meditations on the meaning of perspective and how the smallest differences in perspective can alter everything.
The Culture elements that exist in Inversions enrich an already rich story, suggesting a whole universe beyond the confines of the world (only recently discovered to be round instead of flat) and its people, but this time the story doesn't focus on the Culture. Culture’s Contact is at the heart of the novel. It's two main characters are part of the Contact organization, but we don't hear the tale from their perspective, and so Contact remains a subtle thread in a greater tapestry (or a lesser one, depending on one's perspective).
Inversions is about love & hate, revenge & forgiveness, selfishness & selflessness, men & women, illness & health, healing & wounding, peace & violence, and countless other inversions, but none of these pairings are black and white. None are simple. There is no easy judgment between these potential opposites, no good or bad, they simply are, and what one might want to know about them is likely not put into words within the confines of the story. Banks makes us work by making us fill in the blanks. This is the primary tool of his subtlety. But perhaps it is this silence, the silence of the things that are missing, the subtle hints Banks gives us, that say everything that needs to be said.
This book is beautiful. I've described many Banks books in many ways, but beautiful is a new descriptor for me. I want to share the beauty of this book with everyone, but as I learned before writing this review, I may be the only one who sees the beauty of Inversions. That makes me more than a little sad....more
Glen Runciter is dead, or maybe he's not. All the people who work for him inThe concept behind Ubik is as brilliant as any of Philip K. Dick's ideas.
Glen Runciter is dead, or maybe he's not. All the people who work for him in his anti-paranormal "Prudence Organization" are dead, or maybe they're not. But even if they're dead (having been attacked by the big Kahuna of paranormal activity), they're being kept in half-life at a Swiss cryogenic facility where they may now be under attack from a soul predator who sucks the vitality out of their half-life, devouring them to power his own half-life. Maybe. We find out the answer in the end. Or maybe not.
This uncertainty is, of course, on purpose. The author is Philip K. Dick, after all, and bending our minds was always one of his greatest talents.
The problem for me, though, is that Ubik's execution doesn't match the brilliance of the idea it's trying to express. It feels like a lesser episode of The Twilight Zone; one of those episodes that couldn't transcend the time of its making, so we're too aware of its post-Nuclear War, pre-Space Age placement. Ubik, like its Twilight Zone kin, is too dated, which isn't unique in the oeuvre of Dick. Even Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep suffers the same fate, making it one of the rare occasions when many readers find themselves admiring the movie (Blade Runner) more than its source.
I wanted to like this more, and I can imagine an updated film of Ubik (maybe directed by Christopher Nolan) knocking my flip-flops off, but the book was disappointing. What a bummer. ...more
My first impression of Mack Reynolds, based on his Utopian Sci-Fi novel Lagrange Five, is that he is a man who cares deeply about equality -- economicMy first impression of Mack Reynolds, based on his Utopian Sci-Fi novel Lagrange Five, is that he is a man who cares deeply about equality -- economic equality, racial equality and gender equality. But knowing that doesn't make Lagrange Five any less difficult to read.
For all his love of equality, Reynold's story is packed full of uncomfortable language and conventional, '70s era gender and race roles (most of which, sadly, continue into our time). The trouble is that the excellent points Reynolds makes (and there are many) are forced to contend with material that contemporary audiences have been trained to disdain.
For instance, the main female character in Lagrange Five, Susie Hawkins, is really just a classic girl-Friday in a space noir that intentionally channels Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler (which, paradoxically, is one of the most entertaining aspects of Lagrange Five -- the noirishness that is), while Whip Ford, the only significant, non-villainous character of colour, looks exactly like Harry Belafonte and becomes the Tubbs to the hero's Crockett.
It doesn't matter at all that Susie Hawkins is a Doctor. She's still the aide to the great man, Professor George R. Casey, whose disappearance kicks off the noirish mystery, and most of her time in the novel is spent as love interest for our hero -- Rex Bader. But things are much worse for Whip Ford. Not only does he spend most of the novel slagging off every "Whitey" he sees and being described as "the Black" (here's an example: "The Black's eyes were cold, cold now."), but he actually asks Bader to become "an honorary nigger" so that Bader can join the population of his new, segregated space island -- "The Promised Land."
Yep...Reynolds employs language and social roles that society has come to despise over the last thirty years, but he really is employing these things in a way that, at the time, was progressive. One imagines that his books would be very different today and would adhere to our standards and what we now consider forward thinking. And I think there is every possibility that Reynolds villains -- oil rich Arabs who are poisoning the Lagrange water supply -- would be someone else because beneath all the unintentional discomfort, Reynolds wants a world without prejudice or bigotry.
So he gives us a woman doctor in charge of her own sexuality; he gives us a righteously angry black man (and he's careful to let us know that his anger is righteous) who is working to overcome his own racism; he gives us powerful white men and not so powerful white men who are dedicated to equality and project color and gender blindness in all their dealings. Yet there is always that off-putting language to pull us away from the ideals Reynolds is trying to express.
I've been teaching the beginning of Rocannon's World for many years now. I found it as the short story Semley's Necklace in a Sci-Fi anthology, and II've been teaching the beginning of Rocannon's World for many years now. I found it as the short story Semley's Necklace in a Sci-Fi anthology, and I always meant to track down its source, but whenever I remembered to look for it at used book stores it was never there. I recently discovered it had been reprinted, so I finally scored a copy and gave it a much belated read.
It started as I expected (odd that, isn't it?), and the early moments of Rocannon's time on the world that would be named for him were fascinating, then things took a strange meandering turn. Rocannon was off to destroy the ansible of a rebellious alien species who were making their base on the world he'd been studying, using it as a launching pad for war against the Hainish Federation, so he has to get from point A to point B. And that's what the book was, a journey around this world, meeting new alien races, meeting races we already knew, and generally watching Rocannon make myths for the natives with his strange looks and powerful (though simple to him) technology. It was good, I was digging the ride, but there was none of that transcendent LeGuin stamp.
Then came the denoument, and there it was -- the LeGuin greatness. Rocannon's victory. It was potent in an unexpected way. It was tainted, as it had to be, by its very effectiveness. It made me cry. It opened a whole new path of thought in my brain. I love it when she does that to me. Damn she's good. I can't say anything more for fear of wrecking the moment for anyone who decides to read Rocannon's world, but I will say this: "Wow." ...more
I've been meaning to read a Blish novel for years, having read and liked a short story of his -- How Beautiful With Banners -- in a Sci-Fi class years ago, but Blish isn't carried in the book stores within my sphere of contact, and he's never been the first author I think of when I have money to spend online.
I lucked out, though, and found an old, thrashed copy of Black Easter in a used bookstore down the street from where I work. I tossed it in my glove box (because it is always a good idea to have a back up book handy in case of emergencies) and forgot about it.
My emergency came up last week when, before I left for work, I couldn't find the book I was reading, so I needed something to read at lunch. I dug Black Easter out and was quickly knocked on my ass.
I am not usually a fan of fiction that explicitly discusses good and evil. I usually find their philosophy pedestrian and reductive. Too black and white. But Black Easter isn't a pedestrian book, nor is Blish a pedestrian author. I had know idea how talented the man was, but I know now.
Black Easter is a book about black & white magic that is full of demons and ends with the release of Armageddon. Yet it remains Science Fiction. How is that possible? It's possible because Blish offers us the theological science that called magic, which, in its ancient forms (you pick the "-emy" or "-mancy") was the root of all secular sciences. The magicians who practice this theoscience take their work as seriously as a nuclear physicist would, and their practices are as rigorous, their laboratories as specialized, their tools and books as important, their minds as honed as any image we have of today's scientists.
And, like so many who apply the sciences, the black & white magicians play with forces beyond their control, doing things because they can rather than because they should. They use and abuse knowledge, and as the myths of Prometheus and the Garden of Eden have tried to teach us, this knowledge is the root of all evil. So evil exists in Blish's Armageddon world, and it is released with a force on the world that ends everything we know mere hours. And good exists. Too benevolent, too bound by honour, too naive to stop the evil. But even those in the book who practice good, those white magicians we'd expect to be pure and beloved of God, are steeped in evil. They are in concert with demons. They are damned. And their paralysis, brought on by goodness, is tainted with evil.
There isn't much gray in Blish's Black Easter, but the black and the white are everywhere, in everyone, and while they may react like oil and vinegar when in contact, while they may not bleed into each other, they make for a deliciously creepy and stunningly realistic take on black magic and Armageddon.
I had no hopes for the book. I read it because it was Blish and I was hard up, but I was blown away. This is the best book about contemporary magic use I have ever read, and far and away the best expression of Armageddon.
WARNING: This review contains vulgarity. Just so you know. Thanks.
"Well, you read it. How'd it go?" "Well." "Three stars well?" "Yep." "Only three." "For nWARNING: This review contains vulgarity. Just so you know. Thanks.
"Well, you read it. How'd it go?" "Well." "Three stars well?" "Yep." "Only three." "For now." "Because ...?" "Because I am going to have to read this again. That middle section of Sacchetti's ramblings needs to be dissected. I need more time with that portion, and I need to read the whole thing again at a time when I can focus on it and only it." "So you're three stars is kind of bullshit?" "Yeah. Kind of. But I can't give it anything else at the moment. I will say this, I think it is kind of brilliant, and definitely better than any other "let's make them smart" sci-fis I've ever read, and the end is at least as good as Amazing Spider-Man #700." "That good?" "Okay, I was fucking with you there. I think seven hundred wins in the you-know-what sweepstakes. Yeah, I think the ending may be exactly why I am uncomfortable giving this more than three stars right away." "So it was cheesy like a comic book?" "As much as it pains me to say it, yes." "But you loved the last Amazing Spider-Man, so why not this?" "Ummm ... I think you know. The real problem, though, my real problem was the stakes. I think Disch expected his audience to be shocked by the Faustian shit that was going on in Camp Archimedes, and the fact that I wasn't, that what was happening is precisely what I would expect the American government to be wrapped up in (Tuskegee syphilis experiment anyone?), made me feel like Disch was trying too hard to dazzle me, but this is probably a problem of me and my time rather than Disch and his. So ...." "So ...?" "So I am coming back and giving this another go someday. Disch deserves another crack." "In the meantime?" "I'm going to read Spidey again, of course." ...more
Sexism (Misogyny?): Reading Heinlein's books today, any of his books, it's hard not to wince at the things that just aren't acceptable by t
The Bad --
Sexism (Misogyny?): Reading Heinlein's books today, any of his books, it's hard not to wince at the things that just aren't acceptable by today's standards. His sexism is probably the most difficult, so reading a book where the main character, Johann Sebastian Bach Smith has his brain transplanted into the gorgeous and perfect Eunice Branca -- effectively becoming a woman -- is bound to be off-putting. And it is.
The way that Heinlein saw women would make anyone taking a Women's Studies course angry, give a Professor of Women's Studies an aneurysm and make most of the rest of us cringe -- at least. Once Johann becomes Eunice, or Joanne Eunice as s/he has everyone call him/her, we enter Heinlein's vision of what it is to be a woman. His concepts of a woman's power and "utility" are inextricably bound to a woman's sexuality and ability to procreate. Through the lens of today it is undeniably sexist and would more than likely be considered a misogynist vision of femininity.
Conflict: There isn't any. I suppose one could imagine that an ancient man becoming a young, beautiful girl is conflict enough, but it turns out that's not the case. Sure there were a few minor impediments to Joanne Eunice's easy life, which occurred every chapter or so (and more than a few social complications due to his/her surgery), but they were so mundane and handled so perfectly by Joanne Eunice as to be non-starters. No problems in the book, made for a big problem in readability.
The Title: Kept waiting for the "evil" in the title that the characters wouldn't fear and it never came. One of Heinlein's worst titles.
The Weird --
You might think that the idea of a gender reassignment brain transplant from the seventies would be the "weird," but that really wasn't all that weird after all. What was weird was this:
The Juxtaposition: The bulk of I Will Fear No Evil takes place in the mind of Johann Smith, but along with Johann/Joanne, up in that grey matter, is Eunice Branca, so what we get is a constant back and forth between the two. A sort of half flirtation - half support group wherein the two voices navigate their world with one wanting to become the perfect woman and the other making sure he always gets it right so that they can cheer each other on and pat each other on their metaphorical backs. They never argue, so even the multiple voices fail to generate conflict. Joanne Eunice is all harmony. And when those two voices are eventually joined by a third voice and still nothing changes other than to add another harmonious voice to the mix, well, it is one of the weirdest bits of narrative I have ever read (and not terribly effective).
The Good (or maybe just The Interesting)--
A Reminder:: Our western view of sex and sexuality has shifted so much in the decades since I Will Fear No Evil was written that I think many of us who lived through those times forget what the attitudes were, and those who didn't live through those times find it difficult to understand just how different the attitudes were from what they now are.
We take for granted today, for instance, that there are homophobes out there, and that there are people who are belligerent towards the transgendered, but we generally see them as kooks or bigots or flat out evil. Most of us are accepting (and increasingly so) of sexuality and gender fluidity and see that acceptance as a no brainer. We ask the question "Why wouldn't we be?" and expect that we all know the answer. As a bisexual man I am surely pleased with this cultural shift, but I have also been very sensitive to the situation over the years and often had it in the forefront of my mind when dealing with the world.
Similarly and in the other direction, we forget that child molestation/paedophilia was seen differently too. Today we accept it as a horrible evil, but as recently as the Seventies and Eighties our societies saw it as the gateway to the far worse and more disgusting crimes of ... wait for it ... homosexuality and sex change operations. In the city I grew up in, everyone I knew from every community in the city had a child molester living somewhere in their suburb. Everyone knew his or her name, everyone lived calmly with the molester there, and everyone was complicit in sweeping the molestation under the rug. We were trained to steer clear of the molester and if we didn't, it wasn't really a big deal. That's the attitude I grew up with. It came from home, it came from school, it came from friends, it came from television. It came from everyone. We don't feel that way anymore, but we did, and not just the kooks and bigots or those who were flat-out evil.
I Will Fear No Evil is a good reminder (or a primer), for anyone who needs one, of how society saw sexuality not so long ago. I am not entirely sure that this was anywhere in Heinlein's intentions, but there it is for all to see. His strange little novel of Joanne Eunice is a fascinating moment in sexual time, and it is worth a read just for that (of course, don't take Heinlein's sexual fantasies as part of that snapshot. Be careful not to confuse his extreme horniness and rejection of monogamy has part of the reminder, although ...).
Credit to Heinlein: All the sexism (misogyny) aside, who the hell else would write about gender reassignment (Marge Piercy, but only much later) in the seventies, but even more, have all those around the reassigned accept it without even the slightest hint of unease. Every man and woman who comes in contact with Joanne Eunice is instantly at ease with the gender and sexuality of the situation. If they have any problems at all they are about greed or memory, not about gender or sexuality. If nothing else is impressive, this, at least, is.
Every once in a while, when I am in a bookstore, I find myself needing to leave, but I have nothing in my hands. Sometimes it's because I am wanderingEvery once in a while, when I am in a bookstore, I find myself needing to leave, but I have nothing in my hands. Sometimes it's because I am wandering around while the kids are in ballet and I need to get back to pick them up; sometimes it's because I came for something specific and it isn't there; and sometimes it's because I am in the middle of an indecisive phase.
But I have an answer for all this. With time ticking away, I pick a section -- Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery, History, Biography, Fiction, whatever -- and I look for the first name or cover that captures my attention. If it is by an author I don't know I buy it.
I've found this method can turn up some gems, and Philip Palmer's debut novel, Debatable Space, is a particularly shiny example of my spontaneous luck. It sat on my to-read stack for over a year (and when I started reading Debatable Space it was only supposed to give me something to do while I brushed my teeth), but now I wish that I'd read it sooner.
Palmer writes in the classic space opera mode: alien races, bloody battles, interstellar travel, big ideas, even bigger technologies, hot sex, and an epic scope. And he does it with a joy I have seldom witnessed. It's one thing for me to enjoy a book and enjoy my time reading it, but it is quite another to actually feel the author enjoying the writing. I felt Palmer doing just that all the way through Debatable Space.
Palmer really loved writing this book. He loved his version of the universe, of course, and his imaginary technologies. But mostly he loved his characters, and that passion for Lena, Flanagan, the Cheo, Alby and the others makes Debatable Space one hell of a fun read.
Some reviewers have complained about Debatable Space's first person narrative and the way it shifts from character to character (sort of As I Lay Dying on speed), writing that it doesn't really work, but I think most of that frustration comes from their dislike of Palmer's characters. The biggest complaint seems to be that his characters are universally unlikable, which makes me cringe a little because I found them universally the reverse. Flawed, violent, occasionally nasty, but infinitely likable (I imagine that says something about me and the way I see the world)
Setting aside Palmer's love for his characters, though, if a reader doesn't connect with them, I can see how Debatable Space could be difficult to enjoy. Luckily, I didn't have that problem and, while there were some times early on when the characters' voices seemed too alike, I found the first person narrative and multiple viewpoints refreshing.
I was annoyed, though, by some of Palmer's more gimmicky moments -- such as a hang gliding sequence that used two otherwise blank pages to go "up up up" and "down down down" -- and I am not so sure this book will hold up to repeated readings. Still, I have great hope for his future works, one of which, Red Claw, is already out there.
I genuinely loved the time I spent in Palmer's universe.
I also love that if I hadn't been in such a hurry to get home that day all those months ago, I never would have found myself reading about Earth's next thousand years. Spontaneity is good. Try it sometime. ...more