This book blew me away when I first read it twenty years ago, and it demonstrates the one great strength science fiction has over fantasy: its use as...moreThis book blew me away when I first read it twenty years ago, and it demonstrates the one great strength science fiction has over fantasy: its use as a forum for discussing big, real-world issues. My copy is one of the most beat-up books I own, not from rereading it but from loaning it out to other people. In the past couple of decades it's gained a reputation for having been uncannily prescient in its depiction of the near future. Reading it today, it still holds up as a rip-roaring hard science adventure novel, but you also get to play the game of "How much did Brin get right?"
The most spot-on bit of futurecasting, of course, is Brin's prediction of the impact the Internet would have on world culture. Back in 1990, remember, there was no World Wide Web, and the 'net was just an academic geek domain dominated by CompuServe, message boards, and university gophers. (Anyone remember gophers? Anyone? God, I'm old.) Since Brin's an academic himself, that does color his view of what the Internet would be used for - after all, who could have predicted LOLcats? - but he does recognize the potential for social networking a full decade before MySpace and Facebook put it into practice. He even predicted Twitter! (He calls them blips, not tweets, but otherwise they're the same thing.)
Another issue he was at the forefront of, and is one of his big soapbox stances, is the loss of privacy that the information age would bring. How Brin differs from most, though, is that he views the loss of privacy as a good thing - so long as transparency is total, and citizens can spy on their governments as effectively as governments do the same. I can only imagine the gigantic man-crush that Brin must have for Julian Assange.
Above all else, though, Earth is an environmental novel. The most recent equivalent would have to be The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, but where P.B. is a pessimist bordering on nihilism, Brin makes the deliberate choice to be optimistic. We are screwing up the planet, he says, but there's still a chance we can dig ourselves back out of the hole. I think that's a much more useful stance. We have to assume that a solution exists to the world's problems before we can start looking for one. Neither Brin nor Bacigalupi deal much with the wave of environmental denialism we're currently struggling with, but both of their novels are set after a future tipping point, where the Cold Hard Bitch-Slap of Reality (tm) has made any of those kind of discussions moot.(less)
I picked this one up in the sci-fi section of a used bookstore, but I'm not sure that's where it belongs. Rather, I'd classify it as "too loopy for ma...moreI picked this one up in the sci-fi section of a used bookstore, but I'm not sure that's where it belongs. Rather, I'd classify it as "too loopy for mainstream." Its narrator is one Lea Tillim, who has a voice and cadence not unlike Jack Kerouac, if Kerouac had been a tough-as-nails 16-year-old girl living on the street who'd developed the ability to deaden her face and kill people with her brain. Yeah, it's that kind of book.
Lea's sorry life takes a turn for the better when she hooks up with Jack Konar, a "Yid" who's turning a disused room in the back of a Sears into a spaceship that's going to fly him and the other Chosen Ones to meet God in the Garden of Eden, Ish-Ra-El. He's clearly crazy as a loon, until Lea starts to believe that maybe, just maybe, he's not. Jack needs her to protect him from the Evil One (whose agents are everywhere, of course) while he finishes painting the inside of his ship and gathering the Chosen Ones for paradise.
"Breakfast" takes as its premise what can only be described as a classic scizophrenic paranoid delusion, and says "what if it's true?" It's a neat spin, and it's surprising how uplifting the book becomes. After all, who doesn't like an Apocalypse with a happy ending?(less)
Put simply, the words "batshit insane" are not batshit insane enough to describe Scud: The Disposable Assassin. I always thought I was missing out by...morePut simply, the words "batshit insane" are not batshit insane enough to describe Scud: The Disposable Assassin. I always thought I was missing out by not following these comics in their original run, but it's nice to have them all in one volume. I was familiar with the basic premise - a robot assassin programmed to self-destruct when he kills his target instead decides to keep his first victim alive to prolong his own existence - but I had no idea that the world Scud inhabits was so incredibly weird that a computerized killbot would be the everyman character.
There's the crime boss giraffe with the flying saucer for a head. There's the arch-nemesis with mouths in her knees, a giant electric plug for a head, and a fully articulate giant squid grafted to her torso. And Benjamin Franklin, resurrected as an evil necromancer.
The problem in the early chapters is that Rob Schrab's creations are so bizarre it's not entirely clear what you're looking at from one panel to the next. As the comic progresses, either Schrab got better as a cartoonist or I just went a little off-kilter from filling my mind with this stuff. Either way, what shocked me most was that by the huge apocalyptic battle at the end (which is huge and apocalyptic in a way no mainstream comic except for Savage Dragon would have the guts to pull off) I actually cared about all these crazy characters. Who'da thunk?
Word of advice: when you read this, tap into your inner Mel Blanc. You'll want him doing the voices.(less)