Appleseed meets Keystone Cops by way of Mad Magazine. Seriously, at times Dominion reads less like a Masamune Shirow book and more like a Sergio Arago...moreAppleseed meets Keystone Cops by way of Mad Magazine. Seriously, at times Dominion reads less like a Masamune Shirow book and more like a Sergio Aragones parody of Ghost in the Shell. I've always appreciated that Shirow's manga had more light-hearted humor than the movie versions of his work, but when he puts the humor to the forefront it kind of falls apart. Still, you get everything you want from a Shirow story: underdog crimefighters, near-future dystopia, and sexy chicks with heavy artillery.
This volume collects the original Dominion series and the "Phantom of the Audience" one-shot.(less)
So when I decided to revisit Asimov this year, my battle plan was to do the original Foundation Trilogy interspersed with...more(2013 Asimov Re-Read, book 2)
So when I decided to revisit Asimov this year, my battle plan was to do the original Foundation Trilogy interspersed with the three Galactic Empire novels in the order of publication. I enjoyed Foundation as much as I did back in high school, but I remembered having a hard time with Pebble in the Sky. I'd hoped that I'd appreciate it more coming to it as an adult, but while it has plenty of interesting ideas, they don't quite fit together as a novel. This was Asimov's first stab at a novel-length story, and it shows that he still hadn't quite figured out what to do with the longer format.
The book opens in the "present day" of 1950 or so, when due to a nearby nuclear accident, retired tailor Joseph Schwartz gets zapped 50,000 years into the future to an Earth that has been ravaged by radiation and marginalized by the rest of the Galaxy. This is a great hook and would have been a fascinating premise had Asimov stuck with it as the main thrust of his story. However, instead of sticking with Schwartz finding himself in a strange new world, the plot veers all over the place, bringing in an archaeologist from Sirius, a scientist experimenting on enhancing people's brains, his plucky daughter, a family of farmers hiding an elderly relative from the law, and a power-mad politician planning to wage a one-planet war against the whole of the Galactic Empire.
Seriously, Pebble in the Sky has about as many plot threads and point-of-view characters as a Tom Clancy novel, but at 200 pages has none of the length required to do any of the book's ideas justice. What's worse, none of the characters except Schwartz are sympathetic in any way, and he vanishes from the story for chapters at a time. The book picks up steam toward the end when most of the plot threads converge, but the resolution happens completely "off stage" while the reader is subjected to twenty pages of pompous, annoying characters screaming at each other.
Oh well. Can't win 'em all. Next stop: Foundation and Empire.(less)
Dystopia’s been quite the rage lately, what with the overall feeling that civilization’s about to slide into an energy-starved, polluted, underfed apo...moreDystopia’s been quite the rage lately, what with the overall feeling that civilization’s about to slide into an energy-starved, polluted, underfed apocalypse (see: the works of Paulo Bacigalupi), but science fiction isn’t just about providing dire warnings; part of its job is also to propose hypothetical solutions.
Metatropolis reads as a semi-hopeful rebuttal to The Windup Girl. The authors admit that yes, human civilization cannot and will not survive indefinitely in its present form (it never does) but the five authors also make the assumption that people Will Find A Way to survive and thrive in the future, and they try to work out what that way is.
A lot of it hinges on “distributed resources” and such that sounds more than a little like communism without the charismatic dictators, a la Lenin or Mao. Jay Lake addresses the Charismatic Leader problem right away, but his personality cult – an overt Christ-figure – has the decency to inspire for a while and then get out of the way. In Tobias Buckell’s story, he introduces a couple of fun ideas: the conversion of disused skyscrapers into vertical farms and gardens and the idea of “turking” as a way of dividing complicated tasks between dozens of unconnected individuals who individually have no idea of whatever kind of scheme they’re a part of. Elizabeth Bear provides the closest thing to a weak point in the anthology with a story that rehashes some of the themes from the first two, yet is heavy on preaching and low on story.
John Scalzi, as can be expected, brings the snark and delivers the most fun (and blue-collar) addition to the book with a story about high-tech, near-future pig farming (which I enjoyed all the more because I was recently made to read Robert Heinlein’s dreadful Farmer in the Sky). Karl Schroeder provides the capstone with a story that earns Metatropolis a five-star-rating all on its own, by proposing cities within cities and virtual parallel worlds layered on top of our own by taking social networking and MMORPG concepts to their logical next steps. Schroeder’s story in particular offers a world that I can easily see becoming a reality with only a little more technology than we have at present, but with a social order so alien as to make it seem like diving through the layers of reality in Inception while fully awake. (less)
Quick, flippant review: Just like No Country for Old Men but with robots and punctuation marks.
For real this time:
It’s hard to sum up this book. The o...moreQuick, flippant review: Just like No Country for Old Men but with robots and punctuation marks.
For real this time:
It’s hard to sum up this book. The obvious options are synopsis and hyperbole, and I’ll try to avoid either. It’s also hard to talk about this book without bringing up the movie, so I’ll get that out of the way first. I’m a huge fan of the film, especially the re-cut version, but I’m glad they changed the title; it makes it easier to keep the book and movie separate in my mind. Some of the characters have the same names and some of individual scenes take place in both, but the context, the meaning, and the resolution are, in either case, worlds apart. The Rick Deckard of Do Androids Dream is no Harrison Ford. Paul Giamatti, maybe.
The crux of the film was the injustice of the androids’ slavery, condemned to live painfully short lives by an uncaring creator. The focus of the book, on the other hand, is empathy. Androids have no empathy. They don’t even truly believe it exists. Humans have it, but most of that is artificial.
In Dick’s novel, there are very few humans left, and fewer animals of any kind. People artificially induce emotional states in themselves via a “mood organ” and they share artificial empathy with each other by communing with a VR messiah-figure named Wilber Mercer. To care for a living animal is a mark of social status, and those who can’t afford one have to make do with mechanical substitutes to keep up appearances. There are mechanical copies of people as well, but that’s another matter.
Deckard hunts androids down, but he doubts himself when he begins to feel empathy for his victims. Another bounty hunter in the novel doubts his own humanity because of the things his job requires him to do. We don’t even understand why androids need to be destroyed until a chilling scene near the end where an android character, who seemed sympathetic until that moment, tortures a small animal just to see what would happen – not because the android was evil, but because it had no empathy.
In the end, Deckard is left with the consequences of the terrible acts he has to carry out and finds himself no longer able to shut away his feelings for those he is required to kill. At the same time, he is trapped by the knowledge that the murders he committed had to be done. His newfound empathy, genuine empathy, cannot change the past, and to carry it into the future will be a burden with little real reward. (less)
One thing Tim Hamilton's adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 brings home is that this classic story isn't about some far future dystopia where reading is ban...moreOne thing Tim Hamilton's adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 brings home is that this classic story isn't about some far future dystopia where reading is banned by some authoritarian government. This is a book about today, no matter when you're reading it, and the impulses in a lazy, distracted society not just to censor, but to willingly turn a blind eye to the accumulated knowledge of centuries in favor of fast cars, wide-screen TVs, and feelings of personal security in times of constant war. Sound familiar?
In graphic novels, one tends to judge the art on the basis of either its realism or its stylistic flourishes. This is one of those books where the main thing that struck me was the use of color. No bright, four-color panels here, folks. The palette is nothing but autumn colors - late autumn moving into winter, just like the dying society depicted in the novel. There's not a shred of green to be found anywhere, and the use of the color blue stops with the death of one of the key characters early in the novel. After that, it's nothing but muted browns, yellows and orange. And red. Lots and lots of red.
One last note: in the film version of Fahrenheit 451 it wasn't only books that were gone, but all reading in particular. What communication and instruction there is was done through wordless comic books. How ironic, then, that we now have a comic book version of a novel that celebrates the power of prose, approved of by its own author. (Of course, if reading itself is a lost art, the plot wouldn't make any sense. If no one knew how to read at all, then books wouldn't be any danger. But I digress...) (less)
So much for the future. Forget space travel - in fact, forget traveling very far from your home, except by horse or sailboat. Anything else requires c...moreSo much for the future. Forget space travel - in fact, forget traveling very far from your home, except by horse or sailboat. Anything else requires cheap fuel, which probably won't be around for much longer. You can also give up on pizza night. When the cost of transporting food becomes as prohibitive as the cost of transporting anything else, we won't be eating much of anything that we can't grow in our own backyard. Oh, but wait... we don't have backyards any more since (in urban areas, at least) we paved over all our arable farmland to build subdivisions, shopping malls, industrial complexes, and parking lots.
Basically, we're screwed.
Terry Goodkind commented that people will believe something because a) they want it to be true, or b) they're afraid it might be true. I believe the future of The Windup Girl because it scares the crap out of me. In the 22nd century, energy is scarce and food is scarcer. "Calories" are now currency, and to make matters worse, a cabal of big-Agri companies, not satisfied with flooding the market with their patented, infertile crops, have released engineered plagues into the environment with the goal of wiping out any food source for which they don't own the monopoly.
With the help of a renegade gene-hacker, the Kingdom of Thailand has managed to keep out the plagues of the West and remain a viable nation, but its grip on independence is slipping due to corruption from within. Into this mix comes Emiko, a genetically-engineered New Person - a "windup" - one of a new species designed to not only live, but to thrive in a future altered beyond recognition from our own. The question is: will the windup girl and her like be able to survive the death throes of the original human race?(less)
You have to stand in awe of the way Cherie Priest managed to tap into the pop culture zeitgeist with her steampunk zombie pulp-fest. Anyone who thinks...moreYou have to stand in awe of the way Cherie Priest managed to tap into the pop culture zeitgeist with her steampunk zombie pulp-fest. Anyone who thinks she was simply following these trends doesn't appreciate exactly how long it takes to get a book from idea to the shelf. It feels as if Priest was trying to write the definitive steampunk novel, with solid, logical reasons for all of the standard trappings: goggles, airships, advanced weaponry, and mad science. It will be interesting to see where she goes with the series. Boneshaker loses a little bit of steam (heh) in the middle, but picks up again toward the end to a satisfying conclusion.
There are only two quibbles that I have with the story: One, Priest postulates an entire society of people living "on the edge" in a zombie-infested Seattle, but she never (to my mind) gives a pressing reason why any of these people would choose to remain. They're not trapped, since there is commerce with the outside world. Supposedly this society exists because the zombie-gas that caused the problem in the first place can be refined into a narcotic, but if they're staying in Seattle for the money, what do they plan to spend it on?
Two- I don't really feel that Priest did right by her villain, Minnericht. He stays in the shadows for most of the novel, and when he finally does appear on the scene, he breathes a burst of new life into the story. Unfortunately, the mystery of Minnericht's identity is revealed a little too easily, and the way that it happens effectively emasculates him as an antagonist.
Nevertheless, the final chapters in particular are beautifully written, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the story goes in volume 2.(less)
I've read lots of classic SF, but now, at last, I've found the missing link between Isaac Asimov and E.E. Smith, the transition stage between thoughtf...moreI've read lots of classic SF, but now, at last, I've found the missing link between Isaac Asimov and E.E. Smith, the transition stage between thoughtful, character driven science fiction and the Atomic! Age! of Super! Science! Van Vogt's prose is just far enough on the clunky side of pulp to make it jarring to modern ears, but the main thing that might hold a modern reader back from this book is that so many of the ideas Vogt introduces have since passed into the realm of cliche. If you put the book in its historical context, it becomes clear how much of a debt Van Vogt is owed.
Super-powered mutants fighting to protect a world that hates and fears them? Check. An oppressive totalitarian government that uses fear to control the populace? Check. A eugenics program aimed at creating the perfect super-being, destined to one day avenge his parents and come into his ultimate power? I could go on, and that's without even getting to the underground cities, hypnosis crystals, disintegration rays, conspiracies within conspiracies, and the secret colony on Mars.
What I enjoyed most in Slan is that, while there is a clear-cut protagonist, the sides of "right" and "wrong" are murky and indistinguishable right up to the very end - a far cry from the pulp adventures of the Lensmen or John Carter. My one complaint is that the hero, Jommy Cross, lacks anything like an equal or counterweight to play against. Still, it's a quick, enjoyable, Slam! Bang! and yet surprisingly thoughtful read.(less)
It's been a long, long time since I've been sucked into a novel so completely as I was with this one. Talk about narrative drive - Suzanne Collins has...moreIt's been a long, long time since I've been sucked into a novel so completely as I was with this one. Talk about narrative drive - Suzanne Collins has it in spades. For the most part, I think of myself as a slow reader, but this one makes me think that maybe I've just been reading slow books.
The Hunger Games is not only engaging, but probably the most brutal book I've read in years. In a way, it's manipulative - gladiatorial combat to the death involving children is an automatic emotional sucker-punch - but Collins goes for tension over shock value. The level of suspense in this book is as sharp as a knife-edge, and doesn't let up - even on the last page.
The trick she plays, I think, is that she never completely takes away all the main character's sense of hope. That's the mistake most dystopian fiction makes: if the protagonist's situation is too bleak, the reader will often shut them out and stop identifying. By occasionally restoring Katniss Everdeen's hope that she can get out of the Games alive, Collins sucks us back to her hellish future, page after page after page.(less)
Here's something you don't see much of any more - Social Science Fiction. The World Inside is a product of the era that also gave us Logan's Run and T...moreHere's something you don't see much of any more - Social Science Fiction. The World Inside is a product of the era that also gave us Logan's Run and THX-1138, and is something of the same ilk. Several centuries into the future, the human race has moved into giant monolithic city-buildings called "urbmons" that each house almost a million people. Society has made some rather extreme adaptations to living in such close confinement: every freedom is supressed except for one - sex - and on sex, the only restriction is that no one is allowed to say "no."
Silverberg posits an interesting situation and commits to it, exploring as many consequences of his idea as he can come up with. The book is structured into seven chapters that act as inter-connecting short stories, each focusing on a different inhabitant of Urbmon 116. It lacks a traditional plot structure, but Silverberg is going for the "literary" here, and it mostly works. The World Inside is a book that keeps you thinking.
As intriguing a vision of the future it presents, The World Inside is very much a product of its time. Published in 1971, it straddles the psychedelic '60s and the swinging '70s in a lot of its attitudes. So far as I can tell, there are no non-Euro-American characters, and while there's an awful lot of sex, women are relegated to a passive, domestic role with essentially no power. Whether those were deliberate choices by the author or just a 1960's blind spot, it's hard to say.(less)