This is a good/borderline-great collection of sci-fi shorts compiled and edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan. It has a great introduction thThis is a good/borderline-great collection of sci-fi shorts compiled and edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan. It has a great introduction that proffers a decent definition of the term "space opera", from its inception, through its disparaging adolescence, and now into its renaissance[†]. It has a great cast of authors but... And I feel bad saying this but: I really don't think that it's a collection of "best werk" from all of these authors. Most of the stories are at least good (★★★ on the Goodreads scale) but there are quite a few that are just OK (think ★★). That said, I also felt myself wondering: are we really talking about "space operas" here...?
When I think of a "space opera", I'm thinking of Star Wars and Dune, I'm thinking of galaxy-spanning civilizations and huge fleets of space cruisers captained by messianic psychopaths. I don't think of effete playhouse founders on Mars. (Didn't we talk about that in the introduction?) But then again, there are quite a few stories in here that make up for it.
ANYWAY: Given my tradition of rating collections/anthologies as a computed average of my ratings on the individual stories themselves (out to four decimal places), The New Space Opera scores: 3.1944
Includes: (1) "Saving Tiamaat" by Gwyneth Jones: ★★★★ ➟ First thought was ★★★ but the more I digested this one, the more I liked it. Solid and with a palpable cynicism that was pretty damn appropriate in context.
(2) "Verthandi's Ring" by Ian McDonald: ★★★★
(3) "Hatch" by Robert Reed: ★★
(4) "Winning Peace" by Paul J. McAuley: ★★
(5) "Glory" by Greg Egan: ★★
(6) "Maelstrom" by Kage Baker: ★★ ➟ Didn't really seem to fit the theme (vide supra) — what with the planetary/stellar civilization at play vs. the interplanetary/galactic civilization expected.
(7) "Blessed by an Angel" by Peter F. Hamilton: ★★★ ➟ Anytime a word like "angel" or "devil" is invoked, the author needs to work extra hard to keep from slipping into cliche.
(8) "Who's Afraid of Wolf 359?" by Ken Macleod: ★★★ ➟ Almost ★★★★; it's a brilliant idea that is well (but not perfectly) executed but could stand to be a little clearer. I.e., it needs at least two reads.
(9) "The Valley of Gardens" by Tony Daniel: ★★★★ ➟ Brilliant, almost perfect.
(10) "Dividing the Sustain" by James Patrick Kelly: ★★★★ ➟ A bit prurient and/but clever in a way that makes it all so very worth it.
(11) "Minla's Flowers" by Alastair Reynolds: ★★★★ ➟ A bit over the top, a bit heavy-handed, but overall well-executed. Using a narrator that's not above a bit of petty eye-for-an-eye revenge makes up for it.
(12) "Splinters of Glass" by Mary Rosenblum: ★★
(13) "Remembrance" by Stephen Baxter: ★★★★
(14) "The Emperor and the Maula" by Robert Silverberg: ★★★★★ ➟ Fatality. Flawless victory. I "got it" within the first couple of pages but Silverberg carried it so perfectly.
(15) "The Worm Turns" by Gregory Benford: ★★★
(16) "Send Them Flowers" by Walter Jon Williams: ★★★½ ➟ Weird. And very, very right. But the pace seemed a bit off.
(17) "Art of War" by Nancy Kress: ★★★ ➟ Interesting idea but Kress' male protagonists aren't terribly convincing.
(18) "Muse of Fire" by Dan Simmons: ★★★ ➟ Q.v., "the short version" of my review for Hyperion (since the remarks are more/less the same).
--- † = Though that word is taken from the title of wholly separate but similar anthology.
REAL REVIEW PENDING but super-short version: after having finally read this, I can see why it has been held up as influential and widely regarded as aREAL REVIEW PENDING but super-short version: after having finally read this, I can see why it has been held up as influential and widely regarded as a masterpiece. Dawkins cuts into some deep science here with very accessible language, painting a vivid picture of what genes are, what their function is, as well as what our function is as vehicles for those genes.
SIDE NOTE: Any aspiring science fiction author must read this. If you want to a lush inter-galactic tapestry with bizarre but believable alien species, start close to home. You don't know bizarre until you read about ant queens that invade the colonies of other ant species and secrete mind-control hormones to turn that colonies workers into zombies that murder their own mother....more
Imagine for a moment that you go into the up-scale liquor store around the block that is celebrated city-wide for its fabulous wine selection. You'reImagine for a moment that you go into the up-scale liquor store around the block that is celebrated city-wide for its fabulous wine selection. You're a bit of a novice when it comes to wine and are a little embarrassed to be here because your wallet is that ballistic nylon stuff and not something truly exotic like alligator skin and with that in mind you decide not to ask the sommelier for any help. You browse around the store looking for a bottle of something called David Foster Wallace that was recommended to you by your friend with the alligator skin wallet. You manage to find the bottle of DFW and admire the fancy bottle with its fancy label and its curlicues and footnotes and excellent leading. The bottle seems really heavy and big and everyone has told you how excellent it is. So you decide to try it but when you actually get to the counter you discover that you've picked up a bottle of something called George Saunders by mistake. The George Saunders bottle isn't as big or as fancy as the DFW and in fact it looks a little bit like a down-market or off-label knock-off of the vintage DFW but at the same time you believe that there is maybe something authentic and distinct about it anyway. The sommelier gives you a funny look as he rings you up but you don't say anything because you don't want to look stupid in front of him and anyway you're probably just being self-conscious about the whole thing like the time you had a glass of Pynchon at your friend's house and you said that it was a good Vonnegut and everyone laughed and your friend explained that the Vonnegut has a much sharper finish and you'll notice how the Pynchon seems to hang around in your mouth so much longer but he could see how you might make that mistake. And you try to think about that night on your drive home because it's that same friend with the alligator skin wallet that is coming over for dinner tonight with his wife and you remember how he plays golf with your boss and this is an important event to get right. So that night before the main course you pour everyone's glass in the kitchen so that no one will see the bottle and the secret will be safe with you. And your wife brings out the entree and you bring out the wine and everyone digs in and finds it delicious. Your friend with the alligator skin wallet remarks on how delicious the wine is and did you have any trouble finding the David Foster Wallace at the store? And was the sommelier there helpful? And what year did he recommend because this is really really quite good? And you smile and try to decide whether or not to say anything because you know that you'll need to say something but how are you going to make up something plausible on the spot. But then your wife blurts out that it's really a George Saunders and don't you just love it? Because she slurped down her glass of George Saunders and it was her third of the night anyway because she and your friend's wife managed to down a whole bottle of David Sedaris as a warm-up but they both agreed it was too dry for them even though you and your friend think that it's the perfect middle-of-the-week wine. For a moment you're paralyzed with fear because this was your shot, your chance to show off and really shine and display your competence and you blew it because you were too chicken shit to tell the sommelier at the counter that you picked up the wrong bottle by mistake. But instead your friend raises an eyebrow and says that it's wonderful, just delightful, and he'd never tried it before and though maybe it's not as dry as the DFW, does it ever have a great finish and it's just perfect for a dinner party, isn't it?...more
Micro review: Gurganus has a great, somewhat lyrical style that propels the tapestry of vignettes that comprise this novel; that said, he tips his narMicro review: Gurganus has a great, somewhat lyrical style that propels the tapestry of vignettes that comprise this novel; that said, he tips his narrative hand in the first 30 pages and you spend the next 450 pages playing a sort of emotional defense.
A few miscellaneous points: (1) RE: "vignettes" (v.s.): it took me a while to see how the different scenes fit together into a novelistic arc. It isn't that the vignettes are unrelated or disconnected (viz. they're unified by narrator and (for the most part) by place) just that a few feel like non-sequiturs.
(2) RE: "emotional defense" (v.s.): spending the first section relating to us the final comic catastrophe of one beloved friend dying of HIV means one (and only one thing) when followed by a deep flashback: it means you're going to spend hundreds of pages telling us in fine-grained detail the life stories that might otherwise be relayed in a hundred. And you drag it out and fill it with detail because you want me to get emotionally invested in this motley group that we already know is going to die, one by one.
(3) But Gurganus does have a good style, and it comes across here pretty strongly....more
A tightly themed, well executed collection: Wastelands captures our apocalypse fears and fantasies equally well and sometimes even simultaneously.
AdamA tightly themed, well executed collection: Wastelands captures our apocalypse fears and fantasies equally well and sometimes even simultaneously.
Adams wisely chooses Stephen King's "The End of the Whole Mess" as an opener and moves into all manner of exciting territory from there. Wastelands is the expected mix of strong (and some average) short stories; most of them have a high re-read score and there is an good mix of diverse ideas and themes that keep within the central focus.
THAT SAID: if you are considering this one, read the introduction before you make the purchase. This isn't about zombie plagues or alien invasions or black holes ripping through our space-time continuum. This is about somewhat more plausible apocalypses. Even when they're totally unexplained.
Most of these stories I enjoyed as much as I expected (e.g., "Speech Sounds") and some less so (e.g., "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth") and some more so (e.g., "Salvage"). I won't enumerate the themes you expect in an apocalypse-themed collection; they're all here and they're all in full force. I will remark on the following, however:
* I was a bit amused by how many of these shorts featured nomads; ** and more so by how often those nomads were of the carny folk variety. * The stories seem to be pretty "current" in their bio-engineered plagues and their genetic fall-out and their post-Peak Oil crises and 9/11-kneejerks; the last star in my review would have been earned by but one thorough and explicit treatment of WW3-ish nuclear winter. * Remember: you brought this on yourself.
Rated Individually: • "The End of the Whole Mess" (Stephen King) ★★★★★ • "Salvage" (Orson Scott Card) ★★★ • "The People of Sand and Slag" (Paolo Bacigalupi) ★★★ • "Bread and Bombs" (M. Rickert) ★★★ • "How We Got In Town and Out Again" (Jonathan Lethem) ★★★★ • "Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels" (George R. R. Martin) ★★★★ • "Waiting for the Zephyr" (Tobias S. Buckell) ★★★ • "Never Despair" (Jack McDevitt) ★★★★ • "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth" (Cory Doctorow) ★★★ • "The Last of the O-Forms" (James Van Pelt) ★★★ • "Still Life with Apocalypse" (Richard Kadrey) ★★★★ • "Artie's Angels" (Catherine Wells) ★★★★ • "Judgment Passed" (Jerry Oltion) ★★★ • "Mute" (Gene Wolfe) ★★★★½ • "Inertia" (Nancy Kress) ★★★ • "And the Deep Blue Sea" (Elizabeth Bear) ★★★ • "Speech Sounds" (Octavia Butler) ★★★★ • "Killers" (Carol Emshwiller) ★★★★ • "Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus" (Neal Barrett Jr.) ★★★ • "The End of the World as We Know It" (Dale Bailey) ★★★★★ • "A Song Before Sunset" (David Grigg) ★★★ • "Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers" (John Langan) ★★★★...more
In a nutshell? Uttal is arguing that the modern imaging technologies (e.g., fMRI) are toys used by cognitive neuroscientists that are following theirIn a nutshell? Uttal is arguing that the modern imaging technologies (e.g., fMRI) are toys used by cognitive neuroscientists that are following their theories and using these subtractive methods to come up with supporting data for what is otherwise intractable. In other words, much of modern cognitive neuroscience is on a fool's errand because we really don't even have a working definition for what "thought" and "mind" are and so how could we possibly hope to match up its specific component parts and processes with specific brain regions?
This is a highly technical text, to be sure. (Example: Uttal will throw out a term like "physiological psychology" in contrast to "cognitive neuroscience" without defining the two for differentiation. You are expected to know.)
The underlying thesis here is not that neural imaging is in any way bad or wrong, it is that many researchers are using these techniques in such a fashion that they have not stopped to adequately define the terms they are using or the questions they are asking. Uttal states repeatedly that there is no hard scientific evidence that the brain can be componentized or modularized; he suggests that these localization attempts are futile. (A striking example he gives is how subtractive fMRI was used to provide "evidence" of a "face recognition center" in the brain but how that same brain area showed the same kinds of activation when "recognizing" cars or birds or pictures of places.) Uttal's arguments can be difficult to parse because of their highly nuanced nature; that there is structural specialization within the brain is well-established for many things -- but those "things" are sensory or motor in nature and have no reflection on "cognition". He asks repeatedly: is "cognition" even something that you can define? And if you can define it, is it something that you can measure experimentally? Is cognition directly observable? Or are we limited to observations of cognition's artifacts? Its descendant behaviors?
The book is rigorous and technical; ultimately rewarding but certainly not something to approach casually. (But then again, it is targeted at scientists.)...more
**spoiler alert** FIRSTLY: If the entire novel had bristled with the same energy and momentum as the bottom half of the book (i.e., from "Holy Mountai**spoiler alert** FIRSTLY: If the entire novel had bristled with the same energy and momentum as the bottom half of the book (i.e., from "Holy Mountain" through to "Night Train") then my review here would bristle with five stars. That said, I also do not believe that those subsequent chapters could have been nearly as successful without the supporting cast of Okinawa, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. (Jury is still out on the closer, Underground.)
David Mitchell delivers a very strong novel here. Stylistically, it is very mature -- especially for a first novel from such a young author. He is able to bring themes, concepts, and phrases from one section into another apparently disjointed section fluidly, naturally and -- most of the time -- without that recurrence or repetition feeling like a gimmick. Mitchell is screwing with you (the reader), and you both know it, but the reason that you believe he is screwing with you is a little bit different than the reason he believes he is screwing with you. Meanwhile, the narrative has an agenda of its own. The comparisons to Haruki Murakami are justified but not all together accurate; Murakami blissfully and accidentally trips into an improbable parallel universe while Mitchell begrudgingly tries to inch his way back from a very possible tangential universe.
Now there were two thematic elements of the story that jumped out at me as worthy of commenting upon:
(1) Varying shades of apocalypse. Maybe my sensitivity to the subject is up because I'm also neck-deep in the John Joseph Adams collection " Wastelands" but there is a sense of penultimate destruction within each of the disjointed narratives in Ghostwritten. We start with a cult member trying to hurry along a very eschatological apocalypse and over the course of 400 more pages, we work our way through every flavor of personal or global threat we can stomach. The whimsical, speculative damnation of the "Night Train" component was clearly my favorite. (Though "Holy Mountain" blew my mind for the way tone and voice was used as the treatment for personal and national world-ending.)
(2) Have any other readers picked up on the sub-text that concerns conception and birth? Every one of these tales somehow works in a child (real or imagined, material or emblematic) that I presume is supposed to function as a cue for each story's theme. But the children aren't safe and sound. They're adopted orphans, aborted fetuses, ghosts of infanticide, bastards, parents that can't conceive, a precocious matricidal AI... I have not quite figured out this sub-text yet (hence the "to-re-read" shelving) but it's definitely there. And it is haunting me....more
Fix, Freeze, Feast is just about the most awesome "bulk buy, prep, and freeze" type cookbook out there. We (well, A.) looked at several cookbooks in tFix, Freeze, Feast is just about the most awesome "bulk buy, prep, and freeze" type cookbook out there. We (well, A.) looked at several cookbooks in this category before ultimately settling on this one. Whereas most of the others use a great many processed ingredients (think "Cheez-Whiz"), this one uses fresh ingredients more/less exclusively. It has a great introductory section that talks about warehouse shopping (think: "CostCo") and how to buy bulk quantities intelligently to minimize waste while maximizing the variety of meals.
Curiously good: » I've never seen a binding like this before but it makes sense on a cookbook (heavy, utility-grade cardboard covers) » the pages are nice and smooth and look like you could wipe them off pretty easily if you needed to » there is an appendix that includes some thawing/cooking labels that you can photocopy and place into the freezer bags to help keep things straight
Why only ★★★★☆ (4 of 5): » most meals are pretty meat-heavy; we're not exclusively vegetarians but it would have been nice to have a few more meatless recipes (or recipes that included more than meats and cheeses) » no pictures (I feel like there should be a law requiring pictures in cookbooks) » the chapter on "sides" is shared with the few vegetarian recipes ... and also the soups; could have used some more recipes for side dishes » the font size for the actual recipes could have been about 2 pt. larger...
That said: heartily recommended to anyone planning on prepping some freezer meals.
UPDATE: Also, don't let the book patronize you. There's a passage in there somewhere that talks about "if the recipe calls for 1.5 lbs. and your CostCo purchased package of meat contains 4.5 lbs. and you want to use up all the meat for this dish then you'll want to multiply all the other ingredients by 3..." Yikes! Thanks for the algebra lesson?
The Year of the Flood is a gripping book about forgiveness and humanity, and about renewal. But that last bit ought to be obvious from the title, righThe Year of the Flood is a gripping book about forgiveness and humanity, and about renewal. But that last bit ought to be obvious from the title, right? Aren't all "flood" myths basically about destroying what was old to give rise to something new? And aren't all flood myths  more/less predicated on the world arriving in some terminally corrupt state?
As such: the post-apocalyptic elements reminded me a little bit  of The Road.
As such: it was an interesting book to read just after finishing Darwin's Radio, wherein the sudden/single-generation changes in human-kind was brought about by environmental factors triggering a virus which triggered rapid speciation; versus here in Atwood's book where "the new humans"  are of our own design, and of our own creation. It's funny to watch those two ideas play off of each other in recent memory. And though Greg Bear has a whole appendix to back up his science, and though Bear's depiction of rapid-speciation smack in the middle of "the height" of human civilization is probably more realistic... there is something about Atwood's slash-and-burn house-cleaning viral apocalypse that feels more honest, more genuine in a symbolic and literary sense than any attempt at realism could ever be.
Which brought me to another realization--and this not about The Year of the Flood in particular, but about science fiction in a general sense. Isn't all science fiction ultimately "post-apocalyptic"? Even your scintillating far-future utopias? Don't science fiction futures (in large part) require the total annihilation of the world as we know it in order for their settings and premises to work?
 Well... Western flood myths, at any rate.
 Mostly just the husk-of-the-modern-world, let's-march-to-the-sea bit.
 Which seem relegated to (non-DFW's) literature's equivalent of a minor footnote, just before the end. ("The blue people" even got ever-so-slightly more face-time in Oryx & Crake but that seems... unimportant.)...more
Right from the first page, Douglas Rushkoff's book Program or Be Programmed reminded me of Nicholas Carr's, The Shallows  -- only with a broader Right from the first page, Douglas Rushkoff's book Program or Be Programmed reminded me of Nicholas Carr's, The Shallows  -- only with a broader scope and more buzzwords and a less gloomy appraisal of the subject. I read The Shallows last year, and though it was interesting, it was also overly dramatic, and was too timid in its speculations -- and thus it failed to draw fully-baked conclusions or make substantive predictions. We walk away with Carr's Neural Doomsday:
The price we pay to assume technology's power is alienation.
Rushkoff dives into a lot of the same territory as Carr. They both discuss (and not wholly favorably) the optimistic futurists that long for the infinite memory of their "outboard brain[s]", those same futurists that assume that our cybernetic evolution will (through technology) give us powers that are indistinguishable from telepathy. On the flip of super-human memory and super-human emotion/intelligence-sharing, both Carr and Rushkoff talk about the flavor of hyper-facile "breadth-only/depth-never" searches that are encouraged by the very design of systems like Google and Wikipedia. This is where we start to see differences in their approaches to the subject though: Carr sees us as being "reprogrammed" by those systems to think in a specific and narrow way; meanwhile, Rushkoff points to those systems and says that what's happening is us bending to the bias of the machine, instead of taking advantage of those machine biases to do for us what is otherwise difficult or repetitive or time-consuming. Rushkoff's argument is similar to Carr's but subtly and importantly different -- he is not quick to cast off these powerful and seductive tools, but instead urges us to remember that they are simply a means through which to achieve our ultimate goals, which are really about meaningful contact with other human beings. If going head-to-head, I'm sure that Carr would cite McLuhan and accuse Rushkoff of making David Sarnoff's argument, placing all of the blame on the consumer. On the surface, this would seem true; after all, isn't Rushkoff imploring us in the title to take control by learning the fundamental means of production for digital content?
As I disagreed with Carr on this before, I disagree with him now. Rushkoff is not naïve in invoking neuroplasticity  here. He wisely points out that the reason we assume the shape of "the machine's" biases is because it is convenient to do so, and in large part it is convenient because the masters of those machines have made it that way. Rushkoff cites how American pedagogy looks at computer literacy through the lens of usage and consumption -- "how do you enter data into last year's version of Excel?" instead of "how would you go about designing a data aggregation and analytics engine on your own?" Rushkoff goes beyond that to point out that even the language around the simple act of installing software ("the Wizard" in Windows) is constructed to mystify and obfuscate it behind abstractions -- and that is to say nothing of the mechanism itself. He does not damn all creators of software , but he does point the finger in that direction. So what Rushkoff is saying is not that those machine biases are bad  -- but that our approach to learning and interacting with those systems is flawed, and in part that is an incidental conspiracy on the part of those creators to feed what they want into those systems. But... re-enter neuroplasticity -- the brain mechanism that causes us to take the shape of those machine biases is also the same one responsible for the kind of technological re-appropriation that William Gibson often talks about  -- and that's enough of an argument to say that we can and often do "snap out of it" and shape the tools to our desires and needs.
That technological re-appropriation is in the spirit of the type of New Media Literacy that Rushkoff would have us learn, and which Carr seems to mention only obliquely and incompletely and perhaps a bit timorously. To Rushkoff, "the new literacy" -- as mentioned above -- is woefully insufficient. Learning "spreadsheet skills"  like data-entry and copy/paste and sorting/filtering is ultimately just cranking out more consumers (albeit spreadsheet consumers) and is not encouraging creativity or even thoughtfulness. As a consequence, the lessons learned for our un-fun software become the same lessons for our fun/social  software -- we graze from them, we engage shallowly with those systems, and since we use those systems to mediate our social connections, then those interactions become increasingly shallow as well.
Once again, we have Rushkoff's theses dovetailing with Carr's. They both assert that taking the shape of the machine's bias puts you at a disadvantage, that you wind up fetishizing the gadgets themselves instead of putting them to work for you. But Carr offers us his ditch-digger analogy  and stops coyly and obliquely short -- abstaining from any speculation on how we might save ourselves. Meanwhile, Rushkoff comes right out and delivers a proposed salvation in the form of an ultimatum: "Program or be programmed."  But that ultimatum is just a stand-in or metaphor for something else: "Think, synthesize, and create -- don't just consume."
There is a great deal more than just the above going on Rushkoff's book. I've focused on these items because it makes a great (and significantly more positive) companion piece to Nicholas Carr's book.  But Rushkoff discusses more than just "machine biases" and "spreadsheet skills"; he talks about identity and anonymity, about factuality and openness, about nuance... He talks coherently and passionately about a great many things in the span of 150 pages.  And he delivers these points in such a way that anyone can read them, that anyone can process them and act on them. He wants you to act on these "commands". And for all of my minor criticisms , I would want you to read and act on these "commands" as well.
2: Carr also invokes neuroplasticity in his text, but he sees it as dooming us to forever mutate into impulse-driven click-hungry meat-terminals for machine masters. (Okay, that is maybe going a little too far into what I perceive to be the spirit of his text...)
3: Mostly Rushkoff is just damning the commercial creators. He seems to have kind words for free/open source software (FOSS) developers, and the FOSS movement on the whole. And/but that said, I was a little surprised that he didn't jump in and link this "abstractions" business up with how developers are (by and large) lazy -- inasmuch as "lazy" developers are "lazy" because they are not interested in re-solving solved problems unless those problems are worth re-solving. (Did that make sense?)
4: In a way, he argues that these biases are essential -- that the machines are designed to compensate for things that we (as human beings) do not do well, and/or do not like to do.
7: Though I almost didn't stick "social" in there, since Rushkoff believes that all software is social, since "the point" of all software is to connect users to other users, people to other people, to enable sharing between them and strengthen social bonds. Like the digital equivalent of primates grooming each other?
8: In case you didn't read it yourself, I'll summarize the ditch-digger analogy as follows: "Is it better to dig a longer and wider ditch in half the time with your steam shovel if it means that your muscles atrophy as a consequence?"
9: Although, let's be honest here -- there isn't much real/actual discussion of programming until the very end of the text. And even then, it's only really few pages in the last chapter and then a page or two of references in the bibliography.
10: ...which I recommend despite despising it.
11: Screw it, here are the ten "commands" from the table of contents:
(1) Time - do not be always on (2) Place - live in person (3) Choice - you may always choose none of the above (4) Complexity - you are never completely right (5) Scale - one size does not fit all (6) Identity - be yourself (7) Social - do not sell your friends (8) Fact - tell the truth (9) Openness - share, don't steal (10) Purpose - program or be programmed
And as a brief side note there: after reading the chapter on "Choice", I felt surprised that Rushkoff's "Essential Reading" section did not include Sheena Iyengar's The Art of Choosing. But I suppose that they did come out at about the same time...
12: And there were a few... I could have done without some of the lurid buzz-wordy passages; and they could have done another editorial pass (some of the sentences seemed to be missing... an important verb or two); and he sometimes flubbed certain scientific elements... but it's all water under the bridge in light of his central thesis and commitment to the subject matter. ...more
Perhaps it is unfair to George Saunders to review Civil War Land in Bad Decline when Pastoralia was the book that introduced me to him. But that iPerhaps it is unfair to George Saunders to review Civil War Land in Bad Decline when Pastoralia was the book that introduced me to him. But that is the order in which they were read and so that is the order in which I evaluate them. That being said, I suspect I may have been more pleased with this collection had Pastoralia glinted suggestively from the future instead of casting a shadow from this reader's recent past.
Civil War Land in Bad Decline opens with a short story of the same name. And in many ways there is a flash of instant recognition with "Pastoralia" -- the short story that opens the collection sharing its name. The recognition comes from many familiar-sounding echoes: people that live in or are otherwise bound to theme parks, "fake" elements of the landscape (e.g., brooks, bugs), a never-ending stream of performance evaluations and other paperwork, ghosts and other shambling undead cast members... Perhaps these are the hallmarks of Saunders' work but these elements are more pronounced and repeat more often in these collected stories; Pastoralia's seemed to temper them better, rationing out these specific images more judiciously.
Maybe Saunders was just more mature when he wrote Pastoralia. I know that I read that one in about a day; compare with Civil War Land in Bad Decline where I started it and then took a 3-4 day hiatus before resuming -- not really missing it and knowing that (1) I'd remember where I left off because (2) I had a pretty good idea of where it was going.
And where it goes is into some pretty bleak territory. If you're optimistic, you might say that Saunders has given us a black comedy. But I'm not so optimistic. I'll admit there are some catchy one-liners, some humorous insights and laugh-out-loud mise en scène -- but there is a grim fatalism that looms over everything. Everyone and everything in Saunders' stories is destined for failure. Hen-pecking and cuckoldry prevail; abusive bosses nit-pick their employees more/less to literal death; good intentions are met with skepticism and rejection -- moments of apparent acceptance or good fortune are thinly veiled cynical plays of one-upmanship. No one is safe. Everyone is out to get you.
You have to stop and wonder what it's like to be married to this guy.
The epiphany moment was, for me, while reading the second story -- "Isabelle". It struck me as somehow better that "Civil War Land in Bad Decline" but it was also a bit more oblique and morally cloying. It reminded me of David Foster Wallace's "Think" -- only without the prurient overtones that got me all excited (right before making me feel bad that I kinda/sorta hoped this guy might cheat on his wife).
And perhaps that's where I feel myself leaving off with George Saunders. Like I (the proverbial Reader) have already married DFW and I'm sneaking off to these motel rooms with handsome George for lunch-break trysts. It isn't that he isn't a good lover (writer) and isn't that I couldn't love him (his stories). But the timing was wrong. He came along after the vows had been spoken and I'd committed myself to Wallace. We could have been so happy together but instead we sneak off and keep it clandestine. We should cut this off, George; you've grown and you should be happy but it can't be with me. I feel I'm being dishonest... Am I being unfaithful to DFW? Or in having married myself to him am I unfaithful to you? Even just asking these questions only seems to make your missives to me (your stories) that much more bleak, that much more depressing and hopeless.
At least as we part ways and we close the pages of this volume, you manage to pull yourself together and prove to me that you need not remain mired in despair, that you're going to be just fine.
Every other review of this book that you read will sum this up pretty well: that this book is a briskly-paced, well-executed tale of running, of a "seEvery other review of this book that you read will sum this up pretty well: that this book is a briskly-paced, well-executed tale of running, of a "secret tribe" in Mexico that has basically made an art of ultra-running, of the people world-wide that are truly passionate about putting their bodies into motion and not stopping for hundreds of miles. Also, that your fancy shoes are the reason you're getting plantar fasciitis.
So if you want the details on all that, and if you want to get pumped up about barefoot running (you pervert) then have right at it.
Instead, I want to put out there a serious question about what seems like a pretty big inconsistency in the text that I'm having trouble reconciling:
First -- there is quite a bit in the text where it seems that McDougall is suggesting that a vegetarian diet is the way to go for the elite ultrarunner. Put down your lean meat and go after the beans and pinole. Runner after runner in chapter after chapter, all of them seem to say that they've gone and eschewed meat, that they "eat like a poor person", and they've never felt better, and never run better (nor run longer). And yet...
Second -- there is this section where McDougall starts talking about the evolution of Homo sapiens, and this conjecture that we "defeated" our Neanderthal cousins in the evolutionary arms race because we "ran our prey to death". In other words, our species learned to run so that it could more easily obtain meat, and the improved access to meat was a huge driver behind the survival of our species, behind the further development of our brain.
But this contradiction isn't really explored. Evolution has strong feedback effects built in. So if we're running to get meat, why eschew the meat hundreds of thousands (millions?) of years later? Does the access to the meat simply open the door and once through it we're better off without it? Or is there more to this story?