Doom Days is an anthology in the same spirit as Larry Niven's Man-Kzin Wars series or Robert Lynn Asprin's Thieves' World  -- a "shared world"Doom Days is an anthology in the same spirit as Larry Niven's Man-Kzin Wars series or Robert Lynn Asprin's Thieves' World  -- a "shared world" anthology conceived by one author, but the individual (and loosely-connected) stories written by several others besides. This particular set of stories is set in a post-apocalyptic United States  -- specifically the fictional town of Thorn Creek, North Carolina, a bit outside of Raleigh. The nature of the apocalypse ("the Collapse") is never really explored, and stories focus instead on the hard-scrabble lives of the characters scraping out their existence within the milieu. The stories are populated by a diverse cast of relatable, mostly "morally good"  protagonists against a largely invisible back-drop of scavengers, opportunists, bandits, slavers, and... intellectual terrorists? 
At their hearts, post-apocalyptic stories tend to be "what if?" fantasies that let the author(s) plant little utopian seeds in the midst of some of the most difficult and taxing periods they can imagine. (It's convenient, really.) They're fun to contemplate. "What if we got rid of all these modern trappings and went down to basics--would we wind up making the same mistakes?" They're fables, morality plays. They're easy because we get to have a simple-yet-familiar world in which to explore what feel like fundamental questions. But just because they're easy doesn't make them bad. They work. As Dale Bailey wrote:
The truth is, almost all end-of-the-world stories are at some level Adam-and-Eve stories.
And the Doom Days anthology is no different. 
Overall, the stories are pretty good. "Grasshopper Song" alone makes the whole thing worth the $2.99 Kindle price.
DISCLOSURE: I received a copy from the author in exchange for writing a review.
 The former was the first one that came to mind for me; the latter was the one cited in the author's note.
 No real discussion of whether this "Collapse" affects the rest of the world. It's suggested that it does, but it's also suggested that places like Canada and Mexico are somehow "safe(r)". It doesn't totally add up, but given its local focus and the somewhat specifically narrow scope of the story, I don't think it matters that this isn't explored.
 "Morally good" being in the traditional Western more/less Judeo-Christian sense of the phrase here. Not Mega-Church Ultra-Right Family Values "Good", but a more (Western) universally palatable good vis-à-vis hard work, fairness, justice, etc.
 Not exactly a spoiler alert here but... A couple of the stories refer to "the University" in rather ominous terms. The University appears to be a town/commune built up around an abandoned college campus in Raleigh, NC. The narrative paints The University's inhabitants as an oligarchy of unscrupulous academics and engineers that have walled themselves off in this compound so that they can pursue a rigorous eugenics program while trying to fashion themselves into the post-apocalyptic world's first nuclear power. I was really hoping that there would be more to this -- that The University and the circumstances around it would be more nuanced... But instead it's almost cartoonishly flat and carries a latent anti-intellectualism that was my biggest disappointment with the anthology.
 Hell, it starts with what is basically a twisted cast-out-of-Eden retelling....more
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
Just amazing. Brutal and emotional. A linear armature of a story (which you can probably grab from the title) but holy fucking hell does it eviscerateJust amazing. Brutal and emotional. A linear armature of a story (which you can probably grab from the title) but holy fucking hell does it eviscerate you.
Part of McCarthy's brutal mastery is in withholding; very quickly we become very intimate with "the man" and "the child" but he never really gives us all that many details about them (e.g., names) and consequently we imprint like hell onto these characters. We invest everything we have in this struggle of theirs. To the point where it becomes difficult to put down the book without believing they're safe.
If the text is dry and prosaic at times, it's just to reinforce how grim and burnt out this landscape the man and the child travel. But like I said, you follow them, imprinting like hell.
This'll about sum it up:
In the morning they came up out of the ravine and took to the road again. He'd carved the boy a flute from a piece of roadside cane and he took it from his coat and gave it to him. The boy took it wordlessly. After a while he fell back and after a while the man could hear him playing. A formless music for the age to come. Or perhaps the last music on earth called up from out of the ashes of its ruin. The man turned and looked back at him. He was lost in concentration. The man thought he seemed some sad and solitary changeling child announcing the arrival of a traveling spectacle in shire and village who does not know that behind him the players have all been carried off by wolves.
Eclipse 1 is a good-not-great anthology of speculative (née "science") fiction and fantasy (rather: "new weird") short stories edited by Jonathan StraEclipse 1 is a good-not-great anthology of speculative (née "science") fiction and fantasy (rather: "new weird") short stories edited by Jonathan Strahan. My "good-not-great" may be stemming from my disappointment that there was more "new weird"/fantasy than there was science fiction[†:] but there were still quite a few "big wins" in the pile that is this paperback binding.
As for the computed average of my ratings on the individual stories themselves (out to four decimal places), Eclipse 1 scores: 3.3000
Includes: • "Unique Chicken Goes In Reverse" by Andy Duncan: ★★★½ ➟ Cute, weird.
• "Bad Luck, Trouble, Death, and Vampire Sex" by Garth Nix: ★★
• "The Last and Only or, Mr. Moscowitz Becomes French" by Peter S. Beagle: ★★★
• "The Lost Boy: A Reporter At Large" by Maureen F. McHugh: ★★★★★ ➟ Probably double visceral if you've ever lived in the Baltimore/DC area but outstanding regardless of your geographic history.
• "The Drowned Life" by Jeffrey Ford: ★★
• "Toother" by Terry Dowling: ★★★½ ➟ I couldn't put my finger on why I wasn't bowled over by this one. I wanted to like it a lot more but something about it left me wanting a bit...
• "Up the Fire Road" by Eileen Gunn: ★★½ ➟ *groan*sigh*snort* (reversed)
• "In the Forest of the Queen" by Gwyneth Jones: ★★
• "Quartermaster Returns" by Ysabeau S. Wilce: ★★★★ ➟ A playful tone and artfully written, toys with the right conventions, too.
• "Electric Rains" by Kathleen Ann Goonan: ★★★★½ ➟ As with "The Lost Boy..." (v.s.), this one probably hits harder for folks with a little DC time under their belt but hits all the high notes even without that.[††:]
• "She-Creatures" by Margo Lanagan: ★★ ➟ The prurient overtones didn't exactly make up for the brogue veneer and otherwise bewildering plot.
• "The Transformation of Targ" by Paul Brandon and Jack Dann: ★★★ ➟ Maybe ★★★★ and in my heart of hearts a sympathetic ★★★★★ — this was an extremely fun story.
• "Mrs. Zeno's Paradox" by Ellen Klages: ★★★★ ➟ The fact that the story is so short (about 3 pages? 4?) was like its own double-entendre. And any light-hearted story that can work in "ångström" should get bonus points.
• "The Lustration" by Bruce Sterling: ★★★½ ➟ I think it's good? Though maybe a bit too oblique?
• "Larissa Miusov" by Lucius Shepard: ★★★★★ ➟ Far and away the best story in this collection. If your library has this anthology then you owe it to yourself to at least read this one.
--- † = Call it a personal preference.
†† = Also, for the private few reading this that have also read a certain manuscript of mine, I'd like to share that I had a big (and vocal) "WTF?" the night I was reading this in bed. I felt a little dirty and cheated — but how can someone rip you off when they've never heard of you? or read your work? (Besides, it was different enough to not be "the same".)...more
As with many "Year's Best" type anthologies, it's difficult to evaluate the collection as a whole. Unlike a themed collection (e.g., Wastelands: StorAs with many "Year's Best" type anthologies, it's difficult to evaluate the collection as a whole. Unlike a themed collection (e.g., Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse), you can't easily ask how each story is helping to advance or otherwise round-out the speculation or evaluation of that given theme. But that's OK; that's not why we pick up and read a collection like this. And it's a hazard we're willing -- nay: happy -- to take on.
That said, the rating for the collection here is a computed average of my ratings on the individual stories themselves. Out to four decimal places, the 24th Annual Collection scores: 3.3929
And now the individual ratings (with comments where I have them) based on the 5-star GoodReads scale:
(1) Cory Doctorow - "I, Row-Boat": ★★★
(2) Robert Charles Wilson - "Julian: A Christmas Story" ★★★ - Not sure how this one sits with me; a re-read might better inform whether it's holding up Christianity orvs. some ethical secularism but... Tough to say on the first hit. Also: steampunkish and yet not; definitely a post-Peak Oil tale and I wonder to myself if it wasn't short-listed for inclusion in Wastelands or not...
(3) Michael Swanwick - "Tin Marsh": ★★
(4) Ian McDonald - "The Djinn's Wife": ★★★★ - If you're too intimidated by River of Gods then this will almost serve as a substitute.
(5) Benjamin Rosenbaum - "The House Beyond Your Sky": ★★★ - Attempts depth but comes off as a bit opaque. A compact, dense story though and probably worth a re-read sometime.
(6) Kage Baker - "Where The Golden Apples Grow": ★★★ - Interesting and twisted take on the "Prince and the Pauper" fairy tale (though with two paupers). I wanted to like it a lot more but I found the story a bit predictable and maybe just a little pedantic. But I'm curious to see more by this gifted writer.
(7) Bruce McAllister - "Kin": ★★ - Couldn't relate; felt forced. Also: where's "the greater good" in exceptions?
(9) Jay Lake & Ruth Nestvold - "The Big Ice": ★★★ - Action for action; great for what it is.
(10) Gregory Benford - "Bow Shock": ★★★
(11) Justin Stanchfield - "In the River": ★★★★★ - This is a good one to rub up against Blindsight for comparison.
(12) Walter Jon Williams - "Incarnation Day": ★★★★ - Nice use of voice and tone; also: it's like a post-human Pinocchio!
(13) Greg Van Eekhout - "Far as You Can Go": ★★★★
(14) Robert Reed - "Good Mountain": ★★★ - Had trouble getting into this one; too far afield?
(15) David D. Levine - "I Hold My Father's Paws": ★★★
(16) Paul J. McAuley - "Dead Men Walking": ★★
(17) Mary Rosenblum - "Home Movies": ★★★ - A la PKD, but not enough D.
(18) Daryl Gregory - "Damascus": ★★★ - I liked this better as that X-Files episode. (You know the one I'm talking about? the one from Season Two?) Also: I don't get the title. (Seems such a shame, had so much potential...)
(19) Jack Skillingstead - "Life on the Preservation": ★★ - I wanted to like it but it seemed like a bit of a warm-up...
(20) Paolo Bacigalupi - "Yellow Card Man": ★★★★ - Heavy and cynical and intense and sometimes a little hard to follow. Worth a re-read to pull it all together.
(21) Greg Egan - "Riding the Crocodile": ★★★
(22) Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette - "The Ile of Dogges": ★★ - Trying to hard to be exactly what it is?
Without a doubt, A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the classic post-apocalyptic novels. That it strikes so mercilessly at so many of our deepest fearWithout a doubt, A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the classic post-apocalyptic novels. That it strikes so mercilessly at so many of our deepest fears, it is no wonder the tale has held up well over time. There is a fantastic interplay here of innocence vs. corruption, of reason vs. faith and intuitions, of hope vs. despair... The novel was significantly more emotional and gut-wrenching than I'd expected.
The novel is certainly worthy of a thoughtful and detailed review but I fear I may need more time and subsequent re-reads to really pin it all down. That said:
(1) That the novel revolves principally around an Abbey dedicated to preserving knowledge (specifically scientific texts) presents a wonderful little conundrum in and of itself -- one that Miller does well in exploring. The "Fiat Lux" section is where he performs this most skillfully. However:
(2) The science vs. faith conflicts were, I felt, a bit overly simplified. When presenting this conflict in terms of allegory, it makes sense to create these high-contrast dichotomies. But my skin crawls at the suggestion that an atheist and a scientist will apply his knowledge without consideration for conscience. The last, fifth ★ in my rating might well have been earned with a more subtle and thorough treatment of this.
(3) On "Benjamin (the Old Jew)": is there a name for this kind of character? The pilgrim, the wanderer, the hermit... In reading the passages that contained this character (the pilgrim in the opening chapters of "Fiat Homo"; Benjamin in "Fiat Lux"; and the appears-only-once vagrant in "Fiat Voluntas Tua") I could not help but get echoes of Merlin, Gandalf, Fizban... This archetype seems to appear most often in fantasy novels (sometimes in scifi; perhaps elsewhere?) -- the nearly-supernatural not-quite-narrator that has a too-intimate knowledge of the past and a too-accurate prediction of the future. This demands further research.
**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
Marisol is a superb play. Find it acted somewhere to witness it in the way it was meant to be. (Shout out to Ben W. for directing this for his SMP. SpMarisol is a superb play. Find it acted somewhere to witness it in the way it was meant to be. (Shout out to Ben W. for directing this for his SMP. Splendid!) Apocalypse has never looked so good.
The other plays in this particular binding are worth a read, too....more
I would be willing to say that Max Brooks has given us a "new classic" of zombie literature in World War Z. The nove**spoiler alert** Where to begin?
I would be willing to say that Max Brooks has given us a "new classic" of zombie literature in World War Z. The novel is well-structured, is well-paced, and seems so ... plausible.
And when I say "plausible", I mean the Brooks has tried to carefully -- though not necessarily exhaustively -- look at the current geopolitical climate and imagine what a sudden "zombie" outbreak scenario would look like today or in some tenable near-future. Brooks makes what seems to me to be a sincere effort to leave no logistical stone uncovered: how does the plague spread? what are the consequences of a government cover-up? what about the navies and submarines? what about satellites and GPS? how do you "quartermaster" an army that is on foot going up against "the undead"? He tried to cover all the bases in as realistic a way as possible. Considering such an unrealistic scenario. Again: Brooks is not trying to be exhaustive but considering where he puts his focus, he certainly comes across as inventive. He gives us some sadistic twists throughout the narrative; for every up-lifting deus ex machina near-miss (e.g., Col. Eliopolis and "Mets Fan") there is some grim and ironic counterpoint (e.g., the slaughter at Alang's ship breaking yard). Wisely, Brooks tries to keep these stories diverse: military and civilian; American and Chinese; young and old; optimistic and jaded. He does not waste a great deal of energy discussing "Zack"; there is no in depth technical discussion of the virus -- just a few allusions to methods of transmission (those bites) and then we move on to what matters. That is where Brooks keeps the focus: it's on how people -- be they individuals or entire governments -- react to these extreme scenarios. And he does a decent job peeling the peach of the technological modernity while he's catapulting us through this tale.
Two closing points:
(1) Brooks is also graciously humble. He cites George A. Romero in the acknowledgments; can't get far with your zombie mythos without giving the right credit.
(2) This novel had but one thing keeping it from a full five star rating: many of the voices are not really distinct. We are presented with the novel as if it were a historical document -- the transcripts of interviews with survivors from "World War Z". But reading it, you can't help but think that the government official sounds an awful lot like the feral child that sounds a lot like the retired Indian army grunt... But don't let that stop you: there is plenty else in this novel to warrant reading it.
UPDATE: * Almost forgot... Did anyone else catch the thinly veiled Colin Powell/Howard Dean administration in there? I'm like 88% on the thinly veiled Powell and approximately 111% on the thinly veiled Howard Dean....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
**spoiler alert** SCENE: Samuel R. Delany, sitting at his writing desk, surrounded by books (some on shelves, but most piled on the floor), circa 1973**spoiler alert** SCENE: Samuel R. Delany, sitting at his writing desk, surrounded by books (some on shelves, but most piled on the floor), circa 1973; a man walks into the room.
- Delany and the man stare at each other. They both stroke their beards.
Delany: "Who are you?"
The Man: "Don't you know? They sent me."
D: "Who? Who sent you?"
TM: "It doesn't matter. I'm here to tell you that it's OK. They told me to tell you that we're not really competing. Not really."
D: "And who are you...?"
TM: "I told you, didn't I? Anyway, it doesn't matter. Nice place. With the books and all that."
D: "Thanks?" (pause) "So what is it that's supposed to be 'OK' by 'them'?"
TM: (picks up a stack of papers from next to the typewriter) "Good shit. Run with it."
D: "But you didn't even read it?"
TM: "I don't have to. Look, I've already been there. I've been in it. I know it. I've lived for Christ's sake. This is us."
D: "What do you mean?"
TM: "What do you mean 'what do I mean?'? Isn't it obvious?"
D: "Is it? I would guess not because I'm asking you."
TM: "Maybe... Maybe... It's shared though. What's on these pages--" (TM slaps the ream of pages) "--these pages are shared by you, by me, by everyone that does this kind of work. Everyone that has ever put pen to paper or pressed a typewriter key and called the output 'science fiction'--those people are us. And we all share this vision. This is shared. It's... Well, there's a man--he'd be about 25 now--he will call it--" (he slaps the ream again) "--he will call this a 'riddle that was never meant to be solved'--and this is what he'll mean when he calls something else a 'consensual hallucination'."
D: "Those are some sexy phrases."
TM: (strokes his beard) "Aren't they? But not gratuitously so."
D: "And even if they were..."
TM: "It's a fine line between gratuitous and... and... Indicative of...?"
D: "...of what?"
TM: "Exactly. There's nothing wrong with sexy." (slaps the ream again) "As a matter of fact. Do it up. Do it way up. You'll never get another opportunity like this."
D: "But I can write whatever I want."
TM: (laughs, snorts) "Not like this. This one is indelible. You only get a chance to do a novel like this once. Don't screw it up."
D: "That's not fair. This won't be my only 'good' novel."
TM: "That's not fair either. Don't put words in my mouth. Some of your other work is good. Babel-17 is good. Nova was good, too. But this..." (TM shivers) "The stuff you're doing with that Caulkins character? As an anti-Merlin? Good stuff."
TM: "Sure. Isn't he kind of a stand-in narrator? Like the Arthurian Merlin? Or like that Tolkein guy did with Gandalf. Or that 'Old Jew' character in that Miller guy's book... What was it called? 'Chronicle of Liebermark'? Something like that?"
TM: "Whatever. My point is... It's a smart move. He's like that. Omniscient and omnipresent--only not. He's knows everything--but only second-hand--and he's never ever physically present. It's twisty-turny. The ugly hands, the never-present authority figure..."
D: "What's this about the hands?"
TM: "Don't be coy. I hate it when you do that. They hate it when you do that. You don't want to piss them off. You know how long it took me to pay off that piper?"
D: "Who are you?"
TM: "I told you already! Look, it doesn't matter. Just listen. This is important. Don't screw up Kemp. This 'Kemp' character of yours is important. Captain Kemp? You remember? Have you written him in yet? Well you need to. He is your vehicle for summing it up. Look, the readers--the ones that get it--and not everyone will get it--and that's fine, they don't need to--I'm just saying, the ones that get it--Kemp's dialogue will resonate with those readers. If you haven't already--" (he quickly leafs through the ream) "--you'll write this passage--from Kemp's point-of-view--about his trip to the moon. Now when you write it, he will be talking to this--uh--to The Kid and he is going to have to admit how his trip to the moon is not something that you can describe. And--and this is important--that since he can't--since no one can possibly describe it, that there is almost no point in trying to--so instead you just tell them what they want to hear."
D: "But that isn't what I want to do at all!"
TM: "But it's OK. I told you. They sent me here to tell you exactly that. That it's OK to tell it this way. Look, there's going to be this pool of readers--" (TM throws his hands up in a huge circle that encompasses his entire girth) "--that even bother to try to read this thing. Now remember that the total pool of readers is much bigger. Bigger than this room, bigger than this apartment--probably bigger than this whole city. But this circle--" (TM makes an obscene thrust of his pelvis through the circle of his arms) "--represents everyone that will even crack the binding on this one. Are you with me? These are the people that give a shit. And these--" (TM makes the circle half the size that it was) "--these are the people that will see it through to the end. Still with me? Most of these--" (he makes the obscene pelvic thrust again through the circle) "--most of these people are themselves writers. Or at least aspiring writers. Now, you remember earlier when I was talking about how this--" (TM slaps the ream of paper again) "--this represents some kind of shared knowledge between you and me and all of them--" (again with the pelvic thrust) "--well if anyone is going to get it, it's going to be these people--" (he shrinks the circle of his arms again) "--OK? Which isn't even to suggest that they'll follow every last lead that you put in there. After all, no one but you is going to be even able to be intimate with the piece on that level. But these people--" (once more with the thrust) "--will know that maybe what you're doing with Kemp, maybe his whole bit of dialogue to The Kid, that maybe that's the real crux of the narrative. That you cannot possibly hope to share every last detail as it transpires in your own mind. So you bash away on those keys and hope that enough of The Shared World comes across that they will recognize the Kemp dialogue for what it is and recontextualize the whole thing with that as the baseline modulator."
D: "So what you're saying is that--as the author--you can never really get it right? So don't even try?"
TM: "No, I'm saying that you can't get it to be accurate. You can get it to be right. But you have to--first--trust your readers; and--second--trust that your voice conveys the meaning (for whatever that word is worth [TM mutters:]). Casting the setting is as much in the hands of the reader as it is in yours. You stretch the canvas, your reader applies the paint."
D: "What else?"
TM: (stokes his beard) "There is no 'what else'! I thought you knew that. They thought you knew that! Seriously, you go all meta-narrative in this thing and then you hit me with a 'what else' like it's nothing?"
TM: "But nothing! The writing-within-the-writing thing is great. Your last chapter is a killer. An absolute killer. It's a shame that you can't do the whole thing like that. Can you? Can't you? In another 27 years there's a guy who is going to do this in a pretty epic fashion. Anyway, I--" (TM trails off for a second) "--I can see how maybe you can't get away with it this year. Or even next? Anyway, look it'll still be strong."
D: "You think so?"
TM: "Oh yes. You've created some interesting dichotomy. You've got your narrative and then the meta-narrative it contains. And within that meta-narrative there's only ever two kinds of anything. The poems, and the journalism. 'Brass Orchids' and 'the paper'. The Kid and Caulkins, the narrator and the never-present. It's a good trick."
D: "It's more than a cheap trick, you know."
TM: "I didn't mean for it to sound like I was calling it a cheap trick." (TM sighs) "Anyway, I better get going. I'm supposed to flash-forward and steal my cybernetic facsimile."
D: "They do that in the future?"
TM: "Not in any useful way. Nothing that's going to help either of us." (TM starts to go out the way he came in)
D: "Wait! Any other advice?"
TM: "Sure. Play down the whole 'Grendel' linkage unless you need to force your hand. Let people slip into Greek classicism for their comparisons. It's their own folly." (TM pulls his head off, tucks it under his arm and walks out)
- Delany looks down at the ream with something between scorn and satisfaction. He rolls a joint using one of the pages as his paper, and starts to read through the manuscript after he gets it lit.
Bloody terrifying. Bone-chilling. Atwood's best known work for no shortage of obvious reasons. If you don't vote, if you don't get out into your commuBloody terrifying. Bone-chilling. Atwood's best known work for no shortage of obvious reasons. If you don't vote, if you don't get out into your community, if you don't participate: this is your future.
To Brin's credit: this book moves along quickly, follows a nice formula, and goes roughly where you expect it to go with just enough twists to keep itTo Brin's credit: this book moves along quickly, follows a nice formula, and goes roughly where you expect it to go with just enough twists to keep it engaging along the way.
That said, this is also an exemplar of a very average novel about a "post-apocalyptic America". It makes me want to see the film with Costner. Just to compare.
Also: Brin's attempt at being sympathetic to a woman's plight in this post-apocalyptic scenario? Fell way short. Trust me bro, these broads would be way tougher than you've painted them here. Even with a bunch of survivalist ex-soldiers with rampant genes and hormones....more