Interesting to see some of the physical world building that seemed completely absent from The Dispossessed, like UKG is only interested in exploring o...moreInteresting to see some of the physical world building that seemed completely absent from The Dispossessed, like UKG is only interested in exploring one or two ideas per story. In this book the idea doesn't seem compelling enough to keep her attention for very long: how to fit a Tolkeinesque world into a scifi context, e.g. the world is another planet, elves, dwarves, hobbits are all different alien races. It's a fun adventure story, but not exactly as much to chew on as anarchist communism.(less)
Woooooaahh, how have I never added this. This is pure Miyazaki ecofantastical magic right here. If you're ever looking for an example of McCloud's min...moreWoooooaahh, how have I never added this. This is pure Miyazaki ecofantastical magic right here. If you're ever looking for an example of McCloud's minimalist characters backed by maximalist backgrounds, look no further, because this puts Tin Tin to shame. Miyazaki's classically manga-style cartoons *really* pop in front of insane swarms of bugs and fungal forests, an effect that was almost totally lost in the film version, which is sad b/c Miyazaki's linework is second to none. Unfortunately the series kind of dissolves into pseudo-religious/mystical mishmash in the later books, but the first few are pretty tight.(less)
Not nearly as strong as the first one, with the possible exception of the last few stories. Alan Moore definitely has a talent for the surreal and the...moreNot nearly as strong as the first one, with the possible exception of the last few stories. Alan Moore definitely has a talent for the surreal and the horrific, but I've never been convinced that he cares about characters.(less)
Fun, but more of the same. Holden et al. have nowhere new to go as characters, and frankly the gate and its implications aren't that amazing. I think...moreFun, but more of the same. Holden et al. have nowhere new to go as characters, and frankly the gate and its implications aren't that amazing. I think the best chapters were probably Anna's if only because the religious implications of the ring and the diaspora as a whole are potentially fertile ground for philosophizing and storytelling, but the authors chose not to reap to the extent that I'd hoped. Again, so much lifted from firefly, just not the juicy existentialism. Not great scifi, but some diverting action. And I laughed!(less)
Given the apparent fanlove gushed upon this series here and elsewhere, I feel like I should manage expectations for those who don't wet themselves whe...moreGiven the apparent fanlove gushed upon this series here and elsewhere, I feel like I should manage expectations for those who don't wet themselves when swords AND aliens AND spaceships appear on the same page of a comic book: this series (so far) has very narrowly defined qualities that are themselves wonderful but stand alone amidst many other more mediocre components. They are, to wit:
TEH FUNNY Vaughan writes hilarious dialogue, with Whedonesque pop cultural sensibilities and Sarah Silvermaniacal guttermindedness, a combo that I find muy bueno. Worth reading for the laffs alone.
CHARACTER DESIGN While creating aliens by mashing together various objects and animals from Earth makes absolutely no sense, it tends to yield fantastic results in the penciling of Fiona Staples. She would probably win at Exquisite Corpse every single time, especially if she played by herself. I particularly like the armlessness of The Stalk.
Said sterling qualities to NOT include, sadly
THE PLOT Much as in Y: The Last Man, Vaughan proves himself adept at generating velocity but not at establishing destinations. I mean, it's possible we're working toward some grand destiny for the kid, or some conflict/resolution between wings and horns, but so far we've basically just seen a lot of running. I know there hasn't been much of this series published yet, but Y definitely suffered from a lack of direction, so I worry.
THE COMICS Staples has got the whole beautiful people in dramatic poses thing down, but her layouts and pacing are merely functional, which is fine, just not enough to give me that "comics are MAGICAL" kind of feeling. Her faces are sort of teetering on the edge of the Uncanny Valley, too. Maybe a step or two toward the cartoony would help.
ESCAPE The book's a lot of fun, but it's a bit hard to feel transported when you see a character's shoulders hunched in the now ubiquitous, instantly recognizable antisocial posture of phone obsession while he complains about upgrading said phone's operating system, even if said shoulders sport a pair of bat wings. I mean, it is what it is, but so far it's more Buffy Lite than Lord of the Rings.
Complete waste of a hardcover binding. Moebius's art might earn this 1.01 stars. Might. In lieu of a review, I think I will simply list non-character...moreComplete waste of a hardcover binding. Moebius's art might earn this 1.01 stars. Might. In lieu of a review, I think I will simply list non-character proper nouns until I shoot myself:
The Great Acid Lake Suicide Alley Rosa City Cogan 38 The Great Underground City The Crimson Ring Amok The Incal The Berg The Prezidents Hunchbacks Technocity The Technopope The Technotemple The Black Incal Cityshaft Margarita The Shadow Egg The Kentz Scale The Metacraft The Metabunker The Pegaz The Inside/Outside The Cardioclaw The Necrodroid Psychorats The Golden Planet The Purple Endoguard The Arhats The Crystal Forest The Crystal Tower The portal of Transfiguration Aquaend Orgaran The Sacred Cone The Protoqueen The Techno-Centreur The War Star(less)
I love almost everything Gaiman does, including this, but it's hard to get too excited by anything he does that's not on the same scale as Sandman. Th...moreI love almost everything Gaiman does, including this, but it's hard to get too excited by anything he does that's not on the same scale as Sandman. This one's cute, fun, maybe a little overburdened by extraneous autobiographical stuff (the bookish nerd stuff was completely tangential to the story and the character), totally worth reading, particularly before sleep.(less)
Androids are the least interesting part of this book, which ostensibly concerns a bounty hunter who kills rogue android slaves and, duh, comes to ques...moreAndroids are the least interesting part of this book, which ostensibly concerns a bounty hunter who kills rogue android slaves and, duh, comes to question the morality of killing things that look like people and act like people and basically are people except that they apparently don't feel empathy, which is ridiculous because no one in this book does much of anything that could be considered empathic, like, say spare a thought for your depressed wife who's freaking out about your malfunctioning electric sheep while you galavant around San Francisco shooting synthetic opera singers! THAT part of the book, the whole what-is-authentic-humanity-and-hey-are-fake-people-real-people stuff, that kind of writes itself. Here are some things that seemed kind of tangential but I found amazingly weird / cool:
Everyone owns a device called a "mood organ," which you can dial to alter your mood, including 481, "awareness of the manifold possibilities open to me in the future," and 888, "the desire to watch TV, no matter what's on it."
This is how the book opens, with Decker and his wife arguing over what they should be feeling and whether or not to use the mood organ to feel what they should be feeling, or to elevate the emotional intensity of their own argument in an attempt to cow their partner into submission (who also has a mood organ). Maybe the mood organ is here to accentuate how robotic people have become about the very emotions that are supposed to set them apart from their tools, but it's also just *really* weird that PKD has his characters use the organ to threaten each other with how much anger they can summon. I'm dialing 9567, "frustration over missed narrative opportunities."
In a post-apocalyptic world in which the Earth has been irradiated and almost nothing seems to be alive except for the remaining humans who haven't emigrated to Mars, the most important thing in the world is owning a real animal.
So, PKD *could* have gone all eco-happy with this, like behold these precious reliquaries of the magnificent biosphere we destroyed, shame, SHAME on our foul ancestors who destroyed our planet, but no, instead the animals are fetishized, bought and sold, priced in a catalog. They're status symbols you show off to your neighbors, proof of your wealth and sophistication. They're a lot like the folk art in Man in the High Castle, commodified authenticity, except weirder because... they're mostly farm animals. Like, Dekard experiences horse envy. For reals. I sort of wanted to read an environmental ethic into this, but I don't think it's there. Much like a lot of PKD's protagonists seem to be some flavor of paranoid egomaniac, humanity's obsession with animals isn't about something empathic, like guilt or shame, but about clinging to some self-affirming evidence that everything's going to be ok (we're not alone!) despite abundant evidence to the contrary (Earth is a radioactive wasteland and we're all going to die sooner than anticipated).
The only religion, Mercerism, centers around a technologically mediated experience in which you psychically join consciousness with Mercer as he climbs a hill while pelted by rocks thrown by the howling masses, is imprisoned, escapes, and repeats the process ad infinitum. You feel his pain, but you also feel the comforting presence of every other person connected to the device at the same time. E pluribus unum.
Again, there's an authenticity theme here, insofar as the sensation of spiritual union with a greater power that we mythologize (or experience rarely and fleetingly) has been operationalized such that it can be experienced at your convenience. You no longer feel something because you have faith, but rather you have faith because you make yourself feel something with a tool (which is really a lot like the mood organ). So if religion can be reduced to a routine, what separates us from the machines? But Mercer plays a much bigger role in this book that is harder to reduce. Toward the end Isidore has an out-of-body experience in which he meets Mercer, and Mercer assures him that while the Mercer experienced through the device is artificial (like the androids), there is another aspect of Mercer that is real. Later, Dekard has a quasi-religious experience in which he climbs a hill and someone throws a rock at him, and then he finds what he thinks is Mercer's favorite animal (a toad).
In Isidore's case, you could read these events as PKD stressing the importance of faith, that faith itself is real and perhaps valuable even if the object of that faith might not be. Or Isidore is nuts, which is kind of how one feels about PKD a lot of the time (is he getting at something, or is he insane?). Dekard's experience is weirder. He's had a crisis of faith in the value of his own humanity, and seems to reconnect with Mercerism by reenacting the core event of that religion, but it's unclear whether or not he was hallucinating, and the toad he finds ends up being a robot. He seems ok with that in the end, and doesn't even need to dial 670 for "long deserved peace" as he dozes off. Is PKD trying to say that how we experience transcendent experiences (religious, romantic, social) doesn't matter so long as we experience them? That seems way to lovey dovey, but who knows.
Now I need to re-watch the movie. I seem to remember more guns and fewer farm animals.(less)
**spoiler alert** So, here's how I've been trying to explain this book to people: James Tiptree Jr. was actually a woman named Alice Sheldon, and all...more**spoiler alert** So, here's how I've been trying to explain this book to people: James Tiptree Jr. was actually a woman named Alice Sheldon, and all these stories are about the futile struggles of women trapped in a world dominated by men, and the futile struggles of humanity trapped in a universe governed by immutable natural laws, and every joy is a delusion and every moment of happiness is soon crushed by death AND DOESN'T THIS SOUND AMAZING YOU NEED TO READ THIS RIGHT NOW! At this point my eyes are gleaming and I'm gesticulating erratically while my conversation partners backpedal and formulate exit strategies.
But seriously, these stories are great! Great and DARK, brutally dark, almost every one. As someone who generally sees the glass not as half-empty but as shattered on the pavement and ground to dust by a thousand feet, I admit there's a certain appeal to inhabiting fictional worlds that conform to my own dismal perspective, but I'd like to make the case that Sheldon has more to offer you, the perhaps-not-depressed reader, than indulgence in a belief that life is short, mean, and pointless.
Let's start with the feminism. In one story, a mother and daughter seek out aliens so they can escape an Earth ruled by men. In another, three astronauts travel to the future to find humanity finally living a peaceful existence due to the extermination of all men. In yet another a delusional woman imagines herself in a world of fellow women, helping each other and living a free, bucolic existence, while men and women in the real world avoid, judge, ignore, and ultimately gang rape and kill her. So, feminism is a theme. And a profoundly important one, because on the whole, science fiction up until the late 60s and 70s had almost no compelling female characters or female perspectives (Le Guin is the only exception that I can think of). Women in Asimov would be laughable if they weren't so depressingly vacuous and stereotyped. Phillip K. Dick, for all his wonderful involution and paranoia, basically wrote women who were overemotional arm candy. In Sheldon's stories women are front and center, and frankly it's relievingly different.
But while female characters and a female viewpoint are excellent reasons to read these stories, calling them feminist both typecasts them and misses the deeper, darker currents that run through them all. I hope I'm not overextending myself by claiming that feminism is about change. If you think women are equal to men but you believe they aren't treated that way, you should work to change things: pass new laws, persuade people to behave differently, change people's minds, at least change your own mind. Absolutely none of these stories are about change, at least not about changing the world. Women suffer inequality and oppression, but their solution is escape, with aliens, in space ships, into madness. Sheldon's only hopeful future scenario ("Houston, Houston Do You Read?," the one with a world without men), comes at the cost of a massive plague that kills almost all men AND women, leaving a handful of female clone lines engineered by the last surviving humans. It's not a world that was made by choice, it's a survival strategy.
The horrifying inevitability of nature seems more like Sheldon's real concern, which is both interesting and disturbing. In "The Screwfly Solution," aliens exterminate us using the same kind of biological control we employ on insect pests: they infect the men with a disease that makes them want to kill all the women. Equally compelling/awful is the premise of "A Momentary Taste of Being": that the entire biosphere of Earth is merely a male gamete, destined to fertilize a female biosphere from another planet to produce something beyond our comprehension, leaving us spent and irrelevant (the ultimate male condition?). Did I mention Sheldon is obsessed with sex? Mostly with sexual aggression (almost all the male characters think of little else, and just about every story involves rape not as a central subject but as an incidental matter of course), but also with its inevitability and pull, how it overrides the will, if will even exists (fire at it!).
The weirder, more upsetting side of this view on inevitability is Sheldon's essentialism, particularly regarding men. "A Momentary Taste of Being" is the best example of this, in which an international team explores space in search of a new home for humanity, and the charismatic leader is a burly old white guy; the virile, willful tech with plans for a polygamous new life on a new world is a burly black guy; the Asians are all secretive and inclusive, etc. Maybe this was just a bit of revenge for the countless typecast female characters in the rest of male-dominated literature, but it didn't quite feel that way to me, at least in "Momentary Taste," where Sheldon seems sympathetic to Aaron's plight. In "Houston, Houston," another story with clear jock / nerd divisions among the males, those stereotyped characters are the only avatars for a reader concerned about the loss of individuality in a world of happy clones, or a reader who thinks it's weird that the people of the future have no qualms about drugging the men to see how they behave without inhibitions. If Sheldon uses her most typecast men to explicitly voice what seem like her own opinions, can they be considered simple foils to her more sympathetic female characters?
However, her essentialism regarding individuals pales beside her essentialism regarding humanity itself, which is one of the reasons I think these are more than just feminist, and perhaps not feminist at all. She appears to view gender inequality as an inevitable, intrinsic feature of our species, which seems radically un-feminist to me, particularly if feminism is not merely a statement about values (men and women are morally equal) but an exhortation to right wrongs. At the very least her position on this topic is ambiguous, despite addressing it repeatedly.
The ultimate horror in these stories is that even though most of the characters are bound by natural laws (or at least how Sheldon sees them), they are conscious of their imprisonment, as if life itself were an exquisite torture device designed to ensure you suffer and know it. Some, like Mogadeet in the brilliantly weird "Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death," experience this self-consciousness fleetingly before submerging back into instinct (the world is getting colder, but meh, time to reproduce). The tired spacer in "And I Awoke..." seems to voice Sheldon's opinion about humanity's inability to collaborate with and contribute to alien cultures and heredities, but he can't do anything about it. Mysha awaits the return of massive, breeding sea beasts who will unconsciously destroy his town and everything he loves, trying to convince a strange alien to help him but knowing the odds are slim.
In a way, though, it's that self-consciousness that grants these stories a readable humanity absent from the dirges offered by other pessimistic SF authors. The dream of choice, of self-possession, persists in the eddies of flows beyond our control or understanding, and Sheldon seems to grant those dreams some standing, even if they are delusions. If these stories were completely hopeless I think there would be more examples like 1984, where attempts at revolution are themselves just designed outlet valves in a system of imprisonment. Sheldon's doomed souls are just as doomed, but their dreams are their own.
I don't know much about the history of feminism and I know it's a touchy subject so if I've said anything excessively naive or wrong or offensive, please set me straight.
How awesome is it that "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" (an exceptional story that doesn't fit into the framework of my own analysis) basically represents the first work of cyberpunk, and is simultaneously way, way better and coherent than Neuromancer or Snow Crash?
Can I get a WTF for this cover depicting (naked) Woman emerging Athena-like from the mind of Man?! The production of the entire book is just disappointing. Maybe one can't expect more from a company named Tachyon. It's awesome that they collected her stories, because it seems like she's under-read (I hadn't heard of her until my sister introduced me earlier this year), but come on!(less)
As fluff goes this was pretty good. After the first book deflated my somewhat overblown expectations for this series, this one went down quite a bit m...moreAs fluff goes this was pretty good. After the first book deflated my somewhat overblown expectations for this series, this one went down quite a bit more smoothly. Which is not to say these books are bad. In the grand scheme of space opera they're actually pretty good. To put them in perspective, they're about as insubstantial as Game of Thrones, but without (most of) the repetitiveness. I even laughed at a few points in this book! For reals! One chapter ends with a cliff hanger in which a technical glitch ends up being a large, angry monster in the hold. The next chapter leads with one character saying, "Well, there's your problem," which earned a chuckle. A chuckle which I swiftly revoked after reading the totally superfluous following paragraph, which explains, "He was trying to make a joke. Had made a joke. Normally, Holden would have laughed at his exaggerated drawl and comic obviousness. Alex could be very funny, in a dry, understated sort of way." Seriously guys, do we really need this after about 1000 pages with these characters? Just when you're maybe kinda sorta flexing a sense of humor? Some authors need a governor on their exposition engines.
I liked having some more POV characters in this one, but was disappointed when, yet again, they all had to converge on the ship. Keep them apart! Maintain some complexity! It's ok! They don't all have to be best buds at the end!
Avasarala was somewhat frustrating. She's a little old Indian lady who cusses like a sailor and holds one of the highest ranking positions in Earth's government. Now, I can totally imagine little old Indian ladies ruling the world, no problem, and I'm completely willing to believe that little old ladies can cuss up a storm, but little old Indian ladies are probably the only ethnicity of little old lady that I cannot imagine cussing like a sailor. My mind can man a flotilla of 74-gun ships-of-the-line with cussing little old ladies but none of them hail from the subcontinent. I feel like this book has outed some hidden prejudice I've been harboring against little old Indian ladies, namely that I cannot believe any of them anywhere are capable of cursing at the frequency which Avasarala maintains in this book. Is my world so terribly parochial, or is this character just extra ridiculous?(less)
If you're unfamiliar with Jeff Smith's Bone you need to stop reading this and find out why it's a comics and cartooning masterpiece and why Jeff Smith...moreIf you're unfamiliar with Jeff Smith's Bone you need to stop reading this and find out why it's a comics and cartooning masterpiece and why Jeff Smith is a comics demigod. All set? Cool. RASL is Smith's next long-format work, and is different from Bone in all kinds of interesting ways. Smith's great timing and effortless scenery are on full display, but sadly his clumsiness with depicting "realistic" characters has returned as well. In Bone, more stylized characters like the Bones and the (stupid, stupid) rat creatures have wonderfully expressive faces and bodies, usually hilariously so, but just as often Smith employs this expressiveness in a wide array of complex emotions. Some characters are infinitely more static, with about 2 or three set expressions (Grandma Ben, Lucius), but that rigidity is usually its own joke. And then there's Thorn, the realistic character, who's best visual moments occur at her cartooniest, but who often bears inexplicable expressions at other times. Every character in RASL is of the Thorn type, usually giving them a deranged, incorrectly assembled appearance. Sometimes this serves the story, particularly in the case of Crow, who is intentionally deformed and looks deeply (and wonderfully) deranged, but in the main characters it makes sympathy difficult, and this isn't really the kind of book that challenges the reader to deal with unsympathetic protagonists.
This might simply be emblematic of the work as a whole: none of the characters have that much individuality yet. The Tesla stuff is fun, because Tesla is fun (now I want to find a good biography), and by the end I definitely wanted to keep reading, so overall it was pretty enjoyable, but I fear that it's headed toward the sort of dissolution Bone experienced toward the end of its run. I don't think the same kind of cute baby animal tangents are much of a threat, but there could easily be some deus ex machinas lurking between the worlds. I'll probably check the library for the next one, but I'm not dying to buy it.(less)
Zombies are boring. I said it, bring the hate you (un?)necrophiles, but it's true. They're slow (ok some are fast), they're dumb (pretty sure this is...moreZombies are boring. I said it, bring the hate you (un?)necrophiles, but it's true. They're slow (ok some are fast), they're dumb (pretty sure this is universal), you always know what they're going to do next. Yes, they're good vessels for our fears about the implacable, relentless nature of our animal selves, and yes, they're interesting metaphors for mid-century proletariats, dead-eyed consumers, andthepoor, but as characters or even just antagonists, they kind of suck.
And this book, which has been fêted far beyond the festivity demanded by the zombie's current cultural ascendancy, suffers from many of the same problems: it's plodding, it's redundant, it has a single-minded (or even mindless) obsession with geopolitics and battle tactics when pressing questions like where did the zombie plague come from?! remain unaddressed.
And yet... it does not suck! Ok, some of the personal stories are excessively maudlin (maybe all of them), and the tone was unvarying enough that a genre-loving friend of mine had to put it down (with a shotgun?), but the extent to which Brooks has thought out how people around the world will respond to the zombie apocalypse is amazing (I'm stopping with the parentheses, seriously)! What country is most prepared? Israel, because they're good at building walls, and they already feel like everyone is trying to kill them. Where are the final zombie holdouts? The poles, b/c there are uncountable frozen zombies thawing every spring, and the ocean floor, b/c zombies don't need air and aren't that buoyant. What's more dangerous than a zombie? Living zombie mimics and feral people orphaned during the early stages of the apocalypse, because unlike zombies they're actually smart and don't freeze.
I know, you're probably thinking this sounds lame, and for a lot of people it probably will be, but if you're like me and you actually like these kinds of plotless "what if" stories (if the writing's tolerable (psych!)), you should probably check it out.
Why do you think zombies are so popular? Reading those posts I linked made me feel like people seriously over-think zombies. We like them because they look like people and yet it's totally cool to chainsaw their heads off. Atavistic murder porn, right? Right? As much as film makers and critics would like to infuse zombies with some commentary on the masses who love them, isn't their appeal just that of the slasher pic, pumped up by marketing execs who fear the coming ebb in vampire fandom?(less)
There are some things I like in this one. Flam, Drub, and Mender. Shuna leading the rebels. Brandon McKinney's improving pencils. But on the whole it'...moreThere are some things I like in this one. Flam, Drub, and Mender. Shuna leading the rebels. Brandon McKinney's improving pencils. But on the whole it's a very conventional "seize the castle" plot, without the wonderful subtexts woven through ElfQuest's previous big "seize the castle" story in the original quest (the mixed meanings of the castle, Two Edge's intentions, Leetah's hubris, etc). The fact that Two Edge reprises his earlier role is disappointing. He's been through so much, and yet the only novelty we're offered is his ability to develop an adolescent crush. He seems to be single-handedly fomenting an industrial revolution. Can't we go somewhere with that?! Winnowill is an equally dull, static Big Bad. Also not a fan of the Peace Hounds. Unbeatable monsters always feel a bit gimmicky (they always remind me of the Neo Warriors in Exosquad). They make the the plot seem more like an obstacle course than a story.
On Wednesday I found myself at a party (an occurrence itself worthy of remark) at which everyone wore "I'm currently reading..." stickers, so I had se...moreOn Wednesday I found myself at a party (an occurrence itself worthy of remark) at which everyone wore "I'm currently reading..." stickers, so I had several opportunities to explain why I was loving The Man in the High Castle. One such conversation went like this:
"So what's that about?" "Well, it's scifi. Or rather speculative fiction." "Er, hm. No. I don't do scifi." "But it's got Nazis!" "Oh my god I love Nazis!"
Another conversation involved me explaining to a white guy how interesting I (a half-Japanese guy) found reading about defeated white Americans kowtowing to their Japanese overlords. The awkwardness of the words coming out of my mouth did not even occur to me for several sentences.
I'm pretty sure at some point during the evening I also said, with party-speaking volume, "I think I really like Dick!" Sometimes I wish English had fewer homophones.
Suffice it to say that I am swearing off parties and returning to my safe, almost-completely-akwardness-free hermetic lifestyle.
Ok, this book. Let me just establish that neither the Nazi-lover nor I are, in fact, Nazi-lovers or racists (or no more racist than the average person), and that despite (or perhaps because of?) the uncomfortable conversations this book might occasion, it's a great read! My former experience with Phillip K. Dick (whose first name and middle initial are considerably more important in conversation than heretofore imagined) was with a collection of his short stories, which was amusing but very much in the Atomic Age sort of a vein: THE BOMB, robots, space ships, THE BOMB, etc. After finding J.G. Ballard's similar ruminations on mortality and atomic annihilation to be unfinishably boring, I was wary of returning to PKD (ah, much better), and the premise of a world in which the Axis powers won WWII could definitely have lead down that road. Plucky American rebels fighting their Nazi oppressors and thwarting a plot to nuke New York while chronically hamstrung by their moribund contemplation of non-existence? No thanks.
But this book is so not that book! As with other works by PKD (or at least the cinematic interpretations I've seen), the underlying horror is not about annihilation, but about anxiety over identity. In High Castle, the American identity has been completely crushed. There is no rebel faction, there are no competent or truly sympathetic American characters, and American cultural artifacts that *we* keep in museums are now collector's items to be pawned off to Japanese connoisseurs (not unlike the 19th century European obsession with Japonisme). The idea of infinite American ingenuity and resourcefulness has been discarded along with our belief in democracy. The Japanese are consistently depicted as high-handed, elitist, occasionally racist, but generally fair and benign in intent... much like American occupational forces in reconstruction Japan. So if we as Americans aren't rebels, if we're not democrats, if we're not plucky heroes with wild ideas so crazy they might actually work, who are we? What a great subject for a scifi novel.
There's also quite a bit about the life and meaning of objects, or the "historicity" as the characters call it. Why is a penny touched by the President more significant than any other penny? I'm not entirely sure how this theme plays into the rest of the novel. It may have something to do with the arbitrariness invoked by the use of the I Ching by almost every character, i.e. the specific history of any given object is as intrinsically meaningful as a pattern of tossed sticks, and it is the evaluator's interpretation that has true significance. Again, though, how does it relate to Nazis?!
Also, hawt book-in-book action! All the characters in this what-if book are reading their own what-if book postulating a world in which the Axis powers didn't win WWII. I mean, yo dawg, I herd you like speculative fiction, so we put a book in yo book so u can speculate while u speculate. It's kind of cool.
The book's not perfect. Women get the short shrift. Betty Kasoura seems both intelligent and sympathetic to the plight of the Americans, but doesn't take action to the extent that her husband does. (view spoiler)[I'm not sure if Juliana's murder of the covert gestapo officer was due to self-defense so much as hysteria. (hide spoiler)] Up until that point she was basically Don Draper's 1st season mental model of a woman, plus judo. Sign of the times (this was published in 1962) or a part of the narrative? Races and ethnicities are mercilessly stereotyped, but seemingly without bias: Japanese are polite and inscrutable, Americans are emotional and clumsy, Chinese are crude and servile, Germans orderly and maniacal. I suppose you could interpret that as the triumph of the Axis worldview over Western egalitarian principles, or you could read it as the biases inherent in our own 1960s America.
Anyway, totally worth trying, even if you don't like scifi OR Nazis.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
With each new deus ex machina (the void?!) one gets the impression there is no master plot, or at least only a vague one. Have to admit I'd basically...moreWith each new deus ex machina (the void?!) one gets the impression there is no master plot, or at least only a vague one. Have to admit I'd basically forgotten most of what had happened before, but I'm pretty sure there was nothing about any "void" or time travel. I felt like the narrative flow was a bit choppy in this one too, with scenes ending abruptly, or serving little purpose. The art's still beautiful, so I'll keep reading, but I'd like to see more about the stone's motives. I hope they're not unambiguously evil. And what about their mom! I want her to have a role.(less)
I read about half of this before deciding most of the stories were pretty similar: atomic annihilation, sleep as a proxy for death, scientific hubris,...moreI read about half of this before deciding most of the stories were pretty similar: atomic annihilation, sleep as a proxy for death, scientific hubris, etc. Some of them definitely contained compelling concepts (time-based autocracy, anti-time autocracy!) and imagery (giant birds!), but the bogus biology and underlying belief in historical and evolutionary determinism got me down. Each of these stories seems to echo the fear of death within the broader fear of death of the world, of civilizations and ecosystems reaching their end, and it all just feels a bit old fashioned. Like, we survived the Cold War without blowing ourselves up and now we have other fears, like the fear of fear (also a Cold War thing, obviously, so where's it at, J.G.?), and the fear of lost identity, or false identity. Maybe that's why Phillip K. Dick has more currency these days than Ballard. Or is Ballard's other work different?(less)