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 of you who don't wet themsel...moreGiven the apparent fanlove gushed upon this series here and elsewhere, I feel like I should manage expectations for those of you 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 through 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 a lot 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.
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 thinks its 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)
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)
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)
I'm a spaceship snob, which, for those who don't share this affliction, involves both a physical need to see or imagine spaceships on a regular basis,...moreI'm a spaceship snob, which, for those who don't share this affliction, involves both a physical need to see or imagine spaceships on a regular basis, and the inability feel sated unless said ships appear in a compelling, intellectually stimulating story. Sad, right? It's like only being able to enjoy cocaine while simultaneously skydiving and solving a particularly thorny crossword. For the record I cannot personally verify the aptness of this analogy, but I imagine getting anything into your nose while skydiving is a particularly rarefied experience, which is exactly what I'm trying to convey here: good space opera is hard to come by.
Leviathan Wakes comes close, close enough to serve the methadonic role of tickling my spaceship receptors until their next real hit of Firefly-caliber scifi comes along. There are a lot of spaceships. There is a serviceable plot and decent characters. There is a plausible vision of humanity's expansion into the solar system. So, you know, there is that tingly feeling. But there's also that feeling of treading familiar turf: to say that Leviathan Wakes is a Firefly ripoff is only going a little too far. With its charming, moralistic, somewhat naive captain and its ragtag crew of pilots, technicians, and brutes just trying to scrape a living in this 'Verse of blustering nationalists and evil corporate empires, it's definitely more than an homage. Naomi is a lankier, more Asian Zoey. Amos is a lot like Jane (though I basically just picture him as Herc from the Wire). Julie Mao is a somewhat River-like in her innocence and martial arts prowess.
All of this isn't bad, per se, but it does have that slightly mushy feel and depleted flavor of regurgitation. We've got Mal, but not his existential crisis. We've got the crew banter, but without the acid wit. The duo behind James S.A. Corey are competent and have crafted a substantive world with enough lightness to skirt the morass of minutia and over-explanation that drags down many space operas, but they don't seem to be as funny or as deep as the Firefly writing team they so clearly admire.
So. I read. I liked. I will continue to read. But it's not the Jonathan Strange of space opera I was hoping for.(less)
The art improves a little in this one, but not much. The tragedy here is that underneath the jumbled narrative threads (What's the point of the weapon...moreThe art improves a little in this one, but not much. The tragedy here is that underneath the jumbled narrative threads (What's the point of the weapons guy? Why does the priest know Jayne?) and the often disconnected, confusing page and panel transitions, there are some tantalizing bits (what did Zoe actually do after the war?) and what I thought was a genuinely interesting premise that actually addressed some of the themes of the show, even if it didn't move the characters forward: what would happen if they were all rich? Left mostly unexplored aside from the fantasies and Jayne's attempts to get laid, this idea could have carried the story pretty far. Sigh.
I wish that a) Joss would put as much effort into writing and "producing" these comics as he does with his TV work, and that b) they would find a competent cartoonist capable of caricaturizating the actors without being so damn literal. Oh and c) go black and white! I bet these things could be made better and cheaper without color.(less)
I am a HUGE Firefly fan and just finished rewatching the series for, I don't know, the 7th time? Something like that. There is also a new comic book s...moreI am a HUGE Firefly fan and just finished rewatching the series for, I don't know, the 7th time? Something like that. There is also a new comic book store within walking distance of my place (Escapist Comics on Claremont, check it out!). I was in there hoping to pick up The Cloud Searchers, but Mal and Book et al looked down at me from the shelf, so despite past disappointment with some of the Buffy comics, I picked some up. Unsurprisingly, kind of disappointing. This volume is a prelude to the movie and ties up a loose end or two from the series, but overall there's just not much story there, and either the writing is a step below TV quality or the weird westernese of the show just doesn't translate into print all that well. Most annoying, however, is the art, which, like most comics attempting to depict real people or actors, apes the physical features of the characters without actually conveying any of their emotion or personality. I don't really care that Conrad can't seem to make Inara look like Morena Baccarin, even when she's standing perfectly still and basically looking like a publicity shot. I DO care that he can't express her exasperation with Mal, her affection for the ship, or really much of anything beyond stock expressions.
Anyway. Browncoats out there have probably already read this tiny little volume, or will be unable to stop from buying it if they see it on the shelves, so you know, get it out of your system. The rest of you, watch the show.(less)
Another good one, and a fine conclusion to the series. I liked (view spoiler)[Hiroko's messianic ascension to the noosphere, or perhaps more accuratel...moreAnother good one, and a fine conclusion to the series. I liked (view spoiler)[Hiroko's messianic ascension to the noosphere, or perhaps more accurately her post-mortem confinement to same (unless she's still alive!). (hide spoiler)] There's a bit more exploration of the natives. I felt like Nirgal, Jackie, and Zo should have been paragons of different threads in Martian culture, but if they were I didn't get what traits they were meant to represent. I kind of liked the idea of the ferals, though, particularly as a kind of leisure activity or sabbatical from normal life. Sorry, can't make that meeting Tuesday, I'll be running naked through the woods as I try to slit a deer's neck with a sharp rock. Then I'm gonna pick some berries! So pumped. For berries.
Zo's chapter and the Diaspora in general were interesting in a what-if kind of a way, but they also kind of represent how this book starts to distance itself from sort of feasible achievements of the first book. I can kind of imagine living in a trailer park on Mars, but living in a giant train city on Mercury... not so much.
Dealing with the consequences of the anti-aging treatments constituted quite a bit of this book, but I don't know, it kind of delved a bit too deeply into psuedoscience, and a lot of it centered on Maya and I find Maya pretty annoying.
Ok final gripe: (view spoiler)[the whole reconciliation between Ann and Sax was absurd. Ann meets a polar bear maker and suddenly she's all green? How does that work. I just didn't think there was anything in Ann's history that would suggest such a radical change was possible for her. Suicide seemed like the only rational end. Or accidental death from nearly suicidal behavior. I'm a glass-is-half-full-OF-BILE kind of guy, though. Maybe this was more believable to other people. (hide spoiler)]
I mean overall, pretty great, and fun to read. I'm realizing now I've barely read any of KSR's other books. Time to choose another.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Blade Runner + Heironymus Bosch + Where's Waldo pretty much equals Hard Boiled. This book may ostensibly have a plot, and Frank Miller may ostensibly...moreBlade Runner + Heironymus Bosch + Where's Waldo pretty much equals Hard Boiled. This book may ostensibly have a plot, and Frank Miller may ostensibly have written the many onomatopoetic monosyllables induced by stab wounds and tractor trailer collisions, but the only reason to flip through these pages is to marvel at Geoff Darrow's unspeakably intricate and profane linework. Every single panel contains at least thousands, if not tens of thousands, of tiny little objects, most of them wrappers, needles, porn, armaments, and bits of recently combusted mechanical devices. If there are people (and there are often hundreds of them), they are inevitably eating, having sex, getting high, or committing heinous acts of violence, usually in combination. It's revolting. It's baroque. It's awesome. Darrow wouldn't just draw, say, a glass of water. He'd draw some circuit-encrusted styrofoam chalice with multiple buttons labeled "sugar," "caffeine," "cocaine," and "orgasm."
Darrow is probably best known for creating much of the conceptual artwork behind the Matrix movies, and you can definitely see how his sense of grime and detail fed into the look of those films. Interestingly, he also delights in capturing high speed action in media res, particularly multiple car crashes in which all the drivers are simultaneously smashing through their windshields and the contents of trucks (usually candy and/or livestock) are suspended in midair. Made me think of bullet time.(less)
An interesting vision of the future hampered, as these visions so often are, by over-attention to detail. If rice looks like rice and tastes like rice...moreAn interesting vision of the future hampered, as these visions so often are, by over-attention to detail. If rice looks like rice and tastes like rice and is marketed as rice, people will keep calling it rice. They won't call it "U-Tex rice," no matter how much you want to emphasize the fact that EVERYTHING in this genetically depauperate world has been engineered. Particularly if there isn't another kind of rice in existence besides genetically engineered rice that presumably came from the University of Texas. Also, "like a predator among ungulates" is just not a simile you want to read. "Ungulate" is too obscure a word and too phonetically interesting to be deployed without care, and frankly, if you're going to nerd out, nerd out accurately! No cloven-hoofed mammal would be alarmed by the presence of, say, a jumping spider, an undeniably predatory beast that usually measures less than 1 cm.
I failed to sympathize with the characters all that much. Jaidee and Kanya were the most appealing, if only because they demonstrated more than a single emotional state over the course of the novel (perhaps even 3 or 4!). While probably the most potentially compelling, Emiko just seemed like crudely rendered facsimile of Sonmi the cloned fast food slave in Cloud Atlas. Anderson had no personality, and basically served to keep the West involved in the storyline.
I enjoyed it, and would probably recommend it to fellow scifi geeks, but given all the awards it's won I was expecting more.(less)
Welcome to Stephensonland! Wait, sir? Sir? Yes you. I'm afraid you'll have to check your need for believable characters with me. Here's a numerical to...moreWelcome to Stephensonland! Wait, sir? Sir? Yes you. I'm afraid you'll have to check your need for believable characters with me. Here's a numerical token you can use to reclaim it at the end of the day. Oh, and hold on. Is that an expectation of coherent plotting in your back pocket? I'm afraid those are also disallowed in Stephensonland. It'll be perfectly safe here behind the counter. Now, here's your complementary CS patch. That's right, it's very similar, except instead of nicotine, this will imbue you with knowledge equivalent to a bachelor's degree in computer science. Certain parts of your experience will be much funnier if you wear it, while others will be unspeakably boring if you don't. Ok, you're all set. You're going to have a great time.
Sometimes I feel like part of the joy of reading Neal Stephenson is the point at which you realize all the characters are a bit robotic and the absurd number of plot lines will never be resolved and the book occasionally reads like a particularly entertaining text book and that none of these things are stopping you from loving every word. This book ties together a pretty conventional cyberpunk-ish near-future street world with a Victorian world of manners and concomitant awkwardness with Confuscianism with fairy tales with crazy underwater tube-dwelling hypnotized sex fiends in ways that seem almost plausible! Also, mechanical horses and Stetson hats! Yes!
It amuses me that in addition to being a CS nerd Stephenson likes a bit of a mysticism. Human brains can magically find patterns in data that computers cannot? Really, Neal? I seem to recall Anathem was a bit like this as well, and that book was even dorkier(less)