I pronounce it to be bloated, pretentious, encyclopedic, prescient, and hilarious. At first, I was really pissed off at the ending, but the more I tho...moreI pronounce it to be bloated, pretentious, encyclopedic, prescient, and hilarious. At first, I was really pissed off at the ending, but the more I thought about the structure of the book and how it related to the themes presented, the better and more coherent it looked. This is a big, difficult, ambitious mess of a novel, but it gets right much more than it gets wrong. Probably the closest thing we'll get to a War and Peace for millennial America.(less)
It’s alright. I liked Diamond Age a lot better, as I think he became a lot better of a writer by then. I love the interesting vision of the future and...moreIt’s alright. I liked Diamond Age a lot better, as I think he became a lot better of a writer by then. I love the interesting vision of the future and the riffing on human and computer languages, but the exposition gets to be a bit much at times(and I’m someone who likes didactic novels-of-ideas, and is willing to forgive a lot of expounding, so if I noticed it, it’s probably pretty clumsy.) Still worth a read, but be prepared to be yanked right out of the narrative a few times to learn about Sumerian and computer programming and such, and to be annoyed by a few too many conveniently contrived expository plot and character details.(less)
I wanted to like this, I really did, but in the end I just couldn’t. There were lots of funny little bits here and there, but the sum total was just t...moreI wanted to like this, I really did, but in the end I just couldn’t. There were lots of funny little bits here and there, but the sum total was just too glib, too shallow, too purposefully contrarian, and above all, too universalist and unqualified. The main problem is that he’s trying to universalize what amounts to a very narrow-bore pop culture experience. I’m only a few years younger, but very few of the touchstones(the Real World, Billy Joel, Saved by the Bell, etc) that he mentions have had any appreciable effect on my life or that of my peers. I’ve heard of them all and been exposed to them enough to have a good familiarity, but I can’t hang any of the shared meaning on them that he does and attempts to extend to his whole readership.
I was also bit irritated by his ongoing attempts to cast himself as lowbrow, working class, anti-elitist, etc. He may be genuinely uncomfortable being a part of a cultural elite(and some sincere confrontation with this discomfort could have been really interesting in this context), but he is, and he’s not fooling anyone with his protestations and poses to the contrary.
Finally, he should just avoid writing about the internet or gaming or computers, because he just doesn’t have any expertise in those areas and catty condescension is not enough to make up for that fact.(less)
I assumed that this book would mostly solidify inklings of ideas and opinions I already had, but it did a lot more than that. A very thorough and conv...moreI assumed that this book would mostly solidify inklings of ideas and opinions I already had, but it did a lot more than that. A very thorough and convincing portrait of a world headed for a new class crisis, coupled with a crisis for the freedom of expression, and perhaps democracy itself.(less)
Another book I’ve danced around by being online a lot. I had a general idea before of what he’s getting at, but I learned a lot about how information...moreAnother book I’ve danced around by being online a lot. I had a general idea before of what he’s getting at, but I learned a lot about how information acts in a social context, and about marketing and the exploitation of human psychological bugs to spread memes, for better and worse. Probably good things to know, whichever side of the battle for the commons you are on.
My big beef with this and with most of his work is that he’s far too credulous, reductive, and deterministic about the findings of psychology, sociology, cogsci, neurology, etc. He constantly makes the mistake of conflating statistical trends with ironclad physical laws that apply directly and inviolably to you the reader and everyone else. It makes for a nice just-so-story and has the added benefit for him of telling lots of pseudo-intellectual business/marketing types exactly what they want to hear and making them feel really smart for knowing the same truths he has just interviewed a bunch of them to “discover.” This approach may be lucrative and even somewhat diverting in his able hands, but it does a disservice to the richness and implications of the material and to the curiosity of the reader.
Basically, his approach boils down to: “I’ve interviewed a few scienticians and marketing flacks about X, and found that this is the way things are, so you had better get used to it.” and, by implication: “Those who are enlightened enough to detect and accept these inevitabilities can turn them to their own advantage and win big!” Compare that with someone else who writes on similar topics for an overlapping audience, Steven Johnson, whose approach is: “I got really interested in X, so I went out and learned as much as I could about it, and this is what I found. Isn’t that cool?! And here’s how it relates to Y and Z. And, finally, here are some possible implications, but what actually develops depends on how we decide to act on this knowledge and these connections.”
In a quintessentially Gladwellian fashion, I’ll leave it to you to divine who I think has the better approach.(less)
The writing’s tight, the proposed future is sufficiently realized and stylized, all gritty and noir, but it just leaves me cold. Characterization seem...moreThe writing’s tight, the proposed future is sufficiently realized and stylized, all gritty and noir, but it just leaves me cold. Characterization seemed to be lacking, and I just didn’t much care what happened to anyone in the end, whereas I very much did with Neuoromancer, which seemed a much more fully-realized novel to me. Maybe I’ve just run into Gibson a bit too late, at a time when he seems less visionary and more obvious in light of how technology has advanced. His strengths as far as whizbang futurism seem less evident to me here, and his weaknesses in character and relationships much more pronounced.(less)
I’m re-reading this for the first time since high school. This is simply virtuosity as far as the novel format goes. It doesn’t have an extraneous wor...moreI’m re-reading this for the first time since high school. This is simply virtuosity as far as the novel format goes. It doesn’t have an extraneous word or scene, anywhere, that I can find, and it’s almost thematically and emotionally perfect. I had no idea how freaking masterful this book really was in the ignorance of my youth(and I liked it a good deal then.) Yikes. Also, it lives up to its “Great American Novel” billing in that it comes closer than anything I’ve seen to encompassing and explaining the abstractions and appetities that have made America both the greatest, and the most flawed, country of the past century. Gatsby as myth made real, as a man sprung from an idea, echoing a country born from the same. Genius.(less)
Penetrating, cynically witty in parts, and pleasingly melancholic, but too clever by half and sorta hollow, slipshod and packaged, in the same way muc...morePenetrating, cynically witty in parts, and pleasingly melancholic, but too clever by half and sorta hollow, slipshod and packaged, in the same way much of what he is offhandedly criticizing is. The whole decrying-knowing-irony-whilst-compulsively-indulging-in-it schtick gets a bit old, if very tragically illustrative of the Problem With Our Culture or whatever. Perhaps this is a conscious decision, but it doesn't really work for me. Seemed more quotable than readable in the end.(less)
Ugh. So whiny & snobbish & entitled & reactionary. There are fragments of a good travelogue peeking out through all the gloom, but mostly...moreUgh. So whiny & snobbish & entitled & reactionary. There are fragments of a good travelogue peeking out through all the gloom, but mostly this reads like the crappy blog entries I wrote to vent my frustration at trying to find my way around Europe alone after college. All of the stress and whining and disorientation and disappointed expectations, and little of the good stuff that ultimately made the trip worthwhile. It's a lot easier to write snark(and lord, does he go for the easy snark) than wonder, and it's a lot easier to write with the frame you bring in than to figure out how the trip has changed or surprised you. I know Bryson was a lot younger when he wrote this, but I still had a hard time believing it was him for much of the book. Especially disappointing because this is always spoken so well of, and now I just don't get where that comes from at all.(less)
**spoiler alert** It's always just a bit dangerous to re-read one of my adolescent touchstones. I've found that far too often, they haven't held up we...more**spoiler alert** It's always just a bit dangerous to re-read one of my adolescent touchstones. I've found that far too often, they haven't held up well in the cold light of my adult sensibilities and allegiances. And I was even more apprehensive about Bradbury, because his crotchety, reactionary turn in his dotage is well known and lamented.
It's tempting to look for the seeds of that in his earlier work, and you can definitely find them to varying degrees in the form of his pastoralist nostalgia, his largely unexamined issues with expertise and authority, his hyper-individualistic outlook, and his overdeveloped persecution complex about what would later be known as political correctness. Bradbury certainly had a conservative temperament and aesthetic, if he wasn't yet a conservative idealogue.
However, the good news is that he wasn't, and while all of those tendencies are on display here, they're restrained and put to use in the service of much more worthy ends. His pastoralism is neatly subverted in "The Third Mission," where the idyllic American small town of his youth turns out to be a death trap. His PC persecution complex at least leads to some good if implausible meta-literary fun in "Usher II". But what's most interesting is that he deploys these conservative impulses mostly in the service of what we'd think of today as liberal causes. He tackles racism in "Way in the Middle of the Air," sexism in "Ylla", "Madness and Civilization" sorts of issues regarding the societal construction of mental illness in "The Earth Men", and nuclear weapons and ecology throughout. He even displays an almost Edward Abbeyesque radical environmentalism in "The Moon Be Still As Bright," which for me is the best story in the collection. This is pretty progressive stuff for the early Fifties.
Politics aside though, what sticks with you from the Martian Chronicles and what makes it great is the imagination and the atmosphere. It's just a short story collection, but it manages to create and embody a world and a culture and an era in ways that subsequent huge multi-volume Scifi series can't approach. I've read quite a bit of Mars literature since The Martian Chronicles, but Bradbury's Mars is still the Mars I see in my mind, and that's quite an accomplishment.(less)