Genre short fiction can be frustratingly esoteric, and this collection has stories that are almost as inscrutable as those on "The Best of Crank!": GrGenre short fiction can be frustratingly esoteric, and this collection has stories that are almost as inscrutable as those on "The Best of Crank!": Greg Egan's "Scatter My Ashes", for instance, and Pat Cadigan's "Patterns". The ones that are more straightforward are not necessarily the better for it, but there are some gems: Harlan Ellison's beautifully written "Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes", George Zebrowski's queasy "This Life and Later Ones", Damon Knight's "Masks", Ray Bradbury's classic "The Veldt", Thomas Disch's "Descending", and Stephen King's "The Mangler"....more
"Double Meaning" is a decent aliens-among-us story with a not exactly stirring moral about bigotry. "Rule Golden" I hated, though I may owe it another"Double Meaning" is a decent aliens-among-us story with a not exactly stirring moral about bigotry. "Rule Golden" I hated, though I may owe it another read. In it, an alien disperses a chemical that causes people to experience any pain they inflict on another, mandating vegetarianism, non-violence, etc. It seemed to me that this story didn't really tackle the obvious implications of the premise, moral and otherwise....more
Variable in quality. Many of these stories are dense and inscrutable; which is great and which is pretentious twaddle may be in the eye of the beholdeVariable in quality. Many of these stories are dense and inscrutable; which is great and which is pretentious twaddle may be in the eye of the beholder. Jonathan Lethem turns in the amusing "Mood Bender", collaborates with one Carter Scholz on the slyly self-referential "Receding Horizon" in which Franz Kafka writes for a displeased Frank Capra, and puzzles us with "The Happy Prince", a weird fairy tale about a handsome gold robot who scraps himself in order to make a great number of dildos for his beloved community. "Food Man", "Santacide", and "Clap If You Believe", which is about a normal-sized guy's courtship of a Tinkerbell-sized pixie, are great. There is a lot of filler, though...more
Chayefsky reportedly hated Ken Russell's adaptation of his story, but this goofy head-scratcher really benefits from Russell's one-of-a-kind visual trChayefsky reportedly hated Ken Russell's adaptation of his story, but this goofy head-scratcher really benefits from Russell's one-of-a-kind visual treatment. On the page the scientific gaffs seem so ludicrous, and Chayefsky takes them so literally, that it's hard to allow him the necessary poetic license. Chayefsky is not a perfect writer, but he is one who always has big ideas that inform his work. The ideas of "Network" redeem its speechifying and its dramatic clunkiness. The ideas here are a mess, but a fascinating mess....more
What in god's name is the purpose of "young-adult" books? I can accept that grade-school children can't be expected to delve into Faulkner after justWhat in god's name is the purpose of "young-adult" books? I can accept that grade-school children can't be expected to delve into Faulkner after just mastering the fundamentals of reading. The arcane world of books must lure children in by conceding them a genre relevant to them, written in terms they can understand. Too often this concession becomes pandering; how else to explain this world wherein for the last ten years declining readership has been best combated by a hugely popular series about a boy wizard and his magic friends, and now the books everyone seems to read are bloodless fantasies of sexy vampires? In a sense YA fiction, dumbed-down candy trash, is all that anyone of any age reads now, entertainment for the child within. Content is the only distinction between what is for adults and what is for children, and that's a line easily crossed.
As such, I find it hard to cut Sleator any slack for "House of Stairs", because it has a solid premise but such a lackluster execution; if the book hadn't been written for such a narrow audience, it could have been great. The premise: Five sixteen-year-olds wake up in an infinite-seeming space with stairs branching out in all directions (Sleator likely got the idea while staring at an MC Escher poster in a dorm bong session (Not that there's anything wrong with that)). They find a machine that dispenses food, seemingly at random, and in small quantities. It becomes clear that they must behave in a certain way for the dispenser to feed them, and they do so, initially by deducing what will cause the machine to work and what won't, and later because they have been conditioned to act thusly. But the machine's demands become increasingly nasty, and the ugly purpose of this experiment becomes clear.
Sadly, it seems that anything but the most pedestrian style was dismissed so as not to alienate kids who hate reading. Characters of any complexity are likewise eschewed. Sleator tries to make the children in the novel into archetypes that comment on human nature, as the characters of "Lord of the Flies" do, but succeeds only at turning them into stereotypes. Peter in "House of Stairs" is a dreamer like Simon from "Lord of the Flies", but lacks that character's vivid inner life, dwelling instead only on private fantasies that leave us with no idea of how he ticks; his eventual rebellion in the novel doesn't come from any tangible character motivation, but from the necessity of the plot point itself. The other characters are flimsier cardboard. There's Lola, who is "a loner, Dottie: a rebel". She even smokes, cause she's so badass. Add two breeders, Abigail and Oliver, to the equation; they act out a tepid variation on the mating dance, with her playing the hapless damsel and he her rescuer and eventual abuser.
But I must save the most one-note characterization for a rant within a rant. The girl who figures out how to work the machine is a privileged fat girl, who is portrayed in an entirely negative fashion. This may sound like nothing new; such depictions of the obese are commonplace. But Sleator's abuse of the character plumbs new depths; food is the character's prevailing passion, and as weeks go by as the machine starves them into submission, it is only the fat girl who complains of being hungry. Likewise, though they have little means of washing themselves in this span, only she and her clothing are described as being filthy. This really speaks to how unimaginative the characters are: "Fat people like food, right? They must, since they're so fat." And it speaks to how coldly Sleator conceived them that her body is made the usual figure of fun, with sport being made of her "huge, jellylike thighs" and her "[taking] up all the floor space." Add to that the fact that she is made a relentless shrew, even bringing about the fall of our little society in microcosm by claiming that one character was talking shit about another's hair. Consider her a villainess of note.
That said, I'm eager to read something else by Sleator. This was one of his early efforts, and I expect he improved somewhat, as friends of mine swear by him. And the cruelty of the book, thought often ham-fisted, gives it a visceral charge like Roald Dahl's writing. In a world this nasty, you truly believe that the worst can happen to the characters (It is not so in, say, the writing of Diana Wynne Jones, who though a better writer than Sleator likes her characters too much for a reader to believe she'd let one burn at the stake). Needless to say, of course, the worst does not happen. There is some facile resolution, and then a tedious passage spelling out the meaning of the experiment; it's too bad that Sleator doesn't trust his audience to understand, because he got that right the first time. We don't need a scene where an eeeeeeevil scientist improbably explains his master plan to the heroes. But you know kids, or at least what publishing execs think of kids. They're dumb. They wouldn't understand....more
Al Franken states the obvious. Also there are jokes, and a Vietnam-War story featuring Oliver North leading worthless sacks of shit Gingrich, LimbaughAl Franken states the obvious. Also there are jokes, and a Vietnam-War story featuring Oliver North leading worthless sacks of shit Gingrich, Limbaugh, Quayle and George Will into battle...more
Lacks for compelling characters or a compelling vision of the future. Such thing would distract from Reed's too-insistent points about obesity and othLacks for compelling characters or a compelling vision of the future. Such thing would distract from Reed's too-insistent points about obesity and other problems of affluence, fad dieting, pop psychology- points which score some satirical points but seem puzzlingly equivocal in the end. She has a short story, "The Food Farm", that is shorter and better and tackles similar material....more