Complaining that an Arthur C Clarke novel is dry and didactic is like bemoaning the wetness of water. But Imperial Earth is far too much a product of...moreComplaining that an Arthur C Clarke novel is dry and didactic is like bemoaning the wetness of water. But Imperial Earth is far too much a product of the time in which it was written, and Clarke devotes the majority of the novel to telling us things we already know. The first few chapters take place on Titan, and that's a fascinating setting, and just reading about the weather and geology on that moon is improbably riveting, like a college lecture from an unexpectedly charismatic professor. That's Clarke playing to his strengths.
Then we come to Earth, and the lecture becomes a breathless reprise of shit we've heard a thousand times before. Our protagonist tours Washington DC at length, which has been preserved like a museum exhibit just like it is in the present day. This is not a particularly interesting detour. Nor are digressions about Neil Armstrong's moon landing or the Kennedy assassination worthwhile. What Clarke is trying to do is make us see Earth for the first time through our Titanian man's eyes. He succeeds only on occasion, as when the hero encounters a horse for the first time, recoiling from the beast as though it were a bug-eyed alien monster.(less)
"It is the oldest irony of the medical profession that doctors seem to profit from the misfortune of others."
Though Tom Disch is a favorite of mine, I...more "It is the oldest irony of the medical profession that doctors seem to profit from the misfortune of others."
Though Tom Disch is a favorite of mine, I was a bit hesitant to delve into The M.D. because this late-career shift toward the horror genre seemed like a naked bid for Steven King-like success. But there's nothing watered down about this novel, which finds Disch at the height of his considerable powers. The dark humor, deft characterization, and intricate plotting of his best work are all present here. Like King's rustic Maine, Disch's Minnesotan stomping ground is a vivid setting, a wholesome-seeming place where evils both mundane and supernatural lurk.
At heart this is a familiar sort of horror story, the kind that reminds us to be careful what we wish for. Young Billy Michaels has visions of a being with many faces who helps make Billy's wishes into reality. The consequences of these wishes, regardless of forethought or motive, tend to be dire. We follow him as a young man, as time and again he learns the wrong lesson from the results of these supernatural meddlings, then we skip forward nearly 20 years to see the world his wishes have made.
Quibbles: I feel that we lose something in this 20 year gap. We don't learn until the end why Billy does some of the more ghastly things that he does, and the explanation underwhelms. Also, this last act strips Billy of his status as protagonist, and makes him a passive victim of circumstances like most of the other people in the book. (less)
Arbitrarily dipping back into two-star territory, because the oft-criticized dialog is pretty glaring here. Even when a huge herd of zombies encroache...moreArbitrarily dipping back into two-star territory, because the oft-criticized dialog is pretty glaring here. Even when a huge herd of zombies encroaches on the gang's new Edenic Sanctuary (TM) it's all "You move the truck" and "We need to go get our guns" and "Where's Carl at?" One begins to appreciate far more the comic book creators who can tell a story with an economy of words.
Cue omniscient narrator: "is random man on the Internet losing interest in a comic book? Was it Stockholm Syndrome all along? Tune in tomorrow or possibly next week for another navel-gazing review full of wiseacre mockery and borrowed ideas!" (less)
**spoiler alert** Back in junior high I was given a creative writing assignment, and I submitted a, shall we say, less-than-stellar effort about a war...more**spoiler alert** Back in junior high I was given a creative writing assignment, and I submitted a, shall we say, less-than-stellar effort about a war between humans and antimatter aliens. This was, by the way, for a class about literature of the South, and so I'm not sure exactly what the poor professor thought of this offering, but she called it "A complex and well-developed piece!" That's a phrase that always stuck with me; its the sort of thing someone says when they have no idea what to say.
And that phrase is the best praise I can offer Michael Bishops's novel "A Little Knowledge". This is very much the sort of thing I would have loved had I read it back in junior high. Nowadays I have less time on my hands to read the yellowed scifi paperbacks that were then my bread and butter, and though I can appreciate a lot that this book does, the entire thing seems maddeningly arcane.
Certainly this is a story that is complex, and a setting that well-developed. But these virtues kind of work against the novel rather than complementing it. For "A Little Knowledge" Bishop has imagined a future America made up of environmentally controlled domed cities, which are governed by a fundamentalist theocracy. Bishop can't find the right balance to acclimate us to this brave new world and the people that live in it; he is constantly giving us historical and genealogical data, but this flood of data never shapes itself into a clear context.
This is beginning to sound like a pan, and I guess I may as well state outright now that those who don't enjoy maddeningly arcane science fiction definitely ought to steer clear. But I did like this book. It's far from perfect, in fact it's a bit of a mess, and damned if I could tell you exactly what I liked about it.
So here goes. I liked a certain naturalism that Bishop brings to the genre. There are few clear villains here. There are smug, oppressive theocrats who lack subtlety in the way that they are drawn, but are seemingly just well-meaning and out of touch, as people with such ideals often seem to me. Likewise, an extremist faction that develops over the course of the book isn't given much space, but seems very believable. The core characters are very well developed, although there is a forced romance between the leads that made me wince.
I also like how batshit crazy this book is. There is a fair amount of nutty religious questing in the vein of Philip K Dick, and the ending of the book features the questionable revelation that the aliens featured in the book are reincarnated human souls, one step closer than you or I to communion with the divine. This is established when the soul of the protagonist's long dead grandmother emerges from one such alien and reveals herself, and tells us about this bizarre cosmology in countrified ebonics Bishop calls Plantation Patois. So for the What the Fuck Did I Just Read Award for 2013, I suspect that "A Little Knowledge" will be a shoo-in.(less)
Four volumes in, this series has at some nebulous point ceased to become a maddeningly compulsive slog and has become instead... a guilty pleasure, le...moreFour volumes in, this series has at some nebulous point ceased to become a maddeningly compulsive slog and has become instead... a guilty pleasure, let's say.(less)
By-the-numbers whodunit benefits from a nice sense of place, but rote and clumsy exposition repeatedly stalls the narrative. The denouement especially...moreBy-the-numbers whodunit benefits from a nice sense of place, but rote and clumsy exposition repeatedly stalls the narrative. The denouement especially suffers.(less)