I don't actually remember the first time I heard or read about Cat Rambo or one of her stories. I do remember the first time I saw her name and I wasI don't actually remember the first time I heard or read about Cat Rambo or one of her stories. I do remember the first time I saw her name and I was like: "Cat Rambo? Who the hell goes by 'Cat Rambo'?" Well, Cat does.
Cat Rambo's name has floated across books and anthologies and zines I've read for the last five years or so. Editor of Fantasy Magazine, fiction in Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Hyperpulp, Asimov's, and a shitload of anthologies. Her name is synonymous with speculative short fiction over the past decade and seems to have exploded in the last couple of years. She had nineteen short stories come out in 2011. NINETEEN!
I got to meet her up at Clarion West in 2011. She lectured on online presence and industry stuffs, giving her time in and out of the classroom. She's a great supporter and resource, one of the many writers up in Seattle who make moving up there a temptation.
A few months back she asked me to review her upcoming short story collection Near+Far (2012, Hydra House), which is what you're reading now. There're so many stories in this collection I'm going to break this review into two parts, the Near and Far collections, which follows the book's layout. Both collections have their own table of contents and restart the page numbering. I read my version as a PDF, but apparently the printed copy is bound in a style called tête-bêche, like how the old Ace Doubles used to do it. But you know, done classy. I think it not only works, but it's just the sort of thing print publishers need to do if they want people to go out and buy the print copies of their books. It worked on me and I've already read the book. The covers were done by Sean Counley and the interior artwork was done by Mark Tripp.
Cat also did a line of jewelry based on the book's artwork:
Nancy Kress sporting snazzy Near+Far jewelry
This book is great opportunity to examine Rambo's work in detail. It's a retrospective with stories that go back to 2007, so you can see what she's been doing over the years. As I said before, I was familiar with her and her fiction, but I'd never read her stories back to back and wasn't able to see just what she was doing with her work.
She starts off the Near collection with a strong story, "The Mermaids Singing, Each to Each". It's a beautiful, lyrical story of a formerly female protagonist who's gone and had its gender removed after years of sexual abuse by its now deceased uncle. But that's all back story. The real story is of it and two others navigating waters filled with man-eating mermaids (done with a nice bit of worldbuilding) while the trio prowl the seas looking for garbage, the modern booty. But the real-real story is whether or not the protag can forgive the semi-autonomous boat it inherited from its uncle which it holds partially responsible for its abuse. "Mermaids" encapsulates what Cat Rambo is really writing about: relationships.
Her stories are quiet meditations on relationships. Now, "quiet" in a review is usually code for boring or nothing happens. This is not the case. There's murderous mermaids, superheroes, asphyxiations, dark shamans, quasi-animal burnings. There's plenty of action and things ahappenin'. No, what I mean by quiet is that many of her stories are about, at their core, relationships, usually between two people, they just don't say so up front.
This is not an easy thing to do, to have these subtle but effective explorations of relationships (brother-sister, victim-perpetrator, husband-wife, rival friends, boyfriend-girlfriend) all while the world is ending, cybernetic cats are prowling, supervillians are attacking, and immortality is at your fingertips in some crazy fruit. Usually there's some new element that's introduced which causes the relationships to stress and/or react. In many of her stories the element is a new-fangled product with spec-like qualities, such as with "Vocobox(TM)" (a voicebox for cats) and "RealFur"(living clothing) and "Therapy Buddha" (a talking buddhist psychology doll; actually the product isn't very spec-ish, it's the worldbuidling in this one.). The new element doesn't cause discord in the relationships, it just pulls the lid back, exposing them. For example, "Close Your Eyes" is a haunting tale of a sister who cares for her dying brother. She drives him around, supports him financially, lives with him. She's put her entire life on hold while he withers away. And for all her sacrifice she is rewarded with bitter resentment and passive-aggressive sarcasm on page one, a relationship that I think is all too real and common. The new element is the brother's interest in shamanism, which he explores in classes at the hospital he goes to for treatments of his undisclosed illness, but the discord was there years before the story started.
The emphasis on relationships lends the Near collection an intimacy and immediacy that feels contemporaneous. For the most part, these are people who are living modern lives right around the corner from us. Besides the cybernetic superheroes.
One of the things that I wasn't so thrilled about at first were the stories' endings. That's because many of them end on natural notes, meaning that while plots are not resolved the character's arcs were. Such is the case with "Memories of Moments, Bright as Falling Stars", where the story just ends. What about the bad guys? Will the protag survive? You can't just end a story right there like that!?!? But she did. And once I reread it I found that it ended there because the protag's story had concluded. This is a strong collection because even if there are pieces that don't work for you (wasn't a big fan of "10 New Metaphors for Cyberspace", a borderline poetry piece that went over my head) there're many others that will. It's a collection filled with a variety of stories that are able to get at and portray the human experience in wondrous environments.
Whoa. This collection, Far, brings the guns just like Near did. This time around, though, we are in the future. And if anything, things seem to have gotten worse, even if they are brighter and better lit due to the overhead halogen lights of your cubicle-home.
Cat Rambo's exploration of advertising, products, commercialism, and consumerism are only exacerbated in stories like "Surrogates", "Seeking Nothing", "Amid the Words of War", and "Zeppelin Follies", the last of which Rambo claims was her attempt at slapstick comedy. It's not that it wasn't funny, it's just that standing back, looking at the world of commercialism she created, where writers write by managing software that spits out endless variations of the same story for every conceivable market niche and everyone wears malleable Bodies that keep the actual world at arms length, well, it's pretty frightening from my standpoint because it's a dystopia where the depicted society isn't all that unhappy, like in Brave New World. Often cited as the model dystopia, Brave New World is really a social satire or even utopian satire (Huxley called it a "negative utopia": the drugged out disconnected world is , by and large, "happy"). It is implied in "Surrogates" and "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain" that the rich are only happy because they've built a world of consumerism based on picking the fruits of lower caste's labors, which implies that the rest of the world could indeed be a dystopia. How is this different from our current world? Blood diamonds and oil shales anyone? In Rambo's "Zeppelin Follies" everyone seems pretty content with their hyperconsumerism, which to me is just an extrapolation of where we are headed. Both "Surrogates" and "Zeppelin Follies" reminded me of David Mitchell's Nea So Corpocracy in the "An Orison of Sonmi~451" chapter of Cloud Atlas, a fantastic book.
If the last collection touched from time to time on the themes of relationships and intimacy, then this collection is the inverse. We're still talking about relationships, but Far is about the inability to find connections and how far we will go to connect. I mean, the protag of "Angry Rose's Lament", a drug addict trying to find some kind of connection to replace his drug craving, contemplates letting an intelligent wasp eat his brain so he can join an immortal group-mind. Yeah, that's what it's about.
After that we have "Seeking Nothing" which is a fucking HAUNTING tale about a young man who is desperate to connect with anyone, absolutely anyone. He's a social outcast managing clones working on a distant planet, who cannot seem to connect with the few non-clone coworkers or his past. It is a frightening tale of utter loneliness. This was by far one of my favorite stories in this collection. The protag's loneliness still lingers in my mind.
"A Querulous Flute of Bone" was also about seeking out a relationship: romantic love. I could see the plot coming a mile away, which was fine, because the story was really an exercise in beautiful world-building. What I loved so much from the first story in the Near collection, "Mermaids Singing Each to Each", and about the near-future exploration of commercialism of "RealFur", "Vocobox(TM)", and "Therapy Buddha", was the effortless world-building Cat dropped into her stories. And here we see even more of that. "A Querulous Flute of Bone" is like one world-building idea after another, but never overwhelming. It frankly left me hungry for more. In the afternotes, Cat says that this story is part of a shared world project started by Philip Athans, so perhaps there's more.
"Surrogates" seemed a bit like the Far version of "Not Waving, but Drowning", 'cept in a far future society. The protag has an Insanity Chip in her head, which allows her to edit the world she senses. It's a touch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but from a great angle. And her descriptions of the edits the protag sees are immersive.
I'd say that, for me, hands down, the best story in both collections was "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain". Most stories about falling in love turn me off immediately. It's been done so much. But this story was intimate, beautiful, tragic, and told as smoothly as the character's porcelain skin. I'm pretty shocked it was original to this collection. Original stories tend to be stinkers or just perfectly fine stories, never having gone through the vetting processes of editor crits (I'm sure Hydra House had the story edited, but I mean in the marketplace). Whatever the case, this had to be my favorite story of the collection.
There are afternotes for the stories in both collections, which is one of my favorite parts to read. It's like the context of the context.
On its own, Far is a strong collection of stories. Together in one book, both collections, Near+Far, represent a selection of Cat Rambo's work over the last five years and show that she is a writer able to capture the human perspective on life and relationships in the most imaginative environments....more
The term I heard the most in reviews was "tour de force". And it was. Blindsight was a tour de force of everything Peter Watts. Or, at least, it certainly felt like it (especially in reading the end notes where the personality and "voice" of the author carried across from the fiction). It was a flashy book with slick prose and ideas flying around like fists in a bar brawl (I hate it when reviewers get figurative). And it was a problematic read.
There were a number of reasons for the difficulty, not the least of which was choosing a main character who literally had no empathy (severe childhood epilepsy led to radical surgery that removed part of his brain). This lack of empathy made the protag (Siri) a perfect observer, a "Synthesist", one who had a seriously good Theory of Mind and could read people's topology, sorta a complete personality and body language simulator that ran in his head.
Peter Watts, from his blog and his writing, comes across as a very intentioned guy, so I'm sure he had a solid theoretical reason for why a non-empath would be a great observer, however it was not apparent to me how a person with no emotions could predict the feelings and emotions of others. I know some people who have empathy problems and they tend to be socially awkward and many times cannot understand other peoples actions and have a hard time anticipating responses. This doesn't kill the book by any means, but it does make Watts' job that much harder and I don't understand the utility of it.
Yes, there are times later on when discussion of the Chinese Room comes up and the protag suggests he is a Chinese Room, responding to words as stimuli with programmed responses. (Illustrated by remembrances of a failed relationship that seemed to me chock filled with emotion. I also wondered if Siri had absolutely no emotions or interests why he would be dating in the first place and why he would be straight or any sexual orientation for that matter). There was also a comparison of psychopathology, xenopsychology, Theory of Mind, and the protag's lack of empathy, but these topics were inevitable and the protag's situation did not shine further light on the issues.
Also, Siri somehow gets his empathy back at the end. At least I guess he did. This was part of his character arc and I don't get how this all went down. I mean, physically it was beaten into him by the captain, but I don't get why that would work.
At the heart of it, Blindsight is a scientific exploration of self, identity, consciousness, and intelligence. Watts questions the role of consciousness in intelligence and makes an argument that perhaps there's no real correlation between the two. The aliens in Blindsight have no sense of self but have a superior Theory of Mind, are supergeniouses, and seem to be able to spawn pretty sophisticated Chinese Room chat-bots. This brings up two questions:
A- Why would the aliens care? Why would they come in the first place? Yes, there is a two-page explanation, when the protag simulates the topology of a non-sentient intelligence. The aliens liken sentience to a virus, an aberration they must destroy. But I still don't get why they think we're infectious. They're not infected by us. The virus analogy only goes so far and if anything, since they presumably have come to destroy us, they are the aggressive invading force. I just couldn't buy why a non-sentient intelligence would expend so much energy and resources to destroy consciousness, especially since the implication towards the end of the book is that we have pretty much done ourselves in already. There's plenty of non-sentient intelligence on planet Earth and none of it seems to be actively trying to destroy humanity. (Besides the Tea Party Movement. Boom! [I know, doesn't count, I was talking about intelligence. Double BOOM! Sorry]).
B- If these aliens are so smart and have such a superior Theory of Mind, then why do they spin up a Chinese Room when they could have just spun up an actual working human mind (they can read our neurology, they've got complete working maps and scans) and negotiate? I mean, I guess they don't want to negotiate, and perhaps such a creation is a perversion to them, or as close to a perversion as an unempathetic non-sentient intelligence can get.
There's a lot of intra-group politicking that goes on while the four-man team goes out to explore and contact the alien ship/machine/artifact. It's pretty interesting, but much of it is inexplicable until the end, though I was still scratching my head as to why it had to be such a mystery.
There's also a lot of development of this biological vampire, Sarasti. Watts has the whole history of a nonhuman hominid predator, one that fed off humans like a keystone predator. It's very well worked out and pretty interesting, but I still don't understand why he put it in the book. It's like he made this cool little toy and just had to stick it in the novel somehow. The vampire is autistic and super smart and for some reason in control of the mission (there's this throwaway line towards the end of the book where we're told that the reason they didn't put the ship's quantum computing AI in charge was that humans don't like to take orders from machines. Right, so the alternative that Watts came up with was to put a predatory biological psychopathic autistic supersmart vampire in charge of a bunch of humans that it regards as cattle. Makes total sense). It is a very cool concept and I'm fairly certain we will be reading about it in a sequel at some point.
So, if this review comes off as negative you'd be wrong. This is a terribly ambitious book that dealt with a host of thorny scientific and philosophical issues. Could Watts have chosen fewer and made a cleaner book? Sure, of course he could have, but that's not what this story is. That would have been a different book. Some of the action scenes are a bit hard to follow and some of the jargon he uses is made up (Oasa Objects, Gray's syndrome), which infuriated me as they were key issues that I googled and found no definitions. (Note: Mr. Watts, if you're reading this, please explain your made up terminology sooner rather than later, especially when its key to the plot, like the Oasa object, how can I picture it when you don't define it?) But these are just technical issues. The truth is this book took serious risks and I wish there were more like it.
Note: Watts released this book for free on his website under a Creative Commons license. It comes in PDF, HTML, and other formats and is available here. Along with the book, his website also contains some additional content, like a half-hour video presentation about the vampires. His site is a bit old and a bit buggy, but there's a lot of cool stuff in there. Check it out. ...more
Left hook, straight punch. But no knock out. That's pretty much my review of Hannu Rajeniemi's The Quantum Thief. Often miscategorized as Science FictLeft hook, straight punch. But no knock out. That's pretty much my review of Hannu Rajeniemi's The Quantum Thief. Often miscategorized as Science Fiction, sometimes even as "Hard" Science Fiction, this Science Fantasy book packs a galloping adventure of post-humans fighting for... well, I'm not totally sure what they were fighting over. In fact, can anyone tell me why exactly Mieli busted le Flambeur out of the Dilemma Prison? And why did the zoku take over a population of gogols (mind copies) indentured into a Mars terraforming prison that was data-scrambled after the Spike, the explosion of Jupiter, in a deal with the Cryptarchs (warden?) who seems to be an incarnation of Jean le Flambeur, and then buffer said deal by creating the tzaddikim to counter the Cryptarch's power? It's not just your head that's spinning.
Here's a breakdown straight from the book
An interplanetary thief is building a picotech machine out of the city itself while the cryptarchs take over people's minds to try to destroy the zoku colony in order to stop the tzaddikim from breaking their power.
Course the book doesn't actually answer why any of this happened.
I've read a number of reviews that ding Rajaniemi for his "show don't tell" style, but frankly all he did was tell. What they really mean is that he never explained anything, but this doesn't mean he showed me shit. Here's a passage:
Isidore has been thinking about le Flambeur all afternoon. The Oubliette exomemory does not have much on him. In the end, he spent Time on an expensive data agent that ventured into the Realm outside the Oubliette noosphere. What it brought back was a mixture of fact and legend. No actual memories of lifecasts, not even video or audio. Fragments from before the Collapse, online speculation about a criminal mastermind operating from Fast London and Paris. Fanciful tales of a sunlifting factory stolen from the Sobornost, a guberniya grain that was broken into; dirty dealings in Realm unreal estate.
None of that shows me a goddamn thing. Tells me a lot, but shows me nothing. What does a sunlifting factory look like? What does a Sobornost guberniya look like? And along the journey we encounter q-dots, Dragons, Archons, qupting, gevulot, and I never get a clear view of what any of this looks like. Especially gevulot. It's basically personal privacy settings. But I could never tell what people could and couldn't see, unless Rajaniemi pointed it out. And by not having any kind of bearing in a world based on the far implications of science that hasn't even been settled yet (string theory anyone?), I was left in a limbo where every direction came from the author. Oh, the Engineer-of-Souls has Dragons? Okay. No, I have no idea what they are or what they look like, but okay. Oh, and he gardens? Okay. There was a Spike event that erased most of the Solar System's data banks? Okay, since you don't explain this, I'll just have to accept what you tell me. Mieli fires a ghost gun? Sure, okay, I have no idea what that looks like or the capabilities of that gun, but I'll just have to accept that it does what you say it does and when it fails because you say it does I'll go on and accept that, too.
Now, I think Rajaniemi did one thing right: I think he's pretty consistent. I believe that he has it worked it out, but I personally was not able to get a handle on the rules. Maybe I'm just too stupid. People like to laud his worldbuilding skills. Yes, they seem very strong. I would have loved to see the world he built. There are glimpses, for sure, but I never saw fully rendered in HDTV.
One thing that didn't seem consistent was Exomemory. I love this concept: a public ubiquitous memory storage and recording infrastructure. Spoiler Warning: the Exomemory was born out of a panopticon. The Oubliette was a former prison, which is why Exomemory ubiquitously records everything, expect for certain plot points. Like when Mieli and le Flambeur kill a bunch of pirates and blow up a museum and then fly away on angel's wings only to be unobserved by the ubiquitous Exomemory. Yes, angel's wings. But no one noticed.
Also, there's a lot of loose ends that are just not bothered with: who exactly is the cryptarch? I got the implication that it was a former incarnation of le Flambeur, but how, when, why? What was the god lodged into the guy's head after the Spike event and was then placed into le Flambeur's pico-mechanical memory palace? What about the nine other Watches? I get the impression that many of these questions are going to be answered in sequels, but that strikes me as cheap marketing, which leaves this work, as a stand-alone piece of art, truncated, unconcerned with the details, weak.
The inverse of this abbreviated story is that Rajaniemi keeps the pace going and the plot tight. Add on to that the boiler plate but well executed gentleman-thief heist story (we've seen it a thousand times, but he did it well) and you got yourself an interplanetary adventure that keeps you flipping pages, despite the lack of details. Ignore the man behind the curtain!
There were times when I thought, does Rajaniemi have a handle on the English language? (He's Finnish and lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, which only ostensibly speaks English [this I got from Stross! Just ask him!]). The biggest example of this was the POV changes, which he did without scene breaks and where he'd change from first to third person from one sentence to the next. This wasn't a fatal flaw, but it was a bit befuddling, and the real question was what utility did this possess? I'm all fine with people changing conventions and playing with the rules of grammar and syntax, but with this comes Peril, which can be a writer's best friend. Or enemy. Cormac McCarthy does this and pulls it off. But you, Senator, are no Cormac McCarthy. This distraction didn't ruin the book by any means, but every time it popped up I asked: why?
This book was more than just a heist book. It was also an ambitious exploration of quantum-mechanics, mind uploading/copying/forking, and cryptography in a post/mid-singularity universe. It's a tale set in a time when humans are little more than software running on machines, and they can be anything the dreamer can imagine (and that the hardware will render). Add to that the question: if the safeguards we use to protect our selves (quantum-cryptography) are untrustworthy and you can not ensure you are you, what then is left of yourself? And what if your past self was the perpetrator of this very literal identity theft? Yeap, total mindfuck.
I know I kinda ripped this one a new one, but this was a terribly ambitious book that took many risks. Its flaws do not outweigh its successes and while I don't know that I have the lasting power to read 5 books set in this universe, I do wish more writers took as many chances as Rajaniemi does. ...more
Some books are great because they capture a story, others a place, and others a time. Max Ehrlich's Reincarnation of Peter Proud is a great snapshot of the early 70's, with the "trippy" 60's still reverberating and morphing into burgeoning New Age movement. At least, that's how it feels. I wasn't there, so I really don't know. The closest I can get is the TV, movies, and book like the Reincarnation of Peter Proud, which feels like it fits right in with other snapshot/era movies, despite it really just wanting to be a supernatural thriller.
The zeitgeist was a kind of naivete of possibility. The concept of reincarnation is, of course, 1000s of years old, but such new age concepts were on the rise (Once again. See 1920s). It seemed like there was a time, after the age of the atom and going to the moon that opened us up to the reality that there was much more out there than we can imagine. The universe is a vast and unknowable place. Only 50% of what I'm saying is horseshit. I'm not suggesting that any era can be reduced to some quantifiable units. This book just flows nicely in a vein that I think of as 1970s Supernatural Materialism (ha!). Movies and books and even political philosophies of the time (radical militant "Marxists": Germany's Bader-Meinhof, Japan's United Red Army, America's various groups that were painted as such, like the Weatherman, the Black Panthers; see: Network) used materialism to take a sober look at fringe ideas. In these works, there's often some fringe scientist who calls himself a parapsychologist, or ectoplasmic technician or some such title to legitimize his/her efforts. See: The Dead Zone, The Fury,The Exorcist II, (this continued into the 80's with Firestarter, The Entity, and Poltergeist). Mix with a healthy portion of supernatural horror: Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen. Now enter Max Ehrlich with the Reincarnation of Peter Proud: boom! Bestseller.
The great thing about this era is that it's not now. There's not 25 shows on the Sci-Fi Channel (SyFy, Sci-Fie, whatever) all about ghosthunters who have yet to record even one second of ghostly or unexplained phenomenon; there's not youtube with 100 man years of CCTV footage of bugs mistaken for ghosts. I'm not saying there are no ghosts. I'm not saying that there's no unexplained, or demons, or afterlife. What I'm saying is that there is a lack of any evidence for ESP and other phenomenon which has pushed most of those ideas further into Fringe/Pseudos-Science territory, a dearth which didn't exist in the early 70s. The 60s just happened and mainstream America was openly talking about psychedelics, drugs, and alternative lifestyles for the second time (see: early American utopian communes, at least about lifestyles).
I don't know if Ehrlich captured it or contributed to it, but his adequate book went bestseller and then onto Hollywood, and is going on to be another Hollywood film (directed by David Fincher and written by Andrew Kevin Walker, both of whom brought us Se7en; there's plenty of dark potential in the book that Ehrlick didn't explore than Fincher could really capitalize upon). The book is an enjoyable 70s romp, though I never really connected with the main character. For one, this book really doesn't have any Peril until the end. There's some interesting cultural exploration of Native American dream therapy (ondinnok), though it was introduced early, dropped, and then picked up at the end. Most of the book is just following Pete around as he investigates his dreams so that he can sleep better at night. There's some grandiose talk of prophets and such, but mostly it's just Pete bumping around, his life, but for lack of sleep, pretty fucking absolutely unchallenged and fine. Ehrlich is a good enough writer that he's able to maintain an audience. The most interesting thing to me, besides the 70's New Age zeitgeist, was his investigation pre-internet! (Yes, yes, I know: ARPANET: 60s). That was the most entertaining part of the story. There's a part where he sees something on TV and he has to actually call the TV station, from a landline! Then he has to meet with the producer, in the flesh! Wristwatch on his wrist and telephones that plug into the wall. Craziness.
Like I said, this book wanted to be a supernatural thriller or some kind of exploration of the spirituality of reincarnation (these topics are lightly brushed upon, but there's no depth), but there's no real connection with his past lives or even his future. He's a bit of a cypher, especially with his aspirations and his personal interests (beyond Native Americans; there's a fleeting reference to how he's a serious symphony buff, which isn't mentioned until the last quarter of the book).
All that being said, I enjoyed reading Peter Proud. It could have been a bit shorter. Frankly, it's not much more than a twilight zone special, with some nice twists. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Readable. That's the first thing I'll say about Gordon W. Dale's Fool's Republic: readable. I'm not sure it's much more than that, but there you haveReadable. That's the first thing I'll say about Gordon W. Dale's Fool's Republic: readable. I'm not sure it's much more than that, but there you have it.
Fool's Republic is the story of Simon Wyley (get it!?), a misunderstood genius who can't (or won't) fit into modern social standards who's on a quest of revenge against the government (read: stand in for modern life) for the death of his daughter, an active duty soldier who willingly put her life in harm's way. That's right, he wants revenge on the system that his daughter chose to join. Yes, it's a bit of a stretch, but Mr. Dale manages to sell me on this motivation, though that might have been because we're left in the dark about it for most of the book.
I've read other reviews that call this a political thriller, but frankly, it's apolitical: it's set in a nondescript facility, with nondescript characters, in a unspecified country (presumably it's the US or Canada), and a character who's being held on charges that are literally not described. It doesn't fall on any side, and though the character himself was shaped by the 60's, his depth and intelligence lead him to an apolitical life as a short order cook. He's only moved to action when his daughter dies... in a manner of her own choosing. And, in the end, his quest is less about revenge and almost about making a point: "I'm Simon Wyley faceless government, and I matter! I'm sad!" Though, perhaps that's what many of us feel in this age.
The only character with any depth is Wiley, who sometimes comes off as a tool to show the reader just how smart Gordon W. Dale is. Everyone else is someone in Wyley's way or someone to use to get his way, except, of course, his daughter, who is dead.
Some of the plot was also a bit convenient (piano playing as the vehicle into the government's highest echelons?), but was done well.
I know I sound like I'm bashing the book, which I guess I am, but the real story is that even with all of the points above, Gordon W. Dale manages to write an enjoyable, readable book. I didn't find all that much depth in the premise or the ending (there was no great epiphany on torture or police states or government power; those were just obstacle's in Wyley's path), but I was never frustrated by the characters or the plot. And as far as modern literature goes, that's saying something. 3.33 out of 5 stars....more
Where to begin. I love Vernor Vinge. Fire Upon The Deep, Deepness In The Sky, I'm not going to say they are masterpieces, but they deliver such greatWhere to begin. I love Vernor Vinge. Fire Upon The Deep, Deepness In The Sky, I'm not going to say they are masterpieces, but they deliver such great ideas that whatever problems the stories had mechanically (2 dimensional characters, wonky plots, horrible dialogue), just got buried under the scope and wonder. Not so much with The Peace War.
First, it's pretty laughable that his set up is that a bunch of administrators from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, what he calls the Lawrence Enclave, a bunch of bureaucrats on a government contract conspire to take over the world. I mean, why? They've already taken over the world with red-tape, and even if there was such a cabal, the decision to overthrow the government would die in committee. They'd need receipts and billable hours just to devise a plan. Where do you charge conspiracy?
Second, once overthrown, how exactly is it easier for these directors to control the world in such large swaths? There's a director that controls Africa and Europe and another who controls all of Asia. Really? Seriously? One dude? And an administrator with a bobble generator? Ever hear of suicide bomber Vinge? People have blown themselves up for less. He hints that the original Avery might have been more of a dictator, which I find easier to swallow than a bunch of admins arguing over a conference table about how to divide up with world. There'd be about 10,000 vice-president/deputy administrators choking the system by the time the story started. That might have been an interesting read.
Third, and most infuriating, the blackmail story between Della Lu and Mike Rosas, pretty much the plot of middle of the book, was complete bullshit. There were ample opportunities for Mike and Wili to get rid of Della, pretty much whenever they wanted. Wili could have just bobbled her right when he saw her the second time. Kill her and be done with it! It was painful to read, and Mike's explanation of why he was complicit (cause his dad knew who created the plagues he betrays his friends???) just didn't make any sort of sense.
There's some interesting stuff with the bobbles and time travel (the scene at Mission Pass was smooth), though their allegory to nuclear weapons is pretty brittle. Also, would the bobbles really float? Yes, they might be filled with air, but time stops inside, which means particle interaction stops inside the bobble, which means particles stop "working", moving, unable to transfer heat. They are effectively frozen, though, since they can't transfer heat, the bobbles wouldn't feel cold, perhaps even ambiently warm. Therefore, they couldn't really be more warm than environment that surrounds them or buoyant in the cool evening air. The real question is how mass, frozen in time, acts in gravity. We know black holes still have gravity... or is it just the accretion disk at the event horizon that has gravitational pull? No, I believe they have gravitation. Any physicists out there?
Franky, the last half of the book was painful to read. I was boggled by the characters actions that only seemed generated to further the plot and the end really doesn't pay off. Must of have been pretty slim pickin's in 1984, the year it was nominated for a Nebula, though not surprising it lost to William Gibson's Neuromancer. It's an interesting point in the history of Science Fiction: Vinge's the Peace War, which Bruce Sterling competently argued was a continuation of military/Strategic Defense Initiative authoritative centered Science Fiction associated with Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven (even when centralized power is corrupted, as in the "Peace War"); and the near future dystopia of Gibson's Neuromancer" which posited a future dominated by greed and megacorps (corruption here is replace with outright greed), and people trying to make their way, though still with a grand scope.
There's some hints of libertarianism in the Peace War, but it was just window dressing. I wonder what Vinge thinks of Michael Swanwick's "Libertarian Russia"?...more
Here's what I've learned from the M. John Harrison school of writing:
1 - Make sure that secondary characters never directly talk about anything, andHere's what I've learned from the M. John Harrison school of writing:
1 - Make sure that secondary characters never directly talk about anything, and be sure that they say plenty of enigmatic statements, by using non-sequitor declarative statements and start/stop conversations abruptly.
2 - It is best to describe physical surroundings and characters well after the reader has made a picture in their own mind. Examples: Shadow Boys are mentioned in the first 10 pages, but are not described until page 60, and Anna's apartment, which features prominently in the beginning, isn't fully described until page 150.
3 - Be sure to describe physical actions poorly or not at all, and instead use highly suggestive statements that say very little, like: "They looked at what they did to the boy." But DO NOT go on from there and describe any further.
4 - Main Characters should never make statements that would directly inform the reader of their motivations.
5 - Always try to be as unclear as possible, while using clear powerful images.
6 - Make sure no one is enjoying themselves, even when they are (sex, games, fun).
7 - Do your best to not give two shits about logistics, such as Rent, Careers, Jobs, or Money. They're lives don't matter anyhow.
8 - When killing characters, remember that the cost of human lives is pennies on the dollar, so don't bother going into details when you kill people, and don't get messy, as say having a serial killer in your novel, you should just say "He killed her." No more detail is necessary. Remember, you have to imply that human lives are worthless.
9 - Start as many subplots as you like, but don't bother tying them up. Leave as many lose ends as you can.
10 - When in doubt have the characters throw-up. Or piss themselves.
That might seem like a harsh review, but seriously, this dude can write. Not out of the ballpark, but good, real good. I'd say the writing was 4 to 4.5, depending on the chapter. But the story? Ugh. Truth is, the final chapter could probably be read as its own stand-alone short story (me thinks perhaps it was?), and actually explains some of the novel, though it doesn't explain why I had to wade through 400 pages of characterizations, loose ends, idiosyncratic side stories, descriptions, and about 20 story lines that went nowhere, though I admit were pretty entertaining to read at times. The story actually starts on Page 406 and ends on Page 418. The rest is just set up, for nothing particularly new. Which is fine. It was an okay ride, but I've had way better.
M. John really wants to render a "life-like" drama, one filled with the random rhythms of life, where things don't make sense and are left unexplained, however when writing is specifically designed to emulate randomness, it ceases to be random and instead, at times, feels contrived, convoluted, and forced. It's not an utter fail, it's just that "life-like" drama and world building should be used as a tool, not as a goal for a book. At least in my humble opinion.
I'd read another. Might even start the sequel, "Nova Swing", but I won't be surprised if I don't finish it. ...more
A classic. Yes, the characters are but pawns and plot points, most lacking real depth, but it's a multi-generational drama. It's like Silverberg/AssimA classic. Yes, the characters are but pawns and plot points, most lacking real depth, but it's a multi-generational drama. It's like Silverberg/Assimov's "Bicentennial Man," but for biotech/genetics. The only wrangle I had was:
My, how stupid smart people can be.
It's pretty laughable that any group of hyper-intelligent, and then Superbright hyper-intelligent people would be swayed by such a philosophically bankrupt ethos that just allows the rich and powerful to feel justified and revel in their subjective superiority. That and the preposterous notion that any group of highly intelligent people would be so easily cowed and controlled over generations by any fascist leader such as Jennifer Sharifi. I would agree that technical persons can be project oriented, and that their theory of mind lends itself to consensus, but the ranks would be filled with dissension and hyper-critical opinion, this is what happens when you get a room full of intelligent people together: they all have the right answer. That's a generalization, but I think you get the point.
At any rate, was a great ride and Kress really delivered on the challenge (for the most part) of writing people who were smarter than herself. Kudos, Kress....more