Just remembered on perusing Kelly's bookshelf that I'd read these.
For some reason I've always felt like books about Star Wars are like dancing about...moreJust remembered on perusing Kelly's bookshelf that I'd read these.
For some reason I've always felt like books about Star Wars are like dancing about architecture, to paraphrase Zappa. Half the fun of the movies are all the crazy shit that goes on in the background, and there's some of that in these books, but not enough. I really didn't like them, even when I was 14.
Easily one of my top five or ten of all time; as rich and ambiguous in its symbolism as anything Melville or James ever wrote.
It's anti-Romantic, pre...moreEasily one of my top five or ten of all time; as rich and ambiguous in its symbolism as anything Melville or James ever wrote.
It's anti-Romantic, presenting Paracelsus and mysticism as destructive forces, but it's also skeptical of the Enlightenment values of Shelly's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft; it's not overfond of what society does to people but terrified that anyone should live without human company; it's both heartbreaking and heartless.
When I finally got around to reading it, what surprised me the most was how much more impressive the actual prose is than the Boris Karloff-ish expectations I brought to it. Shelly doesn't tell the story straight, but uses a clever framing device that makes the end that much more poignant. What a great book.(less)
There was a ten- or twenty-year period when literary fiction writers started to pay a lot of attention to science writing: Stoppard read Gleick's Chao...moreThere was a ten- or twenty-year period when literary fiction writers started to pay a lot of attention to science writing: Stoppard read Gleick's Chaos and wrote Arcadia; Richard Powers boned up on his Turing and wrote Galatea 2.2; and so on. This was well after the seventy-five-year drought that was modernism. (You can search Eliot's writing for days, trying in vain to find a single reference to the scientific upheavals of his time that isn't derisive, mystical, or silly.)
The problem is, there isn't always all that great a reason to use science as an analogy. When you read Galatea 2.2, the novel this most closely resembles (but falls well short of), you get the sense that Powers has given a thought or three to the content and not merely the form of artificial intelligence, that he respects scientists and considers their practices a way to inform oneself of human nature in a way that literature may not always cover. Stoppard might riff on Fermat, but the epistemological difficulties introduced by chaos theory are lived by the two sets of characters in Arcadia, and not just talked about or used as a metaphor for their couplings and quarrels.
This book is lighter than either of those other works, but not on purpose. I don't think Lethem really has the horsepower - no, it doesn't take horsepower, he doesn't have the dedication, or maybe interest - to allow physics to disclose its cobwebbed corners. It isn't as funny as Arcadia because it takes itself far too seriously to develop an incidental sense of humor. Instead, Lethem gives us a postmodern novel that fusses around idiotically with dialectics of absence, and then tries to send up pretentious postmodern professors who fuss around with dialectics of absence.
To make matters worse, Lethem's verbal spectacular can't even stand up to the weightless inanity of his plot here. This is an actual line from the book, describing the narrator's feelings toward his estranged physicist girlfriend who won't talk to him:
My inner chemistry had been hijacked by a mad scientist, who poured the fizzy, volatile contents of my heart from a test tube marked SOBER REALITY into another labled SUNNY DELUSION, and back again, faster and faster, until the floor of my life was slick with spillage.
It doesn't really feel fair to quote that out of context, but yes, it is at least as bad as that most of the way through the book.