whew. what a beast of a story. Would have given it 5 stars but for the stupid eye-rolling ending: an obvious lead-in to the *sequel* (which I wil...moreDONE.
whew. what a beast of a story. Would have given it 5 stars but for the stupid eye-rolling ending: an obvious lead-in to the *sequel* (which I will not read on principle). But yeah, this book was good. I gobbled up all 700+ pages in a very short time (for me). The entire time I kept thinking "this is just a richer, more tightly plotted, and more techno-babble-y Lord of Light." In a phrase: Entertaining as hell!!!(less)
Fine for light bed time reading but also a little TOO light. Thin on ideas, characters, dialogue, plot, everything except the geeky stuff. Gadgets are...moreFine for light bed time reading but also a little TOO light. Thin on ideas, characters, dialogue, plot, everything except the geeky stuff. Gadgets are described in meticulous detail; emotional connections are not. Cyberpunk stuff is fun, but I need something more. Stephenson also defends his reputation for terrible endings here. Geez, those last few chapters did this book no favors.(less)
I did not write a review of this book when I finished it back in March. Its not that I didn't like it. I was just overwhelmed by it. Like seriously, t...moreI did not write a review of this book when I finished it back in March. Its not that I didn't like it. I was just overwhelmed by it. Like seriously, there is a ton of stuff going on: Brain programming! Superhumans! Legalized marijuana! Terrorist nuns! Population explosion! Eugenics legislation! Puerto Rican baby farms! One World Supercomputer! Virtual reality TV! Tailor-made drugs! Huxley and Orwell are like: whoa there, slow down dude. Not all at once.
Even if it is shot through with scifi buckshot, this book plays with some cool sociological ideas. Its also the only book I know of to feature a sociologist as a main character. Hey, an author that acknowledges my profession. That's kinda neat.
That said, this book is not for everyone and I think 90% of people would hate it. It's not a "plot" book. It is fully immersible world building. I would only recommend it to people who appreciate thought experiments and enjoy them even if the hypothesis is rejected.
A few things that knock off a ★ are the following:
-Dated 60's ideas like the obsession with population explosion. Back then people (usually rich, educated white folks) were in absolute hysterics about it. Overpopulation is the monoculture of this novel, affecting every political event, social interaction, and personality. This gets tedious. I also wish he hadn't written his main characters into the upper class, since they are largely sheltered from the resource shortages.
-Unsure if Brunner couldn't fathom a civil rights movement or if he purposefully ignored it in order to write about a future where the 1960s never ended? I mean these ideas were around as early as 1950, surely Brunner could have seen where it was heading? Yet women and minorities in 2010 are kept in the same social caste as they were in 1960!? This is insane. I think Brunner was too trapped in identity categories to imagine something different. I didn't feel deeply embarrassed for the author like I do from other authors like Heinlein and Vance. But still...the black main character acts and thinks like he's white. /facepalm
-The supercomputer that runs the world! *eye roll* I usually don't care about scifi novels getting the technology right, but it was hard to suspend my belief on this one. So I'll just say Brunner is not good on the hard scifi. But he is good at the soft stuff. Read this book as social science fiction and you'll be much happier with it.
-The invented slang is corny! Zock music? fuzzy-wuzzies? c'mon! Granted, future slang is a technique that's hard to pull off. I think the only word I liked was EPTIFY.
Why this book is pretty good:
-Mass killings. Brunner envisioned that these would happen throughout the world at least once a month, and they do. Perhaps he was inspired by the 1966 Texas Tower Massacre. He foresaw a trend there and explained it as the isolating effect of mass society: "True, you’re not a slave. You’re worse off than that by a long, long way. You’re a predatory beast shut up in a cage of which the bars aren’t fixed, solid objects you can gnaw at or in despair batter against with your head until you get punch-drunk and stop worrying. No, those bars are the competing members of your own species, at least as cunning as you on average, forever shifting around so you can’t pin them down, liable to get in your way without the least warning, disorienting your personal environment until you want to grab a gun or an axe and turn mucker." There's even a test - University Personality Profiling - that claims to weed out these guys.
-Eugenics. Some great ideas here. So we have health insurance companies meticulously monitoring and classifying everything about your body. But what if that defined what kind of citizen you were? What if your medical record determined everything about you? Your genes would become part of your identity: you're either "approved for breeding" or rejected. If you're approved, you say things like "I've got a clean genotype" in everyday conversation. Everyone carries around eugenics ID's, so that you can avoid partners with genetic mutations. If you have kids you have to deal with harsh restrictions on the health practices of pregnant women. The government demands that your genotype become public information so they can criminalize breeding between the sick and disabled. The domains of life previously outside the jurisdiction of medicine come to be constructed as medical problems with the aid of technologies like genomization, gene testing, and biotechnology. Seriously folks: this is the disability movement's nightmare fuel!!!
-Sensory overload, via the Innis Mode. Just so well done, perfectly capturing the culture of media saturation. When you've got 10 billion people on the planet the fracturing of society is infinite. The fracturing of the text itself conveys this world very well.
-Brunner reminds me a bit of Orwell and Huxley yet he has original ideas and a distinct voice and viewpoint. In this future, people are acutely aware of world events and are free to discuss/debate them at parties. But the conversations are consumed by a fear that there are just too few resources to go around, and "I'm going to get left out." This is the spirit of Reaganism writ large. Big Brother becomes a data safety monitoring board that acts out of concern for a social problem (or at least in the name of state security). Drugs and virtual fantasies are consumables but I found it poignant that people dream about wide open spaces and private deserted islands. (less)
One of the worst books I've ever read. All aspiring writers should check it out just to get a HUGE confidence boost. I'll read your story about a long...moreOne of the worst books I've ever read. All aspiring writers should check it out just to get a HUGE confidence boost. I'll read your story about a long, slow painful death from dysentery and enthusiastically rate it 5 stars before I'll recommend this book to anyone.
I knew it was bad when one of the male characters pats a woman on the head without any irony or humor. Let me repeat that just in case the gravity of the situation hasn't sunk in: A man. pats a full grown woman. On the head. And then the man says "she's a good nurse"!
I wanted to kiss the feet of the feminist pioneers after that one.
However defending this book by saying it's the "attitude of the times!" won't hold up. Because the bigger problem is Vance's inability to invest his stories in anything remotely resembling relatable human behavior. In addition to the sexism, the inexplicable shifting perspectives (starts omniscient then moves to 3rd person limited?), the hero who goes on a killing rampage across the planet (am I supposed to cheer every time he shoots a native person who stands in his way?) and the forgettable array of secondary characters combine to make this book a "classic" LOSER. (less)
I liked this one very much! But I wonder how much my low expectations played into it. If you told me to read a book about Jesuit missionaries colonizi...moreI liked this one very much! But I wonder how much my low expectations played into it. If you told me to read a book about Jesuit missionaries colonizing another planet I'd tell you I'd rather eat cement. But it turned out very good in the end. It read like a vivid, engrossing TV drama. The ending was dark as hell, but also kind of hilarious in its delivery. I could tell this was intentional. I also love it when good social science is so well hidden in the storytelling that you don't even notice its there. In this way, "The Sparrow" is soft scifi perfection. I still don't buy that the Catholic Church in year 2019 would sanction a scientific/cultural mission over an opportunity to dominate and oppress, but whatever. For this reason I think the human characters suffer from being too pure and innocent. No one succumbs to temptation or exudes loathsome qualities. This book was saved by a memorable main character who made linguistic anthropology look cool. Minus a star for not being a stand-alone. My heart sunk when I saw the #1 after the title. Stop the sequel madness! (less)
Successful, satisfying, and fun to read. Don't think Groundhog Day, LOST or Eternal Sunshine could have been developed without this novel as a predece...moreSuccessful, satisfying, and fun to read. Don't think Groundhog Day, LOST or Eternal Sunshine could have been developed without this novel as a predecessor. If you're going on a trip or holiday and want some fast, thoughtful, and engrossing reading, this is a good one. The concept is such a scifi classic (person replays their life over and over again, and remembers every past moment) that it could have been a disaster, but I think it was executed really well. For instance, if you were to play your life over again, you would feel like an anachronism to everyone you knew in the past. You would also get the agonizing sense that the universe was fucking with you--torment by a glitch in reincarnation.
Two things I would change about this book: 1) less of a male gaze from the writer, 2) the constant spew of pop culture boomer references! Ugh!(less)
Spoiler free summary: An alien archaeologist digs through dead Earth's past to use humans as bait for the purpose of intergalactic pest control. Human...moreSpoiler free summary: An alien archaeologist digs through dead Earth's past to use humans as bait for the purpose of intergalactic pest control. Humans don't like being bait for alien spiders who drink their neurological pain endorphins, so they resist, ally, or betray one another to the exterminator. Centipedes, spiders, humans, gnomes, robots, ghosts, and zombies clash in a space war fought across 15 planets and two sentient "suns" that are actually machines designed to maintain the insect trap.
Who is AA Attanasio? Oh, just a writer using every inch of his brain to pummel readers with the most original, outrageous story set to paper. He's a master mood manipulator, turning on a dime from cerebral (ow, my brain), to terrifying (dont read if you have arachnophobia), to grotesque (oh the distorts you'll know!), to badass (Vikings fighting robot zombies? fuck yeah!), to charmingly goofy (evil priests live in a fortress of insect parts on the north pole!), to poignant (humanity's glorious flaws radiate on every page).
Though the writing is overwrought at times, it's actually a very taunt novel without a page of wasted space to advance the plot. Oh, and "the plot?" It only spans some seven thousand years. Seven billion years if you count the death of Earth. And the timeline is hardly linear--add in the paradoxes of time travel and parallel universes and it's perhaps the most ambitious story ever told. Somehow this complexity doesn't overwhelm, it only astounds. Even characters who appear in the flash of a year are given a memorable background and purpose. On the whole Attanasio transcribes a beautiful nightmare "rising from the tar pit of dreams." By the end I didn't want to wake up.
Reading Lem is such a twisted mind-fuck. Science fiction has never been so trippy, spooky, and ominous. Like all good scifi it deals with humanity's f...moreReading Lem is such a twisted mind-fuck. Science fiction has never been so trippy, spooky, and ominous. Like all good scifi it deals with humanity's frustrating attempt to understand a sentient planet, and our search for meaning in things we don't understand. My kind of novel.(less)
Just no. No, no, no. This book took me 6 months to finish. I can't BELIEVE I stuck with it that long. So you can't say I didn't try to like it. In the...moreJust no. No, no, no. This book took me 6 months to finish. I can't BELIEVE I stuck with it that long. So you can't say I didn't try to like it. In the end the only thing I enjoyed was the city itself. The characters: all of them could have died of orchid wounds and I wouldn't have cared. (less)
**spoiler alert** The Faded Sun trilogy is one of the most unique books I have ever read. My first thoughts after finishing this marvel of a novel: un...more**spoiler alert** The Faded Sun trilogy is one of the most unique books I have ever read. My first thoughts after finishing this marvel of a novel: unbelievably dense culture building multiplied three times (for three cultures), all the while using space opera to churn out complex moral questions. Cherryh manages to turn humans into the great Others, the exotic foreigners whom you struggle to understand. Once you reach the end of the story, you begin to think like the mri, the nomadic mercenaries who send their dead into the fires of suns.
I can barely contain my excitement about the mri - this culture is brilliant! You see it in their philosophy on death and rebirth: life is as long as the cosmos, the great voyage from one planet to the next. Forgetting the previous world to be reborn on another, "dying" for the mri is both literal and metaphorical. Welcoming death, they play a game where knives are thrown to each other. To play the game is to cast one's fate from the hand, to let go, to make the leap forward freely, without fear. I loved the way that humans struggle to understand why the mri would want to "harm" their own comrades in such a game. The mri's explanations for their behavior are never without reference points to human culture--even their strict caste system creates hierarchies that mirror our own society. Yet still, the great tragedy of the novel is how cultures misunderstand one another--in fact, the whole novel is a riveting diplomatic nightmare.
Granted, Cherryh's story contains a classic trope: "going native." She breaks it, however, by disallowing the white hero to function as a savior to the natives, seducing one of their women in the process. Dances with Wolves/Avatar/Pocahontas this is not. Cherryh instead opts for a male-on-male bromance--which was a highlight for me. I loved the warmth that grew between Duncan and Niun during the 3rd book.
The Faded Sun is a mash-up of all things SF: ancient mysticism and futuristic machines, swords and lasers, spaceships and psychic grizzly bears, imperialism and violence. I loved it and I'm so sad it's over. (less)
KSR has been described as writing philosophical sci-fi novels of suspense. To me his philosophical questioning in Green Mars goes as deep as Valles Ma...moreKSR has been described as writing philosophical sci-fi novels of suspense. To me his philosophical questioning in Green Mars goes as deep as Valles Marineris. This trilogy is about answering the question "how do we live together when we have no home." A similar sci-fi treatment, Battlestar Galactica, attempted to answer this--but KSR plays with the question without any heavy-handed mysticism, magic, or deus-ex-machinas. In other words, "how do we live together" can only be answered within the bounds of natural law (no faster than light travel here). In effect, when we move away from the fantastic and toward the mundane, the question of how we live together becomes more political: what happens when science has been appropriated by astro-capitalism? At what point is Mars a "colony," and at what point is it independent of Earth? With questions like these, Green Mars is about process of preventing dystopia, instead of making dystopia our starting point.
The second volume is just as good as the first, and here is why: the characters, like terraforming the planet, change. The stakes are higher for the small underground band of anarchists, revolutionaries, and scientists to succeed. Earth in the 2100's plays a much larger role than in Red Mars, resulting in richer world building. How genetic advancements stretch the limits of human memory is explored here. And a sense of history presses on every page, so that every action, every word of dialog, makes sense for the world they inhabit. KSR convinces you that if we were to colonize Mars, it won't go down any other way but this.
The Mars trilogy isn't for everyone. You really have to crave a steady diet of science and philosophy to love these novels. In Green Mars, a scientific conference takes up most of one chapter. A political conference takes up another. You have to deal with sentences like this:
"The halocarbons in the cocktail were powerful greenhouse gases, and the best thing about them was that they absorbed outgoing planetary radiation at the 9-to 12-micron wavelength, the so-called 'window' where neither water vapor nor CO2 had much absorptive ability."
Of course, I picked the most absurd example. Really the writing is quite literary, especially in the brief prologues that open each chapter. His Big Man mythos stories are stellar, for instance. Overall I can't wait to read the next volume to see how our future will play out 150 years from now. (less)
If you're thinking about reading this book, know that this is one of the most respected and important novels in science fiction history for its commen...moreIf you're thinking about reading this book, know that this is one of the most respected and important novels in science fiction history for its commentary on war. That means, don't read it expecting a swashbuckling space opera or a good guys/bad guys action adventure. Brace yourself for sorrow and heartache. Because you can't read this novel without being reminded of those Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan veterans who live among us as ghosts, roaming our streets, people out of sync with time.
The great accomplishment here, and why people praise it so consistently, is because of Haldeman's ability to show how war affects the soldiers who fight in it. He doesn't gloss over the consequences of a war based on time travel. Instead, the physics are painfully real. Relative time has severe psychic and physical affects on Mandella, the main character. Through Mandella's eyes we see how, from one time jump to the next, in pursuit of an enemy billions of light years away, his war becomes irrelevant even as he's fighting it. Earth, which is 100+ years ahead of Mandela's present, constantly changes its rationale for war, so that by the time Mandela sets out on a mission the people who gave him the orders are long dead. By the end of the story Mandella is the war's oldest veteran but he's been fighting in relative time for only 3 short years. Fascinatingly, he's both the oldest and youngest man alive. Eventually, Mandella returns home to a future shock of the social sort (not the technological). You'll have to read the novel to find out why he has trouble adjusting to Earth's new society.
No science fiction author has conveyed the costs of war so well. It's a testament to the vision of the author that a novel written in 1974 can be read as a parable of a 21st century war that demands longer and longer tours of duty. The longer the war goes on, the more the soldiers start to lose contact with their homes, and eventually, their own sense of humanity. This statement applies to both Mandela and to us--the spectators and fighters of our own "forever" war. Neat trick, that. Social commentaries like this are what good scifi can do, especially when written from experience (Haldeman is a Vietnam veteran).
Finally a note here about the style of the message. Haldeman gets contrasted to Heinlein a lot. I don't see them as opposites within the scope of their stories (their ideologies, maybe). Both make it clear that pacifism only works when everyone feels that way. Both downplay the concept of heroism while showing that true heroism happens as a result of circumstances and ingenuity rather than brazenly charging the enemies guns. Haldeman isn't preachy. He doesn't hit you over the head with any hippie dogma or moral righteousness. It's a thoughtful work, one that lets you roll the ideas around in your mind, with a firm focus on the soldiers--not the politicians, military brass, or technobabble getting in the way. This focus is what gives the Forever War a gravitas that other books of military scifi lack.