Goodness, what a waste. Collection of imperialist narratives and soldierly nostalgias. The latter are presented in the form of ditties and ballads, an...moreGoodness, what a waste. Collection of imperialist narratives and soldierly nostalgias. The latter are presented in the form of ditties and ballads, annoyingly precise in end rhymes. I realize that many people consider his shorts to be Quality, but the subject matter kills it for me.(less)
Nutshell: earthlings begin building skyhook, aliens show up, aliens go away, earthlings finish skyhook, yay!
Nifty parallel drawn between ancient monum...moreNutshell: earthlings begin building skyhook, aliens show up, aliens go away, earthlings finish skyhook, yay!
Nifty parallel drawn between ancient monument builders and scifi megastructures through the use of an ancient Sri Lankan legend (or what purports to be, anyway). Lotsa technical detail. Whatever. Best parts of the book are the political interactions between interest groups regarding obstacles to building the space elevator. The main one, set up as structural to the narrative early on--religious opposition from monks on the only practical site--is removed by clever but literal deus ex machina (164).
Most engaging sections involve the alien probe, which effectively ridicules earthling stupidity, especially religion (92-95). I'm just not sure why the aliens are in the book, though.
Ending of the novel more or less ruined by a thriller-rescue sequence. Definitely a source text for Red Mars. Cool that the novel quotes a line from Goethe that would be eponymous for Asimov.
Recommended for those paying substantial premiums insuring against every possible future, persons somewhat tired of establishing precedents in interplanetary law, and top-hatted Victorian personages.(less)
Framed narratives while on pilgrimage to religious site suggestive of The Canterbury Tales, but not drawing any real influence from it. Whereas Chauce...moreFramed narratives while on pilgrimage to religious site suggestive of The Canterbury Tales, but not drawing any real influence from it. Whereas Chaucer's pilgrims generally do not tell their own stories, the focus in Hyperion is the tale of the teller. The caveat, though, is that each teller's tale is intimately wrapped up with a tale of another: the priest must tell a second priest's story; a soldier, another soldier's; a poet, a patron; a teacher, his daughter; a PI, her lover; a diplomat, a rebel. So, the tales of others are passed along, but only to the extent that the persons embedded in the tellers' tales relate to the teller. The tales are furthermore focused on aspects of Hyperion and the object of the pilgrimage therein; that's not chaucerian, either. And of course there's no proto-bourgeois Hoost in this non-novel to guide the proceedings, nor is there much in the way of humorous infighting between the tellers via their tales (cf. the Summoner v. the Friar in Chaucer, say).
"Non-novel" because it really is a collection of six novelettes that overlap in various ways. Some of the tales are proficient (priest's, soldier's, detective's), and several are affirmatively annoying (consul's, poet's)--but the scholar's tale is very affecting (though I'm not sure if it's cheap sentimentalism or not). But that overlap doesn't make for a sustained narrative. Yeah, the setting gets developed, allowing one to piece together a lengthy political backstory, pushing toward a nasty conclusion.
Some tedious explorations of scifi technology (though it is very cool that one guy has a "home of thirty-eight rooms on thirty-six worlds" (196)). Pedestrian commentary on religion via the figure & church of the Shrike, which is actually not doing it for me, except when the scholar refers to it as the golem (298) which makes it more interesting than it otherwise happens to be. (Poet refers to it as the Frankenstein monster (223)--not seeing that, though the reference is explained.) The object of the pilgrimage is the Shrike's house, the "Time Tombs," a lackluster name, apparently referring to backward arrow of time at that point. Okay, then. Lotsa pointless references to poet Keats. Plenty of bad art theory (from the poet, mostly).
Nifty concept is "time-debt," arising out of travel at relativistic speeds--but the non-novel manifestly fails do anything with that concept other than use it to refer to the effect of everyone else aging while you stay the same.
Pleases me perversely to note that one character has vagina dentata (172). Also like that this story fits into my general thesis that if robots or AIs are part of the story (as opposed to merely being a component of the setting--a fine distinction), then the point of the story will eventually be a robot/AI rebellion.
Reveals that they blew it up, the maniacs, by not-at-all foolishly building a quantum singularity on Earth, and--surprise!--it got loose. Villains of the piece are loony spacemen and some surly computers. Overall, the non-tale framing portions account for about a less than a fifth of the book; that's not sufficient to drive the narrative forward, though there's plenty of generic setting development in there--so, when the pages run out, it's kinda difficult to see the point. Maybe that's cleared up in the sequel. Dunno.
Recommended for fans of dislinear plotting and non-contiguous prose, those involved in Post-Destructionist music theories, and Visigoths crouching on the ruins of Rome's faded glory.(less)
Nutshell: lunar colony secedes from Earth, led by John Galt and AI, as told by know-nothing with charming pseudo-slavic accent.
Likely one of the sourc...moreNutshell: lunar colony secedes from Earth, led by John Galt and AI, as told by know-nothing with charming pseudo-slavic accent.
Likely one of the source texts for items such as Red Mars and Iron Council, each of which carries echoes of this one.
Some odd lapses. One of the principals describes herself as a "Fifth Internationalist" but yet "no Marxist" (64). That's essentially a contradiction in terms. Heinlein doesn't have her expound on her political ideology, as she is apparently present, like Marlowe's Zenocrate, to "rest thee like a lovely queen," to screw the narrator (an apolitical jackass, who proves old slavic saying that it's better to be lucky than smart), and to agree with the libertarian professor, who johngalts his hour upon the stage. The AI--who has an "orgasm" when inflicting mass-driven projectiles on Earth from orbit (269)--gets more political & legal discussion than The Girl, who is revealed to be a fetus machine. Even an aristocratic monarchist has more time to discuss his political ideas (his contempt for egalitarian politics is shared by the libertarian, of course). Not surprising that Heinlein hushes up the female socialist, given his less-than-enlightened gender politics and his thorough lack of comprehension of leftwing ideas.
We are given uncritical praise of Malthusian economics (206), unflattering portraits of arts-oriented intellectuals (272-73), and glib assurances that "life has never been sacred in Africa" (280). In a different sort of lapse, the text reveals its age when the narrator "didn't get that far away, as needed to stay on phone and longest cord around was less" (255).
All that aside, it is a gripping novel, very worthy of its Hugo. Some might be annoyed by the legal and political discussion, but it's all very well done. I must concede that Heinelin is a very proficient writer, as he presents technical details in an engaging way, with lively scientific minutiae and genuinely interesting attention to engineering detail. It helps that these things are items of contention, at issue in the plot, rather than description for description's sake.
Very interesting scene early on regarding the lack of a judiciary on the Moon--anyone can be a judge and adjudicate actions in tort, and then impose criminal penalties, including execution. I suspect this is some kind of libertarian suggestion to abolish law, lawyers, and the judiciary. It's hopelessly naive at best, but more likely it's simply a nostalgia for manorial justice: property owners adjudicate tort on their own terms. In a book filled with reprehensible ideas, this is one of the worst.
Recommended for those who look nulliparous and younger than they are, persons with occupational diseases of the underground, and readers with a dubious claim to being the Macgregor.(less)
The genre's counterpoint to Starship Troopers. Though I sympathize with the anti-war politics more than what appears to be on parade in Heinlein, this...moreThe genre's counterpoint to Starship Troopers. Though I sympathize with the anti-war politics more than what appears to be on parade in Heinlein, this is probably the weaker novel of the two.
Heinlein presents what is essentially a freikorps utopia, which I read as an unintentional dystopia. Haldeman runs the other way, presenting a progressive society negatively from the perspective of a jaded soldier returning after a tour of duty, which, due to special relativity, places him hundreds of years down the road from the society that he originally left. The world up and got leftwing in the meanwhile: hunger & homelessness abolished, sexuality liberated, crime controlled through rehabilitation rather than retribution, limitations on private property, many billions liberated from work in order to pursue artistic and creative endeavors (98-100). For the narrator, all that is solid has melted into air, and he disagrees with how the world has unfolded--it therefore, contrasted to Heinlein again, comes across as unintentional utopia. As in Clarke's Chilhood's End, it's a vision of the future with which some leftists flatter themselves. We know that the narrator is unambiguously opposed to the unfolding of the setting: "Marygay and I were each other's only link to real life, the Earth of the 1980s and 90s. Not the perverse grotesquerie we are supposedly fighting to preserve" (138-39).
Bonus points for reference to Toffler's future shock arguments (87), which is simply an arriere garde postmodernist's reading of the basic marxist idea that all that is solid melts into air.
One of the great bits in this is that space combat occurs at distances such as "five hundred million kilometers" (76)--which makes quite a bit more sense than the insistence in Star Trek & Star Wars that space combat occurs basically face-to-face: if we have ICBMs and cruise missiles in the 20th century, Star Wars and Star Trek are revealed as science fiction that has adopted not 20th century, but rather 19th century doctrine.
Amusing that the war is caused by a failure to communicate properly (214) and was resolved when humanity evolved a collective consciousness that as able to speak with the collective consciousness of the enemy.
Recommended for those compliant and promiscuous by military law, persons working to erase hate-conditioning, and ones who have the desire to impose their ideas but not their will on others.(less)
Nutshell: scion of self-obsessed capitalists assimilates to military ethos and thereby joins civilized society.
The transformative process of the narra...moreNutshell: scion of self-obsessed capitalists assimilates to military ethos and thereby joins civilized society.
The transformative process of the narrator is not as important as the result of the transformation, which is presented obliquely by this-is-john-galt style speeches from various instructors & officers, who hand down the quasi-fascistic ideology that dominates the setting.
Some have critiqued the 1997 film for being too overtly fascistic in the presentation, but the novel provides an ambiguous but reasonable basis for the interpretation. (Because I saw the film first, it dominates my reading of the novel; I also saw the film for the first time immediately after viewing Tombstone for the first time, so they have permanently conflated in my mind, such as "Look, darling, Johnny Rico. The deadliest pistoleer since Wild Bill, they say. What do you think, darling? Should I hate him?" and "Why Johnny Rico, you look like somebody just walked over your grave.")
The quasi-fascist hints arise in bits such as accusing 20th century democracy of "decadence" (76), anti-intellectualism (93), neo-spenserian eugenicism (but with an underlying erroneous understanding of evolutionary theory--see 123-24--where evolution represents absolute progress rather than relative progress), neo-spenglerianism regarding how humanity appears to have reached its "ultimate peak"(126), a mysticism that falsely distinguishes "a producing-consuming economic animal" from "a man" (136), a general militarism (which, following Mr. Vagts, is distinct from military doctrine & ethos), positive presentation of Bavarian Freikorps/Beer Hall Putschism (142-43), belligerence as both genetic & moral (147), and of course the virulent anti-communism.
As to that last, we are treated to some perfectly predictable mccarthyist claptrap: "Mr. Dubois had said, 'Of course the Marxian definition of value is ridiculous. All the work one cares to add will not turn a mud pie into an apple tart'" (75). (The sentiment represents both a misstatement of the origin of the labor theory of value as well as a misunderstanding of what the theory asserts--but what more might be expected from an arriere garde philistine?)
On the other hand, however, the novel presents the arachnid enemies as a positive example of some sort of communism: "We were learning, expensively, just how efficient a total communism can be when used by a people actually adapted to it by evolution; the Bug commissars didn't care any more about expending soldiers than we cared about expending ammo" (121). Passing over the evopsych bullshit about evolutionary adaption to an economics, the sentiment is also casually racist, insofar as it expresses the normal cold war psychopathy regarding Asian communist military doctrine. Perhaps it would be more accurate to state that the Koreans and Vietnamese and Chinese and Laotians and Cambodians and Indonesians and other Asian states whose millions were killed by the United States did in fact care about their soldiers quite a bit, but realized, following the same military ethos rightly admired by Heinlein, that some sacrifices are necessary in order to achieve the political ends decided by the state, such as maintenance of some sort of independence or beating back an invader that might reasonably, if wrongly, be expected to annihilate the resisting population. The hypocrisy and myopia are astounding, even if the presentation is sufficiently artful and ambiguous to make it worth discussing.
All that said, and as much as it pains me to admit it, this one just cooks along, despite all of the johngaltism and embedded rightwing propaganda.
Recommended for orphans from dead outfits, swivel chair hussars, and hydrocephalic gorillas.(less)
Nutshell: bucolic twerp with plot-significant eidetic memory defrauds his way aboard spaceship, flirts with rich girl, has a big adventure, &c.
YA...moreNutshell: bucolic twerp with plot-significant eidetic memory defrauds his way aboard spaceship, flirts with rich girl, has a big adventure, &c.
YA and pulpy, but moves quickly, with characteristic heinleinian asides regarding law, politics, and science. Some nifty geeking out on the science of FTL travel.
Some have said that the text lays out a critique of labor unions, which may be the case. But it's not unambiguous, as the setting involves less unions than guilds, a significant distinction. The main guild under examination is the astrogation guild, which purportedly restricts access to the knowledge of astronautical navigation. As one character describes it, though, "there are no 'secrets' to astrogation," which "isn't secret; it is merely difficult" (97). The implication is accordingly not that labor power has joined for the purpose of collective bargaining, but rather that possessers of knowledge have restricted general access to important information. The critique, then, runs less toward the Wagner Act and more to the Copyright and Patent Acts.
Recommended for phlegmatic crustaceans, real four-dimensional chess players, and large louts who arouse the eternal maternal.(less)
Nutshell: tidally locked earth has been taken over by mobile carnivorous plants, and humans are devolved to stupid arboreals, one-fifth our size. Moon...moreNutshell: tidally locked earth has been taken over by mobile carnivorous plants, and humans are devolved to stupid arboreals, one-fifth our size. Moon is also tidally locked with earth, so giant vegetable spider-things go between earth and moon. They are more menacing in theory than practice, and generally serve as trains for the less dumb protagonists--though, for the most part, the narrative here affirms the proposition that it's better to be lucky rather than smart.
So, yeah, it's all exceedingly unlikely. But: that's the point of the post-apocalyptic genre. As I noted in my review of Wilhelm's Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, the post-apocalytpic subgenre erases setting and has story limited to individual v. environment. So, basically, the genre sucks all around. This text is likely the archetypical statement of the generic principle: the entire world crawls with omnivorous plants, and characters die every other page or so.
It's got some nifty bits, including intelligent fungus and intelligent fish-things, and the interactions with those species are the most engaging parts of the novel (or collection of novellettes, to be proper).
Some rhetorical defaults, though: narration proceeds referring to "today" or "day" or "night," which are concepts that should be unavailable on a tidally locked planet.
Think of it this way: on a science fiction scale that runs from Heinlein/Asimov/Clarke future history of spacefaring, through the far future weirdnesses of Wolfe (and now Lawrence), to the terminus represented by the horrifying bit in Wells' "The Time Machine" about the end of the world, this one is somewhere bewtween Wolfe and Wells, heading toward Wells by the end, when the smarter plants begin the process of evacuation insofar as "Green rose up into the sky and the shaft pointing finger stretched into the canopy of space and the tip of it was lost to view" (181).
Some cool ideas here and there, but mostly a mess of plant-things eating the fuck out of the protagonists, who are mostly minor children.
Sought this one out, after some productive books-in-print research, specifically because one of my own projects has a similar astronomy. I am pleased to see that my drafts replicate neither the story nor the setting, such as they exist here. If any'all know of other tidally locked planet settings, I am now actively soliciting that knowledge, evaluations immaterial.
Not sure about the Hugo award (for short fiction), and can't really opine, as my edition is the US abridgement of the UK text that actually won.
Recommended for extraordinary ancestral compost heaps of the unconscious mind, those who fail to distinguish between past and present and future, and ones who head to deep space, expanding all the time as pressure drops.(less)
Veteran of the US civil war is approached by extraterrestrials to run station for interstellar transit line on Earth.
At times this reads like the inve...moreVeteran of the US civil war is approached by extraterrestrials to run station for interstellar transit line on Earth.
At times this reads like the inversion of Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama, as the protagonist never leaves earth to explore, but rather explores the weird alien stuff installed on earth.
Very effective & affective at times, especially when protagonist reflects on his military service, which by the time of the narrative is 100 years in the past.
As always, I'm on the lookout for sources of R. Scott Bakker's work, and I note here that the alien who'd scouted out protagonist for work on behalf of the galactic government has a face that "split and began to fall away" (24), which should sound familiar enough to RSB's readers. Likewise, it's revealed early that protagonist has an ongoing relationship with "shadow people," which are likely hallucinations, figments of his imagination that arose through the course of his durance--in the station, time is stilled: reminiscent, then, of certain RSB creatures driven insane by immortality.
Protagonist ends up causing both local and off-planet diplomatic snafus, which are resolved a bit too quickly by the unlikely appearance of a lost numinous object as well as by the identification of a special snowflake who can use it. That said, an interesting moment prior to the resolution wherein protagonist is placed in the position of attorney for all humanity. After noting the appearance of this configuration in Have Space Suit-Will Travel, I'm thinking that Attorney for All Humanity might be an obscure speculative fiction subgenre. Will accordingly be on the alert for it in the future.
Overall, the novel's Hugo is plausible.
Recommended for curious races of social vegetables, those who submerge the sense of pure visual horror as portrayed in alien bodies, and victims of museum fatigue.(less)
Just awful. Inaptly named protagonist joins up with Brook Farm Lite cultic compound, indulging in fourierist tomfoolery. Protagonist is generally clue...moreJust awful. Inaptly named protagonist joins up with Brook Farm Lite cultic compound, indulging in fourierist tomfoolery. Protagonist is generally clueless as to the plot, which must be inferred, if at all, with much speculative labor.(less)
Idle hands are the devil's workshop, of course. Had the juveniles who get got by the devil in this narrative had jobs as chimney sweeps, likely that t...moreIdle hands are the devil's workshop, of course. Had the juveniles who get got by the devil in this narrative had jobs as chimney sweeps, likely that they'd've been just fine. But nooooooo, labor activists got these poor kids fired from their jobs (they took his jrrrb) and so now they're fucked. By the devil. Thanks, labor movement.(less)
Post-apocalyptic, told in three parts, each separated by an unstated amount of time and involving a change of narrator, with some amount of rebuilding...morePost-apocalyptic, told in three parts, each separated by an unstated amount of time and involving a change of narrator, with some amount of rebuilding in evidence after they blew it up, those maniacs, but with the rebuilders ultimately consumed anyway, with some small survival thereafter. That level of generality makes it sound like A Canticle for Leibowitz. It does not appear to be derivative of Miller, though; Wilhelm hints at nuclear war through the presence of lethal radioactivity, but the descent into apocalypse is gradual enough to be predictable, with pollution, disease, famine &c. taking a toll until civilization eats itself and then shits itself out (kinda like how The Hunger Games suggests that the end will come).
My main complaint about the dystopian subgenre has been that the setting is typically well done, but that the story usually is dreadful: some variation on individual v. the state, with the individual typically partaking in some greater or lesser degree of defeat (Winston Smith loves Big Brother; the Savage dies; Logan goes into exile).
Similarly, I now realize that the flaw with the post-apocalyptic subgenre is that the opening premise (end of the world) allows all setting rules to be erased, and a generalized Peril can be imposed on the narrative: every bush is vile; every breeze is dire. So, setting is not really ever developed in these items. Story, also, is just as badly developed as story in dystopia: instead of individual v. state, it's survivors v. environment, with survivors usually partaking in some greater or lesser degree of defeat by the end (they blow up the world again in Miller; the monkeys win eventually in Boulle; the road never ends in McCarthy).
So, the basic rule--
For any X that is a dystopia, the setting is fantastic, but the story sucks. For any X that is a post-apocalypse, both the setting and the story suck.
Any writer thinking of writing a post-apocalypse should therefore immediately revise and resubmit it as a dystopia.
None of that will stop these types of books from being written, as both appeal to certain strands of default teabaggerism in most bourgeois readers. For the dystopia, it satisfies the 'bagger sense that big gubmint is evil. For the post-apocalypse, it flatters the troglodyte impression that underlying civilization are neo-hobbesian economics 101 assumptions about survivalism, return to the state of nature, and philistine survival-of-the-fittest eugenics crap. There's a reason that people have described post-apocalyptic stories as basically fascistic, after all.
All that said, Wilhelm has written a decent enough novel, and it's classic enough to avoid my complaints, above, with which recent writers might get hit with full force and effect. Quick & fun overall, even if the science is a bit dodgy and the premises may have been superseded by historical events. Main characters are mostly snotty doctors who indulge themselves in cloning and breeding experiments, resulting in borg-like hive-minds. The novel's third section partakes of the dystopian subgenre most strongly to the extent that the narrator is a non-hive-mind "individual" who must fly free &c &c &c.
A dystopian presentation, but with zombies and ninja magic, of Reagan's United States.
Follows a group of '60s new leftists and their antagonists, thro...moreA dystopian presentation, but with zombies and ninja magic, of Reagan's United States.
Follows a group of '60s new leftists and their antagonists, through use of translucent digressions, elliptical flashbacks, and abrupt changes of perspective, back and forth through several decades.
It might read as a mess at first, and therefore likely requires labor-intensive rereadings. That said, there're plenty of brilliant turns of phrase, descriptions, and scenes. Much comedy, satire, parody. Likely in the same genre as Mieville's Iron Council, even though it's not obvious if there's any direct influence.
The novel opens with a plot-related distinction between defenestration and transfenestration (15). For my second reading, I will assume that this is the basic structure of the presentation and be on the lookout accordingly.
Some interesting incidentals, illustrative rather than exhaustive, as it is pregnant writing:
We are told that a mobster's library included a copy of Delueze & Guatarri's Italian Wedding Cake Book (97), which is a slick little joke.
Ninja magic, should sound familiar: "She learned how to give people heart attacks without even touching them, how to get them to fall from high places, how through the Clouds of Guilt technique to make them commit seppuku and think it was their idea - plus a grab bag of strategies excluded from the Kumi-Uchi, or official ninja combat system, such as the Enraged Sparrow, the Hidden Foot, the Nosepicking of Death, and the truly unspeakable Gojira no Chimpira" (127). In learning a "system of heresies about the human body" (128), our communist ninja also learns "the Vibrating Palm or Ninja Death Touch" (131). So, yeah, it's kickass. (There's also a way to undo the vibrating palm, as it happens.)
Engaged gender politics, such as the presentation of Sedgewick's homosociality thesis, as when the novel's obscure object of desire is told by her fascist lover that she is "the medium [leftist lover] and [fascist lover] use to communicate, that's all, this set of holes, pleasantly framed, this little femme scampering back and forth with scented messages tucked in her little secret places" (214). There's quite a bit of feminist erudition on display in this one.
We are reminded on numerous occasions, implicitly, of the "metaphor of movie camera as weapon" (197).
Nifty correspondence of cause with Zizek's Sublime Object of Ideology, wherein stalinism requires that "the Communists are 'men of iron will,' somehow excluded from the everyday cycle of ordinary human passions and weakness. It is as if they are 'the living dead', still alive but already excluded from the ordinary cycle of natural forces - as if, that is, they possess another body, the sublime body beyond the ordinary physical body" (Zizek 162-63). Similarly, Pynchon presents a leftist involved with "progressive abstinence, in which you began by giving up acid and pot, then tobacco, alcohol, sweets - you kept cutting down on sleep, doing with less, you broke up with lovers, avoided sex, after a while even gave up masturbating - as the enemy's attention grew more concetrated, you gave up your privacy, freedom of movement, access to money, with the looming promise always of jail and the final forms of abstinence from any life at all free of pain" (230). Add in the zombies, which are weird, possibly superfluous, and genuinely very polite, and it all comes together (or maybe not quite together, but rather not completely disentangled) as a riff on Slovene marxism.
Recommended for those who wish to at least appear more clitorally ladylike, male motorcyclists who for tax purposes reconstitute themselves as a group of nuns, and nomads in the sky's desert.(less)