Well, it's not as good as the first one. When you canonize these guys and make them impossible to beat, it takes a lot of the fun out of the adventureWell, it's not as good as the first one. When you canonize these guys and make them impossible to beat, it takes a lot of the fun out of the adventure. I also think this really wants to be read back to back with the first one because it takes a lot of fun out it, too, when you don't remember who is whom.
I like very much the different petty bitternesses but the way the book seems to have made up its mind that the aristocracy is pretty awesome after all is quite a shitty pill to swallow after the first book. I wish I hadn't missed writing a review of that one because I can't quite remember enough to help me flesh out this thought.
I liked the first half or two thirds of this book quite a bit. I have always been a fan of Lord Dunsany and this myth-making, world-building fancifulI liked the first half or two thirds of this book quite a bit. I have always been a fan of Lord Dunsany and this myth-making, world-building fanciful what-have-you is totally out of his playbook. But Rushdie wants to tie this to a world that is closer and more recognizable (while still containing more than a touch of the fantastical) and this, in my opinion, constrains that part of things to touch a kind of realism that is lacking here.
In Pan's Labyrinth or The Orphanage or even in Peter Pan And Wendy, Alice in Wonderland, or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the thread back to the real world is drenched in blood. I think that's as it should be. This can be hidden by whatever slight of hand in order to keep the sense of wonder but the presence of the real allows you to age into a deeper and more mature reading. A real fairy-tale style happily ever after mars that and I think it was a mistake here.
And that mistake is clearly intentional, and not the only one of its kind. Part and parcel with this is the good v. evil mentality that is just so harmful and so hard to break out of. I think it's a shame to paint a picture where there are good guys and bad guys and an uncrossable chasm between them. It only makes it worse when the good guys wear white and the bad guys are scary. I think you can be a little more honest than that with a kid without disheartening her....more
I was traveling so I failed to review this at the appropriate time. I thought that some parts of it, the fluidity of the sexuality, the bleakness of vI was traveling so I failed to review this at the appropriate time. I thought that some parts of it, the fluidity of the sexuality, the bleakness of vision, the onion layers, were quite good. At times it is ham-handed, rushed, or didactic., certainly it is essentializing in some ways, like the good guy bad guy division is pretty set in stone. I'd also criticize the sort of boredom of the intricacies of the politics; I can't keep the different factions straight without humans to represent them so that part just sort of goes by in a blur.
There's also an issue that I'm not really ready to touch; this falls into the same category as so many, like The Windup Girl and Cloud Atlas and (yecch!) The Diamond Age, with its Asian female perfect sexbot thing. There's a major difference here, and if this book had been written twenty years later I'd definitely say it was a reaction against the trope rather than a precursor of it. But I wonder whether the ways in which this book undermines the trope were really conscious or if, rather, the tropey parts were a misstep on Jones' part.
I'm splitting hairs, because this book was essentially satisfying, unobjectionable on the whole (a hard road in science fiction, it seems), and by turns surprising and beautiful....more
I couldn't even review it right away, I had to wait some weeks. This is what Fante wishes he were writing, wow. It's amazing to me that this was writtI couldn't even review it right away, I had to wait some weeks. This is what Fante wishes he were writing, wow. It's amazing to me that this was written and more amazing that I avoided it until now. Tell me more like this, guys....more
I had a kind of "better a mute unknowing than a murder of words" couple of weeks after finishing this book. I liked it. I enjoyed reading it and thougI had a kind of "better a mute unknowing than a murder of words" couple of weeks after finishing this book. I liked it. I enjoyed reading it and thought it was engaging and at times beautiful. I have criticisms of the content but their effect on my reading experience was small compared to the sort of miniature existential crisis the pure act of reading brought on. I think this is a common theme to many novels that John has liked: Beyond Black and Freedom and When We Were Orphans, etc.
These are literary books on a spectrum from realism to some sort of magical realism and/or dystopia, and every time I read one I get the same sort of hollow feeling. I wonder what the purpose of the book is. Why am I reading this? Why am I reading anything? Why am I doing anything at all? Why Does the World Exist? Am I just killing time until I die, trying to live as fulfilling a life as I can? Do I have any higher purpose than making myself happy?
It sort of makes me wonder about John's personal philosophy. Certainly with respect to food, he seems focused on setting up another thirty thousand or so little jewels of experience for himself and those around him. Is that what reading is? A little pocket of pleasure isolated from everything else? A pure aesthetic experience? Does he go to museums not to build cultural capital or to challenge his understanding and expectations, but to wallow in the unadulterated pleasure of the gaze?
Anyway, that's the kind of book this is, at least in my reading. I bet that when the Handmaid's Tale first hit the shelves, someone somewhere felt a different kind of chill, a pedagogical chill. But this particular anti-fantasy doesn't strike close enough to home.
And it does show some seams. The scene with the family in the forest makes a kind of emotional sense, but not enough care was taken to make it make sense within the reality of the book's construction. Roughly the same is true for the entire sojourn in the madwoman's household --- the whole construction feels rushed (probably because we were already a good ways into a book that still needed to take some unrelated plot turns) and and what should have been a dawning terror is instead a blinking puzzlement. Ditto for the denouement at the end, which is sloppily assembled and essentially unsatisfying.
But my real problem is none of these constructions but rather the sense of existential drift. Maybe it's something I have to face up to, read a whole bunch more of these. We'll see....more
Bah, humbug. I came into this with the theory that Stephenson started out as a better writer but that success went to his head and he eschewed all ediBah, humbug. I came into this with the theory that Stephenson started out as a better writer but that success went to his head and he eschewed all editorial advice. But this was his breakthrough, the one that won the plaudits, and it's absolutely awful.
I don't know that I have the stomach for this but let me just pick a random place to start, which is believability of the setup and the strain it inflicts on the plot. The author's note says that this was supposed to be a graphic novel, and let me say, I'd probably have much more sympathy for this weak tea coming in that format (although they certainly don't all get a pass, Moped Army). But there's no rhyme nor reason. This is premonitions of Empire State. The motivation of the big, powerful characters, Uncle Enzo, Raven, L. Bob Rife, are totally inhuman. None of it makes sense. I get a dystopian blah blah blah. It's 94 when he's writing this book, Neuromancer has been out for a decade. But the kind of casual violence that pervades LA and the raft doesn't make sense in any human context that isn't a literal war. That level of violence precludes things like Kouriers and Vitaly Chernobyl concerts in the LA river.
Uncle Enzo's organization has the response speed and wherewithal to get a helicopter to make it to a random pizza delivery that _might_ be late. Let's say it doesn't take any time at all to make the pizza so maybe ten minutes after it's ordered it's time to start warming up the chopper. That means the pilot is just sitting there idling. This organization somehow can't, though, perform an intervention at speed at the pizza place itself?
And this Kourier nonsense. Either Kouriers are magical indestructible inviolate blah blah blah or they are just one totally insecure way of making deliveries that no one reasonable would trust. You can't have it both ways. And that's what he wants. This is some bullshit. I'm not saying Gibson did a perfect job, but Virtual Light came out roughly the same time as this and let's do a little side by side comparison. Gibson picked something plausible (bicycle delivery) that is actually used and actually makes sense to use, something that has continued to be a plausible and reasonable mode of delivery in urban cores 20 years later. Stephenson picked a 90s fad that reads as dated and dad-like. People certainly still skateboard, but this is some Marty McFly hoverboard shit, I can just see the day-glo kneepads. Gibson went in a reasonable direction with paper frames --- bike makers are actually experimenting with those now. Stephenson made up nanotech superwheels that don't make any sense and are just a lazy author's solution to the needs of the action scene. Gibson carefully put together a tiny slice of a microculture where people had personalities and conflicts with one another; for Stephenson they're a tribe of think-alikes who go to the same concerts and are there to be called on for mass action when the plot needs it.
Let's use this as a springboard to transition into talking about the music. This is the most tone-deaf and dadlike thing in the book. How old is Stephenson? He was thirty-five when this book came out so maybe he was writing it at basically my age. Look, I get it, there but for the grace of God go I and all that, but look. You're a massive nerd. Fine, that's totally fine, I'm not shaming you for that, definitely not, but you have to understand your limitations. If you've ever read twelve-year old sexy fan fiction written by someone who has never been kissed, you know this feeling. You've seen some of those racy episodes of 21 Jump Street when your parents let you stay up late (sorry for my dated metaphor, Gen-Y'ers) and you know that sometimes adults put their hands between each others' legs and that gets them excited. Also once when you were camping on a school trip, Billy Duncan told everyone what it was like to have sex with Traci Boder and so you totally know everything that you need to write a totally convincing sex scene.
That's what the concert scene and basically all the stuff with Vitaly Chernobyl is like. He gets that there's this thing called "underground music" but misunderstands it fundamentally in several ways. He thinks it's monocultural, that the cream rises to the mainstream top, when really it's incredibly fractured and local and it's the bland middle that rises to the top. He thinks that it's high art. He thinks that a manufactured rap celebrity is going to just show up randomly at an underground thrash/noise show and expect to go on and be welcomed. That's a real stunner, he thinks that a bunch of teenagers who have generated their identities with and around a very particular, very specialized, kind of music, are going to be open and welcoming to being surprised with a totally different genre coming from an artist with an entirely apposite ethos/ideology. That's not how humans work.
And let's use Sushi K's lyrics as a springboard to race. Wow, on that specific, what a terrible case of white dad rap syndrome. Maybe in 1994 it made sense to have rappers only say what their name was and what they were here to say but boy howdy, today it sure seems like Stephenson is Bill O'Reilly in the making or something, like give him a year or two and he'll be talking about the wannabe tough rap dudes and their gangsters and their drugs and their gats and their bimbos bing bing bing and the next thing you know it he'll be talking about how welfare dependency has created a blight in black culture. I mean, that's my own flight of fancy, of course, none of that is directly in the book, what's in the book is a shockingly poor understanding of what popular rap was like in 1994 and a total inability to anticipate how putting actual made up lyrics might read poorly for something like that. But this is just a prelude, just one piece of the extremely uncomfortable puzzle of "Stephenson on Race" (see Diamond Age, The). He's totally essentializing toward the Japanese, thinks he's edgy with his use of american anti-black racial epithets, and likes to focus on what race characters are _if_ they are non-white. But this focus is hazy; you can tell a black person by looking at them but "Asian" all blends together somehow. Hiro himself is "Japanese," whatever that means, exactly when the narrative needs him to be, and not at all "Japanese" otherwise, this (and his Japanese name) despite the fact that neither of his parents is Japanese.
Okay I'm sick of talking about race. I'm doing a bad job, this book is so much more objectionable than this review makes it seem. I guess I've read enough bad fiction and came into this with low enough expectations that at this point I feel like I can/should just phone it in. Let me just take a PSA break in the middle to say that this book is not worth reading at this point except as a historical document. It's entirely superceded. I don't know by what, because it doesn't really matter; even something incredibly shitty could fire this book.
Okay, on to sexual politics (mild spoilers, no real triggers). There is a whole bunch of bullshit but let me just focus on one thing, on the thing that happens between Raven and Y. T. So Y. T. is supposed to be this tough, if immature, 15 year old. I get that she's not going to be able to understand everything about the feelings she has. But it makes absolutely no sense for her to get so instantaneously swept up in a mutual attraction with a guy she _knows_ is the literal enemy who wants to kill her friends (at first I thought she didn't know this but it's made clear later on that she does) that she does a total panty drop and fucks him immediately (or worse yet, not immediately, after having a few-hour cooldown period while he's off trying to kill her friend), so excited that she forgets her dentata. It's almost as if Stephenson really loved the idea of the dentata so much that had to shoehorn a plot reason for it and then oops, his shoehorn didn't make sense so he had to make her _forget_ for several hours that she was wearing it. She's sexually active with her boyfriend so this isn't like some surprise, this is just part of fucking. And whatever vibes she's putting off, whether to Raven or Hiro or the (racist portrayal of a) central Asian guard at The Clink are some real no-comment Piers Anthony shit.
Um. Am I done? Oh, before I forget, let me just say that taking pot shots at L. Ron Hubbard almost a decade after his death is like so easy. Sooooo easy. It's like, strip mall culture, L. Ron Hubbard, South Africa, really? Those are the targets of your ever-so-trenchant wit? Yuck.
Oh! Oh! Oh! There's one more bit here (two puns so far this paragraph) and that is the snow crash itself. I don't want to get started about how boring the shitty, shitty exposition in the Sumerian parts was. What I want to get into is this goofy, goofy, stupid Matrix idea that hackers are somehow susceptible to information presented in binary. This is like not even dad-level humor, if humor it's supposed to be. It's just a total embarrassment. I think that you can easily come up with a terrifying magical realism mechanism whereby looking at something triggers irreversible mental changes. You can even with some small effort come up with such a mechanism that only works on people who speak a particular language. And that's sort of the idea here. But it's based on a fundamental misunderstanding of "binary code" which is, first of all, not a language but an alphabet in the context in which it is used in this book, and second of all, not actually used! Even very low level coding is done with machine code (and it is _not_ done, particularly not for the kind of coding that anyone in the book does), if not assembly, which is not actually in binary and extremely architecture independent. If I were magically taken to 1994 and given the job of being Stephenson's trusted confidante, if he was stubborn and insisted on the general premise, I would try to convince him to have the scrolls written in C or something like that. Then we have something intelligible to a large number of hackers that by magical realism can get them caught in some kind of loop and rewire their brain, but that would have no effect on the general population. I don't think that's a _good_ solution by any means but by god it's so much better than a bitmap. And holy mackerel, that picture of the Sumerian tablet or inscription or whatever where there's a circle and a stick changing hands and Hiro's like "Oh shit a 1 and a 0," it's just blindingly awful. It's like there's no understanding that 1 and 0 are just a choice of two symbols, you could pick A and B or + and - and it's really, really, just an accident of culture that we use numerical symbols for this and an artifact of history that those symbols are arabic numerals. I'm willing to suspend disbelief but please, please make your experts a little less conspiracy-theorist, especially if i'm supposed to believe that some of the conspiracies are real.
There's a lot more to hate about this book, but I'm done. Those readers of my reviews who enjoy them, I'm sorry, if I had read this book more quickly I'm sure the hatred would have continued to spill out. I could find connections to Heinlein and The Scar and presumably to lotsofotherthings. I could excoriate him more for his failures of two decades ago. Perhaps I'd be more forgiving if his worst qualities hadn't been getting worse over the years. Oh well. Maybe now I never need to read anything of his ever again?
A totally serviceable, if dated, fully pomo anthro-excursion into 80s-era marriage traditions in Korea. I learned about some interesting cultural tradA totally serviceable, if dated, fully pomo anthro-excursion into 80s-era marriage traditions in Korea. I learned about some interesting cultural traditions that are still part of the zeitgeist here (even if they were only really practiced between 1969 and 1993 or so) and read some pretty funny anecdotes. Kendall takes pain to situate, acknowledge, check, and problematize and it worked---none of my old-fashioned-ometers went anywhere near the dead-white-guy zone. But one wishes that she had had more resources. How much cooler would this book have been if instead of three or four Korean grad students she had a huge team and could enhance the storytelling with some numerics. Maybe I'm missing the point....more
I don't know. Maybe I don't know what the word satire means. But I never understand that word being applied to this dystopian stuff. And maybe I'm jusI don't know. Maybe I don't know what the word satire means. But I never understand that word being applied to this dystopian stuff. And maybe I'm just being crotchety, but it hardly seems trenchant to come down on corporate culture, hypocritical consumerism, bosses, the grind of carny life....more
A real letdown. People talk about it so much, and there are these famous bits from it, and then you sit down and read it and it's old-fashioned and reA real letdown. People talk about it so much, and there are these famous bits from it, and then you sit down and read it and it's old-fashioned and remote, yes, unfamiliar, yes, but like dusty, not like dangerous. Maybe we've all seen Apocalypse Now and so it's old hat, I don't know. I feel a little bit like when I read the back of "Rosemary's Baby" before watching it. All of the tension was taken out of it and nothing that happened with Kurtz could surprise me....more
I feel a bit like Gregor myself, awakening suddenly to find that those I love don't recognize me and react in horror instead of in love, scuttling toI feel a bit like Gregor myself, awakening suddenly to find that those I love don't recognize me and react in horror instead of in love, scuttling to and fro barely in conscious control of my protuberances, full of shame and lies to myself about what the future might hold, realizing somewhere beneath it all that my presence was really actually maybe holding them back. Stomp me. Throw an apple between my plates. Hire a rawboned charwoman to dispose of my corpse....more
I didn't review this book right away, I guess because I was feeling a little down. It's hard when factors outside of your control affect your abilityI didn't review this book right away, I guess because I was feeling a little down. It's hard when factors outside of your control affect your ability to be happy, especially your ability to be happy with people you care about. At a time that such a thing is happening, it's even more imperative than ever to have a supportive group of family and friends or even acquaintances who can shield you from the worst, keep you safe and sane, and love you unconditionally. When you're hurting because you miss someone and you don't know if you'll ever talk to them again, sure, you sound like a dramatic highschooler in love for the first time, but that doesn't make it hurt any the less. Every tiny victory, every defeat, feels so much more crushing and so much more real than the rest of reality. Everything else fades. And when that person is gone, when they're really gone, whether it's to Minnesota or Brooklyn or wherever else, and they don't return your calls or your postcards or whatever, it's like everything is flatter.
I guess that's what the book was about for me....more
Good Lord. This book was just awful. There are a lot of reasons, most of them boring. It didn't infuriate me the way somebookshave. Nor was it a sloGood Lord. This book was just awful. There are a lot of reasons, most of them boring. It didn't infuriate me the way somebookshave. Nor was it a slog, thankfully. It was mercifully over before I knew it. But there were so many things wrong with the book that I'll certainly get bored before I finish enumerating them.
I'd like to start sort of content-neutrally, because a lot of my complaints are with content and I'm sure I'll belabor them.
1. Conflict/Plot. Now maybe if you know what you're doing you can just write a slice-of-life novel where we see people living their lives basically peacefully and getting whatever they want whenever they want it. Like I don't think I ever read anything like this, but maybe Nabokov or Cormac McCarthy could get away with that just by having beautiful prose. But if your prose isn't up to that (or really any) standard and especially if you're writing genre fiction, you need the tension of your characters being threatened by not getting what they want to keep the reader engaged. "He came home, got a blow job from his robot maid, drank a diet pepsi, and watched tv for three hours" makes for a pretty shitty sentence, and when your book is basically a hundred pages of that sentence repeated over and over again, that makes for an extremely shitty book. I kept expecting for the first third or so for there to be some sort of tension because Mike has spent all of his savings on a robot and so maybe it'll look like he's going to be broke. But then there is no tension about that ever. We keep careful track of his money just to find out that it doesn't matter one bit.
2. Characterization. I'm not sure how this plays in Henderson, but it sure doesn't read in my neck of the woods. Mike's personal ethics, robot aside, are fairly traditional minded, and that's where all characterization stops. He likes hot girls, feels jealous and protective and in need of a defense of his masculinity, and that's about it. Patience's characterization I'll get to a little later, but it's just as wooden. His son and daughter and son-in-law are not even wooden, they are so flat.
3. Pacing/Editing. I'm not sure in what world we need to know that it took seven minutes to walk somewhere. It's not this one. There are dozens of details, multiple details on every page, that just stick out. It's as if someone were telling a story---you'd wonder why they put them in. You'd think "Oh, it's foreshadowing, he took seven minutes to walk there in 120 degree weather and then a little bit later after the robot makes him work out a little more he'll run there in three minutes in 130 degree weather" but you'd be wrong. He'll never make that walk again in the narration. It'll sometimes be hotter and sometimes colder and we'll just be told the weather like we're having a conversation with an awkward acquaintance or our parents. We go to a strip club and get told the names of all the performers. Why? No reason, it's supposed to be atmosphere. There's a longish discussion of the different monorail stops in Las Vegas and the different train stops on the imaginary Amtrak high speed train. This all brings me nicely into my first point that is content related.
4. A poorly thought out future is not science fiction. Maybe in the 1920s or something, you could just imagine a different future and write about normal people living normal lives there and that was interesting somehow. Maybe back then it was like "Oh wow, people don't have to work but they have to buy clean air" but nowadays that's old hat; you need to do something with it. Delany writes somewhere about Heinlein's writing casually that a door "dilated." He implies, if I recall correctly, that putting something casually like that implies that it is casual, and that implies something about the society, and you can build a tower of implication that tells you something about the society. I don't know to what extent I believe this, but certainly doing it the way Allison has here is not the right way. Let me enumerate some differences that are not handled casually but put straight out there so that the reader is sure that this is The Future.
-Things are more expensive -Things we have now still exist but are called different names -There is more and faster rail travel -Temperatures are much higher and there is a war in antarctica -Gay marriage is taken for granted -The green party is politically powerful -Cuba and Puerto Rico are US States -There are robot maids
That's about it. Nothing is really different. We still have Time magazine and the New York Times but we read them on the TexTee instead of the ipad.
5. The horrifying, stultifying, impossible politics of the basic premise of the book. I've held out as long as I could just writing about this from a "this guy is a pulp hack" point of view, but the central problem, the Bowser to these other problems' goombas, is that the book is at its core a regressive adolescent misogynist embarrassing hackneyed exercise in the kind of wish-fulfillment common to 13 year old boys and bitter bachelors and divorcees whining about feminazis, the kind of wish for a hot woman with large apple-like [sic?] breasts and straight black hair and blue eyes (what does anyone else in this book look like? Oh, that's right, the only other people who are described are the women in the strip club, except for a cursory description of the protagonist at the very beginning--fat, greying, balding) will clean the garage instead of sleeping, meet you at the door with a blow job and a sandwich-- no, fuck that, a souffle, adore your every whim, never look at or think about anyone but you, who will monetize your life so you don't have to work, who will adore shoes and dressing up and lacy frilly underwear, who never says no and always says yes, who is so naive she doesn't realize that she'll cause a traffic accident going out in that bikini, who fucks you whenever and however you want, who cooks whatever you want, who cleans, who does the laundry, who fights off your muggers and takes you to the hospital and cares for you when you're sick and trains you at the gym, all with love in her eyes, always laughing at your jokes, frozen at 25 as you get older and older, whose very personality molds to your whim, that lover mother daughter whore nurse teacher concubine pack-mule wife that never ever ever existed anywhere ever because she's not a human, she's a machine, made literal here because she's a literal machine. This exercise in wish-fulfillment has not a trace of irony, self-consciousness, or alternative viewpoints. "Oh hey dad, you got a robot slave woman? And what else is new?" "Oh, your robot slave woman brought your home-cooked lunch to your high-school classroom in a skimpy outfit? No one cares." No one should care about the skimpy outfit, but this highlights what I can only read as cognitive dissonance on the part of the author. He's moved to a boner when his robot slave woman gets her ears pierced because it's a signal of sexual availability --- and concomitantly he thinks it *disgusting* when children have their ears pierced. This is how conservative his sexual politics are but he thinks nothing of his robot slave woman fucking him in public or showing up at his workplace dressed inappropriately.
So this is all about how it's great to have a robot slave woman, how much it costs to literally own her, and all I can think of is the mail order bride business. Mike is essentially a perfect candidate to be a MOB husband. He's fifty, unattractive, with no redeeming qualities, and his basic hierarchy of desire is for a woman to be sexy, fuckable, twenty years younger than him, keep good house, never look at anyone else, do what he wants all the time, never disagree. This is like to-a-tee what the prototypical guy is like in that business. I wonder... I don't know what Allison's wife Victoria is like. I hope she hasn't read this book.
There's more. Here are some quickies.
It's absolutely necessary for him to show off his knowledge and mansplain so Patience has to be programmed with no knowledge of Las Vegas or lots of other things so she can coo admiringly.
Rather than literally anyone in the world programming a computer to take advantage of the arbitrage opportunities on eBay, that job is left to robots who are also programmed to have malleable personalities and be sex slaves.
The closest thing to a real conflict is when a malicious software update causes the robot to go berserk and attack him... except just kidding, that would actually make the whole premise seem weird and problematic so actually it's a bad hardware update where a group of rogue programmers have somehow secretly produced tens of thousands of robots and an alternative OS for them... This is so much less believable (not that any of the story is any great shakes) but is necessary because otherwise we might wonder about the wisdom of the arrangement. The settlement (one of thousands) is close to a million dollars but the company is not really in trouble or anything.
He somehow knows nothing about robots. Neither does she. They decide to get married except you can't in Nevada, it turns out. That's weird. You'd think that fuckable robot slave women might be chosen as wives often enough that you'd program that knowledge in. Guess not. You might think -- aw, forget this.
This book is brutally, desperately bad. Please, please, don't make the mistake I did. You do not want to up his downloads count.
I wanted to like this. I was really rooting for it. It's hard when you come out with something that is so good and so well-received. It hangs over youI wanted to like this. I was really rooting for it. It's hard when you come out with something that is so good and so well-received. It hangs over you and leaves its mark, either in its presence or its absence or both (as in this book) in subsequent work. You try to recreate your successes, or run from them, or both. And oftener than not, it doesn't work out. Where Fun Home was sprightly, this book is stagnant. The quotations are omnipresent, oppressive in their boredom, and suspect-- I *read* The Drama of the Gifted Child and thought it basically sucked. So a book that makes its hay on going deep into the weeds in that direction is going to have to overcome a heavy dose of skepticism. The best part is the human part, the relationship with the therapists. There you can see the same luminosity. Some other places too. But in the many primary sources, in the phone conversations, in the lovers' drama, there is very little of interest. ...more
This was just luminous. Self conscious without being overly so, literary without really having to rub your face into it, wry, real, relatable, funny,This was just luminous. Self conscious without being overly so, literary without really having to rub your face into it, wry, real, relatable, funny, sad. I felt the overtones of Maus from the first page--that's not a bad thing. I want more of this and less Daniel Clowes....more
Not really very much about the math, which is fine, but very confusing about what there was. Weird (but cool?) to suddenly have King Stanislas takingNot really very much about the math, which is fine, but very confusing about what there was. Weird (but cool?) to suddenly have King Stanislas taking his pants off and Catherine's breasts. Who is this written for? That's really the hard thing to figure out. It's sort of for kids, but maybe a little dry for them? I don't get it....more
This book was a tremendous disappointment. I flipped through the first few pages and saw something of interest in them, and wanted to hear more of whaThis book was a tremendous disappointment. I flipped through the first few pages and saw something of interest in them, and wanted to hear more of what Connes had to say, so I borrowed the book. Unfortunately, it was almost entirely Changeux bulldogging and railroading the conversation. Changeux is pompous, overwrought in the issues he cares about, overly reliant on "Darwinism" as an explanatory tool for any and all phenomena, totally (and willfully!) ignorant of mathematics in its processes, applications, and culture alike. He has that annoying tendency to misplace minor French intellectuals much higher in some imaginary canon because of a parochial French thing. He's obsessed with the idea that mathematical reality isn't reality and instead exists only in brain patterns. I don't begrudge him this unfalsifiable opinion, but once it became clear that Connes had a fundamental disagreement, I wish he could have moved on to other more interesting issues for the remaining two hundred pages or so.
And shame on Connes for engaging him so patiently....more
Just awful. I read this on an airplane and then immediately had to deal with the kind of things that arise when you make an international move, so I dJust awful. I read this on an airplane and then immediately had to deal with the kind of things that arise when you make an international move, so I didn't write this review with the book fresh in my mind, unfortunately. This could have been one for the ages.
Let me say this: stupid isn't satire. Cardboard isn't commentary. Forced isn't funny. Good, funny, biting satire stakes out challenging positions on fresh new issues and blisters the reader with incision after incision after incision. See Reed, Ishmael, for example. The position of this book is some sort of blobby non-opinion on the gender-essentialist "men-want-sex-women-don't-testosterone-makes-the-world-go-round" what-have-you that has been going the tired, tired rounds for the past, i don't know, century? century and a half?
It's hard to believe that the author is a woman--no--check that, a human--given the seeming lack of understanding of how sex generally works. This reads like it was written by a horny virgin (boy) in 1976 who has been reading a lot of dad's Playboys. Maybe this plays well in Kansas City, where no one has heard of glory holes and the idea of a hundred thousand dollar glory hole sounds pretty cool. But in the rest of the country it doesn't even read. It's just nonsensical. It just doesn't engage with the lived reality of, well, anyone I know.
Maybe there's a secret cabal of asshole day traders or sales executives out there who would laugh their heads off at this book. But let me tell you: if you give this book more than two stars, you are insane, deluded, or somehow, underneath whatever exterior you may present to the world, part of that cabal. Don't fool yourself....more
This book was brutally bad in so many ways. I'm having trouble sorting out which of the things were just minor annoying quirks and which were major isThis book was brutally bad in so many ways. I'm having trouble sorting out which of the things were just minor annoying quirks and which were major issues, so I'm going to just start spouting without worrying too hard about the relevance and prevalence of any of the particular things.
Okay. Structurally. No. First, let's talk about self-awareness and lip service. Repeatedly, in a number of different situations, Garfield acknowledges something explicitly. The things he acknowledges vary: at the beginning, it's that the book can't be exhaustive. A couple of times, it's the colonial underpinnings of (a certain era of) mapmaking. In one chapter it's sexism. In one chapter it's the idea that Britain is not the center of the world. But all of these acknowledgements are lies. They are lip service to ideas that he knows he has to acknowledge. But he's still going to pretend at exhaustiveness. He's still going to lionize the colonizers. He's still going to play with sexism, just a subtler one. And he's still going to repeatedly, over and over again, bring the conversation back to British maps.
I don't know. I'm as parochial as the next guy and it's definitely possible that I wouldn't have noticed his bias, or would have preferred his bias, had I been British or he American. But the contortions he went through to focus attention almost exclusively on the British experience was mind-boggling. He loves the ordnance survey, and focuses multiple chapters on it and its outgrowths without ever doing a good job describing what it is or was. It's assumed that the reader has heard of it. He wants so little to do with American mapping that he shoehorns Lewis and Clark (lip service and no more to Sacajawea as he mentions her parenthetically and then spends paragraphs discussing L + C in their post-expedition lives) and the city grids of the US into the same chapter. He brings up the (American) game Risk but shows a picture of a British board for the game, manufacturer prominently displayed. Lots and lots on London maps but nothing on any other city, really. These are just a few examples of his focus on the British (probably English) experience. I don't think there's anything wrong with that a priori, but if the publisher is going to market a book for the American audience, this kind of thing is going to be obvious, sound stupid, and feel vaguely insulting. Tell me it's a book about British and world maps, not about world maps.
The first half of the book reminds me of a bad medieval art history class. There are a lot of slides of paintings and architecture with a droning voice telling you about the dates and such but not much theory or context. He yammers on and on about a bunch of different maps in ancient times, talking ad nauseum about how one was slightly more accurate in this way while another was slightly more accurate in that way. But the pictures are details and are tiny and so we just have a long list of things, none of which are related to anything we have before us. A quick wikipedia jaunt would do the reader better for all of this part of the material. It'd be organized better, cross-referenced, and contain scalable full color graphics. I think all-told this sort of project would be much better as a wiki or something--you could cover more ground, get rid of his awful stylistic quirks, and present the information in a much more sensical, accessible, and aesthetically pleasing manner.
There's a bunch of get-off-my-lawn kid-these-days shit, but I'm going to give that a pass because it made me feel sorry for him and not annoyed.
What did make me annoyed was the poor editing choice that left a bunch of stupid stupid qualified clauses in. One type was that "this was arguably the most X of all the Y" clause. Saying it this way sounds so dumb. He's trying to take a position but it's the most mealy-mouthed and wormy position he can claim. He won't even go out on a limb in these and say that HE thinks so. On the other hand, when he does stake a position, saying for example that such and such was DEFINITELY the rudest map ever drawn or whatever, he sounds stupid because he's obviously in no position to make such a claim. I blame the editors for not stripping out all of this garbage.
I really hated the skin-deep treatment he gave to things. I am not an expert in ancient mapmaking so I can't say for sure that the whole book was totally superficial in its treatment, but it certainly reads that way and every part that I already had a more than passing familiarity with was error-ridden, focussed on the wrong things, and had virtually no depth. He talks about Dungeons and Dragons and presents one map of one part of Greyhawk as his exemplar. There have been thousands of commercially produced maps in the history of Dungeons and Dragons but if you didn't already know that you couldn't be blamed for thinking there were maybe a dozen and that the one he put in this thing was probably the most important. He's just as fast and loose with the brain mapping. Brain mapping has been done all over the place and has a number of results but he picks two seemingly because the researchers involved are British.
Speaking of which, he's doing a thing that I always hate, where you use a dictionary definition for a word instead of working with meaning more carefully. The fact that two things are both called "maps" doesn't actually make them similar things. It's obvious that globes or google maps or the map of skyrim fit into a larger historical mapmaking tradition. But brain mapping just doesn't. It sticks out like a sore thumb and makes the ending (blessed relief) seem even stupider than it needs to.
I'm sick of stories about and by shtetl/New York Jewry, I guess. You trace some line back from Jonathan Safran Foer to Lethem and Chabon and back andI'm sick of stories about and by shtetl/New York Jewry, I guess. You trace some line back from Jonathan Safran Foer to Lethem and Chabon and back and back ad nauseum through Philip Roth, through I don't know, Isaac Asimov, you follow this thread back til you hit Isaac Bashevis Singer and I just get tired of it. All these guys are different, I guess, but there's some sort of commonality that links them. It's saturated. I said it in my review of Oscar Wao, I want to hear some new voices doing something a little bit different, not yet another refinement of something I already know, of these stories I've already heard.
But I guess this isn't fair to Malamud, who is writing further back along this thread. The darkness, the pitiable lives, this is something somehow sweet to savor. It's like a weird little candy box of human suffering, occasionally punctuated by a little bit of redeeming hope like when one of the chocolates is full of marzipan.
I don't remember what day I finished this on, I'm really just guessing....more
This was primarily a pleasant little romp, although some parts of it stuck in the craw. The gendering is pretty weird, and the implied moralizing, I dThis was primarily a pleasant little romp, although some parts of it stuck in the craw. The gendering is pretty weird, and the implied moralizing, I don't know. I sound like a curmudgeon. I think I would have liked it better with less foregrounding of the archaeologists....more
Oof. Too bleak and unforgiving for me to want to dawdle here. The ones set in the future are wrong but they are still like a shiny carapace with justOof. Too bleak and unforgiving for me to want to dawdle here. The ones set in the future are wrong but they are still like a shiny carapace with just the hint of legs sticking out, scuttling, scuttling, one leg dragging behind, leaving an ooze, faintly green or yellow, and a sickly scent, the chitin tap tap tapping as it goes. Don't you drag me into your darkness!...more
She and Dick went to Berkeley High at the same time. This is the only thing I've ever read of either of them that reads like they influenced one anothShe and Dick went to Berkeley High at the same time. This is the only thing I've ever read of either of them that reads like they influenced one another even the tiniest amount. And this really reads like Dick. It has Le Guin's racial consciousness but other than that... It's got these cardboardy characters, a paranoiac what-is-reality feeling, abuse of authority (that authority concentrated in a malignant bureaucracy whose creepiness crescendoes over the course of the text). I am reminded most directly of Ubik but maybe that's too obvious.
Aside from the characters, I guess I find the ending too pat, but there it is....more
A pitch-perfect admixture of several things that I did not know existed together harmoniously: Some old-school Philip Roth horndogging (from 1st generA pitch-perfect admixture of several things that I did not know existed together harmoniously: Some old-school Philip Roth horndogging (from 1st generation New Jerseyites, no less!), one nerdiness to rule them all, the casual use of an unfamiliar vernacular. The parts don't actually sound like all that much said like that. But Christ! I want to tread carefully here, so bear with my metaphor and let me critique it after I'm done with it. Most fusion food just sucks, but every now and then you have like a tofu and kimchi jibarito and you're like 'This is off the chain!' That's sort of how my initial feeling comes in with this. But (and here's my self-critique) it's not actually fusion at all! That I'd never seen these things mixed doesn't make it any less natural, any less homegrown. It's a great reminder both that nerdiness isn't reserved for/by straight white males and simultaneously that a lot of the great stuff has these problems (the Far Harad quote breaks my heart) that are often invisible to the straight white males. I love Anita Sarkeesian's take on this--she's just so matter of fact and just keeps repeating it--that you don't need to stop loving something just because it's problematic, but that it's incumbent on you to acknowledge the problems (at the very least).
I think of this kind of story and I try to find recent cognates and it makes me think of Everything is Illuminated or maybe Freedom or even Telegraph Avenue. But those seem, in comparison, bloodless, researched (despite the research explicitly evident in this book, it pulls the trick of feeling utterly true to the real lived experience of someone, somewhere), and dogmatic.
It's books like this that make me wish I were a slower reader because I can't slow down enough to parse the spanish, the slang, the nerdly references I don't get, the history. I just have to gobble and gobble it until it's all gone. And I wish there were more.
If I have a criticism, it's only that things bog down in the past-ish sections, probably because they are a little further removed from the author's own life and so ring a little less true. But I'm really really quibbling. I don't give five stars often. This is my type of book. I need to go find a copy of This Is How You Lose Her, stat....more
I really enjoyed the first half of this book, although there were a few glaring errors of fact and/or human nature that a good editor should have caugI really enjoyed the first half of this book, although there were a few glaring errors of fact and/or human nature that a good editor should have caught. For example, a NYC fireman sprays children with a fire hose (already implausible to the point of breaking) and then a few pages later we read that they've turned the hydrants off in the bronx because water is scarce. Or the math equation--sure, it's only there to be flashy, but maybe make it make the tiniest bit of sense.
These are quibbles. After about two thirds of the book, though, the plot stalls out (which is fine) but the characters' conflicts don't play out in a meaningful or interesting manner. I was disappointed--it really seemed like we were building to something. But the way it all went down ultimately read as a boring copout....more
It's amazing to me the level of superficial similarity this has to one of the worst books I've read that was written in my lifetime: Empire State. MyIt's amazing to me the level of superficial similarity this has to one of the worst books I've read that was written in my lifetime: Empire State. My review of Empire State was scathing and dismissive, and rightly so, but many of my criticisms there are turned on their head here; superficially similar occurrences in the writing are amazing instead of appalling.
Both books occur within a (not wholly) empty city of fog with one bar and a goofy power structure. In both books, allegiance is fluid and science and spectacle are mainly in service of the story. The characters, at times, exhibit what might be interpreted as sociopathic responses.
But here the fog rolls in little by little, so that you don't see it until you finally look up and it has enveloped you. The bar and the power structure are entwined, and over time the one rots from the inside from the influence of the other. Here the meat falls off the bone as we pick up steam on the way to the climax, a climax which itself occurs mostly offstage (or in the reader's head) instead of right in the line of the footlights. I think if I had read this at nineteen or twenty I would have shit myself if I could have made it through the first couple hundred pages---like Escape from New York or anything else from this era, it needs to incubate before it can explode. As is, it's basically just the same. I look up astonished that this artifact exists. I see the faintest shades of it in John Brunner and in Ishmael Reed but as far as I am concerned, so far at least, this document is essentially singular....more
Harrowing and painful. The gum reconstruction you know you have coming because you haven't flossed regularly. The comeuppance, comeuppance, comeuppancHarrowing and painful. The gum reconstruction you know you have coming because you haven't flossed regularly. The comeuppance, comeuppance, comeuppance. The daggers of shame and remorse. The bitter realization that your construction of reality is the false one and that the fools have had it right. Nightmares of lust. Impotence, not a sexual impotence, curling in on itself, an ingrown toenail allowed to dig in, to impact, to infect. The cool kiss of steel in the swelter, the steel of the gun barrel.
The sexual possessiveness is a foreign shore for me; when will we see instead the people who destroy themselves through compersion? But the feelings that are stirred up, those darts, they, they can still hit the target....more
As I understand it, this predates the Westing Game (goodreads search is messed up and I can't link to it) by some time, and it shows. You see the sameAs I understand it, this predates the Westing Game (goodreads search is messed up and I can't link to it) by some time, and it shows. You see the same sculpted plot, but the twists are too obvious and a good portion of what goes on is too heavy-handed. Despite its flaws, this is a worthwhile read for a Raskin fan--it provides an excellent slice of the development of her style and has several very bright moments as well....more
It's a little remote from today's experience, at least in my realm. Hiding a cancer diagnosis. That level of homophobia. Crap as an expletive. The oveIt's a little remote from today's experience, at least in my realm. Hiding a cancer diagnosis. That level of homophobia. Crap as an expletive. The overarching themes remain. I had to restrain myself from reading it all in one sitting. Definitely holds up better than O'Neill in my book....more