Maya Andreyeva is a "camera", a reporter with virtual reality broadcasting equipment implanted in her brain. What she sees, millions see; what she feels, millions share.
And what Maya is seeing is the cover-up of a massacre. As she probes into the covert political power plays of a radically strange near-future Russia, she comes upon secrets that have been hidden from the world… and memories that AI-controlled thought police have forced her to hide from herself. Because in a world where no thought or desire is safe, the price of survival is betrayal—of your lover, your ideals, and yourself.
In The Fortunate Fall, we hear a new voice so assured and so intimate it seems we must always have known it, and so electrifying we know we have never before heard its like.
I just realized that I haven't updated my top ten book list in my own mind for almost a decade. I certainly haven't modified my top three in over 25 years.
What I have just read has just supplanted number three. Perhaps even number two.
For the moment, I feel like it might have supplanted number one.
I cried like a baby when I closed the book, and even now I can't believe what I just read. It was lyrical and it unpacked with a density of a rushing locomotive. It was full of heart and soul, and it was smart, smart, smart in its choices.
It is a double tragedy. Raphael Carter, as far as I can tell, never wrote another novel. I will likely be a lifelong devotee to this novel, and I'll be rereading it soon. I'm already missing it and I just finished it.
Maybe it's a triple tragedy, because the book is out of print. I was lucky enough to find it used. As far as I can tell, the novel is the greatest unknown mystery of the world. So few people even know about it. Hell, I need to shout out its praises to the world and not let this beautiful work ever be forgotten. And yet, it is. I only picked it up because Jo Walton praised it from her mountaintop as a work that should not be forgotten, and I can't thank her enough.
What is the novel, you ask? It's the soul of humanity as sung from the soul of the last whale. It's the redemption and utter loss of ghost girls and cyborgs. It's the chains that we bind ourselves with, whether in our heart or our minds or everyone else. It's hope. It's horror.
It's recalling, for me, the most heartbreaking moments of V for Vendetta, a movie I've seen a dozen times so that it brings me to tears. It takes the best traditions of cyberpunk and pushes it through the meat grinder, showing us what despair can lie behind the eyes of telepresence ratings.
It's about same-sex true-love and mind rape.
Too much for a novel of 288 pages? Hell no. The writing carries it all and a lot more, effortlessly. This is what I want to make when I grow up.
And it hurts, almost unbearably, that so few people will ever have the chance to experience this novel. If there is justice in the world, then everyone would have the chance to cry over it.
I was really interested when I found out this was the only book (apparently a catharsis novel) by a writer who emerged fully formed, became a cult-classic on some small level, and never wrote again. And it turns out for good reason. The tone reminds me a bit of Gibson, but really this is closer Neal Stephenson or Delany's late works: a complex, highly stylized book that touches on themes of technology, gender, consciousness, human nature, religion, etc. It's cyberpunk, which is my least favorite subgenre of SF and tends to age awfully, but there's an almost mythical tone to it that reminds me a bit of Japanese takes on the genre (like Serial Experiments Lain or Ghost in the shell) where technology takes on this kind mythical, unreal feel, and for once the cyberpunk elements mostly felt evocative to me rather than plastic and silly.
The first 100 pages were difficult for me to get into--there's lots of worldbuilding and terms thrown around (mostly just an over the shoulder of the central character moving through the world) but not a lot of narrative until, interestingly, it becomes apparent that this book is actually a story inside a story. Carter almost outdoes Neal Stephenson in how talky this book is: something like 160 pages (of a 290 page book) is spread between two conversations where we get an incredible amount of worldbuilding, characterization, and plot development, which is an unusual choice; it's also where the book started to work for me. The feel is almost like a Greek play in that most of the story happens offscreen, but I'm not bothered by that approach though I think a lot of readers might be.
This novel definitely isn't perfect, but some moments, images, and ideas are the most evocative I've seen in a long time. The prose is also incredible, alternating between minimalistic dialogue and moments of intensely lyrical exposition, despite the polarizing decision to include so many conversations that are also lectures and debates. There's a really interesting, almost posthuman romance at the center of this book which ultimately becomes the focus, and the way that's resolved is painful and unsatisfying and stark, but also very right--it's what I'll take away from the book, I suspect, despite focusing more on the intellectual elements as I made my way through. There aren't many moments of action or physical conflict, but the few that do show up are really striking.
I've been having trouble enjoying novels for the last few months, and this one definitely wasn't perfect, but it's the first I've enjoyed in a while. I'm not sure what to rate it but I'll let it hover somewhere around 4.5 stars. Of course I'd be curious to see what Carter might have done if he/she had kept writing, but this book isn't bad as a complete body of work; and especially since I struggled orienting myself so much in the beginning I think I might reread it in a few years. This is the kind of SF novel that really pushes at the boundaries of the genre and human imagination, and even though it isn't entirely a successful experiment I think it's a really interesting one.
Also, I've noticed I don't quote in reviews a lot, but here's one I really liked just to finish this off:
"We are a machine made by God to write poetry to glorify his creatures. But we’re a bad machine, built on an off day. While we were grinding out a few pathetic verses, we killed the creatures we were writing about."
This is a cyberpunk SF novel, which while hasn’t got a serious attention when it was published (1996), now has an almost cult following. Additionally this is a debut novel and the author hasn’t published anything long (there was one short story) since.
Maya Tatyanichna Andreyava is a camera. This means she is a reporter with built in camera and feedback systems, so her watchers, don’t only see, but feel her emotions. Usually cameras work in tandem with a screener, a person, who monitors camera’s live-feed and edits it to exclude slippages or personal details. Maya get a new screener just when she started to tackle with a new theme: a forgotten holocaust somewhere is Kazakh steppes. Her new screener is weird, her name is Keishi Mirabara and she is clearly overqualified for the job.
The rest of the story is a usual cyberpunk, with life in a virtual reality, supersmart Ais, implants, hacking everyday equipment by shadowy figures, all the tropes. At the same time the world is unique, with true power shifted to Africa (to which standards the rest of the world desperately hoping to grew), the virtuality is called greyspace and with evolved organisms; Post police, people temporary controlled by algorithms (agent Smith’s style). All in all it creates a unique place. I think the book is on par with many major cyberpunk works and should be more widely known.
She was wearing a Word: a gold cartouche on her lapel that, from time to time, would pluck a single word from her thoughts and display it. That's the fashion, too—a random, drop-by-drop exposure that always struck me as faintly obscene. At the moment it said inversion, for no reason I could think of.
*** "If you take flesh as your starting point," she said, "you're always going to find some way that silicon falls short. But there's nothing special about flesh. Look, sex wasn't invented by some loving God who wants us all to understand each other and be happy. It was made by nature, and nature doesn't give a damn whether our hearts hook up or not, just as long as our gametes do. Why should evolution get to make all the decisions? Why can't we use something that is designed to bring people together? If you turn the comparison around, and start with cabling, then love in the meat starts to look pretty shabby. Love happens in the mind, in the soul—what does the union of two sweating bodies have to do with that?"
*** There will be no whales." "But we need them," I said. "We need them? Is that the best reason you can come up with?" He laughed, a rasping, mechanical sound. "The kings of the ocean are gone, and what is our argument for their return? We need them? We? Their murderers? The ones that made the water bitter in their mouths, and killed the food they ate? The ones that made the ocean boil red with their blood for miles around? Men need them? Those vermin? Those stinging insects? Struggling pustulent humanity—needs them? Do you think a whale cares? You might as well need the sun to rise at midnight because you're feeling a bit chilly. Yes, of course, certainly we need them. But the question is, do we deserve them?"
*** people around the world are united by telepresence. So—" "Ah, but not all people. Some are united, and some separated. We are pulled toward cameras, but away from people that we know in our own lives. Can you watch telepresence with your friend, your wife, your child? Not truly—you may be in the same room, but you are not together. Each is locked in his own dream, even if all are tuned to the same channel. Like movies during the binaural fad: a theater full of people wearing headphones, all hearing the same thing, but separately. And so telepresence causes the triumph of the distant over the near.
Found this review lost in one of my laptop folders. I'm not bothering to clean it up, but wanted to copy it here for safe keeping.:
... Which brings us to one of those faraway shining stars, Raphael Carter’s 1996 novel, The Fortunate Fall.
["The whale, the traitor; the note she left me and the run-in with the Post police; and how I felt about her and what she turned out to be--all this you know."]
An opening line that would make Vonnegut proud, yeah? It’s all right there, all the important ‘w’s and a whale. What follows is a story of identity, technology, revolution, memory, love, and loss. It's a science fiction exploration, a cyberpunk story of our morphing existence; the extrapolation of new media and the results of cartwheeling desire toward seamless immersion with our entertainments; a prescient commentary on the proliferate realities of Orwellian surveillance, a history of future revolution and its aftermath, a probe into the eternal sunshine of our spotted minds, and an emotive meditation of intimacy in a technology enhanced world.
The Fortunate Fall is all of these things, but at the same time, none of these things. It’s foremost a personal story, one woman’s journey of love and loss. All of the big world-building elements remain in the fringe, which is one of the richest aspects of the writing, how Carter manages within this personal narrative to construct revolution on the edges, abstracting both the bleak and the beautiful into the periphery of our vision. The storytelling manages to be both political and personal, and this balance and integration is a difficult trick, one reason why this book transcends. Carter lets us know what the characters need to know, and lets the reader figure out the rest; lets us imagine. There is depth between the lines, Roy Batty's monologue at the end of Blade Runner.
[“You set me a pretty problem. How can I remember what it is like not to remember? If I think I recall sensations—falling through the dark, and reaching out, again and again, and brushing a handhold but not quite being able to grasp it—how shall I trust the memory? All I can tell you for sure is that when I began to wake, I was like a man who has been walking across ice for so long that he does not trust the ground to hold him. …”]
The best love stories aren't afraid to be what they are, but they are also dressed in narrative that allows them to exist and live in our imagination. And yes, it's all romance; the time machine of our heart, our manipulation of memory, the contemplation of love and what it truly means to be connected to another. There are heartbreaking exchanges, lines that cut to the quick, liquid passages that call to memoirs and experience, those personal catalogs of angst and regret that only bleed us out inside a good fiction.
[“What would you know about hunger, you ghost?” I said. “You’ve forgotten you have a body—you just said you wish you didn’t have. Is there hunger on the Net now? No, don’t you dare call that hunger. Hunger is something that can be sated. But you can touch a hundred minds a night and never be filled—or fulfilled. That’s not desire, that’s an algorithm.”]
Is it better to remember our losses, our pain, or are we better off suppressing our broken histories and moving on?
I don’t know if the novel finishes in a perfect landing. To its slight detriment, the final forty narrow into chatty dialogue, and there is a large and strange conceit, one you will either embrace or dismiss as mistake--no doubt, Carter follows through on every detail in that opening sentence. Even so, The Fortunate Fall is not magical realism, it's science fiction, and science fiction in a universe told well, so this comes with a nod and a straight face, carries its own weight and reasoning. The world is built for it and it works, perhaps offering one more layer to the meaning of our connections in a world.
Lastly, it should noted, the prose, which I've underlined plenty, is worth every page.
The Fortunate Fall deserves readers not only for what it is, but also because it is an outstanding example of cyberpunk possibility and the power of science fiction--one of those books that is indelibly genre yet transcends the niche. Even though it was published in 1996, it has aged well, as current as anything being published today and offering a valid commentary to the present landscape. Perhaps dismissed without reviews and accolades, make no mistake, it's a gem of a novel, one of the lost cyberpunks that got away.
*Carter has only written this one book; apparently a catharsis novel, both debut and swan song, a walk-off home run by the rookie—and one that earns my every admiration. It's been about twenty years since publication, which, as the fictional story of the novel goes, would be the most appropriate time for an e-book edition or (please) a sequel.
A lovely, heartbreakingly great first and only novel from Raphael Carter. There's Guardians and the Unanimous Army and ecological disaster and His-Majesty-In-Chains (one of the four kings of Africa, one of whom is unknown) and two people who've never met in person but have a deeply personal and unrequited connection between them. So much happens in this novel and so much of it could sound ridiculous and instead it is melancholy and hopeful by turns. It's about politics and personal relationships, the sacrifices we are ready to make and the choices taken away from us when the personal political gets attacked. I can't believe that I went so long without re-reading this treasure, not gonna happen again.
God, this book is so beautiful and so terrible. So weird, weird, weird. It ripped my heart out and won't give it back. And I can't stop thinking about it. It's hard to move on from something like this.
...the central fact of the human condition: that each of us lives behind one set of eyes, and not another; that our own pain is an agony, and another's pain only an abstraction we believe in by an act of faith.
...it's only love. It doesn't mean you want to fuse souls with someone. And it doesn't save the world, or even the people in it. It's not something you put on display for some political purpose. It's not a statement or a demonstration; it just is.
Imagine Neal Stephenson, but terminally serious, with a little John Barnes and Paul Levinson and William Gibson and Tiptree thrown in for seasoning. And you might get something like this book. Mind-blowing, avoids a lot of SF clichés, not at all didactic — you have to think, it doesn't explain or info-dump. It hurt a little to read. If you insist on happy endings this is not for you. I wonder if I had read this before. It seemed faintly familiar, but at the same time, that I might have forgotten it seems difficult to believe.
Wow, this is a keeper! Cult following well deserved. Also, so nice to read cyberpunk that's not annoying or misogynistic--and written by a nonbinary author at that. Other reviewers have done a better job with this than I would, but... it's very very good and it's an exceptionally human story for cyberpunk. I can't believe it was written in 1996 and I'm glad I got a print copy.
I'm still struggling to decide how to articulate what I'm feeling, but... whoa. I was thinking this was probably going to be a four-star book until I got to the very end, and then went back to read the first page again, then the last page again, back and forth in a kind of awe.
The Fortunate Fall takes a lot of the trappings of cyberpunk - the oppressive system, the global Net that allows everyone to touch mind-to-mind, the total lack of digital privacy, the lone intrepid truth-telling hacker up against the unstoppable machine - and does things with them that makes them feel both real and transcendent, lived-in and mythical and genuinely emotionally harrowing.
It was lyrical like the best literature and yet used pop-culture references in a way that could have been obnoxious but somehow felt just as meaningful as the literary allusions to Milton and Melville and great Russian poets I barely knew; it brought a lot of heavy worldbuilding in, in a dystopia that feels more real and lived-in than any others I know, that's very out-there and yet doesn't feel contrived at all.
And it's about a powerful tangle of emotions, and the most riveting parts of the book are not the tense escaping from the militarized police, but the long dialogues between characters that unfold the world.
Maya, the central character, is amazingly drawn, a VR journalist living a disappointing life in this banally-oppressive world, halfheartedly raging against stupid state-sanctioned puff pieces by trying to report on the history of a recent genocide the world would prefer to quietly forget about, until she stumbles on a hidden piece of the story that would actually get her in trouble. She's a lesbian in a world where such illegal and undesirable deviations are punished by "suppressor chips" inserted into one's head to rewrite and erase the offending desire. Again, in another book, this could have been really cheesy; again, it was gutting, it was chilling, it was something flitting at the edge of Maya's consciousness the whole book, something she was almost aware of but that she was not allowed to - and was afraid to - try to remember. It's a horrible, beautiful, brutal mess of lofty ideals and cynical realities and weak human fears and the betrayals of the things that matter to you in the name of something you convince yourself matters more, and the power - and the limits, and the ultimate ineffectualness - of love.
It's also about whales.
It's a powerful and not a happy book. It is so good and I don't actually know how to express how good it is in a way that doesn't make it sound cheesy, but it is so good.
With a half star rating system, this would be 2 1/2 stars rather than 3.
Tedious, talky, and clumsily written, this drowns good ideas in leaden dialogue and cod philosophy. All too often, it reads like a poor translation of substandard Dostoevsky updated to the cyber era by a middling undergrad theology student. In fact, if this hadn't been nominated for a Nebula award in 1996 and been so often declared a minor classic in years since, I would have DNFed this at 50% when it became clear this story was going nowhere fast. I'll remember to trust my instincts and discount awards next time.
I remember a movie review that went something like "you walk away feeling not as if the film failed you but as if you failed it." That's kind of how I feel about this book full of philosophy and cyberpunk and resistance and did I mention philosophy? But, wow, was it a good read.
Caveat: The 18-year-old science shows its age, but not in any way that interferes with the story too much.
“In print news your job is to know things about others, you peer out at the world through an arrow slit. In telepresence you are known. If I'd still been writing for a newspaper—if there still were newspapers—I could have forgotten...”
In 1996 Raphael Carter wrote The Fortunate Fall. For perspective, Neuromancer came out only 12 years previous and this book is already placed squarely in post-cyberpunk. Normally I'd scoff a little at that..but I have to say that is more of an acknowledgment of this work than the post-modern call to kill the genre from the onset of its birth (by the very people who wrote in the field no less). For reference, Trouble and her Friends came out only 2 years previous and I would not call that post-cyberpunk. It's also very hard to review because of the structure and how the book ends.
Maya tells her story as though the reader is an audience consuming a story by her with prior knowledge of an important historical event, or at least an extremely newsworthy one; to the point that it seems assumed the general populace or consumer of this knows of it, at least. And they are getting the "real" truth by reading it rather than getting it in another, futuristic format like moistdisk, opticube, dryROM, where the whole truth was not disclosed to the consumer.
“...you can't just break through a person's defenses like that; the defenses are a part of the person, they are the person. It's our nature to have hidden depths. It's like...skinning a frog and saying, 'Now I understand this frog, because I've seen what's inside it.' But when you skin it, it dies. You haven't understood a frog, you've understood a corpse.”
In the 24th-century Maya is what is called a "telepresence." She is cyberized to not only report the news but to almost become the news. All of her is broadcasted; her thoughts, memories, feelings—all of it goes out and is consumed by the audience. Because of this massive sensory output, all telepresence have a screener; post-production happens on the fly as it goes out over the net. Only the memories and thoughts that play well with the story actually ever make it to the audience. The screener, however, consumes all of it.
When Maya's screener falls in love with her after imbibing essentially everything (emotions, both past and present memories, etc.) about her while broadcasting a story to the world, things start to really get interesting.
“You think we have a connection because of all the things you've sucked out of my mind by screening, but that isn't real. Trust comes when you've worked with someone for years; it doesn't speed up just because you can think fast, and it doesn't materialize when you stick a cable in someone's head. What you get from screening me isn't friendship, it's data. We're strangers.”
Through her perspective we learn of the world, we learn she's a criminal and has a suppressor chip in her head that stops her from feeling any strong emotions for other people, and that she's got a criminal record for this. Ostensibly, she doesn't feel the same as everyone else around her but always seems more human (or humanized by the narrative); often reading as very endearing to me because she's got this disconnect with herself and others that are all too relatable in this day and age. Also of note, cognitive dissonance is exceptionally well executed throughout this fiction.
Maya's recounting is largely of her big break, the scoop of a lifetime, the last whale to ever exist, if it's real; and whether it's true or not, because of the nature of how the narrative is structured, makes a compelling read that ends up being largely subjective to the reader.
Dissidents like Maya, as we learn, are literally suppressed with chips and the state is cold, fascist, and mechanical; evocative of late 80's fearfulness of technology but also clearly evocative of Nazi Germany and fascism, in general.
This future has the cyberpunk action you'd expect sure, but the technical aspects are really well done compared to most first wave cyberpunk; Raphael seems to have had a better understanding of technology, took the first wave template, and used it to great effect here. This world is very rich. Personality and technology aside, the plausibility of it is scary because of the bigotry so rampant these days. This nihilistic future the genre often depicts also has, this time, a laser focus. An unabashed, condemnation brought with an intensity and precision I've rarely read. The cultural psyche in which the major population has in their minds regarding their view of individual citizens gender identity and proclivity toward tribalism is still reflective of where we are today.
“The mind has doors...even as the body does. And when you drill new holes, you tap old hungers.”
The prose are beautiful from the very first page to the end of the book. There are multiple themes reminiscent of 1st wave that is done so much better. Technology keeping us further apart yet connecting us, what that would do to our relationships is eerily on point for a book that predates my own ability to get Internet access.
It's a short read, it's compelling and relevant. It's also worth noting this was the first and only debut of the author who refused to be associated with any gender at the time of writing. Part of what makes Maya's story so riveting is, perhaps, this earnest expression of self in the text. There is no clear villain in the story. Maya herself is never untarnished and sometimes exemplifies the biases that a population internalizes, made even more complicated because of by her own omission, she is the one recanting her story, without the benefits of future technology where people may know the truth of things because they would also have the context of her emotions, feeling them as they consumed the story.
“...it changes the central fact of the human condition: that each of us lives behind one set of eyes, and not another; that our own pain is an agony, and another's pain only an abstraction we believe in by an act of faith. It makes impossible all the sins of locality, all the errors that arise from being prisoned in one body and no other--as racism, sexism, classism, and of course and especially nationalism.”
The intersectional characters explore and bring out different aspects of Maya and the technology too, is a vehicle for her exploration, limiting her and governing her. Effecting her years later from its inception. Her own will is literally stifled when she is a camera and therefore the lens from which people perceive the entirety of the story though, so much so that at one point, the audience will not even allow her to blink because they are captivated by what she sees.
“I'd caught what cameras call an updraft: just as the viewers got over the first rush of interest, others smelled the excitement and tuned in. The surprise of the newcomers strengthened the scent, attracting still more people, in a spiral that could make the feedback escalate out of control. Wave upon wave of astonishment crashed through me. I tried to look down, but the curiosity of millions forced my head back up. I stood there staring at the whale like someone forced to look into the sun, unable to turn away, though my mind cringed from the sight and my eyes were burning. It was not just an updraft, but riptide: feedback so strong that it flooded out my own emotions and derailed my thoughts. The audience grew so large and so greedy that it wouldn't even let me blink.”
The actual historical truth and alteration of media coverage and news is on trial via the actual job of being a telepresence and what it entails and is demanded by the population. Hint: it's not to be a well-educated population so that they can make proper decisions voting anymore (nor is it now, any longer). Its fascinating and the relationship to our media is very well articulated in a very nuanced and deft commentary on a lot of broad sociological issues.
This book came across to me as very thoughtful, often insightful; always beautiful, filled with prose. The Summer Prince was a similar read for me, I know I will reread this quite a few times. Check out some of the lifts from the book I took to see if it's your style, for me it was well beyond what I was hoping for.
“Feel no regret for roses, autumn too has its delights...How could she say that? Didn't she see that for us there could never be autumn, that we could never sit, as anyone else could sit, beside the fire all day on Sundays in November; that September's leaves, that fall for man and beast alike, were not our leaves to walk in; that October storms would never find us sharing an umbrella? The love of spring had thrived on wine and candles; now in the August of our lives, we needed newspapers and comfortable chairs. But it was impossible. No autumn--only a cold wind that blew through our summer, freezing the leaves in their places before they could motley and fall.”
What a weird and beautiful book. Literary dystopian post-cyberpunk that reminds me in places of Neil Stephenson (Snowcrash & The Diamond Age), Jeff Noon, and Blade Runner. The protagonist is a female Russian journalist full of aging cyberware -- a "camera" who transmits full-sensory telempathic recordings of the stories she reports. Every camera has a "handler", an editor who filters the camera feed in realtime before it goes to an audience. This is a strangely intimate working relationship, where the editor has access to the camera's most secret thoughts.
I really don't want to say too much about the story because so much of what makes it intriguing is watching the mystery of the world unfold. Some of the story's threads tie into Casablanca (and film noir in general) and Moby Dick, but it's full of weirdly original ideas.
Brutal, spooky, and disarmingly touching, "The Fortunate Fall" was a most pleasant surprise.
I heard a lot about this "forgotten" spec fic classic and was worried that it could never live up to the hype. About 25 pages in, I was convinced it would underwhelm. And then...I suddenly couldn't stop reading it.
This book is a phenomenal achievement of future visioning through literature. Even 20+ years after it was published, it is still prescient, hilarious, and disturbing. I can't stop thinking about it and, more importantly, I don't want to.
A thought-provoking, dense, challenging, heartbreaking novel about the possibility of technology changing human nature, and what it means to love someone, and what feedback between those ideas might produce. It does everything you want top notch science fiction to do, probing the human condition by means of a series of what ifs, rarely comforting you with the answers you want or expect. Honestly, it's a crime that this isn't in print anymore.
This is one of those odd sci fi novels... that at first you're unsure of, but ends up totaly rocking your world. Set in a futuristic world, it is the story of love trying to survive when all of your emotions have been supressed - deprogramed, and you are not the only one inside your head.
A conflicted 3 stars. There was a lot to dislike about this book, perhaps the most frustrating being that many ideas were churned out only part formed and then abandoned as the story progressed. And this didn’t feel deliberate - as in a method to let certain ideas infuse or evolve - it just felt unfocused. Half way through I completely lost interest, however stuck with it. I’m glad I did as the latter part managed to pull it away from the rocks. 2.5 stars.
In "The Fortunate Fall" Raphael Carter attempts to write a science fiction book where you are thrown into the deep end and left to figure out the world without anything being spelled out for you. Authors can use this strategy to fantastic effect, just look at Gene Wolfe's body of work. With Wolfe, though, you always feel like there is more than enough information provided to piece everything together if you think about it seriously enough. Reading Carter it feels more like he has the world in his head but forgets or fails to put it on the page. Instead you get a book that starts out confusing and ends boring, with no memorable moments along the way.
Carter's flaws are numerous: he's terrible at writing characters, with the protagonist being defined only by her job as a futuristic reporter for the first forty pages of the novel. Later, though, an old cyborg revolutionary seems to have a more in-depth understanding of how a news station will respond to a big story than she does, so even the characterization of "reporter" fails to hold. Other characters get equally poor attention- there are only three in the book, and the old revolutionary that Carter paints most vividly is mostly made up of cliches.
Carter is also terrible at building narrative tension. At one point the main character discovers that the old revolutionary has a whale. Then we learn that whales are thought to be extinct and are beloved the world over. Obviously this sequence of events should be reversed, but Carter seems to lack even this basic understanding of drama.
Carter is also lackluster at describing events in such a way as to allow the reader to picture what is going on. At one point the narrator enters grayspace, something akin to Neuromancer's Sprawl but with codes that take the form of animals to eat each other for some reason never satisfactorily explained. In general this segment did not make clear what was going on, why the space was being used, what the stakes of being in this region were (only discussed later) and why anyone should care.
The plot of The Fortunate Fall is also deeply flawed. All of it really rests on the existence of the aforementioned whale, the existence of which is explained away by "a mad scientist wanted one." Not only is the existence of the whale famous enough that the narrator can attract half of the world's population to watch her show, the whale also provides a place where a character could store her brain. Why there? Who knows! The whale is essentially a catch-all narrative device that makes the whole plot seem inorganic. Speaking of inorganic, the entire last quarter of the book is just dialogue, with characters laying out their plans and motivations. The structure of this book is truly awful.
Carter also falls into the common science fiction pitfall of the narrative introducing too many concepts and invented technology without exploring them in any depth. The narrator has nanomachines that need alcohol or else they'll kill her AND people can share each other's senses AND people can upload their consciousness into the net AND programs can brainwash people AND surveillance is universal and homosexuality is illegal AND different pieces of tech can be installed in your head that suppress emotions or enhance abilities AND with technology you can learn things instantly so higher education is arguably obsolete AND people in the high tech bastion of Africa have become almost gods AND learning computer code as your first language allows for rapid societal advancement, etc. Stephenson in Snow Crash spent huge numbers of pages exploring that last idea; Carter mentions it in two paragraphs and moves on.
An example of Carter's writing: "So," she said dismissively, "would a crusty old plaid thermos out of a lunch box." Did he not have an editor? It is hard to believe someone else read this and thought the sentence structure worked.
The text is also full of random pop culture references, because of course the world of two hundred years from now will just love spurting out movie and television references from Carter's era. Naturally they'll all know what a Mousketeer is.
Carter is trying to do something new and interesting in The Fortunate Fall, that's why for now I'm giving it two stars instead of one. I might downgrade it later, though, because of how thoroughly incompetent he is at writing a story. The characterization, plot structure, world building, and writing are all well below average. Do yourself a favor and skip this one.
A reporter in a Russian of the future does more than tell a tale... she sees it, feels it, and the audience is wired into her brain to feel it through her, almost live, ideally with some of the personal or embarrassing bits edited out by a screener. Maya is one such reporter, and she's doing a story about the anniversary of a set of atrocities in a prior war, and working with a new, untested screener. But as she follows the story, she uncovers a lot more than she expected about both the world, and herself.
Wow. This is one of those books I'd only heard of through the occasional, but usually high, recommendation. But it wasn't in print, and I couldn't find a copy in any of the used bookstores I frequent. Eventually, I had to order a copy online from a used bookseller. And I'm glad I did.
The book is about twenty years old now, but it hardly feels dated at all. Sure, some of the tech seems to be based on some older ideas and may not ring completely true to more current readers (and cyberpunk as a genre as a whole may have passed its expiration date according to some), but it's only a small problem... and the many of the ideas and issues it explores are shockingly current.
The universe is full of exciting concepts, and it's set in a world that feels lived in, with history that mattered and affected the world, even though it's all still the future to us. What's more, the book does a really cool twist where a lot of things that seem innocuous at first about the world as it is in the "present" of the book turn out to be a lot more involved and scarier when more is revealed. Similarly with the characters, where you think you've got a handle on them but then gradually come to learn why they are the way they are.
The characters are engaging, even if they occasionally make choices that seem bizarre, but I wanted to follow them all the same, even through scenes where not much was actually happening, where they just seemed to be chasing a story.
Towards the ending, the book does lose me a little... I still enjoyed it (given an definition of "enjoyed" that includes suffering emotional gut punches at certain developments), but it became too much revelation and the author made a few literary allusions, some of which admittedly went over my head. And the ending itself involves certain characters making decisions where, well, I can totally understand the emotion behind them, the actual one makes no sense to me... that may well be part of the point, but still, it hampered my enjoyment slightly.
Even so, I'd rank this as a high four stars... if the ending worked for me a little better, I could guess it might well have been five.
This is Raphael Carter's first and only novel, which is a huge shame. They seem to have disappeared from the SF scene, but after reading this, I hope they're still out there and may one day make a return, I think they'd fit in well with some of my favorites of today. Also a huge shame is how this book seems to be one of those ones that made a small splash but then disappeared. It really should be remembered.
The Fortunate Fall is a weird book, but it's wonderfully weird. Carter manages to create a cyberpunk dystopian setting that doesn't overshadow the intense psychological drama that drives the novel towards its devastating conclusion. Even though Maya has a skull full of sockets and chips, she is intensely, almost unbearably, relatable.
From the very first chapter, I was swept up in the torrent of Carter's prose. She immerses the reader into this world in medias res and never really pauses for breath. The only section with pacing issues is in the last third, where a verbose, philosophical/political treatise gets a bit tiring. Otherwise, Carter keeps things compact and tense. In fact, the logistics of the world, and how it came to exist, are not fully explained. We get snippets of backstory, but since Maya's own past is mysteriously barricaded by her suppressor chip, her perspective doesn't gravitate towards historicity.
My favorite aspect of The Fortunate Fall is the inter-relationship between telepresence (multi-sensory voyeurism enabled by living cameras like Maya) and literature itself. Carter doesn't get didactic, but there's a compelling meta discourse embedded in the parallel between the reader's absorption of Maya's narrative and the mass consumption of that perspective that occurs through telepresence. The Fortunate Fall is not a happy, comforting book, but it is rich, multifaceted, and fantastically troubling.
If I'd written this review in 1996, I probably would've given it five stars. But cyberpunk, of all genres--as much as I have always loved it and always will--ages poorly. Everything about this book is beautiful and wonderful except for the bits where it gets bound too deeply in proving cyberpunk chops, which it thankfully only does a couple of times.
It is, at its heart, a queer love story and a story of rebellion against oppressive forces. And it does that with power and grace. In fact, the other dated--but still excellent--part of this book is a peek at just how oppressively blocked lesbian love was even as late as the mid-90s. Sure, it's coated in speculative fiction set deep in the future, but the very concerns, the dodges, the ways of hiding the relationship--never grocery shopping together, for fear someone might see and put the relationship together--come right out of that past era that we so quickly forget.
Excellent and powerful. I wish there were more stories like this.
Pretty much what I wanted Neuromancer to be. The first book I've read in one sitting for a long time. Complex enough that I'm going to have to come back and reread it at some point, but bleak enough that it won't be for a while.
It was Ok. I mean, it's a sci-fi novel with queer content and fighting of a dystopian regime by the underdogs AND Russia, so that's all to the good, but it didn't really do it for me. There were too many times that I wasn't sure what the author was trying to show me, and while I wasn't bored, it was fairly gripping, still I wasn't terribly engaged either. I put it down like 3 pages from the end for a half a day which says something about my level of investment in finding out what was going to happen. I did like the ending though. And all the pull quotes on the copy I got out of the library were SO GLOWING- so who knows. Maybe it was just me.