If you're into Vance's style of SF, and particularly if you enjoy the sort of hard-bitten protagonists of The Demon Princes or Cugel's Saga, and donIf you're into Vance's style of SF, and particularly if you enjoy the sort of hard-bitten protagonists of The Demon Princes or Cugel's Saga, and don't mind the slightly dated feel of the "future" as envisioned from the 1950s, then this will be right up your alley. And if, like me, you enjoy a bit of literary criticism, then the introduction by Steven Godersky will provide some useful analysis of the evolution of Vance's heroic tropes in context.
I must, however, drop one star for "Crusade to Maxus." I have no real qualm in the present era of increasing authoritarianism with illustrative stories set in fascistic slave states; the quantity of Solzhenitsyn, Arendt, Reich and Fromm on my shelves should be evidence enough of that. Nevertheless, while it may have seemed suitably transgressive or predictive at the time of writing, the (view spoiler)[depiction of the "overmen" seems a bit too filled with obvious Jewish dog-whistles, and thus (hide spoiler)] lands as at least insensitive, if not outright antisemitic, to my more modern, perhaps too-sensitively tuned ears.
On the other hand, "Three-Legged Joe" was a perfectly timed, dryly comedic delight. I still recommend the whole package to those who fit the aforementioned criteria....more
I picked this up because it was handy in the library, and because it is often considered to be a thematic sequel of sorts to Lord of Light, which I raI picked this up because it was handy in the library, and because it is often considered to be a thematic sequel of sorts to Lord of Light, which I rather enjoyed, only with an Egyptian rather than subcontinental-Indian mythological conceit.
In the course of reading it, I learned from Wikipedia (no longer linkable from reviews, because spammers) that the whole thing started out as a writing exercise, unintended for publication, until Samuel R. Delany caught wind of it and insisted that Doubleday pick it up. This is IMO useful to know, because it certainly reads as such: it strikes me as considerably less polished than other works of Zelazny that I enjoyed more. It definitely lacks most of the philosophical depth underlying its predecessor, and to some extent reads almost like some protégé of Jack Vance who has been rummaging too long in Joseph Campbell or Wallis Budge, though it also lacks the clear sense of a protagonist typically relied upon by Vance and clearly key to the "Hero's Journey."
I'd still say that, if you enjoyed LoL, there's a fair chance you would enjoy this too, if perhaps somewhat less....more
This is exactly what I like in soft sci-fi: a novel situation, analogous to mundane moral quandaries, set in a bizarre yet entertainingly presented neThis is exactly what I like in soft sci-fi: a novel situation, analogous to mundane moral quandaries, set in a bizarre yet entertainingly presented new world yet seen through eyes to which I can relate. This could easily have felt dated, but is related in such a way that instead it simply feels set in a bygone era of rotary telephones, beat cops, and clunky technology....more
It is perhaps fairest and necessary to note that I read this without having seen any of the Amazon series, and while deeply under the influence of AreIt is perhaps fairest and necessary to note that I read this without having seen any of the Amazon series, and while deeply under the influence of Arendt, Reich, Solzhenitsyn's Gulag and The First Circle, and life in contemporary Trumpistan. This certainly colored my view.
For all that, I rather enjoyed it. Taking into account the age of this book, the complexity and depth of alternative history within alternative history is rather remarkable, and being a denizen of the Bay Area now myself it's fun to read about settings I sort of almost know but not quite. The ending, as is so often the case for me, seemed excessively anticlimactic, though this appears perhaps a deliberate attempt to leave room for a sequel that never quite happened: PKD noted in a 1976 interview, "And so there's no real ending on it. I like to regard it as an open ending. It will segue into a sequel sometime."
A friend and fellow GR reviewer was unable to finish it due to distaste for the (racist?) patois of the Japanese of the P.S.A. and warned me of that, so this perhaps stood out to me more than it might have otherwise. While such use of dialect is often problematic in literature—especially the pulp fiction of white male nerds and crazies—I think I see what PKD was trying to do here, and it may not be quite so racist as it might seem on first blush to the more "woke" eyes of the 21st-century liberal. It appears to me that this serves as a device for indicating how enmeshed with the occupying Japanese administration a given character is. Given how language drifts in natural circumstances (for example, the vowel shifting of the midwestern states today, or the deliberate divergence of American English from the King's English in the colonial/revolutionary era), this strikes me as plausible in general, if not in precisely the caricaturing fashion portrayed here. I note particularly that Childan, whose livelihood depends on catering to the Japanese, always uses this broken English, while the working-class Frink barely seems to use it at all and only out loud, and Juliana never, except perhaps when directly engaged with the I Ching which is itself elliptical on occasion. I myself have an unfortunate tendency to lapse into half-assed iambs if I spend too much time buried in Shakespeare, so I would imagine it fairly natural that (a) the Japanese occupiers wouldn't be overly interested in learning any more English than is necessary to effectively rule the English-speaking Pacific, and (b) the influence of their use of the language as a "high-place" ruling class combined with (c) the obsessive use of the poetic oracle would have a progressive impact on spoken language in proportion to the depth of immersion. So, while the trope remains awkward (though no more so than Nadsat, which is considerably more difficult to follow), it is not unreasonable, and is almost certainly used to make an expository point about the milieu and the characters while providing a means of disambiguating them.
And it totally sounds racist, so one star off anyway....more
How Joon-ho Bong got his film out of this book I'll never know. If you loved the movie and wanted to check out the inspiration behind it, like I did,How Joon-ho Bong got his film out of this book I'll never know. If you loved the movie and wanted to check out the inspiration behind it, like I did, forget it: there is only the thinnest relationship between the two, and all the best bits of the film came from the mind(s) of the director and screenwriter(s), and perhaps production design. There are but a scant few screen moments loosely drawn from this book, so that leaves only the trope of the train itself, and the caste system that populates it, as the "source"—and except as a metaphor for motion, choice, and inexorability, the train is the dumbest part of the movie.
Do yourself a favor and forget that the movie has a book. I know this violates the rule that the book is always better than the movie, but it's the exceptions that prove the rules, no? ...more
This seems like something of a step backward from literature to pulp coming in the wake of Zanzibar and Sheep, though he makes up for the arguable misThis seems like something of a step backward from literature to pulp coming in the wake of Zanzibar and Sheep, though he makes up for the arguable misstep with Shockwave a couple years later. Still, it's amusing enough, with a bit of mystery at play, and even some police procedural elements, with a dash of international intrigue, and hits again on some of his then-current themes, including the perennial nuclear threat. Not formula by any stretch, but not brilliant either....more
Well, the end of the series was a definite improvement over the previous volume. Where the plot seemed to me to be falling apart, most of the threadsWell, the end of the series was a definite improvement over the previous volume. Where the plot seemed to me to be falling apart, most of the threads were finally pulled back in and woven together, though I still found it a bit excessively disjointed—though perhaps that is a deliberate tactic for keeping the reader off balance, like many of the choices Fellini made for his Satyricon. I'm glad I pushed through, and at the same time I don't think I'll be recommending it frequently; not to say it was bad, just that, even though it uses many elements I like, it's not my thing. I don't like ketchup on hot dogs either....more