Nov 29, 2007

The Running Man by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)

The Running Man

Ol' Stevie ain't subtle. The points aren't left up to you to figure out, they're all but written in neon: the mass of people will accept anything as long as they are entertained and comfortable, and the most one man can hope to accomplish is near-meaningless gestures at the expense of everything he holds dear.

But, again, I don't read King for the message, I read him for the stories. This is a fun one, too, if your idea of fun is a possible future of deadly tv shows, rising crime, miserable poverty, souring pollution, and fascist governments. Which, yeah, I enjoy all those things as long as they stay on the page.

And yes, our pop culture is getting sicker and bloodier. And yes, our freedoms are being stripped away. And yes, we're getting poorer by the day. And yes, health problems get worse all the time due to our ongoing efforts to pollute the galaxy. And yes, corporations do seem to be pretty much in power. And so yes, sometimes it does feel like all I want to do is raise a middle finger to the whole damn mess and give it a hearty FUCK YOU.

final thought: I want to hear a punk concept album built around this book.

The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick

The Penultimate Truth

Here we've got an exaggerated version of "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer." Except it's "the powerful get more powerful and everyone else gets seriously fucked." One of my biggest fears is being trapped underground, so the "ant tanks" seriously squicked me out. But as a guy with an abiding interest in the use of propaganda, of course the idea of feeding the people a completely fictitious reality in order to maintain authority is one I'm always interested in.

final thought: I'm not the biggest PKD fan, and this ain't the best PKD book.

Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

Perdido Street Station

First of all, the wiki entry for PSS is particularly bad. But then, by the nature of wiki, that may not be true by the time you see it. Who can say?

Second, I think about this book daily. Maybe hourly. The beauty of the writing is only matched by the cruelty of the story. This wasn't a lecture, this isn't Ayn Rand or even South Park preaching at me. There are lessons about the dangers of a fascist government, of exploration without prudence, of what desire can do to individuals or whole worlds. But those morals are embedded in the story as cleanly as the ones you come across in your own life (thank all that's holy that this book is not my life).

I've been reading since I was three. I have run across books that were difficult to follow because the vocabulary employed was almost over my head, but usually those writers are covering up for a lack of writing ability. This is one of the very, very few novels I've ever come across where reading one passage several times just to make sure I have the sense of it was purely a pleasure.

I don't even know if this is science fiction that feels like fantasy or fantasy that employs science fiction or both or reality somewhere else. It's a feast. It's so casually nasty that I can't believe I love it so much.

final thought: Just read the fucking thing.

Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

Parable of the Talents

God damn, this book starts harsh and just keeps going. Butler takes our image of Olamina, the leader and main "good guy" from PotS, and twists it to show the darkness and megalomania. Anyone who tells you women can't write good speculative fiction or that books about mothers and daughters are chick lit needs to read this series (or maybe get beat, but that's a different story).

There's so much brutality and so little triumph in this book that I had to take it in little chunks, instead of just ripping through it the way I do with most novels. Plus, I had to keep looking behind me to make sure that the Christian fundamentalists weren't sneaking up on me.

final thought: Not as strong a novel as PotS, but put them together and you've got a true classic. I wish she'd written the third she planned.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Parable of the Sower

This is one of those books I suggest to everyone, constantly. Butler was one of the greatest sf/speculative fiction writers of our time, and her death left us all bereft.

I first read PotS right after Katrina hit, and that gave the story a little added truth. When she talks about much of the south being devastated by hurricanes and floods, it's hard not to think of all the people crammed into arenas and camping on overpasses to try and escape the rising death.

Butler really pulls out all the dystopian demons. Gangs, drugs, kidnapping, rape, lack of water, lack of food, environmental damage, threat of fundamentalist dictatorship, refugees, race and class violence, war, lack of education, lack of medical care, lack of hope. And in times like that, what is the biggest horror? To be able to feel the pain of others as your own - double torture, two for the price of one.

The only chance we're offered for any sort of happy ending rests in bonds between individuals leading to communities willing to stand together, in kindness but also in strength, against the chaos, looking to the skies. And even that's not given much of a chance.

final thouht: Butler wrote this book in 1993. 15 years later, it rings more and more true. That's probably why I love it so much. I think it'd be mighty easy to make that slide into darkness. I think we're on the slope now, and I think it'll get worse before it gets better.

The Long Walk by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)

The Long Walk

Let me state for the record that I'm a King fan. The man can tell a story. Now, his more recent stuff sometimes blows hard and he can't often actually finish the story, but hey - the journey is usually worth it. And I think the Bachman books are some of his very best.

I like to walk. I walk a lot. It's my main form of exercise. For a fat guy, I can walk a good ways without getting winded. I think the idea of these kids signing up for the long walk - not forced into it, not even trying to save their families from ruin or anything, simply for a giant prize - is the telling point. In this world, unlike many (most?) dystopias, it's the greed or competitiveness (and the general sense of immortality that all teens have) of the individuals themselves that lead them to this worthless end. It's not economic ruin, fear of governmental punishment, or protection of the family that puts them on the road and under control of the Major. There's no need for the state to play the bully - their work is done for them by the victims themselves.

final thought: The biggest fear I took from this book wasn't that I would wind up on the walk, but that I would cheer the walkers on.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale

I honestly have little to say about this one. The Christian dystopias always get to me. I think I find them a little more likely than the hive-mind ones in my lifetime. Or maybe growing up in the bible belt just makes me more cautious of those who would encode biblical morals into law.

Margaret Atwood writes better speculative fiction centered around the subjugation of women than, for example, Sheri S. Tepper. Mostly, I think, because she's also skillful at telling a story while she gets her point across.

Once again, though, all of civilization comes down to reproduction. And I feel like that's pretty much true - when only a few can have children, the powers-that-be will seek to control them.

final thoughts: And yet Canada's still safe space?

Nov 28, 2007

"Floating Utopias"

China Mieville, author of some of the most beautifully written, cruelest speculative fiction ever in print, wrote a piece back in September about ships as cities/nations. It's both a discussion of the nature of utopias and an interesting anti-libertarianist statement.

Floating cities are dreamed of because how cool is that?—an entirely legitimate, admirable reason. The archives of seasteading are irresistible reading, the best of the utopias are awesome, and floating-city imaginings are in themselves a delightful mental game. The problem is the crippling of this tradition by free-market vulgarians.

In these times, utopian imagination for its own sake has a bad rap, so some unconvincing instrumental rationale must be tacked on—yeah, save the planet, whatever. Among the rather cautious purposes architect Eugene Tsui lists for his proposed floating city of Nexus are the development of mariculture, clean energy and “experimental education programs”: Reading these bullet points, one might almost forget that Nexus is a five-mile-long, self-propelling mountainous island shaped like a horseshoe crab. Its sheer beautiful preposterousness shouldn’t be an embarrassment: It is the point of the dream, whatever the design specs say.

Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut

Harrison Bergeron

This story FUCKED ME UP as a kid. I don't remember what grade I was in, but they had us "gifted kids" read and discuss it some time around 8th or 9th grade. My introduction to Vonnegut, and I couldn't ask for a better one. That's when I really started thinking about the difference between equality of opportunity and forced equality of experience.

I think about the different methods used to handicap people all the time. The loud noises played in your ear to keep you from concentrating - is a glass being smashed by a ball peen hammer really all that different from keeping your phone attached to your head the whole time you're awake? (Also, note: you people with those ear piece things look like dork-ass cyborgs.)

And in the end, of course, the state wins. Beauty and grace and intelligence are literally shot down, because they do not support the system in power. That was a warning I took to heart. Not that you must hide your light, never stick out, never rise above - but watch your damn ass, and don't go dancing with pretty women while they're still out to get you!

final thought: It was then that Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury's said 451 isn't about censorship, but about how television and similar entertainment leads to loss of interest in reading and finally in facts themselves. That the people removed books from their lives themselves as being too much to think about, preferring mindless, piped-in pablum, and that the totalitarian government arose from or simply took advantage of that strain of thought.

Frankly, the first time I read 451 it scared the living bejesus out of me. It still does. Do thoughtful bloggers and online news and discussion balance out infotainment tv and celebrity scandals? As independent bookstores go out of business and libraries become more about computer access and dvd rentals, does the written word still matter?

Ignoring the larger themes of truth and collected knowledge, the act of destroying a book hurts me on a gut level. It's no wonder to me that book burning is such a powerful and horrible symbolic move against free exchange of ideas. When Montag brings out the hidden book to show other folks, trying to force them to think about anything except their tvs and radios, it reminds me of dreams I have where I go to punch someone and it's like moving through water - no matter how hard I swing, there's no real impact.

final thought: You'll take my books when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers.

Doc and Fluff by Patrick Califia

Wiki doesn't even have a page on this one, but you could probably find a plot description out there somewhere if you feel the need.

This has got to be the only scifi, dystopian stroke book I've ever read. Queer bikers! Pulp novel dialogue! Lots of fisting! Pimps and hos! Separatist feminism! Some sort of vaguely religious Goddessy retribution! Seriously, I love this shit. Honestly, though, there could have been more sex, don't you think?

final thoughts: Jennifer Tilly, circa 1990, would have been perfect to play Fluff in the film version. Except I'm pretty sure the book didn't come out until '96. update: I've just been informed that the book was first published in '90. So there you go.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange

The first time I read ACO, back in high school, I struggled for the first third (just about wore myself out flipping back and forth between the text and glossery), but the it clicked and I just sank into the language. That's still the main pleasure here - I mean, the story is well worth it, but Alex's rolling nadsat places a layer of beauty over the rape and ultraviolence. Without that, Burgess would have had a hell of a time getting any sympathy for his hooligans.

I could sit and discuss ACO for hours, but I also feel like pretty much everything's been said. Which is more desirable - the evil of the individual or the control of the state? I imagine your opinion depends on whether you're putting in the boot or catching it in the yarbles.

As a side note, some of the my favorite oi songs reference ACO, but I suspect that lingering association has more to do with the Kubrick vision than simply the novel. The book (1962) predates the rise of the skins and punks by a good 5 or 7 years, but the movie (1971) was made right when gangs of skinhead yobs stomped around much of urban England. Their image and nonpolitical violence drips from every frame.

final thought: You don't have to love it, but it probably ought to read it.

Anthem, by Ayn Rand


There's a reason I didn't read this one before now - it's a yawn. Blah blah blah, the individual above all, blah blah blah. In another time (either in my life, as in middle school, or in the world, as in when it came out) Anthem might have made a bigger impact on me. As it is, I'm old enough to be fairly sure that there's a world of ground to cover between nazi/commie state-owned marching in lockstep pure collectivism and I-as-God navel gazing ego worship.

I couldn't help but note that, in nearly the same thought, the main character goes from basically "I am alone myself, I will not be ruled, no one shall make laws for me" to "your name is Gaea, my beautiful woman, and you will bear my sons." Again, product of its times, but jarring as hell today.

final thought: Meh.


What I've already read from the list, recently enough that I still remember all the details pretty well:

- Anthem by Ayn Rand (read it last night)
- A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
- Doc and Fluff by Patrick Califia
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut
- The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
- The Long Walk by Stephen King
- Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
- The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick
- Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
- The Running Man by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)
- The Stand by Stephen King

Apparently, I've read way too much King.

Nov 27, 2007

the big list

These are the books and stories I'm reading. A few are apocalyptic tales, but for the most part they are dystopian. I'm crossing them out as I finish them and post a review. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

The Absent City (La Ciudad Ausente) by Ricardo Piglia
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Acidity by Nadeem F. Paracha
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
All Tomorrow's Parties by William Gibson
Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman
Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
Ambient by Jack Womack
America 2014 by Dawn Blair
Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Anthem by Ayn Rand
Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley
Ashes, Ashes (Ravage) by René Barjavel
A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder by James De Mille
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Bar Code Rebellion by Suzanne Weyn
The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Bear v. Shark by Chris Bachelder
Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov
Beyond Thirty by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Book of Dave by Will Self
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley
Brave New Worlds collected by John Joseph Adams
The Broken Wheel by David Wingrove
Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson
Burn Down the Sky by James Jaros
Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch
The Children of Men by P.D. James
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Commitment Hour by James Alan Gardner
The Conqueror's Child by Suzy Charnas
Count Zero by William Gibson
Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
Dark River by John Twelve Hawks
Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
Dayworld by Philip José Farmer
Dayworld Rebel by Philip José Farmer
Devil on my Back by Monica Hughes
The Diamond Age, or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson
Die Andere Seite by Alfred Kubin
Dinner at Deviant's Palace by Tim Powers
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
Divided Kingdom by Rupert Thomson
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Doc and Fluff by Patrick Califia
Dr. Identity by D. Harlan Wilson
Drowning Towers by George Turner
The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov
Elvissey by Jack Womack
Facial Justice by L.P. Hartley
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Fatherland by Robert Harris
Feed by M. T. Anderson
The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk
The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells
Flow my tears, The Policeman Said, by Philip K. Dick
The Furies by Suzy Charnas
Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
The Genocides by Thomas M. Disch
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Glass Bees by Ernst Junger
Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem
Halting State, Charles Stross
Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
Heathern by Jack Womack
The Hex series by Rhiannon Lassiter
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Idoru by William Gibson
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison
"If This Goes On — " by Robert A. Heinlein
In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster
Incal (and spinoffs) by Alejandro Jodorowsky
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Invitation to the Game by Monica Hughes
The Iron Heel by Jack London
Iron Council by China Miéville
It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
The Jagged Orbit by John Brunner
Jennifer Government by Max Barry
Just Like Beauty by Lisa Lerner
Kallocain by Karin Boye
Kazohinia by Sándor Szathmári
The Last Election by Pete Davies
The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Level 7 by Mordecai Roshwald
Limbo, (vt. Limbo 90) by Bernard Wolfe
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Logan's Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Long Walk by Stephen King
The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
Love in the Time of the Apocalypse by Gregory Blecha
The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster
Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Marching Through Georgia by S.M. Stirling
Market Forces by Richard Morgan
Memoirs of a Survivor by Doris Lessing
Memoirs Found in a Bathtub by Stanislaw Lem
Messenger by Lois Lowry
The Middle Kingdom: Chung Kuo 1 by David Wingrove
Mockingbird by Walter Tevis
Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
Moscow 2042 by Vladimir Voinovich
Motherlines by Suzy Charnas
My Melancholy Face by Heinrich Böll
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
1985 by Anthony Burgess
1984 by George Orwell
Noughts & Crosses series by Malorie Blackman
Nova Express by William S. Burroughs
Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody
On the Beach by Nevil Shute
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Out of the Silent Planet by CS Lewis
Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Paris in the 20th Century by Jules Verne
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau
The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick
Perelandra by CS Lewis
Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
The Pesthouse by Jim Crace
Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle
Player Piano (also known as Utopia 14) by Kurt Vonnegut
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
Prayers for the Assassin by Robert Ferrigno
Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
Prison Planet by Chris Whatley
Rammer by Larry Niven
Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack
Rant by Chuck Palahniuk
"Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman by Harlan Ellison
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Running Man by Stephen King
Running Out of Time by Margaret Haddix
R.U.R. by Karel Čapek
Sea of Glass by Barry B. Longyear
Shade's Children by Garth Nix
The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner
The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner
The Shore of Women by Pamela Sargent
Sleepwalking by Nicola Morgan
The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya
Small-Minded Giants by Oísin McGann
Smith's Dream by C. K. Stead
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth
Specials by Scott Westerfeld
The Stand by Stephen King
Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
Starfish by Peter Watts
The Stone Dogs by S.M. Stirling
The Stone Within: Chung Kuo 4 by David Wingrove
The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer
Swastika Night by Katharine Burdekin
Sweeney's Island (also known as Cloud On Silver) by John Christopher
Terraplane by Jack Womack
That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
This Perfect Day by Ira Levin
Time Out of Joint by Philip K. Dick
The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick
The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks
The Trial by Franz Kafka
The Memoirs Of A Survivor by Doris Lessing
twentytwelve by Andrew Keogh
2666 by Roberto Bolaño
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Under the Yoke by S.M. Stirling
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Utopia X by Scott Wilson
Veracity by Mark Lavorato
Vermilion Sands by JG Ballard
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore
Virtual Light by William Gibson
Walk to the End of the World by Suzy Charnas
The Wanting Seed by Anthony Burgess
War with the Newts by Karel Čapek
The White Mountain: Chung Kuo 3 by David Wingrove
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Welcome to the Monkey House (short story) by Kurt Vonnegut
When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger
When The Sleeper Wakes by H. G. Wells
Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? by Andrei Amalrik
Winterlong by Elizabeth Hand
The World Inside by Robert Silverberg
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
The Yawning Heights, a novel about Ibansk by Aleksandr Zinoviev
Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien

wimper or bang?

Basically, I was looking through the wiki list of dystopian lit and thought, "I wonder what it would do to me if I just read all these books." So, why not? Seems like a good way to spend a year.

I have to note from the beginning: I'm not doing it alphabetically (I'm not that much of a masochist), and I'm leaving the Left Behind series for last, as is fitting, and I may not even bother with it.

- Hank