Dec 26, 2007

Holiday Slump

Well, the usual crazy Christmas rush time slowed down my reading a little, so I'm still enjoying The First Men in the Moon. You know, I am honestly really growing in my appreciation for HG Wells. I've always known he was one of the originals, but his storytelling really does stand the test of time for me.

But now I have two more books crowding behind me and a nice, big gift certificate to the Paperback Rack (local used book store), and I'm ready to dive deep.

I hope everybody's having a good holiday, free of secret police, thought-controlling waves, or forced hive life.

Dec 18, 2007

The Shore of Women by Pamela Sargent

The Shore of Women

Oh, good holy god, that was terrible. All the reviews I can find online gush about the thought provoking ideas and ground breaking concepts, but they must have been reading a different book. Here, I sum up for you:
1. Given half a chance, men will enslave and rape women.
2. The only way for women to be safe, therefore, is to enslave and rape men, using their offspring as another way to bind them.
3. Happiness is found either in ignorance or love-against-the-odds.

It's sort of neither a defense or criticism of separatism. It's just a bland romance dressed up as a sf novel. Characters introduced at the beginning don't reappear until just in time to wrap everything up nicely at the end. Characters in the middle only exist to pound home the political points. Twice, Sargent has to go for the ol' deux e machina to keep her hero and heroine moving along, and that's just flat lazy.

SOW just failed for me on every count. It's not good science fiction. It's not good feminist theory. The dystopian elements get buried under the adventures, and the adventures are boring. It came out in '86, but it read like the mid 70s.

final thoughts: It wasn't quite as bad as Anthem, but at least Anthem was short as hell.

Dec 17, 2007

a golden age of dystopia

Literary apocalypse now, and then

"I think that we might be living in interesting times. I know that writers with pretensions to be cultural commentators have said the same thing about the circumstances of their generation from the cold war right back until Cicero first cried out "O tempores. O mores", but this time I really do reckon I'm right.

"Of course, that I find our own times so troublesome and unique could just be the natural result of living through them. All the same, we do face some pretty bracing circumstances. There's the threat of imminent environmental catastrophe for a start. There's the ongoing "war" against an invisible and almost mythical terrorist enemy and new security regulations that make us all suspects. Plus, who wouldn't feel discomfited by the speed of technological advance in our society? I can't even begin to understand the inner workings of the computer that I use for work every single day... And the model I'm using is already obsolete.

"In short, I increasingly feel like I could be living in a dystopian novel..."

(Sam Jordison, for the Guardian)

as bad as it sounds

It makes sense that the worst books take the longest to suffer through, but it's still a pain in the ass.

Dec 12, 2007

aw, fuck

Terry Pratchett's got a very rare form of early onset Alzheimer's.

Dec 10, 2007

compare, contrast

So far, I have to say that The Shore of Women is almost exactly the same story as The Gate to Women's Country by Sherri S. Tepper. I mean, the men have camps in one and roam the wilderness freely in the other, but still - 6 of one, half dozen of the other. I really should look more deeply into what was going on with feminist theory in the mid 80s, because I'm sure that explains the similarities.

a good excuse to call in

Most mornings, I manage to catch at least 10 or 15 minutes spare time after getting dressed, before I have to come into the office. I usually spend it napping in my big chair in front of the weather channel, with my cell phone alarm set to keep me from dozing off completely. Being so close to the surface means that I often dream that I'm trying to make it to work but something keeps getting in my way - can't find my pants, can't find my shoes, my car is flooded, people in my house keep asking me for things and so on.

This morning, on the other hand, I dreamed I was standing in my doorway watching massive tanks roll down Monroe Street. When I heard bombs start dropping, I locked myself in, grabbed my cell phone, and starting trying to find my work number or my mom's number (I never remember stuff like that in dreamworld).

So, are the dystopias starting to affect my sleeping mind? Or just the evening news?

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

The Time Machine

I'd read this one many years ago, but it's short and easy to page through, so I gave it another turn. I'm glad I did. I remembered most of the main plot points - the Morlocks, the Eloi, their relationship, the machine itself - but not most of the language or Wells' final image of the dying Earth.

What I, as a modern reader, find missing from TTM is space travel. The whole theory on why the Eloi and Morlocks have become what they are is that man tamed the Earth, and then lack of challenge led to devolution. Not surprising, given that manned hot air balloons were pretty much the flight of the day. A more recent novel would have to work around the idea that man could turn to the stars for adventure and meaning when he's made the Earth into a garden.

final thought: Let's see. The science is still vague enough to be reasonable, in its way. The Morlocks are still creepy fuckers, the Eloi still pitiful, and the end of the world is still a depressingly bleak vision. I'm glad I reread it.

Dec 6, 2007

the reality of the situation

In an island prison camp for 6 years, detained without trial or voice, not knowing either the specific charges against you or what evidence your captors might say they have, while rich men in the Land of the Free publicly debate whether you even have the right to claim your innocence.

"Some people view Guantanamo as a symbol of American aggression. I view it as a symbol of American resolve. So long as it remains a vital tool to keep America safe, I will fight to keep Guantanamo Bay open."
- Mitt Romney

Sometimes, folks, you just can't make this shit up.

Dec 5, 2007

Elvissey by Jack Womack


Any time you set a book in the possible future, you have to deal with how you feel language would change between now and then, based on the way everything's turned. A bad writer will come up with unreadable dialogue that bogs down the plot and adds nothing to our understanding of the culture. Womack, on the other hand, twists English just enough. His people speak an English that makes perfect sense in their corporate-ruled experience, an almost lyrical cousin of newspeak in ways.

You know, a future as a survivor of the planet after war or disease, as long as the world's isn't poisoned, is one I can see as hopeful and worth living. But a future as just another cog, as a commodity used up and tossed out by big business, just sounds like Hell. Corporations do not care about you. In fact, that's the whole point - build up enough layers of management and red tape, and no one person has to take the blame for the death and misery they (we) collectively cause.

As to the Elvis-as-Messiah trope, stranger things have happened.

final thought: This won't be the last Womack novel I read.

Dec 3, 2007

not on the list

This is just a reminder to myself to hunt down:
- “A Bowl of Biskies Makes a Growing Boy” by Raymond F. Jones. (Printed in The Other Side of Tomorrow: Original Science Fiction Stories About Young People in the Future,Random House, 1973)

Jack Womack

I'm reading Elvissy right now, the first thing I've picked up by Jack Womack. Technically, there are a couple of books set in the same placetime as this one, which came before it, but I don't feel like I'm missing any background or explanation that's really necessary. (They're usually referred to as the Dryco series, from what I can tell.) Womack describes these books as "today's world tomorrow, a little more intense and a whole lot worse".

Womack dwells more on economics and corporate power as a dystopian force than the blunt war or disease I've been getting a bellyful of. So far, it's an interesting twist on the Elvis-as-Messiah theme that several writers have been fooling around with. He's playing with language in a way similar to the "doublespeak" of 1984, and he manages to use that as an asset to the flow of the story - the twisted phrases don't slow me down.

Anyway, I'm enjoying it - I'll keep an eye out for his others, even the ones not on the list.