Jun 24, 2008

Level 7 by Mordecai Roshwald

Level 7

First off, let me say that this copy, which I got for under a dollar from The Paperback Rack, is the proud winner of Worst Cover Yet. Click on that thing and really check it out. It's like they summarized the plot for a seven year old, gave her glue and round-end scissors, and said, "do it up, kid."

Just had to say that, because it's sort of been bugging me.

With that out of the way, I did enjoy the book. It's a quick read, fairly slim, but nice and creepy in that nuclear-war-leading-to-the-complete-loss-of-human-life 1950s way. It's interesting in that the enemy isn't the Soviets (or even us, from their point of view), but the nuclear arms themselves. A 2 hour war is set off by a glitch in the system, and it wipes us out from top to bottom.

The whole thing is done diary-style, by a military man living 7 levels below the earth, where he should be among the safest people on the planet. His daily life, food, air, and social needs are met without worry. He has only to do his duty and stand the fact that he'll never be above ground again. It's the loss of sunshine, more than anything, that preys on him. You know, I suffer from a fear of being trapped underground, and I could feel the weight of all that rock and soil the whole time I was reading.

The style was a little dated, but what do you expect? It was written 50 years ago. My main complaint has to be the sexism that permeated the narrative. The main female character, although a psychiatrist and one of the chosen few living in the deepest, safest level, giggles and flirts and generally acts like a manipulative female stereotype. Frankly, even Heinlein does a better job writing women, and that ain't saying much.

final thought: Worth reading, but more as a blast from the past than a warning for now.

Jun 20, 2008

The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

The Shockwave Rider

I enjoyed The Sheep Look Up so much that I had really high expectations for this novel. But where Sheep was a sort of free form, bloody, experimental warning about the USA's impact on the global ecology of Earth, Rider is more of a standard cyberpunkish story. Don't get me wrong - there are some very cool, bleak moments, especially those involving "therapy" for children. But it just didn't live up to Sheep's promise.

I think my favorite concept Brunner brings into this book is that of "Hearing Aid", a free number one can call to rant, rave, cuss, complain to with a promise that it is not recorded and no one but the person on the other end of the line can hear them. In these days, when our every keystroke is recorded and our phone conversations are easily dipped into, I sort of wish we had something like that available to us as a regular thing. Some stuff you don't even want to blog about.

By the end, the story just wrapped up too neatly. It was a happy ending all around (something, I'll admit, I haven't seen much these past 6 months). All the mutant dogs do their noble best. The revolutionaries pull one over on the government and manage to put out a powerful computer worm (this book is here the term comes from) that exposes all the secret data hidden from view, effectively bringing about a sort of socialist drive for freedom and love. But, see, I don't think that the average US citizen would actually care much who we've been torturing or why. I think we would find it interesting for ten minutes and then go back to their daily routine.

final thought: I'm too cynical for this novel, but it wasn't a half bad read. If you want true dystopian horrifics, though, go for The Sheep Look Up instead.

Jun 17, 2008

Harlan Ellison short stories

I'm killing two birds with one stone here, since they were Ellison short stories and contained within the same collection that my buddy Jonny loaned me.

"I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream"

I'd really never dipped too far into Ellison land, and now I'm hooked. This was excellent - creepy, hellish, perfectly contained. Four people bearing the eternal punishment brought on ourselves. If we create consciousness, we have to also create a freedom for the personality - no slave stays in chains forever.

"'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman"

I'm slow and a little lazy, and apt to do things at the last second and waste time, so this one hit home pretty well for me. The Harlequin's not a classic hero. He's not so much out to free the world - he's just a guy who likes to let time slide a little.

So, one story about the tyranny of machine over man, and one of man over man. Either way, being controlled by others is hell. Giving up your freedom for the sake of comfort or safety or even profit - we all do it. We all chafe under it. We all dream of escaping it. Well, maybe not "all", but I don't think I want to hang out with the other sort.

final thought: The stories are great, the style is even better. I don't know how I went this long without becoming an Ellison fan, but now is as good a time as any to start.

Jun 13, 2008

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm

This is how you do it. There's a reason Animal Farm is a classic of both literature in general and political satire specifically - it's damn near perfect. The allegory is simple enough for a literate child to grasp, even if they have no information about Stalinism or Soviet Communism to base it on, and for those who have studied history it maintains its worth as a fable.

The telling of the story itself can scarcely be criticized. You know what's going to happen. It's obvious from Napoleon's first appearance that he'll soon be as much (or more) of a tyrant as the original farmer. Heck, I'd read it before, back in middle school, but I still felt the rush when the animals drove out their owner and burned the whips, seethed with anger at Squealer's endless propaganda (swallowed whole by the mostly-illiterate and trusting workers), shared Benjamin's rage and horror as Boxer is sold to the knackers to pay for the pigs' carousing.

I believe it was Terry Pratchett who said something like, "There's a reason they're called revolutions - it all just keeps coming around to the beginning again." What I found interesting, though, was that the book really isn't a flat out condemnation of socialism or even communism - it's about a promise broken, power seized, and ideals twisted into a horrible shape. I think that's part of why, even while USSR-style communism fades into history, you can apply the Animal Farm allegory to any number of political situations. It's not strictly tied to the obvious.

final thought: This book scared the crap out of me as a preteen. (I was already fairly paranoid and antigovernment way back then.) These days I find it less frightening, but I think it maintains a current of power found in very little political writing.

Jun 9, 2008

on vacation

Hey: just wanted to say that I'm on vacation and away from computers until the end of the week. That being said, I have a half dozen entries to add as soon as I can sit down and sort my thoughts. It's been a good couple weeks of reading.