Sep 21, 2009

comment moderation

I hate to do this, but I'm switching on the comment moderation for a while. I'm fighting an Asian spammer.

Adding: crisis over, back to normal.

Halting State by Charles Stross

Halting State

Have you ever had to listen to someone describe to you, in detail, this killer videogame they've been playing lately? For hours on end? And they're really excited about it, but it's worse than listening to someone describe their dreams, because there's not even any chance of hearing about some sort of really fucked up dream sex between them and someone you know? That was Halting State for me.

I'm no gamer. Okay, I play Kingdom of Loathing from time to time, and I'm enough of a geek to get many of Stross's references, but the whole god damned concept of the real world and game worlds interacting on a full immersion level leaves me bored to tears. Or maybe it's just his writing. He obviously felt that your average person wouldn't be able to follow along with those more familiar with MMORPGs, and he winds up discarding, oh, such trifles as character development or actual plot action to deal with blah blah blah explanations and exposition.

Boring beyond belief is what I'm saying. Bloodless murders, thefts that don't matter, kidnappings of no one. There were a few interesting concepts buried in there somewhere, but damned if I wound up caring. And, of course, it dragged on forever because it never drew me in enough to keep me reading for long. If I didn't have a habit of finishing every book I start, I'd have chucked this one over the fence two weeks ago.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin


Pretty much the grandfather of the classic, totalitarian dystopias. 1984, Brave New World, Kallocain - this novel helped spawn them all. Often, I'll find that I don't enjoy a book that's become this huge influence, preferring the distilled version found in later works. In this case, however, it turns out that the original charmed me in ways that the later novel (no matter how much I did enjoy them) simply couldn't.

Orwell's best work is very spare and stripped down, for example, but Zamyatin's writing in We is almost romantic. His main character, D-503, tell the whole story as a sort of love poem. At first, he is driven by love of state, love of belonging, love of work. As he progresses, he falls not only for mysterious and rebellious I-330, he also freely expresses his feelings for the voluptuous O-90 and their friend/her other lover R-13. His journal style matches this outpouring of emotion. Just riding in an air car comes out as:

Five minutes later, we were already in the areo. The blue majolica of the Maytime sky; the light sun in its own golden aero buzzing after us, neither falling behind nor overtaking us. And ahead of us - a cloud, white as a cataract, preposterous and puffed out like the cheeks of an ancient cupid, and somehow disturbing. Our front window is up. Wind, drying the lips. Involuntarily, you lick them all the time, and all the time you think of lips.

"And all the time you think of lips." I didn't find anything that simply beautiful in 1984. And that feeling remains until the end, even though the narrator's soul is lost, the people themselves may be rescued. It's no accident that this is shown by the flight of birds, formerly banned from the city. All of We, from the space craft to the love stories, is a longing toward flight.

Sep 8, 2009