The nerd gods must be crazy: SFaaNM and The Terminal Experiment (1995) by Robert J. Sawyer

TheTerminalExperiment1Always with that contrived, ripped-from-the-headlines-plugged-into-a-thriller-type feel and the distracting sense that his characters are just cameos of folks he met while researching his book, but you would think that after decades (and even centuries) of SF exploring the ramifications of AI and the afterlife, Sawyer would come up with something more insightful than just murderous AIs and an imaginary proof of soul-life resulting from a few taps on the keyboard. Another example of hailed Hard sci-fi that relies on arbitrary fantasy tools and measurements that are just as fuzzy as any magic spell. As a nineties novel, it can be valued for its projections of the current form of the digital age, though most interesting is the optimistic ending for his highly flawed protagonist. Given Sawyer’s commercial success and formulaic approach, it’s hard not to wonder if he and his readers have overlooked the fact of the protagonist’s abominable, sociopathic behavior. But surely… Continue reading

The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer (1995) by Neal Stephenson

TheDiamondAge1Thanks to Gene Wolfe, I know by now that any book about a book might be the actual book. From a writer like Wolfe, that means some hardcore forehead knuckling and a few rereads. (And maybe some supplemental analysis, and maybe some research on Jungian archetypal symbolism, and maybe a look at biblical allegories—nope not gonna do that last one.) In those cases, The Book will likely invite inquiry, controversy, morphing interpretations. In those cases, the story is not the actual story.

With that kind of training in mind, one might approach a book called The Diamond Age: or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer (1995) expecting a similar kind of authorial shade, a narrative fogginess to prod the reader into dissonance and eventual interaction with commentary about women heroes and raising young girls. However, while the commentary is there, it’s neither veiled nor fogged, it’s hardly interactive, and from a writer like Stephenson, it means you’ll get it in the time it takes to make a sandwich, though it takes 500 pages for Stephenson to articulate it amidst some tech exposition. While there is some intertextual feedback, including a kind of mirrored moral guidance that oversees the main characters, it’s really just a long book of stitched-together narratives contrived to belong between the covers of the same book, in order to further the author’s argument, and whatever else interests him at that very moment.

Continue reading

The Prestige (1995) by Christopher Priest

ThePrestigehardThis is cruel, violent, unexplained, and almost certainly illegal. It has blighted my own life (121).

I have seen [his] new illusion, and it is good. It is devilishly good. It is the better for being simple (194).

 I still do not know how [he] works that damnable illusion (205).

 

I am at a loss for how to review The Prestige. I have started and restarted this review a dozen times, delayed posting it, rewritten it again. It’s not that it’s difficult to describe: epistolary collage, dueling protagonists, unreliable narrators, metafictional misdirection… all that fun stuff to think about. Page magic about stage magic, the self-awareness so loud and clear, with bells on. There I go with my highlighter when he talks about intrinsic secrecy and puzzles and the Pact of Acquiescence. I smirk along with him when he splays and rotates his hands while speaking of misdirection. As if I’m on stage with him, as if I’m the volunteer, as if I’m in collusion with the master. As if I won’t get fooled. Continue reading

Brightness Reef (1995) by David Brin

BrightessReef1Huck shrugged two stalks, as if to say she couldn’t be bothered with petty legalistic details. (62)

Set within his Uplift Universe crowded with sapient species, Brin abandons the Earthling-dominated dolphin-chimp-human narrative for something less familiar and (slightly) more alien. Like Startide Rising (1983), it still feels youthful, even childish, which makes it hard to take seriously at times, and when it does get serious, sometimes the dump of moral entanglements and plot movements musses up what could be a fresh little tale.

I felt a twirl in my heart-spine. (94)

Continue reading

Brown Girl in the Ring (1998) by Nalo Hopkinson

BrownGirlintheRingNalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring (2003) can be viewed two ways. From inside the ring, it defies tired urban fantasy tropes by employing a magic system based on Orisha, a Yoruba import embedded in some corners of Jamaican culture. This just might satisfy fans looking for a magic system that’s not based on drugs or vampire sex.

From outside the ring, Brown Girl in the Ring feels just like any other urban fantasy: two-dimensional, limited, with predictable grit and cartoonish mobsters.

This is a tough city, right? You people see a lot of terminal injuries?
Seen,
Rudy agreed wordlessly. Half the time, is we cause them. That amused him (4). Continue reading

The Time Ships (1995) by Stephen Baxter

TheTimeMachineBut first…

The Time Machine (1895) by H. G. Wells

(a.k.a. The Communist Manifesto, Part II: Eat the Rich)*

With The Time Ships shimmying up my TBR, it was about time I committed to finishing the 1895 classic, The Time Machine. Years back, I decided to sample some pre-20th sci-fi classics and, along with Mary Shelley and Jules Verne, H. G. Wells joined my reading list. At least for a few pages.

Then I decided to read another Verne, instead.

As with a lot of the early genre writers, old Herbie G has this issue with trusting the reader to suspend disbelief, so his narrator spends a large chunk of the book setting up the premise for the story, rather than just starting the story with an omniscient third party. The first quarter of the novella centers on Unnamed Protagonist explaining the story to his friends (one dude happens to be a writer): explaining the time machine, demonstrating the time machine, coming back from a time trip and explaining his tale over a proper gentleman’s feast. Lots of explaining.

That’s The Time Machine part. It’s incredibly boring. I never got past that part the first time. I thought the whole book was going to be like that. Continue reading

Back to the Hugos: 1995!

The Hugo Awards are this weekend! But time-travel Hugos are much more fun! So let’s go Back to the Hugos: 1995!

The member vote for Best Novel:

MirrorDance1MotherofStorms1Beggars&Choosers1BrittleInnings2TowingJehovah1

Oh, Hugo voters… AYFKM? I thought we had finally reached an understanding after last decade.

 

MY pretend, retro ballot for Best Novel:

BrittleInnings2TowingJehovah1Beggars&Choosers1MirrorDance1MotherofStorms1

(Interesting note: Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower made the shortlist but was deemed inelegible.)

 

Wrong, Hugo voters. You got it ALL wrong.

Allow me to explain:

Brittle Innings is a rich, full-bodied tale about humanity and its monsters in the pre-Civil Rights era South, and involves brilliant literary interplay. It’s gorgeous. Towing Jehovah is an intelligent, biting, religious satire that offends everybody, even the intended audience. Beggars and Choosers is brimful of imaginative near-future technology with (often over-involved) philosophical ponderings, and its problematic nature makes analysis even more worthwhile. Bujold’s Mirror Dance is the “Give your sociopathic clone son a starship” edition of the “Save-yo-fetuses” series, which always puts my deeply internalized pro-choice sensibilities on edge, not to mention the elevation of uberwealthy characters undermines difficult moral quandaries by making them easy, fun to read, and not really a big deal. And Mother of Storms is a kitchen sink filler-thriller about superficial character cliches surviving a global weather disaster.

SPANALYSIS

If the Spaz Clumpies are correct about post-1985 SF, 1995 should be an ideal indicator of a liberal and literary hijacking of the Hugo Awards. Continue reading

Beggars and Choosers (1994) by Nancy Kress

Beggars&Choosers1Techno skepticism in a dystopian world controlled by a few genetically-modified humans, the second of the Beggars trilogy brings to mind Philip Jose Farmer’s “Riders of the Purple Wage” (Dangerous Visions, 1967) where a society lives in trashy decadence on government-provided salaries upon the advent of fully-automated manufacturing and agricultural industries. Both stories share a crude, unenlightened vision of “The Welfare State,” but Kress breaks from Farmer’s negative characterizations of the lower classes by embedding her aloof, self-centered protagonists into the fold of thoughtful, questioning citizens who are confounded by regular breakdowns in technology and a growing sense of isolation from outside affairs.

And finally! After the first volume of bickering between the moderate Sleepless Leisha and her reactionary Sleepless foes, we finally get to see the social decay that Beggars in Spain often fuzzed about.

But first, let’s just come out and say it: The titles for these books are awful. Continue reading

Mirror Dance (Vorkosigan Saga #8) (1994) by Lois McMaster Bujold

MirrorDance1

Hey! It’s Richard Branson, everybody!

With clones and diplomatic intrigue muddling up the Vorkosigan lifestyle, yet again, another adventure takes Miles out of the picture. Instead of our normal Vorkosigan friends, Mirror Dance offers a unique point-of-view, that of an intruder, giving fans, and detractors, a new perspective on this wealthy Barrayaran family

A series with character, as in strictly character driven, with things happening and things to be accomplished, Mirror Dance belongs somewhere in the early middle of this lengthy series that revolves around members of the same noble family. The Vorkosigan series reminds me of a dollhouse where the fashionable and wealthy characters leave their mansions each day, and drive their expensive, powerful cars (or starships), to run errands and have adventures. Maybe someone gets kidnapped, or deals with a bad guy, or sinks into quicksand… I’m pretty sure I played out these plots with my dolls as a little girl. (Though my dolls did more dressing up than hijacking of rocket ships, but they were pretty adventurous.)

In this episode, Miles’ doppelgänger, Mark, the genetic clone brother who was originally created for the infiltration and destruction of the Vorkosigan family, tricks Miles’ mercenaries into aiding in the rescue of other clones held on Jackson’s Whole. Miles finds out, but before he can put a stop to the violent conflict that follows, he is killed by a grenade. His body is cryogenically frozen for future medical attention, but then lost in space in the chaos of battle. Despite this, the Vorkosigans accept Mark into their home, but Mark feels responsible for the loss of his hated clone/brother/enemy, and his investigative actions result in his own imprisonment and subsequent torture.

But, like the adventures of Barbie and Ken, it’s always going to work out for Miles and his lot, and there is always the same root, the same hearth, the same heart to which they return. But unlike Barbie and Ken, the Vorkosigan charisma and fortitude might be entertaining and inspiring enough to distract from the aristocratic glaze of this elite Barrayaran family. Continue reading