Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven is an awesome bit of science fiction. There’s a man named Orr who sometimes changes reality in his dreams. No one else knows that anything has happened, but the guilt over the responsibility of shifting reality is too much for him, so he does too many drugs to stop sleeping, is caught and put into therapy. This is in the first few chapters. Then it gets interesting.
His therapist has a machine that makes Orr’s dreaming more regularized and controllable and then starts using him to radically reshape the world to better fit his idea of what would be better.
It’s an amazing Dickian conceit but less madly written. I don’t know how I’ve missed reading this for so long. I found a trove of Le Guin paperbacks at a recent used book sale so I’m hoping to find a few more such gems in the heap (and am not reading anything about any of them ahead of time).
Jonathan Lethem’s Gun, With Occasional Music is a scifi noir story very heavy on the noir. In a world with uplifted kangaroos and apes and accelerated-development babies, Conrad Metcalf is trying to solve a murder. And then another and another. He’s an ex-cop and has his custom drugs to keep him feeling the exact right level of ennui and tenacity, while the victims and witnesses take drugs to forget. It’s pretty great.
One of the things I really like about the book is the dual economic systems going on. There’s money and there’s karma. Karma is what the cops take away when you do bad things, and what you get given when you’re a model citizen. It’s a bit more centralized than Cory Doctorow’s Whuffle but you can see the connective strands. The thing is that when your karma hits zero you go into a freezer, and are removed from society for a while, which makes my favourite part of the book possible.
[SPOILERS] About 3/4 of the way through the book Conrad pisses off enough people he gets tossed in the freezer for six years. This is awesome for the story because when he gets out it’s like that time passed overnight. He’s even more dogged about solving his case now that everyone else has had years to deal with the aftermath. [/SPOILERS]
So yes, definitely recommended especially if you liked George Alec Effinger’s When Gravity Falls
The fourth season of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 is the one I remember being my favourite. The characters had settled into their interesting roles. They had their ship. Sisko was captain. Worf joined the crew. Nog goes to Starfleet Academy. The communicators changed shape. After this (in my memory) we start getting bogged down in endless war. While as a teenager I hated the first couple of seasons for being too political and boring, I disliked the latter seasons for being too much about military/mystical battles. Season 4 is the one at the tipping point of awesomeness.
The season’s highlight comes early with The Visitor. The Visitor is my favourite episode of any Star Trek ever, though most of it could be a Twilight Zone episode. Captain Sisko and his son Jake are in the Defiant’s engine room for a freak accident which kills the captain. The story is about how Jake deals with the loss, told from Jake’s perspective as an old man decades later. The key is that Jake’s father isn’t actually dead – he’s trapped in mumbojumboland where time doesn’t pass, and he keeps on reappearing inexplicably for Jake to feel the pain of the loss all over again.
The Star Trekkiness of this episode is basically pure technobabble. There’s an accident that does this weird thing. Jake spends a lifetime trying to figure out how to rescue his father and in the end he does, at the cost of his own life. There are Klingons and Bajorans and starships but the only reason we really need all of those is because they’re the accoutrements of Jake and Ben Sisko’s relationship. We’ve watched three seasons of them being father and son so we know what kind of relationship they have. In the episode itself, Jake says he and his father were close and it doesn’t have to spend scenes depicting that closeness outside the realm of this specific story.
And goddamnit it does a number on the writery part of me. Jake abandons his art and his life to save his father, when the Captain just wanted to see him grow up. It’s sad and hopeful and uses its Star Trekness in exactly the right way.
So yes, The Visitor was great. But this season also has Dax abandoned by another lover she would throw away her traditional life and career for. Worf is on trial for killing a shipload of civilians. Bashir gets to try solving impossible medical puzzles (in both breaking the Jem’Hadar addiction to ketracel white, and saving the people of a planet from a bioweapon plague). That Bashir fails in both of these (though he does get a vaccine up and going for the next generation) shows how the writers are taking things a bit more seriously. Not everything can be wrapped up in a nice little bow in one weekly episode.
But there are the light episodes too. The Ferengi going to Roswell in Little Green Men is fun. The holodeck adventure with Bashir as a Bondian spy is fun (though the reason for it working is ludicrous). Rom forming a union, and Quark standing up to the Ferengi Commerce Association and having everything he owns reposessed are also good episodes.
But the shadows of war episodes are the ones (after The Visitor) I remember most. Homefront and Paradise Lost take us back to Earth and we see the wrongness of security theatre (five years before the TSA turned airports into Orwellian zones). This is the season where Eddington defects to the Maquis and it hurts more than the second season episode where Sisko’s friend defects, because we’d had time to get to know Eddington. Oh, and Dukat becomes a pirate with a Klingon bird of prey. I love that episode.
Watching it all again, I remain convinced that DS9 got better and better to this point. Now we’ll see if my memories of a decline are also accurate.
It seems fitting to review the second third and fourth books in Charles Stross’ Merchant Princes series together because the flaws they have as stand-alone books make sense if you look at them as chapters in a longer story.
At the end of book 1 in the series we were up to date with Miriam Beckstein, tech journalist who is also a countess in an alternate universe where the geography is shared with Earth but technology and society has spun off on a very different track. Miriam and her clan are people who can hop between that world and our own (it’s set in the early 00′s U.S. homeland security paranoia).
In The Hidden Family Miriam has learned about a third world which is where there are more world walkers who are trying to destabilize the Clan’s power base in the medieval world. This third world is kind of steampunkish and hugely politically repressive. Miriam is trying to create a new economic base for her extended family in that new world.
In The Clan Corporate basically nothing happens. It’s an intensely frustrating book, to Miriam as well, because she’s basically just locked up while her family figures out how to sell her to the royal family to squirt out worldwalking babies. We also meet a DEA agent who’s dealing with the aftermath of one of the medieval spies turning on the Clan’s drug smuggling operation.
By The Merchants’ War the Clan is plunged into civil war and Miriam is on the run in the steampunky world and we’re learning just how genre distinctions between Science Fiction and Fantasy are kind of dumb.
I really like the story this series is telling. People are clever and behave like real clever people might. I just hate how it’s broken down into these separate volumes so you need to have recap time and setup time before the grand climax of the book, which in books 3 and 4 don’t even really happen. It’s the kind of series that’s crying out for a one-volume edition with some of the redundant bits edited out, since nothing is standing at all on its own. (You may remember that I had the same issue with Dance With Dragons. Too much like catching up with the characters and not enough story-structure for my taste.) But I’m looking forward to finishing the series because Stross writes great, thought-provoking stuff and the fact that it’s getting less and less like Zelazny and more like, well, Stross makes me very happy.
The Family Trade is the first book in The Merchant Princes series by Charles Stross. It’s the story of Miriam Beckstein who’s a just-fired tech journalist. In the aftermath of the story that was too big to let her keep her job she discovers she’s a countess as part of a feudal clan in an alternate Earth that she has the rare ability to travel back and forth between.
While that sounds like it could be the basis of a pretty simple fish-out-of-water tale, this is Charlie Stross, so of course Miriam sets out to deal with the world, and change it. The riches of her clan on the other side are based on basically being drug mules on our side. While this is lucrative it’s also vulnerable to market fluctuations (if the war on drugs in the US ended, there would go their wealth and power).
Stross writes characters that are competent and resilient and generally deal with things so you can get to the next idea. It keeps the plot moving when you don’t have to wait ages for a character to figure out some problem the reader saw the answer to as soon as it was proposed. The grander idea of “how will Miriam reshape her clan’s economy” is an idea you want to puzzle over, and the main reason I’m going to be resolutely avoiding spoilers from here on out. I’ve read the background on how this series got split into volumes kind of weirdly and yeah, it’s pretty noticeable, since this book ends kind of right in the middle of things happening.
Good light, fast-moving stuff. I’m looking forward to the next book.
Deadenders is a science fiction comic about a young drug-dealer in a poor zone of the city after an unspecified Cataclysm. It’s a shitty place with not a lot of opportunity. Travel between the zones is strictly controlled, and while the crappy areas get darkness and smog, the artificial weather in the rich sectors means a life of (fake) sparkly sunshine. There are lots of scooter races.
I read this because it was written by Ed Brubaker, whose crime stuff I love. This was okay, but I feel like it could have used an extra layer of Morrison-esque mindfuckery. One thing I appreciated was the succession of relationships Beezer goes through in the story. His beginning girlfriend leaves him and tells her story herself. It was a little disjointed throughout but as a whole, it worked. I almost feel like this was a book that would have been better as floppies than in the trade paperback form.
I love love love the first two volumes of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the ones where the league of fictional characters are assembled into a team of literary Victorian superheroes and thwart badguys. I also really liked the Black Dossier too, mostly because of the variety of forms of fiction they used in it.
The third volume is called Century and deals with more modern happenings and I’m sorry but I didn’t really care for Century 1969.
Because the characters are immortal they’re in London in 1969 trying to head off the summoning of an Antichrist by a magician who’s swapping his consciousness across bodies. Mina and Allan are having relationship issues and then there’s some astral plane tripping and it’s over. I never got really engrossed in the story. Maybe it would have helped if the famous people involved didn’t have to be obscured because they might still be alive/protected by copyright. There might have been something great in there, but it never made itself known to me. This is probably my first dud of an Alan Moore book (I haven’t read everything he’s done, obviously).
Douglas Rushkoff and Steph Dumais made Club Zero-G, a graphic novel about consensus reality and a shared dreamland dance club that the kids (young adults) don’t remember when they wake up. There are people in the future who are being hunted for daring to defy the consensus reality and they come back to the early 21st century in this dream club. Except that Zeke remembers it when he wakes up. He’s being used by the military to catch the mutant interlopers from the future and is trying to convince people in the waking world that Club Zero-G is real.
The best parts are dealing with the disjunction between the waking characters and the club characters, who are embarrassed about what assholes their waking versions are. It name checks Foucault and the collective unconscious in the way that makes this book probably work okay for a YA audience. I really liked the rough and colourful art, but I don’t think the story was as revolutionary as I get the feeling Rushkoff thought it was.
I think this is my first review of pornography on librarianaut, but Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s graphic novel Lost Girls is exactly the kind of pornography you want to talk about even if showing it to people might be a little awkward.
At its core, Lost Girls is about three women who are staying in a hotel in Austria in 1914. These women are the grown-up heroines from key works of children’s literature: Wendy, Dorothy and Alice (of Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, and ALice in Wonderland, respectively). Each of these women is there for their own reasons. Wendy is accompanying her intolerably dull husband; Dorothy has left America to see Europe (in a seemingly naive farm-girl manner). Alice is there by herself, the grand dame of the tree.
The characters meet and begin to tell each other their stories, which are the tales we know, but are in a less fantastical and more explicit form. The cowardly lion is a farmhand who yells and catcalls boorishly and when Dorothy faces him down and strips, all his bravado falls away and he’s actually a virgin and they have a lot of sex. (Actually, you can just add that “and they have a lot of sex” ending to every bit of plot in the book.) Wendy’s story is about her and her brothers masturbating each other and the peeping tom with the deformed hand in the park. Alice’s story is about Alice being used as a sexual object by all sorts of people who had much more power than her.
The stories are split up between them and what is happening in the hotel, which gets more and more debauched as they share their stories and break down social barriers and fuck an incredible amount. There’s a chapter wherein Dorothy’s boyfriend and Wendy’s husband have a secret tryst. An orgy where the manager of the hotel is reading a tale of incest and pedophilia and ruminating about how stories of such things are titillating even if you would never do such a thing, although as he says that he’s just finished with a 12-year-old boy (who is of course also fictional).
Now the thing about this is that it’s Alan Moore writing this stuff, so the layers to the literature are all there and intricate and studiable. He’s doing his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen literary ransacking here but with stories of sex and coming of age and how stories of sex work. Melinda Gebbie’s art is amazing. It’s a beautiful, lavish book filled with paintings you’d want to shove in everyone’s faces, if only they weren’t filled with cocks and cunts. She uses different styles for each of the women’s tales, and for the different stories of what’s happening in the hotel as The Great War breaks out. There are visual jokes conveying subtext in shadows and the opening and closing motifs are of the mirror that was Alice’s.
Basically my review here is: Best Porn Ever. (And just to be clear, the creators are very clear about it being pornography and the value of pornography. Here’s a great interview with Alan Moore on the topic.)
Susin Nielsen’s Word Nerd is about a twelve-year-old kid named Ambrose whose mom is way overprotective. He makes friends with Cosmo, his landlord’s adult (and ex-con) son through Scrabble. It’s set in Vancouver (Kitsilano to be precise), and from the name-dropping of places they go, I feel confident I could find the block Ambrose would have lived on. There’s a peanut-allergy aspect to the character (he almost dies early on from jerks putting a peanut in his sandwich) but it feels like more of a justification for his mom to be overprotective. There’s also some talk of drugs and Ambrose stops Cosmo from slipping back into junkiedom.
Ambrose’s mom was very controlling and the book does try to get at why, but in a kid-focused kind of way. If I met Ambrose and wasn’t inside his head for the book, I’d find him an annoying twerp, much like Cosmo does at first, but he gets some of his obnoxiousness toned down as it goes. He helps Cosmo, Cosmo helps him, and they have to keep it secret from his mom.
It was a good kids book, maybe okay for the younger side of YA.