30 August 2011

Four sci-fi novels

Continuing my run of reading new sci-fi on the Kindle. Insert some insight about medium and message here. All were pulled, again, from io9 bookclub recommendations and there's been some stunning writing. The first time I've read all of these authors.

The City & The City by China Mieville. Mieville's prose hit me immediately: short, noir sentences mixed with inner dialog that reads like a puzzle. Detective on the case of a dead girl must extend his investigation into the antagonistic sister-city. Dashiell Hammett turns magic realism. Once into it, just pages before the Big Reveal was made I started to suspect it, with well-timed intent of the author. I had at first felt it came too early but then became completely wrapped in the brilliant conceit. Though he couldn't deliver an ending to match the earlier promise, I want to buy this book and loan it out to friends (ah, there's the sad insight about medium--the publisher blocks lending for this publication).

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge. From the skilled prose of Mieville to the more quotidian of Vinge. Rainbows End (intentional non-possessive) is in the group of novels like Stranger in a Strange Land (haven't read it) where an observer from our time adapts to a strange future. This approach lends itself to the intriguing conversion that happens by the end of the novel: resistance to the change in cultural values eventually becomes understanding and appreciation of those values. The more interesting aspect of the story is the technology: ubiquitous wearable network access includes contacts that repaint the world with virtual presences and instantaneous, pop-up knowledge. Names and biographies are easily accessible; video games are played IRL; non-local communication has lost most of its non-locality. Entertaining.

Rule 34 by Charles Stross. This and the Atwood are the two where I'd heard of the highly praised author yet had never read their work. Title is from rule 34 of the Rules of the Internet: "There is porn of it. No exceptions." and following an SVU-type police department in future-Scotland that investigates grisly, meme-based crimes. Stross's future is more expressively realized than Vinge's more dry telling. One oddly common sub-theme is the potential accidental manifestation of an AI in the global network. Different from Vinge's approach--but the same as one suggested in a Cory Doctorow short story--the AI in Rule 34 may have come from the arms race of spammers creating more and more human-appearing presences to fool people. The novel switches between different characters, and keeps you off-kilter throughout (and long after).

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. End-of-the-world downer-lit. This reminded me of Martin Amis's short story "The Immortals" from his collection Einstein's Monsters. In both, one of the last humans on Earth examines the causes of our extinction. In Oryx and Crake, it is from consumerist genetic engineering. Just the thought of the monstrosity that was created to produce "meat" for Chicken Nubbins (TM) fast food is icky enough. Rule 34 level depravity is rampant and believable and the how-did-we-get-here shock is somewhat Stranger in a Strange Land (haven't read it). Where Vinge provides the formula for optimism--he's a singularity proponent so it comes naturally--Atwood slippery slopes us into something both unfathomably bleak and sadly of human nature. Her creative spinning was well done even though I felt Vinge's vision that life will be different-but-OK holds a more realistic truth. Still, anti-futures aren't meant to be realism but simply warnings, and this was valid.

The City & The City
The City & The City; China Mieville
Rainbows End
Rainbows End; Vernor Vinge
Rule 34
Rule 34; Charles Stross
Oryx and Crake
Oryx and Crake; Margaret Atwood
[ posted by sstrader on 30 August 2011 at 7:07:57 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged io9 ]