Thursday, January 10, 2008

Books! Pt. 2.

Books I actually finished. Haha.

Feed, by MT Anderson. Yes, of Whales on Stilts fame. This book is less loopy than the Thrilling Tales. It is set in what has become a fairly common SF future: virtual reality, chips implanted directly into the brain, an internet-ish Feed displayed directly across the eyeballs, etc. Anderson uses the setting excellently, taking a set of kids two or three generations on from ours and showing the kind of vapid little buggers they seem almost destined to be. This book is an indictment of the profane, ignorant, unthinking, willfully unintelligent side of our society; the side that is seemingly becoming the dominant mode. Don't get me wrong, though, there are some very funny bits. Further, the subversive character, the one who likes to think independently, etc, is homesechooled.

Extras, by Scott Westerfeld. The sequel to the Pretties trilogy, and not a particularly good one. The characters in this book aren't that interesting, and there is none of the transformation or emotional depth of the other three to keep one involved. The story is rather dopey; it seems like it was drawn from an old issue of Galactic Science Fiction. The most interesting bit is the futuristic setting and scenery, the descriptions of various incredibly advanced body-mod surgeries available four hundred years from now. But apart from the surgeries, the ultra-computerized setting is something I've seen done a hundred times, and Westerfeld does nothing particularly new with it. Recommended? If you've read the other three, and have nothing else do to for an afternoon. *shrug*

Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein. One of those classics of sci-fi, that also happens to be fairly entertaining. A novel of the army in the future, obviously written by someone who's been in the army. At times, it almost seems like Army propaganda, and at others, like propaganda for Heinlein's own philosophy. However, while the author's views are strongly there, they're always thought-provoking, and he never quite gets to shoving them down your throat. A good book.

Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami (translated from the Japanese). Now here's an interesting book. The totalitarian Republic of Greater East Asia takes 9th-grade classes, strands them on deserted islands with weapons and survival packs, and has the kids kill each other. The last one standing wins. This book is not for the weak of stomach; things are described with what I found an unnecessary level of detail. Despite this, the scenario itself is almost irresistibly intriguing, at least for a while. (The book is about 1/3rd too long.) Whether there are any redemptive qualities, that is the question. There are a couple interesting points. Ultimately, whatever redemption is achieved is done so through trust, but not a sort of hippie "free love" trust--it is trust that comes at a great cost.

There were a couple scenes that had the aura of life in a microcosm: the boy who has a crush on a girl, seeks her throughout the game despite sustaining several wounds, finally finds her-and she, having no idea, shoots him. There is something infinitely-and classically-tragic about the way this scene plays out. Worth reading if you don't mind the violence.

No Country For Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy. An incredibly interesting book. I'm tempted to also label it "incredibly good," recommend it, and leave it at that, for it is also hard to summarize. It's about a hunt for treasure, a battle of wits between two desperate men, crime. It's about a guy who goes around murdering people. It's about a world that is quickly becoming no country for old men. And yet, it's about none of these things. Violent in places, though rather a let-down after the last book. Ah well. Read it.

Light, by M. John Harrison. I'm actually in the middle of this one now, and will hopefully have it done by the time I start school again. This is a really bizarre sci-fi novel, the kind of mind-blowing story that could only be told by someone with a good grasp on quantum theory, and a similar willingness to throw it all out the window. This is the kind of book that while you can read it fast, you can't skim. Harrison creates both a future and a present where everything seems alien, and if you skip one paragraph you might as well have missed a key chapter. This is rare, these days. (Ubiquitous warning: as with too much modern fiction, there are some sexually explicit scenes.) Recommended if you already read books that ought to have the previous warning attached.

In summary,

Avoid: Parable of the Sower

Must-reads: Feed, No Country For Old Men, Starship Troopers.

Only read if you must: Extras.


Nat said...

I've been meaning to read Starship Troopers. I haven't seen the movie in a while but I've heard it destroyed the soul of the novel (there's a shocker). But I thought the original was anti-army? I know that in the book only members of the army ("citizens" as opposed to mere "civilians") are allowed to vote, but I figured that was satire.

No Country For Old Men I was going to read if I liked the movie, which seemed likely. Though conventional wisdom is to read the book first, I had great luck with reading The Prestige after watching it (both the book and the movie are excellent, but for various reasons I think it works out better to watch the movie first).

I like that you have an "ubiquitous warning." I think ubiquitous warnings should be used more often. For example, next to a subway track, instead of a little picture of a guy who looks like he's dancing backwards onto the track, you could have the words "UBIQUITOUS WARNING: DO NOT STAND ON THE TRACKS, OR IN FACT ANYWHERE WHERE YOU WILL QUICKLY DIE A MESSY DEATH."

Also, every time I see that word I think the author has committed a serious misspelling of "ambiguous."

NOT Freddy Jones said...

Have you read Rash by Pete Hautman, Ethan?
It is perhaps a bit of an easier read than what I imagine you normally read, but it has a futeristic setting(USA: 2072) and is a very interesting read.

Ethan said...

Nat: Starship Troopers was actually rather pro-army, ridiculously so at times. The "only people in the army can vote" thing was proposed entirely straight-faced: they are the ones who have shown that they care for something greater than themselves, and so should be the only ones allowed to choose the future for the rest of us (or something). Of course, it's mainly pro-Heinlein's-version-of-army, and he objects to at least some parts of "XXth Century America's" army.

Actually, I was thinking while reading No Country that seeing the movie first might be a good idea, because McCarthy's style is so bare-bones that it's easy to miss something and get lost. Further, the bits of the movie I've seen seem to mimic the novel exactly.

Lol, yes, such ubiquitousness might come in handy.

UnFred: No, but now I may have to. *Puts it on the List*

Colin said...

is reading trippy?

Ethan said...


You would know.