Saturday, September 17, 2016

Bad Behavior Is Rewarded

I was supposed to be reading some Economics next, but, with 30 unread works of fiction on my iPad and another half-dozen in hardcopy, I decided to go on and read a couple of novels. Plus, I decided to pick novels totally new to me.

I have also changed my Twitter consumption. Rather than doing it during the day after email, FaceBook, and RSS feeds, I switched to processing Twitter at night, after the drinking light and the TV have come on. TweetBot also seems to be helping by jumping ahead if I get too far behind on my timeline. It seems to be eating up a lot less of my time, leaving me more time for reading, yay!

1st up, I read "All the Birds in the Sky", by Charlie Jane Anders. The world's greatest scientist and the world's greatest magician reconnect over decades after having been middle-school misfits together. The writing style is whimsical and fantastic, but it is set in a near future where the climate crisis has begun to ramp up its impacts. Quite often a fanciful statement is made that then turns out to be true. Also some lines that make you think: "Boredom is the mind's scar tissue." I don't think I agree with that but, still, it makes you think. The conflict between magic and science makes for some surprisingly action-filled scenes, and the ending is hopeful. Definitely a fun read.

Next up, "Too Like the Lightning", by Ada Palmer. Wow, what a find, thanks to whoever on Twitter (Cory Doctorow?) suggested it! It is set in a mostly utopian world in 2454 - yay, I love utopia! It is apparently a post-scarcity utopia, as some characters are stated to be "vokers" or vocateurs - people who care about a job enough to do it full time, rather than just live.

Rapid world wide transit has mostly put an end to nations and war. Gender differences and roles are of course blurred, and the narrator is sometimes politically incorrect in referring to characters with a gendered pronoun, when he feels they are strongly fulfilling traditional male or female archetypes, which, unsurprisingly, still linger in society. Countries are largely replaced by 7 hives focusing on different aspects of human existence; Graylaws, who provide some neutral government services; and Blacklaws, who live outside the law in a kind of ultra-Libertarian manner. Religion was banned a couple of centuries earlier as part of getting rid of war, but religion in private (2 people max) is very common, as are all kinds of philosophical discussions.

The main narrator is a criminal who somehow reminded me of Severian of the Gene Wolfe stories. The detail with which this world is described is completely over-the-top - nothing else similar in the last couple of decades except for maybe the world of Hannu Rajaniemi's "Quantum Thief". Dr. Palmer teaches history at the University of Chicago, and layers in a ton of information on the Enlightment philosophers Voltaire, Rousseau, and de Sade. I have not read much if any of these. Who knew that de Sade would mix pornography and political philosophy? At the time, they both would get you in trouble, say if your political philosophy included denying the divine right of kings. The only thing I can remember with this kind of detail was maybe Neal Stephenson's "System of the World" trilogy.

I also liked that, when characters were working on spreadsheets, they put the tables in the text. Dr. Palmer definitely writes really well. Here's a line I highlighted: "I apologize, Member Saneer, for this mismatch in the radii of our consequentialisms." Nice!

I should have paid more attention to the metadata - that this was Book I of "Terra Ignota". I have pre-ordered Book II, "Seven Surrenders", due out in February. When strong new characters were still being introduced 2/3 of the way through the book, I was getting the inkling that this was not going to be a stand-alone volume. This is definitely 1 story in 2 parts, like Dan Simmons' "Hyperion" and other books.

So the table is set. We have a dozen or more complex and interesting characters, most of whom seem to know each other. A couple of the characters have messianic possibilities, created by evolution? And in a world without religion? This made me think of Frank Herbert's "Dune" of all things. The investigation of what appears to be a minor crime has, in the best film noir, cheap detective tradition, become a matter of world shattering importance. Dr. Palmer has set herself a daunting task in producing a Book II to fulfill the promise of Book I. But, as I suspect the story was created in her mind as pretty complete, I am confident she will pull it off. Come on, February!

No comments: