Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Saturday, June 19, 2010
"All they do is run in a circle? Brother, with cats, that is an achievement. But you're right; running in a circle, nose to tail, is pretty much the meat of my cat circus."
Friday, June 18, 2010
For a Novella, there isn't really enough to this story.
It is a brilliant bit of worldbuilding, especially the ideas behind how the stasis works and how they plan to keep Earth alive for so much longer against the natural lifespan of the galaxy. The time travel mechanism required by the narrative is an interesting and slightly different one and I enjoyed how Stross explored that. The "Brief Alternate History of the Solar System" segments were particularly good.
I do have a few problems with this novella, however. The second person narrative bits at the beginning of most chapters are pointless and annoying. I realize Stross wants to differentiate the possible alternate Pierces from "our" Pierce, but he doesn't really achieve this until the last few times, it remains annoying-as-hell even after we get it, and really how does making alternate versions of a third person narrative into second person make any sense anyway. Use a different font or something, I don't know.
Besides that, I was a bit annoyed by the invocation of Kafka, both as the appearance of the Internal Affairs guy and with a section called "The Trial" in which he appears. There wasn't enough actual reference to Kafka's "The Trial," or any other bit of his writing to justify this. There was bordering on 0 reference to Kafka besides Stross name-dropping him a few times. It annoys me when allusions are made to things like this for no good reason, and not really tied into the writing in any other way. If he wanted to have a guy look like Heinlein, I'd have loved it. Or if he wanted to really reference "The Trial" a lot in that section of this novella I'd have been okay with Kafka. But I don't like the randomness of what could have been a meaningful literary allusion. It seems like it just wants to name drop a bit in hopes of sounding more thoughtful.
Which is too bad, because the story is pretty thoughtful as it is. I love a good time travel story, and this one is intense, suspenseful, and has possibly the grandest scale and best sense of wonder I've ever experienced from a time travel story. But there isn't much more to it. Like I said, this piece oozes Heinlein.
So I'd recommend that anyone who enjoys time travel stories (or Heinlein) even a little bit should read this one. But I can't recommend it as an award nominee. 4 out of 5 paradoxes overwritten.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Nicola Griffith's novelette "It Takes Two," ... is one of my very favorite stories from 2009. It also doesn't really work.
After several pages of Cody and Cookie (real name Susanna) simultaneously marveling and rejecting their undeniable chemical response to one another in slightly clichéd terms ("'Do you suppose this is l—' She couldn't say it. She didn't believe it."), Cody returns to San Francisco and is accosted by her friend Richard, and for the next ten pages or so "It Takes Two" mainly consists of Richard explaining the story's McGuffin and Cody reacting with varying degrees of alarm, disbelief, and horror to the revelation that she hired Richard to prime both herself and Susanna with each other's sexual and romantic preferences and fantasies, essentially manufacturing love at first sight. Even leaving aside just how convoluted and tenuous a method this is of securing a deal (are there really executives, even Atlanta good ol' boys, who will sign a deal with someone because "I like the way you handle yourself . . . no boasting, no big words, you just sit quiet then seize the opportunity"?) the structure of the story is off: story, story, story, exposition, exposition, exposition, dilemma—as Cody has to decide whether to take what Griffith rather cleverly dubs "RU486 for the brain" and destroy her artificial feelings for Susanna, or embrace them.
Why then, do I still think that "It Takes Two" is a brilliant story? Because it is just so damnably creepy. We all know, even if we don't like to be reminded of it, that even the loftiest of emotions are chemical fluctuations in our brains, and that those chemicals can and are being manipulated on various levels and with various degrees of finesse. What makes "It Takes Two" disturbing is not so much that it adds love to the list of reactions that can be externally, medically controlled, but that it takes the obvious next step of assuming that once that ability is achieved it will be commodified, that the next step in prostitution will be whores who really do mean it when they say "you're special, I wouldn't do this with anyone but you" (in that sense "It Takes Two" covers much of the same ground as Joss Whedon's recently cancelled Dollhouse). "It Takes Two" doesn't shy away from the fact that Susanna has sold herself in the most profound way possible, and that Cody has bought her, but at the same time it encourages us to root for a romantic ending. The resulting tension between romance and revulsion is what makes the story, what makes it possible to ignore the problems in its premise and structure, and what makes its ending simultaneously satisfying and horrifying.