Friday, July 8, 2016

Imperial Earth

Arthur C. Clarke
Completed 7/4/2016, reviewed 7/5/2016
3 stars

Couched in a travelogue story about a man from Titan visiting the earth to help celebrate the U.S.’s quadricentennial, this novel is a look at where we can be in another two hundred years.  It predicts a future where being bisexual is the norm and technology has advanced us to a non-aggressive, relatively peaceful world.  It is great reading, though in place of much action, Clarke’s writing fills you with a sense of scientific wonder. 

Duncan Makenzie is the second clone of the family which administers what passes as government on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.  He is chosen by his “parents” to represent Titan at the U.S.’s quadricentennial and to “father” a new clone for the family from himself.  The story is predominantly about his travel to Earth, his exploration of what Washington and New York have become, and his finding out about what happened to the two loves of his youth, Calindy and Karl.

The plot is dotted with scientific and social predictions.  Clarke spends a lot of time talking about space travel using hydrogen.  Titan is primarily a hydrogen mining colony for this purpose, holding up its economy with this industry.  He also talks a lot about the search for extraterrestrials and the technology needed to accomplish this. A little more closer to today, Clarke predicts the internet, hand held devices, and Skype, although their use is still command line oriented rather than graphical interfaces.  And granted, picture phone calls have been predicted for a long time. 

Clarke predicts that technology has made the world a better place, more peaceful, with very little violence.  This is a dream that many writers have fantasized about, but we never seem to accomplish.  Looking at life today, the growth of technology has done nothing for peace.  Even the work week for many of us has stretched beyond forty hours rather than shrinking it, increasing stress rather than reducing it.  Today, it is still a pipe dream, but perhaps it can still be something to hope for.

Also on the social level, I found it very interesting that Clarke did a terrific job writing about a bi-normative society with minimal propaganda.  He doesn’t beat us over the head with it, it just is.  Duncan simply loved both Karl and Calindy when he was younger.  This is very refreshing and amazing for a book published in 1976.

There is one part that is disturbing, the cloning process.  Successfully cloned embryos are gestated by a farm of women who want to have children.  The disturbing part is that they are mentally or physically disabled in some way.  It’s like Clarke is saying that these women have no option for having children other than by joining a baby making farm.  He’s also saying that these women want to have children for the sake of the birthing of children and giving them away, not for the sake of loving and raising them.  I can’t imagine where he got this idea. 

I give this book three stars out of five.  Really, it’s a four star book, but I took off one star because of the baby farm concept.  That was too disturbing to ignore in rating the book.  Otherwise, it was very readable despite the hard science.  The chapters are short, making the technology easy to follow, rather than being overly long complex descriptions.  The character of Duncan is extremely well developed, and the distinction between himself and his “fathers” is subtle but tangible.  The plot may be a little thin, being primarily a travelogue, but it is a very good, interesting read.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Catherynne M. Valente
Completed 6/24/2016, reviewed 6/30/2016
2 stars

This is another book I listened to on CD.  It was reviewed by io9 as a story about a sexually-transmitted city.  And that’s about the gist of it.  It’s a very ethereal book about a city on the edge of reality that can only be visited by having sex with someone who has a tattoo of a part of the map of the city on their body.  It follows four strangers who all have an encounter that takes them to the city of Palimpsest and their quests to return.  Despite the interesting premise, I didn’t enjoy it.

My biggest problem with the book was the prose.  It’s beautiful, poetic, and completely distracting.  I think there is a fine line between great and gratuitous prose, and this was the latter.  It’s the type of prose that’s great for a short story, but simply too much for a full length novel.  I found myself bored listening to it, and constantly losing my place.  I had to read through lots of other people’s reviews to try to get parts of the plot I missed.  It made me wonder if I would have appreciated it more if I read it instead. 

Another problem I found with the book was the plot.  There isn’t much of one.  The book is all about the premise.  It’s basically about four people who are constantly trying to have sex to get back to Palimpsest and figuring out a way to stay permanently.  I guess you would call this a character study.  I have to say they were somewhat interesting people, all damaged in some way, all looking for something better.  But there just didn’t feel like there was any movement to the book.

The best part of the book was reader.  She did an excellent job with the accents of the characters.  Besides an American, there were Japanese, Russian, and Italian characters.  Her inflection was also quite good.  It was the only thing that made the prose tolerable.

I give the book two stars out of five.  I toyed with giving it three stars for the effort, but I just didn’t enjoy the book.  Again, I wonder if I would have liked it more if I had read it instead.  It’s too bad there was little plot and the prose was so distracting because I really liked the premise.     

Friday, July 1, 2016

Bending the Landscape: Horror

Nicola Griffith and Stephen Pagel, ed.
Completed 6/26/2016, reviewed 6/30/2016
4 stars

“Bending the Landscape” is a series of original collections of gay and lesbian short stories in different genres:  Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction.  This edition is Horror.  I found it very interesting.  As in the title of the book, the landscape of horror is bent a bit.  Only a few stories are what I would call classic horror.  The rest are more like speculative fiction of horrific things.  They didn’t evoke outright fear and loathing as much as sadness and despair.  Most are very disturbing and some are even surreal.  

My favorite story was the very first.  “Coyote Love” bends the notion of “coyote ugly” and turns it inward.  A straight man wakes up to find himself in bed with another man.  But instead of finding his partner ugly, he attempts to deal with the ugliness inside. 

The second story, “Explanations Are Clear” was also quite good.  The main character’s partner has a habit of “getting lost”.  At first, we are led to think it’s directional, but the reality is that she changes, adapting to her environment.  It really hit home for me, making me reflect on my own chameleon-like tendencies, not being true to myself when confronted with different interpersonal environs.

One thing that has always struck fear in my heart has been the pink triangle.  In the story “Triangle”, a man finds an original pink triangle at an antique store while on a business trip.  He buys it for his partner who is writing a novel about gay men in the holocaust. The twist in this story is that this little patch of cloth might be endowed with a supernatural power. 

A few of the stories are near-future stories.  The one that really got to me was about a future where gays and lesbians are hunted down and executed.  One gay man hides in a marriage to a woman and takes pills to destroy his libido to survive.  In addition, he’s a police photographer who accompanies squads on raids and photographs the executions.

All the stories are well written.  They are provocative and horrifying in sometimes very subtle ways.  Even though I was hoping for cheap fluff horror, I enjoyed the book enough to give it four stars out of five.  Except for some graphic scenes in “Coyote Love”, I think people who don’t enjoy standard horror would appreciate this book.