The world’s alight with golds and reds, folks, and autumn’s got me smacked! A wonderful summer is dovetailing into the sweet coast toward December.
I want to thank readers and participants for your time, attention, and insights during this year’s science fiction reading group. Much obliged; keep it coming! We’ll bring you more hand picked science fiction next summer. But now is now. Several intriguing and promising developments on the horizon this Autumn, and more to follow on that.
But first let’s wrap up this year’s Uncanny Valley with our discussion notes of New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson. A Manhattan housing bubble bursts in the era of rising sea levels. Communities band together and, well…let Kim tell you. This voluminous tome has lots of smots, no matter how they scatter.
Wrap Up: The discussion night dinner party at my place was more fun than the book. We read this book so you wouldn’t have to. If you are a long time fan of KSR this book will do just fine. If you’ve never read KSR before, don’t start here. Start with Shaman, or the Mars Trilogy.
Now the notes:
p. 33-4, 35 voice transcripts? Who are you talking to, because it doesn’t feel like you’re talking to me. Is the narrator a character? A very pronounced character. Trim a bit, dood.
p.37 Hubert Fauntleroy Julian, “The Black Eagle,” the “first Negro to obtain a pilot’s licence.” A black pilot who flew to Europe and challenged Hermann Goering to an air duel.
p. 39 Sky village harvesting apples
p. 42 Amelia the sexy web hostess leading an aerial tour of Manhattan. She says: “Brooklyn and Queens make a very strange-looking bay. To me, it looks like some kind of rectangular coral reef exposed at low tide.”
And it’s just more narrator’s voice. Sparse use of dialog, sparse use of dialogue of consequence. Lots of telling-not-showing.
p. 35, 36, 42 It’s obvious KSR did a lot of homework, and needs us to know that, to the point of describing things until long after I was interested in hearing about them. His tome is very conversational and redundant, using phrases for color that repeat each others content. It sounds like someone waxing poetic about New York after reading about it a lot, but never living there.
p. 45 Ah, much better, some consequential dialogue.
p. 48 Plenty of show-don’t-tell to go around. Dialogue essays, even telling what characters say in an expository paragraph, rather than quoting it.
[I’m beginning to suspect this book was dictated into a voice recognition or some kind of recorder. He’s just running his mouth and they’re printing it all up.]
p. 50 Ah, immersed in actual people, actual things happening, how these communities operate. This is good.
Meg: “That’s what equality is all about: you never make assumptions, no matter what the cues are.”
p. 55, 62, 65 good examples of inconsequential dialogue, the last 4 volleys rehashes the same inconsequential dialogue.
p. 85 So, I’m reading a “sci-fi” version of the housing bubble burst of 2008. Just watch “The Big Short” and spare me. This exemplifies the recent sci-fi syndrome: Sci-fi has become contemporary literature, so why are you doing it? Sci-fi, please take the next look forward.
p. 152 Jeff (& Mutt) graffittied the body of Law
p. 206 – 209: a good example of a paragraph no one needs. The “list-loving writer” strikes again. 2008 redux, I know, it’s painfully obvious. The KSR meander style. A paragraph of riffs that culminates in, “Bubbles, skin, ducks, yes it was a morass of mined metaphors.”
Indeed, it was.
p. 206 “Capital, having considerably more liquidity than water, slid down the path of least resistence, or up it, or sideways – it doesn’t matter…”
(Yeah, to him it doesn’t matter. Fire up the dictaphone.)
p. 214 [in Garr’s voice] “The stack, as in stack of emergent properties, but really stacked emergencies. Really best to think of it as a kind of game. Mabye. A game, or a system for gaming things. Anyway,…”
(And it goes on.)
It’s a rent strike.
p. 210 Intertidal, defined at last. Lots more show-don’t-tell where that came from. Editor!
Meg, recently returned from Taos Toolbox, criticized the sloppy writing and messy, untagged dialogues. It’s tough to know who’s talking, and not on purpose. “I don’t mean to bash Robinson, but has he even reread this?” Maybe Robinson has reached the bashing stage in his career. After a dozen or so books, maybe he’s already said what he’s here to say.
p. 212 “The invisible hand never picks up the check.” HA! I love it. Get moral, man!
p. 214 “New York still tended to stand for The City everywhere.”
p. 245 did Idelba and Vlade’s kid die? This turns out to be the most interesting relationship in the novel, and fairly incidental.
[I jumped ahead about 200 pages and they’re still talking about the offer on the building.]
p. 427 “a householder’s strike could cause a crash,” followed by a “nationalize the banks” outline, making the profits of finance a public fund. Seems like a naive leftism.
(I hope the Democrats don’t go Espresso Party.)
p. 432 The ratings agencies “never saw a bubble they didn’t triple-A.” Again, followed by a long, drawn out fictionalized 2008 rehash. Just watch The Big Short and save yourself.
p. 434 If we just replace it with OUR tyrannical system, everything will be OK. Bigger government, every aspect of life should eventually be a government province. Whew.
p. 528 democracy vs. capitalism entrenchment. Strike time!
p. 532 fiscal noncompliance, like No-Gas Day. The crash comes. The citizens go on financial strike.
p. 542 The concept of utopia has a very dark, indidious element. Utopia is the tyranny you designed, perfect as far as you care to measure.
p. 553 “see if government could go back to being the people’s company.” “Red Dems.” The Democrats have a Tea Party, also. But it needs a better name than Red Dems. Let’s call it the Espresso Party. HA!
p. 554 scaring the rich. “the fact that a real plan has reared its ugly head, and it’s called this: nationalize the banks.”
p. 558 (!) No! Is Larry Jackman a real villain?
p. 560, 2008 Bernanke analysis with imaginary hindsight, heh.
p. 561 call back on Jeff’s “graffiti hacks.”
A very distinctly purposeful book. Enjoying the story was incidental. It is teaching, in fiction form, what Zizek might call, “pure ideology.”
The householders, and most everybody, are real comunities of earnest people. I appreciate KSR’s moral storytelling approach. But it lacks something, a shadow.
p. 563 so that risky investments are not bankrolled by the government. Is Larry playing dumb because he’s a villain? Or is it because KSR doesn’t know what the chair of the Fed would think of this situation? Not economically literate in it?
It’s supposed to be a long, drawn-out conversational book, because it is diluting complex ideas and postulating organized social movements, thinly veiled economic politcal instructions, on purpose, to make it comprehensible and practical to imagine into action.
Example: Joint enterprise laws.
p. 565 a little hand-tipping.
p. 577-8 more inconsequential dialogue, please!
p. 603-4 make it stop. Less of this would have made the book shorter, and easier to finish. Before you go, cover all your wisdom bases, old man.
Gill: “I can’t critique anything but his futurism, because there’s nothing else there.”
Suhail: “Using plausible technology removes the concept of ‘fiction.’ What’s the fucking point? It’s like his dictaphone was asking him, ‘What do you think, Kim?'”
Robinson knows how to do better character development, back when he didn’t have all of that prophet technologist mantle laid on him. A book by KSR that Meg and Chris both loved: Shaman. Ice age hunter, culture as technology, which deeply depends on human relationships.
1920s Utopias eventually contain an element of futurism that is fascist. What is the human plight against it. Utopias are a warning, too, because they imply, “Well if you just use my form of tyranny, we’ll all be happy.”
Science fiction is mined for movies, now it’s more fadish to mime science fiction for tech innovation. So sci-fi more and more writes towards R & D, rather than really using some fiction imagination. Maybe I’ll predict the next hot technology, ha.
This led to a nostalgic tangent about how exquisite was A Canticle For Leibowitz. That book – so good.
Suggestions so far for next summer’s list?
Vinge, Arabella of Mars
Any suggestions of your own? Please post them in the comments.
Wrap up: If you’ve never read Kim Stanley Robinson, start elsewhere.
See you next time for some exciting announcements about this crisp and lavish autumn’s literary endeavors, including another school talk (my favorite), a short story contest, an audiobook of Cetus Finalis, and more.
Thank you for reading. Reading rules!