Review: MSS GRAB BAG

Ted Chiang – Stories of Your Life and Others

Smooth and simple, which sometimes shows itself as lovely and economical, and sometimes as dull-witted and silly into the realm of laughter. The first story in the collection is a substantive and elegant illustration of a silly idea… the second is an attractive idea handled as a tepid farce. None of the other stories stick in my mind enough to merit dismissal.

These stories are an homage to scifi’s Golden Age: the little story illustrating a creative concept, the removal of something from the realm of ideas to the realm of things, the Beginning Middle and End and each of them with their own little invention that you can’t help but look at and think, How I would like one of these!

As such it will appeal to the greybeards (their name is Legion!) who dominate the genre, drive the Genre community. But that method is tired, its tropes unexceptional, and that era was more comical than we care to admit… and an homage which takes itself seriously is destined for the bin.

Robert Gerwarth – Hitler’s Hangman

The definitive account of Reinhard Heydrich is less definitive than his wikipedia article. The writing is laboriously simplistic but digressive; three paragraphs of polysyllables will scratch the surfaces of six different topics, yielding no understanding, no sympathy with actors, no comprehensive appreciation for time or terror or tide. The early book demonstrates that, where little was known of the protagonist’s young life, the author’s research has revealed very little else. The specific refutations of the works of other scholars are utterly sophomoric; what would be boorish in a dissertation are not elevated by mainstream printing. His assertions of opinions on items only tangentially related to the life of his subject are out of place when they are not silly; such a desperation for a little academic to prove his mastery of History suggests he should lay down the pen and pick up Minecraft.

But above all, above all else, the constant browbeating by the author for modern morality – making sure to point out at every turn that a Nazi ideology is misinformed, or based upon faulty reasoning, or looking into the camera mid-sentence to address that the belief in question is of absolute wrongness – is beyond condescension at its worst. It is not the voice of a teacher or preacher. I cannot decide whether it is the stutter of a coward, desperately trying to disassociate himself from his subject matter… or what is worse, the braying of an idiot, who believes somehow that his readers might not yet be convinced that Nazis are bad. This is what it looks like when a scholar tries to dumb down his work to reach a popular audience, clearly having so low an opinion of the populi that he considers autotrepanning an appropriate editorial technique.

In either case, the scholarship is hollow, the prose almost profoundly unexceptional, the force of the story like that of a sitcom rerun you let play in the background as you vacuum.

Tasted twice, with consistent notes.

Richard Morgan – Market Forces

Market Forces is a novel set in a hypothetical near future somewhere between the anarcho-capitalism of Snow Crash and the happy delusions of Ralph Naedar after a crack-tasting. Investment banks do unabashed evil. Their saraimen are well-fed but (!) unhappy, whereas everyone else in the world is starving and distantly sympathetic. To compete for contracts, the investment bankers engage in arena combat of ambiguous structure and purpose. Their gladiatorings take the form of high-speed road races conducted in heavily armed passenger cars.

Also there are some characters, but not really. All their actions revolve around these death drives. And there are some sub-plots, but they’re just padding. All the points of import in the story are on the yellow-lined field of battle. There is no overarching conflict. There is no suspense, nor sympathy with any of the characters. The best that can be said of the book is that it has one idea. The worst is that its idea is Mortal Commuting – or worse, that it takes that idea and makes it dull.

In its attempted profundity, in its pretensions towards prognostication, Market Forces demonstrates such a depth of ignorance – of economics, of the structures of business, of, indeed, the ways of the world – that can only be called childish. One does not wish just to teach Richard Morgan to write; one hopes it is not too late to teach him to read.

John Scalzi – Old Man’s War

Starship Troopers cut with tap water. Pale and wan. A superlative example of the “Classic” subgenre of science fiction… an homage without reinterpretation… a chimera with one head… toothless, simultaneously for having lost all its teeth, and their not yet having come in.

Soon to be a major motion picture.

Eric Siblin – The Cello Suites

A fascinating subject of history and art, entwined in the lackluster autodidacticisms of one who has no place in either. This is a Popular Author who has chosen a Good Subject and tried to make it friendly to the readers of magazine articles by making it about himself. The result could only be appealing to the most cloistered, the most desperate, the most utterly alienated sort of suburbanite; lashed to the white picket fence, broken over the minivan; this fellow’s reflections could only move someone who has just spent six hours watering their yard by hand because the sprinkler broke.

Warren Ellis – Transmet

Wanting in witticism, neither desperate nor depraved, over-the-top of substance and tepid of style (the precise opposite of Gonzo journalism)… this is the Play-Dough of counterculture.

∴)

Alan Moore – From Hell

An intriguing and engaging story, somewhat damped down by the fact that Alan Moore is a whole sack of bananas. His pages of digressions are neither relevant to the story nor interesting in their own right. His archaisms are as subtle as a croquet mallet to the pego. His character development in less an arc than a Glasgow smile. This is not historical revisionism; this is someone brushing up against History, having Thoughts in reaction thereto, and they being so barking egotistical as to think this justifies the expounding thereof.

Vernor Vinge – Rainbow’s End

Begins with a pleasant clarity that speaks of the best traits of Golden Age science fiction. Introduces a plausible near future with plausible innovations all economically described. Establishes its terms. Establishes a mystery. They are bright shining wheels, and they are in motion!

By the beginning of the second chapter the wheels have ground to a halt. The pace drops from the imminent to the entropic. The economy of language takes to hyperinflation. The characters cease to be interesting, fresh, realistic, sympathetic, and instead become pasteboard pathetic and awful. A resoundingly disappointing book; let it be useful to writers as a memento that, when your publisher makes you write a catchy first chapter, that’s a good clue that the other chapters in the book also need some work.

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~ by davekov on 16 June 2012.

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