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The Year It Didn't Happen



A steady diet of dystopian fiction.



Updated: 2017-01-28T00:25:01.547-05:00

 



Burn Down the Sky by James Jaros

2012-05-06T18:45:23.679-04:00

Burn Down the Sky

This book was terrible. I mean, just a complete stinker. Too bad for a real review with paragraphs and things, and so instead I give you the bullet points:

- global warming that causes complete global devastation in under a decade
- nothing green or growing left alive, but somehow snakes, crows, and panthers remain to attack people
- a deadly virus that plans and thinks and only allows for sex with young girls
- not to mention, if a disease is ONLY passed by hetero-sex, as laid out here, there would be a hell of a lot more homo-sex, not just a bunch of chaste couples not fooling around
- poor, poor writing where everyone says exactly what they are doing and thinking
- stock characters, such as Former Rebel Leader Turned Outlaw With Heart of Gold and Plucky Young Woman Who Can Survive Any Adventure (But Mostly Rape)
- even the cover is ugly

 Until I read this book, I thought America 2014 was going to be the worst thing I slogged through in the name of dystopia. Oh, how wrong I was.



Winterlong by Elizabeth Hand

2012-01-22T17:27:21.262-05:00

Winterlong

Once again, this review is going to suffer some because of how long ago I read this book. I'll be caught up to myself soon enough.

Elizabeth Hand is generally hit or miss for me, but on this one it was pretty much all hit. I'll be honest, most of the action revolved around violent death and wrongful sex, but this still managed to be a beautiful story. Artsy fartsy for sure, but splashy enough to pull me through it at a run.

Sex, knowledge, skill, death - each of these being traded back and forth by the survivors of our civilization reborn in darker shades. I'm kind of a sucker for any kind of sacred prostitutes in a narrative. All religions have to deal with sex somehow - to pretend that huge driving force can be overcome with prayer always strikes me as knowingly dishonest. Of course, children raised from birth to be the playthings of the powerful is as evil as it gets, and I admire Hand for making them more than victims and revenge fodder.

I would have more to say about this, but I loaned my copy out twice now and haven't got it back yet from the second time. That right there should tell you something.



Broken Angels by Richard Morgan

2012-01-07T17:36:58.703-05:00

Broken Angels

I read this book in the stupidest way possible and months ago, so keep that in mind when you read this. I got through the first third of the novel and then put it down to read something else and didn't go back to it for several weeks. You can put some stories on hold like that without losing too much ground, slipping easily back into plot and characters. This is not one of those stories. Too many names, motives, and locations, especially with all the body and space hopping that goes on. But it's a fun read and worth your attention, so learn from my mistake.

That being said, I repeat: fun read. Plenty of nifty little concepts, building seamlessly on the universe Morgan created for his main character Takeshi Kovacs in Altered Carbon. I continue to be both creeped out and fascinated by the concept of your consciousness being transportable or containable. When death is so survivable, true ending becomes even more horrific.

Once again, I thought I had the mystery solved fairly on and was happily surprised by the reveal. As a military novel, as a whodunit, and as cyberpunk adventure, Broken Angels succeeds for me. If I'd just gone cover to cover without that break, I might have wound up considering it one of my favorites from last year (and, believe it or not, I read quite a few books in 2011).

By the way, happy new year.



The Dark River by John Twelve Hawks (aka, J12H or JXIIH)

2011-05-19T15:39:43.178-04:00

The Dark River

I swear I posted a review of the first book in this series, The Traveler, but I'm not seeing it. It's even crossed out on my Big List, and I certainly remember reading it. Brain glitch? Blogger glitch? The Vast Machine? Your guess is as good as mine.

So anyway, I've mostly enjoyed this series so far. Seeing as I was raised by hippies and have run around in the punk scene for most of my adult life, I know plenty of paranoid/tinfoil hat types who prefer to live off the grid. The big bads in this book could have sprung forth from their deepest fears. That's not a complaint - it's a frightening situation, one that all of us in the first world can feel breathing down our necks. Even if we don't believe that we're being watched at all times, I think we're all aware that we do seem to be headed in a surveillance-heavy direction. (Speaking of, ever heard of the Surveillance Camera Players?)

But that sort of thing is a dime a dozen in the world of dystopian literature. What I particularly like about Twelve Hawks' world is the Harlequins, raised from birth to set aside their humanity for the good of the whole, charged with protecting the Travelers no matter what. Against lover, child, friend, or foe. There's something about Maya's journey, her attempts to throw off her responsibilities before embracing the life of the blade, her belief that she can balance a personal life and devotion to a cause if she just does it right, that I find fascinating. The idea of giving up everything for a single obsession is something I'll never wrap my mind around, but I keep wanting to try.

I'll admit, I rolled my eyes more than a few times while reading this. More so than with The Traveler. Some of the more comic booky/action moviey bits didn't work for me. Gabriel's time with the free runners, for example, seemed written just to be adapted to screen or video game. Also, I wouldn't mind seeing the plot turns progress past Gabriel meets person/people >> Gabriel learns something important >> Gabriel has to escape quickly >> the people he met get killed/attacked/brutalized >> repeat. But the good outweighs the bad, and I'll pick up The Golden City when I see it on the rack.

PS: Look up the author - he's semi-anonymous. Claims to have never met his author. No one knows he real identity. I love that shit.



The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson

2011-05-04T10:19:55.170-04:00

The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer

Absolutely primo modern speculative fiction. After a few different books that I sort of enjoyed and sort of just felt meh about, this one knocked my socks off. Concepts, delicious. Story, engaging. Philosophical meandering, minimal. Characters, fleshy and companionable.

I guess that just makes sense. Universe-building and character development are the heart of a coming-of-age novel like this. And the concepts employed aren't necessarily unique to this novel. I tasted traces of David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series, a little Dickens, big gobs of William Gibson - you know what I'm saying. And, of course, refined threads from Stephenson's own Snow Crash (which I didn't enjoy half as much as Diamond Age). But all that is just seasoning in a mighty fine soup.

In a world where most of your basic needs are met - one way or the other - what drives a person to succeed? To make something of herself? To rise from a childhood of abuse, neglect, and a mother named Tequila (really? but then, not so different from Brandy) into positions of leadership and fulfillment? Is it hardship? education? a close connection to parental figures? Stephenson takes his time in exploring these questions, and the reader is richer for it.

There was just so much to enjoy here. So many images created. The mouse army, building human rafts. The neo-Victorians, steampunkian in their top hats and watch chains. The Drummers' undersea orgies. Skullguns, smart paper, bodies in the river, actors in a ship. It's not perfect and the tech may or may not age well, but the blend of Idea and Story is right up my alley. I'm loaning this one to a friend, as soon as I run into him, and will probably have to buy myself another copy in a few years when I get an urge to read it again.



End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov

2011-05-04T09:21:21.400-04:00

End of Eternity

Well now, that wernt half bad. Nothing like a little classic, 50s-style time travel sf to kill an afternoon. Asimov can spin a yarn, and I always enjoy his style.

So, time-as-place. I have to admit, I'm easily fuddled by the paradoxes of time travel stories. I follow along without too much problem, but I never can figure out the ending before running into it. I did enjoy this particular take on it. Just utopian enough to make the final actions slightly suspect, but still welcomed. I found the details, well, charming for lack of a better word. Smoking, and its place in history. The different fashions that each eternal learned to deal with. The ever-present class issues, even at play in the timeless world of the time travelers.

I always enjoy dipping into the classics. There's often a reliance on the Idea, rather than the Story, carrying the main burden. And that's a good thing! A few too many of the more current dystopian novels I read seem to think that all the ideas are set in stone, and the only thing that remains is to pile on (most gory) details in order to hide borrowed concepts. Sometimes that works out better than you would expect. And I'm not saying that all the sf classics are these amazing pieces of work that blow the new stuff away by any means. Just that it's a different style and I enjoy both in their turn.

Honestly, I'm sketchy on Asimov (I always preferred Heinlein and Bradbury), having mostly delved into his Robots and short stories I came across in collections. I haven't read the Foundation series, but this novel got me interested, so I'll be picking those up when I run across them.



Memoirs Found in a Bathtub by Stanislaw Lem

2011-04-10T13:27:52.596-04:00

Memoirs Found in a Bathtub

As a kid, I read and reread Lem's science fiction short story collection Tales of Pirx the Pilot. In fact, I'd say that book, along with Heinlein's Green Hills of Earth, really cemented my love for science fiction. To this day, I prefer that style - character and story-driven, with just enough tech babble to make it spacey. That was my only exposure to Lem, although I did know that he was a highly respected author in several genres.

Because of my love for Pirx, I really looked forward to picking up this slim novel. Thank god this isn't the first thing I read by Lem, though, because damn. This kind of dry as dust (ha) anti-bureaucracy allegory has become my least favorite kind of dystopian work. This short little book took me 6 months to read, because I'd pick it up, go ten pages, and then put it down in favor of something more entertaining.

Now, it's not hollow or pointless. There is plenty of there there. If you do enjoy this sort of Kafka nightmare fuel, individuals lost in twisting corridors of paperwork and location, unable to save themselves, unable to even understand why they are there and how to get free, well, there's a reason it's a classic of the genre. Lem is Polish, and paints the whole thing with a very Eastern European, cold war paranoid, Soviet doublespeak. It's effective, if you've got a taste for the style. I simply do not, in particular.

In fact, does anyone want my copy? Comment below.



sf signal

2011-04-06T16:12:44.137-04:00

Just thought some of you might be interested in this. There's some pretty good writing on dystopian fiction going on at SF Signal. If you click there and check out the comments, you can find a link to a few of their other columns on the subject.



The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

2011-04-05T13:05:17.571-04:00

The Hunger Games

The twisted government, the youth-violence-as-entertainment, the love match that takes on all odds - I enjoyed the hell out of Battle Royale. Oh wait, shit, I'm supposed to be talking about Hunger Games.

Seriously. People kept suggesting this book to me, knowing my tastes and reading habits. And it's not like they were wrong - it's a fun read. But Collins was dipping water from a well I've bathed in many times before. Again, maybe I just need to stay away from young adult novels for a while. I would have loved this at 13. I was always running around making weapons out of random stuff anyway, so I probably would have adopted chunks of the plot into my make-believe life. At this age, though, the way the author just passed right over certain plot holes and unlikely moments that should have been dealt with better bugged the crap out of me.

I liked the set up, the idea of the games as retaliation against formerly rebellious colonies. Of course, forcing parents to sacrifice their own children over and over is pretty much a textbook example of how to breed further revolution, but okay. Powerful governments have done stupider things. And that bit all smacked just a little too heavily of Jackson's "Lottery". I liked them prepping for the games, except that it all had much the same flavor as the pre-run parts of King's Running Man. Of course, I enjoyed the survival game itself, except, well, you know. Battle Royale and so on.

If the sequel turns up at my house, I'll probably read it one afternoon. But honestly, I barely expect to remember much about this one in a few weeks. I do hear that a PG-13, teenybopper movie version is being made. Oh, goody.



Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

2011-03-31T11:11:28.559-04:00

Snow Crash

It was the best of dystopias, it was the worst of dystopias. Snow Crash mixes some of my favorite common elements of this sort of cyberpunk romp - sprawling, corporate rule, youth fads, a magic internet, random violence, hero girls - with my least favorites - programmer babble, religious pseudotheory. And it's hard not to just see it as Stephenson's take on William Gibson. I mean, Y.T. might as well be a younger, less modified Molly Millions. The franchise properties, where someone could cross the country by going from parking lot to parking lot, stand in pretty handily for The Sprawl. And so on.

But Neal's got his own ideas, his own take on the whole thing. Granted, he was writing in the 90s and had Gibson to springboard from, but he's enough of an author that I'm not trying to take anything away from him.

So, taking Snow Crash out of that context and on its own, I enjoyed it thoroughly. Except for the hacker blah blah. It's just not my cup of tea. I've never been a gamer, never been a programmer, and could care less about hearing someone talk about fucking around with computers on that level. It just leaves me flat and bored. So, actually, the fact that I dug a novel with so much of that as the main thread does say something positive.

The characters were a good time, even the side guys. The whole thing with the mafia ("You've got a Friend in the Business" - love it) as a legitimate corporation tickled me. It makes sense, of course, that in a situation where money talks and the government has little to no influence, the mob would have the structure and cash flow to be a major power player. In fact, I would love to read more about Uncle Enzo and his crew. Does Stephenson revisit them? And, of course, the Raft. I'd love to read an entire novel set there. Or maybe I have - take out some of the tech elements and you've got The Scar by China Miéville. I wonder how much of an influence this book was on that one.

Now, the religious/cultural parts. Well, hmmm. Sure, it makes sense as written. I'll buy that. It's as good a paperback theory as any I've seen. It didn't exactly knock windows in my skull, but I bet it would have given me plenty to chew on if I'd read it as a younger man.



Feed by M.T. Anderson

2011-03-30T09:35:59.616-04:00

Feed

I either have to stop reading young adult dystopian novels or else somehow stop judging them by the same standards I use for adult books. Really, only a few rise to meet the challenge - A Wrinkle in Time comes to mind - but quite a few of the rest have their own strengths.

Feed is one of those. Better than most of the rest of the youth fare (if only because there's no perfect hero or last minute win), but not exactly up to the level of some of the more grown up works. I tend to enjoy this sort of corporate rule/your mind is not your own plot. I guess it falls into line with my own fears and suspicions. I have a weird love/hate with commercials and advertising. I like to unpack it, try to work out how an ad is supposed to make us do what the company wants. It's all just propaganda, and I'm fascinated by it. On the other hand, it's easy for me to look at it on a technical level, because I don't make enough money to actually buy anything.

That being said, the idea of all this bullshit - ads, chat, plans, pop culture - running through my mind constantly is, of course, hellish. That's some Harrison Bergeron shit right there. And I'm not just saying that kids should read that story and not bother with Feed (although, if they are going to pick up just one, I bet you can guess the one I would suggest). Anderson does some interesting stuff, both stylistically and storywise. Speech tattoos, for instance, that require you to include one particular word in every sentence - that's the kind of detail I think about afterward.

Okay, I read this at least six months ago, so I'm probably forgetting some of what I wanted to discuss about it. That being said, that I remember so much from this book shows that at least some of it was worth holding onto.



Dayworld by Philip José Farmer

2011-03-27T22:33:37.711-04:00

Dayworld

Well, Farmer tried with this one. I mean, the concept was good. How to divide up the world evenly when you have too many people? When there is not enough land, can we do it by time? And how much would we miss the length of spring or summer if we got the full span of life over time?

Unfortunately, the whole is less than its parts. This whole book came across as very 70s despite having been published in 1985. It had a few pleasant quirks - the idea of fads being different by day and having to navigate that as you crossed from one into the other was fun. But I didn't care much about the mystery or the characters or the final, far too long chase.

I have both the sequels. I'll give the first a try. There was enough that I enjoyed that it deserves a second look, but not enough that I'm holding out much hope.



a year off is probably enough

2011-03-27T22:01:08.813-04:00

Things are going to shit here in Florida and all around the US due to stupid people managing to get more power than they should be trusted with. Things are going to shit across the globe due to forces both natural and calculated. And Big Brother is definitely watching us!

I find myself drawn back into the dystopian world. Sort of like where I live now, except with the possibly of hope usually shining through somehow in the end.



watch this space

2010-10-14T13:39:34.038-04:00

I've kept up with the reading, if not with the blogging. I think I might redevote myself to this project. Keep an eye here if you're interested.



Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch

2010-03-15T14:14:09.089-04:00

(image)
Camp Concentration

Even thought it was published in the late 60s, this one felt very old school to me. The journal format, the paranoia specifically of a wartime government, even the "voice" all felt very 1984 or Kallocaine to me. Which worked in its favor. I could excuse some stilted description as a stylistic choice, I feel like, rather than sketchy writing.

But I guess "sketchy" really is the word I want to use here. The characters felt like a sketch (especially the one woman). The science - and I use that term loosely - wasn't given any details. The end seemed a little tacked on, barely fleshed.

That being said, not a bad read. It wasn't meant to be realistic, more of an thought exercise. How much are we willing to give up for intellect? How important is it? Health, taste, skill, life? Do they even attain intellect, or just speed? No answers given, but isn't that true of most dystopian literature?



Big Brother actually is watching them

2010-02-18T16:32:12.480-05:00

In a move worthy of William Gibson's nightmares, the Lower Merion School District (a Philly, PA suburb) is being sued. Why? Because they issued a bunch of laptops to students and didn't tell them that the computers came equipped with webcams that could be covertly activated by the schools' administrators to record what was going on in front of said webcam without the students or parents having the slightest idea. This came to light when they decided to punish a student for "improper behavior in his home", behavior captured by the secret spying.

Makes you wonder who all is watching you sleep, don't it?



reading update

2010-01-28T12:19:02.576-05:00

(image)
Just wanted to say that I finished Camp Concentration a few days ago. I'll be posting a review of it in the next day or two. Now I have a few options on the next book to read.

Which do you think I should open up:
- Feed by M.T. Anderson
- Dayworld by Philip José Farmer
- Memoirs Found in a Bathtub by Stanislaw Lem






Dear Journal:

2010-01-12T09:47:09.956-05:00

Froom what I can tell, keeping a journal is pretty much the most important thing an individual can do in the face of an oppressive regime. 1984, We, Camp Concentration, Anthem, Kallocain, Level 7 - whether the frightened citizen hiding his notebook under the bed or the prisoner writing at his captors' request, dystopian authors just love their diaries.

Seriously, though, is this just lazy writing, an easy way to get in plenty of explanation without having to come up with realistic dialogue? Is it the echos of an older style? Classic works having their patterns borrowed through the decades?

To me, I guess it's like anything else. I like it when it's done well (Kallocain, We), but after I've seen it over and over it just serves to remove me from the action. Your feelings?



2010, where to begin

2010-01-02T18:15:57.308-05:00

(image)
I've read about 2/3 of these over the last two years, but that still leaves enough beautiful books to make me drool a little.

Just a little.

Where should I start? Dayworld? Feed? Camp Concentration?



2009, and what I found there.

2009-12-30T13:12:19.412-05:00

- The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
- Moscow 2042 by Vladimir Voinovich (Владимир Войнович)
- Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem
- The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
- The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
- Kallocain by Karin Boye
- When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger
- The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk
- Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom by David Wingrove
- Sea of Glass by Barry B. Longyear
- We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
- Halting State by Charles Stross
- Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy
- Marching Through Georgia by S.M. Stirling
- Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison

Favorites: We, Gun, with Occasional Music, Sea of Glass
Most Boring: Halting State, The Plot Against America
What I should have ready decades ago, because it was excellent: The Lottery and Other Stories
Stank like patchouli: The Fifth Sacred Thing
Goriest: Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom, Altered Carbon

I'm looking forward to another year!



Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison

2009-12-30T10:13:52.940-05:00

(image) Make Room! Make Room!

(First, for the record, that is not the cover of the edition I read. But it's such a great design that I had to show it to y'all.)

This book inspired the classic flick Soylent Green, but doesn't actually have much in common with that movie. Let me just put this up front: it's not people. It's soy + lentil (soylent). And that's not even a plot point.

This is a dark little look at population growth predictions from the 60s. Mass starvation, water riots, people dragging themselves through life as a matter of habit. It's no The Sheep Look Up, but it's not exactly a stroll through Peppyville, either. (Then again, do I really want to go to Peppyville? You just know all their restaurants make their employees sing to you when you just want to eat.)

Luckily, Harrison bundles bleak forecasting with a little mystery, a little drug use, a little sex, and a little sharp humor. That's a lot to pack into a slim novel, and it keeps you reading. Even if the main point isn't "People! They're eating people!" but, instead, "Wear your condoms, kids, there's not enough to go around."



Marching Through Georgia by S.M. Stirling

2009-12-29T10:38:00.179-05:00

(image) Marching Through Georgia

I don't know. I just don't. It was written well. It kept me interested. The battle scenes were some of the best I've read. But a book that has me choose between cheering on Nazis or cheering on slave-owners? Not something that comes naturally, even when it's clear that the rest of the series probably deals with some changes of heart among the main slaver characters.

Here's the deal, I am not a history buff. I have a vague understanding of what led up to various American or world wars, but that's it. So I don't get that same thrill that I would guess regular readers of the stuff enjoy from the cleverness of manipulating facts and possibilities into a plausible situation. For me to enjoy work like this, I need a few facts filled in for me and I need characters and a story worth caring about. I'd say I got all three here.



Another year, another round.

2009-12-28T09:41:30.924-05:00

Well, I've been at this a while now. I've read everything from porn to philosophical musings. Aside from a handful of more apocalyptic tomes (and a few Discworld novels to clean the palate), it's been dystopia 24/7 in my literary world. And I'm still enjoying the hell out of it! Expect some tweaks on this blog and a whole new crop of reviews and discussions.

Hey ho, here we go!



Oryx and Crake illustrations

2009-11-06T09:40:31.476-05:00

(image)
An artist named Jason Courtney has done a short series of very cool illustrations based on Margaret Atwood's novel Oryx and Crake. Go, look.

(Found on the blog Uncertain Times, which you really should check out.)