Stable Strategies and Others
I saw a big stack of Eileen Gunn's Stable Strategies and Others on a table in the Dealer's Room at Worldcon one morning, and didn't think much of it. Later that day, it got mentioned as a fabulous small-press success, and when I went back to look at it again, the publisher had sold out. Word of mouth works, I guess...
Anyway, this is a short-story collection including pretty much everything Gunn's ever written, I believe. It also boasts appreciative essays (and one bit of doggerel) by William Gibson, Michael Swanwick, and Howard Waldrop, which pretty much tells you what you're going to get. At least, assuming you've read those three.
The twelve stories in this book are so carefully crafted that it's easy to see why there aren't more of them. They feel as if the deletion of a single adjective would cause the whole thing to dissolve, like a special effect from a Thursday Next book. They're also all very odd, and mostly satirical. In "Stable Strategies for Middle Management," people undergo extensive bioengineering to fit in better with corporate culture, while "Fellow Americans" imagines Richard Nixon as a tremendously popular game-show host, in a world where Barry Goldwater was elected President.
This sounds utterly bizarre, I'm sure, but they mostly work very well. The only exceptions are the two co-authored pieces, "Nirvana High" and "Green Fire." The former runs afoul of my low opinion of Kurt Cobain, while the latter (which puts Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein at the center of the "Philadelphia Experiment") is just too cute to really work.
Ten out of twelve is pretty darn good, though. It's a fine collection, and deserves to be a smashing success for its publisher.
Posted at 8:26 PM | link |
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The pile of unread and in-progress books on my bedside table had grown to the point where it was beginning to block the light from the lamp, making it hard to read in bed. A little weeding was in order, and in the process, I've been forced to admit that I've given up on some of the books in the stack. Three, in particular, I doubt I'll be able to ever finish.
The first of these, chronologically, is David Brin's Kiln People. I no longer recall whether I started this before or after the Boskone Incident, but I've been stuck eighty pages in since not long after that. It's a little hard to nail down the exact problem I have with the book-- basically, it just failed to grab me. I've had this problem with some of his other non-Uplift books as well (Earth and Glory Season were kind of a slog), but I'm going to have to face the facts, and just give up on this one.
The second book in the pile, Madeleine Robins's The Stone War is a little better, in that I can say exactly why I ran out of steam in it. The book is a story of a dystopian near-future New York, to which Something Weird happens. The problem is with the dystopian aspects-- it feels more like the crime-ridden New York of the 1970's than anything that might reasonably have grown out of the New York of the 90's. I realize that the books quickly moves away from that, and doesn't really return, but it soured me on the whole thing from the beginning, and I lost momentum completely.
The third is probably the best-known of the lot: China Mieville's Perdido Street Station. There's enough buzz about Mieville that I overcame some early reservations to actually start reading this, and I got a hundred pages in before I got bogged down. Something about the combination of reach-for-the-dictionary obscure vocabulary, hugely overwritten descriptive passages, and general squalor just wore me out. It's fantastically inventive, but unpleasant, and reading it had become a chore. I may pick it up again someday, but not soon.
There were a couple of other books unearthed (Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, Perrotta's Little Children that I almost certainly will finish, but those, too, have been removed from the table for now, the better to see Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Or, possibly, Florence of Arabia, if I'm feeling lowbrow...
Posted at 8:31 PM | link |
This book introduces a new POV character, Ukiah's "brother" Atticus Steele, who shares Ukiah's heritage and abilities (and his dumb-as-a-sack-of-hammers lack of curiosity about them), but lacks the knowledge of his true origins. This helps a bit with the problem of clumsy exposition that marred the previous book. I have an easier time with clunky backstory-laden dialogue when at least one of the characters doesn't already know what's being said.
Unfortunately, the introduction of Atticus brings in a bunch of new problems. For one thing, having an exact duplicate of Ukiah running around really throws the more "Mary Sue"-ish aspects of the character into sharp relief. He's just a little too good to be true, and there's some gag-inducing dialogue to that effect in the middle of this book. His relationship with his partner, Hikaru Takahashi was another problem point for me-- it felt sort of like fanfic pre-emption, as if the author was trying to head off Ukiah Oregon slash by throwing some actual homosexual content into the books. It didn't really work for me (the relationship as written, not the pre-emption-- I never had any interest in Ukiah Oregon slash fanfic).
The biggest problem, though, is the effect that Atticus has on the structure of the plot. There's a great deal of coming-to-terms-with-his-true-nature stuff in the book, which compresses the overarching alien-invaders plot to the point where it feels really rushed. The action on the continuing storyline doesn't really get started until about fifty pages before the end, and it's all resolved a little too neatly.
The first couple of books in the series were good fun, but in this one, the flaws sort of overwhelm the good points of the story. It does, however, boast what may be the best Boston-related typo in publishing history, when one character is said to be lost after making a wrong turn onto "Sorrow Drive." So, you know, that's something.
Posted at 8:01 PM | link |
I thought the story arc momentum was starting to run out steam in the last book, so if it's continuing to run down, I may not be real motivated to pick this up, even if I'm in a trashy fiction mood (and who isn't, every now and then?).
And as to "Mary Sue", I read Spencer's _Tinker_ a few months ago, and the protagonist there is even more Mary-Suish than Ukiah Oregon, leading me to wonder if Spencer is capable of writing a non-thinly veiled wish-fulfillment main character.
It's not the net amount of overall plot action, which would've been fine. It's that it's all packed into the last fifty pages of the book, and gets kind of short shrift after all the character stuff.
Had the plot that's in this book been spread more evenly, I think it would've been fine.
I liked the book and have often found that if people go into something expecting it to live up to an expectation that they have set up then it will not live up to that expectation. If you went into this book looking for something that you did not find in the previous three then you will be dissapointed.
Nicko, 07.25.2005, 7:49pm | permalink