Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Book Review: *The Persistence of Vision*

Book: The Persistence of Vision

Author: John Varley

Goodreads rating: 4

Overall a strong collection of stories with a good mix of both Varley's Eight Worlds stories and several stand alone pieces.

  • The 'Phantom of Kansas' is a well done mystery that reminds me of Heinlein's 'All You Zombies'.

  • 'Air Raid' is the prototype for Millenium and, while I like the setting less than any of the other worse, doesn't die off the way Millenium does.

  • 'Retrograde Summer' is a classic Eight Worlds, and provides a worldview from which the modren concepts of family appear perverse while showing that even the gender swapping Eight Worlds characters can fall victim to their assumptions about gender roles. The quicksilver falls and swimming hole are pretty cool, too.

  • 'The Black Hole Passes' is another Varley piece that strongly reminds me of Heinlein -- Characters are technically brilliant, highly sexualized, romantically and erotically bonded and chivalrous with regards to each other.

  • 'In the Hall of the Martian Kings' is not set in the Eight Worlds, but starts off in a strange but almost Bradbury-esque way with Mars somehow adapting to an abandoned human exploration team. It builds quite well with a nice dynamic between the team members, but ends too suddenly and patly.

  • 'In the Bowl'. Another Heinlein-like piece (in the interact between the protagonists, at least) that does a good job of relating both how potentially alien the universe can be and how we can neglect the importance and value of a process, particularly a mysterious one, for its end product.

  • 'Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance' -- Fairly sexy exploration of the creation of art through synthesis and connection and the loss experienced after disconnecting told through the eyes of Eight Worlds Human/Sym pair.

  • 'Overdrawn at the Memory Bank' -- Fun exploration of the potential consequences of human mind recording and running a human in silico and how his interactions with the human world might be."

  • 'Persistence of Vision' -- Reminds me of Richard Bach's Illusions, Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, Vonnegut's Slaughterhourse Five, etc. The Messiah interaction from those pieces is flipped, though, with the Mesiah character actually manifesting as a small, loving utopian culture of deaf-mutes. Sounds weird, works really well. Like those pieces I compare it to.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Book Review: The Multiplex Man

Title: The Multiplex Man Author: James P. Hogan

The Multiplex Man is a decent read, with a clever and twisting story arc revealed in a nonlinear way through the various viewpoints of the eponymous character. Published in 1992, it inverts the East/West ideological divide by creating a authoritarian West that has turned to a ideologically Green command economy purportedly to stave off a Malthusian disaster. In contrast, former Soviet bloc has become a freedom loving, apparently strongly capitalistic and libertarian society that's enjoying the benefits of a healthy connection with human colonies throughout the solar system.

Against this backdrop, the hook is dangling quickly, with the reader drawn in with the mysterious as to why mild mannered Dick Jarrow awakes from a doctor's visit to find himself in a hotel in a different state with all of the trappings of an adventerous life -- lipstick on the pillow, guns and cash in a bag and a set of mysterious notes -- as well as well as a different identity. As he searches to understand his situation, we're given ever deeper layers of mystery to uncover.

Plotwise, the story arc twists and turns, with the situation rarely being entirely what it seems. While the characters' constant obsession with ideology can be offputting, it isn't entirely inappropriate for the world it's set in. It does detract from some of character building, making the characters feel flatter than I think they otherwise would. The point of view shifts, while occasionally fitting well within the plot and system of the universe, are often jarring and I think could've been executed more smoothly. Still, they do likely avoid unnecessary exposition which is generally a good thing.

All-in-all, a worthwhile read that kept me interested despite feeling excessively ideological.