Swanwick is one of those rare writers who seemingly never repeats himself. After the mind expanding Vacuum Flowers he followed it with a novel that, while taking place in the same universe (but far from the Sol system), established by mentioning the Comprise, does everything different and still succeeds as well as Vacuum Flowers. The pacing is much slower, allowing Swanwick to develop the main character, the bureaucrat, and the world he’s on, Miranda, with more care. Especially Miranda comes to live as a place fully realized and Swanwick’s prose really makes you feel like you’re there, sweating and experiencing this place as if you’re in the skin of the bureaucrat. It’s not just the place that Swanwick’s prose captures, it’s also the atmosphere, this special time before the tides sweep everything away and make Miranda a different world. If you ever wanted to be envious about what writers can do with words, SotT is a good place to start.
But it’s not just the prose that is good. The bureaucrat is an extremely fascinating main character, at first seemingly a simple man he becomes more and more complex with every new information the reader uncovers about him. The plot is involving as well, concerned with stopping the transfer of advanced technology from more to less developed cultures. I actually think that the bureaucrat is the real bad guy of the novel, if we can overlay such a non-trivial question with simple black-and-white-schema. But despite that I began to root for the bureaucrat winning.
Only his second novel, but what a difference in quality compared to In the Drift. Like Sterling’s Schismatrix this feels like a progenitor of all those transhuman/posthuman elements that became so prevalent later on in SF. It’s a tour of a future solar system that has the same idea density and complexity like e.g. the more recent Accelerando by Charles Stross. The core premise of the novel is the complete reprogrammability of the human mind, a powerful concept that isn’t easily handled and thus often avoided, even in more recent fiction. Swanwick explores this from various directions, a borglike entity that controls Earth, a Mars-commune that programs its citizen do be brave and happy worker drones and more.
The human mind has become just as mutable as fashion. Swanwick’s novel shows a future out of control, having lost its last fixed or at least slow moving attractor. If free will and identity are easily editable they become worthless, and while the Comprise, the borglike entity on Earth, seems like the most unpleasant outcome of this future, it makes sense in a world where identity and self has become an endlessly interchangeable commodity. The plot hook of the book is about another alternative, an updated version of the human mind, personalities that revert despite every reprogramming to their normal state. In consequence making the human mind immutable again.
This is my kind of book, taking an idea and running as far as possible with it. Admittedly this happens (a bit) at the expense of characterization and atmosphere, but nothing can beat the raw power of the ideas exhibited here.
This is certainly not a book you can read on an afternoon. TYoRaS is a complex and dense alternative/parallel world epic that poses the question: what would have followed if the black death had completely depopulated Europe. At times the complexity of the alternate history and the story threatens to overwhelm the reader, reading it piece by piece is a good strategy to digest all the details and themes. It’s also a nice way of allowing yourself to think and reflect about the themes the book tries to cover, which range from science, religion, politics and many more.
This is not a fast read (as I already said), partly because of the density of the text, partly because of the fact that every new chapter forces the reader to completely reorient himself, presenting a new scenario and period of this alternate history. There’s a trick by KSR to connect all the chronologically divided events and places, giving it continuity, by letting his main characters reincarnate each time, albeit with different ethnicity and gender yet similar temperaments. There are also interconnecting pieces between the chapters that take place in the Bardo, a kind of afterworld, where the main characters wait for their next life to begin, with all the memories from their previous lives intact and reminiscencing about the failures or accomplishments of their most recent life.
To enjoy TYoRaS you have to bring a bit of endurance to the table (if you read KSR before you’ll know that he can sometimes fall into lecture-mode) and most of all an interest in seeing an alternate history that is slightly different and yet not completely alien unfold before your eyes in exhausting detail. TYoRaS is a book to savor, that does not immediately gratifies but rather shows its beauty in the long run and has the ability to linger on in your mind.
An adaptation of John Steakley’s Vampires$ that shows a Vatican sanctioned group of vampires hunters getting a seriously beating (most of them die) by one major vampire dude and their counterattack on him. The type of vampires shown here isn’t the typical, brooding goth vampire from Interview with a Vampire for example, but the feral, bloodthirsty creature that has lost all humanity (if we define humanity as all the nice thinks we say about each other). The hunters themselves aren’t that nice either, but at least their ruthlessness makes it believable that they actually have a chance of taking the vampires down.
The movie doesn’t have the clean look and style you expect from some cinema movies (that comes from editing every scene to perfection that makes everything looks over-stylized, whether people pick their nose or have a super-duper important action scene), I felt like watching a TV movie or a cheaper Video-only production, but that raw look actually supported the atmosphere of the movie.
If a known hentai creator makes a manga about a young hermaphrodite who is slowly discovering his sexuality, most people wouldn’t really expect a serious coming-of-age story that gives the theme a serious treatment.
And as far as BnFnT is concerned, they are mostly right. While the sex is most of the time off-screen, it’s there and how the character in BnFnT jump onto each other has nothing to do with realistic human behavior and more with how people in porn go at it. Still, at least it’s entertaining in the typically lighthearted manner of Toshiki and not really offensive.
The science fiction tag is for the reason that later it turns out that the main character is the offspring of a human-alien liaison (the aliens are all hermaphrodites (but still look like humans)) and with that fact revealed the story completely leaves any pretension of seriousness behind. The ending also leaves something to be desired in it’s rather terse attempt to close the story.
Three volume manga by Toshiki Yui that, untypically for him, contains elements of horror. Problem is, Toshiki’s manga so far have been on the lighter side of things, most of his early stuff was fluffy and light hentai (porn). Some of his more recent stuff tries to avoid outright porn, maybe this is an attempt to remake himself into more of a mainstream creator.
Still, Toshiki so far lacks the sensibilities for creating true horror and whenever you get the feeling something truly horrible could happen he remedies that by making some of his characters say something non-serious or make non-serious faces. This truly makes it hard to take the more serious elements of the story serious. Still, it’s okay entertainment, Toshiki knows how to string his readers along.
The ending is a complete deus ex-machina, but since the story that came before lacked real impact, it’s not really that annoying.
This was far less satisfying than the first Astropolis novel. Cenotaxis is a bridge between Saturn Returns and the forthcoming Earth Ascendant, telling of the events that take place when Imre, the main character from the first novel, reaches Earth to begin the progress of recreating the galactic civilization that has been shattered by the Slow Wave. Imre wants Earth, because it’s important as a symbol, the cradle of mankind and all that.
Cenotaxis is told from the viewpoint of Jasper, a guy who thinks he is God and whose consciousness is pretty weird, jumping in a nonlinear manner between the events of his own life. He is the leader of the opposition that don’t want Imre to take over Earth, but finds himself eventually a prisoner of him. Part of what makes Cenotaxis less successful is that there’s never doubt that Jasper is actually God, so most of his discussion with Imre and his inner rambling comes over as nothing more than useless bla. It’s also not very clear why exactly he opposes Imre, apart from some nebulous reasoning that doesn’t really make sense. But maybe someone who thinks himself divine doesn’t need sound reasons.
Another problem I had with Cenotaxis is that we don’t find out much about Earth. After all, this is the place that has been host to some very advanced minds in this far future and nearly a million years have gone by since our present, so I expected a very interesting depiction of a transformed and very different future Earth. But we aren’t actually shown much at all, only some pieces that makes Earth look rather mundane and uninteresting, which is pretty disappointing.
Since Earth Ascendant hasn’t been out yet, I can’t say whether reading this is mandatory or not, but I suspect not. My recommendation, get it only if you really want to know more about the things that transpired when Imre reached Earth. Otherwise I think a short recount of the events in Earth Ascendant will do for mostly everyone else.
There’s fiction that tries to convey a positive attitude for life and everything. And then there’s stuff like Uncivilized Planet. This is a real study of misery, each of the three main characters get repeatedly the wrong end of the stick: rape, torture and other misfortunes happen again and again to them. And two of those three also become rather bitter rivals. While I’m not per se against such stuff, most of it is very dreary to read and becomes boring (like Uncivilized Planet), since making something so depressing also an enthralling read is hard.
The comic also suffers from the fact that it isn’t clear where the whole story takes place. Is it Earth, or another world? We never know, and for something that is striving to tell a story as serious as this, separating it from the real world makes it rather surreal and weakens the impact considerably. Also it makes me feel like the author has rigged the setting to get the maximum of suffering out of his characters, which is just a slight bit too manipulative for my taste. Makes me remember Saikano, which had the same issues and was just as dreary and pointless.
The main strength of Tropical Citron is not the core plot, that is actually the common man from our world enters another world and plays the role of the saviour, freeing the people of the other world from an evil creature. The difference to that common template lies in the execution, in Tropical Citron the evil that has gained control of the other world is seemingly none other than the rabbit from Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (I could be wrong, it might also be an allusion to something else).
And the other world is just a crazy variation of the present of the main characters point of departure from our world. Which are some rundown Japanese suburbs during the era of the Vietnam war. All the things you’ll expect from that time surface in TC, drugs, sex and hippie sensibilities.
At times Tropical Citron is a rather confusing read, always evoking the feeling that the whole thing is just a drug dream the main character has and not the real stuff. It’s interesting, but I didn’t find the story itself as compelling as the crazy setting and style implied it might be, which might be due to the way it is told. Still, the art is excellent.
An adaptation of an old John W. Campbell story, The Thing is an effective horror-science fiction mix about a group of researchers in an Antartic research station fighting an alien whose ship crashed over hundreds of thousands years ago and who has only been recently thawn out of a block of ice. The alien, unlike humans, is made up of parts that can and will act independently to survive if the whole body is threatened. There’s one well done scene where the humans use this ability to find out whether the blood from each of them is still human or already taken over by the alien thing. This is another of the skills of the alien biology, it takes over other lifeforms, absorbs and duplicates and supplants them.
Preliminary estimations by one of the humans say that once the alien reaches civilization, it will take over all life in around three years. What follows is a hunt the alien movie, complicated by the fact that everyone of the humans could already have been taken over. Everyone is in full paranoia mode, but it still isn’t enough to save them and at the end we get an ambivalent scene that doesn’t make it clear whether the humans have really won or not (since the alien obviously can survive deep freeze).
But the best thing about the movie, which is odd to say in these days of rampant special effects, are the non-CGI monster transformation scenes, they really look well done and are, in a bizarre sense, really beautiful. Best scene of the movie, hands down, was the jaw in the belly scene. Or was it the spider head scene? Can’t decide, they were both cool.