the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘government

I heard this cold war era joke all the time when I was a kid:

Under a totalitarian government, a man is able to smuggle his wife out of the country. He promises to write her a letter every week. He knows the government reads everyone’s mail, so he tells her if the letter is written in black ink, everything is the truth, if the letter is written in red ink, everything is a lie. The weeks progress, and she receives letters in black ink telling her how much he loves her, and discussing the weather, and letters in red ink talking about how wonderful the government is and that he never wants to leave. until one fateful letter arrives in black in:

My beloved wife: My life here is complete,  the government sees to my every need and is taking such good care of me that I can not imagine why anyone would ever want to live somewhere else. Therefore I will not be joining you in your new home. By the way, we have run out of red pens.

 

I recently had the honor of being on a MindMeld panel at SFSignal, along with Nick Mamatas, Ian Sales, Bob Reiss, and John Stevens, among others. Here’s what we were asked:

 Recent events have caused the resurgence of George Orwell’s classic 1984. Ever since its original publication, however, genre has tackled and wrestled with the themes of dictatorship, totalitarianism, total war, and more. What works of genre since are worthy of exploring these themes?

Here’s what we said

the responses were kicked around twitter a bit this morning, with discussions touching on dystopian war books, and that not all war book are dystopian, and not all dystopian is totalitarian, etc. It’s complicated and fascinating.

Let’s keep the conversation going: tell me about some fictional works you’ve enjoyed that deal with surveillance societies, dictatorship, totalitarian governments, and such.  No one wants to live that way, so why do we so enjoy reading books with those themes? Have we moved so far past George Orwell’s 1984 that we need to start referring to other works as “Orwellian”, or “somebody-else-ian””

All old jokes aside, with all the NSA stuff that’s come out recently do you see the post office suddenly getting much more popular? I do.

 

atrocityStrossThe Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross (The Laundry Files, book 1, also includes the novella The Concrete Jungle)

published in 2004

where I got it: purchased new (not in 2004. closer to last year)

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finally! I have finally read the first Laundry novel!  and learned two things: You can read these out of order and do just fine, and the first book is decent but not the best in the series. For fans of Stross’s Laundry series this is a must-read, and if you’re not a fan, start with the 2nd or 3rd  book in the series, work your way backwards, and then you’ll be a fan, so you’ll want to read it.

Bob Howard is not a hero. He doesn’t kick ass, he can’t keep his roommates from trashing the house, and cops are embarrassed if they have to work with him. Bob is your average IT professional, a super nerdy guy who spends his days checking the network for viruses, keeping spam out your e-mail, and avoiding his supervisor, which is totally okay because she’s an absolute bitch.  Bob’s problem is that he’s way too good at what he does. So good in fact, that he can’t help but get involved when things go to shit, especially when the jackass from accounting gets himself possessed by a Lovecraftian intelligence during a training class.

IT jokes? Lovecraftian horrors?  If you’re not into IT or Cthulhu, don’t worry, there’s no experience needed to enjoy The Laundry.  Everything is explained. For god sakes, these books are how I got into Cthulhu mythos in the first place! and what isn’t explained in easy to understand language is glossed over in purposely arcane and sometimes sarcastic infodumps.

The Atrocity Archives is where it all begins (well,  not where it all begins, but you know what I mean). We learn how Bob got “invited” to join the Laundry, his bachelor-esque life before Mo, and how many mainline supervisors he had to piss off to end up in Angleton’s office.  It looks like fantasy horror, but The Laundry books are really hard scifi thrillers. Mathematics are the name of the game here, where changing a variable gets you from pie are squared to Azathoth coming up your bathtub drain. If you’re the scientist who hits on which variable and what to change it to, you can expect a call from The Laundry.

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Pirate Cinema, by Cory Doctorow

published October, 2012

where I got it: borrowed ARC from a friend

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Cory Doctorow is mean. he likes to hit his readers where it hurts, to show us where our world is going if we’re not careful. If China Mieville’s Railsea is a YA retelling of Moby Dick (complete with similar literary mannerisms), then Pirate Cinema is a YA introduction to political manifestos such as Atlas Shrugged (complete with speeches at the end).  This isn’t the first time I’ve compared Doctorow’s fiction to that of Ayn Rand, and if you know my history with Rand’s fiction, you know I mean that comparison as the highest compliment.

The story follows Trent McCauley, a British teen who does all the normal teen things, like hating school, being awkward around girls, and downloading tons and tons of video clips of his favorite actor, and mashing them up into new and funny videos, a la Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and then uploading his vids for his fans and friends to watch.

Thanks to a new draconian law regarding copyright infringement, Trent’s family loses their internet access for one year due to his constant downloading of films and clips. His little sister can’t do her homework at home anymore and her grades plummet. His mother can’t get her prescriptions refilled online. His father loses his phone-bank job.  Trent’s family is ostracized by their being kicked off internet access. Full of shame, Trent runs away to London.

This may sound like it’s a story for an about people who remix videos and remix music, and if you’re not one of those folks it’s easy to think this politically charged story doesn’t apply to you. Ever recaptioned a photo or submitted something to Lolcats? Ever shared a deviantart image on Facebook simply because you liked it?  ever taken a photo you found online and photoshopped it into something you liked better, if only to show off your photoshop skills? If you’ve ever done any of those things, you’re in the same boat as Trent – you’ve shared someone else’s intellectual property,  changed it, made it into something new, and claimed that new thing as your own unique creation. And you’ve broken the law.  We’re all just as guilty as Trent, we just haven’t been caught yet.

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Hi Everyone, welcome to the second half of our read-along of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. I invite you to click back to Stainless Steel and visit all the other wonderful discussions. A huge thanks to Carl for hosting and organizing this eye opening read along for a science fiction classic!

Salvador Hardin was the first character in the book that we got to spend any significant time with. What are your thoughts on the grande finale of his plotting, scheming and maneuvering to get the Foundation through to the next Seldon crisis?

I LOVED it. Hardin is a brilliant strategist. Sure, it’s easy to call him manipulative, and he is, but predicting what frightened power hungry people will do really isn’t that difficult. All he’s doing to the four Kingdoms is giving them enough rope to hang themselves with. I’ve never minded characters of ambiguous morality, so Hardin was a pleasure to watch. And when the other planets start understanding that without the technologies of the Foundation they are nothing? their power plants won’t work, their medical devices won’t work. . . wouldn’t it be smarter for them to work with Hardin and the Foundation instead of fighting them tooth and nail?

Remind me never play chess with this dude.

What are your thoughts on the way in which control/manipulation to achieve Foundation ends began to shift with The Traders?

although these were the draggiest chapters for me (I want more Hardin, damnit!), they were the ones that bore the most interesting after-thinking. Just as it had been predicted, planets and their populations began to see through the Foundation religion and rejecting the missionaries. The rules weren’t exactly sure what was going on, but they knew they had been manipulated and they were understandably insulted.

Regarding the shift from religion to trading – a thinly veiled lesson that nothing lasts forever? that we shouldn’t feel shackled to the traditions of the past simply because they worked for our parents? Yes, there is a thousand year plan, but that doesn’t mean every year has to be exactly like the previous year.

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Moxyland, by Lauren Beukes

first published in 2008

where I got it: purchased new

why I read it: I really enjoyed Beukes’ Zoo City

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in a not so distant future, connectivity is everything. Not only does your cell phone connect you to your friends and family (not to mention the internet), but the government and local police use it as a tracking device, and when necessary a punishment device. Disconnectivity by government order can equal a death sentence for some, as your phone is also your public transit pass, your pass to get into work, and your pass to get through certain city checkpoints. It also screams tech-based apartheid. May sound shocking to you and I, But to the youth and 20-somethings of South Africa, they grew up with this – to them it’s completely normal.

ahh, taking technologies and the social order and making their uncomfortable side effects feel normal, that’s just one thing Beukes excels at. All of our characters, Kendra,the art school drop out turned PR guinea pig; Toby, the LARPer  with dreams of taking down the government; Tendeka the children’s charity organizer whose getting sick of losing funding; and Lerato, the programming genius who thinks she knows it all.
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Secret Thoughts, by Guy Hasson

Published: 2011 from Apex Books

Where I got it: received eARC for review

why I read it: cuz telepaths are cool!!

In Guy Hasson’s Secret Thoughts, he envisions a near future where telepathy is real. Where through touch, a telepath knows everything you’re thinking, from what you want for dinner to your deepest secrets.  Fiction involving telepathy is nothing new, but rarely have I run into fiction that depicts the discovery and immediate reaction to telepaths from the telepath’s point of view.  With two short stories and a novella, Secret Thoughts focuses on individuals who are dealing with their gifts, and dealing with how the public and the government perceives them.

The three stories should be read in order, as I get the impression they take place in chronological order. The characters are all regular (other than being telepathic) people, and it’s amazing to watch through their eyes how quickly the government goes from being fascinated by telepaths to being horrified by them.  It put me in mind a little bit of the telepath characters from Babylon5 – once a child’s telepathic abilities show up, the government takes control of the child’s future, for better or for worse.

All three stories are incredibly unique and even a day or two after reading I’m still surprised at the deep levels of intimacy, and not just physical intimacy.  But when dealing with deep, pure emotions, what else should I have expected?     Read the rest of this entry »

Cowboy Angels, by Paul McAuley

Published: PYR, Jan 2011

Where I got it: received a review copy from the publisher

Why I read it:   alluring blurb, totally awesome cover art.

Something like Sliders meets James Bond meets Stargate meets Jason Bourne, Cowboy Angels is one of the fastest paced stories I’ve read in a long time.  Playing fast and loose with quantum mechanics, McAuley offers us an alternate Earth whose citizens call their world The Real, as this is the original Earth where the first Turing Gate allowed travel to parallel earths. It’s the early 1980’s, and agents from the Real have been living undercover and slowly making contact with other earth governments for decades.

The high concept is that all decisions have the potential to split off another parallel Earth, or sheaf, and that all possible choices do exist. The Turing Gates open to random sheaves, in which small historical changes (Alan Turing emigrating to America, for instance) cause massive future changes. There is some really fun math happening here, especially since I was reading Cowboy Angels while I was reading Flatterland.

Retired Company Agent Adam Stone has been living quietly in a wild sheaf for a few years, trying to find the right moment to confess his feelings to the widow of his best friend.  Interrupting his idyllic life, he is called back to work, ostensibly to bring his old partner, Tom Waverly, whose gone rogue, back to the fold.  It’s believed that Tom has gone crazy, stolen government secrets, and started killing the doppels (the doppleganger “you” in another sheaf) of government mathematician  Eileen Barrie.    Tom needs to be brought in alive before he destroys everything.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.