the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘future

Nexhuman by Francesco Verso

Publishing date Aug 14th, 2018 (click here to pre-order)

Where I got it: Received copy for review from Apex Books*

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#sorrynotsorry, I’m going to give you a spoiler right out of the gate:

 

Nexhuman will offer you enough ideas and discussion topics and thought experiments to keep you busy for the next ten years. In fact, an entire Convention programming track could be built just around the questions and ideas in this book.

 

What Nexhuman does not offer is concrete answers to any of the questions that are brought up.

 

It’s something you should know before you pick up this book: If you are the kind of reader who wants a book to ask questions and then cleanly answer them, Nexhuman will be one confusing and disappointing read.  On the flip side, if you enjoy science fiction books that ask questions about how society works, why humans act the way they do, why we make the decisions we make, how obsession and fear and passion work, a book that invites you to pull your own thoughts apart and examine them, and oh  yeah, if you love beautiful prose that doesn’t rely on snark to get a point across, Nexhuman could be the best book you read this year. Interested in how any of this came about? Francesco Verso recently published a short essay in Apex Magazine about the origins of the novel.

 

Another spoiler: Nexhuman does not at all read like your typical popular American-style science fiction novel. What I mean by that is there is no snarky language for the sake of being snarky or shocky,  no sexy cinematic scenes, the language is often raw and blunt, and the characters don’t really care if you like, agree with, relate to, or sympathize with them. I mean no disrespect to science fiction when I say that Nexhuman reads like literature.

 

Most of the novel takes place in or around a dump that overflows with consumer goods. For me, this novel was a connecting keystone for works such as Battle Angel Alita, Wall-E, John Scalzi’s Lock In, Ferrett Steinmetz’s The Uploaded, David Brin’s Kiln People, and other stories that touch on hyperconsumerism and leaving our fleshbodies behind for one reason or another.

 

Peter and his family make their living by clawing through the trash to find bits and pieces that can be resold, recycled, reused. Many household items are 5th, 6th, nth hand. Having something that is brand new is a status symbol, but also a symbol of flagrant waste.  Even Peter’s prosthetic limbs are made of whatever he can find in the dump. If he wants a better arm or a better leg, he better hit the jackpot of finding outdated robot or android parts in the dump. I spent 80% of the book wondering if he was born with a birth defect, or if there had been an accident or infection that led to his amputations. Peter doesn’t like to talk about, and when I found how what had happened to him,  not only did I realize why he hates to talk about it, but everything in the beginning of the book suddenly made a ton more sense!

 

Ok, so what the hell is this book about?  On the edge of the dump is a commercial district. Teenage Peter has a puppy-dog crush on a young woman named Alba who works at the travel agency. He watches her from afar, he shyly says hello to her when she comes to unlock the business in the morning.   He begins to view himself as her protector. She politely engages in conversation with him, asks him how his day is going, says hello. Alba is the first person in his life who has ever shown him the slightest bit of unconditional kindness, so it’s no wonder his crush turns into infatuation.

 

Is it before or after Peter’s brother’s gang attacks Alba and tears her body apart at the seams that Peter realizes she is a Nexhuman?

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Artificial Condition, a Murderbot Diaries book, by Martha Wells

published May 8th 2018

where I got it: Purchased new

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If you’re not on the Murderbot bandwagon, start here. You’re welcome.

 

Also, I fucking love novellas. Running 80 – 200 pages, I can read the whole thing in a day or two, magically feeling like the world’s fastest reader. Recently, I’ve been needing to read a book twice before writing the review. So anyway.

 

I finished a reread of Martha Wells’ Artificial Condition same day my husband brought the video game Detroit: Become Human home.  Both stories deal with ‘bots who are designed to look human, sound human, move like a human, and sorta kinda act like a human.  Both stories deal with ‘bots who must obey human commands. Even when the commands are stupid. Going against your programming (responding to something in a human way) requires you to hack your own software, break yourself, doom yourself to being reprogrammed, or all of the above.

 

My experience with Detroit: Become Human consists of watching my husband play it for an hour or two, it’s a super high tech choose your own adventure story – to obey your asshole human owner but endanger the little girl, turn to page 8. To punch your asshole human owner and save the little girl, turn to page 12.  Every choice you make as you are playing the ‘bot immediately and directly affects the story, and you can replay scenes over and over again to see how your different choices will affect your character’s future. It’s way cool!

 

In Artificial Condition, Murderbot  is afraid of just about everything. Afraid of being caught and having a human tell it all the awful things it did. Afraid of being near humans and hurting them. Afraid of someone else figuring out it’s afraid.  All Murderbot wants is to be left alone, where it can’t hurt anyone, and where no one can hurt it. Murderbot has vague, half memories of murdering a bunch of idiot humans. But only half memories. Did everything happen in the order it remembers? Did it happen at all? Is Murderbot maybe not the vicious killing machine it thinks it is?  Murderbot needs to know what really happened.

 

Murderbot teams up with ART (ok, so maybe “teaming up” isn’t exactly how that goes? If I was more specific it would wreck everything) to get back to where it all began. I did get a chuckle out of Murderbot’s and ART’s conversations – these are both fancy pants AIs, so they aren’t exactly speaking out loud, it’s a silent room full of conversation. We’re actually nearly there in real life.

But Murderbot needs a way onto the industrial station where it became a killing machine, and the easiest quickest way to do that is to get an employment contract.  To do that, Murderbot will need to talk to. . . people. And act like a . . . real person.

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The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

Release Date: June 12th 2018

Where I got it: Received a review copy from the publisher (Thanks Tachyon!)

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How do you crew a ship whose mission will take hundreds or thousands of years? Let’s see, you could do a sleeper ship, a generation ship, for something a little more unusual you could go the route of Marina Lostetter’s Noumenon or David Brin’s Existence. Those options will surely cover you for a few hundred or maybe a thousand years.  But what if the ship’s mission is even longer than that? What if we’re talking more like a million or more years?

 

The mission of the Eriophora is building a gate system through the galaxy. As the gate system grows, the outbound growth of mankind will surely follow. Sunday and many of her crewmates are forever hopeful that something almost human will come out of the next gate they build.  They are forever hopeful that their ship will finally receive a radio message that it’s time to come home. It’s been sixty million years, and they are still waiting for that message. No wonder the crew forms a music appreciation club, it’s not like there is much of anything else to do.  Yes, you read that correctly, they’ve been hurtling through the galaxy, awake for only a few days out of every few hundred or thousand, for sixty million years.

 

The solution sounded so simple, once upon a time.  Raise a bunch of children to feel special, to feel chosen. Train them together, let them watch their AI grow and learn.  Raise them to know the ship is their home, and everything they do, they do for the future and the betterment of mankind, and that being awake for 3 days out of every few hundred years is a completely normal thing.  Trust the AI to keep them in line and convince them that it’s totally normal that in millions of years no one has invited them to come back home.

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Borne, by Jeff Vandermeer

published in 2017

where I got it: purchased new

 

 

 

I finally read Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne.  This book was on everyone’s Best of the Year list last year, so why did it take me so long to read it?  Uhm… i dunno. Took me a while to get out of The Southern Reach, I guess. Guess I needed the closure that was the incredible oversensoryoverload scene at the end of Annihilation more than I thought.  Anyway.

 

One of the nice things about read a book that had a lot of hype, a year after it came out, is that I can skip all the obligatory “what this book is about” crap, and get to the meat of what I wanna talk about in this not-a-review.

 

Seeing the Annihilation movie reminded me of how much I loved all the flashback scenes in the novel. I got to know the biologist through her flashbacks. Her character wasn’t only who she is right this second, while she is walking through Area X, but it’s all the things she did in her life that got her to be this particular person – the overgrown swimming pool, the tidepools, the isolated introvert-heaven projects, how she felt about herself and the world when she was outside. The biologist became who she is now, because of who she was then.

 

And that’s how I felt about Rachel.  The short flashbacks of her youth, of being a refugee, of how she wished her parents didn’t feel like they had to put on a happy face for her all the time, that is how I knew who she was. By who she was then, I had a better feeling for the depths of who she is now.  A well written flashback is a gem in a geode.

 

I’m a super tactile person.   I hate wearing shoes and i joke that when I walk around barefoot that I’m seeing the room with my feet. It’s only half a joke, because in a sense that isn’t seeing, I really am experiencing the texture of the floor through my feet, and that is being transmitting to my brain as a way of “seeing” the floor.   It’s a throwaway comment when Rachel mentions that she usually sleeps with her shoes on, that she hates taking her shoes off, something about an experience she had while she was a refugee.  When I read that, my gut reaction was “how sad, for her to be blind in that way”. I felt bad for her, that she wouldn’t be able to see a room through her feet.

 

Among other things that he might be, Borne is one gigantic sensory organ.  Once he starts talking and walking, and touching and tasting and “seeing the room through his feet”, he can’t stop. Well, he can’t stop doing those things just like he can’t stop doing some other things that he doesn’t like talking about.  Just like you can’t say to yourself “hmm, i’d like to shut off my sense of sight, or my sense of smell today”. You can’t stop either. But for you, not being able to flip a switch to stop seeing, or smelling, or tasting, is normal. So why would someone expect someone else to just be able to stop seeing the room through their feet?    Because we all want our kid to be fucking normal, that’s why.

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So, I finished We Can Build You, by Philip K Dick.

 

There are spoilers ahead. #SorryNotSorry.

 

This book started out so interesting!!  Lots of cool ideas,  simulacrum robots who can pass for human (oh, hai cylons!), there was so much potential for conversations about what makes us alive and how would you know you were a simulacrum, and if you were a simulacrum how would it change you life and maybe it wouldn’t change your life at all. Could you convince yourself you were a robot? Could a robot convince themselves they were a human? My brain was overflowing with hope for interesting ideas.   There is an Edward Stanton simulacrum, and then they make an Abraham Lincoln. Even more possibility for cool things to happen!

 

And then Louis had to decide he was in love with Pris.

 

Louis’s business partner is Maury, and Pris is Maury’s brilliantly creative but mentally unstable 18 year old daughter.  She’s cold towards Louis (because why would an 18 year old be interested in her dad’s buddy? oh, that’s right, she isn’t), and the colder she is towards him, the more he becomes obsessed with her.

 

All those cool ideas? All those cool possibilities? The idea of Abraham Lincoln having to navigate the modern world?  All out the window because Louis chases Pris all over the place, even though she is in a relationship with someone else, even though Maury forbids Louis from being in a relationship with his daughter.    Really, the second half of this book was so fucking boring.  I’d read like 5 pages and then fall asleep.

 

I guess if I read between the lines as far as possible, I could pull something out of this near-future society’s obsession with right thinking and skewed mental health,  that we are being programmed to think and act a certain way, the way a robot is programmed, and when we aren’t acting correctly, when something is wrong with our mental health, we have to be institutionalized to be “reprogrammed”.   Maybe that is what this novel is about?  I had to get through what felt like 500 pages of Louis chasing and threatening people for Pris’s attentions, to get to that?

 

I was really hoping that at the end there would be some big reveal that Louis was a simulacrum, or maybe that Pris was.  Spoiler! that doesn’t happen.

 

I got a few more Philip K Dick books floating around, I hope they are better.

 

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The Tourist, by Robert Dickinson

published June 2017

where I got it: received review copy from the published (Thanks Hachette!)

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Welcome to the 24th century, where the most exotic vacation a person can take is to a 21st century mall.  Experience germs and cell phones, risk mild food poisoning and interactions with sullen gothy teenagers, and then spend the night safely ensconced in a resort hotel.   There are tons of travel companies that offer these types of tours.  The companies and their employees choose to ignore all the smuggling that often takes place right under their noses. Time travel has become so easy and common, it’s not even called “time travel” anymore, it’s just called “travel”,  and you get to your destination via a high energy technology called translation.

 

“It’s the logic of travel: the past is just another country, and, if you can afford the translation, you can always go back. Nothing is lost, nobody really dies. You die, of course: but, if they have the right resources, other people can always come back and see you. You remain alive.”

                                The Tourist, page 310

 

The opening chapters of The Tourist fall somewhere between Kage Baker’s Company novels and the movie Twelve Monkeys, complete with a shadowy future century no one is allowed to see, rumors of a genocide in recent history, a near extinction event, and the challenges of how to tell someone you are from the past or the future.  There is a “map” of sorts in the front of the book, that on first glance looks like a map of a shopping mall, but then you realize it’s a chart of a time line. The time line is U shaped, with the character’s lives jumping back and forth all over the place. Ahh, the tricks you can play in a time travel book!

 

Spens is a rep with one of the travel agencies, his job is to shepherd his charges to the mall, show them how paper money works, and warn them against 21st-ers who know how to trick naive idiots.  For shock value, he buys a muffin at a coffee stand and eats it.  This is just a job for Spens, he lives at the resort and gets together for drinks with the other reps at night to share stories of their idiot clients.   He’ll work at the resort forever if it means he never has to work the tunnels again.

 

And then one day he loses a client.

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The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

published in 1969

where I got it: purchased new

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I was intimidated to read this book. I doubted my ability to “get it”. What if I read and said “ok, that’s nice”? What if I didn’t understand the author’s intent? Endless doubts and what if’s. At my local book club a few months ago, instead of having us all read the same book, the club organizer put a stack of Hugo winners on the table and told us all to pick one.  I grabbed The Left Hand of Darkness off the table.  Doubt can go screw itself.

 

The big idea in The Left Hand of Darkness is how would culture and society be different if there was no gender? Unique among the planets that support human life, the people of Gethen have no fixed gender – they are neither male nor female, and have the ability to both father a child and give birth to a child. These people have never heard the phrase “traditional gender roles” and sexism and gender bias don’t exist in their culture. In their language, the pronouns “he” and “his”, simply mean “person”, and titles and offices that sound male to our ears are inclusive. This book is full of “he” and “his”, but there is only one male character in this book.

 

Genly Ai, Envoy of the Ekumen, has travelled to Gethen to invite the planet to become a part of the Ekumen, which is an interstellar trade federation of sorts.  He has now been residing in the kingdom of Karhide for over a year, and he will stay until the planetary leaders voice their wish to join the Ekumen, or until they tell him to go away (them killing him might also happen). Genly is in some ways incredibly patient, but in other ways impatient.  Not only does he not in anyway understand the local politics, but he also struggles with the idea that his hosts are not men and not women, but potentially either, and always showing traits of both femininity and masculinity, often at the same time.  In return, they view him as a sexual deviant, a genetic freak.

 

Gethen isn’t just a planet of no fixed gender, it’s also a planet that is actively trying to kill you.  Nicknamed “Winter”,  this is a place of never ending ice and snow, with a narrow band near the equator that can support life. No large mammals, no birds, no apex predators.  LeGuin does magic with how the planet shapes the society and culture of the Gethenians – no birds to be curious about means no interest in airplanes,  no large animals to eat means many meals and snacks during the day and strict rules of socializing that revolve around eating. On a planet where frostbite can kill, hospitality towards the stranger is the norm. On a planet where the populace appears to have no fear or distrust of the “other”, there are plenty of arguments, but there has never been an all out war between Karhide and their bureaucratic neighboring country Orgoreyn. Sprinkled through the novel are interim short chapters that include both local folklore and  helpful commentary from anthropologists who visited before Genly.

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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.
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