Orwell for Congress

I caught this story a day or two ago on Librarian in Black's blog. It seems that someone at the Oakland Tribune is so pissesd off by President Bush's high-handed and Nixonesque ways that, in an op-ed piece that ran December 23 in the Oakland Tribune, they asked for old copies of George Orwell's 1984 to be donated to the paper. When they collect enough, they're going to send a copy to every member of Congress, the President, members of the Bush administration.

Here's hoping that they learn that the road to 1984 is paved with things like the PATRIOT Act and Bush's secret domestic spying.


Dies the Fire, by S. M. Stirling, Part I

I'm about half way through Dies the Fire now, and I am feeling divided as to whether or not this is a good book. There's some serious negatives, and one serious positive. I am enjoying this book, but the negatives may just ruin the whole experience for me yet.

So, the negatives. First, you have to accept the premise of the story. In the world of this book, several fundamental laws of nature are altered. Electricity is gone. Explosives don't work. And combustion engines are out, too. I could have accepted the electricity thing (EMP or something), but the rest just doesn't make sense. What could make gunpowder stop exploding or stop gasoline from burning? Second, there are serious time issues here. There aren't any dates in the book for the most part, so it's hard to keep track of how long things are taking to do. But it seems to me that things (like starvation rates, animal and plant life recovery, collapse of civilization, food running out) are happening way faster than I would have expected. It could be that I think things are moving faster than Stirling intended them to. Or it could be that Stirling is ignoring the element of time in order to make his plot race along. Third, the Wiccans are bugging the crap out of me. They're like Ueber-Wiccans. And, honestly, it's just the language that's driving me up the wall. The religion itself (the ceremonies and such) haven't made much of an appearance. But if I read the words "Blessed be" much more, I may just have to wing this book across the room and then skip to the sections without witches.

But, there is a huge positive. The premise is interesting enough, and the plot is interesting enough, that I find myself thinking about this book when my neurons have a spare moment. I think about what my family and I might do if something like this happened to our world. I even dreamed about that senario last night. This only happens when I read books that just fascinate me.

There are a lot of negatives in the minus column. But the postives may outweigh them for now.

But if Juniper says "Blessed be" one more time....Gah!


The Difference Engine, Part III

I don't often read books by two authors, because I've found that it's very hard to blend the two writers' styles so that you can't tell where one leaves off and the other begins. For most of The Difference Engine, the book is done in a straightforward, rationalist style. Then, towards the end, I started seeing surreal, stream-of-conscious elements start to creep in. Normally, I don't mind a book that has a slippery narrative style--in fact, I like it in some books. But when you try to do both in a book, it just doesn't work. When I encountered those elements of surreality, my only thought was, "Whaaa?" There may be few rules in fiction, but there are some rules of style that you can't violate without ruining the effect of your book.

The other thing that bothered me about this book was the ending. Just when I got my hopes up about finally getting to find out what all was going on, the book ends so abruptly that it makes me wonder if the authors just ran out of steam.

This book had a lot of promise--I really liked the premise--but I'm afraid that it just didn't live up to that promise.


The Difference Engine, Part II

What I said earlier about the iteration format is holding true so far. With each "iteration" it's getting clearer what this book is about. In addition to the iterations, this book is also told in three parts, each with a different character having the point of view. However, this is not a first person book--it's more like the narrator picked a character to follow around and narrate their action.

The first section was the most cryptic. Sybil Gerard is the focal point for that section and she appears to be just a pawn who gets carried away with the action. The second section is more illuminating and its focal character is a paleontologist named Edward Mallory. Mallory is a pawn to some extent in that he gets swept along in the action, too. But Mallory gets more of the puzzle pieces to the mystery than Sybil did. The last section, the second I just started a few minutes ago, has Laurence Oliphant as its main character. I have high hopes for getting information out of this character because in the second third of the book in particular, Oliphant seems to be a a character who is more in the cloak-and-dagger end of things than out of it. Hopefully, Oliphant's third will tie up loose ends--especially what happened to the McGuffin in the gap between the first and second thirds of the book.

What I liked most about the Mallory section of The Difference Engine is that the socialists finally showed up. I was waiting for them. Before the Manhattan Communards (can you belive the idea of New York City turning itself into a commune? Brilliant!) showed up, the only political factions in this world's Britain were the meritocracy of the Radical Industrialists and the Luddites--who were mostly defunct anyway. But out of left field, here come the American Communists. :)

Before they showed up, I felt their lack. What is an industrialized world without socialists? In our reality, Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto was published in 1848--not too many years after the Industrial Revolution started to (excuse the pun) really gear up. After all, the lower classes will only put up with so much before they start to talk about revolution.

I'm a little afraid to say more about what happens to the socialists in this scenario, for fear of ruining the book for anyone who wants to read it after reading what I've written about it. I think that the only safe comment that I can make is, "Huh, that didn't go as far as I thought/hoped it would go."


The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, Part I

This isn't my first encounter with steampunk and alternate history, but so far The Difference Engine is one of the most interesting. I'm still trying to get a grip on what's really going on, but I'm starting to understand more and more of the technology that the people are using and the plot itself.

What I really like about alternate history fiction is the way that authors in the genre can create some event that's large enough to knock history off its rails and start going down another divergent path. I really enjoy seeing how things might have been if x had happened instead of why--I've liked it since I first picked up an alternative history with S.M. Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers. I waver between two ideas about history. The first idea is that history is fluid. Chance makes things happen. The other idea is that everything happens for a reason (and I usually think this when things are going well for me), and that fate or destiny somehow makes things happen. So when I get to see alternate histories play out in fiction, I really get to see authors speculate about how our history would have played out.

Another thing that I like about The Difference Engine is the way that the authors wrote this book in iterations rather than chapters. I really feel that the history and the plot are getting clearer with each chapter. Gibson and Sterling don't spend much time (if any) explaining things, so you have to pick up a lot just from context. If you're a reader who dislikes books that rely to heavily on expository characters or paragraphs of prose, this book is perfect for you.


Conspiracy Theory

I know the formula is once is chance, twice is coincidence, and three times is conspiracy, but I know I could dig up a third example if necessary. So what's the conspiracy? Well, let me back this up a little. When you read as much I do, you start to see little fads among writers. Sometimes you'll notice that they're all using a certain word all of a sudden or the same plot twists turn up in a couple of different books. In the case of the trend I've been noticing recently, I'm starting to get irritated by how many times I'm seeing it and the way this plot point is being used.

In two of the last three books I've read, it seems that major parts of the plot come from Islamic fundamentalist attempts to destroy Israel and/or the entire world of infidels--they don't seem to care who they take out. In Olympos, the whole action was spawned by a plot like this. And there was a second foiled attempt on top of that. In Ted Dekker's Black, which I couldn't finish in spite of it's promising premise, I saw the beginnings of a plot when one of the baddies revealed himself to be an Islamic fundamentalist.

Now, I like a good plot. And if either of these had been handled well, I probably wouldn't be so bothered by it. But what I don't like is that this type of plot catalyst is turning into a kind of insta-plot device. There's very little development of either the plotter or the intended victims. The only originality is probably in describing how they're going to do it. Also, in both of these books, there weren't any positive examples of Islam to contrast it with. In my mind, the best plot books are the ones that throw in a lot of gray area for you to deal with, that make you realize the Islam is a caring, beautiful religion and that Jews are not always victims in need of rescue. I mean, do you remember what they did to Black September? Not to say that those guys didn't deserve what they got; neither of these two opponents are in the wrong, but they're not in the right either.

I've got a bad feeling that we're not going to see the end of this plot plot for a very long time.