Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo features a protagonist, Paama, who goes toe-to-toe with Chance in order to retain the Chaos Stick. That she [SPOILER ALERT] willfully gives it back to him, and that both she and Chance learn something along the way is just one of the ways in which Lord’s novel messes with generic expectations. She ends up happily married to a younger man, after burying her first husband who ate himself to death.
- My synopsis does not do this novel justice. Paama is the antithesis of those sorts of supposedly genre-bending young female heroines that are featured in much current YA lit – she is married to a man she does not love but cannot hate, she is a great cook, she has no desire to learn how to wield the power she has been given, and she acts with compassion and empathy even when the results are not what she would like.
- Lord’s narrator is lively, self-aware, and interested in engaging us in a conversation, even if it constantly defends itself from charges of defying what it feels our expectations will be. The narrator is far different than Paama, and often asks us not to judge her or other characters at surprising points in the novel – the one that struck me most was when Paama goes back to nurse Ansige, her first husband, as he dies from the consequences of over-eating. Ansige is set up as entirely unsympathetic, and yet Paama knows that her duty is to be with him until he passes. This is territory not often covered in this genre.
- In that sense this novel comes directly from the land of folk tales, written with a postmodern sensibility and an eye towards redeeming our relationships with each other and with the forces in the world that causes things to happen that we do not understand. The narrative voice helps with this redemption with its energy and desire to always keep us looking outside the text.
- The natural forces in this novel are definitely not supernatural, and are also not aligned along a good-evil binary. Again, it is very unlike lots of YA fiction that’s out now, with barely-disguised good and evil aligned along metaphoric lines. I admire the effort that some of that fiction makes, but killing off characters does not necessarily make a novel complex, even when that plot-level action defies generic expectations. What makes ASOIAF complex is not the fact that Ned Stark dies early on, but that GRRM (at least I though he was, before the teevee series) is looking at issues of planetary balance and the appearance of science in the Enlightement. Defying generic expectations does not necessarily equal complexity.
- Part of the joy of Gaiman’s Sandman series was the ways in which entities simply operated in their own best interests, with complex understandings of how those interests meshed with those of other entities. Lord’s novel adds the idea of duty to that mix.
- This binary allows her to comment on humans and their needs through her narrator (which isn’t exactly human, but not exactly a djombi):
Humans did not hold such power within themselves easily; they had a deep-seated need for symbols, talismans, and representations. (61)
- Her epilogue continues the feisty narrator theme. I cannot tell if she’s chastising academics or those who read for escape – I think it’s the latter, but I’m not completely sure. Representative of this trope from the many pieces of advice we get from the narrator is this one:
For others a tale is a way of living vicariously, enjoying the adventures of others without having to go one step beyond their sphere of comfort. To them I say, what’s stopping you from getting on a ship and sailing halfway around the world? Tales are meant to be an inspiration, not a substitute. (157)
The third book in the Sharpe series, Sharpe’s Fortress, has him at Wellesley’s attack on Gawilghur in 1803. The British take the fort, and end up not even suffering all that heavy of casualties, and Sharpe fights his last battle in India before he heads back to England for the next set of battles, this time involving Napoleon.
- This novel follows along the same lines – Sharpe is a hero, a warrior, someone who consistently uses his street-fighting background to be a great soldier. Hakeswill is still a cartoon character – I imagine him as Bluto, only less realistic – and British officers are divided into those who recognize Sharpe’s worthiness and those who can’t see beyond their class blinders.
- As a cypher, I’m becoming increasingly fascinated by Sharpe. Cornwell apologizes in an author’s note at the end of Sharpe’s Fortress to Colonel Campbell, who he gives an auxiliary role to in the improvised move to climb the wall in an undefended place, a move that allows the British to take the fort relatively easily. I don’t know how many British soldiers from the ranks became officers, but based on the need for money (the commission system of becoming an officer and raising a regiment) I can’t believe that it was many.
- From a story-telling standpoint, Sharpe as cypher enables Cornwell all kinds of latitude in looking at a wide range of lives in both the British Army and the army of the East India Company. He refines this technique in the Grail Quest series, and his portrayals become much more realistic and perhaps a bit humbler, but the use of the cypher gives him range he wouldn’t otherwise have as someone writing historical fiction.
- I don’t think I realized exactly how the British colonialisation of India worked, at least in regards to having a private company utilize an army to ensure their profitability. That is a scary model for the future, I’m guessing, but Blackwater will become the new East India Company if the current administration has anything to say about it. I can see nothing wrong with that plan.
- The ease with which the British take a fortress that had never been taken by an enemy shows the frightening power of artillery. It reminds me of a co-worker at the time of the first Gulf War who had received all his images of combat from war movies. He was amazed at how destructive artillery is, how many casualties it accounts for – he thought that most casualties came from soldiers shooting each other. I completely understand how he came to this point of view.
- Cornwell also identifies the range of nationalities involved in the war, with the British and French aligning with various members of the Indian royalty, and Arab mercenaries joining the fight on both sides as well. Clearly, war is expensive, although if what it enables a country to do is to gain a monopoly on trade and collect egregious taxes than I guess it can be profitable.
- I keep thinking, though, about how many humans over the centuries have died in these type of small “engagements.” I can’t think of a grand statement here that fits…machismo, hard-wiring for territorial acquisition, capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, tribalism – they all speak to a part of the picture.
The sixth in the series (and the last one that’s been published), Babylon’s Ashes takes humanity back to the ring gate. It’s more space opera, more of our favorite characters never really seeming at risk, and more of the same leadership (the Martians change, but after their one general betrays half the navy they didn’t have much of a choice). And also more of a logical move towards the stars.
- I have to remember that this is scifi, and that obvious solutions are often the best. The author’s inventiveness, I think, lies not in who among the characters does what, but in the scenarios that they imagine.
- For instance, the solution to the fact that the Rocinante is overwhelmed lies in one character’s ability to recognize patterns, but that solution itself is a very clever way to avoid a deus ex machina and yet solve the problem posed by the battle configuration. They set this up nicely so that the solution – although it requires some ingenuity and pattern matching – does not appear to be thrown in.
- Holden and the narrator feel very close in this novel. Holden is on a mission to help humanity sees its commonalities. The destruction of Earth has been caused by extreme tribalism, although the point of views from the side of the most extreme tribalists are supposed to help us feel more sympathy for them (they do the opposite), and both the narrator and Holden spend a lot of time wringing their hands over the ways in which we try to kill each other despite all this great promise. I get it – Corey doesn’t want to write about war, but man that’s just how it is – we somehow need to kill each other. Hard to argue with that…
- For all that, I appreciate that these ships are not shooting lasers at each other but are instead still slinging big hunks of metal (albeit technologically-intensive) through space, and there are no ‘shields’ designed to mitigate damage but instead counter-measures that involve masses of metal and rock hitting each other.
- Humans are starting to utilize what they’ve learned through the protomolecule, and one of the cool things about this series is when it delves into the research that’s happening. There are chapters from the point of view of scientists, and without getting too nerdy (I think – it can be hard for me to tell) Corey portrays the difficulties of living in the stars while also portraying the pressures to keep moving outward.
- These pressures are not the glorious Star Trek bullshit, kowtowing to humanity’s desire to explore and discover – no colonialist sympathizing here. Instead, we are portrayed as a species that struggles to live within some sort of homeostatic framework, and that failure also forces us to find new worlds to exploit.
- The next couple of novels are set up for the move past the ring. Humanity essentially has no choice because of the fanatics in the Free Navy, and the powers-that-be are finally blessing this choice.
- For all that I get frustrated with the heroes-by-chance trope that Corey indulges in, the prognoses about science and humanity’s move to the asteroid belt is pretty cool stuff…
Pattern Recognition is the first of the Blue Ant novels, which I am reading out of order. While I missed the series of events that create the lived experiences of these characters, I did not feel like I couldn’t understand what Zero History was doing, which is probably either a tribute to Gibson’s incredibly dense prose style or a write-off of the repeatability of his storylines. In this one Cayce Pollard meets Hubertus Bigend for the first time, and he sends her to find the source of some mysterious videos that have appeared on the internet and that look like a fascinating combination of artistic invention and underground digital distribution. She has been following these videos intently as part of an online community, and she by trade is a cool-hunter, so she is the logical choice (rather than a detective, many of whom have already been hired to find these videos and their source) to pursue the leads. After much digging, she meets the person(s), and Bigend’s Blue Ant agency continues on its paradigm-shifting ways in creating marketing campaigns (or so we assume) by absorbing the lessons therein.
- Gibson’s obsession with how digital culture moves forward is consistent from his Neuromancer trilogy days. He’s moved on from Deep State conspiracies though to look more at how brands establish themselves, but like in Neuromancer he’s still fascinated with underground distribution and folks who create without worrying about acquiring wealth.
- Cayce earns her keep because she has a sixth sense about trademarks, but this sixth sense costs her because she gets physically ill looking at ones that don’t fit the pattern that she recognizes as cool…which is a horrible word here, as Gibson’s narrator (or maybe Cayce) says itself.
- It’s an easy critique to note that Bigend is the wealthy benefactor, a deus ex machina of sorts, but my guess is that Gibson is more focused on his usual obsession with when-it-all-changed moments than he is in recreating an 18th century conception of art patrons being the only ones capable of supporting artists and moving art forward.
- He recalls his own Cornell boxes in here, the one moment in the Neuromancer series that felt sort of odd amidst all the bloodshed and mayhem and shadowy assassin types hunting AIs on the verge of becoming sentient. Those Cornell boxes were his attempt to steer the conversation to machine-produced art, or art that comes about as a result of technogenesis, and as such led the way to this Blue Ant series.
Just finished Emily Bitto’s The Strays, which I guess is loosely based on an Australian artist’s collectives in the early twentieth century. The novel is narrated by a woman looking back on her time spent living at the collective as the friend of one of the daughters of the couple who own the property on which they all live. The name comes from the looseness of the parenting that the push to break paradigms and norms as an artist might drive people to.
- That last sentence might lend one to think that I read this novel as a condemnation of folks who intentionally try to rethink art and its place in and effect on our culture as parents. I don’t think the novel goes there necessarily, although their parenting skills are definitely not worthy of praise.
- The novel feels like more of a meditation on the costs of pushing any social envelope, and an examination of the consequences of artistic utopia (or its inevitable failing, perhaps)…
- And it is also absolutely feels like an extended meditation on motherhood…motherhood in many of its manifestations, and the difficulty of living up to social norms while also trying to create…
- First citation:
…I wonder why I am compelled to collect and to examine the often painful traces of the past, like a madman counting over and over the same dozen objects in a wooden box; objects others would have long discarded. (174)
I think I often do the opposite…but the image says alot about the narrator’s relationship with the world…
- Second citation:
I am angry with myself. I failed to speak from that compartment in myself, as that persona who represents motherhood, the one who knows my daughter will always in some way look down on me; will not know my dark places and my desires, my ambivalences, even toward her; will think herself wiser, braver, more modern, her inner life more intriguing, her challenges more compelling. I have cherished the self who knows this and accepts it. It is without vanity, able to resist the urge to be understood. (178)
This is one of the few places in the text where motherhood is directly spoken about by the narrator. She emphasizes the sort of foreknowledge and calm acceptance of the differences from her children that contribute to a self-idealization of being a mother that is nearly impossible to live up to.
- Third citation:
(as she recalls talking to Helena and Eva about writing a memoir, and they tell her how their life has already been chronicled) What Helena says is true, I think to myself. The events of the Trenthams and their strays have long since been recorded in the pages of art history. And yet those books are about Evan and Jerome…always, as in the monographs devoted to Evan’s life and work, the artist himself was at the center, with Helena, Eva, Heloise at the distant peripheries. They were cast as ‘events’ that accounted for the prevalence of particular themes, detailed in the same manner as the influence of the war on Jerome. Heloise’s life a footnote explaining Jerome’s brilliant work. (204-5)
Another trope throughout this novel is the writing of art histories – I particularly find the idea that people in an artist’s life become events that help art historians better understand the artist’s work. Yuck.
- Fourth citation (after reading a note from Helena to Maria:
I remember that Helena longed for paradise, and was instead shut out.
In many ways the circle was Helena’s project, not Evan’s. Her utopian vision;
her attempt to make herself a family beyond the narrow lines of biology;her failure….she wanted to surround herself with people, to create a circle,
to be adored and needed and never disliked by anyone…Helena craved siblings rather than dependent offspring, people with whom she could approach the wordless understanding, the secret codes and violent closeness shared by sisters. (213)One reading of Helena’s ‘longing’ for sisters rather than children can simply be that Helena did not have the tools to process all of this. This is not our narrator’s take, I think…
The problem, of course, with demarcating game texts as this or that is that that sort of characterization can lead to a fixation on some sort of Platonic ideal of what a pencil and ink game of any genre should look like. It assumes some type of prelapsarian utopia in which games capture the essential form of what they should be.
While I hope for some sort of gestaltian wholeness that can magically transform online experiences, point-and-click games perhaps offer a more realistic microcosm of our actual online experiences – garish colors, bold headlines, shaded scenes that we can effectively ignore. A game like TD might well mimic the reality of online experience more than I would like – snippets of news stories become definitive bits of information, the illusion of solving a crime offset by the actuality of being led by the nose through a series of already-spelled-out clues, other people who we imagine to be a specific way but who in reality are of course completely different, and so on.
In this sense, then, KRZ is a perfect online experience for a very specific set of the digerati – we are encouraged to start exploring the game’s depths immediately, and it turns out that the depths are worth exploring, with interesting people doing fascinating things that are not in and of themselves earth-shattering but are powerful reminders of the types of questions that digital culture asks of us.
The Detail fits a little less perfectly. The promised depths never materialize, perhaps because the game lost its funding, but it doesn’t go much beyond stereotypes – and in the places where it does the story feels forced. I’m wondering if there is a place for traditional hard-bitten story-telling of this type in point-and-click games, and I’m hoping to be proven wrong soon.
More to come on this, of course.
Working with Deadly Synchronicity made me think of Eric Auerbach’s Mimesis, and the following passages came to mind, both from the first chapter of the book on The Odyssey. In particular, he comments on the ways that Homer handles the fact that it takes Odysseus three days to enact his revenge upon the suitors:
Thus the journey is like a silent progress through the indeterminate and the contingent, a holding of the breath, a process which has no present,
which is inserted, like a blank duration, between what has passed and what lies ahead, and which yet is measured: three days! (10)
And (comparing The Odyssey and the Old Testament story of Abraham): Continue Reading