January was the fastest reading month of my entire life. On the 21st, I was already at 16 books for the year. While maybe that’s not a lot for you, for me, it’s basically superhero status. As such, I’m reading more quickly than I care to write in-depth reviews. As much as I burn to write long analyses of just about everything I read, the more often I write flash-sized reviews, the more I come to like them. For anyone browsing for next reads, it’s probably a friendlier format.
Without further ado, my short(ish) thoughts on The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of by Thomas M. Disch, Barricade by Jon Wallace, and The Unwritten 9: Fables by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. Sneak preview: one was solidly decent and two were terrible.
The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of by Thomas M. Disch (1999)
I spent the first two chapters of this book yelling at the page and writing angry things in the margins. If I learned anything, it is that Mr. Disch and I disagree on just about everything. That’s usually ok, but what I found inappropriate was that while proving his thesis that Americans are born liars, he uses allegedly falsified rape accusations as primary examples. Sorry, but we really don’t need to hear that shit in this, the real world of rape victims afraid to even report because they are so often not believed.
After that rough start, I didn’t think I would gradually get into the text. To his credit, Disch does attempt to paint an objective picture of his subject—science fiction as it was up to the publication of this book in 1999–and though he doesn’t entirely manage it, the book is crammed full of information about the history of SF and its interactions with other areas of culture that will be of interest to many SFF fans.
Barricade by Jon Wallace (2014)
Guys, I wanted to like this book so much. Having chatted with Jon for a bit at a recent convention, I wanted to like it for him, for the fact that it is billed as a post-apocalyptic road trip, and well I bought the fucking thing, so of course I wanted to like it. Unfortunately that was not the case.
The book’s road trip sections were interspersed with italicized flashbacks that explained the situation (robot-uprising style for-the-greater-good planned apocalypse, though the robots are actually genetically modified humans, or something) and I wish that those had been used as the book’s anchor and the road trip as a sidenote rather than the other way around. During said road trip, characters kept picking themselves up from such pod awful beatings that it was a miracle they weren’t dead, let alone that they could get up and go on for another 50 pages.
One of the few female characters is a “pleasure model”, i.e. sexbot, and though the narrative vaguely attempts to depict her as an individual with needs separate from her sexbot programming—and that was a step in a positive and interesting direction—it was too heavy a thing to throw into the novel without more intense thematic engagement. The main human character is exclusively referred to as some variation of fat or just Fatty (he doesn’t get a real name), and no character is particularly sympathetic. The narrative wasn’t tight and nothing about it felt inevitable in the way that great books do. I hated the names. (Kenstibec, Starvie, Fatty, Gronts. Robot people things are called Ficials and human people are called Reals.)
Dear fuck. While looking for a cover image to include with this review, I discovered that there was a nasty discussion-causing review of Barricade by Christopher Priest (discussing-causing because it was negative). But I will admit, if I had gone full-length-review on this one, it wouldn’t have sounded much different, and in all likelihood, it would have been worse. I can certainly nod in agreement at its last line: “It was a book I did not wish to write about.”
Later I found a guest post Wallace wrote about writing “real woman” which also generated its own little shit storm. It looks like The Book Smugglers hated it too. I think it’s safe to say you should skip this one and hope that Wallace’s next book, should there be a next book, is not a follow-up to Barricade, but something else entirely. Something we want to write about.
The Unwritten Volume 9: Fables by Mike Carey and Peter Gross (2014)
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed that The Unwritten has thoroughly grabbed my attention—and that it is the first comic to ever do so. The Unwritten 9 was, sadly, one of the worst volumes in the series. A mash-up for fans of both The Unwritten and Fables, I suspect that this was a fans-only affair that I did not enjoy because I don’t (yet?) give a fuck about Fables, nor know its storyline or characters. Maybe someday that will change and this will be the fangasmic wonderfest that it probably was for fans of both comic series. But if you’re reading Unwritten for Unwritten, you can safely skip this one without missing a beat in the larger story. Comics being as expensive as they are, it isn’t a decision to take lightly. But hey, the cover art was nice.