Posts Tagged ‘Charlie Jane Anders’


(The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders. Tor, 2019, $26.99, 366 pp.)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

(Warning: mild spoilers follow.)

I wanted and expected to like this book, due to its author. A couple of years ago I read in an anthology one of her short stories, which I thought was both inventive and funny. More importantly, I admired her work editing the io9 sci-fi site; while she was editor there was always something worth reading: news about upcoming sci-fi novels, well written pieces on science by the likes of Annalee Newitz and George Dvorsky, plus occasional insightful social commentary.

Of course, most of the material on the site was awful, junk on superheroes and manga and the like, but there was enough meat to make the site worth perusing frequently. Now that Anders has left, the site features 100% dreck.

So, I had fairly high expectations when I opened this book, among them that Anders would have a lot to say politically and socially, that the story would be well crafted, and that there would be at least some humor in it.

Those expectations crashed and burned. This is one of the most ineptly written novels I’ve ever read. Contrary to expectations, Anders has nothing to say politically or socially. Nothing. And as far as craft? OMG.

She had a very promising social/political set-up (rigidly authoritarian city vs. a totally “free” city), and she totally wasted that opportunity. Instead of exploring the ways a free society could be organized (anywhere from anarcho-capitalist to anarcho-communist), she chose to do no exploration whatsoever, just (badly) describing it as boss-run. It would be hard to come up with a more meager description of an alternative economic/political system.

Beyond that, the action sequences are poorly written, often difficult to follow and awkward. At one point, during a pirate attack, two of the protagonists take two-thirds of a page for a heart-to-heart melodramatic talk about their feelings.

Even beyond that, Anders does nothing to bring her supposed horrors to life. Nothing. For instance, the homicidal “bison,” who play a key role, have mono-filament mouths and are big. And that’s it. No description beyond that.

As well, there are altogether too many coincidences and unexplained events.

Add to that that the two alternating p.o.v. characters, Sophie and “Mouth,” are entirely duochromatic (Sophie — hopelessly naive and romantic — and “Mouth” — hopeless, longing, and angry.) That’s it.

There’s also a weird lesbian tension throughout the book that’s never resolved and in the end is quite irritating. Who cares? But please stop hinting around and just fucking do it. Please.

As well, the physical world is ineptly described. At one point, a “typhoon” passes in moments, and a “sea” is supposedly “fished out,” apparently by fisherfolk in small boats.

You get the idea. It seems as if Anders just slapped this book down on the page, didn’t bother to revise the first draft, and Tor didn’t bother to edit it.

Very much not recommended.

 


hieroglyphHieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, Ed Finn & Kathryn Cramer, eds. (Wm. Morrow, 2014, 532 pp., $27.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

This collection of 16 short stories and one novella is largely a product of Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination, of which Finn is the founding director.  The book’s back cover describes it as “a manifesto and a blueprint . . . a clarion call to people everywhere to reclaim our future from grieving over what once was to celebrating all that can be achieved.”

The book succeeds — in part. Some of the stories describe innovations that seem entirely possible and achievable in the short term. The standouts here are two stories that concern the liberatory possibilities of the Internet, “Degrees of Freedom, ” by Karl Schroeder, and “Johnny Appledrone vs. the FAA,” by Lee Konstantinou. The Schroeder story particularly stands out, because of its entirely believable, rather unsympathetic protagonist, and the changes wrought in his outlook through interaction with the technologies Schroeder describes.

A number of the other stories are less inspiring. The first story in the collection, “Atmosphera Incognita,” by Neal Stephenson, falls  in this category, due to its being almost entirely exposition. It reads more like a very long outline for a novel than a short story.

Others that are lacking include Madeline Ashby’s “By the Time we Get to Arizona,” due to her obvious unfamiliarity with southern Arizona (where I’ve lived for decades) and northern Sonora, and “Periapsis,” by James L. Cambias, in that its social/political background is very hard to buy.

Gregory Benford’s “The Man Who Sold the Stars” stumbles right out of the blocks, with the description in its third paragraph of a biker picking up a Honda Hawk motorcycle and throwing it “all the way across the street” on top of a Kawasaki motorcycle. At that point, I went, “Yeah, right,” and stopped reading, as would anyone else even remotely familiar with motorcycles. A Honda Hawk weighs 393 pounds dry, 412 pounds (187 kilos) fueled and lubricated. (Yes, I did just look that up.)

There are, though, several good pieces in the collection beyond the Schroeder and Konstantinou stories, including Cory Doctorow’s amusing novella, “The Man Who Sold the Moon,” Vandana Singh’s “Entanglement,” and Rudy Rucker’s flat out hilarious “Quantum Telepathy.”

But the real standout in the collection is Charlie Jane Anders’ very funny “The Day It All Ended,” the next-to-last story in the book; it concerns methods of fighting global warming through carbon capture, and contains a hilarious putdown of what certainly appears to be Apple:

‘Your products are pure evil. You build these sleek little pieces of shit that are designed with all this excess capacity and redundant systems. . . . [I]t’s the ultimate glorification of form over function —  you’ve been able to convince everybody with disposable income to buy your crap, because people love anything that’s ostentatiously pointless. . . . You use glamour and marketing to convince people to fill their lives with empty crap instead of paying attention to the world and realizing how fragile and beautiful it really is. You’re the devil.’ . . .

‘You missed one, I think,’ Jethro said, ‘The one about overproliferation. That’s where we convince people to buy three different products that are almost exactly the same . . .’

Up to that point, I’d been mulling over whether or not to recommend Hieroglyph. Of the 16 stories and one novella, I enjoyed only the six pieces mentioned above, disliked about an equal number, and was indifferent to the rest.

“The Day It All Ended” tipped the scales.

Recommended — especially if you can find a used copy or can borrow one from the library.

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(Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on its sequel and on an unrelated sci-fi novel. A large sample from Free Radicals, in pdf form, is available here.)

Free Radicals front cover