Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Boy on the Bridge. By M R Carey.

An often ascribed phrase from Sartre's No Exit is "Hell is other people", in context its meaning is rather complex, but the general interpretation is that sometimes people can occasionally suck, especially when confined to a single room, over a long period of time and also, it smells, damn it. This seems to be a consistent theme in M Carey's book "The Boy on the Bridge" (2017), of course the room in this book is a large multi-tracked vehicle named the "Rosalind Franklin" (think Amtrak Wars, but smaller), on a scientific mission, driving through a  cordyceps zombie apocalypse wasteland (think the setting of The Last of Us, but in Britain) collecting specimens in the hopes of finding a sample without fungal hyphae. The setting of the book is a continuation of the world presented in the "The Girl with all the Gifts" (2013), a book which I haven't read and is now a movie (2016).

Apparently some reviewers who have read "The Girl with all the Gifts" don't consider this sequel to be as good, such as Tasha Robinson (June 2017), but given that I haven't read the first book, or seen the movie I didn't have any preconceptions and enjoyed the book as a tight drama centred around the microcosm of the vehicle Rosalind Franklin (Rosie in the vernacular of the characters of the story), perhaps comparable to "The Hunt for the Red October" in setting. I am now going to ramble on about the setting while not discussing the plot in any real way. M Carey sets the scene in a passive third person tense that reads like documentation which was nice, succinct and also darkly comical.

 The Rosalind Franklin is from an outpost community called Beacon which is governed by a joint council of citizens called the "Main Table" and the remnants of the military called the "Military Muster". The mission of the Rosalind Franklin is this communities version of the Apollo moon landing, all their hopes and dreams go with the twelve individuals who crew this mission, it is a heavy responsibility.

The command structure of the Rosalind Franklin reflects the power structures in Beacon, the twelve crew of this vehicle are organized into a science division and a military escort, with overall command  by Dr Alan Fournier. The military escort is lead by Colonel Issac Carlisle who has by far the greatest experience leading a military expedition but the objectives of the mission are scientific and his appointment serves the objectives of the Military Muster. As M Carey writes on page 13, the crew of the Rosalind Franklin,despite the rhetoric, are not the best and brightest, but were chosen by the ruling bodies of Beacon in an attempt to achieve a balance that would give the community the most plausible shot at survival. The characters tend to be well written and the sense of the crew being a tight knit group of specialists, who all have essential skills and work well as a team (with the exception of one person, sigh) is conveyed. They are listed (on page 12) as

 Dr Alan Fournier  - Chief Scientist                Colonel Issac Carlisle - Military Escort Leader
Samrina Khan      - Epidemiologist                Lt Daniel McQueen     - Sniper/ 2nd Com    
Lucien Akimwe   - Chemist                            Lance Bombardier      - Sniper
John Scaley          - Biologist                          Private Brendan Lutes - Enginneer
Elain Penny          - Biologist                          Private Paula Sixsmith - Driver
Steven Graves      - Nobody is sure.                Private Gary Philips     - Quarter Master

The page I am practically quoting from can be found here. I found the motivations of the characters to be coherent and interesting, sometimes vaguely amusing because the author dwells on how the characters learn and how it influences their actions.

The setting would make a great RPG, possibly the author has used a comparable reflective process that a GM would use, a narrative centered around a journey in a vehicle. An entertaining science fiction thriller and when I get the opportunity to read "The Girl with all the Gifts" (2014), I will.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Currently reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011) published by Arrow Books, United Kingdom. It makes me want to go play Skyrim. I may be some time.

Ok, I finished it. It had some interesting points in the type of society it portrayed and the narrator of the first person perspective is relatable, as a male who could do more exercise. Apparently it's now going to be a movie, which is neat.

Walkaway A Novel by Cory Doctorow.

Man. To me the title evokes an aborgine walkabout, "Walkaway" published by Head of Zeus Ltd (2017). The book starts with a scene that introduces a near post scarcity world and some of the main protagonists. The first chapter is titled "communist party", and the setting is a party where the theme is the gift furniture manufactured from 3D printers using surplus manufacturing material, so it gets called a communist party. The chapter title is a play on words, a joke. I disliked the scene intensely, because of its "ist & ism" terminology and its Bret Eston Ellis "Less than Zero" feel. I've met and lived with people who talk using "ist & ism" words and so far they have been mostly bullshit. Strong negative reaction. So I put the book down and did something else.

Later I picked it up again, and got through the first chapter to the second chapter "You all meet in a tavern" and I like "Order of the Stick" and I think I am a funny guy, despite the opinion of others, obviously. So OK, I get what the chapter title is doing and persevere, and it starts to get good.

Its about future hippies (those damn kids, get of my land lords lawn!) an anti establishment movement in a near post scarcity society that relies on uploadable schematics for 3D printers as their source of technology, from building materials and electronics to antibiotics (silver) and clothing. It discusses ideas of ownership and sharing, the language used is a mix of contemporary slang with a futuristic language based around data sharing, using acronyms to describe human relationships. There are action sequences with power suits and militarized drones and plucky outgunned rebels. It dwells on biology and why people do things, page 60 describes drinking a cup of future coffee as "The first cup of coffium danced hot in her mouth and its early-onset ingredients percolated into her blood stream through the mucus membranes under her tongue" (Doctorow page 60 : 2017), so obviously I am going to now google if there are mucous membranes under our tongues.

And apparently there are, they are called the frenulum. Also, perhaps not completely unrelated to the passage described on page 60, there are sex scenes, I mean, you're not going to read the book for the sex scenes but they are there. So, you know, that's, that is nice.

Oh. oh right. Those scenes are not about sex but love, Man, what is wrong with me that it took me so long for me to get that. Ah well, we live and learn.

The book concludes with an epilogue that  presents a particular kind of utopia, that I think is brave, in the sense that it does go against quite strong and rational contemporary values and ideas of what constitutes life.