Mon, 07 Mar 2005
Update, August 15, 2011: See Michael reviews the weekend I for the motivation behind this critical spree.
Crappy libertarian sci-fi novel by J. Neil Schulman. My dad bought me this years ago, and I kept it around through numerous moves cos it looked like I might someday find it interesting. The premise is fine – America is crippled by hyperinflation (the book was written in the Carter administration) and an anarchist underground topples the increasingly oppressive federal government. I don’t know enough about economics to challenge the basic premise of the plot, which is that a monetary system not based on gold or some other commodity will inevitably self-destruct. The fact that inflation has been well under control for about two decades would seem to suggest that Schulman overlooked a variable, but what do I know?
Apart from questionable dogma, the novel’s biggest flaw is that it’s hopelessly boring. Protagonist wanders from scene to scene killing time, intermittently getting in touch with the revolutionaries who are the actual agents of the plot. Runs into one of those flawless sci-fi girls – beautiful, sexually promiscuous, fascinated by the fiction of Robert Heinlein and the movies of the Marx Brothers, and, although not yet out of high school, able to argue laissez-faire economics for pages at a time. Together, in between satisfying their voracious sexual appetites, they read books, watch movies, listen to classical music, and always Schulman takes care to tell us exactly what they’re reading, watching, and listening to – obviously because they’re precisely the same things Schulman enjoys.
Interestingly, there’s an afterword where Schulman criticises the writings of Ayn Rand for her absurdly superheroic characters. (The afterword is more readable than the novel, probably because the author is no longer compelled to break up his arguments into stilted dialogue among indistinguishable characters.) I never got more than halfway through Atlas Shrugged because I couldn’t believe Rand took all this crap seriously; it read like a parody of a didactic novel. Schulman correctly diagnoses the main weakness in Rand’s writing, but is hampered by an even greater weakness of his own. However loony, Rand was a fairly capable stylist, whereas Schulman is simply a crappy writer.
Anyway, now that I’ve read it, I’m putting Alongside Night on my discard pile.
A Kiss Before Dying
More popular fiction, this time by Ira Levin. Another one I’m finally moving from my read-eventually pile onto my discard pile. Levin wrote this when he was in his early twenties, which depresses me, because overall it’s pretty good. Undermined by a disappointing third act.
Basically, the anti-hero is a handsome, slick social-climber who beds all three daughters of a wealthy industrialist. All he’s trying to do is marry into the family, but plans keep going awry, forcing him to murder each daughter in turn, and move onto the next one.
By the time we get to the third act and the third daughter, we’re all excited, because (we mistakenly assume) the murderer is finally going to meet his match. The eldest daughter has been built up as the cleverest of the bunch, and we look forward to seeing her unravel his deceptions. But then Levin pulls a trick and the father, the wealthy industrialist, winds up being the hero of the book. The third daughter is just as clueless as the first two.
I don’t know why this bothered me. I certainly didn’t see it coming. I guess something about the murderer’s modus operandi demanded that his comeuppance come at the hands of a woman. Poetic justice, y’know. Perhaps it’s unfair of me to hold the book to fault for failing to end predictably, but sometimes the predictable ending is the right one.
The Man in the High Castle
Never read Philip K. Dick before. Guess I was expecting something different. Enthusiasts comparing him favourably to Borges, etc., are right on track. Strange, wonderful, unnerving.