I am also nicely well-read for the week, having inhaled Winter's Tale, Un Lun Dun, China Mountain Zhang, and Neuromancer whilst flying about and tasting wine.
Show your work, Cat!
I found Winter's Tale to be revelatory and absolutely unique, beautiful beyond measure, even if it dragged a bit in the middle and the time frame never settled. I'm ok with that. Worth it all for the New York it delivers, Beverly Penn, Mrs. Gamely, and the sheer joy of the prose. I seriously considered changing my LJ location to Lake of the Coheeries. I've heard it criticized for being over-enamoured of the self-made great man myth of American history, and that's an absolutely fair comment, but ultimately, Helprin is a good enough writer to just steamroll over all my objections with his skill. The only place it faltered was in descriptions of San Francisco, which read like a man who had never been there, and only vaguely heard of it. I would re-purchase this just to have it in quasi-imperishable hardback.
Un Lun Dun was, for me, disappointing and simplistic even for YA--great concept, almost nothing worthwhile done with it, and some truly painful turns of phrase. What is it with British authors and wincing puns? The thing is, this is straight, no-frills Campbellian hero stuff, despite the task-shortcutting, with the only slight twist of Deeba taking over the role of the...look, I can't really bear to write the title of the chosen one. It's too lame. I never thought a random combination of letters could make me roll my eyes, but it turns out, they can! But I just wanted more from Mieville...he's Mieville for god's sake! Shouldn't he be more twisted and subversive in his YA than cute environmentalism puns? I couldn't even keep the "exotic" characters straight by the end, since their characters were so non-existent. But it does give me a lot to think about as I attempt my own YA book--is the Campbellian trip all we have to work with in that camp? With a younger audience, is it so absolutely necessary to stick to that familiar mythic frame? I don't know. Any thoughts?
China Mountain Zhang was gorgeous and utterly engaging, but had a somewhat abrupt and listless ending that left me wondering why McHugh chose to end it there, when I would have easily read another 200 pages, or a whole other book with joy and eagerness, but it just ended, with only one character's arc even a little resolved. But I was completely involved with the book from about page 5. I couldn't put it down, I really couldn't. The post-socialist revolution world was so interesting (and part of the reason the end was off-putting was that it didn't seem to jive with the world) and the issues of such a culture rang terribly true, without being at all, until the end, preachy about the better nature of capitalism. San-xiang's story was the most poignant and awful and I saw it coming immediately--I'm not sure how I feel about knowing in my bones that a character will be raped before chapter end, or what that says about the books I read. The various other voices were complex and compelling--I guess mid-twenties angst knows no ideology. But I was left wanting so much more.
Neuromancer. Oh boy. I read this when I was about 17 but I suspect I only skimmed it, as it seemed mostly new this timaround.
Look, I understand it's a classic, but as a novel qua novel it was kind of a let down. I found the characters a little flat, without spark--and really, Molly and Case had sex for no good reason at all other than it being the heroine's job to have sex with the hero--and the story a little, well...easy. There were no subplots, no expectations thwarted, just the central mystery, which wasn't really a mystery at all. At the end, I thought "Yep. That's a cyberpunk book alright." It earned a shrug. Some great bits of writing at the beginning and end, but it was just a thriller with computers. (Except 3Jane. I liked her.) I realize that this is completely because I didn't read it in 1984 when all this was genuinely frightening and new, but in the post-Matrix, post-Hackers, post-every movie and SF book in the last two decades world. But the novel itself was just...a little prosaic for my taste. And god, could we get a little more than a glimpse of godlike AI in these kinds of books? It's the most fascinating thing but it's always in moderation--I guess that's the point of deus ex machina, but I was more deus! I want a whole novel in the voice of AI! Can you guys think of any? There must be one, in the vast swath of post-cyberpunk literature.
I think this disappointment is a result of datedness, much like Natural Born Killers, which I watched for the first time last night. Amazing and ground-breaking style-wise, though reeking of Tarantino, (I mean, jesus, they drove a 1970 Dodge Challenger, the car from Deathproof) but I couldn't summon up the shock that must have accompanied it in 1994. I've seen this movie too many times since to be really moved by the original. Vagaries of time and culture. And it's amazing how the clips at the end of NBK date the film. Remember those crazy Menendez kids? Yeah? Ask your little sister if she does. And it made me think that the nineties were this decade of glorified and gleeful violence, of splashy single killers, where in the Aughts, we have this nebulous threat of terrorism, which really has no face since everyone got a little too embarrassed to be showing bin Laden's face every hour on the hour, and that is an impersonal threat for most of us, not controllable, despite government attempts to make it appear so, and even because of those attempts. But it's not the same as kids killing their parents and becoming media darlings--the VA Tech shooter is hardly loved by the media. Obsessed over, yes, but not loved. He is dangerous and frightening and other, not like little Eric Menendez with his telegenic face. This may have something to do with his not being white, but OJ Simpson is the poster boy for that kind of love.
Anyway, that little slice of Americana seems to have faded. Tarantino will never get tired of making Tarantino movies, but it's no longer shocking that some people enjoy violence and that the media enjoys those people. It's just reality. And it's almost like Tarantino didn't get his chance at big movies (story credit only on NBK) when this stuff was topical, so he beats the ultraviolence drum now and forever.
At any rate, the Aughts, at least the mid-Aughts, seems to find its outrage not in violence, (which has become less a source of shock and anger than a source of grief-by-proxy for most of America, a phenomenon I find extremely creepy, like a weird theft of emotion by those who need it to feel alive rather than the possession of those to whom damage was actually done), but in privilege. The amount of hatred and fury directed at the likes of Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan is kind of amazing when you look at it. People regularly and gleefully wish gang-rape, disease, and violent, horrific death on these women, who have really harmed no one but themselves (Paris didn't hit anyone when she was drunk, unlike SEVERAL other starlets who are not the subject of twisted, sick schadenfreude which has gone way over the line at this point). They just act like silly, pretty fools, which has always been the province of the children of the rich. I don't like their behavior either--women who are wilfully stupid upset me--but I feel very bad for them now, the focus of the world's resentment over the rich-poor gap, celebrity obsession, and grotesque misogyny all in one. Let's not even get into Britney Spears, who needs help, but gets only derision born of delight at her troubles, which is in turn born of the tangled ball of desire and resentment she encouraged when she was on top of the world. These kids--and they're kids that the internet at large slavers to see gang-raped in prison, Lohan is only 20--are the focus of an astonishing amount of ugly, ugly ideation. It's as terrifying as Mickey and Mallory was in 94.
They are both the natural born killers of our age and the media that devours their own lives. And that kind of meta-ouroboros schtick truly characterizes the post-cyberpunk age. Killing time till true AI, slaughtering princesses in our collective dreams.