NaNoWriMo and the Dreadship

Hi everyone! It’s been quite a while since I posted here (and I have failed to write anything about Ghost in the Shell as promised yet), and I am still incredibly busy with academic and teaching work (as my spotty Eldritch Wastes updates can attest to), but in the midst of all of that I still managed to find time for my favorite annual writing drive: that, of course, being National Novel Writing Month!

Usually I put up a blog post about NaNoWriMo before it happens, but this year I was so busy I did not know I was going to actually attempt it until November 1, when the event starts, and I attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Before 2015, I’d tried and succeeded for six years (since 2009) to do so, and in 2015, I managed to pull it off again!

This year, I added significantly onto my major project, Dreadship Omnipotence, my cyberpunk space opera that I know think is a combination of Neuromancer, Firefly, Hyperion, and One Piece, following the adventures of a rather dark crew of pirates in a cyberpunk future when mankind has spread out among the stars and begun to evolve down different paths.

After about 86,000 words, the main plot finally got started (so the first bit will probably need substantial trimming), as the characters are established and all of the pieces are set in motion for the (planned) trilogy. I had a few moments of self-doubt during the process (the world is a little bit strange; how often do you see a Space Druid Empire?), but I am now confident in the overall direction the plot is heading in, though I still struggle with translating my master, overarching big picture into relatable scenes!

The draft of the novel is currently at 106,890 words, and is probably a little less than halfway done, so it needs a bit more work! I was greatly inspired by this year’s attempt, though, so I’m hoping I can keep some momentum going throughout the rest of the year, and am going to try – though perhaps fail – to write 20,000 words in it a month until I finish it (for a total of 5,000 a week and 715 words a day). Wish me luck!

And for your patience, dear readers, have an excerpt from Dreadship Omnipotence, introducing the first set of antagonists:


“I don’t see why we don’t just kill the Gaian scientists,” a voice said over the intercom. “They’re irritating thorns in our sides, and they won’t resist us at all. They’d die in seconds. In fact, all I really have to do is shut off their power…”

“Not until the boss says we can,” came the reply. This second speaker was leaning back on a couch, his body having sunk halfway through the couch, his arms resting on the couches back. He grinned, and his sunglasses glinted in the artificial light of the lounge, matching briefly his bald brown head. “They serve a purpose for us, Ugo; they keep even more prying eyes from looking for us here. Need I remind you that Sovstel is still trying to root us out. Us, the last checks to their authority and ‘voluntary’ domination over the Communes? The last hold of big-league piracy in all of jaynic space?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Ugo responded over the intercom. “But who knows our name outside of the Communes? The Imperium doesn’t consider us a threat, the Seven Nations ignore us, and I doubt the Dominion even knows we exist!”

“The Communes aren’t enough for you, Ugie?” the man said. He laughed deeply. “Galactic domination will come later, man. The Communes are the future of transhumanity, of all of the jayns. The Communes are where the most daring progress is made, where technology and science triumph, where new forms of social organization are tested, where societies are made and destroyed every day. The Communes are the laboratory of mankind, and they’ve produced their monster.” He grinned again, and showed a brilliant set of sparkling white ivories. “And we are that monster, Ugo. Our Pirate Queen will lead us to victory, first over the Communes as we build our power, and then the others will fall before they know what hit them. The Imperium will be crushed before they see or acknowledge our power, the Seven Nations will drown in their own blood as they turn to look behind them, and the Dominion will capitulate in the face of our endless might.”

“Very poetic, Edak,” came another voice from the edge of the lounge. The big man on the couch turned to look in the direction of the voice, and frowned at the sight of a small woman wearing a sparkling red dress. She sashayed over to him and plopped down on the couch next to him. “Have you considered a change of career? You could smash the market as a poet, even on Polymnia,.”

“Shut up, Emryn,” Edak growled. He moved his arms and slid away from her. “What are you doing here, anyway? I thought you were on Inarkus.”

“I have a body over there,” the said. “But I shipped my consciousness over here for our very important meeting with Mistress Syntha. Wouldn’t miss our little chat for the world.”

Edak growled wordlessly. Ugo snickered over the loudspeaker system. “Look, the gang’s almost back together again. Just missing Specs.”

“Yeah, she won’t be coming,” Emryn said, tossing her hair back. “Not sure what she’s up to; she wouldn’t say, and Syntha’s not talking much either. Something about the Dominion.”

“Probably a deep cover infiltration,” Edak rumbled. “Scoping out our final enemy.”

“Queenie’s pet,” Ugo said.

The door opposite the one that Emryn had entered through clicked. Edak and Emryn’s eyes both flicked over to it as it hissed open. “Seems she’s ready,” Edak said. He stood up with a groan. “Gonna need a new bod soon. This one’s getting old.”

“Oh, don’t complain,” Emryn said, still lounging. “That one’s got a few years left in it. You can’t just go hopping bodies every couple years.”

“Like you’re one to talk,” Edak said. He began walking toward the open door, and Emrn followed a few moments later at her own leisurely pace. A moment after her, a small floating camera followed. The door closed behind them.

The man, the woman, and the camera stood – and floated – above the floor of an enormous room. Ath the far side of the room was a throne on a raised dais, surrounded by a chaotic mass of pipes, many of which were spewing steam from half-opened valves.

A figure sat on that throne, wreathed in an impenetrable darkness that not even the most advanced cyberoptic filters could pierce. “Thank you for answering my summons,” a voice said from that darkness. The voice resonated and filled the entire throne room, echoing with vast amounts of power. “We have decided on our next course of action.”

Emryn stood, arms crossed, while Edak let his arms hang limpy by his sides. “And what is it that you want us to do, Queen Syntha?”

“It is not what you all will do, Secundus, at least not all at once. You and Tercerus will stay here, continuing to organize the Project here and acquire more resources for our future empire.”

“And Primus isn’t involved, is she?” Emryn asked.

“No, she will not be,” said the voice from the darkness. “The first task will fall to you, Quartus.”

Emryn blinked and laid a hand across her breast. “Me?”

“Yes, you. You have a body on Inarkus right now. You are to return to that body. And then you are to steal a certain ship.”

Emryn looked puzzled. “A ship? Just one ship? Not a fleet?”

“This one ship that you shall steal will be worth thousands – nay, millions – of lesser vessels.”

“O… kay,” Emryn said. “And how am I supposed to take this super-ship?”

“That is entirely up to your discretion, Quartus.”

“Alright, so what’s this ship called? Where is it?”

“It currently goes under the name of the Lysandra, under the command of one Idim Jyn,” Syntha said from the darkness. “And it is currently guarded only by one man; their engineer. It lies in orbit above Goldenspire, while the rest of the crew is down on the surface.”

“That shouldn’t be hard,” Emryn said. “I’m on Silverstar now, so I’ll take a quick shuttle-ride over to orbit. Is there a way for me to identify it?”

“It should already have been sent to your consciousness,” Syntha said.

“Oh, thanks!” Emryn said. “And should I bring it here when I get it?”

“Yes,” Syntha said. “And when you do, then we can finally emerge from hiding.”

From a speaker in the camera, Ugo laughed. Edak grinned, and Emryn smiled.

“You are dismissed until then,” Syntha said. “Be gone.” The two humans bowed and the floating camera lowered its altitude.

“As you wish, my Queen,” Emryn said, eyes glinting.

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Posted by on November 28, 2015 in Writing



Hey everyone! Sorry it’s been a while, but the last couple of months have been rather busy and often hellish. I tried (and spectacularly failed) at Camp Nanowrimo this summer, but I’ve continued outlining and planning the plot for Dreadship Omnipotence, and I think the final product is going to be much better with this planning! I’ve also started trying to consistently set aside writing time (with limited success thus far), but we’ll see how that goes. After a three-week hiatus for a huge exam I took, the Eldritch Wastes is also again updating! I’ve also sketched out a plan for a fantasy world I’ll be running in a roleplaying game, with the potential of using it as a world to explore through novels and short stories. I’m quite proud of it!

But I have also tried to develop my artistic talents (or lack thereof) in another, visual form! The results of my efforts are below.

This first picture is something I drew a while back while trying to teach myself shading. I’m actually somewhat proud of how it turned out, especially considering this was my first serious attempt at drawing well.

This second one is actually my renditions of three of the characters from Dreadship Omnipotence in a space station! I know it isn’t a great picture, but I think it’s good for a first effort! The woman on the right with the absurdly long glaive is Tathal Litenz, navigator and first mate. The man on the left with the cybernetic arm and the glowing ball of energy above it is Kirsval Orteck, a.k.a. Melkorh, the engineer. The robotic mouse in his pocket is named Soron. The man in the middle with his head behind his head is the captain Idim Jyn. I had a lot of fun drawing them, and I will probably try again in the future, and try to hone my art skills (which, as you can see, are rather lacking).

Hopefully I’ll have more writing-related news for you in the future (as well as possibly my thoughts on Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex), but for now, later days!

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Posted by on September 13, 2015 in Uncategorized


The Forever War

I read Joe Haldeman’s most famous novel, The Forever War, in only a little more than twenty-four hours. That alone speaks volumes about the work, which isn’t a long novel, but it isn’t short either.

I read this book right after having read Neuromancer (which I had some problems with, as this review shows), and so The Forever War was like a breath of fresh air. Like Neuromancer, it was extremely fast paced, but in an entirely different way. The chapters were very short (like in Neuromancer), but the book was mostly description, but description done so artfully that it was enough to move along the plot on its own, even in lieu of character interactions. Of course, there was plenty of dialogue and a lot of character interactions, but the description and narrative in The Forever War really stood out, and (unlike Neuromancer), made it incredibly easy to follow – and thus I was able to think more about the themes and ideas it brought up.

The novel is clearly about the Vietnam War, which the author has himself admitted. At its most basic, The Forever War is about a man drafted into a war against an unknown enemy, who it (rather predictably) turns out had been misunderstood from the very beginning (the ending of the novel was its weakest point by far; I won’t say anything more here, but it was weird, in a sort of cliched way, and I don’t think Haldeman came up with the cliche himself).

So, the novel is a war novel. However, it is a novel about war with surprisingly little combat; only two ground operations and one space battle are actually part of the narrative, and the rest of the combat is implied. However, the book isn’t so much about combat against aliens (with commentaries on first-contact and the nature of humanity thrown in at the end as an afterthought), but rather about the effects of war on two levels: the individual and the social.

Both of these effects are interwoven by following one man – William Mandella – as he is drafted into the human army to fight the mysterious, threatening “Tauran” foes, as he goes from trainee to Major. However, what is unique about this “Forever War” – which lasts, in the end, over a thousand years – is that it is a war across star systems affected hugely by relativity. Ships go so quickly between star systems through “collapsars” at enormous speeds, and so while little time passes on the ships, many years pass in the outside world. This has enormous effects on individuals involved in the war, as they go to complete one combat mission and return home decades later, to find that the world they came from is not what it used to be. In The Forever War, the first return home reveals Earth has become a dystopia, its economy and political system entirely dependent on the war, and is rife with violence. Throughout the novel, as the main character ages much more slowly than the rest of human kind (and ultimately survives the whole war), we get glimpses of how society is changes through his interaction with new recruits, including a period where heterosexuality becomes a dysfunction and, at the end of the war, one of the strangest visions of advanced humanity I have yet read about.

We also see the effect the war has on him, not only through fighting Taurans, being hypnotically conditioned, surviving brutal training, and becoming a high-ranking officer, but through the people he loses, both in the war and just be aging so slowly due to relativity. The effect of the war on the individual is extremely powerful, and the centerpiece of the novel.

What is also interesting is Haldeman’s vision of how the war is fought when relativity is taken into account. The war lasts a thousand years, and due to the time lag due to relativistic travel, one is never sure what level of technology the enemy you meet at any system is; you could be fighting Taurans armed with advanced technology you’ve never seen before, or Taurans even weaker than the ones you had just fought. As someone says of the Earth military high command, they plan “in centuries,” which is necessary due to the time dilations experiences by soldiers during the war.

The book is never slow, and though at times it has immersion breaking moments where you think “that’s odd” (such as the first return to Earth and the strange, somewhat troubling role of semi-forced sex in themilitary), it is definitely a worthwhile read and, I think, one of the best science fiction novels I’ve had the pleasure to read.

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Posted by on July 16, 2015 in Readings



On June 29th, I Tweeted my (very brief) thoughts about my current reading project, Neuromancer, and mentioned that it hadn’t been what I had been expecting, and got seven retweets. For someone who is lucky to get a single retweet, I was surprised at the (relatively high) response to this one Tweet with almost no content. Clearly (in my psuedo-scientific analysis of one Tweet), #Neuromancer is important to the denizens of the Internet, and discussion about it catches peoples’ attention. This is not surprising, given how important Neuromancer‘s conceptualization of the Internet – before the Internet was even a thing – has been to the actual development of the Internet.

William Gibson’s Neuromancer is considered by many to be the seminal work in the cyberpunk genre. While it certainly did not found the genre, it is likely responsible for the genre’s rise in popularity, as well as its consolidation as a unique area of science fiction. The novel also was the first winner of the science fiction “triple crown,” winning the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick awards. As such, I went into reading this book with very high expectations.

I was both disappointed and impressed.

When thinking about and evaluating Neuromancer, I was forced to do so on two levels: Neuromancer as I read it today, and Neuromancer as I would have read it when it was published. My two evaluations at these levels are very different.

Had I read the novel when it was published, I would have been blown away, as many people at the time clearly were, given its reception, its spawning two sequels (into the Sprawl trilogy), and a whole literary genre. Reading the novel now, though, I was underwhelmed.

Neuromancer depicts a future society (presumably even after the current day), in which human society is becoming increasingly cyberized, has colonized Earth’s orbit, and is also increasingly run by huge multinational corporations. This is an incredibly rich playground (I sort of play around with it myself, particularly in my work on parts of Dreadship Omnipotence), but Gibson does not use it to its fullest extent in Neuromancer (though he very well might in the other books of the Sprawl trilogy). Instead, he focuses in on a very small cast of characters, and their manipulation by and struggle to free a rebellious Artificial Intelligence from the chains that prevent it from becoming all-powerful.

The character Gibson follows are members of a small strikeforce brought together by a mysterious man to do a hacking job on an artificial intelligence, a notoriously dangerous task that could kill everyone involved. The central figure is Case, a hacker whose ability to link into/jack into the net has just been restored. He is supported primarily by Molly, a “razorgirl” who is essentially a cyborg commando (think Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell, but with extendable blades in her fingers) who takes care of whatever analog work has to be done to complement Case’s hacking.

The content and ideas of Neuromancer are extremely well-developed, especially for its time. Gibson’s conceptualization of the global Internet, especially in the way he describes Case’s hacking in terms of visualizations of geometric shapes changing color and shape, is breathtaking and thought provoking. He gives the Internet a personality, and he lays out the groundwork for a very interesting cyberculture attached to it, as well as to the dark side of cybercorporate rule on the streets of Chiba City and the Sprawl.

I say “groundwork” here because it emphasizes what I liked least about Neuromancer, and that was the lack of a full exploration of the world and characters. There is nothing wrong with Molly and Case as characters, and they seem real enough (though there are a few ‘what the hell’ moments, such as the first sex scene), but they just aren’t as explored as well as they could have been. The exploration of the setting – which is utterly fascinating – is even less developed, and you only catch glimpses of the strange, cyberpunk world of the future.

I think the culprit for these weaknesses is my other criticism of Gibson’s masterpiece, and that is his writing. His ideas are brilliant, if underdeveloped (which is fine for one of the earlier works in the genre that laid the groundwork for other works to come). However, the way in which he presents these ideas is severely limited due to the way in which the book was written. The book is incredibly fast-paced, with short chapters, and short sections within chapters. Description is kept to a minimum, and the majority of the text is either dialogue (which I loved) or else internal monologues (which I found annoying). However, the dialogue does not reveal very much about the world (or, really, the characters), and serves mostly just to move the plot along. A focus on the plot is good, as it keeps things moving, but in the case of Neuromancer, I felt there was too much focus on the plot, and it worked to the detriment of world-building and character creation.

This was compounded by the very fractured nature of the writing. There were lots of sentence fragments and short sentences; they were very to the point, but for me they were also somewhat immersion breaking (though one could argue that the writing style was meant to be evocative of the world Gibson was creating). The descriptions, when they were there, were also very sparse, and a lot was left up to the reader’s imagination; in my opinion, a bit too much. It took my fifty pages to figure out what was going on, as I was thrown without mercy into a world of slang and jargon that would have been incomprehensible for even longer had I not been familiar with some science fiction and cyberpunk tropes. While I applaud his complete lack of exposition, the lack of any sort of explanatory text was difficult for me to handle – though perhaps that speaks more about me as a reader than about him as an author.

Overall, though, Neuromancer was an enjoyable read, and I would recommend it, but with the caveat to prepare to be confused at first, and not to expect any clear answers – but then, when has society ever given us a clear answer?


Posted by on July 13, 2015 in Readings


The Left Hand of Darkness

I emerge once more from the void to regale you all, my dear readers (however few you may be!), with tales of my latest literary conquests! Or, in this case, literary conquest (it turns out it’s hard to find time to read fiction when you’re studying for a preliminary exam for your PhD program at the end of the summer and are working on papers for two conferences at the end of August… eep!).

The aforementioned literary conquest is none other than Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. This is the third LeGuin novel I’ve read, after (relatively) recently finishing The Dispossessed (which I loved) and The Word for World is Forest, which I read a while ago but I still find to me one of the most thought-provoking and evocative works of science fiction I have ever had the pleasure to read.

It was thus with great enthusiasm that I dove into The Left Hand of Darkness… and was immediately disappointed. Not because it was bad – by no means was it a bad novel – but because it felt like work. In my non-writer alternate life (which I am going to pretend is my secondary one, despite it taking up all of my time), I study sociology, which has recently consisted of reading a fair bit of ethnographies. Having been raised by anthropologists, LeGuin is extremely good at evoking the feel of an ethnography in this novel, which is actually framed as a fictional ethnography from the future. She is so good at it, in fact, that it actually felt like I was doing work by reading it. I found it at the beginning to be slow and cumbersome, full of ethnographic conventions and commentary that made me feel like I wasn’t reading for pleasure, but for work (when I was, in theory, reading for pleasure).

As such, it took me a long time to make substantial progress. However, I am extremely glad I did, for this novel was well worth the trudging! Most people I don’t think will have the same trouble I did with the opening of the novel, and so might breeze through it. After the first few chapters, the ethnographic tone became much less prevalent, and I again felt like I was reading a novel, and was utterly drawn into her world.

LeGuin is a master of worldbuilding – or more specifically, of society-building. We can see this in the hyper-capitalist and anarcho-communist societies in The Dispossessed, and in the indigenous and colonial cultures in The Word for World is Forest. Like these other works, the world of The Left Hand of Darkness is explored through a culture clash, and what defines and undermines the differences between these cultures is gender.

The story chronicles the journeys of Genly Ai (who, it is covertly slipped in, is a Terran of African descent), an envoy from the Ekumen, a huge interstellar organization of human-types, as he attempts to bring a newly discovered planet of humanoids, Gethen (or Winter), into this organization. In order to do this, he needs to convince the world that it is ready for this integration with the larger universe, and help ease its transition. He goes down alone in order to learn all he can about the planet and slowly work the planet so that it can accept its place among the stars.

Genly is the audience (or readers), and coming from Terra/Earth, embodies many of the cultural beliefs and assumptions that many humans have about society and norms. On the world of Gethen, there is no distinction between male and female, as Gethenians spend most of their time as sexless humans, and once a month become biologically able to engage in intercourse, and their sex at that time is determined by hormone levels that react to those near them.

LeGuin then explores that a sexless society would look like, through the eyes of a typical, male Terran. There is no gender on Gethen, which makes Genly extremely uncomfortable, and which makes Genly’s gender uncomfortable for Gethenians to deal with. The interaction between these two societies is primarily shown through the friendship of Ai with a Gethenian named Estraven, as they wade through the mess of Gethenian politics and get caught in a bitter struggle between two rival nations. This friendship – and the way it ebbs and flows – is one of the most powerful parts of the book, and ultimately is what kept me reading.

However, what is most thought-provoking is LeGuin’s depiction of a genderless society. Sex is not a constant drive or urge. There is no gender, and so there is no sexism. The philosophy of Gethen is entirely different from that of Earth, religion is entirely different as well, and most interestingly, there is no war.

Despite my slow start, The Left Hand of Darkness is definitely worth reading. I still prefer The Dispossessed and The Word for World is Forest, but it is easy to see why The Left Hand of Darkness is as influential as it is!

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Posted by on June 21, 2015 in Readings


From Worldbuilding to Characters

Everyone rights in a different way. Everyone starts a story in a different way. Most stories (I think) come from an idea of some sort, contained in one of the three aspects of the literary holy trinity of character, plot, and setting. Some writers start with a character, and imagine the events in their life (plot) and the society (world) that produced them, and develop their story around that. Others start with a plot (I wanna write a story about a group of cyberpunk mafiosos fighting the cheese-loving lunar people!), and from that develop a world (cyberpunk future in which mutant mice have gained sentience and telepathy and taken over the moon and human cheese supplies) and characters (the head mafioso and the head mouse).

Then there are writer’s like me, who tend to start with a world and then build characters and plot from it. My large “Juxian Mythos” universe (which I write in far less than I should, alas) was created from this process. I started with a pantheon of gods (the Elders and Ancients), and from that developed a mythology involving the end of the universe, and then imagined the peoples that populated it. Before I had even thought of point of view characters or a plot, I had thought out the history of this world (billions of years of it, from the start of the universe) and the major historical figures, events, wars, and imperial expansions.

Once I had a firm grasp on the universe and world(s) I would be operating in, I was able to pick historically interesting times to set a story in. The discovery of earth and its integration in universal society? The Jakken Trilogy. The foundation of the space druids? The (very) work in progress Tal’kan Saga. The infamous S’kari-Aleuvite War? A Deadly Dance. By having the whole of history to play with, I was able to identify moments that would be able to house interesting plot for stories (and would allow me to flesh out this world with multiple stories).

Once the macro-plot for a story was chosen, then it was time to select characters. When creating characters, you are selecting a point of view, a perspective from which you and the reader will see the world and experience the plot. Sometimes these characters are historically significant figures (such as Jakken), but side characters can also provide a unique perspective on the world and its action, especially when a non-elite commoner is telling us what is going on (something I employ, somewhat, in Sundering Stars)However, in this process, it is usually important to have at least one character be historically significant; you want the character to accomplish something worthwhile, don’t you (especially in my space opera-style science fiction)?

After you have your character, you then have the ability to create smaller plots around them. By selecting the relevant event, you have the larger plot, but not your focal characters’ roles in it. You develop those through sub-plots and micro-plots, where your character is the driving force, rather than the history of the world. Thus, my own process of story generation creates two levels of plots: history-driven macro-plots that produce big ideas, and character-driven micro-plots that add depth to the world (this dual nature of plots I will discuss in a future post)!

That, in a nutshell, is how I generate stories; from worldbuilding to characters. It is similar to how I run roleplaying games; I create a sandbox for characters to play in and shape, except instead of players playing characters, I control them all. While this method is especially useful for world in which you intend to set multiple stories, you can also use this method for one off stories, especially if you are exploring sociological ideas. Though initially character driven, Sundering Stars developed along a similar process (the above description being more of an ideal type process). I knew I wanted to include one particular character, but then I created a massive history in the world she lived in, and created other characters based on the world, not on her.

So, the story-generation process is messy, and I’d be interested to hear how other people come up with the ideas for their own stories. But for now, happy writing (and reading)!

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Posted by on March 30, 2015 in Writing


Time Enough For Love and The Dispossessed

It’s been a while since I updated my readers (few and far between though you are!) on my reading list (or much else, for that matter). I have, of late, been tearing through Terry Pratchett novels (rest in peace, Sir Terry), which are as brilliant, witty, and insightful as always (though I must admit, Unseen Academicals disappointed me; it started so strong and went in a direction I was ambivalent about; I think there weren’t enough wizards in it, in the end). I also, a while ago, made it through two more science fiction “classics” written by authors at opposite ends of the political spectrum: Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love, and Ursula K LeGuin’s The Dispossessed.

Heinlein’s novel is really a collection of short stories linked together in varying ways. Some of these short stories are told by one of Heinlein’s recurring characters, the inestimable Lazarus Long/Woodrow Wilson Smith, while others chart Long’s “present day” situation. The stories range from the charming (“The Tale of the Man Who Was Too Lazy to Fail”) to the annoyingly technical (“The Tale of the Twins Who Weren’t”), to the somewhat… unsettling (“The Tale of the Adopted Daughter”) to the bizarre (“De Capo”) to the thought-provoking (“Boondock”). Scattered throughout these stories are collections of Lazarus Long’s ‘sayings,’ some of which were amusing, some sensible, and most were annoying to someone who did not share his particular political beliefs.

As was the case with Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein’s work here focuses on sex, and particularly what people today would consider somewhat transgressive sex. Heinlein was a vocal proponent of free love, and his treatment of open sexual/familial relationships was thought-provoking in “The Boondocks,” even if the early sexualization of his clones was slightly off-putting. However, in “The Tale of the Adopted Daughter” Lazarus (a thinly-veiled stand-in for the author) sleeps with his adopted daughter, and in “The Tale of the Twins Who Weren’t” there is brother/sister-like sex (it’s a bit more complex than that, though). In the series’ finale, Long also infamously falls in love with and sleeps with his mother. Somewhat taboo subjects, some of which I will admit made me squirm, but I am glad that Heinlein made me do that and question by own thoughts about human sexuality. Kudos to him for that.

Overall, the collection was uneven; some stories were slow-paced or boring, including most of the “current day” stories, while others were much more engaging and really drew me in. Throughout, however, the writing was brilliant; I read this book right after a lot of Asimov, so I appreciated the flowing writing.

LeGuin’s The Dispossessed was almost perfect. While Heinlein deals with free love, she deals with free people – sort of. In her short novel (a part of the larger Hainish cycle), there is a planet and a moon: the planet (Urras) is a reflection of contemporary Earthly society, and consists of various nations dominated by a capitalist logic, while the moon is inhabited by anarcho-communist rebels, given the moon (Anarres) to settle as part of a deal with the larger governments on the planet. The story follows a brilliant physicist named Shevek from the resource-poor moon Anarres who travels to Urras in the name of science, only to discover the good and the bad of this alien society, having grown up without the idea of property.

What makes this novel work is the comparison between the two planets. The work is structured in alternating chapters, one detailing Shevek’s coming of age on Anarres, and one detailing his adventures on Urras, with the two meeting up in time in the final chapter. The two different timelines complement each other beautifully, and thoughtfully portray the culture shock of this switch, as well as how political power functions in a capitalist society, and in an anarchist one. Neither planet and neither society is a utopia (though LeGuin clearly favors the anarchist society, and I am inclined to agree). Even the theoretically utopian anarchist society has its problems in the form of pseudo-states and social vagrants.

The most interesting thing about the novel to me, though, was the language. On Anarres, there is no property, and the language used reflects this. For example, individuals never say “my handkerchief,” but “the handkerchief I use.” The author also made a nice distinction between property and personal possessions in the vein of Communist theory, which was appreciated.

The only thing that prevented it from being perfect was the ending, which felt like a cop-out with the Terrans and Hainish keeping Shevek’s science from being used for political gain in a deus ex machina. That being said, the ending didn’t ruin the novel, but made it less than it could have been.

I am now making my way through LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness, but am having trouble with it because it reads like an ethnography (not surprising given that LeGuin was raised by anthropologists), so it feels like homework to me!

But until next time, ta-ta!

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Posted by on March 28, 2015 in Readings


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