Monday, March 20, 2017

Public Service Announcement

These two books are nothing alike.
Just Whomever's book is a biting parody filled with in-jokes and digs at John Scalzi.  It's a fevered dream, descent into madness style narrative that barely hangs together, by design.

Johann Kalsi's book is a fantastic work of science fiction that could easily have been published and marketed without tapping into the thick, syrupy schadenfreude swirling around the release of Scalzi's The Collapsing Empire.  I received a review copy of this book, and I'm glad I did, because the advertising turned me off - I'm not a fan of Asimov - and without it, I might have missed out on an interesting read.

The Amazon blurb brags that, "Kalsi shows himself to be more Asimovian than Asimov himself."

I wouldn't go quite that far.  The Corroding Empire fails as an Asimov pastiche (tribute?) in a few ways.  It features a long string of characters who are well rounded and relatable.  It doesn't contain a strong undercurrent of smug superiority over the poor, benighted hoi polloi.  It doesn't make a case that the world would be a better place if only the poor, benighted hoi polloi would turn their every decision process over to the technocrats who really do know better than they what's best for them.
What it does contain are seventeen short stories and vignettes that document the long, slow, slide of a galactic empire into chaos as a small coding error multiplies and ripples out through the vast, interconnected networks that control everything in the galaxy.  Some of the stories are simple character studies.  Some are rip-snorting action.  Some consist mainly of people standing around talking.  You know, about science-stuff.
Even better, it's not about impartial technocrats willing to allow trillions to suffer NOW because it will make life better for people 900 years from now.  Instead, it's the stories of those who fight and struggle to make life better for the people suffering through the long, slow decline.  Even if they cannot fix the galaxy, they still do everything they can to fix their own little corner of it, to hold the threads of civilization together for just a little while longer.
And in that way, this isn't Asimov.  It's something far better.

In the interests of full disclosure, I might not be smart enough to fully enjoy this book.  The 17 stories are all tied together by a few recurring threads, the most notable of which is a robot named Servo, and while I did realize that these recurring threads are there, I wasn't able to really lock down all of the connections.  Place names that I thought were throw-away's turned out to be much more important than expected, for example, and while I'm smart enough to recognize the import of such things, in many cases, I couldn't tie them together in any coherent way.

That didn't lessen my enjoyment of the book at all, though.  Each story stands on its own just fine, and the common threads that run through them do provide a framework for understanding, even for a dullard like me.  But then, those subtle clues that pay off later in one way increase my appreciation for the work because they just make me want to read it again.  And rare indeed is the book that you finish, and can't wait to turn back to page one and read it all over again.

1 comment:

  1. That explains some things. The first vignette is so short I thought it was an aside to the main story. Also the second pov character is very voxian. An actual castalia house in house collaboration project could explain both and the 17 vignettes.