Saturday, October 2, 2010

Friday Book Review on a Saturday, 10/2/10

Perhaps I should get used to reviewing books on Saturday. This semester, I am teaching on Fridays, and I'm often not coherent enough at the end of the week to actually write a book review. I'll think about it.

Anyway, two books, and a note, this week.

Larry Doyle, Go, Mutants!

(Mutant)Sex! (Alien) Drugs! (Atomic) Rock and Roll! Doyle's premise is fairly simple - what if the events of the classic B movies of the 1950s and '60s - saucers from space, giant insects, Gojira, sentient blobs - had actually happened, and all the futuristic technologies - atomic cars and personal jet packs and moving sidewalks and all of that - existed. That's the concept which is wrapped around a pretty basic teen high school story - boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back - except that boy is the son of an alien who tried to take over the world with the power of his brain, and is friends with an ape-man and a blob who thinks he's a boy. Doyle uses B movie-esque titles for his chapter titles, and additionally stays pretty true to his central premise. Beyond that, the novel was actually kinda thin - it was lots of fun, but certainly not life changing in anyway. I did enjoy the speculation about things like triffids - yes, they'll eat you, but if you smoke them, they'll make you high! - and the ways in which 1950s and '60s rock was affected by the B movie events - similar, but not identical, lyrics, for instance.

Donald Kingsbury - Psychohistorical Crisis

I didn't actually read this. I started, but I couldn't get into it. Kingsbury is writing an homage to Asimov's concept of psychohistory - the idea that, given a large enough group of people and a long enough period of time, a psychohistorian might use mathematics, psychology, statistics, and sociology to make relatively accurate predictions about what the group will do in the future. "Large enough," for Asimov, constituted a Galatic Empire of humanity, and "long enough" was multiple generations. Additionally, the group could not know that it was being monitored, because that would cause it to act for the psyhcohistorian. Anyway, Kingsbury is working on a continuation of some of those ideas. His protagonist is an ex-psychohistorian who, in punishment for an undefined crime, has had his cybernetic memory removed - that is the element which Kingsbury is introducing, all of the members of his advanced Galatic Empire have cybernetically enhanced memories, which doesn't make them smarter, exactly, but allows them to remember things more accurately and thus use the rest of their brain more efficiently. The book would seem to be the story of this ex-psychohistorian attempting to figure out what his crime was, without the aid of cybernetics, and, presumably, clear himself. The second chapter wanders away from this protagonist, however, to look at the work of his mentor, who, also a psychohistorian, uses his position within an academy to get his research assistants to collect images of ancient military starships  - so he can make huge accurate models of them.

I think there is some story potential here. I haven't returned the book to the library yet. But, the book is a tome - at least 500 pages long - and, in the first chapter, I saw nothing in the protagonist that appealed, and in the second, nothing in his mentor which seemed redemptive. So, I may return, but given that, 2 chapters in, I already don't care what happens to the characters, it seems unlikely.

Webster Kitchell - God's Dog: Conversations with Coyote

Kitchell is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Santa Fe. This is the first of a series of books of sermon/meditations centered around conversations with the Native American trickster, Coyote. Kitchell addresses ideas of spirituality, modernity, war, and the struggle between the human desire for company with the human desire for solitude, among many other things. The tone is light, but the subject matter is not. In the UU congregation we attended in Virginia, these sermons were often modified, and were always amusing. I'm not really sure what else to say about this book, actually. It was thought provoking, in a philosophical way, but not in a way which is easy to describe. If you like trickster stories, you may well enjoy this, and if you like zen, or zen-like, philosophy, you may enjoy this.