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who says an Amazon parrot can't be an SF hero?

2003-01-26 - 4:48 p.m.

Some random thoughts on some books read since Jan. 15. I was going to wait until the end of the month, but the list is getting too long, since I haven't rented any videos or watched any TV programs recently. We've been having the kind of weather that involves curling up with a glass of wine and a good book in front of a roaring fire.

Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks. A new Culture novel set in a post-scarcity society where citizens can live forever and pretty much have whatever they want. Hmmm. Sounds a bit like Prime Intellect. However, the Culture still encounters conflict and even war. It is unusual to find an SF novel that is actually set in the future -- most seem to be set in feudal times or the Roman Empire or at best the early days of the American empire, with a thin gloss of "gee whiz" fake science stuff on top -- but Banks is actually trying to envision a future.

"The point is, what happens in heaven?"
"Unknowable wonderfulness?"
"Nonsense. The answer is nothing. Nothing can happen because if something can happen, then it doesn't represent eternity. Our lives are about development, mutation and the possibility of change; that is almost a definition of what life is: change."
Having just read Prime Intellect and being about to read The Rules of Attraction where the Talking Heads' Heaven plays in the background, I got into a hallucinogenic space of imagining a world where humans are as gods and death is just another lifestyle option. Let the mental explosions begin.

From a Buick 8 by Stephen King. Unfortunately, he already wrote a book about a haunted car, indeed the classic book about a haunted car, so this one suffers by comparison. Why didn't the troopers get some hazmat suits and check out this portal into an alien world? That would be a lot cooler than what they actually did which was, er, what did they actually did? Stand around, talk, drink iced tea, re-create grody scenes from Alien Autopsy. Did I miss anything?

The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis. Set in '85, published in '87, it's about rich college students doing what rich college students do. "And it struck me then, that I liked Sean because he looked, well, slutty. A boy who had been around. A boy who couldn't remember if he was Catholic or not." The usual sick/funny over-the-top scenes that we've come to expect from this writer.

Two books with parrots on the cover -- wow, there's a deep, literary reason for picking up a book for you. Lands of Memory by Felisberto Hernandez has a Cornell box on the cover, so I assume that this parrot has to be an actual stuffed parrot. It looks like a Yellow-Crowned Amazon but not quite. Every time I pass it by, I look at the green feathers above the bill and try to decide if it's a Yellow-Crowned or not. The beak isn't right for a Panama so it must be a Yellow-Crowned. But Cookie doesn't have that green area between beak and crown. So my ponderings go round and round.

These "stories" are really diary-like memories, written in the 1940s, telling about his childhood, his career as a concert pianist, the terrible hygiene of his piano teacher, and whatever happens to drift through his mind. It's too bad that he missed the era of blogs and email, because he would have fit in perfectly. "Mistaken Hands" is some letters that he randomly/compulsively wrote to various women:

"...it's possible that for those of us who are slow, and whose sensations proceed slowly, every event in the spirit lasts longer and is accompanied by more commentary...for us slow ones, distance gives communication a whole new array of nuances and could even offer some compensation for whatever might happen in the flesh at close proximity. And, too, though we draw many things from the depths of our experience when we're improvising in the presence of another person, it's also possible that our improvisation may lead us to betray even the best of what we know to be true, and certain details might interfere with the feeling of the truth. Not that I don't believe in the good things that are part of a live exchange...."

A Good Old-Fashioned Future by Bruce Sterling has a Blue-Fronted Amazon flying out of the cover. Yes, these 1990s era stories are cyberpunk, but they're still entertaining because each story is short and actually has fresh ideas in it instead of the same-old same-old that got tired by the beginning of the Clinton administration. In "Big Jelly," for instance, a man designs cybernetic jellyfish, one of which escapes and becomes the seed crystal for changing all the oil in Texas into more cybernetic jellyfish. The slapstick adventures along the way do include an aerial dogfight between jellyfish and parrot. Now, that's different.

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