I Am A Sommelier of Dystopias

4.26.2006
Ore : 9:46 AM

I was pleased when I came across it in the stacks: I had greatly enjoyed James P. Hogan's The Gentle Giants of Ganymede, so I was sure I'd be entertained by The Multiplex Man. Furthermore, one of the key secondary characters from my novel as he's been developing seems to be the emotional and political equivalent of a photographic negative of Hogan's protagonist as he's described in the dust-jacket flap. I was intrigued, and thought a gander might lend some necessary and entertaining color to what I'm doing.

Boy howdy was I wrong. I'm halfway through the book, and though it's definitely pointing out precisely those things I don't want to do (very useful), I'm finding it so increasingly unreadable I may not finish it.

I'm going to gloss over the more prosaic problems here: the stilted, wooden, deeply over-serious dialogue; the jarring, uneven, unimaginative narrative; the otaku-titillating protagonist who seems like nothing so much as an amateur portrait of Jason Bourne done in Crayola on construction paper. Even the overarching propagandizing in the book is really not worth mention except to note that the politics don't follow as incidentals (as they should), and as a background against which characters try to live their lives; rather, they are the rickety framework over which characterization and plot are as carelessly draped as a cheap shawl -- a literary pushiness doubly disappointing coming from an author whose early work seemed so strongly suffused with a love for and sharp understanding of empiricism and the scientific method.

No, none of that made the book a complete and utter loss. Something far more basic did. One way The Multiplex Man might still have achieved a modicum of redemption would have been had Hogan created a plausible leftist totalitarianism. Mind you, don't think for a minute I'm falling into partisan wishful thinking, or treating the work as anything other than a product of its time. I'm well aware that speculative fiction (literary and cinematic) from the early 90s featured a wealth of left-leaning dystopias -- a prime, still campily entertaining, and not-quite-timeworn-at-all example being the hobbling, invasive, ludicrously PC society outlined in the embarrassingly fun "
Demolition Man". I know this can be done, and myself could suspend disbelief in the face of a decent effort.

It is possible to lead a sane reader not to choke on incredulity at the thought that socialists and greens and the nefarious PC police/feminazis/multiculturalists can somehow out-muscle corporate America and the traditional ruling class, but your work is cut out for you in illustrating how it is possible -- you cannot simply say it's so, and expect a reader to be convinced. This isn't like creating a corporatist or theocratic tyranny, for which we have ample historical precedent -- such a creation is far less of a stretch, as it were. You can make the former work, but it's far more difficult. You really have to flex your talents.

If a writer's going to do it convincingly, one of many obstacles requiring serious imagination to surmount is what I as a reader of speculative fiction arbitrarily term "The Scandinavian Factor": look at a given corporation in France or Denmark or Sweden, which may be heavily taxed, and may be as much as a third or more owned by the government, yet wherein multibillion-dollar fortunes may still be made, and wherein advancement and innovativeness are not in any meaningful way stalled. You're really going to have to work your little fingers off to take me from there to a future hell in which the white-man-hating, zealously anti-smoking, grimly tree-hugging politburo has so thoroughly squished our dashing libertarian would-be entrepreneur-cum-kung fu-fightin' hero under its muscular nanny thumb that he can barely squeek out his revolutionary call for a free-market paradise in which there are no toilet-paper shortages and no such thing as gas-rationing.

Hogan seems not to have made any attempt at all, merely presented things as a matter of course. My best guess is that he thought, at the dawn of the Clinton era, that "Hell, this, in a drunken haze, seems a remote possibility; let's run with it."

In toto, I'm shocked that a book by such a celebrated and accomplished author can fail so thoroughly.

UPDATE: Only after typing the above did I bother perusing his
official web site. I would just like to, at this juncture, make the completely not-germaine observation that HOLY SHIT THIS GUY IS A KOOKY NUTBALL: AIDS denial, Holocaust revisionism, Velikovskyism (!!!), et cetera... Wow. Just... Wow.

That does it. I'm checking The Multiplex Man back in.

posted by teh l4m3 at 9:46 AM | Permalink |

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Comments for I Am A Sommelier of Dystopias
I suspect that that's not the only thing that you "ran into" in the stacks.

You check it in right now, love! And don't forget to smear his name everywhere you can.

don't forget to spit.

Yikes - makes you want to sue the author for wasting your precious time.

Put this guy in the pile with the collected works of Daffyd ab Hugh.

Righteous post per usual!

And Happy Birthday lil teh teh!

kew-ality

birthday wishes at 3B!

happy birfday teh darling

tbl: filthy whore ;)
ag: nah. I mean, it's enough to warn me off of him. but what I feel isn't so much animosity but sadness, which doesn't afford me the energy to go on a crusade against the guy...
md: I don't spit.
ron: sounds good. After all, Daffyd's the only gay in the village...
gregor & pinko: awww. thanks.
retardo: back atcha, hot stuff!

teh, happy B-day. Just remember that a b-day without alcohol is like an HNT without dogs in red suits.

happy birthday.

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