Thursday, December 11, 2008
Blogger Book Club: Schismatrix Plus
Alright, here's the second installment of the Blogger Book Club (part 1, here). This time around Fabio Fernandes selected Schismatrix Plus, from Bruce Sterling. Schismatrix Plus takes the entirety of Sterling's Shaper/ Mechanist Universe, the novel Schismatrix and five earlier short stories.
For the sake of this post I am going to focus solely on Schismatrix (mostly because I haven't read the short stories yet).
Originally published in 1985, Schismatrix is the last fiction Sterling wrote in the Shaper /Mechanist Universe, though it is the first section of Schismatrix Plus. Schismatrix is a future looking piece of science fiction, one that shows a possible evolution of humanity, beyond earth, beyond nationality (mostly) and into technological ideology. I am still a bit confused as to the true distinction between the Mechanists and Shapers and who, exactly, was who. For clarification, I checked wikipedia and Shapers use organic modification (gene therapy and the like) for their vision of humanity, and the Mechanists use more traditional technology and are viewed by Shapers as backwards.
Into this very unclear (in the text) futuristic setting steps Abelard Linsdsay. He is the "hero" of our story and is, at the start, a young (I think) and idealistic Shaper who ends up exiled from his homeland and becomes what is called a "sundog", which would be Sterling's version of an outlaw from the American West - someone living on the fringes of society and not quite on the legal side.
Larry wrote a good review of the novel, and I'm very glad, because I'm kind of at a loss of what to say about it. Mostly, my issue is that I was frequently at a loss as to what exactly was going on. Sterling jumps years, decades into the future and despite having time stamps that reveal the year (sort of), it's still difficult to figure out when stuff is happening, where, and how it relates to the overall world.
Actually, if not for the book club, I probably wouldn't even have made this post. I don't feel up to Schismatrix. Joe: 0, Schismatrix: 1.
Sterling is not telling a straightforward story of Point A to Point B, where the actions on Zaibatsu or the Fortuna Miner's Democracy are not the be all / end all of the novel. Sterling is writing about ideas, not plot or "story". But, since i'm not sure I understood the story I think I missed most of the ideas.
To me, Schismatrix is a story about competing ideologies and this may be my projection, but with competing ideologies it becomes unclear what people are really fighting for. Is the idea really that powerful? History says yes, but when even the definition of the ideology isn't clear in the novel, the power is lessened.
I'm not going to explain the ending for those who haven't read it and may still want to (Larry may sell the novel better, and Fabio certainly will), but despite all the weirdness of the novel and perhaps the ending being telegraphed a bit (says Daniel Ausema in the comments), but for me that was ALL deux ex machina in the sense that what Lindsay does is in no way assumed possible until it happens. What the hell?
So, this isn't a very good review (actually, it isn't really a review, just some random thoughts I had about the novel), I know that. If I have anything to say about the stories, I'll post those thoughts.
The two novels in the Book Club so far have been fairly intellectual, which isn't a bad thing, but neither Camp Concentration nor Schismatrix would be considered "accessable" to the average SFF reader. They challenge, both in content and in requiring the reader to push on and work to understand the story the author is telling. I fear that in both cases I was somewhat mastered by the novel.