Saturday, February 8

Reading: Lady of Mazes, Karl Schroeder (arrived at via this Jo Walton piece) and his earlier Ventus after finishing that.

The former is an ambitious piece of work that tries to grapple with a lot of ideas and possibilities at once: The way that technology conditions culture, the nature of identity, posthumanity and its discontents, coordination of action in a vast, system-spanning meta-society.

There’s a certain class of what I’ll call Anything Can Happen Space Opera where characters who are kind of terrible people bounce around through all these crazy scenes being miserable. It always puts me in mind of the effect you’d get if you took a pack of existentially troubled teenagers and dumped them for 500 pages into some terribly stupid mine-carts-and-conveyor-belts CGI sequence from one of the Star Wars prequels. (Which I guess probably already had Anakin Skywalker in it, but mercifully I have forgotten most of the details.) Take, for example, Colin Greenland’s Take Back Plenty, which has some extraordinary moments, and which I wanted to like, but which felt like about 60% of its material was whiny people being terrible to each other when it wasn’t whiny people engaged in slapdash chase antics through baroque but shallow scenery.

Mazes isn’t that – in fact it’s pretty good – but it has some of that flavor, a flavor it shares with the less-interesting bits of Stross’s Accelerando and all the parts of Consider Phlebas I managed to consume before I gave up on all the shit-wallowing torture porn.

I’m starting to think that talking about futures whose defining quality is an absence of constraints just sort of naturally leads to this kind of thing, at least for people embedded in the cultural matrix of 1990s-2000s mass humanity. Which is to say that Lady of Mazes is interesting because it’s trying to talk directly about some of the very phenonema that make it hard to write really satisfying books like Lady of Mazes.

Half way through the book, I’ve been getting more actual reading enjoyment out of Ventus, I think because it’s operating with a narrower focus, working out the details of a particular set of constraints, exploring a handful of ideas. It’s not entirely self-consistent, but it’s got me hooked on knowing the outcome, anyway.