?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Paperless Books - The Book of the Celestial Cow

> Recent Entries
> Archive
> Friends
> Profile
> My Website

January 12th, 2012


Previous Entry Share Next Entry
11:39 pm - Paperless Books
Inspired by a Buffistas discussion about Isaac Asimov and his "serviceable" prose, I picked up I, Robot, read by Scott Brick. I had never read any Asimov, so I didn't know what to expect. I mean, I saw the movie, but I also knew the movie had nothing to do with anything. And I played a video murder mystery based on the book when I was a kid. But I had not read any actual Asimov.

I, Robot is a short story collection masquerading as a novel under the frame story of a man interviewing Dr. Susan Calvin, preeminent robopsychologist. She features in some, but not all of the stories, which are all about—you guessed it—robots. And, specifically, the famous Three Laws of Robotics. Surely, you know them; they're like Newton's Laws of Motion but for robots. A robot at rest tends to stay at rest—okay, no. A robot cannot harm a human or, through inaction, allow a human to come to harm. A robot must obey all orders unless they contradict the First Law. And a robot must preserve itself unless such action conflicts with the First or Second Law. These laws are hardcoded into their positronic brains, however the hell they work.

I, Robot is basically a series of thought experiments masquerading as short stories, and, to my surprise, I really liked it! Asimov has a hell of a lot of fun examining the ramifications of the Three Laws and how they govern robot behavior (handy to have a robopsychologist around), and I found it really fascinating, all the scenarios he comes up with. The characters aren't particularly three-dimensional, but I did enjoy Powell and Donovan, and I am impressed with the fact that Asimov created Dr. Susan Calvin, the greatest robopsychologist in the world and easily the smartest person in the book, given that sixty years later, we barely seem capable of acknowledging that girls can be interested in science.



I got a Kindle Touch as a holiday gift at work, and for my first ebook experience, I chose Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, since I could download it for free and Custom Made is putting up a stage adaptation. I had heard mixed reviews of the book, but mostly positive.

Marcus is a teenage hacker in San Francisco. He is super l33t and loves playing ARGs with his friends. But then one day there's a terrorist attack, and he and his friends get taken in by Homeland Security for being suspected terrorists. Before he knows it, San Francisco is practically a police state, with people's privacy being sacrificed in the name of "security." So it's up to him to lead the revolution.

Little Brother is good. It's readable and entertaining. It's got a lot of interesting facts about technological topics. It's exciting, and there's lots of cool hacking. But, oh man, it hardly feels like a story. Cory Doctorow is not really telling a story about characters. He is condemning America's systematic chipping away at our civil rights and basic freedoms under the guise of protecting them, and also here are some teenagers. I exaggerate a bit; it's not as if the book reads like a polemic. But as things get worse and worse—from police brutality to torture—it's a paradoxical mix of ridiculously implausible and terrifyingly plausible. A lot of the book seems startlingly prescient, "reminiscent" of the Occupy movement years before it happened. There is a whole thing with pepper spray and everything.

This wouldn't matter so much if Doctorow were a more compelling writer. The book felt like Neal Stephenson-lite, but Doctorow is no Neal Stephenson. The prose is, oh, better than "serviceable," I suppose, given that it's the first-person POV of a teenage boy. And Marcus has a character arc and a romance and all that, and his voice is perfectly fine, but it's very matter-of-fact, with little subtext. Everything is right there on the surface. He tells the story, and that's it. Which is fine. But because the story seemed to be defined by the agenda of the book, I was left a little underwhelmed.

Little Brother wants to be 1984 for a new generation. A lofty goal that it doesn't really reach, but a good read nonetheless.



P.S. I am now on Goodreads! Be my friend and witness my useless ratings, which are 50% five-star and 33% four-star right now. Perhaps I need to recalibrate. Or stop liking things.
Current Mood: sicksick
Current Music: The Dragonflies - Radio Punk Star

(10 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:actoplasm
Date:January 13th, 2012 11:12 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I would guess I, Robot felt like a short story collection because it was, originally published as separate stories in Super Science Stories and Astounding Science Fiction. This was a "thing" that was done during this period when novels and books started becoming popular with genre fiction. So you authors like Asimov and Ray Bradbury who would pull stories with similar themes together and add linking chapters and turn them into books. This is why the "Martian Chronicles" feels kind of disjointed.

Little Brother definitely feels more like an "agenda" book as opposed to a compelling story. I feel it's one of those books that will feel more and more dated (hopefully), the further we get from the Bush years. But it's a good book to get video-game addicted teens reading!

Some of his other books, all of which are all available as free downloads through his website are a lot more interesting, like Makers and Down and Out in the Magic Disneyland, both featuring Disney World.

Edited at 2012-01-13 11:12 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:cofax7
Date:January 14th, 2012 02:31 am (UTC)
(Link)
But because the story seemed to be defined by the agenda of the book, I was left a little underwhelmed.

If I could be bothered to search my LJ, I would point you to my review. I think the biggest flaw in the novel (for me) is that despite the whole hacker DIY-ethos which is pushed in the novel, the way Marcus finally triumphs is through a blatant appeal to authority: first his parents, then the press, then the governor of California. It completely undercuts the themes that Doctorow is trying to push.

Also, the State of California has no authority to kick DHS outapparently Doctorow has never heard of the supremacy clause of the Constitutionany power exercised by the federal government which is truly derived from the constitution supercedes any state- or local-governmental interest. ::shrugs::
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:January 14th, 2012 02:40 am (UTC)
(Link)
the way Marcus finally triumphs is through a blatant appeal to authority: first his parents, then the press, then the governor of California. It completely undercuts the themes that Doctorow is trying to push.
I didn't think about it that way, but you're right. On the one hand, he has this dystopian view that government/authority that will take over everything and be awful, but at the same time, he has this idealistic view that government/authority will save the day.
[User Picture]
From:soundingsea
Date:January 14th, 2012 01:13 pm (UTC)
(Link)
they're like Newton's Laws of Motion but for robots. A robot at rest tends to stay at rest—okay, no.

Hee!

Oh, man. Cory. I do follow boingboing in a desultory fashion, but his fiction has never grabbed me. I think it's probably a stylistic thing.
[User Picture]
From:catalyst2
Date:January 14th, 2012 05:07 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I, Robot has a particular attraction for me because it was the first hard SF book I ever read - at age 10, in 1972! I had lots of ERB books prior (Tarzan, the Mars books, the Venus books etc) but that was my first exposure to stories with internal consistency and logic to them

I mean, even at age 10, I wondered how the mammalian human John Carter and the oviparous Martian Dejah Thoris reproduced successfully?
[User Picture]
From:thetheatremouse
Date:January 17th, 2012 05:03 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Be my friend and witness my useless ratings, which are 50% five-star and 33% four-star right now. Perhaps I need to recalibrate. Or stop liking things.
I figure, it's easier to remember the titles you liked. Also is there a page or something that tells you that, or did you calculate those stats yourself?
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:January 17th, 2012 05:56 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Underneath your lack of photo, it gives you your ratings and average. If you click on the average, you get your stats.
[User Picture]
From:thetheatremouse
Date:January 17th, 2012 09:04 pm (UTC)
(Link)
AHA! I had been foolishly clicking the stats link wondering why you were getting interesting stats and all I could find was useless year-based figures.

Also, dude, sweet office holiday gift.
[User Picture]
From:beeker121
Date:January 18th, 2012 02:54 am (UTC)
(Link)
I read "Little Brother" several years ago and have a slightly higher opinion of it than you do, but yeah it's a little flat. The interesting thing about it for me is how badly it made me want to learn how to program, which still niggles around the edges of my to do list.
(Deleted comment)

> Go to Top
LiveJournal.com