Books of 2014, #9: The Rapture of the Nerds: A tale of the singularity, posthumanity, and awkward social situations by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross

I guess you could say this was a guilt read.

I read Cory Doctrow’s first three novels (Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Eastern Standard Tribe, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town) and found them all perfectly enjoyable…but I’ve never re-read any of them, which is actually very unusual for me; I’ve even been known to re-read books I didn’t like the first time around. Anyway, something about them just doesn’t inspire a desire to re-experience them in me.

I have read everything Charles Stross has written except for his Merchant Princes novels, of which I read the first two. With the exception of The Laundry Files novels, which I adore—how could you possibly beat Linux + Lovecraft + Bond—I find most of them to be perfectly fine on the first read, but either uninspired or maybe even a little grating subsequently.

(I cannot stress this enough: I re-read books all the time; I am like a fucking shark, perpetually swimming through a sea of words to stay alive—but I’m not always up to taking on the nearest orca)

Still, I enjoy both of their web presences immensely, and think they’re both smart, talented guys, whose books I generally like—so how could I not read a book they collaborated on?

At the risk of sounding like I’m trying to be snide—which I’m not—this is exactly the book that I would have expected the two of them to produce; it is manifestly the melding of their authorial voices and the ways in which they approach plot and the sorts of ideas they explore. As obvious as the cat flap.

And as a consequence, while I don’t begrudge the time I spent reading it—it was amusing and enjoyable—I don’t know that I’m going to pick it up to re-read it any time soon.

Oh, and if you care: I would characterize it as a post-singularity picaresque, with a teeny-tiny bit of homage to Robert A. Heinlein’s Job: A Comedy of Justice (which is itself influenced by Robert Branch Cabell’s Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice, which I have read, and from which my frequent response of “I’ll try anything once” is taken).

Redshirts by John Scalzi

If the title carries meaning for you, you are, arguably, the intended audience.

I found the main story to be a fun little meta-fictive romp, and not a lot else. In tone it very much reminded me of his earlier novel, Agent to the Stars–deeply aware of, if only to have fun with, genre conventions. As utterly unconcerned with the “science” part of “science fiction” as its purported source material.

There are certainly far worse ways to spend a few hours, though there are many better ones as well.

I was intrigued, though, by the three “codas”. Obviously, John felt it necessary to write a little apologia for it. And I was doubly intrigued when a review I read of the book a couple of days before I got to it myself suggested that the codas were a waste of time.

In fact, I think the codas–specifically, the second coda–are the best part.

Now my gut reaction to writing in the second person is something in the general neighborhood of derision. Tell me you’re doing it, and I will suggest you are making a mistake. Tell me you’ve already done it, and I will make a note to avoid your book. Admittedly, if you get me to read your book anyway, and I might actually like it (thank you, Mr. Palahniuk), but my default assumption is that it is going to be annoying and precious.

But I can’t imagine the second coda to Redshirts working as well from any other point of view. To ask the reader–especially one who has some idea what might be coming–to empathise with the weirdness of the situation the character finds himself in pretty much demands something as jarring and weird and annoying as second person narration. So I think it not only worked, but was the only way it could work. So I actually found myself more satisfied after the codas than before.

I’ll note, just because I’ve started paying a little more attention to this in my fictional choices, that I believe the book fails the Bechdel Test. I think there are only two female characters in the whole thing, and they never talk that I remember. Just so you know.