Forever Peace, Aristoi

Second word of the day: circadian

Make Room! Make Room! was a cross between a hard-bitten detective novel and a Malthusian jeremiad. I was spoiled for it by Soylent Green; when it turned out they weren’t eating people, I lost interest. Despite a few nods to technology, it was more dystopian fantasy than science fiction.

I wasn’t as disappointed by The Spirit Ring as I’d expected to be after the warnings I’d heard. The plot was fun; my only real objection was to the characters themselves. They were young and nebulous, an LMB-style Romeo and Juliet stumbling through the story in a daze. I can’t say that’s not acceptible in fantasy, but I think you need a different style to carry it off properly - something remote, something archetypal and Tolkienesque.

The truth is, I was looking for Forever War, but all I found was Forever Peace. It was a good book, with an interesting deus ex machina at the end, but again, hard-bitten, and at points it toed the wrong side of the line between showing and telling. To be fair, Haldeman did a good job describing being jacked, but the transcendent experience upon which the novel rides is…transcendent. Should one write about what cannot be described? My usual answer is no, but if someone else can make a good novel out of dancing around the point, I’m willing to read it.

The premise was a bit off as well - we’re long past the point where Haldeman’s necessary peace was necessary, and yet we’re still alive. His cure is no cure either - the issue of keeping the sane people from blowing up the world is, as recent events have shown, far less intractable than the problem of keeping the zanies out of the cockpit.

Nothing in the book was too much of a stretch, though, not even the sad ending for the protagonist, which is, I suppose, how this novel won the matching Hugo and Nebula to go with the ones for Forever War.

She proves that sci-fi and fantasy are both new genres, whatever history they may have in the pulps and proto-pulp adventures like this one. I read She after seeing an essay on it in a collection on sci-fi. I’m not sure it said much about women in Victorian times, and as proto-scifi it had little to recommend it beyond the simple question of immortality, treated with little more depth than a medieval morality tale might have provided.

The hero of She is the least interesting character of the novel. Though perfect in figure and aspect (as opposed to the narrator), neither he nor his ancestral race has ever actually done anything of note. In fact, he spends most of the novel unconscious and evades even immortality, but only accidentally. Pulp has never been known for characterization, but this blond, gaping void lurching through the novel is a bit much, even for H. Rider Haggard.

So, on to the sleeper of the month. I bought Aristoi in a odd-lot store and put it down a few chapters in, annoyed with all the background detail, the two-column split-personality sections, and the general alienness of it all. I gave it a second chance, though, and warmed up to it, ending up staying up too late reading it more than one night. I don’t know much about Walter Jon Williams, but I’ve picked up another book of his from Buck-A-Book, I enjoyed this one so much. It takes real talent to get me to stomach open scifi misanthropy, never mind side with the protagonist when he says, at the end, that he doesn’t want to be human. Theme aside, it was a lovely mystery/adventure. The only thing I’d criticize it for is the dearth of central characters, relative to the length of the novel - but with five or six personalities popping in and out of the protagonist himself, perhaps this was a necessary economy.

Comments are closed.