Peak Puppy?

Peak Puppy At Last?

I’m working on a meatier post, but in the interests of clickbait staying engaged with my readers through busy times, I have to ask if we have reached Peak Sad Puppy. I suspect the answer is no, but while I was driving a book-laden U-Haul through the wilds of Eastern Utah, crap seems to have gotten real. Or, if not “real” per se, deeply and comprehensively bizarre. More than usual, I mean.

I’m not kidding about the U-Haul thing, by the way. It was a 26′ long truck packed to the weight limit with used books, and I’m pretty sure those brakes I smelled while barreling down Emigration Canyon weren’t mine. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

Anyway, back on point. I may be the last person to hear that an earnest and enraged band of Sad Puppies has threatened Tor Books with a crippling boycott unless a list of demands is met by noon tomorrow. High noon. Among these demands are the censure and reprimand of people who are either 1) not beholden to Tor in any way, 2) completely unrelated to whatever mess is currently in process, or 3) all of the above. There’s also the usual and predictable stuff, easily caught up on for those that avidly follow the ongoing poopshow that is the 2015 Hugos, but I particularly enjoyed the bits about desiring Tor to slap John Scalzi’s wrist for being whatever it is Scalzi is. (A decent and witty guy, I thought, but not everyone appears to agree with me.)

I hope this goes down tomorrow and thousands, er… hundreds, wait… tens? of Puppies stand up to The Man and no longer buy Tor books. Especially those by John C. Wright or Kevin Anderson. Or books by Baen, which I believe is part of the same conglomerate as Tor. (Rotten to the top, right? No way MacMillan is innocent of Social Justice perpetration here.) They definitely shouldn’t get anything by that pinko reactionary Heinlein, since his back catalog is held by Tor. I fully expect this to be a fearsome and irresistible message that no powerful and wealthy company can ignore. And if Tor blows them off? It must be Big Gay.

I wonder if The Great Tor Boycott and Optional Buffet at Golden Corral of 2015 might become the Puppies’ Jade Helm moment. (For those not up on craaaaaazy American politics, this is a bunch of Concerned Texas Citizens publicly fretting that a military exercise named Jade Helm is actually a move by Pres. Obama to, er, take over Texas. I am very definitely not kidding here, because the U.S. doesn’t have any sort of dominion over the great state of Texas right now. None at all. Anyway.) To all you Glitter and Pan-Asian Cuisine Gang members out there, grab yourselves some popcorn and settle in for the show. Might want to grab a poncho though, since the spittle may be flying out of some very rabid mouths. If this is Peak Puppy, we should all be grateful. And if it’s not, I really can’t imagine how it could get any stupider.

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Self-Reference Engine

Self-Reference Engine
Enjo To (EnJoe Toh)

By the author’s own admission, this one isn’t for everyone. Enjo To (I refuse to endorse improper romanization) is a theoretical physicist turned award-winning, but controversial, author. Self-Reference Engine is his debut novel, critically acclaimed and utterly impenetrable. It is also his first novel in English, though it was preceded by a short story in Haikasoru’s The Future is Japanese. (Also impenetrable.) Enjo fills it with brain melting science and convoluted storytelling, not so much daring readers to follow him as casually inviting them into his post-Einsteinian home. Some will go for this, others will just be confused. Enjo offers no apologies for the craziness. After all, he has said in interviews, if a story is about a fractured space-time, shouldn’t the story itself be fractured?

I’m guessing that most readers will have decided by now if they want to give Self-Reference a try, so rather than write a proper review, I’m going to try to create a framework to help someone who just picked it up the book to make sense of it. (With the caveat that plenty went over my head, and this probably requires two or three attempts before any sort of real clarity can be found.) I will eschew spoilers, but it’s kind of hard to spoil a non-linear narrative where characters share names but not identities, and things are happening in different parts of the multiverse.

First, Self-Reference is a post-Singularity novel. AI’s evocatively called “giant corpora of knowledge” have taken over the show and left humans, with their puny reasoning limits, far behind. (Apparently the Japanese term is an Enjo original, so translator Terry Gallagher was forced to come up with the phrase. I think he did well.) The book goes further though, post-post-Singularity if you will, because the corpora have inadvertently gone so far as to shatter the space-time continuum. This is known as “The Event,” and frames the novel. A more orthodox story would follow the post-Apocalyptic struggle of humanity, or perhaps chart the corpora battle to reunite the fragments of the multiverse. Enjo is anything but orthodox however, so we get flashes and vignettes, but nothing so mundane as a plot.

The twenty-two chapters sketch out The Event, life immediately after, corpora campaigns to fix things, and other seemingly random scenes. They are, indeed, self-referential, though not always obviously so. Names repeat, though the characters may or may not be iterations of themselves. Objects and ideas reappear, but one can’t say for certain that they are the same objects and ideas. The efforts of the greatest minds in existence chase their own tails through space-time, moving in, if I recall correctly, 87 dimensions. More surprises await in the second half as, I think, Enjo actually goes so far as to affirm humanity’s importance. Unless I totally misunderstood that part.

The reader should be prepared for brain damage at every turn. My favorite chapter involved the discovery of 22 unconscious Freuds in grandma’s house, one under each tatami mat in the living room. There is a cameo by Military SF. There is unrequited love. There is possibly requited love between a man (I think) and a transgendered sock. There is first contact, slapstick comedy (of a sort), and furniture invading from another universe. Does it all come together in the end? Um, maybe. Then again, I don’t think it’s really supposed to. Enjo wants to explore a fractured space-time, so that’s what we get. Clearly, this isn’t going to work for some people.

Some of my friends should definitely read this. Others should probably avoid it. I’m guessing everyone will know immediately which side of the fence they are on; I wouldn’t think to change any minds. I won’t have time in the near future to give Self-Reference the reread it deserves, but I’m glad I made it through once. The weirdness sits just fine for me.

The Burning Dark

The Burning Dark
Adam Christopher

Well, I fell off the blogging truck there for awhile, for a wide variety of reasons including, but not limited to, emergency doorknob repair, elementary school choir concerts, and playing soul music for confused contra dancers. I’m back though, hopefully with a bang and a promise of consistency. This week’s topic is the prequel to Adam Christopher’s newest novel, generously provided to me by the marketing team there. Thanks, Tor!

I must admit to going into The Burning Dark willfully misled. I got through the first sentences of the dust jacket blurb, the ones wherein a guy named after my home state engages in space battles with mechanical arachnids, and dove right in. I totally missed the bits about haunted space stations and the like. Whoops! I was in for a big surprise, starting from Chapter Two, since Burning Dark is more like The Haunting of Hill House crossed with Solaris, if David Drake were writing. It was probably another fifty pages before I recovered from that shock and really dug into things; that is nothing I will hold against the author.

Many years ago, one or another teacher pushed us all through the aforementioned Hill House. I remember ending up frustrated with the book, since SFF-inclined me wanted the author to take us through what was obviously a very cool haunted house. Instead, we get a character study of an unreliable, and fairly annoying, protagonist. Fewer ghosts and secret passages, more emo whining. (At least, this is my memory of the book. Apparently it’s famously well thought of.) I was reminded of this for the first 200 pages or so of Burning Dark, as Christopher introduces the protagonists, their angst, and their numerous travails, rather than mapping out the creepy space station and weirdo star it orbits. He does start to deliver more at the end, though it was a bit of a slog at times for me. (Mileage may vary – I am not a ghost story aficionado.)

The action begins with a retelling of a Japanese creation myth that made absolutely no sense at the time. It is a clear sign of my daily post-work exhaustion that I totally failed to connect this to a massively obvious clue that overshadows the rest of the book, until the very last chapter. That or impending senility, but I’m hoping for the former. Anyway, those not up on Japanese mythology may miss it anyway. As the book proper starts, one Idaho Cleveland is blowing the crap out of bad guy spiders from his perch on a space battleship. Good times. Three cheers for anything named Idaho, but worse things are definitely ahead. We know this because everyone knows that God hates Cleveland. (Sports joke, for those not up on athletic woe.) Captain Idaho quickly finds himself reassigned for a final tour, since the most recent battle left him with both medals of honor and a reconstructed knee, and we are introduced to the crazy space station Coast City.

Coast City orbits a star that messes up nearby communications and electronics, is being decommissioned, and is inhabited by the last remnants of crew and military. People have disappeared, lights flicker, the heaters don’t work, giant swaths of the station are either uninhabited, being disassembled, or both, and strange things are afoot. We see these from a few different perspectives as the book moves through standard haunted house dance steps. Most of the characters are marines or starship captains, giving things a veneer of military SF, and there are just enough big words and futuristic tech to tease at Hard SF, but mostly this is a horror story.

As such, most opinions of the book will depend entirely on how people feel about horror. It’s not really my thing, so I didn’t find Burning Dark gripping for long stretches. The end is rousing enough to win me over and the world building is deep enough to warrant further reading; the follow up novel looks to be more in line with conventional SF. I will be checking it out later this year and expect to enjoy it. Burning Dark gets a rec from me for anyone looking for a change of pace, or who is curious about mixing SF and ghost stories. The Analog crowd probably won’t enjoy it, nor anyone wanting space battles and aliens. Beyond that, the reader will have to decide.