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23 November 2009 @ 07:58 pm
[Poll] Some plot developments require SPECIAL DISCUSSION.  
True confessions time: I love hard SF. My ideal, in this arena, is the kind of story where each page contains either an equation or a paragraph of dense scientific explanation (usually in stilted dialog, spoken by the story's Resident Explanatory Genius).

So I was pleased to get a copy of Stephen Baxter's Manifold: Time for free. It contains almost as much sciency verbiage as I want from my SF, and it's fun and entertaining. There are even female characters who get a lot of screen time - it may even be 50:50 male:female, although the book hasn't passed the Bechdel test anywhere yet. (I'm not quite finished.)

Over the years, I've become very used to the problems of hard SF. (Like, I am totally willing to celebrate Manifold: Time's amazing quantity of girl characters: two! Of course, neither of them understands the science at all, but I know better than to ask for miracles.) One of the big ones is that a lot of the people who write it - well, they understand the science. They understand the math. Actual people are harder.

Like, there's a scene in the book where the Resident Explanatory Genius goes on television to tell the world about the Carter catastrophe (in a highly condensed version, this is a statistical argument that predicts the probability of the end of the human race in the relatively near future), which the book uses in a modified form that says we, as a species, probably only have about 200 years left. The REG does not go for the simplified, sound-bite version I just gave you; he goes on for a while, explaining Why the Human Race Is (Probably) Doomed, in his usual sciency verbiage style. And the world goes into a panic and depression.

I read that and realized Baxter has no clue what people are actually like, or he'd know that the normal human response to a speech like that, on television, is not panic and depression; it's changing the channel. Very few people would listen long enough, or pay enough attention, to understand what the REG is saying. And even those who did wouldn't buy it. Statistics? That are predicated on the idea that there is nothing special about us? No one is going to believe it or even give a shit, frankly, except people who already know what the Carter catastrophe is.

But, fine, hard SF writers are allowed to write about slightly AU versions of our reality. I'm comfortable with that.

I was a little more impressed (horrified, whatever) with a very special piece of characterization. The main character is named Malenfant (yes, really), and late in the book (spoilers!), it is revealed that - wait. Let's do this as a poll.

Say that you discover that you have a treatable but not curable disease - you'll live a normal life, but you'll have to take medication regularly. This means you can't be an astronaut and will have to fall back on your plan B, which is being a maverick billionaire industrialist. (It's always good to have a safety career!)

Also, you are married. Your wife, Emma, doesn't want children, but nonetheless, this disease means you won't be able to have any.

You decide that the obvious way to handle this is not to tell her, and then have an affair, so that you can divorce Emma, so that you don't ruin her life, because you love her SO MUCH and this treatable illness makes you unworthy. Of course, she is intimately involved in your corporation, and indeed keeps it running, so you will still see her every day and she will still be closely involved in your life; you have explicitly told her that, sure, you're getting divorced, but you don't want her to quit. Decades go past with her wondering what the fuck happened and you maintaining your noble silence.

Poll #1489604 Manifold: Morons

What can be said about this?

That seems like a perfectly rational state of affairs to me. It's what I would do!
3(0.6%)
Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a RAVING DOUCHEBAG.
30(6.0%)
Houston, we have mainpain. We have epic manpain.
15(3.0%)
The idiocy is strong in this one.
11(2.2%)
...Seriously, that's the best big secret Baxter could come up with? Couldn't he just make him have a tail grafted onto his butt during plastic surgery gone wrong or something?
6(1.2%)
Wait. Why does Emma keep working for Malenfant for all those decades?
6(1.2%)
Malenfant isn't a sparkly vampire, is he?
21(4.2%)

Do you want to hear more about books from me? Including ones I actually like?

Yes! I want to hear about books you like.
293(62.3%)
Yes! I want to hear more about books you have issues with.
175(37.2%)
No. I just don't want to talk about books. It's - personal.
2(0.4%)
 
 
 
ships on a wine-dark seaarboretum on November 24th, 2009 04:24 am (UTC)
I can't answer this poll because I am still dumbstruck by the staggering genius that is Malenfant's name.

if hypothetically I were not dumbstruck, though, I would check every box except the first one, and then I would feel somehow incomplete having not checked the first one, and then I would fail to complete the poll yet again

also please continue to talk about books always, I don't care what kind of books XD
tried to eat the safe banana: Bookthefourthvine on November 24th, 2009 05:17 am (UTC)
I really love his name, actually. It's like a giant blinking sign: "YES, READERS, I AM AWARE I HAVE CREATED A DOUCHEBAG."
(no subject) - elaran on November 24th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)
when regiment is gone: ST: TOS Kirk writes fickindkit on November 24th, 2009 04:26 am (UTC)
My absolute least favorite plot device IN THE WORLD is "I must leave you for your own good!" It always makes me want to hit the character over the head with a giant clue bat.
ext_189036 on November 24th, 2009 04:29 am (UTC)
And let's not forget the glory of "you wouldn't understand, so I must keep this secret from you and rapidly poison our relationship with lies. For your own good!" Oh how I love that one.
(no subject) - kindkit on November 24th, 2009 04:51 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - ello76 on November 24th, 2009 05:02 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on November 24th, 2009 05:20 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - greenygal on November 24th, 2009 05:36 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - macey_muse on November 24th, 2009 06:04 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - exceptinsects on November 24th, 2009 07:47 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - featherlane on November 26th, 2009 03:39 am (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - azurelunatic on November 25th, 2009 05:40 pm (UTC) (Expand)
bleedtobluebleedtoblue on November 24th, 2009 04:35 am (UTC)
Your posts always brighten my day. But we need more Earthling!
tried to eat the safe banana: Bookthefourthvine on November 24th, 2009 05:22 am (UTC)
If I did reviews of books that involved the earthling, they would look like this:

Goodnight Gorilla is very colorful! And then there are pages that are mostly black, with no color ANYWHERE, which require a lot of examination and careful comparison to the pages before and after. Earthling rating: four bite marks!"

(I actually did briefly consider setting up a toy review blog called Earthling Toys, but sanity prevailed.)
(no subject) - katherine_tag on November 24th, 2009 05:28 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - stasia on November 24th, 2009 08:27 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - jenna_thorn on November 24th, 2009 01:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - azurelunatic on November 25th, 2009 05:42 pm (UTC) (Expand)
vito_excalibur on November 24th, 2009 04:42 am (UTC)
I want to hear about both kinds of books! I just picked "like" because any fool can be entertaining about a book they hated, but you are a lovely fun blogger and I think are up to the challenge of being entertaining about a book you liked.

P.S. This was reminding me so much of _Spin_. Also with the multi-decade stupid-ass secret. Why, sf writers? Why?
tried to eat the safe banana: Bookthefourthvine on November 24th, 2009 05:25 am (UTC)
I'm actually a lot more comfortable talking about books I like. (You may not realize it from this review, for example, but I am enjoying Manifold: Time.) I used to enjoy talking about books I didn't like, and then I got some email that revealed that the AUTHORS WERE READING MY REVIEWS, and that was the end of book reviewing for me.

Why, sf writers? Why?

Because they really aren't very good at characterization. (The ones that are kick ass, but they are rare indeed.) Some of them, you can actually watch getting better over the course of their books - Greg Egan (who I love, and who totally fulfills my need for sciency verbiage, in a really awesome way), in his early stories, had characters who were strangely akin to cardboard cutouts. In his later books, some of his characters actually sort of resemble people!
Girlfriend Resplendent Valentineimkalena on November 24th, 2009 04:43 am (UTC)
A: If this is the kind of book you Actually Like, then no wonder fanfic turns out to be a nice break for you. It seems to be better reading.

B: I know why Emma keeps working for Malenfant for all those decades -- it's no mystery. Because she Really Loves Him. No woman who Really Loves a man would ever leave him, especially not for some piddly thing like an affair which leads to him divorcing her.

C. Malenfant, omg.
tried to eat the safe banana: Bookthefourthvine on November 24th, 2009 05:32 am (UTC)
A: It's probably part of the reason why I love fan fiction - they're two sides of the same coin, at least for me. They're both really entertaining and fun to read, but one of them is all about the big picture, with great pacing and intricate plotting and many nifty concepts to toy with, but usually crappy characterization, and one is all about fabulous characterization and interaction, with (usually) less focus on the big picture.

B: She actually wonders that question - why do I keep working for him? - several times, which at least shows that Baxter knew it was a weird thing to do. But, yeah, basically she keeps working for him because the power of the plot compels her.

C: And, see, I totally like the name! Because it's a giant sign saying, "HEY, I AM WRITING A DOUCHEBAG AND I KNOW IT." This is a huge step above most SF, where they actually think the douchebag hero is a great guy who everyone should love.
ariadne83: scrunchy-face johnariadne83 on November 24th, 2009 04:46 am (UTC)
So, he's sterile because of genetic stupidity? (Seriously, Malenfant? WTF?)
tried to eat the safe banana: Bookthefourthvine on November 24th, 2009 05:35 am (UTC)
It's never really explained, but - I guess the drugs he needs to take to keep him healthy make him sterile? Or something? I don't know why it's even an issue, since it says early in the book that Emma and Malenfant talked about it and agreed that they did not want children. So it seems like he could have just said, "Hey, honey, bad news is that I can't be an astronaut. Good news is that you can go off the pill!"
Cimorene: another postcardminkhollow on November 24th, 2009 04:47 am (UTC)
I also want to hear about books you like, but that one was not a ticky.
tried to eat the safe banana: TFV bluethefourthvine on November 24th, 2009 05:37 am (UTC)
I admit it: I am anti-ticky. It's not my fault! My mother is an experimental psychologist, and I learned early about the virtues of forced choices!
(Deleted comment)
tried to eat the safe banana: TFV brownthefourthvine on November 24th, 2009 05:37 am (UTC)
I'm sure it made sense to Malenfant (and to Baxter), in that special way where it doesn't have to make any actual sense at all!

And I would like to hear your new theory, actually. I am rearing a person with a Y chromosome, after all!
winter_elfwinter_elf on November 24th, 2009 04:54 am (UTC)
I'd love to hear on books both good and bad. Your reviews are fun to read.

BTW - where does BB post her romance reviews?
tried to eat the safe banana: Batgirl in glassesthefourthvine on November 25th, 2009 06:19 am (UTC)
Thank you! Maybe I will do an occasional feature. (Next one will surely be entitled "For the love of god, people, why haven't you already read The True Meaning of Smekday?")

She posts them on goodreads, but I think she's fallen behind. I will poke her!
inappropriately bibliophilicraucousraven on November 24th, 2009 04:55 am (UTC)
You know, I almost went with raving douchebag. It was a close vote! Also, I can handle crazy characterisation up to a point, but past that point it's a fast channel-change of my own; either I put down the book or I walk away feeling betrayed by my youth. I hate both those options, and hence end up reading mainly space operas which handily pass the Bechdel test, huzzah.
inappropriately bibliophilicraucousraven on November 24th, 2009 04:57 am (UTC)
Also. Malenfant. In this life he'd have been teased with pachyderm-pseudonyms until the douche all got whaled out of him. Or possibly elephanted, you know.
Carmen: Huntressgreenygal on November 24th, 2009 05:01 am (UTC)
After sputtering incoherently at the above for a bit, I hunted up a free download of the book and was rather cheered to find out that Emma's response on finding out The Big Secret was "Jesus Christ, you incredible control freak, what right did you think you had to do this to me? You thought this was the way to not wreck my life? Get the hell out of here." I suspect the author still has a lot more sympathy for the protagonist than I do (it, uh, would not be hard), but at least he gets that this is in fact messed-up behavior.
zillah975 on November 24th, 2009 05:04 am (UTC)
I would like to hear about books you like and books you have issues with. I chose the first ticky because I'm trying to be more positive. :)
luna: literaturetangleofthorns on November 24th, 2009 05:10 am (UTC)
Ditto, right down to the reasoning.
fuck you, internet porn will save the worldimpactbomb on November 24th, 2009 05:13 am (UTC)
I'll point out, for Stephen Baxter's case regarding Science Exposition!, that he knows exactly how implausible that kind of thing is because he included a scene in VOYAGE, his book about a NASA Mars expedition in a universe where Kennedy didn't die (no, it works), where the REG goes in front of an audience and does exactly this and gets stared off the stage because he sounds like a grouchy pedant even though he's right because ... he's a grouchy pedant and that's boring and real people don't react well to pedantic lectures about stuff they don't understand. (VOYAGE may be my favorite Baxter book of all time, if you can get it; it's got a kickass female lead who's wonderfully prickly and also an astronaut.)

I think he just does it in his other books because he likes writing sciencey talk and if you can't get your kicks in writing SF, where can you get them?

I ... have no words to that plot, other than that I suspect somewhere Bruce Wayne is taking notes very intently.
not so secretly sybariticallivrelibre on November 24th, 2009 05:14 am (UTC)
Both kinds of books! And WTF?
Vass: booksvassilissa on November 24th, 2009 05:15 am (UTC)
Yes! I want to hear about books that you want to talk about, whether that's books you like or books you have issues with.