Saturday, October 9, 2010

Marathon Man, Day 2

5:00 pm. Well, that... that took care of the rut, I guess. Now let's never speak of last night again.

But back to the books. Even last night, to be honest, I was finding it kind of difficult--it's a lot easier to write up a cogent summary after the fact than find something interesting to say on the fly. But I'll keep plugging--let's try an update every hour or so.

5:58 pm. My first dedicated hour of reading. The book's a lot shorter than I gauged it, with pretty large font--I'm on page 104 now, and I can't imagine not finishing it tonight. Anyway, we've got some answers to those earlier questions. A boltzmon is this weird physics thing. Essentially, it's a theoretical particle, what's left over after a black hole collapses, and contains all the information of the objects the hole sucked into itself. Sort of like the ultimate black box. You can see how the concept would have sci-fi potential.

In the book, Sleator's twist is that the boltzmon is sentient, and kind of an amoral jerk. It serves as a combination of Virgil and a genie for the narrator; it leads him through the computer-world Aeortia that he created, allegedly to take him to the Time Temples, where he has been told he must go or die. It will also, presumably, deal with the real issue of the book, the narrator's sibling rivalry with his sister, Lulu. Like other Sleator stuff I've read, the tone is slightly off; Sleator's good with big ideas and character sketches, but the execution--particularly the narrator's dialogue--falls a little short.

6:49 pm. Just about finished. There's a scene in the Temples of Time where the characters are confronted with images from their past and future selves. The narrator doesn't have any future selves, because of the aforementioned death, but as he and the other characters vow to live differently, the images change. It's a nice effect--very dramatic. I think the scene would play well visually, on a movie or TV show, provided there's no trouble in aging/deaging the actors. It would be interesting to see it go the other direction: someone makes a choice, and all of his or her future disappears.

8:53 pm. Took a break to watch Prince of Persia. The argument that video games can't be studied in the same way as movies is bolstered somewhat by the fact that all video game-based movies are so terribly, terribly bad.

9:35 pm. All right, I'll admit it: I misjudged my selection of Sleator books. I know him as a YA sci-fi writer, but these two are clearly geared towards a younger audience, boltzmon or no boltzmon. The stories are rather simplistic and there are a few glaring holes in logic; he's not quite dumbing it down for his demographic, but they're both a little less intellectually interesting than I'd hoped for. I've started, read, and finished not just the first book, but the second as well: Rewind. It's a Groundhog Day-esque plot: it starts with the main character getting hit by a car, and killed--which is a pretty attention-grabbing way to start a book, I'll admit. And like Groundhog Day, there's no real explanation behind the force that sends him back--he's just told he can go back to an earlier point in his life and try to prevent the crash. In all, it takes him three gos, and the story has the usual turn where the main character needs to change himself to bring about the new future. In general, stories of these types can be difficult to pull off--the repeating cycle is what draws the reader's attention, but it also means that there's only one character in the story who can do any sustained development.
Sidenote: I wonder if these types of stories were around before the VCR? I heard a paper on the history of the VCR and its effects on culture at the Congress of the Humanities earlier this year; the ability to transcribe, erase, and rewind programs changed the way we look at television shows, and I wouldn't be surprised if it opened possibilities for narratives as well. It certainly opened doors for the video game--if you think about it, the concept of "saving your life" is one of those bizzarities we've become complacent about.

11:30 pm. Last post for today. I just started Monica Hughes' Invitation to the Game. It's set in 2154, and the big idea so far is that so much of the labor force has been replaced by machines that there is now a massive surplus of the unemployed masses. The book was written in 1990, when automation seemed like more of a threat. The politics of the situation seem interesting; on the one hand, automation seems to be the much cheaper option than human labor, and after a manual labor task has been assumed by machines, I don't expect people will be clamoring to take it up again twenty years down the road. (In fact, when the main character finds out she hasn't placed a career at the end of high school and will face a lifetime of unemployment and subsistence living, she still tells her friend with the family farm that she couldn't imagine doing that kind of work all her life.) But there are also some pretty large political forces--particularly in the States--that would be deadset against the "welfare state" mentality of a 90% unemployment rate. Still, we're only at page 10--and yeah, this is a pretty long ramble for page 10--so there's time to explore some of the ramifications.
Later Days.

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