[FoRK] Welcome to Havana, Señor Hemingway AND The Zenith Angle
Contempt for Meatheads
jbone at place.org
Sun May 2 16:42:07 PDT 2004
Two quick reviews.
I mentioned The Zenith Angle by Bruce Sterling the other day. Read it
last night. One of those things where you expect greatness and come
away feeling underwhelmed. I LIKE Sterling; I've drank the man's beer
on more than one occasion before and hope to again, so this isn't a
slam. But the book feels rushed, incomplete, shallow, hallucinatory
--- disconnected. The words of Sterling's own characters might be
describing his creative process in writing this story: "I do assemble
my deals in rather remarkable ways, sometimes. Through pastiche and
collage, basically. It's very postmodern."
That by itself isn't a bad thing, necessarily; it's a stylistic
choice, and one that Sterling's used before to good effect in examining
the near and not-so-near future. But the stakes are too high, here;
the book's too ambitious for that style to be effective, too ambitious
for its own good really. The Zenith Angle tries (and fails) to be an
examination of two big, important topics: the post-Bubble
transformation of American geek culture and the post-9/11
transformation of American society. If we want pastiche and collage of
contemporary American society, we've got CNN; if we want pastiche and
collage of contemporary American geek culture, we've got FoRK and a
thousand other microcultures. There's both story and message to be had
here, and both are compromised.
In the end you're left feeling like Sterling's not quite getting it,
like he's about a half-cycle out of phase in either direction with both
his audience and his subject respectively. You get the feeling that
Sterling is both fascinated by, bored with, and contemptuous of his
subject matter, like he senses that there's big stuff happening out
there but that perhaps it's arbitrary, inexplicable, and ultimately
inaccessible. Minor nits abound on the technical and political fronts,
and major holes exist in the cartoonish character development. On the
whole of the book ends up being less than the sum of its parts. IMHO.
Read it if you're a Sterling fan, but don't look for it to be as
profound or insightful as some of his stuff. SHORT VERSION: Bruce
tries to be Neal Stephenson-meets-Tom Clancy --- and fails.
OTOH, I discovered a gem by accident: Welcome to Havana, Señor
Hemingway by Alfredo José Estrada.
Occasionally end-cap marketing works. I just happened to randomly
notice this one on the way out of Barnes & Noble on Friday, and picked
it up. This is why the physical bookstore shouldn't ever go away:
these non-referral, non-reviewed, serendipitous little random finds.
This book's jumped to the top of my "favorite books of the year so far"
list instantly. (I do admit, though, to a fascination with Hemingway,
with pre-Revolutionary Cuba, and with non-US American fiction in
Had been a while since I'd been on a Latino / Hispanic / South American
lit bender, and I'd forgotten how rich and sumptuous, how humourous and
lively that tradition can be while simultaneously being plain-spoken
and earthy and totally accessible.
Rather than spoil anything, here's the opening paragraph. It just gets
better and better:
"My grandfather once knocked down Ernest Hemingway, or so I was told.
This quixotic legend was duly recounted by my Cuban relatives at our
family reunions, together with the stories of all they had lost in the
Revolution. I didn't know whether to believe them, given their
tendency to exaggerate."
Jeff Bob sez check it out. ;-)
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