Mind Over Ship

by David Marusek

Yeah, this is one of those books where I wonder “How did I even get this?” But I think what had happened was that a very talented friend of mine had set up a review website for books and movies and so on, and had received just tons of review materials. So a few got sent my way and this was one of them.

It’s not my kind of thing. People know I’ve read a lot of science-fiction and end up thinking of me as a sci-fi guy but I’m not per se. (Where “per se” means “I learned all my Latin from 1st Edition D&D books”.) It might be irony but, when I was younger, speculative fiction (sci fi, fantasy, horror) seemed in fairly short supply and I could be counted on to have some base level of interest, ’cause it’s nice to get out of the “reality” thing once in a while. But in a world inundated with the stuff—this world—my bar has gotten a lot higher. In other words, Sturgeon was an optimist.

Anyway, Marusek can write, and that’s a good thing. He hits you with a bunch of terms he never defines—I see this might be an unofficial sequel to something?—and that, well, that’s an old SF trick which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Here, I found it sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t, as I puzzled through the opening pages wondering what I was dealing with between the clones and the AIs and the “free rangers” and so on.

The plot, if I can recall it, involves a clone who does something un-clone-like that gets him sent to jail and made a pariah, and his struggle to survive in a world where corporate giants machinate against each other to sometimes murky ends.

If you find that a common weakness of authors is there inability to really create vibrant, different characters, try reading a book where many of the principal characters are clones. Marusek does pretty well there, though I did have trouble in places keeping things straight.

Probably the worst part, for me, was the realization that (a la mode) the author was going to make it really morally dubious. We have a hero, he has goals, but he’s basically a pawn for another person, with her own goals, and those goals are…well, the author throws us a bone to suggest that they aren’t the most evil, and may even be the lesser of two evils.

The best part for me, was the realization that, as a writer, this isn’t what I want to write. I don’t mean that as snark: “World-building” as they call it, is in vogue, and I have a tendency to do that, and it is a serious two-edge sword. I feel like Tolkien is to blame for it, but Tolkien was pretty ruthless (or his editors were) in The HobbitThe Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It’s only the (oft-excised) Tom Bombadil section in LOTR, e.g., that sticks out as “this suggests history that you will not learn from this book”.

The double-edged sword here is that as a reader you at least know that the author has thought things through and actually has an idea of what’s going on beyond just throwing random clutter from his head to the page (cf. Ready Player One). The downside is that the author, carrying that baggage, must either slow things down to explain them (Marusek doesn’t) or trust in your willingness to go along for the ride (I wasn’t).

Also, the underlying philosophy seems to be that a person—an identity—is just a collection of neurological patterns with memories laid on top. Meh. Of course that’s the prevailing view, I suppose, but it doesn’t make for great literature, in this reader’s humble opinion.

So, I dunno. Like I said: Well enough written. (The sex seemed creepy, partly due to the nature of the world, and partly due to sex in science-fiction almost always being a bad idea.) The characters were sometimes quite good and the author showed himself equal to the impressive challenge he set for himself. Just, really, not my cuppa.

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