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Book review: Futures Imperfect - Phil's Rambling Rants
December 26th, 2005
01:54 pm

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Book review: Futures Imperfect
Today's book review is Futures Imperfect: Three Short Novels by Connie Willis.

This omnibus comprises Uncharted Territory, Remake, and Bellwether, three unrelated novels from about 10 years ago.  Uncharted Territory is quite short, only 100 pages.  The background of the story is a satirical take on the stupidity of government bureaucracy, which is unfortunately too realistic to be completely funny.  The story is humorous, but more wry than laugh-out-loud funny.  The SF setting is interesting, but not quite believable.  The human interactions, on the scale of government and on the scale of individuals, are believable, but only moderately satisfying to me.  Remake is the length of a normal book from a few decades ago.  As SF, it extrapolates trends in the entertainment industry to some conclusions that are perhaps slightly exaggerated for effect, but probably not too far from where we're actually headed, and it's not a pretty place.  There is a mystery at the heart of the story, but not about a crime, which is handled well; it appears to be heading for a cop-out that would have made me angry at the author, but actually does something better.  There is some meaningful character development.  Two things get in the way of my really enjoying this novel: first the nasty feel of the culture it takes place in -- it is believable, but I'd rather not -- and second, the fact that every third sentence is a movie reference, and not being a movie buff I don't understand most of them.  Bellwether, like Remake, is of that modest length that used to be considered book-length but today is generally thought to be too short.  The best of the three novels in this volume, it examines how scientific discoveries really happen through the work of a social scientist who's studying fads.  It lampoons modern business in a Dilbert-esque way that (like the government in Uncharted Territory) would be funnier if it weren't so terribly realistic.  It presents a theory of what drives our society that is horrifying in its possibility; we can only hope there's actually more intelligent life on this planet than it suggests.  One thing about this novel really grated on me; it's not really central to the story, but it comes up so often that it has to be considered a theme, and I need to complain about it, and that is that it repeatedly presents anti-smoking as just another goofy fad going through society, no more meaningful or sensible than duct tape costumes or branding the lowercase letter i on one's forehead.  Ms. Willis needs to spend a period of time personally suffering the level of smoke allergy that several of my friends have.

Taken as a whole, this book is marginally worth reading; I'll give it a 6 out of 10.  Bellwether by itself probably deserves an 8; the other two do have their points, but on the whole are pretty ignorable.

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