24 November 2013

Books: Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey (2013)

"For generations, the solar system -Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt- was humanity's great frontier. Until now. The alien artifact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has appeared in Uranus's orbit, where it has built a massive gate that leads to a starless dark. Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artifact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them."

The biggest problem I had with Abaddon’s Gate, the third book in James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series, was how dull half the book was. While the authors continue to widen the franchise beyond the main character’s, introducing new ones with other perspectives on the ongoing issue with the protomolecule, but the action is slow and lots pages go by where nothing really important goes on, just a bunch of people talking and making leaps of logic that seem surprising. 

New characters like Anna were annoying (religion does get the short-shift in science fiction, it’s either not there or it’s usually just a group of extremist. And while it’s nice to see it presented in a somewhat even tone, the authors seem to be afraid to make them interesting then), and Clarissa, a women Hell-bent for revenge on Holden and his crew, is too much mustache twirling villain to be anything but dull. And the fact that towards the end her hatred vacillates back to sort of understanding the situation going on if the military –led by an even more scenery chewing military idiot named Ashford- destroys the Ring –the latest metamorphous of the protomolecule . It makes her forgettable, sadly. 

Meanwhile, I could not help but feel that this series is really Star Trek –if Star Trek did hard core science fiction and not made Earth and its surrounding planets a fascist utopia. In this series humans have moved past Earthly racism such as skin color, sexual orientation and other minor things, just like Star Trek, but xenophobia and distrust of others –the Martians, the ‘Belters and whatever the protomolecule really represents- has not gone away. So it does one up Trek there. But while we get glimpses into the origin of the protomolecule, whatever is truly behind them is still not fully revealed. They use, like the Wormholes aliens featured in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, dead detective Miller to give out sometimes useful, but always cloaked in hazy gauze, information (and the gateway to this "starless dark" is DS9's wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant). Thus I feel the authors painted themselves into a corner and used the only tool they could, the deus ex machina, to resolve the ending. 

But, surprisingly, I do like the series as a whole so far. So while I may nitpick some stuff, I did enjoy the first two books. So the third was not as good, but doesn’t take away from what the authors are trying to do. And with at least three more volumes to come (and a potential TV series), I’ll just say that I’m curious where the series will go from here.

15 November 2013

Books: Two Boys Kissing By David Levithan (2013)

A kiss is just a kiss, as the saying goes. A kiss can launch ships, a kiss can heal a child’s wound and kiss can determined the fate of the universe. In David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing, it becomes the catalyst for a group of young teenagers navigating a new world of freedoms, tempered triumphs and loss and, for one, a darkness of overwhelming self-hatred. 

The novel is told in a sort-of third person narrative, a Greek chorus if you will, of all the people who have died of AIDS, all the ones who “were going to be your role models….to give you art and music and confidence and shelter and a much better world.” They died, paving the way for what we have today –a more open society that is coming to terms with their gay children. These voices of the book take us to Harry and Craig, who’ve have recently split-up, to Avery and Ryan who meet at the separate High School prom for LGBT students, to Neil and Peter, a committed high school couple and to Cooper Riggs, a bolt of self-hatred for who is and who spends hours trolling websites and hook-up apps in search of men who can fulfill his dreams of brutal sex. 

Despite breaking up, Craig and Harry remain friends. So much so that when Craig comes up with the idea of breaking the world’s record for kissing, Harry agrees. The boys set up in front of their school and with help from friends and supporters, what starts out as small event, blossoms over its 32 hours into millions of viewers over the internet as the world watches two boys kissing.

While clearly driven to the YA market, Two Boys Kissing can be read by older folks, especially the gay men who survived the Plague Years. Like parents who pass their legacy onto their children, those gay men who came before us had hoped to do that to those that would follow in their footsteps. But so many have died, so many have passed into the Undiscovered Country, that history of what they fought for is like an old black and white TV show, interesting to some, but boring to most. The voices in the book want to help, especially to Cooper who imbibes every self-loathing aspect many early generations had to deal with –though some of that still exists today. But the power between the past, the present and the unknowable future sometimes makes that help difficult.

It is a brilliant book for those teens that are coming out now (and so much more sooner than even 20 years ago), those youths who don’t know who paved their way to that early closet door busting. I mean, many gay men who survived AIDS are bothered by today’s gay youth lack of enthusiasm for activism. And with this book, perhaps Levithan can show them what was done to give them their bright present and future, for the novels chorus laments: “As we become the distant past, you become a future few of us would have imagined. We resent you. You astonish us.”