Re: BOOKS: Dropping the Attanasio meme

Anders Sandberg (
17 Feb 1999 11:34:19 +0100 writes:

> I wonder if A.A.Attanasio has even been discussed in Extropian circles. I
> personally consider him the best science-fiction and fantasy writer ever, and
> many of his themes are typically extropian.
> One of his most recent novels, *Centuries*, which I personally consider one of
> the ten greatest novels ever written, is a history of the third millenium,
> from the point of view of several pivotal characters

Interesting. I read the book, and HATED it. This is most unusual, and I was fascinated by the experience.

My problem with it was that AAA did something that is in my opinion unforgivable: he had a great idea (no, many great ideas!), a big, interesting plot, and some very deep philosophical questions with no obvious answers. And he killed the story. The first chapters are indeed brilliant, introducing a very dynamical setting, the characters and a tricky basic philosophical question (do we want Maya or not?). But then AAA runs into the usual problem when dealing with superintelligent posthumans and their plots, namely that they are so hard to describe and understand that the author has to simplify things - and he ends up dumbing down the story. Most of the novel is really a fantasy novel in a transhuman setting, admittedly with some very fun and fresh ideas. In the last pages he does a completely unbelievable Hollywood ending. Arrgh!

OK, I'm more of a hard sf reader, but I also enjoyed David Zindells epic mixtures of sf and mythic fantasy. What irritates me is that instead of realizing the impossibility of handling the metahuman plans in the story and instead describe it from a merely transhuman point of view, he ended up dumbing down the great superintelligent plots to heroes vs. villains, usually doing quite stupid things.

> I think one of the problems with the fiction books which have been selected in
> the extropian reading list is that they tend to have been included for their
> themes and ideas more than for their literary qualities. (Is it because most
> extropians are scientists with a stunted esthetic sensibility?) But you can
> get ideas and science in a more rational presentation in non-fiction books, so
> why go through the tedium of reading poorly plotted novels with flat, boring
> characters and an execrable style? ("Give us the facts, Ma'am, just the
> facts.") Novels should be literary, and I don't see the point of reading junk
> novels just because they deal with issues that are dear to us.

I think this is very individual; I can read a novel just for its ideas even if the plot, characterization and other literary qualities are bad. But of course, we should all try to find those rare novels that are great in all aspects.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
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