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Posts Tagged ‘overpopulation’

Book Review: Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut

Pink coiled snake with a mint green background.Summary:
In the future when humans have evolved to have much smaller brains and the ability to swim like penguins, a long-lasting ghost from the prior stage of human evolution tells us the tale of how it all went down.  How overpopulation of the old-fashioned, big-brained humans, a very bad economy, and a series of unfortunate (fortunate?) events led to an odd group of humans being marooned in the Galapagos, surviving the worldwide fallout, and evolving into the smaller-brained, fish-eating, natural swimmers we have today.

Review:
I picked this up during a kindle sale for incredibly cheap purely for the author.  I’d read three other Vonnegut works previously: Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five (read before my book blog), and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (review).  I enjoyed the first two and felt meh about the last, so I was fairly confident I’d enjoy another Vonnegut book.  So when one night my partner and I decided we wanted to read a book together (out loud to each other), we looked on my kindle, both glommed on to the name Vonnegut, and chose this as our first read together.  So my reading experience was a mix of listening and reading out loud myself, which I am grateful for, because I honestly think Galapagos sounds even more absurdist aloud.

There is an incredibly unique writing style to this particular scifi book.  So much so that my boyfriend and I wound up researching to find out if, perhaps, Vonnegut wrote this toward the end of his life when he was perchance senile.  (It was not, although it was published in the 80s, unlike my three prior Vonnegut reads, which were published in the 60s).  Then we wondered if maybe Vonnegut had Asperger’s, although we didn’t bother checking up on that.  Why these wonderings?  Well, Galapagos is a very odd book.  The premise isn’t that odd for scifi — a projected future evolution of humans and telling how we got there.  But the ultimate future is kind of hilariously odd (penguin-like humans).  Mostly, though, the way the tale is told is odd and unique in a way that took time to grow on me.

Beyond the whole odd scenario, there’s the fact that if a character will be dead by the end of the chapter, an asterisk appears next to their name.  And the names appear a lot.  Vonnegut is incredibly fond of naming everyone and everything by their full name every time they appear.  He also loves lists.  (This is the part that had us wondering about Asperger’s).  At first this is grating on the nerves, but with time it comes to feel like the vibe of the world you’re visiting when you open the book.

Similar to the lists and constant naming, there are philosophical asides.  Some of these are worked smoothly into the story thanks to a handheld computer device (similar to a smartphone) that pulls up relevant quotes to read to the survivors.  Other times, though, they are truly random asides that go so far off the path of the story you’re left wandering around in a cave in the woods instead of on the nice paved road.  But then everything comes right back around to the story, and you can’t really be upset about spending some time listening to an old ghost ramble.  For example:

What made marriage so difficult back then was yet again that instigator of so many other sorts of heartbreak: the oversize brain. That cumbersome computer could hold so many contradictory opinions on so many different subjects all at once, and switch from one opinion or subject to another one so quickly, that a discussion between a husband and wife under stress could end up like a fight between blindfolded people wearing roller skates. (page 67)

Off-topic? Yes. Quirky? Absolutely.  Interesting and fun nonetheless? Totally.

The plot, in spite of being deeply meandering, does develop and actually tell a story.  We learn how overpopulation caused disaster and then how a few humans managed to survive on the Galapagos Islands and evolve into the futuristic penguin-like folk.  Along the way we have some fun side-trips like an Argentinian military man appearing on a talk show and trying to explain that Argentina really does have submarines, it’s just that once they go underwater they never show up again.

Although I did ultimately appreciate the absurdity and the quirkiness, I must admit that I think it was perhaps a bit overdone.  At the very beginning of the book when the list-making and other elements like that were much more prevalent, I was more annoyed and might have stopped reading the book if it wasn’t for the fact that my boyfriend and I wanted to finish the first book we started reading together.  It took until about 60% of the way in for the list-making to ease off a bit and the style of the book to really start to work for me.  I could easily see a reader being totally lost by some of the more annoying elements of the book, and I wonder what the effect would be if the order was reversed.  If the quirks built throughout the book instead of starting that way.  Or even if they were just dialed back a bit.  I think just that tiny bit of editing would have made me love the book.

Overall, this is a fun piece of absurdist scifi that examines evolution from an over-the-top hypothetical situation.  Potential readers should be aware that this book is even more absurdist than Slaughterhouse-Five, so you must be willing to do some more intense suspending of disbelief and be willing to do some meandering and read some lists.  If absurdist fiction is something you enjoy and meandering and lists won’t bother you, then this humorous examination of overpopulation, end-of-the-world, and future evolution might be right up your alley.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

People flowing through tubes and standing in line.Summary:
In the near-future humanity is increasingly facing over-population and all its consequences.  In reaction to this, most world governments have established population laws and eugenics boards.  In this overly crowded, information overloaded, perpetually on the brink of war society exist Donald and Norman, healthy bachelors who must live as roommates due to the housing crisis.  Donald is a dilettante, an information specialist on reserve to be activated as a spy when needed for the US government.  Norman is a Muslim African-American working his way up the corporate ladder of the most important technology firm in the world–GT.  GT houses the world’s most brilliant computer named Shalmaneser.  The intertwining lives of these two oddly well-suited roommates gradually unfold amid digressions into the lives of those they come into contact with and information from the modern-day philosophies and advertizing.

Review:
What is most memorable and striking about this book is not so much the story, although that is fairly unique, but the way in which it is told.  Brunner does not simply tell the main storyline, he also immerses the reader into the world the characters live within.  To that end, the main storyline (continuity) is interspersed with chapters focusing in on minor characters (tracking with close-ups, essentially short stories), plunging the reader into the middle of the advertizing of the time (the happening world), and works of importance to the world (context).  The result is that, although it takes a bit of work to get into the book, in the end the world these characters exist in is much more vivid and clear in the reader’s mind, thus allowing her to more fully understand the characters.

Sometimes this method of writing is a bit difficult to read, of course.  For instance, one chapter takes place at a party, and Brunner simply streams all of the conversation together as you would hear it if you were at the party yourself.  You catch snippets of bits of different conversations taking place, but never an entire one all at once.  It’s the most immersive party scene I’ve ever read, but also took me an inordinate amount of time to get through.

It was also refreshing to have one of the main characters in a futuristic scifi book be a minority.  This in and of itself made Stand on Zanzibar a unique, interesting read, and I believe Brunner did a good job portraying both Norman’s struggles with still prevalent racism and presenting him as a well-rounded character.

The major themes of the book, beyond the incredibly meta presentation style, are the very real threat of the loss of privacy and the dehumanization of dependence upon artificial intelligence.

The dehumanizing affect of overpopulation is evident in the language employed by the characters early on in the book.

Not cities in the old sense of grouped buildings occupied by families, but swarming antheaps collapsing into ruin beneath the sledgehammer blows of riot, armed robbery and pure directionless vandalism. (page 52)

These are no longer human cities.  They are crawling ant-piles.  The vision of piles of swarming ants is simply not a pleasant one.  This concept of humanity as a pest is carried even further in a poem from one of the context chapters entitled “Citizen Bacillus,” which begins:

Take stock, citizen bacillus,
Now that there are so many billions of you,
Bleeding through your opened veins,
Into your bathtub, or into the Pacific
Of that by which they may remember you. (page 115)

Not only is this poem taking into account the increasingly suicidal tendencies of the human population in this future society (something that is seen in the animal kingdom when a population becomes overcrowded), but it also is blatantly calling humans a bacteria (bacillus).

The book repeatedly addresses through vignettes, samples of books of the time period, and the lives of the main characters that overpopulation leaves people without enough room to think and figure themselves out in.

True, you’re not a slave. You’re worse off than that by a long, long way. You’re a predatory beast shut up in a cage of which the bars aren’t fixed, solid objects you can gnaw at or in despair batter against with your head until you get punch-drunk and stop worrying. No, those bars are the competing members of your own species, at least as cunning as you on average, forever shifting around so you can’t pin them down, liable to get in your way without the least warning, disorienting your personal environment until you want to grab a gun or an axe and turn mucker. (page 77-8)

In the book “turning mucker” is when a person inexplicably loses their mind and attacks strangers near them.  This happens increasingly throughout the book.  Thus Brunner’s main point that humans are our own worst enemy is repeated throughout the book.

Added on top of this is the fact that artificial intelligence is outpacing humans.  The characters literally cannot keep up with the information overload.  They have nightmares about it.  They simultaneously depend on the computers and dread them.  When one goes awry, they hardly know how to continue on, but simply flounder around.  Chad Mulligan (one of my new favorite literary characters) sums it up eloquently:

What in God’s name is it worth to be human, if we have to be saved from ourselves by a machine? (page 645)

Thus, Stand on Zanzibar through postulating an overpopulated future that is overly dependent on technology demonstrates the very real dangers humans pose to ourselves if we outpace either our own minds or our environment’s ability to house us.  It is a brilliant read for the meta-literature aspect alone, but the content is also challenging and thought-provoking.  I highly recommend it to scifi fans.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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BBAW: Forgotten Treasure

September 16, 2010 13 comments

Partially open treasure chest.Sorry to have missed yesterday’s topic!  I’ve been ill this week, which unfortunately meant only the pre-scheduled posts made it through…until today that is!  Today’s BBAW theme is to highlight a book that we wish would get more attention/would be more well-known.

It was honestly kind of difficult for me to pick just one book.  I’d say around 1/3 to 1/4 of my reading is random obscure scifi/dystopian novels that I wish would get more attention.  Actually, I wish dystopias would get more attention in general.  I think they’re such an excellent way to explore issues and philosophically think about possible outcomes to modern decisions.  In fact, I think the world would be a better place in general if everyone would just stop and seriously think before making decisions….but that’s another topic for another blog post.

Artistic depiction of a person laying in a pool.In any case, there’s a book that I read this year that I’ve certainly never heard mentioned before anywhere–Robert Silverberg’s The World Inside (review).  I knew I loved it, so it made it to the Wolfy Recommends page, but I had no idea how much it would stick with me.  I can’t tell you how many times since I read it that I’ve gone back in my head to that world to ponder all the implications.

The World Inside is relatively short.  In fact, you could almost call it a novella, and it is easily read in one sitting.  That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t contain a full story, however.  The World Inside examines the issues of pro-life versus pro-choice and overpopulation by looking at a future in which most of the world is vehemently pro-life, and the impact that the massive population has had on the world, society, culture, and individuals.  Silverberg imagines a future in which the world can handle a massive population via “urbmons”–incredibly high-rise buildings that contain the equivalent of entire nations.  Stacking people up on top of each other like this makes it possible to devote most of the rest of the world to food production.  Silverberg therefore is able to fully develop both the culture within the urbmons and the culture that produces the food.

Whether Silverberg is for ever-increasing population or not is deliciously unclear.  His future is a world where all privacy is absent.  Where diversion from the norm is unacceptable.  Offenders get only one chance then they are “sent down the chute” aka given capital punishment.  It is a world where all life is welcomed, yes, but at what cost?  The solutions to overpopulation he presents are ones that make sense, but he also clearly shows the costs on the individual.  Life as a whole is valued so much that the individual is discounted.  On the other hand, he uses the farming culture to show how always choosing the individual over the whole could also be perceived as unfair or barbaric.

This book is an intriguing, eye-opening read.  It is nearly impossible to put down once you pick it up, and I believe it would do wonders to opening true dialogue between the opposing viewpoints on world population/overpopulation.  No matter what your viewpoint is on the issue, it will do wonders to expand your mind and make you think.  That’s why I love dystopian literature, and that’s why The World Inside is an excellent taste of the genre.  Plus, its length makes it easily accessible to those who might be nervous about trying dystopian lit for the first time.  I highly recommend it, and I hope to start seeing buzzing about it in the book blogging community.

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Friday Fun! (Exercise and Zombies)

August 13, 2010 8 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  I hope you all had lovely weeks and are enjoying your Augusts.  Remember that scientific studies have proven that you’re more likely to have a bad Friday the 13th if you believe in the curse, so just don’t believe it. 😉

I’ve had a busy, but fun week.  As a way to try to strategize against my anxiety until my doctor’s appointment next month (where I’m hoping to finally get some anti-anxiety meds), I’ve been seriously increasing the amount of physical activity in my week.  If I’m exhausted then maybe I’ll be too tired to be anxious, eh?  Well, it worked in uni anyway.  So I started doing the 30 Day Shred again and found myself barely able to walk up and down stairs the next day, haha.  I’ve also returned to biking now that the weather has cooled some, and I’ve started doing the evil pilates dvd some of my friends from uni and internships may remember.  Ana Caban’s pilates dvd really kicks your ass.  Er, abs.  I highly recommend it.

One of my pepper plants is blooming!  But the blooms tend to wither up after one day and die.  I have no idea if this means I’ll be getting peppers or not.  Are the blooms supposed to whither?  Anyone know?

So I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the increasing zombie trend.  (If you haven’t heard much about it yet, trust me, you will be).  Where is this obsession with a global pandemic coming from?  I think maybe, on some level, everyone knows that the way we’re going right now isn’t sustainable.  We have too many people using too many resources.  A key element of a lot of the zombie lit is that it wipes out the population to a sustainable level, and the survivors are forced to return to the ways of our ancestors–growing their own food, going to sleep when it’s dark out, being physically active, etc…  So people clearly know that two of the main issus are overpopulation and over-use of resources, and yet most people do little to nothing about it.  What used to be a key element of our survival as a species–the instinct to reproduce as much as possible–is now our downfall.  Whereas we used to lose a lot of people in childhood (seriously, as a history major I can tell you, kids were so disposable, some families named all the boys the same name because statistically only one would survive.  It was that bad), now you pretty much have a really good shot at living a long, healthy life as long as you live in a western nation.  And of course there’s that problem on top of the overpopulation problem.  We currently have plenty of resources, but they’re unevenly distributed.  I’m not saying there’s something wrong with there being some variance in the levels of comfort, but it’s so incredibly wrong that we have some people with multiple million dollar homes and an entourage they pay for and clothes that cost thousands of dollars while other people are living on the street or in dirt huts or are starving to death.  And the thing is, I think everyone knows that the world is fucked up, but we’re tired and we’re beaten down, so we just figure the world is coming to an end, may as well have fun imagining it.  My friends and I started talking about whether banding together to fix things was possible or if it’s just too late.  One of my friends thinks it’s just too late.  I’m inclined to agree with her.  I think there’s just too many people who would rather live in happy ignorance than face the facts they know and make drastic changes to fix it.  Of course, that’d be a lot easier if so much of the population weren’t debt slaves…., but that’s another rant for another post.

Anyway, so that’s what’s been going on here this week!  Lots of physical activity and lots of philosophical discussions, lol.  Oh also, I bet you’ve figured out by now that there’ll be a review of a zombie book next week.  Those of you who follow me on Twitter already know which one. 😉

What do you guys think about zombie lit?  Where’s the popularity coming from?

Happy weekends!