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Book Review: Glasshouse by Charles Stross

April 21, 2011 3 comments

Abstract art.Summary:
Robin lives in the 27th century where your consciousness can be switched from body to body (and not just ortho-human ones) indefinitely.  Frequent back-ups in an A-gate protect you from ever really dying.  Of course, sometimes people go in to get some memories wiped.  This is the closest thing to a chance at a new life.  Robin wakes up in one of these facilities with a far more extensive memory wipe than usual.  People are trying to kill him, and he finds himself signing up for a social experiment where the experimenters are attempting to recreate the second dark ages–the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century.  He thinks he’ll be safe here, but he might not be.  Is he really at risk though or is he just messed up in the head?

Review:
This future where Earth no longer exists and a person is a person because of their consciousness and not their bodies is incredibly richly imagined.  It is abundantly clear that Stross has a clearly laid out society in mind when writing.  This is all taking place within a world within a certain timeline within a certain culture.  That is what makes for the best scifi reading experience, and Stross pulls it off quite well.

The plot is endlessly surprising and nearly impossible to predict until the last few chapters.  Of course any plot involving people who can change bodies with a complex civil war previously fought involving a computer virus that enters people’s consciousness via the A-gates would be complex.  But don’t be deterred!  It is really not difficult to follow, although you may have to stop to think about it a few times.

I also want to say kudos to Stross for writing such an incredibly GLBTQ friendly piece of scifi that isn’t necessarily about gender or sexuality.  It’s the first time I’ve ever seen the terms “cis-gendered and trans-gendered” used in a scifi book.  In this future where people can pick whatever body they want, it’s natural for everyone to spend at least a few lifetimes as both a male and a female, although they all ultimately tend to choose one over the other.  In fact, a plot-point for the book involves the researchers randomly placing someone who identifies predominantly as female in a male body and the resulting depression from that.  Similarly, characters identify as mono or poly, meaning both monogamous and polyamorous sexualities are recognized as equally valid.  It is an incredibly welcoming environment where people are encouraged to be themselves that only makes the experiment set during our own time period all the more jolting.  I could see any queer person finding this story very relatable.

Unfortunately, the strong set-up kind of lost me toward the end.  I’m still not quite sure exactly what I should have taken from the ending, but I felt that it didn’t live up to the incredibly high bar Stross set for himself early on.  I’m still glad I read it as it was a very different, unique experience, but I do wish he’d spent a bit more time figuring out an ending worthy of the meat of the book.

Overall, I recommend this to scifi fans, and highly recommend it to GLBTQ readers and advocates.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Movie Review: Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963)

Man handing heart-shaped key to a woman.Summary:
Robin is a sensible college student who firmly believes a successful marriage is about the science, not the emotions.  She convinces her boyfriend David, who just wants to get married already, that they should live together without sleeping together first to see if they are emotionally compatible.  Her aunt is not only her college professor, but also a recent divorcee, and Robin and David move into her old apartment.  Unbeknownst to them, Aunt Irene moved out due to a messy break-up with the lecherous landlord, Hogan, who lives across the hall.  Hogan is determined to craftily break up the couple so he can sleep with Robin himself, and David and Robin struggle to determine the right way to have a modern relationship.

Review:
Some in the modern audience would find the entire concept of this movie too laughable to be viewable, but if you’re aware of the situation of the sexes in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it was actually quite a progressive movie for the time period.  Divorce is acknowledged via Robin’s aunt, Irene, and she is not demonized as a slimy divorcee.  She is a woman who has learned that relationships are not always simple, but also what is important to bring to them.  In fact, she gives the climactic speech of the film about relationships.  Then there’s the fact that Robin’s and David’s sexual feelings are acknowledge, and David even questions how much it would actually hurt their future together if they were to sleep together before getting married.  Robin worries that young people are rushing into marriages due to “glandular urges.”  These are quite sensible concerns voiced in a climate in which “proper” people did not engage in premarital sexual relationships, and the characters’ feelings are actually highly relatable.

Of course, the film is not entirely a serious one.  It address what was then a modern concern under the guise of slapstick.  It also utilizes one of my favorite comedy techniques wherein one room has multiple doors and windows, and the characters come and go either just missing each other or only briefly encountering each other.  One particularly delightful scene features a drunk Robin reciting e. e. cummings in an attempt to seduce David.  If any of these types of humor are favorites of yours, you will find yourself laughing at this movie.

I should also mention that this film features Jack Lemmon in an early role, as well as Dean Jones, who frequently does push-ups.  Talk about your old-time eye candy.  It also has an opening sequence, used frequently in 1960s movies, wherein a young lady and man dance around to a song written for the film together.  It’s cute and really sets the tone for the movie.

Also, cat lovers should be aware that there is a cat in this movie who plays a rather important role both to the plot and the slapstick humor.  I love how older movies insert cats into the storylines in a way in which modern films just don’t anymore.  Cats weren’t the props to crazy cat lady jokes.  They were part of the story.

If you enjoy old movies, the questioning of society’s sexual mores, or slapstick humor, you will definitely enjoy this film.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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