Archive

Posts Tagged ‘the world inside’

Book Review: Shadrach in the Furnace by Robert Silverberg (Audiobook narrated by Paul Boehmer)

Silhouette of man standing in front of what appears to be an oil rig.Summary:
After a giant volcanic eruption led to chaos and the virus wars, the world came under a one world government led by Genghis Mao based out of Mongolia.  The virus wars also led to everyone being infected with organ rot, a condition that simply spontaneously starts whenever it feels like it.  Only those working close to the government get the antidote.  Shadrach Mordecai, an African-American, went straight from Harvard Med to being the personal doctor for the world dictator.  He has implants that allow him to monitor Genghis Mao’s health through his own body, plus he is overseeing the three projects pursuing a way to keep Mao alive forever.  But when Project Avatar, which would involve implanting Mao’s brain into a new body, loses its prime candidate, Shadrach realizes his position as aid to Mao might not be keeping him as safe as her previously believed.

Review:
One of my all-time favorite books, The World Inside (review), is by Robert Silverberg, so I decided I should start working on reading all of his writings.  So when I saw this Silverberg book on Audible, I immediately knew where my June membership credit would be going.

There are quite a few things that make this piece of scifi stick out.  First, out of the four main characters, three are people of color.  Shadrach is black, Mao is obviously Mongolian, the head of Project Avatar is Native American (Navajo, I believe), and the head of the project seeking to put Mao into a robot body is headed by a white European woman.  It’s an incredibly diverse cast that I really enjoyed.  Plus, Shadrach gets it on with both Nikki Crowfoot and Katya (Native and European, respectively).  There’s also the fascinating fact that Mao, who previously only wanted a Mongolian body, is totally into the idea of putting his brain into the body of strong, young black man.  You could read this one of two ways: either as a scifi slave narrative (Mao owning Shadrach’s body) or as a progressive future where skintone doesn’t matter but the leaders still manage to be totally evil.

The scifi in the book is incredibly strong.  Silverberg obviously did his brain and infectious diseases research.  It was akin to reading abstracts from medical journals when Shadrach was talking about the various medical things going on with Mao’s body and with organ rot in the general population.

Religion is dealt with in an interesting manner.  Most people seem to be more religious.  Even the “secular” government workers follow the new religion, whose name I can’t remember I’m afraid, that involves monks and taking hallucinatory drugs.  It’s obviously an idea of a futuristic religion born out of the 1970s in which it was written, but it works within the imaginary future it exists within.

Central to the novel is Shadrach’s struggle with the Hippocratic Oath.  He is sworn to repeatedly save the life of an evil dictator who is willfully withholding an antidote to organ rot from the general population.  It’s obviously an intense moral dilemma and the scifi setting helps the reader look at it with less emotion than if, say, we were talking about a modern setting wherein Shadrach was working for a neo-Nazi or something.

One thing that does date the book is that Silverberg made the choice of giving an exact year for when all of this is going down, and that year is 2012.  I did find it an odd bit of serendipity that I just so happened to pick up this book in 2012.  In a sense, then, for the modern reader it’s more like reading an alternate history.  What *would* have happened if a huge natural disaster had occurred in the 1990s?  Whereas in a book like 1984, it’s still the same book for modern readers as for the original readers (you just ignore the date), here the date actually has an impact on the reading of the story.  The reading is different now than it probably was for people in the 1970s, but it still works.  Just in a different way.

I did feel the pacing is a bit off in the book.  It’s a bit up and down.  There were a couple of moments earlier in the story that had the intensity level of almost a climax, whereas the climax feels….less climaxy.  It took some of the tension out for me, even though I was pleased with the ultimate ending.  This did make it ideal for an audiobook, though, since it was easier to come and go from it as I had time to listen.  Related to the pacing issue, although most of the book is third person Shadrach’s perspective, there are a few chapters that are first person Mao’s perspective.  Those threw me a bit.  I’m still not sure how I felt about them.  I honestly think it would take a second read in print to get a real vibe for that dynamic.

Speaking of the audiobook, the narrator, Paul Boehmer, does a phenomenal job.  He gets many different accents spot on without ever seeming to be racist.  He also does a great job differentiating between who is speaking and thinking and what have you.  He also did an admirable job narrating the sex scenes.  The tonality of his voice is spot on for the intimacy and excitement.  I would gladly listen to another book he’s narrated.

Overall then this is an interesting piece of scifi that was originally written as futuristic and now reads as alternate history.  It features a diverse, three-dimensional cast and provides a great setting for the moral dilemma of helping those who would harm others.  I recommend it to fans of scifi that addresses moral issues.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

Buy It

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.

Buy It

Book Review: The World Inside by Robert Silverberg

Person laying in a pond looking up at the sky.Summary:
Hundreds of years in the future, Earth society has dealt with the population crisis by discovering the ability to build Urban Monads (urbmons).  Each building is 1,000 stories and houses around 880,000 people.  This vertical hive living has allowed for most of the land to be farmland, managed by communes still living in the traditional horizontal style.  It’s a beautiful day in Urbmon 116, and we’ll get to meet people from each level of the city from artistic San Francisco to academic Shanghai to ruling Louisville.  Their lives of enforced zero privacy, no locked doors, mandatory acceptance of sexual requests from anyone of age, and a reverence for fertility resulting in uncontrolled population growth present a unique social situation.  An academic wonders if humanity has forcibly evolved itself to naturally enjoy the Urbmon lifestyle or if it is a cultural influence forced upon them.  Maybe these next few days will help him tell.

Review:
This book is such a creative imagining of a possible future, one I certainly never had thought of.  Silverberg approaches his storytelling by at first making it seem as if we will be exposed to a series of vignettes about the inhabitants of Urbmon 116, but then their interconnection suddenly becomes apparent as the dual climaxes approach.  I was certainly not bored with the vignette portion as the society of the Urbmon is so interesting, but the interconnection moved it from being an interesting book to a powerful book.

The World Inside is a look at what would happen if the most fundamentalist pro-lifers were to win the majority and gain great power.  There is no birth control, every fetus conceived is brought to childhood (although the gender may be manipulated to maintain a balance).  Interestingly, in order for this pro-life construct to gain power, they also had to make concessions to the free love folks.  Everyone gets married at a very young age, but there is no such thing as sexual loyalty.  People are encouraged to nightwalk–leave their own abode at some point after midnight and enter another apartment and have sex with one of the adults there.  Often the husband or wife will stay in the room in spite of the sex going on in the same bed as them with their spouse.  This is explained as a necessary way to maintain harmony in the building.  It is intriguing to see such a lack of regard for parental loyalty to each other in a society that encourages so much procreation, yet it all makes sense.

That is really what makes this such a strong book.  It’s such a plausible future, given the proper circumstances, that it gives chills, and yet Silverberg still shows the basic humanity in these people, stuck in a culture, a society that they have little to no control over.  If they fail to fit into the social constructs at all, they are simply put down the chute–killed and used as fuel for the building.  There is no room for real discourse or exploration of where they may have gone wrong.  It’s a social construct that happened out of necessity due to humanity’s refusal to stop procreating so much.  They gave up all their other freedoms for that one.  Even the freedom to chose to be monogamous if you want.  It is such an emotional, thought-provoking warning gong.  It’s definitely a book I will hold onto and re-read.

If you enjoy scifi, dystopias, or philosophical explorations of the human condition, you will definitely enjoy this book.  I highly recommend it.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

Buy It