Skip to main content

Science fiction: perspective on Neil Stephenson's writing from rereading Frank Herbert

I'm planning to get to Neil Stephenson's new novel, Fall; or Dodge in Hell sometime soon. I've reveled in some of his books, and look forward to the new one. However, having reread one of my favorite books of all time, Frank Herbert's The Dosadi Experiment, brings me to a more clear perspective I have on reservations about Stephenson's writing.  I got clear about it thinking about Stephenson's writing relative to Herbert's and the writing of another favorite, William Gibson.

It all has to do with characterization.

I find Herbert's characters more gripping than Stephenson's. Herbert's primary characters tend to be iconic: super-able, in way that aren't entirely realistic, but relatable and deeply appealing to me. Stephenson's characters are much more realistic - not so idealized, more in the post-modern mix of contemporary convincing detail, including imperfection and commonplace nuance that has the feel of normal people. William Gibson is a master of that kind of thing, managing to portray deeply colorful characters through nuanced details and quirks. Stephenson doesn't quite achieve that, either. Herbert and Gibson both deliver colorful characters in different ways. Stephenson's characters are more in the style of Gibson's, but without quite the vibrancy.

That said, Stephenson does do conceptual vision and plotting well - sometimes achieving surpassing excellence in my eyes. I loved Diamond Age for spectacular and wildly ranging speculation and adventure ("spectacular speculation" (-: ), and Zodiac for outright wild adventure. Cryptonomicon and Anathem are surpassing in another vein – conceptual intricacy and depth in legitimate technical realms – Cryptography in Cryptonomicon and mathematics in Anathem. I loved all of those. I am almost sure The Baroque Cycle excels in technical and plot intricacy and depth, plus ties to historical reality (which I believe is also an element of Cryptonomicon) , but I just couldn't make it through more than 1.3 of the books... )-:

I have to say a little more about The Dosadi Experiment. Another of Herbert's books, Dune, is held by many to be at the pinnacle of speculative fiction. I agree and love that book. I admire and enjoy Dosadi even more! I've reread it many times in my life - probably more than five - picking it up when I felt I needed a reliably good, inspiring read. It's kind of funky that it's my go-to, because it realizes some decidedly harsh and controversial perspectives, like democratic voting influenced by polling being a tool for profound authoritarian control. But I think his vision is based in an ecological perspective that is both valid and illuminating. For instance, maybe we should be more alert to the threat that democracy faces in distortion of the feedback loop. Like, Fox news?


Popular posts from this blog

Blogger silently drops comments submitted by Safari in embedded-comments mode

We've noticed that comments submitted from Apple Safari (Mac or iPhone) are dropped without any notification if the blog is set with Comment location = Embedded. Having set it to Pop up (I think), it worked. We're going to try some more tests. That's what this post is for! From the comments testing we discovered some useful things: Using Comment location = embedded: Is necessary to enable replying to specific comments. Comments posted from Safari (laptop or iOS) are silently dropped. It looks to the person posting the comment that it went through, but the blog moderator sees no sign of it at all. Using Comment location = Pop up or Full page: Inhibits option to reply to other comments – no comment threads Enables comments from Safari The trade-off is clear. Losing comments from people who think they submitted them successfully is not acceptable. Particularly from a prominent browser (currently estimated to be a bit less than 4% of users). I just hate to lose comment threadin

Exploring Adaptation of the Underscore for Online Practice

I had early experience with the  Underscore  a few times while  Nancy Stark Smith  was developing it, before she found a name for it. Since those early days it has gotten a name and continued to grow, and it has become a practice for many, many groups around the world. I have been leading Underscores for the DC Sunday jam almost every month since the December 2013. I love how the Underscore works, love the sharing situation that it tends to foster. In recent days of the Coronavirus quarantine, a group exploring sharing of movement online has started to explore adapting the Underscore for online sharing. I've had the opportunity to try what others are doing, and an opportunity to adapt it for an online session myself. I wonder, can we arrive online at the often open and receptive shared presence if can foster? I'm not sure, but believe that something is possible. Whatever we discover, I know it will be different from an in-person Underscore. Online meetings are different in cru

Finding inspiration in solo movement in small changes

Contact Improvisation offers extraordinary opportunities to explore movement cooperation with others and with oneself. I've been curious a question about how to find in solo moving the kind of inspiration that can come from dancing with others. I had been exploring a practice for a long time before the COVID pandemic. Having to concentrate on solo moving during the pandemic has given me the opportunity to resolve some questions about how to describe the practice and its purpose, enough so that I feel ready to describe it. One of the things I love about doing Contact Improv is a sense of attunement that happens, with others and myself, through just mutually following the points of contact. For many years I've been curious about what helps to cultivate this, and have experimented with ways to do so in solo moving – in my warmups and general solo dancing. During the COVID-19 quarantine I have had more opportunity and heightened focus on this exploration of solo movement (in-person