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

A Contemplative Movement Online Score

Barbara Dilley developed a shared dance/meditation practice called Contemplative Dance Practice – CDP, a "dancer's meditation hall". I've been exploring adaptation of this score for online sharing. The aim is to share meditation and movement across the gap of social distancing. (See below the score description for online meeting logistics and further info about the practices.)

(The framing of this score is a work in progress, continuing to change. Revision information is at the bottom.)
Score DescriptionThe score is divided into sections. At the beginning of each timed section the facilitator says which section it is and arranges for a bell to sound at the beginning and the end of that section. Opening Circle: Time for brief introductions / check-ins and to review the outline of the score (essentially, the bold headers below).Meditation: 15 minutes for stillness. In the original score the participants share sitting meditation. We invite whatever meditation method works …

Finding inspiration in solo movement through exploration of changing balance

Contact Improvisation offers extraordinary opportunities to explore movement cooperation with others and oneself. I've been investigating 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.It's based in the small dance that Steve Paxton associates with the stand, also informed by Nancy Stark Smith's finger dance.The Basic ScoreAfter stretching a little I standTime happens. I gradually notice more about what's happening in my body.Eventually I notice some small movements – shifts of weight, displacement from breathing, and needing to adjust my position; everything counts.Eventually I might notice very slow shifting – gradual tendencies i…

How and why multiple dispatch is good (Julia vs Python)

I'm really interested in the programming language, Julia, for several reasons, multiple dispatch being prominent among them. (I have some painful contortions in the Python implementation of my speculative programming project, Spherical. The contortions would not be necessary if Python was implemented with efficient multiple dispatch.) I thinkthis videogets at the essence of multiple dispatch's virtue.
Unfortunately it's a video, who has time for that? The distilled message is that the multiple dispatch (multimethods) solvesThe Expression Problem, and that's not a small thing. It's an oblique way of saying that it's a more comprehensive way to do procedural composition than other approaches, and so fundamentally has greater potential for comprehensibility. Composition is the essence of building stuff, and comprehensibility is the factor that governs collaboration between people - including, for that matter, of a person with themself over time.
I love Python, bu…