Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Slant, by Greg Bear

Today I'm looking at another book which was foisted upon me by a friend, Slant by Greg Bear. And as much as I hate to say it, I felt confused more than anything else by this book. I'm aware it may have been a product of my reading this book over the course of a month, along with several other books, but there are definitely several plot threads that start off independent of each other and end up being wound together into the climax of the book. In some ways, this feels a lot like a Philip K. Dick novel, and not just because of the cyberpunk themes and setting. There are a lot of different plot threads and references to a richly complex world Bear has created, any one of which could have consumed an entire novel on its own. However Bear, much like Dick, includes some of these complex ideas merely as window dressing which has the benefit of making the world feel deep and realistic, while also making the book a little confusing to read.

There are three main plots within the book, which I call main because they're important enough to get mentioned on the plot blurb of the book jacket. First there's Jack Giffey, who is attempting to break into the Omphalos, an enormous pyramid constructed in the semi-autonomous state of Green Idaho which is said to house the incredibly wealthy near-dead, waiting for revivification while entombed with their treasures.Second we have Public Defender Mary Choy who is called into Seattle for the investigation of some particularly heinous and terrifying crimes which eventually lead to a reclusive billionaire. And third there's Jill, the very first true Artificial Intelligence created by Mind Design and the template for all thinkers currently in existence. However, Jill receives communication from another AI calling himself Roddy, who is completely unfamiliar to her and not based on her own patterns. In theory, Roddy shouldn't exist.

On top of that we have Dr. Martin Burke, the psychologist who created implants used by a significant number of the population to treat an entire spectrum of mental disorders. But when these implants start mysteriously failing it could mean the collapse of modern society. Then there is Alice Grale, a sex-care industry worker who is finding her career on the downslope and suddenly gets much more complicated after a call-in with a mysterious gentleman. And finally there's Chloe and Jonathan, an upper-middle-class family whose domestic life is beginning to creak under the strain.

All of these plotlines, eventually being connected together, would be ambitious for a doorstopper novel. For an average-length 350 page novel? It feels almost like Bear is trying to accomplish too much in too little space and the result is the story suffers. This could have easily, easily been a longer-burning plotline-driven narrative and I think with more space to write Bear could have developed this book a lot more. I don't know why that decision was made, but I think it leaves the book lacking.

As I said, there are a lot of elements with this book that make the world feel much more complex but don't get as developed as I might have hoped. Some of these may have been dealt with in more detail in earlier books. (I found out after starting this, and much to my friend's surprise as well, that this was actually the fourth in a series.) A significant portion of the American population is undergoing or has gone through some form of therapy, making society far more ''normal'' than in previous eras. In addition, there are portions of the population called the disAffected, who live entirely on a government stipend and do nothing but consume entertainment, unable or unwilling to participate in the larger system. Plus there's the aforementioned Green Idaho, an enclave which is semi-autonomous within the United States and fought a war over this point. Any one of these could be the subject of a book alone, but Bear seems to use them merely as background for the narrative he chooses to tell.

Overall, I think I was left befuddled by this book more than anything else. I don't think there was anything bad about this book, I just think it may have been a little too ambitious. It's not a bad read, and maybe it gets better if you read it again or if you've read the other books preceding this one, but I honestly found myself confused.

- Kalpar

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