on June 27, 2008
With 'Neuropath', Scott Bakker has written the most disturbing book that I've ever read. I would even go far as to say that if the book doesn't disturb you, then you've failed to understand it. The author is clearly cognizant of the perennial 'free will'/'determinism' debate, except that his argument is couched in modern scientific language--in 'neurology'. He cleverly draws attention to our cognitive shortcomings. As entertaining and well-written as the book is, I'm disturbed by its consequences, and find it difficult to ignore them--specifically, its 'nihilistic' consequences. We truly are deluded as human beings if we think that our actions (behaviour) are reducible to a 'free will', or mere choice. Human volition is one of our greatest deceptions, but perhaps it's a necessary lie that needs to be perpetuated. On the other hand, maybe 'nihilism' is not what the author wants the reader to draw from the book, but that is precisely its conclusion for me.
But, if others draw the same conclusion, it can be quite the dangerous book. At the same time,however, I'm so enthusiastic about 'Neuropath' that I'd like to recommend it to everyone, even though there's a part of me that thinks that it shouldn't be read by everyone....Even still, I see 'Neuropath' as generating a great deal of discussion, debate and controversy...
on June 25, 2008
I had high hopes for Neuropath. I read Bakker's Prince of Nothing trilogy and think that it's some of the best, most thoughtful fantasy I've ever read. I'm also a big fan of thrillers, and was very interested to see what Bakker would do with the genre. Most of the time I find them a bit vapid, and was hoping he'd bring some depth in his effort. I was excited enough that I paid the extra money and ordered from Amazon's Canadian store even though I live in the U.S. I mention all this to show that I don't think I'm biased against the book or author.
You can see the 2 stars I've given this book, and know that I was disappointed. I have three reasons for my disappointment. First is that the book doesn't work as a thriller. There is rising action which is often exciting, but the ending lacks the crucial climax and catharsis. It's more like a horror novel that stops in the middle of the most horrific part.
This relates to my second reason, which is that I found the level of violence (sexual and otherwise) and psychological torture to be unpalatable. I've watched my share of ultraviolent movies, including many underground Japanese flicks that people consider to be some of the most disturbing ever made. I've read violent books full of carnage and horror. This book doesn't top them all, but it does fall firmly into the group of works that I am unable to enjoy because they cross the level of violence I'm comfortable with. I don't feel like this level of grotesquerie is necessary, or particularly effective. It took me out of the story and made me worry much more about the author's mental state than think about anything in the book.
My third reason for rating this book 2 stars is that I feel like the author is panicked about concepts that philosophers have been discussing for centuries, if not millennia. He presents all of his ideas as being brand new because neuroscience has recently proven them as being fact. I say that these ideas are not new, and that philosophers from Aristotle to Descartes have struggled with the nature of consciousness and how to deal with it for all of human history.
Bakker seems worried because recent advances in neuroscience show that by stimulating different parts of the brain in a mechanical way, you can artificially create all facets of human experience - sight, sound, touch, pain, pleasure, love, hate, etcetera. Putting aside any discussion of quantum physics, this does seem to "prove" that consciousness is an illusion of some sort. It doesn't, however, make these ideas new concepts. In the end, it also doesn't justify the extreme violence, torture, and lack of satisfying conclusion in this book.
I give the book not one star, but two, because it is fairly well written. I don't think the prose is anything approaching his previous work, but it's readable. The action does rise in an exciting arc for a good part of the book, but the ending ruins it. I also want to note that although I mostly dismiss the philosophical dialogue present in the book, I would like the chance to talk to the author at some point and see how he would respond to more specific criticisms. He opens the door for an interesting dialogue (though I don't feel he explores more than one facet of it), and so that helps with the 2 stars as well.
Overall, not recommended in the slightest, but fairly well written. I think he lost the bet with his wife. He wrote a book, certainly, but in my opinion, it's not a thriller.