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Logically Bad Science Fiction
on April 20, 2003
One of the most astonishing things I found about Marge Piercy was that she had actually written science fiction before this. In all honesty, I would have bet serious money that she had had no contact with science since leaving high school.
At the time of this review, I am a fourth year computer science student at a major university. I have been online for the better part of a decade, and I know how computers and the people who use them work, at least to a whole order of magnitude more than the author.
Now, I will give credit where itï¿½s due. Marge Piercy is a competent writer with good technical skill. Her characters of Shira (heroine, woman trying to find her way in the world), Malkah (mother), and Yod (android who slowly grows to be human over the course of the novel in a very fine transition) are all distinct and well fleshed out.
What aggravated me most is how totally and utterly...blind some of them were! UGG!!! There are several scenes were Shira, who recounts and describes things to the reader, does not see what is so plain and obvious and then reacts with surprise and horror when it finally dawns on her!! For example, she describes her mother to the reader, mentioning her motherï¿½s predilection for remaining unattached and taking various partners to bed. This is a prominent point. Then she describes how ï¿½closeï¿½ her mother seems to the android Yod and vice versa. And then reacts with shock several chapters later when she learns the two of them were sleeping together. I had been thinking ï¿½She slept with the androidï¿½ after reading for aforementioned paragraphs. Really, itï¿½s not Shiraï¿½s fault; she inherited it from her mother Malkah. Seriously, how thick do you have to be to react to two (itï¿½s been a little while since I read this, so the number could be off by 2-3) cyber attacks that leave members of your community in a vegetative state, three more that KILL progressively higher ranking people, the LAST one being your own apprentice (!), with the statement ï¿½I never saw this comingï¿½ when it happens to you? That was the only time in my life I have ever thrown down a book in disgust.
The thing that killed me the most about this book was that the technology in this world was just SO illogical! For starters, Shira states right at the beginning of the book that the city sized dome she lives under (suburbs, mansions, factories, shopping district, office buildings) has no building higher than six stories, but the author gives no reason for this. Iï¿½ve come to assume itï¿½s because the DOME is no higher than six stories. We later even see a dome built in the ruins of a contemporary city, complete with intact abandoned skyscrapers, thatï¿½s also only six stories high. Considering the angle of arch required for a self supporting dome (no mention of support columns and the like is given) the angle and ceiling height would have to be immense for a dome to cover a whole city! Shiraï¿½s home town also sports a dome, but it suffers from numerous seeming contradictions and lack of description. Now a question to all those sci fi movie buffs out there; if you were to build an android who was to protect your town both in cyberspace and reality, and you were designing it from the ground up, would you base your design on Ash/Bishop from the Alien/Aliens movies, or the T-800 from the Terminator movies? Wild guess if Mrs. Piercy agrees.
To top it all off, at the very end, Shira realizes that she cannot rebuild Yod, but for TOTALLY the wrong reasons!! The reason that Yod worked at all, we learn, is that his AI personality was designed to learn and grow like a child. It grew in accordance to what happened around it; in other words, it was subjectively based. Thus, Shira couldnï¿½t recreate him the way he was anyway, as sheï¿½d have to duplicate his whole life! It doesnï¿½t matter how cruel it is to bring him back against his wishes (her rationalization), it couldnï¿½t be done anyway! And Iï¿½m not even going to go into the whole fact that he was a MACHINE, with a mechanical brain, which could have been BACKED UP(!) rather than let him be destroyed.
A final thing that annoyed me to no end was how computers were used in this world. The user seems to have a godlike ability to create whatever they want, yet these people have zero imagination in creating defences. There were even instances of things that made me say ï¿½We can stop attacks like that NOW.ï¿½ Also see the back up note in the above paragraph. All in all, I got the feeling that these characters really had no clue about how computers work in the real world. Same for societies of computer users. MUCKs and MUDs have been around for 30 years or more now. And given the popularity of games like Everquest and other MMORPGs now, and the fact that people in this universe have known that age and gender can be changed for years, Yod being the first one to discover that any shape can be taken in cyberspace just flies in the face of history.
To end things, I just want to say that while the characters are well thought out, the story flows nicely, there is a great parallel story about a Golem in the 1600s and it adds a few nice twists to sci fi. On the (glaringly) bad side, we have a scientifically illogical world, characters that are dense and blind, some ravening stereotypes for lesser characters, and a complete lack of understanding of the field she bases almost all the action around. If you want a good love story, this passes for it. But if you have any real background in science, stay away and avoid the headaches.