Out on Blue Six Mass Market Paperback – Apr 1 1989
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Courtney Hall is a cartoonist because that’s the job she’s been assigned by the tyrannical government agencies that dictate all of the details of everyone’s life — where they live, who their friends are, who they marry, what job they do. The goal of the government, which consists of such agencies as the Ministry of Pain, the Compassionate Society, and the Love Police, is to analyze every citizen’s genes and personality so that they can be assigned to the lifestyle that will minimize their pain and maximize their happiness, thus creating a populace that is obedient and compliant. The government assures that its dictates are adhered to by monitoring all activity and censoring criticism.
Most people seem content in the Compassionate Society because they like being pain-free, doing a job that they love (even if they’re not good at it) and being married to people who they’re compatible with (even if they don’t love them). But some people, including Courtney Hall, think there must be something more to life than avoiding pain and conflict. If she voices her opinions, or opposes the government’s decisions for her, she’ll be called in for reprogramming and have her mind wiped. When Courtney creates a satirical comic and finds herself on the run, she discovers a group of dissidents living under the city and joins their fight for freedom.
So far Out on Blue Six sounds like a typical dystopian novel. You’re probably expecting something like Nineteen Eighty-Four or Fahrenheit 451 but, to stick with the number-in-the-title theme, Out on Blue Six has more in common with Slaughterhouse-Five than either of those dystopias. It’s bizarre. Really bizarre. In fact, it feels much more like something Philip K. Dick would have written, except that Ian McDonald is a far better stylist.
The story is strange all the way through, but the weirdest part is when Courtney spends time with the underground rebels. Their “expedition to the end of the world” is surreal and filled with all sorts of oddities such as a six-breasted goddess, a man with no memories, the King of Nebraska, a group of performance artists who call themselves the Raging Apostles, a race of cyborg raccoons, and a computer program that might be God. Through her travels and interactions, Courtney begins to realize what is wrong with her “compassionate” society and how the experience of pain underlies morality and creativity.
Out on Blue Six is wildly creative, beautifully written, often funny, has a clear message, and ends on a hopeful note. Yet it feels disjointed, frenetic, and over-stimulating, like an acid trip (or, at least, what I think an acid trip must feel like). Thus, while I admired the novel and found it fascinating, I didn’t always enjoy it. There were no characters that I cared about and I never felt grounded in McDonald’s world because there was something new and bizarre around every corner. I love weird, but this was weird overload. Still, I’m glad I read Out on Blue Six and some of its language and images will stick with me forever.
I listened to the audio version produced by Audible Studios and read by Jeff Harding. I suspect that narrating this book was extremely difficult. The narrative voice is intrusive, frenzied, chaotic, repetitive, and full of neologisms and sound effects. There are plays, sportscasts, committee meetings, official letters from the government, and talking raccoons. Jeff Harding managed it all brilliantly. It is an impressive performance.
The dis/utopian nature of the society reads somewhat like an optimistic version of Brazil, or a function version of the Paranoia games. Avoiding pain is the highest priority of the computers that run the society, so people are told what is best for them with no ability to argue. A few vignettes in the novel focus on this, but a great deal more is focused on the edges of the society.
The one downside to this book is the treatment of the ensemble. My favorite character, a Yulp comic artist, who starts the book, seems to fade into the background as characters with stronger survival skills are introduced. Other than this small issue, the book is a truly fantastic piece of work. It's a shame that it's out of print, but it still is readily available and worth a read.
Fabulously entertaining both as story and as allegory!
We bounce from one tale to the next, following the goings ons of an introverted woman, to the escapades of an eclectic group of societal vagabonds who've thrown off the bonds of their society which provides for everything.
The world described is something a bit beyond Logan's Run territory. The city in which the tale takes place is something that's really out there, and the world in which it is placed (and I'll add protected from) is, literally, a titanic cesspool. All the while the remnants of Earth of eons ago are stashed in a colossal basement warehouse storage area.
The whole thing is one weird ride, and for a few times while riding the bus reading this thing I scratched my head as to what the heck I was really reading.
I'm a sci-fi kind of guy, and I love other world experiences, but this one, in spite of being situated here on Terra in another existence, is just a bit too existential for me. As such I had a hard time sticking with it.
But, nonetheless, it was entertaining for what it was (but only just).