The first part of this review appeared on Monday.
“I wonder where he is going and Tia tells me instantly, reading the destination from his social profile. I close my eyes, thinking of my old life in which little social mysteries were nurtured like fragile seedlings, safe from the trampling of overzealous APAs.”
- Emma Newman, After Atlas (p. 46)
Over the last few years, the term “big data” has become one of the most used (and overused) phrases on the internet. A Google search for “problems with big data” throws up more than a million hits, a heady proliferation of articles listing, numbering, serializing, and chronicling the ways in which “big data” may change the world for the worse (the New York Times, the BBC, and the American Civil Liberties Union jostle for space on the first page alone).
Space was full of questions, life was a sentence always ending in an ellipsis or a question mark. You couldn’t answer everything. You could only believe there were answers at all.
—Lavie Tidhar, Central Station, p. 102
In an article published earlier this summer, the American historian and literary critic Jill Lepore labeled contemporary dystopian writing as “our new literature of radical pessimism.” “Dystopia used to be a fiction of resistance,” she observed, “[but now] it’s become a fiction of submission … it cannot imagine a better future, and it doesn’t ask anyone to bother to make one … Its only admonition is: Despair more.
“Everyone,” he says, relighting his cigar, “talks about . . . lessons of history when what they really mean are”—he seems to ponder the cigar a moment—“auditions of history. History always auditioning for one last performance that’s never delivered because it’s always rewritten. To, uh, talk of the “lessons” of history suggests . . . models that can be applied to other instances, when no moment really is enough like another that any model applies, without turning the model into something that’s so much something else as to make it, well, not obsolete, but not all that relevant either.”
The scene is 1968, in a party at Andy Warhol’s Factory.
Some key panels, like the one where we see Johnson’s deity Noir for the first time, stories-in-flasks sprouting off her like limbs, resemble the silent comics of the 1930s woodcut era (present day for the book’s internal chronology); white lines emerging from a jet black background, as if etched out with a chisel, à la Lynd Ward.
But the most interesting, most exhilarating, part of this whole adventure is the fact that it’s serious, that it’s real—that this feeling of uncovering something strange and important about the world applies to magic just as much as it applies to being an adult.
Like elements of it though I do, there's something about the current House Style and its pervasive sepia-tinted nostalgia that permits or even encourages the envisioning of a past without its historically present multiculturalism.
The differences between Steeplejack and its prequel, Chains are striking, because they attest to how much fiction (ostensibly) for adults and fiction (ostensibly) for teens can diverge in matters of thematic depth and structural nuance.
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