Ilium by Dan Simmons
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Alas, only two titles. I've started 6 or 7 books but I cannot make myself read right now. The world of film is far too compelling. I've seen more movies than ever, but that's certainly minimized how much I read.
Both of these were re-reads. I read Jurassic Park for the first and only time way back in 1994-1995. It took me months to read it as I was nine years old. Re-reading as an adult, trying my best to imagine myself reading it without the existence of the film, I was struck by how I much I had forgotten about the addicting properties of Crichton. I cannot overstate how much of an impact Crichton has had on me in terms of science, fiction, and science fiction. Jurassic Park is an interesting beast: awkward structure (3 different prologues? why?), an odd lack of affective attachment among the cast (they seem really calm considering the death toll), and a really lacklustre climax.
However, the didactic sequences are quite compelling, even if they're clumsily integrated into the narrative. Malcolm's tirades against the scientific discipline are more relevant than ever. What I found especially political prescient was Hammond's libertarian proto-Elon Musk tendencies were the source of conflict. Compare this with Neal Stepheson's recent libertarian masturbation fantasy Seveneves. Hammond gives a speech about how the government is always ruining his opportunities to acquire cash. I wonder if Crichton is going for an Ayn Rand John Galt parody here. It doesn't matter if it's intentional -- it works.
The novel also really works as a jeremiad against unchecked scientific progress. Yes, this is obvious thing to say, but I think it's worth mentioning that no matter how clumsy Crichton was at exposition and thematic signposting, his sheer enthusiasm and breathless authorial voice managed to work.
Ilium I read back before I knew Dan Simmons was an Islamophobe and a well known conservative. I'm not sure how I missed that reading this. There are a couple moments when Simmons' author stand-in (his Mary Sue, if you will) makes references to how politically correct things are and how that sucks -- in other words, a conservative dog whistle that means nothing. Speaking of Mary Sues, did I mention that Simmons has his stand-in fuck Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman ever? And he's apparently terrific at satisfying her needs? Ridiculous. I felt like the pages were sticky with Simmons' own self-ministrations.
The first time I read Ilium, I was bored to tears by the post-human sections of the tripartite narrative. This time, I was bored to tears by the Iliad sections. The post-human stuff and the robot stuff was so much more satisfying, especially with the introduction of Prospero and Caliban. No, the Proust stuff did not get any better; it might be even more awkward than ever. The Iliad sections just feel so staid, so safe. It doesn't help that Simmons did plenty of research and wants you to know that. And he will say and do everything to remind you that he did research. It's not very well integrated.
As a whole, Ilium was better than I remember, but only slightly. I still like it. It's just insane enough that I can't help myself.