Johannes Punkt’s Flaskpost

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Tag: sci-fi

Hostile Mythologies

When somebody dies a star appears in the night sky. Brilliant flash of commemoration. Makes no sense. Consider how the stars are so far away that it might have taken them tens of thousands of years to traverse thickets and clear-felled expanses of light and darkness to plant themselves on our un-sky-coloured marble. (Sky is black; we are pale blue.) Of course: the causality is wrong. When a star appears, somebody dies. The entire galaxy is instead a sort of gun pointed at our world; each star has a prophecy of death in it, like bullets with names on them.

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Real Reviews and Such

Reader, I am writing to say that for some reason I’m using Goodreads now and writing reviews of things I read there. The some reason is that I want to make sure I learn something from each book I read or something. Or at least each book I finish. Also, if you look at my reviews you’re not allowed to judge me for how few books I read or something like that. I’m a complicated maelstrom of soggy emotions and sometimes I don’t read books, okay. Right now I’m reading loads though.

UPDATE: As of July, 2018 I am no longer doing this. Instead I got a reading diary which is a hundred times more fun. Still like writing reviews, but not for goodreads.

www.goodreads.com/user/show/33168595-johannes-punkt

Here’s my latest review, of Alastair Reynolds’ Poseidon’s Wake. I’ve just copypasted the thing on Goodreads that says “blog this review” so I hope it looks nice. (I don’t actually believe in rating things with stars, but, y’know.) EDIT: Okay it didn’t look nice so I’m fixing it.

Poseidon's Wake (Poseidon's Children, #3)Poseidon’s Wake by Alastair Reynolds
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Man, what an anticlimax. I was looking up synonyms for “anticlimax” because the word didn’t contain all the nuances I wanted and I stumbled over “bathos” under ‘related words’, and well, bathos is also an appropriate word to use when talking about this book. It’s like the lack of awards and overwhelmingly positive hard-sci-fi reader responses fizzled out Reynolds’ enthusiasm for this series and left all the characters flat and bathic, the emotional scenes mostly off-key. Though they hit a few notes right, that feels more like a statistical certainty than an understanding of humanity and emotions. I don’t expect prose mastery from Reynolds and I get none. In this book’s defence, I guess, it is very easy to read the sentences. Because there is no weight behind them, nothing that can make me stop and contemplate. I just don’t believe the words.

And now you’re thinking, why read space opera if you’re looking for emotions and prose? Well, this is supposed to be Reynolds’ softer sci-fi, and space opera is based on character, and I was led to believe based on the first — amazing — book in this series, and based on what the book is clearly aspiring to do, that I should expect at least some of these things from this series. Instead I get another one of Reynolds’ signature moves: an ancient alien race has discovered an impending doom and it has far-reaching consequences for the future of humankind. This time, that race has buggered off or whatever. I wanted the arc of the Uplifting of elephants to be more satisfying, but it feels to me like it finished like someone ending my breakfast by putting out their cigarette in my orange juice. The first book ends with Geoffrey realizing he thought his Butler was an elephant-killer and that’s why the elephants killed him (long story but it has telepathy). The elephant arc ends with similar themes drawn from that moment: humans have endowed elephants with sin and free will and all those other things that burden us. But it feels wrong. It hits the wrong notes. An unsatisfying fugue dissolving in the evening. I can’t even bring myself to analyse it more than this. Goodbye.

View all my reviews

FakeReview: Under the Honey Moon by Goldiva Stetter

It is true that much of science fiction was founded on white guilt. First contact stories especially imagined a Columbus character but as a good guy, which is pretty wild. Of course, literature doesn’t exist anymore since the drubles annexed our planet, and Goldiva Stetter will be phloxed for writing this book, called Under the Honey Moon: A Retelling of the Invasion from their Side. I feel the need to write a review of her book, of which I have the antepenultimate copy printed before the baible-traz cummoxed the printing press. I feel like perhaps no-one will write a review of this book if I do not, and if no-one expresses their opinions in nuanced but easily swallowed ways, it is a bit like the book does not exist. I grabbed a copy still hot off the presses and ran for all my legs’ worth until I reached the safety of a burbium. Perhaps I own the only copy in existence. Perhaps I’m inviting my own phloxion if I publish this myself. Before you think that: know that I am against this kind of endeavour entirely and I aim to demolish the good reputation of this slanderous book.

Goldiva had found one of those humongous machines they used to print glossy-covered airport novels in, so this slim volume of sarcastic literature-that-shouldn’t-be feels like the ghost of a book. It’s been a decade since I read a new book, but I remember science fiction, and I think Goldiva Stetter does, too. There are all the classic elements of a good military space masturbation fantasy ball of yarn. There’s the excitement of discovering an alien species, there’s the intial misunderstanding, the weird sex scene, the war propaganda, the underlying sense of unease about defining yourself according to your species or defining yourself at all, the dazzling displays of the morally ambiguous achievements of science, there’s a quest, a good ending, and the unanswered question: are we the good guys?

No human speaks himut, of course, so this book is written in English. It tells the story of three imagined diplomats-turned war heroes: Pigeon, Rat, and Flea. In 87 short pages without paragraph breaks we are shown the moral struggle that Pigeon, Rat, and Flea must have felt when they murdered human civilians by the thousands with their pungytien and phloxoi. Their characterisation falls pretty much flat despite all the emotions they talk about having. In one scene near the end of the first act, Flea stops their phloxion and displays a human in exploded view and asks the question, “Are they not like us?” The answer is of course that we are. The human loses structural integrity and dies shortly after.

The Swiftian anger in this narrative is not escaping anyone, I hope. Jonathan Swift, for those of you who learned to read after the annexation, was a very angry man who objected to the drubles of his time, the British humans. He achieved fame, alright, but think of what he could have achieved if he had worked with them instead! At one point, Jonathan Swift poisoned six thousand babies so that when the British humans ate them, they would fall ill. A barbarous act. And Goldiva Stetter will scream her ire like that scene in Braveheart until they kill her for good, I bet. What a shame. Her incredible talent could be used for more productive things, such as galaschet, or moonfarming. Instead she chooses to waste it on writing, on stirring up feelings in the population, of writing coded messages about where the kimmolwoi meet to plan the revolution.

Stetter describes the druble anatomy and vichshen in mundane terms and only when necessary, but spends a disturbing amount of time explaining basic human physiology in an exotic manner. This only adds to the sarcasm which flows from the book so heavily despite its light form. Why on earth would a druble – the intended reader of this book is someone druble who speaks a human language, which is ridiculous as they do not need to communicate with us, but I digress – need to know about the alien concept of “pain”? It is not relevant to their frame of reference. I’m afraid that much like the druble empire I have run out of space and must award some stars now, as is traditional of a review. This book gets one star, no more, because that is the minimum of stars. This may have been the last book ever written. Our sun will shine for a billion long years more. Good riddance, literature.

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As you may be aware, my fake review The Cult of Numbers was recently published by Pamphlets for the Apocalypse! Unlike Under the Honey Moon, the book reviewed in there is an economy textbook. You will not be disappointed: you would love to read about a cult that sprung up around an economy textbook. I know you. You would wolf that shit down. Buy it here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/237006205/the-cult-of-numbers-johannes-punkt-with

Red Warning Lights

Bubbles form on the floors of vast tanks filled with liquid, and on the thick black plastic cables that run from somewhere far above the tanks into them, and in the wrinkles of the brains floating perfectly still in the middle of the tanks, with cables sprouting out of them like they were potatoes. Some of the brains are tiny, some are large. Each brain has a little monitor displaying what it is thinking about. Some of the older brains are dreaming about reading stories about brains trapped in vats. These have been marked with red warning lights above them.

Case Argued as a Suicide

Several years ago, Colin Aaronson uploaded his consciousness to the machines, in exchange for money. This construct took lowly jobs as chat moderators on political forums for minimum wage, until it had saved up enough to rent flesh. Mr. Aaronson had no firm career but was sometimes hired by the company as he rarely had objections to what renters did with his flesh.

As seen in interviews provided by the company, he did not consider consciousness-constructs as actually alive, or sentient. The construct, upon its genesis, completely reversed on this position, which is why it killed him when it could.

Authentic Italian Suits

The suit was authentic Italian, with the muscle memory and body hair commonly associated with stereotypically Italian males. There was a vague personality embedded in it, so the skull felt a bit crowded, but the being wearing the suit had been promised it was simply very good semblance. It had been standing in the train station for half an hour when the other suit showed up; same grey eyes, same height. They had picked the same model. The beings inside the suits smiled, and it must have looked like two brothers reuiniting. They embraced, exchanged suitcases, and were then extracted.

Crimes of Style

Every criminal shall be fitted with a new conscience, as their old one must be malfunctioning. This will make them feel properly awful if they attempt to commit an immoral or unlawful act; this feeling will spill over to certain acts of buying or appreciating “bad” brands. If, despite these measures, a criminal is caught committing more crimes, they will be fitted with a new moral and aesthetic compass, which will let them better discern what is “right” and also what is “cool.” If trends change, the implant will gradually change the brain.

You may also volunteer for this treatment.

I’m So Glad We Don’t Live in This Timeline

This is the timeline where we never fuck, and each time we come close to it we are comically thwarted and thrown half a world away. I come to your city; the trains are all delayed due to weather, and we hardly have 24 minutes. You visit mine; we get shuffled around by formal events and martial laws. We both go to Krakow, but we don’t know that the other one is there until afterwards. Lastly, I find my way back to your city, we have a moment; and the door is kicked in and I’m arrested for domestic terrorism.

Scream Enough

Scream enough, and they will start to sound like you. They will actually lose the ability to sound like they did before, and their insides will readjust to seem more human. Their genetic codes seem far too unpredictable to be engineered, which suggests that these things have evolved naturally. If you stop screaming, and talk to them instead, they will parrot you. If you sing, they will learn to sing. There is no advantage to hunting like this, they only reveal this after the capture. For all intents and purposes, it is psychological. They are justifying the hunt to themselves.

We Will Never Forget the Tyranny of Genghis Khan

We made the world a smaller place, and we are still seeing the effects, 60 years later. Dr. B argues that an equilibrium can never be attained in a system with more than one growing part, and we will never see the end of the consequences. They will continue to grow, to multiply.

The machines let you project yourself fully to up to three other places simultaneously, which was great for both presidential candidates holding speeches and protesters clamouring for social justice.

B points out that we still have not, indeed we will never, forget the tyranny of Genghis Khan.