Cower not, fierce reader! This fine day we have an interesting story. Make that two. Or three. Mr. Paolinelli could easily have made three books out of what he somehow fit into one, and cleanly at that. He came onto my radar thanks to my friend, author Declan Finn, and I found an offer of Mr. Paolinelli's for copies for review. I did take him up on this, and now he shall face the consequences!
First, the fact that Mr. Paolinelli assumes his reader is intelligent, and doesn't need much in the way of assistance understanding what is happening, even when he shifts perspective, or presents somewhat more abstract ideas, and the reader is allowed to mistake what is going on, occasionally. Readers should clearly be spoonfed the SocJus version of every idea, especially when it doesn't follow logic.
Next, our author also assumes that people from different times are not less than those we have in the current year. One might even argue that there are clear examples where those that came before are better than the people now. Granting any honor to the past, that is simply in bad taste.
Our characters, while mostly not religious themselves, do not disparage religion, or think it for the stupid. They do seem to find it inadequate, and I'm not sure I blame them, given their setting. But they are literate in the stories and at the least acquainted with the theology of faiths, even if they do not hold it. Again, far past what is acceptable to SocJus.
Oh, and we have a definite apparent belief in traditional gender roles. Not that it is persistent, but there is a serious encouragement for traditional relationships here, and intentionally so. There's also a great difference in the strengths of men and women portrayed here, though again, it is done so more subtly. Womyn, portrayed as less strong than men in any way, shape, or form? Unheard of!
I'm going to discuss one of the philosophical/theological issues the book addresses in a limited fashion below the tagline, for those that don't want any spoilers. This book is a most welcome addition to my library. 8 of 10 fell deeds.
When you play Social Justice, the world loses.
Alright, onto the discussion.
One issue the book brings up is the idea of the perfectibility of man. Most SF of the religion hating variety will, by default, assume that man is improving, and that he is perfectible. That is, that a perfect society of upright and moral people is an achievable goal.
This idea, to the idea of "progress", makes some sense. However, both simply observation of man, and application of the laws of physics dispute this wholeheartedly. The observation of man part is simple, we need only look to our crime headlines, and not only are they not appearing less, but they are getting more outlandish and horrific, with things such as Christmas markets being driven into, anc children being blowtorched to death.
I can already anticipate somebody thinking, "Sure, I'll grant you some measure of observation, but hasn't crime been going down? And what on Earth do you mean by physics applying to a philosophical/metaphysical issue?" Until recently in the USA, the crime rates were indeed going down, and in some places, they still are. Others, they've skyrocketed within the last 2 years. Chicago recently made headlines for going 6 days without a homicide.
As to the application of physics, I mean this within two aspects of the laws of thermodynamics: momentum and entropy. I use these terms because they do apply to the moral life of man. It is far easier for a good man to do good acts than for a bad man. Conversely, it goes against the fibre of a good man to do evil. The opposites apply to bad men. As to entropy, it also takes effort to do/be good. It requires an active knowledge and thought about actions and the implications of what one does, and why one does them. Without such, one experiences moral decay.
That is not to say a good man becomes evil. However, the good is no longer as strong or apparent. It is akin to the shine on a polished piece of metal, or a fine edge on a blade. It holds its image for quite awhile, and thus a measure of its usefulness. But the blade no longer cuts as well. The metal doesn't reflect like it used to. The man is lazy in his moral life. It must be maintained.
Now, within this book, Mr. Paolinelli does not assume quite that man is perfectible. In fact, he seems to avoid that conclusion. But, he does then present a near utopian final section, and this goes against that idea. The abolition of crime, hunger, want, and "all of the other dark things" of man is accomplished here, and I don't buy that turnaround in human nature. Honestly, this is the one part that hurt it the most, in my opinion. Utopianism requires that man not be flawed, and even the men in the book were not fixed of their moral failings, only genetically enhanced.
There are some other discussion points, that could be addressed regarding Utopian systems, ideas, and enforcement, but I'll leave off on those, as I felt the perfectibility of man being the important topic. No, I'm not going into it from a theological standpoint; I don't have that much research time, and books have been written about it, including Utopian, the Perennial Heresy by Frank Sheed.
When you play Social Justice, the world loses.