Friday, May 27, 2022

Dystopian Fiction

It hides in plain sight, this particular genre.  The Candy House is serious fiction, a family history, and a story of computing run amok.  Jennifer Egan doesn't go out of her way to remind you of this; she's a more subtle writer than that. But just when you're rolling along with the details of the plot, the overarching nemesis reappears.

The computers are watching, and there's really nothing we can do about it.

I started what I thought would be a quick read, and found myself, once again, in computer dysphoria.  Happy For You led me to believe that it was a story about being the other, a theme that has run through many of the novels I've picked up recently.  

We Are Not Like Them  and Hell of a Book explore otherness deeply, beautifully, and terrifyingly.  If An Egyptian Cannot Speak English reduces the concept to bare bones, leaving the reader with no answers, and lots of confusion.  The concept is intriguing, and I've been noodling it around in my brain for quite a while (being housebound leads to prolonged periods of deep thought - followed by ice cream).   

Happy For you brought me right back to the reach of the World Wide Web, its intrusive data collection, its inability to shield those who want to remain anonymous, it's insistence of mining the depths of what makes a human a human.

And sitting on the comfy chair in the afternoon sunlight, I realized that I had had my own encounter with a sentient computer, right here in my library.  I posted about it.  Linda and Olga commented about it.  It's become dishearteningly real.

We have given the machines too much power.  They decide when they need to update (always when you just need to quickly print something out).  The decide how to store your data.  They track your habits and communicate between themselves so that what you do on your desktop becomes fodder for your phone.  

I'm debating whether to keep reading this book.  

I might switch it out for a plain old double murder in the English countryside.  That would be more soothing.

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