Book: Terminal Café - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Book: Terminal Café
Sunday, 12 August 2007 at 07:50 pm
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Author: Ian McDonald

Details: (c) 1994 Ian McDonald; Pub Bantam Spectra 1994; ISBN 0-553-37416-8

Verdict: Terminal café feels like the reason cyberpunk was invented.

Reasons for reading it: I was struggling with Röde Orm and decided I needed a break from archaic Swedish. I have to say that the futurespeak of Terminal Café is not all that much more accessible.

How it came into my hands: Present from the ever-wonderful rysmiel

Terminal Café is not the sort of book I actively seek out; it's a near future thriller with a huge emphasis on technology and a lot of violence. As it is, I'm particularly glad this came with rysmiel's recommendation because otherwise I might have been put off by the packaging combined with the density of made up words for future tech in the first couple of pages. Actually, despite all the jargon, the prose is really beautiful. Anyone who thinks that SF is all mediocre writing should try a few paragraphs of TC. OK, it's not exactly an entry-level book, but it is also absolutely unashamed SF that couldn't possibly be anything else. It's so lovely that I wanted to read it slowly and savour the language, but it's also so exciting that I couldn't bear to slow down as much as that level of prose deserves.

TC is just about the best version of the End Times that I have ever read. It has just the right balance between the end of the world, portrayed on a truly global scale, with the individual characters who are developed even though the action takes place in a single day, and their very human scale reactions. It is alluding to the Christian mythos, but only alluding, it never gets heavy-handed about retelling the Christian story; it's mainly a geek eschaton, not a Christian one.

The setup is of five friends who are supposed to meet for an annual rendez-vous, but are prevented from convening, both by personal problems and the end of the world happening around them. The jumping between different storylines is a technique that very often annoys me; I generally say, well, Tolkien can do it, but it doesn't mean anyone else should. Apparently, McDonald can get away with it too. It helps that the characters are absolutely solid; I really cared about all of them, and there was no storyline I was impatient to get through so I could get back to the more interesting thread. I particularly liked YoYo Mok, but every character is well drawn, including the incidental ones. The other aspect where TC is really successful is in presenting the history of how we get from now to the imagined future (imagined in a pleasing amount of detail, too), and how that future comes to a crisis point, without ever interrupting the exciting story for infodump.

I don't like putting spurious comparisons in reviews, but McDonald could keep company with Charlie Stross in terms of effervescing with ideas and playing with tech and the ways it affects society, but at the same time has a control of language like the best literary writers, García Márquez comes to mind. I've appreciated his prose before but found some of his books a little difficult to get into, Desolation Road particularly. I wouldn't have expected to like Terminal Café so much better, but in spite of the subject matter I adored it almost without reservation.

The problems I have with it are almost too minor to be worth mentioning: the ending feels a little rushed and perhaps too neat. I suppose that's unavoidable when the book is structured around the beginning of what is effectively the Kingdom of Heaven, but still. Oh, and I got really fed up with the constant repetition of the phrase the dawn's early light. It was funny the first time, it was groan-worthy the second time, but by the fifteenth time it was purely irritating.

Anyway. That was quite an experience!


Whereaboooots: Saint John necroville
Moooood: impressedimpressed
Tuuuuune: Android Lust: Unbeliever
Discussion: 7 contributions | Contribute something
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rysmiel: someone to watch over you
From:rysmiel
Date:August 12th, 2007 07:42 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 03:42 pm (rysmiel's time)
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Yes ! So glad you liked this one.

I really must read it again soon. The way that story is the sum of non-intersecting parts is really lovely, and it's a book that's really influential on me. Characters, world, ideas and their influence, all of it is just perfect. And he uses some really gorgeous Aristotelian elemental imagery to hold it together all the way through in ways that are perfectly transparent and yet in there everywhere they need to be. It's just amazing.
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livredor: livre d'or
From:livredor
Date:August 13th, 2007 06:51 am (UTC)
12 hours after journal entry, 06:51 am (livredor's time)
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Thankyou thankyou thankyou! Such an impressive book, it's making my head spin. There's so much in it too; I hadn't really thought about Aristotelian elemental stuff, do you want to explain that idea to me, maybe by email or rot-13? *bounce*
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:August 13th, 2007 07:46 am (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry, 07:46 am (lethargic_man's time)
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FWIW, I failed to spot the elemental imagery too, but then I normally do.
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livredor: portrait
From:livredor
Date:August 13th, 2007 07:01 am (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry, 07:01 am (livredor's time)

icon question

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I've asked you this before, but I think you didn't see the comment: can you tell me what you mean by that "alone and distant" icon? It has really bad emotional resonances for me, to the extent that every time you comment with it I am reminded of hateful geography and fatal loneliness. I think it would help if I knew what you were intending to convey; I assume it's not your plan to make me feel lonely and miserable, because that doesn't fit the context of how you use the icon, apart from anything else.

(I'm not asking you to apologize, by the way, this is a problem with me, not a criticism of you for using the icon. I just want to know.)
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rysmiel: nobody's human
From:rysmiel
Date:August 13th, 2007 01:23 pm (UTC)
19 hours after journal entry, 09:23 am (rysmiel's time)

Re: icon question

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It's in that direction, but not meant to come across as near that severe; just one for when I'm missing people, really. I can avoid using it around you if it bothers you.
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:August 12th, 2007 08:48 pm (UTC)
2 hours after journal entry, 08:48 pm (lethargic_man's time)
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I liked this (assuming it's the same book I read under the title Necroville).
The Second Thing we get with nanotech, Disney's PR department had crowed on the heels of Watson's Postulate on the nature of the First Thing, is dinosaurs.

SEE the mighty diplodocus and brachiosaurus!

GASP as real pterosaurs swoop overhead!

WONDER at the incredible stegosaurus, the amazing anatosaurus, the astonishing ankylosaurus!

QUAKE WITH TERROR at the sound of the footsterp of the terrible tyrannosaurus, the most fearsome predator ever to walk the earth! (All major currency cards accepted.)

The reality had been somewhat different.

WATCH a triceratops tear up your garden from the comfort of your own living room.

FLEE IN FEAR as an iguanadon smashes through your house at two o'clock in the morning.

CRASH AND BURN as twelve tons of anatosaurus comes lumbering up onto the Sherman Oaks feeder at peak time and piles them up twenty back along each lane.

The Peruvian Special Economic Zone Court that heard the compensation case maintained the Walt Disney Corporada's legal responsibility to provide a safe and secure product by ensuring against the very kind of tector misreplication and program mutation that had enabled their creations to exist independently of their controlled environments and reduplicate themselves. The accumulated costs and settlements to claimants, who numbered into the thousands, fatally harpooned Disney Co. Tinkerbell folded her wings and died. Nobody believed in fairies any more. New wings beat in the air about the hulk of Disneyland and roosted on the GRP ledges and arrêtes of the mock-Matterhorn.
And if that doesn't make anyone who hasn't read it want to go out and read it, I don't know what will.
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livredor: livre d'or
From:livredor
Date:August 13th, 2007 07:10 am (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry, 07:10 am (livredor's time)
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:-) Thanks for your comments on the phone, too. There are a lot of very quotable passages; I was considering posting some of them. But this is a pretty good one because it captures the humour, the futuristic sensawunda stuff, and the prose pyrotechnics.
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