Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Cataline Critique: Corrosion (The Corroding Empire Book I) by Johan Kalsi

This book is quite unusual in that it is a work that can not be judged simply on it's own merit.

This one comes with it's own backstory which involve two and half other books.

The biggest shadow being cast is that of Foundation by Isaac Asimov.  Published in 1951, Foundation is the main reason that Asimov is viewed as one of the Big Three authors in science Fiction.  Asimov created something more than a story with this book. Even more than a generations long saga.  He created an entire genre.  A quick recap is actually required before I can continue.

But first, a detour!  In 1941 L. Sprague de Camp published his own classic, Lest Darkness Fall.  Wherein a man from the present ends up in the past and saves the Western Roman Empire from collapse and thus averts "The Dark Ages."  A classic in the field that has been lost in the mists of Appendix N.

Inspired, Asimov took the concept in a much bigger direction, when he created the galaxy spanning Galactic Empire centered on Trantor.  There, Hari Seldon has invented a new science; Psychohistory. which can accurately predict the future.  And it is a very dim future indeed.  Like Rome before it the Galactic Empire will collapse very shortly, there will follow a 10,000 year period of barbaric Dark Ages before a new polity arises to replace it.

However Hari Seldon has a plan.  With the use of psychohistory and the creation of two foundations, he will be able to avert the worst of the fall.  The Empire will collapse, that can't be stopped but with the Seldon Plan, humanity can have a new galactic civilization up and running in less than a thousand years.

As I said, it's a big canvas.  The book frequently changes characters as the centuries roll by and the Foundation is repeatedly rocked by a series  of "Seldon Crises".  Turning Points modeled after various events from the collapse of the Roman Empire.  After each one, Hari Seldon's hologram appears, explains what has happened and that he saw it coming so it was nothing to worry about.

And then came something Seldon hadn't predicted.  But I don't need to recap further.

The other book that inspired the Corroding Empire by Johan Kalsi, is The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi.  One of these books is a tribute band that knows it's a tribute band.  The other doesn't have a clue that it can't rock like the original.

This is an excerpt from Scalzi's Collapsing Empire.  The already infamous:

Chapter Two

Kiva Lagos was busily fucking the brains out of the assistant purser she’d been after for the last six weeks of the Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby’s trip from Lankaran to End when Second Officer Waylov Brennir entered her stateroom, unannounced. “You’re needed,” he said.

Editors are supposed to stop stuff like this from happening. And credit where it's due, PNH is a half way decent editor. This means one of two things. Either there was so much garbage that it was just too much work to throw all of it out or (and this is so much worse) Scalzi actually fought to keep this scene in.

This Kiva Lagos is supposed to be one of Scalzi's favorite creations of all time.   And she is clearly by any measure a truly horrible little person. 

“I’m a little busy at the moment,” Kiva said. She’d just finally gotten herself into a groove, so fuck Waylov (not literally, he was awful)
(*Were you behind on your word count when you wrote this John?*) if she was going to get out of the groove just because he walked into it. Grooves were hard to come by. (*Yep, behind on his word count*) People have sex, and he was unannounced. If this was what he walked into, it was his fault, not hers. (*Waaay behind.  This is three in the morning crap that most writers would be hideously embarrassed about having written the next day.*)  The assistant purser seemed a little concerned, but Kiva applied a little pressure to make it clear festivities were to continue.
Seventy percent of the current bricks and mortar bookstore market is female.  Scalzi like any traditionally published author is aware of this and tries to write stuff that will appeal to that segment of market.   Which means he honestly thought women would like this.

For a typical woman this is a, put down the book and walk away, "Dude, I can't even," moment.  This paragraph is deeply and profoundly unaware of what women want from sex .  

Now weird ideas (fantasies really) about sex are one of the unfortunate hallmarks of science fiction. But this paragraph speaks to a view point of a straight man who  sexually idealizes himself as a woman.   Except normal women don't have sex like this and they never will.

I'm not joking about this fetish either.  This whole passage is about projection. Women do not pursue men for six weeks.  They just don't. For that matter most normal men can't be bothered after getting shot down a time or two.  They just move on after that.  But Gamma  and Omega Males will stalk one woman for months.  

The fact that this Kiva Lagos is rich and can ruin this lowly assistant purser with a word, seems to be give Scalzi the giggles.   If the sexes had been reversed Scalzi would have been the first one to scream, rape!

“It’s important.”

“Trust me, so is this.”

This is typical of Scalzi's attempts at locker room banter. As you can tell it is a passing strange and unnatural thing for him. 

Okay, I admit it's been a while since I read Asimov but I don't recall reading anything like this.  Yet when he decided to rip-off Foundation this is the what came up with.

On the basis of sample chapters such as this Castalia House decided that (a) it would be fun to do their own pastiche Foundation and (b) they wouldn't have to work to hard to come up something better.

And Corrosion is clearly a very deliberate pastiche.  One that was done with affection and respect for one of the great classics of the genre.

There are naturally several points of divergence with the original.work  Asimov's super science of 1951 envisioned a future where a computer with the power of a modern smartphone would be housed in something the size of Empire State Building and fission powered rockets launched cleanly into the atmosphere.  In short Asimov's vision of the far future was out of date thirty years ago.

Also instead of Psychohistory and a Seldon Plan we are presented with something all of us are already all too familiar with "corrupted data."

The saga begins on Continox a planet that serves as a surrogate for  Trantor, where software and nanotechnology have found their way into every thing from hair ties to neurological medicine.  As dependent as we have become on technology, core kernal integrity is literally a matter of life and death to them. 

The premise of The Corroding Empire is that in this far galaxy spanning future computer code has been written by other computers for so long that no one is entirely certain how core code works anymore.  According to the editor, "computers are as bad at maintaining documentation as humans" . (*Makes sense to me*) When Algorithmic Decay sets in the Universal Year 0, it is barely noticed.  Sort of like a life long smoker who one day has worse than usual morning cough but doesn't think anything of it.

Twenty years along and an AI named Servo (no he doesn't have a friend named Crow) discovers the problem.  And tries to bring it to the attention of humans.  In a nod to Foundation's trial of Hari Seldon, he gets in trouble for it.  The human Cassandra, Jaggis finds himself in even hotter water over this in the Universal Year 36.

The Universal Years are another nice Asimovian touch.  The chapter headers in this book recall Foundation's Foundation Era years as well as entries from Infogalactic standing in for the Encyclopedia Galactica.   It also helped you keep track of the progress of the narrative.

Servo himself was a pleasant Asmovian throwback as well.  In this case to R Daneel Olivaw, who Asimov, (unwisely in my view), retconned into the Foundation mythos in Prelude to Foundation.

There is no over riding plot to this book.  Instead Corroding Empire is a collection of vignettes recounting Servo's centuries long battle to save civilization and humanity.  Each chapter being a self contained story.  In some ways Corroding Empire reads so much like an anthology that I managed to convince myself that John C. Wright must have written Chapter 12. I contacted Vox Day about this who assured me that the book was written only by Johan Kalsi (or whatever his real name is) and that it was not an anthology. 

It is as I said a tribute band that knows it's a tribute band.  But this is also pretty good stuff in it's own right.   It's real science fiction with actual science and everything.  But it also meets modern standards for story and character development. The stories run the gamut of man versus society, to man versus nature and then man vs man.   The characters do flit on and off the stage but none the less they are decently developed.  They are not caricatures. 

With the release of Corroding Empire, Castalia House continues it's commitment to good old fashioned nuts and bolts Campbellian science fiction.

This is a good science fiction book in it's own right and I highly recommend it.

1 comment:

LBD said...

I adore you but you HAVE to learn the difference between its and it's. It's crazymaking to read extended prose unedited until you do. Really, really.