Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pirates of the Universe - Terry Bisson

1996; 285 pages. Genre : Post-apocalyptic sci-fi. Awards : A New York Times 1996 Notable Book of the Year. Overall Rating : C+.
In an energy-depleted world, the Ranger "Gun" hopes to make one more space-harvest and earn admission into the fantasy-park retirement-community owned by Disney-Windows called "Pirates of the Universe". Unfortunately, his bank account's been frozen; his e-mail is blocked; his brother's a runaway convict; and his family's being forced out of their home. Plus someone wants him to join a revolution, although Gun's not sure exactly who, and what it is revolting against.
What's To Like...
It's set in a post-apocalyptic world; it has dimension-travel (one of my favorite pastimes); and Gunther's spaceship is the U.S.S. Penn State, named after one of my alma maters. Kewlness.
A subtle humor permeates the book. For instance, the pricey virtual pleasure girl (who is accessed via a potent opiate) is copy-protected. So you can cyber-enjoy her company, but you aren't allowed to retain her image in your memory.
You run into a host of new terms here - Peteys, Gens, Doggits, The Tangle, the Overworld, Softies, Rangers, Sierras, Fundamentals, the Protocols, The Three, Disney-Windows, et al. Bisson's style here "assumes" you are already familiar with these. Some, like D-W, are easy to deduce. Others...
What's Not To Like...
PotU is a slow-read. You spend a lot of time trying to figure out all those new terms. I'm still not sure what a gen is. Neither is Gun.
The bigger weakness is the storyline itself. It's kinda like the movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The book keeps plodding along, right up until the very end. Then the "this changes everything" moment occurs, and... and... and then the book (or movie, in the case of CEot3K) ends. What a letdown. Some of us like to read/see the other side of "this changes everything".
This was the NYT's 1996 Notable Book of the Year??
Terry Bisson is the author who finished Walter Miller's sequel ("midquel", actually) to A Canticle for Liebowitz, when WM had the misfortune to pass away after spending several decades getting the midquel about 95% done. I still haven't found that one, and PotU was the only Bisson work the used bookstore had.
According to Wikipedia, Bisson mostly does short stories. He's won a Hugo and a Nebula Award. He's only written a couple full-length novels, one of which is PotU. Frankly, this would've been better done as a short story. The 225-page build-up - while amusing, well-written, witty, and oozing with satire - could've been distilled down to 50 pages, followed by a 50-page boffo climax.
Still, it is reasonably well-done, with lots of things to chuckle at and to puzzle out. And, like A Canticle for Liebowitz, PotU is done in a very unique style. That makes it a worthwhile read for Sci-Fi fans and people interested in unusual literary techniques. For everyone else, this might be an "optional" read.
Pirates of the Universe
By: Terry Bisson
Amazon Price: $12.95


Amanda said...

I think it would have been better had Captain Jack Sparrow shown up.

Christina said...

Jack Sparrow would have been a good twist.

For some reason I thought of the 80s movie, Ice Pirates, when I read the title. Sounds like it should've been a short story. Maybe if it was a short story, it would've been. There's very little to excuse a deux ex machina in a novel when things should be plotted out.

Anonymous said...

Jack Spaarow would've kicked butt in this book. the protagonist, Gunther, is very "average". he's not overly strong, intelligent, witty (except when he's in la-la land, and that's just the opiate), or handsome. and nobody else is either. Zaphod Beeblebrox would've kicked butt too.