nancylebov (nancylebov) wrote,

I might just reread Macroscope

This discussion is of some nastily sexist sf by Randall Garrett, and I was thinking, "but that's his minor stuff". What people actually liked was the Lord Darcy stories, which probably weren't good about women (I found the stories boring-- the only thing that stuck was something about using magic to iirc reconstruct cloth for magical purposes), but presumably had something interesting about them.

In general, I don't think authors' most prejudiced work becomes their most famous. It might just be the odds, but I suspect it's because prejudice is fundamentally less interesting than paying attention to the world. Prejudice is of great practical interest because of the damage it does, but artistically, unexamined prejudice is just rattling through a bunch of habits.

HPLovecraft might be an exception on this, but I'm not familiar enough with his work to give the individual stories prejudice ratings.

Anyway, Macroscope. It's a big (for its time-- 1968) ambitious novel by Piers Anthony. I read somewhere that he compared the sales figures for Macroscope and A Spell for Chameleon and gave up on ambitious novels.

I liked the book when I was a kid. My most recent rereading (10 years ago or so, maybe 20) left it looking kind of sickening because of the genius male character and his beautiful girlfriend who just isn't smart enough. (This is from memory and may not be accurate.) Even in the beginning when I read Cthon (his first novel), I was vaguely aware that there was something off in his stuff about women, but I don't think it's possible to convey to younger people just how vague that awareness was. I've had people flat out disbelieve me to my face when I talk about what I didn't notice. I don't think people realize how communal reading has become for people who follow book discussions on line, and how it didn't used to be like that.

Edited to add: I've reread a little farther, and Afra is quite intelligent. I'm wondering if I was completely wrong, or if I'm remembering something about her and Schon.

(In my forties, I was metaphorically grabbing people and shaking them and saying, "The world changes!". Eventually, I got bored with that, but really, the world changes, and I suspect that theoretical knowledge of the fact is very different from how it feels when things you thought were obvious and stable turn into something else.)

I've been meaning to reread it because there's a description of an information gift economy during an era when there's easy interstellar communication but not ftl (?) travel, and I want to see how it compared to the net. I'm not promising to reread the whole thing (the astrology symbolism section was kind of dull except for the descriptions of the constellations), or even to post about as much as I read, but let's see where this goes.

Just as a general point, the fact that I'm writing about this book and there are things I like about it doesn't mean I think someone who hasn't read it should read it. There are interesting things in it (I think Anthony's best point is his unending imagination) and annoying things in it, but it's not essential either for your enjoyment of life or understanding the history of the field.

I'm 42 pages in of 480 (small print, lines close together-- much longer than was typical at the time). We've been introduced to Ivo, the main character, who's multiracial (iirc, this is explained later as the result of a breeding experiment). I'll let more qualified people take on the handling of race in the novel if they feel like it.

It seems to me that the beginning of the story is heavily influenced by van Vogt-- there's a lot of hints of conspiracies and fears about what might be going on, not to mention the mysterious Schon, who can only be reached by Ivo.

There's a little about the relief of spending time with an old friend who's got the same high intelligence level and a similar sense of humor.

The main cool thing in the novel is the Macroscope, which can use subtle changes in gravitons to perceive details of what's going on at great distances. This may be one of the earliest examples in sf of using immense amounts of computation to pull signal out of noise. People don't have efficient methods of finding exoplanets-- so far as I know, that mostly didn't show up in sf until it happened in the real world. (Exceptions: Doc Smith (I think), and David Lindsay, who had it in a completely fantasy style).

One of the big fears is overpopulation, and I believe it continues as a theme.

The book has more poetry (mostly? entirely? by Sidney Lanier) than is typical in science fiction.

One of the nice bits is Ivo being shown images of alien landscapes, and a discussion of the subtle differences which can make a place look alien. In one case, there are double shadows, but (pause) they aren't from a double star, there's light from a reflective cliff.

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