The Fixed Stars: 37 Emblems of the Perilous Season, by Brian Conn Rothdas book review RSS
3.0 Stars

Another weirdo book, consisting of 36 short stories. In this case the setting is a sort of post-Oryx and Crake world where our civilization has been destroyed and replaced with the seeds of something different, possibly better. The new humans are vegetarians, eschew material goods and buildings and shoes, rely on bio-tech and spores and insects as their primary tools, and in general have an undecided, allusive, open, a-hierarchial, egoless, and extremely community driven approach to the world. They're also prone to literary flights of fancy, incomplete or ambiguous descriptions, and are preyed upon by mutated wasteland monsters that resemble human beings to various degrees. All of this though is really just the start of the oddness of the book. There is also a great deal of structural experimentation. The stories are mostly disconnected from each other but twist and twine about with similar settings and ideas. An early story involves a helical structure in the ground, who's nearly identical branches curve along next to each other without ever quite touching. That seems a decent metaphor for the structure of the novel, as the stories and characters seem like they might be connected but aren't quite. And still, this is just one more part of the oddness. Stories cut off mid-way, ending at about the 70% mark of a normal story. Narrators may or may not be monsters pretending to be human. Chains of narrators may or may not be monsters pretending to he human. There are skewed interpretations of advertising copy, there are skewed re-creations of plays and stories. In general, people speak in a similar way to the translations of freshly discovered tribes, in winding and discursive and repetitive patterns where it is clear that what is written down is really only a partial translation of the true weirdness of how they view the world.

So, that gives you at least an idea of what is going on. As literary work that you read for enjoyment, the book just barely works. The author is missing the usual hooks of plot and character, and instead simply tells a series of disconnected and highly experimental stories that frequently cut off before reaching resolution. So this isn't a book that drives you to read it all in one day; for the most part it seems indifferent as to whether you even read the next page or not. Despite the self-indulgent nature of the novel, I can't quite condemn it because the author really is quite good. It takes a great deal of skill to make the communities seem so alien and yet so grounded. His descriptions are often striking, lyrical, and beautiful, and it takes real intelligence to create something so consistently unsettling and skewed without seeming random or wacky or twee. His tremendous talent at writing saves this book, and elevates it from being an unreadable morass. Instead it is just a very slow reading and scenic morass, but not the complete disaster it would have been in hands of someone less skilled.