Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Everybody Loves Charles, by Bao Shu (translated by Ken Liu)

Read this issue
(SF) Charles Mann leads a wild, exciting life, which he shares with millions who join his "live-link." (20,705 words; Time: 1h:09m)

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆, Needs Improvement
Recommended By: SFRevu:5 RHorton:5

"," by (translated by Ken Liu), appeared in Clarkesworld issue 112, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: The overall concept of the story is quite interesting. The makers of the live-link technology have ulterior motives: they want to precipitate the singularity. Charles and his girlfriend eventually figure it all out, but they end up dying.

Con: The writing is awful. About half the text is info dumps, many of the "as you know Bob" type. Even feelings are narrated. The dialogue consistently feels unnatural. And there are countless point-of-view errors.

Beyond that, the behavior of the characters is not believable. Lisa has no need to confront Charles, no need to tell him all the details, and no real need to try to compel him to do anything. There's no good reason offered as to why they can't just let him go. But when they threaten to use the links to kill people, there's no reason for him to believe that either. It's also hard to believe he couldn't find a doctor somewhere to remove the thing.

The science is bad. Using light sails at Pluto is absurd. Using neutrinos to broadcast information is way beyond anything that's possible today. Removing weight from a spaceship does not cause it to speed up. A fusion rocket would not be something you could use in downtown Tokyo.

Other Reviews: Search Web, Browse Review Sites

4 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Well, I didn't dislike it this much, but it certainly had some major issues. I thought the subplot about his fan was well-played, even though it was fairly obvious. The element of satirising "reality" media was interesting. But yes, too much exposition etc.

  2. I disagree strongly, this was a fun classic hard sf novella. I don't find exposition and info dumps to be the unalloyed evil that seems to be the common wisdom nowadays. A story with exposition can be good or bad depending upon how it's done. (Likewise, a story that's near incoherent because it doesn't clue you in at all - well, that can be done well or done badly, likewise). In this story it didn't bother me, in fact, I hardly noticed it. The story had lots of interesting themes, and as a follow up from last year's "Preserve Her Memory" I think this is an author to watch.

  3. Some people aren't as sensitive to elementary writing errors, but for most folks, a good story can't make up for poor writing. It is rare to find something this bad in a professional publication; slushpile readers usually discard them after just two or three paragraphs.

    "Preserve Her Memory" was another story that I found actually painful to read. I would say the author has good ideas but couldn't write his way out of a paper bag. But different people have different opinions. I'm told that even the "Hunger Tower" won awards in China.

  4. I felt like there were a least a couple earlier points where the story could have ended better. Unfortunately, it kept going, making less sense, and came to a horrible ending. The characters were pretty cartoonish. As you said, why would Lisa reveal everything and then how could she possibly expect his livecasts to go on with their former success? As for the sub-plot, I found Minami's interest in the hermit with no life pretty unbelievable.