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The Bitter Guide to Science Fiction

The official, Millenial, Party-licious Wes Smiderle Bitter Guide (with a sprinkling of Buffy and little chocolate toppings)

Justin Mohareb
April 4, 2001

So, there I was. The Bitter Guy, sitting atop my throne, surveying the lands upon which I've made my mark, and thanking God that I've never managed to piss off as many people as Hilary Doda has. Ouch, girl.

When, what should appear in my inbox but the following missive, from former journalism school compatriot and occasional drinking buddy Wes Smiderle:

Regardless, that was a particularly funny (and venomous) edition of the Bitter Guide. Especially the Rob Sawyer jibes.

I find this to be self-evident.

However, critiquing novels based on card games and vampire wannabes is like shooting fish in a . . . well, like shooting previously shot fish that have been left in a neat pile on your doorstep. Go after bigger game, man!

Bruce Sterling has a new book out. Go review it so I can determine whether or not to waste my energy walking to the library. BTW, ever read Jonathan Lethem? A friend of mine thinks he's God. Review him too (Lethem, not my friend). Greg Bear has something new, I think. . . and hasn't Frank Herbert's son swiped his old man's Dune notes in an attempt to milk money off his daddy's corpse with a new trilogy? Go get 'im.

And, thus, I was sent on a quest. A quest to satisfy Wes. Of course, I could have completed that quest with by dragging him down to the closest Champagne room, but that would have been too time consuming (and would have required going to Ottawa, which in winter goes from being a grey, dreary hellhole populated by University students & Civil Servants to the same, but cold). So, here I find myself, reading. Ah, how I've angered God.

First off, then: Zeitgeist , by Bruce Sterling. Zeitgeist is another epic in the continuing story of Leggy Starlitz, a character that Sterling has used before. When the story opens, Leggy is chaperoning a post-modern girl group on their tour of Europe, with a stop in Cyprus; while there, his life, to keep this from turning into an amazon.com-esque recap, turns upside down.

Leggy ends up unemployed, with his teenage daughter in tow (her mothers are having a bit of a tiff at the time). Much wackiness ensues (including a nigh mythical search for his father that I couldn't begin to describe).

Zeitgeist has much in common with Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. For one, it has a fascinating setting (Turkey in ‘99, as opposed to America of 20XX), neat characters (not a dud among them) and a plot that just pops up every so often, screams “isn't this GREAT!”, slaps you in the face, and kicks you in the groin.

It doesn't end up making you feel as if you've been robbed of hours of your precious life that could have been spent sleeping, eating, or feeding your housepets/fungi. So, yes, Wes, strut down to your local book depository and pick it up. If you find yourself becoming winded en route, stop at Second Cup for an Energy Latte.

Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Lethem, is the story of Lionel Essrog, a limousine driver cum private eye whose boss is murdered. Lionel, of course, resolves to bring in the bum what took out his boss.

The book, thankfully, deviates from the standard pulp detective novel. Lionel, for starters, has Tourette's Syndrome. This affliction causes people to lose some control over their impulses. They may, for example, feel inclined to shout out strange phrases (“eat me, Bailey!”, or “I run a demo team, let me tell you about my character for the next fifteen hours while you attempt to gnaw your leg off at the knee!”), touch things, or repeat tasks a certain number of times.

It also, apparently, makes you vulnerable to eating White Castle hamburgers. Now, I'm no expert on these delectable bits of meaty (shurley shome mishtake?) goodness, but I'm sure that a low level mental illness wouldn't quite enough to get me to try to cram some of that mass produced, mad cow (Brazilian Beefwich, Shurely!) infected crap into my gullet.

But I digress.

The book is much more interesting than the standard detective potboiler; Lethem's talent with dialogue is enjoyable, and the plot moves smoothly in spite of itself. The characters tend to be interesting and full of depth; even the random thugs who drag Lionel into a car to frighten him off turn out to be much more than they appear.

Motherless Brooklyn is an engaging character study, with a bundle of off center characters. It's a mystery with a Zen-tastic center and creamy Tourettic topping.

Darwin's Radio, by Greg Bear, has a lot of intrinsic coolness. It's about a strange disease that's causing women to miscarry. It involves ethnic cleansing mass graves, mysterious bodies in the Alps, and the CDC. And it's incredibly boring.

Oh, dear Lord, it's boring. I mean, how much can you listen to characters laying forth on genetics and assorted theories? Personally, what is your tolerance? Well, trust me, unless you wear a lab coat to work, and possibly even then, this book will pass it. The book has the unfortunate side effect of mixing tension with boredom. In the end, you fall asleep, but it's a very restless sleep.

The best part is that Anne McCaffery (She's Irish and writes homoerotic sf, you may have heard of her) manages to ruin the whole plot with her little pull quote on the book-jacket. For the love of Elvis, woman! Does the whiskey get so deep into the brain that you can't figure out that mentioning one of the main points of the plot is a BAD thing? Would one of her editors have popped into the dustjacket of “Harley Bitches of Pern” ‘Robinton's 100 mph decapitation will reverberate down the halls of Pern fandom for millennia to come!'

One would hope not.

Dune : House Atreides is the newest Dune book (okay, second newest, since its sequel, House Harkonnen, hit stands). It's a collaboration between Brian Herbert & Kevin Anderson. In it, a whooooole buncha stuff happens.

Let me begin by saying I haven't read Dune since Trudeau was in office. And it never really captured me. But HA is an enjoyable book, full of double-dealing, space herpes, treachery, patricide, humming laser shields, family thermonuclears, sand planets, sex, and drinking recycled urine.

I haven't finished it yet, but so far it's engaging. The reason I haven't finished it yet is the same reason I'm still reading book 2 in RailRoad's EPIC FANTASY SERIES; the book is huge. Why, oh why, do authors insist on following the ‘700 page paradigm'? Look, we're paying too much for the damn books as it is. We know it, you know it. We're not going to feel any better if you give us more. If you give us less, but don't charge as much for it, you could probably squeeze a few more books into the series, and my herniated disks would have a chance to heal.

One final, non-Wes related (or perhaps tangentially Wes-related) item: For our anniversary, I purchased for Mrs. Bitter a copy of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Board Gameboard game. I'd heard many good things about it, and felt it was a game her non-gamer psyche would be able to enjoy. Oh frabjous day! Calloh! Callay! It was! And I liked it too!

The Buffy Board game is for 2-5 players. We played it as a two player game, and it was quite enjoyable. I suspect the five player game will be less enjoyable, because players 2-5 will have to split Oz, Buffy, Xander & Willow among them. Ohhhh, I get to play XANDER. Fuuuuuun.

But it's very enjoyable. The Bad player gets to control an archvillain (The Mayor, the Master, The Judge, or Adam) and the good players gets to control Buffy & the Scoobies.

So, go buy it. It's good.

Thank God; finally, the Quest for Wes is finished. And what, gentle readers, have we learned from this?

No more request episodes.

Good night! Drive carefully!