Saturday, October 22, 2011

More about "Mote": other stuff as well

I wrote a follow-up to my review of The Mote in God's Eye, but my blog took a distinct dislike to what I'd written and, after first leaving it stranded mid-sentence, then deleted it (okay, that was my fault, but it didn't give me a chance to say, "Wait! Don't!").

I didn't talk, the first time, about the title itself, which has to do with both the world from which the "Moties" come (near the "eye" of the Coal Sack's "Face of God") and the biblical aphorism about removing an obstruction from your own eye before daring to pluck the smaller obstruction from the eye of another person. This is, I suppose, the point of the book, though it dealt with in a way that is somehow understated while also being clunky.

Niven and Pournelle set up parallels between the humans and aliens: command structure, sexuality, rising and falling civilizations. It might have helped the point had someone on the human side provided a critique of human systems in light of what they saw in the Moties, but instead everyone blunders along rather ignorantly, though a few passing comments are made to draw attention to the similarities. In a literary work, this would have surfaced as a theme; here, it's a motif that never rises beyond a surface depiction. In fact, had someone ever pointed it out, the clunkiness would have become more evident: the exact parallel of having a hidden commander about whom both sides wonder; the exact parallel of stranding three people on Mote Prime and three Moties among the humans. You can Niven and Pournelle saw this conceit as central to the novel, but it doesn't actually go anywhere interesting or take the reader deeper.

Last week I read Inside Scientology, by Janet Reitman. I've read a lot about Scientology—I find quackery and homegrown religions and hoaxes fascinating—so I already knew a fair amount of what was in the book, though Reitman's information about the current leadership and the Gold Base was new to me. The one thing I feel wasn't conveyed fully was the sense of what exactly happens in "auditing" sessions, the Scientology equivalent of the confession. Everything she said about it, I knew, but I hadn't had, previously, the sense of endless hours people put into the process, and I left without a clear sense of how exactly one spends that time. And though she may have gotten at this aspect, it's pretty clear that such a process, by itself, must do so much to make the recipient susceptible to the mindset necessary to proceed further. Of course, that's the upfront point, but it's frightening to think of how, Stockholm Syndome–like, one's mental defenses must be so reduced by the process, much like the mental defenses of someone who, grilled for hours by police, confesses to something he or she didn't do. I do recommend the book for anyone interested in the subject. Reitman is pretty fair, I have to say: she doesn't just outright say that the practices Hubbard invented are stupid or dangerous; she doesn't damn the "faith" so much as she damns the way it's been run, with Hubbard drifting into megalomania and the current show-runner demonstrating some kind of narcissistic personality disorder (at best).

I've started both Nothing to Be Frightened Of, Julian Barnes's personal reflection on death, and Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe's proto-novel. Both are funnier than I thought they'd be. Defoe's protagonist is sort of an idiot, so far. Barnes's voice is just so marvelously English; an American could not have written these sentences.

I did some work on the final section of "Unearthed" today. It's coming along. Now I have to decide (though it's hardly urgent) whether to post "Clockworks" here as a PDF or format it (and stick a picture of some kind on the front) for sale at Amazon.

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