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Chasm City Book Club Part III: Portrait of a World Leader as a Young Sociopath

By Alyssa Rosenberg

"Chasm City Book Club Part III: Portrait of a World Leader as a Young Sociopath"

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The usual rules apply: spoilers through chapter twenty-six below the jump, though not beyond. Previous installments of the book club appear here and here. And I’m finding this a quick read (and honestly, I’m eager to get on to Spin) so why don’t we finish this for next week?
So…what do we think this novel is about, folks? Is it meant to be a searing portrait of a failed society? A delivery vehicle for a myth about a society’s creation? I can’t tell you how frustrated I was when I hit the point where our hero, having a fairly bad day, declares that “I wanted him to die first; Fischetti and then Sybilline. Then I’d kill Waverly while I was at it, and piece by piece I’d dismantle the entire apparatus of the Game. In that same moment, I realised that I hated them more than I hated Reivich. But he’d get his too.” This gets at the core of why I think this book is so irritating. Whether he’s supposed to be the main point, or the delivery mechanism for Sky’s story, Tanner Mirabel is as astonishingly flat character. He’s a stock figure who has stock figure feelings for stock figure babes, distinguished only by being a) married to a rich dude or b) independently wealthy and zebra-striped. I’m going to choose that he’s the latter so I can focus on the Sky Haussmann narrative, which is honestly the only reason I’m finishing this novel.

And even then, it’s driving me crazy. I’m not immune to the stories about great men and their terrible deeds. I think Peter Wiggin is one hell of a character. But I have a lot of problems with this one.

As I wrote last week, it’s entirely unclear why we’re supposed to be emotionally invested in this society, or societies. They’re ill, perhaps fatally, with addictions to war, with terminal boredom, with permanent and inert class division. Because Reynolds establishes this fairly clearly before we have any sense of what we’re dealing with in Sky, it becomes hard to feel invested in the emotional and moral complexity of whatever it is he’s achieved before we even realize the magnitude of his crimes. Once we get there, they seem even more pathetic, if not despicable. This was the new world he gave birth to?

But worse than that, Hausmann’s not even a particularly interesting young sociopath. In Ender’s Game, our sense of what Peter truly was grew gradually, as did our understanding of why he was the way he was. He was genetically engineered, loved less, hugely intelligent, genuinely mad, faking madness, in need of an intellectual partner. Whatever else he was, Peter was a person.

Sky’s not really a person. We know by this point that he’s immortal, that he’s not really his father’s son. He’s a sick bastard, for sure, someone who gives a semi-human robot the tools to kill his father, who kills the captain of his ship, who hangs out with a psychotic dolphin and is guided by a childhood hallucination. He’s also, uh, fairly obviously Cahuella, right? The dolphin signally is a little obvious. But whatever he is other than a person, it’s not particularly interesting. The details are super-baroque, but they’re not meaningful. Couldn’t an infant awakened from deep freeze, raised by loving parents, turned out to be a fairly normal, well-adjusted childhood? Is there something inherently corrupting about immortality that explains why everyone we meet in this novel is such a complete and utter asshole or stereotype? If so, I would sort of like that explained at some point, preferably not in an insanely didactic way please.

If you’re going to have me wade through a bunch of deviant behavior, there better be something rewarding at the end of it, be it world peace or aesthetic revelation. I know I’m not getting the former. I hope I’m getting something other than cheap noir as the latter.

‹ Good Guys Gone Bad

Adaptation ›

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