I reviewed the first book in this trilogy awhile ago, and I finally got around to reading books #2 and #3, The Superlative Stream and Freeheads, respectively. It let me down. What made the first one great was the cog-in-the-wheel trying-to-get-by sort of feel with the sympathetic-ness and relatability. And probably the cynicism. It’s a pity Sandfly couldn’t have kept his cynicism after he found
Jesus A~A3 (<– And we don’t really see any more clever nomenclature like that anymore. Pity.)
And since the the cynical cog-in-the-wheel approach was drastically minimized and the novelty of the worldbuilding had grown to become expected — and also because HardCandy got more screentime — it was a LOT harder to ignore the blatant sexism even from the good guys. Like, it pissed me off. Gender essentialism is sexism, and it can fuck right on off. Nietz tried to wrap it up in pop-sciencey brain dimorphism junk, but the harder-science articles I found explicitly refrained from making biased speculation like male brains are better at maths and spatial orientation because they have more gray matter while female brains are better at language because they have more white matter. If anybody knew for sure what white and gray matter did, somebody better be ponying up the goddamn citations.
HardCandy disappointed me for more than just a missed opportunity for an awesome feminist character. I read her as being kuudere in the first book, but she comes off as tsundere in the rest of the trilogy. Tsundere mixed with the editorial agenda for Cosmo magazine. Her character is responsible for the relationship drama and the emotional stuff and “why do girls get mad at the littlest thing” and SHUTTHEFUCKUP GODDAMNGENDERESSENTIALISM. And she gets stuffed in the fridge again in the second book. Whee. Nietz did try a little, but Odin Hare Krishna fuck, I still want to throw a shoe at him.
And I still think kuudere would have worked out better.
Plot-wise, it’s a bit all over the sci-fi spectrum over the course of the two books. Superlative Stream is an anomalies-in-space adventure with Sandfly and HardCandy riding off on DarkTrench to discover a strange planet with strange beings while looking for the titular superlative stream near Betelgeuse. It runs like a basic Star Trek or Stargate episode with finding a strange, advanced culture that seems pretty utopic until they find out about the caste system and the controlling alien-Wi-fi that keeps them like that. Except we have a Christian-tropes edge with Strawman Random-Chance Atheist and Strawman Samsara/Reincarnation Dude as represented by two of the three castes. It feels so canned.
Except for the ugly, ET-ish tripedal angel-beings that do some deux ex machina. I like that. On the other hand, I find it somewhere between hilarious and canned that God speaks in Bible quotes. I realized that’s the safest thing to have God saying, but it’s super-awkward, especially if/when you can recognize how out-of-context the quotes are. In fact, all the God stuff comes off as awkward to me, but that may be that I’m not longer capable of reading Christian fiction in earnest. I just can’t turn off the je ne sais quoi in my brain that makes it all sound canned now.
Freeheads brings them back to our solar system, except something screwed up DarkTrench and they arrive forty years after they left Earth. And more malfunctions happen as Sandfly and HardCandy try to escape-pod back to Earth, and they fortuitously find the secret moon base of the
Nazis resistance. Apparently one of the old countries had set up a moon base that was used by refugees from the global jihad, once when the Abduls were taking over Earth and again when the astronauts from the first book stirred up shit when they came back with A~A³.
But Sandfly feels that his mission is on Earth, and after picking up an autistic kid sidekick, he uses some old tech to fling himself to down to Earth in a pod. Spoilers Blahblahblah, turns out everyone has an implant now and society is PERFECT and a former debugger has set himself up as New Imam. So then it’s a struggle to free everyone thought-controlled by their implants.
Not to ruin the ending, but it ended with the Amish romance single narrativity, with marriage accomplished and babies on the horizon. What a fucking copout. And it feels even more sexist because we see nothing from HardCandy’s personality or detailed backstory that she even wants kids and domesticity. If anything, her backstory would suggest she doesn’t.
The thing is, I think I could rewrite this to make it more palatable. If I had the motivation and enough creativity juice. Restrictive fundy culture, Islamic or not, on Earth or not (taking a page from Dune). HardCandy might make the better protagonist, if only from being extra underdog in the oppressive, classist, sexist culture. I would do it if only to feed my desire for awesome feminist characters. And she would be kuudere, with more emphasis on the kuu. Do the thing with the space voyage and the busted bot, but I think I would take out the Jesus angle because I can’t write that in earnest. I would probably keep Sandfly’s confused somewhat-conversion, but I would keep it ambiguous. I think I would cut out the anomaly-planet because I couldn’t escape the feeling of writing a Stargate ripoff. Moon-based resistance movement is also cliche, but I might be able to work with that. Juuust maybe.
But chances are this would languish in my hard drive next to my other stopped-and-started, cannibalized, or abandoned projects.