Thursday, July 4, 2013

Review: Fools by Pat Cadigan

Fools by Pat Cadigan
Published : HarperCollins UK, 1994
Awards Won: Arthur C. Clarke Award

The Book :

“In the future, mindplay is commonplace.  Method actors build character personalities to run in their bodies for performances, celebrity personae are franchised and sold, and memories are manipulated for convenience and recreation.  When one can purchase memories, persona overlays, and a variety of personality tweaks, at what point does the idea of an authentic ‘self’ lose its meaning?

Marceline is a “memory junkie” who gets high off of other peoples’ memories. One night, she becomes conscious at a franchiser party at an exclusive night club, with no idea how she could have arrived there.  The last thing she remembers is killing someone, but the reasons behind that murder are opaque.  Marceline is in deep trouble, the kind where she doesn’t even know what’s she’s been doing, or who she was while she was doing it…”~Allie

This is my 6th novel for the Women of Genre Fiction Challenge at WWEnd.  In recent news of Pat Cadigan, she has a novelette up for the Hugo this year, “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi”. This was supposed to be my June review, but the time just got away from me.  I will catch back up before the end of the year!

My Thoughts :

It’s a bit difficult to write a synopsis for Fools, since figuring out what’s going on is really part of the fun of the reading experience.  I implied Marceline was the main character, but it would be more accurate to say that she was one part of the main character.  The story mostly follows one body, but the personality in control of that body changes.  In the beginning, it’s unclear which (if any) of the personalities are “real” and which are crafted, but it’s equally unclear whether there is a difference between the two cases.  I found it especially interesting that in a world where mind manipulation was commonplace, there was still plenty about the physical reality of consciousness that was not well understood.

The story was told in first person, through a series of extremely unreliable (though very entertaining) narrators.  Different personae were separated by the use of different fonts, and there are also some verbal tics (e.g. “Migod!”) that were used to help differentiate narrators near the beginning of the story. I thought the tics were very helpful for easing the reader into the novel’s style.  They made it easier to keep track of the different narrators, before one became more familiar with their personalities.  The discontinuity of the main character made for a pretty fractured plot, but I liked that there was no way to tell where it would veer next. Marceline’s mystery murder is really only a kicking-off point for the main plot—things get much stranger as the book progresses.  

As a cyberpunk story, Fools naturally focuses on high technology and low society, with a particular interest in the interface of the human mind and technology and what that does to the idea of “self”.  The world is suitably grimy and flashily imagined, but many aspects of it are only shallowly explored.  The protagonists are all familiar with their daily world, so there are many things they don’t bother to explain.  The story also moves very quickly, and the characters are often too busy improvising to spend much time discussing the nuts and bolts of their society.  This combination of limited viewpoint and the character’s casual acceptance of their world made it feel complex without requiring a lot of detailed information.  I believe Cadigan wrote several other novels in the same universe, so I would be curious to see if some of the stranger elements of society—such as the murderous chained onionhead couples—get more of a sensible explanation elsewhere.

Even if there isn’t a reasonable explanation, I suppose the onionheads added to the general ridiculous, flippant tone of the story.  I loved the casual, conversational narration of the protagonists, especially Marceline.  The story could easily have started with Marceline worrying about her missing memories, and angsting about the knowledge that she was a killer.  Instead, she mostly just accepted her circumstances with a healthy dose of self-deprecatory amusement (“When I get fugued up, I get damn-the-torpedoes, no prisoners fugued up!”).  She was used to losing bits and pieces of herself anyway, so she just muddled along cheerfully and assumed she’d figure things out eventually.  She even started making jokes about the various habits of “us killers”. The other protagonists had very different approaches to life, but they were, each in their own way, just as wonderful fools.

My Rating : 4/5

Fools was an incredibly fun book.  I loved the humor, the flashy, grungy, world, and the characters with strong, vibrant personalities.  The conversational, hilarious narration from each of the protagonists was a real pleasure to read.  The style of the book—that it was told switching constantly through different personalities’ points-of-view—made the plot itself a entertaining puzzle to figure out.  This also made the story seem a little muddled at times, but it was always entertaining.   

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