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Shit hot header graphic by Paul, w/assistance from "The Thing?"

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Copyright 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

You Can’t Read That!

You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.

Jardin-de-la-Connaissance

The 30th annual Banned Books Week (September 30-October 6) dominates the news this month.

In the leadup to BBW, the American Library Association offers an interactive timeline covering 30 years of book banning attempts in the United States.

Nice Banned Books Week video by the Mooresville, Indiana Public Library:

During Banned Books Week, an Indianapolis writer will live and blog in the front window of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.

“My thinking about banned books and their authors took me to some very strange places.” How banned books and authors influenced a young scholar and author.

Do you download pirated movies? Have you noticed that it’s becoming marginally harder to find them on Google? Torrent sites are accusing Google of search ranking censorship.

“You have no idea how terrible those years were when we had the blacklist.” A chapter in American film censorship, recalled by Kirk Douglas.

A very good overview of book challenges and internet censorship in American schools, courtesy of Family Circle.

“In regard to the question of censorship, I not only believe, but I love and cherish our Constitution!” So says a county commissioner in Maryland who wants to review public libraries’ planned book purchases. Somehow I do not think his Constitution and mine are the same thing.

Coincidence? From the same county in Maryland, parents challenge a third-grade social studies textbook for “promoting liberal ideologies on health care, public education and government.”

You can buy The Protocols of the Elders of Zion on Amazon. I’m not the least bit upset about this. The Second Amendment allows us to buy guns. The First Amendment allows us to read what we want.

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You Can’t Read That! book review:

In Tennessee, a parent challenges a school’s assignment of the science fiction novel Robopocalypse. “Lee says he feels students should not have any say on what books they read and hopes more parents will be aware of Robopocalypse. ‘I would like to see it taken off the reading list,’ said Lee.”

And what is parent Lee’s main objection? The f-word. “Lee personally started counting all the f-words in Robopocalypse. By the time he got half-way through the book he had already counted 15.” Quick, hide all the copies of Catcher in the Rye!

I read and reviewed Robopocalypse last year. I thought it was poor science fiction and poor writing. It never occurred to me that this was a book that would generate controversy. Here’s my review:

robopocalypseRobopocalypse
Daniel H. Wilson

“Peeking out from my covers, I see there’s a rainbow of flashing lights coming from our wooden toy box. The pulsing blues and reds and greens flicker from the crack under the closed lid and spill out onto the alphabet rug in the middle of the room like confetti.”

That, dear reader, is a 14-year-old girl talking to a fellow survivor in the smoking rubble of a destroyed skyscraper as killer robots roam the streets. Does that sound like any 14-year-old girl you’ve ever known? Me either.

All the narrators of this book, who speak to us in the form of recorded conversations, debriefing transcripts, and electronic data bursts, sound like that 14-year-old girl. Which is to say that the characters who tell the story all sound the same … and are equally unbelievable. I’d much rather the author had abandoned the pretense of recorded conversations and transcripts and just told the damn story.

Dan Wilson, who has an academic background in robotics, doesn’t really give us much in the way of robotic information. How did Archos become self-aware? How did it manage to put itself together, to assemble the parts and pieces it needed to communicate with and direct the activities of other robots? Where are the factories it set up to manufacture its robot army, and where does it get the electronics and other raw materials it needs? How are the robots powered? How is it that Archos, seemingly aware of every single thing every human on earth does or thinks, is unable to defend itself in the end? Wilson doesn’t bother to tell us.

Vaunted background in robotics aside, Dan Wilson doesn’t appear to have any kind of background in robotic science fiction. Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics? Strangely absent from a science fiction novel about robots. I mean, my god, there’s such a rich body of robot science fiction, you’d think Wilson would have boned up beforehand. Who’s going to pick up a book with a title like Robopocalypse? Science fiction readers, that’s who … and they’re going to be disappointed.

Wilson’s writing is literate but somehow inept. His characters constantly speak of imminent, catastrophic danger … “I sensed, with icy certainty, instant death hurtling toward me from the sky” … followed by a rifle shot that misses, or a thrown rock, or some such not-even-close-to-catastrophic event. But that’s merely a minor irritation. More seriously, Wilson fails to communicate the feel of global war, of huge forces advancing and retreating across the continents, of the near extinction of the human race. His cast of characters is too small, too localized. The reader never gets the sense of end-times doom Wilson wants to convey.

Robopocalypse is thin gruel. There’s no meat in it. I felt like I was reading the screenplay of a cheap Syfy Channel mini-movie. The robots may as well be zombies or vampires, for all the scientific lack of rigor Wilson gives us. Robopocalypse is not science fiction. It’s an airport thriller, and not a particularly good one.

© 2012, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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