Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Readings 2K9: The Disinheritance Party/Appleseed

The Disinheritance Party
by John Clute

Clute’s two novels, published twenty-four years apart, are very different books. Both attend strongly to language, pushing syntax and diction in new and strange ways. In both cases, structure shines through the language; there’s the sense of archetypes in action. Of mysteries of sex and death being played out. But the connections between language and those deeper structures are dissimilar, and the feel of the books completely different.

The Disinheritance Party is nominally more realistic; a late modernist novel in the style of Pynchon, it follows an odd family group through madness, incest, and castration to a blow-out ending. Identity shifts, and one becomes other; history is mutable. It begins with a young man named Abraham Zuken (A to Z, Biblical echoes) and more-or-less ends with him as well; in between is a parabola of dysfunction and improbability, of hallucination, and of rebellion against a Cronos-like patriarch. The more extreme the book gets, the less real it feels; it becomes a modernist farce. It becomes an open question how much of what we're reading is 'taking place' in any kind of objective world, and how much is inside the head of (at least) one character. It’s an interesting performance, but it’s a burlesque of a story.

Appleseed is nominally a space opera, with a heroic roguish starship captain, evil aliens, traitorous AIs, and vast space stations. It completely inhabits the world of its future, such that exposition is effectively nonexistent, and we must piece together on the run the nature of its extrahuman species and also of the human culture that has evolved in this future, as well as technology and other elements of the setting. It moves toward a hieros gamos, a sacred and healing marriage. On one level a simpler book than The Disinheritance Party, it is on another level more complex; more human.

Both books seem to begin with simple family dramas, and both in their different ways play that drama out on cosmic scales. The Disinheritance Party hints at a fantasy of history, making the tragedies or black farce of its story the story of the human race, an inevitable Oedipal clash of generations and genders. Appleseed moves to the future, to transcendence. It is serious and comic. Not only longer, it is the greater and more sustained work.

Both books can be seen to lack something; the texture of character which is associated with the traditional novel. The sense of a society against which individual characters can be discerned. These books tell simpler tales (yet also more complex, particularly in The Disinheritance Party, where the individual players take multiple roles), almost play-like. They’re both successes at what they do. But they are in a sense unforgiving, or unyielding; by their abstraction of character, they are two very different approaches to the inhuman.

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