Saturday, August 8, 2020

Brief Thoughts 28

It's been awhile since I've done one of these.

Bash Bash Revolution by Douglas Lain

Matthew Munson is a high school dropout and slacker who spends all his time playing the video game Bash Bash Revolution, a stand-in for Super Smash Brothers, who has no real goals outside of lukewarm attempts to play the game professionally and hanging out with his fundamentalist Christian girlfriend Sally. Around him, a popular movement is taking place wherein people plug themselves permanently into a sentient AI, known as Bucky, which is working to gamify the economy completely. Matthew, knowing his estranged father was one of the scientists responsible for the creation of Bucky, finds himself rebelling against this new system, refusing to plug in as he attempts to learn to true nature of the AI.

BBR is told as a mixture of posts and messages through Matthew's Facebook and, in some chapters, of transcripts of Bucky conversing with itself as it tries to learn more. The two bounce off each other well. Matthew's posts and messages are essentially conversations with himself. No one seems to be responding to them, outside of the occasional bot, and Bucky is essentially trapped within itself, able to learn and grow but unable to have any profound experiences. As all Matthew can do is react to what is going on around him, Bucky can only follow what it believes to be the logical ends of its programming.

Besides the theme of alienation, the novel is also heavy on political commentary. There are observations of the current political situation, the book was published in 2018, on Donald Trump and the United States' rocky relationship with the rest of the world. One of the funniest passages is where the AI is debating with itself on how it can avoid nuclear war. It proposes working to increase Trump's intelligence, but its analysis finds that doing so would increase the probability of nuclear war by 95%.

It also looks beyond the immediate, examining alternatives to the current economy. Bucky's gamification of everything is essentially a Marxist accelerationist scheme. Despite Lain being a Marxist himself, this is not at all a preachy book or an Iron Heel style pushing of an agenda. The story frames Bucky's takeover neutrally, suggesting that the results of it may be horrible. There's a genuinely tragic, if somewhat comic, scene where Matthew's mom plugs into one of Bucky's games and, as a result, she takes off and Matthew never sees her again. It also causes Sally to have a severe crisis of faith. However, there are also indications that Bucky's work is the only thing preventing the apocalypse and that it will make people happier in the long run.

Bash Bash Revolution is a good mix of political satire, a melancholy coming of age story, and a science fiction exploration of artificial intelligence. This is a book well-worth reading, especially if you're a fan of sci-fi or videogames. I look forward to reading more from Lain.

Buy Bash Bash Revolution by Douglas Lain here.

The Lockdown Trade-Off by Sam West 

A pub owner in Cornwall, England trades his unfaithful wife Cat and her lover to a creepy, eccentric millionaire in exchange for a huge sum of money to save his business, which has been closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This had a decent story that moved at a good pace, but the characters are one dimensional, the prose makes some very poor word choices at times (describing a person as "delectable" is impossible to take seriously), and the "climax" was kind of goofy for as serious as it tried to play it. Also, for a book that touts itself as "extreme," there really isn't much gore or torture. I appreciate it tried to be more "psychological" in its horror, but it's hard to do that with characters that lack depth. You could do worse for 99 cents, but I'm not exactly eager to pick up any more of Sam West's works. 

Buy The Lockdown Trade-Off by Sam West here.

SS Death Simulation by Michael Faun  

When the locals of a small village in Sweden in the midst of WWII discover a local woman is using her home as a brothel to service German SS officers, they devise a plan to infiltrate it and bring the Nazi officials down. 

Now this is how you do exploitation.

This little novella has it all; a Nazi midget, deviant sex of every kind, spies undercover as prostitutes, an exciting climax, and an appropriately bittersweet ending. I had a lot of fun with this one. It's one of the best examples of Faun's "b-movie in book form" style, maybe the best I've read so far.

Highly recommended.

(This book is currently out of print.)

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