Thursday, January 11, 2007

Archform: Beauty

Archform: Beauty

L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Date: 19 July, 2002   —   $6.99   —   Book

product page


Fiction, Science Fiction

Several points:
1. The woman on the cover looks brain dead.
2. Unlike every other Modesitt book I have read, this one has multiple protagonists and a story which revolves around their connections. This really works.
3. This also has the first female protagonist I've ever encountered from him; I had wondered if Modesitt were afraid he would fail in the realistic portrayal of a woman. He didn't. He should write more of them.
4. This is set in the (comparatively) near-future, centuries instead of millenia from now. While all science fiction is in some way a reflection of the fears of today, set in a future setting, in this case the nearness encouraged a greater empathy with the characters.

What is likewise interesting about this book is that the main philosophical point— that beauty has value— is made into a sort of sub-plot, with the machiinations of a businessman taking the center stage. Because of this, the argument for beauty has greater weight: it is not the center of the characters' lives (except for one), and because of this, we feel the threat to value that is coming about.

Many of the worries of this future are recognizeable. Despite medical nanites, new diseases are always a threat; accidents still occur; fights over water and population are still going on, despite the Collapse referred to; and young snots (not my term!) are preferring the "rez" music, synthpop and otherwise manufactured music, to actual craft. There's even a small chance that you might get targeted not because of who you are, but because you're in somebody's way. They've even refined the technology to affect your moods, a fear that someday those deals really will seem too good to pass up.

But at the center of the novel is the worth of craft in a culture where everything can be replicated and tweezed. Even today we have the technology to put singers' voices on pitch, so some students already wonder why they need to practice singing. What if you could be tone-deaf and still be a popular singer? Of course, some people, like singer and professor Luara Cornett, disagree:

"We require students to be able to read, to understand economics, to learn about history. Music has been a part of every culture since the Neandertals. Shouldn't they be required to be exposed to something that's been a big part of human history since even before people could write? Shouldn't that be part of higher education? Excellence in the arts is a big part of what makes a society great. Can you name a culture that was great that didn't have great art?"
Hmm. The longer quote deserves a post in itself.

Anyway, good book, may he write many more as interesting.

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