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Grey Paperback – February 1, 2007
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
A Romeo-and-Juliet tale of star-crossed lovers and their conflicted families plays out against a futuristic backdrop shaped by outrageous fashion trends in Armstrong's offbeat debut fantasy. Michael Rivers, heir-apparent to a hi-tech security empire, is poised to wed Nora Gonzalez-Matsu, heiress-apparent to a rival firm, when an assassin's failed attempt on his life humiliates the company and scuttles the nuptials. Though the planned union seemed as calculated as the business merger behind it, incurably romantic Michael believes that Nora, whose lifestyle is governed by the same fashion magazine to which he's addicted, is his soul mate. When he repudiates his father's scheme to marry him into another corporate family and attempts a forbidden reunion with Nora, he discovers nasty realities that have made his coddled life possible. This routine romance plot is virtually secondary to the giddy elaboration of a future world so saturated with advertising and fashion imagery that its most public transactions are orchestrated like runway walks. Though the story runs on a little longer than it should, its playful take on fashionistas of the future is diverting. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In a future controlled by the fabulously wealthy Families, whose every move is a media event, Michael, 19-year-old RiverGroup heir, is engaged to MKG heiress Nora. Indicative of the business merger their marriage seals, their conversation is coded in quotations from their favorite magazine, Pure H. Just before the wedding, someone tries to assassinate Michael, wrecking the RiverGroup's ratings, confidence in the would-be merger, and Michael and Nora's perfect relationship. Michael questions his father (a terrible businessman, more showman than anything else), everything he thought he knew about life, and the identity of the assassins as he tries to salvage his relationship with Nora despite both Families' objections. He searches the "slubs," where the poor and non-Family live, and visits his estranged, circus-performer mother, which proves enlightening and potentially earthshaking for the RiverGroup. Since so much of it is based on the occasionally morbid Pure H patois, the novel makes frequently strange reading, but Michael's enlightenment and the bizarre family secrets he discovers make it worthwhile reading, too. Regina Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Somewhere down the middle the story lost a bit of its awesomeness but I still enjoyed the whole story very much.
Armstrong presents a very clever concept but one not new to those who grew up with "The Medium is the Message." Its realization in this book is uneven--sometimes, as in the opening, wry and engaging, other times tedious and predictable. The language is sometimes so uneven that I wondered whether two different people had shared the writing. I got very, very tired of Father's obscenities and his one-note metaphors; the over/misuse of "like" and "fathom" jarred increasingly. The ending just *happened*, as if the writer had grown tired of his creation. Armstrong certainly has caught the flavor, however, of today's fashion poseurs and the affected dark pseudo-sophistication of their favorite style magazines.
This is not a science-fiction book, it's just fiction, about a dystopia of the post-apocalyptic world. It's also a sendup of Ultra aesthetes, one that Oscar Wilde might appreciate.
A word of warning: The production of this novella is so dreadful that it seriously interferes with the reader's ability to enter the story. On nearly every page (I do not exaggerate) occur missteps that a decent editor would have caught--grammar errors, spelling mistakes, poor punctuation, errors of continuity (exactly WHICH eye is the gray one?), incorrect usage, confusion of vocabulary (e.g., "epithets" for "epaulettes", "sign" for "sine", "wave" for "waive"). It reminded me of long nights spent correcting student essays. It is curious that an author so adept at parodying Conde Nast publications could be guilty of such clumsiness and pratfalls of speech. Standards in this area have certainly fallen throughout the industry, but never have I seen so unprofessional an edition.
Over the course of reading up on Yarn, I discovered that the author's first book, Grey, was set in the same universe, setting up Armstrong's particular brand of fiction, labeled `Fiction-Punk'. Better still, the publisher, Nightshade Books, had an advance reader's copy of the book up on their website, for a free download. (You can get it here.)
Grey is a quick, funny read, with a couple of caveats and assumptions to go along with that. Set in a near future dystopia, Michael Rivers is the son of a family member, part of the elite, in a world where pop culture and consumerism has run amok, in the most ridiculous fashion possible. While reading the book, I'm operating on the assumption that this book shifted more towards the satirical than rational. Rivers is a celebrity, and where reality television runs every day, with talk show hosts and talking heads talking nonstop to his own egotistical father who has a documentary filmed of his life as he's living it, reediting it as he goes.
Fashion takes a front seat in this book, and Armstrong's descriptions of the fashion of this world is a fun one. Despite the book's title, there's multiple colors everywhere, with people wearing some of the strangest things throughout, at least in the expensive and livable areas. It's not an area where one will think about science fiction, but it's clear that there's a lot of inspiration taken from the costuming of numerous films here, and if anything, this film breaks the reader out of the mold that this book is merely a continuation of suburban America.
Despite the label `fashionpunk', this book isn't really about fashion: it's a fairly acute look at the direction of a consumerist culture. Once the absurdity is stripped away from the book (mainly in the language of most of the characters), it's a downright scary look at how things could be several decades from now. Some things remain very much the same: an obsession with celebrity and instant gratification, where companies live and die by their ratings and public perception, rather than their actual internal workings.
This is an entertaining book - one that was a bit of fun to read, although I do hope that Yarn (which I now have) turns out to be a bit better. The plot for this story was rather loose at times, and there are some elements (Michael's origins - cobbled together from parts from his numerous sibblings comes to mind) where I thought there should have been more emphasis, and there's a bit of wandering here and there as the book progresses.
But, Grey is an entertaining, with some very dark undercurrents to it, and some very fun parts (Who wouldn't enjoy professional ironing championships in a fashion-oriented world?) as well. I'm even more excited about Yarn after finishing it.
Originally published to my blog.
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