This week, our Free Culture Book Club continues to read Biodigital, a novel.
To give this series some sense of organization, here are some basic facts without much in the way of context.
- Full Title: Biodigital: A Novel of Overmind Emergent, chapters 14 – 26
- Location: https://unglue.it/work/136615/
- Released: 2014
- License: CC-BY-SA
- Creator: John Sundman
- Medium: Novel
- Length: 135,588 words
- Content Advisories: Coarse language, sex, violence, death, technobabble, probably-unintentional meta-textual sexism, casual racism, sexual assault, making light of sexual assault
This should go without saying—even though I’m going to repeat it with every Book Club installment—but Content Advisories are not any sort of judgment on my part, just topics that come up in the work that I noticed and might benefit from a particular mood or head space for certain audiences. It’s to help you make a decision, rather than a decision in and of itself.
Here’s how Sundman describes the book.
Biodigital is a novel…about a Silicon Valley tech genius/messiah and the quasi-religious cult of transhumanist computer designers and brain hackers who follow him. Its plot ostensibly concerns Gulf War Syndrome, a mysterious ailment reported by veterans of the first Gulf War (1991). It’s set in the early-to-mid 1990’s but presages many developments that are just now appearing in the real world.
It’s an adaptation of Acts of the Apostles, a prior novel that was part of a trilogy. This is allegedly simplified, stripping down the storytelling and disconnecting it from the other books.
If you haven’t read it, you can download the ePub or Mobi editions at the Unglue.it link listed above.
What Works Well?
I’m really struggling to find something nice to say about these chapters, since—as I’ve no doubt mentioned—they’re basically a checklist of everything I personally don’t like in modern fiction. I suppose that it raises the stakes to kill off a bunch of people and narrow the focus on the main characters.
What Works…Less Well?
I started out the book not hating Bartlett, since she was the only one not complaining about terrible colleagues. Sections about her, however, only alternate between her insisting that her idea is stupid (sometimes cursing herself out for it) and detailing her sexual history. In other words, her role is to make the fictional men in the book feel better, even though they don’t actually exist. To wit:
He exuded an unadorned masculinity that she found—contrary to her wishes, if not her expectation—to be almost overpoweringly sexually attractive.
Even her sexual fantasies are just about complimenting the man. Compare that pseudo-sexuality to Nick getting paragraphs to muse on the size of his erection or his sexual satisfaction. And speaking of that incident, I mention it in the content advisories at the top, but the “have sex with me, or I’ll have you arrested for sexual assault” plot, and then spending time trying to make that sexy and fun should be unacceptable.
The introduction of Jake means a return to the “managers are gross and the only people who can be trusted to real work are real workers” rhetoric (followed immediately by the real workers jumping to follow unethical orders) and technobabble. Along similar lines, Nick undermines any claims about his massive expertise in his dismissal of As We May Think.
We also have several lengthy chapters, in this section, where people catch up on everything they’ve learned, so that the other person can pretend to not be interested. Similarly, plenty of characters die off-screen, where we’re informed with a phone call, and an extended action scene that seems more inspired by Looney Tunes than a real fight or action movies, not helped by the sudden obsession with the misogynist term “she-bitch.”
And Nick…I think I finally figured out my problem with Nick. He and the overall narrative are convinced that he’s the hero, but he’s really just stumbling through the obstacle course set up in front of him. There’s no reason to care about his success, because he doesn’t care enough to take any actions to further any goals.
Finally, we end this section with a conference keynote speech from Rachel Tryson, but I have no idea who Tryson is, the speech is basically meaningless, and there’s almost no reaction to it.
The most straightforward support would be to kick in a couple of dollars at unglue.it. Otherwise, it doesn’t look like Sundman is interested in taking input from the community—there’s no obvious route to do so, that I can find—or making Biodigital available in formats that make it easy to edit.
Not much appears in this chunk of the book, and (as mentioned earlier) plenty of characters meet their ends.
We do, however, meet Biodigital Venture Fund (hence the name of the book, presumably) and its emissary Troy Maciel, plus Rachel Tryson and her anemic speech.
Next week, we’ll continue reading Biodigital, chapters 40 through 52.
While we wait for that, what does everybody else think about this section of Biodigital? I’m obviously not doing well, but it looks like the chapters might be getting shorter, showing that I probably broke the book up incorrectly…
Credits: The header image has been extracted from the book’s cover.
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