i really wanted to like this book better than i did.
maybe this was just the runt of the litter? ’cause Zeh has been gathering all kinds of critical attention and kudos, and i thought–wow, maybe this will be that rare kind of sf that not only shows us a possible future, but does it in a way that makes us re-think the present.
the setup certainly has some eerie resonances with the present: in this future, the state has taken a very personal interest in individuals’ health. and who could argue with good health? why shouldn’t a state, which after all ends up footing a lot of the bill for people’s bad habits, try to nudge the citizenry toward better habits?
(interestingly, just when i started reading this book, there was a NYT editorial advising that doctors insist their patients over 50 all take low-dose aspirin for the prevention of heart disease, stroke, etc. so let no one say this state interest is just over-the-top implausible.)
and here in scenic california, at least among certain strata of society, nasty habits like smoking have certainly taken a legislative and sociological beating. so, the stage is certainly set for The Method.
but the book itself is like one of those minimalist stage plays with scarves on the stage representing rivers… and the people are just as one-dimensional. our heroine, Mia, and her adversary Kramer are as unidimensional as can be. it’s not as if Mia is a living, breathing, quirky, idiosyncratic character in a lunatic setting, which at least might have been interesting; nope, she’s as flat as the stage set, and so is her nemesis.
sometimes in satire this is not only functional but necessary, but that’s not the case here. this book is not satire. it takes itself deadly serious in its very manichean examination of “freedom” vs. the state. in fact, nearly everything in this book is either/or, and the problem is that the eithers are not necessarily natural opposites.
in short, there’s a lot of contrivance in this book: contrived situations, contrived opposites, contrived dialogue.
it’s the last that really makes this book a hard slog: the characters argue at the meta level in their white rooms, none really affecting the other’s viewpoints because, well, how could they? humans interact. and these aren’t humans.
i bought another of her books–In Free Fall: A Novel–and i am sincerely hoping this one is better, less a set piece and more of an examination. ’cause beyond the age of fifteen or so, one really doesn’t need to see the armies of Black and White duke it out.
been there, done that, and in fact i think i read it better done even when i was fifteen.