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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Book Review: "Gates (Variations)" by Larry Niven (from Gateways)

I'm sensing a pattern in Gateways.  One really good story, followed by a bad one, followed by a good one, and so on and so forth.  Larry Niven's "Gates" is one of those bad ones.  Split between two perspectives -- a science fiction writer talking about the singularity/Bill Gates and Bill Gates making the decision to create a virtual world in which he is filthy rich -- "Gates" lacks anything resembling plot or character development.  In fact, beyond presenting a gimmick, I'm not sure if the story has a point.

Is it a story that wants us to buy its premise that the world we live in is a virtual world a la Second Life in which all but Bill Gates and his friends are intelligent programs?  If so, Niven has failed to provide a coherent "world" within which we can come to that conclusion.  Or is the singularity / Bill Gates section a fictionalized account of the tech icon's rise to "power" written by the science fiction writer of that previous section?  That might be interesting, but beyond the fact that the
science fiction writer talks about Bill Gates (from which the title obviously comes), the connection is loose.

Then again, perhaps we're supposed to think of this story as a couple of alternate histories about old Bill.  But each "vision" lacks depth.  The characters are cardboard cutouts -- people we've seen before.  The stories themselves, if you could call them that (vignettes might be a more appropriate term), go nowhere; we never see the worlds these different characters are talking about, or learn anything about the characters to give us a sense of who they are and what they've done to get here.  Maybe that's the point, but there are writers who have approached similar themes more effectively.  This story, however, is one I would recommend skipping.


The above is the continuation of my story-by-story review of Gateways edited by Elizabeth Anne Hull.  

Below are the reviews of other stories in the collection (which will be updated as reviews become available):

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