on 31 January 2009
Yes, it is in the future, there are robots of great perfection and fundamental flaws, humanity is dying out due to a robotic decision that was never corrected; but - the actual story is about self discovery, about a man robbed of his individuality and how he reclaims his place and role in his own life and in the world... with a little help from a woman and a robot that can not die.
on 25 August 2009
Tevis will probably be familiar to most film watchers and or readers as the man who wrote "The Man Who Fell To earth." An over stylised adaptation of the far more interesting and lucid novel.
In "Mockingbird" Tevis narration is fluid, interesting and informative. The 3 main characters at the heart of the novel are well defined and their human condition and interactions unfold with ease within an easy to read prose style. There is a great deal of depth to the narrative of this novel so it would stand up to several readings.
Gollancz and the editor/compiler of the SF Masterworks series should be congratulated for the inclusion of this not so well known novel. It is a real gem and more than worthy of inclusion in this epic series. Highly recommended.
on 15 November 2012
Several years ago I added Mockingbird to my ever-growing wishlist, and when I was looking to splurge on Amazon earlier this year, I decided to purchase a copy. When I realised it was tagged as 'literary sci-fi', my heart sank a little - would I really enjoy this book?
Mockingbird is set in the late 25th century, and boy things have changed - humanity is now kicking back, smoking dope, taking pills and committing suicide by getting high and setting fire to themselves in public places. Reading is a thing of the past, and in fact is even illegal, as is teaching others to read. Robots of varying levels of intelligence keep things ticking and a robot named Spofford is in control. The human race itself is in danger of extinction as there have been no children born for more than 30 years, but in their drug-induced state, no one seems to have noticed, nor cares.
Traits and behaviors, such as the notion of Privacy have been taken to extremes - it is considered a faux pas to even ask after someone's health, and humans have been taught not to question anything, just to accept the inevitable. When Spofford discovers a young man named Paul Bentley who has taught himself to read, he brings him to NYC, and by chance, Paul meets Mary Lou, who cannot take the drugs that are handed out like candy, and begins to teach her to read.
Mockingbird explores some pretty intense parts of the human psyche - the insinuation being that human beings are naturally lazy and unmotivated, which started a pretty intense debate between myself and my partner - he was unconvinced, whereas I could see it as a possibility, particularly over several generations.
The majority of Mockingbird focuses on Paul, but there are also sections told from the POV of both Mary Lou and Spofford. It's hard to form an attachment to the characters, but they are more the catalyst than the focus of the story itself.
Despite my reluctance towards 'literary sci-fi', Mockingbird far surpassed my expectations, and even with its intensity, I couldn't put it down. The writing style is uncomplicated and it's not overly 'sci-fi-ey', it's far more an exploration of humanity, and what it is that defines us.
I would agree with the blurb which states that this book might be justly considered the bridge between scifi and literature. It is not Nabokov, but it is very well constructed, beautifully judged and scarily speculative about the future of mankind. It has ideas very finely above it's station.
The story opens in New York and moves to the Bronx zoo where Mary Lou is about to shock Paul Bentley by throwing a brick through the glass of a python's cage. It's a novel way to introduce oneself, at least. They take a quick hike but there have been several self-immolations in the Burger Bar where they go for a spot of lunch. The people simply take their supors, and sit there smiling as they die. All very well but the smell throws Paul and Mary Lou somewhat together and a very strange thing happens, they fall in love.
This is very wrong. Neither of them have any notion of what love is. Paul is going through a very old collection of films for his work and is horrified by the notion of family which seemed to exist in the past. He records at one time: "I am shocked and saddened by it. And they talk so much to one another. Their lips are moving all the time..." The reason why Paul is so shocked at these old films is that the USA is now run according to strict Personal Privacy Laws. Children go to nurseries to be brought up by benevolent robots and hardly anyone lives outside the system of regulation with supors. They are taught that "quick sex is best", and "Don't Ask, Relax". Take your supors and watch the pretty colours on your TV screen. Supor capsules contain anti-fertility drugs that regulate the size of any State population. At least, that is how it is supposed to work. But things are seemingly beginning to break down.
The highest Make of Robot is the 9 and there is only one left in New York. But all he wants to do is die. The trouble is, his body won't allow him to die and his mind cannot override. That's how the Make 9's were made. Meanwhile there are no children being born, anywhere. Only the Make 9 can make the decision to allow female fertility once more.
The lovers are abruptly separated, and Paul is sent to prison. Can he (and his cat Biff) escape and reach New York? Mockingbird tackles the philosophy of obsolete technology, the likeness of the out-of- town Mall to a church, as well as other religious thought-mischiefs and the cunumdrum of vaunting power versus the future of the world.
I loved it. I immediately want to read it again, it is quite simply superb.
on 18 August 2012
This story explores a dystopian society approximately 450 years in the future from the point of view of three unusual citizens of New York. Everyone else is in a permanent drug-induced haze and lives by a moral code that is instilled in them from birth whereby interaction with other people is discouraged. Families and friendships no longer exist and nobody follows any kind of useful career, devoting themselves to the pursuit of pleasure while the commonplace robots do all the work. However, all the robots and automated machinery is breaking down and nobody has the knowledge or drive to fix anything. More importantly, no children have been born for some time but almost nobody seems to have noticed.
The story centres around an essentially immortal latest generation robot who is bored with trying to keep things running, the only man able to read and a woman he meets during his adventures. These characters are very well developed and the first part of the book is a fascinating insight into how things could turn out if everything is continually 'dumbed down'. The second part of the book follows the man who can read as he makes a journey through the former US.
The best part of the book to me is how small details of past events and how things have reached this state are gradually revealed to the reader. Many of these details are only mentioned in passing, but add a lot to the atmosphere. The sense of dispair of the more enlighted and aware main characters is well portrayed, and the way that the man begins to see what's really going on is described amazingly. Also, to my relief, the story if wrapped up fairly nicely with most of the main points resolved.
A great sci-fi book that would probably appeal to many general readers too.
on 7 August 2012
With its eyecatching cover illustration, Mockingbird is one of the most engaging and thought-provoking dystopian books I have read to date. The quirky blurb on the back cover doesn't properly prepare you for the story you're about to follow. Mockingbird falls somewhere in between Farenheit 451, Brave New World and Tevis' own The Man Who Fell to Earth.
Written in 1980, Mockingbird tells the classic tale of how man created robots to help then, ultimately becoming reliant on the robots and technology, resulting in the downfall of society - and it's some time after this that the book begins. The story is set in New York, in an initially undetermined future, where humanoid robots make up a large part of society and the government. Buildings lie abandoned and overgrown, and the population is sterile. People cannot read and what remains of the human race spend their days doped up and high, dependent on freely-dispensed Sopor pills.
Mockingbird brings together a trio of protagonists, starting with Robert Spofforth, a Black, towering youthful Make Nine robot. The last Make Nine ever made, with a brain fuelled by real human memories from a long-dead creator. Spofforth is troubled by his fragmented dreams and memories and has only one thing on his mind - his own death. However one day Spofforth meets Bentley - a man who can read. The chapters which follow cleverly alternate between Spofforth and Bentley, and follow Bentley's discovery of reading, writing journal entries and watching archive films. Bentley feels that something isn't right. Something under the surface; something about his upbringing and conditioning. He starts to question things. Why are the children in the streets robots? Why are there no young people? Why can't people read? Why do people immolate themselves in public? Why are the animals in the Zoo robots? And it was whilst at the Zoo that he meets Mary Lou - a woman who somehow escaped the conditioning in her youth.
Mockingbird is a cinematic read. It depicts a troubled society in a near future, in a very assertable way. It is sad, haunting, unsettling and exciting. The storytelling perhaps follows a more commonplace style from the midpoint of the book, but never drifts too far away from the main story to become tiresome. Tevis' characters are solidly developed and believable. I found myself feeling for them - even Spofforth - and desperate to read on at the end of every chapter.
The themes may not be anything radical or revolutionary; we've seen and read it all before in various forms, but they're done so well in Mockingbird. I don't doubt that a well-read copy of this book sits on many a film director's bookshelf, and deservedly so. Yet Mockingbird feels undervalued and seldom mentioned, which is a great shame.
on 31 July 2015
I downloaded this one as a holiday read,after deciding I should read some sci-fi classics. Mockingbird really is a great read. On reflection I think it's probably right up there with some of the best novels I've ever read. It.has all those sci-fi elements people.love, like the imagined world and the atmosphere. Yet so many sci-fi giants like Arthur C Clarke and, I'm afraid, Heinlein are amateurish in the arts of characterisation and drama.
This book has many parts, and.is very economically written to boot. The three characters and particularly the wistful, world weary robot Spofforth will stay with reader for a long time.
This is an outstanding novel by a master of his craft. I read The Man Who Fell to Earth many years ago after I'd seen the David Bowie movie through inebriated eyes on TV. It is also a 5-star read, full of atmosphere and yearning, with a magnificently drawn alien-human character. Mockingbird is way ahead of that. This is a work of sustained power by a writer at the peak of his powers. The pace and length are perfect. Tevis should be congratulated.
Please excuse funny punctuation marks. Writing this on my kindle with my thumbs and impossible to.edit.
The story is set in a dysfunctional future where humans are usually drugged up and following a antisocial but docile code of behaviour. People cannot read or write. They spend their lives taking drugs and living by sayings like "Don't ask. Relax." The population has been declining for many years.
The story mainly focuses on a man who learns to read and write and starts questioning his whole way of life. An administrator robot arranges for him to come and work for him recording the words in silent films. The robot is the only series 9 remaining because all the others have killed themselves whereas he is hardwired to be unable to commit suicide. The man meets a woman who is unlike the rest and they become lovers. Their story is told through their journals.
Although the style of writing is simple, even prosaic, the characters analyze their emotions, especially their emotional responses to events and books they read. The dominant emotion of the man is sadness. He finds a line of poetry (that inspires the book's title) that makes him feel sad. This becomes a mantra for him whenever he feels sad. Also a way of agreeing what sadness means with his lover. Without spoiling the story, his path is not smooth and he has many experiences that gradually change him. So it is also a coming of age story.
A simple book to read without being a simple book. Very enjoyable.
on 29 August 2012
This book begins with the robot Spofforth climbing to the top of the Empire State Building and trying to throw himself off. Mockingbird is set in the 25th century, during the last days of mankind. Spofforth is a 'Make 9', supposedly the most advanced robots ever built, with their brains cloned from a human being. Unfortunately, due to various problems and suicidal tendencies, all the other Make 9's have been destroyed. Spofforth is the last and has been programmed so that he cannot harm himself.
Robots were built by man to take over every day chores but have ended up running the place as the human population dwindled into drug- and training-induced isolation. Anything from eye contact to the briefest conversation is considered an invasion of privacy and a crime. Enter Bentley, who is learning to read from the dialogue cards in old silent movies - a pasttime that disappeared long ago. When Bentley meets Mary Lou, a woman who inhabits the reptile house at New York's zoo, she tells him she wants to learn to read too ...
It all sounds very depressing and much of the time it is - except for the spark of hope that begins to burn in Bentley. The narrative circles around these three characters as they try to make sense of a decaying world. It's a thought-provoking read, with several profound observations. You can almost hear Tevis bemoaning the fact that we miss the world going past us because we're too addicted to other things, like tv screens and computer monitors, and showing us how Bentley's world blossoms because of his desire not to be a sheep or a lemming, but instead to learn and to read.
It kept me reading because I wanted to find out why this had all happened, how mankind had got itself into this predicament. Even at 280 pages it is possibly a bit too long for what it is, and my interest did wane a little in the middle of it. But once the book started to reveal its secrets it dragged me back in, and I have to say that the ending is worth it. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that the final page alone is so memorable it's worthy of mention alongside some of my other favourite endings, like I Am Legend, Deadhouse Gates, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Tigana et al.
on 7 April 2011
If you are looking for a book to inspire you to think about life, the universe and everything, you can do much worse than this oft-overlooked gem. It's not always positive, yet not always bleak - an honest and objective glance through a rear-view-mirror from a dystopia in the future.
It's a very personal book which can itself inspire and entertain each reader in ways unique to their own experiences and thoughts. The writing seems to be purposely ambiguous at times for which to allow a wide range of emotions (as well as skip over purposely theistic opinions while still skimming the topic of human existence), however most of the critical reviews seem to either lack the proper understanding of most of the metaphors or overlook the importance with which they breath life and perspective into this work. Surely, anything that inspires such deep thought is worth reading.
Tevis manages to completely discover the meaning of passion and emotion and their importance in the driving force behind humanity, while still maintaining equanimity with his approach to spirituality and/or theistic beliefs with his delicate balance of characters. Spofforth's accumulated knowledge without passion, emotion, or creativity, and his consequent lack of regard for life highlight the author's thin line of moral questioning. There seem to be metaphors representing that being human is much more than moral decisions, and that caring about life itself (or a lack thereof) doesn't necessarily need to be a taboo topic. I loved the duality of the voices expressed and was moved by the way Tevis loosely ties his character arcs (albeit simple, they were principally instrumental in moving the reader to questions to which there are no answers).
"Only the mockingbird sings at the edge of the woods" is a haunting piece of poetry! Of course, the metaphor allows each reader to assemble a unique expression/opinion, but surely it's not arbitrary? For risk of pigeon-holing the meaning, surely there is a point about risks being only taken by those who can hide behind something other than their exposure...