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Sensation (Spectacular Fiction) by Nick…

Sensation (Spectacular Fiction) (edition 2011)

by Nick Mamatas

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745162,398 (3.68)None
Title:Sensation (Spectacular Fiction)
Authors:Nick Mamatas
Info:PM Press (2011), Paperback, 208 pages
Collections:Your library, Favorites
Tags:humor, satire, science fiction, speculative fiction, politics, postmodern, slipstream

Work details

Sensation by Nick Mamatas

  1. 00
    Pym by Mat Johnson (Longshanks)
    Longshanks: Two intelligent satires which make their points with a balance of clever observation and silliness. And not the lol-so-random monkeycheese sort of silliness.

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It all starts with a wasps' nest in Raymond's mother's basement. The wasps are Hymenoepimescis sp., which usually reproduces by attacking the Plesiometa argyra spider and laying its eggs within the spider's abdomen. As the larvae feed off the spider, they change its behavior, compelling it to create a web that can allow them to finish their development. When the spider is done with its work, the larvae kill it. (The spider and wasp species are real – nature is freaky and horrifying.)

Hymenoepimescis sp. doesn't usually build a nest or use humans as its hosts, but in this case it was affected by the unusually high radon levels in Raymond's mother's basement. Julia, Raymond's wife, is attacked by one of these wasps and unknowingly has its eggs injected into her. Over the course of the next few months, the larvae gradually affect her behavior in various ways, until one day she decides to leave Raymond. From that point on, she proceeds to become famous, carrying out an assassination and inspiring a nameless political movement which has no apparent goal. What neither she nor Raymond realizes is that they are both pawns in an ancient war between Hymenoepimescis sp. and Plesiometa argyra.

I'm not sure how I feel about this book. Part of the problem was that “war” was maybe too strong of a word for what was going on between the spiders and the wasps. Although the spiders were an intelligent collective and were, in fact, the book's narrator, the wasps were just doing their thing. When their hosts were spiders, “their thing” meant inspiring behaviors that would allow their larvae to survive and become adult wasps. They weren't intelligent and hadn't evolved to grow inside and control human hosts, so their effect on humans was more aimless and chaotic. The end result left me wondering what the point was supposed to be, and the story became more tedious than interesting.

I did enjoy the bulk of this book, though. I was drawn in by Julia's erratic behavior. I wanted to know what she'd do next and what sorts of actions she'd inspire (although she was the only one being directly affected by the wasps, she seemed to inspire changes in everyone around her, apparently without even meaning to). Raymond watched her antics on the news and desperately tried to make some sense of it all, unable to truly move on.

The main reason why I decided to read this book was because of the intelligent spiders. I liked that the story was told from their collective point of view, both as individual spiders trying to keep track of the movements of the various characters and as spider-controlled masses of webbing designed to look like “men of indeterminate ethnicity.” There were moments when I felt that the author occasionally slipped up, including details that Raymond would have known (about his own experiences and feelings, for example) that the spiders probably wouldn't have. Still, it was interesting, and I liked their very alien perspective on how they should behave and what sorts of things humans might feel comfortable with and enjoy. I wish there had been more of that.

The world-building didn't really work for me. I could deal with the way the wasps mutated to be able to inject their eggs into Julia (honestly, it wasn't much different than accepting that radiation could create superheroes), and the author did eventually (a bit later than I'd have liked) provide some of the history of the spiders' influence on humans. However, there were lots of things I wanted to know more about, and instead I got vagueness or absolutely nothing. I'm still wondering how a giant mass of spiders could create a believably human-looking being, especially since the spiders didn't always seem to be confident about their ability to successfully communicate like humans or create natural human facial expressions. And why weren't they more confident about their mimicry, considering how long they'd existed alongside humans?

I also had issues with the characters. Just about every female character in the book behaved, at one time or another, like she was Julia under the influence of wasps. It didn't seem like they were consistently themselves. And the thing was, I'd probably have been able to put up with that, and my issues with the world-building, if it had all amounted to something.

I really liked the premise and the unusual POV. I just wish the finale had been as good as the buildup.

Additional Comments:

I counted at least six typos or instances of missing words. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it was more than I expected in a work this short, and the errors were really noticeable.

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.) ( )
  Familiar_Diversions | May 4, 2016 |
Tiresome and smug. Wouldn't have finished it but I didn't have anything else to read while I was on jury duty. ( )
  JenneB | Apr 2, 2013 |
Sensation's average rating is 3.5+ stars. Statistically, at least, the evidence indicates that, if you consider reading Sensation, you're likely to enjoy it.

I won't speak to the plot other than to say that its conceit involves the revelation that all of human history is the result of a proxy war between other lifeforms. The plot isn't really what's important here; it's the setup that those readers who enjoy Sensation will appreciate: It's the skewed mechanism by which Mamatas delivers his critiques of contemporary American society.

At least one reviewer (elsewhere) referred to Mamatas' writing as “smug.” I'd by lying if I denied that. But Mamatas isn't selective in his choice of targets; he mocks everyone equally and one gets the sense, at least, that he's including himself (or his “type”) among those he lampoons. Of course, certain stereotypes receive special attention: The “hipster,” the academic, and, yes, he makes fun of performance artists. Easy targets, perhaps, but I enjoyed Mamatas' handling of them.

Sensation suffers from a number of weaknesses. The plot meanders and, short as the book is, feels as if it's been stretched too long in spots. Philosophical implications abound and, irony deficient as I am, I'm not sure if Mamatas was striving for depth or adding another layer of mockery atop his characters. On a technical level, I read the Nook version of Sensation, which was poorly formatted and suffered from numerous errors and typos.

I forgive Mamatas the points above because of the uniqueness of his concept (to me, anyway), the ways in which he captures what so many of us think and his occasionally surprising turns of phrase. “I eat murder,” says one character, “and I poop ideology,” a statement that can't fail to bring a smile to my face.

There is no huge payoff at the end of Sensation. It won't change your worldview or awaken in you the urge to engage in some sort of social justice work. It's not serious. It's not literature. It's entertainment, and that's okay. I recommend that readers able to accept a book on that merit give this (short) book a chance. ( )
  LancasterWays | Feb 17, 2013 |
A hilarious take on modern society and acts of rebellion against it, be they effectual or otherwise. Refreshingly straight-faced with its humor, despite its premise initially sounding like the product of a group the book satirizes quite thoroughly. ( )
  Longshanks | Jan 19, 2013 |
Hard to classify Sensation by Nick Mamatas without describing the work like some obscure underground internet radio station. It definitely falls within the parameters of contemporary urban science-fiction, a more American counterpart to the British labyrinthine imaginings of China Mieville, while faintly echoing the finer philosophical musings of The Matrix movies. On the other hand, it confluences in wild absurdity, paralleling a strange hybrid of The Hitchhiker's Guide with Woody Allen's New York state of mind.

The story doesn't have much of a center as it's more a series of falling dominoes, beginning with an atypical breakup between lackluster couple Raymond and Julia, and the subsequent societal fallout both monitored and controlled from forces unforeseen. Such forces reveal themselves as the interplay between two warring super-intelligent species of spider and wasp, molding our reality as omnipresent observers of "indeterminate ethnicities", policing society's actions in their own war of survival.

Mamatas frequently references the butterfly effect in this work, using timely and humorous popular social references to illustrate the torrential effect of the small actions people collectively take, whether they be defacing newly constructed mega-stadiums, driving buses into the United Nations, or enacting "Plan Z" through the perfected strategy of web-based, pseudo-bourgeois "mutually assured confusion". With all these accumulated acts, Mamatas eagerly invokes the free will argument, whether in this highly controlled universe or that of the interweaved, yet nebulous "Simulacrum" in which our players occasionally encounter themselves.

There's a lot going on in Sensation. With creepy subtlety and detachment, Mamatas brilliantly narrates from the view of his hyper-intelligent spider species; his interweave of our reality and that of the Simulacrum is too underdeveloped for my taste though, as he focuses on the plight of an overeducated, insipid Raymond and his ubiquitous Julia. More time could have been spent on the hive-mind of his wasp species, for it too, was left wanting in relation to his spidey sense. The absurdity emanating from and surrounding his characters in an ever insane New York is quite enjoyable though; Mamatas deftly strangles our sense of self-importance, adding a much needed humility to our unquestionably mindless endeavors. It's also an unquestionably worthwhile read. ( )
  gonzobrarian | Aug 30, 2011 |
Showing 5 of 5
Mamatas is an excellent writer who takes chances with his work, but takes them thoughtfully and delivers them for maximum effect, to deliver his ideas with precision and strength, so that his novel leaves a lasting impression not just of pleasure, but of a reflective questioning about what we think we are capable of, and what really constrains and directs us though our daily lives.
[A]live with scornful insight about pop culture, the net, and politics. Sensation is a kind of bastard love-child of GG Allin and Kurt Vonnegut, a science fiction story that is funny but always discomfiting.
In his 2004 debut novel, Move Under Ground, Nick Mamatas handled what could have been a gimmicky premise—a fight for the soul of America between H.P. Lovecraft’s evil chaos god Cthulhu and a ragtag crew of Beat writers led by Jack Kerouac—with intelligence, depth, and wit. Unfortunately, he’s on considerably shakier ground in his third novel, Sensation, which fumbles to an unfocused conclusion after a strong beginning.
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For Olivia, again.
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Raymond saw his ex-wife twice—both times by accident—in the first few months after she went into hiding.
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"Love. Politics. Parasitic manipulation. Julia Hernandez left her husband, shot a real-estate developer out to gentrify Brooklyn, and then vanished without a trace. Well, perhaps one or two traces were left... With different personal and consumption habits, Julia has slipped out of the world she knew and into the Simulacrum--a place between the cracks of our existence, from which human history is both guided and thwarted by the conflict between a species of anarchist wasp and a collective of hyperintelligent spiders. When Julia's ex-husband Raymond spots her in a grocery store he doesn't usually patronize, he's drawn into an underworld of radical political gestures and Internet organizing looking to overthrow a ruling class it knows nothing about--and Julia is the new media sensation of both this world and the Simulacrum."--Publisher's description.… (more)

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