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Square Wave by Mark de Silva

Square Wave

by Mark de Silva

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261415,071 (3.33)None



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If you are a particular kind of reader, this novel offers an embarrassment of riches. On a sentence by sentence level, it really IS flawless; there is not a cliche to be found, it's un-apologetically erudite, and comprised of hyper-attentive and detailed prose. At a macro-level it is quite ambitious, presenting a pastiche of connections/divergences ranging from a not-so-distant future where democracy teeters on a precarious edge, to an account of colonial clashes in 17th century Sri Lanka, to experimental musicians who combine every musical ratio to create a wall of (non)noise, to physicists converting weapons into cloud-seeding technology.

In other words, it is a very smart book, written by a very smart person who clearly has mastery of more fields than seems fair for a mere mortal. De Silva is a philosopher by training, but it is obvious that is not the extent of his expertise. I know some philosophy, but I don't know music theory, nor do I have a strong grasp on physics, so I imagine a lot of fun detail was lost on me. He is indeed quite impressive. The book has been touted as a balletic mapping of the confluence of geniuses.

This puts the reader in a bind. For, if it turns out you do not like or enjoy it, perhaps you lack the intellectual resources to understand it? Maybe it is not a book for you, but a book for geniuses. And perhaps you simply are not a member of that elite club.

Am I philistine if I say I found the prose--despite its admitted technical skillfulness--lifeless, over-laden, uncompelling, dragging, and (dare I say) straight-up boring? It felt like watching someone watch themselves flexing in the mirror. The fact that you're there, witnessing it, is just icing for the one flexing; they assume their own beauty is obvious and that you are indeed quite lucky to behold it.

But the characters--brilliant as we are told they are-are in fact quite poorly sketched. Every one of them rings tinny and hollow; despite the wide variation of their interests, they all sound the same, speak in the same voice. Is this supposed to be the shared inner language of genius?

I will say very little about the treatment of women in the book, except that it contains some of the more graphic depictions of pornography and violence against women I have ever read. The lone female character who is not a sex-worker is merely a prop*--a foil for the male geniuses who arouses petty jealousies, and is ultimately left behind. *Literally the main character rests an elbow on her while she sleeps on his lap at a party. ( )
  reganrule | Apr 26, 2016 |
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"Carl Stagg, a writer researching imperial power struggles in 17th century Sri Lanka, ekes out a living as a watchman in a factionalized America where confidence in democracy has eroded. Along his nightly patrol, Stagg finds a beaten prostitute, one in a series of monstrous attacks. Suspicious of his supervisor's intentions, Stagg partners with a fellow part-time watchman, Ravan, to seek the truth. Ravan hails from a family developing storm-dispersal technologies, whose research is jointly funded by the Indian and American governments. The watchmen's discoveries put a troubling complexion on Stagg's research, giving it new shape and impetus, just as the weather modification project begins to appear less about dispersing storms than weaponizing them."--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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