One of my traditional pastimes at [personal profile] dancinghorse's wonderful writing/riding camp is reading random books off her well-stocked shelves. Last year I read The One Where Everyone Gets Rapes and the Heroine's Sister's Foot Gets Eaten by Forest Animals. This year I read Nancy Kress's
Brain Rose, an ambitious sf novel with a great premise, which dissolves into an incomprehensible mystical mess by the end. I recall a lot of sf like that in the 80s, and also the 70s.

Simple, safe, elective brain surgery enables people to access memories of past lives. This is a very new procedure, so only a handful of people have had it. Much of the book follows a few characters who have the procedure, then explore their past lives and grapple with the implications for their current lives. This part of the book is excellent, and if Kress had stuck to that, it would have been a very good book.

However, other stuff is going on. There's an ecological catastrophe and a band of eco-idiots who promote pollution on the grounds that Gaia will fix everything. There's a plague which destroys people's ability to form new memories. (That part was good.) Gay sex has been banned and the government controls reincarnation.

Brain Rose was published in 1990, which does not go nearly far enough to explain why not only has gay sex been banned in America due to fear of AIDS (reasonable extrapolation, given homophobia), but no one in the entire book ever mentions that AIDS is also transmitted heterosexually. Or that safe sex is possible, even if you're gay. There is discussion of how terrible it is to prevent people from having a sex life, but no one ever points out that the entire premise of the law is false, and that gay sex, in and of itself, is not the problem. I was a volunteer AIDS educator at the time the book was written, so I know it's not that the information wasn't out there. Very peculiar.

The other problem is that about halfway through, it turns out that everyone who's ever had past life surgery gets memories of past lives in which they know this one other guy who also had past life surgery. His name is Brekke, which is also the name of the woman in Anne McCaffrey's Pern books whose dragon tragically dies. Brekke the personality-less plot vector ushers in the second half of the book, in which people discuss the less-than-clever reasons for this, and occasionally commit terrorist acts.

Brekke is either God, or God's tool for fixing the memory plague. The memory plague, which existed before the reincarnation surgery, was retroactively caused by the surgery to maintain ecological balance. Like a brain creating new neurological connections, everyone is connected to Brekke via reincarnation because it's God's or Gaia's way of fixing problems in the memory-sphere causing and/or caused by the memory plague and/or the reincarnation surgery.

Also, nobody's personal issues are resolved at the end, and their own personal memories of past lives, which were my favorite part, get shoved aside in favor of mystical bibble. Very annoying.

From: [identity profile]

I recall the summer of either 1990 or 1991 when I worked for the new student orientation at the UW in Seattle part of the program was to bring the incoming students in for a talk about "Life," which meant also sex. One of the speakers was a young, wanna-be-hip medical doctor from the student center (a real doctor at the center where students were to go for medical help), who proceeded to tell everyone there that there was no risk for HIV transmission with heterosexual sex, that this was just a myth that the gay people were perpetrating to make their sex seem normal or all right, and that only gay sex caused AIDS. He literally told the audience, who he obviously presumed were all heterosexuals, "Don't worry about it."

From: [identity profile]

Yes, I spoke up. Long story short, this is one of several incidents that eventually lead to me no longer having that job, but I "won" the argument and introduced changes for the next year's presentation.

From: [identity profile]

Oh, that's great. And may have been very literally life-saving.

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