09 January 2010

Thoughts about The Accord by Keith Brooke

The Accord by Keith Brooke, Solaris, May 2009, 416 pages.

First, the disclaimers. Keith Brooke wrote the introduction to my collection of short stories, and I think highly of him.

Second, the prejudices. I hated the idea of The Accord from the title itself, almost as much as I hate vampires in fiction. A fine prejudice, however, like fine skin, is made to be broken.

This is the only book I've read that tackles levels of reality head on. Now that the edges of all our personalities are smudged by public projection and perception, this is both a timely and a deeply thoughtful multi-faceted novel that is not a quick read, nor a forgettable one. Though there are many issues Brooke covers including the abused and warrisome state of the "real" world, the plot is no manifesto. All the players in it are as real as our own pain, lusts, and love. In lesser but more famous hands, this book would have been a tour de technowind and opinionated irony. The Accord is written from a much lower vantage point, down where we live emotionally, especially the base place of inconvenient, irresistible love.

With so many people so mixed up about what is real today, and so many trying to escape and deny reality ("I'm quite interested in the idea of Second Life [since my first, ie. real life is a crap-out] " an award-winning friend of mine wrote to me), The Accord is thought-provoking rather than opinion-reinforcing, and emotionally rewarding on levels that science fiction often isn't. The issues are relevant not just now but in the future. My only quibble with it is the setting of part of it, which I would have placed at a much higher elevation physically—Edinburgh? But then that's heartless me. I think it's stupid to spend money against the sea in New Orleans. There isn't a plot that isn't lace if one pokes hard enough, including ridiculous truth. And in my consigning London to the past, I might be negating an important part of Brooke's message. Certainly his places are evocative and add much flavour and poignancy to the story. No one since Childers has done the terrors and beauty of land that the sea claims as well as Brooke, who also has a feel for the tiny details of a place that makes that place turn into life instead of, as he tells in graphic detail, the blurred mess that a tree is in the half-glance of casual remembered imagination.

The important point is that— in the challenge of the pressing problems it poses, the relevance of the issues today and in the future, the serious way it treats the reality of a fictional world, even the reality of a fictional virtual reality (something done almost always with surprising tackiness) and the strength of the story itself, which is held together partly by suspense — The Accord, in my opinion, deserves a Hugo.
We head west. I want to see Deanmere Gap again. I want at least some connection with you, Priscilla. We are coming for you, coming to find you. We will find a way out of this place.

I, too, look out of the carriage, but it is not to glimpse the sea. I am studying Magda's reality, looking for flaws, for repetitions, for dithering where the fabric of this world may be stretched thin.
I'm also fascinated by another aspect of the Accord, this "consensual reality that would leave all other VRs behind, a reality built from the mass of human experience, a super-city of the mind."

This book strikes me as a great example of the way great minds don't think alike. I was trying to find the right way to say this when I came upon Robert Louis Stevenson's words: "English youths turn to the thought of the American Republic. It seems to them as if, out west, the war of life was still conducted in the open air, and on free barbaric terms: as if it had not yet been narrowed into parlours, nor begun to be conducted, like some unjust and dreary arbitration, by compromise, costume, forms of procedure . . ." - (from "The Amateur Emigrant", 1895)

The Accord is as European a concept as the idea that a group of nations can agree by consensus. The EU concept has smoothed the sharp individualism that has been a feature of capitalist society as easily as the nation of shopkeepers has been turned into a people grumbling in comment lists against silly rules.

That the actual Accord in Brooke's vision fractures as much as consensus in the actual EU is a measure of the duality of thought in the mind of all thinking Europeans on both sides of the tunnel. That is a relief to this reader, who finds the idea of living in any state formed by consensus to be not a heaven, but a hell. And that distrust of the sum of conscious thought is possibly more culturally induced mania than I'd be willing to admit. I found the very idea of it revolting in the concept, as I hate the idea of being hemmed in — but Brooke was able to take even someone like me and bring us inexorably into his world that bureaucrats would tear their hair out at, as would those modellers who are reviled even today, as the jokes proliferate about the difference between Climate and The Weather.

I make these observations possibly as erroneously as those early observers did who saw flies emerge from meat. So please correct me if I'm wrong, but I do think that Brooke's vision would be vastly different if conceived by someone say, mentally living in the myth of US individualism, or the equally mythic Australian revolt against institutions. The citizens of both countries act as opposite their myths as the the EU does in the communality of life that is consensual Europe which doesn't, in fact, exist.

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