by Walter Tevis
Reading history and reviews
Finished on 18th April 2010My friend Graeme lent this to me and I felt obliged to read it, in spite of a long-standing aversion to books with very obviously "sci-fi" covers. In fact as part of Gollancz's "SF Masterworks" series this is a cut above: for me, "Mockingbird" is science fiction at its best, as a medium for exploring ideas - in this case, about how should we live, how our relationship with the technology we make also shapes us, and indeed even what it means to be "human".
In Tevis's vision of the future (which to me had an almost 50's feel which belies the original 1980 publication date), the world is largely run by dumb machines, ostensibly servicing the needs of a society where most people have been brought up to enjoy what we might think of as merely superficial pleasures. Unfortunately the machinery is slowly deteriorating: in one episode (which greatly amused my friend) a man comes across a factory which, due to a small jam in one machine, has for years been continually building defective toasters. As each toaster fails the quality check, it is recycled back into its constituent parts to be made back into another defective toaster.
I felt that the comparison that one review made with Huxley's "Brave New World" is quite apt. You might even wish to draw parallels with the present day (for example a world of people hooked on ephemeral pleasures delivered by technology most don't understand in a self-sustaining cycle of consumerism, or else maybe the increasing complexity of inter-related software systems). Well, maybe that's going a bit far - but I suppose its a tribute to the ideas in "Mockingbird" that it encourages those kinds of thoughts.