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on July 08, 2010 :
"A Mixture of Metals" has put me in mind of a number of other books: Yevgeny Zamyatin's "We," John Hersey's "White Lotus," and of course George Orwell's "1984." It's not stylistically comparable to those novels, but it embeds the same cautionary themes, and is almost as effective as they at conveying a sense of menace and nowhere-to-run.
Simora's story of repeated disillusionment and betrayal is nicely told: neither too maudlin nor too aloof. The one criticism I can make of it is that Kana's eventual role in Simora's troubles is somewhat telegraphed by the early portion of the story; Kana is so relentlessly self-centered that the reader will know that he figures in later events, to tragic effect.
The overall portrayal of "Society" is a wee bit heavy-handed, but that might have been unavoidable, given the features it had to have. A regime that attempts thought and speech control must be omnipresent and overbearing. There's a risk here, of course; a reader not entirely attuned to your thesis might react by saying "he's overdoing it" and thrust your book aside. All the same, it worked for me, and it will work for many others.
As I write this, another book comes to mind: Robert A. Heinlein's "Farnham's Freehold." The depiction of a slave society, produced by war, with the "original participants" reversed is striking in its parallel to your book. Clearly, this is a "dangerous vision." Few writers have dared to depict a racially-determined slave society in which blacks are the ruling class; it would be deemed "politically incorrect," even though recent events suggest that there are many black political activists who envision exactly that as their ideal end state.
I have one stylistic criticism to make. It's one of which many writers are guilty, so this is merely a mild reproof. Never, never, NEVER use the phrasing "on a XXX basis." It's so irritating that my attention is immediately diverted from the story to the awkwardness and artificiality of the phrase. I'd rather eat shards of broken glass than be battered by that phrase. Here's the right way:
"On a daily basis" ==> "Daily"
"On a regular basis" ==> "Regularly"
"On a sexual basis" ==> "By sex"
One reason for the "on a XXX basis" construction is that we've all been made horribly timid about using adverbs. Use them as God intended! They're one of the eight parts of speech; you can hardly do without them. The reason so many editors wince at adverbs in the prose of mediocre and poor writers is the tendency of such writers to use them to prop up weak dialogue: '"You can't talk to me like that," she said angrily.' If your dialogue is strong enough to "speak for itself," you can avoid the adverbs, and the "Tom Swifties" that often result. Otherwise, use adverbs where appropriate -- WITHOUT the "on a XXX basis" scaffolding that's merely a feeble attempt to disguise them.
On the whole, jolly well done!
(review of free book)