Dawn of the Algorithm: Too many pop references, not enough poetry for me

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsDawn of the Algorithm by Yann RousselotDawn of the Algorithm by Yann Rousselot

Dawn of the Algorithm
is a collection of 33 poems by Yann Rousselot that take a wryly dark look at humanity — mostly our faults — through the lens of science fiction tropes, most pulled from pop culture. We’ve got AIs, giant monsters, depressed T-Rex’s, aliens, and loads of references to anime, science fiction films and fiction. It’s a collection that should have been right up my alley, but though it has its moments, I just didn’t connect with much of it, wanting perhaps a bit more poetry (or at least, my type of poetry, such a thing being so subjective) with my sci-fi.

To begin with the positive, Rousselot has an often sharp wit. Sometimes it comes with a mere chuckle, other times a real bite, or sometimes maybe both, as when he close a poem detailing the end of the world with:

And everyone will be aghast, and shell shocked, but united at

Last,

And a strangely familiar voice, maybe Morgan Freeman,

Will be narrating anything.

You can’t help but smile at how yes, it does seem Morgan Freeman has done a lot of voice overs while the world ends, or if he hasn’t literally, it seems that way in memory. But then, you pause and wonder if Rousselot is making a harsher point about our attitude toward the end of the world, which might, after all, be thanks to our own actions.

In the same poem is a wonderfully startling image of the Eiffel Tower animated and deadly, as it

thrashes and whips

coiling and uncoiling

like the tentacle of a dying octopus

a tornado of wreckage

My favorite in the collection is entitled “Ugly Bags of Mostly Water” and is narrated by a Jovian whose existence he tells us is really beyond our Earthly comprehension:

I am we are jovian — there are no names at all —

No modals — timescale is an alien term —

I cannot comprehend —death is not — therefore nor is time —

That which you call winds I call blood flow…

That which you call skin —

A threadbare term to describe where I stop and others begin —

I found this the strongest poem in several ways: its language, its sense of a voice, its sound quality, as in these lines, with their alliteration, assonance, and near rhymes:

I long for home —

gravity the unbreakable shackle to this planet — the thing you call body

A curse alike to sentience and skin —

Skin the unbreakable shackle to the thing you call body

As much as the quality of its language and sound, it was the poem’s emotion that I responded to so strongly. Unfortunately, this was one of the only poems that evoked such a response. Most of the poems just didn’t resonate on that level for me, the vast majority feeling more than a little distant or removed. Part of this I think came from the frequent pop culture references, which at times threatened to either overwhelm the poem or seemed to be too much the meat of the poem rather than a vehicle for the poem. As if the references were sufficient unto themselves, or if not the references, the humor.

That played into a sense I had in many of the poems that they just didn’t go far enough, or took the easy way into the poem, sometimes with regard to the idea, sometimes the language, which at times fell into an unexpected flatness (as in a reference to a mountain shaking people off like “fleas off a dog”), but mostly it almost never startled me, something I always look for in poetry.

Dawn of the Algorithm was a collection I was really hoping to like, especially as, let’s face it, we don’t get a lot of poetry based on the science fiction/fantasy genre. And I did like its broad themes of technology and isolation, as well as its often-dark humor. Unfortunately, it mostly didn’t work for me in terms of either the science fiction or the poetry aspects, with the science fiction coming mostly in the form of pop culture references and the poetry not offering up the sharpness, originality, or musicality of language I was hoping for. That said, poetry is so subjective, more so than fiction I’d say, and speculative poetry is so rare, I’d suggest trying to find a library copy or maybe some of the poems online to see if you might respond differently.

Publication Date: May 30, 2015. Dawn of the Algorithm, Yann Rousselot’s debut collection of poetry, is a bestiary of octosharks and dinosaurs, zombies and pathogens, mecha robots and common mortals. These monsters were raised on a diet of TV tropes, movie clichés, book snippets, and video game storylines. Some have beating hearts, others interlocking mechanical parts. They are forces of human nature, genetically engineered with a single purpose: to herald the apocalypse. Building on user-friendly motif and imagery, Rousselot draws acute, playful but painful conclusions about twenty-first century Earth. He paints a darkly comical portrait of humankind, a species plagued by heartbreak and alienation, yet driven by hope and, at the very core, a burning desire to connect.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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2 comments

  1. The Jovian poem looks great from what you’ve quoted here.

  2. “Dawn of the Algorithm” is a title that sounds like it came from our Random Title Generator.

    http://www.fantasyliterature.com/library/fantasytitlegenerator.html

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