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May 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and Religion in The Matrix by by Glenn Yeffeth (Editor)
BenBella Books PPBK: ISBN1932100024 PubDate: April 1, 2003
Review by Edward Carmien

240 pages List price 17.95
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This text came into my hands at a fortuitous time for several reasons. First, it is but (as I write this) six days before the sequel to The Matrix will be released. Second, I’m currently editing a collection of non-fiction articles on a science fiction kind of subject (sf/f author C.J. Cherryh—see plug, below).

On the one hand, the book is timely (no accident, one assumes). On the other hand, it is extremely helpful to see how Glenn Yeffeth handles various challenges faced by the editor of an anthology of academic writing about a decidedly non-academic subject.

In Taking the Red Pill fifteen contributors (counting an introduction by David Gerrold) take on science, philosophy and religion (as promised in the title). By happy and inevitable circumstance they also address the subject of popular culture, the essential binding ingredient of this volume.

The prose you will find here is not overly academic. It is not rudely punctuated by MLA in-text citations, for example. Instead, sources are listed at the end of each article and discrete footnotes supply some guidance about sources as necessary. While die hard academics might ask “what source is this information from? What page?” while reading this text, I prefer the leaner form these articles adopt because they are inherently readable and thereby enjoyable. In short, the intended audience for this anthology is not the academic world but a wider audience of readers, those who have seen The Matrix and wish to learn a bit more about what they saw.

Readers take care: an immediate side-effect of reading Taking the Red Pill is an immediate urge to drop the DVD into the nearest player and turn the sound up. Way up.

That’s a good thing, if you have been trying to keep score. Watching the film after reading Read Mercer Schuchardt’s “What is the Matrix?” is bound to be an experience full of discovery—no matter how often the film has been viewed before. (So you think you know? I dare you—read Taking the Red Pill. G’wan.) Ever wonder about the technology of the Matrix? Where the term came from? How McLuhan fits into all this? About the intersection of Buddha and Christ in the film? What that book was in the beginning, you know, the one Neo hides his software in?

Ever wonder if a world dominated by AIs is possible? Ever wonder if God is in The Matrix? (Paul Fontana knows. Read his “Finding God in the Matrix” to find out.) Ever wonder where all the street and place names came from? Ever have a knock-down, drag-out argument about the sf elements of The Matrix? Peter B. Lloyd’s “Glitches in The Matrix…and How to Fix Them” is a virtual armory of weapons for that discussion.

Fans of The Matrix should read this book, if only for the glossary at the end that compiles a lot of nifty information into easily digestible form. Filmgoers who wanted to like the film but couldn’t will want to browse this book and maybe see the film again. If you, gentle reader, hated the film, one must wonder why you’re still reading this review (and no, this book isn’t for you, unless you like to argue with your friends about The Matrix and want to keep up with the Joneses as far as information about the film is concerned).

I recommend this book because it is brainy in an accessible way. Yeffeth clearly wanted to compile articles that were readable yet intelligent and insightful. He succeeded. Yeffeth and publisher BenBella Books are to be commended for assembling and publishing such a fine text (and just in time for The Matrix Reloaded, too!).

(Plug: The Cherryh Odyssey is open to submissions through the summer of 2003. Read more at http://enigma.rider.edu/~ecarmien/ )

sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes)© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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