Diamond Dogs is a stage adaptation of the Alastair Reynolds novella of the same name: a kind of horror-survival story set in the far future, transhuman space opera world of Reynolds' Revelation Space universe. Saturday's production also featured a pre-show discussion with Reynolds himself, as well as playwright Althos Low (pen name for Steve Pickering & others) and director Nathan Allen.
I've been meaning to see more of the SFF-allied theater in Chicago, and I am *so glad* I made it out to see this—really quite a spectacle, not shying away even slightly from the science-fictional elements, and with some pretty brilliant tech—props, costumes, puppetry, light & sound—it pulled them off surprisingly well.
More discussion, and possible spoilers, below:
Reynolds' talk was interesting—shed some light on his writing practices and influences. If you haven't read any, his work is firmly centered in the "hard/space-opera revival" area of SF. Speaking of his beginnings, he talked about his unpublishable first efforts and getting past the fear of the novel—"just 500 words a day, and eventually you've got one", as well as slowly finding his publishing niche: not so much the literary, New-Wavey, Ballard-y stuff, but the resurgence of Hard SF exemplified in writers like Stephen Baxter & Paul McAuley.
Noting the perennial problem that "utopias are tough, fictionally", he talked about using other formats in that setting—"24 in space", for instance, and mentioned works as various as The Name of the Rose, The Dirty Dozen, and The Avengers (show not superheroes) as influences on his Revelation Space works.
(Reynolds mentioned loving "climbing literature", including works like Krakauer's Into Thin Air, a list I kind of want to compile now. I highly recommend Chris Coake's short collection We're In Trouble, which is incredibly and depressing and has quite a few climber-stories.)
But, the Play Itself!
If you're an SFF fan with even the tiniest interest in live productions, you should see this. And there's only the rest of this week to catch it.
The effects really peak with the puppetry—both the drone seen early in the play, and the titular diamond dogs in the last act. The move from human actors to puppetry at a vital moment might seem foolhardy, but it was probably the most affecting part of the play for me. Puppetry designed by Mary Robinette Kowal, by the way, who's also an accomplished SF author.
There were a few rather sub-optimal technical aspects, primarily having to do with sight lines. I really do applaud the decision to stage this in the round—having the audience seated entirely around the action emphasized the live, theatrical nature of the production; one worries that the same effects on a traditional proscenium stage would seem too "screen-like". However, the raised stage played poorly with my ability to see the action and actors at several points, especially since the stage also included different raised columns in many scenes.
This doesn't make for good characters, nor dialog. Furthermore, the decision to rigorously follow the text of the novella makes for a play that is full-to-bursting with as-you-know-bobs: exposition galore, and telling, rather than showing, the plot and emotional implications of every act. The script sounded overwhelmingly crowded, with actors rushing to get all their clunky exposition out, and it felt as though they were in danger of stepping on each others' lines in almost every scene.
As a result, it's hard to even evaluate the actors: there was too much script in the way. Joey Steakley's rendition of the cyborg Dr. Trintignant was easily the most memorable: the character's appearance accomplished much on its own, necessitating rather less exposition, and, despite or perhaps because of face-obscuring prosthetics, Steakley's physical presence on stage was more nuanced and distinct than the rest of the cast. Elana Elyce's Hirz was the most organic-feeling presence on the stage, but the way the character is treated—verbally abused and casually murdered by a privileged man, with no-one speaking up for her—is pretty squicky, and a few Think Galactagons were also a bit suspicion of the decision to drop a kind of "sassy black woman" trope so uncritically here.
|And yes, you'll hear some Bowie.|
Go check this out, it's only playing for a week more.