Dawn 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
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.