I was 34, a first-time parent, married, a recent university graduate with a BA in English literature. I had published a few (very few) short stories in Omni, a glossy magazine from the publisher ofPenthouse. Omni paid around $2,000 for a short story, a princely sum (particularly when compared with science fiction magazines – digest-sized, the traditional pulps – which paid perhaps a 10th, if that). Omni left me no choice but to write more.
Their first cheque cashed, I’d purchased the cheapest possible ticket to New York, intent on meeting the mysterious human whose editorial decision had resulted in such a windfall. The late Robert Sheckley, a droll and affable man, and a writer whose fiction I admired, took me out to lunch on the Omni tab and gave me two pieces of sage advice: I should never, under any circumstances, sign a multi-book contract, and neither should I “buy that big old house”. I have managed to follow the first to the letter.
Genre: science fiction Setting: Area X? # of Pages: 195 Rating: 2.5/5
The skinny: The library level of Halo in book form.
The fat: The best way I can think to describe Annihilation is that it’s like reading a video game. You find yourself suddenly stumbling around an alien wilderness with a trio of team members whose names you don’t know and whose personalities are just as elusive. From the very outset there’s a sense of something foreboding lurking in the lush landscape, and while it should be tantalizing, the Ominous Foreshadowing is so heavy-handed that it feels like being bludgeoned over the head with a blunt instrument. What Vandermeer’s got here is a very interesting idea that isn’t executed very well. I wanted so badly to be so immersed in his world, but the clunky narration and clumsy plot twist of (spoiler alert) the narrator turning out to not be entirely reliable had me rolling my eyes a little too often for that. I finished the novel with most of my big questions still unanswered, feeling that there was some important Point with a capital P that I had somehow missed. To be fair, there are two other books in the series that might shed some light on the first one, but if your debut leaves a reader this bemused there’s no guarantee they’ll bother picking up the next one to find out.
Notes: second volume of the Sprawl trilogy. As I said in the Neuromancer review, try to be cautious in the selection of the translation. Fun fact which isn’t actually fun at all: in Italy the first edition of Count Zero had “third book of the trilogy” printed behind it, and Mona Lisa Overdrive was branded as the second book. I personally know people who read this in the wrong order. Considering how weird these books are, I don’t recommend reading them in the wrong order.
The book is set 7 years after the events of Neuromancer. Rather than following a single storyline like in the first book, here we can identify three main threads masterfully connected with each other. One revolves around a young unexperienced hacker, Bobby “Count Zero” Newmark, who is saved by a mysterious image of a girl right before flatlining. He tries to find out what’s behind the program who almost killed him. Meanwhile Turner, a corporate mercenary, is supposed to “extract” a scientist - aka, to help him leave the megacorp he’s working for now -, but things don’t go as planned, and he rescues his daughter Angie instead. In Paris a disgraced gallery owner, Marly Krushkova, is contacted by an impossibly rich industrialist, Josef Virek, who will pay her well to find the artist of a certain artwork he is obsessed with.
While megacorporations battle against each other and normal people try to survive, it becomes clear that after the end of Neuromancer, after what Case did, the Matrix just got weirder. Some hackers -pardon, consolle cowboys - are aware of it, and are terrified. Others have accepted it and assumed specific roles. And it’s some of those last ones who help Bobby.
It’s impossible not to love Bobby, the polar opposite of grim, brooding Case: young, enthusiastic, naive and curious, but not pathetic (at least not to the reader), he is the character it’s easier to identify with. Maybe because, like Bobby, the reader is desperately trying to understand what is going on, and his inexperience is the perfect way to introduce the reader to the setting, to what changed since Neuromancer. Turner is another wonderful character, the archetypal shadowrunner, with a lot of stories of his past adventures and a problematic family suddenly finding himself with a teenager unlike any other. Among hackers and mercenaries, Marly reminds us that there’s still normal people living in this cyberpunk world, and it’s refreshing to have someone who worries about paying the rent and would like to stay out of trouble, thank you very much. Not that it goes as planned.
If Neuromancer was weird, Count Zero is even weirder, mostly due to the changes in the Matrix. Again, by being part of the Sprawl Trilogy it is a must read if you’re into cyberpunk. The main themes and archetypes are all there and it’s, of course, recommended.
* Apex, Ramez Naam “Global unrest spreads through the US, China, and beyond. Secrets and lies set off shockwaves of anger, rippling from mind to mind.”
* The Edge of Dark, Brenda Cooper “What if a society banished its worst nightmare to the far edge of the solar system, destined to sip only dregs of light and struggle for the barest living. And yet, that life thrived?”
* After the Saucers Landed, Douglas Lain “UFOlogist Harold Flint is heartbroken and depressed that the aliens that have landed on the White House lawn appear to be straight out of an old B movie.”
* ®evolution, PJ Manney “Scientist Peter Bernhardt has dedicated his life to nanotechnology, the science of manipulating matter on the atomic scale. As the founder of Biogineers, he is on the cusp of revolutionizing brain therapies with microscopic nanorobots that will make certain degenerative diseases become a thing of the past.”
* Windswept, Adam Rakunas “Labor organizer Padma Mehta is on the edge of space and the edge of burnout. All she wants is to buy out a little rum distillery and retire, but she’s supposed to recruit 500 people to the Union before she can.”
* Archangel, Marguerite Reed “The Earth is dying, and our hopes are pinned on Ubastis, an untamed paradise at the edge of colonized space. But such an influx of people threatens the planet’s unstudied ecosystem — a tenuous research colony must complete its analysis, lest humanity abandon one planet only to die on another.”
The six authors have come together to offer copies of all six books to six lucky winners. Enter here.
How is it, then, that “Infinite Jest” still feels so transcendentally, electrically alive? Theory 1: As a novel about an “entertainment” weaponized to enslave and destroy all who look upon it, “Infinite Jest” is the first great Internet novel. Yes, William Gibson and Neal Stephenson may have gotten there first with “Neuromancer” and “Snow Crash,” whose Matrix and Metaverse, respectively, more accurately surmised what the Internet would look and feel like. (Wallace, among other things, failed to anticipate the break from cartridge- and disc-based entertainment.) But “Infinite Jest” warned against the insidious virality of popular entertainment long before anyone but the most Delphic philosophers of technology. Sharing videos, binge-watching Netflix, the resultant neuro-pudding at the end of an epic gaming marathon, the perverse seduction of recording and devouring our most ordinary human thoughts on Facebook and Instagram — Wallace somehow knew all this was coming, and (as the man himself might have put it) it gave him the howling fantods.
I was late because I had so very little idea of how to write a novel, but assumed that this might well be my first and last shot at doing so. Whatever else might happen, I doubted anyone would ever again offer me money up front for an unwritten novel. This was to be a paperback original, for a very modest advance. My fantasy of success, then, was that my book, once it had been met with the hostile or indifferent stares I expected, would go out of print. Then, yellowing fragrantly on the SF shelves of secondhand book shops, it might voyage forward, up the time-stream, into some vaguely distant era in which a tiny coterie of esoterics, in London perhaps, or Paris, would seize upon it, however languidly, as perhaps a somewhat good late echo of Bester, Delany or another of the writers I’d pasted, as it were, on the inside of my authorial windshield. And that, I assured myself, sweating metaphorical bullets daily in front of my Hermes 2000 manual portable, would almost certainly be that.
I’ve never actually read Mayhew, but feel I’ve long had him, through brilliant osmosis, with Kellow Chesney’s Victorian Underworld, which is easily one of my favorite books ever. People assume, when I tell them that, that Chesney would mainly have influenced The Difference Engine, but actually this was very consciously the basis of the criminal society of Neuromancer, et al. It was a Victorian model, as I saw what’s since come to be called neoconservatism producing a neo-Victorian world. Not a bad call, either!
I literally had The Victorian Underworld on my desk constantly, throughout the writing of Neuromancer, and for years after.
I’ve come to some conclusions about the type of Solarpunk stories I’m most interested in. I’m making a post about it just to get it clear in my head.
I really like stories that are a response to the fear for technology, or doubt about tech. I LOVE some cyberpunk worlds (like the world of ghost in the shell, and the world of neuromancer) and the stories that take place in them that are questioning the status quo and their place in those worlds. But there is always an element of tech being used against them (which is a valid and excellent element - these are questions that need asked and are really relevant today - I am NOT saying questioning tech is a bad thing!). For example, questions of needing tech to live or move and whether that makes us less human. Older texts like 1984 and Brave New World also question the use of tech for controlling the population. Anyway, the solarpunk stories I like the most are ones which either try and solve these issues or subvert them. Stories about people who do need tech to live or to improve their lives and think it makes them better - whole heartedly better off, for example. (sci fi does not have enough stories about non-able bodied people!). Stories about tech being used to communicate and reject controlling authority. Stories that look at world that are dystopic and see how they could be changed, slowly, in little ways, to make them better, or at least try to. A lot of cyberpunk either ends with the protagonist accepting the world they live in or ends right when they make radical changes (Like in Blue Sky). I want to see what happens next.
This might be a super nich part of Solarpunk, but it’s what I always end up turning to! As an aside, the more environment-geared aspects are a part of this - so many stories of tech as bad involve the environment being the first victim so changing that is always a part of the solution.
Hello, I'm a huge fan of the Imperial Radch series! I'm kind of on an AI-characters kick right now, and I was wondering if there were any other fictional works with AI characters that you'd recommend? Thank you!
That’s a really good question, and of course my mind has gone blank.
I’ve been a fan of HAL from 2001 from way back. But there are surely more that I’ve liked, and surely more recent, but I’ve sat on this ask for several days and honestly nothing has come to mind. Well, except an irritating one that was a sentient ship that I thought was clumsily handled. And I freely admit to being way more picky these days about how AI is handled in fiction. (I also have a probably unreasonably finicky objection to certain sloppy ways of handling POV. Yes, the “sloppy” is a value judgement on my part, but there it is.)
I mostly like the way Person of Interest has handled AI.
Oh, Neuromancer by William Gibson did the “first novel, won all the awards that year” thing in the eighties, and it’s very, very good, although fair warning it’s also very eighties, and in places very violent. And btw if you’re a PoI fan and haven’t read Neuromancer yet, you’ll see a thing that PoI used that is, I am absolutely convinced, a deliberate hat-tip to Neuromancer.
Any suggestions for science-fiction/dystopian novels?
I have a long term project of eventually writing something of my own, but I feel that I lack extensive knowledge of science fiction that has already been written and considered to be milestones in the genre.
I’ve read Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Brave New World, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Neuromancer, I’ve read some of Asimov’s and Strugatskys’ works. I am less interested in space exploration based novels and more in the dystopian/big brother/population control/cyborg/AI direction.
I would be eternally grateful for recommendations of books that you think shaped the genre, and books you would compare or refer to if you were to read a sci-fi novel by a new author.
Thank you! Please do reblog if may be your followers or friends would have suggestions as well.