I just finished reading Distrust That Particular Flavor, and I realize that I will never be William Gibson. It is almost ironic that he is known as a futurist, when what he really is, is a historian. He is a global hunter of esoterica. A purveyor of the detritus of sociology. He takes pleasure in the suburbia of human existence, no, just the fringes of society, or more, the artistic side streets of our past. He is well-traveled and knows a lot of famous people in a wide array of fields, musicians, artists, photographers, writers and collectors among the many. He claims not to be an expert in any of these endeavors or devices, whether it be old typewriters or mechanical watches or film-making, or any of a plethora of other human enterprises. Definitely not the internet. Although, he appears to be slowly embracing it.
He wrote this book in 2013, so a lot could have changed since then.
The one way we are similar is that we seem to glam onto one particular thing at a time and spend a lot of energy getting familiar enough with it to speak the lingo, but not to really have any serious depth of understanding. I could be completely wrong about that. He strikes me as a keenly intelligent man with a gift for noticing the oddities and accouterments of our society.
He is fascinated by Japanese culture and the way they have embraced change and live on the bleeding edge of our now, leaning as far into the future as humanly possible and but still living in this current time-frame, and you can see that in a lot of his fiction. He likes haunting photography and movies, old and new, the fringier the better. At least these are my impressions after reading this book.
It is a series of non-fiction pieces he had written for different forums over the course of twenty-one years from 1989 to 2010. Essays and critical observations and speeches. Every observation is fascinating and insightful and showcases his incredible grasp of the English language in a way his fiction only hints at. The way he describes things strikes some deep chord in my soul. If you have any interest in Gibson, I highly recommend this book.
No, I will never be William Gibson, but as my wife said to me, we already have one.
William Gibson’s debut novel, Neuromancer, was the first novel to win the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award. This first book in his Sprawl trilogy is at once jarring and groundbreaking and different from everything else that was coming out at the time in 1984. There is rampant drug use and body modification in almost every character. It is a psychedelic trip through the underbelly of one segment of the criminal world in Japan and the eastern seaboard of the US in Gibson’s vision of a future world, with cowboy hackers and genetically enhanced killers.
The thing that makes this work remarkable is that the internet did not exist yet. It was the ARPAnet and TELNETs that you could dial into with a modem. Hackers and Phone Phreakers had been around for a little more than twenty years, give or take, but there was a sense that things were changing with the advent of the personal computer. My college roommate had just bought an Apple IIe, with monochrome monitor in amber. It was fairly close to cutting edge in 1984. I bought the first PC with a hard drive in 1988. And was still using a 2400 baud modem then to dial into bulletin boards or the newcomer America Online. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) Deep Blue won’t beat Gary Kasparov at chess for another 12 years in 1984. It predates the common use of the term Virtual Reality (VR.)
All of these things Gibson smashed together in his gritty new view of the future to coin the genre of cyberpunk. VR became quite the rage after Neuromancer’s release and we all thought it would only be a few years before it would be commonplace. It is only now that we have the bandwidth to really start doing something with it. There are a few things that stick out, like using cassette tapes for a memory construct and early disks for memory, but overall it still holds up pretty well today.
In the story, Henry Dorsett Case was a joeboy for the greatest hackers in the dystopian underworld of Chiba City, Japan, until he got greedy. Now he is a washed-up cowboy that is hanging on by his fingernails, spending his nights in little more than a coffin, which may be symbolic as well as literal. He will do anything to make a buck. Is it fate or simply luck that he falls under the eye of an AI by the name of Wintermute, which has aspirations of godhood? It has assembled a crack team of killers and technicians from the fringes of society to help it become the master of its own destiny.
Money is no object for this team as they prepare to crack some of the toughest ICE in all the virtual world. The ICE protects AIs. It is their deadly security system that can cause brain death in a hacker brave or foolish enough to tangle with it.
It is a reckless weave of plot, moving them all over the globe in search of the parts they will need to succeed, that ultimately that has them end up in the orbital habitat Freeside, in a Lagrange point between the Earth and the Moon. Tessier-Ashpool SA, the twisted, incestuous family that controls the empire that birthed the AIs Wintermute and Rio, better known as Neuromancer, are the target. Villa Straylight, their home in the spindle of an orbital, is a maze of ancient bric-a-brac and houses a deadly ninja at the beck and call of the lone remaining sane member of the T-A family, Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool.
The use of Rastafarians seemed like a stretch to me, and the creepiness of the Villa Straylight offset the high-tech undertones. There isn’t anyone we meet in the book that is completely sane. But somehow it all works. It moves fairly quickly, and he has a real knack for turning a phrase. Gibson’s use of description is lean but highly effective and he drops these beautiful prose in here and there to really showcase his talent as a writer. Here is a small sample:
Straylight reminded Case of deserted early morning shopping centers he’d known as a teenager, low-density places where the small hours brought a fitful stillness, a kind of numb expectancy, a tension that left you watching insects swarm around caged light bulbs above the entrance of darkened shops. Fringe places, just past the boarders of the Sprawl, too far from the all-night click and shudder of the hot core. There was that same sense of being surrounded by the sleeping inhabitants of a waking world he had no interest in visiting or knowing, of dull business temporarily suspended, of futility and repetition soon to wake again.
I enjoyed the reread immensely. It was as good as I remembered and everything that made it cool and remarkable is still significant now. Maybe it doesn’t have the same punch, because we are much more familiar with the tropes these days, but I can still give it my highest endorsement.
William Gibson has been my favorite writer for thirty-five years. He has a new book coming out in January, Agency. So, I am inspired to go back and read all of his previous works.
Unfortunately I have misplaced two of them. I may have to buy them again. One is his co-written book with Bruce Sterling, The Difference Engine, the other is Burning Chrome.
I pretty much love everything he has written. The older stuff was ground-breaking, creating the new sub-genre of cyberpunk, and nobody did it better. The newer stuff is not earth-shattering, but I found it to be compelling and well-written. His prose seem to improve with each book, which would be the goal of any writer. He and CJ Cherryh, a very close second favorite, have been my biggest influences as a writer.
I have started on Neuromancer. Heh, so cool.
Who is your favorite? Come on, I won’t tell anyone.
Pinning down five writers is pretty difficult (so I add a few more.) These are my current top five, but they may change over time.
5. Ann Leckie – Ann has only written five novels so far, but broke out of the chute to win the Hugo on her first release, Ancillary Justice. It started a trilogy, with Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy. She followed that with Provenance, which is a standalone in the same universe. Then she broke from SF with a fantasy story, The Raven Tower. All of them are wonderful. She has a unique voice and is on my auto-buy list.
4. Hannu Rajaniemi – Huge brain on this Finnish mathematician PhD and Quantum Physics Thinktank leader. He wrote one of the best debut novels of all time with The Quantum Thief. He followed it up with Fractal Prince and Causal Angel. Probably the best posthuman stories written thus far. It is wildly imaginative and an immensely brilliant trilogy. I wrote about it here. He then broke from science fiction with a standalone novel called Summerland. I would call it weird fiction, as it deals with the newly dead and an alternate history 1938 and is set as a spy thriller. It was not my favorite, but it was brilliant in its own way. I look forward eagerly to his next release.
3. Rosina Lippi writing as Sara Donati – She holds a PhD in Linguistics from Princeton and was a tenured professor for twelve years at the University of Michigan. She writes fiction and non-fiction, but Sara Donati is her fiction pen name and she wrote a six book historical fiction series beginning with Into the Wilderness. It carries on where James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans left off, but introduces new characters then follows them through the end of the Battle of New Orleans. These are absolutely fantastic. I learned a lot. They are chock full of historical moments, adventure, and a dollop of romance. I wrote about it here. She followed this series with another that carries on with a young woman trying to make it as a doctor in the big city in the 1800s. It begins with The Gilded Hour and continues with Where the Light Enters, which comes out next month.
2. Caroline Cherry writing as C. J. Cherryh – SFWA Grand Master. She has written more than 80 books, two of which won the Hugo award, Downbelow Station and Cyteen. Otherwise she is probably best known for her prolific Foreigner series. She writes fantasy and science fiction and her Alliance-Union series is my all-time favorite. She writes smart, personal stories that really analyze human psychology and motivation. Fabulous world building and memorable characters are her hallmark. She also was instrumental in getting me on track early in my writing career with kindness and good advice.
1. William Gibson – He created the new subgenre cyberpunk with his debut, Neuromancer. It won the Hugo, Nebula and PKD awards. He was born and raised in the US but lives in Vancouver, Canada now. He has written eleven novels and co-wrote one with Bruce Sterling. He started his career by promoting futuristic cybernetic enhancement and artificial intelligence. He coined “cyberspace” for the propagation of Virtual Reality. His first two trilogies were in this theme, the Sprawl and Bridge trilogies. He followed these with the near future Blue Ant trilogy. His writing gets better with every novel. He has a knack for seeing below the surface and then creating a world and character to carry his prescient vision forward. He has been my favorite writer for more than half my life and I don’t see it changing any time soon. His next book, Agency, comes out in January. I think I may go back and reread all of them before the new one comes out.
Max Barry – Australian author of Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He stuff is generally aimed at the lunacy of the corporate world. Lexicon was a departure and was an outstanding novel. I wrote about it here. He has a new book coming out in 2020 called Providence. Biting satire is his forte. I have read everything he has written and will continue to do so.
Peter Watts – I came to Canadian Peter Watts late. I have only read three of his novels so far, but he blows me away every time. His is brilliantly intelligent and writes in a way that exposes that in a cool way. He doesn’t write down to the reader, but it is not so high concept that a novice can’t follow along. His stuff is hard SF. The science is impeccable and the prose match. He has written 24 novels so far, with some of these being tie-ins for other worlds. Freeze-frame Revolution is his latest, which I read. He is best known for Blindsight, which should have won the Hugo, and Echopraxia. I have read both of these as well. I have a lot of catching up to do with his novels.
Who are your favorites? I really want to hear about them.
I am a huge William Gibson fan, and when I heard that his original screenplay for Aliens 3 was going to be made into a comic book I jumped all over it. Then they went and made an audiobook. I just listened to Alien III on Audible. But this was more than an audiobook, it was an audioplay with all the different roles portrayed by voice actors, including Michael Biehn and Lance Hendrickson reprising their original characters. It had sound effects to boot. It was basically a movie without the visuals.
This was a redux of the original script that Gibson wrote in 1987, but was never made. It picks up right where Aliens left off. The big beef is it does not focus on Ripley. She is in it briefly, but that was at the behest of the studio. Not sure why. It expands on the politics of the Alien universe and still has all the thriller moments you expect from an Alien story.
The presentation is fantastic. And it is an easy listen at only 2 hours and 16 minutes. It’s an Audible original and was a free download. Not sure how long that will last. I highly recommend it!
I am starting something new. 5 Things Friday. I hope to post every Friday with a new 5 things. I’m starting with a short list of my five favorite books of all time. Up until now at least. It’s difficult to stop at five but I like the alliteration. I’m not doing Fifty things. That would take weeks to write each one. Here we go!
5. Into the Wilderness – Sara Donati – This carries on the story after the James Fenimore Cooper novels, the Leatherstocking Tales, Last of the Mohicans ring a bell? I really adored these as a young man. Set in the New York wilderness in 1792, Into the Wilderness is the story of a headstrong English teacher and the son of a legendary frontiersman. I loved this entire series. A little romance, a lot of action, and a great mix of fact and fiction. I learned some history reading this series. My book review is here.
4. Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll – I have loved this book for a very long time. The highly imaginative world, the crazy characters, and the sing-songy nature of the dialogue is marvelous, and practically perfect in every way. The original artwork by John Tenniel is amazing as well and fits perfectly with the off-kilter view of the world. Continue reading →