Tag Archives: Series

Review: The Sprawl Trilogy

Neuromancer by William Gibson
Count Zero by William Gibson
Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson

Title: The Sprawl Trilogy

Neuromancer
Author: William Gibson
Published: 1984
ISBN: 0441569595
Publisher: Ace
Publisher’s Blurb:  Before the Internet was commonplace, William Gibson showed us the Matrix—a world within the world, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace. Henry Dorsett Case was the sharpest data-thief in the Matrix, until an ex-employer crippled his nervous system. Now a new employer has recruited him for a last-chance run against an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence. With a mirror-eyed girl street-samurai riding shotgun, he’s ready for the silicon-quick, bleakly prophetic adventure that upped the ante on an entire genre of fiction.

Count Zero
Author: William Gibson
Published: 1986
ISBN: 0441117732
Publisher: Ace
Publisher’s Blurb:  A corporate mercenary wakes in a reconstructed body, a beautiful woman by his side. Then Hosaka Corporation reactivates him, for a mission more dangerous than the one he’s recovering from: to get a defecting chief of R&D—and the biochip he’s perfected—out intact. But this proves to be of supreme interest to certain other parties—some of whom aren’t remotely human…

Mona Lisa Overdrive
Author: William Gibson
Published: 1986
ISBN: 0553281747
Publisher: Bantam
Publisher’s Blurb:   Enter Gibson’s unique world—lyric and mechanical, sensual and violent, sobering and exciting—where multinational corporations and high tech outlaws vie for power, traveling into the computer-generated universe known as cyberspace.  Into this world comes Mona, a young girl with a murky past and an uncertain future whose life is on a collision course with internationally famous Sense/Net star Angie Mitchell.  Since childhood, Angie has been able to tap into cyberspace without a computer.  Now, from inside cyberspace, a kidnapping plot is masterminded by a phantom entity who has plans for Mona, Angie, and all humanity, plans that cannot be controlled . . . or even known.  And behind the intrigue lurks the shadowy Yazuka, the powerful Japanese underworld, whose leaders ruthlessly manipulate people and events to suit their own purposes . . . or so they think.

“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts. … A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.” (Neuromancer, p. 51)

This from a man who sat down at a typewriter and wrote what’s considered the seminal work of cyberpunk. On a typewriter. Gibson didn’t own a computer at the time, but he had this idea, which he almost gave up on after seeing Blade Runner.

Even in 2019, when cyberspace is a part of everyday vocabulary, and most have a general idea of what it means, none of us knows what it looks like.  Gibson got there first, hypothesizing what cyberspace would look, and feel, like and how humans might interact with it.

“[Case] jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix.” (Neuromancer, p. 6) Emotionally, it was “bodiless exultation,” (ibid, p. 7). “Nonspace of the matrix, the interior of a given data construct possessed unlimited subjective dimension.” (ibid, p. 63)

Disembodied, nonspace, grey, blob, or blotch.  All descriptors for that which cannot be described.  The books in this trilogy are filled with non-descriptive descriptions of what cyberspace looks like, and feels like. A “cowboy” jacks in by plugging a cable from the computer into a jack/port in their neck.  It made complete sense to me while I was reading.  Trying to describe it in my own words is difficult and stultifying.  How do you describe a banana to someone who’s never seen one?

Gibson’s writing is dense and often difficult to follow, which makes sense if you’re trying to describe something undescribable.  He only succeeds because he has a larger canvas to work with.

In Neuromancer,  AIs in search of their other half involve complex human machinations and architectural wonders which only work in space.  The AI Wintermute sets things in motion, leading Case and Molly on a merry search for its other half, the AI Neuromancer.  Wintermute is manipulative, pushing humans to do its bidding.  The reader’s mind isn’t the only one blown.

Two years later, in Count Zero, Gibson still grapples with describing the indescribable.  We bump against a more terrestrial landscape to set the stage, but are no closer to understanding what cyberspace is.

Vodou gods appear in cyberspace so as to interface with the humans inside the matrix.   It’s rumored the superconsciousness is losing bits, explaining the multiple gods encountered.  Or maybe it’s another AI shoving its non-existent weight around.

Again, Gibson uses vague notions to describe what it’s like, “…a flickering, nonlinear flood of fact and sensory data, a kind of narrative conveyed in surreal jump cuts and juxtapositions. … [changing direction randomly] with each pulse of nothingness. The data had never been intended for human input.” (Count Zero, pp.23-24)

And yet, humans keep trying to be a part of the landscape.  Building better and bigger tools to get inside, navigate, and stay inside.   Bobby Newman, aka Count Zero from Count Zero is comatose and jacked into an infinitely large cyberdrive called an aleph, a mathematical concept I cannot even begin to wrap my brain around.  It’s not infinity, it’s something else.  Theoretically, the aleph has uploaded the Count’s personality leaving enough room to evolve with access to all data in the known universe.

Gibson’s idea of cyberspace involves direction (up and downs), grids, and definitively shaped objects. More than that though, he uses nothingness, everythingness, all-at-once-ness.

So how does one explain the unexplainable, the invisible, the not physically there presence?  Gibson’s struggle continues to be technology’s struggle.  VR and AI are upon us, and engineers have to develop vocabularies to go along with it.  When all else fails, we fall upon what has gone before.

William Gibson wrote the framework, extrapolating to an existence which has yet to come.  Twenty years ago, the Wachowski siblings gave us The Matrix trilogy which carried the idea of machine overlords enslaving humanity in virtual reality as an energy supply.

Here too, there’s a struggle with vocabulary, although visual media has the ability to present a form of cyberspace which can be seen and, therefore, believed.  The Wachowskis and their matrix came 15 years after Neuromancer.  Gibson was at the forefront, and is given credit for coining the term and pushing us to think about a computer network’s relationship with humans.  The Wachowskis gave us one version of what that relationship might be.  There are many other versions, and we can’t possibly know which one is “right,” or “wrong,” because we’re still trying to describe the invisible undescribable space between bits of data.

Review: Binti Trilogy

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Binti: Home by Nnedi Okarafor
Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okarfor

Title:  Binti, Binti:  Home & Binti:  Night Masquerade
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Published: 2015, 2017 & 2017
ISBN-13: 9780765385253, 9780765393111, & 9780765393135
Publisher: Tor
Twitter:  @Nnedi
Publisher’s Blurb:  Binti is a story about a brilliant young woman, and the responsibilities she bears: to her society, her family, and to herself. While travelling through space for the first time in her life, Binti must survive and adapt to an encounter with fascinating and deadly aliens.

“We Himba don’t travel.  We stay put.  Our ancestral land is life; move away from it and you diminish.  We even cover our bodies with it.  Otijize is red land.”  (p. 13)

There’s no way anyone could prepare themselves for the times their self-identity bumps up against bigotry.  This is one of the things I admire most about Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti Trilogy.  In choosing the incidents which would populate Binti’s life, Okorafor chose to include the prejudices her traveler would encounter, both from outside and within herself.

It’s hard to write about this without cliches.  Pain of all types makes us stronger, we hate when people say that to us, but there it is.  The most incredible part of reading these books was the honesty with which Okorafor writes; of war, prejudice, outright hatred, ignorance, and fear.  And that she managed to wrap it all up in 462 pages, while flinging us through the stars and back again is amazing to me.

I think what I want to say is no one is safe from prejudice or bigotry.  It’s a part of the very fabric of being sentient (human). We are all different, we are all insecure about something and we all compare ourselves to others hoping to make ourselves feel better.  This comparing and contrasting can make us even harder on ourselves for not having the life we imagine someone else has.

Binti is brilliant, and as self-aware as she can be at the age of 16.  It’s frequently difficult to remember she is still a teenager, and lacks the maturity that only experience can proffer.

Along the way, she literally becomes a part of unlikely families.  Some, like the Meduse, are another species altogether.  Others, like the Desert People, turn out to have been family all along.  They all play a part in her evolution, taking her on a journey which is more than just a university education.  What she is taught along the way is she must be careful of her own prejudices, making sure they don’t keep her blind to the work she is destined for.

The story is almost magical, and nearly breathless, in some places.  Nnedi Okorafor’s tight writing tells a big story which deals with complex issues.  The character Binti studies the lessons we should all study.  Learn to accept yourself, and others, as they are.  Don’t force your set of rules onto someone else.  Hesitate before you say or do something you’ll regret.

Most importantly, I think, is the lesson to face our fears and look deeply into the hard truths we don’t want to know.  That way lies the harmony we all struggle to find.

This slender trilogy is a big story about an adolescent Himba girl who learns to stay grounded, fly among the rings of Saturn, fall in love, and forgive herself for the imagined pain she’s caused herself.  Okorafor’s writing is splendid, and I’m looking forward to exploring her other books.

 

 

New to the Stacks: Shadow Ops, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Other Goodness

They: A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders by Janet Mason

They by Janet Mason – Read
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner ~ #LitCrit
Darkness Visible by William Styron
The Annotated Alice – annotated by Martin Gardner
Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
Darkness Visible by William Styron
Annotated Alice in Wonderland
Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Review: The Mortal Word

The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman

Title: The Mortal Word
Author: Genevieve Cogman
Published: 2018
ISBN-13: 9780399587443
Publisher: Ace
Twitter: @GenevieveCogman
Publisher’s Blurb: When a dragon is murdered at a peace conference, time-travelling Librarian spy Irene must solve the case to keep the balance between order, chaos…and the Library.

In The Mortal Word’s 1890s Paris the Grand Guignol is in full swing.  Terror in its most “natural” state, precursor to B movies promising to be so frightening a doctor and nurse would be on standby for viewers who succumbed to their terror.

When several murders and other atrocities occur accusations fly.   Terrifying things happen that might disrupt the Paris Peace Treaty between fae and dragon, mediated by humans, who better to blame than the Blood Countess?

Elizabeth Báthory, historically known for torturing her victims and bathing in the blood of virgins,  is high chaos.  With her in the story, the poisoning, the chlorine gas bomb, the mysterious clues to L’Enfer all too easily deflect attention away from the real murderer, and the political reasoning behind it.

Of course, the Blood Countess did all those things, and more.  She terrifies others because it is in her nature.  Disrupting the peace conference is fun and games for her, not politics.  Yet, she has stirred the pot.  And in stirring the pot, becomes the favored target of the political gamesmanship of fae and dragon.

Eventually, the evidence leads to the Grand Guignol theatre, and a basement chamber suitable for use by someone who tortures and kidnaps for fun.  Staged terror and real terror in the same building, nothing could be more perfect.  Here, the reader is led to believe, is the denouement of the story.  Now, we will learn why and how the Blood Countess terrified both fae and dragon over a peace conference.

I got so carried along, i almost missed the siren call of the red herring.  As despicable and terrifying as the Blood Countess is, other evidence points other ways.  When calmer minds prevail and re-organize the evidence, the real killer comes to light.

To mystery readers, this may sound like standard fare.  Let me assure you there’s nothing standard about Cogman’s characters.  In her hands, and through Irene’s eyes, we are shown just how tricky it is to think clearly when a fae is trying to hold her in thrall.  Dragons are tricky in their own way, with their rigid hierarchy and societal rules.  And within this world, a character like the Blood Countess can thrive and both be guilty and not at the same time.

The Invisible Library series is inter-dimensional library, Librarians stealing books to keep chaos and order in balance, dragons, fae, alternate timelines, and so much more.  It’s a pleasurable read, even when the villains are as terrifying as the Blood Countess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: God’s War

God’s War by Kameron Hurley

Title: God’s War
Series: 1st of 3
Author:  Kameron Hurley
Published:  2011
ISBN-13:   9781597809504
Publisher:  Nightshade Books
Twitter: @Kameronhurley
Publisher’s Blurb:  Nyx is a former government assassin who makes a living cutting off heads for cash. But when a dubious deal between her government and an alien gene pirate goes bad, Nyx’s ugly past makes her the top pick for a covert recovery. The head they want her to bring home could end the war — but at what price?

God’s War is the first of three books in the Bel Dame Apocrypha series.

I long for the day when we don’t have to think about feminist or masculine tropes, that we can write and read good stories without the heavy load of “male gaze” or “women don’t/shouldn’t do that” (same goes for men).  It seems unfair to have to point out that Kameron Hurley’s work is uniquely feminist, and that her reasons for being so amount to “enough is enough, women can too do that.”

It’s unfair because Hurley is a damned fine storyteller.  She has said repeatedly she’s written characters like Nyx based on Conan the Barbarian and Mad Max.  Her book The Geek Feminist Revolution has two essays which specifically address this.  Hurley makes it clear that if a male protagonist can do it, so can a female protagonist.

And that’s how we got Nyx, the badass who can take on Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim any day of the week and twice on Sunday.  Nyx is a nasty piece of work, and she is everything a hero/antihero needs to be.

God does not answer the phone

If the goal of feminism is for women to be treated equally to men, then Kameron Hurley’s God’s War succeeds in many ways.  In her world, women are in charge and visible at every level of society.  As she tells the story,  “bēl damê, [is] an old Assyrian/Babylonian term for a blood avenger … ‘owner of the blood’ and ‘collector of blood debt.’”  She wanted to write about a bel dame in disgrace.  Nyx hobbles through the world taking any contract that will pay the days’ bills.

If feminism is about being seen and heard, then nearly all the women who populate Nyx’s world have succeeded.  But sexism still exists. Never mind the details, the women are the sexists in this world. They leer and catcall just like any ill-mannered male in other books.

What’s striking to me is while Hurley has turned the anti-hero trope on its head by making women the lead characters in a dismal, apocalyptic world, she does not give women a pass on bad behavior.  These women are so far from prim and proper, and polite, it’s laughable. Yet Hurley is making a point, that women can hold the plot of such a story just as well as men. Women are in every corner of society, just trying to get along to the next day.

The main thrust of the plot is an alien gene pirate has landed and threatens any potential of “balance” in this world.  It’s presumed her ancestors had a part in starting this war centuries ago for reasons no one remembers anymore. The pirate becomes a wanted woman and the queen calls on Nyx to deliver her head.

That’s what bounty hunters do, they behead and deliver it to the contract holder.  Or they kill outright. But they only get paid if they follow the contract’s instructions to the letter.

So think about this, Nyx is a woman mercenary who’s good at tracking and killing people.  She’s been kicked out of the guild of government paid assassins because even they couldn’t handle her.  She’s given up her ability to transport zygotes in her uterus because she sold it for money to get to the next stop, wherever that might be.  This is who she is, what she has become. And she has no illusions about her place in life. And the queen calls on her, not the bel dame, to find and behead an alien.

Politics being what they are, Nyx discovers hidden agendas and wanders into fights, literal and figurative, which call everything she knows about who she is and what she’s fighting for into question.  In the end, people die or are banished. Nyx argues with the Queen over ideology and realizes, just as the rest of us do, there are no happy endings. We just keep going on.

Every one of the characters in God’s War are broken.  There’s no repairing them, and most know it.  Hurley does not spare us from the atrocities of warfare, sexism, and politics.  She builds a world in which a paid assassin, part of a guild, would break under the burdens one must bear just to get through.

And although it was slow to get started, and it is bleak and horrifying, I found God’s War to be a good story.  Which is what all readers are looking for, isn’t it?  And thank you Kameron Hurley for making this the feminist apocalyptic story it is.  Women can be just as badass as men, if not more so, and deserve the chance to tell their stories.

Can I get an awoman, sister?