Archive for Neuromancer

waste tide

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2021 by xi'an

I presumably bought this book upon a suggestion made by the Amazon AI. It sounded quite original and interesting. And translated by Ken Liu. I had not seen the above cover, but it would have only helped. (And reminded me of the daunting and bittersweet Tales from the Loop.)

“None of this, of course, existed in the digital world. In their place were highly abstract algorithms and programs that turned the complicated messy world into a set of mathematical models and topological spaces. Like a real spiderweb, the web would be deformed by any insect that got caught into it, and the rate at which such deformation evolved exceeded the rate at which information might be transmitted under the restricted-bitrate regulations. In this world, the shortest path between two points was no longer the straight line.”

Waste Tide is immensely puzzling and definitely interesting. A Chinese form of Neuromancer…. With further links to the Windup Girl. The location of the novel is a near-future island in Guiyu, China. Where the World electric waste ends up, to be processed and recycled by “waste people”. Who are despised by the original inhabitants of the island. And exploited by clans and American companies. Several of the main characters find themselves torn between several cultures, but these characters often sound a bit too caricaturesque. Just like the take-over of a “waste girl” by a residual AI is somewhat clumsy. Far from the constructs of Neuromancer or Windup Girl.

Another interesting side of the book is the translation by Ken Liu, who also translated The Three Body Problem. As well as published short stories of his own. The preface warns about the multiple languages co-existing in China, beyond the most well-known Cantonese and Mandarin and the book includes footnotes about the proper pronunciation of some words.

Altered Carbon [season 1]

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , on April 12, 2020 by xi'an

Following my reading of the rather thin (plot-wise) Thin Air, I took advantage of the virus to watch Netflix Altered Carbon. Which is based, roughly, on Richard Morgan’s book. While I enjoyed watching the efficient series, I failed to see a deeper message beyond the cyberpunk detective story, message that was indeed in the book. The show is very efficient with a well rendered futuristic San Francisco. Reminding me of Blade Runner, obviously. But also of the novels of William Gibson in many ways. Including this transformation of the Golden Gate Bridge into a container community. And the somewhat anachronistic fascination for samurais and yakuzas. A choice leading to repeated (wo)man to (wo)man fights that tend to become repetitive, a fairly high level of cruelty, sadism, gory and graphical episodes, definitely not a family show!, another futuristic and bleaker version of Chandler’s Farewell my Lovely, with the special twist of the murdered investigating his own murder already at the core of the book. But the lack of a deeper political message dilutes the appeal and somewhat the tension of the show, making somehow the existence of characters with a conscience hard to believe. A plus for the AI turned Edgar Poe turned The Raven hotel though! And a minus for the “happy ending.”..

the shockwave rider [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , on January 11, 2018 by xi'an

I ordered this book from John Brunner when I found this was the precursor to Neuromancer and the subsequent cyberpunk literature. And after reading it during the Xmas break I am surprised it is not more well-known. Indeed, the plot, the style, the dystopian society in The Shockwave Rider all are highly original, and more “intellectual” than successors like Neuromancer or Snow Crash. Reading this 1975 book forty years later also reveals its premonitory features, from inventing the concept of computer worm (along with a pretty accurate description), to forecasting (or being aware of plans for) cell-phones, the Net, the move to electric cars, and Wikipedia, with the consequence of being always visible for whoever controls the network. The characters are flawed in that they are too charicaturesque, but this is somewhat secondary since the main appeal of the book is to discuss the features of an all-connected world. And the way to recover power to the people against a government controlling the network and the associated data. The time being the 1970’s the resolution via a hippie commune in Northern California (like Eureka!) is a bit outdated and definitely “rosy”, and does not foresee the issue of “digital democracy” being threatened by a strong polarisation into estranged communities, but I still enjoyed the book tremendously. (As a bonus, I got the first edition of the book at a ridiculous price! With this somewhat outdated cover.)

Infomocracy [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2017 by xi'an

Infomocracy is a novel by Malka Older set in a near future where most of the Earth is operating under a common elective system where each geographical unit of 100,000 people elect a local representative that runs this unit according to the party’s program and contributes to elect a Worldwide government, except for some non-democratic islets like Saudi Arabia. The whole novel revolves around the incoming election, with different parties trying to influence the outcome in their favour, some to the point of instating a dictature. Which does not sound that different from present times!, with the sligth difference that the whole process is controlled by Information, a sort of World Wide Web that seems to operate neutrally above states and parties, although the book does not elaborate on how this could be possible. The story is told through four main (and somewhat charicaturesque) characters, working for or against the elections and crossing paths along the novel. Certainly worth reading if not outstanding. (And definitely not “one of the greatest literary debuts in recent history”!)

The book is more interesting as a dystopia on electoral systems and the way the information revolution can produce a step back in democracy, with the systematisation of fake news and voters’ manipulation, where the marketing research group YouGov has become a party, than as a science-fiction (or politics-fiction) book. Indeed, it tries too hard to replicate The cyberpunk reference, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, with the same construct of interlacing threads, the same fascination for Japan, airports, luxury hotels, if not for brands, and a similar ninja-geek pair of characters. And with very little invention about the technology of the 21st Century.  (And a missed opportunity to exploit artificial intelligence themes and the prediction of outcomes when Information builds a fake vote database but does not seem to mind about Benford’s Law.) The acknowledgement section somewhat explains this imbalance, in that the author worked many years in humanitarian organisations and is currently completing a thesis at Science Po’ (Paris).

zero history [& zero memory]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on September 19, 2015 by xi'an

“There are too many improbable coincidences and the characters are definitely caricatural, while reminding me of the previous books: the female artist drawn into investigation for lack of money, the geek computer genius, the woodoo inspired ninja-like thug, the tough CIA spook, the media executive with unlimited wealth…”

During my short dash in a Seattle bookstore, when attending JSM 2015, I spotted William Gibson’s Zero history and bought it (along with the last volume in the Traitor Spy trilogy). This is not a most recent book of Gibson’s, since it first appeared in 2010, but I had somewhat missed it, after reading Spook Country in Finland a few years ago. Fact is, the book ends up a loose trilogy, along with Pattern Recognition and Spook Country of which I have very fragmented memories, fragmented enough to miss the connection with this current book. Despite it having several common characters. And the memes being just the same. (Terrible bilingual pun…) To the point of my earlier comments [reproduced as a self-quote above!] applying to this book as well. Which is not to say the book is uninteresting or dull, as I read it over a few days when I came back from Washington State. That is, across the bay from Gibson’s Vancouver.

The topic of this novel is characteristically branding and the action that takes place in the second part of the novel still relates to brand and industrial spying and commercial turf wars. There is very little of the novelistic feeling of the early books (like Neuromancer I read and reread ad nauseam in the mid 80’s). The only innovations [a wee spoiler!] are a drone with a Taser gun [about to be tested in the US!] and a tee-shirt deleting the owner from CTV footage. Oh, and an electric bike on steroids. However, the central plot of the story is quite nice, looking for the creator of an anti-brand… brand, whose clothes are sold at happenings, in very much a flash mob spirit, rather than in shops or through the Internet (even though they are mostly resold at high prices on eBay and co.). I find this notion appealing when considering the whole production of Gibson, his permanent fascination for brand and branding and for turning people outside the system inside, for either commercial or military purposes.