Archive for William Gibson

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).

art brut

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , on June 25, 2016 by xi'an

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.

summer reads (#2)

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2012 by xi'an

As mentioned in a previous blog, I only packed four books in my suitcase in early July. Among those, Richard Ford’s A Piece of my Heart, and Niccolo Ammaniti’s La Fête du Siècle (Che la festa cominci). I also bought Dan Simmons’s Hyperion in the (same) nice bookshop near Bondi Junction in Sydney, Berkelouw Books.

Whoever it was, though, didn’t have no business being here. I’ll tell you that. I’ll tell you that right now.A Piece of my Heart, R. Ford

A Piece of my Heart is the first novel written by Richard Ford and I did not even know about it. (I happen to have bought it perchance in a closing bookshop in Bristol selling every book there for two pounds!) I feel it is quite different from the other novels of Richard Ford I read so far. A Piece of my Heart is quite harsh and bleak in a Southern (U.S.) way, making one feel all characters (esp. men) are doomed from the start and that there is no use fighting against this… This makes their actions and decisions unpredictable and mostly irrational, but there is a kind of beauty in seeing them succumbing to this doom. I also found there is a sort of Faulknerian feeling in the novel, particularly in the character of Mr. Lamb, an old recluse living on an island that does not even exist on official maps. The tragic and foreseeable ending of the book is actually announced in the very first pages, but this does not make A Piece of my Heart less fascinating to read. Because this is not what matter…

There’s a legend that Cowboy Gibson did it before the Core seceded.Hyperion, D. Simmons

I finished reading Hyperion in the plane back home. This again is a (1989) book I had not heard of until I saw it in the Gollancz 50 series (which delivers at a low price the “best” 50 books in science-fiction and fantasy, like Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind and Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, its only drawback being a vivid and ugly yellow color!) I do not often read space opera sci’fi’, however this book is a masterpiece that completely deserves its inclusion in the Gollancz 50 series… Hyperion offers a complex plot, compelling characters, an interesting universe, a credible political structure, and, above all, relates quite strongly and openly to literary history, from Chauncer’s Canterbury Tales, to H.G. Wells, to William Gibson’s Neuromancer, to Philip K. Dick (and Blade Runner), and to Keats as a central figure. Plus interesting plays on religions and beliefs. The book does not conclude, as there is a sequel, The Fall of Hyperion, that I will most certainly read.

La Fête du Siècle (Che la festa cominci) is an hilarious book by Niccolo Ammaniti that I can only classify as picaresque, given the accumulation of well-drawn characters and of fantastic events that build throughout the book. It is very different from the much more intimate Io non ho paura, however La Fête du Siècle reads very well and offers a very harsh criticism of the Berlusconi era and of the new social class it created. From nouveaux riches to would-be Satanists (all) looking for recognition or at least a few minutes of fame on TV… And meeting their end in a grandiose way. (I do not know if this book has been translated into english.) I read it in a few hours during my vacation week along the Great Ocean Road. And am still laughing at the comedy it exposed.

Diamond age

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2011 by xi'an

Here is the one before last of my vacation reads! As obvious from several earlier posts, I am a big fan of Neal Stephenson’s books. e.g. Snow Crash is one of my preferred cyberpunk books (along with Neuromancer), and I consider Stephenson’s approach to the genre deeper and more scientific than Gibson‘s. So when in Lancaster I picked the Diamond Age, I was quite excited to have discovered an overlooked volume of his’! The more because the story was partly taking place in Shanghai. Alas, I am rather disappointed by the result. Indeed, the book does not read well: the “suspension of disbelief” does not operate.

The Diamond Age brims with (too many???) brilliant techno-societal ideas, colourful characters, literary references, and exciting settings, but the plot dries out much too quickly. The universe Stephenson depicts is a mix of cyberpunk centred on nanotechnologies and of steampunk with Victorian codes and attitudes. (In a sense, the Diamond Age is Dickens mixed with Gibson and van Gulik.) One of the great ideas in the Diamond Age is the “primer” that educates the central character, Nell, who has been neglected by her alcoholic mother. It is a quite compelling concept, the one of an interactive book backed by an AI and by real actors that turn Nell into a real scientist (the part about Turing machines is quite good) and cryptographer, as well as teach Chinese orphans (although it does not work so well in the latter case because of the lack of real actors).  The fact that the level of the story remains one of a fairy tale while Nell is growing up and maturing is a bit of a disappointment. What really put me off, though, half the book read, is the appearance of the Dreamers, an “unnecessary and monstrously tacky underwater sex cult” that doomed my “suspension of disbelief” for the rest of the book… (The criticisms are mostly positive, though.)

Broken angels

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2011 by xi'an

`Statistically, ‘ she breathed.

`Yeah. You thought of that too. Because statistically, the chances of two expeditions, eighteen months apart both having the bad luck to stumble on deep-space cometary intersections like that?’

`Astronomical.’

Following my enthusiastic trip through Altered Carbon, I read the (2003) sequel Broken Angels within a few days, mostly during my day trip to Shanghai. Not only is it an excellent book, once more!, but Richard Morgan manages to change the plot and the atmosphere so much that it hardly feels as the same character is involved in both. There are a few links with Altered Carbon of course like the past of Kovacs and the reincarnation facilities (resleeving) but so few that the book could read on its own. The setting is very different, in that the main characters try to unearth (!) an artifact from an alien species (rather stupidly, or not?!, called Martians) in the middle of a planet war and in a highly radioactive zone. Apparently no longer sleuth work for Kovacs but a lot of action, even though he needs to uncover traitors, double-traitors and  motivations.  In my opinion, the ancestry of the book once again includes cyberpunks William Gibbson [more Count Zero than Neuromancer, with the predominant role of Voodoo, but still a major role of virtual realities], and Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash), but also Clarke with Rendez-vous with Rama, in that the entry into the Martian vessel is trying to describe an alien culture through its architecture with some degree of success. (In some sense, there is also a link with Greg Bear‘s Blood music, in that the military bioengineers in Broken Angels have designed a self-mutating nanotech device that reconfigures at the molecular level to overcome any new defense it encounters. With overwhelming efficiency. Until it hits the Martian defenses. Something similar to Bear’s blood cells getting progressive control of the Earth…) If I really have to draw a comparison between both volumes, I would reluctantly rank Broken Angels (very) slightly above in that the story was more clearly drawn than Altered Carbon which somewhat suffered from subplots. Today, I found the third Kovacs volume, Woken Furies in my mailbox at Dauphine, so I am looking forward yet another switch in style and background!

Steampunk month!

Posted in Books with tags on October 2, 2009 by xi'an

I received an email this morning from tor.com that

October is Steampunk Month on Tor.com! All month, we’ll be hosting special content, including giveaways, wallpapers, reviews, and posts by guest bloggers from the steampunk community.

Check out the Steampunk Month index page to see what’s going on; Tor.com being a well-oiled machine, we’ll naturally update it as each post goes up.

This relates to my post of Saturday on William Gibson, since William Gibson and Bruce Sterling‘ wrote a steampunk novel The Difference Engine which features Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage computer.