Archive for William Gibson

A la Bienale di Venezia

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2019 by xi'an

Taking advantage of staying in Venezia over the weekend, we went to the huge international contemporary art exhibit located all over the city but mostly in the Arsenale and in the gardens. This was quite impressive in terms of diversity and style, of course, although the general feeling was rather bleak, centering on pollution and apocalyptic themes. The particularly ugly French exhibit was for instance a highly polluted sea surface, made of glass and only accessible by going around piles of gravel in the basement of the pavilion. Most exhibits also involved videos, often not making much sense, and comparatively few paintings or photographs. Within this depressing catalogue, a few beautiful highlights from my own perspective. One was a construct of several thousands shell-like objects, sculpted from sheep leather by Zahrah Al Ghamdi, a female Saudi Arabia artist Another one, representing Ghana, by the artists El Anatsui and Ibrahim Mahama, recycled aluminum stickers into huge maps, reminding me of the recycled maps in Munbai airport.Yet another one, difficult to catch, was a huge construct from the Philippines by Mark Justiniani, made of glass that gave an impression of infinite depth and again recycled different objects into wells, reminding me of the automated art pieces appearing in Gibson’s Count Zero. Called “Island Weather” to reflect upon the elusive nature of truth and the notion that everyone is an island, with bottomless layers of accumulated memories.

A series [called Angst] of remarkable night photographs by Soham Gupta of some inhabitants of the slums in Kolkata where the persons chose to act in relation with the hardship or trauma that led them to survive in the street. And still exhibiting joy and engaging into farciful behaviours. A video was however striking [from my perspective], describing the fight of a Nunavuk father to prevent his children being sent far away for schooling by the Canadian government, as it reminded me of a so different time when, as a child then, a catholic missionary from the Far North had come to our primary school and told us fascinating stories of the cruelly beautiful (or beautifully cruel?) like in the Arctic, in what did not appear yet as a strongly biased manner… The title of the Bienale this year was May you live in interesting times, which prompted many attendees to scrawl Theresa May you leave in interesting times over the exhibit panels! Interesting if bleak times indeed.

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.