Book Recommendation: Neuromancer

William Gibson created the “archetypal cyberpunk work,” even if he eventually grew to hate the term which now connotes an entire subgenre of sci-fi. It’s a wonderful, fascinating book, Neuromancer, and I will attempt to persuade you to read it!

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

What a fantastic way to open a book, don’t you think? First lines are important, and this one sets a very particular tone which runs throughout the entirety of Neuromancer. Gibson’s world is a dark place, ran by corporations and their interests, a world of increasingly less relevant national governments, where technological cowboys (hackers, basically) ride through cyberspace, breaking walls of virtual ice to get whatever their corporate overlords want.

What is cyberspace, you ask?

“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…”

Quite the description, isn’t it? Reminiscent of something, perhaps?

Note that Neuromancer was published in 1984; Gibson, some will claim, predicted the internet, as well as virtual reality, before either was a thing. Perhaps he saw the blood in the sky, the writings on the wall; and he decided to share his vision.

Or perhaps Neuromancer was influential enough. Could it be that this struck a chord with the right people, the dreamers, those who could translate a vision into reality, and so brought it along?

The Matrix Gibson speaks of has enough differences to our Internet for now. But those continue to melt away. Perhaps they’ll dissipate entirely before too long. The concept fascinates me, and it scares me a little.

Such is the effect of the world of Neuromancer. It’s easy–so easy–to get lost in it.

I have to balance the scales, however. You might not enjoy this particular title if you dislike being thrown into a sea of unfamiliar vocabulary. Some words and concepts are downright alien, at times. For me, that created a greater sense of immersion, but–especially at the beginning–I got confused a few times too many.

It ends a bit too abruptly, perhaps…but it’s never the ending that matters to me; not that much. It’s the journey.

During that journey, you will traverse a different world, neither better nor worse than this one, and described with a watchmaker’s precision, with skill one could envy, if it didn’t summon a degree of awe instead.

Grab it. It’s worth your time.

 

Thank you for reading! See you again next time.

 

 

Fragile Things

Whenever I read Neil Gaiman’s short-form fiction — his poetry and short stories — I feel as if I’m inhaling some alchemical substance, an aroma whose very essence is imagination, refined by years of study and hard work.

Fragile Things is one of several short story collections which might very well be my favorite (althought that’s arguable).  Some of the best stories you’ll discover in it include:

  • A Study in Emerald, a short story that mixes the Cthulhu mythos with Sherlock Holmes…with a major twist. The title is an obvious riff on A Study in Scarlet, where Holmes and Watson first appeared.
  • The Problem of Susan, a short story that acts as something of a study/critique of Susan Pevensie, one of the protagonists of the Narnia series. It’s a haunting story, and you can read it here, if you’ve nowhere to pick the anthology from, or if you need a taste before you commit to a purchase.
  •  Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot is a weird, disconnected tale; a few tales, revolving around the names of tarot cards.
  • The Monarch of the Glen, a novella-sized sequel to American Gods. If you haven’t read American Gods, I’d advise you to do so before touching this.
  • Instructions, a poem that gives instructions (what else) for surviving in a fairy tale land — since that can still happen, occasionally. How else could you explain Neil Gaiman’s hair?
  • Sunbird, which is also in the anthology of short stories prepared by Gaiman–Unnatural Creatures– is all about a club of bored rich people, who seek the most amazing gourmet food; when all else is tasted, they decide to feed on the exotic Sunbird.
  • How to talk to Girls at Parties, which is getting the movie treatment, was nominated for a Hugo, and is an overall fascinating piece of fiction, is about a shy boy going to a party with his best friend, and things getting pretty weird.
    As things are bound to, at parties…which you’d know, if you ever went to parties with me.

There’s more, of course, but these are the ones that left the biggest impact on me. The collection is very much worth your time!

Thursday Recommendation: A Slip of the Keyboard

Terry Pratchett is one of the writers I most admire.

A few posts ago, I wrote about adding humor to your writing. Pratchett doesn’t simply ‘add’ humor; he weaves social commentary into his impressive body of works — Discworld and otherwise — and then proceeds to mask it with satire and sharpness that can kick your arse seven ways towards Eureka!

But I am getting sidetracked once again. The book itself is a collection of Terry Pratchett’s non-fiction writing,which covers a variety of topics important to the man during his life — both personal and private ones, ranging from musings on his career as a journalist, PR and an author, to his passionate work to protect orangutans from extinction, to a deep-rooted appreciation for libraries and librarians (akin to Neil Gaiman), and wrapping up with his battles against Alzheimer’s and for the legalization and broader acceptance of a sick person’s right to die.

This is the man who described his disease as an “embuggerance.”  His non-fiction captures the weirdness and the ridiculousness, and sometimes the cruelty of the world we all inhabit, of this wonderful, sometime twisted reality we all share.

He fought injustice; in his writing, and outside it. He enjoyed life, and books, and I often think of how much the world could use him now.

 

Thursday Recommendation: Half a King

Joe Abercrombie is a master of subverting expectations.

I have yet to touch Abercrombie’s most well-known work, the First Law trilogy, although I have only heard good — Nay, great — things about it. Now that I’ve read the first book in the Shattered Sea trilogy, I am more than looking forward to that experience.

Half a King is just this good. The tale of Prince Yarvi, cripple king twice betrayed, is not a light one by any means. Cruelty will be your near-constant companion, and descriptions of filth and stench and the near-unfathomable depths of human hatred described will surprise on more than one occasion.

At its heart however it is a book about camraderie, friendship and loyalty. Loyalty to a myriad of oaths of vengeance, often enough…but loyalty none the less.

Let’s see what our characters are like…We’ve got:

  • a merry band of slaves running away from their owner;
  • a likable main character by the name of Yarvi who learns cunning and survivability the hard way;
  • unexpected growth in characters who seem sleazy and selfish to begin with;
  • plot twists enough to make you step with one leg in the grave;
  • and more!

Half a King is an emotional tale of a young man finding hidden reserves within himself, strength enough to survive where few in his place would, time and time again — all to take vengeance on a monstrous act of betrayal.

I bought it in a Kindle Deal of the Day for $2 dollars on a whim, and at the recognition of Abercrombie’s name; if I knew I’d enjoy it this much, I would’ve bought it long ago, for its full price.

A warning, though — the beginning is somewhat slow, and it took me a few chapters to get hooked. As soon as that first major plot twist happens — that’s when I was in for the long haul.

I am very much looking forward to reading the second part in the trilogy!

Book Recommendation: The Way of Kings

Brandon Sanderson is one talented sunuvabiscuit.

It’s impossible for me to think of a title that has Sanderson’s name on it, and is also bad. There’s no higher accolade I could give an author.

Sure, there’s always something to get annoyed about, if you’re looking for reasons to do so — Sanderson’s near-constant avoidance of actually using curse words is my personal pet peeve; he instead elects to make world-specific cussing which sometimes works and sometimes…doesn’t.

I could write a dozen essays on Brandon Sanderson’s style and works, but that detracts from today’s recommendation. So, have at it!

In case you’ve been living under a rock, or don’t follow the ‘epic fantasy’ scene at all, Sanderson’s most ambitious project yet goes by the name “Stormlight Archives.” It has been dubbed by some as the spiritual successor of Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series — which Sanderson stepped up to complete after Jordan’s untimely death — and one could certainly make some parallels.

That said, where WoT seems to have aged in terms of characterization and theme, having drawn heavily from Tolkien in one aspect or another, the Way of Kings is its own beast — and a most impressive beast it is.

With multiple Point-of-View characters, the novel flashes out a beautiful — albeit hard to live in — world of stone and war. Roshar, as it’s called, is a world ravaged by highstorms, which are both blessing and a curse; destructive natural storms, which provide Stormlight — currency and magical resource, both.  Everything on the supercontinent on Roshar has developed protective shells of one sort or another in order to survive.

It’s an imaginative place, Roshar…even if it’s not the number one spot on my list of fictional worlds to visit during a storm.

If the worldbuilding alone doesn’t intrigue you enough to pick this title up, the characters most certainly will. There are many of them, and I found them all absolutely delightful to read about.

  • Kaladin, an ex-soldier made slave, is broken by the mistakes of the past. His journey to remaking his shattered self is fraught with pain and tragedy, and is absolutely brilliant.
  • Shallan Davar is desperate to save her family. So desperate that she would lie, cheat and risk making an enemy of one of the most powerful women of the land…
  • Dalinar Kholin, a High Prince of Alethkar, is going mad. Every time a highstorm comes, he is besieged by visions…or hallucinations. Do these have deeper meaning…or are they a sign of an old, once-mighty warrior slowly losing his mind?
  • Jasnah Kholin is a scholar of great renown, a brilliant thinker…and an atheist. One who does not compromise her beliefs, no matter what. She is also one of my absolute favorite characters in the world, which says something.

These are but a few of the main characters; rest easy, there are many more, all of them interesting in one way or another. There’s no shortage of action, political intrigue and mystery in this first chapter of Sanderson’s epic fantasy. I am currently listening to the second book and it’s fantastic. More’s to come about that over the next couple of weeks.

If you enjoy audiobooks,I would point you towards Graphic Audio’s version of the Way of Kings. It’s really good, with a full cast. It’s more expensive than the unabridged audiobook, but the production value more than makes up for it. (It’s not abridged either, for the record.)

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this piece, feel free to follow me for more! I love books and fiction, and I would love to discuss away!

And now, before I sign off for the day, a lightning round of awesome stuff in the Way of Kings:

  • Shardbearers!
  • Jasnah!
  • The Cosmere!
  • Betrayal!
  • Honor!
  • Flashbacks!
  • Interludes!
  • Crying assassins!
  • Wit!
  • Duplicitous people!
  • High Princes!
  • Bright-eyed people!
  • Dark-eyed people!
  • People whose eyes are bright even if they’re dark-eyed!
  • Bulletpoint lists!

Bye!

 

Thursday Spotlight: Martin Eden

I haven’t read many books about writers, but amongst the ones that I have…this one is my favorite. It tells the story of a simple young man who, having saved a member of the upper class’ live, is introduced to a young, well-educated lady. He, of course, falls in love with her immediately and realizes just how unworthy he is. Thus Martin Eden decides to learn to read, and to write; all so he can be closer to the lovely Ruth, that he can talk with her and be worthy of her. His mind is like a sponge — fertile land to the roots of knowledge and of ideas, complicated, conflicting ideas about man’s nature; and soon enough, he decides on becoming a writer.

But it isn’t an easy road, is it? No, it’s not, and no novel could show the hardships of that road–the dangers–better than Martin Eden could.

But what else is this book?

Martin Eden is, in some ways, an autobiographical work which incorporates a number of Jack London’s experiences, with Ruth Morse – Martin’s love interest – being modeled after the author’s first love, Mabel Applegarth. It also serves to illustrate London’s disillusionment with the publishing industry of his time.

Martin Eden illustrates the clash between individualism and collectivism, with the eponymous character being a firm believer in Spencer and Nietzche’s philosophical views. The novel is, nevertheless, a very stark criticism of just these views, which eventually lead Eden to losing his very ability to enjoy life, to feel alive.

Martin Eden is, also, a story of wrong and misguided perceptions, and the toll of consequent realizations – it’s a simple thing to chalk it off as a tale of failed romance, but I never read it like one.

Martin Eden is a tale of madness and sacrifice and of success, and of what comes after. A gripping narrative that will hold you fast and hold you tight until the very last page. It will be worth it.