How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti

I’ve been a fan of Heti’s writing since The Middle Stories in 2001. With those strange and sometimes whimsical stories she seemed to be edging up to conventional structures only to more fully write against them. Her first novel, Ticknor (2005), was a remarkably tight, intense book that once again blurred the lines between genres and conventions (in particular the literary novel and the biography). It’s one of my favourite books of the last decade. And then in 2007 I read her interview with Dave Hickey in The Believer, in which she said, “Increasingly I’m less interested in writing about fictional people, because it seems so tiresome to make up a fake person and put them through the paces of a fake story. I just—I can’t do it.” It seemed to me a repudiation of what made her fiction striking, challenging, and fresh. On the surface it would seem that… Continue Reading

One Bird’s Choice, by Iain Reid

In the United States, roughly sixteen percent of the population lives in multi-generational households. I couldn’t find the statistics for Canada, but I have heard that the numbers are comparable. The financial crisis didn’t hit us as hard here in Canada, but this trend goes back further than that, and I’m not surprised to hear that it’s growing. In 2005 I found myself having to move back in with my mother and stepfather for a while. I’d dropped out of grad school, my partner of seven years had left me for someone else, and I was so broke that not only was I about to lose my apartment, but I’d been suffering from serious depression and malnutrition in no small part because I couldn’t afford to feed myself and was too stupid to visit the food bank (too stupid, not too proud; it didn’t even occur to me). I lived… Continue Reading

#25 – The Bloodlight Chronicles: Reconciliation, by Steve Stanton

I know I’m jumping the queue a bit—my next review was supposed to be of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, and I’m already a dozen books behind—but I just finished this book tonight, and I really need to get this one out right away. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a fan of cyberpunk fiction, as evidenced by my recent rereading of William Gibson’s work. I’ve also enjoyed every ECW book I’ve ever read, right back to Yashin Blake’s Nowhere Fast, which I reviewed for The Globe and Mail in the summer of 2004. When I heard that ECW was going to be publishing science fiction and fantasy novels, starting with a cyberpunk novel, I knew I had to check it out. I asked for an ARC (an uncorrected proof, or advance review copy, for those not in the biz), and they sent one along. Given all that,… Continue Reading

#23 – All Tomorrow’s Parties, by William Gibson

There is a concept called “the Singularity” that is of special concern to science fiction authors. It is the moment when an artificial intelligence becomes so intelligent, so self-aware, that it no longer needs us to create more and better intelligences. When it begins to evolve independently, like a biological organism (I’m sure there is a more technical definition, but this is close enough for most science fiction, and close enough for William Gibson). That’s what Gibson was writing about in the Sprawl Trilogy. Wintermute and Neuromancer connecting to become this other thing; that moment is a Singularity. It sounds like it could all be good fun, but it can be unsettling. You’ve seen the unsettling version on television and in the movies. Think SkyNet, think The Matrix. That’s ultimately what was behind the whole of the Sprawl Trilogy. Recently I’ve been seeing the word used to describe something more… Continue Reading

#22 – Idoru, by William Gibson

I’m curious as to why, in his first five solo novels (he drops the convention for All Tomorrow’s Parties, and it was largely irrelevant in The Difference Engine, the collaboration with Bruce Sterling that came between Mona Lisa Overdrive and Virtual Light), Gibson uses a phonetic spelling of the Japanese pronunciation of words borrowed from English. The Idoru of the title is a Japanese borrowing of the English word “idol,” and it’s not uncommon for Gibson to write “sarariman” when he means “salaryman.” Perhaps it’s to indicate that, while these words have been borrowed from English, the concept has been altered, formalized or radicalized enough, to the point where it’s no longer quite the same thing as it would be in English (a process that words go through quite regularly in the English language’s gluttonous drive to expand its lexicon). If that’s so, then why drop most of the terms… Continue Reading

#21 – Virtual Light, by William Gibson

Berry Rydell is the most likable character in Gibson’s oeuvre. He’s not an innocent (he’s a cop who used lethal force without authorization, though he had good reason), but he’s somehow avoided becoming rough, or crude, or cynical. He’s Southern without being a Good Ol’ Boy, reminding me a bit of Timothy Olyphant in Justified or Deadwood, or of Ray Tatum in T.R. Pearson’s novels. Simple, even noble, somehow, without trying, without being ridiculous. Doing the right thing, mainly because in the long run it’s less complicated. This, of course, gets him into monumental amounts of trouble, just as it would in our world. He gets let go from the Knoxville police force almost as soon as he’s hired, loses his job as a rent-a-cop with IntenSecure because a hacker prank (which may have been orchestrated by a husband trying to catch his wife with the pool boy) manipulates him… Continue Reading

#20 – Mona Lisa Overdrive, by William Gibson

For reasons unknown I am always confusing Mona Lisa Overdrive with one of the Bridge Trilogy novels, conflating some of its plot elements with bits of Idoru (most notably the portable AI known as Colin, and the nanotech assembler), which is odd, because Kumiko Yanaka and Chia Pet Mackenzie (yes, really) couldn’t be any more different as characters, but the confusion always stems from plot elements relating to them. Mona Lisa Overdrive didn’t get quite as good a critical reception as Neuromancer and Count Zero, and it’s not difficult to see why. It lacks the focus of the other two books, and the characters are not as central to the events as science fiction and fantasy generally demands. Instead, Bobby and Angie excepted, they nibble away at the edges, sometimes pushed around like pawns, and sometimes acting as channels for greater forces that are making moves in a game that… Continue Reading

#19 – Count Zero, by William Gibson

There are a couple of things about Count Zero that have never quite ticked over for me. It’s not that they don’t make sense, it’s more that they don’t make the right kind of sense to sustain my willing suspension of disbelief. The idea is that you can find anything in the Sprawl, and I suppose they fall under that umbrella, but Gibson doesn’t strike me as the kind of writer who does things just because he can. The first of those two things is the least significant, and that’s Bobby Newmark’s mother. Gibson’s narrators are always third person in his novels, so we never get the unfiltered personality of any of his characters, but it’s pretty clear that we see Bobby’s (Count Zero’s) mother the way he sees her, and two things are plain: she’s a lost cause, spending all her time drinking and jacked into serial simstims on… Continue Reading

#18 – Neuromancer, by William Gibson

Were I asked (and I never have been), I would have to say that William Gibson is my favourite science fiction author, mostly likely my favourite “genre” author of all time, across all genres not labeled “literary”, though I think that after Pattern Recognition, anyone trying to keep his work in the science fiction ghetto is a fool. You’re going to want to read this post about genre classifications before we go any further. (A novel set in the “real world” now has to answer the question, “Which one?”) Trust me. Go now, I’ll wait. I don’t need to tell you that Neuromancer is the single most famous cyberpunk novel, not quite the first of its kind, but the one that changed everything. It’s been heavily criticized because at the time Gibson knew more or less nothing about computers, and so his depictions of computer technology and hacker culture, while… Continue Reading

#14 – Why Your World is About to Get A Whole Lot Smaller, by Jeff Rubin

Part of the point of this book—the whole point, perhaps—is numbers, but I’m afraid I’m not going to get very deeply into that. There’s three reasons, generally speaking, why I don’t review very much non-fiction. The first is that it’s rare for me to find a subject that I’m interested in enough to read two or three hundred consecutive pages of facts about it. The second is that I’m used to the attention to language that goes along with literary fiction, and with a handful of exceptions, most of the non-fiction I’ve encountered is very poorly written, or worse, written by someone who gives the impression in the text that they could do better, but doubt their target audience could cope. Third, non-fiction generally collects a bunch of facts and tries to present an argument about what those facts might mean, and the idea behind reviewing them is that you… Continue Reading