2010 Notables

The end of the year is almost upon us, and I find myself fifteen (yes, fifteen) reviews behind schedule here at ye olde blog, and with two freelance projects on the go for the holidays, it looks like I won’t be getting caught up until the new year. So instead, here are the books that really stood out for me this year. The list is not in any particular order. The Waterproof Bible, by Andrew Kaufman Clever, light in tone, and yet broad in its emotional appeal, I had more fun with The Waterproof Bible than with any other title this year. I’m definitely going to track down All My Friends Are Superheroes. It was so short that I lingered longer than perhaps I should have, not wanting to let go. Always a good sign. I’ve got a review of this in the works for the blog. Cities of Refuge,… 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

William Gibson Interviews

I thought I’d bring a couple great interviews with William Gibson to your attention. The first is from the Vice blog, and the second (and better) one is in Wired. While I’m at it, I should let you know that my review of his latest novel, Zero History, appeared in the September issue of Quill & Quire (print only), which should still be available on select newsstands throughout the country.

#24 – Concrete Island, by J.G. Ballard

When I told Adam Greenfield on Twitter that I had never read any Ballard, but that I had Concrete Island lined up to get my feet wet, his advice was “Go thou back and acquire Crash,” so I could get the “distilled” Ballard effect. Crash won’t be an option for probably another month or more (and I absolutely loathed the Cronengberg film, so despite Adam’s insistence that the film is “immaterial,” I’m still reluctant). Concrete Island will have to do for now. And besides, it’s a fascinating premise. The premise is this: Richard Maitland, an adulterous middle-class asshole (yeah, I have no class prejudices at all, do I?) is distracted on his drive home from a rendezvous with his mistress and hits a concrete barrier near an expressway ramp. He goes off the road and onto a large traffic island, where his wrecked Jaguar is hidden from the cars driving… 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