Thursday, August 23, 2007

A while back, while sitting around an alcohol -laden table with Dan of tdaxp, Shlok and Isaac and listening to an evolving debate (primarily between Dan and Isaac) over the probable nature of AI, references to William Gibson's first novel, Neuromancer were made. I then chimed in that I had never read the book - a statement that was greeted with surprise and some degree of mock horror. This had happened to me once before with Dave Schuler and Lexington Green, except that in that instance the author was Philip K. Dick and the book then was The Man in the High Castle. Evidently, something about having drinks with fellow bloggers is a spur to my reading classic science fiction.

Admittedly, I am not a great reader of fiction, at least if " great" means " broadly read". As a youth, I did dive deeply into J.R.R. Tolkien, Ayn Rand and George Orwell - I've probably read every word ever published by the first two authors and much by the third. Russian lit figures prominently, especially Dostoyevskii and Solzhenitsyn. Of American writers, I've read a scattering of Mark Twain, Sinclair Lewis, J.D. Salinger, John Steinbeck and a few others, but none systematically or deeply.

I've meant to read Quo Vadis, Don Quixote and Blood Meridian for years and have yet to do so. I have only a few works of Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Koestler, Balzac and Victor Hugo under my belt. The reason being that for me, the siren call of non-fiction is all too strong. There are too many important books that " must" be read ASAP, piled on top of others that " should" be read; picking up good fiction under those conditions almost feels like shirking a responsibility.

I say this as a preface to acknowledging how much I enjoyed reading Neuromancer. While the book is old hat to sci-fi fans, it came as a fresh voice to me, mixed with an unfolding appreciation of how Gibson's fictional efforts have influenced or anticipated the evolution of the culture. Movies, TV shows, references, characters all flashed through my mind as I read it and Gibson's economy of explanation allowed my mind the freedom to engage the text and fill in the blanks. Reticence is a vital skill that few authors ever manage to master but Gibson has it. I'm sorry that I didn't read the book back in the early 1980's when the novelty of the book's imaginative scenario were at peak.

Isaac has pointed me toward Pattern Recognition and I now have an itch for Spook Country as well. If you have read Gibson's books, what do you think of them and what titles do you favor ?

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I have always counted Neuromancer as one of my favorite books. If you want to stay with that particular genre Neal Stephenson is a great author to pick up, especially Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash (his other stuff is good too but the Baroque Cycle is a marathon).

If you want to get back into Tolkien's neck of the woods Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time and George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire are fantastic even if they are, as yet unfinished.

You also need to add Heinlein to your 'fiction-to-read' list. Here are my top 3:

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (must read)
Starship Troopers
The Number of the Beast


John Steakley - Armor
Orson Scott Card - Ender's Game / Speaker for he Dead
finally something i can *totally* school you in! ;-)

i'd keep reading the rest of that series if i were you: Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive, then go on to his other stuff.

really agree with ar on Stephenson and add the Diamond Age. i'm most interested in his idea of post-national citizenship in 'claves'.

really *disagree* with ar on Jordan and Martin. imho, Jordan plain sucks (spins off into about a million plotlines) and Martin is just too grim, writing about a bunch of characters i don't care about at all (but maybe i'm too simple in my tastes).

really agree on all of the Orson Scott Card Ender books.

to read about a guy who kicks even more a$$ than anybody in Gibson, read Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon.

for totally un-hard, mind-bendingly sublime, read Ursula K LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness.

let me know how you get on ;-)
Good science fiction definitely has some real-world merit. As an avid reader of non-fiction I selectively read sci-fi not just for entertainment, but also to lend a little imagination and temperance to the world view informed by all that non-fiction reading.

Good, quick, mind opening books include:

Richard K. Morgan's 'Altered Carbon' and 'Market Forces'. Intelligent, imaginative, and highly cinematic (movie rights for both have been sold to WB). Both books are wildly violent, and have an almost laughably strong political bias, but remain on the cutting edge of the genre.

Charles Stross' 'Accelerando!' was absolutely mind blowing. I haven't read anything so shockingly, yet
plausibly post human. Every few pages I was inclined to put the book down and think through the mind boggling implications of some clever new idea. Sadly after the 'part I' the story's technological skeleton leapfrogs itself to such radical extremes that it seemed increasingly implausible and irrelevant as human advancement approached levels akin to magic, and the conflict adopted an almost metaphysical magnitude. Still, an amazing read.
I grew up with Gibson's cyberpunk stuff, and I read it as it came out. It had a major cultural impact.

The only thing that I have read in recent years that I think is equally good is Stephenson's The Diamond Age, or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. That one is brilliant and prescient.
Hearty agreement with the rest of the thread's recommendations regarding Heinlein, Stephenson and Orson Scott Card. As far as Gibson goes, I'd recommend Pattern Recognition next (with my verbose reasoning explained elsewhere).
Hi everyone - thank you very much for your recommendations, which I note seriously for my next run to Border's.


A buddy made me read Martin - did not like the first book much but he later found his groove as a writer. Not in Tolkien's league though.


You have kicked my ass, brother.


"that it seemed increasingly implausible and irrelevant as human advancement approached levels akin to magic"

Any sufficiently advanced technology is akin to magic ( Asimov..or maybe Arthur C. Clarke)

Checking out the OSD link...
you asked ;-)
For post-apocalyptic fun, I've always liked Lucifer's Hammer:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucifer%27s_Hammer . It was up for a Hugo. Call it Resilience Studies...in SoCal (and the SJV) no less!
What sean said. Start with his early stuff - he operates in "trilogies" in a way. Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive are set one. Virtual Light, Idoru, and All Tomorrow's Parties are the second trilogy. Burning Chrome is a good set of short stories, including Johnny Mnemonic (much better than the Keanu Reeves movie).
David Gerrold's War Against the Chtorr is very entertaining: a little pulp sci-fi, yet with some intriguing and interesting socio-political questions particularly in the first book. The "Mode Training" developed by him is an idea that hasn't really been explored as well as it should be by futurists and those interested in resiliency. IMO.

Another book and author, if you can handle the experimental writing style: Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delany. I think that may be a Love It/Hate It type of novel, but it contains the best description/exploration of the concept of "dawn" ever written in any form (imo) and it utilizes another concept that definitely needs more attention from futurists and analysts alike: "Cultural Fugue." There is also a Family/Sygn dichotomy which figures into the cultural/political dynamics of that future which could spawn useful metaphors and ideas for today.

[I'm skipping the other authors mentioned above, although I'll say 1) Ender's Game is an absolute must-read, and I've read it and the next two when they were published but none of the others by Card -- skip Alvin Maker series, which is good but not worth the time, and 2) Jordan was a severe disappointment, for the reasons given above.)
Er, the concept is "morning" not "dawn." Slight difference, heh.

And I short-changed Gerrold's books. The biological/ecological occurrences, as well as the "hidden yet seen" invasion that is not understood, are very intriguing, as are some general psychological explorations and the consideration of humans who have been psychologically damaged by some significant system perturbations that have afflicted the Earth.
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