Although I did not love this book as much as his Zones of Thought space operas, Vernor Vinge has yet to disappoint me. Rainbows End is not really a cyAlthough I did not love this book as much as his Zones of Thought space operas, Vernor Vinge has yet to disappoint me. Rainbows End is not really a cyberpunk novel, but "post-cyberpunk." It takes place in a world that looks a lot like ours, if you just extrapolate out the technology. (Almost) everyone is wired, you can carry petabytes in your pocket (the sum total of all recorded human media on the equivalent of a USB drive), the world is globally-connected in ways we still are dreaming about but have not yet achieved, and sensory overlays can turn the physical world into anything its owners or visitors wish to visualize.
Vinge drops lots of recognizable brands and technology: Google is still around. So is the University of California at San Diego, where much of the action takes place.
The threats now are not so much Great Powers lobbing nukes at each other (though that's still a remote possibility) but the fact that the potential for nuclear, chemical, biological, and network terrorism is now also greatly expanded.
The main character is Robert Gu, who was a great poet at the end of the 20th century, but who has slipped into dementia. Until new medical technologies are able to not just reverse his mental deterioration, but give him the body of a teenager as well. There are a couple of catches. The first is that, like most of his fellow rejuvenated senior citizens, he is hopelessly unskilled and inept in the modern world. He has to go back to high school, in a novel "integrated learning environment," to learn how to function and acquire basic skills.
The other catch is that Robert's immense poetic genius was not restored along with his mind. He can still understand poetry, but he can no longer write it. This, to him, is almost worse than not being restored at all.
Initially, it's really hard to get invested in Robert Gu's trials, because it also turns out that he was and is a mean bastard. His genius for poetry was accompanied by a genius for hurting people and an inclination to lash out at any target of opportunity. Early in the book, that's his thirteen-year-old granddaughter, Miri, who's been doing nothing but trying to help him, out of evidently misguided affection and loyalty. At that point, Miri's parents (both of whom have important military jobs that involve standing watch to prevent all those Very Bad Things from happening) almost kick the SOB out of their house, and I was rooting for them to do so.
Then a mysterious stranger shows up and claims he has access to advanced biotechnology that offers a cure for Robert's condition. Robert, desperately, agrees to do one harmless little thing for the mysterious stranger.
The plot involves many other characters, but Robert Gu and his granddaughter are the ones at ground zero. There is a multinational conspiracy, an annoyingly capable rabbit, and a globally-televised LARP battle between (thinly-disguised) Discworld and Pokemon fans which causes a library to dance.
This is true Big Idea science fiction, very futuristic and even optimistic, despite the emphasis on all the new ways that mankind can exterminate itself in a matter of hours. Lots of characters get a turn in the spotlight, some are more interesting than others, and Robert Gu never does become precisely likable, but he does do a bit of a heel face turn.
Highly recommended for those who like their sci-fi hard and wired....more
This was pretty good contemporary cyberpunk. Morgan doesn't have William Gibson's way with words, but his characters are more interesting and his paciThis was pretty good contemporary cyberpunk. Morgan doesn't have William Gibson's way with words, but his characters are more interesting and his pacing and action scenes are much better.
There is the potential for a space opera here - the world of Altered Carbon is a far future in which humans have spread to the stars, and the protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs, was born on another planet, but this story takes place entirely on Earth, in "Bay City" (what used to be San Francisco). That and all the Japanese names and yakuza and such seem to be conscious nods to Gibson.
Kovacs is your basic badass ex-commando killing machine with a tortured past. He used to work for the "Envoy Corps"; in this far future, the U.N. is apparently the interplanetary government and it trains super-soldiers as "Envoys" to go do all the usual killing and pacifying for what turns out to be corporate interests and rich people. Same as it ever was. Kovacs gets disillusioned and turns rogue, and the book opens with a criminal enterprise he and his girlfriend are running going very badly. This is how we are introduced to the most interesting technology in this world: "resleeving." Basically, human minds can now be digitized and transferred ("sleeved") in new bodies. People convicted of crimes can be sentenced to virtual "storage" — your mind goes into a data bank for some period of time (potentially centuries) and in the meantime, someone else can buy the right to walk around in your body. Mix this with artificial intelligences and virtual worlds and you can see the possibilities for cons, grand schemes, and cunning plans are enormous.
Kovacs winds up on Earth, freed from his virtual sentence following his botched enterprise in the prologue, because a very rich "Methuselah" (someone who's been resleeved repeatedly for hundreds of years) wants him to do a job for him. Laurens Bancroft died, violently, a few days ago, and upon being resleeved from his backup storage, he of course has no memory of what happened after his last backup. The police say either he killed himself or his wife killed him. Bancroft refuses to believe either scenario, and wants Kovacs to find out who actually blew his head off and why.
This is where Altered Carbon crosses cyberpunk with a hard-boiled detective novel. Kovacs has to go looking for clues, and of course runs into all sorts of people with conflicting interests all of whom threaten him or bribe him to do what they want. The way in which he eventually uncovers what's really going on, gets caught up in an extensive web and snagged on multiple hooks and conflicting obligations, was quite skillfully plotted. He eventually unleashes bloody vengeance as is typical for this sort of story, and of course he runs up against multiple dangerous dames with whom he has a lot of graphically and sometimes laughably-described sex.
If you are fond of the "hard-boiled lone wolf bangs babes and carves a swath of bloody vengeance" genre, then Altered Carbon is the book for you. The whole digitized humans angle contains no ideas that haven't been floating around in cyberpunk for decades now, and certainly other cyberpunk novels have been written with a noir feel to them, but this is the best of the lot I have read recently.
There were some authorial indulgences (the sex scenes, the Jimi Hendrix AI-run hotel, and a whole lot of prostitutes) which are characteristic of a freshman SF novel (though I kind of liked the Hendrix). But overall, this paid tribute to its predecessors while not being wholly derivative, and I enjoyed it quite a lot, and wouldn't mind seeing a little more extra-solar SF next time....more
Argh, this book. It's so "Hollywood" and by that I mean it reads like a Hollywood script, like the author is full of Big!Ideas! and he can totally visArgh, this book. It's so "Hollywood" and by that I mean it reads like a Hollywood script, like the author is full of Big!Ideas! and he can totally visualize Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson playing Paul Donner and Maggie.
It's got Big!Ideas! executed with the finesse of a mediocre comic book scriptwriter doing a bleh imitation of Raymond Chandler.
Oh, I shouldn't be so harsh. The premise is fairly entertaining. A New York City police detective named Paul Donner who stumbled into a hold-up at a bodega gets murdered along with his wife in 2012. Forty years later, he comes back to life. It turns out that some sort of artificially created retrovirus triggered an event known as "the Shift," which literally brings the dead back to life, rejuvenating their bodies. They aren't zombies, they're just reborn. "Rebes," in this futuristic setting, are a feared and despised underclass who creep "normal" people out, in the first of many plot points which really didn't make much sense to me. Like I said, they aren't undead. They do age backwards, meaning they become younger and younger until they literally revert to fetuses and die, but basically they are the same people they were, so there's no reason for everyone to treat them like the walking dead, but because the retrovirus is supposedly contagious, a corporation called Surezal has literally built a wall around New York City (yes, a wall around the whole of New York City!) and turned it into a quarantined police state.
Donner is assigned a counselor "smartie," or artificial intelligence, named Maggie. Who despite being an advanced artificial intelligence spends the entire book being a cardboard cliche of a woman who blubbers emotionally at every tense moment and falls in love with Donner. Conspiracies then ensue, as Donner and his holographic girl Friday (but don't worry, a holographic artificial intelligence whose true form is a glowing sphere can totally have sex!) are manipulated and betrayed and jerked from one startling revelation to the next.
The plot goes in interesting but frequently dumb directions. I will admit that I didn't quite see the Big Reveal coming, and there was at least one twist that surprised me (though most of the others were entirely predictable), but the Big Reveal was.... stupid. As was the James Bond plot and sociopathic villain, yet another cardboard cliche woman, this one a cooing sociopath with monomolecular Japanese "tantos" (why is it always with the Japanese shit? like no one else in the history of the world ever made sharp weapons?) tucked up her sleeves.
There are several minor characters introduced for the sole purpose of dying and revealing some minor plot point that the author couldn't more intelligently fit into the storyline. The world of 2054 (at least New York City, which is all we see) is imaginative in a painted-over-cyberpunk kind of way, full of jokes about reborn celebrities, and retro fashion as apparently everyone decides to emulate the styles of various early 20th century eras, all of this mixing with flying cars, artificial intelligences, and plasma rifles.
This could have been a good book, but it just spiked my bullshit-meter way too often. Master villains should act like master villains, not idiots who conveniently leave big red buttons labeled "PUSH ME TO DEFEAT THE BAD GUY!" lying around. The characterization was cliched, the dialog trite, the prose flat. It's not a terrible book, but it irked me with its wasted potential, all the bad points irritating me too much to really enjoy it as a fun if dumb read, which at least would have earned it 3 stars....more
I was hoping to be blown away by the legendary William Gibson (none of whose legendary books I have read), but I found that Pattern Recognition remindI was hoping to be blown away by the legendary William Gibson (none of whose legendary books I have read), but I found that Pattern Recognition reminded me a lot of Reamde by Neal Stephenson: it's a pacey, interesting techno-thriller that just never quite reached the peak of Awesome. I found Gibson's writing to be stronger than Stephenson's, but his characterization weaker.
The main character is Cayce (pronounced "Case") Pollard, who has one of those odd freelance consultant jobs that can only exist in the modern world: she's got a sort of preternatural sense for marketing. She can take one look at a logo and know whether it will "click" with the zeitgeist, making her very valuable to image-obsessed corporations. The downside of her talent is a disability that can also only exist in the modern world: she is allergic to certain trademarks and corporate symbols. The Michelin Man, for example, sends her into near-panic attacks.
Cayce works for a firm called "Blue Ant," run by a genius wunderkind with inscrutable motives (of course) who goes by "Big End." Big End asks her to investigate the source of a viral video being obsessively discussed and followed on the Internet, a strange piece of work being released in segments by an unknown producer. Big End says he's captivated by its marketing potential, but soon it develops that many different people are interested in this video and its creator, for many different reasons. Cayce travels from London to Japan to Russia and is ensnared in one conspiracy after another in her quest for the maker.
Strictly speaking, this book isn't really science fiction, since it takes place in the present day (actually, in 2002, when it was written) and there is no technology that doesn't actually exist. It still has a sci-fi feel to it, though not really much of a cyberpunkish one, unless you consider anything that revolves around online subcultures to be "cyberpunk." (Yeah, I am still shelving it in both categories for sake of comparison when I browse for similar books.) I found Pattern Recognition to have a strong build-up but a rather weak pay-off. Nonetheless, the story moved along without ever getting boring and Gibson has a nice way with language and unlike some other authors I could name with high geek cachet, he didn't get a lot of stuff absurdly wrong. I've been told his Neuromancer series pretty much ignores everything that was actually known about computer science when it was written, but the Internet and computer technology in Pattern Recognition, possibly because it does not take place in the future, is pretty realistic. This book is solidly 3.5 stars (and I really wish Goodreads allowed half star ratings!)....more
This was a pretty good science fiction novel about virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and political reforms, made more interesting by being setThis was a pretty good science fiction novel about virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and political reforms, made more interesting by being set in a modernized near-future Iran. It's also a fairly hopeful novel, rather than the more dark and gritty scenarios typical of its cyberpunk forebears. The main characters are an Australian journalist who is in Iran to witness the collapse of the old regime and the shaky birth of democracy there, and an Iranian expat neurobiologist who moves back to Iran with her mother after the ayatollahs fall from power. The neurobiologist is working on neural mapping of the human brain, which she ends up applying mostly to create more lifelike NPCs for online virtual reality games, but as her research leads her closer and closer to something approaching true artificial intelligence, it raises disturbing questions about when a software program becomes "human" enough to be concerned about its rights.
Meanwhile, the journalist, who stayed in Iran because he married an Iranian woman, is now a single father raising their son when he learns that he has terminal cancer. Concerned with who will raise his son after he is gone, he turns to the neurobiologist (a distance relative of his son's mother) and asks her to create, in essence, a virtual simulacrum of himself. He understands that the technology will not actually create a true replacement for him, nor will his son believe that this online avatar is truly a digitized version of his father, but he hopes that it will at least be able to provide some guidance for his son and impart some of his sensibilities.
The story is full of interesting sci-fi concepts that are not too outlandish, a lot of human interest, and a setting that's a little different from most near-future cyber-stories. However, I can really only give Zendegi 3.5 stars because while it's well-written and carefully thought out, it didn't really hook me and at times I felt like it was just plodding along with descriptions of how neural mapping works and the introspections of a dying man and a morally compromised researcher. There isn't a lot of action in this book and the plot is no more exciting or world-changing than what I have described. So don't read this expecting any kind of sci-fi adventure or grand themes, but there is enough to make you think that if the premise sounds interesting to you, it is worth a read....more
The Quantum Thief is a brilliant novel, but I'm only giving it three stars. My rating is slightly unfair, so let me explain.
I generally rate books accThe Quantum Thief is a brilliant novel, but I'm only giving it three stars. My rating is slightly unfair, so let me explain.
I generally rate books according to how good I thought they were (inasmuch as "good" can be objectively evaluated), and how much I enjoyed them; these two factors are usually closely related, but not always. The Quantum Thief, as many other reviews make clear, is an idea-dense novel. Right from the first chapter, you get terms flung at you without explanation: oubliette, Gevulot, gogol, Tzaddikim, Sobornost, etc. This is a transhumanist sci-fi novel where people and Artificial Intelligences coexist in a solar system where the human mind has been engineered and colonized as thoroughly as the inner planets. The plot involves all sorts of wheels-within-wheels conspiracies going back to the origins of the post-human societies presented here, and Rajaniemi doesn't do a lot of exposition.
I listened to The Quantum Thief as an audiobook. I usually listen to audiobooks while I am driving or working out. In other words, my mind is not always 100% on the narration, and I can miss a bit here and there. So books where you have to pay attention to every single sentence or you might miss something important really aren't a good choice for me as an audiobook, and The Quantum Thief is such a book. I had to go back and Wikipedia this sucker to figure out half the stuff I missed.
So there it is — I'd probably have liked it a lot more if I'd read it in print form. But what I did get out of it was brilliant, full of awesome tech and plots. The protagonist, Jean le Flambeur, begins the first chapter in a Dilemma Prison, which is the ultimate application of Game Theory. He's broken out by a beautiful winged warrior named Mieli with a sentient ship named Perhonen. Mieli needs Jean to do a little job for her. She doesn't trust him, with good reason, and the banter and the tension between them kept things interesting throughout the book. Jean le Flambeur, of course, is one of those master criminals with a sense of honor that you just know is going to end up being his undoing, as does he.
The second protagonist is Isidore Beautrelet, who begins the book investigating the murder of a chocolatier. Isidore is one of those obsessive Javert-like detectives who just can't let things go, though he's got his own personal problems.
Everything eventually weaves together in a way that probably made sense to someone who was more focused on the story than I was. There were certainly some awesome moments, though, and the writing is stylish and hip hard SF with a cyberpunk edge. Someday I may try this book again at more leisure and see if I am more captivated. So, 4 stars for being a cool setting and story in a universe that will appeal to fans of Alastair Reynolds or Charles Stross, 3 stars for not giving the lazy reader(listener) any breaks....more
None of the stories in this collection were bad, and some I would rate 4 or even 4.5 stars individually, but nothing really impressed me like the TheNone of the stories in this collection were bad, and some I would rate 4 or even 4.5 stars individually, but nothing really impressed me like the The Windup Girl did. I think my greatest disappointment was the similarity of all the themes: Bacigalupi writes dystopian stories about humanity's greed and selfishness and environmental devastation, and that's all he writes about. Two of the stories in Pump Six are from the same world as The Windup Girl, and most of the others easily could be. He's a good writer, but I'd really like to see him open up a bigger toolbox....more
This is a book that, if you are approaching it for the first time, suffers from having been imitated so much that it seems derivative of its own succeThis is a book that, if you are approaching it for the first time, suffers from having been imitated so much that it seems derivative of its own successors. Neuromancer was genre-defining and it blew a million little geeky minds back in the day, but reading it in 2012, I failed to be enthralled by the goshwow factor. 'Cyberspace' is mainstream now, and stripped away of the novelty that made fans back in 1984 say "This is so fucking cool!" the book is kind of a techy-tech high concept thrill ride with cardboard characters.
So, Case is a 'cyberspace cowboy' who used to "jack in" to the Matrix and go on 'runs' (stealing data from big corporations, governments, etc.) in a near-future where the U.S. has fragmented into tribal/corporate nation-states, but the USSR is still around. (In the foreword to this edition, Gibson comments on his own prescience or lack thereof, acknowledging also all the other things he didn't get right which will strike modern readers, like the existence of payphones and the lack of cell phones.) He tried to steal from one of his employers, and in retaliation they poisoned him in a way that left him unable to jack into the matrix again. Now he's a down-and-outer in Chiba City (yes, there's a taste of 80s "Japan is so fucking cool!" weeabooism here) when he gets recruited for a job by a mysterious guy named Armitage who says he can fix him up. Case also meets Molly, a "razor girl" street samurai. With the rest of his motley crew, Case goes on an adventure that takes him into high orbit to the playground of the super-rich. There are futuristic ninjas, artificial intelligences, and your basic cyberpunk RPG adventure. Again, not really fair to dismiss it like that, because this book invented cyberpunk RPGing and cyberpunk everything else, but unless you really love all things cyberpunk and/or Gibson, you may find, as I did, that Neuromancer just doesn't quite live up to the hype it earned in 1984 with its Hugo and Nebula awards.
William Gibson's writing is superbly clever and descriptive, and boy does he spin ideas. But this is the third book of his I've read, and while I appreciate his craft on a technical level, his stories just don't do much for me. I don't care about his characters.
For SF fans, this may be a good book to read to be familiar with, you know, the "seminal" works of the genre, but I just don't feel compelled to go read the rest of the Sprawl trilogy....more
There really is a noir-ish sameness to most cyberpunk novels. If you've read Neuromancer or Altered Carbon, you've read When Gravity Fails. Just replaThere really is a noir-ish sameness to most cyberpunk novels. If you've read Neuromancer or Altered Carbon, you've read When Gravity Fails. Just replace future-Tokyo or future-San Francisco with future-Damascus. (Actually, the city is never actually named: it could just as easily be Beirut or Amman or Jerusalem or Cairo.) While this was a good story, I'm thinking it was nominated for a Hugo and Nebula in 1988 because "Whoa, dude! Cyberpunk! In the Middle East! Like, everyone's Muslim!"
Aside from that novelty factor, When Gravity Fails serves up what you expect in a cyberpunk novel: digital personalities, downloaded brain modifications, surgically altered bodies, fractured nation-states, and lots of crime and grit and whores.
Marid Audrian is a Moroccan son of a prostitute who's your fairly standard noir protagonist: he hangs out in the Budayeen, an Arab ghetto in an unnamed Middle Eastern city, and his friends, lovers, and business associates are all grifters, bartenders, prostitutes, various-shades-of-dirty cops, street hustlers, just trying to get by, preying on rich tourists and their fellow citizens alike.
Marid gets dragged into a convoluted plot involving a serial killer who initially uses a James Bond persona, which was a mildly clever touch. Since he begins the story stating his abhorrence of having his brain modified, we know he's going to wind up chipped and jacked to the max.
The action scenes are fast-paced and well-written and the technology blends smoothly with the Middle Eastern setting. The "mystery" is a bit of a let-down, as I was expecting something more clever and twisted, but it ultimately made sense, and why should the real killer be some shocking Big Reveal instead of just another grimy scumbag?
Effinger's handling of Middle Eastern culture from a first-person POV did not, I think, exoticize it too much. Marid, while not devout himself, sees Arab culture and Islam as the default, so if he's sometimes critical or even mocking of it, it's no more so than an agnostic American who's not above taking shots at American culture and Christianity.
There are a lot of sex-changed characters in the book, including Marid's girlfriend. I wouldn't say it's particularly sensitive to trans people (there are the usual jokes about "You didn't know she used to be a man?"), but they seem to be accepted like everyone else. When Gravity Fails was probably pretty progressive for 1988. The "Whores! Whores! Whores!" sensibility is pretty de rigueur for cyberpunk. (That said, if you want cyberpunk that's not full of whores whoring and Breasts! With Nipples! Described! try Neal Stephenson or Hannu Rajaniemi.)
Like Neuromancer, When Gravity Fails is a book that might have been edgy and mind-blowing in the 80s, but now has nothing you haven't seen rolled out in mass production by Hollywood and dozens of SF imitators. This story about a street operator tracking down a serial killer in an unnamed futuristic Middle Eastern city is an entertaining enough read, but unless either cyberpunk or the Middle Eastern setting holds special appeal for you, it isn't something I'd recommend you go out of your way for.
I'm giving it 3.5 stars, rounding down because I've just read too many similar books....more
I read this a long time ago and loved it then. (I actually read it after Steve Jackson raved about it and printed an excerpt in an issue of Pyramid maI read this a long time ago and loved it then. (I actually read it after Steve Jackson raved about it and printed an excerpt in an issue of Pyramid magazine.) But if I were to reread it, I suspect I'd find it hadn't aged well.
Hiro Protagonist, "black samurai hacker pizza delivery guy," was kind of cool, in a geeky hanging-a-lampshade-on-the-ridiculous-protagonist kind of way, as was the teenage girl and her bad boy lover who's carting a portable nuclear warhead around with him. But I honestly can't say I remember much about the plot.
Probably a good book to read for anyone interested in cyberpunk, and it did get me started as a Neal Stephenson fan....more
I'd give this 3.5 stars if GR allowed half stars. There were parts of this book that were brilliant, and parts that were intensely annoying. This is tI'd give this 3.5 stars if GR allowed half stars. There were parts of this book that were brilliant, and parts that were intensely annoying. This is the first book I've read by Charles Stross, and I'm frankly unsure whether I'll dive into another Stross novel any time soon. I liked the overall plot and the ideas; human civilization evolving towards a Singularity, and what happens to the posthuman offspring. But the story leaps about erratically, sometimes skipping years or decades and light years at a time. Human civilization is jerked forward, things happen, and then the whole civilization jerks forward again, and each time we have to reorient ourselves and figure out what's going on (and more importantly, why we care -- the continuing characters change between instantiations almost as much as the world does). The writing is dense and full of obscure references, and I'm not a fan of novels written in present tense.
That said, I'd still rate this as a brilliant, original novel worth reading, especially if you are into cyberpunk and transhumanism. However, it's not a quick, easy read, and if you are looking for a sci-fi "adventure" with characters who have easily identifiable goals and motives, this isn't the book for you....more