Such an extraordinary depth of creativity. Really the depth of the setting and the concepts Gibson created is difficult to comprehend. Yes, the plot iSuch an extraordinary depth of creativity. Really the depth of the setting and the concepts Gibson created is difficult to comprehend. Yes, the plot is convoluted. The scenes are unclear. The characters shallow. And I don't know how I could ever have read this book without having watched The Matrix movies. It would have been total gibberish to me. The movies introduced me to the concept of the matrix and of this ethereal data field that stands in for a corporeal world. It introduced me to the concept of jacking into the matrix and jacking back out. Of programs operating independently in and out of the matrix and artificial intelligences developing themselves as they see fit, long ago freed from the restraints of human understanding or the need for humans to understand what they're doing. Without these pre-introductions, I'm not confident I would've understood a damn thing. I really applaud the 1980s pre-internet-age reader who was able to get even a fledgling mental image out the scenes in this book. It's an entirely new world of sci-fi. Not about planets and space travel and time travel, or about robots, but it presaged the internet and dealt with the concept of the singularity in a way so much more mature that it makes the Terminator seem childish by comparison. The weaving of corporate power, gritty futuristic dystopias, advanced surgical capabilities, and digitally/mechanically augmented humans - it all comes together in such a rich soup that I almost feel as if Gibson has invented a new genre of literature, separate from sci-fi. I now need to immediately delve deeper into cyberpunk.
As for the things I didn't like. The plot was indeed quite convoluted. This is assuaged a little bit by the brevity of the book and its readibility. The whole thing can be read in a few sittings, which is a positive trait for a book with an unclear plot and an encyclopedic quantity of brand new concepts. I'm not sure if Gibson introduced these concepts in earlier works and just expected his audience to understand them, but things like the matrix, ICE, a fletcher, simstim, corporate cores, constructs, biz, Sense/Net, ROM modules, cyberspace decks, trodes ... there was a lot of unfamiliar terminology in there that you're just supposed to get on with.
I also found the drugs a little bit tedious and detrimental to the plot. I didn't love it or hate it. I suppose in a world where organ replacement is as routine as a haircut, people may just do hard drugs more often... but I found some of the characters' prioritization of drugs during crisis situations to stretch my belief a little bit. What's the point of being hungover right in time for a plot climax? And they could replace organs, but not repair fried psyches. It just seemed gratuitous.
As others have stated, I too didn't like the cast of characters. I found it all terribly interesting, but Gibson failed to get me to root for anyone or really like them.
Finally, the whole Zion / Rastafarian plotline really felt flat, like the token black guys thrown in a 70s action film. Hugely stereotyped, completely one-dimensional cardboard characters. Big muscly Rastafarian guy shows up. His motives? Completely inscrutable. He's just there for ethnic diversity or to push the action along, I don't know, but the entire thing seemed ridiculous. Definitely the Jar Jar Binks moment for Gibson.
One thing I would disagree with others on is the writing. I found it thrilling. Descriptive magic. I was really surprised to read that others found it dense and hard going. Some of my favourites:
P. 60 Summer in the Sprawl, the mall crowds swaying like windblown grass, a field of flesh shot through with sudden eddies of need and gratification.
P. 88 His limbs felt cold and disconnected. He couldn't sleep.... Vibration beneath his feet as a train hissed past. Sirens dopplered in the distance.
P.184 The drug hit him like an express train, a white-hot column of light mounting his spine from the region of his prostate, illuminating the sutures of his skull with x-rays of short circuited sexual energy. His teeth sang in their individual sockets like tuning forks, each one pitch-perfect and clear as ethanol.
Just lovely stuff. If not for gems like these, I would have reduced it to 3 stars. I look forward to digging further into his work....more
The detailed explanatory drawings such as sections, diagrams, and plans. These were the best thing about the book.
- The author coWhat I like:
The detailed explanatory drawings such as sections, diagrams, and plans. These were the best thing about the book.
- The author completely confuses the story of the al-Hira cave and another Quranic story about a cave. (p. 123)
- The author tries to "own" the Moorish architecture by explaining that the builders were Spaniards of mixed race. This would be fine if the Muslims weren’t expelled later on, mixed race or not. It’s a bit cheeky to stress the Spanishness of these builders after what happened in the Inquisition and the expulsion of the Muslims. Morisco families were expelled over 100 years after they had been converted to Christianity by force.
- The author mentions several times that the majority of the Moorish settlers and soldiers were Berbers, but this seems to be doubtful now given modern genetic studies of Iberians who show just as much (after accounting for Phoenician and Jewish haplotypes) ancestry from the Middle East as indigenous North African.
- Totally incorrect claim about geocentrism in the Quran and its relation to the seven heavens.
- Many many Arabic translation and transliteration mistakes. It’s not Iman but imam. Not banu al-sarrya but Ibn al-Sarraj. Not Hakan but Hakam, high tents are not called rafraf, and that actually means to flutter, etc. etc. They definitely need an Arabic speaker or Muslim person to review all of these
- Lastly, too many references to "the oriental mind". What is this? A Victorian era travelogue?...more
I strongly suspect that this book is as famous as it is because of its groundbreaking innovation of magical realism. However, after popularizing thisI strongly suspect that this book is as famous as it is because of its groundbreaking innovation of magical realism. However, after popularizing this genre, there isn't much left in the book itself. It wasn't enjoyable. To its credit, it is well written and beautifully descriptive. It has no overt point that I can make out, nor any didactic purpose.
So I found it to be like a poem. Something you pick up and contemplate and may find engaging, but I can't say it will remain with me, nor was I itching to pick it up when I wasn't reading it....more
So wonderfully beautifully written. I could just sit forever and read Steinbeck discussing how he does his laundry and lays out his socks. The plot ofSo wonderfully beautifully written. I could just sit forever and read Steinbeck discussing how he does his laundry and lays out his socks. The plot of the book, however, was less potent. I loved his rolling intricate descriptions of Salinas Valley and of the daily life of a farmer. His knowledge of the nature and geography and of this long-lost rural lifestyle made me feel as if I was reading something pre-modern, before the advent of TVs and cars and the internet. I also loved his philosophical ramblings, and his psychological character portrayals. I loved how rich he was able to make Samuel Hamiltion and his wife Liza as characters. Whatever character Steinbeck focused on, they would invariably become rich, fully-formed, and unique.
I enjoyed the Biblical allusions of Cain and Abel, Charles and Adam, Caleb and Aron. But I enjoyed all that much less than the first half of the book that focused on the farming community of the Salinas valley. Ultimately, I think that Steinbeck's message is clear. With 'timshel', thou mayest, he is saying that the responsibility is on the individual. You have the free will and the responsibility to fight your evil nature. He makes it clear on page 147:
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system.
Regarding criticisms, I agree with some of the most frequently cited ones. The oversimplification of the good vs evil narrative. The irrelevance of the Hamilton story to the book as a whole. The disjoint between the first and second halves of the book. The inconsistent first person narrator who jumps in and out randomly. The bungled attempt at a memoir that turns into a moralizing Biblical parable. I particularly disliked how the story of Cathy ends, in that it seems completely nonsensical and out of the character that he had laboured for several hundred pages to create.
These are some of my favourite passages that exemplify his beautiful style of writing:
Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing, or preparing like a fuse burning towards dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach,a delight of the nerves, of the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet. Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes in the brain and the whole world glows outside your eyes. A man may have lived all of his life in the grey, and the land and trees of him dark and sombre. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by, faceless and pale. And then - the glory - so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man's importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing, but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men.
I don't know how it will be in the years to come. There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because their tendency is to eliminate other things we hold good. It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man. A group can build automobiles quicker and better than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective producing has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion, so that some nations have substituted the idea collective for the idea God. This in my time is the danger. There is great tension in the world, tension towards a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused.
At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?
Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.
In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved. Indeed, most of their vices are attempted short cuts to love. When a man comes to die, no matter what his talents and influence and genius, if he dies unloved his life must be failure to him and his dying a cold horror....more
What is the point of this book? Is it to entertain? Is it to make a statement? Is it to teach us about ourselves? I may be cripplingly old fashioned inWhat is the point of this book? Is it to entertain? Is it to make a statement? Is it to teach us about ourselves? I may be cripplingly old fashioned in my taste, but what I learned about myself is that I'd rather not have to do hours of research to understand a book after reading it. Books, in my humble opinion, should either entertain us, or teach us something new, perhaps about ourselves or about human nature. For me, if a book has no didactic value, then it must be enjoyable. This was neither.
The writing is truly wonderful. The standard of the prose was on an entirely different level than what I usually read, and it was this alone that sustained me through to the end of this very short book. Passages like this in particular:
"San Narciso lay further south, near L.A. Like many named places in California it was less an identifiable city than a group of concepts - census tracts, special purpose bond-issue districts, shopping nuclei, all overlaid with access roads to its own freeway."
His ability to set a scene is really unparalleled. It was just the topic, the purpose of the book, the series of absurd illogical unrelated events, that frustrates me. It reminded me of the movie Brazil, where everything is a bit absurd and where normal rational behaviour and reactions are purposely removed to give the viewer a sense of bewilderment.
Thanks to other reviewers, I've been able to glean some things and put together a desperate hypothesis of what I think this book was about. I now think that Inverarity named Oedipa his executrix so that he could coax her out of her middle class suburban existence. I think that Pynchon is portraying that existence as a sham, a facade, and therefore her husband does drugs to cope, and her psychiatrist whose job was to help her cope, (view spoiler)[turns out to be an ex-Nazi paranoid. (hide spoiler)]
I think that Pynchon may be making some sort of ambiguous statement about the nature of truth and about knowing - trying to capture the uncertainty of real life in an artform that typically shuns uncertainty in favour of clean-cut closure. But I can't be sure.
There are innumerable other elements in the book that mean something to Pynchon, and that people who have the time to make the effort have been trying to understand for 50 years. Freud, the Beetles, the Paranoids, the songs that are quoted, the Maxwell demon, the engineering office and patents, the WASTE system... a million little clues and an army of people who have put unbelievable, staggering, amounts of time and effort into figuring out, never to be sure of their ideas and conclusions. So what's the point?
I like to think of myself as a thinking man, and this book has been touted as a thinking man's book. But I fail to find the appeal in a book that divulges no secrets and makes no statements while you are reading it, requiring you to be in a classroom of people dissecting every chapter for you to have some semblance of certainty about what you are reading....more
I struggled between giving this 3 stars or 4. Ultimately went with 4 because it was an enjoyable read.
My main gripe about this book is that it takes aI struggled between giving this 3 stars or 4. Ultimately went with 4 because it was an enjoyable read.
My main gripe about this book is that it takes a good long while to draw you in. I didn't find the book compelling until about 200 pages in, when it suddenly became fantastic compelling stuff. The second half of the book is an emotional thrilling journey, the first is set-up and character building that just wasn't page-turning stuff, resulting in long gaps between readings, for me.
My second complaint is about the characters. They were all a bit one-dimensional. The main cast, Rodrigo, Ammar, Jehane, Alvar, and Husari, were the most well drawn of all, but their liberality and the way in which this was expressed seemed too anachronistic. Reading the banter between them was almost like watching an episode of Friends, at least in comparison to medieval Andalusia. Jehane the Kindath (Jewish) doctor would meet these guys and flirt with them almost immediately, the Ragosan king's ball portrayed almost like prom, the leading female characters 'strong' and dazzlingly beautiful in an almost cliche'd way. The author relied on wine-drinking as the chief signifier of who was a 'good guy' and who wasn't. It's just all a bit shallow - this group of pals who are liberals and a bit anti-war and like to hang out and drink lots of wine...
My third complaint is with Kay's overuse of stereotypes:
- All the people from Karch are described as blond and tall - All the "good Arabs" drink and the bedouins are blood thirsty and think of nothing but killing and maiming and raping - All the Kindath (Jews) are smart physicians - Half the people in this story seem to have blue eyes
My main issue with the stereotypes is with how the Arabs, or Muslims are portrayed. Being an Arab reader, I was particularly sensitive to this, and it's possible that I was looking for bias or am seeing it where it doesn't exist - however, the bedouins from the Majriti desert are represented in an almost comically one-dimensional fashion. Typical cardboard Arab badboys. They think in simple terms. They love to kill. They love to rape. Ghalib of the Zuhrite tribe is just a vicious bloodthirsty 90s-movie villain. They aren't humanized anywhere near as much as the Jaddite horsemen are.
Another point of contention is that the author portrays the Kindath as the physicians. This is actually historically incorrect. The famous physicians and scientists from Andalusia were nearly all Muslims - Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ibn Tufail, Al-Zuhri, Ibn Hazm (proposed a spherical earth), Al-Jabali, Ibn al-Qattani, Ibn Juljul (wrote on pharmacology), Ibn al-Thahabi (wrote the first encyclopedia of medicine). These are just a few, and all from Al-Andalus!
In fact, Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) was a surgeon and physician in Andalusia from the Arab Banu Zuhr tribe, almost certainly the inspiration of the Zuhrite nomads in the book. His writings on medicine and evidence-based treatment are almost a perfect stand-in for the world-famous Kindath physician in the book, Jehane's father.
What's more, the bedouin are represented as almost fanatically bloodthirsty towards the Jews. The Jaddites are represented this way as well, but to a lesser degree. This is another historical issue that was handled without accuracy or sensitivity, as the Jews were expelled with the Moors out of Iberia, and into North Africa and the Middle East where they then dwelt for the next 500 years until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict forced them out.
Some reviewers have complained that the book was unpredictable and it was difficult to see where it was going. I think that to anyone who has read about Andalusia (as is common in the Middle East), it was obvious right from the start where the book was heading, and that the author's stereotypes of each group were not accurate. I may be over-stating the issue here and taking offence at nothing, but frankly with all the media out there in this day and age, it would've been nice for once to find Arabs and Muslims humanized, or at least portrayed accurately. Instead, we get the bloodthirsty beetle-eating nutbags, but our scientists, philosophers, and physicians are not represented.