Context. Sometimes the key to understanding something is context. And never is that more the case than with the book Neuromancer. Neuromancer is a verContext. Sometimes the key to understanding something is context. And never is that more the case than with the book Neuromancer. Neuromancer is a very famous, genre creating/changing book, winner of many awards. I’m reading Neuromancer for the first time; while not quite done, I find the story to be decent and the writing to be ok. As just a book that I am reading, I would call it fair. But that is an evaluation without context.
Under what context does my evaluation change? Well, one of the first things I noticed when I picked it up is that it was originally published nearly 25 years ago, in 1984. And it is at that point that the context suddenly clicks and becomes crucial. Neuromancer is a book about, in large part, individuals exploring and exploiting cyberspace and, to a lesser extent, about artificial intelligence. When this book was written, the vast majority of people did not own a computer; it was just around the time when the idea of a family buying one started to become prevalent, and the computer they could buy did not have a hard drive and probably had no more than 64kb of RAM (the Apple IIe my family got in 1985 was “expandable” to 128kb of RAM…more than almost any program we would want to run could possibly need). Pretty much no one had heard of the internet and email was virtually unknown. The World Wide Web and webpages as we think of them today were still about 8 years away (I was reasonably plugged in at the time and I first heard about WWW and html around ‘92/93…prior to that the internet for most people was email, independent bulletin boards [anyone remember CompuServe?:], anonymous FTP, and Gopher). When one considers what the world was like, what fiction about computers was like, at the time it was written, Neuromancer must have been absolutely stunning. The innovation and direction were ground-breaking in a way that little other fiction has likely been during our lifetime.
An analogy would be the movie Citizen Kane.Citizen Kane is considered by many to be the greatest movie ever made. Sit down and watch it with someone who enjoys movies but has never seen it. Citizen Kane is a decent film with a decent story, but is hardly a stunning, blow the mind away movie, in any sense. I’m not sure it has aged particularly well, and I suspect a lot of people today find it a rather boring film. But again, that is if we view it without context. Contextually, Citizen Kane is one of the most influential movies ever made. Many have said, rightfully so, that it not only taught Hollywood how to make movies, it taught the audience how to watch movies. Citizen Kane uses nonlinear plot and flashbacks. It uses unique camera angles and closeups and shadow, all in ways that were completely innovative and unheard of for the time. Today, we watch Citizen Kane and it seems sort of ho-hum, because generations of movie makers (and watchers) have been influenced by it. At the time Citizen Kane was revolutionary, and it is in that context that its importance and influence are judged.
While everything is created in some context, the context is not always critical. Some works are timeless and stand fairly well on their own: I think a book like The Count of Monte Cristo or The Hobbit can largely be enjoyed (or disliked) by someone without appreciation of when and under what circumstances it was written (others will disagree). Other works are best appreciated with respect to context. The Jazz Singer is a rather poor film, but as the first “talkie” it killed the silent picture and changed Hollywood. Citizen Kane was arguably even more revolutionary, although in somewhat subtler ways. And it is with a consideration of context, that the importance and value of Neuromancer can be judged.
I'm not trying to claim that Neuromancer is as important or ground breaking as Citizen Kane. Neuormancer was likely not the first novel to explore the themes and concepts that it did, but it popularized a way of thinking about the role and future of computers and computer networks like no other novel has since. The word “cyberspace” was popularized by this novel (although original coined by Gibson in an earlier short story) and Neuromancer has had both direct and indirect influence on all social cybernetworks and games (e.g., World of Warcraft or Second Life). I suspect the book is much easier to read now then it was when written, because so many terms and concepts which were new at the time are now just part of our current culture.
If you newly read Neuromancer, you may or may not enjoy it (as I already stated, I’m finding it to be rather middle-of-the-road overall), but you certainly will not understand its importance or influence (for better or worse), without some consideration of context....more
I probably would rate this more like 2 1/2 stars than 3. Parts of it were fascinating, parts were infuriating. It's a collection of six loosely relateI probably would rate this more like 2 1/2 stars than 3. Parts of it were fascinating, parts were infuriating. It's a collection of six loosely related tales (Canterbury Tales style), tied together by a broader story. Some of the stories are interesting, some were merely irritating. Given that each character got to tell their own story, I still found them remarkably underdeveloped; of course, in at least half of the cases they were actually telling someone else's tale, rather than their own, which made everything that more removed. Overall, I found it rather hard to get into and the ending is extremely abrupt. Presumably this is setting up the sequel, but I'm rather mixed on how much I want to continue...I feel like it could have been tied up a bit better while still leaving room for more....more
Spin is a remarkably good story. I went into virtually blind, having never heard of the author and knowing only it had won a Hugo award a few years agSpin is a remarkably good story. I went into virtually blind, having never heard of the author and knowing only it had won a Hugo award a few years ago, and came away very impressed. It's hard science fiction, but is a very accessible read, and focuses on the human condition and reaction to extreme circumstances as much as the science. Highly recommended. I definitely will have to look for more of his books....more
This is a short novella describing an event after Miles' graduation from the academy but before his first assignment. It's a nice little story showingThis is a short novella describing an event after Miles' graduation from the academy but before his first assignment. It's a nice little story showing the contrast between the old and new Barrayan and solidifying for Miles what he stands for....more
The one thing I kept thinking while reading this was Arkady Renko - if the story took place in Moscow and the protagonist's name was changed to ArkadyThe one thing I kept thinking while reading this was Arkady Renko - if the story took place in Moscow and the protagonist's name was changed to Arkady Renko (the protagonist from Martin Cruz Smith's "Gorky Park" and related books) I don't think I would have noticed the difference. (Ok, the whole Yiddish thing would have been out of place, but otherwise...) The similarities were rather overwhelming.
All of that being said, The Yiddish Policemen's Union was a good read. In an alternate universe where Israel failed in 1948 and a temporary (60 year lease) Jewish settlement has been constructed in Alaska, Mendel Landsman is a divorced, self-flagellating drunk, derisive of authority, barely treading water while waiting for the district to revert back to Alaska and the Jews to be kicked out...he is also an extraordinarily good homicide detective. When another patron of the seedy hotel where he resides is murdered, the investigation leads Arkady Meyer to almost unimaginable plots and conspiracies of politics and religion.
The book is steeped in Yiddish culture and sayings, and I wonder how approachable it is for someone who knows nothing of this... On the one hand, it seems like it would be no worse than reading any science fiction where an invented language or set of words made up a huge part of the scenery (e.g., Neal Stephenson's Anathem comes to mind), but on the flip side, the fact that it is a "modern" tale (alternate universe, but still present day) might give readers a different expectation than when reading science fiction.
Most of the characters (both "good" guys and "bad" guys) have surprising depth and dimensionality, making it at times a fascinating character study. This is the first book by Michael Chabon that I have read and I'm quite interested in reading some of the others....more