Jon Nelson's Reviews > Void Star

Void Star by Zachary Mason
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really liked it
Read 2 times. Last read May 30, 2017 to June 19, 2017.

This will be an odd review, because I'm going to spend most of it talking about a different author.

Reading Void Star was a really interesting experience. It's a pitch-perfect Gibsonian cyberpunk novel in the style of the Sprawl trilogy, only it just came out and was written by a guy named Zachary Mason. It's obviously very directly inspired by Neuromancer and can't hope to achieve the same cultural import in its wake. But it's... kind of a better book in a lot of ways.

The thing about William Gibson is that his novels are mostly delivery vehicles for his fetishistic aesthetic obsessions. They have plots and characters, though the interaction between those two is often minimal - Gibson's characters rarely have much agency and their role is often to simply witness pivotal moments in clashes between larger, impersonal forces. His plots aren't without thrilling moments, but they're not typically very memorable overall. What sticks with me are the images they're built around.

Neuromancer came about because Gibson saw someone playing an early wireframe 3D game in an arcade and realized that the player was inhabiting an abstract digital space inside a computer that existed alongside our own physical space. He imagined this space expanding from a small, personal experience into a fully realized world that people of the future could visit and eventually come to live in - a cyberspace of glowing, abstract forms that we could use to escape from our mundane "meatspace". That's an incredibly compelling image, and it made for an astonishing book.

His later stuff isn't so consistent. He went through a phase of escalating object-fetishism. I didn't make it through the Blue Ant trilogy but I understand one of the volumes is about a cool pair of pants or something. He seems to be moving away from that as of late: The Peripheral centers on an unusual time travel mechanic and a wasted future, and it's a very good read.

I've read a lot of cyberpunk that imitates the early Gibsonian aesthetics, but doesn't quite pull it off - there's always something wrong with the mix, and it comes off comic-bookish, or cheap, or just weirdly nostalgic. The thing is, Void Star nails it. So many of the themes that made cyberpunk exciting are here - not in the exact same form as they were in the 80s, but in new and interesting versions that have grown with the times. I wasn't convinced I'd ever read a new book this good that felt like real cyberpunk. But the other thing is: until reading this, I sort of assumed that a book like Neuromancer required a certain amount of navel gazing because of how it's driven by a singular aesthetic obsession. But Void Star manages to avoid that - it has a brisk plot that's actually driven by the main characters, and captures the early cyberpunk aesthetic without indulging in the obsessive Cornell-box making urge that Gibson gives in to.

Previously, I would have told anyone looking to get into cyberpunk to start with Neuromancer. I think Void Star has actually managed to supplant it.
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Reading Progress

May 30, 2017 – Started Reading (Kindle Edition)
May 30, 2017 – Started Reading
May 30, 2017 – Shelved (Kindle Edition)
June 19, 2017 – Finished Reading
June 19, 2017 – Finished Reading (Kindle Edition)
July 11, 2017 – Shelved

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