This is the sequel to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I originally read the first four books in this “trilogy” when I was a teenager. (I haven’t read book five Mostly Harmless yet, but it’s on its way to me as I type this.) I’ve seen the BBC TV adaptation as well as the 2005 movie version; I enjoyed them both. I decided to re-read this book because I wanted some “light” reading. I remembered the comedy and general bonkers-ness of this series and approached it from that perspective. What surprised me on this re-read was how profound it is, as well as how moving in places.
Pan Books 1981 Cover Art by Chris Moore
The story picks up where Hitchhiker’s leaves off. Aboard the stolen spaceship ‘Heart of Gold’, Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillian and Marvin the paranoid android are about to have a Vogon encounter of the worst kind. Resistance will no doubt be useless. But their ship has powerful defenses, so everything should be fine, right? Well, theoretically yes, except Arthur has tied up 99% of the ship computer’s processing power with his request for a cup of tea. Continue reading
“The background was a familiar one to anybody who lived in those longitudes of Land – flawless indigo sea, a sky of pale blue feathered with white, and the misty vastness of the sister world, Overland, hanging motionless near the zenith,” (Loc 42)
Bob Shaw’s The Ragged Astronauts won the BSFA Best Novel Award in 1986. The Northern-Irish author also won the award in 1975 for his novel Orbitsville. Interestingly, he picked up the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 1979 and 1980. The British author Christopher Priest described Shaw’s fan writing as being “fluent, amusing, intelligent, personal and pertinent.” Despite these accolades, I wasn’t aware of Bob Shaw’s work until I found his name on the BSFA winners’ list.
The Ragged Astronauts is the first book in the ‘Land & Overland’ trilogy, followed by The Wooden Spaceships (1988) and The Fugitive Worlds (1989). The story opens on a world called Land. A feudal system is in place, with the people being ruled by King Prad and his royal family. There is a second world, Overland, orbiting only a few thousand miles away. Both worlds share the same atmosphere. As the author builds his world, we learn that the inhabitants of Land are struggling with the planet’s dwindling resources.
What resources they have are limited. Land is a world without any kind of metal, which makes for some engaging ideas and descriptions of the technology, transport and weapons of the world. The people are also plagued by a strange enemy called “ptertha”. These are small, airborne spheres that release a toxic dust when they burst. Unable to communicate with the ptertha, it is assumed they are not sentient. But when the attacks appear to lose their randomness, the Landians must make some tough decisions regarding their future. Continue reading
“The Angie stims were sealed in plastic. She took one at random, slit the wrapper with her thumbnail, slotted it, and put the trodes on. She wasn’t thinking; her hands seemed to know what to do, […]. One of them touched PLAY and she slid into the Angie-world, pure as any drug, slow saxophone and limo-glide through some European city, …” (p.143)
Art by Daniel Brown. Gollancz 2017 edition
The third book in William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, Mona Lisa Overdrive continues the story of Angie Mitchell, one of the characters from the second book Count Zero. It is set a few years later than the events of the second Sprawl book. Angie is now a famous “simstim” star, and we join her post detox clinic in a beach house in Malibu.
“The doctors at the clinic had used chemical pliers to pry the addiction away from receptor sites in her brain.” (p.18)
As well as Angie’s story, the narrative follows three other plot threads. The first introduces Kumiko, the young daughter of a Japanese yakuza boss. The second thread features an artist known as Slick Henry who lives out in the sticks in a place called “Factory”. The remaining plotline focuses on Mona, a young prostitute who resembles simstim star Angie. As in the previous book, Gibson takes us on a journey through cyberspace as he skillfully weaves together the four narratives. Continue reading
“Eyes open, he pulled the thing from his socket and held it, his palm slick with sweat. It was like waking from a nightmare. Not a screamer, where impacted fears took on simple, terrible shapes, but the sort of dream, infinitely more disturbing, where everything is utterly wrong …” (p.30)
Count Zero is the second book in Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy. It is not a direct sequel to Neuromancer, but it does develop some of the themes and ideas Gibson used in his seminal first novel. It’s a more mature, more ambitious work than Neuromancer, telling the stories of three main characters: Turner, a mercenary-for-hire; Bobby, a young console-cowboy; and Marly, a former art gallery owner.
2006 Ace Books edition
Like its predecessor, Count Zero is not an easy read. Gibson has no time for info-dumps, being a proponent of the “show, don’t tell” school of storytelling. This means we are dropped into the middle of the author’s universe and need to hit the ground running as we try to keep up. It can be challenging at times, and may require a few re-reads of parts of the book, but it is so worth it. Continue reading
“In the nonspace of the matrix, the interior of a given data construct possessed unlimited subjective dimension; a child’s toy calculator, accessed through Case’s Sendai, would have presented limitless gulfs of nothingness hung with a few basic commands.” (p.63)
Harper Voyager 2015 edition
As part of my 2017 William Gibson Read-Along, I reread Neuromancer in February. This was my third time to read it. (I posted a review on this blog in November 2015 after reading it for the second time.) So, this is more of an update than a new review.
Am I crazy to read the same book 3 times? Maybe, maybe not. What I will say is that after my third reading I’ve upped my rating of the novel from 4 to 5 stars. In my opinion, Neuromancer is a staggering piece of fiction that deserves all the praise and plaudits it has picked up since its publication all those years ago. But instead of waffling on with my own thoughts on this seminal work, I will post some quotes about the book by critics and authors made over the last 30+ years. Continue reading
“It was one of those nights, I quickly decided, when you slip into an alternate continuum, a city that looks exactly like the one you live, except for the peculiar difference that it contains not one person you love or know or have spoken to before.” – The Winter Market (p.161)
Released two years after Gibson’s Hugo Award winning debut novel Neuromancer (1984), Burning Chrome is a collection of ten short stories penned by the author between 1977 and 1985. Three of the stories are collaborations: The Belonging Kind (1981) with John Shirley, Red Star, Winter Orbit (1983) with Bruce Sterling, and Dogfight (1985) with Michael Swanwick. This collection also includes Gibson’s first published story Fragments of a Hologram Rose (1977). I will limit my review to the stories which impressed me the most.
“The fixed idea of madness is fascinating, if you are inclined toward viewing with interest something that is palpably impossible yet nonetheless exists.” (p.97)
The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is the final novel Philip K. Dick completed before his untimely death in March 1982. Often listed as the third part of the VALIS Trilogy, it bears little relation to the first two VALIS books. (Dick’s intended third part of the trilogy, The Owl in Daylight, never progressed beyond a rough outline.) It is classed as being both a postmodern and philosophical novel which Dick was quoted as saying “is in no way science fiction.” Interestingly, his agent had a different interpretation of the book:
“in your science fiction they drive things called flobbles and quibbles, and in this one they drive Hondas — but it’s still essentially a science fiction novel. Although I can’t explain exactly how.”
These quotes are taken from an interview the author gave to Twilight Zone magazine at the beginning of 1982. At that time the interviewer remarked that Dick “was in excellent spirits and was looking forward to the premiere of Blade Runner […] with considerable excitement”. It is sad that he didn’t live to see it. Continue reading
“When has the government ever told anyone the truth?” (p.76)
The Divine Invasion was published in the same year as VALIS. It is the second book in the VALIS Trilogy, although there is only a brief mention of VALIS in the story. Like VALIS it addresses religion and philosophy, but it’s not as tightly structured or plotted as the first book. In fact, some parts of The Divine Invasion feel like they belong to a completely different story. According to Jonathan Lethem, one of the editors of Dick’s Exegesis, this book was written in only four weeks. It would be easy to say it shows.
The Divine Invasion tells the story of two distant-planet colonists, Herb Asher and Rybys Romney. We follow them on their journey back to Earth as Rybys is due to give birth to a son, Emmanuel. The book goes on to chronicle a battle between the forces of good and evil in which Emmanuel will play a major role. He is joined by a young girl called Zina, an old man, Elias, who acts as his guardian, and a kid goat. I kid you not. Continue reading
“14. The universe is information and we are stationary in it, not three-dimensional and not in space or time. The information fed to us we hypostatize into the phenomenal world.” -from the Tractate, VALIS
VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System) was published in 1981. It follows Dick’s A Scanner Darkly and precedes The Divine Invasion. It’s difficult to write a spoiler-free synopsis of this novel but here goes:
Horselover Fat, a *friend* of the author Philip K. Dick, has a nervous breakdown. His friends help him attempt to deal with it. They talk a lot about theology, reality and extra-terrestrials. Towards the end of the book they watch a movie called ‘Valis’, then meet the movie’s makers.
I read this as the third book in Book Punks mind-warping “Exegesis with a side of fiction: the 2016 PKD read along”. It was interesting to read VALIS after reading Radio Free Albemuth, as VALIS is considered to be a rewrite or reworking of Albemuth. Both books include Philip K. Dick as a major character in the stories. They also contain a lot of autobiographical details that touch on Dick’s experiences leading up to and after February & March 1974, (mystical experience or onset of schizophrenia??).
“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” – Terry Pratchett
Art by Josh Kirby
Terry Pratchett’s seventh Discworld novel Pyramids won the BSFA Best Novel award in 1989. I re-read it as part of my BSFA Reading Challenge. It is the first book in the Discworld series that can be read as a standalone story. That is, there aren’t any recurring characters in this book, but it is set in the Discword universe. (If you are new to the Discworld experience then here is a link to the Wikipedia page.)
Pyramids tells the story of Teppic, a young man who is heir to the throne of “Djelibaybi”, a kingdom which is a caricature of ancient Egypt. At the beginning of the story, we join Teppic as a trainee assassin attending the Assassin’s Guild in the city of Ankh-Morpork.
“All assassins had a full-length mirror in their rooms, because it would be a terrible insult to anyone to kill them when you were badly dressed.”