“When I started to try to learn to write fiction, I knew that I had no idea how to write fiction. This was actually a plus, that I knew I didn’t know, but at the time it was scary.”-“American Thumb Piano” by William Gibson
“Distrust That Particular Flavor is a collection of non-fiction writing by the speculative fiction author William Gibson. It consists of twenty-six pieces written over a period of more than twenty years. The anthology includes a range of formats, including essays, magazine pieces, album reviews, and forewords from other published works.”
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll probably know that I’m a big fan of William Gibson’s fiction. I love his 1984 debut novel Neuromancer, and have got something different from it each time I’ve read it, (three times so far:-) Here are links to my two posts on the book: Neuromancer, posted in 2015; and Neuromancer, A Third Reading, posted in 2017. Not so much “proper” reviews, they are a mix of my thoughts plus quotes from other authors and from the novel itself.
‘Very recent hiredness was its own liminal state, Verity reminded herself, on the crowded Montgomery BART platform, waiting for a train to Sixteenth and Mission.’–William Gibson
These are the opening lines to Agency, Gibson’s twelfth novel. I had to look up the word “liminal” which means “between or belonging to two different places, states, etc.” It is an important word for this novel, as Gibson weaves his narrative back and forth between the “present” of this story and its future. The present is an alternate 2017 in which Hillary Clinton won the election, and the future is some time in the 22nd century.
In William Gibson’s first novel since 2014’s The Peripheral, a gifted “app-whisperer” is hired by a mysterious San Francisco start-up and finds herself in contact with a unique and surprisingly combat-savvy AI.
I’m in two minds about this book. I initially rated it 3 stars, but I’m tempted to drop my rating down to 2 stars now. (Please note: 3 stars for me is what I consider “average”, 2 stars is “disappointing.”) The longer I think about the story, the more disappointed I feel. It has some cool ideas, but unfortunately they don’t really go anywhere. The plot is pretty basic and the characters mostly forgettable. Thinking back on it, I’m struggling to remember the characters’ names outside of the main character Verity and the A.I. Eunice.
“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.
“I think I’d probably tell you that it’s easier to desire and pursue the attention of tens of millions of total strangers than it is to accept the love and loyalty of the people closest to us.” William Gibson, Idoru
2016 has been the year of Dick for me, Philip Kindred Dick. Taking part in Bookpunks’ mind-warping “Exegesis with a Side of Fiction: The PKD Read-Along” has brought me closer to Dick. I regularly found myself questioning what was real after being submerged in the latest book. Despite struggling through the dense and diffuse Exegesis, I looked forward to my monthly dose of PKD paperback, wondering what kind of bizarre and unhinged world I would discover inside. It was also a great opportunity to focus on the work of one writer, to see the different worlds they had imagined and built, to compare the later stories with the earlier ones.
So, I propose spending 2017 in William Gibson territory. One book per month, commencing with his collection of short stories Burning Chrome. Continue reading
‘Case’s virus had bored a window through the library’s command ice. He punched himself through and found an infinite blue space ranged with color-coded spheres strung on a tight grid of pale blue neon.’ (p.63)
“On the most basic level, computers in my books are simply a metaphor for human memory: I’m interested in the hows and whys of memory, the ways it defines who and what we are, in how easily memory is subject to revision.” William Gibson quoted from an interview with Larry McCaffery in 1991.
I first read Neuromancer when I was 18. I don’t recall how much of the book I “got”, but I do remember being impressed by the action scenes involving Molly, the future-noir setting of Chiba City, and the stripped-down strangeness of Gibson’s cyberspace. I was also delighted to find a ninja in the story.
I’ve read most of Gibson’s novels before, starting with Neuromancer (1984) when I was a teenager. (I can’t believe it was published over 30 years ago. That makes me feel old.) I skipped the other two novels that make up the Sprawl Trilogy, and got back into him with 1993’s Virtual Light. Since then I’ve read all of his works except The Difference Engine, the latest ones being the Blue Ant Trilogy.