Everyone In Silico is Jim Munro’s third novel, and his most ambitious. Munro’s style-in-trade is that of social-activist meets sci-fi. His first novel Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gas Mask was a comic-book romance featuring two relatively normal people with quite abnormal abilities (the boy could turn into a fly, the girl could become invisible). They used their talents to become provocative media assassins and billboard taggers as their relationship bloomed and crumpled. A very auspicious and telling start.
His second novel, Angry Young Spaceman was a retro-50’s pulpy romance-in-space, as an english-as-a-second-language teach began work on another planet only to become involve with one of the netherworldly denziens.
The ante is up on this third book, as Munro explores yet another future not so far off where San Francisco has become the place to be, where your body is vacated and your mind enters a server to live in an, arguably, Matrix-esque pseudo-reality.
However, to get to this world, you need to have the money. The bronze package is base level, the platinum only for the filthy rich. With each level step up, the more advertising you can escape from. Yes, that’s right, in the future, the governments are defunct, big business (and only big business) has taken over, and advertising dominates your life.
But there are some who can remember a different life, people like Paul, who lives disembodied in Frisco (as it’s now called) and has dreams of returning a little bit of nature’s natural anarchy to the real world, if through mechanical means.
This is where Nicky comes in. She grows genetically altered animals, which isn’t much of a business, but it is lucritive. Paul, through intermediary graphitti artists and advert-espionage experts, recruits Nicky, the daughter of an old friend.
Paul also manipulates Eileen, a one-time super-secret agent who pulls herself out of retirement - with the aide of her ultra-high-tech assassin suit, and a little bit of Paul’s guidance - in order to find where her grandson Jeremy (who is actually a clone of herself) has gone off to, and whether it was of his own volition.
Finally there’s Doug. Doug longs to get out of the real world, as it just doesn’t suit him anymore. Doug’s the end of a dying breed, the bald man, his shiny pate a badge of honor, more than a curse. Doug manages to sneak his way into Frisco with his family, and, well, everything works out all right for Doug (although he has no part in Paul’s plan, he does help to figure things out a little).
The story of Everyone In Silico is quite involved, and the world it is set in is even more complex, and while I quite enjoyed the story, I found that Munroe’s writing in this novel just didn’t have the punch needed to keep my attention for long bouts. Whereas the story and characters come across quite clear, and are all nicely displayed, the world is confusing and one gets lost quite easily in the technical descriptions and details, and often the lack of. I found myself frequently joining the story in progress as I continually seemed to miss a delimiter or two along the way. On the flipside, I always caught enough that I could carry on without worrying too much about what I had missed.
Of the characters, Eileen, Jeremy and Paul were easily the most intriguing. Eileen and her high-tech suit should spin off into a more exploratory story, more past adventures, more insight into the agencies she worked for and the kill-for-Coke missions she was sent out on.
Conversely, Nicky 9 times out of 10 made me glare over while reading, and Doug, well, I just didn’t see too much purpose, other than you got the inside scoop on the transition from the real world to Frisco.
Like Munroe’s second novel, Silico’s ending didn’t win me over (although this was no where near as aggrivating). It was more a stoppage of story than an ending. I mean, I did get the gist of what was going to happen, just sometimes I like it spelled out for me anyway. Hey, I came this far.
Munroe remains a crafty voice, and as the guru of the self-publishing-as-the-rock-n-roll-boys-do movement, he remains a writer of interest, especially as his talent and ambition develops.
There are books that you read for pleasure, and there are books that you read for the sheer accomplishment of reading them. “How to Be Good” by Nick Hornby would be a prime example of the former, “The Brothers Karamazov” by Dostoevsky the latter. “If on a winter’s night a traveler” falls somewhere in the middle.
Written in 1979 it has since become a cult classic, one of easily very few novels written in second person, and one of even fewer to do so successfully. The convetion of writing in second person isn’t for novelty’s sake, no, the purpose of intentionally addressing and directing the reader is the whole point of the novel which quickly you realize is an analysis of the condition of reading in itself.
Its first few pages, which you can find readily on the ‘net starts you off, discussing exactly how you may be sitting down, where you may actually be sitting while beginning the new book by Italo Calvino. At some point within these first few paragraphs your eyes widen and you say to yourself, “oh, how novel,” but you do in fact identify yourself as a reader in his words, and you let him carry you away.
And he does, he carrys you in and out of stories - beginning but not ending for you see, the novel “If on a winter’s night a traveler” has a flaw, and thus you must return it to the book store. There you meet another reader who has also encountered the flaw in the book and as you both exchange books (for a new volume, the title different but the text proper to what you have been reading), you also exchange phone numbers with the other reader, Ludmilla, just in case you experience the same problem once again.
The second book you read and are shocked to find is not the continuation of what you started to read, but an entirely new book altogether. When you go back to complain a third volume and an explanation of a mix up in translation of the novel is given. You and Ludmilla begin to persue the mystery of the multiple erroneous novels, all the while picking up new volumes, reading them, but never able to finish them.
It’s an engaging novel, the mystery of the mixed up books and the examination of the reader, the state of reading, and the journal of a writer deliberating of how he is to address his audience all give a sort of “behind-the-scenes-but-you-already-knew-but-never-considered-before” feel to the overall book, a masterpiece of pseudo-fiction that is really quite enlightening and intriguing.
The only difficulty is, by the sixth book you start to read (the chapters go from the second person told tale of you figuring out the mystery to the opening chapter of prose from the new novel you just picked up, told in third or first person) you’ve tired of the fact that you are yet starting another title that you will not finish and you realize serves no other idea than, well, just carrying through on the idea of the novel.
Much of the book is very satisfying, and well worth the effort of trudging through (or skipping over) the slow parts, and though it may be 24 years dated, the truisms of the novel still hold, and will continue to hold as long as we continue to read.
have sympathy for william gibson. his first book, the scene-bursting neuromancer, captured the imagination of many minds. its hard yet poetic prose, about the space between computers and an industrial future where global corporations and a few families control most of the wealth, struck down the typical science fiction of the time and inspired many to sit down at a computer, to either hack away or talk to people remotely over what would become the internet.
however, following up on such a groundbreaking novel can leave people developing a reputation that can’t possibly be lived up to. that said, he completed 2 other novels set in the same universe, 3 others in a less dystopian but still bleak otherworld, various short stories, articles and collaborative works with other cyberpunk authors, which were ravenously consumed by his devoted fanbase but left that wanting for another neuromancer. gibson exposed not only his grasp of our current world but on how people relate to each other, making him very human in an otherwise synthetic realm.
his latest novel, pattern recognition, takes his impeccable skills of analyzing our current world and extending it further, and offers perhaps his revolutionary idea: setting it in the present. without mentally forcing the reader to imagine a world, he forces the reader to look at the existing one with everything currently in place.
pattern recognition is the story of cayce pollard, a coolhunter with an ability to identify zeitgeists via an aversion to popularity (like an unconscious no logo). she has been contracted by a marketing firm in london to pick a new logo for sportswear company and she’s staying at a director friend’s flat.
by Arthur C Clarke
It’s interesting reading this novel 34 years after it’s first publication, and two years after the date on the cover… interesting for two reasons: first because it is such a celebrated part of cinematic and storytelling history; and second because very little of what is written in the book is even remotely close to the way things are today.
The first thing to note is 2001 the book and 2001 the movie was not a one-follows-the-other scenario, there wasn’t a huge bidding war for film rights over the book, and there wasn’t a follow-up novel adaptation.
By Michael Palin and Terry Jones
In the aftermath of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Terry Gilliam began a directing career, John Cleese spawned Fawlty Towers, Eric Idle did… something, Graham Chapman became an alcoholic and wrote a bio-fiction, Terry Jones became a writer and Michael Palin went for an acting career. Well, it turns out that the overwhelming success that John Cleese had completely overshadowed the careers of the rest of the Python gents, whom have had respectable amounts of exposure but nowhere near the notoriety (Gilliam a definite exception).
It’s an unfortunate thing, especially when you take into consideration the comedic brilliance of the rest of them, and in particular Palin and Jones’ Ripping Yarns, which aired around the same time as Basil Fawlty appeared. Sad that it was so under-appreciated to the point of complete obscurity, especially considering it was so hilarious.
Well, it reads funny anyway.
the last time we heard from renton, he was walking away from his friends with their money and threatening to become one of us. soon afterwards, he and his other mates from leith were soon visible on stage and eventually, in the cinema, as trainspotting became a phenomenon and irvine welsh entered the zeitgeist with his tales of the underbelly of scotland. not bad for a first novel, but thankfully, irvine welsh kept his head level and was able to write a fistful of novels and many short stories.
however, the mad heroin users and other lowlifes were always popping up in his head and occasionally in his other stories, so, nine years after trainspotting, welsh has written his first sequel: porno. porno jumps the same time ahead so that the characters have aged along with the rest of us, which implies that the mayhem and uncertainty from trainspotting has developed into desperation and utter dread.
simon aka sick boy is the main character this time round, the extroverted schemer who always in a pissing match with renton on who could do things better. simon had been in london for a while, living a higher life now with his connections and his cocaine. after a scuffle at his job, he hears from his aunt back in edinburgh that her pub is available, so he heads back to scotland to take the business over and reconnect with his roots. catching up with the yobs there, he hears about the stag movies being filmed by some associates and decides that he wants to become a pornographer, filming the hardcore action upstairs from the bar.
slowly, he encounters some of the old crew, including the sweet blundering danny murphy aka spud, who still is having difficulty kicking the addiction but now has a wife and son whilst trying to write a book about the history of the area, and the recently-released-from-prison begbie, one of the most volatile and violent bastards ever known. all three were ripped off by renton after a drug deal and simon and begbie have never quite forgiven mark for that act. eventually, simon’s able to track down renton but instead of immediate revenge, he tries to wrap mark back into his cinematic aspirations.
in comparison to trainspotting, the story is easier to follow, with each chapter switching to one of five voices, including a new character, nikki, a english university student who sees the porn business as an empowering move and gets involved with simon. the written scottish dialogue can be a bit difficult to parse sometimes, but the language’s rhythm is quickly absorbed. the longer sections with clearly defined voices make it simpler to get into each character’s head, whereas trainspotting was already out of the gates when the voice switching, meaning some exciting catching-up was required.
welsh is able to maintain his unique wit and humour about him and although the text is less manic, the energy of everyone doing their best to get what they want as they hop from edinburgh to glasgow to amsterdam to cannes is consistent and even though these people seem outright dispicable and scary sometimes, you can’t help but follow what they’re up to. begbie in particular is quite gripping, even though he’s ready to strike at any given moment with his own logical processes, because you’re not sure what he’s going to do, but his internal justification comes across as so singular in focus, you know that it’s never good.
there’s already talk of a film version, which is understandable based on how popular the 1996 film was. ewan macgregor, who had a breakout role as renton, was reluctant to pick up the character again after hearing about the sequel, but after reading it, he was gung-ho for it. i had a similar hesitation, but after hearing irvine welsh read parts of the book at barnes & noble last month, i quickly fell back on the bad scottish bandwagon and enjoyed the ride. porno’s a great story, even for those of you who haven’t read trainspotting yet, so don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
Neil Gaiman’s new novel Coraline is kinda weird. Yup.
In the tradition of odd and mysterious childrens tales such as Through the Looking Glass (aka Alice in Wonderland) and the Wizard of Oz, Coraline is another fish-not-out-of-water-bu-in-the-wrong-pond kind of tale, wherein Coraline, the titular character (duh), discovers a mysterious corridor in her family’s new flat in London. The door to the corridor is normally locked, and when her mother opens it, showing it to her, there’s nothing there but a bricked up wall. But the next day Coraline decides to scoff the keys from the fridge top and have another peek. When she does, she finds the brick wall missing, and a passage to “the other flat”, which, by all means, looks exactly like her flat, but with little differences.
In this “other’” world, she has an “other mother” - one who wants to spend time with her daughter - and her “other father” -who seems to have his attention wrapt around Coraline.
But quickly she learns the other world has its limitations, and it’s horrors, when she discovers her other mother has actually adult-napped her real parents. A leery cat and some kindly spirits help Coraline on her journey to find the key to her real parent’s freedom, and her own from the twisted other world.
Gaiman’s novel is brief, yet wholly engaging. He uses a simple story structure that in lesser hands wouldn’t have gone half as far. His prose is dually sophisticated and accessable, reading like old English with modern trappings. It’s all very fluid and hard to put down.
Maybe not the best book to read to little Timmy, or young Julia, but a child ready for Harry Potter is more than ready for Coraline… and all adults are welcome along for the ride.