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That Science Fiction Thread.
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AlphonseVanWorden



Joined: 05 Mar 2006
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 09, 2006 11:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just a little something for you Earthsea fans-- an article by LeGuin's Japanese translator about the upcoming Ghibli film.

http://www.ghibli.jp/20special/000357.html
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Jeni Nielsen



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PostPosted: Tue Apr 25, 2006 12:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sylphisonic wrote:
Quote:
My one beef with canon SF authors like Asimov is that his characters blow.


Ehhh? But I loved the characters in "I, Robot"! Susan Calvin was really well-developed, and one of the most refreshing characters I ever read about in a novel. And those two goofy technician guys who were always getting into dire peril were so much fun. And the politician in the later segments was somebody I felt like an interesting seperate novel could have been written on (was there one? We have the other robot books but I haven't gotten round to reading them yet... I never have the time)


Ever read the Foundation books? I rest my case. :p

I feel like Susan Calvin is Asimov's one redeeming character. Perhaps the robot-president was also a good character, but there wasn't enough of him. There was another book I read of his called something like "the God's themsleves" or something like that, and while the plot was semi-interesting the characters just didn't seem more than paper to me.

I'm probably also the only one who will say this but I really didn't like Stranger in a Strange land ESPECIALLY because of Jubal Hershaw. What a womanizer!! (at least the characters were interesting though)

But as for Gibson I think his worlds are vast and interesting, but again characterwise he could use a little work. I read Neuromancer again this year and I wondered about what was motivating the main character (I forgot his name). Why does he care? Those are questions I need answered when I read a novel, and most SF doesn't do that.

I really should read more LeGuin though. I only started The Left Hand of Darkness.
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Tonks_kittygoth



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PostPosted: Tue Apr 25, 2006 4:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I really didn't like Stranger in a Strange land ESPECIALLY because of Jubal Hershaw. What a womanizer!!


Yeh! I couldnt get through that one at all eaither. The women were more independant than the times I guess, but they seemed to still be totally subserviant to the men characters. It ticked me off and I put it down pretty quick.

Larry Niven's ringworld girl was pretty cool if I remember right. Kzin was the best though!
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Elmo



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PostPosted: Wed Apr 26, 2006 3:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

AlphonseVanWorden wrote:

I think you'd like the early stuff. Cat's Cradle and The Sirens of Titan are really good. Slaugherhouse-Five is interesting. And Mother Night, while it's not science fiction, is really quite disturbing.


thank you for the recomends just read slaughterhouse 5, very good bit of writing. Smile
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AlphonseVanWorden



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PostPosted: Fri Apr 28, 2006 4:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Elmo wrote:
thank you for the recomends just read slaughterhouse 5, very good bit of writing. Smile


Elmo, you're quite welcome. Glad you're enjoying those books...

Jeni Nielsen wrote:
But as for Gibson I think his worlds are vast and interesting, but again characterwise he could use a little work. I read Neuromancer again this year and I wondered about what was motivating the main character (I forgot his name). Why does he care? Those are questions I need answered when I read a novel, and most SF doesn't do that.


I think the character's name has a lot to do with his personality. Case. As in "case study" or even "basketcase." Remember what we're told about Case's reaction when the Russian mycotoxin damaged his nervous system: "For Case, who'd lived for the bodiless exultation of cyberspace, it was the Fall." And that's a capital-F Fall, as in, Fall from Grace. "The body was meat. Case fell into the prison of his own flesh." Case couldn't "plug in" anymore, so he became a drug addict to avoid dealing with meat (as it's pejoratively termed in the novel). In short, the character had a death wish (Thanatos, as opposed to Eros in Freudian psychology), and "the Fall" refined that impulse...

At the beginning of the novel, Case is living in an incredibly dangerous urban environment--"a deranged experiment in social Darwinism, designed by a bored researcher who kept one thumb permanently on the fast-forward button"-- and the environment will kill him, sooner or later.

(Herbert Spencer's "survival of the fittest" phrase is perhaps the purest articulation of social Darwinism; Spencer argued that market economies and social structures act according to something like Darwinian natural selection. When we first meet him, Case is the foolish victim of such a system-- he made the mistake of stealing from thieves who were smarter than he was-- and in many other respects, he's hardly an example of "the fittest"; his response to danger involves popping pills and making sloppy decisions. He doesn't really seem to care about survival. The description of Night City is more than a bit ironic on Gibson's part, and it feeds into the novel's portrayal of capitalism and its autonomy-versus-control subtext. Case doesn't really have much autonomy; he's an addict.)

As Molly tells Case, "Figure what you were into back in Chiba, that was a stripped down version of what you'd be doing anywhere. Bad luck, it'll do that sometimes, get you down to basics." So we can read Case's drug problem as similar to-- in fact, as related to-- his desire/need to go online. Case enjoyed the experience of "jacking in"; after the mobsters ruined his nervous system, "he'd cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark, curled in his capsule in some coffin hotel, his hands clawed into the bedslab, temperfoam bunched between his fingers, trying to reach the console that wasn't there." Now that he can't "plug in" to the "matrix", he's resigned to his destruction. He takes drugs and engages in other risky behaviors-- behaviors which are sure to shorten his life.

Then he gets an offer...

His initial motivation for signing on with the crew is to have his nervous system repaired so he can access cyberspace again. Then it's fear of the toxin sacs that are supposed to have put in his body; the sacs would once again cripple his nervous system and deny him access to the Net. Finally, we learn his true motivation, the reason he's been so obsessed with the Net, the reason he uses drugs, his reason for going along with the whole scheme is (as if we couldn't guess it) self-loathing and a death wish-- which Wintermute had sort of counted on, as the A.I. needed that kind of crazy and dangerous behavior to get to Neuromancer.

It's implied (and pretty much stated) throughout the novel that Case's death wish was motivating his behavior all along; everyone seems to have realized this, except Case. When Case dives into the Tessier-Ashpool intrusion countermeasures, we're actually told, "He came in steep, fueled by self-loathing"-- and this doesn't strike us as at all surprising.

Quote:
"Hate'll get you through," the voice said. "So many little triggers in the brain, and you just go yankin' them all. Now you gotta hate..."
...
"Hate," Case said. "Who do I hate? You tell me."
"Who do you love?" the Finn's voice [Wintermute] asked.


And of course, Case has always loved-- and hated-- himself most of all...

Quote:
In the instant before he drove Kuang's sting through the base of the first tower, he attained a level of proficiency exceeding anything he'd known or imagined. Beyond ego, beyond personality, beyond awareness, he moved, Kuang moving with him, evading his attackers with an ancient dance... grace of the mind-body interface granted him, in that second, by the clarity and singleness of his wish to die.


Case reminds me of various (and numerous) alcoholics, junkies, and crack addicts I've known. Sad but true. And the reference to the Fall suggests that the Net is, for Case, something like a metaphysical, flesh-denying fix. So the mind-body interface he experiences-- a kind of "grace... granted him... by the singleness of his wish to die"-- is the ultimate rush. And Wintermute (the more irrational of the twin A.I.s) was gambling that Case would find that kind of "grace" within himself, as Wintermute hoped to use Case's death wish to achieve its goal.

Gibson is a pretty big William Burroughs fan, and the novel's depiction of Case's addictions reminds me of what Burroughs wrote about the Algebra of Need (addiction as control) and of a Burroughs piece in which the author describes a junkie's death as "the immaculate fix". And there's a strong J.G. Ballard influence on Gibson's early stuff, with its lack of affect and its death- and mutilation-obsessed characters.

It's worth recalling that in the third novel (Mona Lisa Overdrive), we learn that Case is no longer in the business of being a "console cowboy", that he's "gone straight" and settled down-- in other words, he's grown up.

Molly seems a little nonplussed by this. Who've thunk it?

In an interview, Gibson stated: "There is an tendency in our culture, in a broader sense the western civilization, to reject the body in favor of an idea of the spirit or the soul. I have never been entirely sure that that's such a good thing, and in an interesting way this technology is pointing in that direction. One could imagine a very ascetic sort of life growing out of this, where the body is ignored. This is something I've played with in my books, where people hate to be reminded sometimes that they have bodies, they find it very slow and tedious. But I've never presented that as an desirable state, always as something almost pathological growing out of this technology."

In another interview, Gibson stated: "When I was in England...I noticed that the response to my work was markedly different [from the response in the U.S.]; people were referring to me as a humorist. In England they think what I'm doing is funny-- not that I'm only being funny, but they can see that there's a certain humor in my work... Neuromancer isn't autobiographical in any literal sense of the word, but I did draw on my sense of what people are like to develop these characters. Part of that came from accessing my own screwed-up adolescence, and another part of it came from watching how kids reacted to all the truly horrible stuff happening all around them-- that unfocused angst and weird lack of affect."

The "humor" Gibson is alluding to is a kind of gallow's humor, a sort of straightfaced, deadpan irony. It's one of the things I find most appealing about his early work (and about some of Ballard's work, come to think of it).

I guess the short answer is, Case wasn't meant to be all that sympathetic, whereas some of Gibson's later characters (e.g., Angie, Rydell, Chia) are.

I agree with Sylph-- Idoru is one of the stronger Gibson novels.

Gibson's not one of my all-time favorites, but I enjoy his books. I think he's simultaneously underrated (for what he does well) and overrated (as some sort of God of Science Fiction).
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Last edited by AlphonseVanWorden on Fri Apr 28, 2006 5:18 am; edited 3 times in total
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AlphonseVanWorden



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PostPosted: Fri Apr 28, 2006 4:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I'm probably also the only one who will say this but I really didn't like Stranger in a Strange land ESPECIALLY because of Jubal Hershaw. What a womanizer!! (at least the characters were interesting though)


Jeni, what I find most annoying about Heinlein is that the man felt the need to insert at least one pontificating puppet into most of his books. Flat characters can work in some texts, and I can forgive their existence in some works of fiction, but mouthpieces are darned annoying to me-- especially when they serve no other purpose but to tell you exactly what the author thinks about everything in the world.

And Heinlein did this without a trace of irony...

And then there's the corny dialogue, and the stereotypical female characters, and the etc. etc....

If the man didn't have some interesting ideas, I'd write him off entirely.

BTW, if you want to encounter some truly complex, cool, and amazing female characters, read some Joanna Russ. I think she's a more interesting writer than LeGuin... When Russ chooses to tell the reader something directly, her techniques are different from Heinlein's. She's brutally funny about it, or she unleashes a pretty wicked and painful kind of irony on the reader. Some of her works make me cringe, but I'm glad she makes me cringe, and I'm grateful to her for making her points in the way that she does. Some of her stuff's aged a bit, but I still love it. Picnic on Paradise, The Two of Them, and The Female Man are highly recommended by yours truly.

And for a contemporary of Heinlein's who is loved in the field and by yours truly but who's probably not "canonical" (if by "canonical science fiction" we mean "known to and adored by a bunch of folks"), let me suggest Theodore Sturgeon, whose worst works are far more interesting and complex than Heinlein's best...

EDIT: I sound like a Heinlein hater, don't I? I used to like his books when I was young. I'm just... well, I can't really relate to a lot of it these days. If someone really loves Heinlein, hey, whatever. Cool with me. He did have a huge influence on science fiction's development as a genre. And at least the person's not reading Ayn "Let Me Bore You to Death With My Pretentious Posturing, I Want to Pretend I'm a Philosopher" Rand, who irritates me in ways that Heinlein can't.

Still, there's something to be said for Ms. Rand's writings. The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged make great ballast if you need to weigh something down in a hurricane, and a lit copy of Anthem provides a decent glow when the power's out... or so I've been told. Wink
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AlphonseVanWorden



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PostPosted: Thu May 04, 2006 5:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sylphisonic wrote:
I read some of a Heinlein book -I can't remember which one- and it was so weird that I ran away and ever went back. It was full of people sleeping with their own mothers and going on about being surrogate mothers to Chinese babies. The main character was part of some strange culture that was into polygamy. I don't know, someone else told me that Heinlein was a bit weird that way and very pro-free love.


Laughing Laughing

Sounds like you experienced one of the Lazarus Long books, maybe Time Enough for Love?

Quote:
Yeah, I think you are right that Case is not a sympathetic character. I certainly didn't like him or care about him. To sum him up I'd say he's just another boring "angry young man" character on the literary landscape. And Molly, another fantasy girl. When authors keep doing this character again and again as a main protagonist, it makes me feel like they're just overgrown teenagers still locked in their bedrooms throwing an "angry young man" tantrum at the world. Might be why I do not like a lot of authors in sci-fi, etc.


See, I don't think Case cares enough to fit that model. He's self-loathing, but he's hardly an angry young man. Gibson is parodying the sort of character Case is, and the sort of person the character represents. By making Case twenty-four years old, he's mocking the sort of prolonged psychological adolescence we see in American culture. (Gibson was in his thirties when he wrote Neuromancer; if he mentions his own adolescence, I think it's a matter of looking back at the sort of person you were and saying, "Wow, I was kind of dumb when I was an adolescent." In fact, he mentions adolescence in a lot of interviews about the first trilogy in general, and Neuromancer in particular...)

By extension, Gibson's poking fun at a lot of science fiction fans and technophiles. He's basically said that a lot of older science fiction strikes him as fascistic and-- dare I say it?-- adolescent and lacking in irony.

Molly never struck me as a fantasy girl; her presence in Gibson's stories struck me as a commentary on male fantasies and on the relationship between capitalism and the body. In one of her conversations with Case, her backstory is revealed. She used to work in the same sort of brothel that Rikki in "Burning Chrome" did, and for similar reasons... and there's a kind of irony at work in this. Selling the meat to buy physical upgrades. After she gets her eyes and her nails, whatever we want to say about Molly's code of honor and apparent autonomy, we know that she went from being a prostitute to being a "street samurai," i.e. a mercenary. An improvement over the sort of stuff Gibson describes going on in the brothels, but pretty bleak, nonetheless.

The mercenary nature of the characters in the first trilogy isn't meant as wish-fulfillment, per se. It has an element of that, but it also interrogates the terms involved. You want better hardware? How much are you willing to trade or sell?

Hence that line about dealing with demons...

And hence the stuff with Angie in the second and third books.

And Molly's leaving Case because "that's just the way she's wired...", bacause their relationship is "taking the edge" off her "game"... I took that to be part of Gibson's cautionary vibe. The metaphors suggest that she thinks she's predisposed to a certain behavior and that she views her occupation-- which involves hiring herself out to people to protect them from or to kill other people-- as a game. Free will and affection don't enter into things. The "wiring" metaphor itself equates the vagaries of sexual behavior with machinery, and the "game" analogy suggests that she sees life as a zero-sum, lose-win sort of binary system.

When she asks the Finn about getting Case's help in Mona Lisa Overdrive, she's surprised when the Finn tells her that Case is retired. She assumed that Case's behavior was part of his neurochemical "wiring"-- she states as much a few times in Neuromancer, even comparing Case to her dead criminal boyfriend Johnny, who just didn't know when to quit the game-- and she assumed Case's behavior would remain constant or tend in a certain direction until he died or got killed. She didn't change much over the years, so why should anyone else? It's just the way people are wired. Of course, she hasn't changed because she doesn't see a way to change, nor does she have the desire to do so.

And it's interesting that, years later, she asks about Case because his skills would prove useful. It's implied that she never asked in the interval...

(The last scene with Turner in Count Zero indicates that he's wised up in a way similar to Case and retired from a dangerous line of work. It's these sorts of contrasts, as well as little things like the shuriken in the first novel, that let us figure out Gibson's position.)

And think of how Molly cries. She has to spit...

Hardly my idea of a dream girl, all things considered. Even Case seems weirded out by her at times...

Case grows up and Turner wises up, and they're out of the overall story. (The narratives of the Sprawl trilogy all center around what the artificial intelligences want and how they get it-- and ultimately, everything comes back to fusion/integration, and to the signal from Alpha Centauri. This isn't viewed as necessarily bad or evil; it's human behavior that seems problematic in Gibson's universe. If the A.I.s use humans, well... so do humans, and the humans are a bit worse in the ways they use their fellows.) Molly doesn't change much, and she enters the narrative again. Bobby (from Count Zero) changes, but in the opposite direction from Case and Turner-- he becomes more involved with technology, becoming radically (and in some ways, unpleasantly) altered by his interests in Mona Lisa Overdrive. It's as if Bobby was a younger version of Case... and decided to ignore "the meat" completely.

The last we see of Molly, she's wandering off-- and she'll probably never change... and she'll sooner or later die, without much in the way of personal connections.
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Tonks_kittygoth



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PostPosted: Fri May 05, 2006 12:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hopscotching over from our digression on the Asian Films thread....

Al V. W.
Quote:
I don't really dig Harry Potter. Lots of folks do, and that's fine. But... I dunno. Not my thing, and no, I won't elaborate on my reasons. Wink

I preferred Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy to what I've seen of Mr. Potter and Co. If I was a kid, I think I'd love Pullman's stuff.


I really wanted to hate Harry Potter. I did. I read the first one, and was like, um ok, wtf this is pretty thin... but then I saw the movie and got currious and read the second book. It got a little more interesting... then the third, and I was hooked. Embarassed

Maybe she puts that stuff from Taco Bell that makes you hungry for more but yeh, I ended up really enjoying them.

They arent written that well, and they steal from everything but they are just fun. Kinda like I dont know watching He man or maybe a soap oprea I dont know, but you really get to like the characters.

The Pullman stuff is much better written with lots of orriginal ideas, though the end fell off a bit for me.

Has anyone read Outlaw Varjeck Paw? I got that right before easter and havent had a chance to read it yet. Looks good though.

Maybe Ill start a Y.A. thread, though obviously the appeal is wider than just young adult.
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Elmo



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PostPosted: Fri May 05, 2006 12:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I really wanted to hate harry potter and I did. go me.
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Tonks_kittygoth



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PostPosted: Fri May 05, 2006 11:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

HOO RAY Elmo!

Bows and salutations to he what succeeds where I fail!

I say this with pain, but you may be, cough, cough, a better curmudgeon, *aside, "the agony"* than me.... wimper...

*lays down and cries... trying in vain to dissolve into the floorboards...*
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Elmo



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PostPosted: Sun May 07, 2006 3:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sylphisonic wrote:
cyber-authors like him can quit making me go around the worlds of their stories with immature guys and prostitutes (seriously, what is up with that? Why is every other Gibson story always involving a girl with something like that as her backstory? Evil or Very Mad ).


I'm pretty sure that it's because of what the genre borrows from film noir. A morally ambiguous protaganist who either takes on a role too adult for his immature personality or vice versa(see the jungian archetype of the child) is typical of the noir genre and for good reason; Use of a slightly irritating character type like this is useful to the reader as a 'future tourist' because like the naive Togusa they can have thoughts and questions that mirror those of the reader/viewer who is equally uninitiated into the story's world and as for the prostitute, what is more noir than a woman of questionable virtue? Wink
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AlphonseVanWorden



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PostPosted: Tue May 09, 2006 4:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sylphisonic wrote:
Actually, it definately looks like you've spent a great deal of time thoroughly analysing Neuromancer. You offer an interesting perspective, although I'm still not really won around to the book.


I tend to think a lot about the books I read. Just the way I'm wired... Wink

If you don't care for the tone of the early Gibson stuff, it's not a problem with me. I wasn't attempting to win you over to the book at all; I was just discussing why the book is written the way it is. If you just don't like Gibson's stuff, cool.

And I love Thomas Pynchon's work, but a lot of people hate his books.

And I dig Stephen Wright (Going Native, M-33: A Family Romance), but few people are familiar with his stuff.

And in terms of genre fiction, I wish more people knew about fine and interesting writers like Russ and Elizabeth Vonarburg and Jacqueline Harpman.

Tastes vary. Not a big thing...

Quote:
Well isn't that so much more mature and brilliant of him. Poking fun at the readers... Hmm...


If I thought he was simply making fun of readers, I'd agee with you. I hate it when authors are clever for the sake of being clever, and all their cleverness signifies nothing.

But I think Gibson's early books are looking at the downside of corporate capitalism, at least in part. Hence the "from the bottom looking up" perspective. So prostitution, drug use-- markets within the Market, the illegal or dubious uses of technology-- and criminality are important to the early works' meaning.

I sort of agree with Elmo. It has something to do-- a lot to do-- with noir, (Gibson mentioned Howard Hawks thrillers in several interviews), but I think his stuff's not quite as misogynistic and racist as a lot of hardboiled prose and old black-and-white thrillers were.

Non-SF literary writers such as Nelson Algren and Hubert Selby come into it, too, as both wrote about criminal underworlds, and as Gibson mentions both men as influences on his own work. And I can see the similarities in tone and intent.

I remember the arguments about Gibson's stuff in the 1980s and early 1990s. Some writers in the genre and in fandom who hated the stuff didn't like it because-- and I think they got the point-- it was looking at the underbelly of wish-fulfillment and utopian visions and the adolescent fondness for high-tech. Others didn't like it because it wasn't using the genre to promote a particularly Left-leaning ideological stance, whether socialist or anarchist. The books took corporate capitalism, free market economics, and paranoia and pushed these things to the extreme, as a simultaneously sad and darkly humorous commentary on the present-- and on our ability to imagine the future. For some science fiction writers and fans, particularly those on the Left, the books didn't offer hope, and that felt like a betrayal. For some on the Right, the books seemed downright politically suspect. (Notice that the United States isn't mentioned in Neuromancer, even though part of the novel takes place in the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis...) To put this another way, some on the Left within science fiction circles viewed the works as reactionary, and some on the Right viewed them as too cynical towards capitalism and U.S. domination.

(For myself, I can see why the Left was uncomfortable with Gibson's stories, but I don't think he remotely resembles a political conservative, then or now... and I think the concerns he raises are valid.)

Others didn't agree with Gibson's points but thought the work was interesting... and responded to the work in their own writings. Other imitated Gibson, Sterling, and other "cyberpunk" authors to try and cash in. And some science fiction authors just ignored the controversy and kept doing what they'd been doing.

Gibson said a few times in early interviews that he initially thought Neuromancer would find a cult following in France a la J. G. Ballard's older stuff, if he was lucky. The "cult" he got was a little weirder than the one he'd anticipated.

Some people who weren't self-professed science fiction fans but liked Gibson's stuff were young counterculture types who hadn't read some of the fascistic works he mentions and so missed the irony, or who maybe just admired all the surface flash in Gibson's tales. Other people bought the books because Gibson got buzz in the mainstream media. Still others were members of, as one person put it, "the tweed coat brigade"-- literary critics who jumped on the bandwagon, but missed the way Neuromancer plays off other science fiction novels and bits of pop culture. (There's a really wicked and funny and chilling allusion to 2001 in one character's death scene in Neuromancer...)

Not to say that all academics who paid attention to Gibson's stuff were university hacks, or that some pretty valid critiques of Gibson's shortcomings didn't come from cool, genre-savvy academics. But a lot of the academic attention was, well, bull.

Some folks who thought Gibson was a guru or that he endorsed the sort of things portrayed in the novels got angry when he moved away from what they thought was the nihilistic or transcendent stance of his early works. (Nihilism and the desire for transcendence are so often connected...) These folks had missed the way he was making fun of nihilism and the almost religious longing that technology inspires in a lot of people-- sometimes, in subtle ways, ways Gibson was foregrounding by exaggeration-- so they were taken off-guard by some of the later works with the more likeable characters. (A lot of folks who identified with Case hated Chia... go figure. Wink )

I don't blame him for this. Some of the readers who liked his works-- and whose interpretations he felt uncomfortable with-- missed the layers of irony. I said, "Gibson's poking fun at a lot of science fiction fans and technophiles." He wasn't making fun of readers in the sense of "ripping them off" (and I consider that to be the one form of playing with readers that's pretty unforgivable), but he was playing with readers' expectations about works of science fiction; there's a pretty big difference between the two things. He was criticizing the genre in his works, and some fans of the genre took it personally-- even though the books and stories provide all kinds of clues that he's tweaking and interrogating the genre. The parodic elements work best if the reader is familiar with the thing being parodied. For example, a story like Gibson's "The Gernsbeck Continuum" becomes a little deeper and funnier and more chilling if the reader knows who Hugo Gernsbeck was and what Gernsbeckian "scientifiction" was like.

Gibson's early works and the response to those works resemble the intent and reaction to Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream. In Spinrad's novel, Hitler moved to America and wrote a really cheesy pulp fantasy novel; in the alternate history, Hitler's book became a Hugo-winning classic. Spinrad's book has the "text" of this novel-that-could-have-been as well as an academic "afterward" about the novel-- again, from the alternate timeline. Spinrad ruthlessly skewers the "good old days" of fantasy and science fiction writing and fandom, and he indicates that a lot of older genre writing is silly and dangerous.

Apparently, the way the alternate timeline's "classic" book by Hitler-- the novel-within-the-novel-- makes L. Ron Hubbard's early genre efforts read like great literature and the way the book's Freudian and homoerotic elements highlight the unintentional subtexts of a lot of 1920s and 1930s pulp stuff was missed by neo-Nazis, some of whom enthusiastically embraced the book.

Sort of like people who embraced what they thought was Gibson's worldview...

A lot of the science fiction fans reacted one way or another to Gibson's work when it was first appearing; arbitrary lines between "humanist" and "cyberpunk" science fiction were drawn, and some of the discussions in fandom were quite heated. (To be fair, Gibson stayed out of the fray; he didn't choose to be called a cyberpunk author, and when asked about it, he shrugged it off and described the label as a way publishers and critics play the marketing and trendspotting games.)

Tonks_kittygoth wrote:
I really wanted to hate Harry Potter. I did. I read the first one, and was like, um ok, wtf this is pretty thin... but then I saw the movie and got currious and read the second book. It got a little more interesting... then the third, and I was hooked.

Maybe she puts that stuff from Taco Bell that makes you hungry for more but yeh, I ended up really enjoying them.


Not sure I've ever read a book I've wanted to hate... I figured I'd intensely dislike and be disgusted by Mein Kampf and The Turner Diaries, and I wasn't disappointed. Wink

Nothing wrong with reading something that you enjoy...

Quote:
The Pullman stuff is much better written with lots of orriginal ideas, though the end fell off a bit for me.


It was a bit weak, but... Hmm. I thought the ending suited the story. The only complaint I had with the books is one Pullman himself has addressed in interviews... The books could've used some balance, one or two decent Christian characters. I mean, religious folks aren't all obsessed with trepanning kids and murdering decent people... Wink
_________________
Such is the soul in the body: this world is like her little turf of grass, and the heaven o'er our heads, like her looking-glass, only gives us a miserable knowledge of the small compass of our prison. - Bosola, in John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi
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AlphonseVanWorden



Joined: 05 Mar 2006
Posts: 170

PostPosted: Sat May 13, 2006 3:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sylphisonic wrote:
Hmm... My thing is, if you're going to write stories along these themes (and there was certainly a huge explosion of them all at once in the last 5 years, and not just because of The DaVinci Code I think, as if you look at the time they were coming out they appear to have just all kind of been done concurrently), then it would be much nicer of you as a writer or whatever to make it a fictional religion or set it in a world that was similar to our own but not quite our own.


Sylph, have you read Pullman's books? If I'm not mistaken, he began the books in the Nineties, the initial volumes were published then, and there's a reason the works are deliberately anti-Christian; they were written, at least in part, as a belated response to C. S. Lewis's Narnia books and to the not-so-thinly veiled Christian proselytizing of those works.

Pullman's His Dark Materials books quote freely from Milton and Blake, too; he's in dialogue with various Western works that deal, in one way or another, with the Biblical God. But Lewis is certainly Pullman's primary target, and several scenes in the books directly response to elements from Narnia and arguments from Lewis's other works. And Lewis was-- and is-- still popular with children, or more accurately with parents, so I think the interrogation of Lewis's fictional world was long overdue. Gaiman contributed to the ongoing critique of Lewis with a really cool short story, "The Problem of Susan"... I think some people would have issues with that story, too.

I think the existence of Christianity in Pullman's alternate world is pretty well explained by the fact that it is a mirror image of our world, in the same way that Lewis's fictional realm is supposed to be a mirror image of our world. Two competing mirrors of our world... and the mirrors reflect and comment upon each other.

I think the difference between Pullman's books and your "nicer" way of doing things is that Pullman is attempting-- unapologetically (pun intended, and with a wink to students of theology)-- to raise questions about Lewis's views on women, morality, and the freewill-versus-determinism question. As Lewis had a very definite view on how the world works, and as the view was religious, Pullman engages with that view-- and turns the argument upside down.

Pullman has said in interviews that he might have included a devout Christian character who didn't seem like an extremely unpleasant embodiment of Lewis's positions, and I agree with him... but I could just as easily have said that Lewis made all of his secular or secularly-inclined characters who didn't convert to his position evil or pawns of evil or, if the character happened to be an unsaved female child, he simply killed her off in a random accident and denied her heaven.

I find Lewis to be unpleasant reading, at times. I'm sure some Christians find Pullman unpleasant; in fact, I know that's the case. But the Pullman books are in dialogue with Pullman's in a way that a lot of works of genre fiction simply aren't. Pullman couldn't have addressed Lewis's works without addressing Lewis's views on religion, as Lewis's views are embodied in his work. A fictional religion would've lessened Pullman's point, as he was interrogating Lewis's beliefs, and telling a counter-narrative, a story from an opposing viewpoint.

I wouldn't say Pullman's books are simply entertainment-- although they do entertain, and readers can enjoy them without looking at what Pullman is saying and how his reasoning runs counter to Lewis's. (I think that's a measure of Pullman's success as a storyteller.) The books raise some serious and troubling and rigorous questions about power, gender, identity, morality, and knowledge-- in a way that Dan Brown really can't, precisely because Brown isn't rigorous, and because he's seeking-- desparately, I suspect, in the manner of a self-conscious buffoon-- to entertain.

Okay, Dan. Give us one more cliffhanger chapter ending... please.

(I'm less bothered by the fact that The DaVinci Code offended people than I am by the way people took the book seriously. The novel struck me as a brew concocted of pretty dated conspiracy theories, cliched characters, and nonsense masquerading as profundity-- and it goes down smoothly, like some sort of liquid laxative for the mind, and it yields a result similar to that of an actual laxative, although in this case the poo comes out of people's mouths-- and nine out of ten customers, whether religious or not, are satisfied with the results. All those talking heads, waving around to the tune of the indignant Logorrhea Cha-Cha-Cha, or the self-righteous Dance Remix of said tune... I confess, I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail when I was much, much younger, and I found it amusing/interesting at the time-- chiefly because I love conspiracy theories, and I'm especially fond of conspiracy theories whose proponents deny that they're promoting a conspiracy theory. But let's think about Dan Brown's novel for a moment. I mean, think about it. Mary Magdalene was, according to the book's backstory, cast into the role of harlot because she understood and was loved by a man, she got married to the man, and she had the guy's kid-- and this is extraordinary, mind you, because it ties into an ancient-- and therefore, of course, a secret-- hereditary nobility. That many people consider her husband to be their Savior is just a bonus-- and provides controversy. If readers don't notice the resonance with the whole bad/good girl dichotomy-- complete with "She was slandered by bad men, we've got to find out the truth and clear her name!" nonsense on the part of the author-- I suspect people don't read or watch old melodramas, and probably aren't bothered by the implications about women and their roles in history. If the Bloodline/secret history stuff doesn't strike readers as the worst sort of politically cryptoreactionary nonsense about women and monarchs and so on in popular culture in years, we're probably doomed to worse wackiness in the real world's future. And if the whole thing doesn't seem vaguely silly and sort of like an unintentional parody of the thriller genre, I don't know what is. Now, having said all this, let me add that I don't hate the book, and a lot of people seem to enjoy it as a thriller, but it doesn't rock my world. Although I found myself rooting for the Opus Dei [!] albino assassin...)

I tend to disagree with you about using religion in narratives. I think it depends upon what sort of story a person is writing, what kind of tale is being told, and what the fictional world's relationship to our world is, if any. A fine postapocalyptic novel such as A Canticle for Leibowitz would make no sense without the references to Catholicism, for example; the book's points would be lost if Walter Miller hadn't used Catholicism as his framework, and the setting would be diminished.

And while I dislike writing that offends for the sake of offending, I have to ask: Can writing offend unintentionally, or can offensive material be used to serve an end other than simply offending someone?
_________________
Such is the soul in the body: this world is like her little turf of grass, and the heaven o'er our heads, like her looking-glass, only gives us a miserable knowledge of the small compass of our prison. - Bosola, in John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi
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douyang



Joined: 18 Feb 2006
Posts: 128

PostPosted: Sun Jul 16, 2006 6:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sylphisonic wrote:

But hey, we're past caring about hurting people anymore because all that matters is free speech and entertainment, right? Which is probably okay because most Christians can probably take it, but I do think the free speech-ers are a little bit dumb sometimes the way they like to rattle the bars of the cages still containing people from the middle ages (not naming any groups or religions, but certainly having something to do with current foreign policy issues). *Cough* did I say that? Never mind, just a little rant...


You've got the wrong idea here. If certain people, (such as muslim men with ludicrous conceptions about "honor" who kill their own daughters for getting raped, for instance, or fundamentalist Christians who want to start a war in the middle east to fulfill biblical prophecies) are living in the middle ages, then by all means we should be rattling those cages as much as humanly possible, and do everything we can to convince, (if not force, as we should in the above example) these people into the modern era of freedom, equality, and human rights. The fact that an idea or opinion offends someone is never a reason people should remain silent. I can only applaud those people who speak up for progress and what they believe is right.
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douyang



Joined: 18 Feb 2006
Posts: 128

PostPosted: Sun Jul 16, 2006 6:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sylphisonic wrote:
It's... No... What's the point? While being a theology student, I had wanted to denounce almost every philosopher I came across. Now, I still want to denounce almost every writer I come across. Everyone is only a small person, these are only small ideas. Or so it seems these days. Why be right? Why seek influence? There was no point dismantling Kant... Freud (no need with him, his very name is a giggle nowadays) ... and yes, even Lewis. These people are just people... they are what they and their ideas are. You just... as a philoshpy person... I don't know, take them for what they are, and argue within the confines of what they set if it is to your liking. Or dismiss them and move on... fairly, but without chasing your tail to do so. Is it really worth it, writing a bunch of novels just to take Lewis down? Taking such an active stance... I feel like that's taking you away from the goal of philosophy, or is some kind of anti-philosophy. Is their another choice, other than sitting back and watching the world chase it's tail, or choosing to become engaged in the act yourself? I have lost the will to be right... in the philosophical sense, at least. And I'm fed up of the desire in people to do so. In the end... philosopher lives, philosopher is revered and/or bashed. The latter people think they are right; they look smart off of it in the current times. Woe betide someone comes along and says something truly "different" (becoming rarer by the day, even though everyone thinks they are saying something different anyway), the process repeats. Do we become smarter, or are we just convincing ourselves we are brainier than the next person to abbet our own ego(s)? Why say anything anymore? And where am I going with this?? I don't know... It's just that this does not seem "real" anymore. It's... petty. I feel as though we are petty. And I am very tired... I don't know how it is that others could choose to belong to the world of philosophy for so very long...

Maybe we just all know what we like and why we like it, and we feel some silly need to make up a load of reasons why it's higher and more intelligent/spiritual/etc. than that. Indeed, to come up with the concept of what "spiritual" and "intelligent" are in the first place...


I believe that so long as there is a desire to be right, to argue for a given ideology or position, there will be intellectual, technological, moral progress. If you have values and believe the world should be a certain way (and everyone does) you have to stand up and fight for them. Often this means not being very "nice". But that's life. And if good people with good ideas didn't stand up to the forces such as Fascism, religious fundamentalism, sexism, racism, and homophobia, the world would be a very unpleasant place.

So long as there is healthy debate and people criticizing eachother, people caring about one stance or another (but not fanatical or dogmatic about them), I would like to think that our miserable species is getting better. Even though what is "right" or "intelligent" ceaselessly changes as the times change, I'd like to think we get closer to the truth and closer to the type of people we should be. It's a lot like science: even though revelation after revelation may be overturned by new ones, and we can never know the ENTIRE "truth", so to speak, we get closer and closer to it the more we hack away at it.
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