SNOW CRASH by Neal Stephenson

In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s CosoNostra Pizza Inc., but in the Metaverse he’s a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. Snow Crash is a mind-altering romp through a future America.

This book has the pervasive air of nerdy geekiness (or, perhaps, geeky nerdiness), an unexpected take on linguistics, a kick-ass female character, a parallel (virtual) reality, a hefty helping of (admittedly, overexaggerated) satire, and just enough wacky improbable worldbuilding to make this complicated book a page turner, even when you don’t understand the pages you are turning.

Stephenson introduces a world where governments have collapsed and societies are held loosely together by anarcho-capitalism.  It is an intelligent, modern adventure that expertly weaves in elements of pre-history and archeological thrill seeking,  spiced up with a cacophony of sci-fi, techno-socio-economic observations, and a kaleidoscope of theological and philosophical concepts all thrown together.

 

WHERE LATE THE SWEET BIRDS SANG by Kate Wilhelm

This is a story of an isolated post-holocaust community determined to preserve itself, through a perilous experiment in cloning.  Written in 1977, this is a definitely 70s dystopian/apocalypic genre, well put together but from the vantage point of almost 2020, it has a quaint feel to it, kinda like listening to old grandpa tell about when he was a kid and had to walk to school in the snow, uphill, both ways.

David Sumner has a problem: the world as he knows it is about to end. what’s a brilliant young man and his equally brilliant family to do? why, bring back members of that extended family, store supplies, circle the wagons, and build a lab which will eventually help the Sumner family to repopulate the earth.  The lab is creating clones, and eventually the clones take over, and kick out the original human elders.  Eventually as generations of clone interations progresses, it turns out that each interation has less and less initiative and creativity and imagination.  You know how when you make a photocopy of a picture, then make another photocopy of that photocopy, and then a photocopy of that second photocopy, etc, etc., until finally the copy you make is starting to get blurry and out of true with the original?  Yeah, like that.

Our protagonist of the second half of the book is a rebel type boy who sees how things are going and is determined to disrupt the process and bring full humans back into the picture, believing that only humanity, not clones or what today we might call similacrums, can save the species, and eventually secretly establishes a small settlement where a handful of humans are the start of a new generation.  This part I found suspect, because I think there has been established by researchers a minimum number of people necessary to repopulate the world, but since I am too lazy to look it up, I will leave that to you.

 

1Q84 by Haruki Marakami

925 pages of tedious story telling, overfull of breast descriptions, boring sexual acts, murder, cult sex, other sex, boring sex, and oh, yeah, some horsesh*t lame sci fi attempt about a different dimension world.

The female protagonist exits a blocked freeway to emerge in a different world.  Well, it looks the same, all except that police have different weapons, and there are two moons in this world.  She names it 1Q84, for First Question Mark 1984.  She is an assassin, working with a small secret organization to kill men who commit terrible sexual deeds.

The other main character is a writer and is sucked into ghostwriting or actually ghost rewriting a story written by a teenage girl, which is filled with tales about the Little People and other weird stuff, which she claims is true.

Back in grade school, the writer and the girl who attend the same school, never speak, but one time she takes his hand and squeezes it, and that becomes the basis for a lifelong love affair for both, although that year they part for different schools and never see each other again.

Very little is actually explained, it is not a fun story, it doesn’t make sense and it is hours and hours of my life I will never get back, nor will I ever read any more of Marakami.

Translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel.

 

 

THE AFTER DAYS By Amy Ginsburg

A B-level semi-apocalypse story.  “Middle-aged suburbanites Rachel and Zach team with their friends to battle not only the predators and scavengers who lurk around every corner but also empty pantries, boredom, despair … and sometimes each other.  How far are they willing to go to survive the Big Blackout?

This gripping dystopian twist on contemporary fiction about a woman who must find within herself the strength and ingenuity to endure a world suddenly without electricity is both terrifyingly real and astonishingly tender.

Perfect for book clubs, The After Days explores the ethical quandaries and logistical problems of ordinary suburbanites – people whose most recent problems were dodgy Wi-Fi and cranky bosses – in their struggle to survive in the increasingly treacherous suburbs of Washington, DC.”

OK, I’m a crank.  I admit it.  When a book blurb attempts to tell me how to use the book, i.e. book club,  I am immediately suspicious of its quality.

The story line was pretty good. the power grids are hacked basically all over the world and no one knows when or even if there will ever be power again.  When we think about living off grid, we tend to think of rural houses near a running stream.  But let’s face it — the vast majority of people in developed countries live in cities and their adjacent suburbs. When the pumps stop pumping water, due to no electricity, they can’t just wander down to the banks of the local river and scoop up a couple of bucketfuls.  They can’t just walk into the garden, pull a few carrots, slaughter a chicken or two for food.  In our current times, no electricity is really a danger, and our food doesn’t arrive on four feet, (or two fowl feet).  It arrives in semis to the food distribution centers and to the supermarkets.

The book is a look at how far normally decent, law-abiding, kind, compassionate people will go to ensure their own survival.

So my issue is not with the plot.  It is with the writing, which for some reason I am having difficulty trying to explain, feels like the writing in a cozy mystery.  Not exactly chirpy, but it does not seem to have the gravitas of a different style of writing.  Maybe it is the “astonishingly tender” aspects spoken of in the blurb that give it the unbearable lightness of being that annoys me.

A future undated in a huge megacity of over 50 million souls called Metropolis, where it rains 80% of the time, so basically it is either raining or about to.   This cyberpunk dystopian story follows Cruz, a young fellow who has made himself a master of vintage hover-car restoration, and lives in a legacy apartment, one that is his for life without rent, in this city of colossal skyscrapers, hover-cars,  bustling skies and gray people walking  below on the grimy, flashy streets of this neon jungle where the dark dank days are made brilliant by the plethora of neon signs.  As Cruz tells us, “If we ever had an Extinction Level Event, it would be that no toilets would flush, and there’d be no one to pick up the trash.”

Cruz, after seeing an acquaintance of his mysteriously shot to death by cops for seemingly no reason, decides to investigate, and in the process, ends up opening up his own detective agency.   Cruz is a dystopian version of Monk, somewhat OCD, and a germophobe, who gets the skeevies when faced with dirt, grime, and general grunge and germs.  He has a mania for being cool, dressing not in the dark overcoat and hood and black umbrella like everyone else, but in a light color snazzy coat and a fedora.  Hence the name of his agency.

The mystery is interesting, if not engaging, but the fun of this book is not in the detecting, but in the world, and the characters who populate it.  They go by names such as Easy Chair Charlie, whose wife is always referred to as Mrs. Easy Chair, Prima Donna, Punch Judy, so named for having bionic arms and having punched someone so severely she ended up in jail for a time, Run-Time, who has a limo, Uber-type service,  Bugs, who does security – “listening device detection, motion detection security, intrusion defense security, video surveillance, door and wall defense security, door and lock augmentation, trap door and panic rooms.”  There is his girlfriend, China Doll, who is part cyborg owing to an accident that decapitated her, and Phishy, a sidewalk character, man of all acquisitions mostly illegal. He tells us that he tries to scam everybody, even his friends.  If he didn’t, that would be like discriminating.  Well, yeah.  I guess he is right.

It is a world of cyborgs, where people don’t often actually die but have parts replaced, and a criminal cartel called the Animal something or other, and each gang in it had an animal name and wore the appropriate masks.  There were the Rabbits, the Hyperpole Hippos, etc.

It is a book that has a cartoon feel and doesn’t take itself all that seriously.  Just a giggle to read.  My only cavel is the current day slang and expressions which appear from time to time.  This author is not the only genre writer guilty of this.  For me, it dates the book, so I guess if you are writing something that you feel won’t last the test of any time at all, so what.  But really, what are readers to think, 20 years from now as they come across expressions  which no longer have any currency?  Oh well, not my problem.

There appears to be six volumes in this series, plus a prequel short.  I think I am done at this one.  Enough coolness for me.

THE DIAMOND AGE by Neal Stephenson

The official blurb:  The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer is a postcyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson. It is to some extent a science fiction coming-of-age story, focused on a young girl named Nell, and set in a future world in which nanotechnology affects all aspects of life. The novel deals with themes of education, social class, ethnicity, and the nature of artificial intelligence.

I have no idea what post cyberpunk is.  I’ll go look it up for us.  Be right back.

OK,  I’m back.  You are going to LOVE this:

Post Cyber Punk is the reaction to the Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy of Cyberpunk. Of course, Post Cyber Punk involves Reconstruction of concepts Cyberpunk deconstructed, or deconstruction of Cyberpunk Tropes (such as the Dystopia). The Cyberpunk genre itself was meant as a reaction to utopian fiction popular in the 1940s and 1950s while exploring technology’s possibility for abuse Twenty Minutes Into the Future (tech from Star Trek will just result in Brave New World), but as the genre itself got so Darker and Edgier to the point of being just as unrealistic, it was predictable that Cyberpunk itself will get a deconstruction.

Yeah.  I don’t know what all that means either.

How about this?   Post-Cyberpunk is a modern reaction to the now antiquated visual qualities of ’80s inspired cyberpunk. Post-Cyberpunk tends to have a greater focus on Transhumanism, space travel, and emerging technologies that weren’t imagined at the time of the ’80s.

Back to Stephenson and The Diamond Age.   It is set in a near future that is unrecognizable in some ways and disturbingly familiar in other ways. Nations have dissolved and people now tend to congregate in tribes or “phyles” based upon their culture, race, beliefs or skills. Nanotechnology has upended society, and even the poorest people have access to matter compilers that create clothing, food and other items from a feed of molecules. Still, the lack of education and opportunities for the underclass has created a wide division between them and a wealthy phyle like the Neo-Victorians, who have adopted the manners and society of the British Victorian age.

John Hackworth is a brilliant nanotechnologist who lives with and works for the neo-Victorians. He is approached by one of the leaders of the clan, Lord Finkle-McGraw, to secretly create an interactive smart book for Finkle-McGraw’s young granddaughter. Lord Finkle-McGraw fears that the neo-Victorian society is too hidebound and commissions Hackworth to use his skills to create a children’s book that will develop a more educated and inquiring mind. Hackworth develops this book, the “Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer,” but can’t resist the temptation to (illegally) create a copy of it for his own young daughter.

Unfortunately for Hackworth, Dr. X, the Chinese black market engineer whose compiler Hackworth used to create the copy of the Primer, wants a copy of the book for his own purposes as well. Hackworth is mugged on his way home with the Primer by a gang under Dr. X’s direction, but the young thug who grabs the book gives it to his 4-year-old sister Nell rather than to Dr. X. The education Nell gets from the interactive Primer ends up changing her life drastically. While Nell’s life is benefited immeasurably by the Primer, Hackworth runs into serious trouble, caught between the pressures exerted by both Lord Finkle-McGraw and Dr. X, both of whom are aware of his crime and both of whom are using Hackworth for their own interests and goals.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I lifted this plot synopsis whole from a reviewer named Tadiana on Goodreads.)

There are a couple of side plots which kind of bog the book down, but all in all, a long, dense but fascinating read, as are all of Stephenson’s books.

I ‘read’ this book via my text-to-speech function on my Fire, and it was disconcerting that the reading voice kept pronouncing ‘Primer’ with a long ‘i’, like paint primer.  lol

I have to be in the mood to read Stephenson, but when I am, I really like his work.

MAGIC BITES by Ilona Andrews

magic bitesSometimes, in spite of my PollyAnna nature which leans toward running down daisy-filled hillsides in the glorious spring, gentle breezes wafting, puffy clouds floating overhead, the sun warm on the shoulders….. <pop> …. sorry, got carried away there, a girl yearns for something grittier, darker, involving, well, violence and gore.   She yearns for a female lead, a lady warrior, a chick with balls courage and tenacity.

Gotcher damsel-dealing-out-distress rightchere, bunky.  Mz. Andrews has written a series of knock-your-socks-off books starring a female mercenary in a meticulously complete alternate world in Atlanta, Georgia, where the city is in the hands of two warring factions:  necromancers who control the dead (they pilot zombie vampires), and the Pack, a group of shapechangers which are mostly cats of various types with a couple of rodents thrown in for variety.  The Pack is led by a totally gorgeous guy with the strength of ten or twenty or whatever.

Our gal, Kate Daniels, the mercenary, works for whoever pays her, and works part time for the Order, which is a group of knights.   So you know by the name Order and the fact that they have knights that they are the good guys trying to keep order and balance in the city and region.

When her guardian, a knight, is disgustingly murdered, she is hired by the Order to find out on the Q.T. who murdered him.  She gets involved with the Pack, and also with the folks of the necromancers group, the Master of the Dead, both groups having suffered unexplained losses themselves, as they work together in an uneasy collaboration to find the nasty creature/s.

Lots of fight scenes, violence, blood.  But lots of cool stuff too, if you are into the urban noir paranormal genre.  Werewolves (the Pack), drop dead gorgeous guys, vampires, interesting cast of secondary characters, magic, supernatural events, paranormal daily life, humor of a kind.  OK, not the LOL kind of humor, but if you are not taking the whole thing too seriously, the chuckle under your breath kind. Tough lady protagonist, almost mannish, but then, when you are slicing and dicing and decapitating and gutting enemies, just how girly-girl can one be?

So, aside from the mystery, which tends to feel almost incidental to the whole thing, it is clearly unapologetic genre fiction.  I rather liked how we are immersed immediately into the world there in Para-lanta with no scene setting, but are left to find out in bits, pieces, chunks and snippets all about the world and its inhabitants.

There are 13 offerings in the series, including a prequel and a short story or two.   I think I may have satisfied my blood lust with this one.  I mean, just how many zombie vampires can a person take, right?

No, you Philistines, this is not a photo of me.  It is a zombie vampire, just in case you were curious as to what one looked like.

No, you Philistines, this is not a photo of me. It is a zombie vampire, just in case you were curious as to what one looked like.