Battle Angel Alita Deluxe Edition 2

By Yukito Kishiro

Rating: 3 stars

After losing her first love Yugo, Alita abandons her old life and throws herself into the sport of motorball, rising up the ranks pretty quickly. She challenges the reigning champion, Jasugun, to a match, and in the course of that, she learns more about her past.

I didn’t find Alita hugely likeable in this volume. After the fairly bubbly personality from volume one, she goes full emo here, as she abandons Ido (even ignoring him when he comes looking for her), wanting to forget her loss. Ido finds new family with the trusting young woman Shumira and her brother, who he helps when he has seizures.

I’ve mostly never felt that the characters in this series are sexualised. Even when Alita isn’t wearing clothes, she’s very clearly more machine than person, and the images (to me) don’t feel sexual. Which is why a full-frontal nude scene of Shumira in the shower felt so out of place. As well as feeling unnecessary, it felt entirely gratuitous and not required for the plot at all.

Some of the action scenes are still difficult to follow, and I thought it got confusing towards the end. I’m still not entirely sure how the fight between Alita and Jasugun played out. But there was some tantalising back-story in there, and the art does remain pretty, quite distinctive and very evocative.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632365996
Publisher: Kodansha America, Inc

Battle Angel Alita Deluxe Edition Volume 1

By Yukito Kishiro

Rating: 4 stars

While searching the Scrapyard in which he lives for cybernetic parts, Dr Ido finds the dormant, but still-living, head and torso of a young woman. He carries her home and installs her in a new cyborg body. The woman has lost her memory, so Ido names her Alita and she sets about learning more about the world that she finds herself, and the uncanny martial arts ability that she seems to have, even if she has no other memories.

I encountered Alita first in the form of the Hollywood film which I enjoyed enough to look for the manga it was based on. That led me to the beautiful box set of hard backs of which this is volume 1. The plot of the film more or less mirrors this first volume, with mysterious references to the leader of Zalem taken out. The art is very pretty and I really enjoyed the few colour pages at the start of each chapter (although those seemed to peter out towards the end). In saying that, though, sometimes, it isn’t always easy to follow the direction of an action sequence. And it’s very violent. When the only death that matters is brain death, the body is disposable, and treated as such, leading to various kinds of dismemberment, removal of spinal cords and worse.

We get almost nothing of Alita’s history before she falls into the Scrapyard in this volume. I assume that’s still to come. We also only get a tiny hint of Ido’s history. I look forward to finding out more about both.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632365989
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Year of publication: 1990

Rule 34 (Halting State, #2)

By Charles Stross

Rating: 3 stars

DI Liz Kavanaugh is head of the Rule 34 squad, a sort of punishment for something that went wrong several years ago. It’s up to her and hers to police internet porn in an independent Scotland. Anwar Hussein was a small-time Internet fraudster who’s spent time behind bars and is trying to go straight, for the sake of his family. The Toymaker is wondering who’s killing all the folk he’s trying to recruit to his large scale organised crime Operation.

Like its predecessor, Halting State this book is told entirely in the second person, a technique that I’ve never been very fond of, but there are solid reasons for that in this book, as Stross sets out in the crib sheet for the book on his blog (note: obviously spoilers at that link!). And I got used to it as well; I think it feels most icky when we’re in the head of the gangster, the Toymaker, who’s creepy as all hell.

For me, this book is at its strongest when it’s doing the police procedural thing, with lots of cool future-tech extrapolated from the early 21st century. At times, though, the pace of new ideas being thrown at you gets a little overwhelming (it feels a bit like Cory Doctorow at times) when the ideas outpace the story. Mostly, though, Stross keeps a handle on that and the book is certainly thought-provoking, not least in its ideas on different kinds of AI.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841497730
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2011


By Paul J. McAuley

Rating: 2 stars

Alex Sharkey lives by his wits as he develops drugs only just inside the law, drugs based on genetics. When he falls in with Milena, a girl who seems to know too much, they hatch a plan to liberate the genetically engineered ‘dolls’ that do so much manual labour in the early 21st century. This book follows the consequences of that fateful decision.

I must confess that I’m not really that fond of cyberpunk, so didn’t hugely get into this book. It was that sort of tarnished chrome near-future stuff (to start with, at least) that’s not fully dystopic but well on its way there. And the first segment was set in London as well, so a society that I’m familiar with, and I was much more interested in the untold story of why the welfare state and NHS had collapsed than the dolls storyline, which didn’t help my engagement with the story.

The three parts of the story take us progressively further forward in time, although all within a single lifetime, as Alex tries to come to terms with what he’s done, and find Milena again, which is what drives much of the second and third parts of the book.

There’s a lot of good imagery here and some very interesting ideas (I’m still not entirely sure if all the animals are actually dead or not, although I’m pretty sure it was heavily implied [yet another untold story that I would have liked to read more about]) but I wasn’t hugely invested in Alex or any of the other viewpoint characters and, really wasn’t sure where we were by the end of the story.

So not really my cup of tea, but in no way am I saying that this is a bad book, it’s just one that I didn’t enjoy.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575600317
Publisher: Cassell
Year of publication: 1995

Burning Chrome

By William Gibson, Bruce Sterling

Rating: 4 stars

Cyberpunk is a genre that can date very quickly. It says something about Gibson’s work, here in this collection, and elsewhere in the Sprawl series, that it still feels fresh and relevant, even though the technology itself has dated.

To pick some highlights, I think my favourite story in the collection is one of the low-key ones: The Gernsback Continuum. The protagonist in this story keeps having flashes of a world that never existed: the future projected by the golden age science fiction of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, full of shining towers, airships and perfect people. It’s a loving homage to those stories, while still portraying the grimy reality of the ’80s as well. Very well balanced and great fun to read if you, like me, are a fan of those old golden age stories.

The Belonging Kind is quite creepy, where a man follows a girl he likes in a bar, to see her change and fit in perfectly, everywhere she goes. A nice tension builder with an unexpected pay-off.

The Winter Market tells the story of a dream editor, who can edit together the dreams of gifted individuals for distribution to the masses, and his obsession with the crippled woman who makes his career.

There are few, if any, actual misses in the collection, and it’s nice to see Molly Millions, of Neuromancer fame, make a return in Johnny Mnemonic.

This is the way the future was. Bruce Sterling, in the introduction, says that Gibson reinvigorated a genre in need of it, in the ’80s. This collection still feels angry and edgy whilst still shouting in sheer joy of living, and for that alone is worth your time.

Book details

ISBN: 9780006480433
Publisher: Voyager/Harpercollins
Year of publication: 1986

Mona Lisa Overdrive (Sprawl, #3)

By William Gibson

Rating: 4 stars

The third of William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, this book spins three separate threads deftly creating (and reintroducing) characters, weaving them into the mythology of the Sprawl and then winding them together in a (slightly messy, it has to be said) big conclusion.

I found this book much easier to get into than Count Zero, although perhaps I just give it the time and attention that it deserves, which I didn’t necessarily do with Count Zero. This book also starts weaving together storylines sooner than its predecessor which I found made it more satisfying. The short chapters are punchy and easy to read, and Gibson’s prose is as excellent as his sartorial obsession is inexplicable.

The one problem I had with the story was, um, the story. There wasn’t a huge amount of plot and what there was is somewhat confusing. Molly Millions from Neuromancer makes a return (under a new name) but the motives of those employing her (which make up a major thread of the book) are unexplained, and the shadowy figures behind the scenes seem to be doing things for no real reasons.

Still, there is a lot to enjoy in this book. The characters are all well-drawn, the Sprawl itself is magnificent, and the (quite literal) gods in the machine remain spooky and fresh after all these years. And the final page still packs a punch as one final twist is revealed, leaving me closing the book with a big, goofy grin.

Book details

ISBN: 9780007381531
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Year of publication: 1988

Count Zero (Sprawl, #2)

By William Gibson

Rating: 3 stars

I think that the three stars I’m giving to this book are provisional at the moment, since, through no fault of the book itself, the story here never really gelled for me. The problem was that I was reading it in a very bitty way, with a chapter here or a few pages there, which never gave me enough time to hold enough of the story in my head to make things slot into place. At some point, I’ll have to read it again more thoroughly and re-review it then.

Having said that, there’s still a lot to admire here, from Gibson’s marvellously imagined Sprawl, to his characters, tough and vulnerable. And the idea, pretty cutting edge for the time, of the (potentially quite literal) deux ex machina, the gods (well, AIs) in cyberspace, which are (maybe) remnants of the ├╝ber-AI Neuromancer/Wintermute, that was formed in the previous novel in the sequence, Neuromancer. A lot of good ideas but a book that definitely requires more concentration than I gave it.

Book details

ISBN: 9780006480426
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Year of publication: 1986

The Electric Church (Avery Cates, #1)

By Jeff Somers

Rating: 2 stars

Avery Cates is a contract killer in a near future where the world has been unified, forcibly, under the Joint Committee. The System Cops have practically unlimited powers and unless you’re rich, you’re living in the gutters in the ruins of the great cities, mostly destroyed in the unification riots. In this society, Cade accidentally kills a System Cop, bringing the wrath of the system down on him, until he’s offered a very unexpected way out: to kill the head of the Electric Church, a new religious organisation whose first tenet is to convert humans into cyborgs, whether they want to be converted or not.

Another nearish-future dystopia, I enjoyed this slightly more than Moxyland, but that’s not saying much. I didn’t find the anti-hero hugely sympathetic, and given his lack of competence, he was really only kept alive by the power of plot. The Monks – the cyborg ‘converts’ of the Electric Church – with their outwardly placid countenances and lightning reflexes and weapons are intriguing, as is the idea that they prey on the poor and homeless, offering literal immortality. This would be creepy enough without the “involuntary conversions” but they, and their effect on society, are never really explored. The story doesn’t quite hang together either, and, as I’ve said before, I don’t really like dystopias and only read this because the cover blurb sounded interesting and it was free at Eastercon. Not one I’ll be rereading.

Book details

ISBN: 9780316053938
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2007


By Lauren Beukes

Rating: 1 star

This is a near-future cyberpunk-based dystopia set in South Africa where four people from disparate spheres of life are drawn together in a web of mystery and intrigue.

This was a free book that was in the con pack at Eastercon, and it’s not one that I would have picked for myself. It’s brutal, packs a punch and realistically disturbing. It postulates a society where having your phone locked as punishment means more than just not being able to make calls. The society is rigged so that public transport, money, access to your own home are done through your phone, and if the corporates and the government control that, they control your life. Our smartphones aren’t there yet, but connect the phones to something like London’s Oyster Card system, and you’re getting pretty close.

What I felt was going a little OTT was the ‘diffusers’ – tasers built into the phones by law that can be activated remotely by the police with hardly any checks and balances, and the releasing of a deadly virus as crowd control – only the authorities have the antidote so if you don’t want to die, you have to hand yourself in.

I didn’t find any of the characters particularly sympathetic, from the obnoxious journalist/blogger off his head on drugs to the rigidly idealistic anti-capitalist, which meant there was no real entry point that made me care about the story, apart from it being a sick world that I really wouldn’t want to live in.

Useful as a cautionary tale about the possible downsides to the heady mix of technology and corporate interests that makes up so much of modern life, but certainly not something I’ll read again.

Book details

ISBN: 9780007323890
Publisher: Angry Robot
Year of publication: 2008

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