BooksOfTheMoon

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

The Difference Engine

By William Gibson

Rating: 3 stars

Authored by two of the greats of the genre, this steampunk novel has a lot to live up to, something that I fear that it doesn’t necessarily achieve. It tells the story of three people whose lives intertwine at different points, alongside a mysterious box of cards, that some people are willing to kill for.

The history in this book deviates from our own in the 1830s, when Charles Babbage perfects his difference engine and then his analytical engine, ushering in the age of computing a hundred years early.

The world-building is flawless. Never infodumping, but it drip-feeds you enough information about this world, with Lord Byron as Prime Minister, and its Time of Troubles, after which a meritocracy rose in Britain, sweeping aside the old order, but I’m not convinced by the story itself. The box of cards (a program for one of the Engines of the title), is pretty much a macguffin, and the explanation of what it is, right at the end of the book, is a bit of a let-down, to be honest.

Of the three protagonists, Sybil Gerard is possibly the most interesting, although the least developed. Daughter of a noted Luddite, she starts the book as a fallen woman, finding herself being drawn into these affairs through one her politician gentlemen. Her story is then dropped and only picked up again sort of sideways, through the eyes of Laurence Oliphant, diplomat, spy and another of our protagonists.

Our third protagonist, Edward Mallory, gets the lion’s share of the narrative, coping through the Great Stink and trying to find the shadowy group who are trying to steal the box of cards that he has in his possession. This is possibly the least satisfying aspect of the story. The group chasing Mallory is never clearly defined, nor are their goals, and the final showdown with them, feels underwhelming.

So a fun romp through a well-realised steampunk world, which effortlessly mixes historical characters with invented ones, but one in which the story doesn’t entirely come together for me.

Book details

ISBN: 9780553294613
Publisher: Spectra Books
Year of publication: 1990

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 über-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

Neuromancer (Sprawl, #1)

By William Gibson

Rating: 4 stars

The archetypical cyberpunk novel, it is still fresh and very readable. Case is an ex-hacker, his ability to connect to the Matrix burned out by a toxin injected by his former employers after he double-crossed them. Out of the blue, he’s given the opportunity to get back into the game, but who is his new employer and what is his ultimate aim?

I really enjoyed this book although I think I’d need to read it again to get most out of it (I feel that about a lot of books – often the first reading is a race just to find out what happens, whereas you can appreciate the journey more second time round). Technically, I have read it before, but it was so long ago that I had no memory of it at all, so it doesn’t really count for helping appreciate the book.

The concept of computer cracking as described by Neuromancer is pretty vague and while this doesn’t spoil the book it slightly frustrates me because it makes it seem much more glamorous than it actually is.

Book details

ISBN: 9780441569595
Publisher: Ace Books
Year of publication: 1984

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