Thursday 11 November 2010
William Gibson created the word "cyberspace"; I would like to add "future-sciencey" to the lexicon
Our strung out hero is Case, a cowboy of the new frontier in what Gibson coined "cyberspace". Yes, Gibson is the author that created that word that's nestled so comfortably into modern English parlance. Cyberspace is a vast, abstract plain in which information can be manipulated and contained, infected with a virus or used like one, and perhaps gain its own sense of itself. Gibson may be the first author to fully imagine this brave new world of the internet, its vulnerabilities and potential for attack, and artificial intelligence, and it continues to be born around and through us now.
Or, a little practical perspective on how creatively and prophetically forward-thinking Gibson was when he wrote Neuromancer. Gibson wrote Neuromancer in 1983, when I was 8 years old; I didn't get my first email account until I was 18 - 10 years later. And I certainly didn't try to resist the unstoppable introduction of the interwebs into my life; I got an email account pretty much the second I heard about such things - which was, for me, first-year university. It was all text-based at my undergraduate institution - until 1999, when I completed my MA.
I draw this time line only to point out how quickly the technology is changing and improving. And to remind my husband that while the internet as it currently stands does kind of suck (as he recently proclaimed), it's because as a culture we're now comfortable imagining how awesome it can and should be, and we're impatient that it's not there yet. We're living that frontier life every day, where the computer nerds are hackers and the limits are only our brilliant and sick imaginations.
You'll indulge my enthusiasm here (something which I am often simply too cool for); but Neuromancer embodies everything I think Sci-Fi should be - gutsy, out there, and committed to a future that's infinitely more interesting than the present, if not nearly as safe. You may have noticed that I don't actually read very much Sci-Fi at all, however. The fact is, I'm afraid to - because of Neal Stephenson (awesome), and this crazy book I read as a kid and can't recall the name of (it involved someone tearing their information pack out of the skin on their back) but which still haunts me, and plenty of terrible Sci-Fi films.
All these things make me afraid of bad Sci-Fi and because I've read so little Sci-Fi at all, I have no idea what's good. Well, Gibson's really good. The story is kick ass but the guy can actually really write too, and that makes Neuromancer solid gold. I've also been told by one of my favourite nerds in the know to read Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon, and my husband is currently being bedazzled by China Mieville's The Scar. So, there are some books to look forward to, including the two sequels to Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive.
But to continue the Gibson-Mitchell struggle for my deepest devotion, I've begun The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. There couldn't be two more different books...but that's the way I like it, this flipping between radically different worlds. Indeed, this is something I've always known about myself but it somehow just occurred to me today that it's an important part of why I think Cloud Atlas is one of the best novels ever written, and why it's my clear favourite (I never had a clear favourite before I read Cloud Atlas, just a fairly malleable top 5). Because it is simultaneously unified and shockingly diversified - unlike any other novel, it leaves me completely satisfied.
Goddamn, I love to read.