Cyberpunk, the new generation

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Cyberpunk, the new generation

Postby Windwalker » Tue Mar 06, 2007 3:13 pm

I am generally not enamored of cyberpunk but two of my favorite SF authors fall solidly in the subgenre: Melissa Scott and Richard Morgan. I will discuss each at a bit more length in subsequent posts. In a soundbite, both address the fascinating questions of uploading, downloading, true artificial intelligence, immortality and gendering in very different and inventive ways.

Share your cyberpunk favorites, perhaps I'll change my mind if I read enough good stories beyond Stephenson's exciting but problematic Snow Crash!
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Postby intrigued_scribe » Wed Mar 07, 2007 2:06 pm

I also read Snow Crash, though it was some time ago. While the protagonist is convincing and the book has it's good points, segments of it just seemed a touch more vague and multi layered than needed. Even so, I'm also open to other cyberpunk titles. :)

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Scott and Morgan

Postby Windwalker » Wed Mar 07, 2007 4:40 pm

intrigued_scribe wrote:Even so, I'm also open to other cyberpunk titles.

Here you go, then! (*smiles*)

Melissa Scott is not your usual cyberpunk writer. She wrote a highly acclaimed early book, Trouble and her Friends which, in my opinion, prefigures The Matrix. She has also written very interesting novels of future human societies on other planets that have been affected both by local environments, biological shifts (for example, the existence of more than two genders; Shadow Man -- whose main character influenced my own shaping of Adh'ísa) and by the inching of AIs towards true self-awareness (Dreamships, Dreaming Metal). She is outstanding at depicting engaging, three-dimensional novel cultures.

Richard Morgan is interesting because in his stories of anti-hero and loose cannon Takeshi Kovacs he combines cyberpunk with other genres -- hardboiled detective or war fiction (and he does it well). The three Kovacs novels are Altered Carbon, Broken Angels and the just-released Woken Furies. I read and really liked the first two, which show a society where the rich can download their consciousness, stored as "cortical stacks", into new bodies ("sleeves" -- it can't be done, but I suspended disbelief in this case). Kovacs is very much the Shane type, but done well.
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Postby sanscardinality » Wed Mar 07, 2007 6:54 pm

Well I for one really do enjoy the old-school cyberpunk as well. William Gibson's classic Neuromancer is a good place to start if you haven't read it. It is of course very distopian, but in ways it predicted some of what is going on in the world now. Islands in the Net was also a favorite back in the day, though I don't know how it holds up these days (been many years since I read it.)

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Postby rocketscientist » Thu Mar 08, 2007 3:00 pm

I have to say Gibson's Neuromancer did spoil me for almost all other cyberpunk, with Harrison's Light being, to my mind, the main contender. Not sure that I'd place Light solidly into the cyberpunk milieu though.

I've recently discovered a few very interesting titles in the retro world of "steampunk". Interestingly, jumpstarted by Gibson as well with The Difference Engine. There have also been some fabulous YA titles in this sub-genre. One of them having to do with a youth and his hot air balloon, traveling in a dis-topian (past or future? impossible to tell) world of stranded cities. (have to look up the title)

I'm always delighted when I see such intriguing plots in a YA novel. Culivates the young mind and often hooks the scientists and writers of the future. I've never been a believer in "baby books" for young people.

Sorry - got a bit off topic there. :p That's me for ya!

I still like a cyberpunk novel as long as the protags come off as very human. Too many curcuits and implants and I start to get a bit glassy eyed. As with anything, when the bandwagon is jumped (similar to the shark), it all goes to hell in a handcart. :wink:

I'll look up those authors though - you haven't steered me wrong yet.

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Postby Windwalker » Thu Mar 08, 2007 3:13 pm

rocketscientist wrote:I'm always delighted when I see such intriguing plots in a YA novel. Culivates the young mind and often hooks the scientists and writers of the future. I've never been a believer in "baby books" for young people.

Very much so! One of the points I make to learned panels (NIH et al -- possibly not to their pleasure) is that most scientists do not become scientists from reading scientific publications. They become scientists from reading scientist biographies and/or SF.

In my case, my parents gave me complete access to their libraries from the moment I learned to read. Do I look traumatized to you? (*laughs... careful with the answer!*)
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Postby caliban » Thu Mar 08, 2007 3:26 pm

rocketscientist wrote:There have also been some fabulous YA titles in this sub-genre. One of them having to do with a youth and his hot air balloon, traveling in a dis-topian (past or future? impossible to tell) world of stranded cities. (have to look up the title)


I'm actually reading them--the "Hungry Cities" series, about mobile cities that participate in Municipal Darwinism (and the author clearly knows that this is not real Darwinism--it is a slogan used to justify the existing system) and, well, devour each other. It works quite well. I've become quite expert in YA fiction as my wife and I got into the habit of reading the Harry Potter books to each other and then branched out. "Hungry Cities" is quite readable--not as good as, say, Phillip Pullman, which is top of the line, and even not as good (whatever your opinion) as Harry Potter--but still, nice page turners.

More obscure, but really fascinating, is the fantasy series "Tales of the Otori." Takes place in a magical Japan, wherein the author reinvents feudal Japan. Very well written--and really for older teens, as there is quite a bit of real violence and sexuality, including homosexuality. I recommend it. In fact, despite being "YA" I think in many respects it is superior to Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series--the plot is more subtle, the characters more dimensioned, and the writing just plain better. (And I like the Kushiel series.) Start with Across the Nightingale Floor; the author is Liam Hearne, a pseudonym.
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Postby Windwalker » Thu Mar 08, 2007 3:33 pm

I loved Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy. Loved its inventivess and defiance, loved the humanity and complexity of its protagonists (even the non-humans are fully human and stay with you indelibly).

I must look up the Otori series, sounds like I'd really enjoy them!
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Postby rocketscientist » Thu Mar 08, 2007 3:57 pm

Windwalker wrote:

Very much so! One of the points I make to learned panels (NIH et al -- possibly not to their pleasure) is that most scientists do not become scientists from reading scientific publications. They become scientists from reading scientist biographies and/or SF.


I have no idea if they liked it, but I LOVE it! :D

In my case, my parents gave me complete access to their libraries from the moment I learned to read. Do I look traumatized to you? (*laughs... careful with the answer!*)


No. I'd say it was academia that did that. :wink:


Caliban wrote:

I'm actually reading them--the "Hungry Cities" series, about mobile cities that participate in Municipal Darwinism (and the author clearly knows that this is not real Darwinism--it is a slogan used to justify the existing system) and, well, devour each other.


Yes! That's the one! And it IS a page turner. My son is getting ready to embark on that journey. It's more his style - Pullman was a little too thoughtful for him (he's 11) - although I find them delightful.

Which brings me to the question, how does one earmark these books as YA? Like many others, I often find these stories more rewarding than most adult novels. Character and plot does tend to be foremost in these books (even Harry Potter) and the trappings of 'genre' aren't such an issue. They can be a real breath of freash air.

Start with Across the Nightingale Floor; the author is Liam Hearne, a pseudonym.


Yes, I've seen that one. *wonders if she already bought it for Blaise - note to self - go nab it for ownself, the kid isn't that into sex yet* :p

At the moment I'm absorbed with The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation by M T Anderson. Set in Regency England. Reading it aloud to The Youth so to better elucidate the wonderful eighteenth century style prose. :wink:

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Postby caliban » Thu Mar 08, 2007 4:14 pm

rocketscientist wrote:Which brings me to the question, how does one earmark these books as YA? Like many others, I often find these stories more rewarding than most adult novels. Character and plot does tend to be foremost in these books (even Harry Potter) and the trappings of 'genre' aren't such an issue. They can be a real breath of freash air.


You've touched upon it: YA novels almost exclusively have young people as protagonists and have, more or less, conventional narratives. That does not exclude imaginative narratives, such as The Bartimaeus Trilogy with a wise-cracking demon for a narrator, complete with footnotes.

But I think you've touched upon the key: plot, and then character, are foremost. Modern English departments believe that narrative is dead, or a delusion, and so their graduates are reduced to either (a) writing metanovels or (b) writing novels about mean people being mean to each other (in my wife's words, and she's had enough of that already in real life). YA novels still believe that narrative is not only alive, but can be vibrant and illuminating. It's the love of narrative that brought us to the reading table in the first place.
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Postby Windwalker » Thu Mar 08, 2007 4:21 pm

caliban wrote:But I think you've touched upon the key: plot, and then character, are foremost. Modern English departments believe that narrative is dead, or a delusion, and so their graduates are reduced to either (a) writing metanovels or (b) writing novels about mean people being mean to each other (in my wife's words, and she's had enough of that already in real life).


Exactly! And people wonder why 1) sales of mainstream novels are flagging and 2) people flock to genres with conventional narratives, such as fantasy. People thirst for myths and tales, even recycled ones.

Speaking of which, I looked up the Otori plot outlines and a couple of excerpts. You know, they sound EXTREMELY familiar!
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Postby rocketscientist » Thu Mar 08, 2007 5:55 pm

Modern English departments believe that narrative is dead, or a delusion, and so their graduates are reduced to either (a) writing metanovels or (b) writing novels about mean people being mean to each other (in my wife's words, and she's had enough of that already in real life). YA novels still believe that narrative is not only alive, but can be vibrant and illuminating. It's the love of narrative that brought us to the reading table in the first place.


Sounds depressingly like modern art departments. Heaven forfend one should render! A canvas must resemble the effluvia of a night-culb toilet in order to be profound, or more important, "taken seriously."

I have to say that Youth Fiction and publishing really seems to be on the upswing. I've recently found some fantastic books for Blaise with fabulous illustrations and fold out maps, beautiful bindings - things I dreamed about when I was a kid. I tend to keep the best ones for myself and let him have them when I'm done. :p

Blaise loved the Bartimaeus books as well, btw. And of course, we had to wade through the laborious Eregon. After the first three chapters I told him he was on his own - I couldn't hack it. But I do have to hand it to the kid who wrote it. He finished the task. Fortunately my son had the good taste to find the sequels boring.

Well, if narrative is dead then so be it. I look forward to the day some brave soul resurrects it and is hailed as the century's latest genius. *read sarcasm*

Meanwhile I'll entertain myself with my little pile of Scfi, graphic novels and kids books. LOL

Windwalker wrote:

Exactly! And people wonder why 1) sales of mainstream novels are flagging and 2) people flock to genres with conventional narratives, such as fantasy. People thirst for myths and tales, even recycled ones.


No doubt!

Speaking of which, I looked up the Otori plot outlines and a couple of excerpts. You know, they sound EXTREMELY familiar!


Really? *goes off to look.*
Last edited by rocketscientist on Thu Mar 08, 2007 9:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby rocketscientist » Thu Mar 08, 2007 9:36 pm

Heh heh! I DO have Across the Nightingale Floor! *gloats*

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The Otori books

Postby Windwalker » Sat Mar 10, 2007 3:33 pm

Our discussion of the Otori books reminded me.

There is a book that reads like a combination of dream and fantasy that takes place during the late Heian period, just before the start of the civil wars that eventually brought about the Shogunate: The Snow Fox by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer. Hypnotic and gritty at the same time, it's full of indelible images.
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Morgan's third Kovacs novel

Postby Windwalker » Fri Jun 08, 2007 12:11 pm

I just finished Richard Morgan's third (and reputedly last) Takeshi Kovacs book, Woken Furies. I started it with trepidation, being averse to sequels, but I really liked it. In fact, it is my favorite of the three.

The novel is a deft, layered, sophisticated mixture of space opera and cyberpunk. Like McDevitt, Morgan throws in the remains of a vanished alien civilization and a troubled colonized planet. The ronin hero remains as hard-bitten as ever, but he also relies on trained intuition and his actions make moral and emotional sense. Amazingly, he likes women as people and has (wonder of wonders!) enjoyable, meaningful sex with them. The secondary characters could be a touch more 3-D, but they are not cardboard cutouts either. The plot is intricate without being opaque. Morgan conveys a huge amount of quite exotic information, yet he avoids infodumps or "insider" smirks.

Before I read Morgan, I considered Iain Banks the most gifted (and least irritating) of the Scottish sf group. Now, I have decided that position belongs to Morgan: he is accessible without pandering or smirking.
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